This essay by Samir Amin discusses the possibility of forming a revolutionary Fifth International. I’ve abbreviated it for brevity and presentation and to give folks the opportunity to read it in full at the Third World Forum website, where is was originally published. As usual, re-posting here does not imply endorsement or agreement, but is to promote discussion around the broader topics. Rather than promoting the following as an answer, I hope it provokes further questions. – Nikolai Brown

Capitalism is a world-wide system. Therefore, its victims cannot effectively meet its challenges unless they organise themselves at the same global level. Yet “the Internationalism of the Peoples” has always had to confront serious difficulties produced by the unequal development associated with the globalisation of capital.

The historic lessons of the socialist and communist Internationals

The diversity of the conditions of reproduction of the different partners of global capitalism has always constituted a major challenge to the success of struggles conducted by the victims of the system. The Internationals of the workers’ movement were conceived precisely to surmount this major obstacle.

After a century and a half of the history of the Internationals it would be useful to draw some lessons which may clarify the present challenges and the options for strategic action.

The first International, which was called the International Working Mens’ Association, was created precisely to surmount the national dispersion of which the European revolutions of 1848 had showed the negative effects. The new social subject, the primary victim of the expansion of capitalism in Western and Central Europe, which had expressed its socialist or communist dreams in the year 1848, ended up being broken by the counter-revolution. It called itself “the proletariat” which at that time was composed of a minority assembled in the large factories and mines of the era, and a large circle of handicraft workers. The new proletarian class was exclusively localised in the North West region of Europe and spreading to the United States, meaning that the possibility of an intervention of the International made itself felt only within the borders of this region.

Despite its limitations, the first International was able to manage the diversity of social and political struggles in a democratic spirit which placed it at the forefront of its generation. The association brought together organisations of varying nature and status, (embryonic) political parties, unions and cooperatives, civic associations and personalities (like Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin!). Their range of intervention, analysis of challenges, strategies, visions and mobilising ideologies were diverse – extremely so. The limitations of the ideas of this generation are easily enumerated: the patriarchal notion of the relations between men and women, the ignorance towards the rest of the world etc. We could also thrash out one more time the nature of the conflicting ideologies (infant Marxism, anarchism, workers’ spontaneity et cetera), of their relevance and efficacy and so on, but this is certainly not the objective of this paper. We should keep the only lesson given by the first experience: the democratic respect for the principle of diversity. This is an important lesson for us today.

The Second International was conceived on wholly different principles. The accelerated proletarianisation of the epoch had given birth to new forms of workers’ parties with relatively important numbers of followers and influences on the working classes. The parties differed in many ways, going from English labour to the Marxist social democrats of Germany to the French revolutionary trade unionism. Nevertheless these parties rallied – at least at the beginning – to the objective of substituting the capitalist order with socialism. However, of greater importance was the principle of “one” single party for each country, “the” party that was supposed to be the exclusive representative of “the” class which in itself was seen as the unique historical subject of social transformation, “the” party that was potentially the bearer of “the correct line”, regardless of whether the party opted for – as history was later to show – moderate reform or revolution. Engels and the first Marxist leaders (Kautsky, Labriola and others) certainly considered these options as proof of progress in relation to the First International, as they probably were, at least in part. The new generation of leaders of the International did not always ignore the dangers of the main options of the time, as some were too hastily to observe (but that is not a matter of discussion in this paper). Still the limits to democratic practices in the political and social movements which were inspired by the parties of the Second International stemmed from these original fundamental options.

On the whole these parties drifted towards imperialism and nationalism. The Second International very rarely addressed the colonial question and imperialist expansion. It often legitimised imperialism by claiming that its consequences were “objectively” positive (that it forced retarded people to enter into capitalist modernity). This historical perspective, however, was refuted by the imperialist nature inherent in the global expansion of capitalism. “Social imperialist” is an apt description of this alignment of the social democratic parties with the linear bourgeois economism (with which I pretend that Marxism has nothing in common), and continued to be one of their features up until the period after the second world war with their rallying atlanticism and subsequently social liberalism.

The drift towards imperialism reinforced the chances of a parallel alignment with the nationalistic visions of the leaders of capitalism, at least regarding international relations. As is well known, the parties of the Second International foundered in the chauvinism produced by the First World War.

