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Lessons from the New Deal Public Employment Programs

The following essay is adapted from the concluding chapter of the new edition of Nancy Rose’s Put to Work, just published by Monthly Review Press. The book is an examination of the various work programs implemented by the New Deal during the Great Depression. This second edition is especially appropriate, as we are now experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s, what some are calling the “Great Recession,” and there is once again much talk about putting people to work.

Nothing before or after the 1930s has matched the magnitude of the FERA, CWA, and WPA-programs that provided work each month for several million people, paid decent wages, and developed innovative projects in construction, the arts, and the production of consumer goods.… | more |

Saying More with Less: Eduardo Galeano interviewed by Jonah Raskin

Eduardo Galeano, who was born in Uruguay in 1940, has written big, thick books. Open Veins of Latin America (1973), which Hugo Chávez of Venezuela handed to Barack Obama in May, hoping it would teach him history, is more than 300 pages. Then there’s Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy: Genesis, Faces & Masks, and Century of the Wind that adds up to nearly 1,000 pages. More recently, he has written shorter books, and practiced a kind of ecology of the word. Mirrors, his newest work, contains more than one hundred short entries about almost everything — from salt to maps and money, and almost everyone, from Cleopatra to Alexander Hamilton and Che Guevara. None of the entries is longer than a single page. Not surprisingly, Galeano’s answers to the questions in this interview are pithy, poetic, humorous, and sometimes oblique. “I’m fighting word inflation, which in Latin America is worse than monetary inflation,” he says. “I try to say more with less — because less is more.” -J.R.… | more |

John Brown — 150 Years After Harpers Ferry

October 16, 2009, marks the sesquicentennial of the attack by John Brown and his forces on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The attack itself was carried out by nineteen men, while three remained as a rear guard. Brown was captured, executed, and buried—along with ten men who died as a result of the attack, including one of his sons—at his farmstead in North Elba in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. His burial was within the African American community in which he had lived for a time, Timbuctoo.

Do Increased Energy Costs Offer Opportunities for a New Agriculture?

One of the great missteps in most of the future energy scenarios propagated in the popular media is the notion that we can transition to “alternative, renewable energy” and thereby “wean ourselves from Mideast oil.” The underlying assumptions in this scenario seem to be that energy supply is an isolated challenge that can be solved without major systemic changes, that we can meet that challenge by simply switching from one energy source to another—from fossil fuels to wind, solar, biofuels or a host of other alternatives—and that our current industrial culture and economy then can continue on the present course.… | more |

Gouldiana Rising

Warren D. Allmon, Patricia H. Kelley, and Robert M. Ross, eds., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 400 pages, $34.95, hardcover.

Stephen Jay Gould, best known to the general public for his nearly three decades of regular essays published in the popular magazine Natural History, was prolific and, although he always emphasized that he was a tradesman, specializing in paleontology and evolutionary theory, he was nonetheless a polymath, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of art, literature, philosophy, history, and a variety of sciences, both social and natural. The vast body of work he has bequeathed to the literate public — the Republic of Letters, as he affectionately called us — is filled with gems of insight, fascinating observations, and no shortage of controversy. No one who has read Gould with care can avoid noticing his abiding love for learning and teaching, his unbridled enthusiasm for grappling with nature’s mysteries, and his fascination with humanity in all of its many forms. In many ways, Gould’s writing was deeply personal, demonstrating one man’s struggle to understand the natural world and our place in it. However, in other ways, Gould, the man, remained elusive and inaccessible to those who only knew him through his writing.… | more |

A Theory of Globalized Capitalism

William I. Robinson, Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2008), 412 pages, $55.00, hardcover.

Latin America and Global Capitalism delivers a scathing indictment of neoliberal globalization from an explicitly anti-capitalist perspective. Its scope is theoretically and empirically ambitious, beginning with a wide-ranging treatment of structural shifts in global capitalism since the early 1970s, before turning to rigorous examination of a range of themes in Latin American political economy in light of these global changes. Robinson then brings these threads together with an argument that neoliberalism entered its twilight phase in the region beginning with the recession of the late 1990s and early 2000s, as extra-parliamentary mass movements concomitantly exploded onto the scene and a variety of self-described left governments took office. The focus then tightens, with conjunctural analyses of the current upsurge in indigenous revolts, the immigrant rights movement in the United States, and the complicated and contradictory processes of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.… | more |

September 2009 (Volume 61, Number 4)

» Notes from the Editors

This month’s Review of the Month by Martin Hart-Landsberg, which addresses the Bolivarian Alternative for the America’s (ALBA), was written before the June 28, 2009, military coup d’état in Honduras (an ALBA member country) that deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, expelling him from the country. Here are seven facts on the coup:… | more |

