Neither Capitalism nor Communism, but Decolonization: Interview with Walter Mignolo (Part I)

Christopher Mattison: During an in­ter­view that you gave with Madina Tlostanova in 2009, you posed the ques­tion (as a re­sponse) “Why save it at all?” — in re­gards to the eco­nomic system and the looming fin­an­cial crisis. You con­tinued by stating that it wasn’t the in­sti­tu­tions that re­quired saving, but rather our planet and the en­twined human net­work. Or rather, that the primary con­cern should be with in­di­viduals rather than with in­sti­tu­tions. Now, three years later, a great deal of ef­fort has been spent on prop­ping up these in­sti­tu­tions, which leaves us where in terms of the in­di­viduals tied to the institutions?

Walter Mignolo: Certainly the de­bate over the re­la­tion­ships between the State and the Market has been re­vamped by the fin­an­cial crisis. President Obama was ac­cused of “going so­cialist” be­cause of his de­mand to re­in­force the State in­stead of leaving it to “in­vis­ible hands,” as cor­porate politics de­mands. It is dif­fi­cult to con­trol, through State reg­u­la­tion and other means of public policy, a civil­iz­a­tional at­ti­tude in which suc­cess is en­cour­aged, and suc­cess has a great deal to do with in­creasing wealth. When in­creasing wealth is in play — of people, cor­por­a­tions or nation-​states — good morals and good public policy have little ef­fect in the long run. Where are we now? Well, the eco­nomic system has to con­tinue working on be­half of those who be­nefit from it. My point then and now is that cap­it­alism — the eco­nomic pillar of Western civil­iz­a­tion (now glob­ally expanded) — is an eco­nomic system based on the be­lief that de­vel­op­ment and growth lead to hap­pi­ness while many people, my­self in­cluded, have stated that de­vel­op­ment and growth is leading us to­wards death. This is why I be­lieve Western Civilization built a cos­mo­logy in which the cart is in front of the horse, and this con­fig­ur­a­tion simply does not work.

We began this con­ver­sa­tion in April of 2011 and are now into the first quarter of 2012. We have wit­nessed re­volu­tions in Tunisia and Egypt and the re­per­cus­sions in Syria and Libya. We have watched the up­rising of the “in­dig­nados” in Spain and, more un­ex­pec­tedly, in Israel. And a few years be­fore Tunisia and Egypt, sim­ilar mani­fest­a­tions took place in Bolivia and Ecuador, knocking out two suc­cessive pres­id­ents of those coun­tries. And then the north of London erupted into an­other vol­cano on the global scene. Obviously the eco­nomic and polit­ical in­sti­tu­tions (the State) are not working. After the US’s down­grade from AAA to AA+ status in re­la­tion to for­eign debt and the EU’s struggles to con­trol the col­lapse of the Union from the peri­phery (Greece, Italy, Spain), it has be­come ob­vious that things are not working. Not to men­tion the prob­lems that have con­tinued to plague us for the past 60 years: in­creased poverty and a growing food crisis, along with global warming and the “war on ter­rorism,” which con­sist­ently has be­nefited con­tractors and the arms industry.

The Economist (which was founded at the be­gin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tury to for­ward the lib­eral con­cep­tion of the eco­nomy) re­cently (February, 2012) fea­tured a de­bate on State Corporate Capitalism as being the con­sequence of a crisis that has been with us since the end of 2007, and which con­tinues to dev­astate the European Union. What is State Corporate Capitalism? It is a State that has its eyes and hands in the market, which dis­tin­guishes it from the clas­sical sep­ar­a­tion of the busi­ness of the State and the busi­ness of the Market. This clas­sical model — based on the “in­vis­ible hand” of a lib­eral eco­nomy and the “weak state” that President Ronald Reagan pro­moted at the be­gin­ning of the neo-​liberal era — has turned out to be a dis­aster. In this de­bate, China, Malaysia and Singapore are presented as ex­amples of strong States that have de­livered in terms of eco­nomic growth. In each of these States there is neither lib­er­alism (“the in­vis­ible hand” with a reg­u­lating State, which Obama pro­posed at the be­gin­ning of his man­date) nor neo-​liberalism (a weak State and a free market) guiding the politics of the State. A common ex­pres­sion in the West to refer to this eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Asia is “Neo-​liberalism the Asian way.” Apart from being Western-​Centric this is simply ab­surd: how can China or Singapore be de­scribed as neo-​liberal, even in an Asian way, if neo-​liberalism strives to dis­pense with the State and these eco­nomies are based on strong State regulation?

