Colonialism, indigenous peoples and the split in Europeansocialism

Maureen Silos msilos at
Sat Nov 27 00:25:31 MST 1999

Taking this one step further, I got my hands on "Marxism and Social
>Democracy: The Revisionist Debate 1896-1898," edited by H. and J.M. Tudor.
>This is a collection of articles from the British and German socialist
>press that deal with a number of important theoretical questions that are
>actually still with us today--including the role of capitalism in
>precapitalist society. While there are far fewer such societies today,
>their political importance is enormous since more often than not, they pit
>powerful multinational energy corporations against groups like the U'Wa in
>Colombia or the Ogoni in Nigeria. The revolutionary wing of the socialist
>movement a century ago argued that precapitalist societies should be
>defended from colonial incursions, while Eduard Bernstein and others
>declared in Social Darwinist fashion that capitalism would lift the
>"savage" to a higher stage. Here are snippets from a debate between Belfort
>Bax, a revolutionary, and Bernstein. Note that while Bernstein would
>eventually declare that Marxism had to be "revised", he was not above
>citing the Communist Manifesto in defense of colonialism.

Hello, this is a "native" speaking, educated in western schools so that I
could  become like the master because that was supposed to be the hallmark
of culture and refinement.  But something funny happened on my way to
cognitive nirvana and that is why I find it quite amusing to see the
master's critics jumping to my defense, either saying that capitalism
brings progress to the natives or that capitalism brings destruction.  Is
it possible that it does both?  Before any of you jump on my neck because
entertaining such a thought is a sure sign that I have no knowlegde of the
sacred books of the radical wing of Eurocentrism (e.g. Das Kapital and
others), please reserve your energy for a worthier enemy.  I have never
been enamored by Trotskyism or Maoism or whatever splinters people
developed based on their interpretations of the sacred texts.  I just think
Marx had a very powerful sense of morality, something that I wish his
followers had internalized.  So all this "native" is trying to do is to
test if she actually has a neocortex and thus is capable of autonomous
critical thought.   Bear with me will you?

I am responding to this mail out of frustration with an analysis of
colonialism and capitalism with which I have become increasingly
dissatisfied over the years because it is a huge trap.  I used to believe
in these stories, after all I had a solid progressive education in Holland,
until I went back home to Surinam in 1983 and experienced a cognitive
crisis that I do not wish upon my worst enemy [yes, I am somewhat dramatic,
it could be because of my gender and/or my ethnicity, who knows :-)].

I will not go into the details of what led to the crisis but, given my
position as the Head of a government research department, I participated in
loan negotiations with multilateral organizations such as the
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).  The Surinamese delegation was not
prepared (of course), which left room for the IDB technical advisers to
impose their agenda on the projects.  At one point the Head of the
Surinamese delegation got very irritated with the, in my opinion, perfectly
legitimate questions of the IDB experts and told us during a break that he
wished the Dutch were still in charge, because they were so much easier to
deal with.  I was shocked and in that instant I came to the realization
that we do it to ourselves.  I could not explain this and other behaviors
that I observed all around me that pointed to deep pscyhological and
emotional reasons for this behavior.  My progressive education had taught
me that all our problems were the result of slavery, colonialism and
neocolonialism.  Likewise, solutions to our problems were contingent upon
changes in these external forces, which in the 1980s of course were
primarily embodied in the foreign policy of our big bad neighbor up north,
the United States.  I realized that this was only half of the story, that
the other half were the psychological effects of those stories on people in
Surinam and the Caribbean: the seduction of victimhood.

I was horrified, I was not supposed to think like this, it was racist and
blaming the victim.  But I could not go back to the old story of the
external forces because I could not deny my observations unless I was
willing to admit that I was hallucinating.  To make a long story short, to
save my sanity I had to make sense of my new insights and I wrote a book
"Underdevelopment is a Choice."  I came to UCLA because I needed a good
library to further develop my ideas and I wrote my dissertation on the ways
in which economists in the Caribbean participate in the cognitive
domination of neoliberalism.  One of my goals is to develop a
political-epistemology of neoclassical economics and neoliberalism and to
come up with an integral theory of development, one that takes culture and
psychology seriously.  There is much more to my research agenda than this,
but for this mail I want to focus on the effect of the stories that we tell
ourselves about capitalism and the reasons for the failure of the Left in
the Caribbean.

