National Sections of the L5I:

Samir Amin

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Samir Amin was born in 1931, in Egypt, and largely educated in France. He has written extensively since the 1960s on issues of underdevelopment in the Third World and imperialism in books such as Accumulation on a World Scale and Unequal Development. He is currently director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal.

On the back cover of his latest book, The Liberal Virus: permanent war and the Americanization of the world, he is lauded as “a revolutionary socialist”. But if, as a onetime Maoist, he ever deserved that accolade, he certainly has abandoned any pretence to such a claim today.

He greeted the final document of the World Social Forum in 2002 because it stated that “what is needed is regulation of capitalism, where one must take into account the social interests of the labouring classes and the people.”

But Amin is more than just a reformist who, in the past, has placed rather too much hope in the radical, or even revolutionary, credentials of Third World politicians to resist imperialism. Like a number of other academics, he has reacted to the new US foreign policy after 9/11 by throwing in his lot with European imperialism, particularly France and Germany, and urging Chirac to take the lead in a new popular front against the “neo-Nazi” menace of the Bush administration: “Forming an anti-hegemonist front is today the very first priority, just as forming an anti-nazi allliance was yesterday’s.” (p95)

Amin would like the global justice movement to strive for a “politically independent Europe, free from alignment with the Americans”. (p91) While he thinks this may be difficult, or even “improbable”, it is possible for France and Germany. All that is needed is for them “to want to emancipate themselves from the supervision of the USA.”

For Amin, “this is the choice of allies facing a North American adversary which is the principal enemy of all humanity. I speak indeed of allies because I am convinced that, if they persist in their choice, they will be led to end their subjection to the unilateral project of capital (liberalism) and to look for alliances on the left...An alliance among groups of two, three, and four is not impossible, just like it was with the great anti-Nazi alliance.” (94)

Not content with a Paris-Berlin axis, Amin hopes that this alliance could be extended to draw in Beijing, Delhi and Moscow. The aim of this popular front would be to restore “the international pluralism of the UN” and it should also have the “objective of constructing together the military forces capable of meeting the American challenge.”

Now, it is clearly true that the adoption of a unilateral, pre-emptive strike foreign policy by the neo-con dominated Bush administration during the course of 2002, the “Bush Doctrine”, was a dramatic change of strategy. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine it has had devastating reactionary consequences for those subject to invasion, occupation and the plundering of their national assets.

The new US strategy certainly calls for redoubled efforts by the global antiwar and anticapitalist movement to launch mass demonstrations, strikes against the occupation, as well as political challenges at elections to the incumbent governments across the world that back the Bush-Blair axis.

Nonetheless, at first glance, it seems astonishing that such a renowned radical intellectual and “anti-imperialist” as Amin should jump into bed with Chirac and Schröder and urge them to rearm in order to confront Washington. At one level, however, such a stance has long been prepared by his Maoist Stalinist background which in the past made him favour a bloc of classes in the Third World to resist imperialist subjugation. The independence of the working class and the urgency of an alliance between it and the poor peasants was never Amin’s strongest political suit.

But to urge the working class and anticapitalist movement to throw in its lot with the rancid imperialist leaders of Germany and France is little short of disgrace. The crimes committed by Chirac alone in his seven years in office against North Africans, immigrants and workers in France are enough, let alone those committed by the Fifth Republic since 1958.

Amin, like all renegade intellectuals before him, feels the need to find a sophisticated rationale to justify (excuse) his apostasy. But in doing so he reveals only his intellectual shallowness, ignorance of history and contempt for the US working class and anticapitalist movement.

His first argument to justify the idea that European imperialism is better than American is the “visible differences” “between American society and culture, on the one hand, and European society and culture, on the other...In the United States, liberty alone occupies the entire field of political values without any problem. In Europe, liberty is always counterbalanced by an attachment to the value of equality with which it must be combined.” (p58-9)

He puts this difference down to the nature of the Enlightenment and the French revolution of the 17th-18th centuries. By contrast, the backward ideological culture of American imperialism and the inferior nature of its bourgeois democracy is laid at the door of the brand of sectarian Protestantism, based on the Old Testament, carried by the Pilgrims to New England.

