Sunday April 20th, 2014, 7:41 pm (EDT)

Toward a Global Dialogue on Ecology and Marxism

A Brief Response to Chinese Scholars

I would like to thank Zhihe Wang, Meijun Fan, Hui Dong, Dezhong Sun, and Lichun Li for doing so much to promote a global dialogue on ecological Marxism by summarizing some of the insights and concerns of Chinese scholars in this area, focusing in this case on my work in particular. The various questions, challenges, and critiques raised in relation to my work and that of related scholars are all, I believe, of great importance to the development of theory and practice in this area. I am therefore providing a brief set of responses to the problems raised, which I hope will be helpful in the further promotion of this global dialogue on ecology and Marxism.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 8 (January 2013)

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 8 (January 2013)

» Notes from the Editors

As Fred Magdoff notes in his article in this issue, the Royal Society of London—one of the world’s oldest (founded in 1660) and most respected scientific bodies—declared in its 2012 report, People and the Planet, that the environmental threat to the planet as a place of human habitation is now so serious that it is necessary for humanity to “develop socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on continued material consumption growth.” In other words, a radical break with capitalism’s laws of motion is called for.… Behind this startling conclusion on the part of the Royal Society lies a nascent revolt of climate scientists against the dominance of capitalist economics in determining climate-change policy.… | more |

‘Libor’ing Under the Market Illusion

Sandwiched between revelations of mounting losses ($5.8 billion and rising) at JP Morgan in the face of bungled bets by a trader known as the London Whale, and allegations of money laundering for Mexican drug cartels and breaches of U.S. sanctions by HSBC, the disclosures of deliberate rigging of the Libor rate by Barclay’s Bank might appear mundane and a trifle boring in comparison. It is, however, this scandal about an arcane interest rate that most starkly exposes the rotten core of the global financial system.… [T]he scandal is not simply one of colossal greed and hubris. It is about systemic failure. It is about the fictions and illusions that form the basis of today’s complex global financial system.… | more |

Global Resource Depletion

Is Population the Problem?

Within the current system, there are steps that can and should be taken to lessen the environmental problems associated with the limits of growth: the depletion of resource taps and the overflowing of waste sinks, both of which threaten the future of humanity.… [H]owever, …attempts to trace these problems, and particularly the problem of depletion natural resources, to population growth are generally misdirected. The economic causes of depletion are the issues that must be vigorously addressed (though population growth remains a secondary factor). The starting point for any meaningful attempt actually to solve these problems must begin with the mode of production and its unending quest for ever-higher amounts of capital accumulation regardless of social and environmental costs—with the negative results that a portion of society becomes fabulously rich while others remain poor and the environment is degraded at a planetary level.… | more |

Introduction to Lettuce Wars

A Cab Ride for a Lawyer

This an excerpt from the forthcoming Lettuce Wars: Ten Years of Work and Struggle in the Fields of California (Monthly Review Press, 2012). Part memoir, part informed commentary on farm labor, the U.S. labor movement, and the political economy of agriculture, Lettuce Wars is a lively account written from the perspective of the fields. Bruce Neuburger portrays the people he encountered—immigrant workers, fellow radicals, company bosses, cops and goons—vividly and indelibly, lending a human aspect to the conflict between capital and labor as it played out in the fields of California.… | more |

Tadeusz Kowalik and the Accumulation of Capital

Tadeusz Kowalik, the doyen of Polish political economists, died at his home in Warsaw on July 30, 2012. Kowalik is best known as the last surviving coauthor of the great Polish economist, Michał Kalecki (1899–1970), as an advisor to the Polish trade union movement Solidarity when it played a key part in bringing down the Communist government in the 1980s, and subsequently as a fierce critic of the capitalism that was put in its place. He challenged both the commonly accepted view of the Keynesian Revolution and the inability of Polish Communists to come to terms with their revolutionary past and find a place for themselves in the modern world.… | more |

Capitalism and the Fallacy of Crude Underconsumptionism

The question of “underconsumptionism” is a tangled one—due not only to the commonplace fallacy associated with what is known as “crude underconsumptionism,” but also because the term has been used at various times to refer to what Joseph Schumpeter in his History of Economic Analysis called “non-spending” or effective demand theories (the second in a typology of underconsumption theories designated by Schumpeter). Underconsumption in this sense, however, would encompass theorists like Keynes and Kalecki who focus not on underconsumption per se, but on underinvestment. Hence, the term is no longer applied to theories of this type (except by some Marxian critics of “underconsumptionism”).… In the following exchange with Jonathan Penzner published in the April 1982 issue of Monthly Review, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, then editors of the magazine, pointed to the fallacy of crude underconsumptionism.… | more |

Repressing Social Movements

Amory Starr, Luis Fernandez, and Christian Scholl, Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 207 pages, $23.00, paperback.

