“Capitalism has become an “obsolete social system.”
A Marxist thinker of profound originality and theoretical innovation, Samir Amin continues to intellectually equip us to comprehend, analyse and critique the “obsolete” nature of present-day capitalism, the unequal North-South divide between countries, the continued operation of imperialism, the status quoist ideologies of capitalism, etc.
Amin was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1931. He pursued his higher education at Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (“Sciences Po”), receiving his diploma in 1952. He obtained his PhD on “The origins of underdevelopment—capitalist accumulation on a world scale” in 1957 at the Sorbonne in Paris and a diploma in mathematical statistics from L’institut national de la statistique et des etudes economiques. Amin worked in the planning agency of Egypt from 1957 to 1960, until the Gamal Abdel Nasser regime’s persecution of communists forced him to leave. From 1960 to1963, he was attached to the Ministry of Planning in Mali. After becoming a full professor in France in 1966, Amin chose to teach in Paris-Vincennes and Dakar, Senegal, where he has been based for over 40 years. He has been the director of Third World Forum since 1980 and the Chair of the World Forum for Alternatives since 1997.
“Amin worked in the planning agency of Egypt from 1957 to 1960, until the Gamal Abdel Nasser regime’s persecution of communists forced him to leave.”
As a Marxist based in the South or what is called the “Third World,” Amin began his intellectual explorations by analyzing the “development of underdevelopment” in Third World countries under capitalism. He attributes this pattern of development to capitalism. According to Amin, the world economy under capitalism functions in a hierarchical, unequal and exploitative way where the “First World” countries of the North dominate and develop at the cost of the pauperization of the Third World countries of the South.
For Amin, this pattern of capitalist development always necessitates the countries of the North resorting to the mechanism of imperialist control of the South. “Imperialism is not a stage, not even the highest stage of capitalism. It is inherent in capitalism’s expansion,” argues Amin. He calls contemporary imperialism the “imperialism of the triad” and argues that this imperialism pauperizes and victimizes the people in the Global South. Through this theoretical proposition, he rejects the argument that imperialism in the world scene is now muted and what we have now is “empire.”
“The world economy under capitalism functions in a hierarchical, unequal and exploitative way where the “First World” countries of the North dominate.”
As a pioneer of dependency theory, from the 1970s, Amin has shown with great acumen how resource flow from the countries of the periphery enriches the core countries of the North. He calls the surplus expropriation from the periphery “imperialist rent.” He believes that this imperialist exploitation of the South paved the way for and caused the emergence of liberation struggles in the South in the 20th century, and he hopes for a repeat of the same in the monopoly finance capital of the 21st century also.
This phase of monopoly finance capital of the contemporary era came on to the scene in the 1970s. According to him, this financialization arises as a counter to the stagnation and accumulation tendency of capitalism. Amin explains that from 1971 the world capitalist system has entered into another long crisis, probably the last as capitalism has reached a dead end.According to him, in its long history, capitalism has had two long crises: first from 1871 to 1945, and the second crisis began in 1971 and we are living in this period. His conclusion and warning to the world is that capitalism has become an “obsolete social system.”
It is this material condition and concrete situation of the obsolete stage in which capitalism reached that demands and keeps alive the necessities of socialism as a choice before humanity. Amin declares that if we are to come out in the end from this “long tunnel,’’ it will be into socialism, a society aimed at transcending “the legacy of unequal development inherent to capitalism” by offering to “all human beings on the planet a better mastery of their social development.”
“From 1971 the world capitalist system has entered into another long crisis, probably the last as capitalism has reached a dead end.”
Amin is the author of a number of books on different themes, including political economy, socialism, political Islam, and culture. Eurocentrism, published in 1988, is a path-breaking work by him. “Rejecting the dominant Eurocentric view of world history, which narrowly and incorrectly posits a progression from the Greek and Roman classical world to Christian feudalism and the European capitalist system, Amin presents a sweeping reinterpretation that emphasises the crucial historical role played by the Arab Islamic world.” Eurocentrism remains a classic in critical studies and scholarship. Amin’s other important books include The Liberal Virus (2004), The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (2013), The Law of World Wide Value (2010) and Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism (2010).
