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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Le colonialisme et le capitalisme sont inséparables »

by By Lucien Degoy

Samir Amin: Colonialism is Inseparable from Capitalism

Translated by Patrick Bolland

Translated Saturday 28 January 2006, by Patrick Bolland

The ongoing debate on colonialism. For Samir Amin, increasing globalization has led to a system of apartheid on a global scale, continuing the colonial system under a different name.

HUMA: Are you surprised by the degree of anger that the “Law on the positive role of colonialism” (2) has created in the younger generation?

SAMIR AMIN: This law is scandalous, even if it were only for the fact that a democratic state does not have any official history. The reaction you mention shows that the youth are more interested in the past than most people believe and that they have a critical perspective on it. Colonization was atrocious. Like slavery, it was an attack on fundamental rights. Yet, if you want to understand why these rights were trampled on and why they still are being trodden on in the world today, you have to get rid of the idea that colonialism was the result of some sort of conspiracy. What was at stake was the economic and social logic that must be called by its real name: capitalism.

HUMA: But it’s more the Republic that one hears being accused right now ...

SAMIR AMIN: Since the memory of colonization is confounded with the Third Republic in France [1870-1940], we tend today to automatically link the two phenomena. People forget that this Republic was, from the beginning to the end, capitalist. They also forget that colonialism started well before the Republic, whether you think of the Caribbean or Santo Domingo [Haiti], or of Great Britain which has never been republican and which for three and a half centuries had the largest empire. One forgets that capitalism predates the Republic and is not to be confused with a particular political regime.

HUMA: To what extent do we need to see capitalism and colonialism as linked to each other?

SAMIR AMIN: They are inseparable. Capitalism has been colonial, more precisely imperialist, during all the most notable periods of its development. The conquest of the Americas by the Spaniards and Portuguese in the 16th century, then by the French and the British, was the first modern form of imperialism and colonization: an extremely brutal form which resulted in the genocide of the Indians of North America, Indian societies in Latin America thrown into slavery and black slavery through the whole continent, north and south. Beyond this example, by following a logic of precise deployment through the different stages of its history, we can see that capitalism has constructed a consistent dichotomy of relations between a centre (the heart of the system of capitalist exploitation) and the periphery (made up of dominated countries and peoples).

HUMA: How has the system of colonial exploitation worked?

SAMIR AMIN: It has been based on unequal exchange, that is, the exchange of manufactured products, sold very expensively in the colonies by commercial monopolies supported by the State, for the purchase of products or primary products at very low prices, since they were based on labour that was almost without cost - provided by the peasants and workers located at the periphery. During all the stages of capitalism, the plunder of the resources of the peripheries, the oppression of colonized peoples, their direct or indirect exploitation by capital, remain the common characteristics of the phenomenon of colonialism.

HUMA: Beyond the injustices and inequalities which it created in French society, have we returned to the Age of Colonialism?

SAMIR AMIN: We can discuss these terms, but the reality remains - in other words the hyper-exploitation and plunder of the South. In this respect, how are we to describe the WTO if not as the multinationals’ club for looting the Third World, a sort-of global Super-Ministry of the Colonies? Is it really an organization responsible for facilitating world trade, as it pretends to be, or an organization for defending the monopolies of the imperialist capitalist nations by providing excessive protection for so-called industrial and intellectual property rights, through setting up a false symmetry - opening up markets for the plunder of resources in the South without giving the South access to markets in the North? I call this apartheid on a world scale, the extension of colonialism into today’s world.

Translator’s notes:

(1)Egyptian-born and trained in Paris, Samir Amin is one of the better known thinkers of his generation, both in development theory as well as in the relativistic-cultural critique of social sciences. He is currently Director of the Polycentric Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, an international pool of academics from Africa, Asia and South-America as well as President of the World Forum for Alternatives. Amin’s work has focused on the relationships between developed and undeveloped countries. One of the most important concepts of his work is the “theory of the disconnection”, in which he explains why the underdeveloped countries should disconnect themselves from the capitalistic world system, become self-reliant and abandon northern values, in order to allow for the creation of both democracy and socialism in the South. He has written extensively on economics, development and international affairs. His major works include “Capitalism in the Age of Globalization” (1996), “Delinking - Toward a Polycentric World” (1990), “Eurocentrism” (1990). He has just published “Pour un monde multipolaire” (Éditions Syllepse)

(2) On 25 January 2006, Jacques Chirac issued a press release agreeing to pass a decree to suppress the much disputed clauses in Article 4 of the Law passed by the his own deputies in the French Legislature on 23 February 2005, which referred to “the positive role of the French presence, particularly in North Africa”, and which, the Law stipulated, should be recognized in courses taught in the school system.

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