Friday April 18th, 2014, 4:44 pm (EDT)

History

History

Two Pauls

In 1957, when I was young and thought I knew everything, I was just about to go to graduate school in economics. Then I read Paul Baran’s The Political Economy of Growth. I immediately sent him an eight-page, single-spaced review of his book. I said that I liked it very much, but had some questions about it. Paul wrote back asking me to become his research assistant and study at Stanford. Unfortunately he could pay so little that it covered only half the tuition. I could not afford it.… [But] I did visit Paul about once every two weeks. He welcomed me because his colleagues had isolated him due to their fears of the witch hunt. The reason he had offered me so little was that Stanford would not give him more money for any purpose. Paul had tenure, but the alumni were angry that he was not fired for his outspoken opposition to U.S. imperialist aggression against Cuba.… | more |

An Important Time Recalled

Robert Bone and Richard Courage, The Muse in Bronzeville: African American Creative Expression in Chicago, 1932–1950 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 336 pages, $29.95, paperback.

The late Robert Bone had a socialist background which impelled him to study African-American history and literature long before those subjects became fashionable. From the 1950s on his pioneering work in this field included The Negro Novel in America (1959) and Down Home: Origins of the Afro-American Short Story (1975). He had planned, and partially researched and written, a study of the Chicago African-American Renaissance of the 1930s and later. When his health began to fail, he gave his notes to Richard A. Courage, author of many articles on African-American narrative and visual arts. Courage completed Bone’s research, and the result is a compelling book which will be a standard in its field for many years to come.… | more |

A Red Robin?

In his estimable Robin Hood: People’s Outlaw and Forest Hero, it is Paul Buhle’s contention that in the almost eight centuries of his legendary existence, Robin has had his time come periodically but seldom more than now. With barbarians, foreign and domestic, at the gates whenever they are not in the palaces, the need for heroes to rise from the ranks of the masses is at least as urgent as it was in Robin Hood’s day.… Buhle argues that the world needs Robin Hood now more than ever. “We need Robin because rebellion against deteriorating conditions is inevitable.”… | more |

First, They Came for the Sex Offenders

Roger N. Lancaster, Sex Panic and the Punitive State (University of California Press, 2011), 328 pages, $24.95, paperback.… | more |

Food as a Commodity

Food is one of the most basic of human needs. Routine access to a balanced diet is essential for both growth and development of the young, as well as for general health throughout one’s life. Although food is mostly plentiful, malnutrition is still common. The contradiction between plentiful global food supplies and widespread malnutrition and hunger arises primarily from food being considered a commodity, just like any other.… | more |

Do the United States and Mexico Really Want the Drug War To Succeed?

Until late in the twentieth century heroin and cocaine addiction in Mexico was not considered a major problem…. [But today] both the governments of Mexico and the United States have demonstrated a need to justify military actions and to portray the “War on Drugs” as a battle between good and evil with no gray areas in between. To make the rhetoric effective it has been necessary to villainize the perpetrators of the “evil” and to ignore the dominant reasons that the evil exists: unabated drug consumption in the United States…. As long as the assassinations, beheadings, cateos, and the majority of the corruption of government official remain south of the border the United States can maintain its pro-military stance, send money and arms to Mexico’s conservative government, and focus on more demanding issues. Mexico, in contrast, rejecting any form of legalization, remains bound to its U.S.-appeasing commitment to continue a bloody confrontation that seems to have no end.… | more |

The Center Will Not Hold

The Rise and Decline of Liberalism

Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 396 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Revenge of the Surplus

Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (London: Pluto Press, 2011), 240 pages, $30.00, paperback.

Samir Amin at 80: An Introduction and Tribute

Samir Amin was born in Cairo in 1931, and studied within the French educational system in Egypt.… He is currently president of the World Forum for Alternatives.… Amin’s wide-ranging work can be most succinctly described in terms of the dual designation of The Law of Value and Historical Materialism—the title of one of his books, now in a new edition as The Law of Worldwide Value. Marx’s intellectual corpus, he notes, appears to be divided into writings on economics and writings on politics.… For Amin, this basic division of Marxist theory is not to be denied. Nevertheless, he insists that the economic laws of capitalism, summed up by the law of value, “are subordinate to the laws of historical materialism.” Economic science, while indispensable, cannot explain at the highest level of abstraction, as in mathematical equations, the full reality of capitalism and imperialism—since it cannot account either for the historical origins of the system itself, or for the nature of the class struggle.… | more |

An Arab Springtime?

The year 2011 began with a series of shattering, wrathful explosions from the Arab peoples. Is this springtime the inception of a second “awakening of the Arab world?” Or will these revolts bog down and finally prove abortive—as was the case with the first episode of that awakening, which was evoked in my book L’éveil du Sud (The Awakening of the South)? If the first hypothesis is confirmed, the forward movement of the Arab world will necessarily become part of the movement to go beyond imperialist capitalism on the world scale. Failure would keep the Arab world in its current status as a submissive periphery, prohibiting its elevation to the rank of an active participant in shaping the world.… | more |

The Democratic Fraud and the Universalist Alternative

The propositions put forward here—and many other possible ones—have no place in the dominant discourse about “civil society.” Rather, they run counter to that discourse which—rather like “postmodernist” ravings à la Negri—is the direct heir of the U.S. “consensus” ideological tradition. A discourse promoted, uncritically repeated, by tens of thousands of NGOs and by their requisite representatives at all the Social Forums. We’re dealing with an ideology that accepts the existing regime (i.e. monopoly capitalism) in all its essentials. It thus has a useful role to play on behalf of capitalist power. It keeps its gears provided with oil. It pretends to “change the world” while promoting a sort of “opposition” with no power to change anything.… | more |

