From its earliest years, Monthly Review has been distinguished among socialist publications by the degree to which it has incorporated environmental views into its fundamental perspective. Paul Sweezy’s 1950 article, “An Economic Program for America”…listed conservation of natural resources and the elimination of destructive waste as two of the primary goals in the development of socialism. He called for the socialization, long-term planning, and conservation of “coal…oil and natural gas and all the other fuels which provide the lifeblood of modern industrial society.” Scott Nearing’s monthly column “World Events,” written for MR from the early 1950s to the early 1970s, regularly examined environmental, along with political-economic, developments. Nearing was a socialist economist and environmentalist.… With the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, Nearing explored its wider ecological implications, contending that civilization had entered the “phase of suicidal destructivity…. Without doubt man has built a pyramid of potential destructivity…. Man is a destroyer as well as a builder. He has exterminated entire species…. He has destroyed forests and opened the soil to erosion. He has engaged in fratricidal wars that have wiped out one civilization after another and presently threaten to end western civilization” (Nearing, “World Events,” Monthly Review, November 1962).
From humanitarian and ecological viewpoints, many aspects of the capitalist economic system are irrational; although they are certainly rational from the more limited standpoint of the individual business or capitalist seeking to make profits.… With regard to the environment there are scores of examples of irrational behavior by capitalist businesses that have the ultimate goal of making profits. Many practices and side effects of the way the system functions degrade the ecosystem and its processes on which we depend and may also directly harm humans. For example, it is not rational to introduce chemicals into the environment, including into products we use daily, that are either toxic or cause illnesses of various types. Yet there are over 80,000 chemicals used in the United States; few of them are tested for their effects on people or other species, and many commonly used ones are suspected to be carcinogens or have other detrimental effects.
Last summer, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked to comment on the furor surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). He responded with the assertion that humans have been genetically modifying organisms for millennia, giving us food crops such as seedless watermelons or corn. This process, he stated, is little different from genetic engineering.… Tyson’s first mistake lies in his equation of artificial selection and genetic modification, reflecting common misunderstandings of both the sources of genetic variation and the distinction between the latter and mechanisms of evolutionary change. Tyson’s second mistake is his failure to see the bigger picture. The dynamic of capital accumulation is fundamentally at odds with ecosystem dynamics. And technology, in our society, is the handmaiden of capital accumulation. This article will elaborate on these distinctions and discuss some of the basic biological processes underlying GMOs and their potential risks, especially risks of dispersal. It will then examine how capitalism molds the technology and accentuates the risks.
In 2006, a few months after the Nobel Peace Prize for Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank was announced, I was visiting Germany [where many] Germans…looked at it as a victory over neoliberalism. One German activist theatre group invited me to the show of their latest drama, Taslima and the Microcredit. The show was eye opening for me: I realized to what extent Grameen Bank had been misunderstood in the West, and how media campaigns and public relations activities, including embedded studies, created a myth around the Grameen Bank and Yunus.… The theatre organizers requested me to join a discussion following the show. Standing before a mesmerized audience, I had to tell them the hard truth with facts and figures. I said that, despite their best wishes, they were making a terrible mistake. Grameen had never been an alternative to the World Bank-pushed neoliberal economic model; rather, it was born and brought up as a necessary supplement to it.
In this essay, I look at the problems facing progressives and those on the political left in the United States in participating in political analysis and debate in mainstream journalism and the news media. I focus on radio broadcasting, as this is where much of political discussion takes place in the United States. Radio broadcasting is the least expensive of the media for production and reception, is ubiquitous, has adapted itself to the Internet, and is uniquely suited for locally based programming.… I look specifically at my own experience hosting a weekly public affairs program on an NPR (National Public Radio)-affiliated radio station in Illinois from 2002–2012. This was, to my knowledge, the only NPR series hosted by a socialist in the network’s history.
The London Times once referred to the famed Trinidad-born C.L.R. James as a “Black Plato.” When asked about the phrase, James elliptically deflected it with a graciousness that should be noted, but the problems with being able to conceive of black intellect only within parallels within Western thought could take up pages. Christian Høgsbjerg’s new biography of James focuses on his first years in Britain, from 1932 to 1938, and skillfully avoids either fetishizing his subject or reducing him to a glorious “black brain.” The result is a riveting history that is bound to awaken the interest of those unfamiliar with him and add a dimension to what others already know of his life and work.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.