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The historical subject of the popular national option; the role of the intelligentsia

This is the exact point where the particular role of the intelligentsia in the national and popular transformation comes. We should say at once that this analysis is particular to the historical movement engendered by a bid to escape from the impasse of peripheral capitalism. This concept of intelligentsia is peculiar and specific to peripheral capitalist societies.

The intelligentsia is not synonymous with petit bourgeoisie in general or 'cultivated circles' (or 'intellectuals' and a fortiori 'graduates'). The petit bourgeois is a motley collection of social strata engendered in any capitalist development - central or peripheral. As a class - overall - it plays no decisive political role; the thesis that this class remains divided and vacillating between right and left seems to be fundamentally correct. In the capitalist centres it sometimes joins the capitalist camp and the right, and sometimes supports the working class in its reformist strategy, according to circumstances. But this vacillation, entirely within a structure where right and left accept the system's rules of play (that is, the fundamental criteria of capitalist management of the economy and electoral democracy), has no greater historical impact than the right-left cleavage typifying the life of the central capitalist societies. In the peripheries the petit bourgeoisie also vacillates between the camp of the local bourgeoisie (which can envisage power only within the bounds permitted by 'adjustment' to the demands of the worldwide capitalist system) and that of the popular classes (constantly required to revolt against the fate wished upon them by peripheralization). There, however, the right-left cleavage does have a decisive historical impact: it is this cleavage that lies at the heart of the really important changes in the modern world: the so-called socialist revolutions and national liberation in Third World countries.

The particular strata formed by intellectuals or graduates, bureaucrats and technocrats are little more than sub-groups of the petit bourgeoisie, along with others (petty producers, middle cadres, and so on). In this sense there is nothing special to say about these strata as such, other than the general rule of the vacillating character of the petit bourgeoisie and its non-decisive role in history.

In the centres, where the integrationist function of capitalist development has established a social consensus, as we have shown (rules of play accepted by right and left), the middle classes and the intellectuals are within the entity that is fully integrated in the global system. It is the classic trahison des clercs.

Gramsci, in arguing his well-known concept of the 'organic intellectual', supposed that every significant class in history - whether dominant (the bourgeoisie in capitalism), or aspiring to become so (the working class) collectively produced its own ideology and culture, organizational forms and practices. The organic intellectual is the catalyst of this production to which he gives sufficient expression for the ideology of the class he represents to establish itself as the dominant ideology in society. Gramsci also supposed that the working class of the capitalist centres was revolutionary, and on this basis considered the conditions for the emergence of the organic intellectual of the social revolution (the avant garde party). If one believes that Gramsci's hypothesis was mistaken and that the working class of the capitalist centres also accepts the fundamental rules of play in the system, then one must infer that the working classes there are not, under the present state of things, able to produce their own socialist 'organic intellectual'. What they do produce is cadres who organize their struggles, but they are cadres which have relinquished the thought of an alternative plan for a classless society. There are within the societies some individuals who still dream of this. But as has already been said, 'Western Marxism' is a Marxism of cults and universities without social influence. There are also within these societies demands of a socialist character conveyed in various ways. But it is typical that these demands are not articulated within an overall plan (hence the Greens and the feminists, for example, formally refuse to go beyond their own specific issue), and do not produce the organic intellectual Gramsci expected.

The situation at the periphery is quite different: the popular classes have nothing to gain from the capitalist development as it appears to them. They are therefore potentially anti-capitalist. But their situation is not the same as that of the proletariat in the classical Marxist conception. It is that of a motley collection of victims of capitalism affected in highly diverse ways. On their own these classes are not in a position to draw up a plan for a classless society. They have constantly shown themselves capable of Rejection' and even revolt, and more generally of active and passive resistance. In these circumstances there is historical scope for the constitution of a social force capable of fulfilling this objectively necessary and possible role: of catalyst to formulate an alternative social plan to capitalism, to organize the popular classes and lead their action against capitalism. This force is the intelligentsia.

The intelligentsia - or the revolutionary intelligentsia if we are to qualify it is not as a class the petit bourgeoisie as a whole of these societies. The intelligentsia does largely recruit within this class - for fairly obvious reasons-but not exclusively so: personalities from the aristocracy and the people are often equally numerous. The intelligentsia is not defined by the class origin of its members. It is defined by: (i) its anti-capitalism; (ii) its openness to the universal dimension of the culture of our age, and thereby to locate itself in this world, to analyse its contradictions, understand its weakest links: and (iii) its ability to remain in lively and close contact with the popular classes, to share their history and cultural expression.

