What is Neo-Colonialism?
Walter Sebastian Adler
Colonialism in Literature
What is Colonization?
To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law. To admit once and for all, without flinching at the consequences, that the decisive actors here are the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocery and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them the baleful shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonist economies (Cesaire, p.32)
And in response to that emancipatory development is form of resistance. Before one can struggle they must articulate to their people the nature of the oppression that has befallen them. Colonial literature in different terms seeks to convey the way in which the colonial experience is one of dehumanization and physical rape. While varying authors take different approaches to understanding the social phenomenon it is important to show a textual analysis of different writer’s presentation of the subject. Focusing primarily on Houseboy and Heart of Darkness, this writer will tackle the use of literature to demonstrate the horrors of colonial violence supplemented by the writings of Fanon, Memmi, and Cesaire.
Perhaps the greatest trick ever pulled on mankind was the false consciousness delineating race and nation over the unity of humanity. Colonialism was an institution was designed to extract the wealth of the non-Western world, dehumanize them to nothing short of a reformative slavery, and thus cloak the entire venture in the great civilizing mission, or development enterprise. Yet colonialism was/is a dual pariah. In destroying the indigenous cultures and exacting terrible brutality it also changes the metropol power as well. The colonial experience changes both parties involved for in it one group was dehumanized and the other was forced to admit or rationalize the inhumanity of their practices and policies. To understand a given societal interaction one must first analyze the participating parties to determine the dynamics that define their relationship. In the context of colonialism, social theorists have sought to paint a portrait of the participating parties to show the true costs of maintaining the colonies. It is an entity whose defining attributes include glorification of mediocrity, quick financial gain for a privileged few, and the ultimate ruin of the participants. This was the narrative that declared the age of colonialism “over” and has declared that era; dead, lessons learned. Yet the dependency persists. The economic domination continues. Neo-Colonialism not referring to a “new type of colonialism”. It is the exact same power relationship of North over South divested of its overt ideological of racial overtones. Neo-Colonialism if a globalized version of the old paradigm. To form a true indictment of colonialism one must first know its actors and its cost.
The archetype of the colonizer most implanted in the Western mind is found in Heart of Darkness is of course Kurtz; the colonizer who accepts. Kurtz is a product of the colonial project; an extreme rendition of the fate of the colonizer. Once the sense of mission is stripped we are left with the brutal reality unjustifiable even under the feeble terms offered in the defense of the enterprise. Says Cesaire in his damning indictment;
They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most civilized man; the colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal (Cesaire, p.41).
And an animal is what Kurtz becomes. The journey of Marlow up the Congo River is journey not just into a Heart of Darkness connoting the barbarity of the jungle; it is a metaphor for the darkness in the heart of man transformed by the greater project. And along the way Marlow comes across the varying degrees of colonizers. There is the chief accountant with the starched collars and pristine appearance. Slightly removed from the horror there is the colonist who maintains a position of privilege yet has so far been unmoved by the brutality. Marlow comments on this man;
Moreover I respected the fellow. Yes. I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy, but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character. He had been out here three years and, later on, I could not help asking him how he managed to sport such linen (Conrad, p.18).
The esteem articulated by Marlow about this man demonstrates the rational of the colonizer. The place is savage and its savagery is the juxtaposition of the western metropol civilized. In reference to the indigenous people Marlow sees them as beasts of burden; as completely subhuman and looks in relative indifference when they are to be treated as such. While he has a sense of sympathy to the pathetic nature of the broken and whipped creatures that once were the indigenous African tribes or when he sees a ship shelling the bush over a minor and trivial rebellion a part of him must convince himself that this violence is not to a fellow man. There is the cool indifference to the nature of the project and that becomes worse as one moves deeper into the real motivations and realities that lie up river.
Further up river Marlow encounters men from the Eldorado Exploring Expedition. Their rugged indifference to uphold even the pretense of the mission is evident in their talk and conduct they reflect that the colonizer ultimately realizes the nature if their mission.
