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Dimensions of independent socio-economic development

Adil Hussein

The need for ‘development’ in Muslim countries has become a given in economic and political discourse. However, its implications are little understood. Here we publish a paper by the late Egyptian scholar, ADIL HUSSEIN, discussing this crucial issue.

1. Criticizing the notion of modernization

The West is trying to propagate its concepts of economic-social development in the ‘third world’ under the rubric of modernization. The notion of modernization implies that everything modern and advanced (and therefore better) originates from and belongs to European civilization. Accordingly, the modernization process is simply the attempt of other countries to become "part of the West" or "part of Europe", as Khedive Ismail is reputed to have put it. Many of us have swallowed this line, to the extent that anyone who disagrees is considered to be ignorant or reactionary. For instance, the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1987) assumes that modernization is the natural objective of what he called the "Asian Drama". Theoretically and logically, he mapped the steps required to realize the values of modernization. In his conclusion, he observed that the ideals of nationalism are the easiest to spread in under-developed countries in comparison to the other ideals of modernization. Unfortunately, he gave little thought to this observation, which might have made a significant difference to his analytical and theoretical constructs.

Careful consideration of this observation should, in the first place, relate the restructuring of a nation to a deeply-rooted national spirit that can, in turn, repel external hegemony (which is consistent with the complex content of the independent model). This will add and even transform what are known as modernization values. Myrdal – and naturally others’ – explanations of modernization values are confined to rationalism, development planning, higher productivity, institutions, proper policies and the like. Yet the list of values does not include the most important one necessary for development, which is self-confidence in dealing with dominant and domineering foreign influences. This value is in fact the most important, according to the notion of independent development, given that people respond fully only to a genuine national revival vis-a-vis strong foreign challenges.

Economic independence cannot be earned without self-confidence and liberation from the fear of the ‘demi-gods’ of the dominant countries, encouraging the creativity of the people and audacious rejection or criticism of foreign advice. This audacity needs to cover not only decisions about suitable technologies and the priorities of our projects, but also the whole theory of economic development and its ultimate goal. Undoubtedly this will be reflected in a suitable and independent consumption pattern.

The strategy of satisfying basic needs is a strategy of independent economic development or self-centric economic development. If development in general is a complex process, then independent development is indeed a complex one, comprising cultural, political, economic and social components. This type of complex development is self-centric, i.e., a complete revival that is generated from within the nation. Obviously this idea is not consistent with the prevalent notion of modernization. So some thinkers (such as Anwar Abdul-Malik) have used the term "authenticated modernization"; however, it is better to use the term "self-renewal", i.e. renewal from within the country or community, and their own values. Self-renewal in this sense does not overlook the broad surrounding environment, but rather interacts with it and decides what form to take. Such self-renewal, conscious of its surroundings, is the spirit of complex independent development: the spirit of cultural renaissance. In fact, all of what we have been saying is a rediscovery of what the pioneers have said. Al-Afghani criticized his contemporaries, the Ottomans, for the same things as we criticize our governments for today. The Ottomans established a number of schools in the new style and sent their youth to Western countries to bring back with them the science, knowledge, literature and all that they call ‘civilization’. Yet this civilization is directly related to its country of origin, and in accordance with the nature and social structure of that country and its people. In other words, a country’s civilization should emanate from within that country and from the natural development of its society. Self-renewal that generates original ‘civilization’ will definitely lead to the revival of various cultural centers. Such centers put forward a worldview, a self-image and a view of others that is distinct from those of Western civilization. Relating the national enterprise to cultural independence is precisely what impels us to reject modernization as a concept and as an objective.

2. The notion of cultural independence

The issue of cultural independence requires further elaboration. The question of cultural independence is not a novelty in our intellectual literature, considering the treatments and approaches of al-Afghani and Mohammad ‘Abduh. However, most of our political and intellectual elites are the products of Western civilization. So the objective of Arab cultural independence was replaced by "modernization", by which its advocates mean emulation of the Western experience in order to attain what Western societies attained. Thus they construe modern civilization as one global indivisible civilization, i.e. Western civilization. This was the prevalent notion: cultural uniqueness or independence was not on our intellectual agenda at the climax of the national tide in the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Recently the idea has become increasingly acceptable, yet the concept is still vague for many Arabs. The concept is in need of more intensive effort to clarify it, in order to reach a precise definition.

