1 January 2014

Marx of the East, Marx of the South

Pieces of Samir Amin, 2011, Marxism’s Tricontinental Vocation

Dedan Kimathi

Marx of the East, Marx of the South

My interpretation of historical capitalism stresses the polarization of the world (the contrast of center/periphery) produced by the historical form of the accumulation of capital. This perspective questions the visions of the “socialist revolution,” and, more broadly, the transition to socialism, that the historical Marxisms have developed. The “revolution”—or the transition—before us is not necessarily the one on which these historical visions were based. Nor are the strategies for surmounting capitalism the same.

It has to be recognized that what the most important social and political struggles of the twentieth century tried to challenge was not so much capitalism in itself as the permanent imperialist dimension of actually existing capitalism. The issue is therefore whether this transfer of the center of gravity of the struggles necessarily calls capitalism into question, at least potentially.

Marx’s thinking associates “scientific” clarity in the analysis of reality with social and political action (the class struggle in its broadest sense) aimed at “changing the world.” Confronting the basics—i.e., the discovery of the real source of surplus value produced by the exploitation of social labor by capital—is indispensable to this struggle. If this fundamental and lucid contribution of Marx is abandoned, a double failure is inevitably the result. Any such abandonment of the theory of exploitation (law of value) reduces the analysis of reality to that of appearances only, a way of thinking that is limited by its abject submission to the requirements of commodification, itself engendered by the system. Similarly, such abandonment of the labor value-based critique of the system annihilates the effectiveness of strategies and struggles to change the world, which are thereby conceived within this alienating framework, the “scientific” claims of which have no real basis.

Nevertheless, it is not enough just to cling to the lucid analysis formulated by Marx. This is not only because “reality” itself changes, and there are always “new” things to be taken into account in the development of the critique of the real world that started with Marx. But more fundamentally, it is because, as we know, the analysis that Marx put forward in Capital was left incomplete. In the planned sixth volume of this work (which was never written), Marx proposed treating the globalization of capitalism. This now has to be done by others, which is why I have dared to advocate the formulation of the “law of globalized value,” restoring the place of the unequal development (through the center/periphery polarization) that is inseparable from the global expansion of historical capitalism. In this formulation, “imperialist rent” is integrated into the whole process of the production and circulation of capital and the distribution of the surplus value. This rent is at the origin of the challenge: it accounts for why the struggles for socialism in the imperialist centers have faded, and it highlights the anti-imperialist dimensions of the struggles in the peripheries against the system of capitalist/imperialist globalization.

I shall not return here to discuss what an exegesis of Marx’s texts on this question would suggest. Marx, who is nothing less than a giant, with his critical acumen and the incredible subtlety of his thought, must have had at least an intuition that he was coming up against a serious question here. This is suggested by his observations on the disastrous effects of the alignment of the English working class with the chauvinism associated with the colonial exploitation of Ireland. Marx was therefore not surprised that it was in France—less developed than England economically, but more advanced in political consciousness—that the first socialist revolution took place. He, like Engels, also hoped that the “backwardness” of Germany would enable an original form of advance to develop, fusing together both the bourgeois and the socialist revolutions.

Lenin went still further. He emphasized the qualitative transformation that was involved in the passage to monopoly capitalism, and he drew the necessary conclusions: that capitalism had ceased to be a necessary progressive stage in history and that it was now “putrefied” (Lenin’s own term). In other words, it had become “obsolete” and “senile” (my terms), so that the passing to socialism was on the agenda, which was both necessary and possible. He conceived and implemented, in this framework, a revolution that began in the periphery (Russia, the “weak link”). Then, seeing the failure of his hopes in a European revolution, he conceived of the transfer of the revolution to the East, where he saw that the fusion of the objectives of the anti-imperialist struggle with those of the struggle against capitalism had become possible.

But it was Mao who rigorously formulated the complex and contradictory nature of the objectives in the transition to the socialism that were to be pursued in these conditions. “Marxism” (or, more exactly, the historical Marxisms) was confronted by a new challenge—one which did not exist in the most lucid political consciousness of the nineteenth century, but which arose because of the transfer of the initiative to transform the world to the peoples, nations, and states of the periphery.

Imperialist rent not “only” benefited the monopolies of the dominant center (in the form of super profits), it was also the basis of the reproduction of society as a whole, in spite of its evident class structure and the exploitation of its workers. This is what Perry Anderson analyzed so clearly as “Western Marxism,” which he described as “the product of defeat” (the abandonment of the socialist perspective)—and which is relevant here. This Marxism was then condemned, having renounced “changing the world” and committing itself to “academic” studies, without political impact. The liberal drift of social democracy—and its rallying both to the U.S. ideology of “consensus” and to Atlanticism at the service of the imperialist domination of the world—were the consequences.

“Another world” (a very vague phrase to indicate a world committed to the long road toward socialism) is obviously impossible unless it provides a solution to the problems of the peoples in the periphery—only 80 percent of the world population! “Changing the world” therefore means changing the living conditions of this majority. Marxism, which analyzes the reality of the world in order to make the forces acting for change as effective as possible, necessarily acquires a decisive tricontinental (Africa, Asia, Latin America) vocation.


Post a Comment

Post a Comment