The following is the second part of the interview with Samir Amin. (See here for part 1.) The first part was published in the Frontline issue dated May 11, 2018.
Along with the emergence and growth of neofascist forces, there are glimpses of a growing popular support for Left politics across the world. Even in metropolitan countries, which have been lulled into consensus politics for many years, Left politics attracts a considerable following. The popularity Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders achieved in the British and the American elections respectively is a well-known example. What are the prospects and challenges for the Left in the contemporary political scenario?
In my book Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?, I say that we cannot move out of this pattern of crisis without starting to move out of the system itself. It’s a gigantic challenge. The solution will not be found in a few years anywhere, neither in the North nor in the South. It will take decades and decades. But the future starts today. We cannot wait until the system has led to a gigantic war and ecological catastrophe to react. We have to react now.
This requires that the Left, the radical Left—or, I would say, the potential radical Left, which is much broader than the actual small number of heirs of the Third International, the communist parties and their milieu, much broader than that—acquires audacity. At present, there are resistance movements everywhere in the world, in some cases quite strong resistance movements. Working people are fighting perfectly legitimate struggles, but they are on the defensive. That is, they are trying to defend whatever they have gained in the past, which has gradually been eroded by the so-called neoliberalism. That is legitimate, but it is not enough. It is a defensive strategy which allows the power system of monopoly capital to maintain the initiative. But we have to move from there to a positive strategy, that is to an offensive strategy, and reverse the relation of power. Compel the enemy—the power systems—to respond to you instead of you responding to them. And take the initiative away from them. I am not arrogant. I have no blueprint in my pocket for what a communist in Austria should do, for what communists in China or those in Egypt, my country, should do.
But we have to discuss it frankly, openly. We have to suggest strategies, discuss them, test them and correct them. This is life and struggle. We cannot stop. I want to say that what we all need in the first place is audacity!
Now, it can start to change if the popular movements move from resistance to an aggressive alternative. That could happen in some countries. It has started happening, but only in some countries of Europe: Greece, Spain and Portugal. In Greece, we have seen that the European system defeated that first attempt. And the European people, even those who are very sympathetic to the Greek movement, have been unable to mobilise an opinion strong enough to change the attitude of Europe. That is a lesson. Audacious movements have to start, and I think they will start in different countries. I discussed this with, for instance, people from “La France Insoumise”.
I did not propose blueprints, but I generally pointed to strategies starting with the renationalisation of big monopolies and specifically financial and banking institutions. But I’m saying that renationalisation is only the first step. It is the precondition for eventually being able to move to the socialisation of the management of the economic system. If it stops at the level of just nationalisation, well then you have state capitalism, which is not very different from private capitalism. That would deceive the people. But if conceived as a first step, it opens the road.
Capitalism has reached a level of concentration of power, economic and therefore also political power, that is not comparable to 50 years ago. A handful, a few tens of thousands, of enormously large companies and a smaller handful, less than 20, of major banking institutions alone decide on everything. Francois Morin, a top financial expert who knows this field, has said that less than 20 financial groups control 90 per cent of the operations of the global integrated monetary and financial system. If you add to this some 15 other banks, you go from 90 per cent to some 98 per cent. It is a mere handful of banks. That is centralisation, concentration of power, not of property, which remains disseminated, but that’s of less importance; the point is how property is controlled. This has also led to control of political life. We are now far from what the bourgeois democracy of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was.
We have now a one-party system. With the social democrats having become social liberals, there is absolutely no difference between the conventional Right and the conventional Left. That means we are living in a one-party system, as is the case in the United States where Democrats and Republicans have always been one party. This was not the case in Europe, and therefore, capitalism in the past could be reformed. The social democratic welfare reforms after the Second World War were big reforms. In my view, they were progressive reforms even if they were associated with the maintenance of an imperialist attitude vis-a-vis the countries of the South. Now this is becoming impossible, and you can see it in the one-party system, which is losing legitimacy. But this also opens up a drift to fascism, to neofascism, which is on the rise everywhere, in the North and the South. This is one of the reasons why we have to dismantle this system before reconstructing it.
A Fifth International
Can these isolated struggles in different countries pose any challenge to generalised monopoly capital, which is truly international in character? What about the need for some kind of international cooperation or for the spirit of internationalism of the struggling masses?
