Book Reviews

A Place for Polemic: Audacity, Implosion, and the Politics of Transition

samir amina

A Review of The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism by Samir Amin

David W. Pritchard

Department of English, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This essay takes The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism as an opportunity to ask the question of how the specific discursive mode of polemic fits into the overall project of the critique of political economy. Focusing on the figure of the ‘gap’ between structure and agency that Amin uses to characterise our conjuncture, I readImplosion both backward and forward, situating it against the backdrop of Amin’s foundational work in dependency theory inAccumulation on a World Scale and asking how the proposals he makes here contribute to the larger project of fostering a politics of transition. Ultimately I argue that Amin’s polemic falls short of its self-proclaimed ‘audacity’ insofar as it fails to grasp structure and agency dialectically; and I conclude by suggesting a way beyond this impasse by bringing forward the ‘Maoist terrain’ out of which Amin’s work emerges.


Samir Amin – Maoism – dependency theory – transition – polemic

Samir Amin, (2013) The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Criticism is no longer an end in itself, but simply a means; indignation is its essential mode of feeling, and denunciation its principal task.

— Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

A polemic is a useful agent of estrangement. It effects a series of calculated reductions and exaggerations of the terms of a given debate, in order to lay bare the contours of the terrain of ideological struggle. It is less about taking a side than clarifying what the sides are by rearticulating them, at least from the outset. This means that polemics do not take the place of theoretical and historical analyses, but are attempts to situate those undertakings, often in the service of marking out the place where urgent political questions of agency and intention – that is to say, of consciousness – make themselves felt in and through analysis and critique. Whence, for example, Marx’s use of satire in his work as the figurative complement to his conceptual demonstrations of the torsions of the dialectic; the capitalist, to use only a very famous example fromCapital, is reduced to ‘Mr Moneybags’ in what amounts to a formal example of the process by which one comes to serve as the bearer of one’s class position within the capitalist mode of production.[1] Thus we might also say of polemic that it mediates the contradictory relationship between form and content, and as such that it is of particular importance in a Marxist tradition that is concerned to move beyond Kantian antinomies and transcendental categories. But what happens when a work is comprised of a polemic distilled from a larger intellectual project? How does this reduction of a mode primarily characterised by reduction change how we encounter a work?

These are a few of the questions that animate Samir Amin’s The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism. Amin is one of the central figures within Marxist dependency theory, a school of economics that sought to theorise the asymmetries between development in the capitalist core and the ‘underdeveloped’ nations of the periphery. Along with Andre Gunder Frank, Amin drew on the work of Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin on imperialism to theorise the ‘development of underdevelopment’: that is, the notion that the unevenness between core and periphery was not a matter of natural fact or historical accident, but a deliberate consequence of, as well as an existential requirement for, the production and reproduction of capitalism. In this context, works likeAccumulation on a World Scale andUnequal Development served to lay the foundation for future work on the capitalist world-system and its uneven geographies; their insights, even if not explicitly acknowledged, continue to inform work done under the aegis of world-systems theory and critical geography. Amin is also responsible for coining the term ‘eurocentrism’, and has assayed it in multiple contexts – the most robust and concise of which is 1988’sEurocentrism – to elaborate a Marxist account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism that attends to the role played by the Arab world in this historical process.

This is not to say that Amin is a stranger to polemic. Implosion joins an array of slender volumes from the last decade that forcefully restate the basic premises and insights of dependency theory, using these to limn the political present and draw conclusions about what prospects there are for a robust anti-capitalist project on this combined and uneven territory. Amin beginsImplosion with something like a rationale for polemic in this context; he tells us that the purpose of this book is to traverse what he calls the ‘gap’ that exists between ‘the autumn of capitalism [and] the possible springtime of peoples’ (p. 7). This temporal gap is undergirded, he tells us, by a spatial one; for ‘capitalism is not merely a system based on the exploitation of labor by capital; it is just as much a system based on the polarized way in which it has been extended over the planet’ (pp. 7–8). The major themes of dependency theory are sounded here in condensed form: the centrality of imperialism to capitalist accumulation; the combined and uneven geographical development of capitalism; and the persistence of the development of underdevelopment as a primary lever for the reproduction of capitalism. This ensemble of concerns grounds the major political motivation forImplosion, which is the revitalisation of a strategic imaginary oftransition on the revolutionary left, to which end Amin concludes his book with a series of what he calls ‘audacious’ proposals. I will discuss these later on. For now, it is important merely to note that they all revolve in some way around the question of thenation, which is the category at the centre of Amin’s strategic thinking, in keeping with his longstanding commitment to Maoism, and from which all the strengths and weaknesses ofImplosion’s polemic emanate.

In what follows, these strengths and weaknesses will guide my consideration of polemic as a genre in light of The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism. This does not mean I will focus on form at the expense of content; if anything, content is even more important than form in those moments when polemic runs aground on the complexities of the reality it seeks to intervene in and change. But this only emphasises the extent to which polemic is the form adequate to the unevenness that underwrites the ‘gaps’ we saw Amin identifying in our conjuncture. And thus thinking about polemic means thinking also about how it fits into the critique of political economy writ large. How does a reading ofImplosion as a polemic contribute to our understanding of larger and more systematic works in which polemic functions as one moment among many? What happens if we treat polemic as a mode of inquiry in its own right? What kinds of questions can we ask in and through polemic, that are perhaps less suitably posed in other modes or forms? In short, what can polemic do that other kinds of theoretical analysis cannot?

To get at the polemic in Implosion, it helps to start elsewhere in Amin’s body of work, with 1971’sAccumulation on a World Scale. Here we find a complete and thorough statement of dependency theory’s account of the combined and uneven development of capitalist production, in the name of what the book’s subtitle calls its ‘critique of the theory of underdevelopment’. In place of this theory – which holds that so many historical, geographical, even geological or natural accidents shape the trajectory of the ‘development’ of different nations – Amin proposes a theory of the development of underdevelopment, identifying the contradiction between the core and the periphery as the central one within the capitalist mode of production.[2] Against a certain ideology of economism, Amin proposes a theory of unevenness. In the course of doing so, he hits upon two waypoints that a later, more condensed book like Implosion will build upon in the course of its polemic. The first waypoint emerges out of the distinction Amin makes between modes of production and social formations. He does so in order to make it possible to ‘[ask] why, at the center, the capitalist mode of production tends to become the only one (the formation tending to merge ideally with the mode of production), whereas in the periphery this does not occur.’[3] This does not mean that there are nodes of the periphery that are outside of capitalism; Amin demonstrates that capitalism is not a tide that lifts all boats, but a profoundly uneven mode of production that attains dominance on a world scale precisely through its capacity to subsume or repurpose for value-production those forms and institutions proper to older modes of production that it encounters as it expands geographically. The upshot of this is that we cannot assume that identifying the core/periphery distinction as the fundamental contradiction of capitalism solves all of our theoretical problems. We have to attend to the particular instantiations of this contradiction as they articulate themselves within and around the residual and emergent formations that variously buttress – and possibly point up the possibilities for resistance to – capitalist accumulation. Class war is not waged on even terrain.[4]

The second waypoint builds upon the first. Amin maintains that what Marx calls primitive accumulation is not only an historical but a permanent feature of the development of capitalism. If this strikes the reader as not being particularly contentious, this is perhaps due to the fact that world-systems theorists and critical geographers have succeeded in defending this thesis against those who begin their analyses of the present by positing some kind of radical break with the past.[5] Even so, in 1971 it takes on polemical form: Amin argues that an ‘analysis of the contemporary mechanisms of primitive accumulation is essential for understanding the basis of the internal solidarities of “central” capitalist society (in particular, of the solidarity between proletariat and bourgeoisie which is at the origin of social democracy), and for understanding the nature of the internal contradictions of the peripheral formations.’[6] Marx’s account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, in other words, is at one and the same time historical and theoretical. It describes the emergence of capitalism on the world stage, and also gestures toward what Volume II of Capital will deal with: the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production.