The notion in question can be called ‘cultural independence’, because references to the "Arab cultural enterprise" can be misunderstood as the Arabs’ attempt to catch up with modern Western civilization: namely a Western civilizational project with Arabic-speaking people. This confusion should be eliminated. I would like to emphasize that my notion of civilization comprises all that humanity has achieved and practised in the past and the present to meet human beings’ material, intellectual and emotional needs: such a notion is thus not confined to intellectual and spiritual creativity. At a lower level of abstraction and generalization, we can say that this process was – and is – historically realized within specific societies, their peculiar creative experiences and their environmental conditions. Communities that preserved their common bonds until they were crystallized, at some stage, into a coherent pattern are called nations. That is because all their cultural achievements (of all types and forms) were original, not drawn from outside. In other words, the achievements of this nation developed into a pattern of variables and interrelations that achieved cohesion and unity for the society.

Accordingly, the recognition of a nation is inseparable from the recognition of its historical and cultural achievements, without which the term ‘nation’ cannot be applied. The term "cultural independence" is an expression of this notion. This, however, does not run counter to the permanent interaction among cultures, nor does it negate the fact that there can be common characteristics shared by nations close to each other as a result of special ties and interactions. Yet we do not believe that there is any necessary or real connection between western economic development and the possibility of achieving the required modifications in the cultural pattern. So we cannot conclude that achieving such a change is an imperative (as Marx did). A wide-ranging change might not be possible or timely in any western country for a number of reasons. The required change, however, is a tough struggle that western communities should undergo even though it is tied up with the need to bring about due change in all social spheres. Failure may result in the collapse of the whole pattern, with its social and scientific achievements. The fact remains that, whether Western societies succeed or fail in regaining what was lost during the bourgeois industrial revolution, we should adopt a different approach for revival in the East. Our success in preserving the positive essence of our cultural heritage, which is based on the balance between material and moral aspects, and establishing an economically developed society (within this framework) is a real contribution toward reforming the Western cultural pattern itself (by positing an alternative successful cultural model). Accordingly, this can be a contribution to human development in general.

These propositions would not be a mere rhetorical discourse if we thought carefully about them. However, it may seem to be too far-fetched for us to realize independent economic development, because these two issues are interrelated: talk about cultural independence is nonsensical without a strong economic basis, while realizing genuine and independent economic development is futile without cultural independence.

3. Growth rate and average income

If we agree that our ultimate aim is cultural independence, then serious adoption and implementation of this aim will mean a radical revolution in all aspects of life. That is, all policies (including development and economic) will have to be structured to encourage this process. Addressing an independent cultural enterprise is nonsensical without substantial economic support. Moreover, sustaining high growth-rates (of development) is part and parcel of the very structure of our ultimate long-term goal. However, a comprehensive notion requires reconsideration of the concept and use of average income per capita or its like (such as average quantitative shares in certain goods or services per capita). This criterion is still widely used to measure development or progress. So the growth-rate is gaining great importance as a means to move from a low average income to a higher one per capita. This supposedly underlies the ability to achieve a growth that will narrow (and then remove) the gap in income and living standards between ‘underdeveloped or ‘developing’ countries on the one hand, and those of the ‘developed’ countries on the other.

Narrowing and removing that gap is construed in Western (capitalist and socialist) literature as the accomplishment of the process of ‘modernization’ and ‘development’. We refuse to use the average income per capita and growth rates to assess development, because they are incompatible with our notion of independent development and its implied strategy of satisfying basic needs.

According to our ultimate long-term goal, the average per capita income is not the main criterion of development (progress) or underdevelopment. The main criterion is cultural, political and economic independence or dependence. This complex qualitative criterion is definitely not as simple and elegant as the quantitative average income per capita. Yet if our goal were to reach a more indicative criterion, our qualitative criterion will be more effective in determining the real difference between dependent and independent (or dominant) countries. It is also more effective in identifying the potentials underlying various economies.

