Selections from Theoretical Preliminaries to the Study of the Impact of Social Thought on the National Liberation Movement (1973)


Mah­di Amel, the pseu­do­nym of Dr. Has­san Abdal­lah Ham­dan, was born in Lebanon in 1936. He moved to Lyon, France in 1956 to study phi­los­o­phy, which he even­tu­al­ly com­plet­ed with a PhD in 1967. In that time, Amel joined the Lebanese Com­mu­nist Par­ty in 1960 and in 1963 he moved to new­ly-inde­pen­dent Alge­ria to train teach­ers in Con­stan­tine. Dur­ing his tenure at the teach­ers’ col­lege, Amel penned sev­er­al arti­cles, includ­ing one on Fanon’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary thought, for the Fran­coph­o­ne mag­a­zine Révo­lu­tion Africaine. Amel’s res­i­dence in Alge­ria coin­cid­ed with the gold­en age of Africa’s and the world’s lib­er­a­tion move­ments. Alge­ria was a mec­ca for rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and pro­gres­sive activists, who found a haven in the cap­i­tal, Algiers. The nation’s new rul­ing par­ty, the bat­tle-test­ed Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front, pro­vid­ed ide­o­log­i­cal, diplo­mat­ic, finan­cial, and mil­i­tary sup­port to lib­er­a­tion move­ments, includ­ing ones from the Unit­ed States and Cana­da. A thor­ough study of Amel’s con­tacts with Third-World­ist move­ments that were head­quar­tered in Algiers and how these con­ver­sa­tions, if any, shaped his future the­o­riza­tions of the lib­er­a­tion move­ment in Arab soci­eties would shed light on the con­flu­ences that informed his analy­ses.1 Among Amel’s numer­ous the­o­ret­i­cal works, we can men­tion A Cri­tique of Quo­tid­i­an Thought (1988), The Cri­sis of Arab Civ­i­liza­tion or the Cri­sis of the Arab Bour­geoisie? (1974) and the book from which we trans­lat­ed these excerpts, The­o­ret­i­cal Pre­lim­i­nar­ies to the Study of the Impact of Social Thought on the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment (1973). In addi­tion to his pro­lif­ic the­o­ret­i­cal out­put, Amel pub­lished two poet­ry col­lec­tions.

Amel’s writ­ings about Marx­ism in Arab soci­eties were pro­duced in a con­text of dis­il­lu­sion­ment. It was a dis­il­lu­sion­ment with nom­i­nal nation­al inde­pen­dence, which had expelled the col­o­niz­ers through the front door only to see them return through the side win­dow of neo-colo­nial eco­nom­ic struc­tures. Addi­tion­al­ly, the antic­i­pat­ed lib­er­a­tion of nation­al inde­pen­dence did not occur and the post-inde­pen­dence intel­li­gentsia in the “Arab world” aligned them­selves with the cap­i­tal­ist West, thus hypoth­e­cat­ing their eco­nom­ic and social deci­sion-mak­ing to neo-colo­nial­ism through the work of multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies or inter­na­tion­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions such as the World Bank. At the heart of Mah­di Amel’s argu­ment in The­o­ret­i­cal Pre­lim­i­nar­ies is the fact that impe­ri­al­ism con­tin­ued to exert itself upon Arab soci­eties. Amel’s diag­no­sis and the­o­riza­tion were shared by Arab Marx­ist-Lenin­ist move­ments in the 1960s and 1970s. The col­lu­sion between post-inde­pen­dence nation­al­ist bour­geoisie and the impe­ri­al­ists, in their neo-colo­nial­ist form, sought to main­tain the social and eco­nom­ic sta­tus quo after the inde­pen­dence of for­mer­ly col­o­nized coun­tries. Stu­dent move­ments and dis­il­lu­sioned nation­al lib­er­a­tion lead­ers, who orga­nized the mass­es and cre­at­ed oppo­si­tion par­ties to counter the “return” of colo­nial­ism, con­demned and resist­ed this ten­den­cy. The Nation­al Union of Moroc­can Stu­dents, for instance, made a pre­co­cious analy­sis as ear­ly as 1958 that placed fight­ing impe­ri­al­ism as one of its pri­or­i­ties. How­ev­er, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary élan of the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist move­ment was met with repres­sion from the dom­i­nant class­es whose tighter grip on pow­er ben­e­fit­ed from the sup­port of the cap­i­tal­ist West.

