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Rethinking Empires

In The Reawakening of the Arab World: Challenge and Change in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring, and Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), Samir Amin unpacks Empires, past and current, with deep insights about politics, power and trade spanning centuries. There is no time like that of US president-elect Trump to read Amin, director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal.

As grassroots ferment rose in Morocco recently, an earlier uprising in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring came to one’s mind. To this end, Amin delivers necessary context about the Middle East, a region in tumult.

Suffice it to say that the role of the Middle East in the ancient world and our era are less of a mystery after reading Amin’s two books under review. For those in the US, his is a necessary counter narrative.

For example, in The Reawakening of the Arab World, Amin contextualizes such foreign intervention before the US and other European powers interfered in Egypt’s affairs. He explores how and why powerful interests successfully restored the status quo in Egypt.51rqfwc9nyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Amin writes: “The strategy of contemporary imperialism for the region (the ‘great Middle East’) does not aim at all at establishing some form of democracy. It aims at destroying the countries and societies through the support of so-called Islamic regimes which guarantee the continuation of a ‘lumpen development.’”

This is a primer on the geo-strategy of imperialism and democracy. It involves partly the question of when the Arab world became that particular region.

A main pillar of Amin’s thought is that far from battling political Islam, the NATO and US have enabled such regional movements as a divide and conquer approach to maintaining power. This critique upends the dominant narrative of Uncle Sam’s war on terror as a noble pursuit.

According to Amin, since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the lone superpower has been spurring a “permanent civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds.” What does all this mean?

Amin writes: “US armies have protected those who subsequently had to take the direction of the Daesh (or ISIL), the Caliph himself!”

In Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, Amin presents a thought-provoking interpretation of Russian history in the global system. It involves geography and history and of course human agency.

He considers the Czarist Empire and the colonial empires, quite different. Further, Amin considers Lenin and Stalin and the Ukrainian crisis, the latter of which constitutes no small threat to widening armed conflict.

Russia remains a pivotal nation on the world stage, in spite of its capitalist restoration. Its importance as a counterbalance to the imperialism of the Triad (US, Europe and Japan) is Amin’s special focus, and for good reason.

As a participant in the Non-Aligned Movement after World War II, Amin delivers a trenchant critique of capitalism and imperialism. He writes from the viewpoint of one who lives on the African continent, victim of the slave trade that fueled industrial capitalism.

Amin does not ignore the working classes in the imperialist nations of the US, Europe and Japan for what they do to help or hinder liberation movements abroad. Democratization is a process and not a thing in Amin’s writing.

Amin is a thinker and writer who brings clarity to the present moment of war and other dire threats to humanity. Revolutionary global solidarity is the cure.