“It was the means through which the new American society began the conquest of the continent, legitimizing it in terms taken from the Bible. Thereafter, the United States extended to the whole planet the project of realising the work that ‘God’ had commanded it to carry out. The people of the United States see themselves as ‘the chosen people’... And this is why American imperialism has to be more barbaric than its predecessors...”(p63-4)

Next in line for blame for the retarded democracy in the USA are waves of immigrants into the USA, “their emigration led them to renounce collective struggles to change the conditions common to their classes or groups in their own countries and result in an adherence to the ideology of individual success in their adopted land. ... It retards the growth of class consciousness.” (p66)

This wild generalisation ignores the fact that immigrants into the USA, from the late nineteenth century onward, were responsible for forming political organisations, including parties. It was waves of European immigrants who were the backbone of trade unions, the IWW and the early socialist and communist parties in the USA, which represented the sharpest form of working class consciousness in the USA.

While many immigrants did eschew political struggle to concentrate on individual advancement, many also formed the backbone of the Democratic Party at a local level and, like the Irish in New York, helped construct local party machines.

Amin says that, whereas in Paris, in 1871, the workers set up the Commune, in the USA, Irish immigrants allowed themselves to be manipulated by the dominant class so that they just killed each other in gang wars. This is American history courtesy of the fables of Martin Scorcese.

But, as Mike Davis says:

“The violent rivalries between native American workers and the Irish immigrant poor did provide internal combustion for the great engine of Tammany Hall (the Manhattan Democratic Party) and its endlessly skilful manipulations of an ethnically and confessionally divided working class.

“But the streets of Manhattan in the 1850s and 1860s were also an epic battleground between capital and labour. While Morrissey and Poole were leading their tribes to war at the behest of ambitious political bosses, other immigrants, English Chartists, Irish Fenians and German Communists, were struggling alongside native American trade unionists to build a united labour movement...”

Amin believes that, in Europe, unlike the USA, “the working class succeeded in rising to an assertive class consciousness, the successive waves of migrants to the United States neutralised that possibility.” (p67)

However, this ignores the fact that, “Lower East Side Germans (a third of the city’s population by 1870) were the most class-conscious section of the working class, equally opposed to gang leaders, political bosses, and racist demagogues as well as to the uptown plutocracy. Indeed, this German New York, to quote its leading historian, was ‘the first stronghold of socialism in American history’.” (Socialist Review January 2003)

Throughout The Liberal Virus there is little but contempt for the US working class, its achievements and possibilities. Like a good Third World Maoist, Amin writes off the US working class as incapable of differentiating itself from George Bush and, therefore, condemned to share the same blame and fate.

Is Amin not aware that the anticapitalist movement was born in the streets of Seattle? Or that, even this year, the streets of New York resounded to the biggest anti republican convention demonstration in history? Is he not aware that the USA today is utterly polarised politically, more so than at anytime for at least 40 years?

No, apparently the US working class and anticapitalist youth are going to have to learn the hard way, “It is only when the project of its ruling class is defeated that the way will be open to the people of the United States to escape from its ideology.” (p83)

European imperialism must crack the US around the head to arouse the workers to class consciousness!

The point of this selective reading of history is to lead us to the conclusion that it has only been in Europe that political democracy and the bourgeois state has promoted historical compromises “that give meaning and real scope to democratic practice.” (p69)

Whereas politics in the USA is merely cynicism masked by hypocrisy, in Europe we have a superior political culture in which bourgeois democracy has yet to be hollowed out completely. Hence: “If social and political struggles can modify the alliances that define these blocs and impose a new historic compromise between capital and labour, then Europe would be able to distance itself more from Washington.” (p89)

This is the same Amin who insists on the fact that “ capitalism has entered the age of senility. Its progressive dimension is shrinking and its destructive dimension is expanding.” Despite this, he fails to recognise that the foundation of the European compromise between labour and capital was a 20-year post-war boom, now long in the past, and that the results of those compromises have been, or are being, shredded by the bosses of European imperialism.

Finally, in the most ridiculous passages in the book, Amin spits venom at the USA for believing itself to be the “master race” with a mission and a right to conquer “living space” around the world. He rants: “American imperialism will be infinitely more barbaric than were the earlier forms of European imperialism”. (p80)

Was it not Europe with its Enlightenment and French revolution that spawned fascism in the 1920s and 1930s? Was it not decaying European capitalism in Germany that combined anti-semitism and anti-Bolshevism to deliver us the Holocaust?

What will be “infinitely more barbaric” than this? Amin has lost his bearings. Blinded by the Iraq war and the suffering of the Palestinians, he has dredged up his Maoist prejudices against the metropolitan working class, brushed them off and served them up to the reader smothered in Americanophobia. It is a reactionary rant that should be given no sympathy within the anticapitalist movement.

Navigation