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Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 2 (June 2012)

June 2012 (Volume 64, Number 2)

» Notes from the Editors

By any measure, Adrienne Rich lived an exemplary life. When she died last March 27, aged eighty-two, she was acknowledged by many critics as perhaps this country’s foremost poet.… Throughout her writing life, Adrienne Rich’s vision of a better world was clear. In her 2008 collection A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society Rich claimed Che Guevara, Karl Marx, and Rosa Luxemburg as defining heroes. It did not matter if she was speaking to a room full of undergraduates or, having made the long painful climb up the hill to the Women’s Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, to teach poetry to its inmates, Adrienne’s voice was trenchant. So it was not surprising that when the commercial media ran obituaries of her, they sanitized her life and work, giving more emphasis to her awards than her work, characterizing her as angry rather than radical. At MR however, we preferred to hear her words: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work” (from “Claiming an Education,” 1977).… | more…

Credo of a Passionate Skeptic

Essay & Poems in Remembrance of Adrienne Rich

Our senses are currently whip-driven by a feverish new pace of technological change. The activities that mark us as human, though, don’t begin, exist in, or end by such a calculus. They pulse, fade out, and pulse again in human tissue, human nerves, and in the elemental humus of memory, dreams, and art, where there are no bygone eras. They are in us, they can speak to us, they can teach us if we desire it.… In fact, for Westerners to look back on 1900 is to come full face upon ourselves in 2000, still trying to grapple with the hectic power of capitalism and technology, the displacement of the social will into the accumulation of money and things. “Thus” (Karl Marx in 1844) “all physical and intellectual senses (are) replaced by the simple alienation of all these senses, the sense of having.” We have been here all along.… | more…

Joan Acker’s Feminist Historical-Materialist Theory of Class

Marxism and feminism are usually seen as divorced from each other today, following the breakup of what Heidi Hartmann famously called their “unhappy marriage.” Yet, some theorists still show the influence of both. In my view, Joan Acker is both one of the leading analysts of gender and class associated with the second wave of feminism, and one of the great contributors to what has been called “feminist historical materialism.” In the latter respect, I would place her next to such important proponents of feminist standpoint theory as Nancy Hartsock, Dorothy Smith, and Sandra Harding. These thinkers, as Fredric Jameson has rightly said, represent the “most authentic” heirs of Lukács’s critical Marxist view articulating the proletarian standpoint—giving this dialectical insight added meaning by applying it to gender relations.… | more…

Fredric Jameson on the Reserve Army

In the opening pages of The Limits to Capital, published in 1984, David Harvey jokes that everyone who reads Marx’s Capital seems bound to write a book about it. In 2012, we might well ask: Just one? Last year, many of the long-standing academic Marxists unleashed new introductory works, including Terry Eagleton, David Harvey, Eric Hobsbawm, and, unsurprisingly, Fredric Jameson. In Representing Capital, Jameson has written the best of the bunch: a surprising, energetic, and concise representation of the “totality” of capital.… | more…

Women, Labor, and Capital Accumulation in Asia

One of the enduring myths about capitalism that continues to be perpetuated in mainstream economic textbooks and other pedagogic strategies is that labor supply is somehow exogenous to the economic system. The supply of labor is typically assumed, especially in standard growth theories, to be determined by the rate of population growth, which in turn is also seen as “outside” the economic system rather than in interplay with it. The reality is, of course, very different: the supply of labor has been very much a result of economic processes, not something extraneous to it. Throughout its history, capitalism has proved adept at causing patterns of labor supply to change in accordance with demand…. But nowhere has this particular capacity of capitalism to generate its own labor been more evident than in the case of female labor.… | more…

The Democratic Fraud and the Universalist Alternative

The propositions put forward here—and many other possible ones—have no place in the dominant discourse about “civil society.” Rather, they run counter to that discourse which—rather like “postmodernist” ravings à la Negri—is the direct heir of the U.S. “consensus” ideological tradition. A discourse promoted, uncritically repeated, by tens of thousands of NGOs and by their requisite representatives at all the Social Forums. We’re dealing with an ideology that accepts the existing regime (i.e. monopoly capitalism) in all its essentials. It thus has a useful role to play on behalf of capitalist power. It keeps its gears provided with oil. It pretends to “change the world” while promoting a sort of “opposition” with no power to change anything.… | more…

The Dialectic of Structure and History: An Introduction

The investigation of the dialectical relationship between structure and history is essential for a proper understanding of the nature and the defining characteristics of any social formation in which sustainable solutions are being sought to the encountered problems. This is particularly important in the case of capital’s social formation, with its inexorable tendency toward an all-embracing, structurally embedded determination of all aspects of societal reproduction and the—feasible for the first time ever—global domination implicit in that form of development. It is therefore by no means accidental that, in the interest of the required structural change, Marx had to focus critical attention on the concept of social structure, in the historical period of crises and revolutionary explosions of the 1840s when he articulated his own—radically new—conception of history.… | more…

Water—On Women’s Burdens, Humans’ Rights, and Companies’ Profits

How is it possible that a person living in a water-rich region uses more water by flushing the toilet than a person in a water-scarce region has available for drinking, food-preparation, hygiene, and cleaning—for a whole day? How is it possible that a woman living in a water-rich region only needs to open the tap to get enough water for herself and her family, while a woman in a water-scarce region has to…walk for miles and miles to get far less water of much worse quality? Why is that so? Is it bad fortune? Unfair? Destiny? Undeserved? Is it unjust? It is all these, but also much more. Water is the essence of life. It is the precondition of life.… This article has two parts. The first deals with dominant positions concerning water: the neoliberal agenda, consequences of water privatization, and the UN stance. The second part looks at what is missing in this picture and ignored by the dominant perspectives—namely, global inequalities and gender discrimination.… | more…

Free-Market Feminism

Hester Eisenstein, Feminism Seduced: How Global Elites Use Women’s Labor and Ideas to Exploit the World (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2010), 272 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Feminism Seduced, written for a general audience, presents a powerful, historically grounded critique of liberal feminism. Drawing on three decades of writing by socialist/Marxist feminists and women-of-color feminists, Eisenstein weaves a compelling account of how the central ideas of “hegemonic feminism” have legitimized the corporate capitalist assault on the working class in the United States and on small farmers and workers, both urban and rural, in the global South.… However, when Eisenstein moves from critique to offering an alternative strategy, she only recycles dualisms that have, as she acknowledges, bedeviled the women’s movement for well over one hundred years.… | more…

Time to Pay the Piper

Ariel Salleh, ed., Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice: Women Write Political Ecology (New York: Pluto Press, 2009), 324 pages, $34.00, paperback.

In 2001, Wilma Dunaway wrote that the “tentacles of the world-system are entwined around the bodies of women.” Yet her literary analysis revealed a profound silence about the role of women in reproductive labor, subsistence households, and commodity chain analysis. Dunaway characterized this omission as, “the greatest intellectual and political blunder” in her field.…Nearly ten years later, Ariel Salleh has answered this unspoken call with the resounding voices of seventeen feminist scholars who address transdisciplinary issues of global political ecology.… | more…

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