Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

The efforts of radical African nationalism: adjustment or delinking?6

Of all regions of the Third World Africa shows the greatest number of attempts at development other than that arising spontaneously out of the worldwide expansion of capitalism. In a score of the 50 or so African states, at some time or other, and to a more or less radical degree, the authorities have declared an intention to 'break' with the colonial and neo-colonial past and embark on a new, national and radical path, an independent socialist development, whether this socialism was specific and particular (Arab or African) or declaredly scientific, Marxist, or Marxist-Leninist. According to circumstances, this declared break with the past has been made in heat, in the aftermath of the victory of the movement seizing independence, sometimes after a long and bitter war (Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe), or in the euphoria of gaining independence (Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Tanzania), or as a sequel to significant social and political changes (the overthrow of the Egyptian and Libyan monarchies), or as a result of anti-neocolonial popular movements (Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Madagascar, Uganda, Rawlings' Ghana). In most, if not all cases, the army has played a significant role in the political switch in question.

But Africa also reveals among these experiences a high proportion of dubious or unimpressive results, scarcely distinguishable from those achieved by the classic neo-colonial development of others. Neither the aim of economic liberation from dependence on the world capitalist system, to complement political liberation, nor of building a new society remote from that of the capitalist Third World, seem to have made sufficient progress as to reach a point where the process cannot be reversed. Furthermore, a reversal of the trend and a sometimes vociferous return to 'development' as the Western powers want it to be has occurred in a number of countries, whether as a result of a coup d'état or of gradual drift. And, in today's crisis all, or virtually all, of them are severely threatened with being compelled to surrender to the dictates of the West.

A halt must be called to both sides of this equation.

World capitalist expansion has always been and continues to be divisive. From the outset it has caused and perpetuates a centre/periphery dichotomy inherent in currently existing capitalism. In this sense peripheral development has always been a story of perennial 'adjustment' to the demands and constraints of dominant capital. The centres are 'restructured', the peripheries are 'adjusted' to these new structures; never the reverse.

The violence of the effects of these successive adjustments, however, is not the same in every phase of the history of capitalism, since this worldwide expansion takes the form of a succession of long cycles (from 20 to 50 years) with alternating A phases of 'prosperity' end accelerated growth then B phases of structural crisis of the global system. During the A phases of prosperity 'adjustment' seems less difficult, or even palatable, for some countries: export demand rises at a high rate, capital is on offer and looking for a home, conflict is at a low ebb (the period is often a long one of relative peace) and so on. The adjustment amid general growth is certainly unequal. The periphery fulfils various roles in the global system and must be treated in the plural. There are 'rich' peripheries, of interest to the system at the stage in question, which supply products whose worldwide marketing is more on the increase than the products of others (as they are related to the key technological advances) and which in return provide markets of interest to capital and to the goods of the centre. The ease of their 'adjustment' encourages many illusions, such as those the World Bank and other ideological mainstays of capital have built up in regard to the NICs, although clearly the foreign debt their success engenders was not foreseen.

But there are also the 'left behind' of no interest to the characteristic structures of the system at the time. They have sometimes fulfilled a significant role at a past stage of the system's evolution, but have fallen out of favour. They become the 'fourth world', the 'less advanced', as if they were something new, when in reality they have always been a by-product of capitalist expansion. A sad but fine illustration of this former fourth world is the region of slavery in the America of the mercantilist period' north-east Brazil and the Caribbean (including Haiti). These regions were once regarded as 'prosperous', and they formed the heart of the periphery in the system of their day. Later the new structures of capitalist development marginalized the relative importance of these regions, and they are among the most appallingly wretched in the Third World of today. The history of capitalist expansion is not only that of the 'development' it has wrought, but also of the savage destruction on which it was constructed. There is within capitalism a destructive element that is too often omitted from the flattering image painted of the system.

In periods of harsh restructuring in the crisis (B phases are the moment of truth of the system's evolution) illusions fall away. The difficulties - whose menace has been denied - become the means by which dominant capital imposes its will. It is no longer a question of the fantasy of independence; the law of profit reminds the 'underdeveloped' of their fate: super-exploitation and submission. 'Recompradorization' is on the agenda, by every possible economic and financial means (nowadays the pressure exerted through the foreign debt and the food weapon), plus the political and military means (coups d'état, interventions such as that of the armour represented by Zionism in the Middle East).

Africa holds a specially vulnerable place in this long succession of misfortunes that capitalist expansion has meant for the peoples of the periphery. Whole regions of the continent ravaged by the slave trade for the benefit of mercantilist capitalism have yet to recover from this early destruction. Colonization has carried on this toll of destruction of the continent. We have two clear examples.

The first is settler colonialism in North Africa (principally Algeria) and in East and Southern Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe). The current difficulties facing Algerian agriculture - the loss of rural population accelerated by the war - have part of their origin in the distant past. In Zimbabwe the high land appropriated by the whites leaving the Africans confined to meagre and inadequate reserves and obliging them to furnish cheap manpower - owe their apparent 'prosperity' to this exploitable manpower and to the waste they represent of the country's natural resources. The country's liberation has cast some light on the supposed 'success' of settler farming. But colonization has also bequeathed a problem that has still to be solved.