In this in-depth interview from Dakar, the 86-year-old Amin speaks on a wide range of topics: globalization; generalized monopoly capital; the alarming growth of inequality; the role of the state in the neoliberal era; globalization and delinking; capitalism and modernity; the return of fascism in the contemporary capitalist world; the rise of the Left; the need for internationalism; civil society movements; the revolutionary struggles of the present; the Chinese model of economic development, the contemporary political landscape of the Arab world; critique of Eurocentrism; dependency theory; the relevance of Marxism; and Third World Forum.
You define contemporary globalization as part and parcel of the generalized monopoly capitalism of our age. How do you trace and locate the history of this globalization?
Globalization is nothing new. It is an old and important dimension of capitalism. You Indians would know better than anyone else. You have been conquered and colonized by the British starting in the 18th century and ending in the 20th century. That was also globalization. Not the globalization you wanted, but you were integrated into the global capitalist system. Colonization was one form of globalization. But the people of India struggled against it and reconquered their Independence even under a leadership which was not a socialist revolutionary leadership but was a national-populist leadership of Gandhi and Nehru. The Congress party, which was founded at the end of the 19th century, developed its actions in the 20th century until you reconquered your Independence in 1947 but at two costs. First, an important part of India, which now happens to be Pakistan and Bangladesh, of the western and eastern part of the country, was separated from India. That was a criminal act of the colonialist. The second thing during the reconquering of your Independence is that it was reconquered by the bourgeoisie of India led by the Congress party with a wide popular alliance, including the alliance of the working class. After Independence in 1947, we had another pattern of globalization. A pattern of globalization that I would call negotiated globalization resulted in the Bandung Conference of 1955. In 1955, the representatives of the people of China, India, Indonesia and a number of other countries met for the first time in Indonesia. It was just a few years after India reconquered its Independence, a few years after the Chinese Communist Party had entered Beijing; it was also a few years after Indonesia reconquered its independence from the Dutch.
Then we witnessed another pattern of globalization. It is usually fashionable today to say that globalization after the Second World War was bipolar between the United States and the USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics] and that bi-polity was accompanied by the so-called Cold War between the two. That is basically wrong. The globalization we had after the Second World War, to say from 1945 to 1980 or 1990, is what I have called negotiated globalization. It was not between the U.S. and the USSR but between a number of partners, at least four families of partners: one, the imperialist alliance of the U.S. and Western Europe with their allies Japan, Australia and Canada. The second actor was indeed the Soviet Union with its allies from Eastern Europe at that time. The third actor was China, which, in spite of belonging to the so-called socialist camp, had from 1950 a policy which was clearly independent. The other partners were the countries that met at Bandung, which created the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). This was a camp of not only Asian countries but included most of the newly independent countries of Africa at that time.
“We had a multipolar globalization, negotiated between the four families of partners.”
The Portuguese colonies joined later and South Africa also joined later. Cuba was the only country from Latin America which joined the group. I call the regimes of the fourth family national-populist systems of India, of Nasserian Egypt, of Algeria and a number of countries of Asia and Africa. Therefore, we had another pattern of globalization, which was a multipolar globalization, negotiated between the four families of partners.
From the point of view of the people of Asia and Africa, that was a time when imperialism was compelled to make concessions and to accept the national-popular programmes of India and other Asian and African countries. Instead of the countries of the South adjusting to the needs and demands of globalization, it was the imperialist countries which were compelled to adjust to our demands. That was negotiated globalization between the imperialist countries on the one hand and the countries of the socialist bloc, including the Soviet Union and China and also most of the countries of the South, on the other. Negotiated globalization of that period, which is usually called the 30 years of post- Second World War, had three pillars: one was the Western, particularly European and also North American and Japanese, pattern of so-called welfare states which was a result of the victory of the working class, particularly in Europe the victory of the working classes for their role in the defeat of fascism and Nazism along with the Red Army.
“The defeat of the communists in the East was also the defeat of the social democracy of the West, who became social liberals.”
