Friday May 22nd, 2015, 12:08 pm (EDT)
February 2015 (Volume 66, Number 9)

February 2015 (Volume 66, Number 9)

John Cassidy, who writes on economics for the New Yorker, is in our view one of the most interesting anhd creative commentators on economic analysis and trends writing in the mainstream today. His perspective might be best characterized as institutionalist-realist, in the tradition of thinkers like Thorstein Veblen, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Hyman Minsky.… Cassidy’s latest critical contribution is an online New Yorker news item published on December 12, 2014, carrying the rather prosaic title, “The Winner of the Spending Bill Vote: Jamie Dimon.”… [In this piece] Cassidy…explain[s] how the spending bill passed by the House of Representatives included a rider that rolled back regulations that had been imposed after the Great Financial Crisis on some of the riskier activities of banks. Such speculative activities were to be transferred to the unregulated bank subsidiaries not covered by the federally guaranteed bank insurance system. This has now been reversed and banks are again allowed to engage directly in such high-risk speculative activities, with the losses being picked up by the general public.… There is no doubt that Cassidy is correct, and that the analyses of “left-left” thinkers like Sweezy, one of Monthly Review’s founding editors, and Chomsky, an MR author, have been generally on the mark in pointing out that such outcomes are to be expected in the state management of the economy.… | more |

Crossing the River of Fire

The Liberal Attack on Naomi Klein and This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything [argues that the source of the looming crisis from climate change] is not the planet, which operates according to natural laws, but rather the economic and social system in which we live, which treats natural limits as mere barriers to surmount. It is now doing so on a planetary scale, destroying in the process the earth as a place of human habitation.… In the age of climate change, Klein argues, a system based on ever-expanding capital accumulation and exponential economic growth is no longer compatible with human well-being and progress—or even with human survival over the long run.… In this way Klein…signals that she has now, in William Morris’s famous metaphor, crossed “the river of fire” to become a critic of capital as a system.… [This] has led to a host of liberal attacks on This Changes Everything, often couched as criticisms emanating from the left. These establishment criticisms of her work, we will demonstrate, are disingenuous, having little to do with serious confrontation with her analysis. Rather, their primary purpose is to rein in her ideas, bringing them into conformity with received opinion. If that should prove impossible, the next step is to exclude her ideas from the conversation.… | more |

Neoliberal Co-optation of Leading Co-op Organizations, and a Socialist Counter-Politics of Cooperation

Many people think of cooperatives as small, locally owned businesses, such as groceries, cafes, or bicycle shops, where people can work in an equal and participatory non-capitalist organization. In reality, the U.S. co-op movement is tied to federal agencies whose agenda is promoting neoliberalism, both domestically and abroad, and the co-op movement itself has neoliberal leaders. Many co-ops in name are profit-driven capitalist corporations in practice. And even in the abstract, the co-op principles of smaller co-ops enable neoliberal cooperative politics. All of this, however, raises the question of what a co-op based on socialist values would be, and China’s Nanjie village provides a living example of that.… | more |

Cooperatives On the Path to Socialism?

Clarifying what Karl Marx thought of the role of cooperatives is useful, not to receive the “correct” answer to what that role will be, but to help think through what alternatives answers might be and how they might color today’s expectations of the cooperative movement. If one sees a non-capitalist or socialist organization of society as ultimately desirable, then how should we answer the following questions in the present day: (1) Are co-ops in production, worker-owned enterprises, desirable experimental improvements to the organization of production over standard capitalist practices, in the direction of immediate social welfare? (2) Are such co-ops in production also little islands of a different future, models of socialism within a capitalist society? (3) Are they beachheads of socialism, politically practical steps along the road to bringing forth such a possible alternative society? (4) Will they ultimately also be the foundations of such a society, if it develops? (5) All in all, what is their importance, their role, in daily struggles?… | more |

What Was Occupy?

Three years after the fact, the event called Occupy retains its strange strategic inconsistency. It is something we still do not know how to think about.… We should take this illegibility seriously, not only as a tactical decision, but also as a reflection of the inadequacy of our inherited categories in describing the current logic of class struggle. This inadequacy should not surprise us; on the contrary, it confirms the ongoing vitality of the real movement to abolish the state of our present situation. Approaching Occupy requires that we separate out what happened from what was said about what happened, and place both in political-economic context. In what follows I briefly consider the first and third of these, and hope to address the second in the near future.… | more |

Native Land and African Bodies, the Source of U.S. Capitalism

Had Marx written Capital in the early twenty-first century, knowing what he could not discern in 1867—that the global dominance of capital, through the military and imperialism, would be realized by the United States—this is the book he may have written using the methodology he developed in the mid-nineteenth century.… What Walter Johnson desires is to change entirely the way we think about the history of the United States, particularly the development of capitalism. He also wants to change how we think about the application of dialectical materialism to the United States. Like Marx, Johnson marshals thick description to disclose the theses that emerge.… | more |

