Thursday April 17th, 2014, 11:05 pm (EDT)

John Bellamy Foster

The ‘Left-Wing’ Media?

If we learn nothing else from the war on Iraq and its subsequent occupation, it is that the U.S. ruling class has learned to make ideological warfare as important to its operations as military and economic warfare. A crucial component of this ideological war has been the campaign against “left-wing media bias,” with the objective of reducing or eliminating the prospect that mainstream U.S. journalism might be at all critical toward elite interests or the system set up to serve those interests. In 2001 and 2002, no less than three books purporting to demonstrate the media’s leftward tilt rested high atop the bestseller list. Such charges have already influenced media content, pushing journalists to be less critical of right-wing politics. The result has been to reinforce the corporate and rightist bias already built into the media system… | more |

Imperial America and War

On November 11, 2000, Richard Haass—a member of the National Security Council and special assistant to the president under the elder Bush, soon to be appointed director of policy planning in the state department of newly elected President George W. Bush—delivered a paper in Atlanta entitled “Imperial America.” For the United States to succeed at its objective of global preeminence, he declared, it would be necessary for Americans to “re-conceive their role from a traditional nation-state to an imperial power.” Haass eschewed the term “imperialist” in describing America’s role, preferring “imperial,” since the former connoted “exploitation, normally for commercial ends,” and “territorial control.” Nevertheless, the intent was perfectly clear: … | more |

What Recovery?

Only a few years ago it was widely suggested that the capitalist economy had entered a new economic era. The rapid economic growth experienced during the brief period of the late 1990s, we were told, would become virtually endless, spurred on by rising productivity led by high-technology and the New Economy. The circumstances that now confront us following the bursting of the speculative bubble could not be more different. The country is once again mired in economic stagnation. In the present “recovery”—if indeed we can call it that—new jobs remain few and far between. Of the four sources of demand that create economic activity—personal consumption, business investment, government spending, and net exports—it is mainly consumption, backed by increasing debt, that is currently keeping the economy from slipping deeper into stagnation. Indeed, many business leaders and economists fear the return of recession—referred to as the likelihood of a “double dip.” Behind this fear lies excess capacity in almost every industry, the absence of new growth stimuli, slow growth or recession in most of the rest of the world, and the aftereffects of the bursting of the speculative stock market bubble. All of this suggests that there is more at stake than the traditional business cycle. At the very least, there is reason to expect the continuation of the tendency of stagnation… | more |

The Commercial Tidal Wave

For a long time now it has been widely understood within economics that under the capitalism of giant firms, corporations no longer compete primarily through price competition. They engage instead in what economists call “monopolistic competition.” This consists chiefly of attempts to create monopoly positions for a particular brand, making it possible for corporations to charge more for the branded product while also expanding their market share. Competition is most intense in what Thorstein Veblen called the “production of salable appearances,” involving advertising, frequent model changes, branding of products, and the like. Once this logic takes over in twentieth and now twenty-first century capitalism it is seemingly unstoppable. All human needs, relationships and fears, the deepest recesses of the human psyche, become mere means for the expansion of the commodity universe under the force of modern marketing. With the rise to prominence of modern marketing, commercialism—the translation of human relations into commodity relations—although a phenomenon intrinsic to capitalism, has expanded exponentially… | more |

A Planetary Defeat: The Failure of Global Environmental Reform

The first Earth Summit in Rio de janeiro, Brazil in 1992 generated hopes that the world would at long last address its global ecological prob- lems and introduce a process of sustainable development. Now, with a second summit being held ten years later in johannesburg, that dream has to a large extent faded. Even the principal supporters of this process have made it clear that they do not expect much to be achieved as a result of the johannesburg summit, which is likely to go down in history as an absolute failure. We need to ask ourselves why.
The first reason is perhaps the most obvious, at least to environmen- talists. The decade between Rio and johannesburg has seen the almost complete failure of the Rio Earth Summit and its Agenda 21 to produce meaningful results. This has highlighted the weaknesses of global envi- ronmental summitry… | more |

