Conquest is not new in human history. When humans developed food production in seven different regions of the world from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago, the foundation was established for economic and cultural development through the conquest of neighboring lands and peoples.
Food production had definite advantages over foraging. By increasing both the quantity and the reliability of the food supply, it made possible the emergence of social classes not directly involved in food production and able to devote themselves to a wide variety of occupations. Humans began to live in vibrant cities with markets, streets, temples, and palaces. They developed crafts such as spinning, weaving, brick making, and metallurgy. They invented new technologies. They expanded trade and commerce. They created sculpture, mural art, writing systems, weights, measures, mathematics, and new forms of political and social organization.
But there also were clear disadvantages to food production. It led to social inequality and to systems of social stratification that constructed ideological legitimations of inequality. Generally those at the bottom were incorporated into the system through conquest. The conquered peoples formed a lower class of forced laborers that originated from different cultures, ethnic groups, and/or nations. In this way, class inequality and ethnic/national/“racial” domination have been intertwined throughout the history of domination in human societies. Meanwhile, alongside class/ethnic domination, gender domination emerged as an important social phenomenon in the system of social stratification, and patriarchal ideologies justifying the exclusion and devaluation of women came into being. And food production has environmental consequences. It kills the diverse species of trees and plants of the natural environment, and renders the environment unlivable for a wide variety of animal species.
And so for 10,000 years our species has developed with an intertwined duality: on the one hand, great achievements in production, science, technology, literature, art, and music; and on the other hand, structures of domination that devalue the majority of people and that degrade the environment. But the achievements could not have been attained without the domination, because domination established the material conditions necessary for the development of human resources. Thus we see that domination and development are dialectically related: domination makes possible development, which in turn makes possible further domination. Let us give name to this central human tendency since the agricultural revolution: the dialectic of domination and development.
In the modern era, the dialectic of domination and development would reach an advanced expression. Beginning with the sixteenth century Spanish conquest of America, the tendency for more powerful human groups to dominate other human populations became global. By the beginning of the twentieth century, European nations had conquered nearly all of the American continents as well as most of Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Global structures of domination emerged, far surpassing in scope and depth the structures of domination of the earlier empires. Vast regions of the world became obligated to provide cheap raw materials to feed the consuming and manufacturing center of the world-economy. With their traditional manufacturing destroyed, the conquered regions were compelled to purchase the goods of the manufacturing center. Unprecedented levels of human inequality emerged. The new international elite became far more wealthy and powerful than the elites of the earlier empires that were based on merely regional domination and a primarily agricultural economy. Meanwhile, the masses of the vast peripheral regions, whose ancestors had formed in many cases great civilizations, were reduced to forced and cheap laborers amidst social conditions of underdevelopment and widespread poverty.
These modern global structures of domination have become institutionalized in a modern world-economy characterized by a geographical division of labor between core and periphery. The periphery assumes the economic function of exporting raw materials, on a base of forced and cheap labor, to the core. The core functions as the manufacturing center, on a base of relatively high wages. This function has enabled the core to become consuming societies with advanced forms of manufacturing, technology, and science. There has emerged an unequal exchange between the high priced manufactured goods of the core and cheap raw materials of the periphery, an unequal exchange that is central to the exploitative core-peripheral relation.
At the same time, the modern global structures of domination have established the conditions that make possible their negation, in that modern social conditions have provided fertile ground for social movements that envision human liberation from structures of domination.
Thus far, we have sought to understand the historic development of modern structures of colonial domination that established the foundation for the present neocolonial world-system. In subsequent posts, we will seek to understand the historic development of movements that seek human liberation, movements that make evident the essential dignity of our species.
Diamond, Jared. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton.
Kottak, Conrad Phillip. 2011. Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity, Fourteenth Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, food production, agricultural revolution, Jared Diamond