Pete Seeger is an environmental advocate who understands the transforming power of immersion in nature. However, his desire to restore his cherished Hudson River posed a monumental challenge in the 1960s. The Hudson River, once so majestic that it inspired the Hudson River School painters, had become a sewer for the communities and commercial industries that populated its shoreline. Seeger’s approach to reversing the degradation of the Hudson River involved a unique form of advocacy and organizing. He envisioned healing the Hudson through immersion. His approach involved bringing people back to the river aboard a 106-foot replica of a Hudson River sloop (a single-masted sailboat), one that resembled the boats that traversed the Hudson in centuries past. By 1969, with Seeger as the driving force behind its creation, the sloop Clearwater was constructed and launched. It still sails today and serves as an inspiring symbol of citizen activism on behalf of the natural environment.
By vocation, Marx was not an economist, or a philosopher, or a sociologist. He was a revolutionary who, being deprived of the opportunity of participating in revolutions in the years after 1848, turned to the detailed analysis of the economic system he wanted to overthrow. Marx never ceased to stress the liberating quality of practical activity; but he himself was compelled by the circumstances of his time to devote most of his life to theoretical work.
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.
Leo Cawley (1944-1991) grew up in suburban south Florida and graduated from high school in Jacksonville in 1962, receiving one of two William Faulkner scholarships awarded that year by the University of Virginia, based on two short stories and three poems he had written. He had a bright future as a creative writer.… Instead, he soon he found himself in the Marine Corps and on the front lines in Vietnam, wounded in action more than once. It became the transformative experience of Cawley’s life.… It was in Vietnam that he was poisoned by the defoliant Agent Orange sprayed by the U.S. military with little regard for its own troops…. As a result, in 1980 he developed the multiple myeloma that would kill him eleven years later.… In this essay on Oliver Stone’s film Platoon, reprinted below, Cawley points out that the authors of nineteenth-century realist novels, writing in the era of the Industrial Revolution and triumphalist capitalism, sought to tell their readers what quotidian life and work was like.… The critical insights in this piece and in others demonstrate this. His perspective, at once radical and sharp, grows both from his life experience and his formidable talents.
The question “Why Stagnation?” has a rather special significance for me. I started my graduate work in economics exactly fifty years ago this year. The cyclical downturn which began in 1929 was nearing the bottom. Unemployment in that year, according to government figures, was 23.6 percent of the labor force, and it reached its high point in 1933 at 24.9 percent. It remained in the double-digit range throughout the decade. Still, a recovery began in 1933, and it turned out to be the longest on record up to that time. Even at the top in 1937, however, the unemployment rate was still 14.3 percent, and it jumped up by the end of the year. That also happens to be the year I got my Ph.D. Can you imagine a set of circumstances better calculated to impress upon a young economist the idea that the fundamental economic problem was not cyclical ups and downs but secular stagnation?
The solitary and isolated figure of Robinson Crusoe is often taken as a starting point by economists, especially in their analysis of international trade. He is pictured as a rugged individual—diligent, intelligent, and above all frugal—who masters nature through reason. But the actual story of Robinson Crusoe, as told by Defoe, is also one of conquest, slavery, robbery, murder, and force. The contrast between the economists’ Robinson Crusoe and the genuine one mirrors the contrast between the mythical description of international trade found in economics textbooks and the actual facts of what happens in the international economy.… But international trade…is often based on a division between superior and subordinate rather than a division between equals; and it is anything but peaceful. It is trade between the center and the hinterland, the colonizers and the colonized, the masters and the servants…Because it is unequal in structure and reward it has to be established and maintained by force, whether it be the structural violence of poverty, the symbolic violence of socialization, or the physical violence of war and pacification.
Though it is neither written nor marketed as such, Who Owns the Sun? by researcher/activists Daniel Berman and John O’Connor, is a devastating indictment of capitalism. As it has developed in the last two centuries, this system is an enormous user of energy, most of it derived from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). An additional—and in some parts of the world increasing—source is nuclear fission. Both of these forms of energy are dangerous and environmentally destructive to life on the planet. Burning fossil fuels generates almost all of the greenhouse gasses that have already begun to change the planet’s climate and, if continued at anywhere near the present rates, will trigger a chain reaction of lethal disasters, not in some vaguely distant future but in the next century or so—historically a relatively short span of time. Nuclear fission leaves a legacy of radioactive waste that cannot now, or perhaps ever, be safely disposed of. Clearly if humanity, not to speak of other forms of life, is to have a future, nothing could be more important than phasing out these sources of energy. So much, I believe, is what can be appropriately called ecological common sense
Pronounced preoccupation with interpretation of historical experience, with basic problems of social dynamics, and with epistemological foundations of social science is itself an important characteristic of the revolutionary convulsions that mark the end and the beginning of epochs in human history. Thus also in our days the feeling of philosophical unrest has penetrated the ivory towers of conventional economics, and the rationale of traditional economic theorizing has become doubtful even to the most complacent practitioners of the established orthodoxy. Representing essentially a series of more or less successful attempts at the comprehension of the working principles of capitalism, customary economic thought stands completely disarmed when confronted with the decomposition of capitalism itself, when what matters is no longer the movements and the behavior of the passengers (and the conductors) on the train but the direction and the speed of the train itself.
The recession that began in the second quarter of 1981 (the second in two years) dragged on into 1982. Most observers look for some recovery in the second half of the year, but hardly anyone expects it to be vigorous. Meanwhile, all the typical signs of stagnation continue to be in evidence. The official unemployment rate which stood at 7.6 percent in 1981 rose to 9.5 percent by the middle of 1982, and the manufacturing capacity utilization rate fell from 79.9 percent to 69.9 percent in the same period.… The counterpart to this stagnation in the realm of production and employment was a continuing ballooning of the financial superstructure of the economy which, as the essays in this volume have been at pains to emphasize, has been one of the most spectacular features of capitalist development during the post-Second World War period.
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.
Most government reports make dull reading, and this one is no exception. But it contains a message which needs to be taken in by everyone even minimally concerned about the future of the human race. That message, quite simply, is that there is not and cannot be a safe program for disposing of radioactive wastes. The reasons are basically simple, do not depend on any complicated scientific arguments, and cannot be refuted or made irrelevant by any conceivable increase in scientific knowledge or technological capability. They can be summed up in a series of quotations from the report.