Christopher Mattison: If neo-​liberalism is a flawed de­scrip­tion of the eco­nomic and so­ci­etal move­ments in these Asian coun­tries — due in part to its mono­lithic con­struct — where do we cur­rently find ourselves?

Walter Mignolo: I have ar­gued that we are already living in a poly­centric world with a common eco­nomy de­scribed as “cap­it­alist”; an eco­nomy based on growth and de­vel­op­ment first, dis­reg­arding the con­sequences of achieving these goals: war, poverty, in­equality, di­min­ishing levels of edu­ca­tion and health care, food crises, pois­oning of the en­vir­on­ment, etc. However, there is no longer a single ideo­logy (lib­er­alism or neo-​liberalism) guiding eco­nomic politics. Beyond lib­er­alism and neo-​liberalism — which is em­braced by the US and the core coun­tries of the European Union, as well as other States on the peri­phery (such as Colombia and Chile) — China and Singapore have em­braced Confucianism as a counter ideo­logy to neo-​liberalism. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the ques­tion has be­come how to ar­tic­u­late Islamism and cap­it­alism without be­coming lib­eral or neo-​liberal. With less em­phasis on the eco­nomy, a sim­ilar pro­cess is cur­rently taking place in Iran. In Brazil and Venezuela, coun­tries where polit­ical and eco­nomic con­trol is in the hands of people of European des­cent — whose back­ground is in­formed by Christianity, Liberalism and Marxism — these in­di­viduals are now re­sorting to a na­tional ideo­logy that is equi­valent to Confucianism in China and Singapore and Islamism in Malaysia and Indonesia. In India you will find a State Corporate Capitalism founded on Hinduism and in Russia a State Corporate Capitalism founded on Slavism and the Orthodox Church. The main problem with cap­it­alism in the West is that lib­er­alism and neo-​liberalism have col­lapsed. Western cap­it­alism prospered thanks to European co­lo­nial ex­pan­sion and the US fol­lowed that model of co­lo­ni­alism, though without the colonies. The logic of co­lo­ni­ality (eco­nomic growth based on the ap­pro­pri­ation of land, the ex­trac­tion of nat­ural re­sources and the ex­ploit­a­tion of labor in the non-​Euro-​US world) that was es­tab­lished and con­trolled by the West for 500 years has now spun out of con­trol. China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil are no longer places simply to be ex­ploited, as they have con­structed their own eco­nomies (and, you might say, have them­selves be­come ex­ploiters). The in­creased number of players has re­duced the ca­pa­city of the EU and US to make a profit at the cost of other na­tions’ losses. The turn to­ward spec­u­la­tion in the real es­tate market, and the con­struc­tion of fin­an­cial castles in the air, were not random phe­nomena: these were the ne­ces­sary con­sequences of failed at­tempts to se­cure growth the old fashion way. This is why the crisis in the EU and US has not rep­lic­ated it­self in other countries.

The de­fense of cap­it­alism has be­come a major di­lemma: either you’re left with the “in­vis­ible hand” that cre­ated the con­di­tions for legal cor­porate cor­rup­tion like Enron a few years ago and more re­cently Wall Street (“junk mort­gages” and the fin­an­cial crisis in which we are still en­meshed) or a “strong State” whose reg­u­la­tions re­strict the free will of the in­di­vidual and op­pose demo­cracy. This is a ser­ious di­lemma. And I do not see any way out of it, un­less you de­link from the Western logic that is common to both polit­ical theory and the polit­ical eco­nomy: the in­vis­ible hand that priv­ileges the eco­nomy (lib­er­alism, neo-​liberalism) and the strong state that priv­ileges reg­u­la­tions (so­cialism, com­munism). Another logic is needed, and that logic is de­co­lo­ni­ality. Sukarno un­der­stood this when at the Bandung Conference he pro­posed neither cap­it­alism nor com­munism, but decolonization.

