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Self-Reflection and Revolution

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–1975 (San Francisco: City Lights, 2002) 411 pages, $17.95 paperback.

This summer I moved into an old house in the Catskills full of the random possessions of those who have used it as a retreat since it was built in the 1920s. With most of my books in storage and no television I entertained myself by reading a stack of Time magazines from the late sixties and early seventies that I found in a trunk in the small attic. Flipping through them nearly every evening, I enjoyed countless articles about the hippies, the Yippies, Richard Nixon, the Black Panthers, and the inevitable revolution on America’s horizon. I read the ongoing coverage of the Chicago Eight (turned Seven) trial, sensational portraits of California’s fringe cultures, and panic-stricken reports of the now too-often forgotten wildcat strikes of the early seventies

April 2004 (Volume 55, Number 11)

April 2004 (Volume 55, Number 11)

Notes from the Editors

This is the fourth in a continuing series of special issues on the economy to which we have devoted the magazine each April since 2001. In the first of these, written shortly before the 2001 recession began, we took on the then prevalent myth of the “New Economy,” arguing that it was more myth than reality, and dispelling the notion that high tech and rising productivity gains had somehow tamed the business cycle. In April 2002 we dedicated the Review of the Month to examining the core economic contradictions of the system in terms of “Slow Growth, Excess Capital, and a Mountain of Debt.” Last April we asked the question, “What Recovery?” and focused on the fact that the recovery had failed to spread to employment, and on the whole problem of labor underutilization—inquiring into how the economy managed to keep going at all under these circumstances.

The Stagnation of Employment

Except in times of war, capitalist economies almost never reach full employment. The mere absence of jobs for those desiring paid employment, however, is not necessarily a problem for the ruling economic interests. Unemployment and the underutilization of labor more generally—the existence of what Marx called the industrial reserve army of labor—is a necessary part of a capitalist economy, since it keeps wages low as workers are forced to compete with each other for jobs. This becomes a serious problem for the system or for the political structure when the shortfall in employment coincides with a deeper structural crisis; when aggregate demand and thus investment opportunities are hindered by low employment and low wages; and when a shortage of jobs creates a political problem, sometimes even igniting popular opposition at the grassroots of society. All three of these contradictions are apparent in 2004, setting the stage for a national debate on the question of jobs, which more than three years since the beginning of the 2001 recession is now suddenly a front page story

Disposable Workers: Today’s Reserve Army of Labor

These are difficult times for workers. In the wealthy countries of capitalism’s center, labor is struggling to maintain existing wages and benefits against a combined assault by corporations and governments, while conditions of workers in the periphery are even more difficult. The widespread acceptance and adoption of capital’s agenda—”free trade,” “free markets,” greater “flexibility” regarding labor, and reduced social welfare assistance—has led to one group of real winners. Transnational corporations (and their owners and top managers) now have more freedom to produce where labor and other costs are cheap, have their patents protected, and move capital in and out of countries at will. Many workers, unfortunately, are finding that their situation has become more tenuous.

New Economy R.I.P.

Doug Henwood, After the New Economy (New York: The New Press, 2003), 269 pages, hardcover $24.95.

In the late nineties, the San Francisco Bay Area was caught up in the mania of the high-tech, information-based “New Economy.” Venture capitalists threw money at e-commerce start-ups based on dicey premises, while loss-making companies raked in millions at their initial public offerings. In low income areas like the Mission District, dot-coms moved in, forcing out poor people whose only recourse was to organize themselves in anti-displacement coalitions and hope for the market to crash. In the fray, even a new type of gold digger emerged: women in search of nerdly adolescent millionaires with fat stock options. It was a stupefying time

March 2004 (Volume 55, Number 10)

March 2004 (Volume 55, Number 10)

Notes from the Editors

We were enormously pleased to publish in the November 2002 issue of MR Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins’s “Stephen Jay Gould: What Does it Mean to Be a Radical?” commemorating the life of their great Harvard colleague who had died earlier that year. Gould, as Lewontin and Levins explained, was, in addition to being one of the foremost evolutionary biologists and paleontologists of his time, “by far, the most widely known and influential expositor of science who has ever written for a lay public.” Their article has recently been reprinted as the concluding essay in Oliver Sacks, ed., The Best American Science Writing, 2003. This important series, with Jesse Cohen as the series editor, is published each year by HarperCollins, each time under the editorship of a different guest editor—in this instance Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and many other works. In preparing this year’s volume Sacks chose to dedicate the book to Stephen Jay Gould, who he sees as the exemplary figure in modern science writing

