Tag Archive for Samir Amin

The left and immigration

Nicola Lawlor – http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/05-immigration.html

The left must embrace the debate about immigration from a working-class viewpoint and not run away from it, or shout over it, or ignorantly paint all workers who have fears and concerns as racists.

The recent British referendum has revealed a number of serious weaknesses of the left, and consequently a lot of working-class anger and frustration is expressed though right-wing groups.

The social-democratic left jumped to the defence of the European Union, a regional political, economic and social structure of monopoly capital, largely Franco-German, while the self-proclaimed “radical” left spent much time calling for “open borders” as a counter to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the leading Leave campaign groups. There were, of course, exceptions to this, in the RMT Union, NIPSA, the Communist Party of Britain, and the daily Morning Star.

The social-democratic position has obviously failed workers, and humanity, in that it allies itself with the very forces exploiting and abusing workers, creating increasingly violent and uncontrolled divisions and wrecking the environmental system that we require to sustain our lives. It seeks to defend the free movement of labour, which in reality is the freedom to exploit. It is the creation of an internal EU reserve army of labour, which drives down wages and divides working-class organisations.

But the “radical” left position is equally destructive to working-class unity and to building an actual working-class movement in opposition to capitalism.

“Open border” policies when monopoly capitalism remains the dominant social order will only benefit monopoly capital, economically in its greater access to cheaper labour within core economies but also politically, when inevitably workers will be further divided along racial lines and racism will be used to manipulate, control and disrupt organised fight-back.

It will be different when monopoly capitalism is being challenged seriously by socialist states, with military back-up, and by socialist international structures. But that is not, sadly, the present balance of class forces. The socialist policies of transformation and struggle towards socialism have to be very different from the socialist policies of a socialist hegemonic, or near-hegemonic, order.

Samir Amin, quite rightly, sees the movement we must build as being both anti-imperialist and anti-liberal.

Our task is to give new life to workers’ internationalism. Workers and working people ought to unite at all levels, both within their countries and across borders, and stop competing with each other. This can only happen on an anti-imperialist basis, working with an anti-liberal strategy.

The cornerstone of liberalism as an ideology, and also of monopoly capitalism as practised through a managed technocratic system within the EU, and dominant globally, is the free movement of capital, goods, services, and labour. An anti-imperialist and anti-liberal strategy needs to challenge all four of these points, at both the national and the international level, by progressive movements but also progressive states, where the workers’ movement has gained hegemony within a state or even become the ruling class within a state.

While Marx favoured free trade and the growth of capitalism, that was in the context of breaking down old feudal structures and ideology, when capitalism was still in its progressive phase. It has now, of course, moved well beyond that, and so our policies must too.

Again, Samir Amin sees this strategy based within national boundaries but with an obvious international dialectic.

     A precondition is to restore priority to national policies over international ones. Nations need self-determination—not just for cultural reasons, nor because they are black or white, Christian or Muslim, but because of their political history. A high degree of national independence is necessary to reduce inequalities between nations in the world today. That’s how we must define working-class unity.

     This debate must come from the grass roots. I see no contradiction between national and international levels, but I think that no progress will ever be made on the international level as long as there is no progress on the national level. Things always start to happen through a bottom-up process, and essentially this means on the national level.

While it is fair to say that the media and establishment politicians wanted the Brexit debate centred around immigration and not democracy, public services, the environment, war, workers’ rights, or real economic sovereignty, the left still failed to engage in that immigration debate from a solidly anti-imperialist and anti-liberal standpoint.

Workers have fears, concerns, and worries. Some are perceptions, some are based on ignorance, some are manufactured; but some are legitimate, and the roots of these views are real. This talk of Leave voters from some on the left as being racists or misled is itself deeply ignorant as well as being politically arrogant and obnoxious enough to turn people off the left altogether, which indeed it does.

This argument was brilliantly espoused in a post-Brexit article headed “The demonisation of the working class shames our nation” by Paul Embery, regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union in Britain, published in Huffington Post, where he wrote:

A group of people, the most exploited within our society, are under attack . . . Few among the political class really understand them. These people live in modest homes in the grittier parts of the country. They work in factories, call centres and on building sites . . . They like football and watch Coronation Street . . .

     They are the people who tipped the balance to lead us through the EU’s exit door. They are the new scapegoats. They are the working class . . .

     The sneering contempt displayed towards these and all 17 million who voted Leave by the resentful new alliance of metropolitan liberals, know-all academics, no-mark “celebrities” and know-nothing-yet students should trouble us all . . .

     The opprobrium heaped on working-class voters post referendum demonstrates just how little their critics know of their lives . . . They considered their own lives, the perpetual strains they were under, the financial hardships, the impact of near decade-long austerity, the lack of affordable housing, the ravages of deindustrialisation, the challenges of mass and unrestricted immigration in their communities and its resultant pressure on wages and local services, and they concluded that the elite in neither Brussels nor Westminster gave a fig for their predicament . . .

     So the backbone of the nation, the people upon whose labour we rely, the section of society which creates the wealth, stands condemned, vilified by the pro-EU liberal intelligentsia, voiceless and without a political party it can truly recognise as its own.

A recent survey showed that only 35 per cent voted leave on the basis of immigration issues or concerns. But for this 35 per cent, do we write them off, or do we engage in a real conversation and with a solidly based position on immigration and borders that can help to educate but also be a fundamental principle of internationalism and national sovereignty?

Firstly, we should listen. Brexit has shown that the social-democratic left and many trade unions are largely out of touch with and irrelevant to most of the working class. They are not the political influencers or leaders of our class in Britain, and the same can be said for Ireland.

Capitalism is a barbaric and inhumane system that remains hegemonic because it is based on a political and media structure that creates division, sows hatred and fear, and does not always present the working class or the left with simple questions, or questions as we would like them presented. While Rosa Luxemburg’s proposition, “socialism or barbarism?” is ultimately correct, that is not the immediate political question.

So we must face questions like Brexit in a form and a way presented to us by the establishment. We have to tackle questions such as immigration in the context of a barbaric system and how it creates these contradictions. As Julian Jones wrote in the Morning Star:

The grim economic reality behind this free movement is in essence a free exploitation of a primarily young European work force with no job security and no prospects . . . Quite simply, those at the bottom of the pile are more likely to have witnessed the basic principle that if a boss can use a cheaper foreign work force, they will do so.

The economic structure of monopoly capitalism today includes an openness of borders within politically defined areas for the purpose of the exploitation of working people, cultivation of a bigger, more mobile reserve army of labour and driving a race to the bottom as well as a closed approach to borders for defined areas “outside,” where immigration policy can pick and choose as a form of brain drain from peripheral regions within the global economic order.

Indeed Marx noted that the English bourgeoisie “exploited the Irish poverty to keep down the working class in England by forced immigration of poor Irishmen . . . Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class . . .”

The policies we must put forward on immigration during the struggle for socialism are different from the absolute policies that would be pursued under socialism. It is the right of all sovereign states, and an essential part of the transition to socialism, to control their borders as regards capital, labour, goods, and services.

This is a vital distinction. If the political left doesn’t realise it soon it will move further and further away from the working class and hand influence and the leadership of our class to the right, with all the dangers this presents.

LENIN, MAO FACING THE CHALLENGES OF HISTORY

samir amin at WAPE honory member and lifetime achievement

The 11th Forum of WAPE took place from June  17. – 19, 2016 in Patiala, Punjab, India. At this event Samir Amin took part in the Forum and was a main speaker. He also became an honorary member of WAPE and received a lifetime achievement award. Below is his speech given to the event which we reprint with his kind permission.

Lenin, Mao Facing the challenges of history

Samir Amin

Lenin,   Bukharin, Stalin, and Trotsky in Russia, as well as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Den Xiaoping in China, shaped the history of the two great revolutions of the twentieth century. As leaders of revolutionary communist parties and then later as leaders of revolutionary states, they were confronted with the problems faced by a triumphant revolution in countries of peripheral capitalism and forced to “revise” (I deliberately use this term, considered sacrilegious by many) the theses inherited from the historical Marxism of the Second International. Lenin and Bukharin went much further than Hobson and Hilferding in their analyses of monopoly capitalism and imperialism and drew this major political conclusion: the imperialist war of 1914–1918 (they were among the few, if not the only ones, to anticipate it) made necessary and possible a revolution led by the proletariat.

With the benefit of hindsight, I will indicate here the limitations of their analyses. Lenin and Bukharin considered imperialism to be a new stage (“the highest”) of capitalism associated with the development of monopolies. I question this thesis and contend that historical capitalism has always been imperialist, in the sense that it has led to a polarization between centers and peripheries since its origin (the sixteenth century), which has only increased over the course of its later globalized development. The nineteenth century pre-monopolist system was not less imperialist. Great Britain maintained its hegemony precisely because of its colonial domination of India. Lenin and Bukharin thought that the revolution, begun in Russia (“the   weak link”), would continue in the centers (Germany in particular). Their hope was based on an underestimate of the effects of imperialist polarization, which destroyed revolutionary prospects in the centers.

Nevertheless, Lenin, and even more Bukharin, quickly learned the necessary historical lesson. The revolution, made in the name of socialism (and communism), was, in fact, something else: mainly a peasant revolution. So what to do? How can the peasantry be linked with the construction of socialism? By making concessions to the market and by respecting newly acquired peasant property; hence by progressing slowly towards socialism? The NEP implemented this strategy.

Yes, but…. Lenin, Bukharin, and Stalin also understood that the imperialist powers would never accept the Revolution or even the NEP. After the hot wars of intervention, the cold war was to become permanent, from 1920 to 1990. Soviet Russia, even though it was far from being able to construct socialism, was able to free itself from the straightjacket that imperialism always strives to impose on all peripheries of the world system that it dominates. In effect, Soviet Russia delinked. So what to do now? Attempt to push for peaceful coexistence, by making concessions if necessary and refraining from intervening too actively on the international stage? But at the same time, it was necessary to be armed to face new and unavoidable attacks. And that implied rapid industrialization, which, in turn, came into conflict with the interests of the peasantry and thus threatened to break the worker- peasant alliance, the foundation of the revolutionary state.

It is possible, then, to understand the equivocations of Lenin, Bukharin, and Stalin. In theoretical terms, there were U-turns from one extreme to the other. Sometimes a determinist attitude inspired by the phased approach inherited from earlier Marxism (first the bourgeois democratic revolution, then the socialist   one) predominated, sometimes a voluntarist approach (political action would make it possible to leap over stages). Finally, from 1930–1933, Stalin chose rapid industrialization and armament (and this choice was not without some connection to the rise of fascism). Collectivization was the price of that choice. Here again we must beware of judging too quickly: all socialists of that period (and even more the capitalists) shared Kautsky’s analyses on this point and were persuaded that the future belonged to large-scale agriculture.   The break in the worker-peasant alliance that this choice implied lay behind the abandonment of revolutionary democracy and the autocratic turn.

In my opinion, Trotsky would certainly not have done better. His attitude towards the rebellion of the Kronstadt sailors and his later equivocations demonstrate that he was no different than the other Bolshevik leaders in government. But, after 1927, living in exile and no longer having responsibility for managing the Soviet state, he could delight in endlessly repeating the sacred principles of socialism. He became like many academic Marxists who have the luxury of asserting their attachment to principles without having to be concerned about effectiveness in transforming reality.

The Chinese communists appeared later on the revolutionary stage. Mao was able to learn from Bolshevik equivocations. China was confronted   with the same   problems as Soviet   Russia: revolution in a backward country, the necessity of including the peasantry in revolutionary transformation, and the hostility of the imperialist powers. But Mao was able to see more clearly than Lenin, Bukharin, and Stalin. Yes, the Chinese revolution was anti-imperialist and peasant (anti-feudal). But it was not bourgeois democratic; it was popular democratic. The difference is important: the latter type of revolution requires maintaining the worker-peasant alliance over a long period. China was thus able to avoid the fatal error of forced collectivization and invent another way: make all agricultural land state property, give the peasantry equal access to use of this land, and renovate family agriculture.

The two revolutions had difficulty in achieving stability because they were forced to reconcile support for a socialist outlook and concessions to capitalism. Which of these two tendencies would prevail? These revolutions only achieved stability after their “Thermidor,” to use Trotsky’s term. But when was the Thermidor in Russia? Was it in 1930, as Trotsky said? Or was it in the 1920s, with the NEP? Or was it the ice age of the Brezhnev period? And in China, did Mao choose Thermidor beginning in 1950? Or do we have to wait until Deng Xiaoping to speak of the Thermidor of 1980?

It is not by chance that reference is made to lessons of the French Revolution. The three great revolutions of modern times (the French, Russian, and Chinese) are great precisely because they looked forward beyond the immediate requirements of the moment. With the rise of the Mountain, led by Robespierre, in the National   Convention, the French Revolution was consolidated as both popular and bourgeois and, just like the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, which strove to go all the way to communism even if it were not on the agenda due to the necessity of averting defeat, retained the prospect of going much further later. Thermidor is not the Restoration. The latter occurred in France, not with Napoleon, but only beginning in 1815. Still it should be remembered that the Restoration could not completely do away with the gigantic social transformation caused by the Revolution. In Russia, the restoration occurred even later in its revolutionary history, with Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It should be noted that this restoration remains fragile, as can be seen in the challenges Putin must still confront. In China, there has not been (or not yet!) a restoration.