The Third International was created to correct this drift, and it did at least partially. It did in fact make its presence felt globally, supporting the creation of communist parties in all the peripheries of the world system and proclaiming the strategic character of the alliance of the “Workers of the West” with the “Peasants of the East”. Maoism expressed this development when it enlargened the call for internationalism to include the “oppressed peoples” at the side of the “workers of the world”. Later the alliance between the Third International (which had become Kominform), the Non-Aligned Movement following Bandung (1955) and the Tricontinental (1966) reinforced the idea and the practices of the globalisation of anticapitalist struggles on a truly world scale.

Even so, the Third International not only conserved the organisational options of the Second, but also reinforced its traits: one “single” party per country, and that party being the bearer of the one and only “correct” line and the catalyst of all the demands the trade unions and mass organisations considered as “transmission belts”.

In addition, the Third International found itself in a situation that was unknown to the First or the Second: it had to protect the first socialist state, and later the camp of the socialist states. How this necessity evolved and what (negative) effects it had, in relation to the evolution of the Soviet system itself, is not the object of this paper.

The Fourth International, which reacted against this evolution, did not bring innovations with respect to the forms of organisation initiated by the Third, to the origins of which it only wanted to return.

Bandung and the first globalisation of struggles (1955-1980)

The governments and the people of Asia and Africa proclaimed in Bandung in 1955 their desire to reconstruct the global system on the basis of recognition of the rights of nations that until then had been dominated. The “right to development” set the foundation for a pattern of globalisation that was to be realised through multipolar negotiations, therefore compelling imperialism to adjust itself to the new demands. The success of Bandung – and not its failure, as is often thoughtlessly proclaimed – is at the origin of the enormous leaps forward by the people of the South in the domains of education and health, of the construction of the modern State and the reduction of social inequalities, and move into the era of industrialisation. Of course, the limitations of these gains, especially the democratic deficit of the national populist regimes who “gave to the peoples” but never allowed them to organise themselves, must be considered seriously in the balance sheet of the epoch.


The progress of industrialisation beginning in the era of Bandung was not a result of the unfolding of imperialism but was imposed by the victories of the peoples of the South. Without doubt this progress fed the illusion of a “catching up”, but imperialism, which had to adjust itself to the development of the peripheries, in reality rebuilt itself around new forms of domination. The old dichotomy between imperialist/dominated countries which was a synonym to the dichotomy of industrialised/non industrialised countries became slowly replaced by a new dichotomy founded on “the five new monopolies” of the imperialist centers: the control of new technology, natural resources, financial flows, information and weapons of mass destruction.

How to “do politics”?

Following the end of the 20th century the new generation of militants and the movements definitely rejected the way of doing politics that had characterised the earlier critical movements on the left (in particular the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Internationals). The traditional way is justly reproached for the not so democratic practices on which it was built: the refusal of diversity, the pretence of one or another to hold the secret of a “correct line” that has been deduced by way of “scientific” (and thus impeccable) analysis, the excessive centralisation of the organisation and the power of decision (in parties, unions and associated movements) and the ensuing fatal bureaucratic and doctrinaire deviations.

Accepting this diversity certainly means tolerating the whole range of opinions which, in turn, means adopting the perspective that the future is produced both by means of pre-formulated concepts and by the movement. For my part, I define the objective – that I will continue to call socialism/communism – as the simultaneous product of the theory and the practice, the product of their gradual convergence. This proposal does not imply a theory that has been ordained “correct” a priori, nor any predefined vision of the final goal.

I will go even farther and propose that we admit that the diversity concerns both the visions of the future themselves and their ethical and cultural foundations. “Marxism” (in the singular or plural), “radical reformism”, “liberation theology”, “anarchism”, “radical ecologism”, “radical feminism” all have their place in the necessary effort to build a convergence in the diversity.

Having reached this point, I should like to formulate my own propositions. In itself and in its spontaneity, the movement cannot produce any desirable future; it does not provide an exit from chaos. All the more so if the movement declares itself to be apolitical. We know that, for perfectly respectable ethical reasons and because history provides real examples of how “power corrupts”, part of the movement rejects the idea that it should “come to power”. The enthusiasm for the Neozapatism of subcomandante Marcos stemmed, for a good part, from this position which, undoubtedly, is sometimes justifiable. However, it cannot form the basis of a general rule that may be applied in the future (or even in the present situation). More generally, the apolitical option which Hardt and Negri have formulated (together with – not by chance – their “post imperialist” thesis) is naive at best; at worst it signals that they are accepting the notion of an apolitical civil society belonging to reactionary US political culture.