Shutting Down the Streets is not an ivory-tower book, situated a safe distance from its subject; the first appendix lists the seventeen anti-globalization summit protests which were directly observed by the book’s authors. And just as the authors were participants and not just spectators, they also refrain from merely presenting a comparative analysis of policing and repression at these summits. Examining the existing academic literature on social control, dissent, and social movements, they argue that existing works on repression mainly concentrate on protest policing. Instead they aim to develop a broader framework that examines social control by extending the object of analysis from the policing of protest events to the effects of social control on dissent, while also arguing that the unit of analysis needs to be changed from individual protests to the wider one of social movements. Repression then is not just police violence and coercion at protests but also includes a host of other methods of “soft” repression, such as psyops (psychological operations), infiltration, and surveillance.… | more |

Whiteness as a Managerial System

Race and the Control of U.S. Labor

David R. Roediger and Elizabeth D. Esch, The Production of Difference: Race and the Management of Labor in U.S. History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 296 pages, $34.95, hardback.

In this highly original book historians David Roediger and Elizabeth Esch probe deeply into the relationship of institutionalized racism to the management of labor in the United States. As they emphasize, “race management” has been a much neglected topic in the social sciences. Focusing on the century from 1830 to 1930, they accent the interesting and accurate idea of “whiteness as management”—that is, of labor management theory among white employers and experts as honed within the arena of persisting white-racist framing and action. Among other key points, we see here how capitalistic employers long used the racial and ethnic differences among workers to divide and conquer them. The “scientific” management of workers and the white-racist framing of society evolved together over this long century they examine, as well as over subsequent decades.… | more |

The Psychology of Culture

Making Oppression Appear Normal

Carl Ratner, Macro Cultural Psychology: A Political Philosophy of Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 544 pages, $69.95, hardcover.

Psychologists engage in a number of practices that, mostly unwittingly, help to sustain the cultural distortions of the ruling class and hence their exploitative rule. One of these practices is to treat human behavior as primarily driven by biology. This leads, for example, to the medicalization of mental illness.… It also supports one of capitalists’ favorite ideological ploys: individualism. We are the masters of our own fate, not society and its culture. If we fail, it is our own fault. We simply did not try hard enough or follow the right path. Individualism favors self-blame and a refusal even to look for social causes. Ratner instead argues that humans are qualitatively different from all other species precisely in terms of how culture, not constant biological traits, shape their behavior. He points out that even our closest relatives, the great apes, have not developed culture, institutions, science, religion, etc. We are truly unique.… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 7 (December 2012)

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 7 (December 2012)

» Notes from the Editors

As we write these notes at the beginning of November climate change is once again in the headlines in the United States and around the world. This is because of the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, not only on islands in the Caribbean, but also on the northeastern United States and particularly New York and New Jersey, with the impact of the storm dramatized by the damage to New York City. Coincidentally almost twenty-five years ago it was a heat wave experienced in New York, coinciding with climatologist James Hansen’s famous testimony to Congress, that first made global warming a public issue, and increasingly an international one with the formation that year of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Whether Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in New York and New Jersey will lead to a similar elevation of climate change as a public issue this time around remains to be seen.… | more |

The Planetary Emergency

Capitalism today is caught in a seemingly endless crisis, with economic stagnation and upheaval circling the globe. But while the world has been fixated on the economic problem, global environmental conditions have been rapidly worsening, confronting humanity with its ultimate crisis: one of long-term survival. The common source of both of these crises resides in the process of capital accumulation. Likewise the common solution is to be sought in a “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large,” going beyond the regime of capital.… It is still possible for humanity to avert what economist Robert Heilbroner once called “ecological Armageddon.” The means for the creation of a just and sustainable world currently exist, and are to be found lying hidden in the growing gap between what could be achieved with the resources already available to us, and what the prevailing social order allows us to accomplish. It is this latent potential for a quite different human metabolism with nature that offers the master-key to a workable ecological exit strategy.… | more |

Lenin and the “Aristocracy of Labor”

Eric Hobsbawm, who died last October 1, aged ninety-five, has been much celebrated as one of the twentieth century’s greatest English-language historians despite his steadfast advocacy of socialism and use of the tools of Marxian analysis. But, if asked, the founding editors of Monthly Review, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, his lifelong colleagues and comrades, would have differed a bit. They would have said that it was precisely because Marxism was intrinsic to his theory, understanding, and action that he gained his preeminence.

What Makes the Working Class a Revolutionary Subject?

