This essay by Samir Amin discusses the possibility of forming a revolutionary Fifth International. I’ve abbreviated it for brevity and presentation and to give folks the opportunity to read it in full at the Third World Forum website, where is was originally published. As usual, re-posting here does not imply endorsement or agreement, but is to promote discussion around the broader topics. Rather than promoting the following as an answer, I hope it provokes further questions. – Nikolai Brown
Capitalism is a world-wide system. Therefore, its victims cannot effectively meet its challenges unless they organise themselves at the same global level. Yet “the Internationalism of the Peoples” has always had to confront serious difficulties produced by the unequal development associated with the globalisation of capital.
The historic lessons of the socialist and communist Internationals
The diversity of the conditions of reproduction of the different partners of global capitalism has always constituted a major challenge to the success of struggles conducted by the victims of the system. The Internationals of the workers’ movement were conceived precisely to surmount this major obstacle.
After a century and a half of the history of the Internationals it would be useful to draw some lessons which may clarify the present challenges and the options for strategic action.
The first International, which was called the International Working Mens’ Association, was created precisely to surmount the national dispersion of which the European revolutions of 1848 had showed the negative effects. The new social subject, the primary victim of the expansion of capitalism in Western and Central Europe, which had expressed its socialist or communist dreams in the year 1848, ended up being broken by the counter-revolution. It called itself “the proletariat” which at that time was composed of a minority assembled in the large factories and mines of the era, and a large circle of handicraft workers. The new proletarian class was exclusively localised in the North West region of Europe and spreading to the United States, meaning that the possibility of an intervention of the International made itself felt only within the borders of this region.
Despite its limitations, the first International was able to manage the diversity of social and political struggles in a democratic spirit which placed it at the forefront of its generation. The association brought together organisations of varying nature and status, (embryonic) political parties, unions and cooperatives, civic associations and personalities (like Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin!). Their range of intervention, analysis of challenges, strategies, visions and mobilising ideologies were diverse – extremely so. The limitations of the ideas of this generation are easily enumerated: the patriarchal notion of the relations between men and women, the ignorance towards the rest of the world etc. We could also thrash out one more time the nature of the conflicting ideologies (infant Marxism, anarchism, workers’ spontaneity et cetera), of their relevance and efficacy and so on, but this is certainly not the objective of this paper. We should keep the only lesson given by the first experience: the democratic respect for the principle of diversity. This is an important lesson for us today.
The Second International was conceived on wholly different principles. The accelerated proletarianisation of the epoch had given birth to new forms of workers’ parties with relatively important numbers of followers and influences on the working classes. The parties differed in many ways, going from English labour to the Marxist social democrats of Germany to the French revolutionary trade unionism. Nevertheless these parties rallied – at least at the beginning – to the objective of substituting the capitalist order with socialism. However, of greater importance was the principle of “one” single party for each country, “the” party that was supposed to be the exclusive representative of “the” class which in itself was seen as the unique historical subject of social transformation, “the” party that was potentially the bearer of “the correct line”, regardless of whether the party opted for – as history was later to show – moderate reform or revolution. Engels and the first Marxist leaders (Kautsky, Labriola and others) certainly considered these options as proof of progress in relation to the First International, as they probably were, at least in part. The new generation of leaders of the International did not always ignore the dangers of the main options of the time, as some were too hastily to observe (but that is not a matter of discussion in this paper). Still the limits to democratic practices in the political and social movements which were inspired by the parties of the Second International stemmed from these original fundamental options.
On the whole these parties drifted towards imperialism and nationalism. The Second International very rarely addressed the colonial question and imperialist expansion. It often legitimised imperialism by claiming that its consequences were “objectively” positive (that it forced retarded people to enter into capitalist modernity). This historical perspective, however, was refuted by the imperialist nature inherent in the global expansion of capitalism. “Social imperialist” is an apt description of this alignment of the social democratic parties with the linear bourgeois economism (with which I pretend that Marxism has nothing in common), and continued to be one of their features up until the period after the second world war with their rallying atlanticism and subsequently social liberalism.
The drift towards imperialism reinforced the chances of a parallel alignment with the nationalistic visions of the leaders of capitalism, at least regarding international relations. As is well known, the parties of the Second International foundered in the chauvinism produced by the First World War.
The Third International was created to correct this drift, and it did at least partially. It did in fact make its presence felt globally, supporting the creation of communist parties in all the peripheries of the world system and proclaiming the strategic character of the alliance of the “Workers of the West” with the “Peasants of the East”. Maoism expressed this development when it enlargened the call for internationalism to include the “oppressed peoples” at the side of the “workers of the world”. Later the alliance between the Third International (which had become Kominform), the Non-Aligned Movement following Bandung (1955) and the Tricontinental (1966) reinforced the idea and the practices of the globalisation of anticapitalist struggles on a truly world scale.
