Thursday April 24th, 2014, 12:32 pm (EDT)

US Politics/Economy

Political Economy of the US

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 11 (April 2014)

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 11 (April 2014)

The insidious nature of the economy, state, and cultural apparatus of global monopoly-finance capital is difficult to perceive—if only because it is to be found everywhere we look. Focusing on a specific case can therefore help us see what might otherwise elude us. A striking instance of this principle is to be found in the recent takeover of Chrysler by Fiat—linking a century-old Italian auto dynasty, the Great Financial Crisis of 2007–2009, the U.S. corporate bailout, the 2014 Superbowl, and the American folk music tradition.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 8 (January 2014)

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 8 (January 2014)

» Notes from the Editors

On November 16, 2013, Paul Krugman published a piece on his New York Times blog entitled “Secular Stagnation, Coalmines, Bubbles, and Larry Summers,” consisting of an extended commentary on former Clinton Treasury Secretary and Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers’s November 8 presentation to the IMF’s Economic Forum.… Krugman, in following up on Summers’s IMF speech, highlighted Alvin Hansen’s theory of secular stagnation in the 1930s to ‘50s.… [acknowledging that] long-term economic stagnation…was now “the norm” for the economy, not the exception.… Writing in a fashion that could have come straight out of Monthly Review at any point in the last forty years, he declared: “We now know that the economic expansion of 2003–2007 was driven by a bubble. You can say the same about the later part of the 90s expansion; and you can in fact say the same about the later years of the Reagan expansion, which was driven at that point by runaway thrift institutions and a large bubble in commercial real estate.” But in trying to understand how stagnation itself came about and created this whole irrational set of economic conditions, Krugman…failed to draw attention to the much more important problem of investment under conditions of overcapacity and mature industry, as well as the whole question of monopolistic/oligopolistic capitalism—all of which were taken seriously at some level by Hansen, and were developed in a far more radical way by socialist thinkers such as Michał Kalecki, Joseph Steindl, Paul Baran, and Paul Sweezy.… | more |

The Plight of the U.S. Working Class

Modern capitalism, sociologist Max Weber famously observed early in the twentieth century, is based on “the rational capitalistic organization of (formally) free labor.” But the “rationality” of the system in this sphere, as Weber was to acknowledge elsewhere, was so restrictive as to be in reality “irrational.” Despite its formal freedom, labor under capitalism was substantively unfree.… This was in accordance with the argument advanced in Karl Marx’s Capital. Since the vast majority of individuals in the capitalist system are divorced from the means of production they have no other way to survive but to sell their labor power to those who own these means, that is, the capitalist class.… The result is a strong tendency to the polarization of income and wealth in society. The more the social productivity of labor grows the more it serves to promote the wealth and power of private capital, while at the same time increasing the relative poverty and economic dependency of the workers.… | more |

Identity Politics and Left Activism

Grace Lee Boggs, with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 256 pages, $20.95, paperback.

The biggest internal debate absorbing the world left for at least the last seventy-five years has been whether identity is a left concept and therefore a left concern. In 1950, most activists on the left would have said no. Today a majority would say yes, indeed. But the debate remains fierce.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 4 (September 2013)

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 4 (September 2013)

» Notes from the Editors

When confronted in the 1980s with the failure of the younger generation of economists (both mainstream and radical) to take seriously the issue of the return of economic stagnation, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy stated in their book Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (Monthly Review Press, 1987, 12): “There is a temptation to say: just wait and see, you’ll find out soon enough. But it would be a cop-out to leave it at that. We owe it to our readers at least to try to make clearer what we mean by stagnation and why we think it is so important.” They proceeded to do exactly that, producing a work that in terms of the trends of the last quarter-century has to be regarded as prescient.… Today, decades later, we can see the depth of the stagnation tendency of monopoly capitalism finally dawning upon some of the most realistic and competent of mainstream economists.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 3 (July-August 2013)

Monthly Review Volume 65, Number 3 (July-August 2013)

» Notes from the Editors

A Note from Bob McChesney. During my time as coeditor [of MR], communication colleagues would sometimes wonder what I was doing at MR. After all, I was a media scholar, and MR was many things, but it was not a magazine known for its work on communication. I explained the singular importance of the MR tradition, of the work of Sweezy, Magdoff, Leo Huberman, and Paul Baran, in my intellectual and political development. I also explained the importance of the MR work on advertising, monopoly, and technology in developing a radical critique of media and communication. But I had to concede the point, nonetheless.… Imagine my surprise, then, when Foster informed me two years ago that two drafts of a missing chapter of Baran and Sweezy’s magisterial Monopoly Capital (1966) had been discovered in their papers. Not only that, it was a chapter on media and culture. I was shocked, to say the least. Foster provided me with the backstory: it was meant to be the penultimate chapter of the book, but when Baran died in 1964, Sweezy elected to leave it out (after doing additional work on it) as the book was already quite long and there remained unresolved issues with it.… | more |

