"The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism,” by Samir Amin, 2013
Amin is an Egyptian Marxist who is now living in Dakar, Senegal as director of Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP). His roots are closer to Maoism than anything else. He is a particularly acute observer of relations between what he calls the ‘center’ and the ‘periphery’ of contemporary imperialism. The center is Europe, the U.S. and Japan – the “triad.” Even in this short book, Amin has many interesting insights, expanding Marxism for the present. This book fleshes out some of his theories about what countries are involved in what he calls ‘lumpen development’ run by a ‘corruptionist comprador’ class and what countries are really ‘emerging,’ based on their relations to the central imperialist corporations, banks and financial powers like the WTO, the IMF and World Bank. He calls Iran, Egypt and Turkey examples of ‘lumpen-development’ due to their subaltern status in the imperialist web. He also includes India, South Africa and Brazil. To him, only China is truly an emerging economy, along with South Korea and Taiwan. The latter two were allowed to ‘emerge’ by capital due to their position as virulently anti-communist states, while China did this in spite of opposition from the imperial powers.
Center / Periphery
Amin’s main thesis is that it is impossible for a country in the periphery to ‘catch up’ to the center in the context of capitalism. He downplays the fact that certain ‘middle classes’ in peripheral countries ‘think’ they are catching up. These classes form the basis for support to their comprador bourgeoisies. His central thesis is that the benefits the imperial countries enjoyed cannot be completely repeated by ‘new’ capitalisms. The earth is finite, history cannot run backwards and one well-armed imperial colossus already sits astride the world. In this sense he is right – we have reached a condition he calls ‘generalized monopoly capitalism’ which is attempting to lockup all material resources, political power and wealth world-wide.
Amin’s dissing of most of the “BRICS” nations also jibes with a recent essay by Leo Panitich in the Guardian, which deconstructs what the recently announced “BRICS” Bank would actually do. The World Bank and IMF welcomed the BRICS Bank as a valuable addition to the network of imperial commerce. It is going to be based on many of the same political principles as the WB and the IMF. Panitich, much as Amin would, indicates that this Bank, if it actually exists, will not as it is presently organized challenge dollar hegemony or Wall Street.
Only the Russian petro-state has now become directly opposed to the triad, in response to the push of NATO and the EU directly into neighboring Ukraine. Amin also predicts, as have many, that the China-bashing common in the central countries is preparing the populations for war with China. Certainly obvious military developments by Japan and the U.S. point in the same direction.
Unlike so many ‘anti-imperialists,’ Amin is particularly hard on ‘political Islam,’ his term for the various right-wing movements operating under the guise of the Islamic religion. When you have to organize in a country whose reactionary parties are ostensibly based on Islam, you have no illusions as to their progressive or 'anti-imperialist' nature. Having had to deal with it face to face in Egypt for so many years, he details the confluence of the Egyptian state, the imperialists and the Muslim Brotherhood – policies even Nasser carried out. The Brotherhood was allowed to exist as the sole 'oppositional' exception by the Egyptian government, which depoliticized the working classes. Sadat and Mubarak followed the same policy. Its present pose as an oppositional movement is only as an entity vying for the same state power as the military. He goes into detail on the Mullah regimes in Iran and Edrogan’s party in Turkey as reflections of self-same lumpen-development, with no real independence from capital. They are only negotiating the relationship with monopoly capital, which the triad wants completely on their terms
Amin makes the very important point that political Islam is based on the ‘informal’ and the bazaar sectors of these middle-eastern economies, which form such a large sector. The rise of Hamas in Palestine, as opposed to the PFLP and the DFLP, was predicated on the erosion of jobs for the Palestinian working class. Islam for Amin is essentially a de-politicization of society, and a return to archaic culture – all as an aide to capitalism. In much the same way that ‘political’ Christianity in the U.S. is a bulwark of the virulently pro-capitalist Republican Party and right-wing figures in the Democratic Party like Hillary Clinton.
