By Theo V. Kenji
“What to do?” (53). A short question with a very complex answer. In The World We Wish to See, Samir Amin delves into the contemporary political conjuncture with a succinctness and ease that belies the monuments scope of the topic he addresses—how do counter-hegemonic movements find convergence in diversity, in an age when political lines are being redrawn and new issues are being raised, daily, hourly?
Taking his usual historical materialist approach, Amin begins by tracing the “internationalisms of the twentieth century” (11), drawing out important lessons from this checkered past along the way. Moving swiftly to the present in chapter two, Amin extends the key theses of his, quite extensive, theorization of contemporary global capitalism. The implications of these theses—in terms of the left’s political culture, ideology and political strategy—are drawn out in the book’s third chapter, followed by two, rather lengthy appendices, in which Amin provides a brief recapitulation of his analysis of political Islam, as well as a full re-print of the Bamako Appeal.
One striking theme running through the book is the dialectic between continuity and change. For instance, while Amin contends that the peripheries remain, “zones of instability” (18), in which anti-systemic ruptures are most likely to occur, he insists that the political alliance between dominant and popular classes that characterized the anti-systemic movements of the Bandung era (1955-1970), cannot be replicated in the current conjuncture. Therefore, the political strategy of the peoples of the South, should in Amin’s view, be centered around a “radicalization of social resistance”, led by a new coalition of “peasants, women, workers, the unemployed, informal workers, and democratic intellectuals” (74).
Similarly, Amin argues that the Agrarian Question remains central to the struggle for human emancipation. Yet, he contends that the Maoist response to that question—radical land reform, renewed family agriculture, and industrial modernization—can no longer be brought about through a Maoist “compromise between capital, labor, and the peasantry” (71). The emergence of a new historical actor—multinational agribusiness—implies, in Amin’s view, that the agrarian struggle in the contemporary era must include global actors like La Via Campesina, the international peasant’s union, and work towards securing protection of peasant societies at the global level, through for instance, “international cooperation to control supply” and “the elimination of the WTO from agriculture” (120).
Another striking theme that runs through the book is Amin’s lean toward ‘convergence’ over ‘diversity’. While he commends the “democratic respect for the principle of diversity” (12) practiced by the First International, Amin insists that the “principal threat”, at present, is the naive belief that “it is possible to change the world without taking power” (37). Diversity, Amin contends, should not be viewed as good in and of itself, since this “prohibit[s] any judgement whatsoever concerning any movement” (38), resulting, ironically, in the very depoliticization that the extreme anti-vanguard camp fears.
Similarly, Amin’s concrete recommendations all center around rallying movements around sets of core tenants, rather than dispersing them into more decentralized units. At the national level for instance, Amin recommends rallying all progressive political parties behind national center left parties (67). Ideologically, Amin argues for a rallying behind a vision of society based on solidarity, citizenship, and democratic socialization (58-61). Globally, Amin recommends a rallying of social movements behind a program of “social progress, democratization, and national sovereignty” (71). This call for convergence, far from being a “post-modern Janus”, constitutes a strong rebuke of the postmodern fetishization of ‘multitude’.
The most significant strength of the book as a whole in fact, is its emphasis on the necessity of a radical critique of capitalism at the heart of the new diversity of movements. Amin does not—as some hyper-orthodox Marxist-Leninists try to do—collapse all movements into a single ‘mass line’3. But he insists that there must be a ‘hub’, so to speak, from which the disparate spokes, constituting the post-modern ‘multitude’ of movements, can interface, link up, coordinate, and become something more than just a disorganized mass, a chaotic clubhouse of personality cults and megalomaniacs. In the final analysis, “the radical transformation of the capitalist system is the objective” (106).
Perhaps as a consequence of this attempt to emphasize the need for centering the twenty first century left around a traditional anti-capitalist critique, Amin neglects, what in my view, is an important subtlety, and one that does not introduce too much complexity into, what is clearly intended to be a straightforward, and succinct book. Namely, the differential weighting of social progress, democratization, and the creation of a muti-polar society.
Where these objectives conflict—for instance, in the case of indigenous land rights, as Immanuel Wallerstein points out—convergence might well be drowned by diversity. Wallerstein notes that in Ecuador, the contradiction between defending the land rights of indigenous peoples (social progress) and using the natural resources on those lands to fund a developmental state that could, in time, narrow the gap between peripheral Ecuador and the centers of the world system (constructing a multi-polar world), led to a split between the left-leaning Correa government and its one time ally, CONAIE, the chief advocate of indigenous peoples in the country. Just when Ecuador stood to benefit most from a convergence of left forces, diversity won the day.
Nevertheless, the framework that Amin presents, truly lives up, in my view, to the attractive title of “convergence in diversity”. In a time when so many on the left feel flabbergasted and overwhelmed, uncertain and ‘out in the cold’, without the aid of that singular ‘red star’ that guided activists through the rough and tumble of the twentieth century—social progress, democratization, and a multi-polar world, pushed forward by center-left blocs throughout the nations of the world, striving, in the final analysis, for a new society, based on solidarity, citizenship, and democratic socialization, strikes one as indeed, a guiding light, that can get the job done. But not one that takes the form of a single red star. Rather, a whole constellation, far brighter, far more illuminating, than ever before.
Amin, S. (2008). The world we wish to see: revolutionary objectives in the twenty-first century. NYU Press.
- See: Amin, S. (2018). Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value: Monopoly Capital and Marx’s Law of Value. NYU Press. Amin, S. (2013). The implosion of contemporary capitalism. NYU Press. Amin, S. (2003). Obsolescent capitalism: Contemporary politics and global disorder. Zed Books.
- See: Amin, S. (2007). Political Islam in the service of imperialism. Monthly Review, 59(7), 1.
- Waterman, P. (2006). The Bamako Appeal: A Post-Modern Janus. Available at CHECK.
- Wallerstein, I. (2012). Land, space, and people: constraints of the capitalist world-economy. Journal of World-Systems Research, 18(1), 6-14.
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