It remains to add the conditions conducive to the crystallization of such an intelligentsia, and the obstacles thereto. In my view, this question, to which too little thought has been given, is fundamental to the progressive movement of our day, the real question that history has placed on the agenda objectively. I shall not attempt a hasty answer. I shall merely say what seems to me evident at the level of the cultural conditions for this crystallization. No effective answer can come from a refusal to accept and grasp the universal dimension of culture that current worldwide expansion initiated by capitalism has already imposed (despite the contradictory character of this expansion of which the peoples of the periphery are victims), and from a withdrawal into a negative culturalist nationalism (purely and simply an often neurotic 'anti-Westernism'). Contrarily. Westernized alienation divorced from the popular reality will also lead to impasse.

I believe that Marxism is the only intellectual means that can possibly provide the necessary happy mean. There is of course a 'western Marxism' that might more appropriately be described as Western-centred. This alienated Marxism is by its nature powerless, since it refuses to locate itself where action is possible. That is why in my book, Delinking, I wrote that Marxism had acquired an Asian and African vocation that might perhaps be its principal vocation. I know that by saying this I shall draw the fire of Western Marxists who will see it as no more than a commonplace 'rationalist deviation'.

I shall put forward the notion that, in the spirit of this analytical proposition, the Bolshevik Party and the Chinese Communist Party were perfect expressions of the crystallization of a revolutionary intelligentsia capable of organizing the popular classes and becoming their avant garde. Each of these histories has special characteristics and a particular context. Perhaps the Russian case has a particular advantage, as in a Russia as part of Europe, Marxism did not seem so much of an imported foreign body. Perhaps in China the civil (that is, non-religious) character of the traditional dominant ideology Confucianism - was less of an obstacle in the sense that it did not offer any fierce resistance to cultural 'importation' - of Marxism in this instance (elsewhere, in Japan, a similar culture did not show any hostility to the importation of capitalism). In contrast perhaps, the totalitarian interpretation of religions (Hinduism and [slam) may have been a serious obstacle to the necessary effective universalist opening, to date at least.

National and popular transformation conducted successfully under these circumstances is at the origin of the problem of statism in post-capitalist societies. It is an essentially new problem. By that I mean that it cannot be reduced to a 'specific and transitory' form of capitalist construction. I mean, too, that it is not an expression of an inevitable linear development imposed by the increasing centralization of capital, itself in turn produced by the movement of capital. The first reduction, the implicit hypothesis of a theory whereby the revolutions in question are only capitalist revolutions, simply ignores that these revolutions are against the movement of capital, whose effect is to increase its worldwide expansion. The second reduction is also contrary to reality: if the centralization of capital imposes the possible emergence of statism (in the future, provided that nothing changes at the most essential level of class struggle) in response to the contradictions engendered by this centralization, the tendency should be manifest in the developed West and not at the periphery.

The national and popular new state is necessary for many reasons. First because, within the world system of states, the national and popular society established as a breach with worldwide capitalist expansion (the essence of de-linking) will confront the capitalist states whose aggressiveness has never been lacking. Then, because the national and popular society is not a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' (which is at best a tiny minority). It is an alliance of classes with partially convergent, and partially divergent, interests (there is, for example, a divergence of real short - and medium-term interests between peasants and the urban population). The state is the sole means of mediating these relations. Finally, because the relation between the intelligentsia (the avant garde 'Party') and the popular classes is not one-dimensional (the avant garde 'represents' the people) but complex and riddled with alliances and conflicts.

These conditions are the source of the fetishism of power so apparent in the post-revolutionary societies. A fetishism that harbours serious illusions, including that it is possible to 'control' the capitalist, and the socialist tendencies affecting society. History shows that power can 'control' the capitalist tendencies only by suppressing them at the cost of the economic difficulties of which we are well aware. As for 'control' of workers, through a combination of state paternalism (real material achievements to the benefit of workers), manipulation (the instrumentalization of official Marxism and repression) history shows, too, that it weakens economic development and has severe limitations. We are brought back here to the fundamental issue of democracy.

