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An Alternative Worth Struggling For

“We are sinking in the Devil’s excrement,” wrote a close observer of Venezuela’s adventures in oil. Was Venezuela’s deep culture of corruption, crime, and clientalism imaginable in the absence of the oil rents which became the supreme object of desire? Was the truncation of industry and agriculture and the vast chasm between a privileged oligarchy and an impoverished mass inevitable-given the effects of oil wealth upon a poor, developing country?

Marx’s Critique of Heaven and Critique of Earth

In recent years the intelligent design movement, or creationism in a more subtle guise, has expanded the attack on the teaching of evolution in U.S. public schools, while promoting an ambitious “Wedge strategy” aimed at transforming both science and culture throughout society. As explained in our book Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present (Monthly Review Press, 2008), this has reignited a 2,500-year debate between materialism and creationism, science and design. The argument from design (the attempt to discern evidence of design in nature, thereby the existence of a Designer) can be dated back to Socrates in the fifth century BCE. While the opposing materialist view (that the world is explained in terms of itself, by reference to material conditions, natural laws, and contingent, emergent phenomena, and not by the invocation of the supernatural) to which Socrates was responding also dates back to the fifth century BCE in the writings of the atomists Leucippus and Democritus. The latter perspective was developed philosophically into a full-fledged critique of design by Epicurus in the third century BCE, which later influenced the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century

Four Crises of the Contemporary World Capitalist System

This essay examines aspects of the global political economy that I hope will inform progressive governments and movements for social change. It evaluates the constraints and opportunities presented in the current conjuncture of world capitalist development by analyzing four areas of crisis in the contemporary world capitalist system. These are not the only contradictory elements in the contemporary conjuncture, but they are, in my view, the most salient

A Nation Built on the Hierarchy of Race A Practical Guide to Beating White Supremacy

Chip Smith, The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism (Fayetteville, NC: Camino Press, 2007), 466 pages, paper $19.95.

In The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism, Chip Smith has written a historical treatise on white racism in the United States. He provides a well researched, detailed account of the cause and effect of white privilege in the United States. The book effectively examines the influence of racial privilege on a broad range of social relations from an international to a personal level. It targets progressive white people who are consciously anti-racist and provides insights for individual self-reflection and organizational change

September 2008 (Volume 60, Number 4)

September 2008 (Volume 60, Number 4)

Notes from the Editors

Just over a year since the beginning of the worst U.S. financial crisis since the Great Depression, and only six months after the federal bailout of Bear Stearns, the seizing up of credit markets continues. The failure of eight U.S. banks this year, including IndyMac, and the recent instability that struck the two government-sponsored mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, requiring a special government rescue operation, has had the entire financial world on edge. Mortgage-related losses by themselves “could cause a trillion dollars in credit to vaporize,” according to a special July 28, 2008,Business Week report. The downside effects of financial leveraging (the magnification of results associated with borrowed money) mean that each dollar lost by financial institutions could lead to reductions in lending of fifteen dollars or more, creating a shockwave so massive that it could reveal structural weaknesses throughout the economy. Already the economy is reeling, with faltering growth, a deep slump in housing, massive job losses, rapidly rising oil and consumer goods prices, and a falling dollar

Jeremiah Wright in the Propaganda System

Beginning in March 2008 and extending through the last Democratic primaries of early June, the United States witnessed the most brazen demonization in its history of a person based on his race, his creed, and his ties to a presidential candidate. One major purpose behind these attacks was to use the demonized figure to discredit the politician. But participation in the attacks also fed the voracious, twenty-four-hour-aday media appetite, and quickly took on a life of its own. When we look back at the ugly spectacle then taking place, the evidence suggests that, despite much optimism about narrowing racial divides and an emerging “post-racial” consciousness, something much closer to the opposite had gripped America.

Humanitarian Imperialism: The New Doctrine of Imperial Right

Jean Bricmont’s concept “humanitarian imperialism” succinctly captures a dilemma that has faced Western leaders and the Western intellectual community since the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the origins of the Cold War, there was a reflexive justification for every resort to force and terror, subversion and economic strangulation: the acts were undertaken in defense against what John F. Kennedy called “the monolithic and ruthless conspiracy” based in the Kremlin (or sometimes in Beijing), a force of unmitigated evil dedicated to extending its brutal sway over the entire world. The formula covered just about every imaginable case of intervention, no matter what the facts might be. But with the Soviet Union gone, either the policies would have to change, or new justifications would have to be devised. It became clear very quickly which course would be followed, casting new light on what had come before, and on the institutional basis of policy

