ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento
Interview with Samir Amin
The World seen from the South
Irene León interviews Egyptian analyst Samir Amin, author of numerous works of critical analysis of capitalism and innovatory theses, such as that of “disconnection” and that of the “implosion” of capitalism, to which he refers in this interview.
IL: We would like this exchange to approach three different issues, which are at the same time related: your world view and the possibilities of change; your conceptual and policy proposal regarding the implosion of capitalism and its disconnection, and the analysis of the global context, especially as seen from the Middle East and Africa. So first, what is your vision of the world, as seen from the South and with a Southern perspective?
In order to answer this question -which is not simple at all-, it is necessary to divide the subject into three parts. We will first address the issue of the important and decisive characteristics of contemporary capitalism, not capitalism in general, but rather capitalism in our times: what is really innovative about it, what characterizes it. Secondly, we will focus on the nature of the current crisis, which rather than a crisis, as I define it, is as an implosion of the capitalist system. Thirdly, in this same framework, we will analyze what are the strategies of the predominant reactionary forces, that is, the dominant capital, the imperialist triad US-Europe-Japan and its reactionary allies all over the world. Only after having grasped this will we be able to gauge the challenge faced by the peoples of the South, both in emerging countries as well as other countries.
My thesis on the nature of the contemporary capitalist system, or “hypothesis” -which is more modest way of naming it, because it is open to discussion-, is that we have entered a new phase of monopoly capitalism; this is a qualitatively new stage, framed by the degree of centralization of capital, whose concentration has reached a point where monopoly capital controls everything nowadays.
Of course, the concept of ‘monopoly capital’ is not new, it was coined in the late nineteenth century and, indeed, developed through successive phases, throughout the twentieth century, but it was only between 1970 and 1980 when a qualitatively new stage emerged, for it existed before but was not in full control. Currently, there is no capitalist economic activity that is autonomous or independent of monopoly capitalism: it controls every activity, even those that are seemingly autonomous. One example among many is that of agriculture in developed capitalist countries, which is controlled by monopolies that provide inputs, improved seeds, pesticides, credit and distribution chains.
This is a decisive, qualitative change that I call ‘generalized monopoly,’ in that it covers all areas. This feature causes important and substantive consequences. First, bourgeois democracy has become completely distorted, for if it used to be based on a left-right opposition, which corresponded to social alliances, of a more or less popular or bourgeois nature, but with distinct definitions of economic policy; at present, for instance, republicans and democrats in the US, socialists ‘à la Hollande’ and Sarkozy’s right in France, are the same, or nearly the same. This means that everyone is aligned to a consensus, that is the rule of monopoly capital.
This first consequence means a change in political life. Democracy thus undermined has become a farce, as can be seen in the US primaries. Generalized monopoly capital has caused serious widespread consequences, has turned the United States into a nation of ‘dummies’. This is serious because there is no longer an expression of democracy.
The second consequence is that ‘generalized capitalism’ is the objective basis for the emergence of what I like to call ‘collective imperialism’ of the US-Europe-Japan triad; this is a point that I emphasize vehemently, because although still a hypothesis, I am able to defend it: there are no major contradictions between the United States, Europe and Japan, there is only slight competition at the commercial level, but at the political level, alignment with the policies defined by the US in world politics is immediate. What we call the ‘international community’ mimics the speech of the United States and three minutes later European ambassadors appear surrounded by grand democrats, such as the emir of Qatar or the king of Saudi Arabia. The UN does not exist; this representation of the States is a caricature.
This is the fundamental transformation: the transition from monopoly capitalism to ‘generalized monopoly capitalism’, which explains financialization because these generalized monopolies are capable - due to the control they wield over all economic activity - of pumping an ever larger surplus value from throughout the world and turning it into the ramp of monopoly, the ramp of imperialism, which is the basis of inequality and stagnant growth in the North, in the triad United States-Europe-Japan.
That brings me to my second point: it is THIS system which is in crisis and, furthermore, it is not only a crisis, it is an implosion, in the sense that this system cannot be reproduced from its own foundations, that is, it is a victim of its own internal contradictions.
