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Only People Make Their Own History: Writings on Capitalism, Imperialism, and Revolution

(Introduction by Aijaz Ahmad)

Radical political economist Samir Amin (1931–2018) left behind a cherished oeuvre of Marxist writings. Amin’s intellectual range—from economics to culture—was admirable, and his lessons remain essential. Monthly Review Press is honored to publish this volume, culled from the Monthly Review magazine, of ten of Samir Amin’s most significant essays written in the twenty-first century. The collection is introduced by Amin’s friend and comrade, the Marxist philosopher Aijaz Ahmad, who provides a comprehensive survey of Amin’s life and path-breaking work. Ahmad also offers a contextual focus by which to read such stunningly astute pieces as “Revolution or Decadence?” and “Contemporary Imperialism.” | more…

Migrant workers returning home in a train in Cochin, India.

Global Commodity Chains and the New Imperialism

To comprehend twenty-first-century imperialism we must go beyond analysis of the nation-state to a systematic investigation of the increasing global reach of multinational corporations or the role of the global labor arbitrage. At issue is the way in which today’s global monopolies in the center of the world economy have captured value generated by labor in the periphery within a process of unequal exchange, thus getting “more labour in exchange for less. The result has been to change the global structure of industrial production while maintaining and often intensifying the global structure of exploitation and value transfer. | more…

Idle workers at Ford Motor Company's Van Dyke transmission plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan in December, 2018

Economic Surplus, the Baran Ratio, and Capital Accumulation

In 1957, in the Political Economy of Growth, Paul Baran made a seminal contribution to our understanding of the connection between economic surplus—a concept he introduced into the development discussion—and growth. Given that the ruling class controls the surplus of society, how the surplus is used—whether it is invested, consumed, or simply wasted—is at its discretion. The effective utilization of surplus implies a reasonable rate of capital accumulation and economic development. In the following study of the utilization of surplus I compare the size of surplus and gross capital formation in a variety of countries starting from the mid–nineteenth century.  | more…

New this week!
Re-making (Re-thinking, Re-acting, Re-structuring) by Marija Lovrić

Self-Knowledge, Estrangement, and Social Metabolism

Following two key themes in Karl Marx’s thought—estrangement and political economy, in their relation to human self-knowledge—labor mediates the social metabolism. In this schema, organic (or functional) metabolism is distinguished from extended metabolism (or social organization). Socially extended metabolism gives rise to shared values and concepts in the same way that organic metabolism gives rise to life. On this basis, I suggest that both the subject and object of human self-knowledge is a socially extended self, which can connect to itself only when humans freely participate in socially extended metabolism—that is, economy, science, and industry. Estrangement, in contrast, is seen to result from a disruption within socially extended metabolism. | more…

Municipal Airport, Ukiah, California, July 27, 2018

The Criminal Dimension of Climate Change

This article will be released in full online March 25, 2019.
Peter D. Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth, Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2017), 270 pages, $27.95, paperback.

Unprecedented Crime, a book by Peter Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth, with a foreword by leading climate scientist James Hansen, outlines the criminality of those who actively promote the continuing emission of carbon gases into the atmosphere despite having full knowledge of the consequences. These consequences include the breakdown of large ice sheets, rising sea levels, and the intensification of extreme weather events around the world, such as hurricanes, floods, and fires. | more…

"Capitalism Isn't Working"

Capitalism Has Failed—What Next?

Less than two decades into the twenty-first century, it is evident that capitalism has failed as a social system. The world is mired in economic stagnation, financialization, and the most extreme inequality in human history, accompanied by mass unemployment and underemployment, precariousness, poverty, hunger, wasted output and lives, and what at this point can only be called a planetary ecological “death spiral.” Many of the symptoms of the failure of capitalism are well-known. Nevertheless, they are often attributed not to capitalism as a system, but simply to neoliberalism, viewed as a particular paradigm of capitalist development that can be replaced by another, better one. A critical-historical analysis of neoliberalism is therefore crucial both to grounding our understanding of capitalism today and uncovering the reason why all alternatives to neoliberalism and its capitalist absolutism are closed within the system itself. | more…

Monitoring is built in to many of the jobs that form the ‘gig economy’—but surveillance is increasing across the workplace

New Means of Workplace Surveillance

From the Gaze of the Supervisor to the Digitalization of Employees

Workplace surveillance and the invasion of employee privacy have always been present under capitalism. Historically, this has mostly involved the combination of visual observation and abstract time, focusing on employee performance. However, the development of new information and communication technologies has brought important changes to the manner in which employers control employee productivity. Such digitalization or datafication of employees constitutes a qualitative change in the history of workplace surveillance—a change that reduces workers, their performance and bodies, to lines of code and flows of data to be scrutinized and manipulated. | more…

Neoliberalism is creating loneliness

Capitalism and Mental Health

The psychoanalytical framework developed by Marxist Erich Fromm strongly challenges the dominant biological and individualistic explanations of the mental-health crisis that is now sweeping the globe. Fromm emphasized that all humans have certain needs that must be fulfilled in order to ensure optimal mental health. It follows that capitalism is crucial to determining the experience and prevalence of mental well-being, as its operations are incompatible with true human need. | more…

A child ploughing the land with a water buffalo in Don Det, Si Pan Don, Laos

Marx and Alienated Speciesism

In many animal-rights circles, Karl Marx and a long tradition of Marxian theorists are to be faulted for their speciesist treatment of nonhuman animals and the human-nonhuman animal relationship. These criticisms typically neglect the larger historical conditions, intellectual influences, and debates out of which Marx’s treatment of the human-animal dialectic arose—even though this is crucial to any meaningful understanding of his thought in this area. In response, this article assesses the historical-intellectual background behind Marx’s arguments on humans and animals, placing it in the context of the influence exercised on his thought by Epicurus, Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, and others. In the process, they explain how Marx’s view of animals in the world came to be integrated with his theory of metabolic rift and his critique of capitalism. | more…

