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Samir Amin (1931 - 2018)

Sep 20,2018 - Last updated at Sep 20,2018

Renowned Arab thinker and socioeconomist Samir Amin who defended his doctoral thesis “Accumulation on a global scale” in the Sorbonne in 1957 has died in Paris on Sunday, August 12, 2018, shortly after the publication of his last book "Two hundred years after the departure of Marx".

Amin believed that confronting a capitalist system requires understanding how it develops, its mechanism of action and thorough knowledge of its internal contradictions. Thus, he started with studying its historic social formations, based on historical materialism and constructed a universal theory based on the idea of centres and peripheries. For example, while the Arab Islamic civilisation was a central empire, European feudalism was its peripheral region, with a flexible structure of governance and mode of production that allowed its rapid development into a mode of capitalist production.

Capitalist relations which started accumulating wealth in free cities, such as Venice, Genoa and Bologna, which were outside the influence of feudal lords, prospered during the Crusades in the Middle East, but underwent recession during 1300-1450 after a demographic expansion with limited available land, which incited the discovery of the Americas west. The mercantile, like capitalist relations, plundered the wealth of the discovered land and endured until capitalism entered the first industrial revolution in the early 19th century with the competitive free economy and open markets. However, at the end of the 19th century, when capitalism entered the second industrial revolution that was based on oil, electricity and the internal combustion engine, it was able to expand geographically at an extremely fast rate at a time when investments were receding during the great recession 1873-1895, and for the purpose of articulating a new international division of labour, so that the colonies would be structured in such a way to reproduce its own relations of production perpetually.

Samir Amin argued with Paul Baran that it was not possible to follow the path of "catching up" with the West, ever, highlighted the need for self-centred development and affirmed that the socialist revolution can only start from the peripheries and slowly expand towards the centres. Thinkers from the dependency school, such as Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein, realised that the national bourgeois are unable to achieve the tasks of liberating the society from pre-capitalist systems, unifying the national market and building a democratic national state ... etc. Amin also found that the salafi fundamentalist forces and the traditional leftist forces had proved their failure in leading change. Therefore, the future of the “third world” depends on the left's ability to bring about new popular parties to lead change, but not a repetition of any revolution, as he believed that one of the reasons for the success of the French Revolution was the lack of a ready dogmatic model.

Samir Amin believed that Arab nationalism is important to guide this change and, therefore, we should be prepared for it. However, Amin does not deny the dangers that might result from "disengagement" with the central powers, but believed that the potential dangers to the global eco-systems as well as to non-European civilisations, posed by some powerful central countries, makes disengagement an unavoidable choice. However, this change ought to be accomplished without cutting off completely all the exchange relations with the outside world, as he recognised the obstacles facing disengagement, such as the absence of unified strategies, unified references, etc., therefore, he calls for the preparation for this stage by enhancing a revisionist movement by the elite, education and media to subdue cultural, psychological and other barriers in preparation for the completion of this project.

It is clear that we in the Arab world have not been able to deal rationally with the salafi ideology, but rather been in alliance with it or at enmity, consequently we find it seeking to destroy the existing state rather than seeking a political solution; such examples are evident in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Libya. Samir Amin was well aware that we need to reinterpret religion in modernity and that democracy requires a long breath, therefore, he was striving to create a theoretical basis for a new consciousness that aspires to freedom and self-awareness that seeks to analyse the causes of real backwardness and dependency, in order to overcome them.

Hitherto, it could be said that Samir Amin school of thought ought to be considered an extension to the Dependency School despite its uniqueness on some issues. His importance to us in the Arab World lies in understanding the implications of such theories, explicating the impotence of the pseudo bourgeoisie at the peripheries that can never uphold the historical mission of social change in the South due to its “comprador” nature which perpetuates uneven exchanges with the North.


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