The U.S. Media Reform Movement: Going Forward

All social scholarship ultimately is about understanding the world to change it, even if the change we want is to preserve that which we most treasure in the status quo. This is especially and immediately true for political economy of media as a field of study, where research has a direct and important relationship with policies and structures that shape media and communication and influence the course of society. Because of this, too, the political economy of communication has had a direct relationship with policy makers and citizens outside the academy. The work, more than most other areas, cannot survive if it is “academic.” That is why the burgeoning media reform movement in the United States is so important for the field. This is a movement, astonishingly, based almost directly upon core political economic research

Stately vistas of stately vistas

Marge Piercy is the author of Pesach for the Rest of Us: Making the Passover Seder Your Own (Schocken, 2007). Her most recent novel is Sex Wars: A Novel of the Turbulent Post-Civil War Period (New York: William Morrow, 2005) and her newest book of poetry is The Crooked Inheritance (Knopf, 2006)

The Fire Inside

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 239 pages, paperback, $19.95.

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. The cover art of Roots of Resistance is powerful and angry. The stark geometric design, formed by swatches of blazing orange and slashes of smoldering earth tones all descending from cosmos into chaos, highlights abstract images of the suffering, enslavement, and death of the Acoma people at the hands of a Spanish punitive expedition in 1599: falling bodies, inverted crosses, dismembered feet—the punishment inflicted on all the male residents of the pueblo over the age of twenty-five. The original 2005 oil painting by Acoma Indian artist and activist Maurus Chino, titled Acoma 1599, Acoma, Beloved Acoma, Ancient of Days, contains more than enough raw energy to illuminate the history it recalls

July-August 2008 (Volume 60, Number 3)

July-August 2008 (Volume 60, Number 3)

Notes from the Editors

This number of Monthly Review is a special issue on “Ecology: The Moment of Truth,” edited by Brett Clark, John Bellamy Foster, and Richard York. In the present issue we concentrate on the planetary environmental emergency. In a later special issue, to appear this fall, the magazine will address the social and economic regime change that is necessary to save the earth as we know it

Ecology: The Moment of Truth—An Introduction

It is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century. Nearly fifteen years ago one of us observed: “We have only four decades left in which to gain control over our major environmental problems if we are to avoid irreversible ecological decline.” Today, with a quarter-century still remaining in this projected time line, it appears to have been too optimistic. Available evidence now strongly suggests that under a regime of business as usual we could be facing an irrevocable “tipping point” with respect to climate change within a mere decade. Other crises such as species extinction (percentages of bird, mammal, and fish species “vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction” are “now measured in double digits”);3 the rapid depletion of the oceans’ bounty; desertification; deforestation; air pollution; water shortages/pollution; soil degradation; the imminent peaking of world oil production (creating new geopolitical tensions); and a chronic world food crisis—all point to the fact that the planet as we know it and its ecosystems are stretched to the breaking point. The moment of truth for the earth and human civilization has arrived

Peak Oil and Energy Imperialism

The rise in overt militarism and imperialism at the outset of the twenty-first century can plausibly be attributed largely to attempts by the dominant interests of the world economy to gain control over diminishing world oil supplies. Beginning in 1998 a series of strategic energy initiatives were launched in national security circles in the United States in response to: (1) the crossing of the 50 percent threshold in U.S. importation of foreign oil; (2) the disappearance of spare world oil production capacity; (3) concentration of an increasing percentage of all remaining conventional oil resources in the Persian Gulf; and (4) looming fears of peak oil

The Political Economy and Ecology of Biofuels

The huge increase in oil and other fuel prices over the last few years and a concern that we have reached (or will soon reach) peak oil—after which oil extraction begins to decrease—have created renewed interest in alternative sources of energy. These include solar, wind, ocean wave and tidal flow, geothermal, and biofuels. Sometimes lip service is given to the need for greater energy efficiency, changes in lifestyles (including the ecologically irrational over-reliance on automobiles and living far from one’s job), the need to redesign economic activity from the factory floor to office buildings and homes, and the need for affluent societies to move away from ever higher levels of consumption. However, a radical analysis of actually putting these into effect would lead to questioning the very basics of how capitalism works

Climate Change, Limits to Growth, and the Imperative for Socialism

The 2007 assessment report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that it is virtually certain that human activities (mainly through the use of fossil fuels and land development) have been responsible for the global warming that has taken place since the industrial revolution. Under current economic and social trends, the world is on a path to unprecedented ecological catastrophes. 1 As the IPCC report was being released, new evidence emerged suggesting that climate change is taking place at a much faster pace and the potential consequences are likely to be far more dreadful than is suggested by the IPCC report