As for the gap between our own average income per capita and that of the dominant countries, such criteria gain importance given the conditions of independent development to guarantee the continuous implementation of the basic needs strategy. We drop the quantitative significance of the gap that separates the underdeveloped dependent countries from countries of the North (because of the technical difficulties in the calculation of average income per capita). However, we do care about the general significance (indication) of the gap, because it reflects a major difference in economic abilities. That is, we shall use such criteria as indicators of a qualitative state of affairs; thus the issue is not to eliminate the gap at any cost, nor to achieve the pattern of consumption and lifestyle of the North. Yet we are concerned about the significance of the vast gap caused by the overwhelming technological and scientific supremacy of the North.

That is why enthusiasm to have an independent lifestyle or cultural enterprise does not undermine the drive to possess modern scientific knowledge and eliminate the gap in this particular field as soon as possible. Independent economic development cannot be realized without tireless efforts to break the Western monopoly on scientific knowledge and expertise. Our economic development objectives differ from those of the West, and likewise our priorities differ according to our objectives and our production capabilities. All this requires an independent outlook on the innovation and utilization of appropriate technology. In general, to attain technological capabilities that enable us to do anything we need to meet our growing independent needs or to defend (perhaps militarily) our cultural enterprise against foreign assaults. It goes without saying that this position does not negate, but rather requires a positive and critical follow-up and comprehension of the outcomes of the scientific and technical revolution in the West. This is a fierce battle, not only against the giants monopolizing this field, but also against the dangers of fascination and surrender to the temptation of laziness and importation of every technology from without.

4. The strategy of satisfying basic needs

Development researches of dependent countries have recently contributed, through a strenuous effort, to formulating a roduction mode suitable for the independent-development model. This model is represented by the strategy of satisfying basic needs. The writings of our prominent economists explain the various aspects of this strategy. It is sufficient here to quote a general and synoptic definition from Isma’il Sabri Abdullah: "The essence of the issue is the establishment of a domestically integrated industrial skeleton. This skeleton shall be integrated with the other national economic sectors, on top of which is the agricultural sector. It should be consistent with the cultural and social objectives of society. Such [a] skeleton, which is based on the reliance on a huge domestic market furnished by the gratifying basic needs strategy, will minimize dependence on unbalanced trade with the capitalist countries. Thus, it can escape the hold of multinational corporations. Development cannot be independent unless it was directed towards the domestic market, being self-centeric as expressed in modern development literature. In the mean time, it is the type of development which can sustain itself and has the autonomous ability to proceed without begging for foreign aid."

The basic value of this definition is that it understands and constructs the basic-needs strategy so as to employ economic development to reach the ultimate goal, which is eliminating dependency and realizing a comprehensive and independent development. This concept might not be as clear for some other advocates of the independence model and the basic-needs strategy. I believe that if this strategy is informed and directed by the ultimate long-term goal (i.e. independence), its internal logic, which reflects practical needs, will lead to the integration of the following six principles (in proportionate measures) in a consistent synthesis briefly explained as follows:

A. The relationship with the outside world

This strategy seems to be quite compatible with the aim of independence. Economically, it leads to reducing reliance on the outside world quantitatively (by reducing imports and loans) and qualitatively (by doing without the help of the outside world in meeting most local basic needs). The logic of this strategy leads to independence, by the proposed changes in patterns of consumption and production.

B. Self-reliance

This principle is naturally implied through the basic reliance on mobilizing the economic surplus and directing development to meet the basic needs through labor and the use of local resources. In a broader and more dynamic sense, self-reliance is implied by what we call the spirit of self-renewal and the encounter of external challenges.

