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This article is adapted from John Bellamy Foster, “Nature,” in Kelly Fritsch, Clare O’Connor, and AK Thompson, ed., Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2016), 279-86,

“Nature,” wrote Raymond Williams in Keywords, “is perhaps the most complex word in the language.” It is derived from the Latin natura, as exemplified by Lucretius’s great didactic poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) from the first century BCE. The word “nature” has three primary, interrelated meanings: (1) the intrinsic properties or essence of things or processes; (2) an inherent force that directs or determines the world; and (3) the material world or universe, the object of our sense perceptions—both in its entirety and variously understood as including or excluding God, spirit, mind, human beings, society, history, culture, etc.… | more…

Orthodox Economics and the Science of Climate Change

We have finally reached the point where most people around the world believe that climate change is really happening. Almost a decade ago, the landmark report by Nicholas Stern sparked a fierce debate among economists, not over whether climate change was real, but over the costs of addressing it. In the years since, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published further alarming reports on projected future global temperatures, rates of glacial melting, and sea levels. Most recently, last December saw an unprecedented agreement by nearly 200 countries at the Paris climate summit to take steps to address the problem.… My concern here is therefore not to continue making the case for the reality of climate change, but instead to show how that reality is portrayed—and distorted—in the mainstream media, with behind-the-scenes assistance from orthodox economic analysis.… | more…

Organizing for Better Lives

This article will be published on May 30th.

Todd Jailer, Miriam Lara-Meloy, and Maggie Robbins, The Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety (Berkely, CA: Hesperian, 2015), 576 pages, $34.95, paperback.

The new Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety—with drawings on every page—is a fun read, which is an unusual thing to say about a book with such a serious intent. Garrett Brown, an industrial hygienist with decades of experience as an inspector and activist in California, Mexico, and Bangladesh, claimed with some justification that of all the books on occupational health and safety, “almost none…are accessible to workers or their organizations.” The Workers’ Guide is the first major book aimed at organizing for healthier conditions in the labor-intensive export industries of countries like Bangladesh and China, Mexico’s maquiladora frontier, in Central America and Southeast Asia, and even in the United States itself, where for many, working and living conditions are being beaten down.… | more…

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Monthly Review Volume 67, Number 11 (April 2016)

April 2016 (Volume 67, Number 11)

The March/April 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, is devoted in large part to the topic of economic stagnation.… [Of the] eight articles on stagnation, only one…—”The Age of Secular Stagnation” by Lawrence H. Summers—is, in our opinion, of any real importance.… Summers heavily criticizes those like Robert J. Gordon, in The Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016), who attribute stagnation to supply-side “headwinds”…blocking productivity growth.… Likewise Summers dispatches those like Kenneth Rogoff who see stagnation as merely the product of a debt supercycle associated with periodic financial crises.… Despite such sharp criticisms of other mainstream interpretations of stagnation, Summers’s own analysis can be faulted for being superficial and vague, lacking historical concreteness.… In fact, the current mainstream debate on secular stagnation is so superficial and circumspect that one cannot help but wonder whether the main protagonists—figures like Summers, Gordon, Paul Krugman, and Tyler Cowen—are not deliberately tiptoeing around the matter, worried that if they get too close or make too much noise they might awaken some sleeping giant (the working class?) as in the days of the Great Depression and the New Deal.… | more…

Marx’s Theory of Working-Class Precariousness

Its Relevance Today

As a concept, worker precariousness is far from new. It has a long history in socialist thought, where it was associated from the start with the concept of the reserve army of labor. Frederick Engels introduced the idea of precariousness in his treatment of the industrial reserve army in The Condition of the Working Class in England. Marx and Engels employed it in this same context in The Communist Manifesto, and it later became a key element in Marx’s analysis of the industrial reserve army in volume I of Capital.… In recent years, however, the notion of precariousness as a general condition of working-class life has been rediscovered. Yet the idea is commonly treated in the eclectic, reductionist, ahistorical fashion characteristic of today’s social sciences and humanities, disconnected from the larger theory of accumulation derived from Marx and the socialist tradition. The result is a set of scattered observations about what are seen as largely haphazard developments.… In the face of such a confusion of views—most of them merely ad hoc responses to what is presumed to be an isolated social problem—it is necessary to turn back to the classical Marxian tradition, where the issue of precariousness was first raised.… | more…

“Realists of a Larger Reality”

On New Science Fiction

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin is undoubtedly right about resistance in the “real” world, but in reading, only some books offer a call to resistance and the possibilities of a new reality. Among the books considered here, some come to us as “literary fiction”; others are marked as belonging to another, historically denigrated, form, “science fiction” or “fantasy.” This could be a distinction without a difference: two are near-future dystopian novels about corporate capitalism in the United States (both by well-established white authors); two are collections of near-future short stories that set out to critique the human powers that structure our world (written by both established and new voices, primarily writers of color). But the books that embrace rather than evade their status as science fiction or fantasy are the ones able to imagine the resistance and change that Le Guin invokes.… | more…

Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution

Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution

Forthcoming in December 2016

One hundred years ago, “October 1917” galvanized leftists and oppressed peoples around the globe, and became the lodestar for 20th century politics. Today, the left needs to reckon with this legacy—and transcend it. Social change, as it was understood in the 20th century, appears now to be as impossible as revolution, leaving the left to rethink the relationship between capitalist crises, as well as the conceptual tension between revolution and reform.… | more…

Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation

Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation

Forthcoming in February 2017

Sickened by the contamination of their water, their air, of the Earth itself, more and more people are coming to realize that it is capitalism that is, quite literally, killing them. It is now clearer than ever that capitalism is also degrading the Earth’s ability to support other forms of life. Capitalism’s imperative—to make profit at all costs and expand without end—is destabilizing Earth’s climate, while increasing human misery and inequality on a planetary scale. Already, hundreds of millions of people are facing poverty in the midst of untold wealth, perpetual war, growing racism, and gender oppression. The need to organize for social and environmental reforms has never been greater. But crucial as reforms are, they cannot solve our intertwined ecological and social crises. Creating an Ecological Society reveals an overwhelmingly simple truth: Fighting for reforms is vital, but revolution is essential.… | more…

The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left

The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left

Forthcoming in January 2017

Utterly corrupt corporate and government elites bankrupted Greece twice over. First, by profligate deficit spending benefitting only themselves; second, by agreeing to an IMF “bailout” of the Greek economy, devastating ordinary Greek citizens who were already enduring government-induced poverty, unemployment, and hunger. Finally, in response to dire “austerity” measures, the people of Greece stood up, forming, from their own historic roots of resistance, Syriza—the Coalition of the Radical Left. For those who caught the Syriza wave, there was, writes Helena Sheehan, a minute of “precarious hope.”… | more…

Facing the Anthropocene

Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

Forthcoming in June 2016

Science tells us that a new and dangerous stage in planetary evolution has begun—the Anthropocene, a time of rising temperatures, extreme weather, rising oceans, and mass species extinctions. Humanity faces not just more pollution or warmer weather, but a crisis of the Earth System. If business as usual continues, this century will be marked by rapid deterioration of our physical, social, and economic environment. Large parts of Earth will become uninhabitable, and civilization itself will be threatened. Facing the Anthropocene shows what has caused this planetary emergency, and what we must do to meet the challenge.… | more…

The Reawakening of the Arab World: Challenge and Change in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring

The Reawakening of the Arab World: Challenge and Change in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring

According to renowned Marxist economist Samir Amin, the recent Arab Spring uprisings comprise an integral part of a massive “second awakening” of the Global South. From the self-immolation in December 2010 of a Tunisian street vendor, to the consequent outcries in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against poverty and corruption, to the ongoing upheavals across the Middle East and Northern Africa, the Arab world is shaping what may become of Western imperialism—an already tottering and overextended system.

The Reawakening of the Arab World—an updated and expanded version of Amin’s The People’s Spring, first published in 2012 by Pambazuka Press—examines the complex interplay of nations regarding the Arab Spring and its continuing, turbulent seasons. Beginning with Amin’s compelling interpretation of the 2011 popular Arab explosions, the book is comprised of five chapters—including a new chapter analyzing U.S. geo-strategy. Samir Amin sees the United States, in an increasingly multi-polar world, as a victim of overreach, caught in its own web of attempts to contain the challenge of China, while confronting the staying power of nations such as Syria and Iran. The growing, deeply-felt need of the Arab people for independent, popular democracy is the cause of their awakening, says Amin. It this awakening to democracy that the United States fears most, since real self-government by independent nations would necessarily mean the end of U.S. empire, and the economic liberalism that has kept it in place. The way forward for the Arab world, Amin argues, is to take on, not just Western imperialism, but also capitalism itself.… | more…

March 2016 (Volume 67, Number 10)

March 2016 (Volume 67, Number 10)

Ellen Meiksins Wood, who died on January 14, was coeditor of Monthly Review with Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy from 1997 to 2000, and a major contributor to historical materialist thought in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Her parents were socialist refugees, members of the Jewish Labor Bund who came to the United States in 1941, after fleeing Latvia in the 1930s, when indigenous fascists came to power. Her mother worked for the Jewish Labor Committee in New York and her father for the United Nations. Ellen obtained her B.A. in Slavic languages at the University of California at Berkeley and went on to do graduate studies in political science at Berkeley, where she met and married Neal Wood, a professor in the department. From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, she taught political theory in the political science department at York University in Toronto.… | more…