Today the major eco­nomies of Western Europe, the US and China share the as­sump­tion that there are no his­tor­ical fu­ture ho­ri­zons other than “growth and de­vel­op­ment.” Why should “growth and de­vel­op­ment” be the only game in town when it has con­tinued to create in­creased eco­nomic in­equality, wars to se­cure nat­ural re­sources and has in­cited people to be­lieve that hap­pi­ness con­sists of ac­quiring com­mod­ities. A mul­ti­pli­city of op­tions within cap­it­alism does not really create more freedom. A mul­ti­pli­city of op­tions does not be­nefit the client. It is the com­pany making the products that be­ne­fits. And then what are the real costs of “growth and de­vel­op­ment” and con­sumerism? “Growth and de­vel­op­ment” is a rhet­oric that be­ne­fits those who de­vote their lives to in­creasing their wealth (either by eco­nomic or polit­ical means, or both) while hiding the fact that growth and de­vel­op­ment in­creases poverty. What should re­place it? An eco­nomy (non-​capitalist) that serves the well-​being of the people and the life of the planet, rather than an eco­nomy that serves well one sector of the population.

Due to the in­creasing un­sus­tain­ab­ility of de­vel­op­ment, in Latin America we are wit­nessing a struggle between the polit­ical so­ciety and the transna­tional cor­por­a­tions. One of the primary in­stances of this struggle is seen in the mining sector. And some of the most im­pressive out­comes have been so­cial or­gan­iz­a­tions such as “Juicio Ético Popular to the Transnational Corporations.” There is re­l­at­ively little in­form­a­tion avail­able in lan­guages other than in Spanish about these pro­cesses, but the main point is that mining poisons the land and water, cre­ating lakes filled with cy­anide and mer­cury that have been used to wash metals (gold, copper, coltan, pre­cious stones, etc.) from the rocks. The long-​term health-​effects in these areas are dev­ast­ating, not only in terms of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of cancer and leuk­emia rates among adults, but in the ever-​increasing number of new­borns with ser­ious birth de­fects. We have seen sim­ilar res­ults in Congo, as the de­fense of cap­it­alism and private prop­erty brings the ad­di­tional factor of mil­itary in­ter­ven­tion. And what is it all used for? Modern tech­no­logy, from com­puters to cell phones and ipods, de­pend on cer­tain types of metals. And of course the ex­panding “luxury in­dustry,” which is no longer lim­ited to the very wealthy, but has be­come a market pos­sib­ility for the middle class in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and other re­gions with growing eco­nomies. Argentina has not reached the level of Congo’s crisis, but the logic is the same: the ethics of cap­it­alism is no longer (if it ever was) the Protestant Ethics in­voked by Max Weber to ex­plain the spirit of capitalism.

Christopher Mattison: Shifting from Latin America and Africa, where is China in the midst of these eco­nomic de­vel­op­ments in re­la­tion to the rest of Asia and the US?

Walter Mignolo: China has evolved into a State cap­it­alist eco­nomy (or State Corporate Capitalism, as The Economist would have it), but a ver­sion that is quite dif­ferent from the State cap­it­alism of the Soviet Union and Chairman Mao’s pro­ject. The Soviet Union and Mao were en­gaged in a State eco­nomy with a com­munist ho­rizon. China is run­ning a State eco­nomy with a cap­it­alist ho­rizon. So, the first dif­fer­ence between the “West” — and here I mean the eco­nomic and polit­ical heart of the European Union (Germany, France and England) and the US — is that the former priv­ileged free market eco­nomy was taken to the ex­treme by neo-​liberalism in terms of the eco­nomy and the neo-​cons in politics. What the “West” and “East Asia” have in common is cap­it­alism; the State has had much more to say in the “East” than in the neo-​liberal West over the past 30 years. You can make a case that China’s eco­nomic in­ter­ven­tion in Africa is cer­tainly as de­structive as US and EU in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Libya, etc. Capitalism is cap­it­alism and the re­lated in­sti­tu­tions con­tinue to pre­vail over the lives of bil­lions of people. However, there is no Chinese mil­itary in­ter­ven­tion in Africa up to this point.

