«Samir Amin: Pioneer of the Rise of the South Samir Amin is an outstanding intellectual with a truly global horizon combined with an enormous ...»
Samir Amin: Pioneer of the Rise of the South
Samir Amin is an outstanding intellectual with a truly global horizon combined with
an enormous productivity.1 His scientific work overcomes the over-specialization
that characterizes many theoreticians and planners of development. Their narrow
scientific approach, their fixation on models is alien to Amin. His capacity to pursue
evidence-based research in the best sense of the word, from a historical and compar-
ative perspective, is quite rare. His analyses always take into account socio-struc- tural conditions and considerations of political power, and his orientations, ideologies and ways of thinking point the way ahead, and this has made him a source of never-ending inspiration through a historical-materialist approach that rejects orthodoxy and dogmatism. Amin’s driving force has always been to notice new development trends and to review his own position, to initiate new debates, and to get involved in ongoing ones. The source of this intellectual and political impetus has been a continuing curiosity and an argumentative political disposition. And this curiosity and argumentative disposition extend from analytical contributions to global historical developments prior to the existence of capitalism up to reflections on topical development projects in the narrowest context. His work forms an empir- ically based and fundamental critique of capitalism, but also provides pioneering proposals for a desirable future. As Samir Amin once argued, he has never been a ‘tiers-mondiste’ (focusing only on Third World issues), but always a ‘mondiste’ with a global orientation. This—and not only this—distinguishes him from many of those who hold prominent positions in the Who’s Who of social and development theory, and more recently of world analysis. His lifelong scientific achievements demonstrate a freedom of thinking that has always resisted constraint.
1 This text is based on the laudatio by Prof. Dr. Dieter Senghaas (University of Bremen) on 4 December 2009 in Berlin, where Samir Amin was awarded the Ibn Rushd Prize for Free Thinking. This text was translated from German into English by Hans Günter Brauch and language-edited by Mike Headon, Colwyn Bay, Wales (UK). The laudatio of Prof. Dr. Dieter Senghaas in German is at: http://www.ibn-rushd.org/typo3/cms/en/awards/2009/laudatory-
held-by-dieter-senghaas/. The acceptance speech by Prof. Dr. Samir Amin in Arabic is at:
v Preface vi Samir Amin has been one of the most important and influential intellectuals of the Third World. In contrast with many development researchers who emerged in both industrialized and developing countries during the nearly six decades which his comprehensive work covers, he has always pursued a global perspective. Accumulation at the global level: this paradigm for diagnoses of the history, structure and development dynamic of the world as a whole rather than single continents, societies or regions became an analytical and political challenge to all current analytical and political thinking on development, especially of the Neoclassical and Soviet Marxist schools.
Samir Amin was born on 3 September 1931 in Cairo, the son of an Egyptian father and a French mother who were both medical doctors. His childhood and youth were spent in Port Said where he attended the Lycée Français and where he obtained his baccalauréat in 1947. From 1947 to 1957, he studied in Paris where his Ph.D. in economics (1957) was preceded by diplomas in political science (1952) and in statistics (1956). In his early autobiography Itinéraire intellectuel (1993), Amin wrote that during these times he preferred to invest only a minimum of his time in preparation for his university exams in order to be able to devote most of his time to militant action. His politicization, already evident during his period as a high school student, obviously continued in Paris—unsurprisingly, since Paris has always been a metropolis with an incomparable and highly vibrant intellectual life. The city was a scientific meeting place for intellectuals and students from all over the world, not just from the Francophone parts of Africa.
Immediately after his arrival in Paris, Amin joined the Communist Party of France (PCF) and so he naturally became involved with the intellectual and political controversies within the left and its various factions that were to dominate the intellectual scene in the French metropolis for several decades. His later distancing from Soviet Marxism and its development paradigms was influenced by his experiences during these early years when Amin, together with other Third World students, was editing the journal Étudiants Anticolonialistes. This journal was not always popular with the Central Committee of the PCF. Several of Amin’s comradesin-arms later held leading positions in the administrations of newly independent Third World countries, especially in Africa.
In 1957, Amin submitted his Ph.D. dissertation and one of his advisers was François Perroux. He proposed as its title Aux origines du sous-développement, l’accumulation capitaliste à l‘échelle mondiale [On the origins of under-development, capitalist accumulation at the global level]. But this title was too sensitive for the Paris of the mid-1950s. His advisers persuaded him to choose a rather more esoteric title instead: Les effets structurels de l’intégration internationale des économies précapitalistes. Une étude théorique du mécanisme qui a engendré les économies dites sous-développées [The structural effects of international integration of precapitalist economies. A theoretical study of the mechanisms that generated the so-called under-developed countries]. In his dissertation Amin correctly assumed that the thesis of under-development as a product of capitalism had not previously been formulated from this specific perspective. His key idea, as presented in 1957, was that the ‘under-developed economy’ should not be considered Preface vii as an independent (self-referential) unit but only as a building block of a capitalist world economy, and that the societies of the periphery required a permanent structural adjustment with respect to the reproduction dynamics of the centres of world capitalism, that is, of the advanced capitalist industrial countries.
