Via: Monthly Review.
An interview with Egyptian economist Samir Amin: his latest book reiterates his search for alternatives to surpass capitalism, which he describes as “a historical parenthesis”; meanwhile, processes of migration are building a planet of slums.
“Memoirs of an Independent Marxist”: that is the subtitle of A Life Looking Forward (Zed Books, 2006), the latest autobiography by Egyptian economist Samir Amin, who has devoted much of his life as a scholar and activist to seeking alternatives to surpass the historical parenthesis called capitalism. In his most recent book that has been translated into Italian, La crisi. Uscire dalla crisi del capitalismo o uscire dal capitalismo in crisi? (The Crisis: Emerging from the Crisis of Capitalism or Emerging from Capitalism in Crisis? Punto Rosso, pp. 208, €13), he continues to assert the necessity to invoke a critical utopia and “to begin with Marx without ending with him” in order to understand and transform the world. Despite the obsolescence of capitalism and the failure of the neoliberal model — “apartheid on a global scale” — Samir Amin is nevertheless aware of the obstacles to the “long transition to global socialism” that he proposes. After all, as he wrote in his last book, the financial crisis “is not the product of a surge of social struggles” but of the contradictions inside the system of capital accumulation. And “the initiative remains in the hands of capital.” That is because, as he explains in his manifesto, ten years after the first World Social Forum, “movements are terribly fragmented and weak: they defend themselves from the attacks of the capitalism of financialized oligopolies but do not elaborate effective political strategies and actions. They still suffer from the naïve illusion that it is possible to change the world without taking power.” For Amin, however, only by recognizing “the inescapability of the question of the relation between power and transformation” will it become possible to build a “convergence of struggles in all their diversity” for the emancipation of individuals.
With the economic-financial crisis, we are again examining the limits of neoliberal globalization and, more generally, the limits of capitalism. Can you explain to us in what sense, as you write in The World We Wish to See, “global development of capitalism has always been polarizing” and imperialism does not represent “a phase of capitalism, but it is the permanent characteristic of its global expansion”?
At first, I adopted Lenin’s theory, according to which monopoly capitalism constituted a new phase in the history of capitalism in the late nineteenth century and capitalism became a form of imperialism only after that. Later, however, I ended up developing the idea of the originally polarizing — therefore in some way imperialist — character of capitalism from its very beginnings. I believe that accumulation on a global scale has always been, not exclusively but predominantly, accumulation by dispossession. Dispossession is not only a matter of “primitive accumulation” analyzed by Marx and referred to as the origins of capitalism, but it is a permanent feature of the history of “actually existing” historical capitalism, starting with the mercantilist epoch. During that long period of transition, the central role in globalization, organized around the conquest of the Americas and the slave trade, was clearly and unquestionably played by accumulation by dispossession. Accumulation by dispossession unfolds itself throughout the course of the nineteenth century, and it intensifies with the formation of monopolies, which promote capital export on a much larger scale, “establishing” segments of the globalized capitalist system in “overseas” colonies, semi-colonies, and the colonies of Latin America. Moreover, that polarization is immanent in the globalized development of capitalism, accompanying it from its very origins, is demonstrated by a simple fact: until about 1820, China’s per capita GDP was higher than the average per capita GDP of advanced Europe. Between 1820 and 1900, however, a ratio of 1:1 shifts to a ratio of 1:20, and from 1900 to 2000 the ratio shifts from 1:20 to 1:50. Continue reading