The other dif­fer­ence is that, until re­cently, China had a strong eco­nomy but did not have the ability to con­front the UN, the IMF and the G8 — it has been over­ruled by the know­ledge, struc­ture and his­tory that cre­ated these in­sti­tu­tions. This is no longer the case. Yes, China can be ac­cused of vi­ol­ating human rights in Nepal and Tibet; and the US can be ac­cused of vi­ol­ating human rights in Guantanamo, Vieques, Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is true that China and various cor­por­a­tions, sup­ported by the State in the EU and the US, will be fighting for land to “combat” and “profit from” the food crisis. In the first case, you have the polit­ical vi­ol­a­tion of human rights, and in the second the eco­nomic vi­ol­a­tion of human rights. And there is no way out un­less the value-​horizon of the cap­it­alist eco­nomy (which means: suc­ceed, buy more, be first, be bigger and do not let the com­pet­i­tion sur­pass you) is altered to an eco­nomy where the final ho­rizon is the well-​being of people and the sur­vival of nature. We may be moving in that dir­ec­tion, not be­cause of some form of new global green re­volu­tion, but be­cause the in­finite growth that is re­quired for a cap­it­alist eco­nomy to be able to main­tain its values and the dream of con­tinual pro­gress and hap­pi­ness has ended. It has ended be­cause of the crisis that we’re cur­rently ex­per­i­en­cing — the dif­fi­culties, if not lack of ability, of the EU to sus­tain its pro­ject and of the US’s sky rock­eting debt. Millions of con­sumers have been forced out of the market be­cause they do not have money to spend. This has a global im­pact and dir­ectly af­fects im­ports and ex­ports, which, in turn, af­fects the pro­duc­tion of “more” of anything.

The eco­nomy of “more” is no longer sus­tain­able and the un-​sustainability of “de­vel­op­ment” has been pointed out re­peatedly, based on de­vel­op­ments in Africa, Latin America, even in the US/​EU and across the Caribbean. But the critics who have been pointing this out re­main largely ig­nored. Well, now it is his­tory sup­porting the cri­tique of “de­vel­op­ment.” There are no ar­gu­ments or cri­tiques that will re­place the cap­it­alist ho­rizon of values — it is simply his­tory as it is cur­rently oc­cur­ring. Critiques are helpful to un­der­stand what’s going on, but the cri­tique it­self will not change the minds of those who are making de­cisions under the be­lief that the crisis will soon pass and that un­bridled growth will con­tinue, em­ploy­ment levels will rise, we’ll all be able to con­sume again just like in the good old days. We’ll all be happy again, pro­tected by the angel of progress.

Christopher Mattison: Sustainability in any form is dif­fi­cult to main­tain without col­lab­or­ative part­ners, which often leads to power dif­fer­en­tials in which one side is im­me­di­ately or even­tu­ally con­sumed, sup­planted or at least bruised by the other.

