20151012 Life and Thought – Samir Amin

20151012 Life and Thought – Samir Amin


Lau: Your life as a communist and
as a communist party member is what I find very special. Amin: Since the age of 17 officially,
until now, and I’ll continue, I have not always been
a party member for a variety of reasons. But always a Communist, always trying
to be a party member, even if I do not necessarily agree. Now, in Egypt I have recently published
the book – it came in Arabic first but it came in French also
but not in English – some documents which I feel are very crucial at
a crucial point in time: 1955 to 1957. That is, just before Bandung and after
Bandung. In the Egyptian case,
the Suez Canal nationalization and the war of October 1956, and then in 1957
the massive nationalizations and the beginning of so-called Socialism. I find that these documents are very
very important to be known now. They are unknown now, forgotten. The general public including
the politicized public do not know them, and even among the younger communists,
except those who are more than 80, they have not participated in that. With my analysis and comments today,
I published the documents because the reader as I said is not necessarily convinced,
should not necessarily be convinced of what I’m saying. They may say my analysis is just imagination. No, it’s not out of the blue. Here, if you want to know, you have the text. What do those documents show? They show that there was
an internal, confused debate. Very confused debate for two understandings
of what the revolution needed – in that case in Egypt,
but I would easily generalize it for the South. Is it a very conventional, rigid, pseudo Marxist – but even if it is historical Marxist – understanding? That is, a popular, democratic bourgeois
revolution preparing the eventual move towards Socialism? Or, is it national, popular
democratic, not bourgeois democratic, which are different? My personal understanding is that
the first line, the national bourgeois democracy, was supported by the Soviet, as
the task is today, because it is anti-imperialist, and that’s enough. The bourgeoisie, some bourgeoisie,
can be anti-imperialist. It is like
the support of the Soviet to Kuomintang, previously, and not to the Communists. The other was inspired by Mao’s
New Democracy, that it is democratic popular, which means excluding the
bourgeoisie from the alliance. Which means basically an alliance with
the peasants, the vast majority of them who are landless, poor and middle peasants. But also the urban, let’s call it petty bourgeoisie. Not only the nucleus of industrial working
class, But also the petty bourgeoisie and also
the urban poor, which we would say today the informal sector of survival forms of activities. How to invent a proper form of democracy and
institutionalize it – that is, have laws and rules, not just words and slogans, for the working of such a democracy? There were these two ways of understanding. But why were they confused? Because at that point in time
the method still used by the Communists was reading and re-producing,
either reading Pravda or reading Mao, as two sacred productions. If you didn’t find an argument already written,
either by Lenin or Stalin or Mao, then you’re out of Marxism. Which made the debate very confused. I think this debate is a continuous one
and will continue, because what we had is that Bandung showed two ways. One was the Chinese one, which was the
Maoist one at that time. Similarly the Vietnamese were very close to it, Very similar to it, and a little later
the Cubans, in spite of their strategic alliance and dependence on USSR, were of similar thought. The other was the bourgeois state, but a
State Capitalism, not Capitalism, the word as conceived by Nehru or Nasser, or later
Boumedienne, or Damas, all even boiled down a little into a number of African countries,
for Benin, Mali, Tanzania etc. Both achieved things. The bourgeois state,
or the bourgeois concept of development which was anti-globalization, that was
a sovereign, national project negotiating conditions of being
part of the global capitalist system, but not accepting the rules
being imposed by the others. They did achieve the beginning of industrialization with a predominant
place for the public sector but associated to local private sector,
reducing the status of the subcontracting comprador type. They achieved more
massively education and health which allowed children of the popular classes
to move up into the middle classes, which was giving legitimacy to those systems. Because the poor peasants in Egypt would say
‘nothing will change for me, but for my children, one will be doctor,
the other will be army officer, the third one will be.. I don’t know what’. And it was true. So, that upward move in the social structure
was giving legitimacy. So nobody cared about democracy. The one party and the pseudo-elections
were accepted because they were the tools to do those reforms. But, that came out of the scene very quickly. Once they had achieved that –
it took 10, 15, 20 years – now what? It was at that point that there was
the counter-offensive of Liberalism, that they, in order to remain in positions
of government, in service of State, accepted moving into Neoliberalism –
‘opening’. The word ‘opening’ in Fatah
in Arabic was used as of 1970 in Egypt as the new policy. ‘Opening’ in Fatah. That changed completely from a
pattern of ‘this kind’ to a pattern of ‘that kind’. It is important to see
