Feb
02

Ending the Crisis of Capitalism, or Ending Capitalism?

I have covered several of Samir Amin works, including Unequal Development (1976), Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (1997) and The Liberal Virus (2004). This post covers his book Ending the Crisis of Capitalism, or Ending Capitalism? (originally published in French in 2009, and the translation I have was published in 2011 by Pambazuka Press). An longer set of notes:

"The principle of endless accumulation that defines capitalism is synonymous with exponential growth and the latter, like cancer, leads to death." (p. 1)

"The fundamental questioning of capitalism - which our contemporary thinkers in their overwhelming majority deem neither possible nor desirable - is nonetheless the inescapable condition for the emancipation of the dominated workers and the peoples (those of the peripheries, that is 80 per cent of mankind). And the two dimensions of this challenge are inextricably linked with one another. There will be no exit from capitalism solely by way of the struggle of the people of the North, or solely by the struggle of the dominated people of the South. There will only be an exist from capitalism if and when these two dimensions of the challenge combine with one another. It is far from certain that this will occur, in which case capitalism will be overcome by the destruction of civilization." (p. 16-17)

"And are the progressive social forces strong enough to impose such a transformation? In my humble opinion, they are not. The real alternative involves overturning the exclusive power of the oligopolies, which is inconceivable without finally nationalising them for management that is in line with a progressive democratic socialisation. The end of capitalism? I don't think so. I think, on the other hand, that new patterns of social power relationships can force capital to make adjustments in response to the claims of the popular classes and peoples, this on the condition that the social struggles - still fragmented and on the whole defensive - succeed in drawing up a coherent political alternative. If so, the beginning of the long transition from capitalism to socialism becomes possible." (p. 36)

"Historical capitalism must be overtaken and this cannot be done unless the societies in the peripheries (the great majority of humanity) set to work out systematic strategies of delinking from the global system and reconstructing themselves on an autonomous basis, thus creating the conditions for an alternative globalisation, engaged on the long road to world socialism." (p. 58)

"Niger is a textbook example of this. This country receives aid that covers 50 per cent of its budget. This aid is 'indispensable' for its survival although it is perfectly ineffective: the country remains close to the bottom of the list of the poorest countries in the world. But Niger is the third largest exporter of uranium in the world. Situated between Algeria, Libya and Nigeria, it could be tempted, through nationalism, to recover control over this wealth. Areva, the French firm that exploits the uranium mine, knows this very well. It is not difficult to believe that aid to Niger has no other objective than to maintain the country as a client state." (p. 137)

"Liberal globalisation wants to build another world which is in the process of emerging, based on an apartheid at the world level, still more barbaric than what we have experienced since the end of the Second World War... This pursuit, against all odds, by the oligarchy of the imperialist Triad to continue their domination over the world system involves the recourse to permanent, armed violence through the military control of the planet." (p. 185)

On food and land:

"The United States and Europe have well understood the importance of food sovereignty and have successfully implemented it through systematic economic policies. But, apparently, what is good for them is not so for others! The World Bank, the OECD, and the European Union try to impose an alternative, which is 'food security'. According to them, the Third World countries do not need food sovereignty and should rely on international trade to cover deficit - however large - in their food requirements. This may seem easy for those countries which are large exporters of national resources (oil, uranium, etc). For others, the advice of the western powers is to specialise, as much as possible, in the production of agricultural commodities for export (cotton, tropical drinks and oils, agrofuels in the future). The defenders of food security (for others, not for themselves) do not consider the fact that this specialisation, which has been practised since colonisation, has not made it possible to improve the miserable food rations of the peoples concerned (especially the peasants)." (p. 107)

"What the dominant discourse at the moment means by reform of the land tenure system is the exact opposite of what is required for the building of an authentic alternative based on a prosperous peasant economy. What this discourse, conveyed by the propaganda instruments of collective imperialism - the World Bank, many development institutions, but also a number of NGOs that are richly endowed - means by land reform is the acceleration of the privatisation of land, and nothing more. The aim is clear: to create the conditions that would enable some modern islands of agribusiness (foreign and local) to take over the land they require to expand." (p. 121-122)