Walter Mignolo: Sustainability is un­sus­tain­able in a world of com­pet­i­tion. I am be­gin­ning to un­der­stand, after sev­eral visits to Hong Kong and Beijing (and of course, being in­formed by the lit­er­ature on the topic), that the Hong Kong/​China re­la­tion­ship par­al­lels what I have en­countered in Puerto Rico vis-à-vis the US. There are in both places, in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, many people who feel per­fectly com­fort­able with the cur­rent state of af­fairs. And then there are others who are not quite so com­fort­able. Furthermore, the his­tory of co­lo­ni­alism in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico dif­fers greatly when com­paring the memories of western dis­rup­tion and the Opium War in Chinese his­tory. The point I want to make run­ning through this quick com­par­ison is that in Hong Kong its memories must ne­go­tiate a doubled co­lo­ni­ality, that of the British and China in the past, and of China and the “West” (in the sense I just de­scribed) in the present. For Puerto Rico, on the other hand, there is the his­tory of Spanish co­lo­ni­alism up to the end of the nine­teenth cen­tury and of US co­lo­ni­alism ever since. In other words, Puerto Rico’s past has been shaped by one form of Western co­lo­ni­ality; Puerto Rico hasn’t had to ne­go­tiate with China. The bottom line is that the power dif­fer­en­tial among im­perial coun­tries, that is, the com­plex re­la­tions es­tab­lished by the co­lo­nial dif­fer­ence (Puerto Rico and Hong Kong vis-à-vis the im­perial coun­tries of their past and present) and the im­perial dif­fer­ence (the power dif­fer­en­tial between Western im­per­i­alism and the rise of Japan [since 1895] and China) over the past 30 years. There is yet an­other sig­ni­ficant par­allel that con­trib­utes to the cur­rent global world (dis)order. I have no­ticed that small coun­tries in East and South East Asia fear that China will take over and con­sequently they are leaning to­ward the US as a coun­ter­bal­ance. In South America and the Caribbean it is ex­actly the op­posite (with the ex­cep­tion of Colombia, Peru and Chile) — US politics have been dev­ast­ating since the 1950s, with mil­it­ar­iz­a­tion, the IMF and World Bank gen­er­ating wide­spread debt and poverty. China and Iran, which are huge prob­lems for the US, are wel­come part­ners for most South American and Caribbean countries.

Many ex­perts have made the claim that China will take over the lead­er­ship of the world in the next 30 to 50 years; some spec­u­late that it will happen even sooner. That is to say, in this scen­ario China would over­come and sup­plant the US in the same way that the US sup­planted England, and England sup­planted Spain. I do not think this scen­ario will occur, for a couple of reasons. First, the scen­ario in which China be­comes the next he­gemon — as Italian his­torian Giovanni Arrighi sus­pected based on the his­tory of Western cap­it­alism — would re­quire that his­tor­ical cap­it­alism, with a pre­cise linear his­tory, must cross ethnic lines with no dis­rup­tions. Thus, his­tor­ical cap­it­alism in the West went from Spain and Portugal to Holland, from Holland to England and France and from England to the US, man­aged by the same ethno-​class of various na­tion­al­ities. This is the his­tory of a shared eth­ni­city and re­li­gion: white, European and Christian (Catholic or Protestant). China is a com­pletely other story. When cap­it­alism crossed the Pacific to China, the ethno-​class man­aging the eco­nomy was no longer con­tained within the same family: cap­it­alism is di­vided by the ra­cial lines that Europeans them­selves cre­ated. Chinese are “yellow” in the Western ima­ginary. And being yellow and non-​Christian, ac­cording to European es­tab­lished ra­cial clas­si­fic­a­tions, was to be one level below “normal.” This ima­ginary is quite powerful since the “West” has been in con­trol of the know­ledge base that in­vented and sus­tained this clas­si­fic­a­tion. In other words, between China’s present and fu­ture im­per­i­alism and the West’s past and present im­per­i­alism, there is the ques­tion of race; that is, of ra­cism in the Western cos­mo­logy. Thus, this means that ne­go­ti­ations between the EU and the US on the one hand, and China on the other, are not simply polit­ical and eco­nomic, but ra­cial. And ra­cism (as Kishore Mahbubani in Singapore makes clear), is an enormous factor. Beyond eco­nomic and polit­ical ne­go­ti­ations, the Chinese gov­ern­ment, uni­ver­sities, in­tel­lec­tuals and politi­cians must, it seems to me, dis­mantle and over­come the ra­cial ima­ginary that is in­ter­fering with eco­nomic and polit­ical negotiations.