Whatever the case, in this analytical schema, statism seems to constitute a third autonomous component. It is not a mere cover for capitalism under construction. No more is it, as the ideological discourse of the authorities pleads, a form whose content will, by definition and without question, be socialist.

I shall not say it is the same for the initial responses to the challenge of capitalism as shown in the Third World, where there has been radicalization of the national liberation movement.

There are, however, similarities between the two kinds of modern experience. Both are responses to the challenge of capitalist expansion and the refusal to accept the peripheralization it entails. The radical national liberation movement is also the expression of a broad social alliance including the popular classes. If, in some cases, bourgeois leadership is in evidence, it is less so in others. The bourgeoisie is often found in the camp of ready compromise with imperialism. It seems to me that, in the radical national liberation movements we find the intelligentsia fulfilling the role as catalyst of the popular forces, whose role - underestimated in formal analysis - has been more decisive than that of the petit bourgeoisie generally (and wrongly) regarded as the main actor.

It would, in my view, be more interesting to take a closer look at this radical nationalist intelligentsia and its ideological and cultural perception of the challenge of modern times. As always, it would be necessary to avoid hasty generalizations and to examine concrete instances case by case. In Egypt's case I suggest that the entire modern history of this ancient country is largely determined by its intelligentsia. This intelligentsia, is, however, divided into three strands without their managing to converge or one of them taking a decisive lead. The 'modernist' strand has remained largely culturally alienated from the popular masses, whether we are speaking of the 'westernized' liberal bourgeois branch in decline, or the radical branch that was receptive to communism in the 1920s, long before the other countries of the Orient. The Islamist strand, present from the Nahda to the Muslim Brothers and fundamentalism, has always thrown up intellectuals who found a ready response in the people, but has never formed a social force able to lead the people and has, therefore, always found itself in the end manipulated by more powerful forces (local and regional reaction and behind this imperialism). It serves above all as a barrier to the spread of the ideas of the radical left.

In these circumstances, it is a third strand of 'modernism', represented in recent history by the Free Officers groups, that has seized the historic opportunity. I regard the Free Officers organization, along with communist organizations, essentially as kernels of the intelligentsia that have been unable, in the circumstances, to organize the masses and unite the anti-capitalist forces behind them. This branch of the intelligentsia - which gave rise to Nasserism is not an overall expression of the petit bourgeois ideology, despite some superficial signs of this. It has proved itself modernist, thoroughly anti-imperialist and nationalist, ready to discard the rich classes and appeal to the people, but nonetheless 'pragmatic', as Nasser himself acknowledged. This characterization, in our view, masks the society's overall cultural bankruptcy, and the failure to provoke a creative synthesis of the universalist dimension of modern culture and the particular style of the people's historical heritage.

The movement going 'beyond capitalism' end initiated by the radicalization of national liberation, constantly finds itself trapped by its ambivalent character and uncertain 'plane' or by objective obstacles within society. The two are mutually reinforcing and in the end, in combination with constant imperialist aggression, they abort the hope of a national and popular revolution. Here, therefore, statism is not the product of the national and popular revolution, but indicates the backsliding that confrontation with imperialism imposes. It has operated on a society where the component of internal capitalist forces has remained preponderant in the face of a component of still merely embryonic socialist aspirations. The model of Nasserist construction has remained a model of 'bureaucratic capitalist' adaptations to the crisis of peripheral capitalism, to use a terminology corresponding to the typology offered by Fawzy Mansour, one I find highly persuasive. Along with Fawzy. I note that the model is unstable, constantly threatened by 'recompradorization', as has already occurred in the Egyptian case.5

Without going into too precipitate a generalization. I should say that all attempts to go 'beyond capitalism' from the starting point of radicalization of national liberation have encountered the same limitations and have therefore displayed the same frailty. But this story may be only just beginning, and it is perhaps because we are in a hurry that we lose sight of the future potential lurking in the radicalization of the refusal to accept compradorization.


1. See Samir Amin's preface to Anyang' Nyong'o, Peter (ed.), Popular Struggles for Democracy in Africa, London, Zed Books. 1987, and cf, notes I and 3 to Chapter 5 above.