The second was the variety of socialist experiences: the Soviet pattern and the Chinese pattern, and we can also add the Vietnamese and Cuban patterns of socialism. We also had a third pillar of India, of the Congress at the time of Nehru, and after Nehru, Indira Gandhi in particular. It was also a time of Nasserian Egypt and also of the so-called socialist advances in many of the Middle East [West Asia] countries and Africa. The three pillars went out of these progressively and reached historical limits, and they gradually broke down. Some breakdowns were brutal, like the Soviet Union in 1991. Not only was the country divided and split into 15 republics, the majority of which moved to Europe and entered the European Union and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] but social democracy in the West was also defeated. I mean the defeat of the communists in the East was not the victory of social democracy in the West. It was also the defeat of the social democracy of the West, who became social liberals.
Now there is no difference between social democratic or socialist ruling in Western Europe and the normal, traditional right party’s ruling. They are all social liberals. It means that they are in alliance with the policies of global monopoly capital. The third pillar, our pillar, also broke down in different ways. In some cases there are coup dates. In cases such as India, they are moving right and accepting the new conditions and patterns of the so-called liberal globalization. That was the case with India under Indira Gandhi and more so under her successors. It was similar in the case of Egypt also. After the death of Nasser, Anwar Sadat said (who was the first one to say) that we had nothing to do with this “bullshit” called socialism, and we shall go back to capitalism, go back to the alliance with the U.S. and others. The Chinese went their way differently after the death of Mao [Zedong] and moved to a new pattern of globalization but with some specificity. It is not only the political specificity of the Communist Party maintaining its rule over China but also its economic-social specificities which differentiate China from India. The enormous difference between China and India is that China has done a radical revolution; India hasn’t done that yet.
So we had a variety of patterns. And it is the breakdown of these three systems, the so-called social democracy in the West, the Soviet system and ours, which provides the conditions for imperialist capitalism to go on the offensive and enforce its new pattern of globalization.
What are the characteristics of this new pattern of globalization, what is its modus operandi?
This increased offensive is not only related to our defeat of the socialists or communists or the national populists, it is also related to the changes in the imperialist-capitalist countries of Europe, the U.S. and Japan. Monopoly capitalism is nothing new. Monopoly capitalism started at the end of the 19th century, as analyzed by social democrats like John A. Hobson and Rudolf Hilferding. But the political conclusions of Lenin at the time articulated that monopoly capital meant that capitalists moved to servility, and therefore on the agenda now were socialist revolutions. Actually, all those socialist revolutions took place in the periphery of the global imperialist system.
Beginning in the semi-periphery, the weakest link, Russia, and then in real peripheries such as Vietnam and Cuba. But nothing happened in the West. There was no socialist revolution on the agenda in the U.S., in Western Europe or in Japan.
As far as monopoly capital is concerned, it is nothing new and it has moved through stages. The first stage of monopoly capital was from the end of the 19th century to the Second World War; that is a long period of more than half a century. During that period, monopoly capital was national in character. There was British imperialism, U.S. imperialism, German imperialism, Japanese imperialism, French imperialism, etc. And they were not only conquering and subjugating the peripheries but also fighting among themselves. The struggle among themselves led to two World Wars. What has changed is that after the Second World War, progressively and suddenly as of the middle of the 1970s monopoly capital in the West moved to a new stage, which I would call the stage of generalized monopoly capital. Two things happened. One, monopoly capital was successful enough to submit all the other forms of social production to subcontract for it, which means that the value produced through human activities is to a large extent absorbed by monopoly capital in the form of imperialist rent and this happens with our countries also. In this new globalization, our countries are invited to be subcontractors for imperialism.
That is obvious in the case of India. Take the case of Bengaluru city. It has developed as the most promising region of subcontracting for monopoly capital not only of Britain and the U.S. but also the monopoly capital of Europe, Japan, etc.
What are the challenges posed by this globalisation for the countries of the South?
