Notes from the Editors

Monthly Review, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Notes from the Editors


Samir Amin's Review of the Month in this issue, "Popular Movements Toward Socialism," offers a masterful analysis of struggles all over the world in the era of what he calls "generalized-monopoly capitalism." The most important theoretical innovation in his article, in our opinion, is his attempt to bring together a variety of global struggles under the rubric of the "movement toward socialism," borrowing the terminology from the current practice of a number of South American parties: in Bolivia, Chile, and elsewhere. Movements that fall under this mantle, Amin suggests, may include those that seek to transcend capitalism, as well as others for which the object is more ambiguously a radical upending of labor-capital relations.

In terms of the Latin American parties who are consciously organized around the "movement toward socialism," he tells us, this generally signifies a shift away from the traditional strategy of Communist parties of seizing the state as a whole and nationalizing the economy. Instead they are engaged in the more patient building up of the political, economic, and social conditions that will allow a real advance toward socialism.

Amin is quite clear that such popular movements toward socialism are not social-democratic movements dedicated to operating within capitalism, but on a kinder, gentler basis. Rather the movements toward socialism are dedicated to radical social change but are confronted with circumstances that hinder the achievement of socialist transformation in the present, and require a strategic reorientation toward a long revolution. Indeed, this characterizes the general nature of socialist struggles today.

To our knowledge, the first clear development of the "movement toward socialism" concept within the Marxian tradition can be attributed to William Morris, as leader of the Socialist League (an organization that included in its leadership Eleanor Marx, and which had Frederick Engels as a supporter). For Morris, in both those cases where subjective conditions of revolution existed but objective conditions were lacking (as in the fourteenth-century Peasant Revolt in England), and in those where objective conditions were present but subjective conditions absent (as in late nineteenth-century Britain), it was necessary to develop a longer-run revolutionary strategy that emphasized the "movement towards socialism." As he stated in 1888:

It is not our business merely to wait on circumstances; but to do our best to put forward the movement towards Socialism, which is at least as much part of the essence of the epoch as the necessities of capitalism are. Whatever is gained in convincing people that Socialism is right always, and inevitable at last, and that capitalism in spite of all its present power is merely a noxious obstruction between the world and happiness, will not be lost again, though it may be obscured for a time, even if a new period sets in of prosperity by leaps and bounds. (William Morris, Journalism [Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996], 440-41)

Morris was referring here to the possibility that capitalism might be able to revive itself, overcoming its economic stagnation at that time by means of imperialist expansion, particularly the carving up of Africa and other parts of the global periphery-an imperialism which the Socialist League strenuously opposed.

Morris was engaged in a two-front war, trying to steer the Socialist League clear of both the opportunism of some parliamentary socialists and the Blanquist insurrectionism of the cruder anarchist groups of his day. To build socialism, he argued, meant an extended process of organizing, educating, altering base institutions, engaging in strategic class actions, and putting forward a new vision of life rooted in the wellsprings of history-all of which were essential if the working class were to be able to carry out the collective struggle to reconstruct the entire basis of society. The development of the machine industries, he contended in 1890 in his critique of The Fabian Essays in Socialism (the elitist, mechanistic socialism of George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, and others), may contribute to "the movement toward Socialism," but they are not its "essential condition," nor for that matter was the instrumentality of the state sufficient; socialism thus could not be achieved by purely mechanical means (William Morris, Political Writings [Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1994], 460). …

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