Magazine article Monthly Review

Notes from the Editors

Magazine article Monthly Review

Notes from the Editors

Article excerpt

Ellen Meiksins Wood, who died on January 14, was coeditor of Monthly Review with Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy from 1997 to 2000, and a major contributor to historical materialist thought in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Her parents were socialist refugees, members of the Jewish Labor Bund who came to the United States in 1941, after fleeing Latvia in the 1930s, when indigenous fascists came to power. Her mother worked for the Jewish Labor Committee in New York and her father for the United Nations. Ellen obtained her B.A. in Slavic languages at the University of California at Berkeley and went on to do graduate studies in political science at Berkeley, where she met and married Neal Wood, a professor in the department. From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, she taught political theory in the political science department at York University in Toronto.

In the early 1980s Ellen emerged as a major figure in historical materialism, beginning with her now classic 1981 article, "The Separation of the 'Economic' and the 'Political' in Capitalism," in New Left Review. In this essay she reconsidered the base and superstructure metaphor in Marx and argued, following historian Robert Brenner, for a "political Marxism," which sought to de-rigidify the understanding of state and economy, and to emphasize the way in which capitalism was politically constituted. Ellen followed this and other landmark articles with her 1986 book, The Retreat from Class: A New "True" Socialism, criticizing the various post-Marxist tendencies emerging at the time. This book won her the prestigious Deutscher Prize. In 1991 Ellen published The Pristine Culture of Capitalism, a political Marxist analysis comparing the development of modernity in England and on the Continent. She argued that England was the true cultural birthplace, both economically and politically, of modern capitalism-as distinguished from the mere growth of bourgeois society or commercialism.

"The essence of the capitalist economy," Ellen concluded in Liberty and Property,

is that a very wide range of human activities, which in other times and places were subject to the state or to communal regulation of various kinds, have been transferred to the economic domain. In that ever-expanding domain, human beings are governed not only by the hierarchies of the workplace but also by the compulsions of the market, the relentless requirements of profit-maximization and constant capital accumulation, none of which are subject to democratic freedom or accountability.

As this issue was being completed, we learned of the death of dialectical ecologist, philosopher of science, and MR and Monthly Review Press author Richard Levins on January 19. We will commemorate his life and work in forthcoming issues.

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