The difference. You have the same
Gini coefficent in the two cases, but not at all the same social meaning. If everybody is benefiting even a little,
or if most are losing, it is different, even with the same Gini coefficient. So I would say this is acceptable inequality,
or unacceptable inequality. So that was the end. Now, accepting Neoliberalism means that
we are back to square one, to where there is no room for
a bourgeois capitalist understanding of the solution to our problems. We are back to the national popular alternative. But the national popular alternative is
neither formulated spontaneously by the victims nor even by those who pretend to be
the possible vanguard, among which were the Communists, but not only them. This is what I’m calling the chaos. Lau: In all this how about the kind of
position taken by the Communist Party of Egypt? Maybe you can also give us an
outline of the Communist Party? Amin: The Communist Party started to be
not so bad in the sense that on paper at least it was working with the people in order to
put a program, a detailed program, in order to respond to their real needs and demands. A possible one which means that it didn’t imply that we moved totally out of
the present globalization. It’s feasible in the sense that
another system of taxation can produce enough money to finance it,
feasible in the sense that it wouldn’t generate a deficit in
the balance of payments and therefore the need to go to debts, foreign debts
and so on. Something realistic, feasible. The work done in that range of things was
not bad, but it had to be translated into action. It had to be absorbed by the people in struggle
as their demands, not demands suggested to them by others. This is a matter of
organization and struggle. There, the repression, the continuous repression
and severity of the State, makes it difficult to have real access to the struggles. The struggles are there but
the communication between the struggles was made difficult. That is one. On democracy, on the other side, things were
similarly confused, because there are a lot of people who believe in elections,
particularly the middle classes. And if the middle classes are only a minority, 20% as in China, it is an important minority,
because it has a position in society which is far more than what their numbers represent. They are still of the illusion of multi-party and elections, plus of course the human rights,
plus in the case of Muslim countries like Egypt the rights of women, and so on. All things which are good. But elections and multi-party –
they understand it as able to bring the solution, and we are saying
that will not bring the solution. So that is very confused. Here the Communists have no big influence
or successful influence, because they have nothing concrete as an alternative. When we say democratic, popular democracy,
What does it mean? For the poor,
they understand it as the right of them to organize themselves to defend. That means for the peasants it’s a right,
but we say that has to be institutionalized. The law should forbid
taking over the property of the land for the poor and middle peasants. It has to be protected by the law,
not only by the organization. Yes, there is the organization
of the peasants to that effect, but also the law to protect them. And a good part of the middle classes say:
“why the law? Private property and market
Is not so bad.” They still believe that,
as the speeches we hear here from so-called communists, on
the virtues of the market and globalization. National independence confuses,
because many of the young, relatively more among the youth,
say we don’t want this word because it is demogogy used by the power system
in order to do nothing for us. And we say yes, the power system uses it
demagogically, but we want it real, and real means a real independence in
designing our foreign policies and alliances. And they say alliances with whom? And here is the responsibility for China. When you say with China,
‘but what is China doing for us? Nothing but trade.’ So this is why Russia is more popular. It is capitalist but it is moving in actively. I’ve said that the ordinary people said,
‘why does the Russian army not invade, liberate and re-establish the Soviet Union? What is “independence” of those countries? It’s nonsense.’ So the debates on the national issue are confused. I think, without knowing more,
it’s the same situation in Tunisia. During our conference there I was on TV. I discussed with people and they were
very confused on many issues. More than in Egypt, the middle class are
completely pro-market. “Market is not the problem,
the problem is dictatorship. And true election is the solution.” I believe that is also, because of the
stupidity of Bashar al-Assad, the opinion of many Syrians. Lau: Can we go back to the question
about you as Communist and as Communist Party member in Egypt? Maybe you can give us
an outline of the Communist Party of Egypt, for the benefit of the younger people who
do not know what’s been happening? I was very impressed when you said that
one can be a member of several parties, and not just the orthodox party. Amin: Yes, because when the conditions
were recreated de facto, and due to a certain extent by the advocacy, by
the widening of the understanding of the laws in Egypt with respect to
the creation of parties, there appear in the historical Communist tradition
five organizations. One called itself the Socialist Party,
the one where I was in with membership immediately. Another one – there was in
Mubarak’s time a United Party which was called Tagammu, ‘the bringing together’,
which brought together all the Communists except five or six Trotskyites,
all the Left Nasserists who said that we are ‘One, for Socialist, second, not anti-communist,
but we don’t think that Marx is the answer to all problems’, things of that kind – in one party. This party exploded after
the 25th of January because part of it said the main enemy and the exclusive enemy
was the Muslim Brotherhood, when the Muslim Brotherhood came into play. And therefore ‘we should accept and support
the military alternative’. They were a minority, but unfortunately
an important minority because they were the ones integrated into the system
in not bad positions – director of this, director of that, newspaper, etc. And the majority, the vast majority,
particularly out of Cairo in the provinces, who were true Communists who wanted
to struggle with the people for change. Not to say they have a clear vision of how. But they moved into creating a new party
called the Alliance of Democratic Socialists. The fourth one was nostalgic of the past. They remained with the name
Communist Party of Egypt and they said everything was good in the Soviet Union. Why it disappeared? ‘It was a treacherous personality, Gorbachev,
and a manipulation of the West.’ But how can that destroy a strong country
and party – it’s not their problem. Not unsympathetic in their daily behavior,
but still very, very nostalgic and dogmatic. And the fifth, the Troskyites, who before had no existence in Egypt, had appeared with the
curiosity following the British Troskyites, an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood
against the main enemy which was the military dictatorship. We, many of us in the four – not the
Troskyites, they want to remain independent and have a completely different line, but they represent nothing. A few intellectuals
including good intellectuals on other sides for their intellectual
production but nothing more – the four others said we should come together. The Socialist Party, the leadership of it
was one person, Ahmed Bahaa El-Din, and for reasons
which are absolutely unacceptable, he thinks that he is the better in Egypt,
and he should be the leader. We say No, we are going to try to have
an alliance, a deep alliance which is not just tactical, and therefore there will be a collective leadership of many people. Tahaluf understood that and said,
we are ready to accept people from the Socialist Party, from the Communist Party. 90% of the Socialist Party and 90% of
the Communist Party moved into the alliance with Tahaluf. We said we don’t care about the name,
we accept your name because it is ‘Alliance of Socialists’, and we are socialists,
so there is no problem of changing the name. And it is apparently becoming the party. That is, the others moved out, dis-organized. So there is a Politburo which is broad,
which includes people of all origins. And it is not operating exactly
along the so-called democratic centralism – the majority make the decision
and it would be implemented by everybody – but by attempt to consensus and common action. Lau: So the original four have dissolved or
are they still in existence? Amin: No, no, they have dissolved themselves. Lau: Dissolved to form this bigger alliance? Amin: Yes, so we are progressing. But we have a tradition in Egypt
which is a very bad one, which is the competition for leadership. Very personalized. Ahmed Shaaban, for instance,
who had got the five million votes. I was participant in a meeting with him. He has created his party,
but I put the question in the following way. I said: ‘You got 5 million votes,
that was a gigantic victory of the Left.’ He qualifies himself as Nasserist,
not anti-Communist, but Nasserist, socialist, but we have to invent our Socialism starting
(like the Chinese characteristics) With Egyptian characteristics. I don’t know exactly what it means. But he got the five million votes. Where are those five million votes? I told him ‘You should have
immediately established local committees everywhere with the local leaders,
spontaneous leaders who organized the campaign for you,
and create a party with that.’ He did not do that. He remained
in a very electoral organization, not moving from electoral organization to a party. But he’s not an enemy, and he discussed
with us. Even my critique which could look
very severe, he accepted it. But I am sure that he will do anything different. Lau: And he’s not part of this new alliance. Amin: No, because he wants to remain Nasserist,
and he thinks he can collect a lot of Nasserists. The Nasserists I saw whom he collected,
none is less than 80 years old. None of them. I went to visit one of them,
who was a minister in the time of Nasser, who had been imprisoned by Sadat as
belonging to the left, the Nasserist group. And he has forgotten nothing and
learned nothing. He is living in 1956. Lau: You told me the story of
how you left Egypt, so could you capture those moments of how you left Egypt
and then how you came back? Those two moments of your life. Amin: Well, I left Egypt
because I was going to be arrested and I knew that I had something like three hours. But I used them, I think, efficiently. One and a half hours later I was in Port Said. I had a gigantic advantage. It was the popularity
of my father who could do anything, and he took me. I told him I had to leave