The way of doing politics which I believe is needed to challenge the present capitalistic/imperialistic system and to produce a positive alternative consists of treating the diversity like the First International did, and not like it was treated in the Second, Third and Fourth Internationals. By the way, I find that the debates within the First International show a striking analogy with those within the World Social Forum.

Objectives and means of a strategy for convergence in diversity

My starting point is that the system in place (capitalism in the era of the collective imperialism of the triad under the command of the US leader, supported by subordinate bourgeoisies of the South) is not sustainable.

Capitalism has reached a stage in its development where its victim (its adversary) is no longer exclusively the class of proletarians whose work it exploits; rather it is all of humanity whose survival it threatens. At this stage the system deserves to be called senile and therefore its only future is to cede its place to “another world” that may be better or worse.

From now on, the further accumulation of capital actually requires the destruction of peasant societies (in which half of humanity lives) through a policy of “enclosures” that is being implemented on a planetary scale. Yet the system does not have the capacity of absorbing the peasants whom it has chased from the fields into industrial activities. It also leads to the rapid exhaustion of non renewable resources, to the accelerated destruction of biodiversity, and to exacerbating the threat on present ecological balance essential for the reproduction of life on the Planet. A consequence of the devaluation of the labour force is that a greater contribution is demanded from the women who do the care work. We could continue the list of areas where the destructive consequences of capitalist expansion vastly predominate over its creative effects. The pursuit of capital accumulation has become an obstacle to the production of wealth made possible by the development of science and technology.

This evolution signifies that the historic subject which is the bearer of the desired transformation must henceforth be conceived in the plural. The movements of resistance and protest are intervening in a growing number of areas. But this plurality of anticapitalistic subjects which is the expression of a potentially invincible power of social movements is, at the same time, the manifestation of the immediate weakness of that same movement. The sum of the demands – however legitimate they may be, and they are legitimate – and of the struggles conceived in their name, do not constitute an efficient alternative that is needed to unleash a series of successive advances.

Thus the challenge is serious and will only be surpassed on the condition that a victorious coalition, an alternative hegemonic bloc, is formed.

The challenge is such that those who want to act efficiently can hardly satisfy with immediate and partial responses (in order to achieve “Capitalism with a human face”), without a perspective that goes “beyond” Capitalism. Without doubt every strategy of the real struggles must include objectives for the short term and others for the long term, in order to be able to identify the steps in the progression of the movement. The mere affirmation of a far off objective (like for example “socialism”) is not only insufficient, but also may be discouraging. Immediate goals must be set up and action organised to guarantee that the militant mobilisations achieve victories. But this is not sufficient. It is evermore necessary to re-establish the legitimacy and the credibility of a long perspective, that of socialism/communism.

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet system, when China abandoned Maoism to engage in the path we know, and when the populist regimes of the Bandung era went off course, even the term Socialism lost all its sense of credibility and legitimacy. Because they had gradually engaged in mediocre, disgraceful and sometimes criminal activities and lived in the midst of lies and a crooked, repetitive rhetoric, the regimes which had emerged from revolutions made in the name of Socialism, and the state powers that had been established by the victorious national liberation movements, are responsible for this collapse of hope, which capitalism immediately profited on. No wonder the re-emerging “movement” of the 1990s accepted capitalism as the impassable horizon of the foreseeable future (if not the end of history) and choose to ignore imperialism’s violations of the rights of nations.

But it is time to understand that this moment should be transcended. It is time to be radical. It is time to comprehend that the savage neoliberal offensive only reveals the true face of capitalism and of imperialism.


The globalisation of capitalism’s strategies creates the need for a counter-strategy of its victims. Should we conclude that a new International is needed to assure the convergence of the struggles of the people against capital?

