Globalization and its Alternative: An Interview with Samir Amin (Part 2)

✑ SAMIR AMIN (Tricontinental Institute)` ╱ ± 12 minutes ╱ Part 1 & 3 here
War and chaos are inscribed into the logic of this decaying system.

Capitalism has moved into decline, but will not wait quietly for its death. It will behave more and more savagely in order to maintain its position, through war and fascism. Meanwhile, China, though neither socialist nor capitalist, is in conflict with imperialist globalization and the logic of capital.

From: Tricontinental Institute, Oct 29 2018. ╱ About the author(+)
Samir Amin (1931 - 2018) was an Egyptian-French marxian economist and viewed as "a leading social thinker, campaigner and activist of and for the South". He is the author of many books on globalization, imperialism and North-South relations in general. He was the co-founder and director of the Third World Forum. Several obituaries and articles summarizing his ideas were published last year by for instance IDEAs, URPE, Africa is a Country and International Viewpoint and Tricontinental Institute.
Editor’s note: This is an extract from a longer interview with Samir Amin by Tricontinental Institute, published as a series of articles on Socialist Economist. The interview, titled "Globalisation and Its Alternative", lays out Samir Amin’s assessment of the concept of globalisation as well as his concept of ‘de-linking;’ that is, for the Third World to compel imperialism to accept its conditions and to be able to drive its own policy. Amin was interviewed by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research fellows Jipson John and Jitheesh P. M.

John Bellamy Foster of Monthly Review writes that there are only two options before us: socialism or extermination, as capitalism has reached a dead end. You have written that capitalism has become obsolete. Are you saying that the end of capitalism is on the horizon? What makes capitalism an obsolete social system?

Capitalism is in a structural crisis. In the mid-1970s, the rates of growth of the capitalist developed centres – the United States, Europe, and Japan – fell to half of what they had been in the previous thirty years. And they have never recovered since. This means that the crisis continues and is even deepening from year to year. And the announcements that we are moving out of the crisis because the growth rate in Germany or elsewhere, is rising from 1.2% to 1.3%, is just laughable.

This is a systemic crisis. It is not a U-crisis, but it is an L-crisis.

U-crisis: a normal type of capitalist crisis. It refers to the fact that the same rationality that led to the recession in the first place can bring back growth with minor structural changes. The graph for this crisis looks like a U – a drop and then after a period, growth rises again.

L-crisis: An L-crisis means that the system cannot move out of the recession. There is no line that goes upwards from the drop. The only way out is for the system to be changed. Minor structural changes are not sufficient. We have reached the point where capitalism has moved into decline.
Decline is a very dangerous time. Capitalism will not wait quietly for its death. It will behave more and more savagely in order to maintain its position, to maintain the imperialist supremacy of the centres.
Decline is a very dangerous time. Capitalism will not wait quietly for its death. It will behave more and more savagely in order to maintain its position, to maintain the imperialist supremacy of the centres. That is the root of the problem. I don’t know what people mean when they say – ‘the dangers of war are greater than ever’. The war started in 1991, immediately after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. The first salvo was the Iraq War of 1991. The breakdown of Yugoslavia from 1991 to 2001 brought this war into Europe. Now, in my opinion, the European system itself has begun to implode. This can be seen not only in the negative results of austerity policies. They are negative for people, but also negative for capitalism because they do not bring back growth, that is to say imperialist growth. The austerity policies do not bring back this growth. The political responses to these policies – whether in the Brexit process, or in the austerity regime in Spain or from the ultra-reactionary chauvinistic governments of Eastern Europe – do not respond to the real challenges of the system. We cannot discuss how to prevent war. War and chaos are inscribed into the logic of this decaying system.

In your essay ‘The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism’ (Monthly Review, September 2014), you make the argument that the crisis of contemporary capitalism creates fertile conditions for the return of fascism in the present world. This is evident from the emergence of various rightwing forces in different parts of the world. Are you pointing to a repetition of classical fascism?

The system of so-called neo-liberal globalisation is not sustainable. It generates a lot of resistance in the South, as well as in China. This globalisation has created huge problems for the people of the United States, Japan and Europe. Therefore, this globalisation is not sustainable. Since it is not sustainable, the system looks towards fascism as a response for its growing weakness. That is why fascism has reappeared in the West.

The West exports fascism to our countries. Terrorism in the name of Islam is a form of local fascism. And today, you have in India the Hindu majoritarian reaction. That is also a type of fascism. India was a democratic country. Though India is a country where Hinduism is followed by majority of its people, those who did not refer to Hinduism were also equally accepted. The regime in India is now a form of semi or soft fascism. It is not soft for everybody. It can move harder and harder against certain people. We have the same situation in the Islamic world, starting with Pakistan and moving to Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and others. These forms of local fascism have also penetrated many other countries.

Related:The Return of Fascism in Contemporary Capitalism’, Samir Amin, Monthly Review, 2014. "Fascism is not synonymous with an authoritarian police regime that rejects the uncertainties of parliamentary electoral democracy. Fascism is a particular political response to the challenges with which the management of capitalist society may be confronted in specific circumstances."

You have written a lot about the emergence of political Islam, its ideology and its nature. Though political Islamists often utter rhetoric against Western culture, you have analysed how these forces are in close alliance with the imperialist forces. How would you explain the contemporary political landscape of the Arab world?

The US was surprised by the anti-government uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They did not expect it. The Central Intelligence Agency thought that Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak were strong, like their police forces. The French also believed this with respect to Tunisia. These gigantic, chaotic movements in Tunisia and Egypt lacked a strategy, and that allowed them to be contained in the old structures and decapitated. But then, just immediately after these two explosions, the Western governments understood that similar movements could also happen elsewhere in the Arab countries for the same reasons. They decided to ‘pre-empt’ the ‘revolutions’ by organising ‘Colour Revolutions’ – revolutions that appear as popular but that are actually controlled by imperialist forces. They selected as their instrument the Islamic reactionary movements financed and controlled by their allies, the Gulf countries. The Western strategy was successful in Libya; but failed in Syria.

In Libya, there was no ‘popular’ mass protest against the regime. Those who started the movement were small Islamic armed groups who immediately attacked the army and the police, and the next day, called NATO, the French and the British to rescue them! And indeed, NATO responded and moved in. Finally, the Western powers had reached their goal, which was to destroy Libya. Today Libya is much worse off than it was then. But that was the target. It was not a surprise. The target was to destroy the country.

The same is true with Syria. In Syria, there was a growing civilian democratic popular movement against the regime, because the regime had moved towards accepting neo-liberalism in order to remain in power. But the West – the United States in particular – did not wait. The next day, they had the Islamic movements move in and, with the same scenario, attacked the army and the police and called the West in to help. But the regime was able to defend itself. The dissolution of the army expected by the United States did not happen. The so-called Syrian Free Army is a bluff. These were only a small number of people who were immediately absorbed by the Islamists. And now the Western powers, including the United States, have to recognise that they have lost the war, which does not mean that the Syrian people have won it. But it means that the target to destroy the country, through civil war and intervention, failed. The imperialist powers have not been able to destroy the unity or the potential unity of the country. That is what they wanted to do, with of course the approval of Israel – to repeat what happened in Yugoslavia. And they failed.

In Egypt, the United States – backed by the Europeans who simply follow the United States – chose the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the alternative. Initially, on January 25, 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood lined up with Mubarak against the movement. Only one week later, they changed sides and joined the revolution. That was an order from Washington. On the other side the radical left was surprised by the popular movement and unprepared; the youth were divided into many organisations, resulting in a lot of illusions and the lack of analytical and strategic capacity. Finally, the movement resulted in what the United States wanted: elections. In those elections, Hamdeen Sabahi, supported by the left, got as many votes as the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Morsi. That is around 5 million votes. It was the United States’ embassy, not the Egyptian electoral commission, who declared Morsi the winner!

The mistake of the Muslim Brotherhood was to think that they had achieved a final and total victory and that they could exercise their power alone. So, they entered into conflict with everybody, including the army. If they had been smarter and had found an agreement with the army, they would still be in office and sharing power with the army. They wanted all the power for themselves and used it in such an ugly and stupid way, that just a few weeks after their victory, they turned everybody against them.

This led to the events of June 30, 2013. Thirty million people demonstrated in the streets across the country against the Muslim Brotherhood! At that point in time, the US Embassy asked the leadership of the army to support the Muslim Brotherhood despite the call of the people. The army did not follow those instructions and decided instead to arrest Morsi and disband the so-called parliament – a non-elected body made up exclusively of people chosen by the MB. But the new regime, the regime of the army, simply continues the same neo-liberal policy as had been pursued by Mubarak and Morsi.

China has achieved significant economic growth recently. Though it is still a communist state, its economic achievement is generally attributed to the success of its market-friendly approach since 1978. What is your take on the Chinese model of economic development?

