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The Crisis

A View from Occupied America

The theme of the 2012 Left Forum, “Occupy the System—Confronting Global Capitalism,” calls for a historical imagination informed by a realistic sense of where we are. To occupy the system is first to be aware of the system as a system—a system of unequal privilege and control. It requires that we occupy the narrative of public debate, which is something the Occupy movement, to a remarkable degree, has been able to achieve. Even President Obama, who so far has followed the economic policies of his Wall Street-friendly advisers, has used campaign rhetoric taken from Occupy Wall Street. But this time around voters are hardly convinced that the “Change” Obama promised last election will happen through the existing system. The breath of fresh air from Occupy and related activism challenges corporate power and capitalism.

Four Crises of the Contemporary World Capitalist System

This essay examines aspects of the global political economy that I hope will inform progressive governments and movements for social change. It evaluates the constraints and opportunities presented in the current conjuncture of world capitalist development by analyzing four areas of crisis in the contemporary world capitalist system. These are not the only contradictory elements in the contemporary conjuncture, but they are, in my view, the most salient

Wage Stagnation, Growing Insecurity, and the Future of the U.S. Working Class

The most important promises used to justify capitalism are that your children will have a better life than you do, and in President Kennedy’s famous words, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” meaning everyone benefits from the accumulation of capital. These promises ring hollow in a period in which the relative position of the working people of the United States is declining and its ruling class is able to appropriate an increasing share of the national income. This pattern of accumulation and appropriation has become evident to many Americans and this awareness is beginning to affect political consciousness

Imperialism: In Tribute to Harry Magdoff

Imperialism is the system by which a dominant power is able to control the trade, investment, labor, and natural resources of other peoples. It takes different forms in different stages of capitalist development and has elements in common with the imperium of ancient empires. I want to lay out these structural elements, contrast them with the mainstream economists’ view of exchange regulated by free market principles, and then discuss the specific form imperialism takes in our own time. Any essay on this subject written from the left must acknowledge the influence of the writing of Harry Magdoff and on this occasion his influence is highlighted

Resource Wars

The close relation between war and natural resources is of long standing. What else was colonial conquest about? Vast estates held by the Dutch East India Company came under direct control of the Crown as did the lands conquered by the British East India Company. What was in demand in Europe dictated the commodities produced and the natural resources that were ripped from the earth. European violence set the terms on which resource extraction occurred. There was no free trade for mutual benefit based on comparative advantage. There were few constraints on the violence employed in the extraction of resources starting with the “shock and awe” of bombardments and fire storms of wars of conquest and followed by the pitiless subjugation of people of color. Having defeated the locals in battle the invaders suborned local elites and customs to extract resources from those they had conquered

‘Let the Dialectic Continue!’

Harry Magdoff died on New Year’s Day 2006 at the age of ninety-two. He will be remembered in the hearts of those who knew him, those who were profoundly influenced when they heard him speak, and those who have read Monthly Review and his great books on imperialism, which helped mature the thinking of the generation of leftists who came of age during the Vietnam War. It is the warmth of his person, the clarity and incisiveness of his thinking, and his profound vision of the absolute necessity of socialism that characterize his historic contributions and set him apart as one of a handful of great Marxist thinkers of the last century. The breadth of Harry’s knowledge—his grasp of world history, Marxist literature, and broader literatures—was extraordinary. He was as content, for example, to discuss the nature of calculus with a college student as Shakespeare with a Shakespeare scholar, all with that wonderful enthusiasm and energy he always brought to conversations

The Power of the Rich

Two trends dominate today’s world political economy. The first is growing inequality. The second is slower economic growth. Both trends have important consequences, which flow from the increased power of capital in a globalized world. The hegemony of the capitalist class is not new, but in any specific conjuncture, how its power is exercised depends on how technological possibilities are deployed, the degree of ideological clarity of the working class (broadly conceptualized), and the political activity of factions of the ruling class itself. In looking at the power of the rich in the United States, I will discuss not so much structural power but contingent developments of George W. Bush’s presidency

Trouble, Trouble, Debt, and Bubble

The questions regarding U.S. macroeconomic policy these days come down to whether the country can keep borrowing. Can consumers keep spending by increasing their debt level? Can the federal government keep running a large budget deficit without serious problems developing? Can the U.S. current account deficit keep growing? Will foreigners keep buying government bonds to cover this growing debt? If the answer is no to such questions, we can expect serious trouble and not just for the United States but for the rest of the world, which has grown used to the United States as the consumer of last resort. The United States buys 50 percent more than it sells overseas, enough to sink any other economy. In another economy, such a deficit would lead to a severe devaluation of the currency, sharply inflating the price of imports and forcing the monetary authorities to push interest rates up considerably

