orgtheory.net

of colonialism and socialism

with 2 comments

If you were to look back at the last few centuries of global history and ask what ideas wreaked the most havoc on humanity, I’d say that two come to mind. The first is colonialism, which costs the lives of millions upon millions of people. It might be through violent conquest, or war, or exposure to communicable disease, or slavery, or one of many other forms of brutality. Second, there is communism. Between the bloody wars of Eastern Europe, the Cambodian holocaust, or all the people served up to Mao’s great leaps forward, communist nations leave a deep record of violence.

This got me thinking about the intellectual parallels between these two ideologies. One parallel is that defenders of each ideology start off with a kernel of truth. The communist is rightly concerned about poverty, corruption, and inequality. The colonialist correctly points out that their culture, or nation, may have valuable resources and technology, which other people might benefit from. The profound mistake of each ideology is to then use these kernels of truth as an excuse for dehumanizing other people and subjecting them to violence.

But how are people dehumanized? For the socialist, the individual becomes the subject of a grand experiment where people must put their labor at the service of grand projects. The colonialists ask the same thing – each person must subsume themselves to the empire, or the race. A cultural, rather than economic project. We still see both projects at play. Some socialist nations still carry on, like in North Korea. We can also see impulses of empire and colonialism, as when the Russian state exerts power on its neighbors, or American “neo-cons” insist that war and conquest are the tools for engaging the world.

What I think marks the line between liberalism, in its many forms, and its competitors is seeing that race, colony, and state should not completely envelop humanity. Whatever ills there are in the world are not to be solved in such a fashion. Instead, what makes modern culture so valuable and important is that it realizes that problems can be tackled, and worked on, without the resort to these extreme methods.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 5, 2018 at 4:13 am

2 Responses

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  1. “For the socialist, the individual becomes the subject of a grand experiment where people must put their labor at the service of grand projects” – this seems like much more of a definition of capitalism, where in order to survive, the vast majority of people are forced to sell their labor to the owners of production to help them further the capitalistic project.

    Also, your slippage from “communism” to “socialism” between the second and third paragraphs is noteworthy – it’s a common rhetorical ploy to associate any policy that could be considered socialist (universal healthcare, for example) with brutal authoritarian regimes that have referred to themselves as communists (like the USSR) and letting that comparison damn the entire project rather than engaging in the substance of the core political debate.

    Liked by 2 people

    Justin

    June 6, 2018 at 3:13 pm

  2. “The colonialist correctly points out that their culture, or nation, may have valuable resources and technology, which other people might benefit from” – This must be the most benign definition of colonialism’s core principles I’ve ever heard from an academic. The ‘kernel of truth’ you’re describing here is so small as to be negligible. I’d take issue with your argument that this is the starting point of colonialism which then gets corrupted along the way.

    Like

    apaul

    June 7, 2018 at 12:33 am


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