Friday April 25th, 2014, 12:24 am (EDT)

Competition and Class

A Reply to Foster and McNally

The postwar economy is widely understood to have gone through two major phases. During the long boom between the end of the 1940s and the early 1970s, most of the advanced capitalist economies (outside the United States and the United Kingdom) experienced record-breaking rates of investment, output, productivity, and wage growth, along with low unemployment and only brief, mild recessions. But during the long downturn that followed, the growth of investment fell significantly, resulting in much-reduced productivity growth, sharply slowed wage growth (if not absolute decline), depression-level unemployment (outside the United States), and a succession of serious recessions and financial crises. My goal in The Economics of Global Turbulence was to explain why the long boom gave way to a long downturn, to reveal why stagnation has persisted on an international scale for such an exceedingly long period, and finally to demonstrate how the failure to resolve the problems underlying the long downturn opened the way to the world economic crisis of 1997-1998 … | more |

Marxism Human Nature, and Social Change

Sean Sayers, Marxism and Human Nature (London: Routledge, 1998), 203pp., paperback

At a time when politicians, academics, and media pundits celebrate the demise of Marxism as a credible school of thought, and hegemonic “postisms” (e.g., poststructuralism, postfeminism, post-Marxism) have succeeded in producing a generation of young academics for whom everything (themselves included) is “socially constructed” and open to “deconstruction,” in an endless game of shifting identities and “stories,” a book about Marxism and human nature seems hopelessly outdated. It is, however, precisely at this time that this book should be welcome, not only because it is full of illuminating insights that dispel many common stereotypes about Marx and Marxism, but also (and most importantly) because it demonstrates how Marx’s theory of human nature, and its social and moral implications, offer a necessary alternative to the current “antinomies of bourgeois thought” (e.g., essentialism vs. anti-essentialism; humanism vs. antihumanism; determinism vs. social constructionism). (I have borrowed this phrase from Georg Lukacs in History and Class Consciousness.) … | more |

November 1999, Volume 51, Number 6

November 1999, Volume 51, Number 6

» Notes from the Editors

We’ve been discussing among ourselves exactly what we want to achieve with these Notes from the Editors, and our conclusion is that we want to leave the objectives of the Notes as open-ended as they always have been. Over the years, they have been everything from editorials about some pressing current event, to news about the MR community, or reflections on something we’ve read, including correspondence from our readers. What these all have in common is that they give us a chance to make more or less current comments on things that have happened or things we’ve been thinking about since the last issue … | more |

A Poetics of Anticolonialism

Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism might be best described as a declaration of war. I would almost call it a “third world manifesto,” but hesitate because it is primarily a polemic against the old order bereft of the kind of propositions and proposals that generally accompany manifestos. Yet, Discourse speaks in revolutionary cadences, capturing the spirit of its age just as Marx and Engels did 102 years earlier in their little manifesto. First published in 1950 as Discours sur le colonialisme, it appeared just as the old empires were on the verge of collapse, thanks in part to a world war against fascism that left Europe in material, spiritual, and philosophical shambles. It was the age of decolonization and revolt in Africa, Asia, and Latin America… | more |

Are New Trade Wars Looming?

I have agreed to talk on the question “Are New Trade Wars Looming?” The answer is yes, but I must also tell you that I think this is the wrong question. What we are really interested in is why trade wars occur and where the economic philosophy we call protectionism comes from. A major cause of the worldwide war and depression that crippled much of the first half of the twentieth century was imperialism and the rivalry of nations for trade, commodities, raw materials, and labor—this produced protectionism. I want to suggest the special importance of finance capital in this process, both earlier in the twentieth century and now. Rather than worrying about trade wars, we should concentrate on the power of capital’s control over our political economy, especially the role of international financiers … | more |

The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited

Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books), £20.

This book provides a detailed account of the ways in which the CIA penetrated and influenced a vast array of cultural organizations, through its front groups and via friendly philanthropic organizations like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. The author, Frances Stonor Saunders, details how and why the CIA ran cultural congresses, mounted exhibits, and organized concerts. The CIA also published and translated well-known authors who toed the Washington line, sponsored abstract art to counteract art with any social content and, throughout the world, subsidized journals that criticized Marxism, communism, and revolutionary politics and apologized for, or ignored, violent and destructive imperialist U.S. policies. The CIA was able to harness some of the most vocal exponents of intellectual freedom in the West in service of these policies, to the extent that some intellectuals were directly on the CIA payroll. Many were knowingly involved with CIA “projects,” and others drifted in and out of its orbit, claiming ignorance of the CIA connection after their CIA sponsors were publicly exposed during the late 1960s and the Vietnam war, after the turn of the political tide to the left … | more |

The Road Not Taken

Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), $18, 315 pp.; Mike Parker & Martha Gruelle, Democracy is Power: Rebuilding Unions from the Bottom Up (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1999), $17, 255 pp.