Even so, the Third International not only conserved the organisational options of the Second, but also reinforced its traits: one “single” party per country, and that party being the bearer of the one and only “correct” line and the catalyst of all the demands the trade unions and mass organisations considered as “transmission belts”.
In addition, the Third International found itself in a situation that was unknown to the First or the Second: it had to protect the first socialist state, and later the camp of the socialist states. How this necessity evolved and what (negative) effects it had, in relation to the evolution of the Soviet system itself, is not the object of this paper.
The Fourth International, which reacted against this evolution, did not bring innovations with respect to the forms of organisation initiated by the Third, to the origins of which it only wanted to return. Continue reading
On Sunday morning, March 11, an Army Sergeant walked into an Afghan village and went house-to-house killing 16 civilians, 9 of them children. The Sergeant then took most of the bodies, including those of four little girls, and set them on fire. Once his identity is known, there surely will be much discussion in the coming week about […]
The recent Kony 2012 video that has gone viral all over the internet has been talked about almost everywhere as of now. With over 70 million views and counting the 30 minute video by Invisible Children is unprecedented in its dissemination through social media, especially from those who do not usually engage in politics. The […]
Islam’s roots and early significance lie in the changing conditions of 7th and 8th century Arabia. Not united by a single ethnic-religious formation prior to its development, through its pronouncements on religion, social and legal philosophy, early Islam sought and succeeded in creating a trans-tribal authority and source of identity through which later Arab and Middle Eastern empires could be built. Early Islam’s significance is that it was the guiding philosophy under which a series of large, precedent tributary socio-political orders were organized.
Samir Amin, an Egyptian-born Marxist associated with world-systems, dependency and unequal exchange theories, has described pre-modern history as the transition from communal societies to tributary ones, the latter of which have “witnessed the crystallization of social power in a statist-ideological-metaphysical form.” Under a tributary system, taxes and other fees collected by agents of a central power and the dominance of the social-religious-state power over economic affairs distinguishes it from later system of capitalism, which was defined in regards to the ascendancy of economic actors over metaphysical political power. (Amin 14) In the Arabian peninsula and outward, Islam provided the ideological basis under which power was assigned within such a tributary society.
The Qu’ran, the sacred text of Islam and its most important document, provides both a history of the region and lays down social and legal mores for future, ‘righteous’ rule. Unlike philosophical doctrines such as Confucianism, which grew out of a China’s Warring States period and resulted from the practice of previous large-scale tributary societies, Islam rose out of a period in which many religious-social doctrines and groups existed yet absent one doctrine’s hegemony. In this manner, Islam was part of an effort to fuse the loose patchwork of existing ethnic, religious, economic and tribal groups into a single Muslim identity and allegiance, incorporating all into a single tributary society. Continue reading
Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, flips the script in this response to the Jay Z and Kanye West song, N****s in Paris. We support the appropriation of cultural forms such as hip hop for liberatory purposes. In this case, Bey challenges ideas of sitting at the table of oppressors and the adoption of […]
Since the beginning of the unrest in Syria, “the government has said that while some protesters have legitimate grievances, the uprising is driven by militant Islamists with foreign backing.”  This hardly squares with the view of Western state officials and media commentators who say that an authoritarian regime is killing its people and violently suppressing a largely peaceful movement for democracy.
There’s no question that there has been a longstanding Islamist opposition in Syria to Ba’athist rule. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party has been in power since 1963. The party’s roots are in Pan-Arabism, non-Marxist socialism, and liberation from colonialism, imperialism and religious sectarianism. Being secular, socialist (though diminishingly so) and dominated by a heterodox Shiite sect, the Alawi, Syria’s lead party has held no appeal for the Sunni majority, which has leaned toward the Muslim Brotherhood.
Neither is there any question that Islamist uprisings have become a habitual occurrence in Syria. Condemning the Alawi as heretics and resentful of the Ba’athists’ separation of Islam from the state, the Muslim Brotherhood organized riots against the government in 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1969.
On coming to power in 1970, Afiz Assad—the current president’s father– tried to overcome the Sunni opposition by encouraging private enterprise and weakening the party’s commitment to socialism, and by opening space for Islam. This, however, did little to mollify the Muslim Brothers, who organized new riots and called for a Jihad against Assad, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” His “atheist” government was to be brought down and Alawi domination of the state ended. By 1977, the Mujahedeen were engaged in a guerrilla struggle against the Syrian army and its Soviet advisers, culminating in the 1982 occupation of the city of Hama. The Syrian army quelled the occupation, killing 20,000 to 30,000.
In an effort to win the Islamists’ acquiescence, Assad built new mosques, opened Koranic schools, and relaxed restrictions on Islamic dress and publications. At the same time, he forged alliances with pro-Islamic countries and organizations, including Sunni Sudan, Shia Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. While these measures secured some degree of calm, Islamists remained a perennial source of instability and the government was on continual guard against “a resurgence of Sunni Islamic fundamentalists.” 