Man plowing with a water buffalo in the paddy fields of Don Puay (Si Phan Don), Laos

On the Origins of Animalist Marxism

Rereading Ted Benton and the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

In human-animal studies and critical animal studies, the most influential treatment of animalist Marxism and Marxist animalism has been developed by Ted Benton on the basis of his interpretation of Karl Marx’s work. This article focuses minutely on Benton’s argument and Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (or Paris Manuscripts), refuting Benton’s contentions point by point and forcefully challenging the idea that Marx’s work was speciesist in orientation. | more…

Reconstructed replica of the skull of “Lucy,” a 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis

Posture Maketh the Man

In this article from Ever Since Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould describes how the Museum of Natural History’s Gobi Desert expeditions of the 1920s failed to achieve their stated purpose: to find the ancestors of man in Central Asia. In a perceptive analysis of the political role of science and of the social biases that affect thought, Gould describes how anthropologists—despite a complete lack of direct evidence—believed that human evolution was propelled by an enlarging brain, and not, as is the case, upright posture. | more…

November 2018 (Volume 70, Number 6)

November 2018 (Volume 70, Number 6)

The twenty-first century has resulted in a vast upsurge of ecological Marxism and ecosocialism more generally, building on the environmental critique of capitalism embedded in classical historical materialism. At the same time, it has also engendered opposing tendencies and approaches concerning how we understand relentless ecological destruction under capitalism. This issue is dedicated to exploring the theoretical advances, schools of thought, and debates on the left in regard to our world’s ecological crisis, which threatens the survival of humanity and is inescapable within the present capitalist system of production. | more…

Capitalism is eating the planet

Value Isn’t Everything

The rapid advances in Marxian ecology in the last two decades have given rise to extensive debates within the left, reflecting competing conceptions of theory and practice in an age of planetary ecological and social crisis. One key area of dispute is the attempt by a growing number of radical environmental thinkers to deconstruct the labor theory of value in order to bring everything in existence within a single commodity logic. For many in Green circles, Karl Marx and a long tradition of Marxian theorists are to be faulted for not directly incorporating the expenditure of physical work/energy by extra-human nature into the theory of value. In response, this article argues that any form of analysis that seeks to eliminate the deep-seated dialectical contradictions between the natural form and the value form, as well as between the capitalist economy and the larger socioecological metabolism, fails to comprehend the complex, interdependent dialectics of nature and humanity. | more…

Rosa Luxemburg

The Social Character of Value

In this excerpt from The Accumulation of Capital, Rosa Luxemburg explains how classical political economy lacks a clear conception of the commodity—both in the terms of the distinctions between use value and exchange value, as well as between concrete and abstract labor. This metaphysical, essentialist framework leads to a complete failure to understand the social character of labor’s capacity to create value. | more…

The Biofuels Deception: Going Hungry on the Green Carbon Diet

The Biofuels Deception: Going Hungry on the Green Carbon Diet

There is by now no question among informed people that the Earth is undergoing severe climate change—soon to become catastrophic, if humans don’t take drastic measures to stop it. Heroically into the fray steps the biofuel industry, announcing to millions of anxious consumers that this eco-crisis can be averted if only they turn away from fossil fuels, to the saving power of synthetic bioproducts. But, although eliminating fossil fuels is essential, the manufacture of biofuels has far more to do with sating profit-hungry corporations than with saving the Earth. Combining meticulous scientific narrative with devastating economic analysis, The Biofuels Deception argues that the seemingly innovative, hopeful campaign for “green energy” is actually driven by bio-technology industries and global grain-trading corporations. | more…

Can the Working Class Change the World?

Can the Working Class Change the World?

One of the horrors of the capitalist system is that slave labor, which was central to the formation and growth of capitalism itself, is still fully able to coexist alongside wage labor. But, as Karl Marx pointed out, it is the fact of being paid for one’s work that validates capitalism as a viable socio-economic structure. Beneath this veil of “free commerce”—where workers are paid only for a portion of their workday, and buyers and sellers in the marketplace face each other as “equals”—lies a foundation of immense inequality. Yet workers have always rebelled. They’ve organized unions, struck, picketed, boycotted, formed political organizations and parties—sometimes they have actually won and improved their lives. In his timely and innovative book, Michael D. Yates asks if the working class can, indeed, change the world. | more…

Samir Amin

The Communist Manifesto, 170 Years Later

In the last piece he wrote before his passing, Samir Amin revisits, for our age, the most important revolutionary document of all time, the Communist Manifesto. In a fitting conclusion to the work of a great revolutionary intellectual, Amin seeks nothing less than to explain the changing world trajectory from 1848 to 2018. Against the persistent vision of the globalized development of capitalism, he puts forward a vision for the transformation of the world through revolutionary processes—breaking with the submission to the deadly vicissitudes of the decadence of civilization.
Monthly Review Volume 70, Number 4 (September 2018)

September 2018 (Volume 70, Number 4)

Notes from the Editors

Founded in the late 1960s and recently revived, the radical organization Science for the People did—and does—far more than just publish a magazine. Chapters are forming around the country, including physicists, engineers, and biologists, as well as representatives of other scientific groupings and social movements. We at MR welcome the return of this great publication and movement of the U.S. left. | more…