An Important Message from John Bellamy Foster
Dear Friend of Monthly Review,
Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine first appeared in May 1949, under the editorship of Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy. Albert Einstein contributed his article “Why Socialism?” to the first issue. A year from now Monthly Review will thus celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary. It seems an appropriate time, therefore, to examine what Sweezy called “the present as history” as it applies to the last half of the twentieth and the first quarter of the twenty-first century, emphasizing what Paul A. Baran, another crucial figure in the early years of Monthly Review, called “the longer view.”
In many ways the period that gave birth to Monthly Review as an organ of socialist resistance is similar to our own. In 1949, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was in full swing, McCarthyism was rampant, radical unions were under attack, and the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South was integral to the entire system of power. Women, who had been drawn into the industrial workplace in great numbers in the Second World War, were pushed back into the home, enforcing their subordinate position within a deeply exploitative system. In 1950, the Korean War commenced, leading to a direct conflict between the United States and China. Washington detonated the first thermonuclear device in1952, leading to the emergence of modern environmentalism, which began as a scientist-led movement against nuclear testing. The imperial role of the United States led to a more repressive state apparatus, which, in the words of Baran and Sweezy in Monopoly Capital, was “democratic in form and plutocratic in content.”
Today, some three-quarters of a century later, what Harry Magdoff, who joined Sweezy as co-editor of MR after the death of Huberman in 1969, called “the age of imperialism” continues to define the U.S. role in the world. We are now in the midst of a New Cold War along with resurgent McCarthyism. Washington at the head of NATO is conducting a proxy war in Ukraine aimed at destabilizing Russia, while threatening a full-scale war with China over Taiwan. The specter of global nuclear annihilation has its counterpart in global ecological annihilation. Workers are engaged in a resurgent class struggle in the face of declining living conditions while confronting attacks on unions by the capitalist class. Black Lives Matter has demonstrated that racism remains at the core of the U.S. system. With the mobilization of reactionary forces women are now being denied abortion rights while trans people are under constant attack. The political system in Washington has been transformed into what MR editor Ellen Meiksins Wood has called an “Oligarchic Democracy” (Monthly Review, July-August 1989).
But if there are definite parallels between the early post–Second World War era and the present, the dangers facing humanity today are far greater due to the structural crisis of capital and its consequences. The relative economic decline of the United States and other core capitalist states can be traced to the stagnation of accumulation under monopoly capitalism, only partly countered by financialization, with its successive financial bubbles. Financialization as a strategy of asset inflation, robbery of the working class, global unequal exchange, and the amassing of wealth claims at the top, requires the continued dominance of the dollar based on a U.S. hegemony that is now fast eroding. The share of the U.S. economy in world GDP has declined from 50 percent in 1950 to 23 percent in 2021. In contrast, China’s share of world GDP has risen from 5 percent in 1950 to 18 percent in 2021. Seeing its imperial order in jeopardy, Washington has responded with an increased tempo of military interventions, coupled with the expansion of U.S. military bases and the enlargement of NATO, in a vain attempt to secure a unipolar world order. The entire global population, therefore, is now faced with two exterminist tendencies: (1) global thermonuclear war; and (2) the planetary ecological emergency.
Confronted with these extreme exploitative, expropriative, and exterminist conditions, creating a crisis of human habitability on a planetary scale, people everywhere will undoubtedly find that they have no choice but to resist en masse, in the greatest revolt in all of human history. Hundreds of millions of people are already engaged in this struggle in various ways and given current trends this will soon become billions. The task of Monthly Review as it approaches its seventy-fifth birthday is the same as it has assumed throughout its history—to analyze the present as history and to provide socialist guidance to the revolutionary revolt from below.
In a human life, anniversaries are often an occasion for reflection and assessment. Monthly Review is no different. As we approach our seventy-fifth, we find, in the early issues of MR a chronicle of the growing pains of a young publication, the excitement of readers discovering Monthly Review for the first time, and the relief in finding that they are not alone. It is in part this enthusiasm that is inspiring us to create a documentary on the MR story, from the McCarthy era persecutions of Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman right up through the environmental crisis of our own time. It is a story of courage, grit, financial stringency, and ultimately hope.
While we expect this documentary to be of greatest interest to our readers, we view it as an opportunity to reach out to others, in particular younger people, who may find value and inspiration in situating their activism or scholarship in the struggles of these last seventy-five years. In this age of content-streaming and of access to virtually anything at anytime, anywhere, perhaps we can touch their lives. This is their story no less than our own.
In addition to the documentary, we will publish, for the first time ever, the seminal Albert Einstein essay “Why Socialism?” in book format. “Why Socialism?” has remained the single most frequently read essay in the MR archive. The book edition will include essays that situate its historical significance and highlight its continued relevance, drawing contributions from a number of scholars and writers. We’re certain it will be a volume that all MR readers will want in their library.
Some twenty-five years ago, at our fiftieth celebration, Paul Sweezy, then eighty-nine years old, speaking in a near whisper, recalled his initial expectation that MR would last “three or four years at best.” That we are here today is a testament to the stamina and persistence of our staff and volunteers, and to the generosity of a relatively small group of people with the modest ambition of changing the world. We are asking for your support to continue this struggle.
Please respond as generously as you can to this appeal. We’re counting on you.
John Bellamy Foster (May 2023)
Monthly Review Volume 2, Number 7 (November 1950) [PDF]$10.00 Add to cart
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Monthly Review Volume 1, Number 8 (December 1949) [PDF]$10.00 Add to cart
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