and he understood immediately. He took me and said ‘We’d go to the harbour’. We could move inside the harbor
without being controlled by anybody. We went on a boat. There was a ship
which was leaving the harbor. ‘Let’s go to that ship’ and we went up. ‘What is it about?’ And my father said ‘My son is here. He will travel with you. How much you want?’ They said so much, and he gave double. And that’s all. And he could –
we entered the harbor by one door, we were two, and he came out by another door,
alone, and nobody controlled anything. And I thought, that would be
thanks to… You know my father,
he was never a Communist ever but he was a Maoist without knowing it,
because he organized eradication of – he was a doctor – eradication of malaria in
Port Said with Maoist ways. I mean with
mobilizing the people, no cost, and so on and it was totally successful. That gave him a terrific popularity,
So that after that, he could do anything. So I said if I go to the airport I have to go through the police and find an air flight
quickly, and it’s not for sure. Port Said was sure. Lau: Could you tell us the circumstances of
why you had to leave Egypt? Amin: It was very simple. 1957. After Bandung and after the war of
October 1956, Communists were accepted by the Nasserist regime, to the extent that
the organization which was created to control, organize and control
the new public sector was the Mwasasa. The leadership was given to a communist,
Ismail Abdullah, a friend of mine, five years elder or seven years elder,
not much more. We were personal friends. He asked me immediately to come
as his assistant, which I accepted. We were working, we had a small team. We didn’t want to build a big bureaucracy
but to start the thing. The thing was moving ahead, not bad,
given all the objective difficulties and problems. Simultaneously we were in the same party,
the Communist Party. Then came 1957, the preparation of the
unity of Egypt and Syria. This unity was achieved in 1957-58. It was done in a very bureaucratic way,
and undemocratic, by an alliance of Nasserists and Ba’athists, and a French,
And a segment of the Ba’athists in Syria. It was a kind of non-prepared unity,
and with terribly stupid slogans like ‘we are one nation’. We are not one nation. We are two nations, not only since the British
and the French were in the area, but since the Middle Ages. Close nations if you want, but it’s a fact. It’s not the religion. Majority religion is the same, it’s Islamic. The language is close. It’s close like the Chinese are. It’s the same writing. We can understand one another
with no problem. But that’s not very important. What is more important is that
the social fabric is totally different, because of the natural conditions. Egypt is a country which began 3,000 B.C.
and we have always had the same administration. Since 5,000 years we have the same administration:
the provinces, the boundaries of the provinces of the valley – not of the desert,
these are new ones – of the valley and the delta are the same as they were 5,000
years ago. The names of the capital city
are the same as 5000 years ago. It’s not to be proud of that,
but this is a fact. It’s a nation. It’s not a new thing, a fabrication. Now Syria, there is one thing
which is ‘Big Syria’, the real Syria. It’s Syria,
Iskenderun which is Turkish now, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. This is one country. And it is one nation. The capital has always been Damascus. They also, like we do, have the provinces. They have the history, the definitions,
I don’t know what.. Alawites and so on. So it’s not a united nation like Egypt. It’s a historical combination of very old,
small states and nations into one country. Now this has been divided by the British
and the French. The French divided it into two:
Syria and Lebanon. They tried to divide it into more but they
failed. The British divided it into two or three:
Palestine with part of it to the Jewish new immigration, and Jordan. But it was one country. We were very critical, the Egyptian Communist,
of that unity. We said it’s not the way. We are in favor of unity, as a historical need and a positive one to face in common, imperialism,
to have in common, radical reforms. But they are going to be different from
one country to another because the social fabric is different. And we cannot accept that in
the name of unity, people of Cairo, because we are in more number, will rule everybody. No, the people of Damascus have to rule
their own country, or part of the country. This is elementary. The Nasserists could not understand that. And Nasser particularly. On 14 July 1958 there was the revolution
in Iraq, and the king was removed by the New Republic. Now, Iraq is a third country. It’s different from Syria,
Because it was all Mesopotamia. It has also very old roots, I mean
Babylonia, Assyria. It was a very old one and
it has its own personality for that. It has its capital Baghdad, which is not
a capital fabricated by the British. It was there in the 12th century. It’s not something invented by imperialism. They may play over the differences,
there are objective differences. The Communist Party was stronger in Iraq
than it was in Egypt or in Syria. For curiosities, one of them being
that the Shia dominating half or a little more than half – it’s not important
to know whether they are 55% or not; that is a dispute between the so-called
leaders of Sunni and Shia: we are the majority, we are not the majority – equal,
say. And those Shia, because they have been
A minority in Islam, a minority who never got the power except in Iran, and not
Arab country, never got the power, they consider Sunni as Islam of power
and they are Islam of non-power. So there is
a tendency to be a little more revolutionary, a little less respectful of the power system. Therefore the Shia – it’s very interesting,
if you look at the names of Iraqi people during the past 50 or 100 years, in positions – Shia produces two types of people
in the modern time: communists and theologians, and Sunni produces bureaucrats, technocrats,
businessmen. Very, very different. It’s very interesting to see. The Communist Party was stronger
for that reason. Probably it had
a majority of membership among the Shia but they never said it, because they said
we are an Iraqi secular party. We are not a party of the Shia. We’re the party of the Iraqians,
proletariat and popular classes etc, which was to a certain extent right. Therefore the regime was more left
than the Egyptian one of Nasser, for that reason. The Communists
were immediately integrated in the ruling system, in the ruling government. And there was therefore a terrible debate
between Nasser and the Iraqi leadership. We Egyptian Communists took the position of
defending the Iraqis, saying that their model is better than our model
and we should have, not a unity but a strong confederation
of three countries, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, but maintaining some differences. Because we were thinking that we
would benefit from one of them being more advanced than the others. That made Nasser furious against us
and he decided to repress the Communists. Ismail Abdallah who was the director of
Mwasasa Iqtisadia (Economic Institution) where I was his deputy, was arrested. I knew that meant that I would be arrested
a little later, for sure. But I was with
Fawzy Mansour who was another old comrade –
who is in bad shape now, he is 92. I saw him in Cairo of course. I always see him –
and Fawzy who took over the leadership of the party after the big arrest of January 1959 told me ‘I don’t know how, we shall try to resist. We shall try. But if I am arrested it means that
the next day you will be arrested.’ When he was arrested – it was in December 1959 – I thought that it’s my turn and I escaped,
I think on the 6th of January next year. Lau: And then your return? Amin: And then I returned. I was on the list of people
who if returning should be arrested. That went on for a long time,
for something like 15 years or so. Then they decided, probably because of
my success elsewhere, that I should be washed out of the list of people to be arrested. So I decided to go back. Lau: And that was? Amin: And that was in exactly 1981,
after the assassination of Sadat. Before the assassination of Sadat,
he got mad against the Communists. He was always anti-communist. And he had put me back on the list of people
to be arrested, so I had to … but he was assassinated a few months later
or a few weeks later. Mubarak who took over
was compelled or had decided, I don’t know why, that the last decisions
of Sadat were stupid and should be brushed out. And it was in 1981. I immediately moved back. Lau: I thought it was later that you moved back but actually you moved back in 1981. Maybe you can finish the story of what happened
to the big nation of Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Amin: Now it is divided more than ever,
and the Muslim Brotherhood who have established themselves in the three countries,
and in Palestine in Gaza – they are ruling Gaza, very unfortunately –
have tried to brush out nationalists and replace them by Islam unity: ‘We’re neither
Egyptian nor Syrian nor Iraqi. We’re Muslims’, which is a very empty phrase
but which has an echo because of the short-sighted vision of the nationalists
of the Egyptians, Syrians and Iraqis. The Syrians and Iraqis have done like the Egyptians. Finally they have accepted neo-compradorization,
moving into global liberalism, thinking that global liberalism will accept
them because they accept the rules. So they lost the legitimacy that they had
by moving from pattern one to pattern two: pauperization. They lost the legitimacy, and they did not
expect the West would take advantage of that to attack them, to get rid of them,
to put directly the Muslims instead of them. They were stupid enough not to have imagined that. Saddam Hussein to the last minute
believed the American ambassador. When Saddam said ‘I will annex Kuwait’ –
Kuwait was an Iraqi province historically (I mean it’s like if China decided to invade Taiwan it’s not invading a foreign country) –
but he decided that he’d ask. The American ambassador said, as a trick,
‘we don’t see a problem with that’, which they used immediately against him. So that shows how narrow they were. How narrow Bashar al-assad was, not to have
negotiated from the start, not understood that if he didn’t negotiate with the real popular democratic movement, he would be attacked
by the Muslims and by the West simultaneously. So they are very narrow and this
is what has created this problem of nationalism not being accepted easily by
the people, who said ‘you see what are nationalists? They just want power, and once they are inside the Kuomintang, once you are in power, you can do
whatever you want.’ Lau: Maybe we can conclude this session by
looking at the new geo-politics of the U.S. They couldn’t control Middle East,
but then they disrupted it and created chaos. In a way it is objectively also advantageous
to them to have all the divisions. Of course now Russia is coming in a different way. Amin: Yeah you see and I have written
something on that point in my paper. There are people who say,
particularly in the U.S., that the U.S. have not the strength to manage
the whole planet exclusively by themselves, and that for the Middle East,
‘we cannot manage it but we can try to keep chaos continuing. Chaos is a drama for them, not for us. It’s a drama for the Europeans also,
but not for us.’ ‘The main enemy is China and therefore
we should move our attention to reinforce the countries around China. First, re-militarize Japan; second, reinforce our military presence in South Korea, and use the dispute with North Korea and so on in order to justify that; third, to reinforce our presence in the Philippines,
in Indonesia, perhaps even in the silly dispute between China and Vietnam, to take
the position of Vietnam in order to isolate China, and reinforce our military presence there. Because nobody knows, someday perhaps
we’ll need to have a war against China.’ My comment of that is, that is partly true. They are moving indeed towards East Asia
but they are not abandoning the Middle East. They try to maintain the chaos but:
one, they have failed with the main country Egypt. Egypt is not in chaos. Problems, but not chaos. Second, they are not winning in Syria. They are not yet being defeated but
they are not winning as they thought they would. My opinion is that they thought that
after the victory in Syria they would attack directly Iran,
and they fabricated this – they gave importance to this affair of
nuclear weapons, to that effect. But Iran was very clever. It negotiated instead of keeping …
because – I wrote that – they thought, ‘even if we produce two atomic bombs,
Israel has 200, but this will be a very good pretext for them to take to the Americans, and the Americans will help them destroy us. What are we going to do with the two? Let’s postpone that. We don’t need it. We can do it at any point in time
but we don’t need to do it. It will be known. It cannot be hidden. We can see it with the example of North Korea.’ So they were clever to do that. The calculation of the U.S. is,
‘that will bring back Iran to become if not really an ally, at least a neutral power, accepting our rule of the Arab Middle East,
and being neutral in that.’ But the Iranians do not seem to think
in that way. They think on the opposite. The fact that the US have been compelled
to accept the negotiation is a sign of weakness. ‘Then we are an active actor in the Arab region.’ Now the Western propaganda say it’s the Shia
who is trying to expand because half of Iraq is Shia
and two-thirds of Yemen is Shia. But it’s not that. That is a tool. It facilitates things. But Syria is not Shia. Its majority is Sunni, but the power is Shia. Alawites are closer – they are not Shia. They are something curious, a mixture of
Christianity and Islam, so we are a partner’. I think they play a role in convincing Putin
that ‘you have a role’, and one of the Chinese proposals is
a good one if it is taken seriously – the Silk Road. The Silk Road is a name,
which means building alliances between China and former Soviet Central Asia,
which neutralizes the Uighur potential, and China, Russia, Iran, through Syria,
going to the Mediterranean Ocean. But until now this is followed by
no concrete things. It’s a word, the Silk Road. I think it has to be translated
so it’s not a road for trade. It’s a road for political alliance, and political support. The media, the Chinese media, should say more
about what is happening in the region than being ignorant or looking ignorant,
or not wishing to be, not willing to be, seen by the Americans as bad people. So may be between China and
Russia now there is more than that because there are also common interests, oil. And with Kazakhstan, oil, gas,
which China is in need, and eventually, Siberia. Common interests. But that seems to be all. It needs to be more than that. It needs to go further into
‘what is the policy of China for the Middle East?’ Now China, as Russia have learned
from the experience of Libya – they have voted in the Security Council
accepting the NATO and have been, and as should have been expected, betrayed. That was not to protect the people,
that was to destroy a country. And they have not repeated it
with respect to Syria there. But we need more than just that. As I said the moving in of Russia in the region
is looked at by the Arab people as positive, including the government of Iraq. So why China is silent on those issues? Lau: May be China thought it would avoid anything
that would look antagonistic. And in relation to Nepal… Amin: It’s the blah-blah on the long co-existence. It’s a long war. So I can understand that
the Chinese want to be very cautious, precisely because China is really
potentially menaced by the military: Japanese, U.S. military force in East Asia. But I don’t think it’s by just smiling that
you reduce it. I vote in favor of a strong Chinese military force. You need it. You need it. But even that is not enough. You have to find, to reinforce alliances. And you cannot get… China as I said has very important cards
in its hands. It can help countries
of the South which start moving, because it can provide what the West
will never provide: a support to industrialization, technologies, not only trade. If you offer that you will be very popular. Presently China is not popular. China is the country which is associated with – it does exactly like the West – land-grabbing,
selling cheap products, destroying our industries, what remains of it because the West
has destroyed it but still … That’s all. You know China was very popular in Africa
with the barefoot doctors. Two or three things had made
China immensely popular, to the extent that most of the African countries became Maoist:
the doctors, the railway to Zambia, Dar es Salaam to Lusaka, which liberated
all this region from dependence on South Africa, at the time still Apartheid. And which made much easier the struggle
In Angola and Mozambique. So it was an immense popularity. You have lost it completely,
not on the ground that the people don’t care whether the Chinese new way is good or bad
for the Chinese people. They know that. But what China is doing with us? Nothing. I’d like to give one example
of what China could do. Two years ago,
in Zambia, there were elections. The previous regime was one of the most
corrupt regimes. It called the elections
and came a new president and vice president and assembly which are a little better,
which are at least – they have no big ideas but they are at least honest. The vice president invited me to Lusaka
and I went and he asked ‘What can we do with the Chinese?’ I told him the following:
‘Look, the Chinese know what they want. They need and they want copper. But that is a very good opportunity. First you can discuss with them how
they can get copper guaranteed to them, by producing, eventually investing,
with the State of Zambia. Personally I would prefer a State
Chinese enterprise, but even if it is a private Chinese enterprise with the
State of Zambia, and with the agreement with the State of China, with China,
to invest and guarantee that the production will be sold to China. You can negotiate
how you will determine the price, accept the world price, fix it in advance
and put all the rules. Ok. But also you can,
in counterpart, ask China to help you reconstruct the railway which
has been destroyed by the Israelis, reconstruct some local Zambian industries,
providing the technologies. An agreement which is not a donation
from China of money. It’s helping, including financially eventually,
But with conditions all negotiated. So the ball is in your hands. They have come. They want to come, and they want copper. And you know it. You can negotiate. But..’ and I said it bluntly to him, to the vice president, ‘if you say to the Chinese, take the copper and give me 1 million dollar in my pocket, the temptation for the Chinese to accept it is great. So it is up to you to ask for more. Not to ask that, but to ask for things
for the Zambian people, not for your pocket money. It is regrettable that the Chinese
would accept an agreement to corrupt you, but I’m afraid that it could happen.’ Lau: Yesterday, the way they summarize the
session with you was that ‘yes, yes, we’re for Professor Samir Amin’s idea of de-linking,
and that is also why we should go for more ‘open-up’ and reform. Amin: It’s a contradiction. Lau: It’s such a paradox. Then it was also interesting the way
they would try to re-interpret your idea of de-linking. So could you tell us clearly and explicitly
what your idea about de-linking is? Amin: Well, I shall repeat what I said. De-linking is a strategy. It’s not a magic formula. It is a strategy of submitting external relations,
and particularly economic external relations, to the needs and the logic of the top priority
of developing internally. That is, compelling to the extent possible
the global system to adjust to your needs, and not the opposite. I said de-linking is just,
as a strategic concept, the opposite of the strategic concept of the World Bank of
the West – of unilateral, structural adjustment. Structural adjustment is that you should
– the countries of the peripheries – should adjust in order to make possible,
to facilitate the continuation of the process of accumulation,
to the benefit of the monopolies of the centers. That is their concept, and they wrap it up in the blah-blah on the beautiful market
which is a solution to every problem, without qualifying the market –
it’s a market dominated, it’s a capitalist market. It’s not even enough to say capitalist market. It’s today a capitalist market
dominated by the monopolies of the Triad. The Right wrap it up also with the globalization
– it’s beautiful; we travel freely; we learn from one another, etc., –
which are empty phrases in order to give legitimacy to this unilateral. As I said in the caricature way,
it is to ask Congo to adjust to the needs of the U.S.,
never the U.S. to adjust to the needs of Congo. Now de-linking is trying to do the opposite
and of course one is never successful 100%. That is, the margin of compelling imperialists
to adjust to you might be, and is: China benefits from a wider margin of capacity
much more than Gambia, say, but through the South South solidarity,
and I’m stressing ‘solidarity’, not ‘cooperation and trade’, but ‘solidarity’,
then there can be de-linking. After all, I had said, Bandung was de-linking,
in the conditions of the time and with the limits of the time, it was delinking. In that area, a few years later,
