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To understand the present capitalist economic crisis, Ama Biney contends that there is an urgent need to revisit the works of Egyptian political economist Samir Amin. His bold proposals on ending global inequalities and injustices are timely.

Samir Amin stands within the intellectual canon of African revolutionary thinkers whose gargantuan and prodigious lifetime’s work is invaluable to all human beings who seek to eliminate the predatory, devastating impact of capitalism in our times. At the age of 80 and having written over 30 books and articles, Amin’s encyclopaedic understanding of the global capitalist system and its changing historical nature continues to offer fresh nuances and significant analyses in the field of critical theoretical thinking. Here, I simply wish to pay tribute to some of the most important aspects of his thinking that are incredibly pertinent to the global crisis confronting humanity at present.

For example, in the light of the current uprisings in North Africa and elsewhere around the world, perhaps Amin can also be characterised as a political prophet in a purely secular sense for writing the following in 1997:

‘Peoples peripheralized by capitalist world expansion, and who seemed for a long time to accept their fate, have over the past 50 years ceased accepting it, and they will refuse to do so more and more in the future.’ [1]

As people in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen refuse to accept continued dictatorship such struggles – inspired by the single act of a young Tunisian man setting himself alight – will continue to inspire ordinary peoples around the world to fight for freedoms and new systems free from tyranny. Amin goes on to encourage those committed to ‘the perspective of global socialism’ to struggle against ‘the five monopolies which reproduce capitalism.’ They are: the monopoly of technology generated by the military expenditures of the imperialist centres, the monopoly of access to natural resources, the monopoly over international communication and the media, and the monopoly over the means of mass destruction. [2]

Amin poses critical questions about the nature of the current capitalist system in many of his writings but none so provocatively entitled as his latest book: Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism? It is the ending of the capitalist system in its reconfiguration of neoliberal globalization with accompanying military intervention that Amin calls for.

In the current time of the profound capitalist economic crisis, there is an urgent need more than ever to closely revisit and re-examine the works of thinkers such as Amin. In addition, such writings should be placed on the social science curriculum of African universities. It is deplorable that many African students graduating as economists from African universities are likely to be able to regurgitate Western economists such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs. Yet, how many African graduates of economics would be familiar with the thinking of Amin or other radical African political economists such as the Nigerian Claude Ake and Bade Onimode or the Ugandan Dan Nabudere?

The reason for this state of affairs lies in the fact that since independence the models of development and nation-statism that Africa has subscribed to have imitated the West. The colonial legacy transformed into neo-colonialism in the post-independence period with the euphoria to ‘Africanize’ institutions such as the civil service, army, judicial system and educational systems failed to fundamentally change the mindset, values and purpose of such structures. In the 1980s and 1990s African institutions of higher education came under Western influence to the extent that universities, like African economies, have had to prostitute themselves for research funding from foreign donors as kleptocratic African governments failed to fund universities whilst they prioritized military expenditure instead. The impact of such an educational system is that Africa has produced armchair theorists indulging in abstract economic theory that is based on the premise of Homo oeconomicus. Consequently, such a paradigm is divorced from social reality in the quest for an elusive rationality that is lacking from bourgeois ‘conventional’ economic theory, or what is sometimes known as ‘market economy.’ This is the argument of Amin in the chapter ‘Pure economics, or the contemporary world’s witchcraft’ in which he likens the claims of pure economics to science as one of “magic and witchcraft” that obscures and obfuscates material reality.

More importantly, ‘the discourse of pure economics has no real aim other than to legitimize the unrestricted predations of capital,’ writes Amin. The chief proponent of such economics in our day is ‘Milton Friedman [who"> is the wizard-in-chief of our contemporary Oz’ and there are ‘lesser wizards’ and ‘pundits’ in both the developed world and in Africa who subscribe to such economic bamboozling. [3]

For Amin, it is Marxian political economy, wedded to a historical materialist approach that poses essential questions for human beings. Among them are: what are the relations between capital and labour on a national and world level? Which ruling social groups comprise the hegemonic alliance within the capitalist system? How does the state generate a conducive environment for capital and regulate conflicts between capital and labour? And in the context of the uneven development of capitalism - what struggles are necessary for working people in the peripheries to overthrow the capitalist order in their own locality as well as imperialist exploitation? What forms of solidarity are necessary between peoples in the North and South to overhaul capitalism and imperialism and how can they be created and sustained towards the long term achievement of socialism?

