The World Seen from the South:
Interview with Samir Amin
by Irene León
I would like to focus this interview on three distinct but related questions: your vision of the world and the possibilities of changing it; your conceptual and political proposal on the implosion of capitalism and delinking from it; your analysis of the global context, seen especially from Africa and the Middle East. What is your vision of the world, seen from the South and from the perspective of the South?
To respond to this question, which isn’t a simple one at all, it is necessary to divide the theme in three parts. First of all, let’s examine: What are the important, decisive characteristics of contemporary capitalism — not of capitalism in general, but of contemporary capitalism? What’s really new about it? What characterizes it? Secondly, let’s focus on the nature of the current crisis, which is more than just a crisis — I define it as an implosion of the contemporary capitalist system. Thirdly, in this very framework, let’s analyze: What are the strategies of the dominant reactionary forces, that is, of dominant capital, of the imperialist triad of the United States-Europe-Japan and their reactionary allies in the entire world? Only having understood this can we size up the challenge that the peoples of the South, in the emerging countries as well as the rest of the South, confront.
My thesis on the nature of the contemporary capitalist system — which more modestly I will call a “hypothesis” for it’s open to discussion — is that we have entered in a new phase of monopoly capitalism. It’s a qualitatively new stage, given the degree of concentration of capital, now condensed to the point that today monopoly capital controls everything.
To be sure, the concept of “monopoly capital” is not new. It was minted at the end of the 19th century and developed as such, through successive distinct phases, during the 20th century; but, beginning in the 1970s-80s, a qualitatively new stage emerged. Before that, it existed but did not control everything. In reality, there is now no capitalist economic activity that is autonomous or independent of monopoly capitalism — it controls each and every one of the capitalist economic activities, even those that preserve an appearance of autonomy. An example, one among many, is agriculture in developed capitalist countries, where it is controlled by monopolies that provide inputs, selected seeds, pesticides, credits, and marketing chains.
This is decisive — it is a qualitative change which I call “generalized monopoly,” that is, monopoly that is extended over all spheres. This characteristic entails substantive and significant consequences. In the first place, bourgeois democracy has been completely nullified: if it was once based on a left-right opposition — which corresponded to social alliances, more or less proletarian, more or less bourgeois, but differentiated by their conceptions of political economy — now, for example, Republicans and Democrats in the United States, or the Hollande current of socialists and the Sarkozy current of rightists in France, are the same, or just about the same. In other words, all of them are united on a consensus commanded by monopoly capital.
This first consequence constitutes a change in political life. Democracy, thus nullified, has turned into a farce, as is seen in electoral primaries in the United States. Generalized monopoly capital has very serious consequences. It has turned the United States into a nation of “fools.” It’s serious because democracy has no way of expressing itself any longer.
The second consequence is that “generalized capitalism” is the objective basis of the emergence of what I call “collective imperialism” of the US-Europe-Japan triad. It is a point that I strongly emphasize, since, though it is still a hypothesis, I can defend it: there are no major contradictions among the United States, Europe, and Japan. There is a little competition on the economic level, but on the political level the alignment with the policies defined by the United States as what the world’s policy should be is immediate. What we call the “international community” copies the discourse of the United States: in three minutes there appear European ambassadors with some extras, great democrats such as the Emir of Qatar and the King of Saudi Arabia. The United Nations doesn’t exist — its representation of states is a caricature.
It is this fundamental transformation, the transition of monopoly capitalism to “generalized monopoly capitalism,” which explains financialization, for these generalized monopolies are capable — owing to the control that they exercise over all economic activities — of suck up a bigger and bigger part of surplus value produced in the entire world and converting it into the monopolist launching pad, the imperialist launching pad, which is the cause of inequality and growth stagnation in the countries of the North, including the US-Europe-Japan triad.
That leads me to the second point: it is this system that is in crisis. Or rather it is not just a crisis — it is an implosion, in the sense that this system is incapable of reproducing itself from its own foundations, in other words, it is a victim of its own internal contradictions.
This system is imploding, not because it is being attacked by people, but because of its own success. Its success, having managed to impose itself on people, has led it to cause a vertiginous growth of inequalities, which is not only socially scandalous but unacceptable and yet ends up being accepted, accepted without objection. However, that’s not the cause of the implosion, but the fact that it cannot reproduce itself from its own foundations.
