Posted in Politics

Neocolonialism: the blind spot of the West

Neocolonialism: the blind spot of the West Posted on 6 September 20119 Comments

It’s been a few months since I read Samir Amin’s Ending the Crisis of Capitalism or Ending Capitalism? but one of the key chapters remains a thought through everything I think about these days “accumulation by dispossession.” Although David Harvey is the man who is credited with its conception, Samir Amin takes the concept further – looking at how colonisation was yet another means of dispossession and that globalised capitalism is its continued mask.

To Western governments, wealth precedes human rights; what matters is to bribe a few corrupt leaders to keep their mouths shut and their countries open to Western “investment” – ensuring that the profits on gleaning resources are kept by the West and not in the hands of the local people. According to ACTSA’s 2007 report ‘Undermining Development‘ 70% of Zambia’s GDP is made through Copper sales – yet the company that owned the mines (the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines) was forcibly privatised by the IMF in 1999, with aid donors withholding $530 million in aid. These were sold off 7 parties, all owned by large Western corporations. The profits that Zambia gained through copper sales are now being fed to shareholders and company directors based outside of Zambia, rather than the Zambian people themselves. Is this any different from the time of Gandhi’s anticolonial protest to cotton production outside India?

It’s no light message that all of that which will affect people of the non-west (and therefore the poorest) the worst is that which is pushed aside by our governments. Climate change, trade justice, reconciliation for the ex-colonised, a recognition of colonial genocide, oil spills in Nigeria, high food prices, … the list is endless.

As much as many on the left would disagree, it was because of Western Dominance that NATO has fought for Libya. Even as I type, the NATO aligned countries is forcing through the recognition of the National Transition Committee to ensure that Libyan investment remains open to Western resource exploitation. NATO pushed the ‘No Fly Zone’ restriction through UN Security Council because Gaddafi was largely anti-Western, unlike Bahrain, Syria and other British and American allies. Kicking out British and American military bases, and ensuring that oil companies gave 80% of their profits to the Libyan government, Gaddafi held power for himself – not for the West, and certainly not for the Libyan people. Chomsky explains it best:

What faces us – the growth of poverty, inequality, marginalised peoples, the desolation of peoples’ rights – these are all aspects of a global problem, not a local concern. Why we cannot pull down the detritus that is capitalism in Britain, or Spain, or Greece, is because our demands are only treating the symptoms, and not the causes, of a much larger disease. We are isolating each symptom, and removing it instead of actually realising that these symptoms are completely and utterly interconnected. Globalisation has disempowered us unless we work together.

This is my dispute with Owen Jones’ “Chavs” which pulls out a select group (white, working-class, men) and attempts to justify why these people have been targeted by the tabloid press. In each case, his justification is usually somewhat valid, but it lacks full political analysis. Take the BNP/EDL – is the threat really lower wages, poor housing conditions, etc? Yes, but why does that exist? Simply saying the government doesn’t place enough regulation on the social economy is shallow; deeper analysis would look to the similarities present globally and would observe that this trend is international.

The problem with companies outsourcing to other countries is not that this kills the job sector in the UK, but that the system of globalisation ensures that the said company will exploit resources wherever it can. It is that the simple rights that we have here – the right to join/form a union, the right to a minimum wage, the right to housing, etc – are not universally set. In fact, they are purposely skewed towards protecting the West and dispossessing the poor. Our governments support this because through this system, wealth and ownership remains in the West. We provide “services” in exchange for the far more valuable, and yet far cheaper natural resources.

The whole picture of global economics is Upside-Down. It’s why the poor here are getting poorer and why there is the rise of the middle classes in India, Kenya, etc. The huge divide between rich and poor internationally is the marker in this transition – and it will be the reason that this system will fall. There will be riots. Many, many more.

9 thoughts on “Neocolonialism: the blind spot of the West

  1. It is not just colonialism, although i agree absolutely with much of what you say. I think it is a blindness to privilege and precisely who were are as a country, and what the country is like- that allows the left to contribute to marginalising those most in need of representation in this country. Until the left can address the privileged blindness its own perspective brings, nothing will change. And I dont see signs of that happening. At great cost.
    Owen JOnes book Chavs is a prime example. It showed that he knew exactly what the problem was. But his analysis was skewed by his blurring of the picture when Labour were implicated. As a vocal labour activist, I can see why. The book was characterised by the complete lack of agency given to those he wrote about, while he glossed over the role of a party fully complicit in the disenfranchisement and economic war on his subjects. As a Labour activist he obviously feels this is justified because he believes in the Labour party, regardless of their position. A perspective only possible if you are blind to the consequences of Labour’s current and past policies. It is same old same old.

