In the public discourses of the North, there is a pervasive tendency to overlook (1) the significance of colonialism in creating development and underdevelopment in the capitalist world-economy, and (2) the role of neocolonial structures in maintaining these global structures of inequality (see “Overcoming the colonial denial” 7/29/2013). But Immanuel Wallerstein has managed to escape this Eurocentrism.
Wallerstein has written that he came to understand the significance of European colonial domination during his personal encounter in Africa of the African nationalist movement during its drive for independence from European colonial rule in the 1950s and early 1960s. Referring to this encounter in 1974, Wallerstein notes that he listened to “the angry analyses and optimist passions of young militants of the African movements,” and this led him to conclude that Europeans resident in Africa and the African nationalists “approached the situation with entirely different sets of conceptual frameworks.” The African nationalists, Wallerstein concluded, “saw the reality in which they lived as a ‘colonial situation,’” fundamentally different from and opposed to the “colonial mentality” of the Europeans (1974:4).
In Wallerstein’s Africa: The Politics of Independence, originally published in 1961, we can see the extent to which his understanding indeed was shaped by an African nationalist perspective. The first chapter is devoted to what Wallerstein describes as the impressive achievements in African history before the Europeans came (2005: 11-26). In the second chapter, he turns to the arrival of the Europeans, and he notes that the European powers had a variety of motives in expanding and in establishing “permanent colonial rule,” and first is the “search for markets and resources” (2005:31). He then proceeds to discuss the importance of the colonial situation:
“Whatever it was that brought about colonial rule, it was certain that once a colonial administration was established, something very important happened. For now all the things that men and groups did in Africa, they did within the context of the colonial situation (italics in original). By the term colonial situation we simply mean that someone imposes in a given area a new institution, the colonial administration, governed by outsiders who establish new rules which they enforce with a reasonable degree of success. It mean that all those who act in the colony must take some account of these rules, and that indeed an increasing amount of each individual’s action is oriented to this set of rules rather than to any other set, for example, the tribal set, to which he formerly paid full heed” (2005:31).
Wallerstein perceives the African nationalist movements as revolutionary, because they seek fundamental systemic change, involving an overthrow of the colonial government (2005:58). He discerns the significance of “national heroes” with charismatic authority, although he sees a rift between the charismatic leader and the intellectuals, and he believes that the leader becomes removed from the people after independence (2005:98-101).
Wallerstein was aware in 1961 that political independence did not change the economic relation involving the exportation of raw materials on a basis of cheap labor and the importation of manufactured goods, thus establishing neocolonialism (2005:137-43). He developed this further in his second book, Africa: The Politics of Unity, originally published in 1967, where he describes not only the preservation of the colonial economic relation but also the declining terms of trade. He writes:
The basic economic situation of Africa is that today African economies are a mixture of subsistence farming and the production of certain raw-material products (coffee, cocoa, cotton, minerals) for export, principally to Western Europe and the United States, whence the Africans in turn import most of their manufactured goods. The state of the world economy is such that the primary products are sold at relatively low rates (in terms of reward for labor-power) and the manufactured goods are bought at relatively high rates, which is far less favorable for primary producers than the pattern of internal trade that has evolved in most industrialized countries. . . . Moreover, this classic pattern of trade, the colonial pact, has not disappeared with the independence of former colonial states. On the contrary, since the Second World War, the so-called gap between the industrialized and nonindustrialized countries has in fact grown. That is, given amounts of primary products have bought fewer manufactured goods (2005:II, 130).
Wallerstein discussed in 1961 the emergence of African socialism, a perspective that views socialism in Africa as different from socialism in Europe or Asia. Especially important is the fact that African socialism rejects the concept of the class struggle, since the great majority of the population are peasants, and inasmuch as the small percentage of property owners, merchants and professionals in the towns had not acquired bourgeois or petit bourgeois consciousness and continued to maintain relations and obligations with extended families in the countryside (2005:148-49). In 1967, Wallerstein observes that the term “African socialism” was originally formulated by the most radical and revolutionary of the African nationalists, who wanted to distinguish socialism in Africa from scientific socialism, in accordance with their orientation toward the attainment of African intellectual and cultural autonomy. However, “African socialism” began to be used by leaders and governments that were adapting to neocolonialism and were not revolutionary, so that its meaning became vague. As a result, revolutionary African nationalists began to reject the term and to speak of scientific socialism applied to the conditions of Africa (2005:II 230-36).
In the 1961 book, Wallerstein also discerns that Africa is developing an alternative theory and practice of democracy. He maintains that the African form of democracy is not characterized by liberal freedoms in regard to opposition groups, because in the African context opposition parties tend to undermine national integration, which has not yet been accomplished, inasmuch as the newly independent African nations combined multiple traditional African nations and identities, the so-called “tribes.” However, the African political process, Wallerstein maintains, is characterized by popular participation and free discussion (2005:153-61).
Thus, by the 1960s, Wallerstein arrived at an understanding of the fundamental characteristics of colonialism and neocolonialism in Africa as a result of his personal encounter with the African nationalist movement. His appropriation of African nationalist insights in his formulation of world-systems analysis will be the subject of the next post.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2005. Africa: The Politics of Independence and Unity. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. [Combines into one edition Africa: The Politics of Independence (1961) and Africa: The Politics of Unity (1967)].
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, Wallerstein, Africa, African nationalism, African socialism