Whilst several academics in the North belong to a school of thought that contends that the concept of globalization is a new phenomenon in our world, writers such as Amin and Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem have consistently argued that historical capitalism, at every stage of its maturity, has always been globalized. Perhaps it is the case that globalization represents old wine in new bottles. The late Abdul-Raheem wrote in 1998: ‘Globalization is therefore not so much a new thing but a new context.’ [4]

The lack of historical context and political responsibility in discussing the current fad of globalization, which has given rise to much writing on the concept, dangerously negates the fact that there was a previous globalizing mission of globalized colonialism that extended into the twentieth century for Africa, yet began with the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884-1885.[5] Undoubtedly the present nature of capitalism has spawned a deepening polarization of the world between the poor and the rich countries. Within the centres of the North and South these profound cleavages also persist and this is a point of emphasis in Amin’s writings.

Another important integral theme in the work of Amin is his deconstruction of imperialism and its global operations and impact on the peoples of the South; how the collective imperialism of the ‘Triad’, that is the US, Western Europe and Japan, has appropriated democracy and the discourses on the environment, aid alongside the increased militarization of the United States. Amin considers these developments and issues are inextricably linked to the reproduction and control of the resources of the world by the minority capitalist-imperialist centres who seek to dominate such resources held in the South.

In reality the peoples of the global South comprise 80 per cent of the world’s population and therefore constitute the majority world. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the decade of the 1990s saw the rise of calls for multi-party elections and democracy in Eastern Europe. Africa was infected with this fever and the calls for ‘democracy’ as envisioned by the North quickly became a conditionality that the financial institutions adopted to coerce African countries to open up to the globalized liberal economy. ‘Good governance’ and commitment to ‘human rights’ as defined by the West became the fig-leaf for continued aid that far from being apolitical has been used to prop up dubious regimes in Africa and elsewhere. Yet as Amin points out, the autocratic regimes of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Georgia, and Yemen, among others, are permitted to continue to oppress their peoples because they are regimes Western countries consider to be strategic to their political and economic interests.

In the savage and ruthless search for endless accumulation, capitalism continues to ravage the planet and has done so for centuries. Climate change, pollution, drought, famine and hunger are inseparable from this ruthless capitalist logic and therefore human beings on this planet cannot disconnect the destruction of the natural environment from the manner in which economic exploitation of the earth’s resources (fish, agriculture, oil, diamonds, minerals etc) are extracted at the expense of the majority world to support the way of life of those in the North.

Currently, capitalist oligopolies have sought to present their green credentials in ‘green capitalism’ – which has been supported by those in power in the Triad. Amin argues that ‘this capture of ecologist discourse is providing a very useful service to imperialism.’ Again, economists and powerful corporations masquerading as “green economists” engage in “witchcraft” (such as carbon swaps) to deflect focus on the fundamental causes of climate change and the necessity to overhaul capitalist production to arrest the continued pillage of the planet.

In what has been coined as the ‘new scramble for Africa’ by others, that is, an intensification of the conflict for access to the natural resources of Africa, it appears China’s encroachment on what the Western countries have historically and arrogantly considered their exclusive preserve signals two courses of action for Africans. Either Africans challenge this new re-colonization or continue to be client states of not only the Triad but also the emerging powers of Brazil, India, Russia and China (popularly known as the BRIC countries) if non-exploitative forms of economic engagement are not practised with the emerging powers.