The challenge for us today is to look and strive for the alternative. We have to move out of this pattern of globalization. Globalization has to be qualified. In the earlier days, it was colonial globalization for India and other nations. After our victory, the victory of the people of India along with the victory of the Chinese and others, we have had negotiated globalization. Now we are back to the so-called liberal globalization, which is unilaterally decided by the countries of the G, that is the U.S., Europe and Japan. The challenge before us is not to accept this pattern of globalization. Not to have illusions about this globalization. For the African countries, this globalization means plunder of their national resources of oil, gas, minerals and also arable land. For India, just as for many other countries of Latin America and South Asia, it takes other forms. This includes taking advantage of our cheap manpower, transferring the values created in our countries to the benefits of the monopoly rent of the imperialist system. This is the challenge before us.
John Bellamy Foster writes that there are only two options before us: socialism or exterminism as capitalism has reached a dead end. You have written that capitalism has become obsolete. Are you saying that the end of capitalism is on the horizon? What makes capitalism an obsolete social system?
There is a structural crisis of capitalism now. In the mid 1970s, the rates of growth of the capitalist developed centers, the U.S., Europe and Japan, fell to half of what they had been in the previous 30 years. And they have never recovered. This means that the crisis continues and is even deepening from year to year. And the announcements that we are moving out of the crisis because the growth rate in Germany or elsewhere is rising from 1.2 to 1.3 is just laughable.
This is a systemic crisis. It’s an L-crisis. A U-crisis, which is the normal type of capitalist crisis, means that the same rationality that has led to the recession, after minor structural changes, brings back growth. An L-crisis means that the system cannot move up out of recession. It means that the system has to be changed. It’s not only minor structural changes which are needed. It means that we have reached the point where capitalism is moving into decline. But decline is a very dangerous time. Because, of course, capitalism will not wait quietly for its death. It will be more and more savage in order to maintain its position, to maintain the imperialist supremacy of the centers. And that is at the root of the problem. I don’t know what people mean when they say “dangers of war are greater than ever”. The war started in 1991, immediately after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, with the Iraq war.
“An L-crisis means that the system cannot move up out of recession.”
There has also been war in Europe, with the breakdown of Yugoslavia. And now, in my opinion, we can see that the European system itself has started imploding. And you can see it not only in the negative results of austerity policies. Not only, of course, negative for the people but negative even for capitalism because they aren’t bringing back growth, capitalist imperialist growth. They are not bringing it back at all. Simultaneously, you can see by a number of political responses which are not responding to the real challenges such as Brexit. You can see it in Spain and Catalonia, and you will see more and more such responses. You can see it with the ultra-reactionary chauvinistic governments of Eastern Europe.
Therefore, we cannot discuss how to prevent war because war and situations more chaotic are inscribed into the logic of this decaying system.
One of the most important and alarming phenomena of neoliberal globalisation has been the increasing growth of inequality unparalleled in history. Economists like Thomas Piketty and others have empirically documented its magnitude. Piketty says that a universal wealth tax or progressive taxation is the mechanism to check this inequality. Do you think that this solution is possible in capitalism?
These data are correct or at least the best ones that could be found. Yet the analyses provided, coming after having presented the symptom reflecting the recognized fact (inequality growing fast in the last 50 years), remain weak to say the least. The fact that inequality is growing everywhere needs to be explained. Is there a unique reason for that? Is the pattern of growing inequality similar for all countries? And if there are different patterns of inequality, why is it so? For instance, the [The World Inequality] Report [2018, by Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, Emmanuel Saez, Lucas Chancel and Facundo Alvaredo] does not make a distinction that I consider crucial, that makes the difference between, on the one hand, cases of inequality growing but accompanied by the growth of income for the whole population (or almost) and, on the other hand, inequality accompanied by pauperization of the majority.
Comparing China and India is very significant in that respect. In China, the growth of income has been a reality for almost all the population even if that growth has been much higher for some than it has been for the others (the majority).
Therefore, in China, growing inequality has been accompanied by reduction of poverty. This is not the case for India, Brazil and almost all other countries of the South. In these countries, growth (and in some cases significant high growth) has benefited only a minority (from 1 per cent in some cases such as Equatorial Guinea to 20 per cent in cases such as India). But this growth has not benefited the majorities, who have even been pauperized. Some indicators suffer in this respect from being insufficient to show that difference, the Gini coefficient, for instance. China and India may have the same Gini coefficient, and yet the social meaning of the same apparent phenomenon (growing inequality) is very different
“In China, growing inequality has been accompanied by reduction of poverty.”
