Zone of storms

Review of Samir Amin’s, October 1917: Revolution A Century Later (Daraja Press, 2017)

by Theo V. Kenji
Apr 22, 2018

In the five essays presented in October 1917, renowned radical political economist, Samir Amin, pushes far beyond the immediate necessity of emphasizing the historical weight of October, and launches, into an ambitiously broad analysis of the trajectory of twenty first-century socialism, the Marxism that inspired it, and the lessons that can be drawn for the struggles of today.

Amin begins with an essay on the historical trajectory of the Soviet Union. Debunking common myths like the ‘economy of scarcity’, the ‘totalitarian state’, and the ‘expansionist empire builder’, Amin asserts that the collapse of the USSR stemmed, not from any inherent intractability of the historical socialist project, but from successive policy blunders, particularly with respect to the Agrarian Question, and the foreign policy prerogative of creating a multi-polar world order, in which socialism can breathe.

Moreover, Amin duly emphasizes the fact, that the shortcomings of “really-existing socialism” in the USSR, distract, from the gigantic accomplishments of the world’s first worker’s state. The defeat of Nazism, the facilitation of decolonization, the re-writing, not only of capital-labor relations subnationally, but the relationship between centers and peripheries, transnationally. These achievements, Amin reminds us, should not be taken lightly.

Amin’s second essay shifts the focus from past to present, analyzing the contemporary conjuncture in light of his unique, ‘world-historical’, and at times very critical, reading of Marx’s Capital. Some of Marx’s insights, Amin notes, remain more or less directly applicable to the contemporary conjecture. We see ‘primitive accumulation’ in the global land grab, for instance. Crises of realization in the financial crises of 1997, 2008 etc.

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However, others require reformulation in light of the (d)evolution of capitalism since the time of Marx. Amin notes for instance, that the disillusion of the USSR, forces us to reconsider Marx’s linear, stagiest formulations, and speak instead of a “long transition”, occurring unevenly and in stages. The globalization of production moreover, as Amin points out, has transformed ‘capital’ from a category representing ‘capitalists’, to “abstract capital”, not rooted in any physical persons or families. These are but a few of the dynamics of contemporary capitalism, revealed by a critical application Marx’s work.

Amin’s fourth essay delineates why, in Amin’s view, the periphery remains the “zone of storms” (964), where the long transition is most likely to find its advances in the twenty first century. He makes his point by process of elimination, demonstrating why anti-systemic ruptures appear unlikely in the centers of the global system.