Samir Amin is presently beyond doubt one of the most fecund marxist critic of the liberal economic system. He’s based in the Third World, which explains a lot. He recently granted an interview to Åke Kilander for the Swedish magazine FiB/K (n° 2, February 2006). It condenses his analysis of the "really existing capitalism" and its numerous "ideological props". It sets two immediate tasks for worldwide unity of the workers : to defeat USA’s global military control project and to vanquish economic liberalism. We’ve deemed it important to translate this text for a large public.
Title and subtitles : Gresea.
Half the world population is threatened with extinction within the next decades. Such is Samir Amin’s prognostic. As he was passing by Stockholm a few years ago, he sketched out this evolution as a possibility. It did not disturb many people at the time. Personally, I’ve never stopped thinking about it although nobody seemed to care. In his latest book, "Le virus libéral", Amin analyses this threat more deeply with a clear insight of its context.
Half the world population, three billion people, lives on agriculture. Nearly ten million of them work in a mechanised agriculture in the capitalist economies of North America, Europe, Australia and part of Latin America. Productivity in the most efficient farms is nearly 2000 times higher compared to the overwhelming majority of peasants in the world.
Merchandisation and genocide
In November 2001, World Trade Organisation (WTO) gave the green light to submit agriculture – and thus food – to competition, just like any other merchandise. In the WTO zone, this decision opened up the possibility for transnational corporations to buy land and to rationalise production by using the most efficient technology. This means it would be possible to produce enough food for the world’s whole population by adding 20 million farm workers. This restructuring process will maybe take a few decades but by then half the world population will be useless and redundant. A well-equipped worker could replace 2000 poor peasants.
This is not an ordinary "structural problem". Three billion people will never be absorbed by industry, even given a fantastic growth. And there’s no indication that world economy would be able to meet their needs.
We are threatened by a genocide, a disaster of such a magnitude that it will kill more people than all previous wars and natural disasters in ancient and modern history. Question : Is there a larger response to his analysis now ? Is there any social movement aiming to prevent this catastrophe ?
– Above all, we have to recreate an alliance between urban and rural working classes, Samir Amin says. It is both fundamental and possible. This question is maturing and people realise more and more that the current evolution leads to genocide. In the North, however, nobody seems to be aware of it. Take Swedish capitalism : it caused until the thirties an enormous catastrophe but it could be absorbed thanks to mass migration to America because Sweden is a small country. We also have to defeat liberalism. That also is possible. Ten years ago, many people believed in liberalism. Today, it’s hardly the case.
It may seem optimistic. I remind him of the National Liberation Front movement in Stockholm which in 1968 demonstrated against the developed countries’ complacency towards the USA and its war against Vietnam, financing it by printing money. Three years later, this movement demonstrated again when the crisis hit with exchange-rate liberalisation and a new boost to liberal economy. Most demonstrators were teenagers but history showed they were right and the established economists and politicians wrong. We then read your book "The Global Capital
Ensemble d’actifs et de richesses pouvant être utilisés pour produire de nouveaux biens ou services.
(en anglais : capital, mais aussi fund ou wealth) Accumulation Accumulation Processus consistant à réinvestir les profits réalisés dans l’année dans l’agrandissement des capacités de production, de sorte à engendrer des bénéfices plus importants à l’avenir.
(en anglais : accumulation) ", we criticised liberal economy and we thought that we knew how the world was working. South East Asian people were victorious and the world seemed open to new vistas. But then we were defeated and the world we’re living in now is no better than thirty years ago. Why is that so ?
Three compromises undone
Samir Amin begins his analysis with World War Two.
– Capitalism has always tried to weaken the working classes. For the past twenty years, capitalism has been successful, much more so than in the decades following World War Two. During 20 to 40 years after the war, the balance of power was more favourable to the people than ever before in the history of capitalism. This was the result of three victories : democracy over fascism, Asian and African people over colonialism and Soviet Union over nazism. Those victories made possible three Labour-Capital Capital historical compromises. In Western Europe especially, the Welfare state was built up. In Eastern Europe and in some other countries, the really-existing socialism was allowed to develop. And in Asia and Africa, an independent development was initiated in the spirit of the Bandung Conference. These compromises generated some growth and development benefiting the working classes (but not necessarily in a democratic or a socialist way). Those compromises had their limits however and internal contradictions grew year after year. In the 70’s and in the 80’s, they encountered stagnation and capital counterattacked. Imperialism assumed the new shape of the Triad’s (USA, European Union and Japan) "collective imperialism". Its financial oligarchy has a common interest in the takeover of the world market.
When those compromises started cracking, the financial oligarchy could spread market economy on an ever wider circle without encountering any resistance. Market economy is its ideology and is accepted even by the social democrats.
– What the social democrats never understood is that the communism’s defeat was not their victory but their very own defeat. They could not take advantage of the fall of the Wall and, instead, were its victims. In Western Europe, capitalism had been compelled to accept the Welfare state partly thanks to the communist threat. When the wall fell down, capitalism could counterattack the working classes, not only in Eastern Europe but also in the Western Welfare states.
