Samir Amin: A tribute to a fighter against global capitalism

Published on Pambazuka News, by Horace Campbell, September 8, 2011.

Honouring Samir Amin as he celebrates his 80th birthday this month, Horace Campbell pays tribute to Amin’s tireless work ‘to strengthen effective forms of popular power’ and underlines his enormous contribution to our understanding of global capitalism’s increasing destructiveness … //


The linear conceptions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ were not only the fixation of the liberal wing of bourgeois economists such as Walt Rostow; there was a similar linearity of Marxists who believed that all societies must pass through the same stages that Europe had traversed. This was the stages theory of history of European Marxists. In his effort to go beyond the nonsense of ‘development economics’, Samir Amin has been seeking to link the theory and practice of human emancipation in a way that would illuminate the limitations of Eurocentric conception of human liberation. In fact, one of his most important texts, ‘Eurocentrism: Modernity, Religion, and Democracy: A Critique of Eurocentrism and Culturalism’ rejected not only the Eurocentric view of world history but sought to provide a new and refreshing understanding of phases of human transformations. Very early in his life, Samir Amin had been a member of the French Communist Party, but he soon understood that the chauvinism and narrowness of certain sections of the communist movement prevented them from grasping the real liberatory content of Marxism. Up to today, certain communist parties such as the South African Communist party (SACP) accept the stage theory of history which allows them to support the enrichment of a black bourgeoisie. In their rendition of Marxism, the growth of a bourgeoisie was necessary for the development of a working class.

From his break with the French Communist Party and a Soviet Marxism that was preaching the so-called ‘non-capitalist path’, Samir Amin set out to critique the mechanistic and linear conceptions of development which attributed a common characteristic of five modes of production: communalism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism and socialism. Karl Marx had developed this schema of human transformations in his analysis of human society and Marxists after Marx sought to find in all human societies the same stages that Europe had passed through. Marx himself had offered the concept of the Asiatic mode of production to characterise the social formations that were dissimilar to Europe, but this idea was underdeveloped in the work of Karl Marx. Samir Amin wanted to understand the specificities of the European experience and introduced a novel concept, that of the tributary mode of production to be able to clarify why societies such as Egypt and China which had been developed thousands of years before Europe never transformed into the capitalist mode of production. His thesis, repeated throughout his work, was that, ‘The tributary mode is the most general form of the pre-capitalist class society, that slavery is the exception not the rule, and that like the pure merchant mode, it is marginal; that feudalism is a peripheral form of the tributary mode and that, precisely because it was an immature form, still stamped by characteristics of its original communal society, it was fated to go beyond itself more easily, thereby ensuring Europe’s particular identity.’

It is this identity of Europe that brought humanity the mode of capitalism that Samir Amin now sees as, a parenthesis in history. ‘The principle of endless accumulation that defines capitalism is synonymous with exponential growth and the latter, like cancer, leads to death.’ This is the statement on the first page of the book, ‘Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?’

How can humanity, especially the poorest 4 billion citizens of the planet, escape this fate of certain death which emanates from the principle of endless accumulation? The insights on the tributary mode were drawn from a wider conception of the world and the state of knowledge that was available at the time of Karl Marx. Hence Samir Amin declared in his own words that one had to understand the limits of the state of human knowledge at the time of the writing of Marx and Engels.

‘I was an early reader of Marx. I very carefully read capital and other works by Marx and Engels that were available in French… But at the same time, I remain unsatisfied. For I had posed one central question, that of the “underdevelopment” (a new term beginning to be widely used) of the societies of contemporary Asia and Africa, for which I had found no answers in Marx… Far from abandoning Marx, and judging that his work had remained unfinished. Marx never completed the work he had intended to do, including, among other things, interpreting the world dimension of capitalism in his analysis and systematically articulating the question of power (politics) and the economy (capitalist and pre-capitalist)’ (‘Global History: A View from the South’, p. 1).



Welcome to the Post-Growth Economy, on Counter Current, by Richard Heinberg, September 8, 2011;

Micro scope, Alan Krueger is nominated to head the Council of Economic Advisers, on The Economist, September 3, 2011 (Alan Krueger on wikipedia);

Talking to Regular People Regarding Economic Reform, on Huffington Post,  August 14, 2011;

What does Gaddafi’s fall mean for Africa: As global powers become more interested in Africa, interventions in the continent will likely become more common, on Al Jazeera, by Mahmood Mamdani, August 30, 2011.

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