Review Article

‘The Present as History 2021’

Somenath Guha

The Present as History 2021: Ongoing Open-Ended Critique’, is a book by Bernard D'Mello and Subhas Aikat. It examines the current global political and economic situation through a Marxist lens. The book argues that capitalism is in a state of crisis, and that this crisis is leading to a number of interconnected problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and rising inequality.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part, "The Crisis of Capitalism", provides an overview of the history of capitalism and its current state of crisis. The second part, "The Spectre of Climate Change", discusses the impact of climate change on the world economy and society. The third part, "The Future of Socialism", argues that socialism is the only way to overcome the crisis of capitalism and create a more just and sustainable society.

The Present as History 2021 is a thought-provoking book that provides a critical analysis of the current global situation. The book is likely to be of interest to those who are concerned about the future of capitalism and the environment.

The book does a good job of explaining the interconnectedness of the current global crises. It shows how climate change, inequality, and the COVID-19 pandemic are all symptoms of the same underlying problem: capitalism.

The book's analysis of capitalism is insightful and well-argued. It shows how capitalism is inherently exploitative and unsustainable.

The book's discussion of socialism is brief, but it provides a good overview of the basic principles of socialism.

The book's conclusion is optimistic. It argues that socialism is the only way to overcome the crisis of capitalism and create a more just and sustainable society.

 The book is written from a Marxist perspective; so, one may not agree with all the observations offered by the authors. The authors put forward a rather classical view of Marxist society in the texts. For one thing in theory a lot can be assumed which gets washed off during the practice. The book is a good text to understand the present interpretation of socialism which in turn points out the solution to the capitalistic exploitation. But it remains inconclusive.

The authors provide a quick guide through the Marxist domain, covering up analysed and critiqued versions of theories of historical materialism, Marx’s model of dialectics, and the Marxist approach to sustenance of environment, alongside referencing the modern world and the problems arising from capitalist measures. The book focuses on the extent to which the capitalists may go to monopolise their respective markets.

The book does propagate that the future of the human race lies in socialism but does not make it clear how it can happen. It is a good read overall to understand and have a basic idea of how the two counteracting philosophies work. The book may seem one sided for a neutral reader.

However, the problems faced while reviewing the texts focusing on a socialist society have not been appropriately answered. Such as, how to stop the society from becoming a completely totalitarian society, being inefficient in resource allocation, unstable and prone to dictatorship.

It raises the right questions, highlights the problems but does not provide a capable solution to the burning question of capitalist exploitation. Therefore, the book is a history of a problematic present. A reader will be shown the true reality of today’s society in its carnal form.

The book opens with Samir Amin’s ‘The communist manifesto 170 years later’, which notes that the Manifesto was written at a time of great upheaval, when the capitalist system was in its early stages of development. The Manifesto's analysis of capitalism was therefore focused on the contradictions that were inherent in the system, such as the exploitation of the working class and the tendency for the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Amin argues that these contradictions have only become more pronounced in the 170 years since the Manifesto was published. The globalisation of the economy has led to a new phase of capitalist development, in which the exploitation of the working class is no longer limited to a single country or region. The rise of the global South has also challenged the dominance of the capitalist West.

The next chapter, Marx’s open-ended critique by John Bellamy Foster has presented itself in a manner which is too deterministic. It just argues that Marx's theory of history predicts capitalism will inevitably collapse but this prediction is not supported by the evidence.

The next three chapters go on to emphasise on the adverse effects of COVID-19 on the world. On how it has eviscerated the livelihoods of billions across the globe but somehow the capitalists have managed to remain afloat. Not just that, most conglomerates have grown five-folds in lieu of the pandemic. These chapters back-track the events leading the crisis and analyse the present condition based on public data. The main focus remains on the subjects like how the capitalists have exploited the mortal weaknesses of the masses and manipulated them into submitting to them. On how the crisis had begun as a result of the capitalist aggression into new markets in turn violating environmental concerns. Covid has resulted in failure of entire economies across the globe, yet a miniscule portion of the society grew more than ever in the period.

 The book also focuses on the differences between Marx’s philosophy and his peers. The difference in opinion regarding the practicality of communism and whether capitalism can be reformed and restructured into a better fitting mode of a society has been discussed.

Then the book moves on to Lenin’s interpretation of Marx and the degraded society of US. The book presents a wide perspective on various agendas like women employment and aggression against the indigenous tribes.

Capitalism is a virus which has spread in every dimension of the human society and has kept doing whatever it takes to grow. Survival has never been an issue for it since the very human nature of never-ending desire fuels it up. Unknowingly people fall into its algorithm and cannot get out since it is bigger than the society itself. Capitalism feeds on simple things as a fragile ego and humane idiosyncrasies. The book provides a clear insight into how capitalism has affected and changed the human race into a self-hating entity and has kept the society believing in its differences.

*The Present as History 2021: Ongoing Open- Ended Critique
Edited and with an introduction by Bernard D’Mello & Subhas Aikat
November 2021, PRICE: RS 300

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Vol 56, No. 14, Oct 1 - 7, 2023