Since 1947, the United States of America, the dominating imperialist power of that epoch, proclaimed the division of the world into two spheres, that of the ‘free world’ and that of ‘communist totalitarianism’. The reality of the Third World was flagrantly ignored: it was felt privileged to belong to the ‘free world’, as it was ‘non-communist’.   ‘Freedom’ was considered as applying only to capital, with complete disregard for the realities of colonial and semi-colonial oppression.   The following year Jdanov, in his famous report (in fact, Stalin’s), which led to the setting up of the Kominform (an attenuated form of the Third International), also divided the world into two, the socialist sphere (the USSR and Eastern Europe) and the capitalist one (the rest of the world).   The report ignored the contradictions within the capitalist sphere which opposed the imperialist centres to the peoples and nations of the peripheries who were engaged in struggles for their liberation.

The Jdanov doctrine pursued one main aim: to impose peaceful coexistence and hence to calm the aggressive passions of the United States and their subaltern European and Japanese allies.   In exchange, the Soviet Union would accept a low profile, abstaining from interfering in colonial matters that the imperialist powers considered their internal affairs. The liberation movements, including the Chinese revolution, were not supported with any enthusiasm at that time and they carried on by themselves.   But their victory (particularly that of China, of course) was to bring about some changes in international power relationships. Moscow did not perceive this until after Bandung, which enabled it, through its support to the countries in conflict with imperialism, to break out of its isolation and become a major actor in world affairs. In a way, it is not wrong to say that the main change in the world system was the result of this first ‘Awakening of the South’.   Without this knowledge, the later affirmation of the new ‘emerging’ powers cannot be understood.

The Jdanov report was accepted without reservation by the European communist parties and of those of Latin America of that era.   However, almost immediately it came up against resistance from the communist parties of Asia and the Middle East.   This was concealed in the language of that period, for they continued to affirm “the unity of the socialist camp” behind the USSR, but as time went on resistance became more overt with the development of their struggles for regaining independence, particularly after the victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949.   To my knowledge, no-one has ever written the history of the formulation of the alternative theory, which gave full rein to the independent initiatives of the countries of Asia and Africa, later to crystallize at Bandung in 1955 and then in the constitution of the Non Aligned Movement (from 1960 defined as Asian-African, plus Cuba). The details are buried in the archives of some communist parties (those of China, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and perhaps a few others).

Nevertheless I can bear personal witness to what happened, having been lucky enough, since 1950, to participate in one of the groups of reflection that brought together the Egyptian, Iraqi and Iranian communists and some others.   Information about the Chinese debate, inspired by Zhou Enlai was not made known to us by Comrade Wang Hue (the link with the journal Révolution, whose editorial committee included myself) until much later, in 1963.   We heard echoes of the Indian debate and the split that it had provoked, which was confirmed afterwards by the constitution of the CPM.   We knew that debates within the Indonesian and Filipino communist parties developed along the same lines.

This history should be written as it will help people to understand that Bandung did not originate in the heads of the nationalist leaders (Nehru and Sukarno particularly, rather less, Nasser) as is implied by contemporary writers.   It was the product of a radical left wing critique which was at that time conducted within the communist parties.   The common conclusion of these groups of reflection could be summed up in one sentence: the fight against imperialism brings together, at the world level, the social and political forces whose victories are decisive in opening up to possible socialist advances in the contemporary world.

This conclusion, however, left open a crucial question: who will ‘direct’ these anti-imperialist battles?   To simplify: the bourgeoisie (then called ‘national’), whom the communists should then support, or a front of popular classes, directed by the communists and not the bourgeoisies (who were anti-national, in fact)?   The answer to this question often changed and was sometimes confused.   In 1945 the communist parties concerned were aligned, based on the conclusion that Stalin had formulated: the bourgeoisies everywhere in the world (in Europe, aligned with the United States, as in the colonial and semi-colonial countries – in the language of that era) have “thrown the national flag into the rubbish bin” (Stalin’s phrase) and the communists were therefore the only ones who could assemble a united front of the forces that refused to submit to the imperialist, capitalist American order.   The same conclusion was reached by Mao in 1942, but only made known (to us) when his New Democracy had been translated into Western languages in 1952.   This thesis held that for the majority of the peoples of the planet the long road to socialism could only be opened by a “national, popular, democratic, anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution [the language of the day], run by the communists.”   The underlying message was that other socialist advances were not on the agenda elsewhere, i.e., in the imperialist centres.   They could not possibly take shape until after the peoples of the peripheries had inflicted substantial damage on imperialism.

The triumph of the Chinese revolution confirmed this conclusion. The communist parties of South East Asia, in Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines in particular, started liberation struggles inspired by the Vietnamese model.   Later, in 1964, Che Guevara held similar views when he called for “one, two, three Vietnams.”

The avant-garde proposals for initiatives by the independent and anti-imperialist ‘countries of Asia and Africa’, which were formulated by the different communist groups of reflection, were precise and advanced. They are to be found in the Bandung programme and that of the Non-Aligned Movement, of which I gave a systematic presentation in my L’eveil du Sud (Awakening of the South).   The proposals focussed on the essential need to reconquering control over the accumulation process (development which is auto-centred and delinked from the world economy).

It so happens that some of these proposals were adopted, although with considerable dilutions in certain countries, as from 1955 to 1960, by the governing classes as a whole in both continents. And at the same time the revolutionary struggles waged by all the communist parties of South East Asia were defeated (except in Vietnam, of course).   The conclusion would seem to be that the ‘national bourgeoisie’ had not exhausted its capacity for anti-imperialist struggle.   The Soviet Union also came to that conclusion when it decided to support the non-aligned front, while the imperialist Triad declared open warfare against it.

The communists in the countries concerned were then divided between the two tendencies and became involved in painful conflicts that were often confused.   Some drew the lesson that it was necessary to ‘support’ the powers in place that were battling imperialism, although this support should remain ‘critical’.   Moscow gave wind to their sails by inventing the thesis of the ‘non-capitalist way’.   Others conserved the essentials of the Maoist thesis, according to which only a front of the popular classes that was independent of the bourgeoisie could lead a successful struggle against imperialism.   The conflict between the Chinese communist party and the Soviet Union, which was apparent as from 1957 but officially declared as from 1960, of course confirmed the second tendency among the Asian and African communists.

However, the potential of the Bandung movement wore out within some fifteen years, emphasizing – if it should be needed – the limits of the anti-imperialist programmes of the ‘national bourgeoisies’.   Thus the conditions were ripe for the imperialist counter-offensive, the ‘re-compradorisation’ of the Southern economies, if not – for the most vulnerable – their recolonization. Nevertheless, as if to give the lie to this return imposed by the facts to the thesis of the definitive and absolute impotence of the national bourgeoisies – Bandung having been, according to this vision, just a ‘passing episode’ in the cold war context – certain countries of the South have been able to impose themselves as ‘emerging’ in the new globalization dominated by imperialism.   But ‘emerging’ in what way?   Emerging markets open to the expansion of capital of the oligopolies belonging to the imperialist Triad? Or emerging nations capable of imposing a genuine revision of the terms of globalization and reducing the power exercised by the oligopolies, while reconducting the accumulation to their own national development?     The question of the social content of the powers in place in the emerging countries (and in the other countries of the periphery) and the prospects that this opens up or closes is once again on the agenda.   It is a debate that cannot be avoided: what will – or could – be the ‘post-crisis’ world?

Would the results be better now, when a second ‘Awakening of the South’ is on the horizon?   Above all, will it be possible this time to build convergences between the struggles in the North and in the South?   These were lamentably lacking in the Bandung epoch. The peoples of the imperialist centres then finally aligned behind their imperialist leaders.   The social-democrat project of the time would in fact have been difficult to imagine without the imperialist rent that benefited the opulent societies of the North.   Bandung and the Non Aligned Movement were thus seen as just an episode in the cold war, perhaps even manipulated by Moscow. In the North, there was little understanding of the real dimensions of this first emancipatory wave of the countries of Asia and Africa which, however, was convincing enough for Moscow to give it support.

 

Samir Amin (1931- )

The below was written by Nick Dearden in 2011 and published in Red Pepper at http://www.redpepper.org.uk/samir-amin-at-80/

Many of Samir Amin’s writings are available at https://monthlyreview.org/author/samiramin/

Amin

Samir Amin is one of the world’s greatest radical thinkers – a ‘creative Marxist’ who went from Communist activism in Nasser’s Egypt, to advising African socialist leaders like Julius Nyerere to being a leading figure in the World Social Forum.

Samir Amin’s ideas were formed in the heady ferment of 1950s and ’60s when pan-Africanists like Kwamah Nkrumah ran Ghana and Juliuys Nyrere Tanzania, when General Nasser was transforming the Middle East from Amin’s native Egypt and liberation movements thrived from South Africa to Algeria.

Africa looked very different before the International Monetary Fund destroyed what progress had been made towards emancipation and LiveAid created a popular conception of a continent of famine and fecklessness. Yet through these times, Amin’s ideas have continued to shine out, denouncing the inhumanity of contemporary capitalism and empire, but also harshly critiquing movements from political Islam to Eurocentric Marxism and its marginalisation of the truly dispossessed.

Global power

Amin believes that the world capitalism – a rule of oligopolies based in the rich world – maintains its rule through five monopolies – control of technology, access to natural resources, finance, global media, and the means of mass destruction. Only by overturning these monopolies can real progress be made.

This raises particular challenges for those of us who are activists in the North because any change we promote must challenge the privileges of the North vis-à-vis the South. Our internationalism cannot be expressed through a type of humanitarian approach to the global South – that countries in the South need our ‘help to develop’. For Amin, any form of international work must be based on an explicitly anti-imperialist perspective. Anything else will fail to challenge structure of power – those monopolies which really keep the powerful powerful.

Along with colleagues like Andre Gunder Frank, Amin see the world divided into the ‘centre’ and the ‘peripheries’. The role of peripheries, those countries we call the global South, is to supply the centres – specifically the ‘Triad’ of North America, Western Europe and Japan – with the means of developing without being able to develop themselves. Most obviously, the exploitation of Africa’s minerals on terms of trade starkly favourable to the centre will never allow African liberation, only continual exploitation.

This flies in the face of so much ‘development thinking’ which would have you believe that Africa’s problems come from not being properly integrated into the global economy which has grown up over the last 40 years. Amin believes in fact Africa’s problem stem from it being too integrated but in ‘the wrong way’.

In fact, as long as the monopolies of control are intact, countries of the centre have had few problems globalising production since the 1970s. Sweatshop labour now takes place across the periphery but it hasn’t challenged the power of those in the North because of their control of finance, natural resources, the military and so on. In fact, it has enhanced their power by reducing wages and destroying a manufacturing sector that had become a power base for unionised workers.

So there is no point whatever in asking countries of the centre to concede better trading relationships to the peripheries. Amin is also concerned at environmental activism which too often becomes a debate about how countries of the centre manage their control of the world’s resources, rather than challenging that control. It is vital that Northern activists challenge the means through which the ruling class in their own society exerts control over the rest of the world.

De-linking

Of course, this is not just a project for activists in the North – far from it. The theory for which Amin is most famous that of ‘de-linking’.

De-linking means countries of the periphery withdrawing from their exploitative integration in the global economy. In a sense it is de-globalisation, but it is not a form of economic isolation – something which African socialist leaders too readily fell into. Rather it means not engaging in economic relationships from a point of weakness.

Amin argues that Southern countries should develop their economy through various forms of state intervention, control of money flowing in an out of their financial sectors and promoting trading with other Southern countries. Countries must nationalise financial sectors, strongly regulate natural resources, ‘de-link’ internal prices from the world market, and free themselves from control by international institutions like the World Trade Organisation. Whatever problems come with nationalised industries, it is the only possible basis for a genuinely socially controlled economy going forward.

After 30 years of being told that their problems would be solved by exporting more, privatising their natural resources and liberalising their financial sectors, many developing countries would today do well to heed Amin’s advice. Instead, too many countries have bought into a de-politicised narrative which posits ideologically loaded terms like ‘good governance’, ‘poverty’ and ‘civil society’ carefully disguising questions as to how poverty happened, what interests governance serves, or the legitimacy of organisations claiming to speak on behalf of the dispossessed.

Amin does not believes that the ‘rise’ of China, India and other emerging economies has in any way broken the power of the oligopolies, in fact that power has only become more concentrated. But there have been important changes. Imperialist powers have realised competition between themselves is not helpful and have created a sort of collective imperialism which is expressed through institutions like the WTO and IMF.

Capitalism, ‘a parenthesis in history’

Capitalism is experiencing a profound long-term crisis to which Amin believes it has no solution short of political barbarism. He describes this form of capitalism as ‘senile’.

This crisis is characterised by an increased dependence on finance, which means less and less money is being made from productive activities, and more from simple ‘rent’. It is a far more direct means of stealing wealth from the majority of the world. The accompanying form of politics means that democracy has been reduced to a farce in which people are spectators in an elite drama – that is when they’re not fulfilling their proper role of consuming.

Capitalism necessarily requires an ongoing process of dispossession so that it can accumulate and continue to expand. Capitalism could not have developed without the European conquest of the world – the availability so many ‘spare’ resources was vital. The safety value for many of those dispossessed from European land was the ‘new world’ which allowed mass emigration – though of course others died in droves, witness the Irish potato famine.

So as much as many of the dispossessed might aspire to the lives of those in advanced capitalist countries, it is simply not possible. Nor can traditional Marxists be correct when they say capitalism is a necessary stage on the path to socialism – a view which Amin describes as ‘Eurocentric’.

