| The Present as History 2021cropped | MR Online Cover of The Present as History 2021. Photo credit: Tarun Bhartiya.

Monthly Review School and “The Present as History”: An Introduction

The Present as History, the main title of this and a series of subsequent volumes that we intend to publish, is a phrase conceived by Paul M. Sweezy (1910–2004), one of the founding editors and a leading light of the independent socialist magazine, Monthly Review. Courageously founded in 1949 in the United States at the beginning of the McCarthy era, the magazine has been afloat ever since. “The Present as History” was the title of a 1953 collection of Sweezy’s essays in book form. The idea it conveys is that the present is still at hand and so we have the power to grasp and shape it, and thereby influence its outcome, which can best be done by comprehending it as history. As Sweezy wrote in the preface to his book, The Present as History: “Everyone knows that the present will someday be history. I believe that the most important task of the social scientist is to try and comprehend it as history now, while it is still the present and while we still have the power to influence its shape and outcome.”

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The Present as History 2021, edited and with an introduction by Bernard D’mello and Subhas Aikat, (Cornerstone Publications, P.O. Hijli Co-Operative, Kharagpur-721306, India). For inquiries, email cspublications.india@gmail.com. Cover photo credit: Tarun Bhartiya.

This conception of the present as history crystallized into an important principle of the intellectual tradition of Monthly Review magazine. Viewing the present as history entails combining what is new with a grasp of the longer process that is vital to a deeper understanding of the present. It requires the ability to put the present into perspective with the help of a view of history in its specific modes of production and social formations, and stages and phases of accumulation within each mode. Even then, it is difficult to write wisely about the present, for to do so it is necessary to figure out where it might be going. It is only then that one can possibly write insightfully about the present to thereby be of some help to a collective socialist endeavor to affect its formation and outcome.

In this Introduction, we will first try to provide an initiation to the intellectual tradition of Monthly Review,1 from which we have selected the essays and the interview that appear in this volume. We will then acquaint the reader with each of the chapters in this publication.

Open-ended Critique and the Present as History

Open-ended “critique” and the present as history of his day and age permeate Karl Marx’s thought and significantly affect his works, for this was the way he approached all the problems he chose to study and reflect upon. Likewise, the reader will find such a permeation of critique and the present as history in the essays in this volume. Philosophical, political, economic, sociological, and natural-science theses or principles are drawn upon, which, taken together, form a relatively self-reliant but open-ended intellectual structure, subject to change with the advance of knowledge and understanding. The method of analysis is neither linear nor determinist, and the interpretation is non-Eurocentric. The approach is holistic and thus difficult to pigeonhole within the confines of the conventional division of labor within the social sciences.

As in the way Marx analyzed capitalism in its mercantilist and its industrial-competitive stages, behind their legal façades, so the Monthly Review school2 as a Marxist intellectual tradition has examined the present stage of monopoly capitalism as the dominant global social formation. A system whose main economic institutional forms are the giant corporations and the financial system associated with them, both brought into place by the process of concentration and centralization of capital by which competition gave way to monopoly (what in mainstream economics is known as oligopoly) when big corporations rose to dominance by the 1880s or 1890s. Institutionalized within this dominant global social formation is modern imperialism and the division of the world into a developed capitalist center and an underdeveloped capitalist periphery and semi-periphery of exploited and oppressed nations.

Imperialism, inherent in capitalism’s expansion, has emanated right from the colonial age. Indeed, as Harry Magdoff (1913–2006) put it in his classic, Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present (1978): “…imperialism is a way of life of capitalism. Therefore, the elimination of imperialism requires the overthrow of capitalism.3 In the colonial period, the colonies and semi-colonies were controlled, adapted, and transformed to carry out the imperatives of the accumulation of capital in the metropolitan countries. Indeed, Paul A. Baran, in The Political Economy of Growth (1957), developed a general theory of the dialectical interrelation of development in the metropolitan countries and underdevelopment in the colonies and dependencies.4 Such a theory was also developed by Samir Amin (1931–2018) in his 1957 doctoral thesis, based on empirical material from Africa and the Middle East, published much later, in 1970, in French, entitled L’accumulation à L’échelle Mondiale, and in English as Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment (1974).5

From Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism (1976) to Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value (2018), Samir Amin consistently argued that a vastly higher rate of exploitation in the periphery than in the center has been built into the very structure of the world capitalist system and that this is ensured by a formidable set of domestic and international institutional arrangements.6 (We will come to this structural imperative of the world capitalist system in the contemporary period, more generally, as set out in Samir Amin’s 2018 book, and more specifically, as manifested in the “global labor arbitrage” opportunity that the multinational corporations (MNCs) exploit in the “global value chains” controlled by them.)

Let us then come to Harry Magdoff’s work in another related classic—The Age of Imperialism: The Economics of U.S. Foreign Policy (1968)—wherein he uses the theoretical framework of V. I. Lenin’s 1917 work, Imperialism: The Latest Stage of Capitalism to throw light on imperialism in the post-Second World War period, with economic categories relevant to that period and with the American empire as the focus of its analysis and wealth of detail.7 Importantly, Magdoff connects the role of U.S. MNCs with U.S. military bases and operations abroad, and the U.S. business-state combine’s indispensable need to control strategic resources, including petroleum. Magdoff’s The Age of Imperialism (1968) and Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present (1978) have been the foundation upon which the analyses of imperialism by Monthly Review school authors have generally been based.

Broadly, the focus of this Marxist intellectual tradition has been on how the monopoly capitalist stage came into being, how it has been working, and with what results for the exploiters and oppressors, and for the exploited and oppressed, and where all this is likely leading. The Monthly Review school’s analysis, like that of Marx, focuses on the unstable tension between forces and social agencies advancing change and systemic ones fostering “equilibrium,” expressed in the idea of “contradiction,” indicating the pulling apart of what is functionally united. The resulting social dynamics influences the lives and the consciousness of people, affecting the ideas, the social conditions, and the conduct and behavior of people, which, in turn, influence human activity, leading to constant change.

Here we need to keep in mind especially the ways by, and conditions in, which people earn a livelihood, which shape their mental and physical well-being and the quality of their lives. The ones who have no other alternative but to sell their labor-power to make a livelihood. The majority in the labor force, in competition with other people similarly placed, are not only prone to getting alienated from their fellow human beings with whom they are driven to compete, but also from their distinctive, inherent potential as human beings, adversely affecting, indeed, seriously diminishing people as individual human beings. Both these aspects are at the core of Marx’s notion of alienation, besides, of course, being set apart from—in the sense of having practically no part in conceiving of what to do and how to do it—the work at which one is obliged to exhaust one’s labor power; and having no part in deciding what to produce and for whom. (There is another dimension of alienation that Marx was deeply concerned about, the alienation from nature that human beings under capitalism suffer, which we will come to when we discuss the Monthly Review school’s ecological critique of capitalism.)

As far as the social relations established through the market, shaped by the market power of the dominant players, these relations continue to be reified as relations between things, as Marx wrote in Capital, Volume I, chapter 1. With market relations becoming even more generalized, accompanied by all labor-powers—the capacity to perform labor, the value creating activity of human beings—becoming commodities or being subject to the logic of the capitalist labor market, society no longer comes to be seen as a human creation subject to human control. Capitalist society appears as a pervasive, mystified, and objective entity that imposes its own rules, regulations, and compulsions to which human beings must conform. As Sweezy put it: “The existing social order becomes in the apt expression of Lukacs, a ‘second nature’ which stands outside of and opposed to its members.” And, as he goes on: “The consequences for the structure of thought [and feelings, we might add] are both extensive and profound…[for] the commodity-producing form constitutes the most effective possible veil over the true class character of capitalist society.”8

Commodity fetishism manifests itself in additional forms under monopoly capitalism because of the “sales effort,”9 especially due to marketing and advertising. Consumers who have the money to luxuriate in all the branded consumer goods they desire, consider their freedom to choose such things to relate to—oblivious of the value creating activity of the human beings and the exploitative social relations under which they labored to make those things—as equivalent to the attainment of political liberty and economic freedom.

But, of course, the majority who have no other option but to earn a livelihood by selling their labor power, the ones without access to money realized from surplus value, do not have the purchasing power to engage in such luxury consumption. The transformation of the produced value into its money form, the problem of realization, as Marx termed it, or effective demand, in Keynesian parlance—demand, at a profitable price, for the volume of goods and services that can be produced with existing capacity—is one of capitalism’s most fundamental macroeconomic problems.

Given capital’s drive toward profit maximization and unremitting capital accumulation,10 capital tends to keep the wage bill as low as it can get away with, and to raise its investment continually, thus restraining the demand for consumption goods and enhancing the demand for the means of production. An illusion is created that the more profits capital makes and the more and faster it invests, the more the economy will continue to grow and prosper. However, as productive capacity grows relatively much more rapidly than worker and capitalist consumption, constrained as these are by the wage bill and capitalist propensity to accumulate, respectively, this weak demand for consumption goods works its way through the system to adversely affect the demand for intermediate and capital goods, and thus to bring the high growth rate of the economy to an end. Such “overproduction” (or overaccumulation), a consequence of the normal working of capitalism, is that system’s “classic contradiction,” as Sweezy and Magdoff, then editors of Monthly Review, put it in a discussion piece in the magazine’s April 1982 issue.

But, rather than a tendency for the rate of profit to fall,11 in their book, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (1966), Baran and Sweezy postulate a tendency for the relative share of the surplus—surplus here defined as the difference between total output and the “socially necessary” costs of producing it12—to rise. The main problem of monopoly capitalism is one of finding ways to absorb the gigantic actual and potential surplus. The problem of effective demand, or overproduction, asserts itself even more under monopoly capitalism than under its competitive counterpart.

