I was a friend of the late Samir Amin – we met a number of times in our long and peripatetic lives and never without personal warmth and delight at the shared opportunity to compare and contrast our opinions and to further discuss them.
I won’t say we knew each other well, never living in the same town nor even, very often, on the same continent; instead we tended to meet more by chance and then much too briefly. But there were few people whose company I enjoyed more, being a long-time admirer of his wide-ranging insights on the global workings of capital and of their impact on local patterns (not least in Africa) of both co-optation and resistance. Most of all, I admired his sheer “stick-to-it-iveness”: open but unbending as to principle, fearless and untiring in his analysis, firm in his spirit of friendship – in sum, a true “comrade on the left.” But I will leave it to others who knew him at first-hand rather better than I did to speak further to such matters. Instead, I have been asked by Leo Zeilig [researcher and writer mostly He has on African politics and history] to discuss, in honour of Samir’s memory, the concept of “delinking.” For this is a concept central to Amin’s work
It would be naïve to think that the increased globalisation of the capitalist economy can somehow be ignored by advocates of a socialist alternative. Not only is the “free” global market a major point of reference for efforts by global capital (including those of its enforcers like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to enforce its writ, by force and/or by the seduction of Southern elites. But the over-bearing weight and lure of the global market-place can also have its seductions, as a smorgasbord of sparkling goods on offer and as an apparent source of quick and relatively easy profits and of the inflow of “foreign capital” – albeit capital most often pegged to the production and overseas sale of mineral and other resources and to such limited additional production as meets the consumer needs of resident elites.
How, then, to weigh – on some kind of national developmental balance-sheet of left provenance – the attendant costs and benefits of such links? And how best to conceive the new and essential kinds of democratic controls over such linkages that must/should be established? For only with some such controls in place could countries of the global South expect to be the beneficiaries rather than the victims of global embrace. Without this, there is no intrinsic “magic of the market,” no equal exchange between rich and poor; there is only, with the market left unchecked, the upward redistribution of resources from poor to rich.
And it is precisely here that Samir Amin helped point a way forward, advocating an ever more radical decolonisation from central capitalist control, this to be achieved (to cite his dramatic formulation) through an actual and active “delinking” of the economies of the global South from the Empire of Capital that otherwise holds the South in its sway. For Amin, delinking was best defined as “the submission of external relations [to internal requirements], the opposite of the internal adjustment of the peripheries to the demands of the polarising worldwide expansion of capital” and it is seen as being “the only realistic alternative [since] reform of the [present] world system is utopian.” For “history shows us that it is impossible to “catch up” within the framework of world capitalism”; in fact, “only a very long transition” (with a self-conscious choice for delinking from the world of capitalist globalisation as an essential first step) beyond the present situation of global polarisation will suffice.
Yet, as Amin readily admits, there is no realistic haven of “autarky” that one can look to, no way of avoiding some involvement in the broader market (as opportunity, though not, he argues, as seduction). What must occur, however, is the substitution of the present political economy of recolonisation with an alternative that tilts effectively towards “delinking” as a notional goal – invoking an auto-centric socio-economic alternative that is at once effective, efficient and productive. What would the programme of a national strategy erected on the premise of a strong tilt towards radical delinking from the presently existent and profoundly cancerous global capitalist system look like? The answer to this question could only begin to be found in a new project of genuine socialist planning – established on a national or regional scale – that sought to smash, precisely, the crippling (il)logic of present “market limitations” upon development.
This, in turn, suggests the need for a programme that (following the formulations of the Guyanese economist Clive Thomas) embodies “the progressive convergence of the demand structure of the community and the needs of the population” – this being the very reverse of the market fundamentalist’s global orthodoxy. One could then ground a “socialism of expanded reproduction” – one that refuses the dilemma that has heretofore undermined the promise of the many “socialisms” that have proven prone to falling into the Stalinist trap of “violently repressing mass consumption” in the name of the supposed requirements of accumulation. For, far from accumulation and mass consumption being warring opposites, the premise would now be that accumulation could be driven forward precisely by finding outlets for production in meeting the growing requirements, the needs, of the mass of the population!
An effective industrialisation strategy would thus base its “expanded reproduction” – this to be premised, precisely, on “delinking” on the one hand and on the ever increasing in-country exchanges between city and country, between industry and agriculture, with food and raw materials moving to the cities and with consumer goods and producer goods (the latter defined to include centrally such modest items as scythes, iron ploughs, hoes, axes, fertilisers and the like) moving to the countryside on the other. Collective savings geared to investment could then be seen as being drawn essentially, if not exclusively, from an expanding economic pool. Note that such a socialism of expanded reproduction makes the betterment of the people’s lot a short-term rather than a long-term project and thus promises a much sounder basis for an effective (rather than merely rhetorical) alliance of workers, peasants and others and for a democratic road to revolutionary socialism.
It is important to note that this approach is not intended to understate the simultaneous importance of potential South-South relations. Thus linkages such as those foreshadowed in the World Social Forum seek, multi-nationally, to sponsor a redefinition of the workings of the global economy; small wonder, then, that Amin himself devoted much of his later years to political work within the World Social Forum network to help recraft from below a world-wide movement and sensibility designed, if not to “overthrow” capitalism, at least to effectively “regulate” it in the interest of socially responsible and democratic purposes. To make, in short, the “globally necessary” the “globally possible”!
Of course, even at the level of the national economy Amin was not proposing the extirpation of any and all market relations. True, the latter were dangerous, especially in terms of the possible generation of class-differentiated societies that they so often encouraged. At the same time his realism –designed to avoid the risks of unduly over-burdening the fledgling progressive states involved (over-burdening, that is, both public enterprise and the mechanisms of planning unduly)-means that the creation and empowerment of national movements capable of countering the logic of capitalism’s embrace, global and national, will be tough work. For – think about it – so strong are the global pressures against it that crafting the political basis necessary to sustain a socio-economic push in a quite opposite direction will not itself (and however “nationally necessary”) easily become the “nationally possible.” Small wonder that Amin himself saw the global and national struggles for socialist strategies of delinking from the logic of market-primacy and the taking of the economy beyond global capitalism as being two sides of the same coin.
In sum, if the predominant importance of the kind of planning (democratic and needs-focussed, both globally and locally) is ever to be achieved, it will be planning, which ensures that the centre of gravity of the economy remains egalitarian, collectively-premised and popularly-centred and controlled. It could, in this way, be expected to counter-balance the possible costs of any judicious deployment of market mechanisms, for example. Thus, the bottom-line would remain, as Amin emphasised to be necessary, a self-consciousness about societal transition away from market power and entrepreneurial class interest.
Put quite simply, this would help ensure that no bourgeoisie, either foreign or domestic, would play a role that could justify any claim it might seek to make to continue to snatch inordinate wealth or superordinate power for itself. In fact, only the exercise of genuine “popular power” could guarantee a politics that might hope to underpin an economic strategy premised on the realisation of Samir Amin’s fundamental goal, that of “delinking” from precisely those global-capitalist “imperatives” that cannot but promise the global poor ill. It is time, to repeat, to make, politically, the globally and nationally necessary the globally and nationally possible.
* John S. Saul is professor emeritus of politics at York University in Toronto, Canada and a political economist and activist whose work has focused on the liberation struggles of southern Africa.
* This article appeared in The Review of African Political Economy