Pronounced preoccupation with interpretation of historical experience, with basic problems of social dynamics, and with epistemological foundations of social science is itself an important characteristic of the revolutionary convulsions that mark the end and the beginning of epochs in human history. Thus also in our days the feeling of philosophical unrest has penetrated the ivory towers of conventional economics, and the rationale of traditional economic theorizing has become doubtful even to the most complacent practitioners of the established orthodoxy. Representing essentially a series of more or less successful attempts at the comprehension of the working principles of capitalism, customary economic thought stands completely disarmed when confronted with the decomposition of capitalism itself, when what matters is no longer the movements and the behavior of the passengers (and the conductors) on the train but the direction and the speed of the train itself.
In late 1970, prompted by the debate over the exposure of U.S. atrocities in the village of Mỹ Lai, an anonymous GI wrote a letter to Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland, claiming to have witnessed hundreds of acts of terrorism by U.S. soldiers during Operation Speedy Express. The campaign, intended to reclaim portions of the Mekong Delta, purportedly killed over ten thousand enemy but seized only seven hundred weapons.
Kim Phillips-Fein has provided us with a very fine account of how we got where we are—in a stranglehold of big business conservatism that has by no means been broken by the liberal electoral victory of 2008. She has not only absorbed a considerable amount of secondary literature, but has also combed through the archives, combining her impressive research and insights with a well-paced narrative populated with a variety of interesting personalities—all quite well-to-do, all white, almost all male, and yet a very diverse and interesting lot.
After reading The Union of Their Dreams, Miriam Pawel’s exceptional account of the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), I reread an article I wrote for The Nation in November 1977. In “A Union Is Not a Movement,” I leveled some harsh criticism at the UFW and its famous leader, Cesar Chavez. In response, the Union’s chief counsel, Jerry Cohen, one of the major characters in Pawel’s book, threatened suit against the magazine. At the time I was upset, thinking that maybe I should have been more careful in what I had said. However, as The Union of Their Dreams makes clear, I need not have been concerned, since everything I said was true. And then some.
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; two nonfiction books; and a CD of her political poems, Louder, We Can’t Hear You Yet. She has been an activist most of her life. She wrote this poem ten days after Howard Zinn’s death, January 27, 2010, and read it at Zinn’s memorial, April 3.
April 10, 2010, marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Paul Sweezy (1910-2004), and December 8, 2010, will mark a century since the birth of Paul Baran (1910-1964). Their joint work, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order ,was published by Monthly Review Press in 1966. Between this month and December, we intend to commemorate the Baran-Sweezy Centennial through items to appear in Monthly Review, MRzine, and the MR Webpage. We will also commemorate this year the work of their close friend and colleague Harry Magdoff, born August 21, 1913, whose writing is inextricably connected to theirs.
Travelers from the United States to Cuba cross more than ninety miles of sea: they cross decades of history. They may be limited to one suitcase, but they carry trunks full of ideological baggage, including biases about Cuba, beliefs about communists, commitments as to what a good society should be like, and a collection of conventional poli-sci formulas about power, government, and human behavior…Members of delegations usually have planned itineraries, visiting various institutions and cultural events. They will learn about health care, education, cultural and sport resources, commitment to an ecological pathway of development, urban agriculture, equitable distribution through the rationing system, full employment, formal aspects of the political and judicial systems, achievements in gender and racial equality. These are all real, and demonstrate how far a poor country can go with so little. But it is obviously not the full story. There is nothing sinister in this. These are the things in which Cuba has pioneered, and of which Cuba is most proud and eager to show the world…My own experience has been that the more committed revolutionaries have the most serious, complex, and thoughtful criticisms, while counterrevolutionaries mostly complain about particular hardships or unpleasant incidents.
Aside from Keynes, no economist seems to have benefitted so much from the financial crisis of 2007-08 as the late Hyman Minsky. The collapse of the sub-prime market in August 2007 has been widely labeled a “Minsky moment,” and many view the subsequent implosion of the financial system and deep recession as confirming Minsky’s “financial instability hypothesis” regarding economic crisis in capitalist economies.…Recognition of Minsky’s intellectual contribution is welcome and deserved. Minsky was a deeply insightful theorist about the proclivity of capitalist economies to experience financially driven booms and busts, and the crisis has confirmed many of his insights. That said, the current article argues that his theory only provides a partial and incomplete account of the current crisis.
