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Reprise

Robinson Crusoe and the Secret of Primitive Accumulation

The solitary and isolated figure of Robinson Crusoe is often taken as a starting point by economists, especially in their analysis of international trade. He is pictured as a rugged individual—diligent, intelligent, and above all frugal—who masters nature through reason. But the actual story of Robinson Crusoe, as told by Defoe, is also one of conquest, slavery, robbery, murder, and force. The contrast between the economists’ Robinson Crusoe and the genuine one mirrors the contrast between the mythical description of international trade found in economics textbooks and the actual facts of what happens in the international economy.… But international trade…is often based on a division between superior and subordinate rather than a division between equals; and it is anything but peaceful. It is trade between the center and the hinterland, the colonizers and the colonized, the masters and the servants…Because it is unequal in structure and reward it has to be established and maintained by force, whether it be the structural violence of poverty, the symbolic violence of socialization, or the physical violence of war and pacification. | more…

The Guilt of Capitalism

Though it is neither written nor marketed as such, Who Owns the Sun? by researcher/activists Daniel Berman and John O’Connor, is a devastating indictment of capitalism. As it has developed in the last two centuries, this system is an enormous user of energy, most of it derived from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). An additional—and in some parts of the world increasing—source is nuclear fission. Both of these forms of energy are dangerous and environmentally destructive to life on the planet. Burning fossil fuels generates almost all of the greenhouse gasses that have already begun to change the planet’s climate and, if continued at anywhere near the present rates, will trigger a chain reaction of lethal disasters, not in some vaguely distant future but in the next century or so—historically a relatively short span of time. Nuclear fission leaves a legacy of radioactive waste that cannot now, or perhaps ever, be safely disposed of. Clearly if humanity, not to speak of other forms of life, is to have a future, nothing could be more important than phasing out these sources of energy. So much, I believe, is what can be appropriately called ecological common sense | more…

The Dialectic of Social Science

Pronounced preoccupation with interpretation of historical experience, with basic problems of social dynamics, and with epistemological foundations of social science is itself an important characteristic of the revolutionary convulsions that mark the end and the beginning of epochs in human history. Thus also in our days the feeling of philosophical unrest has penetrated the ivory towers of conventional economics, and the rationale of traditional economic theorizing has become doubtful even to the most complacent practitioners of the established orthodoxy. Representing essentially a series of more or less successful attempts at the comprehension of the working principles of capitalism, customary economic thought stands completely disarmed when confronted with the decomposition of capitalism itself, when what matters is no longer the movements and the behavior of the passengers (and the conductors) on the train but the direction and the speed of the train itself. | more…

Financial Instability: Where Will It All End?

The recession that began in the second quarter of 1981 (the second in two years) dragged on into 1982. Most observers look for some recovery in the second half of the year, but hardly anyone expects it to be vigorous. Meanwhile, all the typical signs of stagnation continue to be in evidence. The official unemployment rate which stood at 7.6 percent in 1981 rose to 9.5 percent by the middle of 1982, and the manufacturing capacity utilization rate fell from 79.9 percent to 69.9 percent in the same period.… The counterpart to this stagnation in the realm of production and employment was a continuing ballooning of the financial superstructure of the economy which, as the essays in this volume have been at pains to emphasize, has been one of the most spectacular features of capitalist development during the post-Second World War period. | more…

Albert Einstein (1959), charcoal and watercolor drawing by Alexander Dobkin

Why Socialism?

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.… 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. | more…

No Nukes!

Considerations of Environmental Protection Criteria for Radioactive Waste, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation Programs, Waste Environmental Standards Program, Washington, D.C. 20460, February 1978.

Most government reports make dull reading, and this one is no exception. But it contains a message which needs to be taken in by everyone even minimally concerned about the future of the human race. That message, quite simply, is that there is not and cannot be a safe program for disposing of radioactive wastes. The reasons are basically simple, do not depend on any complicated scientific arguments, and cannot be refuted or made irrelevant by any conceivable increase in scientific knowledge or technological capability. They can be summed up in a series of quotations from the report. | more…

The Unanswered Questions

When Anne Braden, who died last March 6, aged 81, began covering criminal justice for her hometown paper, the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, in 1947, it did not take her long to conclude that the real story was not the trials she saw but the class- and race-based injustices perpetrated by the legal system itself. Very quickly she and her husband, Carl Braden, a labor reporter for the same paper, understood that the system of white supremacy underpinning the segregation and violent intimidation and repression of African Americans was at the heart of a system of social control that supported the rapacious capitalism of the post-Second World War South. White supremacy created the climate in which the steel, automobile, and textile industries exploited a low-wage work force in a union-free environment. Segregation kept sharecropping farm labor in much the same condition as it had been since the end of the Civil War | more…

Interview with Malcolm X

The Muslims, as the Nation of Islam is called, stress the futility of the integrationist program. They argue that there is no precedent for the absorption of Negroes into the greater white American mainstream in fact or in history, that integrationists are asking for something the American socioeconomic system is inherently unable to give them—mass class mobility, so that at best Negroes can expect from the integrationist program a hopeless entry into the lowest levels of a working class already disenfranchised by automation | more…

The Murder of Malcolm X

By publishing this article, we do not mean to imply endorsement of the view that Malcolm X’s actual murderers, the men who wielded the fatal weapons, were politically motivated. On the basis of what little evidence is available, it would seem as reasonable to assume that he was the victim of a vendetta in which the murderers were mere tools. But in a deeper sense, the only sense that has historical meaning, we have no doubt that Malcolm’s assassination was a profoundly political event. It was because of his ideas and his politics that he represented a threat to the privileges and vested interests of powerful groups, both white and black. Whatever the immediate pretext, it was certainly this threat in the background which caused his enemies to wish to be rid of him | more…

Preface to the Jubilee Edition of The Black Souls of Black Folk (1953)

The Blue Heron Press Jubilee edition of The Souls of Black Folk appeared in 1953. In 1949 Du Bois had purchased the plates to the book, which was then out of print. At that time, during the anticommunist hysteria, it was extremely difficult to keep in print or to publish works that raised fundamental questions about U.S. society. In 1952, best-selling novelist Howard Fast had his latest novel Spartacus turned down by his usual publisher and by every other he turned to-presumably, because of his association with the Communist Party as well as the incendiary nature of his novel, which was about a revolt against slavery, albeit in antiquity. Fast’s only choice was to publish the book himself. Devising his own imprint, Blue Heron Press, he solicited orders by direct mail and finally had enough so that he could print 50,000 copies. This self-published book became a best-seller, and with the proceeds Fast reissued a number of his earlier historical novels | more…

Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism in the U.S.

How “free” was the black freedman in 1863? He had no clothes, no home, tools, or land. Thaddeus Stevens begged the government to give him a bit of the land which his blood had fertilized for 244 years. The nation refused. Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner asked for the Negro the right to vote. The nation yielded because only Negro votes could force the white South to conform to the demands of Big Business in tariff legislation and debt control. This accomplished, the nation took away the Negro’s vote, and the vote of most poor whites went with it | more…