Samir Amin and The Way Forward

Volume 17, Issue 1  | 
Published 07/07/2020
  |
Prof. Yash Tandon

A Ugandan policymaker, political activist, professor, author and public intellectual. His latest book 'Trade is War' is a seminal work in exposing the machinations of the so called 'Free' trade.

I - Introduction

I have known Samir since the early 1970s, and attended his burial in Paris following his death on 12 August 2018. I wrote an obituary on him in the form of an ode to his memory, the first and last lines of which go as under:

          Rhyming along the sound of guitar

          Cascades my ode to Comrade Samir

                   ……….

          You have left us, Dear Samir, but only your body

          Your spirit will continue to fuel the African revolutions

          Until the Empire succumbs and its spineless toddies

          Will flee to their hidden loots for their final dissolution

The final dissolution of Capitalism is well-nigh.  However, the problem is that a dying system becomes more dangerous and violent. In this brief essay I’d like to explore two of Samir’s revolutionary ideas, and how these might be applied in the evolving future. One is on the ‘National Question’ and the other his proposal for embarking on a ‘Fifth International’.

II - The National Question

Samir’s ideas on the National Question are often misunderstood.  This is not surprising. In the rich tapestry of his writings there are bound to appear certain contradictions mainly because of the context in which these ideas are explored.  The context is broadly (and in detail) analysed in his best known book – ‘Accumulation on a World Scale: Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment’ (1974).  This book analyses the process of capital accumulation on a global level, and how this thwarts development in the peripheral social formations.

The most important application of this theory, in my view, is his ‘Class and Nation Historically and in the Current Crisis’, 1980. I would strongly recommend this book to those who want to understand the process of peripheralisation of the former colonies in the global south, especially Chapter 6: ‘Centre and Periphery in the Capitalist System: The National Question.’  He starts this by saying:  ‘The theme of this chapter relates to the whole of my work...’  This is a significant statement.

In a small essay, I will limit myself to a few pertinent quotes from this chapter:

‘… the national liberation movement is a moment in the socialist transformation of the world and not a stage in the development of capitalism on a world scale … analyzing the class structure of the contemporary imperialist system and for placing contemporary national questions within this context.’

‘… the concepts of centre and periphery, basic to my analysis but rejected by all pro-imperialist currents within Marxism, were introduced by Lenin in direct relation to his analysis of the imperialist system.’

‘… the internal market created by the development of the export sector will be limited and biased. The limited nature of the internal market accounts for the fact that the periphery attracts only a limited amount of capital from the centre, although it offers a higher return on it.’

‘This model is qualitatively different in three respects from the central model:

First, the capitalist model was introduced from the outside by political domination. Here precapitalist rural relations did not disintegrate but rather were deformed by being subjected to the laws of accumulation of the central capitalist mode that dominated them. We can see this in the absence of a prior agricultural revolution, that is, in the stagnation of agricultural productivity.

Second, the class alliances that provided the political framework for the reproduction of the system were not primarily internal class alliances but rather an international alliance between dominant monopoly capital and its (subordinate) allies.

Third, external relations were here not subject to the logic of internal development but rather were the driving force and the determinant of the direction and pace of development.’

 ‘Overall, this first phase ended in the victory of the national liberation movement under bourgeois leadership.’

However, Samir Amin goes on:

‘Except in East Asia and Cuba, where the national liberation movement opted out of the world capitalist system, everywhere the triumphant national bourgeoisie followed a strategy of industrialization that now has a name: the strategy of import substitution.’

‘This new situation raises several essential questions which must be discussed quite openly. The first is whether the local bourgeoisie - which generally controls these states - can struggle against imperialism and impose its point of view.’

‘In the past, the peripheral bourgeoisie clashed with imperialism. The monopolies did not plan the transition from the first to the second phase of imperialism: it was imposed by the national liberation movements when the peripheral bourgeoisies won from imperialism the right to industrialize. But I have argued that the strategy of industrialization followed during this second phase transformed the relations between the peripheral bourgeoisie and the monopolies. The peripheral bourgeoisie ceased to be national and became the junior partner of imperialism by integrating itself into the new division of labor.’

I have underlined the last sentence because it defines the crux of the National Question.

But there is some hope that a new generation of radicals in the peripheral countries will address the National Question more seriously.

Says Samir Amin: ‘Today this partner is rebelling and demanding new modalities in the division of labour.’

You may not agree with all the above. But the National Question, I agree with Amin, is not yet resolved.  And that’s why we might be ‘politically’ independent in the global South, but – excepting a few countries such as China, Cuba, and North Korea – we are still under the control of the Empire.

With this in the background let us go to the second issue: Amin’s proposal for embarking on a ‘Fifth International’.

