FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist

On Sunday, August 12, Samir Amin died. With him went a generation of Egyptian Marxists who came of age in the time of Nasserism and departed with the world in tatters. Amin was born in 1931 in Cairo. He was doing his PhD in Paris when Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers overthrew the British-dominated monarchy in Egypt in 1952 and directed their country towards a path of non-alignment.

Amin’s thesis — in economics — was written while he was active in the French Communist Party. In the thesis, he thought hard about the problems of his native land and other countries despoiled by the colonial menace. For Amin, as with other dependency theorists, the Third World suffered from theft, plunder as well as deindustrialisation, and then unequal exchange. The policy space for the new Third World states — Nasser’s Egypt amidst them — was narrow. Emancipation would be difficult. It would take courage to break the yoke of monopoly capitalism, to rise from the penalty of colonialism and advance towards a necessary socialist future.

Amin, like others in his generation such as India’s Ashok Mitra and Brazil’s Celso Furtado, did not go immediately into the academy. He went home to Cairo, where he worked in Nasser’s Institute for Economic Management (1957-1960) and then to Bamako (Mali), where he worked as an adviser in the Ministry of Planning (1960-1963). Amin would talk fondly of these years, of the experience he had in trying to move an agenda for the development of his country and that of other African countries. The limitations set by the powerful countries of the world — the imperialist bloc led by the U.S. — and by the system of monopoly capitalism prevented any major breakthrough for states such as Egypt and Mali. Amin’s first book, published in the 1960s, was on the experience of development undertaken by Mali, Guinea and Ghana. It warned against any facile belief in progress. The unequal system in the world generated profits for the powerful and generated poverty for the weak.

In his most important book, Accumulation on a World Scale (1970), which propelled him into the front ranks of dependency theory, Amin showed how resources flowed from the countries of the periphery to enrich the countries of the core through a process that he called ‘imperialist rent’. When the system changed in the 1970s, Amin tracked these changes empirically and theoretically. It was in this period that he wrote, Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World (1985), in which he called for the disengagement of countries of the periphery from the development agendas and pressures from the countries of the core.

Era of greater chaos

With the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the rise of the U.S. to unparalleled power, Amin wrote of the ‘empire of chaos’, of a new era that would result in great inequality, precarious labour, the destruction of agriculture and the dangers of political religion. What Amin tracked in 1992 would become clear two decades later, when he revisited these same themes in The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (2013). Monopoly firms had sucked the life out of the system, turning businesspeople into ‘waged servants’ and journalists into the ‘media clergy’. An unsustainable world system, with finance in dominance and people whipping from one precarious job to another, seemed to threaten the future of humanity. He surveyed the world and found no real alternative to the monopoly-dominated system that — like a vampire — sucked the blood out of the world. This did not mean that history was to drive humanity over the precipice. Other choices lay before us.

For the past 40 years, Amin was based in Dakar (Senegal), where he led the Third World Forum. Here, he looked out of his window and observed the dangers of our current world, but also its possibilities. This year is the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. In one of his last texts, to honour Marx, Amin reflected on a line from The Communist Manifesto — that the class struggle always results “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”. This sentence, he wrote, ‘has been at the forefront of my thinking for a long time’. He was not interested in defeat: “The uninterrupted revolution,” he wrote, “is still on the agenda for the periphery. Restorations in the course of the socialist transition are not irrevocable. And breaks in the imperialist front are not inconceivable in the weak links of the centre.”

However bad the situation — harshness and ugliness everywhere — our struggles were unbeaten and our futures uncharted. As long as we are resisting, he would say, we are free.

This article originally appeared in The Hindu.

More articles by:

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposal Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail