Third World Forum
You have been an academic and an activist
for decades now, notably in the Third World. Could you tell us a
bit about your journey?
AMIN: I have always been an activist, since a very young age. I
don’t think I am an “academic” in the conventional
sense of the term, that is, someone who is hidden away in an ivory
tower observing the world from afar.
was born in Egypt and went to school there. I went to university
in France and then returned to Egypt where I worked for the government
on the national economic plan. I had to go into exile a few years
later for political reasons. Taking refuge in Europe did not appeal
to me at all. I wanted to continue working in the Third World and
in particular in Africa, our homeland. I held numerous positions
and then became the co-coordinator of a rather large international
organization: the Third World Forum. I have kept close ties with
Egypt and return there often. I’m the president of the Center
for Arab Studies in Cairo, which I think is one of the most active
places for thought and reflection in Egypt.
does your role in the Third World Forum involve and what contacts
do you have with the World Social Forum?
Third World Forum is an organization which a number of friends and
I helped create 30 years ago. The aim was to create an independent
international association of intellectuals of the Third World (Asia,
Africa, and Latin America). We wanted to organize an exchange of
ideas, and have a discussion centered on the ongoing debate about
the challenges that global capitalism poses to the peoples of the
Third World. Those challenges are not only economic; they are cultural,
political, and geo-strategic. Our organization has about 1,000 members,
about 300 per continent, and I am the co-coordinator. Our head office
is in Dakar in Senegal and we have offices throughout the three
continents. A few years ago, we began to think that the current
world condition meant we had to move to a global level—that
is, our alliance needed to include progressive forces from the North.
With others, we therefore created the World Forum for Alternatives
(WFA) in Cairo in 1997. The Third World Forum is a member, together
with various organizations from the North, including CEDETIM (Center
for the Study of and Initiatives in International Solidarity) from
France. The WFA took the initiative in 1999 to organize a counter-Davos
event. “At the Davos for the billionaires you will also find
a Davos for the underprivileged,” was our statement. This first
gathering was a significant media success given that we were not
many. This prompted our Brazilian friends to organize on a greater
scale: a World Social Forum. This is how the idea of Porto Alegre
was born and many other continental forums, notably an Asian forum
in Hyderabad and a European forum in Florence. All these forums
helped to develop a network of organizations that work against both
neo-liberal globalization and U.S. hegemony.
the emergence of a global movement that explicitly links the North
and the South, and which has probably found new dynamism from initiatives
such as the World Forum for Alternatives, undermine arguments for
“delinking?”—that is, the need for Third World countries
to break with the capitalist model of development in order to find
another way to develop.
remains the key. Capitalism in its globalizing form is leading to
the widening of the gap between the center and the periphery (in
common language: North and South). Attempting to “catch up”
by remaining tied to capitalist thinking is not an option. We need
to break with this thinking. This is how I understand de-linking.
However, “de-linking” is not about running away from the
rest of the world nor is it about autarky. De-linking is the opposite
strategy to that proposed by the dominant capitalist forces, which
invite us to “adjust” to the powerful current flowing
from the logic of capitalist expansion. De-linking implies requiring
the North to adjust to the development of the South. It’s all
about working for another globalization.
idea that the anti-corporate globalization movement was born in
the West, in Seattle, and then spread across the rest of the world,
is widely believed in Europe.
idea is false. The Third World Forum, which has existed for more
than 20 years, and is an Asiatic-African-Latin American organization,
was the instigator of the World Forum for Alternatives. This initiative
was an important step in the development of the Social Forums. Two
reasons could explain the confusion. First, the events that have
occurred in the Northern countries are more widely reported. Second,
in spite of everything, people in the North benefit from a more
democratic environment and can therefore organize enormous demonstrations
more easily than people in the South where it would be practically
impossible to do so in most African and Asian countries.
would you explain the rapid growth in the anti-corporate globalization
was a predictable development, though I was surprised by the strength
and expansion of the movement. It was so apparent that global neo-liberalism
would cause social catastrophes throughout the world, including
in countries of the North and by definition in those of the South,
who are the most vulnerable and fragile, that the emergence of a
resistance movement was only a question of time. It is these reactions
that are at the heart of the U.S.’s “permanent war,”
even if other factors clearly also play a role in the policy. This
concept of a permanent war highlights an important reality—neo-liberalism
can only continue through violence.
Middle East is a characteristic example: In 1993-1994 the U.S.,
under the Clinton administration, tried to impose a Middle East
Common Market on the Arab countries and Israel and/or with Israel.
