Cover Story

Samir Amin: Scholar and Activist for Global Socialist Transformation

Volume 17, Issue 1  | 
Published 07/07/2020
Samir Amin: Scholar and Activist for Global Socialist Transformation Apocalypse by inSOLense.

Peter Lawrence

Samir Amin devoted his life’s work to the analysis of global capitalism. A scholar-activist and committed Marxist socialist, he identified with and engaged in the struggles of the peoples of Africa in particular, but generally against that system. His 1974 monumental two-volume study, Acccumulation on a World Scale, on the relationship between the developed capitalist ‘centre’ and the less developed but still capitalist ‘periphery’, followed the earlier pioneering conceptiual frameworks of Raul Prebisch and Andre Gunder Frank.  He argued that the unequal relationship between the centre and periphery was an integral part of the process of capital accumulation at the centre.

Amin followed Marx in arguing that capitalism had by its very logic to incorporate more markets and populations in its incessant quest for profit, becoming increasingly monopolistic and contradicting the simple mainstream economic theories of the benefits of competition. He argued that Capital’s expansion into pre-capitalist formations dominated but also ‘blocked’ their transition to metropolitan capitalism. Instead, these economies transitioned into ‘social formations of peripheral capitalism’ in which the ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ sectors were an integral part of global capitalism. The centre’s autocentric economies produced technologically advanced capital goods in order to manufacture mass consumer goods for the its populations while the periphery exported primary products resources for export to the centre, thus financing the imports of consumer goods for a small elite. The periphery produced some consumer goods but for small markets while the producer goods were imported, maintaining the centre’s control and inhibiting peripheral countries following an autocentric development path.

Amin’s later work took in the ’new stage of imperialism’:  the process of globalisation through which world capitalism became a ‘system of [five] generalised and globalised monopolies’ concentrated in the ‘Triad’ of the US, Europe and Japan: technological monopoly of large corporations supported by the state especially in the defence industries; financial control of global financial markets; monopolistic exploitation of natural resources around the globe; monopolisation of the media; and finally monopolisation by the United States of military weaponry of mass destruction.  These developments turned the industries of the global south into subcontractors creating a world of monopoly profits and cheap labour, a concentration of capital in a few global corporates and a global plutocracy getting even richer by speculating in financial markets with increasing inequality between and within nations, in short, a ‘declaration of war’ on the peoples of the world by monopoly capital. The system was now ‘imploding before our eyes’ under the weight of its own contradictions.

So what was to be done?  Amin outlined an ‘audacious programme for the radical left: the social ownership of the monopolies with democratic management involving suppliers and consumers, especially peasants in peripheral economies, and other interested parties related to them; the de-financialising of economies under similar democratic control as the monopolies, abolishing the trade in speculative financial products and requiring  banks and other financial institutions to conduct business – especially  mobilise savings and channel investment funds - to needed productive activities. Amin’s third element in the programme, de-globalising international relations, brings us to Amin’s concept of delinking. This was not advocating autarky but withdrawing from the ‘world capitalist law of value’ and moving to an ‘autocentric national development’: abolishing monopolistic industrial and agricultural private ownership of land and factories, making peasant agriculture the base of the economy, promoting more equal income distribution especially between rural and urban dwellers, using a mix of technologies at appropriate periods of development, involving the people in the decisions about which technologies to use, and finally, controlling foreign capital and investment flows.

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