How is this the case? The problem of capitalism is that individual units of capital strive to expand their wealth to the maximum possible extent without considering the ultimate overall effect this would have on effective demand in the context of the economy’s expanding capacity. “The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself”, as Marx once put it. Under monopoly capitalism, this barrier is raised even higher.

Firstly, in the class struggle—the relationship between the two main classes, involving exploitation by capital and the workers’ resistance to it—capital generally has the upper hand.13 It can thus raise the rate of surplus value to attain a higher rate of profit, and thereby make possible a higher rate of accumulation.

Secondly, with oligopolistic pricing, the uniform rate of profit of competitive capitalism gives way to a “hierarchy of profit rates”—highest in “tightly” oligopolistic product markets and lowest in the most competitive ones. This leads to a skewed distribution of the surplus value generated, one that favors the larger, more monopolistic firms. They, in turn, can “re-invest” a larger proportion of their profits, making possible a higher rate of accumulation. But, on the demand side, the large oligopolistic units of capital tend to regulate and slow down “the expansion of productive capital in order to maintain their higher rates of profit.” 14

There are, however, counteracting tendencies. Civilian government spending picks up some of the slack in effective demand. But there are forces opposing such spending, especially where the projects or activities undertaken either compete with private enterprise or undermine class privileges, for instance, with state provision of free or highly subsidized, good quality, public-sector education, and healthcare. Nevertheless, there are other offsetting tendencies, such as militarism and imperialism,15 essential ingredients of the economic and political process; expansion of the “sales effort” of the corporations; “epoch making innovations” creating significant investment outlets; and financialization—the latter, a gravitational shift of economic activity from the production of goods and non-financial services to finance—which have been the main external stimulants boosting effective demand, and thus aggregate output. With financialization, the employment of money capital in the financial markets and in speculation, more generally, to make more money, bypassing the route of commodity production, has increasingly become the name of the game.

Over the years since Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital first appeared in 1966, Sweezy alongside Harry Magdoff, both (then) editors of Monthly Review, with an intimate knowledge of the business world, enriched their readers’ understanding of the financial sector, even as that sphere was innovating and expanding at breakneck pace, becoming increasingly more complex, both in the U.S. and internationally. For instance, in the expansion of debt (and the evolution of its role and structure) at a pace far exceeding the growth of the real economy; in the process of securitization (the conversion of non-marketable debt into marketable securities); in the proliferation of new financial institutions, instruments and markets, with financial futures allowing one to speculate in a share of stock without owning it; in the growth of the interbank market of the international financial system, and so on. Moreover, they threw light on how developments in the financial field were changing, in important ways, the structure and functioning of the real economy, dominated by the giant corporations. For instance, in the evolution of a consolidated financial-industrial complex, the merger and leveraged buyout mania of the 1980s was correctly seen at the time as a crucial symptom of “the financialization of the capital accumulation process.” Indeed, in a holding-company structure, the aggregate number and volume of corporate securities could grow “in step and without any addition to the underlying productive base at the bottom of the pyramid.”16

In Marx’s terms, financialization entails a shift from the general formula for capital accumulation, M-C-M’, in which the production of commodities by means of commodities is central to the generation of profits, to one that is increasingly focused within the circuit of money capital alone, M-M’, in which money begets more money with no footprint in production. Effective demand is stimulated via the “wealth effect” that acts as a fillip to consumption to grow, even in the absence of the growth of incomes, due to rising asset prices. Financialization is thus functional for capitalism in the context of a tendency to stagnation—slow economic growth, high unemployment and underemployment, and excess capacity over the long term, reflecting, in Keynesian terms, a chronic deficiency of effective demand. And indeed, financialization has become the main response of capital and the central bank (in the United States, the Federal Reserve, resorting to “quantitative easing”) to the stagnation tendency in the real economy. But a financial collapse brings about a crisis of financialization, inevitably leading to a resurfacing of the underlying stagnation that is endemic to a developed capitalist economy.17

With financialization becoming one of the main ways of counteracting stagnation, indeed, a trend arising from stagnation,18 each time a financial crash has occurred, it has led to the resurfacing of stagnation. The developed capitalist economy and monopoly-finance capital—the latter, a new phase of the monopoly stage of capitalism—are locked in a stagnation–financialization trap, for stagnation worsens in the aftermath of a financial crash when financialization comes to a standstill.19

In these times of financialization of the capital accumulation process globally (albeit, an Americanization of global finance), if one were to go by Hegel’s dictum that “The Truth is in the Whole,” then to understand what is going on in the United States, one must also take account of what is happening in the rest of the world, just as developments in the U.S. make a difference elsewhere. In particular, the structure and distribution of world effective demand along with the huge imbalances reflected in the massive deficits and corresponding surpluses in the current accounts of the balance of payments of the major economies, and the structure of capital flows thereby engendered, need to be brought into the picture.

Consistent balance-of-payments current-account surplus-generating major economies like that of China, Germany and Japan come to mind, as also the fact that despite the phenomenal rise in inequality in the U.S., the country’s savings rate has secularly declined, in part due to the wealth effect brought on by financialization. These developments have in turn led to consistent, increasing U.S. current account deficits, matched by huge capital inflows, and reflected in the accumulation of massive non-resident holdings of dollar-denominated financial assets.

Like monopoly-finance capital in the U.S., its counterparts in Germany and Japan, and the other advanced capitalist countries are also locked in the “stagnation-financialization trap.” Monopoly-finance capital in the Triad (North America, Western Europe, and Japan) is linked to “growth in the emerging economies via the global labor arbitrage—whereby MNCs exploit the differences in wage levels in the world to extract surplus profits. The result is the worsening of the overall problem of surplus capital absorption and financial instability in the center of the world economy.”20 Keeping in mind that in the countries of the Triad, there has been a shift in the economic base of political hegemony from the realm of the real economy of production to the domain of speculative finance, there is a need to see how all of this is unfolding at the global level, but mainly in relation to the world’s second largest economy, the Chinese economy.

First, the systemic political imperative to restore the process of financialization in the aftermath of a financial crash gives short shrift to the Keynesian approach involving expansionary fiscal policy and the re-regulation of the financial sector. Fiscal deficits come under political attack. The revival of the process of financialization to boost the finance-driven economy through the “wealth effect” gets top priority. Reviving the process of financialization has become the main political response to extricate monopoly-finance capitalism from economic stagnation. It must be emphasized and reiterated that the stagnation that resurfaces in the aftermath of a financial crisis is the underlying problem from which financialization has emerged as a countervailing force.

For the executive of the capitalist state, preserving and enhancing the value of financial assets rather than production and employment is the focus of neoliberal economic policy, for that is what the plutocrats demand of the political management of monopoly-finance capitalism where democracy has been replaced by “Dollarocracy.” Elections have been eroded of their “meaning and of their democratic potential” by certain forces— “billionaires, corporations, the politicians who do their bidding, and the media conglomerates that facilitate the abuse.… ‘The Money Power’ [was how] Roosevelt and his contemporaries termed the collaboration that imposed the will of wealth on our politics… [This Money Power] achieves its ends by flooding the electoral system with an unprecedented tidal wave of unaccountable money.”21

Second, most important to the expansion of the activities, the interests, and the power of the MNCs and the financial behemoths of the Triad are the maintenance of international, bourgeois private-property rights and a relatively free movement of capital between countries. Large MNCs, through their foreign subsidiaries, control their respective global commodity chains, either as the principal buyers or the principal producers of the final product, with the conception of both product and process closely guarded by them.

Production is located mostly in the emerging economies with large reserve armies of labor relative to their respective active wage-labor forces. Very high rates of surplus value involving the prolongation of the working day (and week) to the extent possible, and changes in the proportions in which the working day is divided between necessary and surplus labor involving a severe diminishing of necessary labor time, are thus made possible. The latter involves managements, firstly, in keeping down the wage rate, and secondly, in reorganizing the labor process and introducing new technologies to increase labor productivity, both to decrease the necessary labor time. Workers become appendages of the machines with which they work. Exports of the product are mainly a function of demand in the Triad economies, mainly the U.S., with its large current account deficit. The large current account surpluses of the exporting countries find their way to the capital markets of the Triad economies, reinforcing the financialization of the capital accumulation processes centered over there.

Third, the process of concentration and centralization of capital, the tendency to monopolization, moving from “loose” oligopolistic market structures to “tight” ones, with transnational production altering the nature of oligopolistic rivalry. Economic globalization in the sense of free trade in goods and services and the institution of international private property rights leading to relatively free capital mobility, initially undermined many “tight” oligopolistic-market structures, but gradually, through the processes of concentration and centralization at the global level, a fresh pattern of “tight” oligopolistic market structures has emerged, at the national, regional, and global levels. (Caution is, however, advised against positing any secular increase in monopolization. The tendency to monopolization “is not as ubiquitous and overwhelming as [the Austrian Marxist Rudolf] Hilferding imagined”; there are “powerful countertendencies—the breakup of existing firms and the founding of new ones…”22)

Fourth, there are two principal characteristics of the labor market in a global framework—the existence of a massive global reserve army of labor relative to the active army of wage labor, and the “global labor arbitrage” opportunity (exploiting international wage differences to obtain higher returns on capital). In 2011, the size of the global active labor army was 1.4 billion wage workers. The size of the global reserve army in the same year was 2.5 billion persons, 1.8 times the size of the active wage-labor army. This is the background against which the labor market in a global setting works, and it underlines the functional role that unemployment and underemployment plays in a capitalist system. The reserve army of labor is, as Marx once put it, “the pivot [our emphasis] upon which the law of supply [of] and demand for labor works.” Indeed, the shifting of certain sectors of production to the emerging economies to take advantage of the international immobility of labor and the existence of subsistence wages over there has led to stagnant or declining real wages in the Triad economies.