The Struggle for Scotland’s Future

Chris Bambery’s splendid People’s History builds upon the scholarly work of others across several generations…. In Bambery’s careful telling, the decisive moment in anything like modern Scottish history comes several hundred years ago. The Scots’ real capitalism spread through the savage process of depopulation that Marx described so brilliantly in Capital: enclosure. Over extended decades, thousands of historic villages were literally emptied, so much so that remnants of crude huts can still be found in areas that have fewer inhabitants than sheep. The distinct language, created over thousands of years and retained with great effort in Wales, and with less effort in the rural districts of Ireland, did not need to be crudely suppressed here: the victims, pushed into the cities when not driven to early deaths, seem to have lost everything in this later period but their colorful, characteristic Scottish accents.… | more |

January 2015 (Volume 66, Number 8)

January 2015 (Volume 66, Number 8)

The publication of socialist books in the United States has always encountered serious institutional obstacles. This can be seen in the enormous hurdles that stood in the way of the successful publication 130 years ago of the English translation of Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)—today recognized as the classic account of the impact of the Industrial Revolution on workers. In 1885 Florence Kelley (-Wischnewetzky), the daughter of William D. Kelley, a U.S. Congressman and supporter of Lincoln, translated Engels’s book into English. Her initial plan was to publish the translation in the United States with the respected publishing firm of G.P. Putnam & Co. However, Putnam declined to publish it on the grounds that the book was outdated…and did not apply to U.S. industrialization, where such conditions of class exploitation were supposedly absent.… It is owing to these difficulties, associated with the U.S. publication of his book, that we have the benefit of some of Engels’s more important comments regarding the problem of publishing socialist works in a capitalist society.… | more |

Pete Seeger, Socialist Songster

Introduction

Our friend and comrade Pete Seeger died a year ago this month, on January 27, 2014. Pete was a long-time reader of Monthly Review and, occasionally, a writer for this magazine. Harry Magdoff used to say that when a letter arrived from Pete, nearly always handwritten and often pages long, responding to an article or suggesting a topic to be covered or a book to be reviewed, it would go right home with him, to be pondered, considered, answered, and, especially, enjoyed. Seeger’s communications were never innocuous: he would tell the editors that something MR had published was wrongheaded (or, sometimes, right-headed); he would take an idea, turn it over, and suggest where to go with it. Like his music, Seeger’s letters demanded engagement, participation—and action. He had a special place in the MR family.… | more |

Who Was This Pete Fellow?

Pete Seeger was bigger than life. And like a character in a mythological tale, before long his shoe size will grow to such a degree that he will scale snowy mountains and wade across oceans. He will look over the tops of Redwood trees and when he dips his hand down into the Hudson River, the water up to his elbow, his fingers will reach down to the bottom of the deepest pool and pull up a giraffe and a baby grand and we will forever sing about the magic river.… This mythology will be enjoyed by the living for generations to come. A next generation of troubadours will sing deep into the little faces who, with wide eyes, imagine such a music man.… | more |

Don’t Waste Any Time In Mourning

In the many accolades Pete Seeger received…after his death, there was often something missing—as absent in tributes from admirers who share his revolutionary politics as in those aiming to reclaim him for respectability. That absence is Seeger’s role as an organizer, and, more broadly, the role of music (and other kinds of cultural work) as organizing, which his life exemplifies.… Seeger’s work as an organizer may have been most obvious, its goals most blatant, in the field…. But his work, as a singer, as a song-collector, as a song-teacher, was not any less a labor of organizing in the concert hall. And that’s not exceptional. That…is what makes someone a radical cultural worker. What’s exemplary about Pete Seeger is how damn good at it he was. What we need to pay attention to and learn from is how he did this important work so well.… | more |

Friends and Neighbors

Remembering Pete Seeger and Camp Woodland

I attended Camp Woodland, a progressive summer camp in upstate New York, for four summers starting in 1955 when I was ten years old. When Pete died last year, it was my fellow Camp Woodlanders that I most wanted to connect with.… Fortunately, a camp reunion in 2012 had revived many old friendships. “Pete’s music was the soundtrack to our lives,” one former camper reminisced on the camp listserv. “Pete modeled our values and transformed how we lived in the world, just like at camp,” another wrote.… | more |

Pete Seeger, Musical Revolutionary

In the late 1950s, Pete Seeger received a letter from his manager, Howie Richmond, begging him to write a new hit song. … [Richmond] believed that “protest songs” were not marketable. Seeger was angry—he had a new song in mind, with words from a poem that he had set to music, and he believed it was, in a deep and significant sense, a song of protest.…. The song, of course, was “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season),” which continues to be performed and recorded by many artists, and most famously became a huge folk-rock hit for The Byrds. It was as though, despite himself, Seeger produced a hit song, even when commercial popularity was the furthest thing from his mind—an example of how inseparably his songwriting talents and political principles were bound together.… | more |

