Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Power of the Periphery

"Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,” by Samir Amin, 2016

Amin is a unique theorist, combining Maoism, social democracy and progressive nationalism into an analysis of present-day imperialism.  This book combines an anti-imperialist analysis with a ‘geographical’ analyses – building on his earlier concept of the ‘center’ and ‘periphery,’ which updates the concepts of the ‘global North/global South,’ or the ‘1st world/3rd world’ dyads.   He rejects the Bolshevik Party’s ‘underestimation of the peasantry,’ citing Stalin’s forced collectivization as the ultimate breaking of the worker/peasant alliance.  This criticism includes Lenin and Trotsky as well.  Regarding the latter, Amin’s comments echo prior Stalinist critiques of Trotsky (an ‘academic Marxist’), as well as making Trotsky’s very early role in calling for political revolution in Russia invisible.   Amin:  “At the risk of sounding pretentious, I have been part of a small current on the left that that had broadly foreseen what came to a climax between 1989 and 1991.” That actually is pretentious and inaccurate. 
Core and peripheries of global capitalism

Mao’s block with the peasantry and the anti-bureaucratic model of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ are touchstones in this group of essays centered around Russia, as well as the 1955 Bandung Conference.   I will list his main points, as these are ideological writings based on history for the most part.

1.   The comparison of Russia in either Czarist times or under the Bolsheviks with ‘imperialism’ or empire in the capitalist West is a factually false comparison.  The Czar was actually less brutal to subject nationalities than the British (or American) colonialists, while the Bolsheviks forged a USSR based on the integration of many nationalities, not subject to economic exploitation.  Russia and China did not extract ‘imperialist rent.’  The dissolution of the USSR was actually carried out by only two counter-revolutionary leaders in Russia and Ukraine over the heads of the population.
2.   Imperialism is always for the dissolution or ‘independence’ of multi-national states it opposes (Yugoslavia, Russia, China, etc.) while seeing the independence of Scotland or Quebec or Catalonia as forbidden.  (Amin actually is against the independence of Scotland, oddly, as he thinks it is not really separate from Britain any longer.)
3.  Amin, being a Maoist, believes that Russia was and China is ‘state capitalist’ and that ‘state capitalism’ seems to be a progressive step on the road to socialism.  He believes that this entails a ‘new’ bourgeoisie – a state bourgeoisie, i.e. a new class suddenly developed out of government.  I won’t analyze this position in depth, but it would logically lead to fighting for ‘state capitalism’ as a progressive step.  Unity with the incipient state-capitalists will make the fight for socialism that much ‘longer!’  He calls Stalinism’s goal a ‘capitalism without capitalists’ which seems to be strikingly similar. 
4.  Oddly, in his long, detailed, mostly social-democratic prescription for what should happen in Russia, he thinks a wing of Putin’s oligarchy might opt for independent development after the NATO coup in the Ukraine – a development which might continue the ‘long transition’ towards socialism.  In certain places he does echo Trotsky’s call for workers control and independent unions, though what he means by workers democracy is not clear given his adulation of the Cultural Revolution.  At one point he actually says that the first victims of the Soviet ‘realists’ were ‘communist militants’ - members of the various Oppositions, including the Left Oppostion.
5.  Amin thinks the Bandung anti-imperialist conference in 1955 can reoccur out of a present alliance against the ‘triad’ – Europe, US and Japan - by the “Euro-Asian” block – China, Russia and anyone else they can pull in, like Iran and perhaps now Indonesia and Turkey.  He thinks ‘delinking’ from the economic clutches of the imperial centers is essential, which certainly makes sense.  However, given 60 years have passed since Bandung, it seems unlikely that the revolutionary nationalism of that time will manifest itself as anti-capitalist in the present period, as it did then.  Capital has swallowed nearly all of the globe in a quite literal way.   
6.  Amin understands, as nearly all leftist historians do, that the expropriation of the workers states and socialized property in central Europe and the USSR (and for him, China) came out of the majority wing of the Communist Parties - the enterprise managers and their political representatives. 
7.   Amin’s analysis is partly based on geography playing a role in why Russia and China first broke with world imperialism, although he insists that Russia was not in the ‘periphery.’ 
8.   There can never be a ‘one world government’ or state, or a fully-globalized unitary capitalism, as exploitation by the center of the peripheries is essential to its functioning.  He calls leftists who think we are going to have ‘one world’ naïve.
9.    Amin believes that Islamic political fundamentalism is a form of fascism.  As a former resident of Egypt, his opinion carries weight, as he has seen its functioning first hand.  Amin thinks that imperialists like the U.S. and Britain have been using Islamic fundamentalism for years against the working class, anti-imperialists and revolutionary nationalists.  This should come as a shock to those ‘leftists’ who have embraced Islamic politics as ‘anti-imperialist’ or ‘revolutionary.’ 
10.   The USSR only had military parity with the US./NATO block, but never economic or social parity, given it was not an imperialist power.  The ‘global class war’ was really a ‘global class defense’ against aggressive imperialism.  Amin does not find evidence that the Soviets or Chinese or Vietnamese ever wanted to export ‘revolution’ except in the form of national self-defense.  The Cuban effort in Angola against South African apartheid was to help a pre-existing revolutionary nationalist government, not something they instigated.  Even the isolated offensive effort of Che Guevara indicates that this was so. 
11.   Amin calls for a ‘Socialism III” after the collapse of the 2nd & 3rd Internationals.  However, he forgets the 1st International and makes the 4th invisible.  Perhaps his number should be “V.” 
12.   Amin believes, unlike some previous socialists, that small-scale agriculture is viable in a workers state. 
13.   The destruction of the USSR and central European workers’ states after 1991 led to an explosion in the triad’s hegemonic military aggression and financial exploitation across the globe, while in Europe and in the U.S. liberalism and conservatism united against the ‘social wage,’ public ownership, labor unions, socialist ideas and working-class parties.  All you folks cheering for the destruction of the USSR? This is what you get. 
14.  Amin reminds us that the capstone to the push for ‘democracy’ in Russia was the disbanding and bombarding of the elected Duma in 1993 by Yeltsin’s military.   It was full of too many opponents of Yeltsin and the crash-course capitalism he advocated.  An assault cheered on by the ‘democratic’ U.S. press.  To top it off, the Communist Party virtually announced its capitulation by agreeing to the new Russian constitution.
15.  Amin indicates that the ideal of Liberalism is used by capitalism in the same way that the ideology of Socialism is used by bureaucratism (or in Amin’s words “state capitalism”) –  to hide reality.  American Liberals believe an ideology that has little connection to actual social reality for the vast majority, but it serves as positivist ideological cover for the whole project.

Altogether an interesting book by an eclectic Marxist thinker. 

Other books by Samir Amin Reviewed below:  "The Law of Worldwide Value" and "The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism."     Other book or event reviews or commentary on Russia:  "Russia & Stoli"'; "Soviet Fates & Lost Alternatives", "Ukrainian Pawns", "Women in Soviet Art" "Life and Fate," "Soviet Women," "Enemy at the Gates," "Ivan's Childhood," "Reinventing Collapse," How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin", "The Red Atlantis" and "Absurdistan.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
November 29, 2016

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