An important message from John Bellamy Foster
Dear Friend of Monthly Review,
Albert Einstein’s last written words came shortly before his death in April 1955:
In essence, the conflict that exists today is no more than an old-style struggle for power, once again presented to mankind in semireligious trappings. The difference is that this time, the development of atomic power has imbued that struggle with a ghostly character; for both parties know and admit that, this time, should the struggle deteriorate into actual war, mankind is doomed.
At present, we are once again seeing “an old-style struggle for power” in the form of a war in Ukraine, which has taken on a “ghostly character” because of the presence of thermonuclear weapons on both sides of what, in the words of former CIA director and former secretary of defense Leon Panetta, is essentially a “proxy war” between two capitalist states: the United States (along with the whole of NATO) and Russia. In our time, this threatens destruction on a planetary scale that even Einstein could not have imagined. In the case of a global thermonuclear exchange, the reality of nuclear winter due to smoke and soot lofted into the atmosphere, shutting off up to 70 percent of solar radiation reaching the earth, means that humanity would be effectively annihilated everywhere on the planet, along with all species dependent on vegetation for survival.
MR readers will hardly be surprised by the advent of this latest global nuclear war crisis, or the fact that the conflict broke out in Ukraine. As early as January 2006, in the “New Geopolitics of Empire,” we dealt with the long-term U.S. strategy of confronting Russia, leading to the enlargement of NATO and the threat to world peace that this entailed. There, we referred to the Zbigniew Brzezinski “grand chessboard” strategy that saw Ukraine as the “geopolitical pivot” with which to destroy Russia as a great power. In the introduction to our July-August 2017 special issue on “Revolution and Counterrevolution,” we turned again to this U.S. grand strategy in the context of the 2014 coup in Ukraine, focusing on the continuing civil war between Kyiv and the breakaway republics in
Russian-speaking Donbas in eastern Ukraine. In that same July-August 2017 issue we wrote about the U.S. counterforce strategy of achieving nuclear primacy and the growing threat of a global thermonuclear exchange with Russia that this entailed, highlighting the red-line issue of the missile defense systems (also capable of launching nuclear missiles) that the United States had installed in Poland and Romania.
Since the Russian offensive beginning in February 2022, we have addressed the war crisis in Ukraine by building on these previous contributions, with an April “Notes from the Editors” on the history of the U.S./Brzezinski grand strategy with respect to Ukraine, to be followed by a May “Notes from the Editors” on the Ukraine conflict as a “proxy war” between Washington and Moscow and its global implications. Our major emphasis, however, is reflected in the forthcoming May Review of the Month entitled “‘Notes on Exterminism’ for the Twenty-First Century Ecology and Peace Movements.” Here, the focus is on the reasons why thermonuclear war is now a greater threat than at any time in history, and how this exterminist thrust endangers all of humanity.
As we also indicate, this is just one of the existential threats now endangering the human species. The other, of course, is the planetary ecological crisis, particularly climate change. It is this twofold exterminist threat—at the root of which is economic stagnation (the desperate efforts of the system to expand global capital accumulation under these circumstances) and the effects of declining U.S. hegemony—that can be seen as giving rise to what Samir Amin rightly called an “empire of chaos.”
This is the grim reality we must confront today. For Monthly Review, the answer is the simultaneous promotion of movements for ecology, peace, and socialism: a program of Mutually Assured Peace (MAP) to counter the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) program countenancing thermonuclear war and environmental exterminism, which has brought us to this present moment in history. Here, absolute clarity, not only with regard to the extreme dangers facing us, but also regarding the reasoned possibilities and hopes leading in the direction of socialism, is necessary if we are to build the movement for the future.
As Einstein wrote in May 1949, in the very first issue of Monthly Review, “Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.”
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John Bellamy Foster