I think that we need a Fifth International. We not only need a revival of internationalism as a fundamental part of the ideology of the future, but we also must organise it, that is, try to interconnect the struggles in different countries. Now, this international cannot be a reproduction of the Third. Because the Third International came after the victory of the October Revolution and a strong new state, the Soviet Union, and therefore survived, for better or worse, as a model for the others. We are not in such a position now, and therefore, we must imagine another pattern for the new international. If we look at the Second and Third Internationals—the Second up to the First World War, not after—they shared the idea of “one country, one party”—the correct party, all the others being “deviationists” or even “traitors”.
Moreover, when we look at the Second International, we discover that there was indeed one party in Germany, but this party was half-Marxian and half-Lasallean. There was one party in France, but it [was] really associated [with] three currents. There was one party in Britain, but it was a mix of trade unionism and Fabianism. So they were different from one another, but they all had in common their pro-imperialist colonialist attitudes, and as was proven in 1914, they worked with their bourgeoisies against one another. The Third International recognised only “one country one party”—the 21 conditions [for membership to Comintern]—all the others being traitors and revisionists.
Today, we are in a different situation. We have potentially radical, pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist forces, different in each country. We have to bring them together. We have to understand that what we share in common is more important than the differences among us. We have to discuss the differences and discuss them freely without arrogance and proclaiming: “I am right and you are wrong.” What we have in common is more important, and that should be the basis for reconstructing internationalism. I am saying that for the North and the South as well. Each has its specific conditions, and conditions are different from one country to another. The general view is similar but conditions are different. At any rate, this is my vision on how to start the process.
There are these ambiguities and we cannot avoid them. We shall have broad alliances with people who have never thought that socialism should be the answer to the crisis of capitalism. They will still think that capitalism can be reformed. So what? If we can work together against this capitalism as it is today, it will be a first step.
But we have to think ahead about how to create a Fifth International. I don’t have a blueprint for this. It is not about establishing a secretariat or organisational leadership bodies. First, the comrades have to be convinced of the idea, which is not always the case. Second, Europeans have abandoned anti-imperialist solidarity and internationalism in favour of accepting the so-called aid and humanitarian interventions, including bombing people. That is not internationalism. I think that national policies—we use this word because there is no other word—are still the result of struggles within the borders of countries. Whether these countries are indeed nation states or rather multinational states, they struggle within defined borders.
But the existing problems do not refute the idea that change has to start from the base and not from the top. And the base is the nation. Don’t expect a United Nations conference with all the governments of this world deciding anything good and effective. That will never happen. Don’t expect that even with respect to the European Union. It has to start from below. It is [about] changing the balance of forces within countries, which then starts changing the balance of forces at the international level. Therefore, the task for internationalist solidarity, that of a Fifth International, should be to minimise the conflictual aspects of these changes and make them complementary to one another. This is true internationalism.
Along with popular movements and class mobilisation, there are civil society movements and NGO (non-governmental organisation) movements going on all over the world. Different identity movements are also there. Are you in agreement with these civil society movements?
The protest against capitalism cannot just be a protest of movements against the consequence of neoliberal frontal attacks against their social interests. It must reach the level of getting politically conscious of the types of new wide social alliances which can replace the comprador alliances ruling our countries and the pro-imperialist alliances ruling the Western countries.
What is the relevance of Lenin’s idea of democratic centralism and the Communist Party as the vanguard of the proletariat? What are your thoughts on the form, content and shape of the revolutionary struggles of the present?
Probably, in Lenin’s time a one-party system was the only possible alternative to the old pattern of ruling. This is no more the case today. We have to rebuild a new international, an international of the working people and others. That means a number of peasants and segments of the society that go far beyond the proletariat. In India, you can see that if you do not have an alliance between the urban proletariat and the urban poor, who have no proletariat consciousness, and the vast majority of Indian rural society or peasants, then you cannot build resistance. These are different social forces and they can be represented by different political voices.
But we have to know what we share in common. The interests we share are more important than the differences. We need a wide political alliance that can mobilise people belonging to different classes but who are all victims of the imperialism of today.