I do not hesitate to give a positive answer to this question, on the condition that the envisioned new International is conceived in the same way as the First, but not as the Second, the Third, or the Fourth Internationals. It should be a socialist/communist International open to all who want to act together to create convergence in diversity. Socialism (or Communism) would thus be seen as the product of the movement, and not as something that is deduced from a previous definition. This proposition does not exclude the formulation of theoretical concepts for the society to come. Instead, it evokes precise formulations of such concepts, and it excludes the monopoly of one concept to the right way and phases of transition.

It is certainly difficult to achieve these fundamental democratic principles. The exercise of democracy is always difficult. We should draw “limits”, accept that defining the strategic objectives implies making choices, and that there is no predetermined way of handling the relation of a majority to one or more minorities.

In order not to go against the principles that I just formulated, I shall not try to answer these questions. I shall only propose some major strategic goals for the battle ahead, arranging them in three sections:

(i) Roll back liberalism at all levels, nationally and globally. To this end, a number of immediate goals can be formulated, for instance, the exclusion of agriculture from the agenda of the WTO, the abrogation of decisions by the imperialist powers on intellectual and technological property rights, the abrogation of decisions that hamper the development of a non-commercial management of natural resources and public services, the abrogation of the bans on regulation of capital flows, the proclamation of the right of states to cancel debts that, after audit, are proved to be immoral or despicable, etc.

(ii) Dismantle the programme of military control over the planet by the military forces of the United States and/or of NATO. The repudiation of international law by the United States, and the “authorisation” that it gives itself to conduct preventive wars, must be condemned without reservations. The functions of the UN must be restored. There must be an unconditional and immediate withdrawal of the occupying army stationed in Iraq, and of the Israeli administration of the occupied Palestine. All military bases of the United States that are dispersed across the continents must be dismantled. As long as this project to control the planet is not morally, diplomatically, politically and militarily defeated, any democratic and social advances of the people will remain vulnerable and under the threat of being bombed by the US Air Force.

(iii) Repeal the liberal and atlanticist conceptions upon which the institutions of the European Union are based. This implies reconsidering the whole European institutional framework and the dissolution of NATO.

Initiatives aiming at formulating a strategy of convergence corresponding to the general vision proposed here, have already been taken. In Bamako, 18 January, 2006, on the eve of the polycentric World Social Forum (Bamako and Caracas), one day was consecrated to debates on the strategy and construction of convergence in diversity. The fact that this meeting could be held and that it produced interesting results shows that the global social movement is already moving in this direction.

The sketched Fifth International, or more modestly, the strategic actions proposed in the Bamako Appeal which I am here referring to, should contribute to the construction of the internationalism of the peoples. It should embrace all peoples from North to South, not only the proletariat, but all social classes and popular strata that are victims of the system, thus humankind as a whole, whose survival is threatened. The proposed internationalism should strengthen and complete “another internationalism”, namely, the solidarity between the peoples on the three continents (Asia, Africa, Latin America) against the aggressive imperialism of the triad. The solidarity of the people in the North and in the South cannot be based on charity. It should be based on common action against imperialism.

The reinforcement of the internationalism of the peoples will facilitate advancements in three directions that, taken together, form the alternative: social progress, democratisation, and strengthening of national autonomy through a negotiated globalisation.

Who will subscribe to this perspective? At this point we must return to the question of “limits”. The Fifth International should not be an assembly only for political parties; it should welcome all organisations and resistance movements of the people and guarantee both their voluntary participation in the construction of common strategies and their independence of decision-making. Thus political parties (or their fractions) should certainly not be excluded. Whether we like it or not, the parties remain important gathering points for civic action.

The fundamental principle may be formulated in the following two complimentary sentences: (i) no socialism without democracy (and therefore no progress towards socialism without democratic practices); (ii) no democratic progress without social progress.

Thus it becomes understandable that not just a few, small groups of political extremists and some good-willed NGOs will join this perspective. Many big movements of struggle (trade unions, peasant associations, womens’ organisations, citizens’ movements) know from experience that “there is strength in numbers”. The parties of the Third and Fourth Internationals will also find themselves a place, if they stop being self-proclaimed avant-gardes! Many democratic, social and anti-imperialist parties of the peripheries will certainly understand the advantages of coordinated anti-imperialist struggles. Unfortunately, the parties of the second International that take side with liberalism and atlanticism have excluded themselves from this prospect.

