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Decolonization and empire. Contesting the rhetoric and reality of resubordination in Southern Africa and beyond

Decolonization and empire. Contesting the rhetoric and reality of resubordination in Southern Africa and beyond

Examines the grim reality of postliberation southern Africa
Saul, John S.

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Author: John S. Saul
Publisher: Witwatersrand University Press
Johannesburg, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-86814-468-6
Paperback, 13x21 cm, 202 pages


In this title examines the grim reality of postliberation southern Africa and also the forms of resistance that the re-subordination of the continent now calls for.

In the process he exposes and contests the rhetoric that serves as apologia for the 'Empire of Capital', and shows the linkages between inequalities and injustices reinforced by the 'free' market on the one hand and, on the other, by the assertive religiosity and ethnic messianism that the 'Empire' helps to emerge and then uses as 'justification' for renewed imperialist intervention.

His title makes a significant contribution to the discussion on Imperialism and resistance to it in the present day. The author tells this story forcefully with reference to southern Africa and ‘its struggle against white colonial overlordship and authoritarian capitalist imposition'. The first part evokes both the decolonization of southern Africa and its grim recolonization.

The title then moves on to critique the ideologues of empire and to mark the emergence of new struggles against the new subordination in southern Africa and elsewhere, to discuss their contours and assess their possibilities. The title asserts the relevance of socialism as the only real alternative to the logic of empire and the marketplace.

As the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, what does 'empire' mean today?
Unalloyed capitalism, the manufacture and extension of a global hierarchy, reinforced by the 'free' workings of the market, creating inequality?

A hierarchy that is self-creating and self-sustaining, or something willed and locked into place by the states of the North and their panoply of institutions: the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO? What are the prospects for quasi-left experimentation in the South? What are the forces in opposition to capitalism? As the 'free global market' projects itself are we seeing recolonization?

About the author:

John S. Saul, Professor Emeritus, York University (Toronto), has been, for many years, a writer, editor, teacher and activist both in Africa and in Canada. He has written or edited some sixteen previous books on eastern and southern Africa, on development theory, and on the practice of international solidarity. He is currently preparing a history of the thirty years war for the liberation of Southern Africa (1960-1990) and its aftermath.


Introduction: The Empire of Capital
A. Colonization-Recolonization: the Southern Africa Case
Chapter 1: Decolonizing the Residues of Empire
Chapter 2: Recolonization and the New Empire of Capital
B. Revalidating vs. Resisting Empire: the Global Struggle
Chapter 3: "Humanitarian Imperialism": Ferguson, Ignatieff and the Political Science of Good Empire
Chapter 4: Regrounding Resistance to the Empire of Capital
C. Recolonization: Revisiting the Case
Chapter 5: The Strange Death of Liberated Southern Africa
Conclusion: Resistance
1. Eduardo Mondlane and the rise and fall of Mozambican socialism
2. Remembering Samora Machel


The Empire of Capital

The basic premise of this book is a straightforward one. As noted in an earlier book for Three Essays Collective, the world is a horribly unequal and exploitative place.1 Capitalism, serving as the chief engine of empire, has been, in its global expansion outward from the North Atlantic, a -even the - key force in making it so.

At the turn of the twentieth century, driving home the apparent logic of its overweening power, capitalisms principal beneficiaries sought to transfigure this system, under the title of globalization, into a commonsensical fact of life and, in its name, to reinforce an unassailable form of quasi-colonialism upon a global South much of which had only just, within the preceding forty years, cast off the shackles of the most overt and direct kind of colonialism.

Even when driving towards more general prognoses and conclusions it seems best to begin most directly with what one knows best, however. In my case, this is southern Africa and the struggle against white colonial overlordship and authoritarian capitalist imposition that I had
accompanied, as witness and marginal participant, ever since the 1960s.

Here one saw people standing up, as elsewhere in the world, against the criminal fact of dispossession and colonial tyranny in the name of national liberation and even social revolution, only to have the latter goal snatched from them and "national liberation" translated into an ever deeper subordination to global capital.

Thus, the first two chapters of the present book evoke both the decolonization of southern Africa and its then grim recolonization, a theme I have carried even further in another recent book entitled "The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy" to which the interested reader may be referred;2 in this book, however, a chapter (5) written in 2007 as the present manuscript was being finalized for press and entitled "The Strange Death of Liberated Southern Africa," seeks both to bring the story of the region up to date and also to round off the overall argument of the book.

Of course, it may well be that Africa (including southern Africa) provides a worst-case scenario of the grim global realities we seek to highlight here, but it is far from being absolutely distinct from other parts of the world with regard to such realities.

The present book then moves on to even broader themes linked to the practice of recolonization. For the newest empire of capital needs its ideologues (and its ideologies and cultures of domination). Chapter 3 examines two such ideologues, Niall Ferguson and Michael Ignatieff who are chief amongst those who refuse to allow the aggression, economic and otherwise, of the First World against the global South to appear for what it is.

Indeed, Ferguson comes close to saying it never was, that is, the West never really was imperialist in any negative way, tending to be (or at least quickly to become) a positive force for good in the world it was acting to make. And so it is said to remain, benignly aggressive in the war against terror and against any irrational resistance to the humanizing work of the global market place.

Indeed, as I shall suggest, the workings of the global market-place are taken for granted as an unquestioned "good thing" and the symptoms of the inequalities and injustices, the emergence of which such a system helps to facilitate - morbid symptoms such as assertive religiosity and ethnic messianism - are interpreted merely as excuses for renewed imperial intervention.

But if Ferguson and Ignatieff would argue on behalf of an "end of history" arriving, out of the barrel of a gun and stamped with a corporate logo under the aegis of a hegemonic global capitalism, the world is, fortunately, not quite so simple a place. True, much of that world has ceded ground to the "common-sense" of capitalist globalization that the exercise of global power by capital and attendant imperial states (notably the United States) has brought to the fore ever more forcefully in the wake of the Cold War.

But there is a catch. Beyond rhetoric, the global system does not actually work - work for the vast majority of the worlds population, that is. Of course, given the failure of secular alternatives to capitalist-logic there are alternative rhetorics that have their appeal - fundamentalist Islam as a rival to the fundamentalist Christianity that helps its perpetrators to rationalize capitalist aggression, for example - but, as chapter 4 suggests, this is not all.

Slowly but surely a new secular practice, cast in class terms and groping towards anti-capitalist assertion along anti-capitalist, even socialist, lines, begins to be heard, perhaps most articulately, so far, in parts of Latin America and, however haltingly and intermittently, elsewhere as well. Nor is global capitalism without its own internal contradictions too. We will have to survey such realities in chapter 4.

Clearly, there is a danger here, one of mere predictability: isn't this, after all, the same old, from the same old people (the present author included). Still, the fact that the logic of capital doesn't "work" in human terms means there MUST be something better. So we assert. But the responsible - not romantic - critic knows he/she must reach for something real and substantial to hang on to, something that begins to exemplify their own hopes in the "real" world.

I myself once briefly found this "something real and substantial to hang on to" in the initial practice of certain of the southern African liberation movements and in solidarity with them. Others now find in, say, the "Bolivarian" assertions in Latin America similar signs of promising practice. For it is "socialism" - the hegemony of democratically-determined social needs, requirements and priorities over and against the "choices" of the market and those in social, economic and political power who control it - that is being demanded here.

Needless to say, we have seen this hope and this aspiration smashed all too often both by enemies within and without the "socialist" camp. Not that I will be seduced into specifying that aspirations precise particulars here - a mug's game if ever there was one, and a "game" too often attempted, and to disastrous effect, by too many "vanguards" of the past.

No, it will have to be reinvented in its particulars more or less from scratch (and much more democratically than in the past): that is the task of the twenty-first century if humanity, especially, in the first instance, those persons living in the global South, is to escape the grim wages of social and environmental catastrophe. But we can at least begin a discussion of just what is left of such hopes, such projections of continuing struggle, such possibilities, and will do so in chapter 4. […]