China has achieved significant economic growth recently. Although it is still a communist state, its economic achievement is generally attributed to the success of its market-friendly approach since 1978. What is your take on the Chinese model of economic development?
We have to start from the Chinese Revolution. We had in China what I call a great revolution. There have been three great revolutions in modern history—the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution—along with some in other countries like Vietnam and Cuba. But let’s take the three major ones.
What I mean is that the project target of great revolutions looks far ahead of the agenda of what is immediately possible. The French Revolution said liberty and equality. The so-called American Revolution did not project this target. The word “democracy” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. And democracy was considered a danger. The system was invented to avoid this danger. The system did not change the relations of production. Slavery remained a decisive part of the system; George Washington was an owner of slaves. The French Revolution tried to connect conflicting values of liberty and equality. In the U.S., it was liberty and competition, that is, liberty under the condition of inequality. The Russian Revolution proclaimed: “Proletarians of all countries unite.” As Lenin said, “The revolution started in the weak link but should expand quickly”, that is, in a short historic time. He expected it would happen in Germany. History proved that he was wrong. It could have happened but it didn’t. Internationalism was not on the agenda of real history.
The Chinese Revolution invented the slogan “Oppressed peoples unite”, which means internationalism at a global level, including the peasant nations of the South, which is a step ahead. Widening internationalism! This also was not on the agenda of what could be achieved immediately. Bandung in 1955, which was an echo of the Chinese Revolution, was very timid. It didn’t achieve much. It was watered down by nationalistic forces and to a large extent remained in the frame of a bourgeois national project.
Precisely because the great revolutions were ahead of their time, they have been followed by Thermidors and restorations. Thermidor is not restoration; it means a step back in order to keep the long-term target but manage it in time with concessions. When was Thermidor in the Soviet Union? Maybe it was the year 1924 with the NEP [New Economic Policy], although [Leon] Trotsky said it was 1927. The Chinese say it happened with [Nikita] Khrushchev. There are good arguments for this, but other people think it occurred later with [Leonid] Brezhnev. However, the restoration of capitalism really came with [Boris] Yeltsin and [Mikhail] Gorbachev. At that point, the target of socialism was abandoned.
In China, we had a Thermidor from the start, from 1950. When Mao Zedong was asked “Is China socialist?”, he said: “No, China is a People’s Republic”, and building socialism is a long road; he used the Chinese expression “a thousand years”. So Thermidor was there from the start. There were two attempts to go beyond that Thermidor. The first one was the Great Leap Forward.
Then we had a second Thermidor with Deng Xiaoping. We still don’t have a restoration even now. Not just because formally the Communist Party has a monopoly on political power, but because some basic aspects of what has been achieved by the Chinese revolutionary process has been maintained. And this is very fundamental. I refer here specifically to the state ownership of land and its use by families in the frame of the revival of peasant agriculture, associated with the construction of a modern industrial system. These are the two legs on which China stands and moves. It defines a kind of state capitalism. Simultaneously, the Chinese project does not reject the idea of its participating in globalisation, which is dominated by capitalist/imperialist major powers. For sure, globalisation comes into conflict with the “two legs” Chinese strategy. They are not complementary; they are in conflict. China has entered into the globalisation of trade, and the globalisation of investments, but with state control, at least to a certain effective extent.
In addition, China is not operating within globalisation like those countries that accept the conditionality imposed through free trade, free investment and financial globalisation. China has not moved into financial globalisation. It has maintained its independent financial system, which is operated by the state, not only in form but in substance. My qualification is that China is not socialist, but it is also not capitalist. It contains conflicting tendencies. Moving towards socialism or capitalism? Most of the reforms that have been introduced, particularly after Deng Xiaoping, have been rightist, making room, and expanding room, for the capitalist mode of production and the emergence of a bourgeois class. But, so far, the other dynamic, identified by the “two legs” strategy”, has been maintained, and this conflicts with the logics of capitalism. That is how I situate China today.
The most important weaknesses of the Soviet Union were bureaucratic centralism, lack of inner-party democracy, not dictatorship of the proletariat but one-party dictatorship for the proletariat, etc. Prabhat Patnaik says that the option of multiple parties for the working class would help prevent one-party dictatorship. How do you analyse the desired and needed political structure of a socialist state against the background of the experience of the Soviet Union?
