Tribute to Samir Amin: The Return of Fascism and the Challenge of Delinking
This special issue is a tribute to Samir Amin, who left us in August 2018. Amin was a dear friend, inspiring teacher, and comrade who was on the frontlines of the most decisive political and ideological battles of our times. Born in Egypt in 1931, he came of age in the aftermath of the Second World War to become a leading light in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of the ensuing decades. He was an organic intellectual with a unique capacity to maintain links to liberation and revolutionary movements all across the world, while exercising his powerful acumen to enrich Marx’s thought and even rewrite fundamental aspects of historical materialism. Indeed, there are few scholars in his league, and we are honoured to have received his support in the making of the Agrarian South Network.
Amin was on the International Advisory Board of this journal since its launch in 2012, and contributed several articles over the years. In fact, our Editorial Board, in association with The Sam Moyo African Institute of Agrarian Studies, had decided in 2018 to invite Amin to proffer the Second Annual Sam Moyo Memorial Lecture in January 2019 in Harare, but alas the invitation could not be sent. Amin did, however, pay homage to our brother Sam previously by contributing an article to the special issue dedicated to Sam’s memory in 2016 (republished in our recent book, Rethinking the Social Sciences with Sam Moyo, Tulika Books, 2020). Samir and Sam had a strong and solidary relationship stretching back to the 1970s, when Sam visited Dakar as a postgraduate student, and they collaborated, together with others on this Board, on the initiatives that Amin spearheaded over the years, including the Council for the Development of Social Science Research (CODESRIA), the Third World Forum (TWF), and the World Forum for Alternatives (WFA).
Amin left us with an autobiography, A Life Looking Forward: Memoirs of an Independent Marxist (Zed Books, 2006), and other retrospectives on his intellectual trajectory, such as his Re-reading the Postwar Period: An Intellectual Itinerary (Monthly Review Press, 1994). A second volume of his memoirs, The Long Revolution of the Global South: Toward a New Anti-imperialist International, was published posthumously by Monthly Review (2019). We will not review here his vast contribution, but only take inspiration from his works to advance the analysis of the present. One of Amin’s greatest insights was that Marx’s expectations on the development of capitalism – as manifest in Marx’s famous remark, ‘de te fabula narratur’, in the first preface to Capital, by which he warned late developers of an impending capitalist trajectory in the image of the leading capitalist country – could not be vindicated, given that capitalism was imperialist in nature and thrived on global polarization. There was no chance of a generalized ‘catching up’ for the Third World. This diagnosis was reinforced by the alternative experience of the Chinese Revolution which led Amin to conclude that ‘delinking’ from the worldwide law of value was the only plausible path to development in the peripheries of the world economy. We bring attention to this insight and exhort our readers to keep it in their sights as we look ahead in these troubled times.
We must also take stock of the long attrition wrought by neoliberalism on the Third World, a policy framework which has persisted for four decades now and which has undermined national sovereignty and stoked fascistic tendencies in many of our societies. The bourgeoning of labour reserves to unprecedented proportions, the scarcity and instability of wages and peasant incomes, and the perpetual crisis of social reproduction have all combined with the decay of the liberation promise to created fertile ground for the spread of backward-looking movements. Religious and communal fundamentalisms have spread all across Africa, Asia and Latin America during this long period. Amin was a most astute critic of Islamic fundamentalism in particular, and his insights apply to extremist movements that prey on followers of Christianity and Hinduism as well. Amin insisted that such fascistic forces in the peripheries are essentially subservient to imperialism and inimical to delinking. We require a fuller grasp of such reactionary dynamics, which explains the main concern in this tribute.
This special issue brings together close associates of the journal who were touched and inspired by Amin, some of whom collaborated with him over many years. Beginning with Issa Shivji, his article discusses the crisis of the liberal democratic form and its manifestation in the rise of the far right and the popular resistance to it. These developments have recently found their concentrated expression in Latin America which has witnessed swaying of the pendulum from dictatorship to radical populism through the episodic detour into liberal democracy and back to endemic popular revolts with historic participation of thousands and millions of working people, indigenous communities, and sections of the middle classes, in particular students. Shivji briefly surveys the Latin American scene because of the important lessons that it has to teach the international left, but also because it opens up a possible trajectory of political developments in Africa.
Prabhat Patnaik argues that although fascist, semi-fascist, proto-fascist, or neo-fascist movements exist in almost every modern society as fringe phenomena, they must be distinguished as movements from the general right-wing parties and movements of different hues. The latter, Patnaik argues, would no doubt appear to shade into the former; nonetheless, the sui generis character of the former must be underscored. The article explores the characteristics specific to these movements and poses the following questions: under what conditions do these fringe movements come to occupy centre-stage? What is the class-basis for their coming to power? How do we explain the rise of these movements in contemporary times? And how can we visualize, in the current conjuncture, the further journey of these movements in situations where they happen to have actually come to power?
