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Political Economy

Whither Japan? Seven Decades After Defeat

The hard-won lessons of Japan’s wartime defeat are enshrined in its National Constitution and Article 9 in particular.… For the past seventy years, Article 9 remained a fundamental principle of Japanese diplomacy, undergirded by memories of the Asia-Pacific War and the U.S. occupation, buttressed by important revisionist histories of Japanese imperialism. A politically recovered, economically restored Japanese populace still appreciates the Constitution and the relevance of Article 9. But conservative politicians who never believed in the Constitution’s ideals repeatedly challenged and worked around Article 9 despite the majority’s support for it.… Today, once again, Article 9 stands in danger of abandonment by interpretation rather than revision by constitutional processes.… | more |

Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital, Then and Now

An interview with John Bellamy Foster

Monopoly Capital was the principal Marxian, and indeed radical, political-economic work to be published in the 1960s, written by the two most prestigious Marxian economists in the United States and perhaps globally. It grew out of the critique of militarism and imperialism and economic waste as much as out of economic crisis. It was one of the first major works to focus on multinational corporations. Its final chapter emphasized the “irrational system” and was influenced by [Paul] Baran’s early background with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. All of this made it extremely influential with the New Left in the United States, particularly its more radical, socialist wing. A good indication of this is Assar Lindbeck’s 1971 mainstream attack on what he called The Political Economy of the New Left, which focused almost entirely on Monopoly Capital.… | more |

New this week!

Cotton: The Fabric of Death

Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2014), 640 pages, $35, hardback.

For four years following the 2008 mortgage crisis, I worked as a cotton merchant for one of the “big four” trading firms—ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. These shadowy giants, two of them privately held, maintain oligopoly control of agricultural commodity markets. From desks in Memphis, my colleagues and I purchased mountains of cotton in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, warehoused it, speculated on it, and sold it back to mills on those same continents.… We sat at the pinnacle of a web of political and economic forces that funneled cotton into facilities we owned and cash into our accounts, but nowhere in the office was there a visible sign of the violence that made it all possible.… Too often liberal histories focus on a single period, territory, or class perspective, and end up obscuring the truth, severing the threads that tie a moment to its historical roots. Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton is different. Although a liberal historian, Beckert refuses to limit his scope in the traditional way. Instead, he follows the movement of cotton across time, space, and class, bringing forward the threads that bind the objects of an otherwise distorted past.… | more |

“Sic Vos Non Vobis” (For You, But Not Yours)

The Struggle for Public Water in Italy

Against the background of global and Eurozone financial crises, as well as the austerity sweeping across Europe, the pressure for governments to privatize public services is immense. Efforts to combat this are ever more necessary. This article examines one such effort, the Italian Water Movements Forum (also called just “the Forum”), a broad alliance of trade unions, social movements, development NGOs and environmental groups, and its successful 2011 mobilization supporting a referendum against water privatization. The article seeks to answer two questions. First, how was the Forum able to bring together such a wide range of different groups into a successful campaign? Second, why, despite the overwhelming success in the referendum, was there only a partial implementation of the results?… | more |


Remarks on Capitalism and the Environment It Produces

“Remarks on Capitalism and the Environment It Produces” is a recently discovered draft paper of Harry Magdoff’s. The exact date and location of its presentation is unknown; however the occasion was quite clearly a panel on economist Michael Tanzer’s The Sick Society (1971). We can therefore assume that it was written in 1971 or 1972. It is provided here in its original form with only minor copyediting. The title has been added. In our view, the chief importance of the paper is Magdoff’s early development of ecological ideas, ideas that are now much more common on the left.

—The Editors, Monthly Review… | more |

“Dangerous Circumstances”

The Council on Foreign Relations Proposes a New Grand Strategy Towards China

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is the think tank of monopoly-finance capital, Wall Street’s think tank. It is also a membership organization: the ultimate networking, socializing, strategic-planning, and consensus-forming institution of the dominant sector of the U.S. capitalist class.… It is the world’s most powerful private organization, the “high command” body of the U.S. plutocracy. The Council has an almost century-long history of forming study groups to plan the United States’ overall “grand” strategic policies. It sets the agenda for debate, builds consensus among both the powerful and attentive publics, and then inserts its own network of people into public office to implement its favored doctrines in the real world. One of its latest efforts, a study group on U.S. grand strategy toward China, completed its work and issued a report in March 2015—approved by the CFR board of directors—entitled Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China.… | more |