    The left would rather discuss who fits the labels they devise, and fit the world into their preferred political ideology, and are more than willing to suppress voices that challenge that, even if it is with reality.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lisa. I agree – we spend far too much time repeating the same rhetoric rather than trying to understand the situation now. I argue on colonialism because I feel that ultimately no-one on the left seems to be aware of their position in a country that has built and continues to build its wealth on exploitation.

      And that system encourages internal exploitation as well – because the two are linked.

    2. Bit confused by Lisa’s characterisation of ‘Chavs’. It is in large part a damning indictment of Labour’s term in office. In his review of the book, Jon Cruddas said: “Apart from a fleeting aside about the minimum wage and public-services investment, there appears no redeeming element to 13 years of Labour rule.” So what’s the basis for Lisa’s comments?

      1. I think it’s more the way that Owen takes an approach that is traditionally Labour – in that he still has some faith that the current Labour party will ‘return’ to its original values and systems of thought.

        I think Owen did run a good criticism of “New” Labour, but the lack of achievable solutions at the end meant that it was yet another book stuck in the left-wing ditch of “what the f*ck do we do now?” because the solutions on offer aren’t actually viable.

  2. Agree we seem to always address the symptoms and not the causes. Even though you can have, theoretically, a fairer form of capitalism than we have now, there is a constant pressure with our economic system towards inequality which exhausts people and movements even after certain achievements have been made.

    If we did somehow create a genuine libertarian socialist society somewhere, would people become complacent after a few decades? Or after the generation who authored the experiment are no longer there to share their initial energy and enthusiasm would it become consumed by capitalist globalisation and neocolonialism again? Which, I guess, is the point you made about addressing individual symptoms rather than the entire problem which, on a pessimistic note, we don’t have a hope in hell of resolving before the world heats up above 2 C πŸ™‚

    But I think one of the key causes of this blind spot for neocolonialism is nationalism, which even the left panders to – you have to be patriotic or at least appear to be or you’ll not attract anyone’s attention to your other ideas. This is really clear in the U.S.

    I have one rather pedantic criticism. Although I know exactly what you mean by “looking at how colonisation was yet another means of dispossession and that globalised capitalism is its continued mask”, I think people who are not familiar with lefty discourse get slightly put off by this type of phrasing, which seems to be common on lefty blogs, because it sounds like you’re saying that the purpose of colonisation is dispossession, rather than enrichment of a few with dispossession as the (obvious) consequence.

    Interesting blog, enjoyed reading it πŸ™‚

    By the way, this is some of the political platform I’ve been working on recently with Delfina. I’m trying to explain in plain English and in a few hundred words the problems with capitalism:

    Our capitalist economy defines how wealth and often scarce resources are divided between citizens and countries. Individual and national wealth increasingly determines access to education, healthcare, housing and other vital services and assets. Inequality of wealth leads to an inequality of access to these vital services which leads to social deprivation.

    We also believe it is not only inequality of consumption but also the inequality of power which distorts society. In theory, a capitalist economy and polity are separate spheres, but in reality wealth, corporate or individual, has a huge influence on governments, policies and politics.

    This grossly distorts democracy into a plutocracy, decreasing the legitimate influence of many citizens and socially excluding many more. Further, this is directly opposed to our belief in direct democracy and the empowerment and engagement of ordinary citizens.

    Taking into consideration the above issues, we oppose capitalism on the grounds that it entails social domination through inequalities of wealth and power, involuntary wage labour relations, coercive hierarchy and patriarchy [there is an entire section on gender] and an intrinsic dogma of growth based on material consumption all of which inevitably leads to the exploitation of human beings and the environment.

    We also oppose the neo-liberal structure and system that is no more than the exponential expression of capitalism in a globalised world, where freedom of the market prevails over human needs and often rights.

    We believe we need a radically different green economy to resolve the social, economic and environmental crisis facing society.

    Don’t know if this adds anything to your blog post, but thoughts welcome πŸ™‚

  3. What a refreshing read. The only thing I’d add is that technology – always assumed to be ‘progress’ creates new forms of division and enslavement. All that information about us – stored, tracked, analyzed – is a human rights time bomb.

    1. I would agree to that, but I think the role of technology needs an entirely separate post. While I think that data capture & tracking are terrifying, we do need to recognise that technology is a tool – how it is used is the problem. We need to find alternatives to these systems (setting up proxies, etc).

      There are definitely good things about the growth of technology: FrontlineSMS & Ushahidi. Crowdsourcing. Better international communications for transparency.

      And the EU directive on Cookies was also a good move, even if Ed Vaizey has completely failed to pick it up here.

      But in any case, you should join the Open Rights group is you haven’t already.

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