1) No critique of radical Eurocentrism, as if the enemy of my enemy
automatically becomes my friend.  The transcripts of meetings of the New
Jewel Movement in Grenada that led to the fateful killing of Maurice Bishop
and the American invasion show very clearly what happens when one adopts a
theory or worldview without so much as a sense of its cultural and
historical contingency.  Marxism is as much a product of European culture,
especially the Enlightenment, as any other product of European intellectual
history.  By uncritically accepting that it is universally superior in its
assumptions about human nature, history and the future of humanity,
Caribbean intellectuals committed the ultimate act of self-enslavement:
denying that our Asian and African traditions have anything worthwhile to
say about these issues.  Let me tell you, our Asian heritage has a much
more powerful definition of freedom that Marx could ever think of.  I am
preparing a book that will specifically deal with the issue of freedom and
liberation by showing the strengths and limitations of both traditions when
it comes to understanding human nature and the future of humanity.

2) As a result, there is a pervasive positivism in analyses of Caribbean
underdevelopment, one that focuses on social structures and thus has no
attention for human behavior in all its complexities.  No attention for the
"interior" aspects of behavior.  That is a legacy that we should criticize
because one of the core problems of the Caribbean is precisely the
psychological effects of domination.  Frantz Fanon began the work and I
would like to take it a step further.  Why?  Because the psychological
effects of domination combined with the stories that place all the blame on
abstract external forces, rob the people of any sense of agency.  And I can
give you tons of examples.   I am very concerned about agency, about our
ability to believe that we can imagine a better way of becoming developed
and actually carrying it out.

3) Because there is no awareness that stories have multiple layers of
meaning- making that have to be deconstructed as cultural and political
constructions (metaphysics, epistemology, theory, policies), Caribbean
progressive economists are at a loss against the cognitive force of
neoliberalism.   They have no way to deconstruct its myths of human nature
and the inevitability of infinite economic growth.  Yes, it takes solid
philosophy to do all this, and you know what, I learned it all in Holland
and the United States.  I remember one day when, in my younger knee-jerk
days in Holland, I was ranting and raving against colonial education my
professor looked at me and asked: "what did it do to you,  liberate or
dominate?"  I said: "it did both."  And that is the contradiction I live
every day.  But, had I not taken my Asian heritage seriously I would not
have been able to cultivate a level of awareness from where I could live
these contradictions without becoming overwhelmed or paralyzed.

4) The problematic romanticising of the victims of capitalism, be they
workers or nations.  But how to explain the often active participation of
these victims in their own oppression?  False consciousness?  What an
insult to their intelligence and humanity.  So what is going on?
Globalization offers new and intriguing examples of the seduction of
capitalism and consumerism.  False consciousness?  I don't think so.  The
picture is much more complicated and requires that we begin to take our
biology, especially the mammalian brain seriously.  I do not want to make
this mail too long, but capitalism democratized luxury consumption and
brought new status objects to the masses.   I am not denying the ususal
stories about advertising, not at all (see a powerful and novel critique by
James Twitchell "Lead us into temptation: the triumph of American
materialism), what I am pointing to is the dialectics between the supply
and the demand of consumer goods.  Human beings have a need for status that
is programmed in our mammalian brain.  There is research that shows a
strong correlation between levels of serotonin and relative rank.  So dear
members, if you want a better world, higher morality, universal
identification, equality, and all the beautiful things that Marx predicted
for the end of history, we better begin to look at ways to tame the
mammalian brain without repression, otherwise we will need the resurrection
of a 21st century Freud to cure us from these.  And western psychology has
no clue about transcendence.

Let us please leave the discussion of either/or behind and let us begin to
look at the and/and picture of capitalism, colonialism and globalization.
Our stories have to be as complex as the realities that we want to
understand and change.

Transdisciplinary work is the way to go, crossing the false epistemological
divisions between the life and the social sciences and between positivism
and hermeneutics.  No more exegesis, back to the basics: cognitive
creativity and solid empirical and comparative research.  I am sure that
Marx would agree :-).



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