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Marxist Ecologist

John Bellamy Foster

John Bellamy Foster (born August 19, 1953) is editor of the independent socialist magazine Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon in Eugene. His writings have focused on political economy, environmental sociology, and Marxist theory. He is author of numerous books, most recently (with Brett Clark and Richard York) Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present.

Beginnings and Academic Career

John Bellamy Foster was already active in the anti-war and environmental movements before enrolling at The Evergreen State College in 1971. Initially studying numerous subjects as part of a broad, interdisciplinary curriculum, Foster soon devoted himself to the study of economics in response to the growing crisis in the capitalist economy and the U.S.-directed coup in Chile against the socialist government of Salvador Allende. It was at Evergreen College that he met Robert W. McChesney, who introduced him to Monthly Review and the work of Paul M. Sweezy and Harry Magdoff.

In 1976 Foster entered the political science graduate program at York University in Toronto, where he studied with Neal Wood, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Gabriel Kolko, Robert Cox, and Robert Albritton, among other noted critical thinkers. After sending a copy of his 1979 paper, The United States and Monopoly Capital: The Issue of Excess Capacity, to Paul Sweezy of Monthly Review, the two struck up a lifelong correspondence and eventual collaboration. Over the next few years, Foster published in journals such as The Quarterly Journal of Economics and Science & Society, and, in 1986, published The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism: An Elaboration of Marxian Political Economy, based on his Ph.D. dissertation.

Foster was hired in 1985 as a Visiting Member of the Faculty at Evergreen State College. One year later he took a job as assistant professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, and became a full professor of sociology in 2000. He teaches there today and lives with his wife and two children in Eugene.

Monthly Review

Foster published his first article for Monthly Review, “Is Monopoly Capital an Illusion?”, while in graduate school in 1981. He became a director of the Monthly Review Foundation Board and a member of the Monthly Review editorial committee in 1989. Along with Robert McChesney, who had since their days at Evergreen College become a leading scholar of the political economy of the media, Foster joined Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff as a co-editor of Monthly Review in 2000. Two years later, he became president of the Monthly Review Foundation.

After Paul Sweezy’s death in 2004, Robert McChesney’s resignation as co-editor (while remaining on the board), and Harry Magdoff’s death in 2006, Foster was left as sole editor of the magazine, supported by a talented editorial group.

Work

Foster’s initial research centered on Marxian political economy and theories of capitalist development, with a focus on Paul Sweezy and Paul Baran’s theory of monopoly capital. In the late 1980s, Foster turned toward issues of ecology. He focused on the relationship between the global environmental crisis and the crisis in the capitalist economy, while stressing the imperative for a sustainable, socialist alternative. During this period he published The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment; Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature, which received the book award from the Marxist section of the American Sociological Association; and Ecology Against Capitalism, as well as numerous articles.

As editor of Monthly Review, Foster returned to his earlier work on the political economy of capitalism, but with a renewed focus on the role of U.S. imperialism following September 2001. His 2006 book Naked Imperialism: The U.S. Pursuit of Global Dominance, along with frequent editorials in the pages of Monthly Review, attempted to account for the growing U.S. military role in the world and the shift toward a more overt, brutal imperial project. Additionally, Foster has worked to expand Sweezy and Baran’s theory of monopoly capital in light of the current financially-led phase of capitalism, which he terms “monopoly-finance Capital.” In this context he has written several articles for Monthly Review on the financialization of capitalism and financial crisis of 2007-08.

Critique of Intelligent Design, Foster’s latest book co-authored with Brett Clark and Richard York, is a continuation of his research on materialist philosophy and the relationship between ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and Karl Marx. Drawing on his ecological work, particularly Marx’s Ecology, Foster defends historical materialism as fundamental to a rational, scientific worldview, against proponents of Intelligent Design and other anti-materialist, superstitious ideologies.

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