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Samir 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.
Samir Amin has written more than 30 books including Imperialism & Unequal Development, Specters of Capitalism: A Critique of Current Intellectual Fashions, Obsolescent Capitalism: Contemporary Politics and Global Disorder and The Liberal Virus. His memoirs were published in October 2006.
For Samir Amin (1997), the ascent and decline is largely determined in our age by the following ‘five monopolies’
- the monopoly of technology, supported by military expenditures of the dominant nations
- the monopoly of control over global finances and a strong position in the hierarchy of current account balances
- the monopoly of access to natural resources
- the monopoly over international communication and the media
- the monopoly of the military means of mass destruction
The economic performance over the last few years teaches us an important lesson about the evolving mechanisms of the future Kondratieff cycle, that began in the mid-1980s. Let us recall, that for Dependency and World Systems theory in the tradition of Samir Amin (1975), there are four main characteristics of the peripheral societal formation:
- the predominance of agrarian capitalism in the ‘national’ sector
- the formation of a local bourgeoisie, which is dependent from foreign capital, especially in the trading sector
- the tendency of bureaucratization
- specific and incomplete forms of proletarisation of the labor force
In partial accordance with liberal thought, (i) and (iii) explain the tendency towards low savings; thus there will be
- huge state sector deficits and, in addition, their ‘twin’
- chronic current account balance deficits
In the peripheral countries. High imports of the periphery, and hence, in the long run, capital imports, are the consequence of the already existing structural deformations of the role of peripheries in the world system, namely by
- rapid urbanization, combined with an insufficient local production of food
- excessive expenditures of the local bureaucracies
- changes in income distribution to the benefit of the local elites (demonstration effects)
- insufficient growth of and structural imbalances in the industrial sector
- and the following reliance on foreign assistance
The history of periphery capitalism, Amin argues, is full of short-term ‘miracles’ and long-term blocks, stagnation and even regression.
Samir Amin's 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 they're 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.
- The Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought for the year 2009 in Berlin.
Publications by Samir Amin
- 1957, Les effets structurels de l’intégration internationale des économies précapitalistes. Une étude théorique du mécanisme qui a engendré les éonomies dites sous-développées (thesis)
- 1965, Trois expériences africaines de développement: le Mali, la Guinée et le Ghana
- 1966, L’économie du Maghreb, 2 vols.
- 1967, Le développement du capitalisme en Côte d'Ivoire
- 1969, Le monde des affaires sénégalais
- 1969, The Class struggle in Africa 
- 1970, Le Maghreb moderne (translation: The Magrheb in the Modern World)
- 1970, L’accumulation à l’échelle mondiale (translation: Accumulation on a world scale)
- 1970, with C. Coquery-Vidrovitch, Histoire économique du Congo 1880-1968
- 1971, L’Afrique de l’Ouest bloquée
- 1973, Le développement inégal (translation: Unequal development)
- 1973, L’échange inégal et la loi de la valeur
- 1973, Neocolonialism in West Africa 
- 1973, 'Le developpement inegal. Essai sur les formations sociales du capitalisme peripherique' Paris: Editions de Minuit.
- 1973, L’échange inégal et la loi de la valeur
- 1974, with K. Vergopoulos): La question paysanne et le capitalisme
- 1975, with A. Faire, M. Hussein and G. Massiah): La crise de l‘impérialisme
- 1976, ‘Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism’ New York: Monthly Review Press.
- 1976, L’impérialisme et le développement inégal (translation: Imperialism and unequal development)
- 1976, La nation arabe (translation: The Arab Nation)
- 1977, La loi de la valeur et le matérialisme historique (translation: The law of value and historical materialism)
- 1979, Classe et nation dans l’histoire et la crise contemporaine (translation: Class and nation, historically and in the current crisis)
- 1980, L’économie arabe contemporaine (translation: The Arab economy today)
- 1981, L’avenir du Maoïsme (translation: The Future of Maoism)
- 1982, Irak et Syrie 1960 - 1980
- 1982, with G. Arrighi, A. G. Frank and I. Wallerstein): La crise, quelle crise? (translation: Crisis, what crisis?)
- 1984, 'Was kommt nach der Neuen Internationalen Wirtschaftsordnung? Die Zukunft der Weltwirtschaft' in 'Rote Markierungen International' (Fischer H. and Jankowitsch P. (Eds.)), pp. 89 – 110, Vienna: Europaverlag.
- 1984, Transforming the world-economy? : nine critical essays on the new international economic order.