This system implodes, not because it is attacked by the people, but because of its success, the success of having managed to impose itself on the people leads to a rapid growth of inequality, which is not only shocking at the social level but totally unacceptable; yet it ends up being accepted, and accepted without objection. This is not the cause of the implosion, but rather the fact that it cannot reproduce itself from its own foundations.
That brings me to the third dimension, which has to do with the strategy of the dominant reactionary forces. When I say ‘dominant reactionary forces’ I mean the general monopoly capital of the historic imperialist triad US-Europe-Japan, to which can be added the reactionary forces around the world who are grouped - in one way or another - in local hegemonic blocs, which support and are part of this global reactionary domination. These local reactionary forces are extremely numerous and differ greatly from one country to the other.
The political strategy of the dominant forces, namely the generalized financialized monopoly capital - of the traditional historical collective imperialist triad United States-Europe-Japan - is defined by its identification of the enemy. For them, emerging countries are the enemy, namely China. The rest, India, Brazil and others are semi-emergent to them.
Why China? Because the ruling class of China has a project. I will not go into detail about the socialist or capitalist nature of this project, the important thing is that it has a project that does not accept the mandates of financialized generalized monopoly capital of the triad, imposed through their advantages: control of technology, control of the access to the natural resources of the planet, of media, propaganda, etc., control of the integrated monetary and financial system and of weapons of mass destruction. China is posing a challenge this order, without making a noise about it.
China is not an outsourcer, there are sectors in China which are, as manufacturers and sellers of cheap and low-quality toys, just because they need foreign currency; that is easy, but that is not what characterizes China. Rather it is its development and rapid uptake of cutting-edge technology, its own reproduction and development. China is not the ‘workshop’ of the world, as some claim. What counts is not “Made in China” but “Made BY China”, which is now possible because they made a revolution: paradoxically, socialism built the road for a certain capitalism to blossom.
I would say that compared to China, other emerging countries are secondary. If I had to rate them, I would mark China as 100% emergent, Brazil 30% and other countries, 20%. The rest of them compared to China are only outsourcers given that they have major outsourcing businesses because they have room for negotiation, there is an agreement between generalized financialized monopoly capital of the triad and emerging countries such as India and Brazil and others. Not so with China.
So the war against China is part of the strategy of the ‘triad’. Twenty years ago there were already some crazy Americans who defended the idea of declaring war on China, because afterwards it would be too late.
The Chinese were successful which is why their foreign policy is so peaceful, and now Russia joins them in the category of the truly emerging countries. We have Putin, raising the issue of the modernization of the Russian army, attempting to have a remake of the Soviet navy, which was a real counterweight to the military power of the United States: this is important. I do not argue here about whether Putin is democratic or not, or if his approach is socialist or not, this is not about that, but rather about the possibility of a counterweight to the power of the triad.
The rest of the world, the rest of the South, all of us, you Ecuadorians, we Egyptians, and many others, do not count. The only interesting thing for collective monopoly capitalism about our countries is the access to new natural resources, because this monopoly capital cannot reproduce without controlling and wasting natural resources around the globe. This is the only thing they care about.
To ensure an exclusive access to natural resources, the imperialists need our countries not to develop. The ‘lumpendevelopment’, as defined by Andre Gunder Frank, happened in very different circumstances, but I borrow the term now in different conditions to describe how non-development is the only project imperialism has for us. Development of the abnormal: pauperization plus oil, fictional growth, or gas, wood, or whatever, in order to have access to natural resources and that is what is about to implode, because it has become morally intolerable, the people cannot take it anymore.
It is here where implosions occur; the first waves of implosion originated in Latin America, and it is not by mere chance that they took place in marginal countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. It is not by chance. Then we have the Arab spring, we will have other waves in Nepal and other countries, it is not something that is happening in one specific region.
For the people, who are the protagonist of this, the challenge is huge. That is, the challenge is not situated within the framework of this system in an attempt to transcend from neo-liberalism into a capitalism with a human face, within the logic of good governance, poverty reduction, democratization of the political life, etc., because all of these are ways to manage impoverishment, which is the result of this logic.
My conclusion, from a position focused mainly on the Arab world is that this is not just a conjuncture but rather a historical moment that offers great opportunities for the people. I mean revolution, but even if I do not want to abuse that term, the conditions are given to build broad alternative anti-capitalist social blocs; this is a context for being daring, for proposing radical change.
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