This is not the place to go further into the issue of the “conditions” for membership (in analogy with the famous 21 conditions to be filled by the members of the Third International). Serious debates on these principles and the statutes of the International are indispensable. We only ask to start reflecting on these issues…. [continue reading the full version at Third World Forum]

Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. “The sketched Fifth International, or more modestly, the strategic actions proposed in the Bamako Appeal which I am here referring to, should contribute to the construction of the internationalism of the peoples. It should embrace all peoples from North to South, not only the proletariat, but all social classes and popular strata that are victims of the system, thus humankind as a whole, whose survival is threatened. The proposed internationalism should strengthen and complete “another internationalism”, namely, the solidarity between the peoples on the three continents (Asia, Africa, Latin America) against the aggressive imperialism of the triad. The solidarity of the people in the North and in the South cannot be based on charity. It should be based on common action against imperialism.”

    Amin notes that any new, fifth international would embrace peoples of the North and the South and be diverse. Specifically regarding this point, it needs to be stated that a diverse coalition of First World anarchists, nominal communists and socialists (most of which themselves uphold various chauvinisms in their theory and practice), national liberationists, anti-status-quo feminists, ‘Eco-Marxists,’ radical academics, activists and life-stylists, and transitory radical youth hardly approach a majority in most (if not all) First World countries, especially settler-imperialist ones such as the US. Even in this regard, while Amin’s proposed international may embrace people from the First World, such members could represent but a minority of many First World societies, especially the US, and would thus play a secondary role. I assume Amin is somewhat aware of this. His own theories certainly imply so.

    While Amin has done a lot of really good research in global class and has some very interesting things to say generally (if not all together agreeable, at least thought provoking), I can’t help get the feeling that he underestimates the specific historical conditions beyond unequal exchange which have contributed to the social development of First World societies. While it is rather apparent through Amin’s work that imperialism is devastating for the people of the Third World, his analysis into First World societies and the factors which have shaped its development and the real result of such factors is somewhat lacking.

    Factors such as slavery, settlerism and imperialism and continued interaction with Third World/colonized people have had profound impact on the political-cultural state of First World countries. Amerikans, for example, are not ‘apolitical.’ They are historically reactionary appendages of US finance capital. Yet, the most profound effect the First World labor aristocracy has had is not as active agents of reaction, but the manner in which its existence is waved around to pacify the Third World-centered proletarian as a class.

    Also, while Amin refers to this International as one to break out of ‘senile capitalism’ and hence one of ‘all of humanity’ and he emphasizes it as an International of ‘peoples,’ I think it is important not to ditch the idea of class entirely.

    It is correct (and fairly obvious) to note the manner in which the world isn’t as simple as ‘proletariat/bourgeoisie,’ and how the proletarian class itself is rather diverse and existing on numerous axis of gradation. Yet, I think the concept of the proletariat is useful in accurately describing both the most systemically victimized ‘peoples’ and those whose participation and consent is most fundamental to any seizure of power (however this latter concept may be construed). I think a close reading of the first paragraph of his essay leads naturally to this view. And let’s be real. Class struggle will continue beyond any sort of socially-positive radical break from capitalist-imperialism. In this vein, the concept of the ‘proletariat’ still contains resonance for such continuing struggles.

  2. I agree with you that Amin’s idea of an International is farfetched. And impossible and self-defeating. Unequal development and unequal exchange make the very idea hard to put into practice. The only meaningful substance you can find in that International is the empathy of very small groups of intellectuals in the FW, because labor aristocracy is hopelessly imperialist. You can pretend it is not, but casual conversation and everyday interaction proves you otherwise. I suppose that communists in nazi Germany had to feel the same: isolated and surrounded. I wonder if it is possible for a vanguard party (another concept that Amin rejects) of the global proletariat to exist in the FW, so cut and removed from the masses. Time will tell.

  3. “Factors such as slavery, settlerism and imperialism and continued interaction with Third World/colonized people have had profound impact on the political-cultural state of First World countries. Amerikans, for example, are not ‘apolitical.’ They are historically reactionary appendages of US finance capital. Yet, the most profound effect the First World labor aristocracy has had is not as active agents of reaction, but the manner in which its existence is waved around to pacify the Third World-centered proletarian as a class.”