another word was invented for it, which was ‘self-reliance’. Ok. It’s not very important how you qualify it. China is presently doing something which combines two conflicting policies, one is Opening. And what is requested
by the Right is more opening, more market, more freedom of market on the one hand,
but there is also in parallel to that a policy of China for construction of a complete
– because of the size of China it can be complete – modern industrial economy moving from the coast to the interior and
with all the infrastructure that it needs, and so on. Hopefully that industrial building can be in the service of mass consumption, of moving up the consumption of the majority,
not exclusively of the middle classes, 20% of the population of China. But this also, in the case of China,
has to be more than it is – organized, combined with the
revival of the peasant agriculture, and modernization, without moving to marketing,
to moving land into a market commodity. Lau: And how would this de-linking as a strategy be transition towards Socialism or Communism? Amin: I think it prepares better conditions
for eventual, gradual socialization of the management of the economy
and the society. That is,
I can accept as a long transition something which I call State Socialism,
not State Capitalism. State Socialism, with a view that through giving, allowing the people to take gradually
more real power in the management, we can move gradually from
an economy based on exchange values to an economy based on use values,
which is communism. Lau: Could you tell us some of
the happiest moments of your life so we can end on a happy note? Amin: Well, I have some very happy moments
in my life. Taking in order of the age,
one was my childhood. I was very fortunate,
not in a material way, but more by way of father, mother, but more even my
grandfather and my grandmother, who played a crucial role in my political awareness. Second was when I met Isabelle. It was very quick and we very quickly came
to understand that we would continue for life, which is the case. It was a very pleasant moment. I had politically very pleasant moments. I think I shall always remember
the deep pleasure, more than pleasure, with the victory of the Chinese Liberation Army in 1949 when they moved into Beijing and
later when they moved south. I was terribly happy. I was happy to the extent that I was naive enough to think that ‘this is the end of capitalism. It will continue to India, to the Middle East,
to Africa. We’d do the same and
with the same victory.’ It was naive but it was still a great moment. But I had also very sad moments in my life. The saddest is the loss of my daughter. That is the most difficult moment of my life. Also I was very unhappy
when the Soviet Union broke down. I was afraid of that for a long time. I was afraid of that
but I kept the hope for a long time that they could find a solution, center left. Perhaps a solution as the Chinese,
as it’s less bad than a full breakdown. And the breaking down of the Soviet Union and those silly independent countries,
to me is a historical defeat. But we being communists, historical communists,
historical Marxists, we have a responsibility, a major responsibility. I hope
in the future we’ll have some good news. For the present, for the Middle East,
it’s rather bad news. I mean the wave of
Islamic fundamentalism and incredible stupidity and criminality of those regimes – we have not yet finished with that. It will take a long time. It will take more time than just
defeating them militarily, which I think will come. But more than that. More time. One of the reasons is that – one of the things
which makes me really very sad – is the degradation of education. In Egypt, education has become associated
to two silly things, one is religion and the other is business. Full stop. I would say that in order to build, to help building, a critical citizen, a citizen who is able
to use his brain and with a critical thought, you have to
stress in education what is considered by the World Bank as useless:
that is, philosophy, history, social reality. These things which are considered useless
for the market are necessary for creating a real human being and this has been
totally destroyed in the case of Egypt, and I think in the case of many countries. Lau: When you mentioned one of your happy
moments it was the Chinese revolution, and you were eighteen at the time. Amin: Yes, yes, but that does not stop me
from being happy. And it’s perhaps why I was so naive that
I thought in the coming year it will be the whole of Asia and Africa. Lau: In fact, it’s the energy of the revolution
and the optimism that it brought. It of course changed a lot. Amin: Yes, the Vietnamese Revolution and War,
and the double victory – the victory over the French in 1954 made me terribly happy. And the victory over the Americans in April 1975 made me very, very happy,
that the Western armies including the US Army can be defeated by a small people. I mean a people at the time
was 50 or 70 million, not more. Lau: But then you have remained an internationalist. Amin: Well, my family conditions helped me
to be an internationalist because we use at home both languages, French and Arabic, with none of the two sides showing any chauvinism. No chauvinism at all. The two civilizations are absolutely equal,
comparable, and we can exchange particularly good food. Why not? And we have to exchange with China good food,
And why not? That is my understanding of globalization,
not trade. Lau: Thank you so much. Amin: Thank you.