I was in the car with my mother, I was six. And when I come out of the car with my mother I saw a boy at my age who was looking into the garbage and poorly dressed, almost naked feet and so on. I said mama what is he looking for? Something to eat? Why he has nothing to eat? They are poor, they have nothing to eat. And I said why is it so? She said because the world is badly made. And I answer, we should change the world.
Samir Amin was to live 80 more years after that day he remembers in the documentary named Organic Intellectual. In every moment of his life, he was determined to change the world in solidarity with the working class and oppressed peoples of the world. That’s why, his works are not the only things he left behind with his death on August 12th, 2018. His legacy was a guide to those who want to change the world. His longtime friends remember him with his big heart full of audacity and determination to change the world.
Firoze Manji: ‘Building a strong international’
Samir Amin, shortly before his death, prepared a document with Firoze Manji that calls for a transnational alliance of workers and oppressed peoples. Manji explains the process of forming the call:
Samir had a long preoccupation with the need for building a strong international. He had previously published calls for the formation of the fifth International. He and I had long discussions about the value of calling for a fifth International. I argued that in this period with the weakness of the left as it is internationally, what is required is not a vanguardist approach, but rather to develop an alliance of organisations of working people, farmers, peasants, women and the oppressed. We agreed that It is important to recognise that people think and they can theorise and contribute to our understanding of the way in which capital exploited and oppressed so as to serve its own interests. Therefore our task as militants should be to encourage and provide a framework in which such discussions by organised peasants, organised workers, organised farmers, organised oppressed groups can take place in an environment that would give articulation to an emancipatory agenda and a programme for confronting capital. Such an approach is not a top down, but rather one that enables us to learn from discussions and debates in a broad alliance, rather than, at this stage at least, the formation of a self-appointed political party or international based on a failure to even make an assessment of the lessons of the failures of the last four internationals. To do otherwise is to end up talking to ourselves, and we fail to connect with, lean from and engage with existing movements. Samir and I had long discussions about this. I was in Dakar for another meeting shortly before he passed away. We spent a whole evening discussing these issues. And we began the process of revising a paper he had drafted calling for the fifth international. He asked me to edit the English version and to give expression to what we had discussed. Before I left Dakar, I sent him the revised version. He edited it and said he would prepare a French language version. He wrote to say he would be sending a list of people to whom the document should be sent, and wanted us to move ahead as soon as possible to convene a meeting for the formation of such an alliance. Unfortunately Samir passed away a couple of weeks later. I was devastated.
‘He was willing to encourage young people’
Samir Amin was the President of the Third World Forum untill his death. We asked Manji to explain his importance to the peoples of exploited countries. His answer is as follows:
I think his contribution to the struggle for human emancipation, especially in relation to what we then called the Third World, was immense. He was quite an extraordinary person in that he was always willing to encourage young people—he would agree to read their PhD theses or draft drafts of their books and even agree to write foreword, prefaces or introductions to such books. He was truly generous with his time. He always had time for young people and felt it was important to help a new generation of thinkers and militants. He was prolific in terms of his own production and was deeply committed to understanding Marx, especially Marx on capital. He was one of the few people who didn’t simply treat Marxism as a dogma, but sought to enrich, evolve, develop the ideas and our understanding of the world based on Marx’s method. I was very lucky to have been invited to spend a week with him and a number of others including François Houtart, Issa Shivji and many others on a boat trip down the Nile. It was an extraordinary experience to have spent that week with him, and so generous of him and his Egyptian colleague, Mamdouh Habashi, to arrange this trip. This was organised to celebrate his 80th birthday. It was a very special occasion. We would spend most of the day in seminars that he and others led that contributed to our understanding of the nature of capitalism today and to discuss the possibilities that the future held.
I was always impressed by Samir insisting that we remember that ‘Capitalism is but a parenthesis in human history.’ He was insistent that we need to show ‘audacity, audacity and more audacity’ if we were to bring about real change. To be truly anti-imperialist meant that we had to be truly anti-capitalist. His contribution internationally has been profound. He has been one of the leading African theoreticians, someone who contributed not only to the liberation of African people, but also the struggle for freedom internationally. His thinking has been and will continue to be highly influential.
