The year now ending marks the fortieth anniversary of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s classic work, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (Monthly Review Press, 1966). Compared to mainstream economic works of the early to mid-1960s (the most popular and influential of which were John Kenneth Galbraith’s New Industrial State and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom), Monopoly Capital stood out not simply in its radicalism but also in its historical specificity. What Baran and Sweezy sought to explain was not capitalism as such, the fundamental account of which was to be found in Marx’s Capital, but rather a particular stage of capitalist development. Their stated goal was nothing less than to provide a brief “essay-sketch” of the monopoly stage of capitalism by examining the interaction of its basic economic tendencies, narrowly conceived, with the historical, political, and social forces that helped to shape and support them
The following intellectual biography of Harry Magdoff is a slightly revised and expanded version of a piece that was posted on MRzine a few days after Harry’s death on January 1, 2006. It evolved out of an earlier biography I wrote for the Biographical Dictionary of Dissenting Economists in 2000. Since the aim of this biography was to present the basic facts of Harry’s intellectual career, personal feelings and observations were largely excluded. A brief word on Harry’s character and the warm emotions he engendered within those who knew him therefore seems essential here
If class war is continual in capitalist society, there is no doubt that in recent decades in the United States it has taken a much more virulent form. In a speech delivered at New York University in 2004 Bill Moyers pointed out that
Imperialism is constant for capitalism. But it passes through various phases as the system evolves. At present the world is experiencing a new age of imperialism marked by a U.S. grand strategy of global domination. One indication of how things have changed is that the U.S. military is now truly global in its operations with permanent bases on every continent, including Africa, where a new scramble for control is taking place focused on oil
It is an inescapable truth of the capitalist economy that the uneven, class-based distribution of income is a determining factor of consumption and investment. How much is spent on consumption goods depends on the income of the working class. Workers necessarily spend all or almost all of their income on consumption. Thus for households in the bottom 60 percent of the income distribution in the United States, average personal consumption expenditures equaled or exceeded average pre-tax income in 2003; while the fifth of the population just above them used up five-sixths of their pre-tax income (most of the rest no doubt taken up by taxes) on consumption.1 In contrast, those high up on the income pyramid-the capitalist class and their relatively well-to-do hangers-on-spend a much smaller percentage of their income on personal consumption. The overwhelming proportion of the income of capitalists (which at this level has to be extended to include unrealized capital gains) is devoted to investment.
Today’s imperial ideology proclaims that the United States is the new city on the hill, the capital of an empire dominating the globe. Yet the U.S. global empire, we are nonetheless told, is not an empire of capital; it has nothing to do with economic imperialism as classically defined by Marxists and others. The question then arises: How is this new imperial age conceived by those promoting it?
My subject—organizing ecological revolution—has as its initial premise that we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis of such enormity that the web of life of the entire planet is threatened and with it the future of civilization.
The global actions of the United States since September 11, 2001, are often seen as constituting a “new militarism” and a “new imperialism.” Yet, neither militarism nor imperialism is new to the United States, which has been an expansionist power—continental, hemispheric, and global—since its inception. What has changed is the nakedness with which this is being promoted, and the unlimited, planetary extent of U.S. ambitions.
Articles in Monthly Review often end by invoking the socialist alternative to capitalism. Readers in recent years have frequently asked us what this means. Didn’t socialism die in the twentieth century? Wasn’t it defeated by capitalism? More practically: if socialism is still being advocated what kind of socialism is it? Are we being utopian in the sense of advancing a pleasant but impossible dream?
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
Since the atomic bomb made its first appearance on the world stage in 1945, it has been clear that we possess the power to destroy our own planet. What nuclear weapons made possible, global environmental crisis, marked especially by global warming, has now made inevitable—if business as usual continues.
The bursting of the housing bubble and the ensuing financial debacle have left most people, including many economists and financial experts asking: Why did this happen? If they had been reading Monthly Review, and were familiar with such articles as “The Household Debt Bubble,” “The Explosion of Debt and Speculation,” and “The Financialization of Capitalism,” they would not have needed to ask. In their new book, The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences, Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster and long-time Monthly Review contributor, Fred Magdoff, update this analysis, exploring the whole course of what is now known as “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression”: from the debt explosion and housing bubble to the subprime debacle and federal bailout. They argue that this latest financial crash, although greater than any since 1929, is itself a symptom of deeper problems connected to the stagnation of the “real” or productive economy of mature capitalism. Financial bubbles have become the chief means of countering stagnation, but these inevitably burst, bringing the underlying economic problems back to the surface. The only recourse of the system: new and bigger bubbles, leading, as they too pop, to still greater financial crises and worsening conditions of production—in what has now become a vicious cycle.
“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.
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?
Critique of Intelligent Design is a direct reply to the criticisms of intelligent design proponents and a compelling account of the long debate between materialism and religion in the West. It provides an overview of the contemporary fight concerning nature, science, history, morality, and knowledge. Separate chapters are devoted to the design debate in antiquity, the Enlightenment and natural theology, Marx, Darwin, and Freud, and to current scientific debates over evolution and design. It offers empowering tools to understand and defend critical and scientific reasoning in both the natural and social sciences and society as a whole.