Industry cannot incorporate more than a small fraction of humanity, but it does require the resources that that humanity depends upon. So the only way that capitalism can move forward is through the creation of a ‘slum planet’ – a sort of ‘apartheid at the world level’. Amin sees the dispossession of the peasantry across the peripheral countries will become the central issue of the twenty-first century.

This is one reason why Amin see the role of the peasantry in the South – almost half of humanity after all – as key to determining the future. The strength of movements around food sovereignty, against land grabbing and supporting the rights of indigenous peoples, give support to this theory. But for Amin, agriculture is not merely a big opportunity, the existence of the peasantry presents capitalism with an insurmountable challenge.

Amin believes the road to socialism depends on reversing this trend of dispossession meaning, at national and regional levels, protecting local agricultural production, ensuring countries’ have food sovereignty and de-linking internal prices from world commodity markets. This would stop the dispossession of peasants and their exodus into the towns.

Only this revolution in the way the land is seen, treated and access can lay the basis for a new society. This also means ditching the idea of ‘growth’ as it is spoken about today and by which all world economies are judged, which really benefits only a minority of the world population. The rest of humanity is “abandoned to stagnation, if not pauperisation”.

The long road to socialism

Perhaps this makes Samir Amin sounds rather idealistic in his approach, but this is far from true. Amin explicitly rejects the idea of a ‘24 hour revolution’ – a single insurrectionary act which ushers in a period of socialism. Indeed he accepts there may well be a need to use private, even international capital, in order to diversify Southern economies. The important thing is control. For this reason Amin also refuses to use the phrase “socialism of the 21st century” focussing on the need for “the long route of the transition to socialism”.

But that’s not to say there have not been significant victories. Interestingly, Amin is less interested in developments in Latin America, which he believes contain risks of repeating the mistakes of many national liberation movements on the 1950s and 60s in becoming a form of “popular statism”.

Amin is more interested in Nepal as an possible future model to look towards. He also sees the Chinese revolution as an incredibly significant event in directly challenging the basis of capitalism and in the struggle for democratic socialism, most especially in its “abolition of the private property of land” and the formation of powerful communes and collectives.

Amin’s somewhat romantic view of the Chinese revolution is certainly challenging to Western sensibilities, but his underlying view that the formation of democracy must go beyond a narrow political project, and that peasants – and especially women – through collective organisations, might be better placed than Western individualists to define a really progressive vision of democracy needs to be properly taken on board by activists.

Enlightenment

Perhaps Amin’s central thesis is somewhat obvious, but it’s often forgotten – that a true revolution must be based on those who are being dispossessed and impoverished. But he goes further in undermining the assumption that any thinking emerging from the South will lack enlightenment, or that a lack of enlightenment should be excused.

He believes the Enlightenment was humanity’s first step towards democracy, liberating us from the idea that God created our activity. He has caused controversy in his utter rejection of political Islam. This ideology, embedded for example in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, obscures the real nature of society, including by playing into the idea that the world consists of different cultural groups which conflict with each other, an idea which helps the centre control the peripheries.

Amin’s view is that organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood, with their cultural and economic conservatism, are actually viewed positively by the US and other imperialist governments. And he doesn’t limit his critique to Islam either, launching similar criticism on political Hinduism practiced by the BJP in India and Political Buddhism, expressed through the Dalai Lama.

Creative Marxism

Samir Amin decribes himself as a ‘creative Marxist’ – “to begin from Marx but not to end with him or with Lenin or Mao” – which incorporates all manner of critical ways of thinking even ones “which were wrongly considered to be ‘alien’ by the dogmas of the historical Marxism of the past.”

These views are surely more relevant today than when Amin started writing. A creative Marxism takes proper account of the perspective and aspirations of the truly dispossessed in the world, break out of historical dogmas and rejects attempts to stick together a broken model, but equally sees the impossibility of overthrowing this model tomorrow. Fortunately Amin seems more prolific than ever – and well worth the read.

Samir Amin: Popular Movements Toward Socialism

The article below by Samir Amin is well worth reading by all interested in a political economy of transformation to socialism. It was published in June’s issue of Monthly Review.

Popular Movements Toward Socialism: Their Unity and Diversity

The following reflections deal with a permanent and fundamental challenge that has confronted, and continues to confront, all popular movements struggling against capitalism. By this I mean both those of movements whose explicit radical aim is to abolish the system based on private proprietorship over the modern means of production (capital) in order to replace it with a system based on workers’ social proprietorship, and those of movements which, without going so far, involve mobilization aimed at real and significant transformation of the relations between labor (“employed by capital”) and capital (“which employs the workers”). Both sorts of movements can contribute, in varying degree, to calling capitalism into question; but they also might merely create the illusion of movement in that direction, although in fact only forcing capital to make the transformations it would need to co-opt a given set of working-class demands. We are well aware that it is not always easy to draw the boundary between efficacy and impotence in regard to the strategies resorted to by these movements, no more so than to determine whether their strategic aims are clashing with their tactical situation.

Taken as a whole, many of these movements can be termed “movements toward socialism.” I borrow this phrase from the terminology introduced during recent decades by some South American parties (Chilean, Bolivian, and others). These parties have given up the traditional aim of Communist parties (“take and hold power to build socialism”), substituting for it the apparently more modest aim of patiently constructing social and political conditions which allow an advance toward socialism. The difference derives from the fact that the building of socialism as proposed by those Communist parties stemmed from a preconceived definition of socialism, derived from the Soviet experience, which can be summed up in two terms: nationalization and state planning. Those parties choosing the label “movement toward socialism” leave as an open question the specification of the methods to be used in socializing the management of a modern economy.

Some, but not all, of these organizations and parties that portray themselves as socialist, or even communist, claim to be the heirs of Marx and even sometimes of the versions of Marxism inherited from Sovietism and/or Maoism.

In fact the triumph of capitalism since the industrial revolution, and its globalization through imperialist expansion, have simultaneously created the conditions for the projected emergence of a higher universal socialist/communist form of civilization. Many streams came together in this invention. Engels, and Lenin after him, gave a well-known classification of its Marxist variant: English classical political economy, French utopian socialism, and German Hegelian philosophy. But this classification simplifies the reality and leaves aside many pre-and post-Marxian contributions.

Of course, Marx’s contribution to formulating the socialist/communist project was the critical breakthrough in its elaboration. Marx’s thought, in fact, was elaborated on the basis of a rigorous scientific critical analysis of capitalism taking into account all aspects of its historical reality. This had not been the case with previous socialist formulations or later ones that disregarded Marx. The formulation of capitalism’s own law of value; the specification of the long-run tendencies of capital accumulation and of their contradictions; the analysis of the relationship between class struggles and international conflicts and likewise of the transformations in methods for managing accumulation and governance; and analysis of the alienated forms of social consciousness—these together define the thoughts of Marx that initiated the unfolding of historic Marxisms, especially those of the Second and Third Internationals, of Sovietism and of Maoism.

The Central Place of the French Revolution in Forming the Modern World

In my understanding of the modern world’s construction, the French Revolution takes a central place. It defined a system of values—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (in present-day terms, Solidarity)—that founded modernity on its fundamental contradiction. In the last analysis these values are much more the values of the still-to-be-invented higher socialist civilization than they are values whose real and full actualization could be acceptable to capitalism. In this sense the French Revolution was more than a “bourgeois revolution” (such as the 1688 English “Glorious Revolution”); it proclaimed—with the Jacobin ascendancy—the need to go beyond.

Capitalist values—those which are useful to its spread—are those that inspired the American Non-Revolution: Liberty and Property. Together they define “free enterprise”: whether in the form of a small family farming business, as was the case in the New England colonies; or of the slave-labor-based farms of the Southern colonies; or, in later periods, of industrial Big Business and then of financialized monopolies. Linked together, these two values exclude any aspirations for an equality going beyond universal equality of legal rights. “Equality of opportunity” is the ideological phraseology that finesses the starting-point inequalities which distinguish the property-owning classes from the proletarians who have only their labor-power to sell. Liberty and Property together make inequality seem legitimate: inequality is made to seem the result of individuals’ talent and hard work. They lead people to ignore the virtues of solidarity and recognize only their opposites: competition among individuals and among businesses.

By their very nature Liberty and Equality are conflicting values that can be reconciled only when bourgeois property, as the property only of a minority, has been suppressed. The French Revolution, even at its most radical Jacobin phase, did not go that far: it remained protective of property rights and held them sacred, imagining them to be generalizable in the form of small family farms and artisanal enterprises. It had no way to grasp how capitalism would develop, how it would put such emphasis on the inevitably ongoing concentration of modern capitalist property.

The socialist/communist idea, understood as a stage of civilization superior to the capitalist stage, takes form precisely through the gradually growing consciousness of what is implied in a sincere effectuation of the slogan “liberty, equality, solidarity”: the substitution of collective workers’ property in place of the bourgeois-minority property form.

Diverse Lines of Descent in the Formation of Socialist Thought and Action

At the origin of modern peoples’ struggle movements is the challenge posed by capitalist social relations and concomitant exploitation of the workers. These movements, in some instances, arose spontaneously; in others, they were prompted, with varying degrees of success, by groups that endeavored to mobilize and organize the workers for that purpose.

Such movements appeared very early in the new Industrial Revolution Europe, especially in England, France, and Belgium; a little later in Germany and elsewhere in Europe; and in the New England region of the United States. They expanded throughout the nineteenth century and took varying directions (termed “revolutionary” and “reformist”) in the twentieth.

Other movements sprang up in the peripheral capitalist societies, i.e., in those countries integrated into the globalized capitalist system as regions subjected to the accumulation requirements of the dominant centers. As it extended itself worldwide historical capitalism was polarizing, in the sense that dominant centers and dominated peripheries took shape simultaneously in an asymmetric relationship steadily reproduced and deepened by the logic of the system. Capitalism and imperialism constituted the inseparable two sides of a single reality. In those conditions the movements of struggle against the established system were broadly anti-imperialist, the forces initiating them seeking not to build a post-capitalist society but to “copy in order to catch up” with the opulent societies of the centers. Nevertheless, because the bourgeoisies of those countries, formed at their births by a relationship of dependency (and by that very fact naturally “compradore,” the term originally used by Chinese Communism to characterize them), were in no state to remake themselves into national bourgeoisies able to carry out a true bourgeois revolution (“anti-feudal,” in the terminology of Third International Communism). Because of this, the combat against imperialism, undertaken by a broad anti-imperialist and anti-feudal social alliance led by a party proclaiming its perspective as socialist/communist, became potentially an anti-capitalist one.

These peoples’ and national emancipation movements took as their aim to pass through the stage of anti-imperialist/anti-feudal/peoples’ (and not bourgeois)/democratic revolution. So they are to be counted in the movement toward socialism.

We thus have to examine more closely two sorts of movement toward socialism: those arising and spreading in the imperialist centers, and those developing in their dominated peripheries. These two sorts of movements never bear a union label saying “movement toward socialism,” but some of them might potentially become such. What then are the conditions and criteria allowing us so to classify them?

The Lineages of Movements Toward Socialism in the Centers of the World Capitalist System

In the nineteenth century, more so than elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, it was in France that a newborn awareness of the need to abolish capitalism and replace it with a socialist organization of society took its first steps. The carrier for this progression was provided by the heirs of Jacobinism, major actors in 1848 and then in the 1871 Paris Commune—most notably Auguste Blanqui, whose theories were the inspiration for French revolutionary syndicalism. Self-governing production cooperatives, according to these initial formulations, were to provide the institutional and legal framework for the socialization of property.

“French socialism”—if that is what it is to be called—was distinguished by its idealist character from the socialism inspired by Marx. It derived, rather, from the heritage of eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophy—to whose ethical values like justice, citizenship, equality, liberty, and solidarity it gave the most socially radical interpretation. But it remained unaware of any scientific analysis of how the process of capital accumulation is produced and reproduced, the process that provided Marx with the first and only analytic understanding of the rationale and nature of the aspiration for socialism.

It is thus understandable that Marx, and then the historical Second and Third Internationals’ varieties of Marxism, were critical of this “French socialism’s” theory and practice. Blanquism is criticized for substituting a strategy of conspiracy and coup d’État for strategies based on struggle by a self-organized proletariat over the long haul; Proudhon was subjected to as harsh a critique; and revolutionary syndicalism was criticized for its “elitist” organizational conception. We will come back to this question of French-style “revolutionary syndicalism,” whose living traces can still be discerned in modern-day France, in distinction from the “mass” or “consensus” trade unionism of the other European countries. Of course there are other traditions beyond the French, especially the English, that in Europe helped to form the movement or movements, effective or illusory, toward socialism. But I will not discuss them here.

It was those streams that were to merge, during Marx’s lifetime and with his active participation, into the International Workingmen’s Association (“First International”). In this connection, the founding resolution of the First International, written by Marx, stated: “The task of the International is to generalize and unify the working class’s spontaneous movements, but not to prescribe for or impose upon them any doctrinal system whatsoever.”

The First International grouped certain organizations—parties and unions in an embryonic stage, associations of various sorts—which subscribed to differing “doctrinal systems”; that of Marx but also those of Proudhon and Bakunin. Within the International, Marx carried on a political and ideological combat against doctrines that he regarded as scientifically unfounded and thereby likely to spread illusions and render the working-class movement ineffective. But, in the quoted sentence, he propounded the fundamental principle (to which I adhere): accept and recognize diversity, act to reinforce unity in struggle.