One has to take the context of the 1950s into account. Amin’s thesis was indeed new and original in the framework of the debates on development theory and politics that were in their initial phase of ascendancy: at that time in Latin America the so-called desarrollismo (CEPAL, Prebisch et al.) was emerging, that was developed further a decade later in the discussion on dependencia. Wallerstein’s world system analysis came even later. But even the conventional development theories had not yet really come to prominence; their representatives (W. A. Lewis, A.
Hirschman, G. Myrdal, W. W. Rostow, P. Rosenstein-Rodan et al.) had been presented by the World Bank in 1984 in the volume Pioneers in Development. Only from the late 1960s could it be observed that discussions on development policy received essential impulses from international organizations, such as UNCTAD, the World Bank, and later the ILO.
It is therefore astonishing that Amin produced as early as 1957 a precise and subtle critique of positions taken 10–20 years later by his intellectual opponents. His critique also extended to Soviet Marxism and its development program of ‘catching up and overtaking’ (‘rattrapage’). These facts have often been overlooked because Amin’s thesis of 1957 was not published until 1970 in extended book form under the title L’accumulation à l’échelle mondiale (Accumulation at the global level).
After obtaining his Ph.D. Amin returned to Cairo where from 1957 to 1960 he was Chef du Service des Études de l’Organisme de Développement Économique (Director of the research agency of the organization of economic development).
He was to some extent entering the lion’s den, because in the planning administration the further development of Egypt was planned in a way that went against Amin’s insights. Not only because of this, but to escape personal dangers and difficulties, Amin left Cairo to become an adviser for the planning ministry in Bamako (Mali) from 1960 to 1963. This was a time when many African countries were becoming independent and a political radicalization (‘African socialism’) could be observed on that continent. In 1963 Amin was offered a post at the Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP).
From 1963 to 1970 he worked at this Institute in Dakar, established by the United Nations, and at the same time taught at the University of Poitiers and later at the Universities of Dakar and Paris (Paris VIII–Vincennes). In 1970 Amin became director of IDEP, where he remained until 1980.
During this time several big conferences took place that supported networking among Third World intellectuals working on development issues: in 1972, there was the first conference for theoreticians of peripheral capitalism such as Amin and prominent theoreticians of dependencia (Cardoso, Quijano et al.). I was honoured to participate and intellectually benefitted from this 1972 conference as one of three scholars from industrialized countries to be admitted, though not without reservations. (This conference motivated me to edit a volume on Peripherer Kapitalismus. Analysen über Abhängigkeit und Unterentwicklung [Peripheral
Prefaceviii capitalism. Analyses on dependency and underdevelopment], published in 1974).
In retrospect with regard to his time at IDEP, Amin emphasized that the goal was to educate about a 1000 young African intellectuals who were to gain the capacity to assess development programmes and policies critically.
In 1980, Amin left IDEP and became the director of the Forum du Tiers Monde, also headquartered in Dakar. This forum is an NGO whose task is to link through globally oriented projects, conferences, and platforms intercontinental discussion on development issues from the perspective of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
In 1996, Amin accepted in addition the presidency of the Forum Mondial des Alternatives which perceives itself as a counterpart of the World Economic Forum in Davos and that presented in 1997 the manifesto Il est temps de renverser le cours de l’histoire [It is time to reverse the course of history].
Samir Amin has published about 50 books; most have been translated into many other languages. His most important early work is undoubtedly L’accumulation à l’échelle mondiale (1970). Another milestone is his book Le développement inégal (1973), which was translated into many languages.
Between these two books there were several publications in which Amin in light of his theory dealt with specific country studies (on Egypt, Mali, Guinea, Ghana, the Maghreb countries, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, and West Africa in general and the Arab region). Classe et Nation dans l’histoire et la crise contemporaine (1979) is another important publication that opens up a perspective on global history and development history that transcends narrow discussions on development theory. Amin’s analysis of the option of socialist development can be found in his L’avenir du maoïsme (1981). The essence of his thinking on decoupling is contained in his book La déconnexion (1985). After 1989 and 1990 Amin published several books on globalization and on its inherent crises (for example, L’Empire du chaos, 1991). He offered a critical assessment of contemporary debates, especially in response to a dogmatic postmodernism, in Critique de l’air du temps (1997). His book L’hégémonisme des États-Unis et l’effacement du projet européen (2000) is a brilliant plea for a ‘European Project’ as a counter to undisputable US hegemony in order to submit no longer—as in the wars in the Gulf and Kosovo—to the ‘Washington Diktat’. Later, Amin repeatedly regretted that this much-desired European project remained weak and in no position to develop its own globally relevant stance. In Amin’s diagnosis, it has fallen through because of submission to the hegemony of Washington. His later works develop his criticism of capitalism and his critique of the global power structure (Au-delà du capitalisme sénile, 2002); they also intervene in the debate on postmodernist and culturalist movements and fashions (Modernité, religion et démocratie, 2008). In all his publications, Amin has been an astute analyst but at the same time always a political writer.
What then has been Amin’s intellectual contribution to global and development analysis: the contribution of the scientist, of the contemporary analyst, and of the intellectual arguing acutely but always from an informed political perspective?