2. See Szentes, Tamas, Theories of World Capitalist Economy, Budapest. 1985, and cf. Amin, Samir, 'Etat et développement', Socialism in the World, No. 58, 1987.

3. On worldwide value, see Amin, Samir, The Law of Value and Historical Materialism, New York. Monthly Review Press, 1978: and cf. Amin, Samir Delinking, London, Zed Books, 1989.

4. See Amin, Samir. 'Democracy and National strategy in the Periphery'; 'Etat et développement'; contribution to Dynamics of Global Crisis; 'Les perspectives du socialisme', Socialism in the World, No. 54, 1986.

5. See articles by Fawzy Mansour and Samir Amin (in Arabic) in the Egyptian journal Qadaya Fikriyya, 1987.

7. Inter-African and south-south co-operation

Pan-Africanism in the light of the colonial inheritance1
The problematic of the Arab nation2
Afro-arab co-operation3
Prospects for south-south co-operation4

There is a fair amount of truth in the argument that the Balkanization of Africa and the Arab region is an additional obstacle to any form of development, a fortiori development to match the challenges of our time, and leaving integration in worldwide development without any alternative and hence making de-linking impossible. Although such an argument is often put forward as an excuse, co-operation - or integration with the outlook of constructing vast autonomous areas, if not great unitary states - is no substitute for the preliminary internal changes required, even of small and medium size countries, to begin autocentric national and popular development.

Africa - even in its existing states - is not unaware of the fact that for small states the impasse is real. In the continent as a whole there is no shortage of institutions, attempts and plans for co-operation. Alongside the national efforts to escape from the rut, shown earlier, efforts at mutual support and co-operation have been undertaken even before the 'South-South' theme took over from the failure of the NIEO. Moreover, these attempts at co-operation are based on solid historical and ideological foundations: pan-Africanism and pan-Arabism. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Arab League have taken the initiative in creating numerous institutions, established subregional confederation schemes (based, it is true, on 'common market' principles, such as ECOWAS in West Africa), organized common fronts for the struggle against their adversaries (such as the SADCC in the face of South Africa), systematized Afro-Arab co-operation (which by volume is the largest South-South co-operation plan).

The results, so far, have been meagre and below the minimum required to launch en 'alternative development'. The reasons must be analised: micro-nationalisms and an inappropriate ideology of nation? Colonial inheritance? Drift in the system of international relations?

Pan-Africanism in the light of the colonial inheritance1

Despite appearances colonialism did not unify the countries and regions it conquered. It fragmented them.

The colonial development, to which the whole of the African continent was subjected, did not create economically integrated areas anywhere in Africa. But within the geographically vast colonial empires, unification in the liberal capitalist - meaning of the word was perfectly achieved in the threefold sense of unified markets for commodities, capital and labour.

The goods in question that circulated freely were, however, products of metropolitan industry, and the capital too was from the metropolis. This space was organized as the periphery of another system; it was not organized in terms of itself. It cannot, therefore, be called an economic area as this can exist only if it is organized in terms of itself. Here the flow of exchange of goods and capital of internal origin was negligible, sometimes even in comparison with what it had been before colonization. Integration in the space dominated by the metropolises disaggregated the embryonic organization of the national space.

There is no analogy between the gradual establishment of a national economic space, in the framework of the European nation states during the development of capitalism gradually integrating provinces in a space organized in terms of itself, and the kind of formal space colonization constituted in its empires. In fact the colonial spaces were a series of micro-regions bundled together and unequally developed according to the needs of the metropolises at successive stages of the latter's evolution. The result is that some regions developed at one stage of development were later abandoned because they were no longer of interest. The imperial geographic area was a patchwork of these micro-regions integrated in the light of the needs of metropolitan capital at various stages of evolution some were 'prosperous' and others - exploited at an earlier stage and then abandoned - devastated.