But what in Europe was to develop in the last third of the nineteenth century, especially after Marx’s death but while Engels was still alive, was precisely an evolution away from that principle on the part of its movements toward socialism.

The Second International was founded by a meeting among “parties” that had become, at least relatively, “mass workers’ parties,” in practice one for each country. This evolution went along with the formation of mass trade unions, vastly bigger than those in the Europe that Marx had known: to each country, “its” party. Differing from one country to the other, all still shared the ideal of being its country’s “only workers’ party.” They considered themselves such since their establishment was based on fusion among movements with different traditions. The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) grouped Lassalians and Marxists, the French Socialist Party united Jaurèsians (heirs of the “French socialism” tradition), Guesdists (Marxists), and Blanquists. The British party was indistinguishable from the Trade Unions, federated in the Labor Party. To many, at the time, this evolution seemed positive and solid. But history was to show it to be more fragile than was thought. Nevertheless “unity,” realized in form on the organizational level, was thenceforward to be taken not as complementary to diversity—whose very existence was denied by many—but as incompatible with it. The apparent unity of the workers’ party seemed strengthened by the emergence of similarly unified trade unions. “Mass unionism” cleared its own pathway—its chosen aim was that all the workers in each line of industry or trade were to be organized in and belong to a the same union. France remained an exception to this general tendency. Each union, in the tradition of revolutionary syndicalism, recruited only a politicized vanguard and endeavored to lead the masses of wage-workers, to organize their struggles, and/or to support spontaneous movements. The Union would see itself as a quasi-party, an ally or a competitor to the workers’ parties. Mass unionism, in contrast, does not favor the politicization of its rank and file but actually favors their passive obedience, their depoliticization. The mass union sticks with its lowest common denominator—purely economic demands and, possibly, electoral support to its ally, the social-democratic party.

The 1914 war was to expose, for all to see, the impotence of the Second International’s parties and trade unions. Lenin himself was surprised by Kautsky’s “betrayal.” Nevertheless, the “revisionist” deviation initiated by Eduard Bernstein—and its success—ought to have produced an understanding that those parties and trade unions no longer constituted a “movement toward socialism.” The principal cause of this deviation, nevertheless, was not to be found in a “betrayal by the leaders,” nor in the corruption of the small layer of labor-aristocrats, nor in the careerism of those organizations’ bureaucrats. It originated from an objective fact: the opulence of a society based on imperialist plunder. The deviation kept going during the interwar period (1920–1939) and even after the Second World War in the thirty-year postwar boom (1945–1975). The “reformist” parties and trade-unions—who had given up on calling capitalism into question—retained the confidence of the majority of the working class, reducing the Leninist-communists to minority status.

Of course, in writing these lines I am aware that they should be read in a nuanced way. At certain times in the interwar period, struggles to preserve (bourgeois) democracy from the Nazi and other fascist threats combined with struggles to improve the workers’ living conditions. At that instant the Popular Fronts offered a hope of possibly reconverting themselves into movements toward socialism. In the immediate postwar years, because the class-collaboration of the European bourgeoisies with triumphant Nazi Germany had coincided with the decisive role of the working classes in the resistance movements and the prestige of the Red Army which had routed the Nazis, it once more became possible to hope for a rebirth of movements toward socialism, especially in France and Italy. The conquests of the working classes in Great Britain, Western Europe, and even the United States—social security, full-employment policies, annual wage increases in pace with increases in the average productivity of social labor—can in no case be viewed with contempt. They transformed, for the better, the face of those societies. But at the same time one is forced to recognize that those workers’ gains were made possible—for capital—by the intensification of imperialist plunder. During the whole thirty-year postwar boom energy (petroleum) had become practically costless.

Thus there was, in the imperialist centers, no serious obstacle to the victory of capital’s counter-offensive that began in 1975 and put an end both to the long boom and to further workers’ gains—nor, likewise, to continued deviation by the former Second International’s parties and trade-unions, which thenceforward were merely social-liberal. So we reached the end of the road: a “consensus” society accepting “eternal capitalism”; depoliticization; and, in place of worker/citizens a populace of spectators and consumers.

Nevertheless, this victory of capital and the disappearance of any movement toward socialism from the imperialist centers are not as solid as one might believe, or pretend to believe. The renewal of struggles against the social devastations concomitant to the dictatorship of triumphant capital signify the possible renewal of a movement toward socialism. This will be discussed further on.

The Leninist Lineages of the Movement Toward Socialism

The first victorious revolution to be carried out in the name of socialism was that of Russia, a semi-peripheral country. And this was not fortuitous. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, established at the close of the nineteenth century, regarded itself as part of the European Marxist family, whose mentor was Karl Kautsky. But in fact the RSDLP was not European; it signified the shift in the center of gravity of movements to socialism from the imperialist centers to their peripheries. That shift was to shape the whole twentieth century. So it was not by chance that its radical tendency (the Bolsheviks) gained the upper hand over, and put on the defensive, the conciliating tendency (the Mensheviks), while the inverse of that relationship prevailed in all the European parties.

Nevertheless, Lenin always stayed faithful to Second International thinking in regards to the relationship between necessary unity and the diversity of the currents comprising the movement toward socialism. He even emphasized its view on two important questions. In the first place he believed there to be no place for multiple working-class parties—“one class/one party.” No parties except those recognized by the Third International could be participants in the movement toward socialism. The other parties were nothing but traitors, and the task was to win the masses they were deceiving. He thought that possible until the—completely foreseeable—defeat of the 1918–1919 German revolution. Secondly, he refused to allow for trade-unions independent of the Party. For, without guidance from the Party, they could never think beyond reformist struggle for immediate economic demands. It was therefore necessary to integrate them into the system of the movement toward socialism by making them submit to the status of a transmission belt for the revolutionary strategy of the revolutionary Party. Nevertheless, the real history of labor struggles in Europe itself was to refute both Lenin’s and the Second International’s conceptualizations of the role of trade unions. At the present moment the “big mass unions” (as in Germany), consensus-based and firmly allied to the “big parliamentary parties of the left” (like the German SPD), have posed no obstacle to the unfolding offensive by capital of the financialized monopolies; on the contrary, they helped it to reach its objectives. Contrariwise, the remnant of the revolutionary syndicalist tradition in France (ironically called “elitist” and “minoritarian”), because it leaves a large measure of autonomy to grassroot initiatives, has proved to be more effective in resisting capital’s offensive—a state of affairs deplored by the French bosses, who reserve their praise for the “German model.”

Leninism, defined like that, was to inspire the dominant lineages of the twentieth century’s movement toward socialism while the European lineages were, as I pointed out above, to slide more and more openly toward opportunist positions. At best they advance merely trade-union demands—signing up for permanent maintenance of fundamental capitalist relationships and thereby taking their leave from anything that might be considered the movement toward socialism.

Was Lenin personally responsible for the “Leninism” of his successors, in the USSR and throughout the world? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that all his successors, including Stalin, adhered to Leninist dogmas on management of the unity/diversity relationship. No, of course, insofar as Lenin lived through only the first years of the Russian Revolution and so bears no personal responsibility for whatever ensued.

And that which ensued had a positive aspect, one of decisive importance for the future of the world movement toward socialism. Leninism broke with the Eurocentric dogma that socialist revolution was on the agenda only in advanced (i.e., imperialist) capitalist countries. He takes account of the transfer, from the centers to the peripheries, of the combat for socialism’s center of gravity. This was proclaimed, Lenin present, in 1920 at the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku. And the Third International was to be present throughout the world while the Second had existed only in Europe.

In regard to Soviet society the movement toward socialism led by Leninist bolshevism was constrained by the objective conditions of the country (its backwardness; its semi-peripheral-capitalist nature) to reduce “building socialism” (its professed aim) to the building of state socialism. I insist here that state socialism is different from state capitalism. State capitalism (like that of France under de Gaulle) remains a system in service to monopoly capital (even when making major concessions benefiting the workers), state socialism involves two aspects of a quite different nature: (1) its obligation to pose as equivalent to worker-power at least by legitimating itself through bold social policies; and (2) its independent posture in relations with the world capitalist system.

This state socialism, the defining characteristic of Stalinism, which, consequently, makes it correct to call it Stalinist-Leninist [in preference to Marxist-Leninist—Ed.] was pregnant with the possibility of gradual leftward evolution. (That is to say, the potential remained for the socialization of economic management ) through effective participation of the workers in the exercise of power—progressively more advanced, more in keeping with socialist values, forms. But it also was pregnant with the risk of stagnation with a final fall to the right by way of capitalist restoration. Which is what happened in Eastern Europe and the USSR with Yeltsin and Gorbachev. Would Trotsky have done better? I doubt that very much. Which is why the Fourth International (in reality the Third International, second edition) never amounted to more than a springboard for orators reproducing ad nauseam the principles of Leninism without going beyond them.

The Stalinist and post-Stalinist systems never were able even to begin going beyond the state socialism (economic stratification and central planning) stage. A start to such a going beyond was made by Titoist Yugoslavia. It is not by chance that this attempt was ostracized by Moscow. For at the level of its actions on the world stage, Third International (and then Cominform) Communism had gradually come to subordinate all strategies of the movements toward socialism to the tactical needs of the Soviet state, whose sole concern was with the requirements of resistance to capitalist encirclement. The theory of the “non-capitalist path,” imposed on its Bandung-period nonaligned partner countries—especially the radicalized anti-imperialist Egypt of Nasser—which I criticized as soon as it was formulated (while I was attached to the Planning bodies of the Nasser regime and shortly thereafter), constituted the abandonment of any strategic perspective in favor of mere tactics.

It was left for Chinese Communism and Mao to introduce a different conception of the movement toward socialism in world capitalism’s peripheries, not by breaking with the heritage of Leninism but by going beyond it. That makes up the subject of another lineage of the movement toward socialism, which we will take up below.

Lineages of the Movement Toward Socialism in World Capitalism’s Peripheries

I will begin by taking a look at the Chinese experience.

The March–May 1871 Paris Commune and the 1851–1864 Taiping Revolution (and I do mean to say Revolution, not Revolt) initiated the entrance of the human race into the contemporary phase of its history. They put a end to the illusive belief that capitalism was progressive, they proclaimed the end of its summer.

Judged by their long-term significance, these were two gigantic revolutions. One of them (the Commune) unfolded in a developed capitalist metropolis, at the time second only to England in economic stature; the other broke out in a region of the world that had just been integrated into globalized imperialist capitalism with the status of a dominated periphery.

The Taiping Revolution overthrew the despotic imperial autocracy of the Ching dynasty, it abolished the regime of peasant exploitation by the ruling class of that mode of social production which I have termed “tributary” (the Chinese Communists called it “feudal,” a difference in terminology that is secondary). But at the same time the Taiping Revolution rejected the forms of capitalism which had infiltrated themselves into the interstices of the tributary system; it abolished private commerce. It rejected just as strongly foreign domination by imperialist capital. And it did so extremely early, since the first imperialist aggressions foreshadowing the reduction of China to the status of a dominated periphery in imperialist capitalist globalization—the 1840 Opium War—had taken place a mere decade earlier. And, in advance of their time, the Taipings abolished polygamy, concubinage, and prostitution.

The Taiping Revolution—they also were “sons of heaven,” i.e., it had a messianic aspect “linked” to Christianity—laid the foundation-stones for socialism/higher stage of human civilization by formulating the first revolutionary strategy of global imperialist capitalism’s peripheral peoples. The Taiping Revolution is the ancestor of (to use the later terminology of the Chinese Communists) “the people’s anti-feudal/anti-imperialist revolution.” It proclaimed the awakening of the peoples of the South (of Asia, Africa, and Latin America) that was to shape the twentieth century. It was an inspiration to Mao. It showed the pathway to revolution for all the peoples of the modern global capitalist system’s peripheries, the path that allowed them to enter into the long socialist transition.

The Paris Commune is not just a chapter in French history, nor are the Taipings just a chapter in Chinese history. These two revolutions had universal significance. The Paris Commune gave substance to the “proletarian” internationalism that the First International invoked as an alternative to chauvinist nationalisms, to capitalist cosmopolitanism, to past racial, linguistic, and confessional identities. The universalism of the Taipings’ call was symbolized by their (said to be “curious”) adoption of the figure of Christ, who nevertheless was a figure alien to Chinese history. How could a human being defeated by his adversaries—the ruling power—be a supposedly invincible “God?” For the Taipings their Christ was not the one held up by the missionaries who had tried to introduce their submissive Christianity into China. Rather, he was the exemplary example of what the struggle for human liberation had to be: courageous unto death and by that very fact proving the secret of success to be solidarity in struggle.

The Paris Commune and the Taiping Revolution elsewhere proved capitalism to be a mere parenthesis in history. A short parenthesis, moreover. Capitalism has merely fulfilled the (honorable) role of creating—in an historically short space of time—the conditions that made its surpassing/abolition necessary in order to allow the construction of a more advanced stage of human civilization. The Paris Commune and the Taiping Revolution, by that very fact, opened history’s current chapter—that which was to develop in the twentieth century and be continued in the twenty-first. They opened the succeeding chapters of the springtime of peoples, parallel to capitalism’s autumn.