"...it is not possible to accept that agricultural and food production, as well as land, should be treated as ordinary 'goods' and thus allow them to be integrated into the project of globalised liberalisation promoted by the dominant powers and transnationalised capital. The World Trade Organization agenda must just be rejected, pure and simple. Opinion in Asia and Africa must be convinced of this, and particularly the need for food sovereignty, beginning with the peasant organisations but also all the other social and political forces that defend the interests of the popular classes and of the nation." (p. 124)

On Marxist critique:

"Being Marxist in this spirit is to begin with Marx and not to stop with him, or Lenin or Mao, as conceived and practiced by the historical Marxists of the previous century. It is to render unto Marx that which is owed to him: the intelligence to have begun a modern critical thinking, a critique of capitalist reality and a critique of its political, ideological and cultural representations. A creative Marxist must pursue the goal of enriching this critical thinking par excellence." (p. 18)

"...Nor is 'social justice' a scientific concept. It is vague, imprecise by nature, and the means for achieving it go no further than listing measures that are not integrated (and are incapable of being integrated) into a coherent strategy. The contrast with the language of revolutionary France and of Marx, who called for equality and emphasised its contradictory complementarity with liberty (itself also associated with property) shows how our thinking has regressed with this discourse on social justice. The nonsense of the North American jurist John Rawls, the sermons of Amartya Sen (a Nobel prize winner) and the 'practical' proposals of Joseph Stiglitz (the rebel of the World Bank) cannot save this miserable non-thinking." (p. 133)

"Debt reduction, presented almost as a charitable act (as is clear from the diplomatic jargon in which the decision was couched) certainly does not merit being included as aid. The legitimate response to this question, and not only from the moral viewpoint, should lead to an audit of all the debts in question - private and public, on the side of the lender and on that of the borrower. The debts recognised as immoral (among others, because of their association with corrupt operations on one side or the other), illegitimate (poorly disguised political support, as for the South African apartheid regime), usurious (rates fixed unilaterally by the so-called markets, by integral reimbursement of their capital - and well beyond it): all these debts must be annulled and the victims, the debtor countries, recompensed for having overpaid." (p. 140)

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Apr
18

A Social History of Land Reform in Ethiopia

Siegfried Pausewang (1937-2012) was one of the leading European scholars of Ethiopia, with contributions made over decades. His engagement in Ethiopia began in the late 1960s, as a professor at the then Haile Selassie University (now Addis Ababa University). This post covers "Peasants, Land and Society: A Social History of Land Reform in Ethiopia" (1983), and also include Options for Rural Development (1990) and The Challenge of Democracy from Below (2002). Notes:

On research neutrality: "Critics may object that such an approach is wide open to subjectivity and renders the analysis both inexact and uncontrollable. This is correct, in a way. Realistically I can base my report only on my own experience, which includes, of course, my perception of the experience of others. In addition, my work is admittedly subjective in its perspective. For I deliberately tried to understand social developments from a particular point of view, i.e. to identify their significance for peasants and to analyze their influence on the well-being of those individuals and groups who bear the heaviest burden within a society. My research, let me be clear, is not intended to be neutral, but rather to be a tool in finding ways to improve life conditions for the under-privileged. Neutrality, to my mind, is unattainable. Research is always interference, whether intentional or not, if not on the side of the underprivileged, then in the interest of the status quo." (emphasis original, p. 3)

External dependence: "The upheaval of traditional Ethiopian societies by Menelik's conquests supports a thesis by a group of scholars that major historical changes in Ethiopia were caused, or at least catalyzed, by changes in trade routes and their control (Cooper et al, 1975; 10-20). While trade provided Menelik with the weapons for conquest, his policies of centralization following conquest in turn provided further scope for trade. In this climate of dependency, no longer could it be said, as in the past, that 'products and practices of long-distance trade were separate from the internal systems [of Ethiopia]'; the difference proved crucial." (p. 45)