Fifth, the powerful forces unleashed by monopoly-finance capital in the Triad economies and in China have brought to the fore a fundamental contradiction that stands in the way of the Chinese economy rebalancing its components of aggregate demand, namely, reducing the proportion of the sum of export-oriented investment and net exports in favor of domestic market-oriented investment and household consumption. Carrying through the latter has become an imperative for the Chinese government’s steering of the capitalist process in the economy, this in the wake of a trade war and, indeed, a new Cold War unleashed by U.S. imperialism against China.

The share of net exports in China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has come down quite significantly because of the external demand constraint brought on by the stagnation-financialization trap in the Triad economies and the U.S.-China trade war. The high investment spending (as a proportion of GDP) has declined in the latter half of the decade just gone by. The difference between gross savings and gross capital formation, as a percentage of GDP, has been falling. The share of household consumption expenditure in GDP has been rising. And, in the face of massive overcapacity, the trend of China’s GDP growth rate has been downward.

All this is indicative of a rebalancing of the components of aggregate demand, manifested in the decline in the proportion of the sum of investment and net exports (goods and services) in favor of household consumption, in GDP. The accelerated growth of manufactured goods exports is now a phenomenon of the past, and China, anyway, never got on the bandwagon of financial globalization. However, a significant rebalancing of the structure of aggregate demand in favor of household consumption requires a dismantling of the low-wage, global labor arbitrage model of capital accumulation in global supply chains wherein China remains the world’s assembly hub. It is only with a very significant increase in the real wage rate and a shift in the distribution of income in favor of workers and peasants that the path of economic growth can shift to a mass consumption-led track. Of course, a conscious political decision to move in this direction would require a relative shift in the communist party leadership from the “right” toward the left.

The global labor arbitrage model of capital accumulation in global value chains controlled by MNCs, with much of the production centered in China, however, straddles many parts of the global South (the periphery and semi-periphery of the world capitalist system). The U.S. government has been pressuring U.S. multinational capital to shift production in the global supply chains they control from China to countries like Mexico and India. Under monopoly-finance capitalism, and with globalization that largely does not permit the migration of labor from the global South to the global North (the center of the world capitalist system), the capital-labor relation has been transformed, and, in turn, the labor-labor relation. Firms controlled from the global South are driven to intensely compete with similarly placed firms for production outsourced by the MNCs of the global North that control the global value chains, the cut-throat rivalry between the South-South firms leading to a “race to the bottom.” As part of this race to the bottom, the wage rate of sections of the Southern workers is even driven down to below the value of their labor power. Quite simply, these workers are super-exploited.

The multinational oligopolies of the global North are in competition with each other, but not with the firms of the global South, with whom their relation is complementary but highly unequal in their arms-length exchange relations. The MNCs controlling the global value chains can shift production elsewhere within the global South if unit labor costs rise significantly in some region therein. The value-addition of the MNCs of the global North is mostly the value they capture through exchange, including a large part of the surplus value extracted from labor in the global South. The appropriation of this surplus value is disguised and concealed, for it gets manifested as part of the value added by the Northern corporations that control the global value chains. Two recent books, one by John Smith, entitled Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century (2016), the other by Intan Suwandi, entitled Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism (2019),23 both of which were awarded the Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy Award, in 2016 and 2019, respectively, throw light on the exploitation of Southern workers by Northern capital, their theses stated above in desperate brevity.

What is of interest here, from a socialist point of view, is the labor-labor relation, both within the global South and within the global North, and between the global North and the global South. When will the new Chinese proletariat that has emerged demand a significant role in the political realm in China, and, in a worker-peasant alliance, bring Maoism back to the centerstage of Chinese politics? And, in response to their unending hard times, when will the U.S. working class precipitate the formation of a labor party? When will the working classes of the Triad countries, subject to stagnant or declining real wages, massive unemployment & underemployment, growing inequality, and a general deterioration in the quality of life, unitedly actively engage in the political life of their countries, and respond audaciously in terms of militant defensive struggles and a socialist alternative? When will the working classes of the global North and the global South, including the Chinese and the U.S. working classes, begin to coordinate their politics, and unitedly deal with the crucial question of their respective aggregate rates of exploitation?

A new radical-left political agenda (in the sphere of mass politics) incorporating the above needs is nowhere on the horizon, this, among other things, because of alienation and commodity fetishism. A political program on these lines has not seen the light of day also because of oppressive systemic racial, ethnic, caste, and patriarchal relations, extreme inequality and disparities, and collusion of national capitalisms with imperialism, which divide and fragment the working class. But all this is no reason to despair; racist Aryan myths, for instance, can be demolished.

The Monthly Review school’s positing of dialectical interrelations of capitalist exploitation and racial, ethnic, and patriarchal oppressions is an important step in comprehending intertwined exploitation, oppression, and expropriation. Michael D. Yates’s Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (2003) and Can the Working Class Change the World? (2018), for instance, realistically and imaginatively presents the working class in its class, gender, racial, ethnic, and national identities, and its struggles within the international setting of the world capitalist system.24 We think that oppressed gender, ethnic, racial, caste, and national allegiances do serve as rallying points in strengthening solidarity within their respective oppressed groups, but when these oppressed groups decide to stick to themselves, they divide the working class. However, this is not to deny the prevalence of sexism, racism, casteism, and/or aggressive nationalism within the working class.

Aggressive nationalism is an ideological rationale for imperialism. In the stage of monopoly capitalism, imperialism has been a process by which MNCs of the developed capitalist countries and their respective home states have teamed up to expand their activities, their interests, and their power beyond their borders. Especially after the onset of stagnation from the mid-1970s onward, the subsequent demise of the Soviet-type societies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the reintegration of China into the world capitalist system from the 1980s onward, the MNCs of the developed capitalist countries together with their respective home states have brought about a new imperialist world order.

One of the main manifestations of the new imperialism has been the MNCs of the Triad economies, in control of their respective global commodity chains, steering the globalization of production, with much of the manufacturing in the emerging economies. In parallel has been a new phase of the globalization of finance. From the 1990s onward, a relatively independent financial complex sits on top of the world’s real economy and its national units, significantly influencing the structure and behaviour of most of the world’s national economies and the corporations therein. Financial capital, organized and institutionalized on a global scale, has been yielding financial income and capital gains, derived from global financial speculation and entrepreneurship, which accrues significantly to the Triad economies. But, of course, there are also the important elements of imperialist continuity—the U.S. military bases spread across the world and developed capitalist state–multinational control over strategic resources, including oil. And one should not forget the planetary ecological destruction that imperialism initiated in the mercantilist stage of capitalism and has since cumulatively wrought, amounting to ecocide that is posing a serious existential threat to humanity and other forms of life.25

Beginning with a seminal essay, “Cars and Cities,” by Sweezy in the April 1972 issue of Monthly Review, capitalism’s destruction of the environment has gone on to become one of the central concerns of the magazine’s editors. More so because the liberal establishment’s strategy of “sustainable development” to combat the environmental destruction has chosen to remain silent about the underlying capitalist system that is at the core of the problem. The problem is not merely climate change, but pollution of air, soil, water, and organisms; acidification of the oceans; degradation of agricultural lands; the destruction of tropical forests and wetlands; and accelerated extinction of species.

But, as the present editor of Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster, in a moment of reflection, writes: “Since the main currents of Marxist thinking had for generations been largely divorced from ecological considerations (a problem not confined to Marxism of course), I concluded that it was necessary to go back to classical Marxism in this respect in order to reconstruct the basis of a full-fledged critique.”26 The result of such probing was his book, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (2000), and twenty years later, The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology (2020), and over this period of time, Ecology against Capitalism (2002), The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet (2009) and The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (2010), the latter, along with Brett Clark and Richard York.27

Marx’s Ecology has made evident that the ecological dimension, derived from his materialist and dialectical conception of history and of nature, was central to Marx’s thought, influenced as he was by writings that developed materialist and ecological ideas, from the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus to Charles Darwin. It was Marx’s study of the work of the German agricultural chemist Justus von Liebig—indeed, Marx was always one who labored to keep abreast with developments in the natural sciences—that led him to his concept of the “metabolic rift” in the human relation to nature (chapter 5, “The Metabolism of Nature and Society’). And from this to his analysis which connected the alienation of human labor under capitalism with an understanding of the alienation of human beings from nature, and the question of ecological sustainability. Marx linked the social transformation that capitalism was bringing about with the transformation of the human relation with nature—throwing light on the capitalist dynamics of the degradation of nature—in ways that, we can now say, reflected a deep ecological sensitivity. Marx’s Ecology is Foster’s attempt to reconstruct Marx’s ecological thought by emphasizing the ecological elements within Marx’s oeuvre.

The Return of Nature follows the thread of integration of the ecological realm within critical social analysis from the works of Marx, Engels, and the Romantic socialist William Morris, as also from Marx and Engels’s association with scientists like E Ray Lankester, to the cultural materialist Christopher Caudwell and “red” natural scientists like J D Bernal, J B S Haldane, and Joseph Needham, and to others (like the marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson). It is here that “the modern ecological worldview, as we know it today, was first emerging tentatively into the light of day for all to see.” The book is a history and genealogy of ideas (in Britain and the United States covering the period from the passing away of Darwin in 1882 and Marx in 1883 up to the 1960s) that embraced socialism and ecology, and especially their converging forms of critique of capitalism. Moreover, as Foster puts it in the Preface: “It is the synthesis of the scientific and the aesthetic critiques of capitalism that constitutes the basis of the modern ecological critique, leading to the pivotal notion of sustainable human development.” The book uncovers the radical and socialist origins of ecology. Foster is of the view that, from its very inception, ecological thought was, as he writes in the Introduction, “deeply intertwined with struggles for human equality and the revolt against capitalist society.”