- 1985, La déconnexion (translation: Delinking: towards a polycentric world)
- 1988, Impérialisme et sous-développement en Afrique (expanded edition of 1976)
- 1988, L’eurocentrisme (translation: Eurocentrism)
- 1988, with F. Yachir): La Méditerranée dans le système mondial
- 1989, La faillite du développement en Afrique et dans le tiers monde
- 1990, Transforming the revolution: social movements and the world system
- 1990, Itinéraire intellectual; regards sur le demi-siecle 1945-90 (translation: Re-reading the post-war period: an Intellectual Itinerary)
- 1991, L’Empire du chaos (translation: Empire of chaos)
- 1991, Les enjeux stratégiques en Méditerranée
- 1991, with G. Arrighi, A. G. Frank et I. Wallerstein): Le grand tumulte
- 1992, 'Empire of Chaos' New York: Monthly Review Press. 
- 1994, L’Ethnie à l’assaut des nations
- 1995, La gestion capitaliste de la crise
- 1996, Les défis de la mondialisation
- 1997, ‘Die Zukunft des Weltsystems. Herausforderungen der Globalisierung. Herausgegeben und aus dem Franzoesischen uebersetzt von Joachim Wilke’ Hamburg: VSA.
- 1997, Critique de l’air du temps
- 1999, "Judaism, Christianity and Islam: An Introductory Approach to their Real or Supposed Specificities by a Non-Theologian" in "Global capitalism, liberation theology, and the social sciences: An analysis of the contradictions of modernity at the turn of the millennium" (Andreas Mueller, Arno Tausch and Paul Zulehner (Eds.)), Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, Commack, New York
- 1999, Spectres of capitalism: a critique of current intellectual fashions
- 2000, L’hégémonisme des États-Unis et l’effacement du projet européen
- 2002, Mondialisation, comprehendre pour agir
- 2003, Obsolescent Capitalism
- 2004, The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World
- 2005, with Ali El Kenz, Europe and the Arab world; patterns and prospects for the new relationship
- 2006, Beyond US Hegemony: Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World
- 2008, with James Membrez, The World We Wish to See: Revolutionary Objectives in the Twenty-First Century
- 2009, 'Aid for Development' in 'Aid to Africa: Redeemer or Coloniser?' Oxford: Pambazuka Press 
- 2010, 'Eurocentrism - Modernity, Religion and Democracy: A Critique of Eurocentrism and Culturalism' 2nd edition, Oxford: Pambazuka Press 
- 2010, 'Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism?' Oxford: Pambazuka Press 
- 2010, 'Global History - a View from the South' Oxford: Pambazuka Press 
- 2011, 'Maldevelopment - Anatomy of a Global Failure' 2nd edition, Oxford: Pambazuka Press 
- 2013, 'The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism' : Monthly Review Press 
Writings about Samir Amin
- Aidan Forster-Carter: The Empirical Samir Amin, in S. Amin: The Arab Economy Today, London 1982, pp. 1 – 40
- Duru Tobi: On Amin's Concepts - autocentric/ blocked development in Historical Perspectives, in: Economic Papers (Warsaw), Nr. 15, 1987, pp. 143 – 163
- Fouhad Nohra: Théories du capitalisme mondial. Paris 1997
- Gerald M. Meier, Dudley Seers (eds.): Pioneers in Development. Oxford 1984
- "Samir Amin at 80". Red Pepper. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- page 83, "The World We Wish To See; Revolutionary Objectives In The Twenty-First Century", Samir Amin and James Membrez, ISBN 1-58367-172-2, ISBN 978-1-58367-172-6, ISBN 978-1-58367-172-6, Publishing Date: Jul 2008, Publisher: Monthly Review Press
- page 84, "The World We Wish To See; Revolutionary Objectives In The Twenty-First Century", Samir Amin and James Membrez, ISBN 1-58367-172-2, ISBN 978-1-58367-172-6, ISBN 978-1-58367-172-6, Publishing Date: Jul 2008, Publisher: Monthly Review Press
Some writings by Samir Amin available on-line:
- "Third World Forum: An Interview with Samir Amin," Z Magazine
- Empire of Chaos Challenged: An Interview with Samir Amin 
- Maldevelopment: Anatomy of a Global Failure 
- U.S. Imperialism, Europe, and the Middle East 
- "India, a Great Power?". Monthly Review 56 (09). 2005. Archived from the original on 2011-07-27.
- Imperialism and Globalization 
- World Poverty, Pauperization & Capital Accumulation
- U.S. Hegemony and the Response to Terror 
- Empire and Multitude 
- A Note on the Death of André Gunder Frank (1929–2005) 
- The Political Economy of the Twentieth Century 
- Africa: Living on the Fringe 
- Samir Amin: The New Challenge of the Peoples’ Internationalism 
- The Center Will not Hold, the Rise and Decline of Liberalism, Review of Wallersteins The Modern World System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant
- Samir Amin. New Empire? In Search of Alternatives to Global Hegemony of Capital. (video at Red TV)
- The Political Economy of the Twentieth Century, Monthly Review, Volume 52, Issue 02 (June 2000)
- A review of Samir Amin's Re-reading the Postwar Period: An Intellectual Itinerary