LIBERTÉ

Adrienne Rich is the author of more than sixteen volumes of poetry and five nonfiction prose books, including A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society (Norton). Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010 was published in 2011.… | more |

Freedom’s Struggle and Freedom Schools

Throughout U.S. history, the “truths” [Thomas] Jefferson declared as axiomatic [in the Declaration of Independence] have hardly been evident in the lives of many “Americans,” certainly not in the lives of the two hundred or so slaves Jefferson held on his plantation.… [The recurring] contradiction between ideal and reality is the root of a continuing struggle over what the United States is to be as a nation.… For black people especially, this contradiction has been most persistent and destructive in “education.”… | more |

On the Laws of Capitalism

In February 2011, while I was drafting what was to become “Monopoly and Competition in Twenty-First Century Capitalism,” written with Robert W. McChesney and R. Jamil Jonna (Monthly Review, April 2011), I decided to take a look at Paul Sweezy’s copy of the original 1942 edition of Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, which I had in my possession. In doing so, I came across a folded, two-page document, “The Laws of Capitalism,” tucked into the pages. It was written in ink in Sweezy’s very compact handwriting. In the upper-right-hand corner, Sweezy had jotted (clearly much later) in pencil: “(A debate with J.A.S. before the Harvard Graduate Students’ Economics Club, Littauer Center, probably 1946 or 1947.)” The document consisted of a detailed outline, in full sentences, of a contribution to a debate. I immediately realized that this was Sweezy’s opening talk in the now legendary Sweezy-Schumpeter debate. Until that moment, I, along with everybody else, assumed that no detailed records of the actual talks had survived… | more |

Labor Revolts in the 1970s

Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Cal Winslow, editors, Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and the Revolt from Below During the Long Seventies (New York: Verso, 2010), 472 pages, $29.95, paperback.

Rebel Rank and File is a collection of articles that surveys the building, heydey, and decline of rank and file workers’ movement in the fields, mines, auto plants, schools, trucking and phone companies in the late 1960s through the 1970s. What makes this book so valuable is that the first half is devoted to detailing the context of these struggles—the political economy in which they were set. It begs the reader to look deeper into the basis of the book—bureaucratized unions, with leaders hell bent on maintaining power no matter the cost, who serve as buck privates in the Democratic Party army, and who need a compliant base every bit as much as the employers. The authors develop a number of interconnected themes: the single minded union strategy based on endless capitalist growth, parochialism, the private welfare state, pragmatism, anti-communism, influence of anti-war, black power and women’s movements—all of which then help the reader to see similarities of the different rank and file experiences, no matter the work or union.… | more |

The Jack O’Dell Story

Nikhil Pal Singh, editor, Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O’Dell (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 298 pages, $34.95, hardcover.

The story Jack O’Dell is one of the least understood but most important stories in the last half-century of the American Left; important because O’Dell, in his organizing and his writing for Freedomways magazine, contributed in crucial ways to the struggle against racism. But also little understood because the taboo on American Communism and Communists has prevented individual stories from the surrounding milieux to be appreciated and understood. This review-essay brings O’Dell back to light.… | more |

Woody Guthrie: Redder than Remembered

Woody Guthrie: Redder than Remembered

Will Kaufman, Woody Guthrie, American Radical (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011) 264 pages, $29.95, hardcover.

Will Kaufman’s new book, Woody Guthrie, American Radical, describes how Guthrie’s life-long radicalism shaped his music and evolved over time—from the Great Depression to the Second World War, from the Popular Front to the McCarthyite witch hunts, and into the folk music revival of the 1960s. Kaufman argues that Guthrie’s work must be understood in the context of its time, but also in light of Guthrie’s commitment to socialist politics and his unrelenting opposition to capitalism and fascism.… | more |

The People's Lawyer

The People’s Lawyer

The Story of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Fight for Social Justice, From Civil Rights to Guantánamo

There is hardly a struggle aimed at upholding and extending the rights embedded in the U.S. Constitution in which the Center for Constitutional Rights has not played a central role. Whether defending the rights of black people in the South, opponents of the war in Vietnam, and victims of torture worldwide, or fighting illegal actions of the U.S. government, the CCR has stood ready to take on all comers, regardless of their power and wealth. When the United States declared that the Constitution did not apply to detainees at Guantánamo, the CCR waded fearlessly into battle, its Legal Director declaring that “My job is to defend the Constitution from its enemies. Its main enemies right now are the Justice Department and the White House.”… | more |

Structural Crisis in the World-System

Where Do We Go from Here?1

I have written repeatedly on the structural crisis in the world-system, most recently in New Left Review in 2010. So, I shall just summarize my position, without arguing it in detail. I shall state my position as a set of premises. Not everyone agrees with these premises, which are my picture of where we are at the present time. On the basis of this picture, I propose to speak to the question, where do we go from here?… | more |

The Trajectory of Historical Capitalism and Marxism’s Tricontinental Vocation

The long history of capitalism is composed of three distinct, successive phases: (1) a lengthy preparation—the transition from the tributary mode, the usual form of organization of pre-modern societies—which lasted eight centuries, from 1000 to 1800; (2) a short period of maturity (the nineteenth century), during which the “West” affirmed its domination; (3) the long “decline” caused by the “Awakening of the South” (to use the title of my book, published in 2007) in which the peoples and their states regained the major initiative in transforming the world—the first wave having taken place in the twentieth century. This struggle against an imperialist order that is inseparable from the global expansion of capitalism is itself the potential agent in the long road of transition, beyond capitalism, toward socialism. In the twenty-first century, there are now the beginnings of a second wave of independent initiatives by the peoples and states of the South.… | more |