Samir Amin, The World We Wish To See: Revolutionary Objectives in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008).
This book is an important reaffirmation of the necessity for revolution and socialism from one of the left’s preeminent critics of global capitalism. The importance of this manifesto is twofold. Not only does it challenge hegemonic notions that ‘there is no alternative’ to capitalism, it also challenges the left to once again put power at the center of its political project.
Amin’s manifesto starts with an analysis of the contradictory nature of capitalism. Capitalism has, since its origins, integrated core and periphery into a system of global exploitation, but at the same time it has been characterized by a system of nation-states. The system of nation-states, with its diversity of specific political and cultural institutions, has played an important role in the development of capitalism, but it also serves as an important foundation from which to challenge capitalism. Global capitalism is characterized by a diversity of “popular classes and other dominated and exploited peoples” (8) that resist capitalism in ways specific to their own situation. While workers’ struggles “will continue to form the central axis of struggles likely to change the social balance of power” (36), the left must be organized as a hegemonic bloc uniting diverse forms of resistance to capitalism. The major task for the left, therefore, is “to construct a convergence in diversity that will make it possible for dominated and oppressed classes and people to advance” (38). Amin is calling for nothing short of the creation of a Fifth International for the renewal of the socialist project.
Amin rejects the abandonment of revolution which has characterized much of the left since the collapse of Soviet state socialism. While recognizing the failures and limitations of 20th-century revolutions, Amin argues that revolutions “make it possible for creative utopian ideas to win over minds and, eventually, achieve the supreme ambition of modernity, which is to make human beings the active subjects of their own history” (18). The social movements which are to serve as the principal agent of revolution in the 21st century are defined by three features: 1) they work for social progress, by which Amin means the elimination of exploitation and oppression; 2) they use participatory democratic methods and forms of organization; and 3) they respect diversity and national autonomy. The history of 20th-century socialism shows that the left’s record on these points is problematic. The Soviet Union and China, when faced with “the contradictory task of ‘catching up’ (which implies the use of methods analogous to those of capitalism) and ‘doing something else’ (constructing socialism)” (19), eventually chose the former over the latter. Likewise, Amin is critical of the national-populist regimes that came to power following national liberation struggles in Africa and Asia for their pursuit of national capitalist goals rather than socialism.
Amin is also critical of the vanguardist strategies that defined 20th-century socialism:
This tradition is reproached, and rightly so, for the undemocratic practices on which it was based: rejection of diversity; the claim of some to hold the ‘correct line’ deduced from a ‘scientific’ analysis that is asserted to be irreproachable; the marked centralization of organization and decision-making authorities…; bureaucratic and doctrinaire excesses that were fatal in these conditions, etc. (61f)
The appropriate response to this history is not to reject revolution, but to affirm the unity of socialism and democracy: “There will be no socialism without democracy, but equally there will be no democratic advances without social progress” (71).
This slim volume offers a sophisticated argument presented in a highly accessible manner. Left activists in all of their diversity will find it a useful tool for organizing within their movements.
University of Massachusetts Lowell