That leads me to the third dimension, which has to do with the strategy of the dominant reactionary forces. When I say the dominant reactionary forces, I refer to generalized monopoly capital of the historical imperialist triad of the Untied States-Europe-Japan, joined by all the reactionaries forces around the world, which are grouped, in one form or another, in local hegemonic blocs that sustain and are part of this reactionary global domination. These reactionary local forces are extremely numerous and enormously different from one country to another.
The political strategy of the dominant forces — that is, generalized, financialized monopoly capital of the historical, traditional collective imperialist triad, the United States-Europe-Japan — is defined by its identification of enemies. For them, the enemies are emerging countries — in other words, China. The rest, like India, Brazil, and others, are for them semi-emerging.
Why China? Because the Chinese ruling class has a project. I am not going to get into details about whether this project is socialist or capitalist. What is important is that it has a project. Its project consists of not accepting the diktats of generalized, financialized monopoly capital of the triad, which imposes itself through its advantages: control of technology; control of access to natural resources of the planet; control of mass media, propaganda, etc.; control of the integrated global monetary and financial system; control of weapons of mass destruction. China has come to challenge this order, without making any noise.
China is no mere subcontractor. There are sectors in China that function as subcontractors, as makers and sellers of cheap toys of poor quality, only because the Chinese need to get their hands on foreign exchange, and subcontracting is an easy means to do so. But that is not what China is all about. What characterizes China is its development and rapid absorption of high technology, its own development and reproduction. China is no mere workshop of the world as is claimed by some. It is not “Made in China” but “Made by China.” This is now possible only because they made a revolution: socialism paradoxically built the path that made it possible to practice a certain kind of capitalism.
I would say that, next to China, the rest of the emerging countries are secondary. If I had to grade them, I’d say that China is 100% emerging, Brazil is 30%, and the rest are 20%. The other emerging countries, in comparison to China, are subcontractors: they do major subcontracting business because there is a margin of negotiation, due to conformity between generalized, financialized monopoly capital of the triad and emerging countries like India, Brazil, and so on. Not so with China.
That is why a war against China has come to be part of the strategy of the triad. 20 years ago there were already crazy Americans who advocated the idea of declaring war on China before it would be too late.
The Chinese have been successful, which is why their foreign policy is so peaceful. Now, here comes Russia to join the Chinese in the category of truly emerging countries. We see Putin proposing the modernization of the Russian armed forces, planning to remake the Soviet-era navy, which once constituted real counterweight to the military power of the United States. This is important. Here I’m not talking about whether or not Putin is a democrat, or whether or not his perspective is socialist; it’s not about that, but about the possibility of countering the power of the triad.
The rest of the world, the rest of the South, all of us — you the Ecuadorans, we the Egyptians, and many others — do not count. Our countries interest collective monopoly capitalism for the one and only one reason, access to our natural resources, because this monopoly capital cannot reproduce itself without controlling, wasting, the natural resources of the entire planet. This is the only thing that interests monopoly capital.
To guarantee exclusive access to natural resources, imperialists must ensure that our countries will not develop. Hence “lumpen-development,” as was defined by Andre Gunder Frank. Frank discussed it in much different circumstances, but I borrow the term here to apply it in new circumstances, to describe how the only project that imperialism has for us is non-development. Development of anomaly — oil-rich pauperization, fake growth fuelled by gas, timber, or whatever, in order to obtain access to natural resources — that is what is about to implode because it has become morally intolerable. People no longer accept it.
Hence the implosions. The first waves of implosions originated in Latin America, and it’s no accident that they happened in marginal countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. It’s no accident. Then, the Arab Spring. We’ll see other waves in Nepal and other countries for it’s not something that would happen only in a particular region.
For the people who are the protagonists of this, the challenge is enormous. That is to say, the challenge cannot be contained within the framework of this system, within an attempt to transcend neoliberalism to achieve capitalism with a human face, to enter into the logic of good governance, poverty reduction, democratization of political life, etc., because all those are modes of managing pauperization which is the result of this very logic.
My conclusion — from the position mainly focused on the Arab world — is that this is not just a conjuncture but rather a historic moment, a great moment for people. I’m talking about revolution. Though I don’t want to abuse this term, there are objective conditions for building broad alternative, anti-capitalist social blocs. There is a context for audacity, to propose a radical path.