Spectres Of Capitalism: A Critique Of Current Intellectual Fashions
by Samir Amin
Monthly Review Press
reviewed by MC5
Samir Amin is the director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal. Trained as an economist, his work is relatively close to Maoist political economy compared with other academicians'. This particular book is a collection of theoretical observations that would be difficult to understand outside the ivory tower. We canıt recommend it across-the-board, even though we agree with most of it.
The irony of this book is that if Samir Amin had been in an Amerikan university, he would have been seen as another token, just another voice of relative truth. Here in this book we have Samir Amin rejecting tokenism and the philosophical underpinnings of it called post-modernism. Oh horror of horrors when the would- be tokens reject anti-scientific philosophies of thought.
As might be expected with an author with which we have a relatively high degree of unity, we fully agree with Samir Aminıs attacks on current intellectual fashions including postmodernism and neo-liberalism. In fact, we take the title of the book to refer to the way postmodernism leads to neo-liberalism. If all the existing nationalities, sexual orientations and genders etc. tolerated each other what would we have? Capitalism still.
"Postmodernism is a wayward conceit expressing disconcertedness at foresight, will, and consequential action, which is distinguished by distrust for systematic thought, in the place of which it puts what Gianni Vattimo aptly terms 'flaccid thought', ready to accept anything since all theories are equally [in]valid and nothing is objectively true." (p. 113)
Postmodernism is the intellectual equivalent of MTV. We agree with Amin that imperialismıs academy has done some things with postmodernism that it would not have otherwise done, but on the whole the result is still just a reflection of the crisis capitalism puts academic research in.
Something we like about this book is the idea of "underdetermination." We find it a nice contrast to "overdetermination." Readers who have read MT will recall that overdetermination is most known in its popular form that "it's all one system" and more importantly therefore, "it doesn't matter which oppression is principal." Some alleged Marxists mean for this concept to be an olive branch to pseudo-feminism in particular.
In contrast, Samir Amin puts forward the idea that the various social logics of class, nation, gender etc. result in "underdetermination." This means there is a role for struggle to tip the balance in some situations while some logics become subordinate to others. (pp. 49-56)
The economic theory aspects of this book would be especially rare in public discussion. Suffice it to say that we agree with Amin on many points as usual:
1) Capitalism did overcome its alleged "general crisis" after World War II, (p. 25) which is not to say that capitalism benefited the majority of people. There is no denying capitalismıs economic growth, only its distribution and usefulness to the people and side-effects.
2) "The law of value governing really existing capitalism (globalized capitalism) is not the law of value as deduced from the capitalist mode of production considered in abstraction, but is what I term the globalized law of value. This latter form brings about a systematic distortion by virtue of the fact that workers in the peripheral countries are paid at a lower rate than equally productive workers in the metropolitan centers. The global price system, which constitutes the reference point for rational capitalist economic calculation, is thus the result of a double transformation of value."(pp. 77)
3) Some of the current criticism of "globalization" and "neo- liberalism" is in fact reformist Liberalism of another kind. Indeed, Samir Amin disagrees with the people talking about "globalization" as bringing about a leveling that turns the United $tates into another Brazil.(p. 88) Discussion of "globalization" is something that David Duke, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot and others like them agree with. It is no substitute for talking about capitalism and imperialism.
What is new in what Samir Amin is saying is a new set of principal contradictions that he believes we should talk about 1) the environment 2) economic alienation 3) class polarization globally.
Without saying so, we also believe Samir Amin is starting to cast doubt on the labor theory of value. Like Huey Newton in his later years, Samir Amin is talking about "citizenship" rights or rights to distribution regardless of work.(p. 89)
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