The emphasis of Amin’s intellectual project, as these waypoints in combination suggest, falls on the political dimension of the critique of political economy. The preoccupation with the problem of transition is therefore at once objective and subjective: objective, insofar as it entails thinking about how social forms change in and through the real movement of history; and subjective, insofar as it holds that these changes are not visited upon societies from without, but bound up in the activity undertaken by those societies in the course of producing and reproducing themselves. This is not to say that understanding the contradictions of capitalism immediately and automatically tells one how to overcome them. Indeed, to paraphrase Adorno in terms Amin would no doubt embrace, the theory of surplus-value is not a theory of revolution. The point is to theorise the totality of transition as a dialectical relationship between structure and agency. And inAccumulation on a World Scale as much as inImplosion, it is to the latter term that Amin wishes to direct our attention.

This puts us in a position to understand why Amin chose ‘implosion’ as the figure for capitalist crisis and collapse. If capitalism is constantly compelled by its inner laws to use force to create ‘free’ labour where once there was none; if capitalism must navigate the uneven geography that accumulation on ever-greater scales produces and requires; if capitalism must do all this in the context of its own ‘globalisation’, that is, without the luxury of non-capitalist spaces into which it can expand – if all this is the case, then the reproduction of capitalism, however desperate and violent an affair it may be, remains the reproduction of capitalism. Systemic collapse does not automatically engender some new, let alone ‘better’, mode of production. The totality of social relations is still total; there is still no outside from which to launch an offensive or to begin building some new world. ‘Implosion’ highlights this point, at the same time as it clarifies that something other than the general laws of capitalism will have to be the agent of its supersession. We bring about the new world from the ashes of the old.

And the old world has been smouldering, according to Amin, since the 1970s at least, when capitalism attained the form of what he calls ‘generalized-monopoly capitalism’ (p. 14). This is nothing less than a ‘new stage of imperialism’ predicated on the agglomeration of monopolies into an ‘integrated system’ of ‘relatively autonomous companies’ which levy a ‘monopoly rent […] on the mass of surplus-value (transformed into profits) that capital extracts from the exploitation of labor’ (p. 14). Capital accumulation is therefore ‘driven by the maximization of monopoly/imperialist rent-seeking’ (p. 15). In this configuration, the proletariat is also generalised. ‘Today,’ writes Amin, ‘the fragmentation of production resulting from capital’s strategy of using all the possibilities of modern technology while keeping control over subcontracted or outsourced production has, of course, weakened working-class solidarity and accentuated the class’s perception of a diversity of interests within itself [….] The proletariat thus seems to disappear at the very moment when the proletarian condition becomes generalized’ (pp. 31–2). Imperialism, in other words, does not change the agent of revolution so much as it expands it by expanding the boundaries of the capitalist mode of production. The primary contradiction is still that between labour and capital, but thescale of that contradiction is different.

At this point Amin sounds a Maoist note, one that will be familiar to readers of his work and which will blossom into a polemical melody in its own right over the course of Implosion.[7] He suggests that the asymmetries between the working classes in the core and those in the periphery – the unevenness between different social formations – be construed not as an untranscendable horizon of differences in kind, but as ‘contradictions within the people’ whose resolution demands the formation of a ‘united front against the compradors’ (pp. 32–3). In other words, to traverse our conjuncture’s gap we require an organisational form capable of coordinating the diversity of struggles waged by a generalised proletariat, something in the vein of a revolutionary International. This proposition reveals the motivation of Amin’s polemical device: it points up both his fidelity to a classical model of revolutionary subjectivity constructed around the form of the party, and to an orthodox Marxist understanding of the proletariat as the subject and object of history, and as such the agent of revolution. It also appears to clarify his reductive rejection of the political significance of ‘social movements’ based on ‘“social categories” that express their ambitions in ways as diverse as the categories themselves’ (p. 11) with which Amin begins Implosion.