I have the highest appraisal and appreciation for Prabhat Patnaik. His arguments are most interesting, and usually correct. I think his criticism of the bureaucratic tendencies in the Soviet Union is fully correct. His criticism of the bureaucratisation of working parties in India is also a valuable contribution. We should see those problems case by case. It is different in India and different in Egypt and elsewhere.
You have written a lot about the emergence of political Islam, its ideology and nature. Although Islamists often utter rhetoric against Western culture, you have analysed how these forces are in close alliance with the imperialist forces. How would you explain the contemporary political landscape of the Arab world?
The U.S. was surprised by the explosion [anti-government uprising in 2011] in Tunisia and Egypt. They did not expect it. The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] thought that [President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali [of Tunisia] and [President Hosni] Mubarak [of Egypt] were strong, like their police forces. The French also believed this with respect to Tunisia. But these gigantic, chaotic movements in Tunisia and Egypt lacked a strategy, and that allowed them to be contained in the old structures and decapitated. But then, just immediately after these two explosions, the Western governments understood that similar movements could also happen elsewhere in the Arab countries for the same reasons.
They decided to “pre-empt” the “revolutions” by organising “coloured” movements controlled by them. They selected to that effect, supporting Islamist reactionary movements financed and controlled by their allies, the Gulf countries. The Western strategy was successful in Libya but failed in Syria.
In Libya, there was no “popular” mass protest against the regime. Those who started the movement were small Islamist armed groups who immediately attacked the army and the police and, the next day, called NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation], the French and the British, to rescue them! And indeed NATO responded and moved in. Finally, the Western powers have reached their goal, which was destroying Libya. Today Libya is much worse off than it was then. But that was the target. It was not a surprise. The target was to destroy the country.
The same is with Syria. In Syria, there was a growing civilian democratic popular movement against the regime because the regime had moved towards accepting neoliberalism in order to remain in power. But the West, the U.S. in particular, did not wait. The next day, they had the Islamist movements moving in and, with the same scenario, attacking the army and the police and calling the West in to help. But the regime was able to defend itself. The dissolution of the army expected by the U.S. did not happen. The so-called Syrian Free Army is a bluff. These were only a small number of people who were immediately absorbed by the Islamists. And now the Western powers, including the U.S., have to recognise that they have lost the war, which does not mean that the Syrian people have won it. But it means that the target to destroy the country through civil war and intervention failed. The imperialist powers have not been able to destroy the unity or the potential unity of the country. That is what they wanted to do with, of course, the approval of Israel—to repeat what happened in Yugoslavia. And they failed.
In Egypt, the U.S.—backed by the Europeans, who simply follow the U.S.—chose the Muslim Brotherhood as the alternative. Initially, on 25th January 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood, lined up with Mubarak against the movement. Only one week later, they changed sides and joined the revolution. That was an order from Washington. On the other side, the radical Left was surprised by the popular movement and unprepared; the youth was divided into many organisations, resulting in a lot of illusions and the lack of analytical and strategic capacity. Finally, the movement resulted in what the U.S. wanted: elections. In those elections, Hamdeen Sabahi, supported by the Left, got as many votes as [Mohamed] Morsi, that is around five million votes. It was the U.S. embassy, not the Egyptian electoral commission, that declared Morsi the winner!
The mistake of the Muslim Brotherhood was to think that they had achieved a final and total victory and that they could exercise their power alone. So they entered into conflict with everybody, including the army. If they had been smarter and had found an agreement with the army, they would still be in office and sharing power with the army. They wanted all the power for themselves and used it in such an ugly and stupid way that just a few weeks after their victory, they turned everybody against them.
This led to the 30th of June 2013: 30 million people demonstrating in the streets across the country against the Muslim Brotherhood! At that point in time, the U.S. embassy asked the leadership of the army to support the Muslim Brotherhood despite the people. The army decided instead to arrest Morsi and disband the so-called parliament, a non-elected body made up exclusively of people chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood! But the new regime is simply continuing the same neoliberal policy.
