The Great Recession in the United States, which lasted eighteen months, the longest downturn since the 1930s Depression, was declared over and done as of July 2009. The economy has been growing, albeit slowly, since then, and the output of goods and services (Gross Domestic Product or GDP) has returned to pre-recession levels. U.S. corporate profits have soared, and most of the big banks, after being bailed out, have been making piles of money. However, rising production and profits have not been accompanied by the return to work of millions of unemployed people, many of whom have been out of work for numerous months and have little prospect of future employment.… This essay will focus on the jobs disaster in the United States, although the problem is global. The United States is where the crisis began, and it is still the world’s richest and most powerful nation. What happens here has serious repercussions for everyone in the world. In addition, the disconnect between economic reality and the propaganda of recovery is greatest in the United States. So a close examination of what is happening in this country is instructive, not just for those of us who live here, but for those in the rest of the world as well.
In July 2009, workers at the state-owned Tonghua Steel Company in Jilin, China organized a massive anti-privatization protest. Then, in the summer of 2010, a wave of strikes swept through China’s coastal provinces. These events may prove to be a historic turning point. After decades of defeat, retreat, and silence, the Chinese working class is now re-emerging as a new social and political force.… How will the rise of the Chinese working class shape the future of China and the world? Will the Chinese capitalist class manage to accommodate the working-class challenge while maintaining the capitalist system? Or will the rise of the Chinese working class lead to a new Chinese socialist revolution that could, in turn, pave the way for a global socialist revolution? The answers to these questions will, to a large extent, determine the course of world history in the twenty-first century.
Marilyn Buck (1947-2010) spent over twenty-five years in prison for politically motivated actions against U.S. government policies and in support of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. She wrote these poems behind bars, as a way to comprehend the reality of prison and continue her fight as a white woman against injustice, particularly U.S.-generated white supremacy. Paroled in July 2010, she died of cancer twenty days after her release.
Science is often thought to proceed from a theory to experiments that test its predictions. If new data are discovered that cannot be explained by the theory, eventually a new theory arises to replace it. If the new theory can explain everything the old one did plus the new phenomena, sooner or later every scientist will adhere to the new paradigm.… Neoclassical economics is taught in every college classroom in the United States and in almost every country in the world. Graduate students learn no other approach to economics. They are taught that neoclassical economics is a science, on a par with physics and the other natural sciences. There is even a joke that when good neoclassical economists die, they are reincarnated as physicists, but bad ones come back as sociologists.
On March 15, 2011, we received the following letter from Robert W. McChesney, former coeditor of MR and Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana. Bob lives in Madison, Wisconsin, which in February and March, was the site of an intense class conflict over public-sector workers’ rights to organize. We are reprinting his letter in full here, as we think it will be of interest to all MR readers.
In February 2011, while I was drafting what was to become “Monopoly and Competition in Twenty-First Century Capitalism,” written with Robert W. McChesney and R. Jamil Jonna (Monthly Review, April 2011), I decided to take a look at Paul Sweezy’s copy of the original 1942 edition of Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, which I had in my possession. In doing so, I came across a folded, two-page document, “The Laws of Capitalism,” tucked into the pages. It was written in ink in Sweezy’s very compact handwriting. In the upper-right-hand corner, Sweezy had jotted (clearly much later) in pencil: “(A debate with J.A.S. before the Harvard Graduate Students’ Economics Club, Littauer Center, probably 1946 or 1947.)” The document consisted of a detailed outline, in full sentences, of a contribution to a debate. I immediately realized that this was Sweezy’s opening talk in the now legendary Sweezy-Schumpeter debate. Until that moment, I, along with everybody else, assumed that no detailed records of the actual talks had survived.
The investigation of the dialectical relationship between structure and history is essential for a proper understanding of the nature and the defining characteristics of any social formation in which sustainable solutions are being sought to the encountered problems. This is particularly important in the case of capital’s social formation, with its inexorable tendency toward an all-embracing, structurally embedded determination of all aspects of societal reproduction and the—feasible for the first time ever—global domination implicit in that form of development. It is therefore by no means accidental that, in the interest of the required structural change, Marx had to focus critical attention on the concept of social structure, in the historical period of crises and revolutionary explosions of the 1840s when he articulated his own—radically new—conception of history.
Leadership driven union density or membership driven mobilization? Labor activist and writer Steve Early chronicles the divisions that opened up in a labor movement desperate to curb decline during the first decade of the 21st century. Divisions that led to a split in the AFL-CIO and in the largest US union, SEIU. Early’s detailed knowledge of the issues and players makes for a fascinating trip through labor politics, largely ignored in the mainstream media.
