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Capitalism in Asia at the End of the Millennium

Two propositions dominated the Marxist perspective in most Asian countries during the period immediately following the Second World War. First, capitalism had entered the period of its “general crisis.” While not reducible to narrowly economic terms, this implied that economic progress would henceforth be stymied. Second, the kind of diffusion of industrial capitalism that had occurred from Britain to Europe, and then in the United States and other temperate regions of white settlement in the period leading up to the First World War, could not be expected to occur in the third world as well. It followed from these two propositions that the development of the Asian countries required their transition, through stages of democratic revolution, to socialism, and that the course of this transition would be made smoother when their proletarian comrades from the advanced countries marched to socialism as well, as they eventually would  | more…

Is Overcompetition the Problem?

Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence: A Special Report on the World Economy, 1950-98 (Special issue of New Left Review, no. 229, May/June 1998), 262 pp.

It is tempting perhaps to attribute all the problems of capitalism to excessive competition. After all, capitalism is generally presented within contemporary ideology as a system which is nothing more than a set of competitive relations governed by the market. Is it not possible then that the economic contradictions of capitalism, and indeed the present world crisis, can be explained in terms of the globalization of competition which now knows no bounds, and is undermining all fixed positions, resulting in a kind of free fall? This seems to be the view of the distinguished Marxist historian and social theorist Robert Brenner in his ambitious attempt to account for the present global economic turbulence  | more…

Braverman and the Class Struggle

Since Paul Sweezy gently rejected my first submission to Monthly Review in 1972, he and Harry Magdoff and all of the MR writers and staffpersons, living and deceased, have been my mentors, helping me to see things more clearly and to act more effectively. And Harry Braverman’s book ranks near the top of MR’s books which have deeply influenced my thinking. I remember mentioning it in my PhD defense in 1976. I told the committee that one of the weaknesses of my thesis, which was about public school teachers’ unions, was that it had not incorporated the pioneering work of Harry Braverman in Labor and Monopoly Capital. I had a suspicion that the work of teachers was not immune to the forces described so well by Braverman: detailed division of labor, mechanization, Taylorization. Today, as the fine scholar David Noble will tell us, these forces are bearing down upon the professoriate, with potentially devastating results  | more…

A Note on the Communist Manifesto

Probably the passage in the Communist Manifesto most frequently cited these days is a portrayal of the global spread of capitalism:

All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands. We have universal inter-dependence of nations…. All nations, on pain of extinction, [are compelled] to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image.

March 1998 (Volume 49, Number 10)

Notes from the Editors

A striking feature of the mountain of talk about the Asian crisis is that its root cause is all too often ignored The focus of the media and the pundits is on weak banks, bad management, corrupt officials, heavy indebtedness, excess speculation, and the fragility of the financial markets. Typically, the disaster is viewed as a regional affair. A rare exception is the statement of Eisuke Sakakibara, Japan’s vice-minister for international finance: “This isn’t an Asian crisis. It is a crisis of global capitalism.” (Business Week, January 26, 1998) But he too was apparently thinking of financial markets, concerned with effects, not causes  | more…

A Letter to a Contributor

The Same Old State

As mentioned over the phone, we like your article very much. It needs to be shortened, and we will be suggesting some editorial changes. Meanwhile, I would like to get your thinking about my disagreement with this statement in your conclusion: “Today’s neo-liberal state is a different kind of capitalist class than the social-democratic, Keynesian interventionist state of the previous period.” I can’t see any significant difference in either the state or its relation to the ruling class, even though clearly there is a considerable difference between the functioning of the capitalist economy during the so-called golden age and the subsequent long stretch of stagnation. I do not mean the absence of any change at all in the capitalist class. Thus, the growing influence of the financial sector (not necessarily a separate sector) is noteworthy. But that is hardly a measure of a major change in the state  | more…

A Critique of Tabb on Globalization

Not only do we reject [so-called “weak” and “strong” versions of “globalization”], we reject the arguments used to support them, namely, that globalization has little basis in economic fact, is no more advanced than it was during the pre-1914 years, and has no significant political consequences. Our version, both “strong” and “nuanced,” would be that since the early 1970s changes in technology and politics have greatly increased the ability of capital to do what it has always wanted to do—turn the world into one “free market” for finance, production, and wage labor. Ideologically strengthened by the collapse of communism, corporate capital has used its initiatory power in the realms of investment, employment, pricing, industrial location, and selective implementation of new technologies to leapfrog ahead of the ability of progressive forces to mobilize and fight back—which takes time, organization, and, if history teaches us anything, decades of struggle. This is not exactly the first time workers, and the entire left, have faced this situation; nor is it the first time that capital has been able to use the nation-state to accomplish its ends easier and faster, this time in significant measure through the creation of supranational institutions promoting the needs of transnational finance and production (NAFTA, EU, WTO, MAI, and multilateral trade agreements, including the latest “Uruguay Round”) | more…

October 1997 (Volume 49, Number 5)

Notes from the Editors

We are writing at the end of August. The two main events of the summer have been (1) the apparent ending of the long stock-market boom of the last few years, and (2) the successful strike of the teamsters against UPS. Neither can be said to have been anticipated and together they point to the emergence of new trends in the period ahead. | more…

More (or Less) on Globalization

Much has been written about “globalization” in the last few years. It is not my intention to add to this literature but only to put the topic into the context of my own understanding of the history of capitalism.…Globalization is not a condition or a phenomenon: it is a process that has been going on for a long time, in fact ever since capitalism came into the world as a viable form of society four or five centuries ago; (dating the birth of capitalism is an interesting problem but not relevant for present purposes). What is relevant and important, is to understand that capitalism is in its innermost essence an expanding system both internally and externally. Once rooted, it both grows and spreads. The classic analysis of this double movement is of course Marx’s Capital. | more…

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