Michael A. Lebowitz explores the obvious but almost universally ignored fact that as human beings work together to produce society's goods and services, we also “produce” something else: namely, ourselves. Human beings are shaped by circumstances, and any vision of socialism that ignores this fact is bound to fail, or, at best, reproduce the alienation of labor that is endemic to capitalism. But how can people transform their circumstances in a way that allows them to re-organize production and, at the same time, fulfill their human potential? These essays repay careful reading and reflection, and prove Lebowitz to be one of the foremost Marxist thinkers of this era.
Like many other leftists working in labor or community organizations, I have long struggled to understand the role I can play in building a larger left movement. I have spent nearly a decade organizing for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and have only recently caught a glimpse of what a vibrant and popular leftist practice could look like.… In this analysis, I take inspiration from Antonio Gramsci’s ideas. He described a “war of position”—a protracted revolutionary effort to create an anti-capitalist hegemony—as a methodology for anti-capitalists in advanced industrial countries. Counter-hegemony is a process, built by concrete effort both through political education and political action. As a labor union organizer, I have become quite skilled at political action, but not at political education.…One alignment of organizations in Minnesota—Minnesotans for a Fair Economy (MFE)—has the potential to be part of such a counter-hegemonic process. On a day-to-day basis, member organizations of MFE organize people to confront their bosses and banks, as well as the corporations holding back their communities. On a sporadic basis, the member organizations come together to create a new narrative of what kind of a world we want.… It was in a MFE “week of action” that I first began to understand how the process of creating a counter-hegemony might play out in practice.
The Review of the Month in this issue (“Chávez and the Communal State” by John Bellamy Foster) focuses on the revolutionary political strategy introduced by Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. In the process it addresses how István Mészáros’s Beyond Capital played a key, strategic role in the development of Chávez’s thinking. Beyond Capital is a daunting philosophical work of around a thousand pages, while many of his other writings are nearly as challenging. MR readers will therefore be pleased to learn that we have just published a new book by Mészáros, The Necessity of Social Control (Monthly Review Press, 2015), expressly designed, as Foster writes in the book’s “Foreword,” as “an easily accessible work,” providing “a way into his thinking for the uninitiated” (9).… Yet, Mészáros’s new book is much more than that.
On October 20, 2012, less than two weeks after being reelected to his fourth term as Venezuelan president and only months before his death, Hugo Chávez delivered his crucial El Golpe de Timón (“Strike at the Helm”) speech to the first meeting of his ministers in the new revolutionary cycle. Chávez surprised even some of his strongest supporters by his insistence on the need for changes at the top in order to promote an immediate leap forward in the creation of what is referred to as “the communal state.” This was to accelerate the shift of power to the population that had begun with the formation of the communal councils (groupings of families involved in self-governance projects—in densely populated urban areas, 200–400 families; in rural areas, 50–100 families). The main aim in the new revolutionary cycle, he insisted, was to speed up the registration of communes, the key structure of the communal state.
“Marx was before all else a revolutionary. His real mission in life,” noted Frederick Engels at Marx’s graveside, “was to contribute in one way or another to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the forms of government which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the present-day proletariat.” Could the same be said about Marxist economists? That they are revolutionaries whose real mission is to contribute to the overthrow of capitalism?
The International Working Men’s Association (IWMA), nowadays better known as the First International, was founded in London in September 1864. Despite the importance of the event, there has not been much attention to its 150th anniversary. To an extent, this reflects the situation of the present day, with the hegemony of neoliberal politics and, conversely, the weakness of the left, that does not seem to be interested in its own history and the lessons that might be extracted from past experiences.… Luckily, there are exceptions. Marcello Musto, an assistant professor of sociology at York University in Toronto, has contributed to two important presentations of the experience of the First International… The International after 150 Years: Labour Versus Capital, Then and Now …[and] the first English-language anthology on the IWMA, Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later.
On October 7th, 2012, after hearing of his victory as the nation’s candidate with 56 percent of the vote, President Hugo Chávez Frias announced from a balcony in his hometown that a new cycle was beginning the very next day, October 8th.
Only a few days later, on October 20th, he headed the first meeting calling together the ministers of this new cycle, the Comandante called for a series of critiques and self-criticisms in order to expand efficiency, strengthen communal power, and further develop the National System of Public Media, among other themes regarding the construction of socialism.
This document synthesizes his words, as a tool for a debate in which we should all participate.
Forthcoming in January 2016
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.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is among the most enigmatic and influential figures of the twentieth century. While his life and work are crucial to any understanding of modern history and the socialist movement, generations of writers on the left and the right have seen fit to embalm him endlessly with superficial analysis or dreary dogma. Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union and “actually-existing” socialism, it is possible to consider Lenin afresh, with sober senses trained on his historical context and how it shaped his theoretical and political contributions. Reconstructing Lenin, four decades in the making and now available in English for the first time, is an attempt to do just that.
István Mészáros is one of the greatest philosophers that the historical materialist tradition has yet produced. His work stands practically alone today in the depth of its analysis of Marx's theory of alienation, the structural crisis of capital, the demise of Soviet-style post-revolutionary societies, and the necessary conditions of the transition to socialism. The Necessity of Social Control grew out of the need for an easily accessible work that would provide a way into his thinking for the uninitiated. Mészáros took this challenge seriously, and produced this book as an introduction to, and summation of, the central ideas governing his analysis.
Over the last few decades Marta Harnecker has emerged as one of Latin America's most incisive socialist thinkers. In A World to Build, she grapples with the question that has bedeviled every movement for radical social change: how do you construct a new world within the framework of the old? Harnecker draws on lessons from socialist movements in Latin America, especially Venezuela, where she served as an advisor to the Chávez administration and was a director of the Centro Internacional Miranda.
The publication of socialist books in the United States has always encountered serious institutional obstacles. This can be seen in the enormous hurdles that stood in the way of the successful publication 130 years ago of the English translation of Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)—today recognized as the classic account of the impact of the Industrial Revolution on workers. In 1885 Florence Kelley (-Wischnewetzky), the daughter of William D. Kelley, a U.S. Congressman and supporter of Lincoln, translated Engels’s book into English. Her initial plan was to publish the translation in the United States with the respected publishing firm of G.P. Putnam & Co. However, Putnam declined to publish it on the grounds that the book was outdated…and did not apply to U.S. industrialization, where such conditions of class exploitation were supposedly absent.… It is owing to these difficulties, associated with the U.S. publication of his book, that we have the benefit of some of Engels’s more important comments regarding the problem of publishing socialist works in a capitalist society.