Their talk however was the talk of sordid buccaneers. It was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage. There was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware that these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe (Conrad, p.30)
The colonizer is of course an agent of profit as expressed my Marlow earlier on in the book. The concept of the civilizing mission is more for the Europeans at home in the metropol power for it would be absurd to express such a view amidst the witness of the project itself. A colony after all is defined by its objective goal. Says Memmi:
Leaving for a colony is not a choice sought because of its uncertain dangers, nor is a desire of one tempted by adventure. It is simply a voyage toward an easier life…” it is “a place where one earns more and spends less. You go to a colony because jobs are guaranteed, wages high, careers more rapid and business more profitable (Memmi, p.3).
The colonizer comes to the colony because of the inherent privilege attached to his status, profiting from a situation instigated by his people and maintained through the oppression of the colonized. The goal of the colony is to get as much as one can for as little as possible. The colony itself exists as a mechanism of pure exploitation.
If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; if he can benefit from plentiful and undemanding labor and servants, it is because the colonized can be exploited at will and are not protected by the laws of the colony; if he can obtain administrative positions, it is because they are reserved for him and the colonized are excluded from them (Memmi, p.8).
Upriver beyond the starched collared accountant and the pirates of the Eldorado exploring company lies Kurtz. He is a man of mediocrity made great by the colony and its mission. In the metropol country he is too poor to be married yet here in the Congo he has fashioned himself into a god. Cesaire would comment that the colony has brought the brutality out of Kurtz and that he is merely acting out the natural result of the colonial power structure. The colonizer is of course not accountable to anyone. Kurtz engages in barbarism and wanton brutality for the colony has made him insane. On intrinsic level however Kurtz knows that with his full understanding of the project; his vested role in the colonial endeavor; in his final moments he comes to terms with what he has done.
It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror-of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in very detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision-he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: “The horror! The horror!” (Conrad, p.69).
Kurtz is the creation of the colonial system; he represents its greatest agent stricken by the underlying horror of it all. What Conrad means to say with his character is that colonialism brings out the animal hiding behind the veil of Western civilization and that barbarity of the heart of darkness must always be reflected that the West is “one of the dark places of the earth” too. The only way to justify these atrocities is to attempt to hide them behind the great civilizing mission, but this veil cannot hold for long. While Marlow fabricates the message of Kurtz and conceals the final madness from the intended; this is the metaphoric concealment of the metropol country from ever making its citizens aware of the reality of the colonial project.
For a colony to exist it must be sustained by a large, unskilled, uneducated and generally illiterate indigenous population. These are the natives of the country. These are the colonized. Says Marlow:
No they were not inhuman. Well, you know that was the worst of it- this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped and spun and made horrid faces, but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity-like yours- the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar (Conrad, p.36).
But thought like that had to be suppressed.
They were never given the option to accept or refuse. They were born exploited and have been taught from birth a self-degrading mentality that would insure they would never revolt. They are kept unskilled so their labor remains cheap. They have no rights, nor do they have access to power. They are taught inferiority and their only real aspiration is to emulate the colonizer closely enough that they might become him. In Houseboy Toundi bears witness to the role of the colonized. While the natives are taught to embrace a rigid Christian dogma the colonizers live a gilded life of luxury, profit, and hypocrisy. Toundi with relative unconscious rebellion becomes the repeated victim of colonial violence through his failure to grasp what the white man deems is his role. Says the household cook:
Toundi, will you never learn what a houseboy’s job is? One of these days you’ll be the cause of real trouble. When will you grasp that for the whites, you are only alive to do their work and for no other reason. I am the cook. The white man does not see me except with his stomach. You lad’s of today, I don’t know what’s the matter with you (Oyono, p.87).
Assimilation however is impossible. The colonizer tells them that they are incapable of self rule. They have been oppressed for so long they have forgotten what freedom ever felt like. They have been dehumanized into anonymous collectivity existing purely to serve the colonizer. He is trapped and there is no means for social mobility. He is not offered citizenship nor can he convert to the faith of his masters and ever truly be regarded as an equal. His degradation has been absolute.
