The Death of a Marxist and Anti-imperialist Theoretician – Samir Amin

The Death of a Marxist and Anti-imperialist Theoretician – Samir Amin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Post-Blog

Samir Amin, an Egyptian-French Marxist theoretician
of the relationship between capitalism in the imperialist and the subjugated countries
recently died.  Below are a few
appreciations.


Tony Greenstein

Aug 15, 2018 by Prabhat Patnaik

Samir Amin, the renowned
Marxist thinker and economist, passed away on August 13 in Paris. Born in Cairo
on September 3, 1931, to an Egyptian father and a French mother, he had his
initial education in Egypt before moving to Paris where he obtained his
doctorate in Political Economy. Drawn to the cause of socialism from his
student days he soon became a member of the Egyptian Communist Party. Between
1957 and 1960 he worked at the Institute for Economic Management in Cairo, before
Nasser’s growing repression of the Communists drove him out of Egypt. He
eventually settled down in Dakar, Senegal, first as the Director of the UN
African Institute of Economic Development and Planning and later as the
Director of the African Office of the Third World Forum.
Two characteristics set Samir Amin apart from most other Marxist
intellectuals of his time. One was his total and absolute commitment to praxis
for the cause of socialism. The second was the centrality he accorded to
imperialism.
August 22,
2018 Prabhat Patnaik
Samir Amin,
the renowned Marxist thinker and economist, passed away on August 13 in Paris.
Born in Cairo on September 3, 1931, to an Egyptian father and a French mother,
he had his initial education in Egypt before moving to Paris where he obtained
his doctorate in Political Economy. Drawn to the cause of socialism from his
student days he soon became a member of the Egyptian Communist Party. Between
1957 and 1960 he worked at the Institute for Economic Management in Cairo,
before Nasser’s growing repression of the Communists drove him out of Egypt. He
eventually settled down in Dakar, Senegal, first as the Director of the UN
African Institute of Economic Development and Planning and later as the
Director of the African Office of the Third World Forum.
Two
characteristics set Samir Amin apart from most other Marxist intellectuals of
his time. One was his total and absolute commitment to praxis for the cause of
socialism. He was not a mere arm-chair theorist who used Marxist tools to
analyze the contemporary reality as a form of detached intellectual activity.
He was on the contrary a passionately-committed activist, for whom intellectual
activity was quintessentially an aid to praxis. He was forever trying to
organize fellow-activists for making effective interventions to bring about change,
and was closely associated with real movements, both the Communist movement in
Senegal and also several NGO movements, all of whom looked up to him for help
and guidance.
The second
characteristic was the centrality he accorded to imperialism in his Marxist
analysis, which is so different from what one normally finds both among first
world Marxists (with rare exceptions like the Monthly Review group)
and also among many third world Marxists who, oddly, see in neo-liberal
globalization a withering away of imperialism. Amin in contrast not only saw
imperialism as central to capitalism, but placed it firmly within the framework
of the Labour Theory of Value through his theory of unequal exchange for which
he is justly celebrated.
The fact
that metropolitan capitalism’s annexation of the third world had given rise to
a process of unequal exchange had been widely recognized. The question however
related to the “norm” with respect to which exchange could be described as
unequal. Many would, and did, accept the proposition, which followed clearly
from Michal Kalecki’s analysis, that a rise in the “degree of
monopoly” within metropolitan capitalism gave rise to a greater squeeze on
third world primary commodity producers; but this only made some particular
historical date (from which the rise in the degree of monopoly is measured) the
norm, or the origin, in relation to which we could locate unequal exchange.
Amin, and
other theorists of unequal exchange like Emmanuel, saw the point of departure
not as a date but as a conceptual position. For Amin unequal
exchange was manifest in the fact that the value added over a specific period
of time by a unit of simple labour in the periphery was counted as
less than the value added over a similar period by a unit of simple labour in
the metropolis, which was also associated with the fact that the value of 
labour-power in the periphery was less than that in the metropolis.
It is clear
that for Amin it was not unequal exchange per se that was
conceptually central but the fact of super-exploitation. Even
if, for instance, the commodities produced by the periphery exchanged against
those produced by the metropolis at their respective amounts of total (i.e.
direct and indirect) labour-time embodied, as long as the value of labour-power
in the former remained below that in the latter because of the former’s massive
labour reserves, this super-exploitation will continue; the only difference
would be that larger profits would accrue to those who sell the commodities of
the periphery (which could well be the MNCs from the metropolis). Central to
Amin’s perception of imperialism and of unequal exchange
therefore is this fact of super exploitation of the workers of the periphery.
To critics,
among whom was Charles Bettelheim, who argued that the value of
labor-power relative to labour productivity was lower in
the metropolis than in the periphery, so that there was no question of any
super-exploitation of the workers in the periphery, the obvious answer was that
since the two regions produced dissimilar commodities (because of the colonial
pattern of international division of labour), the very comparison of labour
productivities had to be not in physical but in value terms; and hence any such
comparison would already incorporate the effect of unequal exchange. It would
be ironical in short if the effect of unequal exchange was
used to disprove the fact of unequal exchange.
This
colonial pattern of international division of labour however raises a question
with regard to the theory of unequal exchange itself. If the value of
labour-power was lower in the periphery than in the metropolis, then why didn’t
all activities shift from the latter to the former, resulting in a negation of
the division of labour where the former was confined largely to the production
of primary commodities while the latter produced manufactures?
This
question arises even more strongly with regard to the unequal exchange theory
of Arghiri Emmanuel, who argued that goods produced by the metropolis and the
periphery exchanged against one another at prices of production, but
prices formed on the basis of lower wages in the latter than in the former.
 Emmanuel
in fact argued that mobility of capital equalized the rates of profit in the
two regions even though each continued to remain specialized in its
product-mix. The question this raises was: why didn’t this mobility of capital
obliterate such specialization altogether, with a massive shift of
manufacturing itself from the metropolis to the periphery?
This is
precisely what is happening to an extent now under globalization, but it still
does not remove the difference in the value of labour-power between the two
regions (though their divergent movement has come to a stop, through
metropolitan wages ceasing to rise with metropolitan labour productivity). The
point here however is that Samir Amin’ project was not just to theorize unequal
exchange but to look at capitalism as a global system passing through many
phases (of which the current globalization is the latest), and to theorize the
fact that the labour of the periphery remains super-exploited in all these
phases. It was to carry Marx’s analysis forward by looking at accumulation on a
world scale.
The
unambiguous conclusion that emerges from Amin’s analysis is the need for the
periphery to de-link itself from global capitalism if it is to achieve genuine
progress, and nobody to my mind has emphasized the need for such de-linking
more strongly and persistently than Amin. Japan, the only country outside the
metropolis of that time to succeed in breaking into the ranks of the developed
countries, could do so because it was not colonized. No other country has yet
succeeded in this effort, though China, because of its background of
far-reaching reforms in the Maoist period, is perhaps the only one according to
him which has the potential for doing so (unless it is subject to military
aggression by the West, a risk which he thought China and post-Soviet Russia
faced).
Amin was
clear that the current phase of neo-liberal capitalism had reached a dead-end.
It was not that capitalism had necessarily reached such a cul de sac,
but where we go from here, whether towards a new period of capitalist
consolidation or towards socialism, would depend upon our praxis. It is for
this reason that Amin until almost his last breath was himself actively
engaged, and exhorting others to become actively engaged, in revolutionary
praxis. He was even suggesting the formation of a new International so that
revolutionary praxis across the world could be coordinated.
No account
of Amin’s life will be complete without a reference to his immense warmth,
generosity, and sheer comradeship. His enthusiasm, his laughter, and his
remarkable energy for getting people together and pushing them in the quest for
revolutionary praxis, was heart-warming, and infectious for anyone who came
into contact with him. Talking to him was itself a learning experience, whether
one agreed or disagreed: he would take one over a whole gamut of subjects,
ranging from post-war France to the Bandung Conference, to the 2008 financial
crisis. It was the joy of talking to a Communist who had kept his faith. He
will be sorely missed by legions of friends, comrades and admirers.

