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Marx & Philosophy Review of Books on the work of Samir Amin

Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

The Law of Worldwide Value

Translated by Brian Pearce and Shane Mage, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2nd edition 2010. 144pp., $15.95 / £12.95 pb

ISBN 9781583672341

Eurocentrism: Modernity, Religion, and Democracy. A Critique of Eurocentrism and Culturalism

Translated by Russell Moore and James Membrez, Pambazuka Press, Oxford, and Monthly Review Press, New York, 2nd edition 2009. 290pp, $17.95 / £12.95 pb

ISBN 9781583672075

Maldevelopment: Anatomy of a Global Failure

Pambazuka Press, Oxford, 2nd edition 2011. 343 pp, £16.95 pb

ISBN 9781906387792

Global History: A View from the South

Pambazuka Press, Oxford, 2011. 191pp., £14.95 pb

ISBN 9781906387969

Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?

Translated by Victoria Bawtree , Pambazuka Press, Oxford, 2010. 208pp, £16.95 pb

ISBN 9781906387785

Reviewed by Bill Bowring

Bill Bowring studied philosophy at the University of Kent, became a human rights barrister, and now teaches international law and human rights at Birkbeck College, London. He is International Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. His The Degradation of the International Legal Order? The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics was published by Routledge in 2008


On 3 September 2011 Samir Amin celebrated his 80th birthday. Amin is a consistent and irrepressible exponent of the development of Marxism in his chosen discipline, International Political Economy. His long and fruitful career of intellectual struggle has been marked by a series of publications and re-publications, including the five books under review.

The Pambazuka Press (“pambazuka” is “the dawn” or “to arise” in Kiswahili) is part of Fahamu, Networks for Social Change, a centre of Pan-Africanist publication and activity, which frequently publishes Amin’s work. Pambazuka News is at Amin is also a regular contributor to Monthly Review, based in New York, and founded in 1949 in the teeth of Cold War anti-communism. These publications, all except The Law of Worldwide Value, have been published in a splendid uniform design, and constitute a five-gun revolutionary salute to Amin.

Samir Amin was born in 1931 in Cairo. His father was Egyptian and his mother French; both were medical doctors. He studied in Paris from 1947 to 1957, graduating in political science, statistics and economics. He was for a time a member of the PCF, but distanced himself from Soviet Marxism, moving for a time, like Badiou and others, towards Maoism. But his focus was anti-colonialism. His 1957 thesis was entitled “The structural effects of the international integration of precapitalist economies. A theoretical study of the mechanism which creates so-called underdeveloped economies.” From 1957 to 1960 he was a research officer for the Egyptian government’s Institution for Economic Management in Cairo, and from 1960 to 1963 an adviser to the Ministry of Planning in Bamako, Mali. From 1963 to 1980 he worked in Dakar, Senegal at the UN-created Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP). In 1980 he left the IDEP and became a director of the Third World Forum, also in Dakar, where he remains.

The first book under review, The Law of Worldwide Value, was first published in 1978 as The Law of Value and Historical Materialism, and Amin has revised and expanded the text in response to the financial crises which began in 2008. As he explains in the Introduction to the new edition (10), his central question, already explored in his thesis, was “that of the ‘underdevelopment’ of contemporary Asian and African societies”, a problem which has arisen in stark form since Marx’s time. His major contribution, in his view, is the passage from Marx’s law of value to his own “law of globalized value”, based on the hierarchical structuring of the prices of labour power on a global scale around the value of labour-power. The globalization of value constitutes the basis for “imperialist rent”. The enemy, for him, is “the later capitalism of the generalized, financialized, and globalized oligopolies.” His optimism is based on his judgment that “since the invention of capitalism stumbled for centuries before finding the particular form that assured its triumph” then the revolutions of the 20th century in Russia and China and what he terms the Southern awakening in the new nations of Africa and Asia should be seen as “a first wave of the affirmation of the objective necessity of socialism.” (127)

When Eurocentrism first appeared in 1988, it was warmly welcomed by Martin Bernal, author of the three volume work of which the first volume, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation, was published in 1987 to acclaim from Perry Anderson and many others, and to heated controversy. Both referred, Amin critically, to Edward Said’s Orientalism; and Amin has much in common with Immanuel Wallerstein, the first volume of whose The Modern World-System appeared in 1974, and Amin draws from world-system theory. Both Bernal and Amin have rather disappeared from view since then; it could be said that their critique is no longer in fashion. This new edition of Eurocentrism is therefore particularly welcome. In his Preface to the new edition, Amin summarises his work as “a systematic critique of the Eurocentric deformation in the dominant worldview” (9). He is an unrepentant supporter of modernity, which he takes to be “constructed on the principle that human beings, individually and collectively (i.e. societies) make their own history.” (7) He is therefore clear that modernity is now in crisis because of the crisis of globalized capitalism. “Bourgeois ideology, which originally had a universalist ambition, has renounced that ambition and substituted the post-modernist discourse of irreducible ‘cultural specificities’” (7). For Amin, modernity is a still incomplete process….

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