The Gulf countries would contribute capital and countries such as
Egypt, Iraq, and Syria would contribute labor, while Israel would
be an obligatory intermediary, even though nobody quite understood
why we needed such an intermediary. At the time, Arab governments
accepted this plan, but were unable to put it into action partly
because of resistance from their people. Only the Gulf countries
could contribute, because they are not concerned about the details.
albeit not surprisingly, the vast majority of public opinion in
the North, especially in continental Europe and even in Britain,
was against the war. The very interesting thing about the demonstrations
was that they not only brought together peace activists, but also
citizens who have a clear grasp of the political link between neo-liberalism
and U.S. military hegemony. This was very visible at the European
Social Forum in Florence, which took place last November. There
were similar forums, albeit on a more modest scale because of the
political environment, in Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere. There also
we found the same political consciousness.
does the anti-corporate globalization movement in the Third World,
find itself today?
movement in sub-Saharan Africa is more developed where there is
a greater degree of democratic freedom, which enables people to
organize popular protests and events. This is the case in South
Africa where the movement is strong and has mobilized hundreds of
thousands of demonstrators on the roads, in the context of specific
meetings. The movement is a lot weaker in other countries of the
South, notably in Arab and Asian countries where there are significant
democratic restrictions. There were just as many participants at
Hyderabad for the Asian Social Forum as there were at Porto Alegre
and, for geographic reasons, they were mainly Indian and Asian.
as in the North, the Southern movements remain fragmented. That
is, one or a number of alliances of dominant political forces has
not united them by proposing a short and long-term strategy and
goals. If we go back to the example of the war, the vast majority
of public opinion in Spain and in Italy (even in Poland) was against
Bush’s policy, yet their governments were able to support it
without having to worry too much about political consequences. In
spite of the strength of the movement, due to its fragmentation,
those in power retained room to maneuver, but that room is going
to dwindle in the near future.
it possible to create unity between the differing multiple political
forces that exist within the movement?
not about unifying. At this time the creation of a new International
is not on the agenda. It’s about finding “convergence
in diversity”—to organize a continuous debate between
all the organizations who wish to participate and who are struggling
sometimes in a specific sector. Today in France, there is a very
dynamic struggle going on over pension reform. Certainly, all those
who oppose the liberalization of the pension system are not necessarily
against capitalism in general, the market, competition, and indeed,
maybe some of the protestors are not even against neo-liberalism
about which they don’t know much. They are nevertheless struggling
and, as always, it is about finding a way to find a consensus with
the various demands of the organizations involved.
hope at the World Forum for Alternatives is that we remain a forum,
that is, we do not end up creating a general political line for
others, but we provide a space where people are invited to give
their point of view and to understand the importance of this convergence.
A common action needs to be taken by all democratic forces, progressive
and anti-imperialist, from North to South. All those in the South
who develop ideological themes along the lines of “we have
nothing to do with this, that is a problem for these people from
the North,” are playing into the hands of the U.S.
ideological themes are you referring to?
am thinking, for example, about political Islam, a movement that
was created in a systematic way by the Americans and which often
uses the theme “we have nothing to do with this, we are Muslims,
etc.” as if we could ignore the challenges we face from the
global system currently in place. In the Egyptian Parliament, the
few elected representatives who claim to have their roots in political
Islam have all voted for the most reactionary and anti-social policies
possible. For example, they voted for the liberalization of the
land tax regime that was inherited from the Nasser regime, which
was controlled by the state and operated in favor of the peasants.
But I could say the same thing about Hindutva, the Hindu chauvinist
ideology of the BJP government in India.
do you think about the claims that the anti-war movement has taken
some of the dynamism away from the anti-capitalist movement?
seems to be nonsense. The anti-war movement is an anti-imperialist
movement, which does not mean to say that each and every one of
the millions of people who marched against the war have a crystal
clear understanding of the link between the war and capitalism.
It is clear that a certain number of the demonstrators are pacifists
who do not like war, but I do not believe that this was the defining
characteristic of the movement. On the contrary, I would say that
the anti-war movement has engendered progress in people’s conscious
political understanding and is not a regression.
is your analysis of the links between the war and capitalist logic?
refer to this as the collective imperialism of the Triad—that
is the fact that the internationalized dominant capital of the U.S.,
Europe, and Japan shares a common interest up to a certain point
in global economic management. The U.S. does not benefit from a
crushing economic advantage, as some people seem to think. On the
contrary, their economic position is extremely fragile, and vulnerable.
The trade deficit, which has increased from $100 billion to over
$500 billion, is a clear example of that vulnerability. This indicates
that the U.S. would not be certain of its competitiveness in a world
where competition was truly free. Nor would they be certain of their
ability to out-perform their competitors, most notably Europe and
Japan, but also various Asian countries in specific sectors. Under
these conditions, it is because they are subject to such vulnerability,
that the ruling U.S. classes have chosen to play the military card.