With respect to capitalism’s antagonistic relationship to the environment, which is at the core of the current ecological crises, whether climate change, species extinction, or air and water pollution, in The Ecological Revolution, Foster cites the most reliable scientific evidence, drawing attention to approaching “tipping points,” beyond which the trends may be impossible to reverse. The adverse effects, indeed, ecological catastrophes “we” will have to suffer and confront over long periods of time, as those tipping points are crossed.

In The Ecological Rift, among other things, Foster, Clark, and York mount a devastating critique of those who propagate that capitalism can be “greened” by technological fixes and market solutions (through the market’s automatic mechanisms and based on carbon trading) to solve all our long-term environmental problems. Capitalism and its political apparatuses are fiddling while humanity is on the precipices of various ecological catastrophes. But the “cultural apparatus” of monopoly capital—mainly media, corporate-controlled and under the sway of corporate business, in a commanding position, reinforcing existing power relations and spreading a “false consciousness”28—continues to falsely pin the hopes of the public on market solutions and technological fixes as genuine panaceas that will “green” capitalism.

The Monthly Review school has over the last two and a half decades contributed very significantly to an understanding of the media and the political apparatus of monopoly capitalism in the U.S., especially in the works of Robert W. McChesney. For instance, Rich Media, Poor Democracy (1999); Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media (2007); The Political Economy of the Media (2008); (with John Nichols) Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (2013); and Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy (2013).29

The necessary scrutiny and monitoring of the public’s political attitudes in order to effectively manipulate and persuade the electorate to vote for the political representatives of monopoly capital is just one component of the universalization of surveillance that stems from the imperatives of the Intelligence required for militarism/imperialism/security, the “sales effort” and the media system, and the financialization of the accumulation process. A Special Issue of Monthly Review (July–August 2014) on “Surveillance Capitalism,” edited by the radical attorney, classical scholar, and director of the Monthly Review Foundation, John Mage, coined that term to capture such a universalization of surveillance in the phase of monopoly-finance capitalism. All three, that is, militarism/imperialism/security, the sales effort, and financialization, are, apart from civilian government and capitalist consumption and investment, monopoly capitalism’s main means of surplus absorption. Each of the three has added “impetus in different ways to the communications revolution, associated with the development of computers, digital technology, and the Internet,” which made possible the digitization of surveillance.

Edward Snowden, who courageously leaked highly classified documents of the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 when he was a computer intelligence consultant to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, has said: “The US government co-opts US corporate power to its own ends. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft all get together with the NSA. [They] provide the NSA direct access to the back ends of all of the systems you use to communicate, to store data, to put things in a cloud, and even…. They give [the] NSA direct access, so that they don’t need to oversee, so they can’t be held liable for it.” Indeed, Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and the giant telecom oligopolies closely aligned with the U.S. government, the NSA, the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, and some major European governments have sapped the Information Revolution of its democratic potential.30

Toward a Non-Eurocentric Theory of the World Capitalist System

Before we come to the book’s chapters, we would like to emphasize that, right from its inception, the Monthly Review school has had a conception of Marxism as a non-Eurocentric, universalist paradigm. The history of Europe is not seen as exceptional; capitalism could have emerged first elsewhere. In a review of Maurice Dobb’s Studies in the Development of Capitalism in the journal Science & Society (Spring 1950), Paul Sweezy had argued that international trade and commodity production played a major role in undermining Western European feudalism and establishing an important necessary precondition for the rise of capitalism. But capitalism emerged in its predominant form only some two centuries after the disintegration of feudalism, and there was no significant connection between the two phases, i.e., the decline of feudalism and the rise of capitalism.

This review of Dobb’s book provoked a rich debate, but, as Sweezy noted three and a half decades later, with the revival of this discussion in the same journal (Science & Society, Spring 1986), the original “debate concentrated almost exclusively on Western Europe,” because of the “cultural bias of most of the participants” and because Western European feudalism was considered “the archetype of this particular social formation.” Both these factors “narrowed the scope of the debate to a quite extraordinary degree.” Sweezy expressed disappointment that “attention (was) focused geographically on this one small portion of the globe” [our emphasis] and that the implicit assumption was that “what happened in that area was largely uninfluenced by developments elsewhere” [our emphasis]. Indeed, “Western Europe, far from being the center of the universe, was in reality a relatively insignificant backwater on the ragged edge of the major civilizations of the ancient world.” In contrast to “the parochialism of Western Marxism,” Sweezy draws the attention of his readers to Samir Amin’s “Modes of Production, History and Unequal Development” (Science & Society, Summer 1985) for a breath of fresh air.

Samir Amin draws attention to the “tributary mode” in the history of all civilizations, the feudal mode in Europe being a peripheral variant of it, with weak and decentralized political power, compared to its central, developed variants.31 Indeed, this was precisely the reason why capitalism appeared in Western Europe earlier compared to elsewhere, in the more central, developed tributary societies, where its appearance was delayed for long. It was during the transition period, from the Renaissance, in the sixteenth century, to the Industrial Revolution, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, the era of European mercantilism, that structural asymmetries and inequalities developed between Europe and its colonies and dependencies, that choked the embryos of autonomous capitalist development, in, for instance, India and Egypt, that were discernable on the eve of colonization.32

Fundamentally also, as between a Eurocentric Marxism and a non-Eurocentric, universalist Marxism, the latter emphasizes both the relative importance of the European pillage of what was to become the periphery of the world capitalist system and the expropriation of British common lands that turned them into private property through the Enclosures, which forced peasants and laborers off the land and from their homes. These two main elements of the process of original accumulation were emphasized by Marx in Part VIII on “The So-Called Primitive Accumulation” in Capital, Volume One.

A non-Eurocentric, universalist Marxism does not separate the analysis of expropriation and exploitation at the center from analysis of expropriation and exploitation at the periphery. In his 2018 book, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value, Samir Amin has developed the outline of a Marxist theory of the world capitalist system, in which he formalizes a law of globalized value by extending Marx’s law of value, integrating the global dimension of capitalism into Marx’s analysis. The law of value operates on the global level, with one value of labor-power for the world capitalist system, associated with the level of global development of the productive forces, but with different prices of labor-power around that value. (Of course, in the periphery, there are also peasants and other laboring small producers whose incomes are not in the form of wages.)

The important point here is that, as between the center and the periphery, the relative difference in the remuneration of labor far exceeds the relative gap in the corresponding productivities, reflecting a much higher rate of exploitation in the periphery. The unequal rate of exploitation is manifested in unequal exchange, an exchange relationship in international trade in which the real wage rate between the central and peripheral countries shows a much wider span than that of the respective productivities of social labor, resulting in a transfer of value from the periphery to the center, a transfer that is hidden behind observed prices and wage rates. This higher rate of exploitation and unequal sharing of the system’s surplus, between the ruling classes and professional elites of the center and the periphery’s dependent bourgeoisies and hired professionals, form the core of the world capitalist system’s exploitative institutional structure.

Like in Capital, Samir Amin adopts Marx’s abstract-deductive method with the procedure of successive approximations, wherein his analysis moves, step by step, from values to prices of production, to oligopolistic market prices, to globalized prices, as simplifying assumptions are dropped at successive analytical stages. He analyses the way the production process has turned global, depicting the peripheral zone quite realistically. His analysis of extended reproduction when wages do not increase at the same rate as productivity is quite revealing. He integrates credit into his theory of accumulation. He even brings in a third department (with the presence of the state), which absorbs the excess surplus-value not absorbed by Departments I and II. All the while, however, he remains aware that the world capitalist system “does not lend itself to formalization in algebraic terms.” The periphery’s exports make up essential elements of constant and variable capital, lowering their prices, even as its imports “fulfil functions analogous to those of Department III: that is to say, they facilitate the realization of excess surplus value.”33

All this notwithstanding, analysis of the class struggle at the level of the world capitalist system is considered a prerequisite for a proper analysis of the world economy. And, in this realm, he brings in the imperialist bourgeoisie, the proletariat of the central countries, the dependent bourgeoisies of the periphery, the proletariat of the periphery, the exploited peasantries of the periphery, and the exploiting classes of the non-capitalist modes, for instance, “semi-feudal” landlords, in the periphery. The principal contradiction is the one that places in antagonistic opposition the proletariat and the exploited peasantry of the periphery to imperialist capital, not, it must be made clear, the periphery as a whole to the center as a whole.34

It is class struggles and class alliances between and among the above-mentioned classes that determine the rates of surplus value at the center and at the periphery; the surplus labor extracted from, and the rates of exploitation of, peasants; the price structure of world commodities through which surplus labor and surplus value are redistributed between imperialist capital and the dependent bourgeoisies of the periphery; the real wage rates at the center and the periphery; and the rents drawn by the landlords. As also, subject to unilateral adjustment of the periphery to the dominant tendencies of world system in which it is integrated, subject as these propensities is to the demands of accumulation at the center, the balance of trade and payments, and the flow of commodities and capital, and consequently, currency exchange rates. They are also determined, to an extent, by the class struggles and class alliances.35

One important aspect of the world capitalist system is unequal access to the natural resources of the planet through strategies and practices put in place by the dominant centers to get the states of the periphery to allow central capital to access these resources in return for a mere payment of “symbolic royalties” or “baksheesh” that are just an overhead cost, not really extractive rent. Peripheral states trying to impose real royalties are confronted by the power and wealth of the central states and those central capitals that are dominant players internationally in mining activity.36

Ecological degradation and unsustainable development from rampant exploitation of natural-resource bases, industrial growth, and infrastructural development are highlighted. The concept of ecological footprint and measures to quantify it have made possible comparisons of the biological capacity of countries—their potential to generate and regenerate the conditions of life on the planet—with their consumption of the resources they have access to. A significant proportion of the resource base and biological capacity of the global South is exploited to the advantage of the global North, which reminds us of Brett Clark and John Bellamy Foster’s 2009 essay, “Ecological Imperialism and the Global Metabolic Rift: Unequal Exchange and the Guano/Nitrates Trade,” in the International Journal of Comparative Sociology. This essay throws light on how “Britain and other imperial countries [in the nineteenth century] …maintain(ed) an ‘environmental overdraft’ in their own countries, imperialistically drawing on the natural resources of the periphery.”