The chinese "model"...
Question : How about China ? Can China become a superpower of US stature in the future
Contrat à terme (un, trois, six mois...) fixant aujourd’hui le prix d’un produit sous-jacent (titre, monnaie, matières premières, indice...) et devant être livré à la date de l’échéance. C’est un produit dérivé.
(en anglais : future) ? Samir Amin has pointed out earlier that the four Asian "Tigers" could not possibly raise themselves to the same level as the developed industrialised countries. I remind that Mao held the same point of view in his "About new democracy". But China is a huge country and maybe the situation has changed ?
– No, I haven’t changed my mind. There are bourgeois national projects. A big one of them is China. There were two other ones, South Korea and Taiwan. They developed thanks to US support which was granted for geopolitical reasons. The Chinese bourgeois national project is a very large and important one. Chinese leadership, nowadays, is a political class. It thinks that it will become a big capitalist power within the global system, with the capacity to defy the others capitalist powers. I think that’s impossible for a very simple reason. In order to reach this goal under capitalism, they will never enjoy a huge internal support. It can only be achieved by increasing social inequalities and marginalisation through the weakening of the working classes and of the majority of peasants. The social democrat historical compromise between Labour and Capital cannot be replicated. It was only possible in countries that could take advantage of their higher (imperialist) level within the global system.
The logic of the system will force China to deepen its function of low-wage export assembly-line on behalf especially of the USA but also of Europe where wages are higher. That is the growing contradiction. Most rural and urban Chinese working classes realise more and more that capitalism has very little to offer. For many years, progress has been based on the growth of a middle-class which increased from some percents to 10 to 20 percent of the population. This evolution can go on for a while but not for many years. There’s nothing to gain from the global system.
Triad : total takeover
Question : What are the characteristics of "collective imperialism" ?
– Until the end of the 20th century, monopolies or oligopolies were fundamentally national in the sense that they were based on domestic markets (even if the looting took also place abroad). The extent of capital concentration today is however of such a magnitude that a transnational corporation or an oligopoly wishing to be at the top must have immediate access to a global market. Fifty years ago, a dominating company only needed 100 million potential clients. Now, 600 million are needed. That is the basis of collective imperialism.
The Triad’s financial oligarchy has no common state machine to manage its imperialism and, instead, acts through collective instruments such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Funds (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and the EU. They are all instruments aiming to govern the global economy and shift the balance of power in order to weaken the working classes. Europe and Japan are as liberal as the USA within WTO, IMF and WB but they need military power to push through their goals. It’s from this particular point of view that the USA stands out as a hegemonic power. They invade Iraq not only for their own interests but also for those of the European financial oligarchy, which has to pay for the favour and, to boot, well above its price. US military investments are paid for by the rest of the world – including Europe.
Another world is possible
On the same day, in Stockholm, Samir Amin took part in a meeting focused on the topic "Workers of all nations – compete or co-operate ?", a theme that the Word Social Forum would put on its agenda some days later in Bamako. Samir Amin launches the debate.
– Our task is to give new life to workers’ internationalism. Workers and working classes ought to unite at all levels, both within their countries and across borders, and stop competing with each other. This can only happen on an anti-imperialist basis working with an anti-liberal strategy. Internationalism can not be built on charity – give handouts to the poor on humanitarian grounds – but on solidarity, on common interests versus an enemy. And the number one enemy is the Triad’s financial oligarchy, its political representatives and especially the ruling class in the USA.
Amin then sketches the rise of collective imperialism and concludes.
– We have to set two immediate tasks. First, we must defeat the US project of military world control. Thereby we will create the conditions of a victory over collective imperialism. I am optimistic, very optimistic indeed. The USA has lost the Iraq war – not entirely but their aim to install a puppet regime in working condition has failed. Now, though, we have to go further and make sure that the people of the world will compel the ruling class in the USA to give up their military control project. What we need is some sort of global "US go home" campaign aiming to dismantle American bases all over the world and, in Europe, dissolve NATO.
Second, we have to overcome economic liberalism such as expressed by the instruments of collective imperialism, such as WTO, IMF and European Union. WTO has nothing to do with world trade. It is an institution aimed at organising the economic system in all the countries, especially in Third World, with a view to accelerate capital accumulation to the Centre’s advantage. Its missions are those of a Colonies Ministry. England and France acted much in the same way in the past.
We can have victories on both these fronts in the next years.
The enormous challenge to parties and organisations within World Social Forum is to combine these twin tasks. A precondition is to restore priority to national policies over international ones. Nations need self-determination – not for cultural reasons, nor because they are black or white, Christian or Muslim – but because of their political history. A high degree of independence is necessary to reduce inequalities between nations in the world today. That’s how we must define working-class unity.
This debate must come from the grassroots. I see no contradiction between national and international levels, but i think that no progress will ever be made on the international level as long as there is no progress on the national level. Things always start to happen through a bottom-up process and, essentially, this means on the national level.
Åke Kilander (interview)