I met Samir Amin only once. I was lucky though as our meeting was spread over three days at a conference and I later interviewed him by telephone for The Review of African Political Economy. I described him to friends and colleagues, who heard that I had been fortunate enough to spend time with him, as indefatigable – he would stride out ahead of the group to locate the baladi (local) place to eat and places to visit.
He was trenchant in his defence of the working class and peasantry, full of energy and ideas and he was engaged with not only theory and concepts but with people and those downtrodden by capitalism. Thus, his energy and appetite for life, which was contagious, led him to understand people’s conditions of existence wherever he was. That was very clear. He was a sympathetic and humorous comrade who clearly drew inspiration for his Marxism from the lessons he was always learning by his engagement with people.
Of course, there was also a steely side that did not let bullshit pass without critical comment. He chastened a government minister of a city-state where our meeting took place and corrected him on his idiocy regarding free trade as a vehicle for promoting development in the global South. Samir Amin was clear. Since 1970 we have been living in a period of “generalised monopoly capitalism” – where monopoly capital controls everything, all sectors of life which have now reduced to zero the relative autonomy of agriculture and industry to the gains of imperialist monopoly rent. This has intensified and since 1970 there has been a qualitative change in capitalism different from an earlier period of crisis between the 1880s and World War II.
He was clear that the internal contradictions of capitalism and financialisation were ruinous for the global South, falling rates of growth in the capitalist centre by more than a half in the period after the 70s drove an intensification of imperialist rent, that capitalism was now largely anonymous, abstract capital in contrast to being more easily identified with the monied families of the early 20th century, needed to be understood in terms of how it is created and its consequences and it also needs to be ruthlessly challenged by the left. But the imperialist triad of the United States, European Union and Japan manages the world system and dominates in the areas of technology, access to resources, the creation and reproduction of a monetary and financial system of exploitation, dominance of the media and of course the armaments industry.
He saw China as a vehicle for contesting the dominance of the triad, as he said, he was probably the most frequent visitor to most parts of China of anyone on the left and China was crucial in advancing a polycentric world. Amin’s insights from his memorable and persistently important Accumulation on a World Scale need to be set alongside his optimism for moving from global capitalism to global socialism and communism. A vehicle to do that was to advance auto-centred development in the South – an initially inward-looking strategy to advance a form of delinking.
But delinking did not mean a crude autarky. It was instead to help fashion a sovereign popular project: one that could emerge from new historical blocs to counter the comprador bourgeoisie in Africa that has always benefited from imperialism. The agenda for the left was always to analyse the contradictions of capitalism, to identify what different class interests demanded and to then be clear about developing counter strategies to quash the triad and their cronies in the global South. To do that required what he called independent initiatives that would vary depending on the different socio-historical circumstances and different local experiences.
Sadly, we will miss Samir Amin’s insights as to how the exciting prospect of generating sovereign popular projects to challenge imperialism might be developed.
* Professor Raymond Carey Bush teaches African Studies at the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom.
* This article appeared on The Review of African Political Economy on 21 August 2018