They have chosen to mount an offensive in the area where they, unfortunately,
have a crushing advantage over the rest of the world for the moment,
what I refer to as the “capacity to bomb without punishment.”
military prowess enables them to impose a form of neo-liberal globalization
that benefits the U.S. through the use of military force or the
threat of its use. I would compare this project to that of Hitler’s,
but not because U.S. society is necessarily the same as that of
the Nazis. Rather, the choice of the ruling class is of a similar
nature: to overturn normal economic and social relations for their
own benefit through the use of military force. Hitler thought that
by controlling Europe, he could control the world. Today, the U.S.
wants military control over the entire world. As with all immoderate
projects, it is probably destined to failure, but not without tragedy.
does the movement combat the grand strategy of the American government?
battle can be fought on all fronts. First of all, it can be fought
in the context of international law and diplomacy. France did so
brilliantly within the Security Council and I hope it will continue
to do so. The defense of international law is primordial and this
defense is not a backward-looking and nostalgic discussion. On the
contrary it is the discourse of the future.
battle on the streets is as important, to the extent that governments
will be forced to take account of growing public opinion. However,
it is not just a question of protesting against war, rather, it
is about protesting each time people are attacked, such as what
we see in France at this moment with the pensions’ debate.
Every defeat inflicted on neo-liberalism is a positive one because
it forces the system to think of an alternative to itself, to make
is also an ideological battle to be won, which will happen through
the creation of a grand alliance between interests and people, all
people, North and South. The creation of an alliance as large as
possible is imperative. It could be that people find themselves
immediately confronted by violent choices, as the Iraqi population
is currently facing with the U.S. occupation of their country. Resistance
to that occupation, the form of which I can’t predict, will
certainly develop and we will have to lend our support and solidarity
to that struggle.
you an optimist?
am an optimist in the way that Rosa Luxembourg wrote in 1918 that
the choice presenting itself to humanity at that time in our history
at the end of World War I was “socialism or barbarism,”
i.e., the capitalist regime was constrained by its internal logic
to become more and more barbaric. At that time, World War I was
already a pretty barbarous thing. I think that “socialism or
barbarism” is truer than it was when Rosa Luxembourg was writing,
truer than it has ever been.
am not a believer in the idea that justice will always prevail and
that the masses will be necessarily victorious in the end. I believe
that history should permit people to prevail, and that human reason
could allow people to ultimately win. But I am not necessarily persuaded
that this will come to pass. So the choice is clear. Otherwise the
reactions of the people will be confused, inadequate, and they will
be made powerless by divisions leaving the “U.S. Hitler-Bushist
project” to develop. Within this logic, the possibility of
genocide cannot be excluded as it is in the tradition of projects
such as theirs. How long will it survive—100 or 50 years? I
don’t know, but I think it will not last that long. This project
will be de-railed before then, but not without suffering along the
is the future for socialism in the world?
future is socialist. One is not very popular when one says this
these days because people always retort, “Yes, but look at
what it leads to with communism, etc.”
offers humanity a route to freedom from the economic alienation
imposed by the logic of capitalism. The logic underlying capitalism
is not only about private ownership of the means of production by
a small minority, it’s not only about the market and competition
in the marketplace, it is also about the alienation within and of
the market. I am a Marxist, I have always been a Marxist. Many are
not Marxists in the way that I am, in the sense that I often remember
that one of the first chapters of
is called “The
Fetishism of Commodities.” That is, it begins not with an analysis
of the positive and negative aspects of competition, but addresses
the fundamental problem—the alienation of human beings and
their submission to a logic that they believe to be exterior to
their being, while it is in fact a product of their social organization.
or even I would say communism, because it is the term used by Marx,
offers freedom from that alienation. So that idea of freedom has
been taken on by various political and social movements in the context
of their own particular struggles, together with its strengths and
weaknesses and its limitations. It was first put into action by
the European workers movement through the Second International before
1914, then through the Russian Revolution, then the Chinese, and
the Third International. I consider these to be steps in its history.
not believe that history is continuing as it has always done so,
where things do not necessarily succeed the first time. I am convinced
that the failure of neo-liberalism will enable a new dawn towards
a long-term socialist society. Socialism, notably as it evolved
from the Russian Revolution, offered a short-term perspective on
its development, no longer than a decade. One does not de-alienate
human beings in so short a period of time, and we should conceptualize
the transition to global communism from global capitalism as a long-term
transition. I do not have a crystal ball, but if it takes a century
or longer I would not be surprised.
Bouteldja is a French Algerian Muslim activist. She is a freelance
journalist living in London.