China, at the far end of the continent, likewise showed characteristics particularly favorable to precocious political maturation. China had very early, even before Europe, begun to go beyond its (“advanced,” solidly formed) socio-economic tributary mode. In its invention of modernity it was ahead by five centuries in its abandonment of a religion of individual salvation—Buddhism—in favor of a sort of unreligious secularism before that word existed; and bold development of commercial relationships based on the internal market. Moreover, China (unlike India and the Ottoman Empire) long resisted the assaults of European imperialist capitalism. It thus was not until 1840 that British gunboats broke open the doors to the Celestial Empire. In combination, this aggression together with the earlier advancements of Chinese capitalism had prodigious accelerating effects: inequalities in landownership (to which the logic of the tributary system posed declining resistance) grew faster, and the “betrayal” of the ruling class (the Emperor and the landed aristocracy) quickly replaced their earlier attempts at “national” resistance. So this is how we understand the precociousness of the Taiping Revolution and its “anti-feudal/anti-imperialist” nature.

So two great revolutions, but two revolutions at work on each of the two complementary fields of globalized imperialist capitalism—at the center and at the periphery—in the two “weak links” of this worldwide system.

Were Marx and historic Marxism(s) up to the analytic demands of this reality of globalized capitalism and thus able to form effective strategies to “change the world,” i.e., to abolish capitalism? Yes and no. Marx yielded to the temptation of seeing in the worldwide expansion of capitalism a force that would homogenize economic and social conditions, reducing the workers of the whole world to the sole status of employees exploited by capital in the same way and to the same intensity everywhere. On this basis it justified, as progressive in the last analysis, colonialism. There is no lack of supporting citations to be found in Marx’s writings, spotlighting the progressive consequences, however unintentional, of colonialism—i.e., despite its odious practices (denounced by Marx) in India, Algeria, South Africa, Eritrea—as well as “Yankee” annexation of Texas and California (“industrious,” as distinguished from the “lazy” Mexicans.)*

By this logic Marx condemned the Taipings—about whom he knew nothing at all! Nevertheless, whenever he dealt with countries of which he was not totally ignorant, Marx sketched out a quite different vision of capitalist expansion. Marx saw nothing positive in the colonization of Ireland by England; on the contrary, he unreservedly denounced its destructive effects upon the English working class itself. In regard to Russia—which was less foreign to him than China was—Marx had an intuition that it was a “weak link” (to use a term coined by Lenin) in the worldwide capitalist chain and that, by that very fact, an anti-capitalist revolution which would clear the way for socialist advance was possible. Marx’s correspondence with Vera Zasulitch is evidence of this.1 He saw the possibility of a revolution with a strong peasant dimension, based on the resistance of peasant communities (organized as a mir)—if they could free themselves from feudalism through the real abolition of serfdom. Even though the peasants would themselves be threatened by expropriation to the gain of both some newly rich peasants and of the new latifundiary landlords (former feudal lords), a revolution that might be able to clear an original path for the socialist advance.

Lenin, and so the historic “Leninist” Marxism, made a great stride forward. Lenin denounced “imperialism.” It does not matter at all that, probably because of his respect for Marx, he called it a new and recent stage of capitalism. He drew the two obligatory and conjoined consequences: “revolution” was no longer on the agenda in the “West”; contrariwise, “revolution,” was on the agenda in the “East.” Lenin did not come to this conclusion right away. He wavered. He still hoped, for example, that the revolution which had started in the “weak link of the system” (Russia) would carry in its wake that of the workers in the developed centers (Germany, first of all). His reading of capitalism’s first great systemic crisis (which began in the 1870s and led to the First World War) saw it also as the “final” crisis of moribund capitalism. But Lenin quickly drew a different conclusion from the facts: he had been fooling himself; the revolution had been defeated in Europe (in Germany); those to come were starting to sprout in the East (in China, in Iran, in the former Ottoman Empire, in the colonies and semi-colonies). Nevertheless, Lenin failed to relate his new reading of Marxism to a deepening of his thought regarding the place of Russia in the global capitalist system, that of a periphery (or semi-periphery). He saw in that position—“semi-Asiatic” Russia—an obstacle rather than a trump card. No more did Lenin see the “peasant question” as central to the new “revolution” on the agenda. He thought, rightly or wrongly, that the possibilities inherent in the mir had been wiped out by the development of capitalism in Russia (The Development of Capitalism in Russia was the title of one of his earliest books.) He drew the consequence: the Russian revolution would give the land to the peasants, but only to make them owners of their land.

So it was for Mao, the heir of the Taipings, to master absolutely all the teachings of this story. Mao formulated the strategy and the aims of the long transition to socialism starting with an anti-imperialist/anti-“feudal” revolution to be carried out in the given conditions of the global system’s peripheral societies. His definition of the tasks of this “anti-feudal” revolution expressed Mao’s absolute rejection of the backward-looking illusion in any form whatsoever. The revolution of the peoples of the periphery would of necessity sign up for the universalist perspective of socialism.

So Mao’s Chinese Communism was to put in operation a coherent strategy of movement toward socialism for China, whose teachings carry great importance for all the peoples of the peripheries (Asia, Africa, and Latin America). Here we are, come back to our fundamental question: the relationship between unity and diversity.

The anti-imperialist/anti-feudal/popular and democratic (but not bourgeois democratic) revolution links diverse social, ideological, and cultural forces. It cannot be a “proletarian revolution.” Indeed, to this day the proletariat is scarcely better than a feeble, embryonic, presence in any of the modern societies of the peripheries. This revolution has to be, just as much, that of the majority of oppressed and exploited peasants. It has to be that of large portions of the educated middle classes who find their expression in the revolutionary intelligentsia. It can neutralize (without suppressing) political intervention, seeking to restrain the movement toward socialism, by the local bourgeoisie. It can even grease the slide of that bourgeoisie from its natural compradore behavior to a pro-national outlook.

The fact remains that Chinese objective conditions, at that stage, scarcely allowed anything but the establishment of a state socialism. Which was done. But this state socialism, which began as an imitation of the Soviet model, quickly diverged from it on diverse and important questions. Among these were questions indissociable from governance over the rural population and democratization of the socialization of economic and political life.

According to Mao, maintenance and reinforcement of the unity of the people that had been sealed in the course of the liberation war implied management of urban/rural relations emphasizing equality of living standards among industrial and agricultural workers and consequently rejecting the option of “the primitive socialist accumulation” which puts all the burden of development and industrial modernization onto the peasantry. That choice having been made, the conditions were then ripe for advancing in a possible democratization of the society. The Maoist formula for this was that of the “mass line.” As for everything to do with the evolution of the Chinese system of movement toward socialism, its advances and (post-Maoist) steps backward, and differing future alternatives, were opened up (transformation of state socialism into state capitalism).

The major lesson that I draw from this reading of China’s evolution from 1950 to today is that until now its treatment of the relationship between the unity (of the nation, of the people) and the diversity (of the social components of that nation) has been correct enough to give some legitimacy to the Beijing power structure and consequently to guarantee social stability. The unparalleled success of the emergence of China, in comparison with that of other countries of the contemporary South (Brazil and India, for example), is the result of this better (or less bad!) management of the unity/diversity relationship.

Other examples of movement toward socialism in countries of the periphery have successfully gone past several fine stages, having, among other things, known how to manage correctly the unity/diversity relationship and thus have eased the evolution of the originally anti-imperialist struggle toward the implementation of policies that, having gone outside the framework of the logics of capitalism, write themselves onto the long road to socialism. We refer, of course, to Vietnam and Cuba.

We might likewise refer to the advances realized in South America during the previous decades in Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Starting from powerful revolts of the popular classes, these movements have won elections (exceptionally, for these times) and have passed a first stage. But, to go forward and become real movements toward socialism establishing facts and not merely expressions of hopes, they need to find more effective answers to the challenge of the unity/diversity contradiction.

We cannot, however, ignore the examples of swingeing [i.e., scathing] failure that characterized the broad popular movements that during recent decades overthrew bloody dictatorships but were unable to impose themselves as movements toward socialism. We are thinking here of the movements that overthrew the dictatorships of Moussa Traoré in Mali, Marcos in the Philippines, and Suharto in Indonesia. None of these movements were able to formulate and impose a common program based on unity in diversity. The same nonexistent or even deplorable management of this contradiction is characteristic of the movements in Arab societies since 2011 (Egypt, Tunisia, Syria). So there is no movement toward socialism in any of these countries, despite the fact that objective conditions for its possible emergence do exist.

Looking backward in time, the Bandung epoch (1955–1975/1980) was that of a victorious takeoff for national liberation movements in Africa and Asia. For basic reasons, which I have invoked in my analysis, they were pregnant with the possibility of becoming movements toward socialism. But in reality what happened to their unfolding, to their victories, to their tomorrows?

This question needs a nuanced answer. Yes, at certain moments in the expansion of popular movements that were relatively more advanced, the movement toward socialism seemed, in outline, possible. This, for example was the case in “Communist” (actually advanced national popular) South Yemen or, very sketchily, in Sudan. In many African instances the state powers issuing from parties that had organized and directed the national liberation were professedly socialist, sometimes even Marxist-Leninist, more often professing a tradition, more imaginary than real, that they termed socialist. And this posture was not demagogic; it expressed the ambitions of leading progressive groups and of their real popular bases. Nevertheless, all these regimes emphasized “the unity of the people” (behind their leaders!) and most often denied the extent, even the reality, of the diversity of social interests competing within the broad national alliance or of other sorts of diversity among the components (ethnic, religious, linguistic) of the nation. This mediocre, at best, management of the fundamental contradiction of the movement toward socialism is at the bottom of their incapacity to progress at a sustained pace, of their rapid decrepitude once the limits of what they could achieve had been reached, of the erosion of their legitimacy—and thus of their sliding toward a return to the sheepfold managed by contemporary imperialism and its partners the compradorized bourgeoisie or, if need be, the compradore state.

Only a concrete, country by country, examination would let us say more. I have put forward some concrete analyses of this obstructed emergence of the movement for socialism for some countries of Asia, Africa, and the Arab world—obviously and especially for Nasserist Egypt.

In this tumultuous history, the parties professing Marxism-Leninism—when they existed—were unable to bend the course of events in the direction of the movement toward socialism. There are various reasons for their weakness; but undoubtedly their adhesion to the Moscow camp within international Communism sometimes played a decisive role in the annihilation of the hopes placed upon them. That they went over to the “non-capitalist path” propounded by Moscow provides the most dramatic example of this: these parties thus became the “left wing” of a power system that was sliding rightward.

In the case of India the breakup of the former Communist Party of India, aligning itself de facto with the Congress, and the formation of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), of Maoist inspiration, did not result in the qualitative leap that would have been needed to make of the CPI-M a replica of what the Chinese Communist Party had been. There are many and various reasons that explain this failure, such as the sacred nature of the caste system with its alienating effects on the spread of class struggles, and the diversity of the nations comprising the Indian Union. Having entered governments (by way of elections) in West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI-M had to the credit side of its balance sheet the realization of non-negligible progressive measures. But it did not succeed in reversing the balance of forces on the scale of the Indian Union in favor of a movement toward socialism. Unable to go beyond the limits of what could be realized by it in those two states, it then was gradually “absorbed” by the system. A radicalization of Maoist Indian Communism then was outlined in the formation of the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and the peasant/tribal war that it undertook. We have no choice but to recognize its failure, and then the breakup of the Party. It must nevertheless by noted that the same line of action produced some results in Nepal and outlined, sketchily, a possible movement toward socialism.

I have termed as “national-popular” regimes the family of these advances of the “first awakening of the South” (the Bandung decades), within which the movement toward socialism was only sketchily inscribed, impeded in its possible development by the tendency of the ruling political classes to maintain their exclusive power, even at the price of a return to the compradore fold.

The Challenge Before the Movement Toward Socialism: Socialization of the Management of A Modern Economy

The central question posed by revolutionary and/or authentic socialism (or communism or Marxism, or Marxist-Leninism, or Maoism) professing reformist advances was and remains that of socialization of the management of a “modern” economy, whose foundations were laid by the spread of historic capitalism as much in its dominant centers as in its dominated peripheries. In the centers the deviation of reformist socialism and then its later abandonment of its references to Marx led logically to giving up on posing the “post-capitalism” question. Contrariwise, in the peripheries that make up the stage for enactment of revolutions carried out in the perspective of building socialism, the question of socialization of the management of economic life has remained at the heart of the debates and conflicts that have unfolded among the revolutionary vanguards and the holders of state power. Of course the specific objective conditions of the revolution in the peripheries of globalized capitalism have weighed heavily on the scale: it was simultaneously necessary to “catch up” (develop the productive forces and in order to do so, to “copy” and reproduce capitalist forms of organizing production) and “to do something else” (to build socialism). The answer given to that question has been the construction of “state socialisms” or “state capitalisms,” the line between these two forms being itself vague and shifting. The fact remains that in the theoretical elaborations, as in the programs, of the parties professing socialism, advances in socialization of economic management and advances in democratization of society’s political management have always been thought of as inseparable. Affirmation of this central principle in formulating the project for a future socialism/communism is worthy of recall, the more so because it was exactly the state socialisms/state capitalisms of the Chinese, Soviet, and others’ experiments which, in their practices, have on a broad scale separated these two dimensions of a single challenge.

Autumn of Capitalism, Springtime of the Peoples?

Although susceptible to forming the head and tail of a single coin, the autumn of capitalism and the springtime of peoples are not the same thing.

The emergence at the end of the nineteenth century of the new form of capitalism, monopoly capitalism, was the autumnal equinox of that system—of that historical parenthesis, as I have said. Capitalism had “done its time,” the short period (limited to the nineteenth century) during which it still accomplished progressive functions was over. By this I mean that, in the nineteenth century, the “creative” dimension of capitalist accumulation (fantastic acceleration, in comparison with previous periods throughout human history; technological progress; the emancipation of the individual, even though this mainly benefited the privileged but was limited and deformed for everyone else) still outweighed the destructive consequences of that accumulation. The latter were primarily the effects of destruction of societies of the peripheries incorporated by imperialist expansion inseparable from historic capitalism. But with the emergence of monopoly capitalism the relationship of creative destruction in all of these respects was reversed to the detriment of the “creative” one.

