The Future of Socialism

By Amin, Samir | Monthly Review, July-August 1990 | Go to article overview

The Future of Socialism


Amin, Samir, Monthly Review


It is surely time to raise the issue of the future of socialism once again. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the ideological offensive of the ultra-liberal right has forced the predominantly social-democratic elements of the Western left to fall broadly into line. In the Third World, autonomous development has been systematically undermined in favor of the demands of world capitalism. Last but not least, the sudden collapse of East European regimes may pave the way for integration of these countries into the capitalist world system. Triumphant liberal ideology proclaims the definitive failure of socialism.

For those who believe, as I do, that socialism offers a system of values never fully achieved, and not a constructed model on display in any particular place, the issue is infinitely more complex. Quite frankly, today's real danger is that the illusions of the peoples of the West, East, and South can only mean that the inevitable failure of today's triumphant liberalism may be disastrous for the popular classes, once they are ideologically and politically disarmed. More than ever, I would argue that the choice lies between socialism or barbarism.

It might be helpful to begin this analysis with a critique of the three fundamental bases of the fashionable liberal thesis.

First liberal axiom: The "market" represents economic rationality per se, outside any specific social context. (In its extreme version: Without the market, only chaos.)

This erroneous postulate expresses the economistic alienation essential for capitalist "legitimacy." Nothing more. The market does not in fact rationalize social relations. On the contrary, the framework of social relations determines how the market will operate. From an alienated, economistic standpoint, economic laws are analogous to laws of nature and exert external forces on every human action, and the economy is the product of determinate social behavior.' There is no economic rationality per se, but merely the expression of the demands of a social system at the level of economic management.

But no such social system is rational from a humanist point of view if it fails to meet the needs of the human beings subject to it. Unemployment, polarization in world development, and ecological waste are manifestations of the irrationality of this system which I call really existing capitalism. These negative phenomena are, purely and simply, necessary products of the market. The rationality of the market reproduces the irrationalities of the social system.

Second liberal axiom: Democracy equals capitalism. (Put more emphatically: Without capitalism, no democracy.)

This is mere trickery. Contemporary trends of opinion, broadly typified by Anglo-American evolutionism, impoverish the debate by treating democracy as a set of narrowly-defined rights and practices, independent of the desired social result. This democracy can then stabilize the society by leaving the evolution" to "objective forces." The latter are in the last resort governed by science and technology, 2 operating independently of the human will. Hence the functional role of the revolutionary process in history can be played down.

Socialist thought lies poles apart from this line of argument. The analysis of economic alienation provided by Marx, central to any scientific and realistic understanding of capitalist reproduction, rehabilitates the crucial function of revolutions, moments of qualitative transformation and crystallization of potentialities inconceivable without them. In each of the three great revolutions of the modern world (the French, the Russian, and the Chinese), the play of ideas and social forces at moments of radicalization succeeded in moving far beyond the requirements of historical, objectively necessary social transformation. Jacobin democracy did more than merely establish bourgeois power. Although the democracy operated in a framework of private ownership, its anxiety to establish power genuinely at the service of the people clashed with merely bourgeois needs. …

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