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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Disparition de Samir Amin, les damnés de la terre en deuil

by Pierre Barbancey

At the Death of of Samir Amin, the Damned of the Earth are in Mourning

Translated Wednesday 15 August 2018, by Henry Crapo

As a figurehead of the alterglobalist, economist and Marxist movement, Samir Amin never ceased to fight colonial and capitalist domination. He died in Paris at age 87.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Photo: Patrick Nussbaum

Born in 1931, in Egypt, specialist in North-South relations, Samir Amin was one of the personalities who vitalised progressive thought.

We will no longer see his frail silhouette, his white silver hair, walking the aisles of the Fête de l’Humanité, engaging in informal conversation with activists or participating in debates organized at the Village du Monde. He was like a fish in water, in the midst of hundreds of thousands of progressives from the four corners of France and from further afield, representing struggles that dot the planet. Samir Amin believed in human emancipation, in the struggle for dignity and freedom, in the mobilization needed to clear away the obstacles that stand in the way of another world: obstacles such as colonialism, capitalism and their avatars. A figurehead of the alterglobalization movement and an economist, Samir Amin is no longer. He died on Sunday in Paris. He was 87 years old.

He ever left the flank exposed to outrageous simplicity, nor to demagogy

Born in Egypt in 1931 to an Egyptian father and to a French mother, Samir Amin grew up in Port-Saïd. He soon went to France to pursue his studies and obtained a degree in political science in 1952, then a doctorate in statistics (1956), and one in economics (1957), before becoming an agrégé in economics. However, in his autobiography, written in 1990, “Itinéraire intellectuel”, he wrote that in order to spend substantial time in "militant action" he could devote only a minimum of work to the preparation of his university exams! Moreover, as soon as he arrived in Paris, his reflections, on Egyptian society as well as on the world, and his will to commit himself, led him to join the ranks of the French Communist Party (PCF), with which he always kept a privileged link, despite a distancing founded in particular on a differing vision of the Soviet Union and a rapprochement with Maoist circles.

This is probably not the main thing, as Samir Amin’s ideas will have irrigated progressive thinking, particularly in the economic field. He never lent himself either to oversimplification or to demagogie, let alone to intellectual contempt. When he maintained - and he never stopped doing so all his life - that "Marx has never been so useful", it was not merely as a formula but in a desire to show that Marxism is a formidable toolbox for breaking down the world as it is, for understanding it, not as an end in itself but better to change it. As if, in a room, a window were opened to dissipate stale air, furniture is cleared, partitions broken and, finally, a new space is created, in which nothing will be the same as before.

It is with these tools that he elaborated and then published, in 1973, his theory of "Unequal Development", a central work whose subtitle is unequivocal: "Essay on the social formations of peripheral capitalism". It is always difficult in a press article, short in essence, to summarize this major idea which he deepened in 1976 with "Imperialism and Unequal Development". He denounces the world economic system built on the asymmetrical relations between the dominant "centre" (the so-called developed countries) and the dominated "periphery" (the Third World countries, as they are now called in order better to hide their reality as a developing country). "It is a question of elucidating the mechanisms of dependence, in the light of Marxist analysis of the mode of production, insisting on the idea that a system does not become outdated from its centre, but from its periphery," noted historian Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch. About the same work, the researcher Philippe Hugon wrote in 1974 in the Revue Tiers Monde: "It allows development problems to be posed in their global dimension, avoids assimilating underdevelopment and traditional views, and shows that underdeveloped countries are the product of a imperialist domination that transformed them and integrated them into the world capitalist system. "It should be noted that Samir Amin, winner of the Ibn-Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2009, bases his proof on an experiment "in the field" as they say.

President of the World Forum of Alternatives (WFA) and director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Samir Amin had been the adviser to the Malian government from 1960 to 1963. He had founded, in the Senegalese capital, the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning and had participated in the creation of Enda Tiers-Monde, one of the first African NGOs. A fierce opponent of colonialism, which "gave way to new forms of imperialism", he regularly spoke at the Semaine anticoloniale, held every year in France. Rigorous, aware of the stakes and of existing realities, Samir Amin liked to say: "We live the autumn of capitalism but not yet the spring of the peoples", thus situating himself in the "chiaroscuro" dear to Antonio Gramsci.i

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