For Amin the way forward for countries of the South lies in ‘delinking’, or his ‘theory of disconnection’ which offers such countries an alternative from the constraints imposed by the world’s economic system. Emphasizing that the concept should not be equated with “autarky”, that is, withdrawal from any forms of engagement with the world, the process of “delinking” is fundamentally about “the refusal to subject the national development strategy to the imperatives of worldwide expansion. [6] It requires a politically bold government with a conscious citizenry to implement a model of alternative development ‘based on expanding the scope for non-commodity and self-management activities’; rejection of the dictates of comparative advantage; and strengthening North-South relations between progressive forces. [7]

Essentially ‘whether one likes it or not, [delinking"> is associated with a ‘transition’ – outside capitalism and over a long time - towards socialism.’ Such a transition is by no means linear or devoid of retreats. In building socialism of the future there is no blueprint. Or as Amin puts it: ‘if in 1500 one had been asked what capitalism would be, one would doubtless have furnished inadequate replies, even supposing one could have then imagined that what one was building was capitalism.’ In short, ‘socialism has still to be built.’[8] And in building socialism, Amin’s work stresses that ‘the struggle for democratization and the struggle for socialism are one and the same. No socialism without democracy, but also no democratic progress without a socialist perspective.’

‘Delinking’ seeks to create self-reliance in practice and reality among the peoples of the South through greater South to South cooperation, particularly economic relations that avoid reproducing similar relations of exploitation that exist between the capitalist core and the periphery, that is, the developed nations and the less developed countries.

In this protracted struggle towards ‘delinking’, the people of the South will also have to confront the militarization of globalization. With American soldiers in 144 countries around the world and the recent establishment of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) with over 2,000 American troops in tiny Djibouti, it seems Africa is now the latest incorporation into America’s Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and the Project of the New American Century (PNAC). The latter vision was born during the Bush presidency and has extended the Monroe doctrine which upheld that the US reserved the right to intervene against anything on or near the American continent that is perceived as a threat. The Bush regime extended that doctrine to the entire planet.

In relation to Africa, the Bush administration set up AFRICOM which constitutes a dangerous development that legitimizes itself by claims of assisting in security, humanitarian efforts and eradicating the GWOT on the continent. AFRICOM co-exists with its subalterns in the form of Japan and a defunct NATO constantly seeking a new role for itself in the post-Cold War era. The reality is among AFRICOM’s objectives is to secure much-needed energy for the American economy from the oil producing states of Africa. States such as Ghana and Chad which have recently discovered oil wealth, along with the existing African oil producers such as Nigeria, Angola, Libya, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, have intensified the strategic importance of Africa in this new scramble for the resources of the continent in the next decades.

Amin urges the people of the South and radical movements in the North to force the Triad of imperialism to abandon their military bases spread all over the world and to dismantle NATO. He speaks of the urgency of constructing an ‘internationalism of workers and peoples’ confronted by the savagery of continued capitalist dispossession through accumulation and increased militarization.

The perspicacity of Amin’s theoretical dissections of financializiation, American hegemony, the erosion of democracy and its manipulation in order to serve imperialist interests, the increasing power of global oligarchies such as the American company Monsanto (just to name one among hundreds that currently exist), the adoption of “responsibility to protect” which conceals imperialistic military agendas in ostensible humanitarian guises, the destruction of the earth in the rapacious search for more resources and markets around the world, are inextricably linked. The solutions - that is the creation of a new socialist world - will not be smooth, but as Amin vividly articulates, the alternative is chaos and barbarity.

Ideologically consistent and committed to radical transformation, Amin is an intellectual titan in the canon of African radical thought. The great African-American political activist, Ella Baker defined ‘radical’ as ‘getting down to and understanding the root cause. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.’[9] If humanity progresses by asking questions of itself and at times stumbles in the process of finding and then implementing radical solutions to global inequalities and injustices - then Amin has made a colossal contribution in defining those profoundly relevant questions and issues at this critical juncture of history.


* Dr Ama Biney is a Pan-Africanist and historian. She lives in the United Kingdom.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


[1] Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, by Samir Amin, 1997, p. 10
[2] Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, pp. 3-5.
[3] Spectres of Capitalism, by Samir Amin, 1998, pp.133-145.
[4] ‘An African Perspective on Globalization’ by Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, in The Society for International Development, 1998, pp.23-26.
[5] ‘An African Perspective on Globalization,’ 1998, 24.
[6] Delinking, by Samir Amin, 1985, p. 62.
[7] Delinking, p. 52.
[8] Delinking, p. 55.
[9] Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement A Radical Democratic Vision by Barbara Ransby, 2003, p. 1.