Great Political Texts #1: Review - "Eurocentrism" by Samir Amin

by William Copeland

The purpose of this series is to share some foundational political thoughts with my wider circle.  It is too rare in our day-to-day activism and organizing that we refer directly to the sources of ideas for affirmation or debate. I am choosing political works that raise questions that are related to my work, the work I see in Detroit, and nationwide. I hope that this encourages comrades to read these important texts or, at the least, to intentionally consider the questions these pieces raise. This is writing practice, self-expression, the proactive act of bringing it home #DetroitCultureCreators #GlobalBlackMetropolis #GraceLeeTaughtMe

~Afrikan Proverb

I was at the Detroit Superbowl/Anti-Superbowl party in SW Detroit, not too attached to the game’s outcome, when I started looking at the books on the shelves.  I don’t remember which books were in the house and which caught my attention.  My note in my phone only says “Samir Amin, Cedrick Robinson, Bill Sales.” Months later, while reading “Night Vision—Illuminating War & Class on the Neocolonial Terrain” (a review of this book may be forthcoming later this year), Amin’s name came up again:

To gain an overview of this global class structure, we can start with Egyptian economist Samir Amin’s “Class Structure of the Contemporary Imperialist System.” While Amin’s table is a static view of classes in the euro-centric sense, a surface look, it shows how these classes exist in a world context of center and periphery, oppressor nations and oppressed nations.
~Butch Lee

The second time was a charm-- I wanted to read more of this analysis in order to learn how to better place my economic analysis in the context of modern globalisation. I was able to find Eurocentrism in an online used bookseller and have not been disappointed.  

Eurocentrism begins where this quote leaves off and delves into the history of ideas and their relationship to economic institutions:

“Center and periphery:” Amin advances the theory that under certain conditions, only the periphery of one economic order has the flexibility to become the center in the subsequent economic regime.  By “center” I mean that economic powerhouse that defines the norm or the “well-formed” economic model of that era. (such as U.S.A. to capitalism)  “Oppressor nations and oppressed nations:”  In Eurocentrism, Amin plunges into the history of ideas to investigate why global capitalism had to become fundamentally racist (white supremacist) (Eurocentric) in order to progress towards its potential for world dominance. (Think G.O.P. and the unholy alliance between white supremacy and unrepentant market ideology) “Static view of classes:” Amin warns against thinking of underdeveloped nations as “frustrated Europes” or “delayed states of development” that just haven’t caught up. He boldly claims that these nations are held in states of underdevelopment to generate the economic success of the center (Europe, North America, Japan).

He rails against the Eurocentric T.I.N.A. (there is no alternative) model that claim that this capitalism is permanent; as he invites us to look to the economic peripheries for the solutions to bring the world to a new economic world of possibilities.

“I therefore reject the infantile optimism of American positivism and conclude that success—that is, the capacity to find the objectively necessary solution—is not guaranteed for everyone at every moment.  History is filled with the corpses of societies that did not succeed in time”

This book conveys the urgency of the Sankofa (to look back in order to move forward) because our movement, our political progression is not guaranteed success by being on the “right side of history.”  The premise of this book is that Eurocentrism distorts our notions of historical timelines so we must revist our understandings of history with Eurocentrism in mind so we can correct our historical understandings.  More specifically, we must look at how capitalism actually formed and revisit Europe’s relationship in the last millennium to other economies and cultures to get a sense of how major economic and ideological shifts have been made—and how they can be made.  This is a great study group book, especially for those trying to move beyond capitalism, gain independence, or transform the current system

I see some shortcomings in Amin’s analysis of “civilization” meaning a victory of development over indigenous peoples.  In his search for a universal theory of how societies develop, he seems to buy into certain definitions of “progress” that I hesitate to cosign.  Amin is an academic. His language is more of “ideological transition” and less of “class struggle” or “revolution.”  He speaks of processes unfolding over decades or centuries  from an aerial vantage point of thousands of feet removed. This isn’t a book that will help you put “boots on the ground,” but it is one that will challenge a radical to clarify what’s the end game—what are the boots marching towards.

In the final third of the book, it is clear that Amin finds solution only in “breaking up the world economy” via the economic margins aggressively “delinking” from today’s economic centers.  I think of the African countries that found political independence and formal racial equality but were pulled into the undertow by the global economic order, drowned in loans, debt, financing, corporate investments, aid with strings attached, and so much more.  As New Afrikans, in Detroit, we can attest to how money has been weaponized against our community so that the political freedom we were able to wield has been fragile and collapsed beneath the weight of debt payments, (reduced) availability of capital, and the (punitive) financial rating system.  In the neocolonial era, political independence is useless without economic “delinking,” as the world system will fight to keep these colonies on the margins and as resources for labor, materials, etc. regardless of how one-sided the agreements may be.

Amin points out that the metaphysics, culture, and philosophy must go side by side with the economics.  Eurocentrism is the metaphysis of globalized capitalism. For New Afrikans, this is a call for healing between the cultural nationalism, the Black feminism, and the revolutionary nationalism.  What does “unapologetically Black” look like on a daily basis? Where does she work? What does she eat? What do they wear?  Do we have electricity and where is its source? How do we make the decisions that affect our lives? What is the material basis for our new intersectional culture?  Will we still be “unapologetic” when the punitive embargo comes in from Amerikkka as in Cuba and Detroit? Is “Black America” part of the economic periphery or does our “American privilege” place us closer to the center?

I realize that engaging with this thinking is what I was looking for when I entered the graduate philosophy program at University of Michigan. My intuition was to leave academia and move closer to the periphery. It took my work with the Boggs Center and other Detroit movements to see what is at stake for us in the history of ideas.  Eurocentrism raises a number of valuable questions about the past, present and future that will help us take a long view and confront globalized capitalism (imperialism) head on.

As long as it does not have a lucid understanding of the ravages of Eurocentrism, Western socialism will remain at a standstill.

What do you think of this review, or the ideas presented within? Does your work combine culture, politics, and economics? Will you read or study this book?  Let me know! Stay in touch!