In 1987, in the introduction to their Stagnation and Financial Explosion, Monthly Review editors Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy wrote: “We both reached adulthood during the 1930s, and it was then that we received our initiation into the realities of capitalist economics and politics. For us economic stagnation in its most agonizing and pervasive form, including its far-reaching ramifications in every aspect of social life, was an overwhelming personal experience. We know what it is and what it can mean; we do not need elaborate definitions or explanations. But we have gradually learned, not altogether to our surprise of course, that younger people who grew up in the 1940s or later not only do not share but also do not understand these perceptions. The economic environment of the war and postwar periods that played such an important part in shaping their experiences was very different. For them stagnation tends to be a rather vague term, equivalent perhaps to a longer-than-usual recession but with no implication of possible grave political and international repercussions. Under these circumstances, they find it hard to relate to what they are likely to regard as our obsession with the problem of stagnation. They are not quite sure what we are talking about or what all the fuss is over.
Volume 60, Issue 09 (February)
With U.S. capitalism mired in an economic crisis of a severity that increasingly brings to mind the Great Depression of the 1930s, it should come as no surprise that there are widespread calls for “a new New Deal.” Already the new Obama administration has been pointing to a vast economic stimulus program of up to $850 billion over two years aimed at lifting the nation out of the deep economic slump.
Imagine. A liberation army that supports a generalized revolt of the peasantry reaches the gates of the capital, where the people, in their turn, rise up, drive the royal government from power and welcome as their liberator the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), whose effective revolutionary strategy needs no further demonstration. What is involved here is the most radical victorious revolutionary advance of our epoch, and, for this reason, the most promising.
The first edition of Why Unions Matter was published in 1998. In it I argued that unions mattered because they were the one institution that had dramatically improved the lives of the majority of the people and had the potential to radically transform both the economic and political landscape, making both more democratic and egalitarian. I showed with clear and decisive data that union members enjoyed significant advantages over nonunion workers: higher wages, more and better benefits, better access to many kinds of leaves of absence, a democratic voice in their workplaces, and a better understanding of their political and legal rights. What is more, unions benefitted nonunion workers through their political agitations and through what is called the “spillover” effect—nonunion employers will treat their employees better if only to avoid unionization.
During the Cold War, many of the people with a radical vision of the world were driven out of our labor movement. Today, as unions search for answers about how to begin growing again, and regain the power workers need to defend themselves, the question of social vision has become very important. What is our vision in labor? What are the issues that we confront today that form a more radical vision for our era.
For decades we’ve been told that “there is no alternative” to global capitalism—that trust in the market was the only way to bring progress and end poverty, despite the clear absence of an actual end to poverty. The global financial crisis of 2008 has undermined the rhetoric of inevitability, as even its most prominent practitioners begin to question the logic of neoliberalism. A Washington Post editorial titled “The End of American Capitalism?” quotes the Nobel Prize–winning former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz as saying: “People around the world once admired us for our economy, and we told them if you wanted to be like us, here’s what you have to do—hand over power to the market. The point now is that no one has respect for that kind of model anymore given this crisis. And of course it raises questions about our credibility. Everyone feels they are suffering now because of us” (October 10, 2008).
“If we believe in people, if we believe that the goal of a human society must be that of “ensuring overall human development,” our choice is clear: socialism or barbarism.” These concluding lines from “The Path to Human Development” appear on the back cover of one Venezuelan edition—a pocket-sized edition much like the widely circulated “Socialism Does Not Drop from the Sky” (chapter 5 of Build It Now). The other edition, together with an extended edition of that latter essay (including my “New Wings for Socialism” from the April 2006 Monthly Review), is being published as The Logic of Capital versus the Logic of Human Development for the communal council libraries in Venezuela.