Globalization and its Alternative: An Interview with Samir Amin (Part 3)

✑ SAMIR AMIN (Tricontinental Institute)` ╱ ± 17 minutes ╱ Part 1 & 2 here
If we recreate the political solidarity between the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, then we are not a minority.

Piketty and other liberal economists believe that there is no alternative to a pattern of open globalisation. I use de-link as a slogan. It does not mean that you forget about the rest of the world and move to the Moon.

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.

One of the most important and alarming phenomena of neo-liberal globalization has been the increasing growth of inequality. Economists like Thomas Piketty and others have empirically documented its magnitude. Piketty says that a universal wealth tax or progressive taxation is the mechanism to check this inequality. Do you think that this solution is possible under capitalism?

These data are correct, or at least the best ones that could be found. Inequality has grown very fast over the past fifty years. Yet, the analyses provided by those who have given us this data remain weak to say the least. The fact that inequality is growing everywhere needs to be explained. Is there a unique reason for that? Is the pattern of growing inequality similar for all countries? And if not, if there are different patterns of inequality, why is that so?

These reports of inequality do not make a crucial distinction between (a) the cases of growing inequality that are accompanied by a growth in income for the whole population and (b) the cases of growing inequality that are accompanied by the pauperisation of the majority of the population. To compare China and India is very significant. In China, the growth of income has been a reality for almost all the population, even if that growth has been much higher for some than it has been for the majority of the population. Therefore, in China, growing inequality has been accompanied by a reduction in poverty. This is not the case in India and Brazil and in almost all the countries of the South. In these countries, growth – and in some cases significantly high growth – has benefited only a minority of the population (from one per cent in some cases such as Equatorial Guinea to twenty per cent in other cases such as India). This growth has not benefited the majority of the population, which has indeed been pauperised. Some indicators suffer from being insufficient by themselves to show the differences between these two scenarios. The Gini coefficient is one indicator that is not comprehensive. China and India might have the same Gini coefficient, and yet the social meaning of the same apparent phenomenon – growing inequality – is very different.
They believe that eventually poor countries will catch up with the more developed countries as a result of this kind of globalisation.
The policy recommendations of those who write about inequality are limited and shy, perhaps even naïve. Progressive taxation is certainly to be welcomed in all cases. But progressive taxation has limited effects as long as it is not supported by broader changes in economic policy. Progressive taxation along with the continuation of a so-called liberal policy that allows monopoly capital to operate freely will only give marginal results. Moreover, the demand for progressive taxation will be considered to be ‘impossible’ by the dominant classes and therefore rejected by the ruling class, who is at the service of monopoly capital. The same could be said about the establishment of a minimum wage. This is welcome, of course, but it will turn out to be of little effect as long as a liberal economic policy is pursued. Wages, once raised, will suffer from inflation, therefore reducing their benefit. That is the argument made by liberals who reject the mere idea of establishing minimum wages through legislation.

More equal access to education and health must be the target of any legitimate challenge to the system. But such a choice implies growing public expenditures, and liberalism considers such growth as unacceptable! Moving toward offering ‘better jobs’ is therefore simply an empty phrase if it is not supported by systematic policies of industrialisation and for the modernisation of family agriculture. China is partly attempting to do this, but not India

Liberals insist on the need to reduce the public debt. Yet, the reasons for the growth of public debt needs to be explained. Which policies produce this high public debt? This growth is simply the unavoidable result of liberal policies. Public debt is even desirable to monopoly capital, because it offers excess capital opportunities for financial investment.

Piketty and others who have been writing about social inequality are all liberal economists. This means that they do not raise two issues, which I think are decisive:
  1. They believe in the virtue of an open free market that is regulated as little as possible by the government. 
  2. They believe that there is no alternative to a pattern of open globalisation that allows for the free movement of capital from one country to another. This, for them, is the precondition for global development. They believe that eventually poor countries will catch up with the more developed countries as a result of this kind of globalisation. These scholars are at best ‘reformists’ like Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist of the World Bank.
Five centuries of the history of continuous and deepening unequal development of capitalism should at least lead them to question this hypothesis. Or at least lead us to do so.

What suggestions do you have to offer to check this alarming growth of inequality?

Liberalism condemns any attempt to formulate realistic policies for authentic development. By authentic development, I mean development that benefits all people. Any alternative policies within a liberal framework remain shallow, to say the least. Any society that aims to ‘emerge’ cannot avoid some basic issues:
  1. How to enter into a long process of building a modern, integrated industrial system that is centred on internal popular demand. 
  2. How to modernise family agriculture and ensure food sovereignty. 
  3. How to plan the association of industry and agriculture through a consistently non-liberal policy.
These three points imply the move gradually along the road to socialism.

Such policies imply two directions:
  1. Regulating the market.
  2. Controlling globalisation, that is, struggling towards another pattern of globalisation that reduces as much as possible the negative effect of global hegemony.
Only such policies can create the conditions for eradicating poverty and eventually reducing inequalities. China is partly on this road; other countries of the South are not. In the absence of such a radical critique of liberalism, talk of poverty and inequality remain rhetoric and naïve wishful thinking.

