Thursday July 31st, 2014, 1:35 pm (EDT)

John Bellamy Foster

The End of Rational Capitalism

The twentieth century’s dominant myth was that of a “rational capitalism.” The two economists who did the most to promote this idea were John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter. Both were responding to the great historical crisis of capitalism manifested in the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. In the wake of the greatest set of horrors the world had ever seen, accompanied also by the rise of an alternative, contending system in the Soviet Union, it was necessary for capitalism following the Second World War to reestablish itself ideologically as well as materially. In terms of the ideological requirement, the two economists who accomplished this most effectively were Keynes and Schumpeter—not simply because they epitomized the best in bourgeois economic ideology, but also because they were the leading representatives of bourgeois economic science. What they set out in their analyses were the requirements of a rational capitalism and at least the hope that these requirements would be achieved… | more |

Empire of Barbarism

“A new age of barbarism is upon us.” These were the opening words of an editorial in the September 20, 2004, issue of Business Week clearly designed to stoke the flames of anti-terrorist hysteria. Pointing to the murder of schoolchildren in Russia, women and children killed on buses in Israel, the beheading of American, Turkish, and Nepalese workers in Iraq, and the killing of hundreds on a Spanish commuter train and hundreds more in Bali, Business Week declared: “America, Europe, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and governments everywhere are under attack by Islamic extremists. These terrorists have but one demand-the destruction of modern secular society.” Western civilization was portrayed as standing in opposition to the barbarians, who desire to destroy what is assumed to be the pinnacle of social evolution… | more |

Ecology, Capitalism, and the Socialization of Nature: An Interview with John Bellamy Foster

DENNIS SORON: Many environmentalists came away from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 with a great deal of optimism, believing that the cause of global environmental reform had finally been seriously placed on the political agenda. Today, with environmental conditions continuing to worsen and governments refusing to take effective action, it seems that little of this optimism remains. Why did the hopes spawned at Rio turn out to be so misplaced? … | more |

The Commitment of an Intellectual: Paul M. Sweezy (1910-2004)

The following brief intellectual biography of Paul Sweezy was drafted in September 2003 shortly before I saw Paul for the last time. It conveys many of the basic facts of his life. But as with all biographies of leading intellectuals it fails to capture the brilliance of his work, which must be experienced directly through his own writings. Nor is the warmth of Paul’s character adequately conveyed here. A short personal note is therefore needed. What was so surprising about Paul was his seemingly endless generosity and humanity. Paul gave freely of himself to all of those seeking his political and intellectual guidance. But a few, such as myself, were particularly blessed in that they experienced this on a deeper, more intense level. For decades Paul was concerned that Monthly Review not perish as had so many socialist institutions and publications in the past. He recognized early on that the continuance of the magazine and the tradition that it represented required the deliberate cultivation of new generations of socialist intellectuals. I was fortunate to be singled out while still quite young as one of those. For decades Paul wrote me letter after letter—no letter that I wrote to him ever went unanswered—sharing his knowledge, intellectual brilliance, and personal warmth. It was an immense, indescribable gift… | more |

The American Empire: Pax Americana or Pox Americana?

On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., in which he declared that the peace that the United States sought was “not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” His remarks were a response to criticisms of the United States advanced in a recently published Soviet text on military strategy. Kennedy dismissed the charge that “American imperialist circles” were “preparing to unleash different kinds of wars” including “preventative war.” The Soviet text, he pointed out, had stated, “The political aims of American imperialists were and still are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries and, after the latter are transformed into obedient tools, to unify them in various military-political blocs and groups directed against the socialist countries. The main aim of all this is to achieve world domination.” In Kennedy’s words, these were “wholly baseless and incredible claims,” the work of Marxist “propagandists.” “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war.” … | more |

Pox Americana: Exposing the American Empire

Pox Americana: Exposing the American Empire

This volume brings together the work of leading Marxist analysts of imperialism to examine the burning question of our time—the nature and prospects of the U.S. imperial project currently being given shape by war and occupation in the Middle East.… | more |

China and Socialism: Editors’ Foreword

We depart this year from our usual practice for MR’s July–August 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.… | more |

Memorial Service for Paul Marlor Sweezy (1910-2004)

Memorial Service for Paul Marlor Sweezy (1910-2004)

Referred to by The Wall Street Journal in 1972 as “the ‘dean’ of radical economists,” Paul M. Sweezy was, in the words of John Kenneth Galbraith, “the most noted American Marxist scholar” of the second half of the twentieth century.1 Sweezy’s intellectual influence, which was global in its reach, lay chiefly in two areas: as a leading radical economist (and sociologist), and as the principal originator of a distinct North American brand of socialist thought in his position as co-founder and co-editor of Monthly Review magazine. Like both Marx and Schumpeter, to whose thought his work was closely related, Sweezy provided a historical analysis and crtique of capitalist economic development, encompassing a theory of the origins, development and eventual decline of the system.… | more |

Kipling, the 'White Man's Burden,' and U.s. Imperialism

Kipling, the ‘White Man’s Burden,’ and U.s. Imperialism

We are living in a period in which the rhetoric of empire knows few bounds. In a special report on “America and Empire” in August, the London-based Economist magazine asked whether the United States would, in the event of “regime changes…effected peacefully” in Iran and Syria, “really be prepared to shoulder the white man’s burden across the Middle East?” The answer it gave was that this was “unlikely”—the U.S. commitment to empire did not go so far. What is significant, however, is that the question was asked at all… | more |

The New Age of Imperialism

Imperialism is meant to serve the needs of a ruling class much more than a nation. It has nothing to do with democracy. Perhaps for that reason it has often been characterized as a parasitic phenomenon-even by critics as astute as John Hobson in his 1902 classic, Imperialism: A Study. And from there it is unfortunately all too easy to slide into the crude notion that imperialist expansion is simply a product of powerful groups of individuals who have hijacked a nation’s foreign policy to serve their own narrow ends… | more |

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 |

Imperialism Without Colonies

Imperialism Without Colonies

with an introduction by John Bellamy Foster

In the decades after 1945, as colonial possessions became independent states, it was widely-believed that imperialism as a historical phenomenon was coming to an end. The six essays collected in this volume demonstrate that a new form of imperialism was, in fact, taking shape—an imperialism defined not by colonial rule but by the global capitalist market. From the outset, the dominant power in this imperialism without colonies was the United States.… | 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 |

II. Capitalism and Ecology: The Nature of the Contradiction

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 |

Ecology Against Capitalism

Ecology Against Capitalism

In recent years John Bellamy Foster has emerged as a leading theorist of the Marxist perspective on ecology. His seminal book Marx’s Ecology (Monthly Review Press, 2000) discusses the place of ecological issues within the intellectual history of Marxism and on the philosophical foundations of a Marxist ecology, and has become a major point of reference in ecological debates. This historical and philosophical focus is now supplemented by more direct political engagement in his new book, Ecology Against Capitalism. In a broad-ranging treatment of contemporary ecological politics, Foster deals with such issues as pollution, sustainable development, technological responses to environmental crisis, population growth, soil fertility, the preservation of ancient forests, and the “new economy” of the Internet age.… | more |