It is in the framework of this long-run perspective that I have analyzed the two long systemic crises of “obsolete” (“senile”) capitalism: the first long crisis which extended from 1871–1873 up to 1945–1955, the second, still underway, which began a century later, starting with 1971–1973. I have emphasized in this analysis the central means mobilized by capital to overcome its permanent crisis: the construction and vertiginous growth of a Department III (complementing the two departments—production of means of consumption and production of means of production—dealt with by Marx) for absorption of the surplus linked to conjoined monopoly rents and imperialist rents.2

Lenin was the first to take notice of this qualitative change in the nature of capitalism. His sole sin was optimism, the belief that this first crisis of capitalism would be the last one. He underestimated the perverse and destructive effects of the imperialist unfolding in the central societies of the system. Having drawn the consequences of a precise estimate of those effects, Mao chose patience: the socialist road would be very long and strewn with ambushes.

The twentieth century was indeed that of a first time “awakening of the South,” more exactly an awakening of the peoples, the nations, and the states of the peripheries of the system: starting with Russia (a “semi-periphery”), then engulfing China, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In this sense the twentieth century was that of the first springtime of the peoples involved. I have pointed out the series of major events which, right from the outset of the century, proclaimed those springtimes—the Russian (1905–1917), Chinese (from 1911), Mexican (1910–1920), and other revolutions. I have put the Bandung period for contemporary Asia and Africa, which was both the crown and the end of that great moment in universal history, back into this framework. Thus, in some way we can read this response of the peoples dominated by the imperialist unfolding as a continuation of the task undertaken by the Taiping Revolution and as its generalization across three continents.

In contrast, the Paris Commune had no successors in the developed West. Despite their courageous attempts, the Third International Communists did not succeed in building a historic camp alternative to the camp aligned upon rule of society by the imperialist monopolies. It is here that lies the true tragedy of the twentieth century, not in the inadequacies of the peripheries’ awakening but in its absence in the centers. The inadequacies—then the fatal deviations—of the peripheries’ nations might well have been overcome if the peoples of the centers had broken with their own pro-imperialist alignment.

The springtimes of peoples that unfolded during the twentieth century have worn out their effects. From deviation to deviation, they ended by collapsing and falling rightward before capital’s counter-offensive. During the 1990s this collapse was expressed through the series of triumphant counter-revolutions in that decade. Those possibilities that had existed, whether a leftward evolution of these exhausted systems or, in crisis, their stabilization around center-left formulae keeping open the future, were broken by the triple conjunction linking: (1) the inadequacies of popular protest limited to democratic demands unrelated to social or geopolitical questions; (2) the exclusively repressive responses of the power structures; (3) interventions by the imperialist West. In these conditions it is just farcical to treat the “revolutions” of the USSR and the countries of the European East (1989–1991) as “springtimes of peoples.” Built on huge illusions about capitalist reality, these movements ended with nothing that might be considered positive. The peoples involved are still waiting for their springtime, which perhaps might yet come.

Throughout the course of the twentieth century and right up to today the autumn of capitalism and the springtime of the peoples (itself confined to the peoples of the peripheries) have been entirely separate. For that reason the autumn of capitalism has provided the major motive force of evolution. Which it has switched onto the rails of increasing barbarism, the only logical answer that conforms to the requirements for maintaining the dominion of capital. In the first instance, imperialist barbarism, redoubled by putting into effect military control of the planet by the armed forces of the United States and their subaltern European allies of NATO to the sole profit of the monopolies of the collective imperialism of the triad United States–Europe–Japan. But also in response to this the sliding of the responses of their victims—the peoples of the South—toward backward-looking illusions which themselves are pregnant with barbarity.

That risk, which at present is the dominant reality, will not diminish until advances toward the conjunction between the autumn of capitalism and the springtime of peoples—of all the peoples, those both of the peripheries and of the centers—will be decisive enough to open the universalist socialist perspective. Will the twenty-first century be a “remake” of the twentieth, with the liberation attempts of the peoples of the South coinciding with maintenance of the pro-imperialist alignment of the peoples of the North?

To Build Unity Within Recognition of Diversity

There is no possible revolutionary advance of the movement toward socialism without construction of strategic unity of action linking together the needed critical mass of diverse social forces in conflict with the dominant capitalist system. It yet remains to identify correctly the nature of the social diversity at issue: distinguishing between those differences that count more and those that count less. The sources and forms of diversity are themselves innumerable. To describe them would take many pages of statistical tables: there are the men and the women, the young and the old, the natives and the immigrants, in some countries the human beings with different shades of skin color, those belonging to this or that religion or linguistic group, those who own property and those who do not, skilled and unskilled workers, etc.

A non-simplifying class analysis permits deeper comprehension of the problems. At bottom, there is certainly in capitalism the contrast between the bourgeois (owners of the means of production and/or the managers of that property) and the proletarians (who have only their labor power to sell). But this contrast is expressed through a great diversity in the spectrum of concrete social situations. There are wage-earners (sellers of labor power) whose possession of unusual skills lets them benefit from a certain degree of stability, and there are those relegated to permanent instability. There are the capitalists—owners—small, medium, or large-scale entrepreneurs, and there are the managing executives of the big capital of the financialized monopolies, etc.

This great differentiation of the basic classes is likewise extremely varied depending on whether the society in question is that of a dominant capitalist/imperialist country or that of a dominated peripheral capitalism. The social situation of a proletarian in an opulent country is different from that of his alter ego in a poor society. The rural and peasant mass, reduced to numerical insignificance in today’s centers, remains a strong presence in the peripheries, etc.

There is certainly a weighty tendency toward simplification of social structures resulting from the logic of capital accumulation (concentration of property and/or concentration of control) but there are several false notions about the simplification of social structure resulting from capitalism: (1) the idea that the bourgeois/proletarian contrast would wipe out expression of the presence of other social forces from the field of politics; (2) the idea that the bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and the proletariat, on the other, would become homogeneous camps with little internal differentiation; (3) the idea that the globalized expansion of capitalism would bring closer together the social structures of the advanced countries and those of the backward countries pursuing the path of “catching up” (“developing,” as they say).

Let us take, for example, the expansion of industrial capitalism in nineteenth-century Europe. In no country of that continent did the bourgeoisie, the new dominant class, wipe out the aristocratic classes from the ancien régime. Everywhere it reached political compromises with them that preserved their control over important segments of the power-structure (like the officer corps). And though the 1914 war was an inter-imperialist war, it was also a war belonging to the crowned heads of Europe; until the entry of the United States, France was the only republic at war.

The bourgeoisie is not a class composed of all those with formal ownership of the means of production. That property could, once limited-liability corporations had been invented, be spread around even though control over it was not. The bourgeoisie is not a homogeneous class organized as a pyramid of wealth rising from small, through middle, to great capitalists. An integral part of it is provided by segments of the middle classes (middle as measured by quantity of income formally derived from wage labor) involved in economic and political management of society. The bourgeoisie is likewise differentiated by business-sector positioning and/or location in advancing or declining regions, etc.

In the peripheries the bourgeoisie is not simply a late-born bourgeoisie growing up comfortably, living a lavish, if even more parasitic, lifestyle akin to that of its counterparts in the center. No more is it divided into two segments, one compradore (bad bourgeoisie) the other national (good bourgeoisie). Having entered the world within the framework of the worldwide expansion of imperialism, the bourgeoisie of the periphery is compradore by nature. Nevertheless, it might behave like a national bourgeoisie when the circumstances offer it some room for maneuver. I insist on the importance of this Maoist interpretation about the nature of the bourgeoisies of the periphery.

The structure of the classes making up a people in the countries of the periphery is likewise very different from that in the centers. The peasant classes in the South are themselves differently differentiated from one country to the other, with structurings partly inherited from specific precapitalist pasts—and themselves reshaped in turn by the particular ways in which they were integrated/subordinated into modern capitalism. The pauperization processes resulting from global capitalist accumulation have created there, in the peripheries, a growing mass of the dispossessed who survive only through “informal” economic activity.

Under the deceptive label of “neoliberalism,” during the past three decades weighty tendencies have been at work in the framework of the spread of globalized, financialized, and generalized monopoly capitalism.3 These weighty tendencies have produced: (1) a general, but extremely segmented, proletarianization (80 percent of the population, at least in the centers, comprising waged and salaried sellers of labor power); (2) forms of subordination established everywhere, in the centers as in the peripheries, reducing economic activities seemingly independent of the monopolies (especially those of the peripheries’ peasants but also of their industries) to the de jure or de facto status of subcontractors—thus enabling the transformation of a growing fraction of surplus value into monopoly rents; (3) replacement of historic forms of capitalist organization as embodied in concrete bourgeoisies with a new form of domination by abstract capital (“incarnate in the market,” specifically in the “financial market”). Thenceforward the bourgeoisie had become a class composed of—very well paid!—wage-workers employed by the financial oligarchy (the 1% of Occupy Wall Street and of the Spanish Indignados).

The unfolding of this new structure of generalized-monopoly capitalism did not (and could not) result in relative social stabilization—it resulted in social degradation pregnant with popular revolts. Neither did it (nor could it) result in relative stabilization of the new center/periphery relationships—on the contrary, it resulted in aggravation of the contradictions and conflicts between them. The historic imperialist centers (the United States–Europe–Japan triad) could no longer maintain their global dominance other than through military control over the whole world. In the face of this geostrategic deployment by Washington and its subaltern allies, some “emerging” states and peoples of the South resist by affirming—to various degrees—“sovereign projects,” leading to growing North–South conflicts. In other countries of the periphery the domination system of globalized-monopoly capitalism works through its alliance with compradore state power structures lacking national and popular legitimacy. This is a second motive for revolts of the peoples.

Under our eyes, generalized-monopoly capitalism is imploding in the various forms here recalled. By that very fact a new period of revolutionary situations is opening to us. How are we to act, in these circumstances, to make of the possible a reality: advances of the movement toward socialism? To answer we must take up again our reflection on the relationship: strategic unity of action/diversity of the social and political components of the movement of the peoples.

In the past, revolutionary situations allowed revolutionary advances (towards socialism) whenever concrete responses were given to this unity/diversity dialectical contradiction.

I speak here of dialectical contradiction. In effect, its solution does not proceed through negation of one of its two terms but through the transformation of their contrast into their active complementarity. A metaphysical view of contradiction cannot understand the nature of this challenge and the way to respond to it. Now, that view has often been, and still is, prevalent because it offers easy answers that, according to immediate appearances, might seem to be the only ones possible.

For example: the absolute priority of “unity” (of the people) is affirmed and the real effects of diversity, which make implementation of that unity impossible or pernicious, are denied. Or contrariwise, the unavoidable need for unity (identification of common staged strategic objectives and organization of a united front taking responsibility for their realization) is denied in favor of the affirmation that diverse struggles (those of various fractions of the people in revolt) will all by themselves provide a solution of the problem. The unavoidable question of power is then avoided. This metaphysical response to the contradiction still prevails on the contemporary scene everywhere in the South and the North. It reduces the movements in struggle to maintenance of defensive positions leaving the initiative to the enemy—monopoly capitalism and its state political instruments in North and South. So it is a strategy powerless to push forward the movement toward socialism.

As I have said, in the past correct dialectical responses have sometimes been applied with success. In Russia in 1917, Lenin grasped the way to maximize the power of unity by proposing, to the diverse components of the people in revolt, shared strategic objectives: peace and land. By offering land to the soldier-peasants he founded an alliance that allowed the new Bolshevik party to escape its isolation. For that party, until then, had no real audience among peasants. In China, as early as the 1930s, Mao refounded the Communist Party on the base of a firm and lasting alliance with the poor and exploited peasantry. That is the secret of the 1949 victory. What happened to it afterwards in regard to management of the unity/diversity relationship (i.e., the question of alliances making up the historic coalition of the movement toward socialism) constitutes a different problem, one that I will not take up in this essay.

In both cases there was a concrete response to the challenge. It stemmed from a concrete analysis, which turned out to be right, of what were the diversities: those that are crucial (in the sense that taking them into account enables working the lever of revolutionary advance) and those that were not. In this domain there are no worthwhile general formulae that could be substituted for concrete analysis. The crucial contemporary diversities cannot be the same in France as in the United States, in China as in India, in Peru as in Congo.

Whatever “generality” can be expressed in this connection I have already formulated in my propositions about the necessary “audacity” which alone enables the radical lefts of our epoch to respond properly to the challenge.4 I will sum up the meaning of these propositions in the next two paragraphs:

  1. In the imperialist centers the radical left must dare to advocate the pure and simple expropriation of the monopolies through nationalization/statification (a first stage), together with plans concerning the organization of advances toward the democratic socialization of their management. It is then a matter of identifying the crucial diversities that are to be linked together through constructing a unity of action based on the identification at each stage of their common partial goals.
  2. In the peripheries the radical left must be able to identify the diverse components of a hegemonic social alliance that is an alternative to the one on which the compradore coalition in power finds support. Only if it becomes capable, at each stage, of identifying strategically the common partial goals crucial to the anti-compradore alliance, can it achieve this result.