Samir Amin’s Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value is nothing less than an outline of a non-Eurocentric, universalist Marxist theory of the globalized capitalist system. This theory has a “bearing on the fifth [“International Trade”] and sixth [“The World Market”] books [Marx had] promised in his [February 1858] letter to Lassalle,” but, of course, set in our times. The “fifth,” earlier, on unequal exchange, and now, the “sixth” on the globalized capitalist system. The basis of the huge surpluses derived from “imperialist rent,” founded on that which arises from the global hierarchical structuring of the prices of labor-power around its value and that which stems from cheap access to the planet’s natural resources, is also linked to the monopolistic privileges of the imperialist countries—control over technologies, cultural-ideological apparatuses, and armaments of mass destruction.37

Introduction to the Book’s Chapters

With the above initiation to the thought of the Monthly Review school, we will now try to help the reader to get to the content of the book. But before briefly commenting on the individual chapters, a caveat is due. Like in Marx’s writings, here too one will find social-scientific analysis of (monopoly) capitalism, critique of the same, the socialist potential within (monopoly) capitalism that can only be realized by transcending it, and how this might possibly come about. Four currents, namely, science, critique, vision, and revolution may appear together, in combination, intertwined, and difficult to extricate from one another. Marx was a social scientist, a radical critic, a visionary, and a revolutionary intellectual, all four at the same time, and the reader might find the same in some of the contributions in this collection. This is because the dialectical method that one adopts, with its recognition of dialectics in human social institutions and in nature, brings science, critique, vision, and revolution together.38

The first essay (chapter 1), by Samir Amin—among the world’s foremost theorists of imperialism, and one who viewed his work as part of the same broad theoretical tradition of Monthly Review—reassesses the “The Communist Manifesto, 170 Years Later.” In doing so, Amin explains the course of world political and economic transformation from 1848, the year of publication of the Manifesto, and of a series of political upheavals in Europe, to 2018, two-hundred years since the birth of Karl Marx, and ten years since the Great Financial Crisis and the Great Recession hit the United States and then the whole world. The latter seems to have led, in some countries, to the application of neo-fascist ways of political management.

What unfolds in this essay is Amin’s reinterpretation of modern history of world development from the discovery of the Americas in the mercantilist period up to the present. Amin’s reappraisal of the place of capitalism in world history, and of the Russian Revolution, one that does not rule out the possibility of contemporary Russia’s delinking from the world-capitalist system, and his more nuanced clarifications of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, pre- and post-1949 Chinese developments, and progressive (i.e., anti-imperialist) nationalisms in the global South, makes for a more optimistic view of the possibility of reemergence of authentic anti-capitalist movements and of what they can achieve.

The second essay (chapter 2), “Marx’s Open-Ended Critique,” by John Bellamy Foster, unequivocally discards the dogmatic and mechanistic view of Marxism as an economic determinism that supposedly yields a theory of history called historical materialism, which is claimed to be valid for the entire lifespan of the human species. The focus instead is on Marx’s “open-ended scientific inquiry” and “open-ended dialectic,” distinguishing it from Hegel’s dialectical reasoning. The emphasis is also on Marx’s abstract-deductive method and what later came to be known as the method of “successive approximations.” Foster credits Marx with “open-systems theory” that enabled an integration of his critique of political economy with an ecological perspective by adapting the concept of metabolism. Marx’s “open-ended history” expects struggle to continue even beyond capitalism “as the associated producers seek to rationally regulate the metabolism between humanity and nature.” There is, Foster writes, an “open-endedness of his ‘criticism of all that exists’” alongside an “open-endedness of historical materialism.”

Foster reiterates “the inherent incompleteness of Marx’s critique of political economy,” indeed, that of his “entire historical project beyond the critique of political economy” requiring the “incorporation of natural science.” Marx regarded his theoretical conceptions as “‘guiding principles,’…not as a priori postulates awaiting confirmation.” And so, there is “the need constantly to transform his provisional hypotheses in light of changing evidence.” The “incompleteness of Marx’s critique” underlies “the necessity of reconstructing and extending it,” as has been happening in “various domains of Marxian theory.”

The “current revolution in Marxist thought” includes, among other domains, “value-form analysis” based on the premise of Marx’s radical break from Ricardian classical political economy; the critique of financialization; new developments in the theory of imperialism; the new ecological Marxism (see the interview of Foster by Alejandro Pedregal in chapter 7), the political economy of media and communications; Marxian dialectics within philosophy; social reproduction theory (touched upon over here in chapter 12 by Tithi Bhattacharya]; and the critique of racial capitalism that comes mainly from the Black Marxist tradition (covered in chapter 9 by Charisse Burden-Stelly). In capitalism, as it has passed through various stages, and phases within each stage, “the dialectic of exploitation and expropriation” has been present throughout. As regards the theory of the state and Marxian cultural theory, there has been little progress, in the former domain, after the debates of the 1960s and ’70s, in the latter, apart from the contribution of Fredric Jameson, progress has been “undermined by the growth of postmodernism (or transfigured into an esoteric, postmodern-inflected mode with little resemblance to classical Marxism).”

Chapter 3, “COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital: New York to China and Back,” by Rob Wallace, Alex Liebman, Luis Fernando Chaves, and Rodrick Wallace; chapter 4, “COVID-19 and Catastrophe Capitalism: Commodity Chains and Ecological-Epidemiological-Economic Crisis,” by John Bellamy Foster and Intan Suwandi; and chapter 5, “The Contagion of Capital: Financialization and COVID-19,” by John Bellamy Foster, R Jamil Jonna & Brett Clark must be taken together. The authors trace the structural causes of the COVID-19 pandemic illness due to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 to worldwide circuits of capital that derive their profits from global labor arbitrage and accelerated expropriation (appropriation without equivalent) of the planet’s resources, tied especially to multinational agribusiness which privatizes “profits while externalizing and socializing costs.”

Such agribusiness “displaces, often forcibly, subsistence farmers while advancing into wilderness areas, destroying ecosystems, and disrupting wildlife. The result is a growing spillover of zoonoses (or diseases from other animals that are capable of being transmitted to human populations). From the standpoint of the Structural One Health tradition in epidemiology [a new science that tracks disease emergence along circuits of capital, the authors view], the COVID-19 pandemic…[is] part of the larger planetary ecological crisis or metabolic rift engendered by twenty-first-century capitalism.” As the “COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital” essay puts it, merely “focusing on outbreak zones ignores the relations shared by global economic actors that shape epidemiologies.… Plotting relational geographies, in contrast, suddenly turns New York, London, and Hong Kong, key sources of global capital, into three of the world’s hotspots instead.”

Capitalist globalization has increasingly taken recourse to MNC-controlled interlinked global commodity chains, with production mainly located in the global South, taking full advantage of global labor and land arbitrage opportunities. World consumption, finance, and accumulation are, of course, centered in the global North. In such a setting, COVID-19 has “accentuated as never before the interlinked ecological, epidemiological, and economic vulnerabilities imposed by capitalism.… The rift in world ecology has attained planetary proportions and is creating a planetary environment that no longer constitutes a safe place for humanity. New pandemics are arising on the basis of a system of global monopoly-finance capital that has made itself the main vector of disease.… [And] since communicable diseases, due to the unequal conditions of capitalist class society, fall heaviest on the working class and the poor, and on populations in the periphery, the system that generates such diseases in the pursuit of quantitative wealth can be charged, as Engels and the Chartists did in the nineteenth century, with social murder.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and social distancing, has, as expected, besides precipitating severe disruption worldwide in the global supply chains, also exacerbated the problem of aggregate demand. The result has been a severe crisis of overaccumulation, associated with a severe recession, high levels of capacity underutilization, unemployment, and underemployment, and the atrophy of net investment (in the economic sense of the term). “The inability of private investment (and capitalist consumption) to absorb all the surplus actually and potentially available, coupled with government deficit spending, leads to growing amounts of free cash in the hands of corporations. The result is the rise of a system of asset speculation that partially stimulates the economy due to the wealth effect (increases in capitalist consumption fed by a part of the increased returns on wealth), but which is unable to overcome the underlying tendency to stagnation.”

Chapter 6, “Engels vs. Marx? Two Hundred Years of Frederick Engels,” by Paul Blackledge, marks the bicentenary of Engels’ birth with a reasoned refutation of the claim that “Engels fundamentally distorted Marx’s thought, and that “Marxism” and especially Stalinism emerged out of this one-sided caricature of Marx’s ideas.” Blackledge also refutes Western Marxism’s denial of the existence of a dialectics of nature. He essentially argues that Engels’ conception of a dialectics of nature and his philosophical approach to the dialectic of nature and society help one understand ecological crises as rooted in the alienated nature of capitalist social relations.