Kin Chi Lau: ‘His optimism was contagious’
Kin Chi Lau is the founding member of The Global University for Sustainability. She worked closely with Samir Amin for the World Forum of Alternatives. During their last meeting, Amin told her that the groundwork for a global network for “transnationalization” needs to be done:
Samir and I met on March 1, 2002. It was the first day of the World Forum of Networks of Civil Society, named Ubuntu, in Barcelona. About 50 organizations from all continents were represented in this forum. Over breakfast, Samir and I happened to sit opposite each other at a small table. Samir asked me where I was from. I said, Hong Kong. His eyes glistened, and he enthusiastically told me, you must link up with one excellent group in Hong Kong, with some of the best activist intellectuals from all over Asia doing a lot of good intellectual work. I listened in earnest. The name of the group is ARENA, Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives, he said. I told him I am Co-Chair of ARENA. He burst out laughing, and that instant sealed our friendship for the years to come. Samir knew many senior fellows of ARENA, hence we also shared fond friendships with Muto Ichiyo, Mushakoji Kinhide, Surichai Wun’gaeo, Samuel Lee, Vinod Raina, and many others. During the two days of the Ubuntu forum, Samir and I sat together all the time, sharing news, analysis, and ideas for future projects. The next year, he recommended Francois Houtart to attend, as an observer, the ARENA Congress held in Kuala Lumpur. Since then, Samir, Francois and I had worked closely together to organize panels in all World Social Forums and other projects such as the Caracas Gathering in 2008, Samir being the President of the World Forum for Alternatives, Francois being the General Secretary, and I being one of the Vice-Presidents. In 2010, we started preparations for the Global University for Sustainability, and we have been organizing the South South Forum on Sustainability (SSFS) since 2011. Samir attended the Second SSFS in 2012 in Chongqing, before which we took a cruise along the Yangtze River, debating on the Three Gorges Dam and China’s development. The Global University for Sustainability was officially launched at the Tunis World Social Forum in 2015. Please see the comments of Samir, Francois and others.
There are so many stories to tell about Samir, he was always offering wise and incisive analysis of the world’s crises, and at the same time assessing the challenges and proposing visions and strategies for movements. His optimism was contagious, he would always point to possibilities for action and hope.
The sad moment was August 8, 2018. Four days before his death, in Broca Hospital in Paris, Remy Herrera and I paid a visit to Samir. Samir was pushing for a global network for “transnationalization”, and when asked to define it in relation to the word “internationalism”, Samir said, “transnationalization” is internationalism, only a different word for the same meaning. He said it would be a long way to go, but the groundwork needs to be done, and social movements should be the protagonists. We talked about his love for China and the need for China to strengthen its strategic cooperative partnership with Zimbabwe and other African countries. When I was to take leave, Samir came down from his bed. Barefoot, he walked me to the corridor. I had planned to see him again in two weeks, but the hug turned out to be the final farewell. Samir saw China’s trajectory since 1949 as one of the best models for delinking, along with Vietnam and Cuba. He stressed that China should keep the gains for the peasants from the agrarian reform, small peasantry farming should be encouraged to ensure food sovereignty, democracy had to go with social progress, financial globalization would be a major trap and must be avoided, and China should renew its internationalist partnership and solidarity with the global south to counter the oligarchic triad of USA, Europe and Japan. Samir had fostered a deep friendship with comrades from China, including Wen Tiejun, Wang Hui, Dai Jinhua and Huang Ping.
Samir had remained an audacious thinker and militant till his last breath. Global University for Sustainability has documented Samir’s writings, interviews, and forums and will continue with the legacies of Samir, Francois, Vinod, Marta, and other comrades in striving for a future for humanity.
Vijay Prashad: ‘Helped orient my generation’
A Marxist historian, the Executive Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research Vijay Prashad explains how he guided his generation.
I met Samir Amin at several conferences and meetings. He was a charmingly bright man, generous to younger people and determined to guide. From Samir, I learned how to navigate the conjuncture, how to think as a Marxist in political terms. For instance, his short columns on China and on globalisation helped orient my generation at a time when we saw older certainties collapse. Samir’s major books—notably Accumulation on a World Scale and Delinking—taught us about the geography of imperialism, and about the need to think of policies that were attainable and necessary (such as delinking); these strategies, at the tactical level for governments such as capital controls, remain a necessity. It is by chance that Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research was the last to interview Samir, and that interview is our first Notebook. We called that text Globalisation and its Alternative, a very fitting title. I miss his wisdom.