The Rediscovery of Imperialism

The concept of “imperialism” was considered outside the acceptable range of political discourse within the ruling circles of the capitalist world for most of the twentieth century. Reference to “imperialism” during the Vietnam War, no matter how realistic, was almost always a sign that the writer was on the left side of the political spectrum. In a 1971 foreword to the U.S. edition of Pierre Jalée’s Imperialism in the Seventies Harry Magdoff noted, “As a rule, polite academic scholars prefer not to use the term ‘imperialism.’ They find it distasteful and unscientific” … | more |

Capitalism and Ecology

The Nature of the Contradiction

The social relation of capital, as we all know, is a contradictory one. These contradictions, though stemming from capitalism’s internal laws of motion, extend out to phenomena that are usually conceived as external to the system, threatening the integrity of the entire biosphere and everything within it as a result of capital’s relentless expansion. How to understand capitalism’s ecological contradictions has therefore become a subject of heated debate among socialists. Two crucial issues in this debate are: (1) must ecological crisis lead to economic crisis under capitalism?, and (2) to what extent is there an ecological contradiction at the heart of capitalist society? … | more |

The New Face of Capitalism: Slow Growth, Excess Capital, and a Mountain of Debt

For a long time now, the U.S. economy and the economies of the advanced capitalist world as a whole have been experiencing a slowdown in economic growth relative to the quarter-century following the Second World War. It is true that there have been cyclical upswings and long expansions that have been touted as full-fledged “economic booms” in this period, but the slowdown in the rate of growth of the economy has continued over the decades. Grasping this fact is crucial if one is to understand the continual economic restructuring over the last three decades, the rapidly worsening conditions in much of the underdeveloped world to which the crisis has been exported, and the larger significance of the present cyclical downturn of world capitalism… | more |

Monopoly Capital and the New Globalization

We live at a time when capitalism has become more extreme, and is more than ever presenting itself as a force of nature, which demands such extremes. Globalization-the spread of the self-regulating market to every niche and cranny of the globe-is portrayed by its mainly establishment proponents as a process that is unfolding from every- where at once with no center and no discernible power structure. As the New York Times claimed in its July 7,2001 issue, repeating now fash- ionable notions, today’s global reality is one of “a fluid, infinitely expanding and highly organized system that encompasses the world’s entire population,” but which lacks any privileged positions or “place ofpower.” … | more |

Imperialism and “Empire”

Only a little more than a month ago at this writing, before September 11, the mass revolt against capitalist globalization that began in Seattle in November 1999 and that was still gathering force as recently as Genoa in July 2001 was exposing the contradictions of the system in a way not seen for many years. Yet the peculiar nature of this revolt was such that the concept of imperialism had been all but effaced, even within the left, by the concept of globalization, suggesting that some of the worst forms of international exploitation and rivalry had somehow abated… | more |

Ecology Against Capitalism

In a 1963 talk on “The Pollution of Our Environment” Rachel Carson drew a close comparison between the reluctance of society in the late twentieth century to embrace the full implications of ecological theory and the resistance in the Victorian era to Darwin’s theory of evolution:… | more |

Capitalism’s Environmental Crisis-Is Technology the Answer?

The standard solution offered to the environmental problem in advanced capitalist economies is to shift technology in a more benign direction: more energy-efficient production, cars that get better mileage, replacement of fossil fuels with solar power, and recycling of resources. Other environmental reforms, such as reductions in population growth and even cuts in consumption, are often advocated as well. The magic bullet of technology, however, is by far the favorite, seeming to hold out the possibility of environmental improvement with the least effect on the smooth working of the capitalist machine. The 1997 International Kyoto Protocol on global warming, designed to limit the greenhouse-gas emissions of nations, has only reinforced this attitude, encouraging many environmental advocates in the United States (including Al Gore in his presidential campaign) to advocate technological improvement in energy efficiency as the main escape from the environmental mess … | more |

Marx’s Ecological Value Analysis

Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 312 pp., $45, hardcover.