In The­o­ret­i­cal Pre­lim­i­nar­ies, Mah­di Amel pro­vides a cri­tique of the Arab regimes’ devi­a­tion from Marx­ist the­o­ry. He argues that

Marx­ism has to prove its wor­thi­ness by becom­ing the ide­ol­o­gy of the nation­al lib­er­a­tion rev­o­lu­tion. This means that it must prove [this wor­thi­ness] in the the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal fields in the mean­time as an ide­ol­o­gy of the pro­le­tari­at. This also means that we must clear­ly deter­mine the ide­ol­o­gy of the pro­le­tari­at and its place in the process of nation­al lib­er­a­tion rev­o­lu­tion. [We also have to deter­mine] the proletariat’s place in this alliance as it occu­pies the posi­tion of the dom­i­nant-neg­a­tive class.2

In his analy­sis, Amel attrib­ut­es the dis­tor­tion of Marx­ist the­o­ry to the dom­i­nance of the bour­geoisie and the petite bour­geoisie in their rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “nation­al­ist ide­olo­gies.” Rob­bing the work­ing class of its lead­er­ship role in the nation­al lib­er­a­tion move­ment emanates from the sep­a­ra­tion of the “social issue” from the “‘nation­al­ist’ issue.” This diag­no­sis leads Amel to con­clude that the analy­sis of class strug­gle and the place of the nation­al lib­er­a­tion move­ment in these soci­eties yields a dis­tinc­tion between “a bour­geois, reac­tionary ten­den­cy,” which takes a nation­al­ist form, and a “rev­o­lu­tion­ary ten­den­cy,” which embod­ies the rev­o­lu­tion­ary aspi­ra­tions of the pro­le­tari­at under the lead­er­ship of the “true com­mu­nist par­ty.” The lat­ter ten­den­cy is the one that rep­re­sents the nation­al lib­er­a­tion move­ment. Final­ly, Amel places oppor­tunis­tic rev­o­lu­tion­ary ele­ments along­side the bour­geois class as a result of their ide­o­log­i­cal prac­tice. The coali­tion between the bour­geois class, the oppor­tunis­tic rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, and neo­colo­nial­ism has attract­ed and con­tin­ues to attract crit­i­cal atten­tion from the rad­i­cal left.

The selec­tion we have trans­lat­ed for this issue on impe­ri­al­ism focus­es on how Arab soci­eties per­ceive them­selves as for­mer­ly col­o­nized nations with­in the “colo­nial mode of pro­duc­tion,” which he dis­tin­guish­es from the cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion mode and defines as “the form of cap­i­tal­ism that depends struc­tural­ly in its his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion and also in its cur­rent devel­op­ment on imperialism.”((Ibid., 10.)) Rather than start from the point of view of the hege­mon­ic, impe­ri­al­is­tic soci­eties, which have the means to impose their views any­way, Amel cen­ters his analy­sis on the weak­er side, which struc­tural­ly depend­ed on impe­ri­al­ism. Effec­tu­at­ing this par­a­digm shift in the focus from the dom­i­nant to the sub­al­tern also requires the endow­ing of the Ara­bic lan­guage with Marx­ist con­cep­tu­al frame­works adapt­ed to the real­i­ty of Arab soci­eties. Con­se­quent­ly, in addi­tion to ana­lyz­ing the colo­nial mode of pro­duc­tion and the class strug­gle inher­ent to it in Arab soci­eties, Amel also strives to pro­duce the sci­en­tif­ic lan­guage required to trans­mit his analy­ses. Thus, Amel in his mul­ti-pronged the­o­ret­i­cal endeav­or com­bines the the­o­riza­tion of impe­ri­al­is­tic pro­duc­tion and its effect on the pro­le­tari­at class in Arab soci­eties, and attempts to gen­er­ate the con­cep­tu­al tools to express these the­o­riza­tions from an Arab Marx­ist point of view.

Mah­di Amel’s the­o­riza­tion of the “cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion” has inspired gen­er­a­tions of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist activists who shared his analy­sis of the fac­tors that led to the stag­na­tion of Arab com­mu­nist par­ties. In the case of Moroc­co, which I know best, the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist move­ment, which also emerged as a response to the fail­ure of the Moroc­can Com­mu­nist Par­ty under the lead­er­ship of Ali Yata to dis­en­gage itself from Sovi­et dom­i­na­tion and from its enthrall­ment with the monar­chy in search of a dear­ly won recog­ni­tion, sought to cre­ate the cul­tur­al con­di­tions for the polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion of pro­le­tari­at. Since 1970, these groups formed Ila l-Amām (For­ward!) under the lead­er­ship of Abra­ham Ser­faty, a Moroc­can Jew, and Abdel­latif Laâbi, a nov­el­ist and poet, and Abdel­latif Zer­oual, a phi­los­o­phy teacher, and oth­ers. This rev­o­lu­tion­ary group con­gre­gat­ed around the avant-garde, social-cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal mag­a­zine Souffles/Anfās. In addi­tion to its polit­i­cal engage­ment, Souffles/Anfās launched a “lin­guis­tic gueril­la war” – to bor­row Mohamed Khair-Eddine’s phrase in anoth­er con­text – on the Ara­bic lan­guage, which remained pet­ri­fied in its clas­si­cal molds.3 After the bru­tal arrest and tor­ture of hun­dreds of its mem­bers inside Moroc­co between 1972 and 1974, the move­ment main­ly sur­vived among the Moroc­can dias­po­ras. Upon the release of the major­i­ty of its lead­ers in the ear­ly 1990s, cur­rent and for­mer mem­bers of the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist orga­ni­za­tion have been the dri­ving force behind the human rights move­ment in Moroc­co. Its mem­bers were also among the fore­most pro­duc­ers of prison lit­er­a­ture. Amel’s work is referred to and used as an epi­graph in many of these writ­ings in which it con­tin­ues to sur­vive in unex­pect­ed ways and itself requires fur­ther study.