We have to start from the Chinese Revolution. We had in China what I call a great revolution. There have been three great revolutions in modern history: the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917) and the Chinese Revolution (1949). There have also been revolutions in Cuba and in Vietnam. But let’s take the three major ones. A great revolution looks far ahead of the agenda of what is immediately possible.
  1. French Revolution. The slogan of the French Revolution of 1789 was liberty, equality and fraternity. The so-called American Revolution of 1776 did not project this target. The word ‘democracy’ does not appear in the Constitution of the United States (1789). Democracy was considered by its framers to be a danger. The system was invented to avoid this danger. The system did not change the relations of production. Slavery remained a decisive part of the system. George Washington was an owner of slaves! Instead, the French Revolution tried to connect conflicting values of liberty and equality. In the United States, it was liberty and competition, that is, liberty under the condition of inequality. The role of the Haitian Revolution is very important as part of this late 18th century process.
  2. The Russian Revolution of 1917 offered as its slogan Proletarians of all countries unite. As Lenin said, ‘the revolution started in the weak link but should expand quickly’ – that is, in a short historic time. He expected the revolution would break out in Germany. History proved that he was wrong. It could have happened, but it didn’t. Internationalism was not on the agenda of real history.
  3. The Chinese Revolution of 1949 invented the slogan Oppressed peoples unite, which means internationalism at a global level, including the peasant nations of the South. This widened internationalism. This also was not on the agenda of what could be achieved immediately. Bandung in 1955, which was an echo of the Chinese Revolution, was very timid. It did not achieve much. It was watered-down by nationalistic forces and to a large extent remained in the framework of a bourgeois national project.
Precisely because the great revolutions were ahead of their time, they have been followed by Thermidors and restorations. 
Precisely because the great revolutions were ahead of their time, they have been followed by Thermidors and restorations. Thermidor is not restoration; it means a step back in order to keep alive the long-term target but manage to achieve that target in time with concessions. When was the Thermidor in the Soviet Union? Maybe it was the year 1924 with the New Economic Policy. The Chinese say it happened when Nikita Khrushchev took power in 1953. There are good arguments for this, but other people think it occurred later when Leonid Brezhnev became the leader in 1964. However, restoration of capitalism did not come until Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin from the 1980s. At that point, the target of socialism was abandoned. Thermidor is a step back, a restoration is an abandonment.

In China, we had a Thermidor from the start – from 1950. When Mao Zedong was asked ‘Is China socialist?’ he said ‘No, China is a People’s Republic’ and building socialism is a long road. He used the Chinese expression that it would take ‘a thousand years’ to build socialism. So, Thermidor was there from the start. There were two attempts to go beyond that Thermidor. The first one was the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962. Then we had a second Thermidor with Deng Xiaoping from 1978 to 1989. We still don’t have a restoration even now. This is not merely because the Communist Party has a monopoly over political power. This is because some basic aspects of what have been achieved by the Chinese revolutionary process have been maintained. And this is very fundamental. I refer here specifically to the state ownership of land and its use by families in the frame of the revival of peasant agriculture associated with the construction of a modern industrial system. China follows the ‘two legs’ strategy of globalisation:

Leg 1 – rejection of geopolitical imperialism.

Leg 2 – acceptance of economic neoliberalism.

The Chinese project does not reject the idea of its participation in globalisation, which is a social process dominated by the capitalist and imperialist powers. This is leg no. 2. But, the Chinese project even here does not adopt the full parameters of globalisation. China has entered into the globalisation of trade, and the globalisation of investments, but with state control, at least to a certain effective extent. In addition, China is not operating within globalisation, like those countries which accept the conditionality imposed through free trade, free investment, and financial globalisation. China has not moved into financial globalisation. It has maintained its independent financial system, which is operated by the state, not only formally but in substance. There is a kind of state capitalism in operation here. Globalisation does come into conflict with the ‘two legs’ Chinese strategy. Imperialist globalisation and the Chinese project are not complementary strategies. They are in conflict.

My qualification is that China is not socialist, but it is also not capitalist. It contains conflicting tendencies. Is it moving toward socialism or capitalism? Most of the reforms that have been introduced, particularly after Deng Xiaoping, have been rightist, making room, and expanding room, for the capitalist mode of production and for the emergence of a bourgeois class. But, so far, the other dynamic – that identified by the ‘two legs strategy’ – has been maintained, and this conflicts with the logic of capitalism. That is how I situate China today.

This was part 2 of a longer interview. See part 1 & 3 here

Top image: A hell cannon found after the battle of Aleppo in December 2016. Picture by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. From: Wikipedia


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