To keep the colonized from revolting the colonized must be made to believe in the legitimacy of the system. To do this institutionalized racism is used to make the language, culture, and ethnicity of the colonized inferior in their own minds. They are given Christianity and new names; they are taught to believe in the “savage” nature of their old customs. Toundi is socialized through the church to accept his place. In Houseboy religion is the cement that binds the colonized to their prescribed role as an army of slaves. They must struggle to be like the colonizer, but be constantly reminded that this is unattainable.
‘Perhaps Madame, but my wife and children will never be able to eat and dress like Madame or like white children.’
‘Oh dear,’ she laughed. ‘You are getting big ideas.’
She went on. ‘You must be serious. Everyone has their position in life. You are a houseboy, my husband is Commandant…nothing can be done about it. You are a Christian aren’t you?’ (Oyono, p.56)
Revolt is unthinkable. Not only is everything done to disrupt and discredit nationalist feelings, there exists both an army and a police force ready to brutally crush rebellion. Because the typical colonized has little to no education, it produces few intellectuals, and thus remains backward. This backwardness is enforced and relied upon to retain control over a population that greatly outnumbers the colonizers. And yet revolt is carried out in the simple assertion of the colonized’s humanity. It is after all the reclamation on ones humanity and dignity that is the greatest threat to the colonizer. If the colonized are people the system simply will not hold. Toundi comes to this realization throughout the course of Houseboy. Upon witnessing the brutal beating of a native he exclaims:
Is the white man’s neighbor only other white men? Who can go on believing the stuff we are served up in the churches when things happen like I saw today…On Sunday the priest will say, ‘Dearly beloved brethren, pray for all those prisoners who died without making their peace with god. Everyone will put a little more than he had intended. All the money goes to the whites. They are always thinking up new ways to get back what little money they pay us. How wretched we are (Oyono, p.76).
The colonial system, founded on inequity and buttressed with dehumanizing ideas, is not sustainable. While much can be done to enslave a people the obvious hypocrisy of the system only reinforces dull sensations of nationalism and equality in the native people. The colonized wonder why they work so hard and earn so little; they wonder why a foreign power has subjugated them for so long. A writer like Cesaire reminds the colonizer that the system brings out their inherent decadence and lust for blood. For her the colony is but an extension of Nazism. Conrad has demonstrated in his book that this conclusion is not so far from the truth. Europe’s heart is dark indeed. A writer like Memmi introduces us to the mediocrity of the colonizer and paints a vivid picture of the colonial system’s ultimate moral bankruptcy; mediocre people seeking profit. Oyono’s Houseboy not only depicts the colonizers mediocrity, it shows the colonized in proto-rebellious understanding of a needed political reaction.
As we have said literature is a form of resistance. Both Heart of Darkness and Houseboy depict the horrors of the colonial experience for an audience removed from the project. Cesaire, Memmi, and Fanon would be out of context for most without human portraits of the main protagonists. We have touched on Memmi and Cesaire, but what of Fanon? How does the colonial project end?
The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and the blood stained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them climb at a pace the well-known steps which characterize organized society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence (Fanon, p.37).
A system founded on such grievous injustice will yield fiery rebellion and violence will wash over every colony as the redemptive actions of a people long in captivity. The systematic subjugation of the colonized took hundreds of years to perfect, but the violent revolution against it will be quick in comparison. Colonialism according to Fanon will be washed away only through bloodshed. Because a people can tolerate such treatment only for so long; the anger unleashed against the colonizer will be great. The fate of both Toundi and Kurtz was death. While the literature may serve to remind the West of the violence they have perpetrated these books are for the West and not for the colonized. The colonized after all read Fanon not Houseboy. Colonialism is an institution that destroys both protagonists. The extent of course rests on the duration of the project.
Cesaire, A. (2000). Discourse on Colonialism
Conrad, J. (2006). Heart of Darkness.
Fanon, F. (1968). Wretched of the Earth.
Memmi, A. (2000). The Colonizer and the Colonized.
Oyono, F. (1990). Houseboy.
The Cost of Colonialism
By: Walter Adler
To understand a given societal interaction, be it the struggles of the working class to gain access to the means of production, or that of a colonized people subjugated by a foreign power; one must first analyze the participating parties to determine the dynamics that define their relationship. In the context of colonialism, Memmi seeks to paint a portrait of the participating parties to show the true cost of maintaining the colony. It is an entity whose defining attributes include glorification of mediocrity, quick financial gain for a privileged few, and the ultimate ruin of all participants. To understand the case against colonialism one must first know its players and its cost.
A colony is defined by its objective goal. “Leaving for a colony is not a choice sought because of its uncertain dangers, nor is a desire of one tempted by adventure. It is simply a voyage toward an easier life…” it is “a place where one earns more and spends less. You go to a colony because jobs are guaranteed, wages high, careers more rapid and business more profitable.” The colonizer comes to the colony because of the inherent privilege attached to his status, profiting from a situation instigated by his people and maintained through the oppression of the colonized. The goal of the colony is to get as much as one can for as little as possible. The colony itself exists as a mechanism of pure exploitation. “If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; if he can benefit from plentiful and undemanding labor and servants, it is because the colonized can be exploited at will and are not protected by the laws of the colony; if he can obtain administrative positions, it is because they are reserved for him and the colonized are excluded from them.” A natural dependency is formed and as a result there become two types of colonials; those that refuse and those that accept. Both are changed by the colony in different ways, but are quite aware of its true nature. The reality of the colonizer is the ongoing knowledge that he is a usurper; that all his privilege is derived from the degradation of an entire people to the status of quasi-slavery. The decision he then makes effects the severity of the cost.
The colonizer who refuses tends to come from a left or liberal background. He is upset by the glaring poverty, the malnourished and undereducated colonized, but primarily he regards the very colony itself as a permanent injustice that he must work to right. He rejects the opportunity that comes through his colonizer status and attempts to be accepted by the colonized. Unfortunately, he is not one of them and never will be. Their customs are not his own and their objectives post-liberation do not necessarily coincide with his ideals and long term interests. “He suspects that he will have no place in the future nation. This will be the last discovery, the most staggering one for the left-wing colonizer…if he could continue to live in the midst of the colonized as a tolerated foreigner, he tolerate together with the former colonizers the rancor of a people once bullied by them.” The result of his choice will inevitably leave him alienated by his own people and rejected by those he attempted to aid. He is made ineffective by his origins. While his intentions were indeed righteous, “his statements and promises have no influence on the life of the colonized because he is not in power.” The final act of the colonizer who refuses will be to leave the colony and put an end to his ineffective and contradictory political career. He is left demoralized and may come to the conclusion that perhaps his ideals of freedom and democracy are not so well instituted in the third world. Compared to those that accept however, his loss is less severe.
The colonizer who accepts is by nature mediocre. His decision is obviously more convenient for he is fulfilling the unstated objective of the colony. Its existence is not to better the local populace, it is to make use of them. He pretends not to see the poverty around him and justifies his exploitation through institutionalized racism. He insists both to his class and to those he oppresses that the colonized are inherently lazy and naturally backward. He champions the token developments the colony has brought to the colonized people. All are indeed inadequate, but he rationalizes that his people have done these savages a service. The colony tends to lose its brightest minds as those of real intellect or ability leave, gravitating toward social institutions based on merit. “The promotion of mediocre personnel is not a temporary error but a lasting catastrophe from which the colony never recovers.” Because they have accepted they have made a commitment to remain. Even though their stated objective may be to retire back to their country of origin with the riches they’ve amassed, they remain aware that such a return would mean the end of their privilege and a decreased standard of living. In their home countries they are without rank or privilege; they are simply mediocre. They are supported by a system fashioned to their benefit and a priori they will aggressively defend what they have usurped. He will do everything he can to falsify history, rewrite laws, and praise both himself and his kind. “His disquiet and resulting thirst for justification require the usurper to extol himself to the skies and to drive the usurped below the ground at the same time.”