          It is not felicitous to conclude that Amin takes a hard-line, anti-identitarian stance with regard to social movements (although neither is it felicitous to defend his relatively simplistic account of these things). Rather, it seems that he wants to point up the hard and fast limits to this model of political struggle in terms of what it has and possibly could achieve. Whence his question about ‘the real distance between the things that can be transformed through the progress of social movements and the things that cannot be transformed without the transformation of state power itself’ (p. 11), which suggests that what’s at stake is not deriding movements like Occupy or the Arab Spring (in the present we might add Black Lives Matter and BDS to the list, among many other organisations that have sprung up in response to the rise of the far right around the world). Amin is interested in a sympathetic critique, an appraisal of the limits of social movements as political subjects or agents. Implosion deals with these limits implicitly, posing questions that, at least as far as Amin is concerned, the left can only answer outside of the framework provided by this or that social movement.

Hence the importance of the category of nation inImplosion that I noted above; and hence also the relevance of the distinction between modes of production and social formations that I brought forward fromAccumulation on a World Scale. If the nation is the basic building-block of the analysis of uneven development, which for Amin as for many others refers to both intra- and inter-national constellations of accumulation, then it is also the basis for thinking about political struggle against capital. The nation is therefore the basic unit for any politics oftransition – anyway, this is Amin’s contention. And it is a useful and provocative contention to make, especially since it throws into relief what falls generally outside of social movements’ purview: namely, the international contours of class struggle. Following Amin, we might say that social movements are hemmed in by the social formations they inhabit, whose outer limit is the nation; if we think at a higher level of abstraction, it becomes possible to triangulate different social movements, and to give organisational and institutional form to some of the stirrings of tendentially internationalist imaginaries one finds in those movements.[8]

I will return to this movement/party dialectic below. For now I want to stay with the national question in Amin, which is the basis for what is most compelling and remarkable in Implosion, as well as the place where the gap between form and content in Amin’s argument is most readily apparent. In keeping with our reading of this book as a polemic, it is simple enough to note that Amin essays to grasp and present complex constellations of social forces in fairly straightforward ways, reducing to a matter of a few sentences what elsewhere has been taken up in detailed and thorough ways. Often we are confronted with arguments based on conclusions Amin has drawn elsewhere in his more theoretically and analytically rigorous work. The problem is that some of his simplifications are, well, too simple. They are not amenable to a generous reading like the one I have done of his critique of social movements, which at the very least allows us to understand something about the limits of an approach (even if we do not share Amin’s cynicism regarding it). This is the outer limit of polemic as a mode, the point at which provocation lapses into opinion, where enthusiasm shades over into embarrassing intransigence. For instance, Amin’s account of the situation of China, in which we learn that China, which is not a ‘capitalist’ nation because land in China is not a commodity (p. 68), is uniquely poised to lead the world revolution. Any deviation from this position is a result of the pernicious ideological programme of ‘China bashing’ (p. 82) that has inhibited clear-eyed appraisals of China’s revolutionary achievements. It is not so much that Amin iswrong, although there is that (one wonders what the striking labourers across China would have to say about the idea that they are pawns of ‘China bashing’); the problem is that the contradictions that inform Amin’s argument go unilaterally slack, ossifying into binary oppositions with none of the dynamism that makes the core/periphery heuristic, to say nothing of a distinction like that between social formations and modes of production, such a powerful explanatory rubric in the first place.[9]

The severity of Amin’s missteps should not lead us to ignore what he gets right in the course of his polemic. The thumbnail sketches of ‘failed emergence’ in Turkey, Iran, and Egypt that precede the chapter on China are noteworthy; they sketch the revolutionary strides these nations made only to run aground when it came to economic ‘development’ or ‘modernization’ (p. 48). This was due, not to the hubris or arrogance of revolutionary nationalist movements, nor to the happenstances of geography and nature, but to the concerted interventions by the capitalist core that aimed to foster the conditions for the development of underdevelopment in perpetuity. So even if we cannot follow Amin all the way in his nation-based arguments, we can appreciate the attempt to think about transition in a global way, and to demonstrate the persistence of certain classical political problems into the current crisis. Chief among these is the struggle for national self-determination, which we cannot grasp without seizing upon the constitutive unevenness of its contours, a task which The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism undertakes with audacity.

‘Audacious’ is Amin’s word, the adjective he uses to describe the vocation of left politics in his concluding chapter, ‘The Socialist Alternative: Challenge for the Radical Left’. This chapter features a number of striking proposals, although when it comes to the matter of their audacity the results are, well, uneven. On the one hand, nothing is particularly new about the tasks considered – the nationalisation of monopoly corporations, the de-financialisation and restructuring of global banking, and the de-linking of nations from the global market (p. 136). All of these initiatives would unfold, if at all, in and through the institution of the state, which makes sense given Amin’s involvement in the economic-policy oriented Third World Forum, but which hardly seem ‘audacious’ from the standpoint of revolution. Does not ‘policy’ ratify the legitimacy and power of the state, endorsing ideological narratives of the slow and rational movement toward progress? Isn’t it reformist? While there is truth in these objections, I am inclined to view the role of ‘policy’ in the context of theoretical speculation as a kind of utopian wager, an attempt to imagine the rational and planned organisation of a society which, as Amin repeatedly has recourse to remind us, is rent ever more anarchically asunder by the capitalist mode of production which simultaneously declines and persists on a world scale.

In the same utopian spirit, I wonder if there is not something audacious about eschewing a certain poetry of revolution. Amin does not tarry with the phenomenology of revolution and revolt; unlike theorists such as Frantz Fanon and Guy Hocquenghem, he writes about the tedious and pragmatic problems of what a revolutionary agenda – to be taken up by the revolutionary subject these other authors assay – might include. In this prose of the revolution, the gap between structure and agency is addressed almost exclusively from the standpoint of structure, both as the locus of crisis and the major problem in need of description or analysis. This makes consciousness an instrumental affair, which might go some way toward explaining why the particularities of China in the present fall by the wayside. Put bluntly, Amin sees structure or system as a form, and consciousness as itscontent. He has made, that is, a false choice between the poles of the objective mode of production and its social structures, and the subjective problems of agency, intention, and consciousness. And he has done so in a situation where the only way forward is to think these two terms together as two halves of a whole (and uneven) contradiction.

All of which is to say that there is no overarching concern with ideology as a concept inThe Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism. This is by design: Amin’s overall polemical contention seems to be that ideology alone is not the only battlefield where the struggle for transition will take place; it isn’t even the most important one. We can explain the crises and contradictions of capital, but doing so does not dispel them or make it possible easily to opt out of them. There still remains the question of what the rudiments of our transitional project will be, what organisations, institutions, and demands we can use to begin the difficult task of remaking the world. On the other hand, the absence of a concept of ideology more complex than straightforward domination and manipulation (by, for example, the news media (pp. 34–6)) resulting in ‘false consciousness’ leads to the unintended and non-polemical reduction of politics to precisely the economism that Amin has devoted his career to critiquing. Equating ideology with wrong or bad ideas undermines the theory of the development of underdevelopment; it posits a non-contradictory, uni-directional social world in which systemic change is progressive and linear after all – that is to say,even – insofar as the relation between core and periphery ends up being more like an antinomy than a genuine and moving contradiction. This has in part to do with Amin’s avowed stagism (p. 77; p. 109), but more to the point it is an object lesson in what happens when one bends the stick too far in the name of polemical intervention.