How to get out of the crisis of neo-liberal globalisation is an important question. You suggest a de-linking from globalisation as the basic edifice and agenda for any alternative economic policy. How could we de-link from the vortex of globalisation? If we dare to de-link, capital would exit our economy. How could we face this threat? What would be your practical suggestions to a country that dares to de-link from neo-liberalism?

De-link is a slogan. I use it as a slogan. The actual problems for de-linking are always relative. You cannot delink totally. But gigantic countries like China, India and some others can de-link to a large extent, can de-link fifty per cent of their economy or even seventy per cent of it. The USSR and China under Mao had de-linked eighty to ninety per cent of their economic activities. But not totally. They still had to trade with western countries and with others. De-link does not mean that you forget about rest of the world and you move to the Moon. Nobody can do that. It would not be rational to do it. De-linking only means compelling imperialism to accept your conditions or part of those conditions. When the World Bank speaks of structural adjustment, it always has a unilateral vision of structural adjustment. It determines the policy. To de-link means to drive one’s own policy.

In the case of India, for instance, it always adjusts to the demands of the United States. But India could choose the path of not adjusting to imperialism. This is what Nehru tried in his period. This is not what the present Modi government of India is trying to do. So, you have to go back to de-linking. And you can. You have the space for it. Of course, it is often true that some small countries in Africa or in Central America or some areas of Asia would have more difficulty to de-link with others. But if we recreate the atmosphere of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), if we recreate the political solidarity between the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, then we are not a minority. We represent eighty-five per cent of human kind. And we shall represent more than eighty-five per cent in a few decades. So, we are not so weak. We can de-link and we can successfully de-link to various degrees in accordance not only with our size but also in accordance with our alternative political block, which would replace the core imperialist blocks which are controlling our countries today.

There is a perception held by many people that first colonialism and then globalisation and the integration of the peripheral ‘third world’ economies with the world market, helped to bring modernity to these societies. Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thanked Britain for introducing the railway to India. What is the alternative path to modernity you foresee? Could societies become modern without going through the stage of capitalist development? Does de-linking imply a return to the past?

When Manmohan Singh thanked the British for introducing the railway, he spoke of a very small part of reality. The British had the railroad built by Indian workers, but they simultaneously destroyed Indian industry, which was more advanced than the British one. At the same time as the British wrecked Indian industry, they transferred economic power to those who had political power. The Zamindars were not owners of the land before the British. They merely collected tributes and duties for various princely states from the peasant community. With the rule of the British, this class became the new landowners. This is how the class of big land owners was formed in Bengal in the east, Punjab in the north-west and in western and northern India. The British engineered a land grab. Manmohan Singh should have remembered that the British introduced not only railways, but centrally brutality, destruction and oppression in different forms.
This requires that the Left be audacious. [...] This is life and struggle. We cannot stop.
What kind of modernity are we talking about – capitalist modernity or socialist modernity? We cannot speak of modernity in general. We cannot say global integration brings modernity. It brings perhaps the mobile telephone to India, but it also brings the pauperisation of eighty per cent of Indians. That is not a small thing. So, we have to qualify what kind of modernity we are talking about.

What do we want? Of course we want modernity. We should understand that delinking is not a passage to go back to an old India, to a pre-colonial or a colonial India. Delinking is to bring new patterns of modernity to India as well as elsewhere.

What are the prospects and challenges for the left in this contemporary political scenario?

In my book, Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism in Crisis (2010), I saw that we cannot move out of this pattern of crisis without starting to move out of the system itself. It’s a gigantic challenge. The solution will not be found in a few years anywhere, neither in the North nor in the South. It will take decades. But the future starts today. We cannot wait until the system has led us into a gigantic war and into ecological catastrophe to react. We have to react now.

This requires that the Left be audacious. By the Left, I mean the radical left, which is much broader than, but includes the actual heirs of the Third International, namely the communist parties. At present, there are resistance movements everywhere in the world. In some cases, these are very strong resistance movements. Working people are fighting perfectly legitimate struggles, but they are on the defensive. That is, they are trying to defend whatever they have gained in the past, which has gradually been eroded by so-called neo-liberalism. That is legitimate, but it is not enough.
The protest against capitalism cannot just be a protest of movements against the consequence of neo-liberal frontal attacks against the interests of the people. It must reach the level of getting people politically conscious. 
It is a defensive strategy which allows the power system of monopoly capital to maintain the initiative. We have to move from defensiveness to a positive strategy that is, to an offensive strategy, and reverse the relations of power. Compel the enemy – the power systems – to respond to you instead of you responding to them. And take their initiative away from them. I am not arrogant. I have no blueprint in my pocket for what a communist in Austria should do, for what communists in China or those in Egypt – my country – should do.

But we have to discuss it frankly and openly. We have to suggest strategies, discuss them, test them, and correct them. This is life and struggle. We cannot stop. I want to say that what we all need in the first place is audacity!