The Critique of the State

A Twenty-First Century Perspective

The allegedly less and less power of nation-states is a great exaggeration, voiced by governments in the interest of justifying their failure to introduce even some of their thoroughly limited and once solemnly promised social reforms.… The overwhelming historical failure of capital was—and remains—its inability to constitute the state of the capital system as a whole, while irresistibly asserting the imperatives of its system as the material structural determination of societal reproduction on a global scale. This is a massive contradiction. Inter-state antagonisms on a potentially all-destructive scale—as presaged last century by two world wars still without the now fully developed weapons of total self-destruction—are the necessary consequence of that contradiction. Accordingly, the state that we must conquer in the interest of humanity’s survival is the state as we know it, namely the state in general in its existing reality, as articulated in the course of history, and capable of asserting itself.… | more |

Secular Stagnation

Mainstream Versus Marxian Traditions

Paul M. Sweezy wrote in 1982, “it is my impression that the economics profession has not yet begun to resume the debate over stagnation which was so abruptly interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.” Thirty years later things appear to have changed. Former U.S. Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers shocked economists with his remarks regarding “stagnation” at the IMF Research Conference in November 2013, and he later published these ideas in the Financial Times and Business Economics.… Summers’s remarks and articles were followed by an explosion of debate concerning “secular stagnation” [which] can be defined as the tendency to long-term (or secular) stagnation in the private accumulation process of the capitalist economy, manifested in rising unemployment and excess capacity and a slowdown in overall economic growth…. Responses to Summers have been all over the map, reflecting both the fact that the capitalist economy has been slowing down, and the role in denying it by many of those seeking to legitimate the system.… | more |

Wall Street's Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014

Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014

Mainstream Versus Marxian Traditions

The Council on Foreign Relations is the most influential foreign-policy think tank in the United States, claiming among its members a high percentage of government officials, media figures, and establishment elite. For decades it kept a low profile even while it shaped policy, advised presidents, and helped shore up U.S. hegemony following the Second World War. In 1977, Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter published the first in-depth study of the CFR, Imperial Brain Trust, an explosive work that traced the activities and influence of the CFR from its origins in the 1920s through the Cold War. Now, Laurence H. Shoup returns with this long-awaited sequel, which brings the story up to date. Wall Street's Think Tank follows the CFR from the 1970s through the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union to the present.… | more |

The New Imperialism of Globalized Monopoly-Finance Capital

An Introduction

It is now a universal belief on the left that the world has entered a new imperialist phase.… The challenge for Marxian theories of the imperialist world system in our times is to capture the full depth and breadth of the classical accounts, while also addressing the historical specificity of the current global economy. It will be argued in this introduction (in line with the present issue as a whole) that what is widely referred to as neoliberal globalization in the twenty-first century is in fact a historical product of the shift to global monopoly-finance capital or what Samir Amin calls the imperialism of “generalized-monopoly capitalism.”… | more |

Contemporary Imperialism

Lenin, Bukharin, Stalin, and Trotsky in Russia, as well as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Den Xiaoping in China, shaped the history of the two great revolutions of the twentieth century. As leaders of revolutionary communist parties and then later as leaders of revolutionary states, they were confronted with the problems faced by a triumphant revolution in countries of peripheral capitalism and forced to “revise”…the theses inherited from the historical Marxism of the Second International.… With the benefit of hindsight, I will indicate here the limitations of their analyses. Lenin and Bukharin considered imperialism to be a new stage (“the highest”) of capitalism associated with the development of monopolies. I question this thesis and contend that historical capitalism has always been imperialist, in the sense that it has led to a polarization between centers and peripheries since its origin (the sixteenth century), which has only increased over the course of its later globalized development.… | more |

Behind the Veil of Globalization

Globalization is not a novel development in the history of capitalism. In his final Monthly Review article, Paul Sweezy argued that globalization is a process, and that it has been occurring for a long time.… The accumulation of capital…has always meant expansion. Furthermore, this very process of growing and spreading is global in scope and, most importantly, imperialistic in its characteristics. Marxist scholars have long argued that imperialism has always accompanied capitalism…. Nevertheless, even if we start with the idea that globalization—or global capitalist expansion—is not novel, this does not trample the argument that the development of such expansion is marked by new characteristics in certain periods. Examining these historically specific characteristics can highlight the imperialistic “nature” of capitalism throughout history, including the development of our current global economy, which will be the focus of this essay.… | more |