A View from the South
Global HistoryNigerian Compass
Dec 10, 2010
The books follow the pertain of intellectual researches of the septugenerian thinker and revolutionary scholar. Amin's life, since youth have been about struggle against western hegemony.
Like the thoughts of a radical thinker which get refined and robust with time and re-examination, three new books of Samir Amin books recently released by Pambazuka Press show the error in contemporary modes of reporting global history as well as highlight the folly in thinking that capitalism will save the world.
The three books of the prolific sage, Amin, are Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?, Global History: a View from the South and Eurocentrism. In them the grey-haired social philosopher dwells on his customary turf – contemporary politics, economics and other social issues.
According to a release from Pambazuka Press which publishes books, CD-ROMs and DVDs as well as ebooks on such areas of interest as Africa studies; China and Africa matters; Conflict; Economics; Human Rights; Media; Trade, Aid & Development and Women's Rights, Amin's Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism? explores "the systemic crisis of capitalism after two decades of neoliberal globalisation and examines the domination of the South through the North's intensifying military intervention. He proposes North-South collaboration for a more humane society."
Written in Amin's usual verve and sharp rhetorical style, Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism? examines the factors that brought about the 2008 financial collapse and explores what it advances as "the systemic crisis of capitalism after two decades of neoliberal globalisation. He probes the "relationship between dominating oligopolies and the globalisation of the world economy."
According to the scholar, the still current global economic crisis is a profound catastrophic manifestation of the capitalist system itself. But he projects that the crisis has the potential of bringing forward an era in which wars, and perhaps revolutions, will once again shake the world.
Amin dubs the leading elites and political establishments of the US, Europe and Japan, plutocracies. Appraising their decisions in recent G20 meetings, he reasons that the attempts by the powers to get back to the pre-2008 system, and "to impose their domination on the peoples of the South through intensifying military intervention by using institutions such as NATO" has the potential to compound the global crisis rather than solve it.
The 79-year-old author's way forward therefore, is learning from the welfarist capitalistic approach of some countries of South America. He dubs it the alternative strategy of building on the advances made by progressive forces in Latin America which would allow for a more humane society through both the North and the South working together.
In Global History: a View from the South (the shortest of the three publications) the author makes studies of capitalism in the ancient world system using mainly Asia. With the study he situates (rather forecasts) contemporary Asian states’ place in the contemporary global equation while highlighting the challenges of globalisation through Europe and China’s two roads to development, and the role of Russia in the global system.
According to the publishers, the book responds to "the need to take a fresh look at world history, hitherto dominated by Eurocentric ideologues and historians in their attempt to justify the nature and character of modern capitalism."
Amin peeps into the ancient world’s social, political and economic systems to note how it has influenced the development of the modern world. He also analyses the origin and nature of modern globalisation and the challenges it presents in achieving socialism.
"Amin examines the role played by Central Asia in determining the course of world history as well as the different roads taken by Europe and China. The book looks closely at a theme that has been primordial to his contribution to political and economic thought: the question of unequal development.
This is a refreshing and creative work that is necessary reading for anyone wanting to understand the real process of history," state promoters of the publication.
The full title of Eurocentrism has the rider, Modernity, Religion and Democracy: A Critique of Eurocentrism and Culturalism. The collection of essays is written with a radical, if leftist, slant. Amin’s thoughts in the work mark him out as one of the world’s most vibrant political economists. His new introduction and concluding chapter in the re-issue make the work compelling, provocative and remarkable for identifying the 'ideological deformations’ of contemporary time.
Though first published 20 years ago, Eurocentrism remains a classical reader for radical thinkers. The essays make strong case for the rejection the now globally-dominant Eurocentric view of world history. Amin harps on the fact that there are richer kingdoms, empires, civilisations and historical epochs than the Greco-Roman ones pro-western historians bandy and enshrine in the world’s schools. Describing as narrow and incorrect the Greek and Roman classical tales which tilt the world to Christian feudalism and the European capitalist system, Amin posits a progression from that to a more true and provable recount as he presents a sweeping reinterpretation that emphasises the crucial historical role played by the Arab Islamic world. “Throughout the work, Amin addresses a broad set of concerns, ranging from the ideological nature of scholastic metaphysics to the meanings and shortcomings of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism."
In this new edition (the second) Amin’s refreshing new introduction and concluding chapter update his arguments to comprise more recent developments which makes the work more compelling.
The book spans through such historical launching planks of Eurocentrism as the spread of Hellenism with the conquest of Alexander the Great to the triumphs of imperialism and transnational capitalism of the 1980s with thoughtful and analytical rhetorics. Amin’s study, as Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization notes, is quite informed and penetrating though dotted with outrage against European arrogance and with sympathy for the non-European victims on the periphery of the present system.
The books follow the pertain of intellectual researches of the septugenerian thinker and revolutionary scholar. Amin’s life, since youth have been about struggle against western hegemony. The son of two physicians, Amin was born in Cairo to an Egyptian father and a French mother. He spent his childhood and youth in Port Said; there he attended a French High School, leaving in 1947 with a Baccalauréat. From 1947 to 1957 he studied in Paris, gaining a diploma in political science (1952) before graduating in statistics (1956) and economics (1957). In his autobiography, Itinéraire Intellectuel (1990) he wrote that in order to spend a substantial amount of time in “militant action” he could devote only a minimum of time to preparing for his university exams.