Fikret Başkaya: He devoted his life to emancipation of peoples
Fikret Başkaya, a prominent thinker and the Founder of Free University in Turkey was a close friend to Samir Amin and a Turkish translator of his books. Here’s how Başkaya remembers their friendship that started in 1970 in Tilburg Congress.
It was in September, in 1970. I was a PhD student in France. One afternoon, I came across a big poster attached at the main door of the faculty. Tilburg Congress: Capitalism in 1970’s, it reads… Distinguished Marxist theoreticians were invited, almost from five continents. Tilburg University was hosting the congress… I immediately contacted a few friends and we headed to Tilburg. Tilburg is a small Dutch city located on the border of Germany. During World War II, Hitler had ruined the city completely. There were no buildings left standing except the church. A cute city builded after the war… The thing that got my attention was there were no curtains at the houses…
For three days, I ran from one hall to another. I was trying to get in touch with as many people as I could. I exchanged letters with some, after the conference. There were some that sent their books to me… There are crucial moments in a person’s life. To be honest, saying that Tilburg Congress was a turning point for me would not be an exaggeration. When I got back to Paris, Samir Amin’s Accumulation on a World Scale (Accumulation à l’Echélle Mondiale) was newly published. I purchased the book and read it all in one breath. It is an extremely impressive book. I met Samir Amin through Tilburg Congress. There’s a 50 years old friendship behind… We were together in the conferences, congresses, symposiums all around the world which were either organized or attended by Samir Amin. In 1997, in Cairo, World Forum for Alternatives was founded. I was one of the founders… He organized a symposium in 2013 in Algeria. I had presented a paper there. A year later, he came to Turkey for a symposium at Middle East Technical University (METU). We had a lengthy interview. We were together in Ankara for three days. We took him to Ankara Castle. The following year, he had invited me to an African country that I cannot recall particularly now, but I couldn’t attend due to my health condition. In the last four, five years, I lost four of my world famous invaluable friends, but none of them hurt me as much as Samir’s loss. Words are inadequate to describe Samir Amin. He was not just a Marxist theoretician or a tireless militant… He was a wonderful person. He devoted all his life to emancipation of oppressed and exploited people… He was a terrific organizer. He got introduced to socialism during his high school years and contacted Egypt Communist Party. In his book Itinéraire Intellectuel, he says “I agreed with the Marxist analysis of social reality at a very young age during my high school and university years and I believed even back then that socialism is the only acceptable and necessary answer to capitalism’s evil and ugliness.” After graduating from a French high school in Egypt, he goes to Paris to study economics. He completed his doctoral thesis in 1956. But he was one year late in defending the thesis due to the war between British and French because of the Suez Canal Crisis.
Samir Amin is a thinker and a man of action who became famous for his doctoral thesis. The book I read, Accumulation on a World Scale, was a published version of his doctoral thesis. Samir was the first theoretician who suggested a ‘world system’ thesis in his doctoral thesis.
We can say Samir Amin was a ‘living Marx’. Just like Marx, he was not only an economist, or a historian, a philosopher or a sociologist… He was all and above all… He believed that we must reference Marx but should not stop there. By relying on designation to ‘the fact is in the whole, the truth is in the whole’ he was remarking the drawback of departmentalization of social notion. He was risen up against Eurocentrism. He wrote Eurocentrisme, which remarks the ideological destruction of the European centered ideological alienation cause in the Third World.
Yet in his doctoral thesis, he declared the impossibility of ‘development’ for Third World (called South nowadays) and underdeveloped countries within capitalism. According to him, reaching and being like the imperialist West was impossible. Therefore, he formulated “delinking theory.” He was one of the four theoreticians (Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein, Arghiri Emmanuel) and the most prominent one of the Dependency School. His books have been translated into tens of languages and published tons of times. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there was no country left that he didn’t step his foot or get interested in. Around two months before his death, he was in China. You can find the speech he gave there on the internet. I translated some of his books and articles to Turkish. He was always kind enough to send me his articles.