It is only when these conditions will have been fulfilled that the movement toward socialism can be seen to be affirmed through advances in the real, albeit progressive, transformation of contemporary societies.

Communism, Higher Stage of Human Civilization

Toward a second wave of emergence for the states, peoples, and nations of the peripheries.

The ambition of the movement toward socialism is to refound human society on other foundations than those that are fundamentally characteristic of capitalism. This future is conceived as realizing a higher stage of universal human civilization, not simply as realizing a more “just,” or even more “efficacious,” model of our familiar civilization (“modern” capitalist civilization).

Well, preparation of the future, even of the distant future, begins today. It is good to know what one wants. What social model? Based on what principles: Destructive competition among individuals or affirmation of the benefits of solidarity? A liberty that legitimizes inequality or a liberty tied to equality? Exploitation of the planet’s resources with no concern for the future or an exact accounting of the requirements for reproduction of the planet’s conditions of life?

Socialism will be democratic or it will not exist at all. On condition of understanding the democratization of society as an unending process that cannot be reduced to the formula of electoral multiparty representative as the definition of “real democracy.” The dominant Western media propounds “democracy first” for the countries of the South, which it understands as the immediate holding of multiparty elections; and many civil society organizations in the South have gone over to that proposition. Nevertheless, repeated experiments prove that this is merely a miserable farce which the imperialists and their local allies have no trouble manipulating to their own gain. In the centers, representative electoral democracy had always constituted the effective means for blocking any threats that labor struggles would become radicalized. Class struggles, which unfold on a basis of the extreme diversity of living conditions and segmentation within the laboring classes, articulated in these conditions to electoral settlement of political conflicts, had always been effective means for blocking the radicalization of popular movements. Electoralism (which Lenin called parliamentary cretinism) reinforces the negative effects of the segmentation of classes within the people and deprives of all effectiveness any strategy for building their unity. Western public opinion, alas, envisages no alternative to this system of political management, to which even the Communists have now gone over. Nevertheless, with the establishment of generalized-monopoly capitalism the electoral farce becomes totally visible, effacing the former right/left contrast.

The movement toward socialism has the duty of opening new fields for the invention of more advanced ways to manage political democracy.

John Bellamy Foster has argued convincingly that socialism, as understood by Marx, is ecological by its very nature. I add that green capitalism is still an impossible utopia because respect for the requirements of a political environmentalism worthy of the name is incompatible with respect for the basic laws governing capitalist accumulation. Here also the movement toward socialism has the duty of opening new fields for the invention of procedures of economic management that integrate the long run, that link democratic socialization of social relationships to the requirements for reproduction of life-spaces on the planet, which, in its turn, is the condition for transmitting the heritage of these common properties from one generation to another.

In its answers to these questions, the movement toward socialism cannot restrict itself to expressing pious vows, to propounding a remake of the nineteenth century’s utopian socialisms. To avoid that fate it must answer the following questions: (1) Today, what is our scientific knowledge in the fields of anthropology and sociology that calls into question the “utopias” formulated in the past? (2) What is our new scientific knowledge about reproduction conditions of life on the planet? (3) Can this knowledge be integrated into an open Marxist thought?

In this general framework, we must give full treatment to the emergence projects of the states and peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The first wave of emergings, which extended successfully between 1950 and 1980, is exhausted. That page having been turned, the imperialist powers were able to retake the initiative and to impose the “diktat” (and not the supposed “consensus”) of Washington. In its turn, this project of wildcat globalization is in implosion, offering to the peoples of the peripheries a chance to undertake a second wave of liberation and progress. What might be the goals of that second wave? There is a confrontation here among different political and cultural visions (reactionary, or illusory, or progressive) whose likelihoods will need to be studied.

To Exit From the Framework of Established Globalization

Within the framework of the established globalization model, there is no space available for the movement toward socialism to begin its deployment onto the field of reality. So it has to write into its program both immediate and more distant strategic objectives that allow an exit from that framework. If not, there will be no exit from the model of “lumpen development” based on subcontracting and resource pillage, resulting in an indescribable pauperization of all the countries that accept their submission to the extension requirements of liberal globalization.

One often hears: “The problem is worldwide; its solution must be worldwide.” The first proposition is correct, but the second does not flow from it. A transformation of globalization from above, for example by international negotiations in a UN framework, has absolutely no chance of permitting even the least progress. The long series of UN international conferences, from which nothing (as was foreseeable) has ever emerged, is evidence of that. The global system has never been transformed from above, but always starting from below, i.e., from initial changes of the line of development that at first became possible at local levels (or else national levels, in the framework of states/nations, which are the centers of crucial political struggles). Then conditions might eventually be formed to open possibilities for transformation of globalized relationships. Deconstruction must always be preliminary to the possibility of reconstructing differently. The example of Europe in crisis is testimony to that. The European structures will never undergo transformation from above by Brussels. Only disobedience by some European state, and then by another one, would make it possible to envisage the reconstruction of “another Europe.”

The strategy of starting transformations by action at national levels can be summed up in the following sentence: one must refuse to adjust unilaterally to the requirements for extension of the established globalization, replace it by prioritizing getting to work on “sovereign projects,” and force the global system to adjust to the requirements for the unfolding of these national projects.

But what then is meant by “sovereign projects”?

In certain conditions, getting to work on sovereign projects opens a space for advances of the movement toward socialism. Of course, the very notion of “sovereign project” is open to discussion. Given the degree of penetration of transnational investments in all domains and all countries we cannot avoid the question: What sort of sovereignty are you talking about?

The dynamics of contemporary capitalism are in many ways determined by the global conflict over natural resources. The matter is a special question whose examination is not to be drowned in other general considerations. The United State’s dependence for many of those resources and the growing demand from China are a challenge to South America, Africa, and the Middle East, which are particularly well endowed with resources and have been shaped by the history of their pillage. Can one develop, in these domains, national and regional policies that initiate rational and equitable planetary management, benefitting all the peoples? Can one develop, written into that perspective, new relationships between China and the countries of the South at issue? Will they link China’s access to those resources to support for the industrialization of the countries involved (something the supposed “donors” of the OECD refuse to do)?

The framework for the unfolding of an effective sovereign project is not limited to the field of international action. An independent national policy remains fragile and vulnerable so long as it does not enjoy real national and popular support, which requires that it be based on economic and social policies enabling the popular classes to benefit from “development.” Social stability, which is the condition for success of a sovereign project confronted by the destabilization policies of the imperialists, is at that price. We therefore have to examine the nature of the relationships among different established or possible sovereign projects and the bases of the power systems: national, democratic, and popular project, or (illusory?) project for national capitalism?

We can then, in this framework, draw up the “balance sheet” of the “sovereign projects” currently being put into effect by the “emerging” countries.

(1) China is the only country truly engaged on the path of a sovereign project, and is the only one for which this is the case. This is a coherent project: it articulates the planned establishment of a self-centered (although simultaneously and aggressively open toward exporting) modern and complete industrial system to a mode of agricultural development based on the modernization of small farms not owned by the farmers—thus guaranteeing access to the land for everyone. But what is the nature of the objective of sovereignty being pursued? Is it a matter of national bourgeois sovereignty (whose success, in my opinion, remains based on illusions), or of national/popular sovereignty? Is it a matter of a state capitalism based on the illusion of the governing role of a new national bourgeoisie (part of which is made up of a state bourgeoisie)? Or of a state capitalism with a social dimension, evolving toward a possible “state socialism” that would itself be a stage on the long road to socialism? The answer to that question has not yet been given by the facts. Here I refer the reader to my argument about the future alternatives on offer to contemporary China.5

(2) Russia has returned to the international political stage, posing itself as the adversary of Washington. For all that, is it engaged on the path of a sovereign project? Yes, perhaps, in the intentions of the power-holders to rebuild a state capitalism independent of the diktats of the globalized monopolies? But the economic management of the country remains liberal, controlled by the oligarchy of private monopolies established by Yeltsin on the Western model. This policy, then, remains without any social dimension that would enable it to rally its people behind it.

(3) Elements of a sovereign policy exist in India, notably state-supported industrial policies of private national industrial monopolies. But nothing more than that: its general economic policies remain liberal, tragically speeding up the pauperization of the majority of peasants.

(4) In the same fashion elements of a sovereign policy exist in Brazil, carried out by big private Brazilian financial and industrial capital and big capitalist agricultural estates. But here as in India the general economic policies remain liberal, bringing no solution to the problems of poverty in a country that has become 90 percent urbanized—except that poverty has been lessened through redistributive public welfare measures. In Brazil, as in India, the power-holders’ reluctance to go further favors the ambiguous behavior of big capital, tempted to seek compromises with international capital. The fabulous natural riches of Brazil, and their exploitation under deplorable conditions (destruction of the Amazonian rainforest), further strengthen their efforts to insert the country in the established globalization system.

(5) There exists no sovereign project in South Africa, whose system remains under Anglo-American imperial control. What then are the conditions for emergence of a sovereign project in that country? What new relationships with Africa would be implied by such emergence?

(6) Can non-continent-size countries develop sovereign projects? Within what limits? What forms of regional association might facilitate their advancement?

Where to start?

With regard to the sovereign projects which the movement toward socialism ought to promote, I propose to start by identifying the priorities of action on the economic level and on the political level.

In regard to the economic level:

I suggest identifying the initial priorities with an exit from financial globalization. But take note: this involves only the financial aspect of globalization, not globalization in all its dimensions, notably the commercial ones.

We start from the hypothesis that we are dealing with the weak link of the established globalized neoliberal system. With this in mind we will examine:

  • the question of the dollar as universal money, of its future, taking into account the United States’ increasing foreign indebtedness;
  • questions in relation to the prospective adoption of the principle of “total convertibility” of the yuan, the ruble, and the rupee;6
  • the question of “exit from convertibility” of certain emerging-country currencies (Brazil, South Africa);
  • the measures that might be taken in regard to management of their national currencies by the fragile countries (especially the African ones).

Some initiatives, whose scope, however, remains modest, have been taken towards a deconstruction of the integrated globalized financial system. We here mention the establishment of the Shanghai Conference, the agreements between China and ASEAN, ALBA, the Bank of the South, the “Sucre” project, and the BRICS Bank.

In regard to the political level:

I will suggest prioritizing the implementation of strategies capable of holding in check the geopolitics and geostrategics developed by the United States and its subaltern allies within the triad.

Our starting point is the following: the capitalist monopolies of the historic imperialist (United States, Europe, Japan) powers’ pursuit of worldwide dominion is threatened by growing conflicts between: (1) on the one hand the goals of the triad (to maintain its dominion); and (2) on the other the aspirations of the emerging countries and those of the peoples victimized by and in revolt against “neoliberalism.” In these conditions the United States and its subaltern allies (linked together in “the triad’s collective imperialism”) have chosen to add to their risks by taking recourse to violence and military interventions. Testifying to this are: (a) the deployment and reinforcement of U.S. military bases (Africom and others); (b) military interventions in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, tomorrow Iran?); and (c) measures taken by the triad to encircle China militarily, including Japanese provocations, and manipulations involving China/India and China/Southeast Asia conflicts.

But it appears that, while the violence of imperialist powers’ interventions remains in fact on the agenda, these powers find it ever harder to respond to the requirements for the coherent strategy that is the condition for possible success. Is the United States at bay? Is its decline a passing one, or is it definitive? Washington’s responses, though made in a day-to-day fashion, remain no less dangerously criminal.

In confrontation with these major challenges, what strategies of international political (or even military) alliance might force a withdrawal on the U.S. project of military control over the whole planet? The importance of possible advances on this terrain is obvious. It is not by chance that the BRICS, and behind them many countries of the South—some having to various degrees entered on the path of sovereign projects, others still mired in the ruts of lumpen development—still express refusal to support the U.S. military adventures and dare to take initiatives contradicting Washington (like the use of the veto by Russia and China)? It is necessary to go further in these directions, in a broader and more systematic fashion.

Footnote

  1. *Editors’ Note: For references to this see Howard B. Davis, Nationalism and Socialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967), 61–63. Davis points out that such comments were confined to Marx and Engels’s earlier works, roughly before 1860.

Notes

  1. Teodor Shanin, ed., Late Marx and the Russian Road (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), 97–126.
  2. Samir Amin, Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013), 67–76.
  3. See in particular my discussion of this in The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).
  4. Ibid, 133–47.
  5. See Samir Amin, “China 2013,” Monthly Review 64, no. 10 (March 2013): 14–33.
  6. Samir Amin, “The Chinese Yuan and HSBC Bank,” Pambazuka no. 643, August 13, 2013, http://pambazuka.org/.

Understanding the crisis

Understanding the crisis

A response to the review by NC of The Failure of Capitalist Production by Andrew Kliman in the January issue of Socialist Voice.

Understanding the crisis is the key to addressing the political challenges we are facing today. A clear understanding of the forces behind the crisis and the contradictions that exploded in 2007 will help communists and class-conscious trade unionists to evolve the correct strategies and tactics for building class solidarity and consciousness, for pushing forward our class interests and the interests of humanity and the planet as a whole.

There are many great thinkers and activists who bring up to date and develop classic Marxist concepts to explain current events: the journal Monthly Review, the author of the book reviewed in January, Andrew Kliman, Michael Hudson, Samir Amin and researchers at RMF (Research on Money and Finance), to name but a few.

They may differ on some points in emphasis or on others in more fundamental understanding. But the aim should not be to choose one view over another and stick blindly to that view: it should be a concrete analysis of a concrete situation. And this is being achieved by using our collective knowledge and experience, combined with the most developed and coherent analysis of the system, placing it firmly in the historical trajectory of this country.

