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2010

2010 issues

September 2010, Volume 62, Number 4

September 2010, Volume 62, Number 4

» Notes from the Editors

During the period stretching from the 1970s through the 1990s, Monthly Review, under the editorship of Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, stood apart in its analysis of the tendency to economic stagnation in advanced capitalism and its view that the economic slowdown beginning in the 1970s was a manifestation of this secular tendency. The financial explosion that also emerged in these years was seen as an attempt by the system to stave off stagnation by means of credit-debt expansion, but at the cost of increasing financial fragility… | more |

The Wall Street Collapse and Return of Reality-Based Economics

Over the past generation, the U.S. economy as well as most of the rest of the global economy have been dominated by the idea that free market capitalism produces dynamic growth, financial stability, and as close as we are likely to come to a fair society. Supporters of this pro-market framework hold that government interventions to encourage growth, stability, or even fairness will almost always produce more harm than good. This mode of thinking has been the intellectual foundation for the era of financial deregulation in the United States—the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall regulatory system that was built amid the rubble of the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing 1930s Depression. The Clinton administration provided the final nails in the coffin of financial regulation with the passage of the Financial Services Modernization Act in 1999… | more |

The Wisdom of Property and the Politics of the Middle Classes

At the end of the twentieth century, while financial economists satisfied their intellectual pretensions to useful knowledge by conjuring up visions of a world peopled with materialistic consumer-investors optimizing rationally in accordance with their willingness to hazard their wealth, the propertied classes themselves were succumbing to new delusions fostered by the financial markets. The reasoned response of propertied individuals to their experience of the world of speculative finance has created a new political culture with important consequences for the political economy of capitalism… | more |

Genocide Denial with a Vengeance: Old and New Imperial Norms

Perhaps the most shattering lesson from [the] powerful inquiry [of Edward S. Herman and David Peterson in The Politics of Genocide] is that the end of the Cold War opened the way to an era of virtual Holocaust denial. As the authors put it, more temperately, “During the past several decades, the word ‘genocide’ has increased in frequency of use and recklessness of application, so much so that the crime of the 20th Century for which the term originally was coined often appears debased.” Current usage, they show, is an insult to the memory of victims of the Nazis… | more |

Chemical Catastrophe: From Bhopal to BP Texas City

Twenty-five years ago, a runaway chemical reaction in a tank at a Union Carbide (UC) pesticide factory created a poisonous gas which, unimpeded by the factory’s safety devices, spewed out over the sleeping population of the Indian city of Bhopal. Amnesty International estimated that seven thousand to ten thousand died in the catastrophe’s first three days, and that, by 2004, another fifteen thousand died. Prior to Bhopal, concern over toxic chemicals was confined to long-term or chronic effects on human health and the environment. Bhopal, however, showed that the manufacture, storage, and use of toxic chemicals also posed a major, acute risk to the safety of those working in and living around petrochemical plants and complexes… | more |

Cultural Impersonations and Appropriations: A Fashion Report

Growing up on a Midwestern farm while Marx worked on the final draft of Capital, Vol. I, was a boy who, as a man, would have a very different take on the relationship of workers to the products of their labor. Thorstein Veblen would become famous for what he wrote about the fetishized commodities of consumers.…For Veblen, all the nonessentials that we purchase as consumers reflect standards of respectability established by the upper class. The “motive that lies at the root of ownership is emulation,” he wrote, not just of others but of wealthy and powerful others. Under capitalism, one’s property “becomes the conventional basis of esteem,” by which Veblen meant both the high regard of others and self-esteem.…Over the past few decades, however, standards for personal appearance have been transformed in ways that seem to turn Veblen’s conspicuous consumption idea inside out… | more |

Workingclass nostalgia

Marge Piercy (www.margepiercy.com) is the author of seventeen novels, most recently Sex Wars; seventeen volumes of poetry, most recently The Crooked Inheritance; a memoir, Sleeping with Cats; and two nonfiction books. Knopf will publish her second volume of selected poems, The Hunger Moon: Selected Poems, 1980-2010, next March… | more |

Our Last Chance to Save Humanity?

James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 320 pages, $25.00, hardcover.… | more |

James Hansen, one of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, has written an important book about the threat posed by climate change. The title, Storms of My Grandchildren, refers to the prediction of more powerful and more damaging storms in a warmer, future earth. Subtitled The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, the book is written for a lay public and is certain to be controversial… | more |

A History of the Great Bust—Still With Us

Michael Perelman, The Confiscation of American Prosperity. From Right-Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 239 pages, $30.00 hardcover.… | more |

Yves Smith, Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 362 pages, $30 hardcover.… | more |

Some forty years ago, the American business empire viewed itself as under siege as a result of government interventions threatening its freedom of action, demands for annual wage increases in the face of declining corporate profitability, import penetration of its home markets, as well as by loss of global hegemony symbolized by defeat in Vietnam. The empire struck back. A conglomerate of right-wing forces proceeded to declare war on the social reforms and institutions that had taken shape since the 1930s under the wing of an expanding federal government… | more |

July-August 2010, Volume 62, Number 3

July-August 2010, Volume 62, Number 3

» Notes from the Editors

For those wishing to understand the theory and practice of “socialism for the 21st century,” the publication this summer of Michael Lebowitz’s The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (Monthly Review Press) is a major event. Like Marta Harnecker, whose work, “Latin America and Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes,” forms the content of this issue of Monthly Review, Lebowitz is associated with the Centro Internacional Miranda research institute in Venezuela, is an advisor to President Hugo Chávez, and is a major Marxian theorist and political economist. He is also author of Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class, and, more recently, Build it Now (Monthly Review Press, 2006)… | more |