Of course it’s not possible to tell his life, the contributions he made to social notion, the struggle of oppressed peoples and exploited classes in such a short text. He was an intellectual, a man of action, a restless revolutionist… He wasn’t an ‘expert’… “I never differentiate intellectual struggle from political struggle. I have always thought that intellectual struggle is political struggle and I continue to think that way. There’s no apolitical thought. Apolitical is political in its own way. I did not differentiate these two and Marxism was making me relieved, because in Marxism, theory and practice are indissociable. There’s no theory without practice, no practice without theory. All in all at this point I didn’t differentiate intellectual action and political action. (Samir Amin- Intellectuel Organique Au Service de L’Emancipation Du Sud, Demba Moussa Dembele)
Since a few years before his death, he was working very hard to initiate the ‘International of the workers and peoples’… Unfortunately, he could not live long enough… But the work he had started continues to move on… I would like to finalize my piece with a quotation from a short piece that I wrote right after his death: ‘Although Samir is gone, he left us an enormous intellectual legacy for our struggle to create a livable world with a life with dignity and without exploitation, oppression, social inequality, discrimanation in any forms and where freedom, social equality and human emancipation are realized. Our duty is to get back on the road and move on from where he left. Only then Samir will keep living in us.…
John Bellamy Foster: Personal Recollections and Intellectual Remembrances
John Bellamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review and a Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon, was a long time friend to Samir Amin. Foster tells the story of their friendship and emphasizes on Amin’s intellectual contributions.
I first met Samir Amin at the Monthly Review office in New York in the 1980s, through Monthly Review editors Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy. He was pleased with my treatment of his work on imperialism in my book Theory of Monopoly Capitalism (1986). We remained in touch over the years, corresponding on occasions, particularly after I became coeditor and then editor of Monthly Review, beginning in 2000. Amin stopped visiting the United States altogether, but we met abroad at various times over the years, in Mali and Vietnam. In Mali I participated with many others in writing The Bamako Appeal under his leadership. In Vietnam we met with the government. Beginning in 2010, he asked me to be the Vice President (from the United States) of the World Forum for Alternatives/Forum Mondial des Alternatives. Given the importance of this organization I agreed, although my role was mainly honorific.
From the 1980s on Monthly Review and Monthly Review Press were the main publishers of Amin’s writings in English (although important works were also published by Zed Press in London). Amin was crucial in helping to define our whole perspective, particularly on imperialism. At Samir’s request, I wrote a foreword to the second edition of his Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (Zed, 2014). We worked in tandem in his final years when he was writing Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital and the Law of Value (2018) and related works, in which he expanded in part on the ideas of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy in Monopoly Capital (1966).
Amin’s signal contribution from a political-economic perspective was his theory of worldwide value, summing up the system of unequal exchange/imperial rent dividing the Global North and the Global South. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the concentration and centralization of capital, noted by Marx, was, in Amin’s view, manifested in the growth of the phase of generalized monopolies or monopoly finance capital. Capital had become more and more mobile (along with technology), as the giant firms become increasingly globalized and financialized. Nevertheless, the nation-state divisions remained intact with governments promoting the interests of their corporations over those of other countries, along with restrictions on the mobility of labor. The result is a system of unequal exchange, in which the difference between the wages is greater that the difference between their productivities. This gives rise to a system of imperial rents accruing to the global corporations and their respective states in the center. All of this points to the disproportionate exploitation of labor in the periphery, which receives compensation far below the average wages globally, and out of line with its productivity. The fact that labor is rewarded differently in the center and the periphery, and that this is related to the globalization of monopoly capital, constituted, for Amin, the essence of the imperialist world system today. It constitutes the main obstacle to the unity of the international working class, and the reason why the struggle against capitalism and imperialism must begin with a South-South alliance.
His other major contributions, in my view, include his theory of Eurocentrism, including his analysis of class and nation, his recognition of global ecological inequality, and his theoretical proposition that the critique of the economic laws of capitalism is subordinated to historical materialism as a whole. No one was better at describing the fissures dividing the world under late imperialism, or how to surmount them. His prologue to his final book, The Long Revolution of the Global South represented a final summary of this views. His most urgent message at the end of his life was the need to form a Workers and Peoples International. Those engaged in the world struggle against capitalism and imperialism should heed his call.