Notes from the Editors

Monthly Review, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Notes from the Editors


Samir Amin's "World Poverty, Pauperization, and Capital Accumulation," the Review of the Month in this issue of MR, addresses the growing phenomena of landlessness and pauperization among rural populations in the periphery. He reminds us that half of the people in the world are peasants, a group largely unseen by liberals and radicals. The dispossession of the peasantry throughout the third world represents one of the central problems of our time--for reasons of straightforward humanity. Amin points out that the worsening position of the peasantry, their forced migration to cities, and the growth of hunger among the poor cannot be adequately dealt with by treating these problems as mere aberrations of the system. Mounting occasional "anti-poverty" programs or "humanitarian" assistance or even projects to enhance farm productivity offer no real long-term solutions. In fact, the inherent contradictions in the third world are such that even increases in the productivity of peasants so that more food is produced--in the absence of employment opportunities for rural labor that is no longer needed in agriculture--can seriously worsen the problem of displacement and hunger! The enormous humanitarian problem that Amin describes is rather a result of the way capitalism works on a world scale. The clear lesson to be drawn from his article is that the anti-globalization struggle needs to be aimed at the real problem--the capitalist system.

In August the 2003 Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award of the American Sociological Association, the sociology profession's highest scholarly honor in the United States, was given to our friend and MR author Immanuel Wallerstein. Wallerstein is most famous for his pioneering work in world-system analysis that began with volume 1 of The Modern World-System, published in 1974. In a review in the December 1975 issue of MR, Samir Amin (himself one of the earliest and foremost contributors to the analysis of "accumulation on a world scale") wrote: "Immanuel Wallerstein's new book, The Modern World System, is not simply an addition to this long list of volumes [on the transition from feudalism to capitalism]: it transcends them because of the author's ability to integrate all aspects of reality in a powerful, synthesized, overall vision which has none of the defects of a unilateral thesis. We therefore consider that this is an outstanding contribution to historical materialism." The same could be said of the whole body of work that Wallerstein has produced in the almost thirty years since the publication of that book. In honoring him, the sociology profession has perhaps for the first time acknowledged the reality of modern imperialism: its roots in capitalism as far back as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and its overriding presence today. Congratulations Manny!

In the same award ceremony the American Sociological Association presented its 2003 Public Understanding of Sociology Award, given annually to a person who has made exemplary contributions in advancing the understanding of sociology and sociological research among the general public, to our friend and MR author Frances Fox Piven. Author of many pathbreaking books, including (with Richard Cloward) Regulating the Poor (1971), Poor People's Movements (1979), The New Class War (1982) and Why Americans Don't Vote (1989), Frances Fox Piven is the very model of a public intellectual. Our congratulations Frances!

Given the concern with changing conditions in rural society in much of this issue (as represented by the work of Amin and William Hinton) we thought that readers would be interested in the origin of a misunderstanding that surrounds Marx's thoughts on rural life. …

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