Amiya Bagchi provides a brief overview of Samir Amin’s intellectual trajectory to understand his development as a fiercely committed Marxist who throughout his life was dedicated to changing the world. Bagchi notes that all the disappointments and defeats of the cause that Amin espoused only sharpened his determination. The article traces Amin’s experience in economic planning in West Africa and some of the key concepts that he elaborated in the interest of social change, including eurocentrism, the law of worldwide value, and maldevelopment. Bagchi then turns to Amin’s concern with political Islam, which he was saw as an accessory to imperialism.
Ng’wanza Kamata revisits Samir Amin’s influence on the debates among students at the University of Dar es Salaam in the 1980s. This was a generation of students, Kamata argues, that joined the University in its final years of glory as a site for critical thinking and a culture of free-flow of ideas. There were many contradictions during that time on campus, which ranged from demands for increasing funding for higher education to pressures to review the syllabus on various subjects, especially in social sciences, in order to accommodate and create more space for bourgeois ideas. Amin’s innovative ideas regarding modes of production, the capitalist world economy, dependency and delinking inspired students and has left a legacy which needs to be taken forward.
Paris Yeros and Praveen Jha celebrate Amin’s contribution by advancing the analysis of the long crisis of monopoly capitalism. This article takes issue with reductionist and ahistorical theories of crisis to grasp the terminal systemic crisis, which has played out in the long transition from colonialism to neo-colonial rule. The authors note that Kwame Nkrumah had foretold of the destructive nature of this transition, and had astutely seen in it ‘the last stage of imperialism’. Late neo-colonialism represents, they argue, the stalemate of this transition; its elements include, on the one hand, the collapse of the Bandung movement and the Soviet system, and on the other, the permanent crisis of monopoly capitalism. Today the concentration and centralization of capital persists hand-in-hand with the escalation of primitive accumulation and war, while national sovereignty continues to fray in the peripheries, where a series of countries, it is argued, succumb to a new semi-colonial situation while others fall prey to fascism.
This tribute to Amin has one further and more lasting commitment to his legacy, which is the inauguration of the Samir Amin Young Scholars’ Prize in Political Economy of Development. The prize has been instituted by the Editorial Board of Agrarian South in honour of Amin’s exemplary intellectual courage and path-breaking contribution to the study of the capitalist world economy and the challenges faced especially by the peoples of the South. The prize was announced in 2019 and an invitation for previously unpublished articles was circulated. Eligibility for the prize was limited to Masters or Doctoral students, or those who had received a Doctoral degree within the last five years. Nonetheless, the receipt of adequate articles was not forthcoming, which behoved us to change strategy and adopt the common practice of awarding the prize to eligible authors whose articles have already obtained publication in the journal. We thus resolved to consider articles published in Agrarian South over the last two years by authors who fit the eligibility criteria – and to establish this as the definitive selection procedure. From now on, the Prize will be awarded every two years to an author whose article has been published in our journal and is either a postgraduate student or received a Doctoral degree within five years of publication of the article.
For the first Samir Amin Young Scholars’ Prize, the Editorial Board considered six eligible articles. We are pleased to announce that Editorial Board has awarded the Prize to Manish Kumar, a Doctoral student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, for his article entitled ‘India’s Rice Export: What is in it for Farmers’, published in the special issue on Global Agricultural Values Systems: Trends and Alternatives (Vol. 8, Nos. 1–2, 2019). Kumar’s article provides a conceptually refined and empirically rigorous study of the economic impacts of rice exports on farmers and other actors involved in paddy value systems in India. He notes the importance of India’s rice exports, which command the highest share in the country’s total agricultural exports, and paddy cultivation, which involves almost half of India’s agricultural households. Kumar analyses the production trends of basmati and non-basmati rice since trade liberalization and demonstrates the differentiation of each crop among classes of producers, as well as the vulnerability of excessive specialization manifest in the reduction of buffer stocks and exposure to volatile world prices. Kumar demonstrates in detail the mechanisms by which small producers get squeezed in these values systems, providing strong evidence of the perverse effects of exposure of small producers to the influence of world market forces. Our congratulations to Manish Kumar!
In closing, we must also add, on a sad note, that besides the loss of Samir Amin, our journal has lost two more members of the International Advisory Board over the last two years. They include Theotonio dos Santos (1936–2018) and Reginaldo de Moraes (1950–2019), both Brazilian, great thinkers, inspiring teachers, and big-hearted human beings. Theotonio was best known for his contribution to Dependency Theory and his outstanding role in advancing Latin American social sciences. He was Professor Emeritus at Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro and UNESCO Chair in Global Economy and Sustainable Development. Reginaldo was a versatile thinker, a philosopher by training, who interrogated the inner workings of neoliberalism over many years. He was a devoted teacher who taught generations of students in political science and international relations. He was Professor at the State University of Campinas in São Paulo. Agrarian South intends to honour their contributions in due course.