Swans Commentary » swans.com October 10, 2005  



The Americanization Of The World
Samir Amin's The Liberal Virus


by Gilles d'Aymery


Book Review



Amin, Samir: The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, Monthly Review Press, 2004, ISBN 1-58367-107-2, 128 pages, $15.95 (paperback)


(Swans - October 10, 2005)  People who believe that the "indispensable nation," in the words of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- from K Street to the Capitol and from the White House to Wall Street -- can do no wrong, and that the "Americanization of the world" by any necessary, but primarily military, means, is an ardent obligation, if not yet a fait accompli, will have no use for Samir Amin's 128-page book, The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World (Monthly Review Press, 2004). However, the partisans of the view that the U.S., in her efforts to dominate and subjugate friends and foes, presents a clear danger to the whole of humanity, should definitely read Mr. Amin's cogent and somber analysis.

Samir Amin, the director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, a neo-Marxian economist and social scientist, advocates a new internationalism in which Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans pull together to defend their own interests and counter "the excessive and criminal ambitions of the United States" -- what he calls the "American project" or the "Americanization of the world" by "securing military control of the planet." "At the present moment," he writes, "this objective should be considered an absolute priority. The deployment of the American project overdetermines the stake of every struggle: no social and democratic advance will be lasting as long as the American plan has not been foiled." (p. 111)

Unencumbered by a sense of history, with no long-term vision but a future "conceived as the simple projection of the immediate," guided only by capitalist accumulation and corporate profits, "the sole principle and objective [of] Washington in its imperial policy is immediate pillage" -- petroleum resources being at the forefront of that plunder. Amin traces a parallel between the "chosen people" and the Nazi terminology, Herrenvolk. He warns that, "the militarist option of the United States threatens everyone. It arises from the same logic as Hitler's: to change economic and social relations in favor of the current chosen people (Herrenvolk) through military violence," and he affirms that, "to bring the militarist project of the United States to defeat has become the primary task, the major responsibility, for everyone." (p. 81) He considers this project no less than "barbaric," and leading to fascism.

(On a the subject of fascism, before dismissing Amin's views as too radical, far-fetched, and grossly exaggerated, one should read the ominous essay by Lewis H. Lapham, "On message," in the October issue of Harper's Magazine (which is covered elsewhere in this issue). Mr. Lapham is a member of the East Coast liberal intelligentsia, certainly not a Marxist or a radical; but his "On message" substantiates Amin's analysis. That an Egypt-born, Paris-trained, neo-Marxian thinker and an Ivy-League educated American editorialist reach parallel conclusions should be noted.)

Samir Amin traces the extreme form of American neo-liberalism to European liberalism, which fostered the growth of capitalism and modernity from the Renaissance onward by elevating individual liberty as the single most important human value above earlier forms of societies (tribes, communities, families). Modernity led to the break between religion and the state, and capitalism developed on new social relations, "free enterprise, free access to markets, and the proclamation of the untouchable right to private property (which is made 'sacred')." Gradually, the traditional relation -- "power is the source of wealth" -- was replaced by "wealth is the source of power." Economic liberalism thus becomes inherently anti-democratic, a fundamental contradiction of bourgeois thought that was realized during the French Revolution by the Jacobins. On or about that time the liberal virus took two different forms -- the European and American strains.

While the French Revolution was in many ways a bourgeois revolution, it nevertheless "put equality of human beings and their liberation from economic alienation at the heart of their project," (p. 57) as did the Russian and Chinese Revolutions later, and it was predominantly a secular revolution. It was both a political and social project. In contrast, the American Revolution took place in the fertile soil of apocalyptic fundamentalism of the early immigrants. They were the "chosen people" who had reached the "promised land." Writes Amin, "In their revolt against the British monarchy, the American colonists did not want to transform their economic and social relations; they just no longer wanted to share the profits with the ruling class of the mother country. They wanted power for themselves, not in order to create a different society from the colonial regime, but to carry on in the same way, only with more determination and more profit." (p. 64) It was a political project only.

The logic of capital accumulation, disguised behind the mealy-mouthed rhetoric and work-of-god ideology, led to Westward expansion, the genocide of the Indian nations, slavery (until it became an impediment to capitalist expansion), unfettered raw material plundering, etc., all the way to the current imperialist ambitions, without any social constraints. The American strain of the liberal virus is an undiluted economic liberalism, which is the actual meaning of liberty in the U.S., the so-called "pursuit of happiness." There never was, and there is no, egalitarian project in American liberalism. Where the "dominant culture of European societies has up to now combined liberty and equality," Amin says that "American society despises equality. Extreme inequality is not only tolerated, it is taken as a symbol of 'success' that liberty promises." He adds: "But liberty without equality is equal to barbarism."

According to Amin, the American working class has been unable to develop a durable, assertive class consciousness because of the successive waves of immigration and the "communitarianization" of American society (identity politics), as well as the perpetually reinforced notion of "individual success," always measured in monetary terms. "The absence of a worker's party" combined with a "dominant Biblical religious ideology," he adds, "has finally produced the unparalleled situation of a de facto single party, the party of capital. The two segments that form this single party share the same fundamental liberalism." Thus,

American democracy constitutes the advanced model of what I call low-intensity democracy. It is based on a total separation between the management of political life, which rests on the practice of multiparty electoral democracy, and the management of economic life, which is governed by the laws of capital accumulation. What is more, this separation is not the object of any radical questioning, but, on the contrary, is part of what is called the general consensus. This separation eliminates all the revolutionary potential of democratic politics. It neutralizes representative institutions (parliament and others), making them impotent in the face of the dictates of the market. Vote Republican, vote Democrat, it makes no real difference when your future does not depend on your electoral choice but on the uncertainties of the market. (p. 68)

Realistically, Samir Amin acknowledges that the new, unilateral American imperialism does not resemble the former national imperialisms of times past. It is global in nature, but it relies on "collective capitalism," that of the U.S., Europe, and Japan -- what he calls the "Triad." National capitalism has been replaced by transnational capitalism. European and Japanese capitalists -- the major corporations -- are entwined with American interests. Michelin and GM, Wal*Mart and Carrefour, Toyota and Ford, etc., have much in common. Ownership is internationally spread. Dominant capital within the Triad shares mutual interests (and capital). New products can hardly be launched without a 500/600-million consumer market. So, the respective elites in Europe and Japan, were it not for their restive workers and the cutthroat American strategy, accommodate themselves with the American project. They are "Atlanticists," ready to ride the American behemoth, and join in the plunder of the South.

However, conditions have changed. Their societies are increasingly reticent to abandon the social-democrat paradigm (social safety net) forced upon them by the "market"; and, the U.S., having become economically uncompetitive, turned into a consuming, unproductive country (except in the military realm) -- a debtor nation kept afloat by their own capital (and that of China as well as the toady governments of the South) -- is no longer willing to let Europe and Japan be junior partners of the Triad. While they conveniently winked at, or worse, associated themselves with, the foreign US ventures in the 1990's (Iraq, Panama, Yugoslavia), they finally realized that the second Iraq war was a unilateral decision to control petroleum resources, and in so doing, subjugate them. The uncertainty then happens to be: Can the European project counterbalance American hegemony and have a modicum of social values perdure? "Atlanticism" or "Europeanism"? That is the question.

The answer is unclear. The European project has been put on hold, following the French and Dutch elections on the European Constitution and the repeated, and successful, efforts by the U.S. to divide and conquer ("old" vs. "new" Europe). Germany, following its recent elections, may return to a more Atlanticist position. The project may have been shattered earlier by the untimely expansion of the EU to the Eastern European countries, which in turn have joined Atlanticism. It may have been doomed 35 years ago when Britain, always an ardent Atlanticist, joined the EU. The jury remains out on this one.

Samir Amin does not address this conundrum; but, in his evaluation, the dangers posed by the raw aggressiveness of the United States call for a global alliance to defeat the "Americanization of the world." He certainly is on mark regarding the five objectives of American global strategy:

1) To neutralize and subdue the other partners of the Triad (Europe, U.S.A., Japan) and minimize their capacity to act outside of American control.