The Escalating War Against Corporate Media

A recurring issue for the left historically has been how to address the capitalist media. In recent years the problem has grown ever more severe, and no small amount of attention has been given to examining the problems of the commercial media and how closely they reinforce and accentuate problems within the broader social order. The logic of this criticism has become clear: progressives need to work on challenging the corporate domination of media as part of the broader struggle for social justice. If changing media is left until “after the revolution,” there will be no revolution, not to mention fewer chances for social reform. But politicizing control over media has proven to be extraordinarily difficult for activists. That is why the massive and largely unanticipated 2003 campaign in the United States to stop further media concentration, which almost overnight reached a scale not seen in media reform struggles since the 1930s, is so important and instructive. This article chronicles that revolt

From Racial to Class Apartheid: South Africa’s Frustrating Decade of Freedom

The end of the apartheid regime was a great human achievement. Yet the 1994 election of an African National Congress (ANC) majority-with Nelson Mandela as the new president-did not alter the enormous structural gap in wealth between the majority black and minority white populations. Indeed, it set in motion neoliberal policies that exacerbated class, race, and gender inequality. To promote a peaceful transition, the agreement negotiated between the racist white regime and the ANC allowed whites to keep the best land, the mines, manufacturing plants, and financial institutions. There were only two basic paths that the ANC could follow. One was to mobilize the people and all their enthusiasm, energy, and hard work, use a larger share of the economic surplus (through state-directed investments and higher taxes), and stop the flow of capital abroad, including the repayment of illegitimate apartheid-era debt. The other was to adopt a neoliberal capitalist path, with a small reform here or there, while posturing as if social democracy was on the horizon

The Right Not to Work: Power and Disability

I have a confession to make: I do not work. I am on SSI.1 I have very little work value (if any), and I am a drain on our country’s welfare system. I have another confession to make: I do not think this is wrong, and to be honest, I am very happy not working. Instead I spend the majority of my time doing the activity I find the most rewarding and valuable, painting

NAFTA’s Knife: Class Warfare Across the U.S.-Mexico Border

David Bacon, The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 348 pages, cloth $27.50.

I once heard a discussion about the first sentences of books and those sentences that were among the most famous and most powerful. The opening of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was among the most popular. David Bacon’s first sentence in chapter one of his book must now rank among the most gripping: “NAFTA repeatedly plunged a knife into José Castillo’s heart.”

February 2004 (Volume 55, Number 9)

February 2004 (Volume 55, Number 9)

Notes from the Editors

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Ralph Miliband, who was one of the leading Marxist political theorists of the second half of the 20th century. His works, Parliamentary Socialism (1961), The State in Capitalist Society (1969), and Marxism and Politics (1977) are classics of socialist political analysis. This year is also the 40th anniversary of The Socialist Register, an annual journal that Miliband cofounded and coedited for 30 years

A Precarious Existence: The Fate of Billions?

The number of people living a precarious existence has been increasing in many countries of the world, with hunger all too widespread. There are approximately 6 billion people in the world, with about half living in cities and half in rural areas. Between the poor living in cities and those in rural areas, a vast number of the world’s people live under very harsh conditions. It is estimated that that about half of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars per day, with most of those either chronically malnourished or continually concerned with where their next meal will come from. Many have no access to clean water (1 billion), electricity (2 billion), or sanitation (2.5 billion)

Rice Imperialism: The Agribusiness Threat to Third World Rice Production

Food is an essential human need. All cultures involved in settled agriculture have produced food and food production is basic to all culture. The seed used in agricultural cultivation is the product of thousands of years of cultural development. Most of this development of food crops over the millennia has occurred in regions that are now in the periphery of the capitalist world economy. In recent years, however, agribusiness corporations located in the rich nations of the core have attempted to patent various forms of food crops, such as basic grains, and then to monopolize these patented grain varieties, creating dependence on seeds of the agribusiness corporations. When such practices involve, as in recent years, a crop such as rice on which much of the world’s population depends for subsistence, the implications are enormous and potentially disastrous for the world’s poor

Poverty and Inequality in the Global Economy

Capitalism is hundreds of years old and today dominates nearly every part of the globe. Its champions claim that it is the greatest engine of production growth the world has ever seen. They also argue that it is unique in its ability to raise the standard of living of every person on earth. Because of capitalism, we are all “slouching toward utopia,”—the phrase coined by University of California at Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong—slowly but surely heading toward a world in which everyone will have achieved a U.S.-style middle-class life