As a Maoist, Amin is especially interested in China. Here his loyalty to the Chairmen somewhat derails his political approach. After calling people who want to label China as ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’ idiotic, Amin finally comes up with a definition – ‘state capitalist.’ He contends that state-capitalism and ‘market-socialism’ are way-stations on the road to socialism – or they are not. As to which class is running this particular state-capitalism, he infers it is the working classes through the CP. At the same time he says that he is not exactly sure which way China is going, as it could also become capitalist. Amin seems to be unable to use the words ‘bureaucracy,’ ‘capitalists inside the party’ or even ‘capitalist-roaders.’ The hinge-point for him as to Chinese progressiveness is the socialized ownership of land. Along with several other dated points, Amin was unaware in 2013 that China is considering allowing the sale of land to anyone, including foreigners. This may have already happened. His celebration of state-capitalism does not take into account ‘trajectory’ – i.e. to understand which way Chinese ‘state-capital is heading. All indications are that the CP is still heading toward a fully capitalist economy with some social-democratic aspects. In other words, is ‘state-capital’ coming or going? The openings in 1971 to the U.S. and 1980 to private enterprise continue.
Amin blasts multi-party elections as democratic frauds, and indeed in the present context they usually are. However in propping up a vague ‘democracy’ - like Mao - he mentions absolutely no concrete forms of mass democracy. Neither work or geographic councils/soviets/communes, neighborhood committees, elections in which working-class or farmer parties can participate, factions within the CP (none are allowed), independent worker or farmer unions or peoples organizations, strikes or any other actual form of democracy for the working classes passes his lips.
Past Ballgames - Mao & Lenin
He compares Mao to Lenin several times, to the former’s benefit. Mao did understand how to organize the rural peasantry, unlike the Bolsheviks. This policy helped avoid the slaughter of forced collectivization – which he calls not just a Stalinist but a “Leninist’ policy. By introducing ‘state-capitalism’ as a new ‘stage’ in the class struggle, he sounds somewhat similar to the Kautskyists of the 2nd International and even the Menshiviks, who believed that Russia needed to go through capitalism. He maintains that Russia did not but China does… One quote in this respect seems absolutely odd – “Mao understood – better than Lenin- that the capitalist path would lead to nothing and that the resurrection of China could only be the work of the Communists.”
Amin doesn’t really discuss the title of the book, evidently assuming that readers understand that ‘implosion’ means the results of the 2007-2008 financial crash or some future event. He maintains that the EU is dying from its own inequalities and austerity, and as a result the Eurozone has to be rejected by the European radical left. While the concept of a regional block is something socialists would support, the EU was formed to consolidate the power of monopoly capital, not to consolidate democracy or prevent wars. It is a form of flawed ‘bourgeois internationalism’ which ultimately has increased inequality between nations within the EU. Eastern Europe has become a cheap labor/cheap materials colony of Germany and other leading EU nations, while the weaker states of the EU like Greece, Spain and Ireland have become debtor nations. All still rely on the military power across the Atlantic – the U.S.
Amin’s prescription for what should be done by the ‘radical’ left oscillates between a vague nod to the ‘mass line’ and 3 transitional demands, the first being the nationalization of the monopolies, the second de-financialization – ending Wall Street’s control – and the third is what he calls ‘de-linking’ – replacing domination by the WB and the IMF with negotiation between nations. He also supports resurrecting a new Bandung movement and ‘strengthening’ the UN as well. The UN is a toothless agency at present, controlled by the Triad – a democracy of unequals. The rising of a new Bandung is unlikely in the present case of ‘generalized global monopoly.’ Bandung was produced by a confluence of the oppositional USSR and national liberation movements, which have now become their opposite, and are for the most part integrated into the global system, as Amin points out.
And I bought it at May Day Books!
September 1, 2014, the saddest Labor Day.