I want to stay with this metaphor of bending the stick – which originates in certain translations of What Is to Be Done? and has since become a watchword for polemic, especially in the tradition of Marxism-Leninism – because it usefully indicates how we could situate a reading of Amin in the context of a larger conversation about revolutionary politics and the transition out of capitalism. As I understand it, ‘bending the stick’ connotes a practice of useful distortion through which one emphasises certain aspects of a shared object of study and concern. It does not sweep away everything under consideration and replace it with a new, better problematic. It attempts to hone our attention to the situation at hand. So if Amin fails to grasp the granularities of ideology as both a category and a component of the material world, he nevertheless helpfully reminds us that consciousness is not reducible to reasoned argument and impassioned sensation. It is also made, manipulated, shaped by exploitation and the division of labour. What is ultimately at stake in the concept of revolutionary consciousness – a concept that revolutionary theory and politics cannot do without – is giving an account of precisely the extent to which agency is immanent to structure, produced by the constraints of a given historical situation and yet not reducible to so many emanations or reflections of the movement of value. Faced with a choice between voluntarism and fatalism, between spontaneity and organisation, the only possible answer isyes.

Amin’s misconceptions about ideology, then, have the capacity to bring us back to the great texts that have taken up the phenomenology of revolutionary struggle in greater detail. They invite us to reread these texts against the backdrop of what his polemical reduction brings forward about the workings of ideology. These texts – from The Wretched of the Earth toThe Screwball Asses, fromHistory and Class Consciousness to theLotta Femminista polemics surrounding the Wages For Housework campaign – all attempt to theorise the activity of mediation in ways that do not contrast with so much as complete the arc of Amin’s polemic. They are about spontaneity only insofar as spontaneity is the dialectical opposite number of organisation. Indeed,The Wretched of the Earth (to take one example) deals with spontaneity as something withboth grandeurand weakness; it is a moment in a total revolutionary process, whose end result is the construction of a liberated nation which then is tasked with participating in a genuine revolutionary internationalism.[10] Amin is no Fanon, but he helps us mark the place of Fanon’s utopian desire for a new humanity within the unfolding of revolutionary struggle. People may make history, but they do not make it as they please; the revolutionary subject will be uneven, contoured by the geography of accumulation and immiseration and shot through with different temporalities; it may well even begin its life as a reaction against further encroachments by capitalism into the lifeworld of the generalised proletariat.[11] Nevertheless, it will emerge, and at that point we will be able to consider in more detail the proposals Amin has laid out as blueprints for a utopian future.

If Amin’s stick-bending underestimates the role of consciousness in a revolutionary process, it nevertheless marks out the place where consciousness would appear in the course of that process. This is what the figure of the gap does: it limns the place of some future agency. Yet it seems to imply we require some prior agency in order to traverse it (as if by sheer force of will). Amin’s shortcomings in the domain of ideology allow us to specify a third term in the gap, namely, that it may well have been engineered by some other agent – in which case it is strikingly homologous to the processes that Marxist theory ranges under the heading of primitive accumulation, the political concomitants to capitalist reproduction. This brings us back to the importance of primitive accumulation for Amin’s work writ large: as a theory of the contingency of capitalism, primitive accumulation lays the groundwork for a fully-fledged and systemically-oriented political opposition to that system. I would go so far as to say that Amin scandalously implies that the revolutionary subject, like primitive accumulation, emerges in the nexus mediating capitalist production and reproduction. This is where the significance of social movements might come into play. To read Amin somewhat against himself, we may say that to the extent that social movements – the example I used above was MBL – direct their energies at the processes of primitive accumulation, so do they tendentially begin to articulate the contradiction between movement and party. This is a key point, especially if we situate it against the backdrop of what J. Moufawad-Paul has recently dubbed ‘the Maoist terrain’ of revolutionary struggle, where what is at stake is the ‘revolutionary tradition that occupies a political sequence between the twin orthodoxies of party monolithism and movementist utopianism’.[12]