This brings us to chapter 7, “The Return of Nature and Marx’s Ecology,” in which John Bellamy Foster is interviewed by Alejandro Pedregal. In the interview, Foster gives the reader a glimpse of his intellectual journey in uncovering the significant place of the ecological dimension within the Marxist tradition and in refining and extending Marxist eco-socialist thought. Decades of research that took him from Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature to his latest offering, The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology, for which he won the distinguished Deutscher Memorial Prize in 2020. With the foundations Marx and Engels laid for unifying their political-economic and ecological critiques of capitalism, Foster talks about the path that subsequent significant eco-socialist thinkers took. He also introduces the reader to the prominent debates in current Marxist ecological thought and emphasizes the “urgent need for a project that transcends the conditions that threaten the existence of our planet today.”

Chapter 8, which we have titled “Lenin’s Marxism: Summary Comments,” is an excerpt from Tamás Krausz’s Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography (2015), a book which won the prestigious Deutscher Memorial Prize in 2015.39 We have selected the excerpt from Krausz’s book to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Lenin last year, anticipating that some readers might ask: Isn’t it the case that the legacy of Lenin’s Marxism is a thing of the past? In Krausz’s view, an understanding of Lenin’s Marxism entails grasping “his precise theoretical interpretation of Marxist dialectics, its reconstruction, and his practical application of those dialectics.” Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach is given “a new urgency.”

The truth is in the whole, “composed of a variety of contradictions that must be laid bare in order to discern the continuous and discontinuous elements and processes of a changing history. The ‘social revolution,’ that is, the conceptualization’s ‘qualitative leap,’ is an organic and inalienable part of the history of modern society, and Lenin understood this as one of the most important discoveries of Marxism.” Of course, in its totality, “first of all, the qualitative leap of revolutionary change, the dialectical dismissal of the old civilization.”

Krausz holds that “Lenin’s legacy is essentially a specific, practical application of Marx’s theory of social formation, and how he took it further theoretically, in light of historical circumstances and experiences” encompassing “the development of capitalism in Russia, the Russian revolution of 1905, the crisis of Marxism in 1914, the evolution of imperialism, the Revolution of October 1917, war communism, and the New Economic Policy.” Lenin tied Marxist “theory and revolutionary-organizational practice together.

But even as he achieved this, he did not create an ism within Marxism. “What he did was rediscover, reenergize, and deepen elements of the Marxist tradition that mainstream European social democracy was intent on burying.” The key legacy of Lenin and the October Revolution was the latter’s socialist aspect, involving the creation of a socialist community through the deepening and spread of Soviet humanist culture. But tragically, in stark contrast to the long-term goals of the revolution set out by Lenin in his State and Revolution, in the process of building a regime that could hold out against the counterrevolution, it was not the state but Soviet self-governance that withered away.

Chapter 9, “Modern U.S. Racial Capitalism: Some Theoretical Insights,” by Charisse Burden-Stelly; chapter 10, “Marx and Slavery,” by John Bellamy Foster, Hannah Holleman, and Brett Clark; and chapter 11, “Marx and the Indigenous,” by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark & Hannah Holleman can appropriately be taken together. For, as Nick Estes and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz put it,40 “Marx began his exegesis of capital… [at the] moment in history, when English factories spun cotton picked by African hands on land stolen from Indigenous people.”

Foster, Holleman, and Clark tell us (in chapter 10) that the “rise to prominence of analyses of racial capitalism, building in particular on Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism, along with the work of earlier figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Oliver Cromwell Cox, represents a breakthrough in Marxian theory.” Burden-Stelly’s essay (chapter 9) draws on the literature produced by black anti-capitalist intellectuals to “theorize modern U.S. racial capitalism as a racially hierarchical political economy constituting war and militarism, imperialist accumulation, expropriation by domination, and labor super-exploitation.” The focus is on “African descendants’ relationship to the capitalist mode of production—their structural location—and the condition, status, and material realities emanating therefrom.”

Contemporary Marxist scholarship on racial capitalism is worth delving into, for, as the essay on “Marx and Slavery” states, although “Marx never wrote a treatise on slavery, the issue of slave labor was woven into his analysis of social formations, both ancient and modern, and was inextricably intertwined with his treatment of wage labor.” And, when one extends the analysis to include the annexation of Indigenous land and the genocide of Indigenous people, one wonders why, as the authors of “Marx and the Indigenous” do, the “‘turn toward the indigenous’ in social theory over the last couple of decades, associated with the critique of white settler colonialism, [even as it] has reintroduced themes long present in Marxian theory, [it has done so]…in ways that are often surprisingly divorced from Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.”

Chapter 12, “Liberating Women from ‘Political Economy’: Margaret Benston’s Marxism and a Social-Reproduction Approach to Gender Oppression,” by Tithi Bhattacharya points to “an unresolved tension at the heart of Marxist explanations for women’s oppression under capitalism. Although there is general agreement that the bourgeois family, as the dominant kinship unit, has something to do with generating and reproducing that oppression, the exact role of the family varies among Marxists. Most relevant in this respect, and “truly pioneering” is “Benston’s proposal to situate domestic labor within capitalist production. Rather than record and describe domestic work, Benston theorized this labor and laid the basis for later feminists to apprehend the production of commodities and the reproduction of labor power within a unitary framework.” After all, isn’t it the case that unpaid domestic work largely produces wage laborers and reproduces the commodity labor-power? The central contribution of social reproduction theory has been to position the production of wage laborers and the reproduction of labor power as a fundamental part of the capitalist system.

Chapter 13, “China 2020: An Introduction,” by John Bellamy Foster, and chapter 14, “U.S.-China Trade War: Has the Real ‘Thief’ Finally Been Unmasked?” by Zhiming Long, Zhixuan Feng, Bangxi Li, and Rémy Herrera, throw light on the struggle for hegemony over the world economy between the United States and China. In “China 2020: An Introduction,” Foster argues that this struggle is “complicated…by the unique, indeterminate aspects of the post-revolutionary Chinese social formation, which is neither capitalist nor entirely socialist.”

Zhiming Long, Zhixuan Feng, Bangxi Li, and Rémy Herrera measure the extent of “unequal exchange” in U.S.-China trade over the period 1978–2018, finding it detrimental to China, to the extent that one hour of work in the U.S. was exchanged for forty hours of Chinese work. But, from the middle of the 1990s, they observe a “very marked decrease in [such] unequal exchange…. In 2018, [only] 6.4 hours of Chinese labor exchanged for one hour of U.S. labor.” This leads them to ask: “Could the erosion of this U.S. trade advantage then explain the outbreak of its trade war against China?” Indeed, they also find that in some sectors the transfers of values are in the opposite direction. And, with technological progress in China, “the country’s productive structures have been able to evolve from made in China to made by China.” Labor productivity gains have also accelerated. Overall, although there has been a “deterioration of the advantage that the United States has managed to extract from its trade with China,” the authors’ calculations show “that it is mainly the United States that has profited from this trade in terms of the labor time embodied in the merchandise traded.”

Of course, U.S.-China economic relations are complicated by the fact that the U.S. is also engaged in a New Cold War with Russia and China. Moreover, the belligerent anti-China policy is shared by both the Republican and the Democratic parties. And, in this context, Washington has attempted to “bring India firmly into a new Indo-Pacific alliance as a way of militarily constraining China.” This brings us to chapter 15, “India, COVID-19, the United States, and China,” authored by the Mumbai-based Research Unit f or Political Economy (RUPE). India has carved out Ladakh as a centrally administered territory and has been building up military infrastructure there. There have been tensions in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control and a clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley. What however needs to be emphasized, according to RUPE, is that “India’s economic stances and policies are becoming more closely entwined with its [pro-U.S.] geopolitical stance.”

Chapter 16, “The Renewal of the Socialist Ideal,” by John Bellamy Foster, brings this collection of The Present as History 2021: Ongoing Open-Ended Critique to a close. What is but should not be is our world engulfed in an epoch of “catastrophe capitalism,” which “places the accumulation of capital before all other social (and ecological) ends.” In the course of its cumulative growth, contemporary capitalism has created the potential for catastrophe, “manifested in the convergence of (1) the planetary ecological crisis, (2) the global epidemiological crisis, and (3) the unending world economic crisis. Added to this are the main features of today’s ‘empire of chaos,’ including the extreme system of imperialist exploitation unleashed by global commodity chains; the demise of the relatively stable liberal-democratic state and the rise of neoliberalism and neofascism; and the emergence of a new age of global hegemonic instability accompanied by increased dangers of unlimited war.” Frankly, contemporary capitalism does not give humanity any reasonable hope for a better future within its own confines.

What can be done about it all, and what could be? There is no exit from such catastrophe without exiting capitalism itself. The very first issue (May 1949) of Monthly Review carried an article by an author whose name was and still connotes brilliance—Albert Einstein, titled “Why Socialism?” In Monthly Review, socialism came to be conceived of as “the opposite…to capitalism”— “the real Other,” capitalism’s internally generated opposition, as Sweezy put it in the fiftieth anniversary issue of the magazine (May 1999). Capitalism’s Other, socialism, of course, implies a society whose distinctive features must be equality, cooperation, community, solidarity, and ecological sustainability. As capitalism’s real Other then, substantive equality, substantive democracy, and “rational regulation of the metabolism of humanity and nature” to ensure ecological sustainability must come forth as the principal characteristics of socialism. Capitalism’s creation of a rift in the human metabolism with nature was an integral part of Marx’s critique of it, and this critique has been extended to bring the capitalist story of ecocide up to date. Of course, the former state “socialist” societies of the twentieth century were also participants in the environmental destruction that now threatens the whole world.

