Samir Amin: We Need a New Communist International
Posted by irisbright on November 24, 2008
This interview originally appeared in Red Star #18 as ‘We need a new international’. Prof. Samir Amin is major revolutionary thinker with dozens of major works over forty years exploring deeply the development and crimes of international capitalism. He was interviewed by Roshan Kissoon and Chandra.
Can you tell us about yourself briefly and your views on Marxism?
I qualify myself as an activist, maybe an intellectual activist. My whole active life was deeply connected with the liberation movements in Africa during the late 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and the after; that is roughly I could say the Bandung period, starting from 1955. That struggle has changed more than any other struggle, possibly, in the last 50 years.
I was and I am an economist and therefore also a Marxist. And, I don’t recognize the qualification of neo-Marxist. I consider a Marxist as starting from Marx but not stopping at Marx. That is considering that Marx thought, laid the foundations for understanding how to analyze and how to change the world. And in that the long history, as of Marx I consider that of course Lenin and especially Mao wrote and made fundamental contributions for understanding how to change the world, taking into account the fact that imperialism has divided the world into centers and peripheries. And, created the polarization at a global level and deepened it from one period to the other. And the question of the long transition to socialism had to be dealt with in a very different way from the Eurocentric, workers vision; the traditional vision of the 3rd international.
That is about myself; I’m currently the chair for the World Forum for Alternatives. Which is a network bringing together thinkers of the world from all regions of the world, north and south, whose qualifications are to be anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, of course, but anti-capitalist more than that, however, in a non-sectarian way. i.e. admitting variety of visions of what are the efficient strategies of moving ahead beyond capitalism.
In your book “The Future of Maoism” you exchange polemics with Indian Marxist V. Nandy on Marxism. Tell us something about this:
You see, the main challenge which has been probably to raise the things overlooked in what I call historical Marxism i.e. Marxism as understood by Marx. The main weakness of that historical Marxism is that it has not ever considered the consequences of the very fact that capitalism in its global expansion from the very start, because capitalism from the beginning tended to be a global system, has created the polarization of the dominant centers and dominated periphery. And that, from periods, of course, the imperialist reality has itself changed from period to period in the sense that the way it used to be defined, it has operated, has changed from place to place. That the fact is, that polarization has continuously been created, recreated and deepened from one period to another. That fundamental fact was overlooked. I think that Marx, because he was really an exceptional person, had a feeling of that reality; however, not much more than that.
Lenin started taking into account this reality, at least partly. One; by qualifying the system as becoming imperialistic, as if it had not been imperialistic before. And, one would not understand how the Americas were conquered without the vision of the imperialist expansion characteristic of the capitalist expansion. How India was colonized long before the modern monopolies of the end of the 19th century. But he had also started understanding that the polarization meant a strategy for the socialist revolution in a global level different from the one which he had inherited from the historical Marxism before him.
Now, the 2nd international was terribly Eurocentric and based on exclusively the working classes, without considering the peasantry. Because, indeed, in the case of Western Europe, at least, the capitalist development had solved the agrarian question in its way. But they projected that in to the future for the others, imagining that the path that Europe has gone through will be the path laid to the other regions of the world. And, therefore, they have this Eurocentric vision, the 2nd international, which associated with pro-imperialism. We can call it social imperialism or social colonialism. Because, they considered that colonization and imperialism was bringing in ingredients for change and progress; and for peripheries catching up to becoming like centers and putting the question of the socialist revolution later in the agenda.
Lenin started understanding that this was not the case and that he was expecting a lot from the working class of the west, particularly from Germany. That the Russian revolution has started in the weak link, as he says which was in the periphery. Russia was at that time in the periphery, it was a non-industrialized country, only starting industrialization, with a vast majority of peasants, still. And he understood the fact that, he was in a way disappointed by the fact that, the (Russian) revolution was not followed by a German revolution. However, he drew the conclusion from that the revolution in now moving to the east. Remember Baku, it’s a turning point. And it’s an alliance between the workers from the Russian revolution and the peasants of the east, which will bring the 2nd wave of the revolution. And that is what actually occurred i.e. revolution moved in to the east to China, later to Vietnam, to Cuba etc. It moved to the east. And as a result of the polarization, the revolution in the east could not be a socialist revolution led by the working class. That was a revolution of a national, popular, democratic block lead by the working class and the majority of peasants and less than poor peasants with the support of strata of middle classes, the revolutionary intelligentsia and possibly with some neutralization of some segments of bourgeois or capitalist class.
