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The 3,000 Who Stayed

Stories of Cuban medical accomplishments often note that half of the country’s 6,000 doctors had left by 1963. But just as professionals were forsaking their homeland en masse for the comforts of Miami, 3,000 doctors chose to stay. Why did they remain? More important, the number of patients per doctor now doubled, how did they face the daunting task of transforming medicine? In addition to treating patients, their goals included expanding medical care to rural regions; increasing medical education to replace doctors who had left; making care preventive, community-oriented, and focused on tropical diseases; and redesigning a fractured and non-cohesive health system.… The consciousness of the 3,000 who stayed became the “material force” in the production of Cuban health care, as much a material force as the manufacture of pharmaceuticals or the construction of hospitals.… | more…

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Organizing for Better Lives

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…

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Marx’s Theory of Working-Class Precariousness

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…

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The Broken BBC

In the face of austerity cuts to state infrastructure provision, the British Broadcasting Corporation has recently generated something of a moral panic about the future of public sector broadcasting—mobilizing both its own news channel and its friends in the corporate media around the issue. Yet in the midst of this ongoing existential crisis, few have asked: What is it we are being asked to defend?… As in car manufacturing, what is provided is a limitedly resourced primary product, altered for different consumption demands, by add-on and take-off parts.… | more…

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A New Economy of Knowledge

Longtime Monthly Review and Monthly Review Press author Richard Levins died on January 19, 2016, at the age of eighty-five. A polymath, he studied agriculture, mathematics, genetics, evolution, ecology, and philosophy.… He collaborated with Cuban scientists and served as a scientific advisor for Cuba. With his close friend and coauthor Richard Lewontin he wrote a column, “Eppur´ Si Muove,” for the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, and he actively participated in the progressive organization Science for the People, working to confront the misuse of science. He was, above all, a leading Marxist intellectual, ecologist, biomathematician, philosopher of science, and comrade.… Four months before his death, Levins submitted this essay to Monthly Review. In it he discusses La economía del conocimiento y el socialismo by Agustín Lage, published in 2013 by Editorial Academia del Hispanismo. The book is currently unavailable in English translation. In the pages that follow, we feature this last essay by Levins, under the circumstances substantially unedited, along with his classic article “Living the Eleventh Thesis,” an excerpt from Biology Under the Influence that first appeared in the January 2008 issue of Monthly Review.

—Brett Clark

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Living the Eleventh Thesis

When I was a boy I always assumed that I would grow up to be both a scientist and a Red. Rather than face a problem of combining activism and scholarship, I would have had a very difficult time trying to separate them.… Before I could read, my grandfather read to me from Bad Bishop Brown’s Science and History for Girls and Boys. My grandfather believed that at a minimum every socialist worker should be familiar with cosmology, evolution, and history. I never separated history, in which we are active participants, from science, the finding out how things are. My family had broken with organized religion five generations back, but my father sat me down for Bible study every Friday evening because it was an important part of the surrounding culture and important to many people, a fascinating account of how ideas develop in changing conditions, and because every atheist should know it as well as believers do.… On my first day of primary school, my grandmother urged me to learn everything they could teach me—but not to believe it all. She was all too aware of the “racial science” of 1930s Germany and the justifications for eugenics and male supremacy that were popular in our own country. Her attitude came from her knowledge of the uses of science for power and profit and from a worker’s generic distrust of the rulers. Her advice formed my stance in academic life: consciously in, but not of, the university.… | more…

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“Realists of a Larger Reality”

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…

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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…

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The Opt Out Revolt

In the United States today, the age of monopoly-finance capital and neoliberal politics, all aspects of social life are being financialized at breakneck speed, while the economy as a whole and employment remain lackluster. Financial flows of whatever kind are converted into “securitized” assets to be leveraged by Wall Street speculators. The data of private communications are mined. Health care is converted into a realm of super profits. Public water and electric facilities are sold to the highest bidder. The political system is turned into an open-air auction. Even pollution is treated as a market.… At the center of this juggernaut is elementary and secondary education, which receives over $550 billion in annual public spending, equal to the GDP of Belgium, ranked twenty-fifth worldwide in national income. The new copyrighted Common Core State Standards, and the accompanying standardized tests run by two multi-state consortia in conjunction with testing companies, are “high stakes” not merely for schools, teachers, and students, but also for the vested interests of capital.… | more…

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The Testing Resistance and Reform Movement

In the spring of 2015, more than 620,000 students refused to take state standardized exams. The numbers were stunning in some places: 240,000 in New York; 110,000 in New Jersey; 100,000 in Colorado; 50,000 in Washington; 44,000 in Illinois; 20,000 in Oregon and Florida; 10,000 each in New Mexico and Rhode Island. Statewide, the New York opt-out rate reached 20 percent, topping 70 percent in some districts. Washington’s numbers represented half the grade eleven class. In several other states, high school refusals reached 15 percent.… These numbers are a huge leap over 2014, when the Opt Out movement first began to have an impact.… Leaders predict the numbers will escalate again in the March to May 2016 testing season.… | more…

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