Millions of people throughout the world mourned the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013. Monthly Review responded at the time with numerous pieces posted on MRzine. We would like, however, to record here briefly something of MR‘s own special relationship to the late president, and what we think constitutes his indelible legacy to socialism in the twenty-first century. MR‘s unique connection to Chávez was largely through the influence of István Mészáros—whose relationship to Chávez stretched back for over twenty years, and whom Chávez called “the pathfinder of 21st century socialism”—and through Marta Harnecker and Michael Lebowitz, who both served as consultants to Chávez.… More than a decade followed in which the socialist revolution under Chávez moved forward, creating huge material, social, and cultural improvements for the Venezuelan population, and vastly increased the power of the people over their own lives through new socialist institutions…. The most vital revolutionary achievement in these years was the introduction of the famous “communal councils”—the general idea for which, as Chávez himself stressed on numerous occasions, was taken from Mészáros’s Beyond Capital.
Notes from the Editors
One of the achievements of Roosevelt’s New Deal administration during the Great Depression was the introduction in 1938 of the federal minimum wage, then set at twenty-five cents an hour. At no time in its history has the minimum wage kept workers out of poverty. But it has helped to stave off the full depths of poverty that would otherwise ensue.… Obama’s proposal in his State of the Union Address to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour…has received widespread support from the population. At the same time it has been subjected to severe criticism from key sectors of capital, which have gone into overdrive in pushing their claim that such a raise in the hourly wage of the poorest segments of society would be a devastating “job killer,” increasing unemployment.… If Obama’s proposal were adopted the real minimum wage would still be about $1.50 short of where it was in 1968 at the end of the Johnson administration, forty-five years ago. Yet, this paltry attempt to lift the floor of wages for the poorest workers in the United States—at a time when the annual income of a single parent receiving the minimum wage is well below the federal poverty line for a family of three—is coming under virulent attack from the vested interests.
The history of capitalism is replete with cases of successful captains of industry who, suddenly concerned with their place in history, decide to write a book celebrating their achievements, while articulating a new philosophy of philanthropic capitalism—usually with the help of a ghostwriter or “collaborator” of some sort.… [In this genre] is a new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, written by Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey in collaboration with Bentley University professor of marketing Raj Sisodia.… [I]n spite of all the references to a new form of “heroic capitalism,” which cares about employees and customers, Mackey, like most of his class, is a strong proponent of the most extreme forms of neoliberal exploitation. Both in Conscious Capitalism and in his public actions he has shown himself to be virulently anti-union, priding himself on keeping Whole Foods Market 100 percent union free, and slashing the wages of his workers even as profits have increased.
For a long time now orthodox economics has been hindered by its extreme irrealism—a refusal even to attempt a realistic theoretical understanding of how modern capitalism functions. The shift to using fanciful assumptions to explore largely minor issues, following a brief Keynesian moment in the post-Second World War era, has been in many ways self-reinforcing. Once fundamental characteristics of the capitalist economy such as labor exploitation, accumulation, built-in inequality, monopoly power, rent-seeking behavior, technological change, and the tendency to stagnation were removed from the analysis—as a result of an ideological process of system-rationalization—there was little recourse but to fall back in successive stages on more and more abstract models based on increasingly purified notions of individual rationality.… Nevertheless, the deepening crisis of today’s monopoly-finance capital has given rise to a new era of questioning within the economics profession, and some top-tier neoclassical economists are now struggling—though hindered at every step by their own training and inclinations—to recapture knowledge long abandoned.
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.
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.
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.
In universities today research, promotion, and tenure are increasingly based on publication in peer-reviewed academic journals. These journals are supposed to constitute the highest level of intellectual inquiry in the disciplines they represent. Yet, they are being transformed more and more into commodities subject to capitalist market conditions, subverting their purpose. Academic journal publication is now an oligopolistic industry with the five biggest commercial publishers accounting for about 40 percent of a $10 billion sector. Commercial academic journal publishers charge between three and nine times as much per page as scholarly society journals. Between 1970 and 1997 academic journal prices increased by a factor of thirty, growing by an average annual rate of more than 13 percent. Consequently, commercial publishers in this sector are currently reaping outsized profit margins on the order of 30–40 percent.… Given the growing monopolistic nature of academic journal publishing conflicts are inevitably deepening between the editors and authors, on the one hand, and the corporations that publish these journals, on the other.
Last May President Obama signed a proclamation establishing the “Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War,” meant to last for thirteen years, from Memorial Day 2012 to Veterans Day 2025, and to be conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense. A few days later, on Memorial Day, Obama gave a speech…. [declaring] that the Vietnam War represented a “national shame, a disgrace that should never have happened.” But the “national shame” to which he referred was not due to the deaths of several million people, nor atrocities like the My Lai Massacre, the unleashing of chemical weapons (most notoriously Agent Orange), and the U.S. war machine’s use of more than twice the explosive power in the Vietnam War as employed by all sides in the Second World War…. [F]or Obama, the “national shame” was that returning U.S. troops were not always “welcomed home,” were often “blamed for the misdeeds of a few,” and were “sometimes…denigrated”—despite the fact that they had made enormous sacrifices in a war that they “didn’t start.”… It should be obvious…that the current plans for an extended Commemoration…. is an attempt to rewrite history and to erase from the national memory the basic facts about the most horrendous imperialist (North-South) war of the twentieth century, as well as the most unpopular war in U.S. history.
As the economies of Europe, North America, and Japan continue to stagnate orthodox economics has revealed itself to be bankrupt, unable to explain what is happening much less what to do about it. It was not the failure to see the “Crisis of 2008” coming that represents the economics profession’s biggest failure, Paul Krugman declared in a recent talk, but what came after: “the profession’s descent into uninformed quarreling,” coupled with its reversion to Say’s Law (the notion that supply creates its own demand)—the disproof of which was the main achievement of the Keynesian revolution.… Yet… [no] prominent orthodox analyst, has sought to engage in a genuine overhaul of received economics on the level of what Keynes accomplished in the 1930s. Indeed, no such scientific revolution appears possible within mainstream economics today, which is characterized not by its realism but its irrealism—serving now an entirely ideological function. Here one is reminded of Paul Sweezy’s observation nearly fifty years ago: “Bourgeois economics, I fear, has irrevocably committed itself to what Marx called ‘the bad conscience and evil intent of apologetic.’ If I am right, Keynes may turn out to be its last great representative”