– Brahim El Guabli

[…] When some peo­ple find fault with thought for the solid­i­ty of its inter­nal con­struc­tion and the rig­or of its log­ic and its dynam­ic deduc­tion of the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts and their arrange­ment (orga­ni­za­tion) in a net­work of air­tight rela­tion­ships, they are crit­i­ciz­ing it from the posi­tion of igno­rance of the nature of sci­en­tif­ic thought and its the­o­ret­i­cal activ­i­ty or, in the best of cas­es, from their implic­it or explic­it asso­ci­a­tion with an empir­i­cal or pos­i­tivis­tic thought that con­ceives knowl­edge as a doc­u­men­tary reg­is­tra­tion of the exper­i­men­tal [empir­i­cal] real­i­ty – in all the chaos of its details and the fever­ish­ness of its events – into the ordi­nary lan­guage. As a result, [these peo­ple] neglect the role of the the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts nec­es­sary for the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge where­by thought works on its top­ic (sub­ject), which is a pri­or knowl­edge. These tools are not ready-made, but they must be pro­duced or repro­duced, just as is the case for Marx­ist the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts. Indeed, and in clear­er terms, the oper­a­tion of pro­duc­tion of the tools of knowl­edge pro­duc­tion does not exis­tent for this exper­i­men­tal thought. This is the ori­gin of the con­fu­sion, which I point­ed out ear­li­er, regard­ing the com­pre­hen­sion of my the­o­riza­tion attempt […].

[…] The notion of the colo­nial mode of pro­duc­tion crys­tal­lized in the light of this mate­ri­al­ist under­stand­ing of dialec­tic. The func­tion of this the­o­ret­i­cal con­cept lies in heling us under­stand the struc­tur­al dif­fer­ence between the two sides of the dialec­tic in the rela­tion­ship between the col­o­nized or the for­mer­ly col­o­nized soci­eties, and the impe­ri­al­is­tic soci­eties, in the uni­ty of the two par­ties in the inter­na­tion­al cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. Any inves­ti­ga­tion of the rela­tion­ship between these two par­ties in the light of the Hegelian dialec­tic cre­ates a sym­me­try between them and must con­front the real­i­ty of their dif­fer­ence at every turn of the devel­op­ment of each one of them and its process in its organ­ic con­nec­tion with the oth­er. Con­se­quent­ly, knowl­edge either becomes impos­si­ble for this way of thought or the form of knowl­edge acquired miss­es the sub­ject, since it is a form of rehash­ing of ready­made con­cepts which it uses to project onto the dis­tinc­tive struc­ture of our Arab soci­eties and their his­tor­i­cal process a devel­op­ment frame­work that was prob­a­bly good for know­ing the progress of impe­ri­al­is­tic soci­eties and their struc­ture. Through this pro­jec­tion, the frozen thought is sat­is­fied in its approach to our his­tor­i­cal real­i­ty by read­ing its frame­work, thus sees in this real­i­ty, for instance, the same his­tor­i­cal phas­es which cap­i­tal­ism went through [in its devel­op­ment] in impe­ri­al­is­tic coun­tries. [As result, this pat­tern of thought] […] reach­es with aston­ish­ing sim­plic­i­ty well-known wrong argu­ments that have left their imprint on the prac­tices of the Arab rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments for half of a cen­tu­ry or more. Such say­ings include argu­ments such as that the peri­od of nation­al lib­er­a­tion is his­tor­i­cal­ly inde­pen­dent from the phase of tran­si­tion to social­ism because it is the phase of con­struc­tion of cap­i­tal­ism and its emer­gent peri­od on the basis of its enmi­ty to cap­i­tal­ism, and that it is also the phase of the for­ma­tion of class­es and com­ple­tion of the devel­op­ment of the work­ing class, fol­low­ing the mod­el of the devel­oped cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. It is a nec­es­sary phase dur­ing which class lead­er­ship [is] at the hands of the “nation­al­ist” bour­geoisie, which is in a state of enmi­ty with impe­ri­al­ism, and the role of the pro­le­tari­at and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment at this stage is lim­it­ed to sup­port­ing this bour­geoisie. The dead­ly mis­take [accord­ing to this] is burn­ing stages.