Mao was not only the first to do it but also analyze it, which was his specific contribution to Marxism, to living Marxism. And we are still confronted with the same challenge today in all of the rest of the south i.e. Asia, Africa, Latin America. These are societies which are, as a result of imperialist expansion, maintained in a state of peripheral capitalism with a majority of peasants. And, therefore, the revolution, which is on the agenda, will not be effective if it does not enroll the majority of those peasants in alliance with popular classes, working classes, more or less developed according to the country and with revolutionary intelligensia and so on. That is the Maoist strategy remains the only necessary strategy, for moving ahead on the road to socialism. That is what the Indian Communists have not understood and that is what the Nepal Communists have understood. That is the Indian communists, and not only the Indian Communists, but I would say similarly the Arab Communists, similarly the Communists from South Africa, from Latin America as of the 50’s abandoned the Leninist-Maoist vision and strategy of revolution based on a strong peasant revolution, revolt; abandoned it to the benefit of supporting the national bourgeoisie, anti-imperialist block which came out of the Bandung, i.e. the type of Nehru in India, of Nasser in Egypt etc. And, abandoning that, they became the left wing of the national bourgeoisie movement defending the interests of the working classes, but not more than that, and abandoning completely the strategy of mobilizing poor peasants and starting the revolution from that end. That was corrected partly in India with the Marxist-Leninist, and some of Maoists are participating in the peasant, naxalite movements.
However, for variety of reasons that we can’t analyze in one or two sentences, I wouldn’t say that they have failed but they have not succeeded. They have not failed in the sense that the ingredient is there, the problem is there, and peasantry is there in many cases. Nevertheless, they have not succeeded in the sense that they haven’t been able to mobilize those movements to have them spreading throughout the Indian sub-continent and to establishing the links with the victims of the capitalist expansion, to working classes, to lower strata of middle classes and so on. While the Nepalese have, at least, succeeded at the first chapter of basing their struggle in peasant revolt and then making, becoming, a force able to overthrow the regime, the King and his comprador servants; and then coming in to negotiation, agreement, with other possible partners in the building of a national, popular, democratic, hegemonic alternative block; alternative to the comprador ruling class submitting to imperialism and neo-liberalism. Now that means also another point should be added.
Can you explain the Communist vision for the 21st century?
This is a vision of the long transition from capitalism to socialism.
Now, the vision of the third international was a vision of a short transition i.e. the revolution, even if the revolution is not a pure socialist workers revolution, involving the peasants and other strata, it moves on quickly to a socialist revolution, and then building socialism in a very short period; whether ten years, twenty years or thirty years, it is a very short period.
That was the pattern in the mind of third international.
De facto, without breaking from the third international, Mao took his distance. And the theory of the new democracy was published in western languages in 1950 or 52 but which was known to the Chinese revolutionaries from the late 40’s. It was based on that new understanding of the long transition i.e. not building socialism immediately.
Many of the Chinese communists, including Mao, in the name of Mao, said they were building socialism. But, Mao himself was very careful about that, and was always saying no, we are still in the very early stages of a long-long road; he even used the typical Chinese way of expression “it will take 1000 years”, which means a long time, which means don’t be in a hurry!
Don’t think that socialism is around the corner of the streets! And, this is fundamentally correct; I think, we should think of a strategy i.e. a strategy for socialism for the 21st century. The fact that the wording is popular is we are in 21st century.
That is my reading of our history i.e. the 20th century was the first wave of successful struggles and revolutions for the emancipation of labor and of people. And the two cannot be disassociated. Because, there are labor, however, the very fact of polarization on a global scale created by capitalism, by really existing capitalist imperialist systems, has produced a situation in which is wider than the working class, the people, the working people of the south are the victims as well as the working classes. Stricto sensu, in the narrow sense of the term, the industrial working class.
And, therefore, what is on the agenda is a long period of national popular democratic series of stages, not really one stage, a series of successive stages, in which there is a combination of some dimensions, some aspects of capitalist accumulation; and, therefore, of capitalist relations of production and capitalist exploitative relations. There are also tendencies of, creating and developing new relations, tendencies towards new social relations which go beyond capitalism, which are socialist in nature and that go far beyond the distribution of income and so on.
It means a very complex combination of capitalism because there is a need to develop productive forces. Our communism cannot be communism of the poor; maintaining the society in a state of outrageous poverty. Productive forces have to be developed. And by accepting it, you are bound to accept, partly at least, capitalist ways of developing. Therefore, this is the vision of long transition which is new. It’s not Samir Amin. That’s why, I consider myself a Maoist. Because, there’s nothing more than making more explicit what is already implicit in Mao; but in Mao, with respect to China. And expanding it, despite the variety of conditions of the entire South i.e. Asia, Africa and Latin America, and this is why we need a new international.
My reading was that the 20th century was the first wave that took the shape of Russian revolution, the Chinese revolution, plus Vietnam and Cuba and the national liberation of Africa and Asia which was to various degrees anti-imperialist with a class content ambiguous, usually with a bourgeois leadership or a potential bourgeois leadership; associating in some cases popular classes. Now, we are in the process of having a 2nd wave. And, it cannot be a remake of the first one and it should add to it not by renouncing the target of socialism by replacing it with capitalism with a human face or so called ‘democracy’.
However, socialism as the target and, simultaneously, taking into account the shortcomings of the first wave as lessons; particularly, the question of democracy. Democracy understood, not as multiparty elections, but as process of democratization of society, which is a far more holistic concept associated to social progress and I’m measuring my words. I’m saying social progress, it’s not socialism, is a ‘perspective’ of socialism.