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Volume 67, Issue 11 (April)

Monthly Review Volume 67, Number 11 (April 2016)

April 2016 (Volume 67, Number 11)

The March/April 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, is devoted in large part to the topic of economic stagnation.… [Of the] eight articles on stagnation, only one…—”The Age of Secular Stagnation” by Lawrence H. Summers—is, in our opinion, of any real importance.… Summers heavily criticizes those like Robert J. Gordon, in The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016), who attribute stagnation to supply-side “headwinds”…blocking productivity growth.… Likewise Summers dispatches those like Kenneth Rogoff who see stagnation as merely the product of a debt supercycle associated with periodic financial crises.… Despite such sharp criticisms of other mainstream interpretations of stagnation, Summers’s own analysis can be faulted for being superficial and vague, lacking historical concreteness.… In fact, the current mainstream debate on secular stagnation is so superficial and circumspect that one cannot help but wonder whether the main protagonists—figures like Summers, Gordon, Paul Krugman, and Tyler Cowen—are not deliberately tiptoeing around the matter, worried that if they get too close or make too much noise they might awaken some sleeping giant (the working class?) as in the days of the Great Depression and the New Deal.… | more…

Marx’s Theory of Working-Class Precariousness

Its Relevance Today

As a concept, worker precariousness is far from new. It has a long history in socialist thought, where it was associated from the start with the concept of the reserve army of labor. Frederick Engels introduced the idea of precariousness in his treatment of the industrial reserve army in The Condition of the Working Class in England. Marx and Engels employed it in this same context in The Communist Manifesto, and it later became a key element in Marx’s analysis of the industrial reserve army in volume I of Capital.… In recent years, however, the notion of precariousness as a general condition of working-class life has been rediscovered. Yet the idea is commonly treated in the eclectic, reductionist, ahistorical fashion characteristic of today’s social sciences and humanities, disconnected from the larger theory of accumulation derived from Marx and the socialist tradition. The result is a set of scattered observations about what are seen as largely haphazard developments.… In the face of such a confusion of views—most of them merely ad hoc responses to what is presumed to be an isolated social problem—it is necessary to turn back to the classical Marxian tradition, where the issue of precariousness was first raised.… | more…

The Broken BBC

From Public Service to Corporate Power

In the face of austerity cuts to state infrastructure provision, the British Broadcasting Corporation has recently generated something of a moral panic about the future of public sector broadcasting—mobilizing both its own news channel and its friends in the corporate media around the issue. Yet in the midst of this ongoing existential crisis, few have asked: What is it we are being asked to defend?… As in car manufacturing, what is provided is a limitedly resourced primary product, altered for different consumption demands, by add-on and take-off parts.… | more…

A New Economy of Knowledge

Longtime Monthly Review and Monthly Review Press author Richard Levins died on January 19, 2016, at the age of eighty-five. A polymath, he studied agriculture, mathematics, genetics, evolution, ecology, and philosophy.… He collaborated with Cuban scientists and served as a scientific advisor for Cuba. With his close friend and coauthor Richard Lewontin he wrote a column, “Eppur´ Si Muove,” for the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, and he actively participated in the progressive organization Science for the People, working to confront the misuse of science. He was, above all, a leading Marxist intellectual, ecologist, biomathematician, philosopher of science, and comrade.… Four months before his death, Levins submitted this essay to Monthly Review. In it he discusses La economía del conocimiento y el socialismo by Agustín Lage, published in 2013 by Editorial Academia del Hispanismo. The book is currently unavailable in English translation. In the pages that follow, we feature this last essay by Levins, under the circumstances substantially unedited, along with his classic article “Living the Eleventh Thesis,” an excerpt from Biology Under the Influence that first appeared in the January 2008 issue of Monthly Review.

—Brett Clark

Living the Eleventh Thesis

When I was a boy I always assumed that I would grow up to be both a scientist and a Red. Rather than face a problem of combining activism and scholarship, I would have had a very difficult time trying to separate them.… Before I could read, my grandfather read to me from Bad Bishop Brown’s Science and History for Girls and Boys. My grandfather believed that at a minimum every socialist worker should be familiar with cosmology, evolution, and history. I never separated history, in which we are active participants, from science, the finding out how things are. My family had broken with organized religion five generations back, but my father sat me down for Bible study every Friday evening because it was an important part of the surrounding culture and important to many people, a fascinating account of how ideas develop in changing conditions, and because every atheist should know it as well as believers do.… On my first day of primary school, my grandmother urged me to learn everything they could teach me—but not to believe it all. She was all too aware of the “racial science” of 1930s Germany and the justifications for eugenics and male supremacy that were popular in our own country. Her attitude came from her knowledge of the uses of science for power and profit and from a worker’s generic distrust of the rulers. Her advice formed my stance in academic life: consciously in, but not of, the university.… | more…

“Realists of a Larger Reality”

On New Science Fiction

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin is undoubtedly right about resistance in the “real” world, but in reading, only some books offer a call to resistance and the possibilities of a new reality. Among the books considered here, some come to us as “literary fiction”; others are marked as belonging to another, historically denigrated, form, “science fiction” or “fantasy.” This could be a distinction without a difference: two are near-future dystopian novels about corporate capitalism in the United States (both by well-established white authors); two are collections of near-future short stories that set out to critique the human powers that structure our world (written by both established and new voices, primarily writers of color). But the books that embrace rather than evade their status as science fiction or fantasy are the ones able to imagine the resistance and change that Le Guin invokes.… | more…

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