The book “Orientalism” published in 1978 by Edward Said was a path-breaking and widely debated postcolonial critique of the Eurocentric world view. However, it was your book “Eurocentrism” that brought the capitalist critique into the larger project of criticising the Eurocentric world view. What are your agreements and disagreements with postcolonialism and varieties of postmodernism, which are critical of modernity? Is there any notable change in the Eurocentric world view at present?
Orientalism is a cultural critique of imperialism. It is not a political and economic critique of imperialism. But the thing is that imperialism is not only cultural. It is basically a form of political domination and economic exploitation which leads to a cultural domination. And Orientalism looks only at the cultural aspect of the problem. And here Edward Said missed the most important aspects: political and economic.
Marx famously said that capitalism produces wealth at one pole and poverty at the other pole. This is also the case with the relationship between capitalism and workers and the relationship between core countries of the North and peripheral countries of the South. The dependency theory championed by scholars like you narrated the magnitude of this contradiction of capitalist development. How does it work in this era of neoliberal globalisation?
Capitalism has created massive pauperisation, particularly for 85 per cent of the people of the planet. And I think India is an example of that. Whatever high growth you have in India, perhaps only 15 to 20 per cent of the people benefit from it and 85 per cent of the people are pauperised. They not only benefit from it but suffer from it.
What is the legacy and relevance of Marxism today? Many people feel that though Marx’s analysis of capitalism is true, its political project is unviable. What do you have to say to these critiques? What sustains your belief in socialism?
I think Marxism is more important and relevant today than ever. Look back to The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848: no text published in the middle of the 19th century is as relevant as this to the present world. It describes many features of the capitalism of that time which are relevant to present conditions. We need Marx today. Of course, we should not just repeat what Marx said at his time, but we should continue his mode, that is giving Marxist answers to present challenges.
Third World Forum
Could you speak about the Third World Forum (TWF) of which you have been the director for around 40 years? What is its mission and priority?
The Third World Forum is an international independent association, recognised as such by the host country where it has its headquarters [Dakar, Senegal]. Founded in 1975, it is one of the oldest international, independent organisations of its type. It has been successful in adjusting to a changing world and seemingly has also succeeded in having a growing impact.
The TWF assembles concerned intellectuals committed not only to the pursuance and expansion of the debate on various possible development alternatives (itself considered in all its economic, social, political and cultural dimensions) but also to making a real impact on the society concerned through debates.
The TWF mobilises throughout the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America about 1,000 personalities whose well-known names are usually associated with creative thinking and capable of exhaustive probing and analysis of issues as well as with men and women who proved their worth through their contributions in the formulation of policies, either as experts and/or top civil servants or as leaders of thought and social movements.
The TWF has been active for 25 years, during which time it has been functioning as a network for intellectuals of three continents engaged in debates on various aspects of the “challenge to the development” of the peoples concerned. Since this “development” is in turn defined on the basis of the exigencies of a progressive social context (“development for the benefit of the masses”), that could foster enhanced democratisation of society in all of its dimensions (progress of political democracy, social rights, gender issues, etc.) in view of the mutual relationship between the internal social changes peculiar to the peoples and nations concerned and the prevailing trends in the global system. These debates concern macroeconomic strategies, the forms of microeconomic management, analysis of economic forces’ vision of society and sociopolitical movements, in other words, all aspects of social life, as they include all the major issues concerning the world system (the world economy, North-South relations, problems of the environment and those relating to national and regional security and geostrategy).
Positively, the objective of the TWF is to identify concrete alternatives and formulate policy recommendations in the various areas in which it conducts research. Those alternatives and policy recommendations should not be the product of teams of researchers studying the problems in isolation. The product must be the result of interactions between “theory and practice”, between the scientific analysis of the problems and challenges on the one hand, strategies of action and targets of actual social movements, on the other hand. In that spirit, the TWF operates as a “network” associating, on the one hand, organisations of what is usually called civil society and, on the other hand, centres of reflection where scientifically equipped thinkers pursue their research in response to the demands formulated explicitly (or implicitly, in some cases) by the movements.
That choice is fundamental for the TWF. It stems from the idea that the real world is not changed through pure “academic” reflections but basically through the activities of social actors. But, simultaneously, it considers that the more those actors are intellectually equipped to analyse the challenges, the more feasible, possible, efficient from the point of view of advancing towards required alternatives their formulation of targets for action and policy recommendations will be.