Samir Amin and the Historical Analysis of Production and Crisis

Historical perspective of production:

According to Samir Amin, production in a pre-capitalist society is not performed for a market but was determined by political forces (kings, lords and barons). However, under capitalism the political forces are replaced by the capitalists (owners of capital), who altered the system to their interest and replaced political considerations with an economic one to determine production and distribution.

Four modes of pre-mercantile production:

There were four modes of production that existed in the world until mercantile capitalism and they are:

  • Primitive-communal: The products are distributed based on the rules laid out by kinship and there is no commodity trade
  • Tribute-paying: This is based on the exploitation of the peasantry by the ruling class which gains products as tributes
  • Slave-owning: The workers, who are slaves, are the central means of production and are themselves treated as a commodity
  • Simple petty commodity: This system is made of free and equal petty producers who produce the commodities

Four stages of history:

  • Before 1600s – Pre-mercantilist period: There was no single world system that existed during this period
  • 1600 – 1800 – Mercantilist expansion (colonization): Expansion of European influence in the economic activities across the world. However, the center imported luxury goods and finished products that were produced in the peripheries but had nothing to offer in return. Most widely used tactics is plundering of the periphery
  • 1800 – 1880 – Integration period with mature monopoly of capitalism: This period is characterized by the industrial revolution that took place in the north western European countries and a simultaneous deindustrialization of the colonies in Asia and Americas. Asian and Arab nations became the outlet for the products manufactured in western industries. This period also saw the rise of comprador bourgeoise
  • 1880 – present – Imperialist period: This is the period where the full capitalist system is established. During this period, the center began investing capital to develop certain infrastructure in the peripheries that would make the exploitation more efficient. This is done through railways and infrastructure that enables faster movement of raw materials. Amin names the period after the second world war as the second age of imperialism and is characterized by neocolonialism.

However, Amin further explains the various differences between eras since the beginning of the imperialist period through a series of crisis in the system

Inter-stage periods of crisis:

Since the imperialist period, Amin observes certain periods of crisis that had brought about changes in the methods of exploitation but at the same time, the opportunities to delink from the capitalistic world system. The first world war characterized the first crisis leading to liberation movements in colonies across the globe and successive industrialization of these countries, albeit in import substitution method which only satisfies the needs of the elites. Similar crises could be seen in the periods of great depression of 1930s and recessions in 1960s, 170s and 1980s. However, Amin contests that, these crises only lead to the creation of new tools of exploitation that is updated to suit the concurrent world system.

Phases of World History:

Amin distinguishes two phases, A and B respectively, to understand the capitalistic world history.

A phase: It is characterized by long periods of rapid growth and well-constructed production system with a stable international division of labor and clear hierarchy of nations.

B phase: These are long periods of relatively slow growth and an increasingly unstable capitalistic world system and the hierarchical arrangements of nations are challenged. This is the transitory phase that ends with the establishment of new instruments of exploitation.

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