In
Memoriam: Samir Amin

  • September 1, 2018
IDEAs network mourns the loss of
the celebrated Marxist thinker Samir Amin, who was also a Member of our
Advisory Board. Samir Amin’s razor-sharp intellect, penetrating analysis,
strong anti-imperialism and conviction in the importance of third world solidarity
as well as his deep and continuous commitment to progressive causes around the
world, will continue to remain an inspiration for us.
We publish below an obituary by
Prabhat Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh and C.P. Chandrasekhar.
 Samir Amin
(1931-2018) – A Marxist from the Third World

C.
P. Chandrasekhar
1 September 2018

Samir Amin, a leading social
thinker, campaigner and activist of and for the South is no more. Progressive
forces, not just in Africa where he was born, and lived and worked for most of
his life, but across the underdeveloped world will miss the presence of a
person who was never tired of speaking truth to the apologists and
functionaries of imperialism. Especially because, besides his energy, charm and
deep commitment, what singled out Amin was his ability to connect with
intellectuals, activists and movements across the developing world—across Asia
and Latin America, and not just in Africa. That network to him was not just one
of solidarity among those faced with similar problems, but a movement that
needed to be built to confront and transcend a global structure that was
responsible for underdevelopment, deprivation and poverty.
Born in 1931 in Cairo, Amin
followed a trajectory characteristic of many radical intellectuals from
ex-colonial countries, studying and working both in Africa and its coloniser,
France. He was in his early teens when the Second World War ended, Britain had
ceded power to the US as global hegemon, and the process of decolonisation that
had begun before the war had gathered momentum. These were the years when
anti-colonial sentiments were strong, independent national governments came to
power, ‘delinking’ through import substitution was underway in many less
developed countries, a ‘socialist’ Soviet Union was an important global
influence, and planning was being experimented with even in predominantly
market-driven economies. Like many other radical thinkers, Amin recognised the
promise in these trends. So, though a Marxist by persuasion, he joined the many
radical intellectuals in the Third World who chose to work with their newly
independent governments in the hope that they would follow a path which, while
aiming to accelerate productivity and income growth, would distribute the
benefits of that growth in ways that would address the underemployment and
deprivation that afflicted the majority. He worked with the planning board in
Egypt during 1957-60, before he was forced into exile, with the Ministry of
Planning in Mali during 1960-63 and then as director of the African Institute
for Economic Development and Planning in Dakar for a decade.
These occupational choices
reflected the belief that, given an appropriately enlightened government and
adequate social sanction, trajectories of development that advanced social good
could be engineered even within non-socialist economies. But as happened across
the Third World, import substitution and planning failed to deliver in Africa.
After flirting with egalitarian alternatives, governments compromised with
vested interests of various kinds and settled for a path of state-facilitated
capitalist development that delivered some growth but transferred much of its
benefits to an elite. In time, growth too proved unsustainable.
Samir Amin was not one to
uncritically accept such an outcome, and was among the communists and radicals
who were forced into exile from Egypt by Abdel Nasser. That took him into a
career in which he spent much time elsewhere in Africa, leading an intellectual
current seeking out alternatives for freedom from oppression and deprivation
for the underprivileged. Though his emancipatory project was focused on Africa
and his locational shifts within Africa made him a pan-Africanist in physical
and conceptual terms, he saw himself as one among those shaping a movement for emancipation
from oppression and egalitarian development across the Third World. His
personal experience, however, did not lead to the conclusion that the problem
in underdeveloped countries was just one of exploitative elites and the
governments that represented them. He attributed the failure of those
governments to their inability to confront the global structures reproducing
inequality and deprivation that had been shaped through capitalist history and
under colonialism. In his view, imperialism, and the monopolisation of
resources, finance and knowledge by the classes that dominated in the developed
nations, had condemned the ‘bourgeois’ nationalist project to failure. An
alternative was required. The emancipation of the Third World depended on its
delinking from imperialism, and finally on the overthrow of the latter.
These were not just emotional
words and baseless beliefs. Over his career Samir Amin creatively applied the
Marxist method to understand what Marx had inadequately investigated in his
incomplete life’s work—the mechanisms that ensured that development in the
metropolitan centres of capitalism had as its counterpart the underdevelopment
of the periphery, making generalised catch-up or convergence under capitalism
an impossibility. To unravel those mechanisms he chose to extract the theory of
value from a model of an abstract capitalist economy, and apply it to the
concrete conditions of accumulation on a world scale. That led to the
development-underdevelopment dichotomy. The Law of Worldwide Value, as
one of his books was titled, was one which took account of the phenomenon of
unequal exchange, deriving in the final analysis from the fact that a unit of
(otherwise similar) labour power was valued less in the periphery then in the
core advanced countries. That is, surplus extracted from Third World workers
emerged not only because they contributed more to the value of the product they
produced than the value of labour power itself, but because similar labour was
valued less in the periphery than in the core. When that was taken into
account, an explanation of why capitalist accumulation leads to development at
the core and underdevelopment in the periphery emerges. Even those of Leftist
persuasion who felt this formulation was not nuanced enough, had to accept that
this was an idea that was potent, given historical experience and persisting
international inequality. The burden of Amin’s argument was that historically
evolved exploitative structures continue to reproduce this anomaly. Unless poor
countries detached themselves from those structures, or the global system in
which those structures were embedded was transcended, the development project
within an integrated world economy was doomed to failure.
This conceptual understanding of
Amin’s translated in practice into an appreciation of the radical strand in
nationalist struggles and the non-aligned movement, which he wanted to
retrieve. Hence the celebration of the ‘Bandung spirit’, or the spirit that the
Bandung Conference of African and Asian nations held in 1955 in Indonesia was
imbued with. In a concept note for a conference to celebrate 60 years of
Bandung in 2015 Amin wrote: “The  Conference of Bandung declared the will
of the Asian and African nations to reconquer their sovereignty and complete
their independence through a process of authentic independent consistent
development to the benefit of all labouring classes.” He saw Bandung as “the
first international meeting of ‘non-European’ (so called ‘coloured’) nations
whose rights had been denied by historical colonialism/imperialism of Europe,
the US and Japan.” He also saw in the Bandung spirit a willingness of people
across the Third World to come together in the struggle against imperialist
domination. His political life was geared to strengthening that sentiment and
institutionalising it in various ways.
Amin saw the continuation of the
radical nationalist project as a process that would lead to emancipation
through a 21st-century version of the socialist transformation. This
perception marked his Marxist approach as uniquely Third Worldist, and
different from one adopted by many western Marxists. Amin was an
anti-imperialist nationalist and a socialist. Even conceptually, his
understanding as an African and a citizen of the Third World dominated that
stemming from his exposure to France and the rest of the developed world.
(This article was originally
published in the Frontline Print edition: September 14, 2018)