In a very well-known passage, Marx said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” Elsewhere, he said, “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” These words of wisdom provide us with a good entry point into a review of these two exceptional books … | more |

October 1999, Volume 51, Number 5

October 1999, Volume 51, Number 5

» Notes from the Editors

Many MR readers will remember when teaching the theory of evolution was prohibited by law in some U.S. states. This wasn’t just at the time of the infamous Scopes “monkey trial” in 1925 but still decades later. In the 1950s, during the McCarthy era, the anti-evolution law took on a new significance, symbolizing the suppression of intellectual freedom which was the hallmark of that grim episode in U.S. history. In 1955, the ACLU, which had initiated the original constitutional test of the Tennessee law that culminated in the Scopes trial, again called for repeal of the law, as a symbol of every attack on the freedom of thought. That same year, “Inherit the Wind” appeared on Broadway, presenting the “monkey trial” as a thinly disguised metaphor for McCarthyism … | more |

Labor and the Imperialism of Finance

Organized labor has always privileged collective struggle at the point of production, judging it to be capital’s most vulnerable point. Denying employers the labor power needed for the production of surplus value strikes at the reproduction and expansion of capital, the accumulation process which is the core of the system … | more |

The Public Sector Strikes in South Africa

The strikes that have recently brought more than one million teachers and public employees into the streets in South Africa—culminating in a one-day strike on August 25, in which six hundred thousand public workers downed tools nationwide—have been brewing for the past few months … | more |

Prison Sentences

Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing (New York: Arcade, 1999), 349 pp., $27.95, cloth.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s old adage, about measuring a civilization by reviewing its prisons, if followed in the U.S. context, is a condemnation of this nation’s own version of the gulag archipelago. A cross-section of prisoner’s writings submitted to the PEN writing contest for the past quarter-century reveals the cold, dark underside of the American dream. Men and women, denizens of both state and federal prisons, write brilliantly about trying to stay human in the midst of places of marked inhumanity, and indeed, places that only succeed if they dehumanize … | more |

September 1999, Volume 51, Number 4

September 1999, Volume 51, Number 4

» Notes from the Editors

We’ve received three letters from readers complaining about our articles on Kosovo. While this isn’t a groundswell of opinion, we assume that there are other readers out there who share the concerns of these critics, and since this is an important issue, we think it’s worth returning to it. We won’t go over the same ground again, but we want to take up at least one larger question raised by the critics … | more |

The Politics of Capitalism

Our choice of political strategies clearly depends in large part on what we think is possible and impossible in any given conditions. And what we think is possible or impossible under capitalism obviously depends on what we think capitalism is. So let me, first, make some general observations about the nature of capitalism … | more |

Powerful Compassion

The Strike at Syracuse

It is worth the trip to Syracuse University just to see Ben Shahn’s sixty-by-twelve-foot outdoor mural, “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti.” Unveiled in 1967, the mosaic tile mural tells the story of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed in 1927 for a crime which they probably did not commit. Witnesses placed them miles from the crime scene when the murder of a paymaster occurred at a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts … | more |

Remarks on Paul Sweezy on the Occasion of His Receipt of the Veblen-Commons Award

I would like to quote at length from Paul Samuelson, who wrote a piece exactly thirty years ago for Newsweek magazine about a time thirty years before that “when giants walked the earth and Harvard Yard”: … | more |

July-August 1999, Volume 51, Number 3

July-August 1999, Volume 51, Number 3

» Notes from the Editors

In his article on the U.S. economy in this issue, Doug Henwood quotes from a piece by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times Magazine on March 28, and points to the connection between Friedman’s view of globalization and his support for the bombing of Yugoslavia. Well, we read that article and were very much struck by it too. Anyone who thinks we’re over the top when we say things like Ellen did in June’s Review of the Month about the “new imperialism” should just read Friedman’s “Manifesto for the Fast World.” … | more |

Unhappy Families

Global Capitalism in a World of Nation-States

The word “capitalism” is typically applied to a very wide and diverse range of cases—from the United States to Japan, Russia, Brazil, or South Africa. We use the word in this way on the premise that, for all their diversities, all these cases have in common certain basic social forms and economic laws of motion, including a common tendency to crisis. And we talk about “global” capitalism on the premise that national capitalist economies are interconnected, that they are integrated in a global system driven by the same capitalist laws of motion, and that economic crises and prolonged downturns like the current one are not national in origin but are rooted in the general dynamics that drive the whole global economy and in the relations that bind all capitalist economies together … | more |

Sub-Saharan Africa in Global Capitalism

If we define sub-Saharan Africa as excluding not only north Africa but also bracket off, for the moment, the continent’s southern cone, dominated by South Africa, the key fact about the rest—the greater part of the continent—is thrown sharply into relief: after 80 years of colonial rule and almost four decades of independence, in most of it there is some capital but not a lot of capitalism. The predominant social relations are still not capitalist, nor is the prevailing logic of production. Africa south of the Sahara exists in a capitalist world, which marks and constrains the lives of its inhabitants at every turn, but is not of it … | more |

Capitalism in Asia at the End of the Millennium

Two propositions dominated the Marxist perspective in most Asian countries during the period immediately following the Second World War. First, capitalism had entered the period of its “general crisis.” While not reducible to narrowly economic terms, this implied that economic progress would henceforth be stymied. Second, the kind of diffusion of industrial capitalism that had occurred from Britain to Europe, and then in the United States and other temperate regions of white settlement in the period leading up to the First World War, could not be expected to occur in the third world as well. It followed from these two propositions that the development of the Asian countries required their transition, through stages of democratic revolution, to socialism, and that the course of this transition would be made smoother when their proletarian comrades from the advanced countries marched to socialism as well, as they eventually would … | more |

Booming, Borrowing, and Consuming

The U.S. Economy in 1999

As we take our first steps across what Bill Clinton likes to call the bridge to the twenty-first century, we’re hearing a lot of praise for the state of the U.S. economy. The word “boom” is frequently used, as is the phrase “the best economy in a generation.” Wall Street economist Larry Kudlow, one of the most exuberant of his breed, calls it “the only adult economy in the world.” The United States, we’re told, is a natural to succeed in this post-industrial era—fast, flexible, polyglot, and decentered … | more |