The previous century now seems to be drawing away from us at an increasing speed, especially in the global society’s existing superabundance of communications. Readers of Monthly Review know that the basics have remained the same in the all too physical world of capitalism and neocolonialism, as much as they might have changed in terms of resistance and apparent alternatives. Still, as the graying of the 1960s generation continues, and the New Deal era draws ever further into a kind of archeology, a summing up of some points is useful and may even be fun.
Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.
The celebrations on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel brought forth mixed feelings for those of us who survived the Holocaust. The reason for this ambivalence is that, while the survivors of the Nazi genocide celebrated the creation of a Jewish state in 1948, few were aware at the time of the human costs and injustices that had been, were being, and would be perpetrated against Palestinian Arabs in our name. The slogan “Never Again,” which was the dominating thought in the Jewish psyche in those years, was mostly concerned with the fate of European Jews.
What are we to think of Chairman Mao? A man of immense contradictions — a nationalist, communist, revolutionary, warrior, as well as the author of The Little Red Book, and the leader for decades of the Peoples’ Republic of China — he was also one of twentieth-century China’s best poets. A new translation of his work provides an opportunity to evaluate him as a writer and as an artist. A reviewer in The Washington Post called Mao’s poems “political documents,” but added, “it is as literature that they should be considered.” Separating the political from the literary, however, isn’t possible. “We woke a million workers and peasants,” Mao wrote in the First Siege, and though all his lines aren’t as explicit about the Chinese Revolution as it is, a great many of them are.
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (based on Indian diplomat Vikas Swaroop’s novel Q & A) takes the extremely potent idea of a Bombay slum boy tapping into his street knowledge to win a twenty-million-dollar reality quiz show, and turns it into a universal tale of love and human destiny. In the quiz, Jamal is unable to answer questions that test his nationalist knowledge but is surprisingly comfortable with those that mark his familiarity with international trivia. For instance, while he knows that Benjamin Franklin adorns the hundred dollar bill, he has no clue about who adorns the thousand rupee note. This is obviously meant to suggest the irrelevance of the nation to its most marginalized member, but less obviously, also indicates its redundancy under globalized neoliberalism.
Marge Piercy is the author of Pesach for the Rest of Us: Making the Passover Seder Your Own (Schocken, 2007). Her most recent novel is Sex Wars: A Novel of the Turbulent Post-Civil War Period (New York: William Morrow, 2005) and her newest book of poetry is The Crooked Inheritance (Knopf, 2006).
The Review of the Month entitled “The U.S. Imperial Triangle and Military Spending” by John Bellamy Foster, Hannah Holleman, and Robert W. McChesney (Monthly Review 60, no. 5 [October 2008]) carries on a valuable MR tradition. Monthly Review is one of the few voices on the left that has emphasized the necessity, from the point of view of capitalism, of this kind of military Keynesianism. Chalmers Johnson and Seymour Melman, who have written extensively on this issue, have tended to argue that other forms of government spending, a renewed New Deal, is possible.
It is now universally recognized that the U.S. economy is experiencing a deep downturn unlike anything seen since the 1930s. Hence, the question continually arises: How close is this to a depression? One way of answering is to look at the unemployment rate. The Great Depression hit bottom in 1933 when unemployment peaked at 25 percent. Today the United States is losing jobs at the rate of 600,000 a month. But the official unemployment rate currently stands at 8.1 percent (seasonally adjusted, February 2009). This is the highest rate of official unemployment in a quarter-century, but hardly what is considered a depression-level rate, which is usually thought of as well into the double-digits.
On the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 Stock Market Crash that led to the Great Depression, the United States is once again caught in a Great Financial Crisis and deep downturn of an order of magnitude comparable to the 1930s. At the center of this crisis is plunging consumer spending, caused by the destruction of household finance as a result of decades of wage stagnation and the piling up of debt. Consumer spending in today’s economy, dominated by giant firms, is significantly dependent on the sales effort, i.e., marketing as a whole, with advertising as its most conspicuous form. But the sales effort is also ebbing in the crisis, contributing to the general decline. So integral is the sales effort to the regime of monopoly capital that one cannot be understood without the other.
As the first tremors of the looming financial crisis ripped through Wall Street, with the meltdown of the subprime mortgage market in the summer of 2007, the dollar plunged sharply. Perversely however, even as some financial pundits were foretelling its collapse, the deepening of the crisis following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 actually saw the dollar gain ground sharply (for the first time since the steady decline that began in 2002.