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Volume 58, Issue 09 (February)

February 2007 (Volume 58, Number 9)

February 2007 (Volume 58, Number 9)

Notes from the Editors

Monthly Review Press is publishing an exceptionally strong collection of new books in 2007. However, like most small presses the modest budgets we can devote to the promotion of these books scarcely allow us to be heard above the din created by the massive promotional campaigns of the large corporate publishing firms, which are, of course, mere arms of much greater media conglomerates. We are therefore hoping successfully to promote these new books mainly by word of mouth with the help of MR readers and friends. In this space last month we referred to Michael D. Yates’s new book, Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate, which is now available. Two other new releases are Jean Bricmont’s Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (translated from the French by Diana Johnstone), and The Socialist Register, 2007: Coming to Terms with Nature, edited by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys. Bricmont’s book seeks to reintroduce the critique of imperialism to the global discussion on human rights, while the new Socialist Register addresses the emerging eco-socialist critique of capitalism

The Ecology of Destruction

I would like to begin my analysis of what I am calling here “the ecology of destruction” by referring to Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1969 film Burn!. Pontecorvo’s epic film can be seen as a political and ecological allegory intended for our time. It is set in the early nineteenth century on an imaginary Caribbean island called “Burn.” Burn is a Portuguese slave colony with a sugar production monoculture dependent on the export of sugar as a cash crop to the world economy. In the opening scene we are informed that the island got its name from the fact that the only way that the original Portuguese colonizers were able to vanquish the indigenous population was by setting fire to the entire island and killing everyone on it, after which slaves were imported from Africa to cut the newly planted sugar cane.

‘No Radical Change in the Model’

In the 2006 presidential election campaign in Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula), leader of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT or Workers’ Party), was interviewed at length on July 11, 2006, by the Financial Times (which also interviewed Lula’s main rightist challenger Geraldo Alckmin). The interview touched on many topics but mainly concentrated on Lula’s adherence in his first term of office to the global neoliberal policies of monopoly-finance capital, particularly repayment of debt and “fiscal responsibility.” At two points in the interview the Financial Times bluntly asked whether Lula was looking toward a “radical change in the model,” i.e., whether he and his Workers’ Party intended to break with financial capital and neoliberalism in his second term of office. Lula gave them the answer they wanted: “There is no radical change in the model….What we need now, in economics and in politics, is to strengthen Brazil’s internal and external security.”

The State and Economy in Brazil: An Introduction

These articles were written five months before the first round of presidential elections in Brazil, on October 1, 2006. The second round, on October 29, saw Lula reelected with 58.3 million votes (60.78 percent of all valid votes), beating Geraldo Alckmin, the candidate for the Partido Social Democrata Brasileiro (PSDB), the party of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula’s predecessor in office. Lula won this second four-year mandate after a campaign revolving around ethical issues and allegations of corruption against government officials and high-ranking members of his Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT)—allegations from opposition parties, right and left. The campaign included the pathetic episode of PT officials trying to buy information on candidates from the PSDB in the State of São Paulo (economically and politically speaking, one of the most important states in the union, with a strong oppositional streak), and a concerted nationwide media campaign for Alckmin on a scale never before seen in Brazil

Lula and Social Policy: In the Service of Financial Capital

The Lula government’s concept of social protection is not to be found in any official document or in any paper from his Workers’ Party (PT) or his electoral platforms. This is why it is so difficult for the public at large, unfamiliar with the principles of social policy, to understand the meaning of his proposals and actual policies. In trying to explain this concept, we will discuss the government’s reform of the social security system, underlining its impact on the state apparatus. We will analyze the core of its social policy as represented by the Programa Bolsa Família (Family Basket Program) and describe the way the economic cabinet designs social policy. From this start, we make the point that Lula’s public policy puts on hold previous advances in the field of social rights, tries to create a private health care system, and erects welfare networks not founded upon rights. This last factor is crucial for the creation of a new base of support for the government, one not structured around social, union, and political workers’ organizations

The Financial Globalization of Brazil under Lula

François Chesnais has defined three stages in the process of financial globalization. The first took place in the 1970s and he calls it “indirect financial internationalization of closed national systems.” Latin American countries including Brazil took part in this process of attracting a substantial volume of loans. The second stage, 1980-85, started with Paul Volcker’s “dictatorship of creditors” and the discovery by Margaret Thatcher of neoliberalism as the doctrine for the new age. The center countries, starting with the United States and Great Britain, unlocked their financial markets by liberalizing the international flow of capital. The interlinking of national systems became more direct and immediate through market finances. In Latin America, the debt crisis exploded with rising interest rates (following the negative Volcker shock) involving massive debt contracted in the prior period brokered by the banking system

The Brazilian Economy under Lula: A Balance of Contradictions

n the 1980s the Brazilian economy suffered a long spell of stagnation and inflation caused by the foreign debt crisis affecting all indebted countries. That crisis triggered an acute inflationary process that reached 2,012.6 percent in 1989 and 2,851.3 percent in 1993, according to the general price index from the Getulio Vargas Foundation. The second half of the 1980s and the first of the 1990s saw the deployment of successive anti-inflationary plans, starting with the 1986 Plano Cruzado and ending with the 1994 Plano Real.* The period also marked the end of the industrialization strategy known as “import substitution” and the onset of neoliberal policies in Brazil

The Neoliberal Agrarian Model in Brazil

Since Fernando Collor’s 1989 presidential victory, and most notably since Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s two terms in office (1995-98 and 1999-2002, respectively), economic policies have been enacted in Brazil that represent a subordinate alliance of the country’s dominant classes with international capital. Unfortunately, under President Lula these same sectors have remained in control, and economic policy caters to their interests

U.S. Imperialism and the Third World

Carollee Bengelsdorf, Margaret Cerullo, & Yogesh Chandrani, eds., The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 630 pages, paperback $26.50, cloth $69.50.

In his life, Eqbal Ahmad was a venerable icon in many left circles, not least in the United States. This was showcased at the conference organized in 1997 to mark his retirement from Hampshire College. There to honor Professor Ahmad were some of the most eminent radi- cal thinkers and activists from around the world. A list of the confer- ence speakers read like a Who’s Who of the global left