The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital

An Introduction

The past half-century has been dominated by the rise of media to a commanding position in the social life of most people and nations, to the point where it is banal to regard this as the “information age.” The once-dazzling ascension of television in the 1950s and ‘60s now looks like the horse-and-buggy era when one assesses the Internet, smartphones, and the digital revolution. For social theorists of all stripes communication has moved to center stage. And for those on the left, addressing the role of communication in achieving social change and then maintaining popular rule in the face of reactionary backlash is now a primary concern.… political economists of communication, including one of us, identified themselves as in the tradition of radical political economy, but with a sophisticated appreciation of media that had escaped.… [the stellar critique of journalism produced… by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky]. Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy were occasionally held up by political economists of communication as representing the sort of traditional Marxists who underappreciated the importance of media, communication, and culture.… We were never especially impressed by this criticism. To us, Monopoly Capital, and the broader political economy of Baran and Sweezy, far from ignoring communication, provided key elements for a serious study of the subject. [Note: this article was released in three parts: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]… | more |

Theses on Advertising

Confronted with a progressive deterioration and an increasing “Americanization” of mass media in Britain, the British Labor Party appointed a Commission under the Chairmanship of Lord Reith the assignment of which is “to consider the role of commercial advertising in present day society and to recommend whether reforms are required; if so, what?” This Advertising Commission solicited oral and written testimony from various workers in that field, submitting to them a questionnaire covering the principal points on which comments were invited. Having also been asked for our reflections on the matter, we prepared the following statement the purpose of which is not so much to answer all the questions posed in the questionnaire, as to present a more or less integrated view on this, most important, subject.… | more |

The Quality of Monopoly Capitalist Society: Culture and Communications

This is a hitherto unpublished chapter of Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966). The text as published here has been edited and includes notes by John Bellamy Foster. The style conforms to that of their book. Part of the original draft chapter, dealing with mental health, was still incomplete at the time of Baran’s death in 1964, and consequently has not be included in this published version. For the larger intellectual context see the introduction to this issue.… | more |

Marketizing Schools

Though the U.S. ruling class is divided on some issues—how quickly to attack Iran, how much to cut Social Security and Medicare, whether homosexuals should be tolerated or treated as the spawn of Satan—they are united on one thing: the need to “reform” the public school system. “Reform” means more tests, more market mechanisms, and fewer teachers’ unions.… The agenda has deep bipartisan roots.… | more |

Violence, USA

The Warfare State and the Hardening of Everyday Life

Since 9/11, the war on terror and the campaign for homeland security have increasingly mimicked the tactics of the enemies they sought to crush. Violence and punishment as both a media spectacle and a bone-crushing reality have become prominent and influential forces shaping U.S. society. As the boundaries between “the realms of war and civil life have collapsed,” social relations and the public services needed to make them viable have been increasingly privatized and militarized. The logic of profitability works its magic in channeling the public funding of warfare and organized violence into universities, market-based service providers, Hollywood cinema, cable television, and deregulated contractors. The metaphysics of war and associated forms of violence now creep into every aspect of U.S. society.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 11 (April 2013)

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 11 (April 2013)

» Notes from the Editors

One of the achievements of Roosevelt’s New Deal administration during the Great Depression was the introduction in 1938 of the federal minimum wage, then set at twenty-five cents an hour. At no time in its history has the minimum wage kept workers out of poverty. But it has helped to stave off the full depths of poverty that would otherwise ensue.… Obama’s proposal in his State of the Union Address to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour…has received widespread support from the population. At the same time it has been subjected to severe criticism from key sectors of capital, which have gone into overdrive in pushing their claim that such a raise in the hourly wage of the poorest segments of society would be a devastating “job killer,” increasing unemployment.… If Obama’s proposal were adopted the real minimum wage would still be about $1.50 short of where it was in 1968 at the end of the Johnson administration, forty-five years ago. Yet, this paltry attempt to lift the floor of wages for the poorest workers in the United States—at a time when the annual income of a single parent receiving the minimum wage is well below the federal poverty line for a family of three—is coming under virulent attack from the vested interests.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 10 (March 2013)

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 10 (March 2013)

» Notes from the Editors

The history of capitalism is replete with cases of successful captains of industry who, suddenly concerned with their place in history, decide to write a book celebrating their achievements, while articulating a new philosophy of philanthropic capitalism—usually with the help of a ghostwriter or “collaborator” of some sort.… [In this genre] is a new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, written by Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey in collaboration with Bentley University professor of marketing Raj Sisodia.… [I]n spite of all the references to a new form of “heroic capitalism,” which cares about employees and customers, Mackey, like most of his class, is a strong proponent of the most extreme forms of neoliberal exploitation. Both in Conscious Capitalism and in his public actions he has shown himself to be virulently anti-union, priding himself on keeping Whole Foods Market 100 percent union free, and slashing the wages of his workers even as profits have increased.… | more |