Those who conclude that the working class is not a revolutionary subject because capitalism has changed the working class reveal that they do not understand the ABCs of Marxism. The working class makes itself a revolutionary subject through its struggles—it transforms itself. That was always the position of Marx—his concept of “revolutionary practice,” which is the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change. The working class changes itself through its struggles. It makes itself fit to create the new world.… | more |

Remembering Walter Rodney

“In February 1967 came the Arusha Declaration. The ruling party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), issued the Arusha Declaration and a policy of socialism and self-reliance. Our word in Kiswahili, Ujamaa (translated as extended family or familyhood), became the official policy. A number of companies in the commanding heights of the national economy were nationalized by the government. That started a whole new debate at the university. Walter Rodney had just come from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) and became a young lecturer here. In the conference on rethinking the role of the university in now socialist Tanzania, he played a very important role.”… | more |

Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball and the Plague of the 99%

On his most recent album, Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen crafted a powerful statement of support for the working class, the existence of which barely penetrates contemporary art or politics. This is not an accident: the growing power of capital over public discourse has provided it a forceful means through which to shape individual consciousness, and establish an apolitical and at most technocratic understanding of power.… Even in the cultural realm, the art and voices of the working class are sidelined and squelched. Working people thus become invisible.… | more |

The Anthropology Wars

In 1929 Bronislaw Malinowski, the primogenitor of twentieth century anthropology, published an article extolling the merits of his science in the process of colonial administration.… It was essentially a fundraising pitch for the Institute, which was seeking a subsidy from the Rockefeller Foundation by demonstrating the workaday virtues of what was until then an obscure discipline with little apparent importance to the vast powers stretching outward from the heart of capitalism to envelope the world. Eight decades later anthropology’s quest for investment perseveres…. Yet the tables have strangely turned: it is now imperial powers, cash in hand, which turn to a reluctant anthropology, seeking scientific means of domination through a form of cultural warfare. In Weaponizing Anthropology, David Price documents the latest form of blood alimony proffered by the custodians of empire to the discipline which was once styled the “child of western imperialism.”… | more |

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 6 (November 2012)

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 6 (November 2012)

» Notes from the Editors

From September 10–18, 2012, …[the] rank-and-file-led Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in what is the third-largest school district in the nation with some 350,000 students.… Working-class communities in Chicago came massively to the aid of the strikers. More than a strike simply over wages, teachers were fighting against the corporatization, privatization, and degradation of schools, including: education cutbacks; school closings; teacher layoffs; merit-based pay and removal of teacher-seniority protections; loss of benefits; increased class sizes; shortages of textbooks and equipment; longer school days and longer working hours for teachers; excessive testing; teacher evaluation based mainly on student test scores…; the imposition of an increasingly standardized, corporate-derived curriculum; the charterization of schools; and a highly segregated school district.… The Chicago teachers won a number of partial victories as a result of the strike…. This struggle over elementary and secondary education…is at the very heart of class/social conflict in the United States today. Moreover, neoliberal attacks on public education are now occurring on a global level. Consequently, we intend to devote added attention to the battle over K–12 education in future issues of MR.… | more |

This Isn’t What Democracy Looks Like

On the brink of the 2012 presidential election, and without considering that electoral contest itself, it is useful to comment on the state of U.S. democracy. The most striking lesson from contemporary U.S. election campaigns is how vast and growing the distance is between the rhetoric and pronouncements of the politicians and pundits and the actual deepening, immense, and largely ignored problems that afflict the people of the United States.… Mainstream politics seem increasingly irrelevant to the real problems the nation faces…. The degeneration of U.S. politics is a long-term process.… capitalism and democracy have always had a difficult relationship. The former generates severe inequality and the latter is predicated upon political equality.… Capitalist democracy therefore becomes more democratic to the extent that it is less capitalist (dominated by wealth) and to the extent to which popular forces—those without substantial property—are able to organize successfully to win great victories…. In the past four decades such organized popular forces in the United States—never especially strong compared to most other capitalist democracies—have been decimated, with disastrous consequences. The United States has long been considered a “weak democracy”; by the second decade of the new century that is truly an exaggeration. Today, the United States is better understood as what John Nichols and I term a “Dollarocracy”—the rule of money rather than the rule of the people—a specifically U.S. form of plutocracy. … | more |

The Neoclassical Apology for Monopoly Capital

While the global economy is mired in ever-deepening crisis, there is no abatement in the propaganda rationalizing free markets and perfect competition. In the world of “perfect competition” governed by the “invisible hand” of market forces, no single actor (or even a combination of a few) is in a position to influence the market equilibrium, and prices are determined by the balance of demand and supply. This is a win-win world, where actors have sufficient information for arriving at their respective choices, consumers are free to make the correct decisions, and this self-governing system leads to progressively increasing welfare for all.… In this mythological world, there is also a hell, whose name is monopoly or oligopoly, the exact opposite of perfect competition, where a few sellers or producers distort the markets and generate inefficiency, monopoly profits, and compromise consumer choice.… The only difficulty with this mythology is that, while we are constantly told that the world is increasingly being governed by competition and market forces, the real world of business and industry is moving rapidly away from such free competition, as concentration, domination, and control of most economic activities has become common place.… It might be that perfectly competitive markets will provide answers for all of our ills, but in the real world, there is an absence of “free markets,” with market rigging and failure everywhere in the economy.… | more |