“Remarks on Capitalism and the Environment It Produces” is a recently discovered draft paper of Harry Magdoff’s. The exact date and location of its presentation is unknown; however the occasion was quite clearly a panel on economist Michael Tanzer’s The Sick Society (1971). We can therefore assume that it was written in 1971 or 1972. It is provided here in its original form with only minor copyediting. The title has been added. In our view, the chief importance of the paper is Magdoff’s early development of ecological ideas, ideas that are now much more common on the left.
By the end of 1990, foreign direct investment—that is, investment in manufacturing, real estate, raw materials, extraction, financial institutions, etc., made by capitalists of all lands outside their national borders—reached over $1.5 trillion…. [W]hat is significant about this number is not only its size but the unprecedented speed with which it has grown in the last two decades: the amount directly invested in foreign lands nearly tripled in the 1980s alone…. This upsurge and diversification of globalization has been introducing new economic and political features in the countries of both the periphery and the core. In the periphery, foreign capital has penetrated more widely and deeply than ever before. In the core, this change of direction has helped produce in the world’s key money markets an extraordinary spiraling of credit creation, international flows of money capital, and speculation.
The question of “underconsumptionism” is a tangled one—due not only to the commonplace fallacy associated with what is known as “crude underconsumptionism,” but also because the term has been used at various times to refer to what Joseph Schumpeter in his History of Economic Analysis called “non-spending” or effective demand theories (the second in a typology of underconsumption theories designated by Schumpeter). Underconsumption in this sense, however, would encompass theorists like Keynes and Kalecki who focus not on underconsumption per se, but on underinvestment. Hence, the term is no longer applied to theories of this type (except by some Marxian critics of “underconsumptionism”).… In the following exchange with Jonathan Penzner published in the April 1982 issue of Monthly Review, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, then editors of the magazine, pointed to the fallacy of crude underconsumptionism.
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.
Most government reports make dull reading, and this one is no exception. But it contains a message which needs to be taken in by everyone even minimally concerned about the future of the human race. That message, quite simply, is that there is not and cannot be a safe program for disposing of radioactive wastes. The reasons are basically simple, do not depend on any complicated scientific arguments, and cannot be refuted or made irrelevant by any conceivable increase in scientific knowledge or technological capability. They can be summed up in a series of quotations from the report.
Marxists may be expected to have few disagreements about the meaning of work in the past and present. The same cannot be said, however, about work in the future. Since I will be talking about work under socialism and communism as well as in history, what I am presenting here is a Marxist perspective, not the Marxist perspective
Even when Harry Magdoff was writing articles less often in his final years, he continued to compose letters that displayed his keen interest in world developments, the evolution of his thinking, and his deep personal commitments. Reprinted here are four letters he wrote in the opening years of the new millennium. The first was written while he still lived in New York. The last three were written in Vermont where Harry had moved in June 2002 to live with his son Fred and his daughter-in-law Amy Demarest. The fragilities of old age had largely confined him by then to home. But his thinking still knew no bounds
Harry Magdoff, coeditor of Monthly Review since 1969, socialist, and one of the world’s leading economic analysts of capitalism and imperialism, died in his home in Burlington, Vermont on January 1. He was ninety-two years old
Among the arguments against socialism is that it goes against human nature. “You can’t change human nature” is the frequently heard refrain. That may be true of basic human instincts such as the urge to obtain food to eat, reproduce, seek shelter, make and wear protective clothing. However, what has usually been referred to as “human nature” has changed a great deal during the long history of humankind. As social systems changed, many habits and behavioral traits also changed as people adapted to new social structures. Anatomically modern humans emerged some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Over the tens of thousands of years since, many different kinds of social organizations and societies have developed. Initially, most were based on hunting and gathering, while for about the last 7,000 years many have been based on agriculture. These societies were organized as clans, villages, tribes, city-states, nations, and/or empires
If I belong anywhere today, it is with you. But to my great regret, I cannot be physically present. No doubt other speakers will deal with Paul as a major theoretician, a worldwide influential thinker and struggler for the sake of humanity. And there is much to say about Paul the human being. Not to monopolize the stage, I have selected two areas to dwell on: Paul as a friend and Paul as a coworker
We think the following letter, written to the daughter of long-time friends, will be of interest to our readers. —The Editors
We depart this year from our usual practice for MR’s JulyAugust double issue. Instead of a collection of articles on a common theme, we are devoting the issue to a single manuscript—a study of China and economic development theory by Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett that will be published in book form by Monthly Review Press early next year. Although there are numerous books on China, this one is especially worthy. It is a careful, clear, well-grounded Marxist study of how a major post-revolutionary society turned away from socialism. In addition, the current transformation in China throws light on why capitalism, by its very nature, creates poverty, inequality, and ecological destruction in the process of economic growth.
These are difficult times for workers. In the wealthy countries of capitalism’s center, labor is struggling to maintain existing wages and benefits against a combined assault by corporations and governments, while conditions of workers in the periphery are even more difficult. The widespread acceptance and adoption of capital’s agenda—”free trade,” “free markets,” greater “flexibility” regarding labor, and reduced social welfare assistance—has led to one group of real winners. Transnational corporations (and their owners and top managers) now have more freedom to produce where labor and other costs are cheap, have their patents protected, and move capital in and out of countries at will. Many workers, unfortunately, are finding that their situation has become more tenuous.
Harry Magdoff sat down to talk in front of a video camera in April 2003, three weeks before the conference Imperialism Today sponsored by Monthly Review in honor of his ninetieth birthday. An edited version of his remarks would be shown on a large screen at the start of the conference. But Harry has much to say that will be left on the cutting room floor, not because it lacks relevance, but because the time for the video is short, and a good portion of it will be devoted to how he became a socialist. Here, then, are Harry’s thoughts on capitalism, imperialism, the United States—and Iraq. (Note: the transcript of the interview was edited in July 2003 under Harry’s supervision to fill in a number of details.)