Remembering
Samir Amin, Who Dedicated Himself to Overcoming Capitalism

Jayati Ghosh 22 August 2018

Samir Amin (September 3,
1931-August 12, 2018) was a visionary: someone with his own very strong ideas
of what the future should be like, and consumed by the need to mobilise people
to work for bringing about such a future. The desirable (though not inevitable)
future for him was that of socialism, which required the defeat of imperialism
and the overcoming of capitalism. The intense enthusiasm with which he sought
to pursue that vision, to the very end of his immensely productive life, was at
once obsessive, beguiling and infectious.
Amin was born in 1931 of Egyptian
and French parentage, and was brought up in Port Said in Egypt, but his
subsequent education and his own inclinations made him much more cosmopolitan,
truly a citizen of the world – or rather of the Third World. Indeed, he
self-identified as an African scholar of political economy and was hugely
devoted to encouraging and developing rigorous intellectual life in that
continent.
His early professional experiences
were clearly crucial in developing that orientation. Already in secondary
school he considered himself a communist, and he was a member of the French
Communist Party as a student in Paris in the 1950s. His PhD thesis in Paris in
1957 was on the origins of underdevelopment, presenting the germ of ideas that
subsequently were elaborated in his magnum opus Accumulation on a World
Scale
 that was first published in 1970. He returned to Cairo to work
as a research officer in the Office of Economic Management of the Egyptian
government, but the anti-communism that marked the Nasser regime at that time
drove him to exile, followed by a stint in Mali working for that country’s
government.
Thereafter, he was mostly based in
Dakar, Senegal – first in the UN’s Institut Africain de Développement
Economique et de Planification, of which he became the director in 1970, and
then as the director of the Forum du Tiers Monde (Third World Forum) that he
set up in 1980. He was instrumental in setting up the Council for the
Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria), which has become
the main vehicle of social science research and analysis in the continent and
currently has more than 4,000 active members.
Such activity reflected his
pan-Africanism, which was an essential and abiding part of his personality and
his intellectual leanings. But he did not see this as a simplistic celebration
of one homogenised “African culture”, which in any case he recognised as a false
construct. In a moving tribute, the young Tanzanian social scientist Natasha
Issa Shivji has pointed out that Amin argued for pan-Africanism as “a project
of the oppressed of Africa against imperialism and its compradors… as a
political project from below, as a class project in defence of the peasantry
and the working people and an anti-imperialist project birthed from the
nationalist movements.”
Amin had a sharp intellect and
little patience for academic dissemblers, whom he saw through easily. He had an
appropriately cynical attitude to mainstream economics, which he saw as little
more than a discourse “to legitimise the unrestricted predations of capital,”
and dismissed the claims of economics to being a pure science as little more
than “magic and witchcraft”. His own analytical framework was that of Marxian
political economy, of which he developed his own specifically anti-imperialist
variant that presumed the existence of unequal exchange between North and South,
that systematically impoverishes the South in various ways.
So for Amin, capitalism, which was
always a global system, was critically dependent on the polarisation between
centre and periphery, and the logic of capital accumulation was such that the
periphery could never catch up with the centre. Thus Amin became one of the
most celebrated proponents of “dependency theory”, which he developed in
several books such as Accumulation on a World ScaleEurocentrism;
and Imperialism and Unequal Development. According to him (as
elaborated in his book Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, London:
Zed Books, 1997), the fundamentally unequal relationship between centre and
periphery is characterised by the five monopolies which reproduce global
capitalism.
These are: the monopoly of
technology generated by the military expenditures of the imperialist centres;
the monopoly of access to natural resources; the monopoly over finance; the
monopoly over international communication and the media and the monopoly over
the means of mass destruction.
The way to combat this is through
“delinking” – an idea he developed in a book of the same title in 1990. He did
not view this as a simple reversion to autarky in trade or isolationism.
Rather, he saw “delinking” as “the refusal to subject the national development
strategy to the imperatives of worldwide expansion”, based on rejecting the
dictates of the centre with regard to economic policies that ultimately benefit