On the face of it, this contradicts the Amin-ian antinomy between social movements and parties. Recall, however, that for Amin the problem is that social movements are limited, which we might well say about parties, too – this is what I understand Moufawad-Paul to be saying in the formulation just quoted, too. Both writers are concerned not to reduce political struggle to one of its two possible ‘orthodoxies’ on the left. Doing so would beggar the whole dialectic of reform and revolution, entirely foreclosing on the matter of transition. As for the question of where revolutionary agency resides – with movements or with parties – we might answer neither, following Maoism in holding that the agent of revolution is the people. This brings us back to Amin’s elliptical allusion to Mao Zedong’s essay ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People’, where Mao states very explicitly that ‘the concept of “the people” varies in content in different countries and in different periods of history in the same country’, and where also he argues that ‘contradictions among the working people are non-antagonistic’ as opposed to those between capital and the people.[13] Notice how Mao invites us to think of the people as a national figure, which resonates with Amin’s nation-centric mode of presentation in Implosion and elsewhere. Notice, too, that the people is not a homogeneous grouping but a collective with internal contradictions all its own, which suggests that the basis for revolutionary organisation is not dogmatism but solidarity.

In closing I want to think a little bit about solidarity, which informs the very gesture of polemic. If, as I began by saying, polemics are attempts to lay bare the stakes of a given debate through exaggeration and reduction, then The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism succeeds even in its failures. It forces us to rearticulate the field on which ideological struggle takes place, which is a useful exercise for anyone to do. On the other hand,Implosion fails insofar as it does not address any contradictions other than antagonistic ones, leaving to one side the debates about agency, intention, and tactics as it repeatedly hammers home what one can only assume Amin’s (at least Marxist, if not Maoist) audience already knew going into the book: that capitalism has reached some kind of breaking point, that it will not magically turn over into communism, that something is to be done and we have to ask what. To this we can only say that it is more fuel for the anti-organisational fire of certain left-liberal critiques of the party-form, which masquerade as concerns about the ability of Marxist organising to address the miseries of gender, race, sexuality; a list which we do well to note does not include class because class as a category for Marx is analytically distinct from any kind of ‘identity’ with any determinate content. Amin’s vision of revolutionary transition amounts to a constellation of bad abstractions to the extent that it posits an almost absolute break between the politics of solidaristic alignment and the determinations of world-historical consignment to a standpoint from which one must set out to see, think, and (hopefully) transform the whole.

This is to say that Amin’s polemic winds up right where we started: with the need, not for moderation, but for ever more audacity. By a dialectical twist, Amin has bent the stick too far and therefore failed to bend it far enough. His proposals call attention to the limits of social movements with reformist demands and invite us to think instead in terms of transition; but these same proposals fall short of giving an adequate account of transition that grasps structure and agency as part of a dynamic movement in which, to paraphrase Marx again, we make our history, although not as we please or in circumstances of our own choosing. In this context, ‘solidarity’ is not ‘correct thought’ as a matter of content, but a way of knowing that cuts enthusiastically across the imagined distinctions between party and social movement, mediating between these two poles, elaborating the principal and non-principal contradictions in and among them (and the principal and non-principal elements of those contradictions). It is the principle for collective activity and the basis for revolutionary struggle. Revolutionary theory unfolds from the standpoint of solidarity; in a few moments in The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism we glimpse this. These are the strongest, most clear-eyed moments, the moments when Amin affirms that the politics of transition may not be fun, but they will no doubt be, to paraphrase Lenin fromThe State and Revolution, joyous.The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism is a deeply imperfect book, but it asks important questions and, however unevenly, directs our attention to the uneven and combined revolution that we will make, even if we cannot choose its circumstances.





Amin, Samir 1971, Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment, New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Amin, Samir 2006, ‘What Maoism Has Contributed’, Monthly Review Online, 21 September, available at: <>, accessed 11 March 2017.

Amin, Samir 2013a, The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Amin, Samir 2013b, Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory, New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Ching Kwan Lee 2007, Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fanon, Frantz 2004, The Wretched of the Earth, translated by Richard Philcox, New York, NY: Grove Press.

