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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May
14

The Liberal Virus

For additional background on Samir Amin see my posts on Unequal Development (1976) and Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (1997). Some notes from his 2004 book "The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World":

"Towards the end of the twentieth century a sickness struck the world. Not everyone died, but all suffered from it. The virus which caused the epidemic was the 'liberal virus.' This virus made its appearance around the sixteenth century within the triangle described by Paris-London-Amsterdam. The symptoms that the disease then manifested appeared harmless. Men (whom the virus struck in preference to women) not only became accustomed to it and developed the necessary antibodies, but were able to benefit from the increased energy that it elicited. But the virus traveled across the Atlantic and found a favorable place among those who, deprived of antibodies, spread it. As a result, the malady took on extreme forms. The virus reappeared in Europe towards the end of the twentieth century, returning from America where it had mutated. Now strengthened, it came to destroy a great number of the antibodies that the Europeans had developed over the course of the three preceding centuries." (p. 7)

"The dominant forces are such because they succeed in imposing their language on their victims. The 'experts' of conventional economics have managed to make believe that their analyses and the conclusions drawn from them are imperative because they are 'scientific,' hence objective, neutral and unavoidable. This is not true." (p. 15-16)

"The very principle of democracy is founded on the possibility of making alternative choices. There is no longer a need for democracy, since ideology made the idea that 'there is no alternative' acceptable. Adherence to a meta-social principle of superior rationality allows for the elimination of the necessity and possibility of choosing." (p. 21)

"...this liberal virus, which pollutes contemporary social thought and eliminates the capacity to understand the world, let alone transform it, has profoundly penetrated the whole of the "historical left" formed in the aftermath of the Second World War. The movements engaged at the present time in social struggles for "another world" (a better one) and an alternative globalization will only be able to produce significant social advances if they get rid of this virus in order to begin an authentic theoretical debate again." (p. 42)

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May
08

Capitalism in the Age of Globalization

Samir Amin (1931-2018) spent his life research, writing and acting against capitalism, in particular highlighting how exploitative is it for the peripheries of the system. On this, Unequal Development (1976), is one of the earlier important works. In its place, he advocated for a socialist system. In the 1970s he introduced the term "eurocentrism", a critique that has influenced all of the social sciences (he wrote a book by that title, published in 1988, which I will aim to cover in a later post). Born in Egypt, he spent much of his life in West Africa, largely writing in French (which he was educated in). This post covers "Capitalism in the Age of Globalization: The Management of Contemporary Society" (1997).

I have the 2014 re-print, which is useful because Amin includes a Preface that he wrote in 2013. In several regards, Amin foresaw many of the challenges that would emerge in the decades that followed the publication of this book, which he reflects on in saying: "So far as I was concerned, the new system was nothing other than the latest stage in moves to world domination by the centres of historical imperialism (USA, Western Europe, Japan), which they sought to impose through exclusive access to the planet's natural resources, a monopoly over modern technology, control of the globalized financial market, and sole deployment of weapons of mass destruction. I maintained that the nations of the South, being victims of this system, would not willingly bow to its demands, and that the North-South conflict was therefore destined to grow in scope and importance" (p. xv)

"Generalized, globalized and financialized monopoly capitalism now has nothing to offer the world, other than the sad prospect of humanity's self destruction, and further deployment of capital accumulation is inexorably heading in this direction. Capitalism has outlived its usefulness, producing conditions that suggest a necessary transition towards a higher stage of civilization. The implosion of the system, caused by the ongoing loss of control over its internal contradictions, signals 'the Autumn of Capitalism'." (p. xxix)

"During the Uruguay Round (which ended in December 1993) Western powers pursued common objectives, while attempting at the same time to reconcile some of their differences. It is important to say it clearly: the common denominator for all the Western powers, throughout this affair, has been a marked hostility toward the Third World. The true objective of the Uruguay Round is to block the competitiveness of the industrialized Third World, even at the expense of the holy principles of liberalism, and thus to reinforce the "five monopolies" of the dominant centers. In this area, as in every other area and at every other time, the double standard prevails." (p. 28-29)

"With Trade Rights in Intellectual Property (TRIP), an offensive has been launched not to reinforce competition, but on the contrary, to strengthen the power of technological monopolies - at the expense, of course, of developing countries for whom the possibility of acquiring the technology they need in order to progress becomes even more uncertain. Will the 'trade secrets' that GATT-WTO wants to include under this category bring us back to the mercantilist monopoly practices of 300 years ago? Even the language used to discuss the topic is not neutral. We no longer speak of knowledge as the common property of humanity, but rather of 'piracy' when someone tries to acquire it! This policy sometimes verges on the obscene: GATT-WTO, for instance, wants to forbid Third World manufacture of inexpensive pharmaceutical products, which are of vital importance, in order to protect massive profits of monopolies in this sector." (p. 29)

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Mar
19

Unequal Development & Underdevelopment

Continuing the "Thought Provokers" series from essential development studies reading, this post covers Samir Amin's 1976 "Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism." This work represents some of the earlier writing on ideas of unequal development, inequality and underdevelopment. Plenty of food for thought and discussion:

  • "External equilibrium – international order – is possible only because the structures of the periphery are shaped so as to meet the needs of accumulation at the center, that is, provided that the development of the center engenders and maintains the underdevelopment of the periphery." (p. 104)
  • "If exports from the periphery amount to about $35 billion, their value, if the rewards of labor were equivalent to what they are at the center, with the same productivity, would be about $57 billion. The hidden transfers of value from the periphery to the center, due to the mechanism of unequal exchange, are of the order of $22 billion, that is to say, twice the amount of the "aid" and the private capital that the periphery receives. One is certainly justified in talking about the plundering of the Third World." (p. 144)
  • "State aid to the underdeveloped countries, which made its appearance after the Second World War, fulfills a variety of functions. Apart from its political significance, this aid enables the contradiction between the inflow of private investments and outflow of profits to be overcome – in other words, it serves the vital function of maintaining the status quo, which imposes an unequal form of international specialization upon the periphery." (p. 182)
  • "Underdevelopment is manifested not in level of production per head, but in certain characteristic structural features that oblige us not to confuse the underdeveloped countries with the now advanced countries as they were at an earlier stage of their development. These features are: (1) the extreme unevenness that is typical of the distribution of productivities in the periphery, and in the system of prices transmitted to it from the center, which results from the distinctive nature of the peripheral formations and largely dictates the structure of the distribution of income in these formations; (2) the disarticulation due to the adjustment of the orientation of production in the periphery to the needs of the center, which prevents the transmission of benefits to economic progress from the poles of development to the economy as a whole; and (3) economic domination by the center, which is expressed in the form of international specialization (the structures of world trade in which the center shapes the periphery in accordance with its own needs) and in dependence of the structures whereby growth in the periphery is financed (the dynamic of the accumulation of foreign capital)." (p. 201-202)
  • "The periphery cannot just overtake the capitalist model; it is obliged to surpass it. In fact, it must radically revise the capitalist model of resource allocation and reject the rules of profitability. For choices made on the basis of profitability within the structure of relative prices prescribed by integration into the world system foster and reproduce the model of increasingly unequal distribution of income (and hence marginalization), restricting the country to the peripheral model of resource allocation. The action of righting the resource allocation process must largely be undertaken independently of the rules of the market…" (p. 383).
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