The second factor has two out­comes. One is that the US and the European Union, even in a time of crisis, will main­tain a strong eco­nomy and a con­tinued his­tory of polit­ical or­gan­iz­a­tion. It will be dif­fi­cult for China to over­come this and re­place the US as the next world leader. I think that the era in which one State or group of States (England, France, Germany, Spain) leads the world is over. The fu­ture is of ne­ces­sity polycentric.

Christopher Mattison: What is the basis for this poly­centric newer world order and what do you pre­dict will be China’s role?

Walter Mignolo: Certainly China is shifting the world order in the sense that de­cisions con­cerning the eco­nomy and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions will no longer be made solely by Western (US/​EU) in­sti­tu­tions. The struggle here is for know­ledge. The pro­mo­tion of Zhu Min to the IMF is one such ex­ample. Thirty years ago, this ap­point­ment was un­think­able, and if it had happened, the ap­point­ment might very well have been mo­tiv­ated by a “demo­cratic” feeling of in­volving people beyond the US (and at that time not even Europe), seated in the IMF of­fices. If this ap­point­ment would have happened in the near past, the ap­pointee would have been ex­pected to agree with the de­cisions made by the western mem­bers, who be­lieved they had the au­thority to de­cide what is good for the en­tire world, and spe­cific­ally for the US and the cor­porate and fin­an­cial elites working with and within the gov­ern­ment. Zhu Min ob­vi­ously was not ap­pointed under these con­di­tions and we cannot ex­pect him to be quiet and follow or­ders. He has already stated pub­licly that the IMF has his­tor­ic­ally only paid at­ten­tion to western in­terests. Many people have been saying this all along, but now there is a Chinese eco­nomist oc­cupying a high po­s­i­tion within the in­sti­tu­tion, backed by a gov­ern­ment that has gained enough con­fid­ence to warn the US to con­trol their de­sire for spending and to re­strict their de­fense budget.

What does this all amount to? The world be­fore 1500 was eco­nom­ic­ally non-​capitalist and poly­centric. From 1500 to 2000, the rise of the Atlantic eco­nomy made Europe the center of the World and es­tab­lished an eco­nomic basis for the nar­rative of Western civil­iz­a­tion and Western im­perial ex­pan­sion. This was a period of mono­topic cap­it­alism that re­mains an eco­nomy based on Christian (in spite of Christian de­tach­ment from ma­ter­i­ality) and, since the eight­eenth cen­tury, sec­ular Western values. Although Christianity is an Eastern re­li­gion both in terms of its ori­gin­a­tion (Jesus was from Nazareth) and its in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­a­tion under em­peror Constantine, in Istanbul (Constantinople), it was the Roman Papacy that played a fun­da­mental role after Alexander the VI ap­pro­pri­ated and di­vided the planet — the Tordesilla Treatise in 1494, and in 1529 the Zaragoza Treaty. Alexander VI di­vided the planet between Indias Occidentales (America) and Indias Orientales (Asia). Western Civilization and cap­it­alism flour­ished in that frame. Since 2000, the world order has be­come poly­centric and in­ter­con­nected through cap­it­alist eco­nomies. This means that cap­it­alism is no longer at­tached to the cos­mo­logy of Western civil­iz­a­tion; that is, to Western his­tory and memories (from the Renaissance on with Rome and Greece as found­a­tional pil­lars, no­tice how Istanbul and Jerusalem were erased from the Western ima­ginary) and to Christianity and its muta­tion into sec­ular lib­er­alism con­tested by sec­ular socialism/​communism. This is, in part, why Confucianism is being re-​inscribed in China, why Islam is being altered to ac­com­modate cap­it­alism (Malaysia, Indonesia) and how African cap­it­alism is in­voking a re­vival of Pan-​Africanism. All of this is what I refer to as dewest­ern­iz­a­tion, and dewest­ern­iz­a­tion means that we are already in the pro­cess of a present and fu­ture poly­centric world in which Western civil­iz­a­tion is one of the cen­ters, but no longer the leading one.

