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What Is Socialism for the Twenty-First Century?

Often the best way to begin to understand something is to consider what it is not. Socialism for the twenty-first century is not a society in which people sell their ability to work and are directed from above by others whose goal is profits rather than the satisfaction of human needs. It is not a society where the owners of the means of production benefit by dividing workers and communities in order to drive down wages and intensify work…. Nor is it a statist society where decisions are top-down and where all initiative is the property of state office-holders or cadres of self-reproducing vanguards.… Also, socialism for the twenty-first century is not populism.… Further, socialism for the twenty-first century is not totalitarianism.… [S]ocialism for the twenty-first century does not dictate personal belief…. Nor does socialism for the twenty-first century worship technology and productive forces…. Finally, contrary to its self-proclaimed inventor (Heinz Dieterich), socialism for the twenty-first century is not “essentially a problem of informatic complexity” that requires cybernetic calculation of quantities of concrete labor as the basis for an exchange of equivalents.&hellp; So, let us explain what socialism for the twenty-first century is. … | more…

Monopoly Capital at the Half-Century Mark

A half-century after its publication, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital remains the single most influential work in Marxian political economy to emerge in the United States.… In recent years, interest in Baran and Sweezy’s magnum opus has revived, primarily for two reasons: (1) the global resurgence of debates over the constellation of issues that their work addressed—including economic stagnation, monopoly, inequality, militarism and imperialism, multinational corporations, economic waste, surplus capital absorption, financial speculation, and plutocracy; and (2) the new, fundamental insights into the book’s origins resulting from the publication of its two missing chapters and the public release of Baran and Sweezy’s correspondence.… I shall divide this introduction on the influence and development of the argument of Monopoly Capital over the last fifty years into three parts: (1) a brief treatment of the book itself and its historical context; (2) a discussion of responses to Monopoly Capital, and of the development of the tradition that it represented, during its first four decades, up to the Great Financial Crisis that began in 2007; and (3) an assessment of the continuing significance of monopoly capital theory in the context of the historical period stretching from the Great Financial Crisis to the present.… | more…

Reading Capital, Reading Historical Capitalisms

Marx’s Capital presents a rigorous scientific analysis of the capitalist mode of production and capitalist society, and how they differ from earlier forms. Volume 1 delves into the heart of the problem. It directly clarifies the meaning of the generalization of commodity exchanges between private property owners (and this characteristic is unique to the modern world of capitalism, even if commodity exchanges had existed earlier), specifically the emergence and dominance of value and abstract social labor.… Volume 2 demonstrates why and how capital accumulation functions, more specifically, why and how accumulation successfully integrates the exploitation of labor in its reproduction and overcomes the effects of the social contradiction that it represents.… Volume 3 of Capital is different. Here Marx moves from the analysis of capitalism in its fundamental aspects (its “ideal average”) to that of the historical reality of capitalism.… To move from the reading of Capital (and particularly of volumes 1 and 2) to that of historical capitalisms at successive moments of their deployment has its own requirements, even beyond reading all of Marx and Engels.… | more…

A New Economy of Knowledge

Longtime Monthly Review and Monthly Review Press author Richard Levins died on January 19, 2016, at the age of eighty-five. A polymath, he studied agriculture, mathematics, genetics, evolution, ecology, and philosophy.… He collaborated with Cuban scientists and served as a scientific advisor for Cuba. With his close friend and coauthor Richard Lewontin he wrote a column, “Eppur´ Si Muove,” for the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, and he actively participated in the progressive organization Science for the People, working to confront the misuse of science. He was, above all, a leading Marxist intellectual, ecologist, biomathematician, philosopher of science, and comrade.… Four months before his death, Levins submitted this essay to Monthly Review. In it he discusses La economía del conocimiento y el socialismo by Agustín Lage, published in 2013 by Editorial Academia del Hispanismo. The book is currently unavailable in English translation. In the pages that follow, we feature this last essay by Levins, under the circumstances substantially unedited, along with his classic article “Living the Eleventh Thesis,” an excerpt from Biology Under the Influence that first appeared in the January 2008 issue of Monthly Review.

—Brett Clark

Living the Eleventh Thesis

When I was a boy I always assumed that I would grow up to be both a scientist and a Red. Rather than face a problem of combining activism and scholarship, I would have had a very difficult time trying to separate them.… Before I could read, my grandfather read to me from Bad Bishop Brown’s Science and History for Girls and Boys. My grandfather believed that at a minimum every socialist worker should be familiar with cosmology, evolution, and history. I never separated history, in which we are active participants, from science, the finding out how things are. My family had broken with organized religion five generations back, but my father sat me down for Bible study every Friday evening because it was an important part of the surrounding culture and important to many people, a fascinating account of how ideas develop in changing conditions, and because every atheist should know it as well as believers do.… On my first day of primary school, my grandmother urged me to learn everything they could teach me—but not to believe it all. She was all too aware of the “racial science” of 1930s Germany and the justifications for eugenics and male supremacy that were popular in our own country. Her attitude came from her knowledge of the uses of science for power and profit and from a worker’s generic distrust of the rulers. Her advice formed my stance in academic life: consciously in, but not of, the university.… | more…

Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution

Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution

Forthcoming in December 2016

One hundred years ago, “October 1917” galvanized leftists and oppressed peoples around the globe, and became the lodestar for 20th century politics. Today, the left needs to reckon with this legacy—and transcend it. Social change, as it was understood in the 20th century, appears now to be as impossible as revolution, leaving the left to rethink the relationship between capitalist crises, as well as the conceptual tension between revolution and reform.… | more…