The second example is the plunder of land resources and the super-exploitation in areas of the colonial trade economy. Here, as was shown above, colonization secured a surplus at nil cost: without investment in intensified production methods (access to water, implements and mechanization, and so on), or agricultural research (except for some export crops, to the detriment of food crops). The surplus was undoubtedly modest in absolute terms, but a heavy burden on the peasantry and the country's future, through damage to the soil on which the trade was founded. Here, too, the current difficulties of African agriculture, even the famine in the Sahel, have origins in the distant past.

In truth Africa, in the heyday of the triumph of colonialism, occupied no more than a marginal role in the world system. Its essential role was as a mining reserve. Later, as independence and neo-colonialism came along, the plunder of agricultural land and mining royalties was not challenged, far from it. So neither the agricultural revolution nor industrialization have begun on a scale to respond to the demands of our day.

The discouraging prospect afforded Africa by capitalist expansion explains the frequency of the rejections and the high level of effort to 'do something else', to escape the simplistic logic of capitalism. But at the same time the objective conditions caused by this historical legacy make the task particularly difficult. This difficulty could be expressed in the formulation that the especially unfavourable external factor is combined with fairly unfavourable internal factors that have been largely shaped by that very external factor.

The response to the challenge of our age that we propose is celled 'delinking'. The concept is to some extent half of an equation 'adjustment or delinking'.

We shall not expand here on the theory of delinking but, to avoid any misunderstanding, say merely that delinking is not synonymous with autarky but only subjection of external relations to the logic of internal development (whereas adjustment means binding internal development to the possibilities afforded by the world system). In more precise terms, delinking is the refusal to submit to the demands of the worldwide law of value, or the supposed 'rationality' of the system of world prices that embody the demands of reproduction of worldwide capital. It, therefore, presupposes the society's capacity to define for itself an alternative range of criteria of rationality of internal economic options, in short a 'law of value of national application'.

What social forces may be the historical subject of this option of a break? The evidently almost tautological reply is that the forces can only be such as are victims of peripheral capitalist development and not its beneficiaries. Capitalist development as it stands not only has a global polarizing effect (by creating the centre-periphery dichotomy) but also polarizing effects within the societies of the periphery (as it does not have within the central capitalist societies). In other words, income distribution is more unequal at the periphery than at the centre, being relatively stable at the centre over time, but tending to increasing inequality with the development of the periphery. The result is that the 'privileged classes' have a genuine interest in pursuing capitalist expansion as it stands, despite the subordinate position accorded them in the system and sometimes perhaps their national 'frustration'. They do have conflicts with dominant capital, and these classes will sometimes cross swords with imperialism to improve their status within the system. But only to this extent. They will judge that in the last resort there is no 'advantage' (or they would say 'possibility') in delinking. This is what they are saying day after day with their declaration of inevitable 'interdependence' ('we are all in the same boat', and so forth). The character of these privileged classes has also undergone historical evolution. Recently the dominant element of the local bloc allied to imperialism was often constituted by an oligarchy of great landowners (in Latin America, India, China, Egypt, for example) or by chiefdoms (in Africa). The national independence movement was obliged to stand against this bloc and replaced it with a new one dominated by new classes of a bourgeois character (local industrial and finance bourgeoisies, bourgeoisies of rich peasants, state bourgeoisies, and so on), and generally an industrialist force. This by no means insignificant shift of world social alliances has gone alongside a global restructuring of the system, since the worldwide social alliances, by their nature, define the appropriate structure for the stage of capitalist development attained.

The privileged classes in question form a minority in the societies of the periphery, a minority ranging from negligible (I or 2% of the population) to more substantial (10 to 25%). As for the popular classes victimized by capitalist expansion, they have varying status and by virtue of the character of the expansion tend not to be homogenized or reduced to a single model. These include the poor peasantries (in the plural), the working classes, the urbanized jobless peasants in the shanty-towns, the former (artisan) and new (lower ranks) petty bourgeoisies. With the further point that peripheral capitalist development, with its centrifugal tendency, is an obstacle to national crystallization and tends even to disrupt the old nations where they exist, it can be seen that there are numerous additional reasons for division in the camp of the popular forces: ethnicity and dialects, religions, and - particularly marked in Africa - artificial frontiers bequeathed by colonization and balkanization.

Delinking implies a 'popular' consent, that is anti-capitalist in the sense that it is in conflict with dominant capitalism but shot through by a multiplicity of divergent interests (aside from the anti-system convergence) of various fractions constituting the population in question. This is why we argue that the 'post-capitalist' period will be a very long historical phase marked by permanent conflict between three poles determining the society's internal trends, local capitalism (responding to the needs shown by the development of the forces of production), socialism (expressing the anti-capitalist aspirations of the mass of the people), and statism (produced by the autonomy of the authorities in the light of capitalist and socialist forces and expressing at the same time the aspirations of the new class in control of the state). The conflicting balance of these tendencies is itself clearly variable according to particular circumstances and the rhythm of evolution.