C. The role of the state

The role of the state in the Western experience is crucial for opening the world to its enterprise. On the other hand, the role of the state in the dependent countries is essential to protect the development experience from the outside world. Unlike the Western countries, dependent countries face the outside world from a weak rather than a strong position. Such dependent countries are in the position of strategic defence, not strategic offence. This requires the state to act as a central institution, making optimal use of scarce human expertise in the scientific, technical, economic and administrative spheres, exemplifying the same logic of concentrating the military talents in one institution. The responsibility incurred by the basic-needs strategy requires a highly efficient management of international relations (politically and economically), minimizing the risks and losses of probable external conflicts, and making the best possible use of discrepancies between dominant countries and blocks. This strategy cannot be implemented without war-economy institutions. This means that the very rationale of the strategy necessarily leads to control by central authority of the national economy. It explicitly directs and literally manages the economy. Therefore there should be central financial and resource planning to determine the directions and growth-rates that are likely to support independence and that are consistent with the targeted pattern of consumption, within the framework of maintaining readiness to encounter external pressures. This strategy is by no means compatible with that of relying, to any degree, on what are known as market-mechanisms to allocate resources, or on the illusion of depending on the initiative of the domestic (not to mention the foreign) private sector as a decisive partner.

D. The giant leap

This principle is guaranteed by the logic of the proposed strategy. It comprises the maximization of the planned economic surplus (using Baran’s term) and investing it in accordance with the strategic objective in addition to launching a large-scale attack on all fronts (i.e. not only the economic front alone), at a particular historical moment.

E. Distribution

The idea of making initiatives and mobilizing manpower to confront external as well as internal changes facing independent development requires reducing income differences to limits deemed necessary to encourage work and creativity and eliminate schisms and conflicts. The distribution issue is not merely a compatible accessory from outside the strategy of basic needs, nor is it merely an internal policy. The distribution issue is an implied part of the production skeleton itself. Yet realizing the importance of social solidarity is a vital element in streamlining the general acceptance of the basic-needs strategy.

F. Development is a complex process

Reference to the numerous concurrent changes is in fact implied in each of the above principles. Yet there has to be a comprehensive notion of the requisite changes, which is often overlooked by many studies on the basic-needs strategy. Formulating such a comprehensive notion is a formidable task that requires creative interaction between economists, sociologists and political scientists, as well as the efforts of educators and cultural activists. However, without reaching a comprehensive notion that is viable and consistent conceptually and practically with the above principles, the strategy of satisfying basic needs will become as impractical as hanging a bell on a cat’s neck. Mahboub-ul-Haq was right when he warned of turning the talk about the new strategy into a worn-out fashion. He stressed that the new strategy of development requires casting a balance among political, economic and social forces. So unless a decision is taken at the highest political levels, with the whole political structure inside the country mobilized to support it, the planning exercise will to a great extent remain merely an academic endeavor. The question is how political decisions can be taken without what Myrdal called strong government. In fact, Myrdal takes all governments in dependent countries (even the strictest dictatorships) to be "soft" governments. This means that such governments are unable to enforce the laws and decisions that are apparently necessary, because these governments are dominated by those who have interests in the status quo, who benefit from keeping all legislations and procedures as they are. Strong governments are thus necessary for the strategy of satisfying basic needs.

Moreover, the model of independent development is logically consistent with the principle of equitable distribution. Independent development does not initially assume the possibility of effecting an essential modification of the distribution relations while the same international and domestic powers are still dominating production inside the model or the system, since the interests of these powers run radically counter to the principle of income distribution. As mentioned above, the model of independent development derives its real depth when welded with the strategy of basic needs, which, by definition, involves a revolution in the consumption pattern and a direct attack on poverty and its causes. In other words, equity of distribution is implied and assured by the very structure of the strategy. Yet, in this situation, it is more intelligible to determine the challenge that faces the strategy of basic needs not as the re-distribution of outcome, but rather as a suitable consumption pattern and the acceptance of such a pattern by the different social and economic classes of the nation. Needless to say, the targeted pattern of consumption and the commitment thereto is purely an economic process; i.e. definition, persuasion and commitment form a process that is shared by various considerations and tools. This also means that the level of the currently available productive capacity cannot alone determine or develop consumption patterns.

