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Political Economy

October 2006 (Volume 58, Number 6)

October 2006 (Volume 58, Number 5)

Notes from the Editors

Fidel Castro’s illness in August has nurtured the hopes of Miami-based Cuban émigrés and the U.S. ruling class that a “transition in Cuba” will soon be possible. It is often implied that this is a question of a transition to “democracy” and “free elections.” However, what is actually being planned in Washington, as part of a decades-long strategy, is an immediate transition back to capitalism in Cuba—at whatever the cost to the Cuban people… | more |

A Son’s Reflections

Harry died in the early hours of January 1, 2006, at our house in Burlington, Vermont, where he had lived for three and a half years. As he died, I laid on the big double bed facing him and held his arms, with my wife, his caregiver, and his good friends Gladys and Percy Brazil there too. Talking with them after he died I reflected on how it had been an honor to have Harry live with Amy and me since my mother Beadie had died and to help him get the most out of his final years. It was also fun and intellectually stimulating, although sometimes a challenge because of my health problems and our work schedules… | more |

The Optimism of the Heart

The following intellectual biography of Harry Magdoff is a slightly revised and expanded version of a piece that was posted on MRzine a few days after Harry’s death on January 1, 2006. It evolved out of an earlier biography I wrote for the Biographical Dictionary of Dissenting Economists in 2000. Since the aim of this biography was to present the basic facts of Harry’s intellectual career, personal feelings and observations were largely excluded. A brief word on Harry’s character and the warm emotions he engendered within those who knew him therefore seems essential here… | more |

‘Let the Dialectic Continue!’

Harry Magdoff died on New Year’s Day 2006 at the age of ninety-two. He will be remembered in the hearts of those who knew him, those who were profoundly influenced when they heard him speak, and those who have read Monthly Review and his great books on imperialism, which helped mature the thinking of the generation of leftists who came of age during the Vietnam War. It is the warmth of his person, the clarity and incisiveness of his thinking, and his profound vision of the absolute necessity of socialism that characterize his historic contributions and set him apart as one of a handful of great Marxist thinkers of the last century. The breadth of Harry’s knowledge—his grasp of world history, Marxist literature, and broader literatures—was extraordinary. He was as content, for example, to discuss the nature of calculus with a college student as Shakespeare with a Shakespeare scholar, all with that wonderful enthusiasm and energy he always brought to conversations… | more |

Lessons for Leftists Old and New

Pablo Neruda wrote in elegant verse what Harry Magdoff analyzed in prose:

But we have to see behind all them, there is something

behind the traitors and the gnawing rats,

an empire which sets the table

and serves up the nourishment and the bullets….

Harry saw behind them all, behind the traitors and the gnawing rats, and he identified, analyzed, and rejected the empire which sets the table. The table settings changed over decades, even the size and shape of the table were altered. The careful economic proof of U.S. empire in the sixties became the contemporary global imperialism in this post-9/11 millennium. Harry Magdoff named, tracked, and opposed the bloody dehumanizing course of U.S. imperialism over six decades… | more |

Four Letters on Capitalism and Socialism

Even when Harry Magdoff was writing articles less often in his final years, he continued to compose letters that displayed his keen interest in world developments, the evolution of his thinking, and his deep personal commitments. Reprinted here are four letters he wrote in the opening years of the new millennium. The first was written while he still lived in New York. The last three were written in Vermont where Harry had moved in June 2002 to live with his son Fred and his daughter-in-law Amy Demarest. The fragilities of old age had largely confined him by then to home. But his thinking still knew no bounds… | more |

The Worldwide Class Struggle

A trademark of our times is the dominance of neoliberalism in the major economic, political, and social forums of the developed capitalist countries and in the international agencies they influence-including the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and the technical agencies of the United Nations such as the World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization, and UNICEF. Starting in the United States during the Carter administration, neoliberalism expanded its influence through the Reagan administration and, in the United Kingdom, the Thatcher administration, to become an international ideology. Neoliberalism holds to a theory (though not necessarily a practice) that posits the following… | more |

Why Hipsters Aren’t All That Hip

Richard Lloyd, Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City (New York: Routledge, 2006), 295 pages, paper $19.95.

Over the past decade, I have gone from being politically unconscious to leaning left. During that period of transition, I was cool. Put differently, I was something of a hipster. Not quintessentially so, but I certainly did, and to some extent still do, have some hipster credentials (I’d flash them here, but the list—mostly of bands I listen to and widely-unknown indie-rock musicians I can count among my friends and acquaintances—would make little sense to the uninitiated). I am now thirty, the age around which most hipsters begin the process of becoming formerly known as hip. From my current perspective, as someone increasingly critical of capitalist social arrangements, I cannot help but wonder: How cool was it to be cool? I’ll try to explain what I mean by that question and then present the answer I take to emerge from Richard Lloyd’s Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City… | more |

The Power of the Rich

Two trends dominate today’s world political economy. The first is growing inequality. The second is slower economic growth. Both trends have important consequences, which flow from the increased power of capital in a globalized world. The hegemony of the capitalist class is not new, but in any specific conjuncture, how its power is exercised depends on how technological possibilities are deployed, the degree of ideological clarity of the working class (broadly conceptualized), and the political activity of factions of the ruling class itself. In looking at the power of the rich in the United States, I will discuss not so much structural power but contingent developments of George W. Bush’s presidency… | more |

Some Economics of Class

How much more will be required before the U.S. public awakes from its political slumber? Tepid action in the workplace, the voting booth, and the streets have allowed the right wing to steamroll revolutionary changes that have remade the entire sociopolitical structure of the United States. Since the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, every Democratic administration with the exception of Lyndon Johnson’s has been more conservative-often far more conservative-than the previous Democratic administration. Similarly, every elected Republican administration, with the single exception of George Herbert Walker Bush’s, has been more conservative than the previous Republican administration. The deterioration in the distribution of income is a symptom of a far larger problem. Perhaps formulating the situation in the United States might help people understand their class interests as well as reveal who has benefited from the right-wing revolution… | more |