In an article entitled “Listen, Keynesians!,” published in January 1983 in Monthly Review, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy argued that the radical break that John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) represented for orthodox economics lay in the fact that “For the first time the possibility was frankly faced, indeed placed at the very center of the analysis, that breakdowns of the accumulation process, the heart and soul of economic growth, might be built into the system and non-self correcting.”… In November 1982, only two months before the publication of “Listen, Keynesians!,” Magdoff and Sweezy had pointed out in “Financial Instability: Where Will it All End?” that the question as to whether a major financial crisis (on the scale of 1929) could propel the economy into a deep downturn, approaching the scale of the Great Depression of the 1930s, was still an open one. They were responding here to Hyman Minsky, a proud Keynesian (albeit with socialist leanings), “whose views,” they claimed, were “especially worthy of attention precisely because over the years he has been the American economist who has done more than any other to focus on the crucially important destabilizing role of the financial system in advanced capitalist countries.”
The recession that began in the second quarter of 1981 (the second in two years) dragged on into 1982. Most observers look for some recovery in the second half of the year, but hardly anyone expects it to be vigorous. Meanwhile, all the typical signs of stagnation continue to be in evidence. The official unemployment rate which stood at 7.6 percent in 1981 rose to 9.5 percent by the middle of 1982, and the manufacturing capacity utilization rate fell from 79.9 percent to 69.9 percent in the same period.… The counterpart to this stagnation in the realm of production and employment was a continuing ballooning of the financial superstructure of the economy which, as the essays in this volume have been at pains to emphasize, has been one of the most spectacular features of capitalist development during the post-Second World War period.
Adrienne Rich is the author of more than sixteen volumes of poetry and five nonfiction prose books, the most recent being A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society (Norton). She is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including a MacArthur Fellowship and the 1999 Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
Twice recently, Monthly Review—in “The Vulnerable Planet Fifteen Years Later” (December 2009) and in “Why Ecological Revolution?” (January 2010), both by John Bellamy Foster—has highlighted the fact that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in its most recent (2007) report that the Himalayan glaciers could vanish altogether by 2035. Since the appearance of the January issue of MR, however, this has been revealed as an error on the part of the IPCC—a claim that, according to the IPCC itself, should never have appeared in its report.…Global warming deniers, mostly on the right, are making all they can out of this mishap in the IPCC’s report, using it to throw scorn on the whole process of climate change science. Both the mistake itself and the dissemination of the error by scientists, environmentalists, and the news media are being dubbed “glaciergate” by the IPCC’s critics.…Yet science should never be regarded as error free. Indeed, crucial to the working of the scientific method is that science is self-correcting. This particular mistake has already been acknowledged by the IPCC and will be followed up by detailed scientific studies in this area, coupled with attempts to improve IPCC review procedures.
For those concerned with the fate of the earth, the time has come to face facts: not simply the dire reality of climate change but also the pressing need for social-system change. The failure to arrive at a world climate agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 was not simply an abdication of world leadership, as is often suggested, but had deeper roots in the inability of the capitalist system to address the accelerating threat to life on the planet. Knowledge of the nature and limits of capitalism, and the means of transcending it, has therefore become a matter of survival. In the words of Fidel Castro in December 2009: “Until very recently, the discussion [on the future of world society] revolved around the kind of society we would have. Today, the discussion centers on whether human society will survive.”
On June 4, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a key foreign policy speech in Cairo, Egypt. He advocated new, positive relations between the United States and Muslim countries, focusing on relations with the Middle East. He also mentioned establishing new relations with Iran: “There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect.”…But this new promise “to move forward without preconditions” should be viewed in the wider context of continuous economic and military pressures on Iran and on the entire region of the Middle East.
Several generations of development programs have left the gap between rich and poor countries wider than ever. Decades of aid and foreign investment have extracted many times more wealth than they bring in. Seventeen years after the Earth Summit at Rio, carbon dioxide continues to increase. The non-proliferation treaty has left us with more nukes, more countries possessing nukes, more sophisticated nuclear weapons, more willingness to use them. The fanfare of the Green Revolution has died down, and farmers are still being displaced to cities that can’t accommodate them. The first homes of the Green Revolution are now importers of food. Agricultural yields have increased, but so has hunger. Millennial development goals will not be reached.…It is not that no programs work. There have been dramatic successes such as the eradication of smallpox, the near eradication of polio, the containment of plague.…There is a pattern of a sort: narrowly focused technical solutions reshuffle crises.