Samir Amin is the president of the "Forum Mondial des Alternatives", a network of intellectuals of the so-called "Third World". In this interview he takes a critical look at globalization and power politics
Your forty-year-old intellectual project tries to provide a critical analysis of the issues of globalization. How do you evaluate the present historical stage? And does it seem as pessimistic to you as it seems to be to others?
Samir Amin: The world is going through a diificult phase at the present time; the so-called phase of globalization, which began prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, in particular during the late seventies and early eighties. It was the time when the American president Ronald Reagan and the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher dispensed with all the characteristics of capitalism established in the era following World War II.
For the West in general, it was an era which can be described as one of historical compromise between labour and capital, on the basis of which the welfare state was established. This was marked by the legislation of capitalism and the laws of the market in a way that enabled the working classes, in general, to benefit from the progress in productivity. The phase of globalization started with the call for the revocation of such legislation as a necessity and the need to join a new liberal order based on the absolute dominance of capital.
Some of the reasons which allowed this to happen are the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist systems, the development which took place in China, as well as the end of the extension phase of popular nationalism. The "new liberal order" or the new globalization is primarily based on ignoring the social aspect in the process of economical development, regardless of whether this relates to the capitalist or to the developing countries.
Consequently, all aspects of social and political life are being subjected to a single, absolute criterion: that is the profit of capital. In addition, legislation in some fields, like organisation of work, international trade, etc. is to be revoked.
What about your statement that globalization is not a new phenomenon?
Amin: Globalization is as old as mankind. It also existed prior to the modern age. Let us look at the spread of the main religions, such as Christianity and Islam. These are simply nothing but other forms of globalization in other ages. The modern capitalistic globalization leads to polarisation on an international level. The world is, therefore, divided into dominating centres and subordinate peripheries.
The contemporary capitalistic globalization has experienced many stages. One of them can be described as the classical stage, which began early in the middle of the nineteenth century with the industrial revolution in Europe, North America and Japan and was significantly manifested in "colonial" imperialism. The pattern of colonial globalization began to change after World War II with the spread of national liberalisation movements and the industrialisation of some parts of the Third World.
In this regard, it should be mentioned that the industrialisation of such countries was not the result of the market mechanism itself, but due to the victory of the national liberalisation movements, which imposed modernisation on peripheral areas. Historically, that phase did not exceed a period of thirty years. The fall of the Soviet Union allowed capital to prevail on all fronts and on all levels of international relations, the relations with popular nationalism and with the former socialist countries.
The establishment of the World Trade Organisation is one of the most important manifestations of the dominance of capital internationally. The importance of this organisation is much greater than that of the World Monetary Fund and the World Bank as it is a kind of club for the gigantic, multinational companies, which dictate their conditions to all parties, whether the former socialist republics or the developing countries.
But what is the alternative? Is there not a shortage of theoretical creativity to find real alternatives?
Amin: It is certainly a problem to find alternatives. I am however optimistic because the principle alternatives are quite clear. People are in need of development in three areas, which complement each other:
Firstly, more democratisation, i.e. democratisation of society - which does not mean the democratisation of the political administration - not only through the admittance of political and ideological multiplicity, but also through recognition of the social rights of people.
Secondly, endeavour to achieve social progress, i.e. the rejection of the notion that the social aspect is just a subordinate of the profit of capital. There should be a correlation between economical and social progress.
Thirdly, admittance of the rights of nationalities, homelands, countries or whatever they might be called. It should be admitted that the mutual subordination at present exists actually between non-equivalent elements and consequently cannot be established on the basis of the absence of legislation and opening the markets for the mighty only.
What is the nature of the relationship between democracy and globalization; is it complementary or contradictory?
Amin: The relationship between capitalistic globalization and democracy is contradictory and not complementary. At a previous stage, this relation was more contradictory in form than in content. So, a multiplicity of political parties developed and were recognised in some areas. Results of elections were no longer falsified on so large a scale as earlier, but this small deal of progress towards democratisation was not accompanied by a similar progress in the social field. The social problems, on the contrary, became more drastic. Democracy experienced a recession and began to lose legitimacy. That led to the rise of political Islam for example, which is contradictory to democracy.
The new liberalism eliminated legislation and alleged that this would lead to prosperity, increase the rates of growth and relieve social problems. Actually, the opposite of all of this took place instead. Consequently, we entered a stage of "militarisation of globalization" because capital cannot impose such an absolute control without further military means. That opened the door for the American dominance.
In my opinion, the more powerful American aspect is the military and not the economic one. If we examine the balance of American foreign trade per production sector, excluding the financial sector, such as that of traditional heavy industry, or those which developed during Fordian era, such as the automobile industry, etc. or even the modern industries which are based on information technology and genetics, we notice that the balance of American trade has been heading towards deficit over the last twenty years and not only during the rule of George Bush junior.
This means that the United States, compared with Western Europe, Japan and some of the big countries of Latin America, does not enjoy an economic advantage as far as either light industries or old, traditional industries are concerned. The United States are trying to compensate for their economic shortcomings with their military capabilities. In order to execute this plan, the field of the first attack has already been selected: it is the region that extends from the Balkans to the Middle East and middle Asia, which is an Islamic area, too.
This leads us to the probable war on Iraq?
Amin: The United States have chosen this region, as I said, for their first attack in order to prevent the formation and the future military and economic competition of great powers, like Europe, Russia, China and India. America aims at preventing these powers from emerging as independent powers. The selection of Iraq for the attack is not because it is the base region of America's main cultural enemy nor can it be put down to a conflict of civilisations, nor because Islam automatically produces terrorism, etc. It is not because of any such silly reasons, but simply because this region is the weak point of the international system. It is the region that can be attacked without fear of a strong reaction to follow.
There are two aims for an American attack against that region: Firstly, it is a region with oil. The United States wants to control the oil resources internationally. This will give them the means to exert pressure on Europe. The Europeans are quite aware that a war on Iraq is not in their interests. When I say Europeans, I mean the French and the Germans in particular.
Secondly, the establishment of permanent military bases, which give the United States the means to exert pressure on Europe, India and China. Rejection of such a project is starting to grow, as there is a convergence between Europe and Russia. That is due to the fact that Russia is an important oil-producing country. Consequently, Europe could turn to the Russian oil. In addition, the majority of the Russian foreign trade and foreign investments come from Europe and not from the United States.
Interview: Hassan Zanind
© Qantara.de 2003
Samir Amin, of Egyptian origin, is one of the internationally outstanding thinkers specialised on the issues of Third World countries and development. He studied economy and political sciences in Paris and has written over thirty books, most of which have been translated into many languages. He worked in the late fifties for the Egyptian Ministry of Economy, then as an advisor for the government of Mali.
In 1970 he became president of the "Forum du Tiers Monde" (Forum of the Third World) in Dakar. Since the mid-nineties, he has been president of the "Forum Mondial des Alternatives" (The International Forum for Alternatives), which presents itself as an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Translation from Arabic: Mustafa Al-Slaiman