Possibility and Hope

Getting from Here to There

Pete Seeger is an environmental advocate who understands the transforming power of immersion in nature. However, his desire to restore his cherished Hudson River posed a monumental challenge in the 1960s. The Hudson River, once so majestic that it inspired the Hudson River School painters, had become a sewer for the communities and commercial industries that populated its shoreline. Seeger’s approach to reversing the degradation of the Hudson River involved a unique form of advocacy and organizing. He envisioned healing the Hudson through immersion. His approach involved bringing people back to the river aboard a 106-foot replica of a Hudson River sloop (a single-masted sailboat), one that resembled the boats that traversed the Hudson in centuries past. By 1969, with Seeger as the driving force behind its creation, the sloop Clearwater was constructed and launched. It still sails today and serves as an inspiring symbol of citizen activism on behalf of the natural environment.… | more |

iCapitalism and the Cybertariat

Contradictions of the Digital Economy

We have now entered a period…when new waves of commodification set in motion in earlier periods are reaching maturity. The new commodities have been generated by drawing into the market even more aspects of life that were previously outside the money economy, or at least that part of it that generates a profit for capitalists. Several such fields of accumulation have now emerged, each with a different method of commodity genesis, forming the basis of new economic sectors and exerting distinctive impacts on daily life, including labor and consumption. They include biology, art and culture, public services, and sociality.… | more |

Voices of Socialism: Karl Marx

By vocation, Marx was not an economist, or a philosopher, or a sociologist. He was a revolutionary who, being deprived of the opportunity of participating in revolutions in the years after 1848, turned to the detailed analysis of the economic system he wanted to overthrow. Marx never ceased to stress the liberating quality of practical activity; but he himself was compelled by the circumstances of his time to devote most of his life to theoretical work.… | more |

December 2014 (Volume 66, Number 7)

December 2014 (Volume 66, Number 7)

In 1832, when the global cholera pandemic was approaching Manchester—as a young Frederick Engels was later to recount in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)—“a universal terror seized the bourgeoisie of the city. People remembered the unwholesome dwellings of the poor, and trembled before the certainty that each of these slums would become a centre for the plague, whence it would spread desolation in all directions through the houses of the propertied class.” As a result, Engels noted, various official inquiries were commissioned into the condition of the poor. But little was done in the end to combat the social factors that facilitated the spread of the disease.… One can see an analogous situation today in the growing concern that has materialized in the United States and other wealthy nations over the Ebola epidemic in Africa.… | more |

Mészáros and the Critique of the Capital System

Foreword to The Necessity of Social Control

István Mészáros is one of the greatest philosophers that the historical materialist tradition has yet produced. His work stands practically alone today in the depth of its analysis of Marx’s theory of alienation, the structural crisis of capital, the demise of Soviet-style post-revolutionary societies, and the necessary conditions of the transition to socialism. His dialectical inquiry into social structure and forms of consciousness—a systematic critique of the prevailing forms of thought—is unequaled in our time. No less a historical figure than Hugo Chávez referred to him as the “pathfinder” of twenty-first century socialism.… The role of this foreword is to help to put his system of thought as a whole, and this book in particular, in their historical contexts, while illuminating some of the distinctive concepts governing his analysis.… | more |

Saving the Unity of Great Britain, Breaking the Unity of Greater Russia

The media compelled all of us to follow closely both the Scottish referendum of September 2014 and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine that took on increased momentum starting in spring 2014. We all heard two opposing stories: the unity of Great Britain must be protected in the interest of the English and Scottish people. Moreover, the Scots freely chose, through a democratic vote, to remain in the Union. In contrast, we were told that the independence of Ukraine, freely chosen by the Ukrainian people, is being threatened by the Great Russian expansionist aims of the dictator Putin. Let us look at these facts that were presented to us as incontrovertibly obvious for a good-faith observer.… | more |

Latin America Confronts the Challenge of Globalization

A Burdensome Inheritance

The American continent was the first region to be integrated into newborn global capitalism and to be shaped into a periphery of the European Atlantic centers, themselves still undergoing formation. That shaping was a process of unparalleled brutality. The English, just as they did in Australia and New Zealand, proceeded immediately to the total genocide of the indigenous population. The Spaniards reduced them to a state of virtual slavery that, despite its catastrophic demographic effects, did not efface the Indian presence. Both, along with the Portuguese and the French, finished shaping the continent with the slave trade. The exploitation of this first periphery of historical capitalism was based on setting up a system of production to export agricultural (sugar, cotton) and mineral products.… Independence, when gained by the local white ruling classes, did not change that setup. Latin America (with today a mere 8.4 percent of world population) and Africa have small populations, relative to East, South, and Southeast Asia, but are endowed with fabulously rich natural resources (in mineral deposits and potentially arable land). For that reason those regions were doomed to remain subject to systematic grand-scale pillage, exclusively for purposes of capital accumulation in the dominant centers—Europe and the United States.… | more |

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