Interview: Marxist thinker Samir Amin discusses demise of capitalism

Mary Mourad and Mohammed Saad, Tuesday 2 Oct 2012

World-famous Marxist economist Samir Amin spoke to Ahram Online about how capitalism developed over the years and how today's world, Egypt included, is witnessing the 'autumn of capitalism'

Samir Amin
Samir Amin (Photo: Ahram Online)

Renowned Marxist thinker and economist Samir Amin, has contributed, through his work and the Third World Forum which he leads, to understanding of the global economy and the analysis of underdevelopment.

Amin spoke to Ahram Online about how capitalism has developed over the years and how today's world, Egypt included, is witnessing the "autumn of capitalism", but is not yet in the spring of a new era of equality.

Ahram Online: How do you perceive today's global crisis in the light of your refined theory of the centre and the periphery?

Samir Amin: I must start by describing my theory around the development of capitalism, not only as an economic structure of production, but also as a societal order and a set of cultural values that together constitute a phase in the development of human civilization. 

Capitalism is centred around polarization between centres and periphery, determined by the law of value; a model that applies to capitalism throughout its historical evolution, and the polarity increases throughout since the logic of capital accumulation doesn't enable the periphery to ever catch up with the centres. 

Capitalism and imperialism, therefore, cannot be considered two separate phenomena, for the first cannot exist without the second, although throughout history the imperialist model changed and thus so did the relation between the centres and periphery. Since the masses at the periphery reject this situation, the capitalist system was never stable and history witnessed this tension on the political level. 

The mutation of capitalism throughout history could be explained through the changes to the law of value, from its simplest form [low cost inputs at the periphery used to produce expensive outputs at the centres] to its most advanced form which I call the law of globalised value.

Early changes to the capitalist model, from the competitive capitalism soon after the industrial revolution to the monopolistic capital phase starting in the late 1800s until now, were studied by many economists, but now as I study this in greater detail, there seem to be various sub-phases. 

What I call the first wave of the South Awakening started early in the 1950s, where the periphery revolted over the dominating capitalism, eventually forcing imperialist capitalism to adapt, to an extent, to the demands of the periphery. In Egypt, it was the Nasserist era, with the attempt to modernise the state and social life, succeeding to an extent, but in the end, failed to bring about a higher level of development, mainly due to lack of democracy. The late journalist Mohamed Sid Ahmed termed it 'nationalising politics'. This allowed for winds from the centres to overthrow the limited success, starting with the defeat of 1967 and the acceptance of the condition of dependency that followed. 

I can see there's a fast advancement that started in the mid 1970s, where there's no longer focus on ownership of capital but on greater control over it. I call this phase 'monopolistic globalised generalised capitalism.'

The new term 'generalised capitalism' indicates the extent to which all means of production are integral parts of these monopolistic capitals, acting as sub-contractors to the monopolies, even though they would appear to be independent estates. Any small firm is controlled by inputs it receives from monopolistic technology, funding or asset owners [upstream] and controlled by the monopolistic market is has to sell to [downstream]. Capitalist farmers in Europe and USA are just forms of such case of sub-contractors to generalised capitalism; they survive off state subsidies not from profit, i.e. living off the taxes of simple citizens. 

The law of value in this case is the law of globalised generalised value, and this is what's described in my latest book translated into Arabic, The Law of World Value. 

Accompanying this phenomenon, we see a unifying of the centres into one triangle headed by the USA. However, the new rising powers may end up as new centres that force capitalism to make concessions. 

AO: Would you say that this current capitalist system is collapsing?

SA: This neo-liberal phase is in state of collapse. It doesn't mean that capitalism is collapsing; but that its current form is collapsing and we're entering a new phase. It has to adapt, and whether the new system will be biased to the ruling class or the masses, is still be revealed.

The collapse can be seen through a number of phenomenon: the Euro zone challenges and its eminent collapse, which is also likely to overthrow the entire European Union; the crisis of the banking and global financial markets; the 'rising countries', or rather the 'rising societies' such as China, India, Brazil and others, are starting to force new rules to the global imperialist model developing new technologies both military and civil thus breaking the monopolization of technology and control over natural resources on the planet; the spread of the nuclear technology and weapons, although I'm against these weapons for sure, but there's no sense that it should be monopolised at the centres only!

We're witnessing the autumn of the current capitalist model, but it's not yet the spring of the people, since the alternative isn't developed yet. The global movements and protests are at a stage of chaos, and it could lead to extremist movements, to fascist systems, to collapsed state or to something totally new.

AO: How do you see the rise of Islamists to power and the withdrawal of the military?

SA: If we look at the policies of Nasser, there was a large gap in politics created by lack of democracy, and this vacuum was filled by the Islamists. In addition, the start of the 'liberalisation', the collapse of the state infrastructure and the deepening and widening of poverty, left Egypt in dire need and opened the wide doors to the control by the west, thus leading to our trap in the triangle held at the top by the west and in the base by the military leadership together with the backward Islamist power that worked hand in hand throughout the past decades. What we're seeing now is a simple switch of roles from one to the other: instead of a soft Islamist discourse, which by the way was the only opposition allowed the entire time, there's now a stronger voice versus a lower military one. The military officers and generals benefits are undoubtedly kept safe.

We should not just look at the Muslim Brotherhood as a political Islamist power but as a backward movement that rejects workers movements and social justice, preferring to talk about charity as a form to ensure their control over the people. 

The Islamists accept the policies of dependency under the guise of open market and private ownership rights; they openly accepted the American role in the region and the USA support for Israel, including the Camp David agreements.

The electoral success was expected but so is their eminent fall. The minority (even if those were a few million) sometimes pulls the majority behind it, and this was the case of the Egyptian revolution minority that pulled the masses against the regime. The strategy of the speedy elections, however, offers better chances for the more organised and well-funded power, which is the Brotherhood, versus the scattered forces of unions, coalitions, movements etc. Legitimacy was transferred from the street to the ballot. Had the revolutionary movement united, we would have seen a different map today, for example if Hamdeen Sabbahi and Abdel-Moniem Abul-Fotouh had united. It's a condition for Egypt to have a political alternative to become a 'rising state'. 

The Gulf plays a role against the 'rising Egypt', for it isn't working directly for its own benefit but rather supporting the US role in the region, helping keep Egypt just above total failure, but never up to success. The IMF loan and other Gulf money can only add to this condition. 

The current non-Islamist powers aren't offering a proper economic agenda, partly because their knowledge is limited about the challenges of the Egyptian state, but they really have to formulate a real roadmap in case there's a 'slightly better' government someday.

AO: Is there a chance for leftwing Islamism?

SA: The extreme-right backward Islamists currently in power will not allow any alternative interpretation of Islam that risks standing against its interests. We must also note that nobody today claims to stand against social justice or against democracy, but we can no longer count on slogans but on actual behaviours. 

Look at the condition of Islamist leftist thinker in Sudan, Mohamed Mahmoud Taha, who attempted a new interpretation of Islam, and nobody defended him but seculars. Meanwhile other Islamists stand fiercely against him, although the social conditions would easily lend themselves to it [his ideas]. 

"Ahram Online" Interviews the World Economist Samir Amin

Short link: