Is imperialism a colonial political ideology


Andreas Eckert

To person

Dr. phil., born 1964; Professor for the history of Africa at the Institute for Asian and African Studies, Philosophical Faculty III of the HU Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin. [email protected]

Aimé Césaire, the great poet of the Négritude (that literary-philosophical tendency, especially influential in the francophone world, who claimed that Africans were positively cultural different), expressed the suspicion in his "Discours sur le colonialisme" published in the mid-1950s, the whites could not forgive Adolf Hitler for the crime against humans per se, but "that it is the humiliation of the white man and the application of colonialist practices to Europe, to which only the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies in India and the negroes of Africa have been exposed ".[1] The downplaying, even negation of colonial crimes and violence, which Césaire lamented in angry words, shook the widespread view that the Europeanization of the earth was ultimately a project of progress and had saved the colonized from worse. By the time Césaire published his work, the European colonial project was evidently largely in ruins. With a few exceptions, the European possessions in Asia had gained independence, in Africa the process of decolonization was picking up speed and was to lead to the end of colonial rule in large parts of the continent within a few years.

Since then, colonialism has been largely outlawed ideologically, which of course did not prevent the persistence of racist discrimination in many regions of the world. Nostalgic-paternalistic glorifications of colonial rule - "not everything was bad" - and solid justifications for colonial ideology and practices can be found again and again in the past decades, especially in relation to Africa. Incidentally, even high-net-worth historians are not protected from such accusations. Hans-Ulrich Wehler asked about colonial forced labor a few years ago: "And did German workers policy in the colonies have other options from the perspective of contemporaries to get locals used to regular work in the European sense in a lengthy disciplinary process - how brutal and might this work turn out to be exploitative for the time being? "[2]

The ancient historian Egon Flaig goes one step further, who made the following assertion in "World History of Slavery": "European colonialism largely suppressed the violent enslavement processes, suppressed the warlords and stabilized living conditions; he has Africa after a 1000-year history bloody violence and genocide opened up the possibility of new paths. Of course, under colonial supervision. "[3]

From "enslaved victim" to "lazy negro"

In the following, strategies of justification are presented and classified which sought to support the colonial project of the European powers. The focus is on Africa. [4] A look back into history makes it clear that Flaig's arguments resemble the justifications of those contemporaries who called for the colonial conquest of Africa in the last third of the 19th century. The notion of Africa as a slavery continent oppressed by its own tyrants and kept off the path to civilization, Christianity, and trade has been central to missionary propaganda and anti-slavery movements since the 1860s, as well as being a vital component of the European reading public accessible knowledge about Africa.

Particularly popular and effective in this context were the books of the Scottish missionary David Livingstone, who set out to Christianize Africans and free them from the yoke of slavery. Destroy slavery, he wrote, all incentives to engage in agriculture and wage labor. [5] The forces pushing for colonial expansion now had a new powerful argument at their disposal and were even able to portray the colonial division of Africa as a humanitarian crusade against slavery and the slave trade. The strong hand of the colonial state seemed necessary, even the only chance to protect the inhabitants of Africa from their own violence, and at the same time to "open" the continent economically to the supposed benefits of "legitimate" trade. [6]

Abolitionist rhetoric was one of the central strategies of justification in establishing European colonialism in Africa. To put it bluntly: The political struggle against slave trade and slavery, which began in the 1780s, led, as it were, to the colonization of Africa a century later. Characteristic of the abolition movement, which was particularly present in Great Britain, appears to be the initially rather uncoordinated interplay of religiously awakened prophets and moralists. Slavery was seen by them as a sin and a crime against divine providence, and the fight against slavery was therefore carried out as a crusade of individual and national cleansing of sin. The appeal to co-suffer with the enslaved was linked to the promise of a clear conscience. For acting against slavery and the slave trade, ideology and politics were therefore of particular importance. "Slavery," summarized Jürgen Osterhammel the majority opinion in the relevant research, "was not eliminated because it stood in the way of economic progress, but because it could no longer be defended politically and morally". [7] In 1807, a bill making the slave trade with British and other colonies illegal found large majorities in both houses of the London Parliament. Almost 40 years later, the British Parliament also banned the possession of slaves. Other powers such as France followed, and later the United States of America.

The success of the anti-slavery movement in Britain was in line with a national interest reformulated after the loss of the North American colonies. The fight against slavery became a hallmark of national virtue, a means by which the British could impress others with their supposed innate love of freedom and encourage themselves in moments of despair. In the longer term, the British ruling class benefited most from the abolition movement, which was by no means a conservative company, but was supported by broad sections of the population.

The struggle against slavery on the one hand legitimized the imperial supremacy of Great Britain in the world, as, as Linda Colley writes, the crusade against slavery seemed to be further evidence and at the same time a guarantee of its exceptional position among the nations: "British gunboats sank under God's protection because they carried out God's work. "[8] On the other hand, the abolitionist doctrine could help secure the new industrial social order domestically by promoting basic social and moral values ​​such as free market economy and personal responsibility. [9] The renewed turn to state intervention in overseas trade and production as it emerged towards the end of the 19th century was in line with growing social interventions by governments in Europe itself - state efforts to create "respectable" working classes. "Old Europe" had benefited from the violence in Africa in the era of the slave trade and additionally stimulated it. The "New Europe", however, now pleaded for a predictable and orderly economic expansion. [10]

Such thinking manifested itself not only in the European metropolises, but also "on the ground", as it were, in Africa itself, where the widespread violence negatively impacted European trade interests and sparked complicated debates about where and how European governments should intervene. to protect commercial property and ensure economic progress. Colonialism could be explained to a more skeptical public in Europe, who were not entirely convinced that colonialism would benefit more than some adventurers, with the help of rhetoric that appealed to the need for progress, which was so much talked about in Europe too.

It should be emphasized that this moral vision was far more international than the British-driven struggle against the slave trade after 1807. The imperial powers presented themselves as bringing civilization, while the Africans as slave owners, incapable of order and self-control. The European powers would cooperate to create the structures that enable the orderly and rational use of African resources and labor.

The "project of reformed imperialism", as Frederick Cooper called the colonial conquest of Africa, quickly proved to be a failure. [11] The European colonial masters, who were weak in terms of resources and personnel, were particularly dependent on the cooperation with local African elites during the phase of establishing their rule, who in turn were often among the most important slave owners in the respective colonies. The colonial powers passed laws to end slavery and the slave trade almost everywhere, but the local administrators usually did little to enforce them.

The ability of slaves to free themselves from the shackles of dependency on their own ultimately did not depend so much on the legislation or the goodwill of the colonial officials, but rather on aspects such as age and gender, access to land, water, cattle, Tools and seeds or whether wage labor could be found. [12] Numerous colonial regimes resorted to forced labor. The Belgian Congo was a particularly notorious case. Overall, however, the European colonial rulers had great difficulty in making Africans reliable producers for the European and world markets. Colonial governments were able to partially implement their demands for taxes and tribute in the form of forced labor with the help of local rulers.It was more difficult to deny Africans access to land and to force them comprehensively into wage labor. [13]

In 1920, the colonial attempts to remodel Africa had largely failed. The frustration over this resulted in an image of Africa as a continent of tribes and traditions that could only slowly be subject to change. The partial failure of the European colonial rulers to make the inhabitants of Africa serviceable as desired and to extensively exploit their labor was reflected not least in the fact that the alleged "laziness" of the Africans was emphasized again and again. The extremely tenacious racist stereotype of the "lazy native" indicates that European colonial rule was by no means omnipotent, even at the height of colonial penetration into Africa. The characterization of African workers as "lazy" ultimately implied the recognition of the limits of colonial dominance - the limits were of course simply attributed to the "primitiveness" of those to be ruled, in no way to the contradictions of the practice of colonial rule.

A fundamental change took place in the 1940s. Massive strikes in Africa and a complex global situation - the Second World War, powerful nationalist movements in many parts of the colonial empires - led the colonial rulers to no longer see the supposed "backwardness" of Africa under the sign of modernization theory and development ideas as an unchangeable "racial" characteristic, but rather to be interpreted as a reversible cultural trait. The aim was to show the inhabitants of Africa, themselves and the rest of the world that colonial rule could now be justified as progressive. This project also failed, and the colonial development initiative quickly lost its zeal for reform. In the end, the Africans themselves took over the development project and the state apparatus left by the colonial powers - what followed was not a success story, however. [14] On the occasion of the many crises in post-colonial Africa, justifications for colonialism have occasionally made themselves heard posthumously. And not a few see development aid, which has had a significant impact on relations between Africa and the rest of the world for decades, [15] as a kind of refined version of the civilizing mission - arguably the most influential ideology of justifying colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.