III - Embarking on a ‘Fifth International’

This is a very complex issue.

First, it raises the question of what happened to the previous four Internationals, and what were they? To go into these would require a 400 pages book – no less!

Second, what issues should be raised in the 5th International?

I will briefly summarise Amin’s proposal, and then add my own suggestions on how to move forward. 

  1. Summary of Amin’s Proposal on the Fifth International [1]

Amin's proposal is mostly descriptive and analytical, which leads him to suggest that the creation of a Fifth International is necessary in our time. Here are some quotes from his proposal.

‘Globalised capitalism, which has entered its decadent phase, is combining a quasi-totalitarian political and economic power with an increasing aggressiveness that is worrisome in bringing about the risk of widespread war …

‘Our response as emancipatory movements of the people is not up to the danger. Our struggles are crumbled, fragmented or overly focused on national issues. We have abandoned the goals of global transformation that the World Social Forum presided over and the anti-globalisation movement at its birth ….

‘The slowing down of the Social Forum process means that they no longer serve as a place to develop a real alternative.

‘We need a structured organisation that will set objectives to our struggles and build concrete solidarity between our movements. Workers from every continent will have to be represented in the International so that unity in diversity is our major guideline ….

‘It is in this context that we propose a meeting of reflection for the creation of new International Alliance of Workers and Peoples.

‘It is imperative to reconstruct the International of Workers and Peoples.

‘We are now in the phase of the “autumn of capitalism” without this being strengthened by the emergence of “the people's spring” and a socialist perspective.’

  1. Mamdouh Habashi’s proposal

Mamdouh Habashi, Vice President of the World Forum for Alternatives and co-founder of the Egyptian Socialist Party, has taken up Amin's challenge.  In his ‘An Instrument for the Global Left - Samir Amin's Proposal for a Fifth International - The kick off’ [2], he has suggested the setting up of a 'Brain Storming' Steering Committee to discuss two issues:

One: the points of agreement and disagreement, and

Two: the expected problems and obstacles of the process.

I support Habashi’s suggestion of a Steering Committee.  At this stage, all I want to do is to add a few methodological and epistemological issues. I propose seven steps. These could be elaborated during the process of debate and discussion.

  1. Seven-Steps to Fifth International
  2. Use of a radical epistemology to organise issues and strategies

The one I use is Marxian Historical and Dialectical Materialism - adjusted to accommodate the Gandhian principle of non-violent struggle against exploitation and oppression. I believe that all major religions - Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have been revolutionary in their times.  These - including Marxism - have been corrupted by political power elites and preachers, justifying their actions on grounds of the hard political-economic reality they face.

  1. Demystify and discredit ruling ideologies to weaken the legitimacy of the system

We will come to the grass-roots movements (see 5 below), but we must first start at the Global Systemic level. In our times (epoch), it is Capitalism - now in its Imperial and Neocolonial phase. All the above mentioned epistemologies can be applied to delegitimise Capitalism-imperialism.  For example, we can use the message and idiom of Hindu Shastra of ancient times, Prophet Muhammad from 6th Century AD, to Pope Francis of our own time, to delegtimise the present system. Here are some examples:

  1. a) Economic ideology. Challenge its assumptions and show a growing crisis at the material level.
  2. b) Political ideology. Defend democracy but show why bourgeois democracy under the capitalist system does not work.
  3. c) Human Rights. Defend its principles, but show how they are used by the dominant system for their exploitative and oppressive systems.
  4. National/Ethnic Struggles

This is a subset of class struggle focused on minority ethnic, religious, and other groups within our nations. Whilst at the global level, we fight to resolve the National Question (see above), at the national level the struggle continues by minorities that are marginalised.  The African-Americans in the United States is a good example. Here many of them struggle to create a ‘nation’ of their own.  This is not a problem confined to the USA, Canada, or Europe. Most countries in the South have similar problems.  We should work towards mobilizing these for their democratic rights and promote their proletarian class consciousness.

  1. A Three Tier Decoupling Strategy
  2. a) At national-international level: building a ‘national’ economy and a political system free from dependence on so-called ‘development’ aid, and exploitative investments.
  3. b) Civil Society level: Values for a transformative activist strategy.
  4. c) Community level: From Exchange Values to Use Values.[3]
  5. Build global networks of institutions and activists at State, IGO, NGO, Academic levels

I won't dwell on this for now.

  1. Build a lively and live Website

Also, I won't dwell on this for now.

AwaaZ appreciates this contribution from Yash Tandon written in spite of the very recent loss of his dear wife, Mary.

[1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14747731.2019.1651527

[2] https://doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2019.1656437

[3] See Marx’s Das Capital, Volume 1 on this important distinction.

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