Galal Amin criticized economists for distorting and degrading the idea of equity by turning it into an issue of income redistribution, instead of inquiring about the nature of the products themselves, and whether they meet man’s real needs. Thus economists are content with the trivial demand that does not go beyond the individual wish to catch up economically with his neighbour, regardless of whether or not he or she really needs what his neighbour possesses. This idea directs the research on patterns of consumption in a way that does not allow this pattern to be a rational expression of the potentials of the national economy. This notion remains burdened with intellectual dependency, which in turn means that we have not deep down changed enough to face the challenge.

If we move to the means consistent with our aims, namely, to realize the prominence of the social side in the developmental complex, we will logically find that it is simply the reliance on mobilizing the people. This requires theoretical lucidity introduced by ijtihad, of Islamic thought, in order to trigger people’s motions and initiatives and to ensure the legitimacy of wide participation (which implies, but is not limited to, the fundamental concept of shura, i.e. consultation) in the nation’s struggle, as well as all levels of decision-making. Our main means to realize this independent development is through an absolute reliance on a concept of social action that seeks to mobilize diverse and competing energies exerted by a society, by means of appropriate institutions. If our notion does not theoretically obstruct the way of such a method, the practical requisites leave us no other choice. For example, we cannot choose reliance on the creative efforts of the rational political elite or on its genuine political input; excluding or marginalizing the masses from the struggle for independent development. Practically, we cannot make this choice since, as mentioned earlier, the way to independent development is wide open for all chances. Today fighting is no longer a confrontation between two teams of knights. Modern military technologies have reduced the difference between front and back lines; everyone has become directly involved in battle; besides, military efforts deplete the resources, with consequent effects on the level of the economic development and prosperity in general. How can we ensure the persevering steadfastness on the way to independent development without the positive and active participation of all the people? Moreover, how can we persuade them all to participate and to make sacrifices? Great revolutions and historical revival moments are usually led by a solid doctrine; do we have such a doctrine that can restore the Arabs’ fighting aptitude? Undoubtedly faith and Islam, in particular, embody such a doctrine.

In order not to deceive ourselves, we have to admit that enacting the model of independence as specified above, i.e., carrying out the strategy of basic needs, is very difficult indeed. The model implies an unrelenting confrontation with major powers on the cultural, political, economic and even military fronts. Tough as it would be, this confrontation is considered a "minor jihad, struggle". It is a struggle against external enemies, strong institutions and obvious interests that run counter to our own interests. The same perspective applies to struggling against the classes of the society that are connected to external enemies. All this is relatively not very difficult, given that national forces can be mobilized with high morale to confront such challenges.

The real "major jihad" is self-struggle, which is becoming more difficult as the enemy has infiltrated us via its consumption and cultural patterns. The record of consumers, particularly those of the middle class (or the modern sector) is not a clean one. Some traditions have turned into a material reality that cannot be changed, let alone eliminated. As mentioned earlier, it is not enough to have a logically consistent model to be automatically accepted. This model should be applicable in real life; otherwise, endeavours to establish such a model will be merely a sterile intellectual exercise. So can people be changed from within? Admitting that this is impossible turns the model into an inapplicable (intractable) one. Yet we are convinced that this change can be precipitated if our estimation is not merely based on ordinary calculations in favor of the economic or the social standards only.

We believe that we can induce change, having in mind the fact that even supercomputers must fail to calculate accurately the potentials of peoples in moments of historical confrontation; no doubt cultural revival is one such moment that is not subject to traditional calculations. Granted that this can be a reality, the researchers’ task must be to try to imagine the main factors that can ensure the success of this historical moment and perpetuate the independent development model, and thus achieve its long-term ultimate goal.

[The late Adil Hussein (d. 2001) was a leading Arab thinker and politician. His intellectual contributions encompassed various domains of economics and politics, as well as cultural and social issues. This work was edited, revised and prepared for publication by Dr. Mazin al-Najjar, who can be reached at drmazin1@yahoo.com]

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 5

Jumada' al-Ula' 13, 14252004-07-01

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