The year now ending marks the fortieth anniversary of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s classic work, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (Monthly Review Press, 1966). Compared to mainstream economic works of the early to mid-1960s (the most popular and influential of which were John Kenneth Galbraith’s New Industrial State and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom), Monopoly Capital stood out not simply in its radicalism but also in its historical specificity. What Baran and Sweezy sought to explain was not capitalism as such, the fundamental account of which was to be found in Marx’s Capital, but rather a particular stage of capitalist development. Their stated goal was nothing less than to provide a brief “essay-sketch” of the monopoly stage of capitalism by examining the interaction of its basic economic tendencies, narrowly conceived, with the historical, political, and social forces that helped to shape and support them
Review of the Month
In a series of articles in Monthly Review and in Monthly Review Press books during the 1970s and 1980s, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy proposed that the general economic tendency of mature capitalism is toward stagnation. A shortage of profitable investment opportunities is the primary cause of this tendency. Less investment in the productive economy (the “real economy”) means lower future growth. Marx wrote about the possibility of this very phenomenon
put into words what all previous presidents could not bring themselves to utter in public: addiction. The United States, he conceded, is “addicted” to oil—which is to say addicted to the car—and as a consequence unhealthily dependent upon Middle Eastern suppliers. What he neglected to mention was that the post-Second World War U.S. global oil acquisition strategy—a central plank of U.S. foreign policy since President Roosevelt met King Saud of Saudi Arabia and cobbled together their “special relationship” aboard the USS Quincy in February 1945—is in a total shambles. The pillars of that policy—Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf oil states, and Venezuela—are hardly supplicant sheep within the U.S. imperial fold
Imperialism is constant for capitalism. But it passes through various phases as the system evolves. At present the world is experiencing a new age of imperialism marked by a U.S. grand strategy of global domination. One indication of how things have changed is that the U.S. military is now truly global in its operations with permanent bases on every continent, including Africa, where a new scramble for control is taking place focused on oil
It is an inescapable truth of the capitalist economy that the uneven, class-based distribution of income is a determining factor of consumption and investment. How much is spent on consumption goods depends on the income of the working class. Workers necessarily spend all or almost all of their income on consumption. Thus for households in the bottom 60 percent of the income distribution in the United States, average personal consumption expenditures equaled or exceeded average pre-tax income in 2003; while the fifth of the population just above them used up five-sixths of their pre-tax income (most of the rest no doubt taken up by taxes) on consumption.1 In contrast, those high up on the income pyramid-the capitalist class and their relatively well-to-do hangers-on-spend a much smaller percentage of their income on personal consumption. The overwhelming proportion of the income of capitalists (which at this level has to be extended to include unrealized capital gains) is devoted to investment.
Agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have enhanced transnational capitalist power and profits at the cost of growing economic instability and deteriorating working and living conditions. Despite this reality, neoliberal claims that liberalization, deregulation, and privatization produce unrivaled benefits have been repeated so often that many working people accept them as unchallengeable truths. Thus, business and political leaders in the United States and other developed capitalist countries routinely defend their efforts to expand the WTO and secure new agreements like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as necessary to ensure a brighter future for the world’s people, especially those living in poverty
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by acclamation in September 2000 by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly called “United Nations Millennium Declaration.” This procedural innovation, called “consensus,” stands in stark contrast to UN tradition, which always required that texts of this sort be carefully prepared and discussed at great length in committees. This simply reflects a change in the international balance of power. The United States and its European and Japanese allies are now able to exert hegemony over a domesticated UN. In fact, Ted Gordon, well-known consultant for the CIA, drafted the millennium goals!
The physicist Alan Sokal laid a trap for postmodernists and anti-science scholars on the academic left when he submitted his article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” to Social Text, a left-leaning cultural studies journal. The trap sprang when the journal unwittingly published the article in its 1996 spring/summer issue. The article was intended to parody the type of scholarship that has become common in some sectors of the academy, which substitutes word-play and sophistry for reason and evidence. Sokal purposefully included in his article a variety of false statements, illogical arguments, incomprehensible sentences, and absurd, unsupported assertions, including the claim that there was in effect no real world and all of science was merely a social construction. He submitted the article to test whether the editors of Social Text had any serious intellectual standards. They failed the test, and the scandal that ensued has become legend
Today’s imperial ideology proclaims that the United States is the new city on the hill, the capital of an empire dominating the globe. Yet the U.S. global empire, we are nonetheless told, is not an empire of capital; it has nothing to do with economic imperialism as classically defined by Marxists and others. The question then arises: How is this new imperial age conceived by those promoting it?
The U.S. immigration reform of 1965 produced a tremendous influx of immigrants and refugees from Asia and Latin America that has dramatically altered U.S. race relations. Latinos now outnumber African Americans. It is clearer than ever that race relations in the United States are not limited to the central black/white axis. In fact this has always been true: Indian wars were central to the history of this country since its origins and race relations in the West have always centered on the interactions between whites and natives, Mexicans, and Asians. The “new thinking” about race relations as multipolar is overdue
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have chosen to call the current global system “Empire.”* Their choice of that term is intended to distinguish its essential constituent characteristics from those that define “imperialism.” Imperialism in this definition is reduced to its strictly political dimension, i.e., the extension of the formal power of a state beyond its own borders, thereby confusing imperialism with colonialism. Colonialism therefore no longer exists, neither does imperialism. This hollow proposition panders to the common American ideological discourse according to which the United States, in contrast to the European states, never aspired to form a colonial empire for its own benefit and thus could never have been “imperialist” (and thus is not today anymore than yesterday, as Bush reminds us). The historical materialist tradition proposes a very different analysis of the modern world, centered on identification of the requirements for the accumulation of capital, particularly of its dominant segments. Taken to the global level, this analysis thus makes it possible to discover the mechanisms that produce the polarization of wealth and power and construct the political economy of imperialism
My subject—organizing ecological revolution—has as its initial premise that we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis of such enormity that the web of life of the entire planet is threatened and with it the future of civilization.
The global actions of the United States since September 11, 2001, are often seen as constituting a “new militarism” and a “new imperialism.” Yet, neither militarism nor imperialism is new to the United States, which has been an expansionist power—continental, hemispheric, and global—since its inception. What has changed is the nakedness with which this is being promoted, and the unlimited, planetary extent of U.S. ambitions.
For the past thirty years, the class struggle has been a pretty one-sided affair, with capital delivering a severe beating to labor around the globe. When economic stagnation struck most of the world’s advanced capitalist economies, beginning in the mid-1970s, capital went on the offensive, quickly understanding that the best way to maintain and increase profit margins in a period of slow and sporadic economic growth was to cut labor costs. Governments and global lending agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began to implement policies that made workers increasingly insecure
2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Albert Einstein and the centennial of the publication of five of his major scientific papers that transformed the study of physics. Einstein’s insights were so revolutionary that they challenged not only established doctrine in the natural sciences, but even altered the way ordinary people saw their world. By the 1920s he had achieved international popular renown on a scale that would not become usual until the rise of the contemporary celebrity saturated tabloids and cable news channels. His recondite scientific papers as well as interviews with the popular press were front page news and fodder for the newsreels. Usually absent, however, was any sober discussion of his participation in the political life of his times as an outspoken radical-especially in profiles and biographies after his death