Since the colonial development brought no integration of the space, this geographical area could, at independence, be chopped up quite arbitrarily. There was no economic need to prevent this arbitrary chopping-up of the space. The empire might be chopped-up and each piece survive, if not develop, without creating any great difficulty for the colonial and neo-colonial economy. In these circumstances further break-up is always possible at the periphery of the system. It is easy to blame it on local, political, ideological or ethnic forces with centrifugal effect. It is often suggested that, for example, Africa broke up thanks to micro-local interests, wrongly designated as tribalism here, or micro-nationalism there. The explanation is false, since it overlooks that it was this organizational form of the geographical area dominated by the metropolises that created these centrifugal forces. In this geographical area, the micro-regions enjoying 'prosperity' at a stage of colonial development have no interest in dragging in their wake the areas devastated and those as yet undeveloped. It is not surprising in these circumstances that it is the 'prosperous' micro-regions who have been the source of the break-up. Côte d'Ivoire for example in what had been French West Africa. Elsewhere this kind of colonial development set up embryonic social forces that would become the bureaucratic bourgeoisies in the administrative capitals. These bureaucratic bourgeoisies had an interest in shutting themselves up into tiny states of which they would be masters. It is often said that the Africans are sympathetic to large economic units, but that external forces are opposed to them. This is incorrect, since with the exception of the most backward segments of foreign capital, corresponding to primitive stages of colonization, big international capital is not hostile - on the contrary - to the organization of large economic 'unite', as long as they are conceived in its style. This does not mean that we should renounce the objective of economic unity, but that we must see it differently. Certainly, colonization of Africa was as a whole primitive colonization, entrusted to the most backward segments of capital (especially in regard to the French colonial empire) such as colonial trading companies descended from the mercantilist era and the slave trade. For the operation of such a system, it was of little account whether or not there were organized economic units, as there was no industry at this stage of colonial development there was no problem of markets. The centre of gravity of dominant capital is, however, shifting from these backward segments to the multinationals who do have an interest in the organization of large units in order to establish viable industries benefiting from the opening of more extensive markets.

The large space that we must conceive in the prospect of autocentric development has nothing to do with this kind of economic unit. The classic approach, in terms of monetary and customs unions and African common markets, does not meet the demands of a development policy since it accentuates regional inequalities within Africa and social inequalities within each region. Obviously, the most deprived countries are naturally opposed to this kind of neo-colonial integration. It is understandable that, in West Africa for example, the interior savannah countries have no interest in sacrificing their own development to this kind of so-called African unity.

Any analogy between the European common market and any possible common markets in Africa is quite meaningless. The European common market is organized between countries that have already reached the same stage of development and are able to compete. For these countries it is a matter of organizing a unit that already virtually existed, whereas for the African countries it is a matter of creating a unit that has no existence at all. It is a totally different problem. On this issue we have no more than the embryo of a theory, that of the handling of space around transport routes through the simultaneous and complementary installation of basic industries, for example.

From this angle, the great autocentric space is a precondition for Africa's advanced development: a necessary but not sufficient condition, since if this space is differently organized, as the periphery of a space dominated by foreign capital, it will have no developmental effect of itself but will, on the contrary, have the effect of accentuating the inequalities. What are the achievements and plans under way for African integration? We have first what was maintained of the colonial system, particularly the monetary unions in the Franc zone. These monetary unions are often defended on the grounds of being 'better than nothing'. But these are not units that will permit autocentric development of the monetary zone. As conceived by the metropolitan power, these units merely alleviate the management costs to the dominant metropolis by balancing the deficits of some components with the surplus of others. This is no more than a modality of management by the imperial system as has been shown.

As for the customs unions inherited from colonization, they are breaking up one by one for the obvious reasons indicated.

The assessment of positive achievements is unpromising. There are some tentative beginnings here and there, not through industrial integration, still a long way away, but more modestly through a minimum of collaboration in the installation of industries. It is very far from the demands of the creation and organization of an integrated economic space.

At the same time, note must be taken that significant discussions on the creation of monetary unions with autonomy in regard to the exterior, and of payment unions that might begin a genuine process of integration, have gradually been dropped since the 1970s. This is an example of the drift considered above.

The conclusion is that it is impossible to conceive of the creation of an economic space in Africa in a liberal framework, founded only on rules of competitiveness and profitability. Such a space would serve only to maintain and heighten the inequalities of underdevelopment. The alternative lies in planned organization of the space in terms of the prospects for long-term autocentric development.

