Amin was born in Cairo, the son of an Egyptian father and a French mother (both medical doctors). He spent his childhood and youth in Port Said; there he attended a French high school, leaving in 1947 with a Baccalauréat. From 1947 to 1957 he studied in Paris, gaining a diploma in political science (1952) before graduating in statistics (1956) and economics (1957). In his autobiography Itinéraire intellectuel (1990) he wrote that in order to spend a substantial amount of time in “militant action” he could devote only a minimum of time to preparing for his university exams.
After arriving in Paris, Amin joined the French Communist Party (PCF), but he later distanced himself from Soviet Marxism and associated himself for some time with Maoist circles. With other students he published a magazine entitled Étudiants Anticolonialistes. In 1957 he presented his thesis, supervised by François Perroux among others, originally titled The origins of underdevelopment – capitalist accumulation on a world scale but retitled The structural effects of the international integration of precapitalist economies. A theoretical study of the mechanism which creates so-called underdeveloped economies.
After finishing his thesis, Amin went back to Cairo, where he worked from 1957 to 1960 as a research officer for the government’s “Institution for Economic Management”. Subsequently, Amin left Cairo, to become an adviser to the Ministry of Planning in Bamako (Mali) from 1960 to 1963. In 1963 he was offered a fellowship at the Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP). Until 1970 he worked there as well as being a professor at the university of Poitiers, Dakar and Paris (of Paris VIII, Vincennes). In 1970 he became director of the IDEP, which he managed until 1980. In 1980 Amin left the IDEP and became a director of the Third World Forum in Dakar.
Views on world order
Samir Amin is a convinced adherent of multipolarity: “Yes, I do want to see the construction of a multipolar world, and that obviously means the defeat of Washington’s hegemonic project for military control of the planet.” In 2006, he designed the overthrow of what he described as the hegemonic world order:
Here I would make the first priority the construction of a Paris – Berlin – Moscow political and strategic alliance, extended if possible to Beijing and Delhi … to build military strength at a level required by the challenge of the United States… [E]ven the United State pales beside their traditional capacities in the military arena. The American challenge, and Washington’s criminal designs, make such a course necessary … The creation of a front against hegemonism is the number one priority today, as the creation of an anti-Nazi alliance was … yesterday … A rapprochement between the large portions of Eurasia (Europe, Russia, China and India) involving the rest of the Old World … is necessary and possible, and would put an end once and for all to Washington’s plans to extend the Monroe Doctrine to the entire planet. We must head in this direction … above all with determination.”
The determination, however, is lacking:
The ‘European project’ is not going in the direction that is needed to bring Washington to its senses. Indeed, it remains a basically ‘non-European’ project, scarcely more than the European part of the American project … Russia, China and India are the three strategic opponents of Washington’s project… But they appear to believe that they can maneuver and avoid directly clashing with the United State[s].
Hence, Europe must end its “Atlanticist option” and take the course of the “Eurasian rapprochement” with Russia, China, India and the rest of Asia and Africa. This “Eurasian rapprochement” is necessary for the head-on collision with the United States.
Views on political Islam
According to Samir Amin, Islam leads its struggle on the terrain of culture, wherein “culture” is intended as “belongingness to one religion”. Islamist militants are not actually interested in the discussion of dogmas which form religion, but on the contrary are concerned about the ritual assertion of membership in the community. Such a world view is therefore not only distressing, as it conceals an immense poverty of thought, but it also justifies Imperialism‘s strategy of substituting a “conflict of cultures” for a conflict between the liberal, imperialist centres and the backward, dominated peripheries.
This importance attributed to culture allows political Islam to obscure from every sphere of life the realistic social dichotomy between the working classes and the global capitalist system which oppresses and exploits them.
The militants of political Islam are only present in areas of conflict in order to furnish people with education and health care, through schools and health clinics. However, these are nothing more than works of charity and means of indoctrination, insofar as they are not means of support for the working class struggle against the system which is responsible for its misery.
Besides, beyond being reactionary on definite matters (see the status of women in Islam) and responsible for fanatical excesses against non-Muslim citizen (such as the Copts in Egypt), political Islam even defends the sacred character of property and legimitises inequality and all the prerequisites of capitalist reproduction.
One example is the Muslim Brotherhood‘s support in the Egyptian parliament for conservative and reactionary laws which empowers the rights of property owners, to the detriment of the small peasantry.
Political Islam has also always found consent in the bourgeoisie of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as the latter abandoned an anti-imperialist perspective and substituted it for an anti-western stance, which only creates an acceptable impasse of cultures and therefore doesn’t represent any obstacle to the developing imperialist control over the world system.
Hence, political Islam aligns itself in general with capitalism and imperialism, without providing the working classes with an effective and non-reactionary method of struggle against their exploitation.
It is important to note, however, that Amin is careful to distinguish his analysis of political Islam from islamophobia, thus remaining sensitive to the anti-Muslim attitudes that currently affect Western Society.
Samir Amin is one of the advocates of Marxian dependency theory.
Awards – The Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought for the year 2009 in Berlin.