I have defined the colo­nial mode of pro­duc­tion as a his­tor­i­cal form that is dis­tinct from the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion. It is specif­i­cal­ly the form of cap­i­tal­ism that is con­nect­ed in struc­tur­al depen­den­cy with impe­ri­al­ism in its his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion and cur­rent devel­op­ment. I have attempt­ed to define the nature of the dif­fer­ence between this form of cap­i­tal­ism and the impe­ri­al­is­tic cap­i­tal­ism in Europe, as an exam­ple. The main dis­tinc­tion that prob­a­bly explains the dif­fer­ent facets of dif­fer­ence between them is that cap­i­tal­ism in our colo­nial soci­eties had start­ed to form his­tor­i­cal­ly dur­ing the peri­od of cri­sis of the world cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. Thus, the stage of its emer­gent devel­op­ment was [also] the stage of its cri­sis. In anoth­er way, it did not wit­ness the emer­gent rev­o­lu­tion­ary stage which the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion in Europe had gone through. Its struc­ture was a struc­ture of cri­sis – or cri­sis-like – since the begin­ning of its for­ma­tion under impe­ri­al­is­tic hege­mo­ny. Con­se­quent­ly, its his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment had con­tin­u­ous­ly with the obsta­cle of this cri­sis-like struc­ture, mean­ing that its devel­op­ment was in cri­sis – bri­dled from inside its struc­ture – in con­nec­tion with this structure’s sub­al­tern depen­den­cy on impe­ri­al­ism. This is a salient mark of the law of dif­fer­en­tial devel­op­ment that gov­erns the world cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, and in which we find the expla­na­tion of the bridling of the process of class dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in the colo­nial social struc­ture. The real­iza­tion of this process col­lides con­tin­u­ous­ly with an inter­nal obsta­cle in this struc­ture that pre­vents it. [This inter­nal obsta­cle] is this struc­ture itself, as it is the struc­ture of depen­den­cy cap­i­tal­ism, by which I mean the struc­ture of colo­nial pro­duc­tion. The dif­fer­ence then is not quan­ti­ta­tive dif­fer­ence in the degree of progress between the struc­ture of this pro­duc­tion and the impe­ri­al­is­tic pro­duc­tion, in the uni­ty of the two in the world cap­i­tal­ist regime, but it is a struc­tur­al dif­fer­ence, which means that it is a dif­fer­ence in the struc­ture where­by it is impos­si­ble for colo­nial pro­duc­tion to become impe­ri­al­is­tic or [to be able to] catch up with it. This dif­fer­ence between the two, which finds its mate­r­i­al foun­da­tion in the rela­tion­ship of struc­tur­al depen­den­cy in which the for­mer is sub­dued to the lat­ter repeat­ed­ly […], appears clear­ly the fact that impe­ri­al­is­tic, cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion tends in its expan­sion­ist progress to erad­i­cate pri­or rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, where­as colo­nial pro­duc­tion is rel­a­tive­ly too weak in its devel­op­ment, which is bri­dled by this rela­tion­ship, to exter­mi­nate these pri­or rela­tions that have cohab­it­ed with it in the colo­nial social struc­ture. It in its devel­op­ment tends, on the oppo­site, to allow their renew­al as if the form in which it dom­i­nates them were the same form in which they are rel­a­tive­ly repro­duced.

Trans­lat­ed by Brahim El Guabli

Selec­tions from Muqad­dimāt naḍariyya lidirāsat athar al-fikr al-ishtirākī fī ḥarakat al-taḥar­rur al-waṭānī [The­o­ret­i­cal Pre­lim­i­nar­ies to the Study of the Impact of Social Thought on the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment] (Bayrūt: Dār al-Farābī, 2013), 4–11.

  1. For a con­cise account of Amel’s the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal tra­jec­to­ry, see Vijay Prashad, “The Arab Gram­sci,” Front­line, March 21, 2014. 

  2. Mah­di Amel, Muqad­dimāt naḍariyya lidirāsat athar al-fikr al-ishtirākī fī ḥarakat al-taḥar­rur al-waṭānī (Bayrūt: Dār al-Farābī, 2013), 1. 

  3. Mohamed Khair-Eddine, Moi, l’aigre (Paris: Seuil, 1970), 28. 

Authors of the article

(1936–1987) was a Lebanese communist activist and Marxist theorist.

is a graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton University. His work has appeared in Arab Studies Journal, The Journal of North African Studies and Francosphères. He is also the co-editor of the special issue of The Journal of North African Studies entitled “Violence and the Politics of Aesthetics: A Postcolonial Maghreb Without Borders.”