Internal dependence: "as long as the nobility, with the emperor on top, depended on local support, their ability to exploit peasants was limited by this very dependence. Menelik's army, however, was quite self-sufficient and could therefore exploit peasants with impunity." (p. 45)

Agricultural systems: "By evicting tenant-peasants, a landlord could dispose of this entire property as he pleased. Modern machinery made it possible to engage in single-crop cultivation over vast areas, producing large quantities of export products. Cash wages paid to a few full-time skilled personnel and a batch of seasonal workers were negligible compared to the increase in production and profit. Thus, though machinery requires considerable capital investment, commercial mechanized agriculture could be highly profitable for the landlord prepared to do away entirely with peasant farming... The high profitability of mechanized farming could, under the given social conditions in Ethiopia, only be reaped by sacrificing the peasant majority." (p. 53-54)

On discrimination and colonization: "When my interpreter, who is Oromo, asked how they could distinguish a Galla from other visitors, they unanimously agreed that the Galla could be easily identified by their savage behaviour and wild appearance. Asked further what would happen if an urbanized and educated Oromo were to come, they replied that such a phenomenon was beyond the capacity of 'those savage people'." (p. 133)

Biases in development: "...the government continued to establish settlement projects in the region and to commission roads and other infrastructure necessary for commercial agriculture. Often, such infrastructure was built by foreign volunteers, who, not having sufficient understanding of the dynamics of power in rural Ethiopia communities, became unwitting tools for the promotion of the landlord class' definition of development." (p. 139)

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Nov
02

Land Tenure in Eritrea (1966)

An earlier post highlighted the first land tenure survey in Ethiopia, this post presents "Land Tenure in Eritrea (Ethiopia)" (1966) by Ambaye Zekarias. This publication is part of a broader set of literature that emerged during the 1960s (see broader literature here, with historical studies being a particular strength). The forward of this particular book was written by the eminent historian Richard Pankhurst, who himself wrote a history of land tenure in the 1960sThis book is not a land survey of Eritrea, but a summary of the types of tenure, covering both the traditional systems and those introduced by colonial occupation. In addition to being a historical reference for the pre-land reform period, it provides a good reference of terminology for a unique context where colonial systems created parallel systems to the traditional ones.

The book opens with a statement rarely made about Ethiopia: "The purpose of this book is not land reform, there is no land problem in this region of Ethiopia. There is plentiful of land [sic], the systems of land tenure with proper with proper adjustments would be models worth supporting. Here every qualified member is entitled for arable land, thus land is extended to every individual." (p. iv). I would be interested to hear from Eritrean historians about this claim, and if accurate, more about the processes used to ensure equal access (in a region and time when that was not common) and for how long the land plenty existed.

I was hoping to make these older publications available on this website, but appears that the majority remain protected by copyright. I will continue to explore options about how I can improve access to these difficult to obtain publications.

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Sep
23

Ethiopia’s First Land Tenure Study

In 1965, H. S. Mann published "Land Tenure in Chore (Shoa): A Pilot Study" (data collection took place in 1963). It was Ethiopia's first land tenure study. It is a product of the Haile Sellassie I University, one of the many great publications that emerged during this time period – and which are increasingly difficult to obtain copies of. The land tenure study area took place around what is now Adama (formerly Nazareth).

The author was an FAO officer working with the then Imperial government. At the time, land tenure issues were becoming an increasingly important public issue, and indeed Haile Selassie sought to reform the tenure system. The reforms were not sufficient, and it was the land issue that contributed to his downfall. This study claims to be the first study of land tenure in the country – the study collected data on the systems of land tenure, land owner and tenant holdings, landlord-tenant relationships, and socio-economic institutions. The book also includes six appendices, which include the data collection tools and some relevant legal documents. All in 78 pages.

I hope to make this document available as a PDF in the near future.

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