The former Soviet Union was neither socialist nor capitalist in the classical Marxist sense of these terms. Instead, the ruling stratum, which, for a time, was a class in the process of becoming, became the ruling class. But the system was not that of “state capitalism,” as postulated by, for instance, Charles Bettelheim, and whose basic propositions were critiqued by Paul Sweezy.41 Doesn’t the logic of capitalist accumulation unfold from the mutual interaction of competing units of capital (in corporate or non-corporate form), on the one hand, and the class struggle between capitalists and workers, on the other, with the capitalists acting to maximize their profits and use them to expand their capitals? Moreover, a capitalist state essentially reacts to the unfolding of the laws of value and capital accumulation. All this was absent in the Soviet Union in the relevant period.

However, one might argue that individual state enterprises and the ministries which controlled their managements may have been driven to act as profit maximisers and capital accumulators. But wasn’t it the case that the extent to which they could do so was limited by the planning authority and the higher political bosses? The latter could fire the ministers and enterprise managers and appoint other persons to stick by the norms they had set, norms different from capitalist behaviour, namely, those stipulating state domination of the economy rather than the other way around. In the post-revolutionary societies, the utilization of the surplus product was not governed by the laws of value and capitalist capital accumulation, but instead became the central focus of the political process and political struggles. Unlike capitalism, these societies did not have an autonomous economic foundation. But yes, there was worker alienation and Soviet society was subjected (by that regime) to alienation from nature.

Surely there are hard lessons to be learned from the failure of the Marxist socialist project to sustain itself in the twentieth century. Which brings us to a significant contribution of an author close to the Monthly Review school, the Hungarian Marxist philosopher István Mészáros (1930–2017). In his Beyond Capital: Towards a Theory of Transition (1995),42 Mészáros arrives at, what he considers, the necessary conditions of the transition to socialism. Going beyond capital means “going beyond capital as such and not merely beyond capitalism,”43 for the transformation to socialism involves eradicating capitalism and, with it, the social organic “capital system,” and implanting another, a socialist organic system, capable of taking deep roots alongside the withering away of the state.

Mészáros views capitalism as no more than one way of reproducing capital, the latter, primarily a system, centered on accumulation, a system with its economic components and with its principal control functions in the state. The Soviet Union was not capitalist, not even state capitalist, but the Soviet system was dominated by the power of capital. It was a reproduction of the capital system in another form. The hierarchical division of labor and the vertical command structure of capital remained intact, with a postcapitalist, politically enforced extraction of surplus labor. Capital as a social metabolic system with the structural subordination of labor to capital remained. Even though the actual producers, the workers, had guaranteed employment, housing, education, and healthcare, they remained utterly powerless with loss of control over the possibilities of their lives, and, in this sense, remained “proletarianized.”

The social metabolism of the capital system is organic, with each part supporting and reinforcing the others, and the parts supporting and reinforcing the whole, and therefore it is capable of its own reproduction if the command structure of the state remains in place. The capital system embodies the logic of capital, based fundamentally on the alienation and exploitation of labor. The specific institutional social order of capitalism is only one variant of it, based on private ownership of the means of production. The Russian revolution expropriated the capitalist expropriators and demolished some of the institutional forms of capitalism, but without doing away with the domination of labor on which the capital system is based. Social-democratic political intervention in parts of Western Europe, trying to make capitalism compatible with social welfare through tinkering, i.e., reforms that left intact the metabolic capital system underlying capitalism, failed, and gave way to neoliberalism (capitalism with the gloves off).

What holds the capital system together, in Mészáros’s view, are, what he calls, its “second-order mediations” (which include the state), reciprocally sustaining each other and reinforcing the whole. What are “second-order mediations”? There are a number of primary—first-order—mediations between humanity and nature required for social life, for instance, in the face of scarcity, a society economizing on a long-term basis on the utilization of available human and material resources required for its ways and means of reproduction. The capital system, however, “superimposes on the unavoidable first-order mediations between humanity and nature a set of alienating second-order mediations” between humanity and nature, i.e., mediations of the primary mediations, which constitute the basis of that system’s social metabolic reproduction.44

These second-order mediations are the self-oriented, patriarchal nuclear family, “vital to the reproduction of the state”; “alienated means of production and their ‘personifications’”45; money in its “mystifying and ever more dominant forms”; “fetishistic production objectives” subject to the “blind imperatives of capital expansion and accumulation”; labor structurally divorced from the possibility of controlling the labor process, subjected as the labor force is to political control; capital’s state formations in the form of self-oriented national states in hostile confrontation with each other; and, the uncontrollable world market.46 (In a helpful, yet critical, review of Beyond Capital, a very long and difficult-to-read book, Joel Kovel, adds another second-order mediation—capital’s ideological-cultural production and propaganda dissemination apparatus.47)

Based on the “painful historical evidence” of post-revolutionary societies, Mészáros states that the “disconcerting truth of the matter is that the capital system [succeeded] in imposing itself on partial emancipatory efforts [our emphasis]…through the structural interconnectedness of its constituent parts.”48 As a theory of the transition to socialism after a social revolution, Mészáros’ capital system framework that specifies the necessary preconditions for the success of post-revolutionary societies embarking on the socialist road, would indicate false starts in all the attempted transitions to socialism of the twentieth century. For, in Mészáros’ understanding, the persistence of any of the “second-order mediations” would be enough to regenerate the whole, the capital system. Marx-like “ruthless criticism,” no doubt. Marxist revolutionaries ought to take Mészáros’ disturbing evaluation very seriously, for it deals with all substantial questions on the transition to socialism. It will help them to devise a possible practice that can avoid regeneration of the capital system. The second-order mediations, “inherited negative constituents,” of the capital system are of paramount importance, for they indicate where to focus on in the course of the actual struggle.

Socialist transformation can come about “in the course of extricating humankind from [this]…perilous structural framework of the capital system” and creating an entirely new, self-reinforcing social metabolic order concerning the whole of humanity, dedicated to substantive equality and ecological sustainability. In the course of the transition period, the emergence of post-capitalist personifications of capital has to be prevented. A form of “capital” appearing many centuries, indeed, thousands of years, before capitalism, constituting a deep root of the capital system, namely, the money (finance) mystique, now highly developed, needs to be overcome. Parliamentary renewal is necessary, but alongside an extra-parliamentary mass movement as the “vital conditioning force” of parliament and the legislative framework. The sale of labor power and commodifiable goods and services will have to give way for reciprocity in the interchange (on the basis of qualitative accountancy) of productive activities on a planned, self-managed, community-based foundation. Indeed, for all this to happen, “a very different mode of living” and a “profound democratization of the post-capitalist mode of decision making” will have to come into place.49

What has to be done makes the transition project, no doubt, a formidable task, for the persistence of any of the second-order mediations would be enough to regenerate the whole capital system. The challenge is to formulate a rough blueprint of a possible practice that would avoid the terrible outcome of restoration of the capital system. Perhaps a more flexible understanding of Mészáros’ conception of the capital system and his idea of second-order mediations might be needed to begin to do so.

Capitalism’s Other, socialism, if it is to be “the heir apparent to capitalism in the twenty-first century,” must be “conceived in ways that critically challenge the theory and practice of socialism as it existed in the twentieth century.” In chapter 16, “The Renewal of the Socialist Ideal,” Foster goes back to a “concrete historically based starting point,” to be found in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, V. I. Lenin’s State and Revolution, and Paul M. Sweezy’s “Communism as an Ideal,” published in Monthly Review in October 1963. From what catastrophic capitalism is, and if we have learned anything from it, its Other suggests itself— “a society of ecological sustainability and substantive equality.” Struggles for substantive equality then indicate and imply themselves as confrontations over class, race, caste, and gender, and the clash against imperialism at the global level. A global organization recognizing the plurality of the socialist tradition, based on the model of the First International, rooted most of all in a global South-South alliance, would then be required, “to place the struggle against imperialism at the center of the socialist revolt against capitalism.”

The power that capital and the state derive from surplus value and the surplus is not insurmountable. Sadly though, in the domain of mass politics, a new radical left agenda is yet to emerge.

Notes

  1. We do not presume to speak for this intellectual tradition; our exposition merely reflects our understanding of this internally consistent tendency within the overall framework of Marxism.
  2. We use the term “school” to suggest that the members of the Monthly Review group who have cooperated amicably to criticize and influence each other’s ideas; and have thereby generated a flow of work that is internally consistent enough “to shape a tendency within the overall framework of Marxism,” which has appealed to younger radical intellectuals and political activists both in the U.S. and elsewhere, who have been developing it further. Paul M. Sweezy, Four Lectures on Marxism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981), 15.

    Besides some of the works we introduce over here, there are others that the constraint of the word count does not permit us to bring in. And, of course, even as Marxists differ among themselves in matters of interpretation and evaluation, leading to internal divisions and sharp disagreements, they do share a way of looking at and reacting to the world. The pages of the Monthly Review have been open not only to other tendencies within Marxism, but also to non-Marxist socialist thought, for instance, liberation theology, and the Anarchist socialist tendency.