Foreword to the Summer Issue

In the eyes of much of the world, the year 1989 has come to stand for the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of Soviet-type societies, and the defeat of twentieth-century socialism. However, 1989 for many others, particularly in Spanish-speaking countries, is also associated with the beginning of the Latin American revolt against neoliberal shock therapy and the emergence in the years that followed of a “socialism for the 21st century.” This revolutionary turning point in Latin American (and world) history is known as the Caracazo or Sacudón (heavy riot), which erupted in Caracas, Venezuela on February 27, 1989, and quickly became “by far the most massive and severely repressed riot in the history of Latin America.”… | more |

Latin America & Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes

Twenty years ago, left forces in Latin America and in the world in general were going through a difficult period. The Berlin Wall had fallen; the Soviet Union hurtled into an abyss and disappeared completely by the end of 1991. Deprived of the rearguard it needed, the Sandinista Revolution was defeated at the polls in February 1990, and Central American guerrilla movements were forced to demobilize. The only country that kept the banners of revolution flying was Cuba, although all the omens said that its days were numbered. Given that situation, it was difficult to imagine that twenty years later, left-wing leaders would govern most of the Latin American countries.… | more |

I. Latin America

Latin America was the first region in the world where neoliberal policies were introduced. Chile, my country, was used as a testing ground before Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government implemented them in the United Kingdom. But Latin America was also the first region in the world where these policies came to be rejected as policies that only served to increase poverty, aggravate social inequalities, destroy the environment, and weaken working-class and popular movements in general.…It was in our subcontinent that left and progressive forces first began to rally after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. After more than two decades of suffering, new hope was born. At first, this took the shape of struggles to resist neoliberal policies, but after a few years, people went on the offensive, conquering arenas of power.… | more |

II. Twenty-First Century Socialism

“Why talk of socialism?” we may ask. After all, “socialism” has had such negative connotations since its collapse in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. For many years after Soviet socialism disappeared, intellectuals and progressive forces talked more of what socialism must not be than of the model that we actually wanted to build. Some of the facets of Soviet socialism that were rejected—and rightly so—were: statism, state capitalism, totalitarianism, bureaucratic central planning, the kind of collectivism that seeks to homogenize without respecting differences, productivism (which stresses the growth of productive forces without being concerned about the need to protect nature), dogmatism, atheism, and the need for a single party to lead the transition process.… | more |

Conclusion

My reflections on the kind of political instrument needed to build twenty-first century socialism are intended to contribute to a larger body of thought about the horizon toward which a growing number of Latin American governments are moving. I conclude by emphasizing the need for a new left culture, a tolerant and pluralist culture that stresses that which unites us rather than that which divides us. A culture that promotes unity around values—such as solidarity, humanism, respect for difference, and protection of the environment—and turns its back on the view that hunger for profit and the laws of the market are the guiding principles of human activity.… | more |

June 2010, Volume 62, Number 2

June 2010, Volume 62, Number 2

» Notes from the Editors

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held April 20-22, 2010, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, will undoubtedly be remembered as a major historical turning point in the struggle over climate change. Over 35,000 people from 142 countries attended….For perhaps the first time, the issue of the planetary environmental crisis was wrested entirely from the ideological control of the rich countries of the North in a major international forum, leading to the development of a radical South-based perspective.… | more |

Capitalism, the Absurd System: A View from the United States

Perhaps nothing points so clearly to the alienated nature of politics in the present day United States as the fact that capitalism, the economic system that drives the society, is effectively off-limits to critical review or discussion. To the extent that capitalism is mentioned by politicians or pundits, it is regarded in hushed tones of reverence for the genius of the market, its unquestioned efficiency, and its providential authority. One might quibble with a corrupt and greedy CEO or a regrettable loss of jobs, but the superiority and necessity of capitalism—or, more likely, its euphemism, the so-called “free market system”—is simply beyond debate or even consideration. There are, of course, those who believe that the system needs more regulation and that there is room for all sorts of fine-tuning. Nevertheless, there is no questioning of the basics.… | more |

South Africa’s Bubble Meets Boiling Urban Social Protest

As the June-July 2010 World Cup draws the world’s attention to South Africa, the country’s poor and working-class people will continue protesting, at what is now among the highest rates per person in the world. Since 2005, the police have conservatively measured an annual average of more than eight thousand “Gatherings Act” incidents (public demonstrations legally defined as involving upwards of fifteen demonstrators) by an angry urban populace….This general urban uprising has included resistance to the commodification of life—e.g., commercialization of municipal services—and to rising poverty and inequality in the country’s slums.… | more |

Awakening in Oaxaca: Stirrings of the People’s Giant

The medieval kingdom that is twentieth century Oaxaca has imprisoned hundreds of citizens arbitrarily and unjustly. Dozens more have disappeared, victims of paramilitary escuadrones de muerte (death squads). Thousands have been beaten, tortured, and robbed, lost their jobs, or have been forced into exile because they objected to government wrongdoing.…The King’s minions who control Oaxaca’s political and economic systems are a small minority of the state’s population, “but they are a powerful minority. There is no transparency. The governor arranges, controls, dispenses as he wishes—he is the head cacique, he has the legislature and the judicial system in his pocket.” Change means overthrowing the governor and the system of government that he manifests and represents.… | more |

El Salvador: Mining the Resistance

“Ultimately,” said Miguel Rivera, a soft-spoken man in his late twenties, “we are a family that has dedicated ourselves to helping the people with their needs and defending their rights. But in the process of denouncing the consequences of mining especially, I think there are people that will be your enemies.”…The Canadian-owned Pacific Rim Mining Company has attempted to exploit a gold mine at El Dorado for the better part of a decade, and has been repeatedly thwarted in its efforts….Now, apparently, the company’s local allies have taken a more violent approach to removing that opposition.… | more |