This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thorstein Veblen, the greatest critic of U.S. capitalism in the early twentieth century and one of the foremost social theorists of all times. Veblen was the subject of a special issue of Monthly Review fifty years ago last July in celebration of the centennial of his birth. He remains important today from our perspective for at least three reasons: (1) he was the first to develop a theory of monopoly capitalism, including a recognition not only of the implications of the rise of a big-business dominated economy, but also the new role assumed in this era by finance, advertising, the penetration of the sales effort into the production process, excess productive capacity, etc.; (2) Veblen provided a strong critique of the ecological destruction of U.S. capitalism (particularly the devastation of forests); and (3) Veblen’s unbridled wit and sardonic language coupled with his keen analysis cut to the heart of capitalist ideology. Thus, for instance, he wrote of the ahistorical character given by orthodox economics to such categories as capital and wage labor
Volume 59, Issue 07 (December)
All the currents that claim adherence to political Islam proclaim the “specificity of Islam.” According to them, Islam knows nothing of the separation between politics and religion, something supposedly distinctive of Christianity. It would accomplish nothing to remind them, as I have done, that their remarks reproduce, almost word for word, what European reactionaries at the beginning of the nineteenth century (such as Bonald and de Maistre) said to condemn the rupture that the Enlightenment and the French Revolution had produced in the history of the Christian West
The issues that I will cover in this article and the cases I would like to describe make for uncomfortable reading. But I believe that it is important to record the torture at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq and to deconstruct the culture that accommodated and legitimated it, because what happened cannot be relegated to a mere footnote in the history of the region. I feel the same about Halabja and the chemical warfare employed by Saddam Hussein with the sponsorship of the “international community,” which is why I covered it in my other writings.1 I do not want to be misunderstood as arguing that the cultural context I will explain here is all-encompassing, that the U.S. presence in international society is singularly destructive, and that the “West” as an idea is nothing but “intoxicating.”2 What I say is much more confined. I am arguing that Abu Ghraib could not have happened without a particular racist current in the United States, that the individuals who committed the atrocities against the detainees were not isolated, and that they were part of a larger constellation with its own signifying ideational attitudes toward Muslims and Arabs. Those are the general claims that I would like to qualify in the following paragraphs
The expansion of the capitalist world economy, which accelerated after the fall of the socialist bloc, has produced everywhere drastic changes in the division of labor, occupational structure, and the quality and quantity of labor that is in demand. In the United States, public awareness about the causes of job losses (downsizing, capital flight, offshoring, and outsourcing) has vastly increased since it became widely known that these processes caused the loss not only of blue-collar but also of “middle-class” and “upper-middle-class” jobs; i.e., jobs requiring some degree of education and technical competence
In his illuminating survey, “The Imperialist World System: Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth After Fifty Years” (Monthly Review, May 2007), John Bellamy Foster remarks that “The concept of the imperialist world system in today’s predominant sense of the extreme economic exploitation of periphery by center, creating a widening gap between rich and poor countries….had its genesis in the 1950s, especially with the publication fifty years ago of Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth.” While acknowledging that traces of such a concept could be found in Marx and Lenin, he feels that “The classical Marxist approach to the worldwide spread of capitalist relations has often been characterized as a crude theory of linear stages of development” whereby the less developed countries would necessarily traverse the same path as the more developed ones. Among the adherents to this view Foster includes Marxists in the Second and Third Internationals
The Research Unit for Political Economy’s (RUPE’s) brief historical account here of the origins of the Marxist theory of imperialism constitutes a crucial corrective to common errors regarding that history. In my article, “The Imperialist World System: Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth After Fifty Years” (Monthly Review, May 2007), I began by pointing out that Baran’s book was an outgrowth of classical Marxist thought—the ideas of Marx, Lenin, and Luxemburg. At the same time it represented a sharp departure from the rigid orthodoxy of linear development that had come to characterize so much of socialist (as well as bourgeois) thought—often presented in terms of Horace’s phrase, quoted by Marx, “the tale is told of you.” Baran’s treatment of the imperialist world system was a startling contribution at the time that his book appeared, challenging the conventional assumptions of both the right and an increasingly calcified left.
Isador Nabi is widely believed to have emerged from the swamps of southern Vermont some time in the 1970s. The first written record of him was a short-lived biography in American Men of Science. Then he seems to have dissolved. But it is said that he is a sort of academic Golem and that whenever greed, obscurantism, careerism, reductionism, and opportunism afflict science, that is, most of the time, he condenses again out of hypothetico-deductive dust in some obscure vault in that library where they bury unread dissertations, and he lurks in and around academia spending his rage in jest. An unsuccessful obituary appeared in Nature in 1981. Since then he has been nominated (by himself) eleven times for the Grammy and his works have been retranslated into English from 116 foreign languages that didn’t want them.
In “The Imperative of an International Guaranteed Income” (Monthly Review, April 2007) Stephen Fortunato Jr. presents a pretty good outline of guaranteed annual income (GAI) issues and how they might apply on an international scale. As a Marxist, I take the view that a GAI won’t work
Ken Collier raises concerns about increased rent, transportation costs, etc., that surely must be addressed theoretically and pragmatically in any push for a guaranteed annual income. Political realities, however, do not mean that socialists should take the GAI off the table or abandon living-wage campaigns or any other struggle for social justice
In 1988, the National Urban League reported, “More blacks have lost jobs through industrial decline than through job discrimination.” For a civil rights organization, this was a remarkable observation. Born in the era of Jim Crow racism, the Urban League championed the aspirations for upward mobility among urban African Americans. When banks refused to lend money to black entrepreneurs or when municipalities failed to service the black community, the Urban League intervened. One of the demands of the Urban League was for public goods to be shared across racial lines. While the organization was not on the frontlines of the civil rights struggle, it would have been a major beneficiary of the movement’s gains. But the tragedy of the civil rights struggle was that its victory came too late, at least thirty years late. Just when the state agreed to remove the discriminatory barriers that restricted nonwhites’ access to public goods, the state form changed. Privatization and an assault on the state’s provision of social welfare meant that it was not capable of providing public goods to the newly enfranchised citizens. At the same time as the state retreated from its social welfare obligations, the industrial sector in the U.S. crumbled in the face of globalization. Industrial jobs, once the backbone of the segregated black communities, vanished