Notes from the Editors

Monthly Review, May 2014 | Go to article overview

Notes from the Editors


Monthly Review celebrates its sixty-fifth anniversary with this issue. Today the causes for which the magazine has stood throughout its history-the struggle against capitalism and imperialism and the battle for socialism as the only alternative path-are more pressing than ever. Indeed, so great is the epochal crisis of our time, encompassing both the economic and ecological crises, that nothing but a world revolution is likely to save humanity (and countless others among the earth's species) from a worsening series of catastrophes.

This may seem like a shocking statement; ironically, not so much because of its invocation of the visible threat to humanity's existence, but rather because of its reference to revolution as the only solution. Would it not be better, one might ask, to concede to the conventional wisdom and call instead for a global reform movement, as far less frightening in its implications than outright revolution? Here we cannot do better than quote from the great artist, writer, and socialist, William Morris:

The word Revolution, which we Socialists are so often forced to use, has a terrible sound in most people's ears, even when we have explained to them that it does not necessarily mean a change accompanied by riot and all kinds of violence, and cannot mean a change made mechanically and in the teeth of opinion by a group of men who have somehow managed to seize on the executive power for the moment. Even when we explain that we use the word revolution in its etymological sense, and mean by it a change in the basis of society, people are scared at the idea of such a vast change, and beg that you will speak of reform and not revolution. As, however, we Socialists do not at all mean by our word revolution what these worthy people mean by their word reform, I can't help thinking that it would be a mistake to use it, whatever projects we might conceal behind its harmless envelope. So we will stick to our word, which means a change of the basis of society; it may frighten people, but it will at least warn them that there is something to be frightened about, which will be no less dangerous for being ignored; and also it may encourage some people, and will mean to them at least not a fear, but a hope ("How We Live and How We Might Live," Signs of Change [1888]).

To advocate for revolution in the above sense, not as a fear but as a hope, obviously does not mean a rejection altogether of the process of legal reform, but rather the abandonment of the usual limited, non-starting, counterproductive reforms, offered up by the system, which are meant to close off the future and to defend the existing order, making real change impossible: what in socialist theory is known as reformism. All actions initiated by popular forces today should rather be aimed at "a change in the basis of society." Revolution, as Rosa Luxemburg observed, is distinguished from reform not so much in representing a different method of change, or in occurring over a different duration, but rather in its constituting a distinguishing moment of the struggle. ("Social Reform or Revolution," in The Rosa Luxemburg Reader [Monthly Review Press, 2004], 155-60.)

Such a strategy of social transformation representing a distinct moment of struggle is imbedded in the Review of the Month by Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster in this issue of MR, which closes with a discussion of feasible actions that could reasonably be advanced today-if we were to treat our most urgent social and human problems as our highest priorities, disconnected from the logic of capital accumulation. Similarly, in What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2011) written by the same authors, a two-stage strategy of ecological revolution was outlined-the first consisting of what realistically could be attempted now, if conformity to the rules of the system were not seen as the primary constraint on action; the second addressing the far greater transformations that would need to be carried out over the long-term to create a society of substantive equality and ecological sustainability, i. …

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