Reading Samir Amin
The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism
Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory
Monthly Review Press, 2013
Reviews by Seth Sandronsky
Want political economy that soberly unpacks power and wealth? Read two recent books by Samir Amin who defines the system’s current stage as “generalized-monopoly capitalism.” His study of it reveals what standard economics conceals and distorts.
The two books under review study the economy within the parameters of social change. Amin takes a Marxist, historic view of the system’s “grow or die” imperatives in developed and emerging nations. Marx, however, lived and wrote during the Industrial Revolution. For Amin, the old German’s analysis of value, central to that critique of emerging capitalism, is necessary, but not sufficient.
Amin fleshes out the concept of surplus and value theory in global monopoly capitalism. It “is the result of growth in the productivity of social labor exceeding the price paid for labor power,” he writes. This process polarizes societies among and between rich and poor nations. We see this growing more extreme over time.
Competition between firms, within the working-class, and, of course, labor and capital, looms large under generalized monopoly capitalism now as was the case 150 years ago. To this end, Amin expands concepts such as “socially necessary labor time” that Marx developed from critiquing David Ricardo and Adam Smith, the political economists who analyzed the system to justify it.
In Amin’s nutshell, the hug productive capacity of the current system creates delivers a dire dilemma. Where to invest all the wealth capitalist firms acquire to realize profitable investment?
Amin follows Marxist economists Paul Baran, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, and more recently John Bellamy Foster, in furthering Marx’s critique, roughly from the 1970s to now. Thus a “financialization” of the economy spawns a few billionaires and many paupers in the developed nations, but also in emerging countries, a stage of capitalism that Amin terms its “senility.” For him, the current crisis of the system is “due to nothing other than its own success.” Amin seeks not to reform capitalism but to replace it with an order that benefits humanity, caught in a web of contradictions, economically and ecologically.
So-called emerging nations of the Global South can’t and won’t catch up with the Global North, Amin writes. This fact should be as plain as day. To wit, there are no places such as North America for dispossessed peasants to go and prosper as was the case during capitalist industrialization in Western Europe.
Crucially, Amin argues, the role of financial capital undermines the growth imperative of the system. Here, his analysis of European capitalism untangles how financial capital dominates the economy. Financial interests push policies of austerity. That trend attracts money away from social safety net spending toward servicing public debt, up since ordinary taxpayers bailed out private investors last decade.
In Amin’s view, the “Imperial Triad” of the U.S., Europe, and Japan requires an updating of Lenin. Recall his view of imperialism as capitalism’s highest phase. That does not go far enough for Amin. He writes that imperialism in the 21st century reveals a “permanent phase of capitalism.”
Look at the hundreds of U.S. military bases spanning the planet, most recently Washington’s war against the Islamic State, site of ample fossil fuels. The reason imperial armed forces and mercenaries use force worldwide is to enforce the rule of a collectivized power and wealth of monopolies based in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, according to Amin.
Mainstream media in the Triad disguise the economic motives of war, according to Amin. His critique of corporate journalism is historically-based, describing the Fourth Estate now as the “media clergy.”
Militarized operations abroad and at home (i.e., armored personnel carriers and machine guns facing down people protesting police brutality against unarmed African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri) are the hegemonic force to maintain a virulent status quo of growing inequality. War abroad and war at home. Amin wraps up with sketches of the challenges and possibilities in the movements to realize a human-based social order. To this end, he highlights the quality of audacity. Left, radical forces should be audacious in struggling for justice and peace from the upper class and its political representatives.
Seth Sandronsky is a freelance journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronskygmail.com.