    Sadly, many Third World Leftists still cling to the delusional hope that citizens of the United States and First World in general can be appealed to.

    The American “working class” is a Labor Imperialist class. They identify, believe in, and support their American Empire. The only opposition that you see from this class is to agitate for a greater cut of the economic spoils of American Empire–though this agenda is often disguised such as with the “anti-globalization” or Occupy Wall Street movements.

    Promoting some “Fifth International” with American Labor Imperialists is suicidal and would be equivalent to sheep inviting a wolf into their ranks. They cannot be trusted.

  4. In my own reading, Amin was positing a loose, Third World-centered international. This idea doesn’t seem horrible or completely far-fetched, so long as the influence of First Worldism is severely restricted (indeed, any international which relied on the historical experience or organizing capabilities of First World organizations would be a suicidal strategy for the proletarian class). I don’t see what use there would be in having First World groups ‘join’ such an international (and Amin doesn’t even state the fuctions or significance of joining such an international), except a way of building support for its immediate and long-term goals. First World groups shouldn’t be allowed to influence the struggle in the Third World as part of such a proposed international (in fact, that’s a huge problem: they already are!)

    But generally, it’s not like the world’s people are making many great advances at the moment vis a vis Capital and the First World. As a effort carried out in a manner that rejects First World imperialist co-option of Third World movements, it’s hard to see how it could set struggles back further than they already are.

  5. I have already read Amin’s article, well: not up to the end yet, but the first two thirds, and I agree with you that Amin seems to posit a new International centered around the TW, without compromising its main interests for the sake of firstworldism. I don’t have enough time to read everything (so many books and essays) he has written, and my reading list is so full that I didn’t bother to read the article before because I was misled by the title. Anyway, this writing by Amin, as always, is a powerful piece. I agree with him in many respects. I think that Communists should muster as many forces as possible, but, in my opinion, they must not give up the leading role. The other forces and movements will not be able to lead succesfully towards communism. Amin’s point seems to be that all forces should have an equal standing in the organization of the new international. I think only Communists are able to lead strategically.

    • In regards to the point, “The other forces and movements will not be able to lead succesfully towards communism,” in my reading of Amin, this misses what he’s proposing. If I understand correctly, his interpretation is that the world is in motion, and in a sense changing. Communism, anarchism, etc isn’t exactly on the table at the moment, but the trajectory of global development can be swayed as a result of class struggle. At the moment, getting “successfully to communism” is not the most important factor. The immediate exigencies of class struggle are. And how the immediate plays out will set the stage for later developments in class struggle.

      I find this statement problematic: “Communists…. must not give up the leading role.” This implies ‘Communists’ are playing some leading role today. What exactly is this leading role in class struggle that you speak of? This isn’t the 1920’s or 60’s.

      I don’t find this statement very convincing: “I think only Communists are able to lead strategically,”. The obvious question is, which ‘Communists?’ (Interestingly and relevant to the conversation, the term only in widespread use today because of the Third International) What does the label really entail today? Etc. (Remind me to write on the subjective identity politics embodied in the term sometime) Furthermore, show me some examples of the achievements of ‘Communist’ “strategic leadership” over the course of the past 30 years (surely enough time for a strategy to pan out). I think the title of leadership is something that is proven through interaction as part of class struggle, not an idle slogan often used to compensate for one’s lack of actual leadership. Moreover, how do you lead people besides bringing them together over common causes?

      I don’t think Amin’s proposal, if implemented with consideration to actual conditions of global class (and especially if implemented by Communists and hence under some degree of their leadership), would be horrible. Neither do I think it would be ‘the solution’ to kick-start revolutions or usher in communism.

  6. Which Communists? Well, I think Samir Amin is one of them. And there are many Thirdworldists out there who can be called communist as well. I didn’t say “getting to communism”, but “leading towards communism” which is our compass and our Pole star. I know there are stages in the struggle, but we must never surrender our final goal. Otherwise we should join the Second International and become disciples of Bernstein. Amin knows the Second International will not respond to the call, he says so in the article. And the reason is that they, labor aristocracy, are sold to imperialism.

    “Remind me to write on the subjective identity politics embodied in the term sometime”.

    I’ll do it.


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