March 2016 (Volume 67, Number 10)

March 2016 (Volume 67, Number 10)

Ellen Meiksins Wood, who died on January 14, was coeditor of Monthly Review with Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy from 1997 to 2000, and a major contributor to historical materialist thought in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Her parents were socialist refugees, members of the Jewish Labor Bund who came to the United States in 1941, after fleeing Latvia in the 1930s, when indigenous fascists came to power. Her mother worked for the Jewish Labor Committee in New York and her father for the United Nations. Ellen obtained her B.A. in Slavic languages at the University of California at Berkeley and went on to do graduate studies in political science at Berkeley, where she met and married Neal Wood, a professor in the department. From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, she taught political theory in the political science department at York University in Toronto.… | more…

Socialism and Fantasy

China Miéville's Fables of Race and Class

Among a number of contemporary science and speculative fiction writers who identify as left-wing, China Miéville stands out, not only for the quality of his literary production, but also for the critical character of his political commitment, dedicated equally to socialism and to fantasy. In addition to his fictive works, he has written articles and given lectures on the nature and value of speculative and fantasy fiction; edited a collection of essays on Marxism and fantasy in an issue of the journal Historical Materialism; and, not least, published a list of “Fifty Sci-Fi and Fantasy Works Every Socialist Should Read.” I wish to discuss here the form and thematics of the early novels known (after the alternate world in which they are set) as the Bas-Lag trilogy—which remains, if you take it as a single work, his most ambitious and memorable achievement. But since Miéville is a serious critic and advocate of fantasy fiction, I will approach the books with a brief discussion of his aesthetic positions and program, gathered from essays and talks as well as from his literary works.… | more…

Clerics and Communists

Rula Jurdi Abisaab and Malek Abisaab, The Shi’ites of Lebanon: Modernism, Communism, and Hizbullah’s Islamists (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014), 350 pages, $49.95, hardcover.

In the West today, political Islam is mostly equated with ISIS’s spectacle of violence, and with the narrow, bigoted understanding of religion and society that inspires it. It will thus intrigue many readers to discover that the legacy of Islamic intellectual and political activity, from the turn of the twentieth century until today, bore the imprint of a complex interaction between Communist and leftist traditions. A recent book by two professors at McGill University, Rula Jurdi Abisaab and Malek Abisaab, takes on the ambitious task of tracing the history of the sometimes symbiotic, sometimes confrontational relationship among Shi’i communities and clerics in Lebanon, along with occasional discussions of related issues in Iraqi politics. Based on a rich set of primary documents from both countries, the authors describe in great detail the rise and fall of the Communist experience in the region, the shortcomings of the left as it was gradually superseded by Islamic party formations, and the deep debt of the latter to the former.… | more…

Cuba’s Medical Mission

John M. Kirk, Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2015), 376 pages, $79.95, hardback.

When the Ebola virus began to spread through western Africa in fall 2014, much of the world panicked. Soon, over 20,000 people were infected, more than 8,000 had died, and worries mounted that the death toll could reach into hundreds of thousands. The United States provided military support; other countries promised money. Cuba was the first nation to respond with what was most needed: it sent 103 nurses and 62 doctors as volunteers to Sierra Leone. With 4,000 medical staff (including 2,400 doctors) already in Africa, Cuba was prepared for the crisis before it began: there had already been nearly two dozen Cuban medical personnel in Sierra Leone.… Since many governments did not know how to respond to Ebola, Cuba trained volunteers from other nations at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine. In total, Cuba taught 13,000 Africans, 66,000 Latin Americans, and 620 Caribbeans how to treat Ebola without being infected. It was the first time that many had heard of Cuba’s emergency response teams.… The Ebola experience is one of many covered in John Kirk’s new book Health Care without Borders: Understanding Cuban Medical Internationalism.… | more…

Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century

Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis

Winner of the first Paul A. Baran–Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Award for an original monograph concerned with the political economy of imperialism, John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century is a seminal examination of the relationship between the core capitalist countries and the rest of the world in the age of neoliberal globalization. Deploying a sophisticated Marxist methodology, Smith begins by tracing the production of certain iconic commodities—the T-shirt, the cup of coffee, and the iPhone—and demonstrates how these generate enormous outflows of money from the countries of the Global South to transnational corporations headquartered in the core capitalist nations of the Global North. From there, Smith draws on his empirical findings to powerfully theorize the current shape of imperialism.… | more…

Marx the Feminist?

Heather A. Brown, Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012), 323 pages, $28.00, paperback.
Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2012), 189 pages, $15.95, paperback.

In the face of global economic crisis and the dismantling of social programs under austerity policies, many feminists are re-engaging Marx’s critique of capitalism. This return to Marx is necessary if we are effectively to overcome gender oppression, especially since the latest trends in feminism—or at least those “fit to print” and discussed in the popular press—place the onus of equal treatment squarely on women’s shoulders. Newfound feminists like Sheryl Sandberg advise women to “lean in” and adjust their behavior to suit the aggressively entrepreneurial norms rewarded in the real world that men lead. As Nancy Fraser aptly puts it, these tendencies within feminism serve as “capitalism’s handmaiden”: such identity-centered, cultural critiques have helped obscure capital’s dependency on gendered oppressions.… Fortunately, recent scholarship by Heather Brown as well as Federici herself provides useful insights for feminists on how to reconsider Marxist theory.… | more…