Review Article

Interview with Foster

Anirban Biswas

Three years after the out-break of the greatest crisis of capitalism ever since the 'great crash' of the 1930s, an interesting monograph was published from Dhaka. What is novel about the monograph is that it is a collection of some interviews with John Bellamy Foster, the editor of the celebrated Marxist journal Monthly Review. Although it is now six years since the crisis first broke out, the interviews, taken at different points of time, have not outlived their necessity. It is noteworthy that the interviews, taken between 2002 to 2010, were first published separately in various journals. Later, they were collected and put together in *book form in 2012. This reviewer has received it recently, but has got the impression that the discussions held in the form of questions and answers are still useful.

The first of these interviews was taken in 2002. Foster here emphatically expresses his views on categories like 'post-modernism', 'post-capitalism', and 'post-Marxism'. He rejects these concepts with brief but strong reasoning. "There are all sorts of ways to define the present period. My preferred approach is to see it as monopoly capitalism at an advanced phase of globalization—a furthering of the logic of classical imperialism. What is clear is that the various 'post' categories are not very useful in any attempt at periodization. This is definitely not a postcapitalist world, nor is it a post-Marxist one". This point Foster elaborates in this interview, and his remarks on post-modernism, a product of his firm intellectual commitment to the Marxist method of understanding, must earn the ire of today's post-modernists, "who do not want to change the world, but to 'deconstruct' it." Foster's concern over the environmental crisis the world has been facing is clear from the second interview (first published in March/April 2003). He points out that environmental degradation is inseparably connected with issues of class, race, gender and international oppression. He has expressed his firm belief that the basic condition for creating a sustainable economy is 'to break away from an economic system dedicated to the accumulation of capital by means of the exploitation of labor and the natural environment'. (p-33) He has also explained the logic behind this belief, although it is difficult to substantiate it in course of an interview.

In another interview, Foster has highlighted the point that Western Marxism and the dominant Soviet Marxism under-emphasised the relation between nature and humanity, and treated Marxists with ecological insights with slight and scorn and even persecuted them. He has argued, referring to Capital, Volume, 3, that an imperfect reading of Marx's Capital has led to the unfounded notion that Marx and classical Marxists were not at all mindful to the question of ecology. In another interview, the third one printed in this monograph, Foster explained the roots of the Iraq war, and showed that the so-called Republican-Democratic differences were only superficial and represented basically the same attitude of naked imperialism. Recent acts of the Obama administration have borne out the truth of his suggestion with uncanny accuracy. One of his comments is worth quoting, " The global imperial ambitions of the United States and the sheer magnitude of US power might lead one to conclude that that the reality is simply that of a US-centric world today and well into the future. But Washington is well too aware (as the statements of numerous national security analysts attest) that power configurations can quickly change, particularly as a result of unequal economic growth. It is therefore seeking to seize the day, grabbing strategic assets and obtaining further advantages over what it regards as its potential geopolitical rivals (individually and in combination at both the global and regional levels-the European Community, Russia, China, Japan, the Islamic world." (p-47)

A profoundly noteworthy and commendable feature of the interviews is Foster's strongly reasoned emphasis on monopoly capital, stagnation and consequent financialization. He points out that increasing financialization of the US economy was the consequence of stagnation that was endemic to the dominance of monopoly capital, and that this financialization could by no means be regulated, "since the risk had to keep rising and any attempt to place any limits on the system once financialization got to a certain point risked a financial melt down. The capitalist state therefore had no choice but gradually to dismantle the entire financial regulatory system and to allow risk to grow." Foster's argument is that wage stagnation and income inequality were components of stagnation tendency, and that financialzation was its product, making income and wealth economy worse, which in its turn contributed to wage stagnation.

One manifestation of Foster's brilliance is found in the discussion on 'Keynes, Capitalism and the Crisis.' He argues forcefully that what the US government did in the wake of the meltdown—bailing out the financial institutions by pouring in trillions of dollars—has no direct relation with Keynesianism. Nor does he admit that Keynesianism saved capitalism from the depression of the thirties. 'Rather the great depression ended when it merged into the Second World War'. This statement is an accurate one. Foster also argues that in Keynes's economics, there were elements that amounted to a rejection of capitalism as an economic system, although Keynes himself did not take his reasoning that far. It may be said en passant that Keynes intended to demolish the theoretical foundations of Marx's political economy, as he himself had clearly expressed in a letter to George Bernard Shaw in 1935. It is natural that he would not have approved of any interpretation of his General Theory that could lead to the rejection of capitalism as an economic system. Foster's elucidation of the concept of bastard Keynesianism, a term first coined by Joan Robinson, is correct and insightful, as is also his reference to the contribution of the great Polish economist Michael Kalecki towards an understanding of the dynamics of modern capitalism. Here one may find an echo of the views of Professor Amit Bhaduri, who argued powerfully that with the help of Marx and Kalecki, the radical elements of Keynes's economics could be clearly discerned. On a proper and broadly acceptable remedy of the financial crisis, Foster does not believe that the capitalist classes are capable of bringing it about. 'The robbing of public funds to bail out private capital is now on a scale probably never before seen. A politicized, urbanized working class capable of understanding and reacting to that theft and choosing thereby to restructure society, to meet social, egalitarian needs is what is now to be hoped for'. (p-109) Foster, however, observes with sadness that the organized working class people in the USA, unlike their predecessors who faced the depression of the 1930s and took to the streets, continue to believe in some sort of business ethos, hoping for better days to come without any serious struggle.

These interviews have many other things to offer. The reader will have an insight into the relation between the US ruling classes and the financial magnates, the economic roots of the so-called 'war on terrorism' and the inhumanly imperialist nature of this 'war', the barbarism associated with military Keynesianism, which, as Foster says, would not possibly have been approved by Keynes himself, and so on. On the whole, these interviews are immensely readable and it is possible for even a lay reader to understand their contents and have his/her horizon of knowledge broadened. Hence a wide circulation of this book is very much desirable.

*The Great Financial Crisis: What Next?,br/> Interviews with John Bellamy Foster
Edited by Farooque Chowdhury
Books, Dhaka, 2012,190 pages

Vol. 47, No. 39, Apr 5 - 11, 2015