Friday, 28 November 2008

"Marx is back!" -- Samir Amin

Intellectual Rock Star: Samir Amin

26 November

Beyond neo liberal globalisation and US hegemony: What Next?

Getting the chance to hear Samir Amin speak is probably the high point of my SOAS experience so far. I cannot compare this experience with anything else, even the Christopher Cramer lectures! * Why? Because I had the chance to see a great figure, a great intellectual force first hand. This is a global intellectual public figure who speaks on behalf of the so-called Third World, who sees the world for what it is, who is not afraid of calling the injustice of Western imperialism. Forget Westerners who are uncomfortable with their extensive history of imperialism, slavery and colonisation and, would rather not be reminded of it; our own people don't want to even figure it in their analysis and approach. It is a sense of inferiority on both sides, actually, which does not let people look at history and its implications today full in the face.

Samir Amin was introduced as the person who was synonymous with emancipation struggles, someone who has penned many of the language used in dependency theories such as core and periphery. And he really was a blast from the past, the era of early decolonisation and liberations struggles, the time when the 'Third World' was looking to unite, a time when there was so much hope. I felt so nostalgic for that time, although I was not born in that time but have learned of it from books and movies.

Sami Amin's talk was not about the past but the implications of the financial crisis. He spoke very much about today.

Samir Amin made reference to the fact that the financial crisis was actually acknowledged close to 11 September, which itself is very symbolic. He said that the financial crisis was only tip of the ice berg, this was the "systemic crisis of ageing capitalism." What had surprised him was that even "convential" economists had not predicted this crisis nor the "critical" ones like Stiglitz. The Marxists had, though. Moreover, the idea that stronger regulation will solve the crisis is superficial.

So what is this global financial capitalist system? Please rid of the assumption that we are dealing neo liberal globalisation. We are dealing with imperialism. Of the first 500 hundred years of capitalism, we had dealt with imperialists, now we are dealing with imperialism.

There has been a qualitative change of historical capitalism. The degree of decentralisation of capital has not happened over the past 50 years but in the space of a couple of decades. A handful of major groups - all can be found in Forune 500, from "trivial business literature" - control the majority of this trade. We have therefore i) a collective imperialism triad composed of US, Japan and Europe ii) global integrated financial market. Capitalism has moved from producing surplus valud into area of redistributing profits into oligopolies of capitalism.

The analysis of the crisis so far has only focused on management of these firms, these oligopolies. Wasn't it interests? Where are the Chicago boys now? Capitalism doesn't work according to ideas. (I guess he was being sarcastic about the Chicago school of neo liberal economics, the likes of Hayek, etc. ) So, the system is going to be restored as it was, practically speaking. We are not merely looking a simple market economy but a hierarchy of markets (and he asked Marxists to look more closely at the architecture of this system). It is an integrated global, financial market which dominates labour, trade, etc. Ongoing politics is aiming to exlusively restoring the credibility of this integrated, global financial system. Trillions of dollars will be injected, trillions of dollars of liquidity.

The volume of operations in the trillions of dollars is unprecedented in the history of capitalism. The ratio between global GDP trade and this global, financial market is mind boggling.

The victims are the working class who will face unemployment, inflation and decrease in the real value of wages and pension funds.

What is the reaction to this? Protests. Fragmented depoliticised responses. This is not the same scenario as the 30s when were were two camps: socialists and facists. The struggle focused on the New Deal, the Left. Social movements today are fragmented and not ideological - manageable for governments.

What about the South? The South continues to integrate into this global monetary financial system. The triad needs the exploitation of cheap labour and resources. China though is ntot fully integrated into this system. In 30 years, the South will move out of this system though. The system will crash though, maybe even harder because the current system is being restored. He said Obama is not Roosevelt. There is no ideological shift in response to this crisis.

What should be the strategy for the Left in the North and the South? We have to move to socialism. We have to be aware that natural resources will become, have already started to become scarce. Access will the the object of more violent conflicts. Mind you, resources were not scarce before, this is something new. The governments of the 'triad' know this and will need exclusive access to these resources to 'develop' and 'waste.' They essentially want military control of the planet - the Americans drafted their strategy during Clinton's era and Obama will continue this. Europe and Japan are following America's leadership.

The South cannot catch up, they have to do something else and move out of globalisation. Nationalisation of oligopolies, abolishment of private property - these are not options anymore. We have to start on a long road towards socialism. He said, he was an Egyptian therefore, long is long. It could be a hundred years or less or more.

If you had said to a merchant in Venice in 1500s that he was helping to build capitalism, he would never have believed it. Similarly, we can't see the context we are in right now, which stage of capitalism, which stage towards socialism.

Samir Amin said we have to emancipate ourselves from what he called the "liberal virus." It affects people so - markets are self regulatory and long live democracy. He said the financial minister in France said the markets would self restore when things started to go bad in the beginning. Clearly it was not so. They had to be bailed out at the cost of trillions. And what of democracy? Having elections, some rights? These democracies are completely disassociated with social movements. Today, you can't even change anything by an election, change of government. You can't even 'vote red.' Maybe something 'pink or rosy' but nothing changes. We have to emancipate ourselves completely from this liberial virus and restore conditions for alternative conditions.

The South has to come up with alternative strategies. China has become a capitalist economy however. It has access to land for its peasants and is more independent from financial markets however, this is an illusion. They will not be an independent capitalist state. India was until 5-7 years ago halfway out of the global financial system but has become more vulnerable by opening up more and more. Malaysia moved out of it since the East Asian financial crisis. The left is not fully aware of what is going on in Africa and this needs to be investigated more.

The reality is that most of human kind is still peasants and historically capitalism cannot address their conditions. The pattern of economic growth so far has not trickled down. It's "exclusive growth." The South has to develop national popular democratic alternatives with different sub stages and families, different formulas for different countries.

And how did he end his speech??

Marx is back!
Use Marxist tools as they are still the ones with which to see and understand the world and change it! **
* Reminder: Cecilia and I were suposed to start a fan club.
** Which convential economics does not understand.

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