Now, it can start to change if the popular movements move from resistance to pushing an aggressive alternative. That could happen in some countries. It has started happening but only in some countries of Europe, namely Greece, Spain and Portugal. In Greece, we have seen that the European system defeated that first attempt. The European people, even those who are very sympathetic to the Greek movement, have been unable to mobilise an opinion strong enough to change the attitude of Europe. That is a lesson. Audacious movements have to start, and I think they will start, in different countries. I discussed this with, for instance, people from La France Insoumise (Unbended France), a movement led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. I did not propose blue-prints, but I generally pointed to strategies starting with the renationalisation of big monopolies and specifically financial and banking institutions. I said that renationalisation is only the first step. It is the precondition for eventually being able to move to the socialisation of the management of the economic system. If it stops at the level of just nationalisation, well then you have state capitalism, which is not very different from private capitalism. That would deceive the people. But if conceived as a first step, it opens the road.

Capitalism has reached a level of concentration of economic and political power that cannot be compared to what it was fifty years ago. A handful, a few tens of thousands of enormously large companies, and a smaller handful – less than twenty major banking institutions – decide the direction of everything. François Morin, a top financial expert, has said that less than twenty financial groups control ninety per cent of the operations of the global integrated monetary and financial systems. If you add to this some fifteen other banks, you go from ninety per cent to some ninety-eight per cent. It is a mere handful of banks. That is centralisation, concentration of power. Property remains disseminated, but that’s of less importance. The point is how property is controlled. This centralisation of control over property has led to the control of political life.

We are now far from the bourgeois democracy of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. We now live in a world of a one-party system. The social democrats and the conservatives are now social liberals. There might be two parties that compete in elections, but they are effectively the same party. That means we live in a one-party system. In the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans have always been one party. This was not the case in Europe, and therefore, in the past, capitalism could be partly reformed. The social democratic welfare reforms after World War II were big reforms. In my view they were progressive reforms, even if they were associated with the maintenance of an imperialist attitude vis-à-vis the countries of the South. Now this has become impossible. A one-party system has arrived. It has been losing legitimacy. This also opens up a drift to fascism, to neo-fascism, which is on the rise everywhere. This is one of the reasons why we have to dismantle this system before reconstructing it.

The protest against capitalism cannot just be a protest of movements against the consequence of neo-liberal frontal attacks against the interests of the people. It must reach the level of getting people politically conscious. This consciousness must lead to the creation of wide social alliance to replace the comprador alliances which are ruling our countries and the pro-imperialist alliances which are ruling the Western countries.

Can these isolated struggles in different countries of the world pose any challenge to generalised monopoly capital, a force that is truly international in character? What about the need for some kind of international co-operation or for the revival of the spirit of internationalism amongst the struggling masses?

We need a revival of internationalism as a fundamental part of the ideology of the future, but we also must organise it – that is, try to interconnect the struggles in different countries. Now, this International cannot be a reproduction of the Third International (the Communist International). Because the Third International came after the victory of the October Revolution and with the assistance of a strong new state, namely the Soviet Union. We are now not in such a position. Therefore, we must imagine another pattern for new international linkages.
We have potentially radical, prosocialist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist forces that are different in different countries. We have to bring them together. We have to understand that what we share in common is more important than the differences amongst us.
Today, we are in a different situation. We have potentially radical, pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist forces that are different in different countries. We have to bring them together. We have to understand that what we share in common is more important than the differences amongst us. We have to discuss the differences and discuss them freely, without arrogance by proclaiming ‘I am right, and you are wrong’. What we have in common is more important and that should be the basis for re-constructing internationalism. I am saying that for the North and the South as well. Each has its specific conditions, and conditions are different from one country to another. The general view is similar, but conditions are different. At any rate, this is my vision on how to start the process.

There are these ambiguities and we cannot avoid them. We shall have broad alliances with people who have never thought that socialism should be the answer to the crisis of capitalism. They will still think that capitalism can be reformed. So what? If we can work together against this capitalism as it is to-day, it would be a first step.

But we have to think ahead about how to create a new international dynamic. I don’t have a blueprint for this. It is not about establishing a secretariat or organisational leadership bodies. First, the comrades have to be convinced of the idea, which is not always the case. Second, the Europeans have abandoned anti-imperialist solidarity and internationalism in favour of accepting so-called aid and humanitarian interventions – including bombing people! That is not internationalism.
We have to rebuild a new international dynamic, an international of working people and others. That means a number of peasants and segments of the society that goes far beyond the proletariat.
I think that national policies – we use this word because there is no other word – are still the result of struggles within the borders of countries. Whether these countries are indeed a nation-state or rather a multinational state, they struggle within defined borders. We have to change the balance of forces within countries, which would then enable us to change the balance of forces at the international level.

We have to rebuild a new international dynamic, an international of working people and others. That means a number of peasants and segments of the society that goes far beyond the proletariat. In India, you can see that if you do not have an alliance between the urban proletariat and the urban poor – who have shallow proletariat consciousness – and the vast majority of the Indian rural society or peasants, then you cannot build resistance. These are different social forces and they can be represented by different political voices. But we have to know what we share in common. The interests we share in common are more important than our differences. We need a wide political alliance which can mobilise people belonging to different classes but who are all victims of the imperialism of today.

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

Top image: Grafische Globe. From: Public Domain Pictures


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