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Book Reviews

October 1917 Revolution – A Century Later

Volume 17, Issue 1  | 
Published 07/07/2020
  |

Author: Samir Amin

Publ: Daraja Press

Reviewer: Zarina Patel

The only time I have ever met, and heard, the late Prof. Samir Amin was in 2010 at the Nyerere Intellectual Festival in Dar-es-Salaam when he gave the key-note address entitled ‘The Long Road to Socialism’. I was enthralled. And yet I did not attempt to read any of his multiple writings because I realised the theoretical arguments and the academic presentations of this erudite scholar were well beyond my understanding and level of knowledge.

But while putting together this AwaaZ cover story on the Professor I stumbled upon his October 1917 Revolution – A century later; and was captivated. I have decided to review the book with the hope of encouraging my fellow ‘novice’ readers to delve into it (and his many other writings). Though large sections of the book still remain well beyond the scope of my understanding, I was able to glean from it gems which have deepened, and even changed my view of world history: the North/South divide, Africa and Kenya’s place in it and eventually my being and role as an individual.

Fundamental to my learning has been the realisation of the extent to which historical truths have been hidden from us and distorted. And what, I can hear you ask, is a ‘historical truth’? Is it not dependent on who is pronouncing it? Was Kenya’s Mau Mau movement a ‘war for liberation’ or were the Mau Mau rebels ‘debased creatures of the forest’? I cannot attempt here to validate the ‘historical truths’ but urge interested readers to do so for themselves by reading the book.

I was aware that the October 1917 Revolution was a unique and highly controversial event – but to say that ‘it began the transformation of the world’ seemed somewhat far-fetched until I started reading this book. During our struggle against dictatorship in Kenya, how important was the support of the Soviet Union and the Cold War? Is the collapse of the Soviet Union contributing to the current rise in fascism and possible annihilation of our planet?  If the USSR was the ogre it has been made out to be, since its fall in 1990; where is the peace? Wars in West Asia (Middle East), Israel’s occupation of Palestine,  constant US interference in Latin America and West Asia, turmoil in Africa, ISIS, fascism, the drug menace, the looming threat of nuclear devastation and the death of our planet …….. these are just some of the on-going horrors.

Stalin is vilified for the atrocities he committed and Samir Amin in no way defends this dark side of Soviet history. But he does remind us that Stalin’s brutal collectivisation of the peasants was an effort to catch up with the West’s capitalist development – capitalism that the USA developed on the back of the Slave Trade; the outcome of which still plagues American politics 400 years later.

Samir Amin dates the manifestation of imperialism from 1492 – the conquest and destruction of the native population of America by the Europeans – and terms it as the ‘greatest tragedy in human history’. He quotes some alarming statistics: In 1500, the proportion of non–Europeans globally was 82%; in 1900 it was reduced to 63%!

It is generally held that the development of capitalism was a European venture and that it was preceded by communalism and feudalism. The book however, informs us that the movement towards capitalism can be discerned in the same period in its various stages in the Mediterranean, India and China. It is a history yet to be unearthed and studied.

Our experience in the Third World is limited to the imperialist empire we are subjected to - constituted by a metropolis and its colonies - that for us is the   ‘historical truth’. We are not told that the USSR, on the contrary, was founded as a union of nations working together on an equal basis (until its breakup).

Samir Amin recognises the central importance of relations between men and women and rejects the oft-held view of social movements that, ‘First make the revolution, then deal with this problem’. He states that, ‘No social advance is possible without a simultaneous advance in gender relations, at each stage of humanity’s movement towards emancipation.’

Capital/labour conflict is the bedrock of true capitalism and socialism is   conceived as a qualitatively higher level of humanity, as such the latter is a universal goal. However, its construction will have to go through a very long historical transition by using a strategy of the contradictory negation of capitalist globalization.

According to Samir Amin, and to our own observation, the people of the peripheries no longer accept the fate reserved for them by capitalism – a system which has entered its period of decline. The ‘decline was initiated by the 1917 October Revolution; followed by the socialist revolutions of China, Vietnam and Cuba and by the radicalisation of national liberation movements in the rest of Africa and Asia’. The author claims that the Global South now has the technological mastery to develop ‘without falling into the dependence trap’ and emphasises the necessity to delink from imperialism and its Euro-centric programme. His advice to the intellectuals of the South is: ‘Assert yourself …. Be daring in thought. Do not let others take the initiative and then adjust to it. Assert yourself whether at the individual or collective level … what unites us is more important than what divides us.’

While acknowledging that Marx’s Das Capital gives us the essential foundations of capitalism, Samir Amin stresses the vital need for us to re-interpret historical capitalism in our own era, a chapter not to be found in any Marxist text. Only then can we chart the way forward in building ‘another world’.

An article titled ‘1919 Britain’s Forgotten War on Russia’ in this same issue of AwaaZ reveals a history that has been well hidden from us for a century. The virulent, almost hysterical all-consuming opposition of imperialism to the socialist project has existed ever since the birth of the 1917 Revolution; and is mirrored today in the orchestrated Anglo-US assault against Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. Samir Amin and his fellow writers have done, and are doing, an important service in exhuming these long buried ‘irrefutable’ facts of history and giving us an alternative, and increasingly more authentic knowledge of the world we live in.

The book also touches on the Agrarian Question, the alternative to liberal globalization, Revolutions and counter-revolutions 1917 to 2017 and the reading of Capital.

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 July 2020 00:23

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