Learning from ALBA and the Bank of the South: Challenges and Possibilities

The current period is marked by three overlapping developments: the failure of neoliberalism, the crisis of the East Asian export-led growth model, and South American efforts to advance an alternative regional development strategy. The combination has created a political environment offering important opportunities for those committed to the international struggle to supplant capitalism.… | more |

A Different Perspective on the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

The U.S.-India nuclear deal was initiated through a framework agreement signed by India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President Bush in July 2005. India, at the instigation of Washington, agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear production facilities, and place all civilian production facilities under the inspection regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in return for U.S. economic, technological, and military cooperation. The nuclear deal, which took three years to complete, is officially aimed at promoting India’s access to uranium and to civilian nuclear technology, through enlarged importation of both. Whereas nuclear energy contributed a reported 2.5 percent of India’s energy requirements in 2007, the deal is expected to boost the contribution of the nuclear sector to India’s electricity supply, without reducing India’s primary dependence on coal. From its very start, the U.S.-India nuclear deal has generated huge controversies, both in India and internationally. The intent here is to lay bare the implications of the deal for the creation of waste, while putting aside, for the moment, other important controversies associated with the nuclear agreement.… | more |

Against Literary Imperialism: Storming the Barricades of the Canon

My copy of The Mythology of Imperialism, the 1973 paperback that sold for $2.75, has lots of notes in the margins. They’re excited notes, not always comprehensible now, from the first course I ever taught, a small unofficial seminar on literature and imperialism. I’ve lost the syllabus, but I remember that we read Raskin’s books: Kipling, Conrad, Forster, and Orwell. I’m not sure I would have had the idea, or the courage, to follow that syllabus in my second or third year of graduate school teaching if The Mythology of Imperialism hadn’t made its miraculous, incandescent appearance. I certainly wouldn’t have known which writers to teach, or for that matter how to start talking about them. This was before Edward W. Said’s Orientalism appeared in 1978, before the academic field of postcolonial studies had been invented. There must have been more advanced people out there — it sometimes seemed to me that everybody at Harvard was more advanced than I was — but if they had figured out why and how imperialism mattered to us, they weren’t raising their hands and making speeches about it in any of the classes I took.… | more |

The Globalization of Agribusiness and Developing World Food Systems

The issue of the global concentration of agribusiness is crucial to the future of the food systems of developing (and poor, non-developing) countries. These countries have been a target of corporate investments from the outset of the industrial food system. This process has been uneven — at different times corporate investment has focused on one or another part of the food system. Today, this uneven and often uncoordinated foray of metropolitan corporate capital is still subjugating the agriculture and domestic food markets of many developing countries, particularly smaller, peripheral ones undergoing rapid urbanization, to the needs of global agribusiness. For some of the larger developing countries, however, national capitalists are the principal force behind the emerging urban food system. In addition, the state has been playing a key role in the consolidation of the urban food system in certain emerging economies.… | more |

Indigenous Resistance in the Americas and the Legacy of Mariátegui

Marc Becker, Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 356 pages, $22.95, paperback.

Following the 2005 election of the first Indigenous president of any country in the Americas—Evo Morales in Bolivia—I commented in MRzine on the fact that many were taken by surprise by this seemingly sudden occurrence out of nowhere, but only because they had not been paying attention to the development of the international Indigenous movement over the past three decades.… | more |

Unions Must Move Left, They Have No Alternative

Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Fernando Gapasin, Solidarity Divided (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 324 pages, $17.95, paper.

Through the 1980s I was a union organizer and activist in our Bay Area labor anti-apartheid committee. As we picketed ships carrying South African cargo, and recruited city workers to support the African National Congress (then called a terrorist organization by both the United States and South Africa), I looked at South African unions with great admiration.… | more |

July-August 2009 (Volume 61, Number 3)

» Notes from the Editors

A new book by economist Frank Ackerman, Can We Afford the Future?: The Economics of a Warming World (Zed, 2009), presents an important and startling thesis: “As the climate science debate is reaching closure, the climate economics debate is heating up. The controversial issue now is the fear that overly ambitious climate initiatives could hurt the economy”(6). With climate-change skeptics losing influence, mainstream economists—always the ultimate ideological defenders of the capitalist system—are stepping into the breach to ensure inaction on global warming. Armed with cost-benefit analyses, they report that saving the planet for its inhabitants may be all very well and good… but it is simply too expensive for the capitalist economy to afford.… | more |

An Overview of the Food and Agriculture Crisis

“Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?,” asks the title of an article by Lester Brown in Scientific American (May 2009). Just a few years ago, such a question would have seemed almost laughable. Few will be surprised by it today.

In 2008 people woke up to a tsunami of hunger sweeping the world. Although the prospect of rising hunger has loomed on the horizon for years, the present crisis seemed to come out of the blue without warning. Food riots spread through many countries in the global South as people tried to obtain a portion of what appeared to be a rapidly shrinking supply of food, and many governments were destabilized.… | more |