Du Bois vs. Neoliberalism

What is today viewed as globalization is not in fact a new phenomenon as the writing of W. E. B. Du Bois attests. Dr. Du Bois understood the impacts of what today we call neoliberalism, its damages, its causes, the interests it serves, and the way it divides the working class and undercuts the progressive movements with horrible consequences at home and abroad. These remain our themes today, though we would add “and women” in brackets where Dr. Du Bois wrote only “men,” and we would include ethnicity and religion as part of the discussion of the color line

The Two Wings of the Eagle

Peter Marcuse has written (Monthly Review, July-August 2000) that globalization “is a nonconcept in most usages: a simple catalogue of everything that seems different since, say, 1970, whether advances in information technology, widespread use of air freight, speculation in currencies, increased capital flows across borders, Disneyfication of culture, mass marketing, global warming, genetic engineering, multinational corporate power, new international division of labor, reduced power of nation-states, or post-Fordism.” The problem is more than the careless use of words, the inclusion of everything means the term means little or nothing. Most importantly, “the term fogs any effort to separate cause from effect, to analyze what is being done, by whom, to whom, for what and with what effect.” To answer these questions it is necessary to reframe the discussion. Neither the amorphous globalization discourse of everyday social science nor the previously dominant one of nation-state sovereignty are satisfactory to the task

After Neoliberalism: Empire, Social Democracy, or Socialism?

What comes after neoliberalism? To answer that question we must ask a more fundamental question: What do neoliberalism and neoconservatism have in common with the antiglobalization and antiwar movements? The answer is that all ostensibly share a focus on redefining democracy in the contemporary world system. “Spreading democracy” is the rallying cry of both the Washington Consensus and the Bush Doctrine. The “Washington Consensus” is the claim that global neoliberalism and core finance capital’s economic control of the periphery and the entire world by means of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only realistic alternative to misery and disaster. The “Bush Doctrine” is the bald neoconservative justification of U.S. global military domination and preemptive war—as part of a renewed attempt to make the world safe for democracy. For the antiglobalization and antiwar movements these establishment doctrines, insofar as they profess to be “spreading democracy,” are nothing but window dressing for the global dictatorship of the U.S. and core corporate governing elites. While focusing their attack on the institutions that enforce this dictatorship, these movements also strive to create an alternative, a genuine participatory democracy

Occupation’s Mixed Legacy

Eiji Takemae, Inside GHQ: The Allied Occupation of Japan and Its Legacy, translated and adapted by Robert Ricketts and Sebastian Swann with a preface by John W. Dower (New York and London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002), 751 pages, hardcover $40.

Eiji Takemae, the doyen of Occupation studies in Japan, first wrote in 1983 in Japanese this fascinating account of how the United States, over a brief space of time, “dramatically rewove the social, economic and political fabric of a modern state, resetting its national priorities, redirecting its course of development.” It is now available in a substantially revised and enlarged English edition. This major contribution is accessible to the general reader with little or no background in these important events—which brought New Deal reform to an essentially feudal country, and in what became known as the reverse course, restored important elements of the Old Order as part of a Cold War turnaround. While right-wing Japanese then and now present the democratization process as the imposition of a victor’s peace and cultural imperialism, for most Japanese it was liberation from repressive militarist autocracy

The Face of Empire

They who advocate and enforce the neoliberal agenda have now lost intellectually, morally, even in terms of their own beloved market test. The neoliberal policies of the last decades have failed to bring about economic growth and financial stability, to say nothing of meeting the test of justice or of addressing the social costs and wrong headed quality of the growth the existing system does produce. It is now clear to a great many people around the world that the neoliberal agenda is bankrupt. The World Bank and the academic defenders of the so-called Washington Consensus have stopped defending it as before. Suddenly the need for “reform,” which has up to now meant the imposition of the Washington Consensus, is applied by them to the Washington Consensus itself. Of course these “reforms” are mostly aimed at disarming critics. “Dialogue” and “partnership” are on offer only so they can better pursue their unchanged agenda of domination

Taking Exams, Taking on Capitalism

Bertell Ollman, How to Take an Exam…& Remake the World (Montreal and New York: Black Rose Books, 2001), 191 pages, $19.99 paper.

Bertell OIlman’s How to Take an Exam … & Remake the World has a double agenda, which OIlman candidly acknowledges: to offer advice about studying (which the student wants) and to make a powerful plea for socialism (which OIlman wants). As a study guide, the book offers suggestions for exam preparation that are mostly serious (persistently reminding the student of the importance of advance preparation and offering guidance about how to do that), sometimes cheeky (pre-exam sex is okay, drugs and cheating not), sometimes subversive (in the advice on how to get over on the professor), and at bottom deeply crit- ical of exams as a genre, especially the ones that discourage thinking. OIlman argues that the function of exams is to train submissive work- ers, a trenchant assessment that grows increasingly explicit as the book develops. These exam tips and observations form less than half the story of the book, which scatters them amongst a devastating political analysis. While his experience as a professor makes him a good adviser for exam taking, his commitment to progressive politics and his deep knowledge of Marxism and capitalism make the political and economic material the more powerful part of the book, as he intends