In short, it is to take the best critiques of the capitalist system today and add our experience to them.

Academics and professional economists (no offence intended) have a tendency to exaggerate differences in order to differentiate themselves from other thinkers. While they may lead the way in developing theories and providing the research that others can use, they cannot be relied on exclusively in explaining events, especially the present crisis. It is not about saying Kliman is right and Monthly Review is wrong but rather, in the best tradition of Marxism, taking the best features of the most advanced scientific thought to explain the world around us, and using this to help us change the world.

 

1. Financialisation of the accumulation process

The review seems to counterpose Kliman’s view of the declining rate of profit and the destruction of capital (or failure to destroy sufficient capital) to financialisation theory (in particular Monthly Review writers) in explaining the crisis and to suggest that it is either one or the other.

The reviewer writes: “The thesis presented in the book stands out in a number of ways from many contemporary radical interpretations (notably the financialised-underconsumptionist thesis advanced by the influential Monthly Review, which melds together a particular Marxian/post-Keynesian viewpoint and that of the Marxist political geographer David Harvey).”

I do not agree that either financialisation or insufficient destruction of capital is the root cause of the crisis. The system itself is the root cause, and both financialisation and insufficient destruction of capital in previous recessions are essential features of monopoly capitalism. Accepting both is not necessarily a contradiction when one understands them as features of monopoly capitalism in its current state.

Kliman’s calculations of the declining rate of profit for the system as a whole, I suggest, do not necessarily contradict the evidence that after-tax profits and wealth have been concentrating and monopolising, leading to an abundance of capital in fewer hands that required investment in financial innovations and that blew up speculative bubbles to avoid global stagnation.

The failure to destroy capital en masse since the Second World War has driven capital to these financial avenues as other, more productive avenues are shut off by over-production and the cheapening of production.

My understanding, for what it is worth, is that the financialisation of the accumulation process (finance as the main avenue for investment of excess capital and source of profit and growth within the system today) is a product of the very crisis Kliman explains so well. It is a result, not a cause, of the generally stagnating economy. It has been a systemic response to divert after-tax profits (and after what capital can be reinvested in the monopolies that finance controls) to financial or (in the case of property bubbles) finance-led investment avenues.

Financialisation was not a misled policy choice but rather a solution to the problem of excess capital in the system, which, without a massive destruction of capital, had no home to go to.

Take GE Capital, Pfizer International Bank or the Volkswagen Bank as examples. These are the banking arms of global manufacturing monopolies. They were not set up as a policy choice by those companies to divert their capital to finance and away from manufacturing: they were set up because even after tax (what little they pay), bonuses and reinvestment, global monopolies still had masses of capital to invest, and financial products offered an avenue.

But financialisation, or the failure to destroy enough capital, do not by themselves explain the crisis; because what drove them as processes?

To try to find this out it might be worth while looking at more of the dominant features and how they connect to financialisation and the declining rate of profit in order to better understand the crisis and the establishment’s response.

 

2. The monopolisation of power

Wealth, income and control are all features of power, and power is being monopolised and concentrated in fewer and fewer hands globally. Power over productive relations that mould the shape of society, human relations and indeed the environment are increasingly centralised in the hands of the big monopolies and their biggest shareholders.

Even during this recession, global wealth increased, from $195 trillion in 2010 to $231 trillion in 2011, with the top 1 per cent—those with more than $712,000—accounting for 44 per cent of that $231 trillion and the top 10 per cent owning 84 per cent, while the bottom 50 per cent have barely 1 per cent.

Recent research found that of 43,060 transnational corporations analysed, a little over 730 entities control 80 per cent of these corporations, and a mere 147 control more than 40 per cent. Of these 147 controlling entities, 75 per cent are financial institutions.

This is how monopolised and uncompetitive production is. The automobile industry is dominated by about six companies, semiconductors by about twelve, music production about four; there are about ten big pharmaceutical companies, three soft drinks companies, and only two major commercial aviation companies.

And, as described above, these are then controlled by a few—often the same—large shareholders. This would suggest that a willing destruction of capital (or devaluation of assets) will be unlikely, given the power possessed by this handful of people who would take the biggest hit.

 

3. The internationalisation of production

Hand in hand with the process of monopolisation, and driven by the same accumulation process, production has become internationalised.

The dominant form of production and exchange is not local: it is truly global. A pair of Nike shoes contains about fifty parts, which are made in dozens of different factories in half a dozen countries. The total cost of a pair of Nike runners is about $1.50; they sell for over $100.

This means that workers are pitted against each other globally in a race to the bottom, with only one winner: profit. The amount of money big monopolies can accumulate through the internationalisation of production is huge. This is what has led to an over-accumulation of capital in the system.

The increasing size of monopolies means they can control the production and distribution networks within their field, and pit one against another. Labour becomes de-skilled as workers merely complete one task rather than completing an entire commodity. And more and more is produced through this cheapening and fragmentation of the production process.

However, the drive to pursue profits and ensure a return for shareholders does not pass on price reductions to consumers, as seen in the Nike example; and as workers in the “West” are cheapened by this process, consumption and demand are weakened, resulting in a continuous state of over-production.

Supply is not driven by demand but by the creation of surplus value through the application of labour in the production process. Capital emphasises the need to get the most out of labour, increase and cheapen production. Demand often suffers as a result and rarely meets supply. The extension of debt, or credit, has been a useful tool in artificially trying to match demand to supply. However, it is like putting a plaster over a gunshot wound and cannot seriously create an equilibrium between contradictory forces.

 

4. The proletarianisation of peoples

One of the great myths is that “globalisation” is destroying the working class and making everyone some kind of middle class. The artificial growth of a middle class has been shown to have been merely superficial and based upon mounting debt and rising asset values. The reality is that, as the internationalisation of production has developed, and in particular the monopolisation of land, this has brought with it the proletarianisation of peoples. More and more peasants and subsistence farmers are driven off their land and forced into cities to work in factories. This also has damaging and negative consequences for the environment, in both rural and urban settings, and has led to the development of horrific slum dwellings around cities.

In addition to this, as the monopolisation of production and retail outlets has progressed, the number of small businesses has also declined globally, being replaced with megastores and transnational companies.

The number of small businesses closing during this crisis is evident. Equally, during a time of crisis, with little real avenue for investment, many companies pursue aggressive take-over strategies to reduce their competition and increase their market share. Often small businesses are absorbed by their larger competitors, again reducing the number of self-employed and increasing the wage class: workers.

 

5. The growing reserve army of labour

As the system expands into almost every corner of the earth, by open warfare at times, and the working class is expanded, so too is the number of global unemployed—the number of potential workers the system has at its disposal. Marx called this group of potential workers the reserve army of labour, and this has truly expanded as monopoly capitalism has grown.

The proletarianisation of peoples and the defeat of the socialist economies have greatly expanded the number of potential workers, to 2.4 billion today, approximately 65 per cent of the potential global work force.

Supply and demand in influencing the cost of labour (our wages) has an obvious and speedy impact, but the cheaper cost of maintaining a worker in southern parts of the globe is the main driving force behind this process. As production has become so internationalised, the speed at which it can seek out and move to the cheapest parts of the globe has increased. The ever-growing reserve army of cheap labour is part of a race to the bottom and of the assault on trade unions and working conditions in the West.

The retreat of social democracy is less an ideological or policy retreat than a result of the fact that its material base—strong domestic industry in the central economies—has vanished as a result of the monopolisation and internationalisation processes and with it the leverage that workers in those countries could bring to bear on political economy.

 

6. The pauperisation of the working class in monopoly centres

This process of imposed division and competition between workers is leading to the pauperisation of the working class in the centres of monopoly capital and the gross exploitation and abuse of workers in the South.

As major economic activities have moved away from the West, social democracy has withered. These economies have been forced to become more “open” to deal with the new speed and direction of capital in undermining the terms and conditions of employment.

While real wages have largely stagnated, debt has driven consumption. Inflating asset values, such as houses and shares, have provided a false growth in consumption by working people in the West. This has been shattered by the burst of this latest speculative bubble.

The extremely weak foundations that consumption was reliant upon have been exposed, and increasing “austerity,” to shore up finance capital, is only exacerbating the overproduction of real goods.

 

7. The role of debt

Credit, and its negative—debt—have always played a role in the capitalist production process. However, it is fair to say today that the role it plays now is far greater and more global in its effect on production and the usual cyclical functioning of the system.

As capital concentrated, those accumulating it could more easily direct and control production to suit their needs through investment and ownership in companies. Equally, the amassing capital required ever more investment avenues. Monopoly production killed off many “real” investment opportunities, and the processes outlined above closed off avenues in reinvestment.

For every extension of a loan, or every bet on a future price or event, debt within the system is created. Debt-based “products” became a significant source of investment and return, including the purchase of and speculation in government bonds or collateralised mortgage products.

Banks created hundreds of debt-based androids that acted as investment avenues but also as security for further loans. This side of the accumulating process (M—M, in the terms used by Marx in Capital) created capital out of itself, and with it volumes of personal, corporate and government debt in the system as debt became an asset and a source of further investment and growth.

The scale of systemic reliance upon this system of M—M growth can be seen in the unusual length of the investors’ “strike” and the negligible effect of hundreds of billions in quantitative easing. During a recession, investors are afraid, and a hoarding of capital is not unusual. However, it would normally pick up after a number of “corrective measures” and an appropriate avenue is found for it.

Today this fear is still clear to see; and reading the pages of Bloomberg or listening to many of the speeches at Davos one can see that it is not going anywhere in the near future. The scale of debt in the system means that investors don’t know how to hedge their bets, as the likelihood of default is ever present and very real. With “sure things” having totally collapsed, investors don’t know where the next Lehman Brother or Irish economy is.

Equally, any quantitative easing that has taken place has not created new jobs or oiled the wheels of production: instead it has been used by those same corporate hoarders to pay off some of their own debts.

 

8. Speculation and bubbles

While the processes described above have concentrated ever more capital in fewer controlling hands, growth in monopoly centres, such as the United States, Britain, and Europe, would have been negligible over the last couple of decades had it not been for speculation-led financial growth in a series of bubbles.

In the German economy, the driving engine of the economy in the European Union, growth never reached more than 4 per cent but was more often 1 or 2 per cent (and this is including finance-led growth). In Ireland, if one knocks off the 25 per cent or so of GNP attributable to the property bubble each year of the so-called Celtic Tiger, our economic growth was more of a mirage than a miracle. Even recently published reports show that the economy is still stagnant; the only small bit of growth is in foreign monopolies.

Mergers and acquisitions, commodity bubbles and futures speculation, energy and “dot-com” bubbles, sovereign debt and currency speculation, property and mortgage bubbles (and throw in some legal, and illegal, money-laundering)—these have provided the system with its major source of growth, investment, and the creation of new capital through profits.

Speculation is different from investment; it is different from the run-of-the-mill extension of credit to a business or company. In a capitalist sense, investment follows an analysis of the company or product and a belief in its ultimate success. That is to say, the investor has “bought in” to the product. Speculation is less thorough. Little analysis is done, or no thorough analysis can be done, as it may be a blind bet on a future event.

The nature of speculation leads to bubbles, as a spike or inflation of asset prices resulting from the investment of capital attracts more capital, leading to further inflation and consequently to a bubble. While this does provide an avenue for a “quick fix” for capital to invest in and get a return, providing growth in the system, it is quickly flooded with all that other capital seeking an investment opportunity. What may have begun as a spike in valuation grows into a bubble and ends with no soft landing but with an explosive burst.

 

A system in deep and lasting crisis

The phenomena described above are all dominant features of capitalism today, and they cannot be undone. This is the situation from which any capitalist recovery must come, or from which any transformation to socialism will be born.

These features, and the extent to which they have developed, are what make the present crisis distinctly different from previous recessions, in a number of
ways.

1. The crisis is universal. It is not confined to one area of the accumulation process. It is not merely a banking or finance crisis. It is not merely a crisis of under-consumption. It is not merely a crisis of over-production of houses or over-investment in energy.

2. The crisis is global. It is not just in one area or one hemisphere. The United States, the European Union, Japan and the global South are all affected.

3. It appears to be continuous or permanent. Rather than being a two-year or three-year “downturn” with a gradual recovery, this is now the fifth year of the crisis, and there are few signs of a recovery.

This is what makes the crisis truly systemic and structural. This is what makes this crisis different from previous ones. The result of this crisis, and any so-called solutions to this crisis, will deepen the contradictions and accentuate these features even more.

Wealth is already being concentrated even further. Production is monopolised even further, with mergers and acquisitions being used as an investment avenue for the abundance of capital in the system. Production is moving to ever-cheaper parts of the globe, reducing the cost of production to maximise profits out of a contracting customer base. The global number of unemployed is increasing, and the impoverishment of working people in the West will further reduce consumption for goods but also lead to the further indebtedness of both individuals and countries.

Without a massive destruction of capital, the stagnation and contradictions that were only superficially covered up by finance-led growth will lie exposed for some time, wreaking hardship and misery on the vast majority while benefiting only a few.

The structure of monopoly capitalism, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with monopoly rivalry and the control of monopolies through shares that are dominated by a few hedge funds and finance companies, may well prevent the global destruction of asset value on the scale that Kliman suggests, leaving us with the understanding that this is not a normal cyclical crisis or recession but one whose features are so accentuated, structural and systemic, and with contradictions so great, that it may well constitute a phase of capitalism in aggressive decay.