The second thing is that the policy recommendations of the team are limited and perhaps even naive. Progressive taxation is certainly welcome in all cases. But it has a limited effect in its results as long as it is not supported by significant changes in the general economic policies. Progressive taxation along with the continuation of a so-called “liberal” policy allowing capital (which today is monopoly capital) to operate freely will give little results. Moreover, it will be considered “impossible” and therefore be rejected by the rulers who are at the service of that monopoly capital.
The same can be said with respect to establishing minimum wages. This is welcome of course but will turn out to be of little effect as long as a liberal general economic policy is pursued. Wages will then suffer from inflation, reducing its reality. That is the argument given by the liberals to reject the mere idea of having minimum wages through legislation. More equal access to education and health must be the targets of any legitimate system of ruling the society. Moreover, it is a prerequisite for any serious attempt to “emerge.” But such a choice implies growing public expenditures, and liberalism considers such growth as unacceptable! Moving towards offering “better jobs” is therefore simply an empty phrase if it is not supported by systematic policies of industrialization and of modernizing family agriculture. China is partly attempting to do it, but not India.
Liberals insist on the need to reduce public debt. And the authors of the report support that view. Yet, the growth of public debt should be explained: of which policies is it the result? I submit that this growth is simply the unavoidable result of liberal policies. It is even wanted because it offers to excess capital opportunities for financial investment. Thirdly, the coordinators of the project are all liberal economists, as their other writings, which I happen to have known, show. That means that they do not question two issues which I consider decisive: 1) they believe in the virtues of an open free market as little regulated as possible by political interference and 2) they believe that there is no alternative to a pattern of open globalization allowing as freely as possible capital moving from one country to another, and that is the precondition for global development and eventually poor countries catching up with the more developed. They are at best “reformist” of the [Joseph] Stiglitz type. They strongly believe that poor countries can “catch up” with more developed ones by pursuing and even deepening their integration in the global capitalism system. Yet five centuries of history of continuous and deepening unequal development should at least lead to questioning this hypothesis.
Then what are your suggestions to check this alarming growth of inequality?
I submit that liberalism precisely condemns any attempt to formulate realistic policies of an authentic development (i.e. a development to the benefit of the whole people) in order to remain shallow, to say the least. Any society (state power and people) which aims at “emerging” cannot avoid 1) entering into a long process of building a modern integrated industrial system centered on the internal popular demand as far as possible, 2) modernizing family agriculture and ensuring food sovereignty, and 3) planning the association of the two targets identified above through a consistent non-liberal policy. That implies to imagine moving gradually on the long road to socialism.
Such policies imply, on the one hand, regulating the market and, on the other hand, controlling globalization, i.e. struggling towards another pattern of globalization, reducing as much as possible the negative effects of hegemonies. Exactly what [they are] the authors of the report do not imagine. Only such policies can create the conditions for eradicating poverty and eventually reducing inequalities. China is partly on this road; other countries of the South are not. In the absence of such a radical critique of liberalism, talks on poverty and inequality remain rhetorical and wishful thinking. The report does not move beyond that.
It is generally argued that in neoliberal years what we see is a withdrawal of the state, withdrawal from all welfare measures and pro-people measures. Do you think so? Is it withdrawal or colluding with finance capital? How does the state function in neoliberalism?
The reality is that monopoly capital even in imperialist countries needs the machinery of the state. They have domesticated the state to serve their exclusive interests. You can see it in the way [President Donald] Trump uses the government in the U.S. And you can also see it in the so-called national consensus states like Britain, France and Germany. So to say that market forces have replaced the state is nonsense.
The delink option
How to get out of the crisis of neoliberal globalization is an important question. You suggest a delinking from globalization as the basic edifice and agenda of any alternative economic policy. How could we delink from the vortex of globalization? If we dare to delink, then it is obvious that capital will flow out from that economy. How could we face this threat? What would be your practical suggestions to a country that dares to delink from neoliberalism?
As you know delink is a slogan. I use it as a slogan. The actual problems of delinking are always relative. You cannot delink totally, or hundred per cent. But a gigantic country like China, India and some others can delink to a large extent, can delink 50 per cent or delink 70 per cent. The Soviet Union and China at the time of Mao had delinked 80 or 90 per cent but not totally. Still, they had trade with Western countries and with others. Delink does not mean that you forget about the rest of the world and move to the moon. Nobody can do that, and it would not be rational to do that. Delinking only means compelling imperialism to accept your conditions or a part of those conditions. When the World Bank speaks of adjusting, it always has a unilateral vision of adjusting.
In the case of your country, today what we see is India adjusts to the demands of the U.S. But India could choose the path of not adjusting to imperialism. This is what Nehru tried in his period. This is what Indira [Gandhi] tried successfully. This is no more what the present Modi-led government of India is trying to do. So you have to go back to delinking. And you can. You have the space for it. Of course, it is often true that some small countries in Africa or in Central America or some areas of Asia would have more difficulty delinking with others.
But if we recreate the atmosphere of the NAM, if we recreate the political solidarity between the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, then we are not minority. We represent 85 per cent of humankind. And we shall represent more than 85 per cent in a few decades. So we are not so weak. We can delink and we can successfully delink to various degrees in accordance not only with our size but also in accordance with our alternative political block, which would replace the core imperialist blocks which are holding our countries today.
There is a perception held by many people that initially colonialism and subsequently globalization and integration of the peripheral Third World economies with the world market helped bring modernity to these societies. Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thanked Britain for introducing the railways and other things to India. Today even people like Slavoj Zizek fear that delinking would result in a feudal backlash in these societies. What is the alternative path to modernity you foresee? Could societies become modern without going through the stage of capitalist development?
When Mr. Singh thanked the British for introducing the railways and other things, he said a very small and short part of the reality. Simultaneously, the British destroyed Indian industry, which was more advanced than the British one. It was destroyed. At the same time, the British colonial powers had turned those who had political power into economic power.
The zamindars, who were not owners of the land earlier but had collected only tributes and duties for various princely states in India from the peasant community and others, with the rule of the British became new landowners. This is how the class of big landowners was formed in the Bengal province in the east, Punjab province in the north-west and also in western and northern parts of India. They have done land grab also. Mr. Singh should have remembered that the British introduced not only railways but brutality, destruction and oppression in different forms also.
We need to know what kind of modernity. Capitalist modernity or socialist modernity; both are modernity. We cannot simply speak of modernity and say global integration brings modernity. It brings perhaps the mobile telephone in India, but it also brings pauperization of 80 per cent of the Indians and that is not a small thing. So we have to qualify modernity. What do we want? Of course, we want modernity. And we should understand that the delinking is not a passage or it is not a going back to old India, colonial India. It is bringing a new pattern of modernity in India as well as elsewhere.
In your essay “The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism,” you make the argument that the crisis of contemporary capitalism creates fertile conditions for the return of fascism in the present world. This is evident from the emergence of various right-wing forces in different parts of the world. Are you pointing to a repetition of classical fascism?
The system of so-called neoliberal globalization is not sustainable. It creates a lot of resistance, heroic resistance in the South, and China is also trying to play with it. It has created a huge problem for the people of the U.S., Japan and also Europe. Therefore, it is not sustainable. Since it is not sustainable, the system is looking to fascism as a response to its growing weakness. That is why fascism has reappeared in the West. It is also exported to our countries. Terrorism in the name of Islam is a form of local fascism. And today you have in India Hinduist reactions. That is also a type of fascism.
Though India is a country where Hinduism is followed by the majority of its people, those who did not refer to Hinduism are also equally accepted. Now the new regime in India, which I would call a kind of semi-soft fascism, not so soft for everybody, can and will move harder and harder with the people of India. We have the same [situation in] almost all countries of the Islamic world, starting with Pakistan and moving to Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and others. This is also penetrating now in many other countries.
Jipson John and Jitheesh P.M. are associated with the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and contribute to various national and international publications, including The Wire, The Indian Express and Monthly Review. The writers can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]
This article previously appeared in Portsideand Frontline.