The Man Who Was Over the Rainbow

When I was a lad, I wrote amorous ditties, To Judy, Aleine, Edelina, and Sue. But now that I’m gray, I’ve abandoned those pretties, I’m singing my songs to the MONTHLY REVIEW.… So sang E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, to the tune of “The Streets of Laredo,” at Monthly Review’s fifteenth anniversary party. Accompanying him on piano was my late wife, the Judy to whom Yip wrote ditties. You will not find her or Aleine Mufson mentioned in the pages of this biography. Nor will you find cited any who, because they rubbed elbows or other body parts with Harburg, could lead the reader to the fullest possible understanding of who he was.… | more |

Introduction to Lettuce Wars

A Cab Ride for a Lawyer

This an excerpt from the forthcoming Lettuce Wars: Ten Years of Work and Struggle in the Fields of California (Monthly Review Press, 2012). Part memoir, part informed commentary on farm labor, the U.S. labor movement, and the political economy of agriculture, Lettuce Wars is a lively account written from the perspective of the fields. Bruce Neuburger portrays the people he encountered—immigrant workers, fellow radicals, company bosses, cops and goons—vividly and indelibly, lending a human aspect to the conflict between capital and labor as it played out in the fields of California.… | more |

Repressing Social Movements

Amory Starr, Luis Fernandez, and Christian Scholl, Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 207 pages, $23.00, paperback.

Shutting Down the Streets is not an ivory-tower book, situated a safe distance from its subject; the first appendix lists the seventeen anti-globalization summit protests which were directly observed by the book’s authors. And just as the authors were participants and not just spectators, they also refrain from merely presenting a comparative analysis of policing and repression at these summits. Examining the existing academic literature on social control, dissent, and social movements, they argue that existing works on repression mainly concentrate on protest policing. Instead they aim to develop a broader framework that examines social control by extending the object of analysis from the policing of protest events to the effects of social control on dissent, while also arguing that the unit of analysis needs to be changed from individual protests to the wider one of social movements. Repression then is not just police violence and coercion at protests but also includes a host of other methods of “soft” repression, such as psyops (psychological operations), infiltration, and surveillance.… | more |

Whiteness as a Managerial System

Race and the Control of U.S. Labor

David R. Roediger and Elizabeth D. Esch, The Production of Difference: Race and the Management of Labor in U.S. History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 296 pages, $34.95, hardback.

In this highly original book historians David Roediger and Elizabeth Esch probe deeply into the relationship of institutionalized racism to the management of labor in the United States. As they emphasize, “race management” has been a much neglected topic in the social sciences. Focusing on the century from 1830 to 1930, they accent the interesting and accurate idea of “whiteness as management”—that is, of labor management theory among white employers and experts as honed within the arena of persisting white-racist framing and action. Among other key points, we see here how capitalistic employers long used the racial and ethnic differences among workers to divide and conquer them. The “scientific” management of workers and the white-racist framing of society evolved together over this long century they examine, as well as over subsequent decades.… | more |

The Psychology of Culture

Making Oppression Appear Normal

Carl Ratner, Macro Cultural Psychology: A Political Philosophy of Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 544 pages, $69.95, hardcover.

Psychologists engage in a number of practices that, mostly unwittingly, help to sustain the cultural distortions of the ruling class and hence their exploitative rule. One of these practices is to treat human behavior as primarily driven by biology. This leads, for example, to the medicalization of mental illness.… It also supports one of capitalists’ favorite ideological ploys: individualism. We are the masters of our own fate, not society and its culture. If we fail, it is our own fault. We simply did not try hard enough or follow the right path. Individualism favors self-blame and a refusal even to look for social causes. Ratner instead argues that humans are qualitatively different from all other species precisely in terms of how culture, not constant biological traits, shape their behavior. He points out that even our closest relatives, the great apes, have not developed culture, institutions, science, religion, etc. We are truly unique.… | more |

Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball and the Plague of the 99%

On his most recent album, Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen crafted a powerful statement of support for the working class, the existence of which barely penetrates contemporary art or politics. This is not an accident: the growing power of capital over public discourse has provided it a forceful means through which to shape individual consciousness, and establish an apolitical and at most technocratic understanding of power.… Even in the cultural realm, the art and voices of the working class are sidelined and squelched. Working people thus become invisible.… | more |

The Anthropology Wars

In 1929 Bronislaw Malinowski, the primogenitor of twentieth century anthropology, published an article extolling the merits of his science in the process of colonial administration.… It was essentially a fundraising pitch for the Institute, which was seeking a subsidy from the Rockefeller Foundation by demonstrating the workaday virtues of what was until then an obscure discipline with little apparent importance to the vast powers stretching outward from the heart of capitalism to envelope the world. Eight decades later anthropology’s quest for investment perseveres…. Yet the tables have strangely turned: it is now imperial powers, cash in hand, which turn to a reluctant anthropology, seeking scientific means of domination through a form of cultural warfare. In Weaponizing Anthropology, David Price documents the latest form of blood alimony proffered by the custodians of empire to the discipline which was once styled the “child of western imperialism.”… | more |