A social force is essential to cement the popular alliance, overcome its internal conflicts, formulate the alternative national and popular plan, lead the popular bloc in hoisting itself into power, build the new state and arbitrate the conflicts shown above as characteristic of the long national and popular transition. This is the task of the revolutionary intelligentsia, the 'organic intellectual', responding to the objective demand of our day. It is a category peculiar to the situation of the peripheries in the capitalist system, with no resemblance to the problematic of the 'petty bourgeoisie' (e confused class as always) or of the 'one party' born out of national liberation, or of the role of intellectuals as a channel of expression for various social classes.

Evidently in these historical circumstances, at least two fundamental issues are posed for the intelligentsia and people's power: democracy and the cultural content of the societal plan.

As far as the cultural aspect is concerned we should state here that the challenge is not answered by superficial Westernization of the compradorized strata following the consumerist model of the developed world (this transmission of the consumerist model is just the tip of the cultural iceberg), or its apparent opposite - but really identical twin - the culturalist nationalisms on which the so-called religious fundamentalisms feed. The dual impasse to which either of these options leads is an indication of the genuine complexity of the plan.

The only relevant consideration is what faces the option of national and popular delinking in contemporary Africa, for good or ill. The absolutely first requirement in material action is a development of the forces of production and a raising of living standards of the great mass through a dual agricultural and industrial revolution, for which colonization has done no groundwork.

Has it been realized that the European agricultural revolution occurred in a world where the concomitant population explosion was controlled through the escape-valve of massive emigration? Europe at the time populated all of the US and other parts of the world. Without this escape-valve the population to be supported by Western and central Europe would have been some three times larger (since the 400 million Europeans of today would have been supplemented by the 800 millions across the Atlantic who are of emigrant descent). The modern Third World with its population explosion does not have this option of expanding outwards. Furthermore, modern industry is incapable of absorbing the internal migration from countryside to the towns at the rate possible at the time of the European industrial revolution. It is essential, therefore, to find technological and social prescriptions for genuine progress that for a long while to come holds the majority of the population in the rural areas of origin, where this is still possible, or finds ways of useful employment for the urbanized poor masses.

Clearly the national liberation movement, rightly focusing in its early stages on the preliminary winning of simple political independence, was not fully aware of the extent and scale of the challenge. This cannot be held against it, but we must be aware that the glorious page of history it wrote is over. A re-examination of the past does not excuse the present. We must be patient. We must be aware that the first wave of national liberation is spent, and that the forces entrusted with the second wave - with its national and popular content have not yet been assembled around an adequate alternative plan. We are passing through a trough in the wave, shown by this disarray and intellectual and political surrender.

The various studies of African radical experience show both the extent of the problems to tee 'resolved' and the limitations of the conceptions held by the national-radical state.

The past 30 years have been punctuated with debates on these issues. It is worth highlighting here the debate on the so-called 'non-capitalist path', which had its moments of glory in the 1960s when Nasserism was at its height and Nkrumahist pan-Africanism had not been stifled in the gradual crystallization of new African states. It is also worth highlighting what, in the jargon of African progressive intellectuals, is called the 'Dar-es-Salaam debate', which in the ealy 1 970s tried to focus on the issue of building socialism in Africa. But this is not the place to assess these arguments that have never ceased.

Along with the efforts and attempts in the national context, Africa has been the stage for a significant series of regional co-operation plans, whether the 'common market 'kind (Economic Community of West Africa, of East African States, the Arab and Maghrebi common markets), or 'common concerns' kind (the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference in the face of South Africa), or financial support (Afro-Arab co-operation). We shall return to these issues in Chapter 6.


1. See Samir Amin's contributions to Amin, Samir. Faire. Alexandre, Hussein, Mahmoud and Massiah, Gustave, La crise de l'impérialisme, Paris, Minuit, 1975, and Amin S., Arrighi G., Frank A. G, and Wallerstein 1., Dynamics of Global Crisis. New York. Monthly Review Press, and London, Macmillan. 1982. Amin, Samir and Frank. Andre Gunder. N'attendons pas 1984. Paris. Maspero 1985.

2. Amin, Samir, 'Il y a trente ans. Bandung', Cairo. UNU, 1985.

3. Amin, Samir, 'Perestroika and Glasnost', 1988. (in Arabic).

4. Amin, Samir, 'Développement et transformations structurelles', Tiers Monde, No. 51, 1972: 'CNUCED III. Un bilan', Bulletin of Peace Proposals. No. 3. 1972, Oslo: 'UNCTAD IV and the New International Economic Order', Africa Development, CODESRIA, Dakar, No. 1, 1976; 'A propos du NOEI, et de l'avenir des relations économiques internationales'. Africa Development. No. 4, 1978; 'A propos du rapport de la commission Brandt', Africa Development, No. 3. 1980. See too references in Delinking, London, Zed Books, 1989.

5. OAU-ECA. The Lagos Action Plan. Addis Ababa, 1980; see too, the ECA's preparatory documents.

6. Mahjoub, Azzam, et al., Adjustment or Delinking: The African Experience, and Amin, Samir, Delinking.

Contents - Previous - Next