the centre rather than the periphery in which they are deployed. The
requirement of delinking extended from specific policies to institutional
structures that formed the very basis of social and political existence in the
countries of the periphery. Thus, Amin was very critical of the models of
development and of the institutional structures of nation-states in developing
countries that slavishly imitated the West, which he felt enabled colonialism
to easily transmogrify into neo-colonialism.
Delinking requires politically
bold governments with sufficient mass support, which would have the confidence
to reject strategies based on static comparative advantage and break the
stranglehold of comprador interests over state policy. In addition to domestic
political economy forces in support of this, it also requires much greater
South-South co-operation, which should be based on economic relations that
avoided reproducing relations of exploitation that characterised interactions
between the capitalist core and periphery. It also requires strengthening the
co-operation between progressive forces across North and South.
An offshoot of this is the urge to
a multipolar world – so Amin very much welcomed the emergence of new powers and
the waning of US global power. He was optimistic enough to believe that as the
world system fragments and comes apart, there would be greater possibilities
for his much-anticipated revolt of the working classes of the North against
capitalism itself.
However, he was also shrewd enough
to realise that multipolarity does not necessarily represent a decline in
imperialist tendencies or in traditional centre-periphery relations of
hierarchy and domination. In a fairly complex but nonetheless sweeping analysis
(The Law of Worldwide Value, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010),
he identified six global classes of significance: (1) the imperialist
bourgeoisie at the centre or core, to which accrues most of the global economic
surplus value; (2) the proletariat at the centre, which earlier benefited from
being a labour aristocracy that could enjoy real wage increases broadly in line
with labour productivity, but which was now more threatened and experiencing
falling wage shares and more insecure employment conditions; (3) the dependent
bourgeoisie of the periphery, which exists in what he saw as an essentially
comprador relationship with multinational capital based in the core; (4) the
proletariat of the periphery, which is subject to super-exploitation, and for
whom there is a huge disconnect between wages and actual productivity because
of unequal exchange; (5) the peasantries of the periphery, who also suffer
similarly, and are oppressed in dual manner by pre-capitalist and capitalist
forms of production; and (6) the oppressive classes of the non-capitalist modes
(such as traditional oligarchs, warlords and power brokers).
This obviously creates an
extremely complex set of struggles and alliances. And it means that even
relations between economies in the peripheries would not always necessarily
display the characteristics of working class and peasant solidarity that he
hoped for.
Indeed, the possibilities of such
complexity were increasingly recognised by Amir when it came to the role of
religious fundamentalism as a supposedly anti-imperialist expression. While
anti-imperialism was his deepest and most abiding characteristic, he was also
ruthless in his critique of religious fundamentalist movements. He was a
vehement opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, criticising them sharply
not only for their revanchist religious dogma with its socially regressive
implications, but also because he believed that in economic terms they would
apply the same neoliberal policies that the centre typically wanted to impose
on peripheral countries. He even supported the military coup in Egypt – to the
dismay of many of his friends and fellow-travellers – because of his deep
opposition to both the politics and economics represented by such groups, and
he felt strongly that they could never be part of a truly emancipatory
movement.
These are strong views, and Amir
always expressed them forcefully. But he was also a man of great personal
charm, able to connect to people across the world of different backgrounds and
ages, with little recognition of conventional hierarchies of age, achievement
or experience. And his tenacity and untiring commitment were unbelievable. Even
a few weeks before his death, I and many others among his friends and comrades
across the world received emails from him reiterating the need for a new
International and insisting on enlisting us for this cause, with demands for
clear commitments with regard to time and output. He brought his formidable
intellect and persuasive powers to this with so much energy that we were shamed
into compliance, promising to take this forward. So we cannot even begin to say
farewell, Amir, until we have done at least some of what we promised you.

 

 

 

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