Magazine article Monthly Review

A Brief Biography of Samir Amin

Magazine article Monthly Review

A Brief Biography of Samir Amin

Article excerpt

Samir Amin was born in Cairo in 1931 and was educated at the Lycee Francais there. He gained a Ph.D. in Political Economy in Paris (1957), as well as degrees from the Institut de Statistiques and from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques. He then returned home where he was attached to the planning bodies of Nasser's regime. He left Egypt in 1960 to work with the Ministry of Planning of the newly independent Mali (1960-1963), and following this, he commenced an academic career. He has held the position of full professor in France since 1966 and was for ten years (1970-1980) the director of the U.N. African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (in Dakar). Since 1980 he has been directing the African Office of the Third World Forum, an international non-governmental association for research and debate.

The main contributions of Samir Amin can be classified under four headings: (i) a critique of the theory and experiences of development; (ii) an alternative proposal for the analysis of the global system which he calls "really existing capitalism"; (iii) a re-reading of the history of social formations, and; (iv) a reinterpretation of what he describes as "post-capitalist" societies.

Amin's critique of the theory of development goes back to his Ph.D. dissertation (1957) published later under the title Accumulation on a World Scale. Conventional theory presents a general view of the problem that might be summed up in the simple proposition that "underdevelopment" is nothing more than delayed development. The emerging conclusions advocate "development policies" focused on more thorough participation in the international division of labor. Accumulation was among the first texts to challenge this conventional wisdom. Bourgeois economics finds attractive only the study of contingent interconnections resulting from the play of such strictly economic phenomena as prices and incomes. Moreover, in this exercise it invariably posits a hypothetical system close to the "ideal type" of capitalism. For that reason, an examination of bourgeois economic statements on "underdevelopment'' throws into exceedingly sharp relief the inadequacies and the narrow range of the conventional "science" of economics. The limitations are most clearly visible in three areas of economic analysis: monetary problems, the conjunctural state of the economy, and international relations. That is hardly an accident. The ebb and flow of economic tides indicate that in proffering its hypothesis of spontaneous, ineluctable balance, bourgeois economics turns a blind eye to the contradictory dynamics inherent in capitalist accumulation. As for the theories it propounds on international exchanges, notably those of comparative advantage and the self-equilibrating balance of external payments, they rise no higher than a vapid ideology of universal harmony between nations operating as partners in the world capitalist system.

Such was the critical thrust developed in Accumulation. However, bourgeois economics aspires to the formulation of a social philosophy asserting a broader idea: that in its spread, the market of commodities and "production factors" creates maximal conditions for the satisfaction of all, thus constituting a rational process transcending history. This claim stands on shaky ground. For the discipline of "economics" itself is nothing more than a pseudo-science, a consequence of the economic alienation peculiar to capitalism. "Economics" is the result of that peculiarly capitalist trait whereby phenomena generated by society seem to confront that same society as if they were natural laws external to it. Thus linked to the illusion of a rationality beyond history, bourgeois socioeconomic philosophy is unable to deal with the real history of societies.

Beyond this critique Amin offers an alternative methodology to deal with the analysis of global capitalism in two books, Imperialism and Unequal Development and The Law of Value and Historical Materialism. …

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