2) To establish military control through NATO and "Latin Americanize" the former parts of the Soviet world.

3) To establish undivided control of the Middle East and Central Asia and their petroleum resources.

4) To dismantle China, ensure the subordination of other large states (India, Brazil) and prevent the formation of regional blocks which would be able to negotiate the terms of globalization.

5) To marginalize regions of the South that have no strategic interests for the United States.

He also properly shows that the logic of capitalism has brought waste and inequality, and that, "the 'law of immiseration,' formulated by Marx, has been verified in a striking manner -- on a world scale -- every day during the last two centuries . . . . [that] the 'fight against poverty' has become an unavoidable obligation in the rhetoric of the dominant groups." (p. 30) As examples, since 1980, personal income in Latin America has grown by only 7%; in the same period, Africa's personal income has decreased by 15%. Amin plainly demonstrates the pauperization of the world, especially in the South, and shows how agrarian policies devised in the so-called First World have laid wretch in the so-called Third World -- his review of the immiseration of the South is worth reading the book by itself.

But he puts too much hope and emphasis in the European project, and his approach to counter American imperialism is too reminiscent of former alliances among nations that brought world wars and mayhem in the past. He envisages a new axis between Paris, Berlin, and Moscow -- and subsequently, or possibly, China, India, and the global South. He advocates the old Gaullist dream of a Europe "from the Atlantic to the Ural," and then extends it to the remaining of the world. This part of his analysis is less convincing.

Europeans have been betraying and pilfering the South for as long as memory can tell. Perennial agricultural subsidies have decimated local food production for decades, as direly as the Monsantos of this world, or the "Green Revolution," have. Capital accumulation is not an American-centric characteristic. The European project, whatever its rhetoric may be, has nothing to do with the betterment of humanity -- it is neo-liberalism lite. Europeans are as adept as their American counterparts in using PR to advance their own interests. An alliance between the global South and Europe would be a great achievement but at the moment it looks more like wishful thinking than reality. The South would perhaps be better served by following a Venezuelan strategy that does not ignore the North but build upon itself. Capitalism, as Amin makes clear, is incapable of helping the South to get out of the misery created by capitalism in the first place. Africa would have a better chance to develop through an alliance with Latin America than with Europe or the U.S., thus breaking the fatal center vs. periphery relationship formulated by Raúl Prebisch (which Amin uses in his work).

To be fair, he recognizes that "Europe cannot make different choices as long as political alliances that define the power blocs remain centered on dominant transnational capital." He calls for "a new historic compromise between capital and labor" in order to "distance itself from Washington" and "begin Europe's participation in the long march 'beyond capitalism.'" For him, "Europe will be left (the term left being taken seriously here) or it will not be." (p. 89) This is a message of hope, but is it a reality when, at this very moment, the economic policies being implemented all over Europe are skewed against the working class?

In respect to the "Great Alliance" against Washington, as much as Europe and Russia -- talk about a European project? Include Russia! -- are a natural fit (geography, history), such a positive construct, if it ever happens, should not be directed against the USA. The world is facing an utterly violent "rogue nation" -- a nation that is quite willing to use lethal weapons, including nuclear ones, as it has done in the past. A cold-minded apocalyptic power structure will not hesitate to pre-empt (cf., the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, and the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations"). The U.S. has hit a couple of noncircumventable brick walls, the Katrina and Iraq quagmires. It does not need anybody to push it off the cliff. It's fast approaching it on its own. A wounded bear with a diseased mind, armed to the teeth, should best be left alone, or confronted with the greatest care. The question is, how will the rest of the world be able to jump off the runaway train without triggering an American-made worldwide oblivion?

Notwithstanding these few reservations, Samir Amin offers yet again a brilliant analysis of capitalism's destructive forces; his observations on the cultural differences between Europe and the U.S. are superb; and he points the way toward a possible future "beyond capitalism." The Liberal Virus is worthy of one's library.


· · · · · ·
Amin, Samir: The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, Monthly Review Press, 2004, ISBN 1-58367-107-2, 128 pages, $15.95 (paperback)

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About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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Published October 10, 2005