Rebel Rank and File is a collection of articles that surveys the building, heydey, and decline of rank and file workers’ movement in the fields, mines, auto plants, schools, trucking and phone companies in the late 1960s through the 1970s. What makes this book so valuable is that the first half is devoted to detailing the context of these struggles—the political economy in which they were set. It begs the reader to look deeper into the basis of the book—bureaucratized unions, with leaders hell bent on maintaining power no matter the cost, who serve as buck privates in the Democratic Party army, and who need a compliant base every bit as much as the employers. The authors develop a number of interconnected themes: the single minded union strategy based on endless capitalist growth, parochialism, the private welfare state, pragmatism, anti-communism, influence of anti-war, black power and women’s movements—all of which then help the reader to see similarities of the different rank and file experiences, no matter the work or union.
The story Jack O’Dell is one of the least understood but most important stories in the last half-century of the American Left; important because O’Dell, in his organizing and his writing for Freedomways magazine, contributed in crucial ways to the struggle against racism. But also little understood because the taboo on American Communism and Communists has prevented individual stories from the surrounding milieux to be appreciated and understood. This review-essay brings O’Dell back to light.
Will Kaufman’s new book, Woody Guthrie, American Radical, describes how Guthrie’s life-long radicalism shaped his music and evolved over time—from the Great Depression to the Second World War, from the Popular Front to the McCarthyite witch hunts, and into the folk music revival of the 1960s. Kaufman argues that Guthrie’s work must be understood in the context of its time, but also in light of Guthrie’s commitment to socialist politics and his unrelenting opposition to capitalism and fascism.
This year marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s classic work, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic Order (Monthly Review Press, 1966). Three years before the publication of their book, in the July 1963 issue of Monthly Review, Baran and Sweezy published two chapters of Monopoly Capital in MR, together with an introduction. (The publication of the actual book was delayed by Baran’s death in 1964.) Today MR editor John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney are currently completing a book, entitled Monopoly-Finance Capital: Politics in an Era of Economic Stagnation and Social Decline, to be published by Monthly Review Press early next year. The purpose of this new work is to bring the analysis of Monopoly Capital up to date, addressing the changes that have occurred in the capitalist system in the last half-century. We have therefore decided to follow the example of Baran and Sweezy and publish a number of the core chapters of this book, in early form in the magazine, in advance of the book itself. The March 2011 Review of the Month, “The Internet’s Unholy Marriage to Capitalism,” was one such chapter. This issue’s Review of the Month, “Monopoly and Competition in Twenty-First Century Capitalism“…is another.
A striking paradox animates political economy in our times. On the one hand, mainstream economics and much of left economics discuss our era as one of intense and increased competition among businesses, now on a global scale. It is a matter so self-evident as no longer to require empirical verification or scholarly examination. On the other hand, wherever one looks, it seems that nearly every industry is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Formerly competitive sectors like retail are now the province of enormous monopolistic chains, massive economic fortunes are being assembled into the hands of a few mega-billionaires sitting atop vast empires, and the new firms and industries spawned by the digital revolution have quickly gravitated to monopoly status. In short, monopoly power is ascendant as never before.
For decades, major global and regional powers have waged war against those they accuse of fighting immorally—that is, those who use terrorism to harm civilians at home and abroad. Paradoxically, these righteous “wars on terror” are being fought in an era in which the distinction between war waged only against soldiers, and war against soldiers as well as civilians has virtually collapsed. The technological development, stemming from the Industrial Revolution, of aerial bombardment and weapons of mass destruction has made it more difficult to separate citizen from soldier.… [but] it is imperative that this distinction hold. In waging wars on terror, [upholding the soldier/citizen distinction] permits globally powerful nations to rally public opinion under the assertion that what separates us (self) from them (other) is that civilian life is paramount for us and not for “the terrorists.”
On March 25, 1911, a fire spread through the seventh, eighth, and ninth floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The mostly immigrant workers, young Italian, Jewish, and German women who sewed shirtwaists, or women’s blouses, were trapped behind locked doors. The death toll was 146, and many women, their clothing and hair burning, threw themselves from the windows to their deaths on the pavement far below, while spectators watched and could not help. Shortly thereafter, twenty thousand women struck for improved working conditions and wages. The factory building is now part of New York University. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire remains the fourth largest industrial disaster in U.S. history.