The United States hasn’t created an opposition, but it has acted to strengthen it. US funding to the Syrian opposition began flowing under the Bush administration in 2005  if not earlier. The Bush administration had dubbed Syria a member of a “junior varsity axis of evil,” along with Libya and Cuba, and toyed with the idea of making Syria the next target of its regime change agenda after Iraq.  Continue reading
This following video of an interview by historian and author Webster Tarpley offers an interesting, geo-political perspective on modern dynamics related to imperialism and militarism. Posting here is for discussion and additional perspective and does not imply uncritical agreement.
If you are an American or European citizen, chances are you’ve never heard about shengren, minzhu and wenming. If one day you promote them, you might even be accused of culture treason. That’s because these are Chinese concepts. They are often conveniently translated as “philosophers,” “democracy” and “civilization.” In fact, they are none of those. […]
Authorities in the United Kingdom have revoked the broadcasting license for Press TV, an English-language international news network based in Iran. The UK regulating committee, Ofcom, based the decision on a biased reading of a technicality. The move exposes the facade of freedom of speech in supposedly democratic western countries and further reveals the class […]
The World Bank and and United Nations both recently issued reports indicating that ‘economic growth’, as they measure it, slowed considerably in 2011 and only “anaemic growth” could be planned for in 2012 and 2013. The reports indicate the continuing economic downturn has particularly affected the Third World. Third World markets have been devalued by […]
This short interview by author Peter Gelderloos gives a good explanation of the negative role “non-violence” plays within popular movements. For further reading, we suggest Pacifism as Pathology by Ward Churchill. -Nick (thanks to Speed of Dreams for bringing this video to our attention)
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of the People’s National Party, recently reelected, stated that Jamaica would take steps to cut ties with the British monarchy and become a republic. Through this action Jamaica will replace its head of state, currently the Queen of England, with its own indigenous president.
At a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, Prime Minister Miller, whose People’s National Party won in a landslide reelection on December 29th 2011, stated in her inaugural address:
“I love the Queen, she is a beautiful lady, and apart from being a beautiful lady she is a wise lady and a wonderful lady. But I think time come…As we celebrate our achievements as an independent nation, we now need to complete the circle of independence.” (1) (2)
Although Jamaica achieved independence from Britain in 1962 it still retains its colonial ties in an arbitrary monarchical system. Jamaica has both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. As part of the Commonwealth Realm, Queen Elizabeth of Britain is the official head of state of Jamaica, and retains the title Queen of Jamaica. The government has a Governor-General which represents the British monarchy in the government of Jamaica. The Governor-General appoints the members of the Cabinet on the advice of the Prime Minister. The monarch and the Governor-General have ceremonial roles in the day-to-day operation of the government but have reserve power to dismiss the Prime Minister or Parliament. Continue reading
Rather than advancing humanity with new achievements as they often claim, the United States and other governments are allocating hundreds of billions of dollars to develop real-life ‘Terminators.’ Except in this case, the immediate danger isn’t that such automated armed machines will go rogue and attack all of humanity, but rather they will be used […]
During the past weeks, Mathaba.net and other websites mobilized their readers to vote for Muammar Qaddafi in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Heroes online poll. Having successfully brought Muammar Qaddafi to the lead in Amnesty International’s poll, the poll was closed a month early to prevent further exposure of the international support for the former Libyan leader murdered during a US-sponsored uprising. Continue reading
Recently, the question was posed to myself and other activists, “A lot of (white) people I know are asking about resources where they can educate themselves about antiracism and collective liberation. Got any website/book/podcast suggestions for beginners?”
Here is a slightly expanded version of my response:
As books go…
J. Sakai’s ‘The Mythology of the White Proletariat‘ is probably the quintessential historical narrative of US history from a non-white perspective. It attempts to find the origin of ‘racism’ in privilege and oppression vis a vis Capital (including land). It’s written from an unorthodox Marxist perspective as well, so it helps to have some background knowledge of Marxist terminology as well as US history.
‘False Nationalism, False Internationalism‘ (by E. Tani and Kaé Sera,) is considered the sequel to ‘Settlers’ and critically discusses the interplay between white allies and non-white communities during the struggles of the 60’s and 70’s.
‘Nightvision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain‘ (by Butch Lee and Red Rover) is considered the third book in the series, updates the ideas to the 90’s to include globalization, adds feminist ideas to the general gist of the series and discusses culture more. It should be noted that all three of these books challenge the idea that ‘races’ exist at all, instead using the term ‘nation,’ with the implication that shared history, common culture and definable relations with other nations is the essence of their constitution (and not something innate like genetics or biological features or even phenotype). I generally operate under this assumption and think it should be noted that the whole concept of ‘race’ was literally something created by Europeans to rationalize colonization. Continue reading