A deep seated insecurity grips all those who accept for they know that the colony will inevitably cease as an institution. They have become more a burden than asset to the mother country. They are a living anachronism; the skeleton in the closet of the free world. While they do everything they can to suppress the nationalism of the colonized, they know that one day the colony will fall. When it does they will be hunted, they will be forced to flee, and their very lives will be threatened. After all, they are an alien minority living at the expense of an entire people; the Nero complex will inevitably have a cost.
The colonizer who accepts has paid for his luxury by accepting a delusion. His entire existence is based upon justifications that are false and rationalizations that he himself must admit are questionable. He has destroyed a people for personal gain. His class has enabled the misery around him. The price he will pay will be high. The inevitable fall of the colony will strip him of both his material processions and his power, but there is a far worse result of his acceptance. He has spent most of his life in a system where his mediocrity was rewarded. He did not have to work hard or earn what he received. He will find that the outside world is not like the colony. His views; the very way he lives his life is no longer in synch with the outside world. The result will be a permanent isolation. Nothing will ever compare to the life he lived in the colony. While he may have been able to extract some assets before the liberation, he will never possess what he once had. The absolution he created for himself now means nothing. He is aware of what he has done and will never readjust to the social norms of a society based on merit.
For a colony to exist it must be sustained by a large, unskilled, uneducated and generally illiterate indigenous population. These are the natives of the country. These are the colonized. They were never given the option to accept or refuse. They were born exploited and have been taught from birth a self-degrading mentality that would insure they would never revolt. They are kept unskilled so their labor remains cheap. They have no rights, nor do they have access to power. They are taught inferiority and their only real aspiration is to emulate the colonizer closely enough that they might become him. Assimilation however is impossible. The colonizer tells them that they are incapable of self rule. They have been oppressed for so long they have forgotten what freedom ever felt like. They have been dehumanized into anonymous collectivity existing purely to serve the colonizer. He is trapped and there is no means for social mobility. He is not offered citizenship nor can he convert to the faith of his masters and ever truly be regarded as an equal. His degradation has been absolute.
To keep the colonized from revolting the colonized must be made to believe in the legitimacy of the system. To do this institutionalized racism is used to make the language, culture, and ethnicity of the colonized inferior in their own minds. They must struggle to be like the colonizer, but be constantly reminded that this is unattainable. Revolt is unthinkable. Not only is everything done to disrupt and discredit nationalist feelings, there exists both an army and a police force ready to brutally crush rebellion. Because the typical colonized has little to no education, it produces few intellectuals, and thus remains backward. This backwardness is enforced and relied upon to retain control over a population that greatly outnumbers the colonizers. “The question of whether the colonized, if let alone, would have advanced at the same pace as other peoples has no great significance. To be perfectly truthful, we have no way of knowing. It is possible that he might not.” What is accepted by anyone examining the colony system is that in no way was the colony’s existence of actual benefit to the colonized. It was markedly detrimental. “How could a social system which perpetuates such distress— even supposing that is does not create it —endure for so long? How can one dare compare the advantages and disadvantages of colonization? What advantages even if a thousand times more important, could make such internal and external catastrophes acceptable?” There are none.
The cost they have paid is enormous. They have gained little if anything and were denied everything positive the colonizing country could offer. Their entire way of life has been disrupted. Countless resources have been stolen from their country. Millions have died of starvation and disease. While the colonizer that refuses suffered idealistically and the colonizer who accepts may have been bankrupted, displaced, and forced to accept reality; the colonized has been raped. They have been raped both physically and mentally; altered beyond recognition. They have no past, they have no future, they remain trapped in the oppression of the now.
The colonized are left with only two options; assimilation or revolution. Being that assimilation is outright rejected as a concept by the colonizer, they are forced to aggressively demand change. It may start small, by refusing to speak the language of the colonizer. It will intensify; perhaps weapons will be acquired. One way or another, either through peaceful settlement of political violence, the colony will cease to exist. But what was the cost of colonization? It scarred all those that took part in it. Undoubtedly some profited from its existence financially. Obviously lives were destroyed and a nation was ravished. There can be no stability for a system founded on injustice. One cannot undo history, but one must learn not to repeat it.
All quotations have been taken from The Colonizer and The Colonized by Albert Memmi