In Paris, Amin joined the French Communist Party (PCF), but he later distanced himself from Soviet Marxism and associated himself for some time with Maoist circles. With other students he published a magazine entitled, Étudiants Anticolonialistes. In 1957 he presented his thesis, a theoretical study of the mechanism of underdeveloped economies. The academic work supervised by François Perroux among others was originally titled, The Origins of Underdevelopment – Capitalist Accumulation on a World Scale but retitled The Structural Effects of the International Integration of Precapitalist Economies.
After finishing his thesis, Amin went back to Cairo, where he worked from 1957 to 1960 as a research officer for the government’s Institution for Economic Management. He sbsequently left Cairo, to become an adviser to the Ministry of Planning in Bamako, Mali, from 1960 to 1963. In 1963 he was offered a fellowship at the Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP). Until 1970 he worked there as well as being a professor at the university of Poitiers, Dakar and Paris (of Paris VIII, Vincennes). In 1970 he became director of the IDEP, which he managed until 1980. In 1980 Amin left the IDEP and became a director of the Third World Forum in Dakar.
He has written more than 30 books including Imperialism & Unequal Development, Specters of Capitalism: A Critique of Current Intellectual Fashions, Obsolescent Capitalism: Contemporary Politics and Global Disorder and The Liberal Virus. His memoirs were published in October 2006.
In 1997 Amin conspicuously posited that social ascent and decline are largely determined in our age by the following 'five monopolies’: “the monopoly of technology, supported by military expenditures of the dominant nations; the monopoly of control over global finances and a strong position in the hierarchy of current account balances; the monopoly of access to natural resources; the monopoly over international communication and the media;” and “the monopoly of the military means of mass destruction.”
The history of periphery capitalism, Amin argues, is full of short-term 'miracles’ and long-term blocks, stagnation and even regression.
Global HistoryBlog: Andreas Bieler
May 28, 2012
THURSDAY, 24 MAY 2012
Samir Amin, Global History and the critique of Eurocentrism
Samir Amin is regularly put together with three other progressive, left academic intellectuals, Immanuel Wallerstein, Andre Gunder Frank and Giovanni Arrighi. And indeed, he collaborated closely with them especially during the 1970s, when they were known within academia as the 'Gang of Four'. Nevertheless, his book Global History: A View from the South (Pambazuka Press, 2011) makes clear that Samir Amin has adopted independent positions on a number of key issues, which differentiate him from the others and provide the basis for an important criticism of Eurocentrism.
First, he highlights the significance of the industrial revolution in England, identified as the advanced form of capitalism since 1800. While Immanuel Wallerstein dates capitalism back to the long 16th century starting around 1450 (e.g. Wallerstein 1974: 399) and Giovanni Arrighi downplays the industrial revolution completely in the rise to international dominance by Britain (Arrighi 1994: 209-10), Samir Amin captures its systemic importance. 'The capitalist system only reached its advanced from with the establishment of the mechanised factory in the 19th century (modern industry), a base which was essential to the deployment of the law of value specific to the capitalism mode of production' (Amin 2011: 71). Second, Samir Amin’s definition of capitalism is equally different from Wallerstein’s and Arrighi’s market based definitions. For Amin, ‘the development of historical capitalism is based on the private appropriation of agrarian land, the submission of agricultural production to the requirements of the "market" and, on this basis, the continuing and accelerating expulsion of the peasant population for the benefit of a small number of capitalist farmers’ (Amin 2011: 172-3). In other words, when assessing the transition to capitalism in Europe, there is an emphasis on enclosures in England and the constitution of private property, i.e. the way the production process is organised. Third, in his broad historical sweep, Samir Amin identifies several parallel tributary systems from 500 BC to about 1500 AD, based on direct, politically enforced surplus extraction from peasant activity, and dominated by ideological authority and the existence of a universal ideology. He highlights India, China and the Islamic Orient as the three major core tributary systems plus several less significant tributary systems in the periphery including, for example, Europe (Amin 2011: 85). Nevertheless, in contrast to Andre Gunder Frank (e.g. Frank and Gills 1993), who thinks in terms of an integrated world system reaching back up to 5000 years, Samir Amin does not conclude that the trading links between these different tributary systems implied that they were part of one and the same overall system. In this sense, ‘the capitalist mode of production represents a qualitative rupture with systems that preceded it’ (Amin 2011: 123).
Importantly, Samir Amin employs the concept of ‘tributary system’ as a tool for a non-European interpretation of universal history (Amin 2011: 137). In his analysis of the period between 500 BC and 1500 AD, he outlines that Europe was little more than a barbarous and backward periphery lacking behind major tributary systems such as India, China and the Islamic Orient and their scientific, intellectual and general civilizational achievements. ‘Eurocentrism is thus in effect an ideology that enables its defenders to conclude that "modernity" (or/and capitalism) could only have been born in Europe, which subsequently offered it to other peoples (“the civilising mission”)’ (Amin 2011: 154). However, a modern bureaucracy, the recruitment to which was based on competitive examinations, and the establishment of a secular society, in which it was understood that it was human beings, not God, who made history – both key ingredients of capitalist modernity for Samir Amin – had already been present within China long before similar developments in Europe. Ultimately, this implies that China too could have led the transition to capitalism.
Overall, this volume constitutes scholarship of the highest quality. The breadth and depth of this study is amazing and testimony to Samir Amin’s status as internationally leading progressive scholar of the left. It helps us to understand better where we are from a non-Eurocentric perspective and thus provides indicators of how we can resist and overcome the exploitative pressures of global capitalism.
Amin, Samir (2011) Global History: A View from the South. Cape Town et al: Pambazuka Press.