Fred Block responds to the Notes from the Editors, June 2014, which drew attention to Block’s recently published article, “Varieties of What?: Should We Still Be Using the Concept of Capitalism?” The editors reply.
I would like to expand on a couple of areas from Staughton Lynd’s thought-provoking essay (“Is There Anything More to Say About the Rosenberg Case?” MR, March 2011) on the case of my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Though Staughton is too modest to “have a go” at the validity of the analysis presented in Walter Schneir’s Final Verdict, I think it is important to note that unlike the authors of Venona, whose work is quoted in the article, Schneir is the first writer to take the most recently released materials from the former Soviet Union and subject them to a close analysis in comparison to what we had always “believed” we knew about the case.
Aside from Keynes, no economist seems to have benefitted so much from the financial crisis of 2007-08 as the late Hyman Minsky. The collapse of the sub-prime market in August 2007 has been widely labeled a “Minsky moment,” and many view the subsequent implosion of the financial system and deep recession as confirming Minsky’s “financial instability hypothesis” regarding economic crisis in capitalist economies.…Recognition of Minsky’s intellectual contribution is welcome and deserved. Minsky was a deeply insightful theorist about the proclivity of capitalist economies to experience financially driven booms and busts, and the crisis has confirmed many of his insights. That said, the current article argues that his theory only provides a partial and incomplete account of the current crisis.
In an article entitled “Listen, Keynesians!,” published in January 1983 in Monthly Review, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy argued that the radical break that John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) represented for orthodox economics lay in the fact that “For the first time the possibility was frankly faced, indeed placed at the very center of the analysis, that breakdowns of the accumulation process, the heart and soul of economic growth, might be built into the system and non-self correcting.”… In November 1982, only two months before the publication of “Listen, Keynesians!,” Magdoff and Sweezy had pointed out in “Financial Instability: Where Will it All End?” that the question as to whether a major financial crisis (on the scale of 1929) could propel the economy into a deep downturn, approaching the scale of the Great Depression of the 1930s, was still an open one. They were responding here to Hyman Minsky, a proud Keynesian (albeit with socialist leanings), “whose views,” they claimed, were “especially worthy of attention precisely because over the years he has been the American economist who has done more than any other to focus on the crucially important destabilizing role of the financial system in advanced capitalist countries.”
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.
In “The Imperative of an International Guaranteed Income” (Monthly Review, April 2007) Stephen Fortunato Jr. presents a pretty good outline of guaranteed annual income (GAI) issues and how they might apply on an international scale. As a Marxist, I take the view that a GAI won’t work
Too often, the Bolivarian Revolution currently underway in Venezuela is dismissed by its critics—on the right and left—as a fundamentally statist enterprise. We are told it is, at best, a continuation of the corrupt, bureaucratic status quo or, at worst, a personalistic consolidation of state power in the hands of a single individual at the expense of those “checks and balances” traditionally associated with western liberal democracies. These perspectives are erroneous, since they cannot account for what have emerged as the central planks of the revolutionary process. I will focus on the most significant of these planks: the explosion of communal power
The Bush administration’s denial of imperial ambitions clashes not only with what most of the world sees as this nation’s unprovoked aggression in Iraq and drive for global domination. It also departs from U.S. tradition established in the early years of the republic and the colonial era that preceded it
Many friends have written to me since the victory of “Lula” da Silva, elected as Brazil’s president. I thank you all. We need your good wishes, and especially we need your continuing vital opposition to the U.S. government’s aggression
John Saul has had an extensive and committed involvement with Southern Africa. His analyses are taken seriously in left circles in South Africa. Sadly, perhaps understandably, his most recent extended visit to this country has left him feeling deeply disappointed (Cry for the Beloved Country: The Post-Apartheid Denouement, Monthly Review 52, no. 8, January 2001, pp. 151). This sense of disappointment is rooted, I would guess, partly in the intellectual, organizational and even emotional energies that Saul, like many others, invested in the solidarity struggle against apartheid, and in legitimate expectations for a post-apartheid South Africa. There is also, and I want to underline my own empathy with his irritation on this score, a hint of personal hurt: The most startling thing I personally discovered about the New South Africa is just how easy it has become to find oneself considered an ultraleftist! (p. 1) This sense of disappointment, even of betrayal, is also present in many progressive circles within South Africa, and indeed among many cadres of our movement. Despite all of this there is, I believe, something seriously off-beam in Saul’s analysis
It is interesting that, on one of the two main fronts of inquiry opened up in my original essay, Jeremy Cronin professes—despite the wounded tone he adopts throughout and for all his talk about my frozen penultimates, sneers, and derision—to be in considerable agreement with me. This concerns my reading of the overall trajectory of socioeconomic policy that the African National Congress (ANC) government has adopted since 1994. As he puts the point, Saul goes on to argue that the ANC liberation front has erred seriously on two critical fronts—the choice of economic policies, and the relative demobilization of our mass constituency (except during electoral campaigns). I agree with Saul on both counts. Indeed, he adds, I agree substantially with the broad analysis of the last twelve years or so in South Africa that Saul makes in his pessimism of the intellect mode, including, it would appear, my criticisms of the government’s macroeconomic policy (the Growth Employment and Redistribution framework—GEAR), privatization policies, excessive liberalization measures, the failure to mobilize our mass base, or concerns about the growing bureaucratization and the influence of an emerging black bourgeois stratum on policy
John Bellamy Foster’s brilliant review, Monopoly Capital and the New Globalization (Monthly Review, January 2002), demonstrates how monopoly capitalism has reached its current crisis, one in which all the contradictions of imperialist domination and the worldwide lack of effective demand are now leading toward the stark choice between a deadly barbarism or a humane socialism
Barbara Epstein’s answer to What Happened to the Women’s Movement? (Monthly Review, May 2001) explains much of the decline of the intense, exciting, radical and socialist feminist organizing of the 1960s and 1970s, with its visions of societal transformation and women’s emancipation. However, I think that she underemphasizes, or even ignores, some important parts of a comprehensive answer. These have to do with the daunting reality facing revolutionary visions, the strength of opposition to women’s equality with men, and changes in economic and political relations that now seem to require new visions and ways of organizing
I take it as given that in publishing this piece Barbara Epstein sought to stir up controversy. I take it also that her effort seeks to revive feminism, rather than to bury it. And I agree with her notion that the situation of the women’s movement should be a subject for critical analysis. But I am surprised that such an acute observer of social movements should paint a picture so isolated from the larger political and economic context. In this response I will try to add some pieces of the broader picture.
I’m very pleased that Joan Acker and Hester Eisenstein have responded to my article. Since the questions that they raise overlap, I will address their responses together. I think that the questions they have raised are important for a discussion not only of the current state of the women’s movement, but more broadly, of the current state of progressive politics in the United States. I want to thank them for having taken the discussion that I started further