    Monthly Review of the last three decades, referred to in this Introduction, have been published in low-cost editions by Cornerstone Publications, Ramesh Dutta Sarani, Kharagpur – 721306, West Bengal, India. Email: cspublications.india@gmail.com)

  3. Harry Magdoff, Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978), 261
  4. Paul A. Baran, The Political Economy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1957).
  5. Samir Amin, Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974).
  6. Samir Amin, Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976); Samir Amin, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018).
  7. Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism: The Economic of U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968).
  8. Paul M. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1970, originally 1942), 36 and 39.
  9. Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital” An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966), chapter 5, 112–141.
  10. Some portion of the realized surplus value is converted into constant and variable capital to generate more surplus value. In this sense, capital accumulation leads to an addition of the stock of capital goods. But capital accumulation is also a matter of adding to the stock of financial assets. These two aspects of capital accumulation are related in a complicated way, making it difficult to comprehend the interaction of the real and financial aspects of it. Paul M. Sweezy, “Monopoly Capital after Twenty-five Years,” Monthly Review 43, no. 7 (December 1991): 52–57.
  11. Marx’s postulation of a tendency of the rate of profit to fall in the course of capitalist development assumed that the organic composition of capital (C/V) tends to increase more rapidly than the rate of surplus value (S/V), where C is constant capital, V is variable capital, and S is surplus value. Of course, he also wrote of counteracting influences that “thwart and annul” the effects of this tendency. Sweezy argues that Marx’s postulation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was “rooted in the conditions of nineteenth-century capitalism…[and] that it loses plausibility when applied to the fully mature capitalism that emerged in the twentieth century.… [In the latter, rather than merely substitute machinery for living labor] …[the] way for capitalists to increase labor productivity (and hence raise their rate of profit) …may equally well be through substituting more productive machines and processes for less productive machines and processes. And there is no particular reason to assume that this must involve either an increase or a decrease in the organic composition of capital.” Paul M. Sweezy, “The Law of the Falling Tendency of the Rate of Profit,” Appendix A, in Four Lectures on Marxism, 52–53.
  12. Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966). Critics have argued that Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital is based on a theory that contradicts the labor theory of value. Sweezy, however, makes it clear that Monopoly Capital did not abandon Marxism when it talked about surplus instead of surplus value. The use of surplus instead of surplus value was simply because Baran and he wanted to emphasize that the distribution of the surplus was fundamentally affected by the transition from competitive capitalism to monopoly capitalism. The surplus under monopoly capitalism is distributed according to different rules, which exacerbate rather than alleviate the contradictions of capitalism, making the system “more prone to crises and to stagnation tendencies than the more competitive models of the earlier period.” “Interview with Paul M. Sweezy,” conducted by Sungar Savran and E. Ahmet Tonak, Monthly Review, 38, no. 11 (April 1987): 15–16. The economic surplus concept is rooted in the labor theory of value and in the concept of surplus value. It was also employed to bring into focus the question of “waste” in monopoly capitalism. Indeed, the recent publication of a “missing chapter” of Monopoly Capital entitled “Some Theoretical Implications” in the July–August 2012 issue of Monthly Review connects Baran and Sweezy’s central concept of economic surplus to Marx’s labor theory of value. John Bellamy Foster, “Introduction to the Second Edition of The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism,” Monthly Review 65, no. 3 (July–August 2013): 107–134.
  13. We need to, however, add a caveat. Labor power is sold by the workers to the capitalists, but the generation of surplus value depends on the actual labor done by the workers. In his Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), Harry Braverman writes (p. 54): “[W]hat the worker sells, and what the capitalist buys, is not an agreed amount of labor, but the power to labor over an agreed period of time. This inability to purchase labor, which is an inalienable bodily and mental function, and the necessity to purchase the power to perform it, is so fraught with consequences for the entire capitalist mode of production that it must be investigated more closely.” Technological progress and institutionalized professional management under monopoly capital, however, not only enhance labor productivity but enable capital to more closely monitor the labor process (than in the stage of competitive capitalism) to increase the intensity of labor and thereby generate more surplus value in each workday.
  14. Paul M. Sweezy, “Monopoly Capitalism”, in John Eatwell, Murray Milgate and Peter Newman (Eds), Marxian Economics (London: Macmillan, 1990), 302.
  15. Foreign investment though, contrary to other Marxist analyses, is not an avenue of surplus absorption since the inflows of the surplus from such investment far exceeds the investment outflows, and thus it aggravates the surplus absorption problem rather than alleviating it.
  16. Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, “Production and Finance,” in their book, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), 102.
  17. Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987); Paul M. Sweezy and Harry Magdoff, The Irreversible Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988).
  18. Paul M. Sweezy, “The Triumph of Financial Capital,” Monthly Review 46, no. 2 (June 1994): 1–11.
  19. John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).
  20. John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the U.S.A. to China (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012), 16. What follows in this, and the next few paragraphs draws on the findings of this book.
  21. John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (New York: Nation Books, 2013, in the “Introduction: Privilege Resurgent.”
  22. Paul Sweezy, “Monopoly Capitalism,” in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, edited by J Eatwell, M Milgate and P Newman (London: Macmillan), 1987.
  23. John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016); Intan Suwandi, Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2019).
  24. Michael D. Yates, Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2003); Michael D. Yates, Can the Working Class Change the World? (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018).
  25. Paul M. Sweezy “Corporations, the State, and Imperialism,” Monthly Review 30, no. 6 (November 1978):  1–10; Paul M. Sweezy, “The Triumph of Financial Capital,” Monthly Review 46, no. 2 (June 1994): 1–11; John Bellamy Foster, “The New Imperialism of Globalized Monopoly-Finance Capital,” Monthly Review 67, no. 3 (July-August 2015): 1–22; John Bellamy Foster, “Late Imperialism: Fifty Years After Harry Magdoff’s The Age of Imperialism,Monthly Review 71, no. 3 (July-August 2019): 1–19.
  26. John Bellamy Foster, “Introduction to the Second Edition of The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism,” Monthly Review 65, no. 3 (July–August 2013): 107–134.
  27. John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); John Bellamy Foster, The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020); John Bellamy Foster, Ecology against Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002); John Bellamy Foster, The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009); John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth  (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).
  28. John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, “The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital: An Introduction,” Monthly Review 65, no. 3 (July–August 2013): 1–33.
  29. Robert W. McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy (New York: New Press, 1999); Robert W. McChesney, Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media (New York: New Press, 2007); Robert W. McChesney, The Political Economy of the Media (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008); Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (New York: Nation Books, 2013); Robert W. McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy (New York: New Press, 2013).
  30. John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, “Surveillance Capitalism: Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age,” Monthly Review 66, no. 3 (July–August 2014): 1–31.
  31. We draw on Samir Amin, Eurocentrism (New York: Monthly Review Press, Second Edition, 2009), especially Part 4, “Towards a Non-Eurocentric View of History and a Non-Eurocentric Theory,” 217–279 and 282.
  32. Irfan Habib, “Potentialities of Capitalistic Development in the Economy of Mughal India,” Journal of Economic History 29, no. 1 (March 1969), 32–78; Ramkrishna Mukherjee, The Rise and Fall of the East India Company: A Sociological Appraisal (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009/1974), especially chapters 4 and 5, “The Company and Indian Rulers,” 139–298, and “Company as the Ruler,” 299–392, respectively; Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Perilous Passage: Mankind and the Global Ascendancy of Capital (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006; first published in 2005 by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers), chapter 10, “India under Mughal Rule and After,” 145–66; Samir Amin, “Contradictions in the Capitalist Development of Egypt: A Review Essay,” Monthly Review, 36, no. 4 (September 1984): 13–21.
  33. Samir Amin, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value. 86 and 98.
  34. Samir Amin, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value, 92–93.
  35. Samir Amin, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value, 93–94.
  36. Samir Amin, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value, 98–100.
  37. Samir Amin, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value, 134 and 110.
  38. Bertell Ollman, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx’s Method (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 2.
  39. Tamás Krausz, Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015).
  40. Nick Estes and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “Examining the Wreckage,” Monthly Review 72, no. 3 (July-August 2020): 4.
  41. Paul M Sweezy, Post-Revolutionary Society (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980), chapters 4, 5, 7, and 10; Charles Bettelheim, Class Conflict in the USSR—First Period, 1917-1923 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976) and Class Conflict in the USSR—Second Period, 1923-1930 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978). The historical and factual material that Bettelheim presented proved very valuable to Sweezy in arriving at his own interpretation of post-revolutionary Soviet society.
  42. István Mészáros, Beyond Capital: Towards a Theory of Transition (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995).
  43. Mészáros, Beyond Capital, xxi.
  44. István Mészáros, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time: Socialism in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008), 43.
  45. “Marx knew only one—the (‘single’ or shareholding ‘combined’) private capitalist—form of personification of capital. But we have seen several different ones…. [They] obey and impose on the workers the objective imperatives emanating from the logic of capital, according to changing sociohistorical circumstances.” István Mészáros, The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time, 82. Here, of course, the focus is on post-capitalist personifications of capital.
  46. Mészáros, Beyond Capital, 108–109.
  47. Joel Kovel, “István Mészáros’ Beyond Capital,” Monthly Review 48, no. 9 (March 1997): 44–54. He remarks that capital “is rooted in the deepest family attachments… [and its] grip [possibly] extends to the virtually transhistorical power of money” and may thus be “grounded in deep psychological structures no less than in the brutally developed mediations of the market, state and production process as well as culture…” (p. 52). Our exposition of Mészáros’ conception of the capital system and his idea of second-order mediations has benefitted from John Bellamy Foster’s prefaces to two of Mészáros’ books, in The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time, 11–16, and in The Necessity of Social Control (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015), 9–21.
  48. Mészáros, Beyond Capital, 109.
  49. Mészáros, Beyond Capital, 493, 802, 729, 822, and 762.

Bernard D’Mello is the author of India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018). Subhas Aikat has been the editor and publisher of Analytical Monthly Review, the Indian edition of Monthly Review.