The problematic of the Arab nation2

If the Third World peoples are to meet the challenges of our time they have no option but to establish relatively broad solidarity groupings, well equipped in natural resources, able to prevent the subordination that their economic and financial vulnerability encourages, and even to give pause to a possible military aggressor. But their history and heritage in ethnic, cultural and linguistic terms, and their inheritance of frontiers and statist institutions, could serve as serious handicaps to this reconstruction. The Arab world embraces a vast geographical space that enjoys all these favourable conditions. Provided of course that what the Arabs call the 'Arab ration' becomes a reality. Aspirations for Arab unity - if there is an aspiration and whose? (of the peoples? of states and governments? of bourgeoisies? of intellecutals?) - are, in general, badly received in the West, whether they are regarded as utopian, unrealistic, or ludicrous, or whether they are regarded as a 'threat', the revenge of 'Muslim fanatics' on 'European Christianity'. Despite such prejudices, the achievement of Arab national unity is not only possible and desirable, but even objectively necessary in the interest of the Arab peoples. This 'historical necessity' is, however, no more inescapable than another, and more serious fact: that the Arab peoples are not currently embarked upon this path.

We shall not again go over the ground of the roots of the Arab question, discussed in its historical dimension in The Arab Nation, nor the issues arising from the theory of nation, discussed above. We shall say only: (i) that Arab unification in its heady early days rests on a material base, the centralization and circulation of surplus effected by the hegemonic state-class of 'merchant warriors'; (ii) that the subsequent fragmentation and decline were precisely the results of the disappearance of this system of centralization and circulation of surplus: (iii) that this contradictory heritage results in a 'nation' in two stages: a real potential of building a unified Arab nation (in Arabic qawmiya) already in possession of an essential instrument in common language and culture, and the parallel need at the inferior stage to recognize the reality of 'sub-nations' (in Arabic, watan), broadly corresponding to the main states of today.

There are serious obstacles to the achievement of this aim of unification. First, the interests of the hegemonic blocs constituted on the basis of existing states, which, as elsewhere in the peripheralized Third World, have no other ambition that that of attempting to 'adjust' individually to the demands of the world system. These 'adjustments' provoke inter-state rivalries and underlie some of the regional hegemonic aspirations. The relative and unequally distributed financial prosperity brought by oil exacerbates these negative trends. But there is also the obstacle of the Euro-American Western geostrategic concern to prevent by all possible means the emergence of this strong nation on Europe's southern flank. To the extent that Egypt is the kernel of the potential Arab construct, there has been a constant in Western policy - from Mohamed Ali at the beginning of the 19th century to Sadat: to smash any attempt to build a strong Egypt. The West did not create a full-fledged State of Israel for any other reason.

In the face of this challenge, two modern Arab ideological currents have looked towards unity. The Ba'athist current put forward the thesis of the priority of unity over social transformation (socialism in principle). History has shown that bourgeois nationalism (for this is what it boils down to) cannot under the circumstances of the contemporary challenges replicate what was possible in another age and other circumstances (in Germany or Italy). The Nasserist current from a neighbouring stance drew the lessons of the failure of the only real attempt at unification (the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria from 1958 to 1961), and began then to understand that the only social classes capable of carrying forward a unitary plan were the popular classes. But for complex reasons peculiar to the history of Egypt and of Nasserism, it did not succeed in overcoming the obstacles along the path to socialist construction and a strategy of de-linking from the world system, the only viable alternative to the impossible 'adjustments'. Meanwhile' imperialist aggression, through the Israeli attack of 1967, put an end to the experiment before it could make further progress and become irreversible.

The popular ideological reaction following this failure, and the recompradorization underway in the Arab world, is not currently part of a prospect of socialist and unitary supersession. We come back to our analysis of the 'Islamic renaissance', the form this reaction takes. Here for the sake of brevity let us recall only: (i) that the Muslim religion, like any religion, is susceptible to various interpretations, reactionary, conservative, progressive and revolutionary; it has in the past been able to adapt to social evolution and nothing prevents it from continuing to do so: it might even adapt to a secularization of society; (ii) the medley of contradictory tendencies within the global current dominated by fundamentalism is simultaneously evidence of a rejection of the prospect of compradorization that is all capitalism can offer and of the historical crisis of the socialist alternative; and (iii) that in the state, the current of Islamic revival, far from strengthening the prospect of Arab unity, works against it and offers nothing but sterile escapism.

The people do make their own history, but sometimes they do it badly. The challenge the Arab peoples must take on lies right in front of them.

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