If there is a single charge that has served to unify all criticism of Marx in recent decades, it is the charge of “Prometheanism.” Although Marx’s admiration for Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and his attraction to Prometheus as a revolutionary figure of Greek mythology has long been known, the accusation that Marx’s work contained at its heart a “Promethean motif,” and that this constituted the principal weakness of his entire analysis, seems to have derived its contemporary influence mainly from Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism. The first volume of this work was drafted in Polish in 1968 and appeared in English in 1978. For Kolakowski: … | more |

Marx and lnternationalism

It is not uncommon within social science today to acknowledge that Karl Marx was one of the first analysts of globalization. But what is usually forgotten, even by those who make this acknowledgment, is that Marx was also one of the first strategists of working-class internationalism, designed to respond to capitalist globalization. The two major elements governing such internationalism, in his analysis, were the critique of international exploitation and the development of a working-class movement that was both national and international in its organization. A scrutiny of Marx’s views at the time of the First International offers useful insights into the struggle to forge a new internationalism in our own day … | more |

Monopoly Capital at the Turn of the Millennium

Economic analysts, as everyone knows, have widely differing views on the way the economy works. The single most important division lies between right and left—a division that has its roots in class. But even among those on the left there are areas of sharp disagreement. One of these is over the centrality of the Keynesian revolution to the development of economics. Did the revolution in economic thought, associated with thinkers such as Keynes and Kalecki, teach things that Marxist political economists should view as essential? Another disagreement is over the role of monopoly and competition. How central is the concentration and centralization of capital to our understanding of the workings of capitalism today—a full century after Marxists and other radicals first raised the question of monopoly capitalism? Whatever one’s abstract theory is—and all theories by definition rely on a degree of abstraction—its usefulness lies in its capacity to make sense of everyday reality, while providing the strategic analysis necessary for practical revolutionary solutions … | more |

Remarks on Paul Sweezy on the Occasion of His Receipt of the Veblen-Commons Award

I would like to quote at length from Paul Samuelson, who wrote a piece exactly thirty years ago for Newsweek magazine about a time thirty years before that “when giants walked the earth and Harvard Yard”: … | more |

Is Overcompetition the Problem?

Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence: A Special Report on the World Economy, 1950-98 (Special issue of New Left Review, no. 229, May/June 1998), 262 pp.

It is tempting perhaps to attribute all the problems of capitalism to excessive competition. After all, capitalism is generally presented within contemporary ideology as a system which is nothing more than a set of competitive relations governed by the market. Is it not possible then that the economic contradictions of capitalism, and indeed the present world crisis, can be explained in terms of the globalization of competition which now knows no bounds, and is undermining all fixed positions, resulting in a kind of free fall? This seems to be the view of the distinguished Marxist historian and social theorist Robert Brenner in his ambitious attempt to account for the present global economic turbulence … | more |

Malthus’ Essay on Population at Age 200

A Marxian View

Since it was first published 200 years ago in 1798, no other single work has constituted such a bastion of bourgeois thought as Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population. No other work was more hated by the English working class, nor so strongly criticized by Marx and Engels. Although the Malthusian principle of population in its classical form was largely vanquished intellectually by the mid-nineteenth century, it continued to reemerge in new forms. In the late nineteenth century it took on new life as a result of the Darwinian revolution and the rise of social Darwinism. And in the late twentieth century Malthusianism reemerged once again in the form of neo-Malthusian ecology … | more |

Science in a Skeptical Age

John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18.

We live in a skeptical age. All of the basic concepts of the Enlightenment, including progress, science and reason are now under attack. At the center of this skepticism lie persistent doubts about science itself, emanating both from within and from without the scientific community. Recent titles by scientists give an idea of the extent of the crisis in confidence within science: Science: The End of the Frontier? (1991) by Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman; The End of Certainty (1996) by Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine; and The End of Science (1996) by Scientific American writer John Horgan … | more |

The Scale of Our Ecological Crisis

One of the problems that has most troubled analysts of global ecological crisis is the question of scale. How momentous is the ecological crisis? Is the survival of the human species in question? What about life in general? Are the basic biogeochemical cycles of the planet vulnerable? Although few now deny that there is such a thing as an environmental crisis, or that it is in some sense global in character, some rational scientists insist that it is wrong to say that life itself, much less the planet, is seriously threatened. Even the mass extinction of species, it is pointed out, has previously occurred in evolutionary history. Critics of environmentalism (often themselves claiming to be environmentalists) have frequently used these rational reservations on the part of scientists to brand the environmental movement as “apocalyptic.” … | more |