Federici, Silvia 2004, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, New York, NY: Autonomedia.

Federici, Silvia 2012, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, New York, NY: Autonomedia.

Hao Ren (ed.) 2016, China on Strike: Narratives of Workers’ Resistance, edited byZhongjin Li and Eli Friedman, Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.

Harvey, David 2003, The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hocquenghem, Guy 2009, The Screwball Asses, translated by Noura Wedell, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jameson, Fredric 1981, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich 1987, What Is to Be Done? and Other Writings, edited by Harry M. Christman, New York, NY: Dover.

Luxemburg, Rosa 2003, The Accumulation of Capital,translated by Agnes Schwarzschild, London: Routledge.

Mao Zedong 1971, Selected Readings from the Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Peking: Foreign Language Press.

Marx, Karl 1976, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One, translated by Ben Fowkes, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Moufawad-Paul, Joshua 2016, Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy on the Maoist Terrain, Winchester: Zero Books.

Ngai, Sianne 2015, ‘Visceral Abstractions’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 21, 1: 33–63.

Paulson, Justin 2002, ‘Uneven Reification’, The Minnesota Review, 58–60: 251–64.

Rosenberg, Jord/ana 2014, ‘The Molecularization of Sexuality: On Some Primitivisms of the Present’, Theory & Event, 17, 2, <>.

The Movement for Black Lives 2016, ‘Platform’, available at: <>, accessed 1 February 2018.




[1] See Ngai 2015 for an overview of examinations of Marx’s prose style in this connection.

[2] Amin 1971.

[3] Amin 1971, p. 21.

[4] I am sensitive to critiques of the social formation/mode of production distinction, which, as Fredric Jameson notes, runs the risk of reproducing ‘the very empirical thinking which it was concerned to denounce, in other words, subsuming a particular or an empirical “fact” [the social formation] under this or that corresponding “abstraction” [the mode of production]’ (Jameson 1981, p. 80). At the same time, the kernel of truth at the heart of this binary is that ‘every social formation or historically existing society has in fact consisted in the overlay and structural coexistence of several modes of production all at once, including vestiges and survivals of older modes of production, now relegated to structurally dependent positions within the new, as well as anticipatory tendencies which are potentially inconsistent with the existing system but have not yet generated an autonomous space of their own’ (p. 80).

[5] There are a number of debates surrounding the category of primitive accumulation, both in terms of how Marx uses it and its relevance to our current conjuncture. David Harvey, for instance, argues that primitive accumulation now outstrips the extraction of surplus value at the point of production as the primary means of valorisation (Harvey 2003, especially pp. 137–82). Silvia Federici offers an account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism that insists, among other things, on the centrality of primitive accumulation to contemporary capitalism (Federici 2004). More recently, Jord/ana Rosenberg has argued that the theory of primitive accumulation is at once a critique of, and points the way beyond, the current fascination with thing theories and molecular ontologies of revolt: see Rosenberg 2014. This essay is a useful starting point for fleshing out some of the intricacies of the debate about primitive accumulation that, regrettably, this note and this review more broadly do not have room to consider more fully.

[6] Amin 1971, p. 135.

[7] For more on Amin’s Maoism, see Amin 2006.

[8] For example, we might read the platform of the Movement for Black Lives (MBL) as a document written within a national framework. And yet the demands that make up this platform point self-consciously toward other, homologous dynamics in the peripheries of capitalism: whence the avowed solidarity of MBL with occupied Palestine. Even from within the particularities that render social movements insufficient for Amin, then, we find gestures toward possible supersessions of that particularity in the name of unapologetic anti-capitalist universalism.

[9] For a detailed account of the clash between labour and capital in China since the late 1980s, see Ching Kwan Lee 2007 and Hao Ren (ed.) 2016.

[10] Fanon 2004.

[11] On this dynamic vis-à-vis revolutionary consciousness, see Paulson 2002.

[12] Moufawad-Paul 2016, p. xiii.

[13] Mao Zedong 1971, p. 433.