Parallel to dewest­ern­iz­a­tion and re­west­ern­iz­a­tion (which refers to the US’s and EU’s ef­forts to main­tain the lead­er­ship they had for 500 years) is a third tra­jectory which is being ex­pressed through the up­ris­ings in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain, London and, be­fore that, in Bolivia and Ecuador (see pre­vi­ously, “Juicio Etico”). I view these in­sur­gen­cies as the emer­gence of a global polit­ical so­ciety and the growing tra­jectory of a global de­co­lo­ni­ality. Now, we cannot ex­pect that of these three tra­ject­ories one will end up vic­torious and ruling over the others. They will co-​exist in con­flictive re­la­tions for a good number of years. China cannot rule the world by it­self, the US and the EU cannot rule the world by them­selves, and the de­co­lo­nial global so­ciety will con­tinue to exert pres­sure on global in­sti­tu­tions and local gov­ern­ments to re­mind them that there is 90% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion beyond the 10% who con­tinue to argue among them­selves about the ef­fort to re­west­ernize the world and the re­lated ef­forts to dewest­ernize. There is, of course, more than these three major tra­ject­ories, such as the growing move­ment to de­col­onize re­li­gion and lib­erate spir­itu­ality. The local and global lefts are remap­ping them­selves after the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, women from the third world and Islamic women are re­sponding to the per­sist­ence of the pat­ri­archy, etc. All of this is what I refer to as the global polit­ical so­ciety, the 80% of the planet left out of the State and the Market be­coming more and more aware of what co­lo­ni­ality means. And co­lo­ni­ality is no longer a Western issue; it is also be­hind Chinese and East Asian cap­it­alism, Islam and cap­it­alism and Pan-​Africanism and capitalism.

Christopher Mattison: You have called for a re­fusal of life rafts to these in­sti­tu­tions that are based on cap­it­alism; in part be­cause “People start to be­lieve that suc­cess is to be part of an in­sti­tu­tion and to ac­cu­mu­late wealth. If in order to ac­cu­mu­late wealth you have to des­troy the en­vir­on­ment, you do it.” This reads a bit re­duct­ively to me and places the ar­gu­ment in a tight corner. There cer­tainly are in­sti­tu­tional models based on ac­cu­mu­la­tion at all cost, but aren’t there also an ex­panding number of in­sti­tu­tions based on what you refer to as an “eco­nomy of scarcity” or “re­ci­pro­city,” as op­posed to an “eco­nomy of ac­cu­mu­la­tion.” Or am I thinking too op­tim­ist­ic­ally here? Wouldn’t it make more sense to con­vert the ex­isting in­sti­tu­tions than to call for their de­moli­tion? De-​colonial upcycling?

Walter Mignolo: The overall tend­ency, beyond the de­fense of cap­it­alism, is that the world is in need of a “new paradigm.” What this calls for is a ho­rizon of life that will guide both the re­mod­eling of the cur­rent in­sti­tu­tions and the cre­ation of new in­sti­tu­tions. Briefly stated, the paradigm of “growth and de­vel­op­ment” (in its wide di­versity, mani­fest­a­tions and gray zones) is being con­fronted by the paradigm of “life, to live in plen­itude, in har­mony among people and with nature.” This might seem very New Age and ro­mantic from a hard-​core cap­it­alist view­point. But it doesn’t ac­tu­ally con­tain much of the New Age: it is the same for­mula that has been shifting people all over the world, not just the well known “indignados” — the mil­lions of people in Latin America and Africa that are fighting against gov­ern­ments and their sup­port of transna­tional cor­por­a­tions, which are ex­ploiting labor, pois­oning rivers and fu­mig­ating fields with car­ci­no­gens. When I talk about put­ting the horse in front of the cart, I mean that “to live in plen­itude and in har­mony” should take pre­ced­ence, and that the eco­nomy and politics should follow suit. On a small scale, this is what the Zapatistas in Mexico have been doing for 16 years. Furthermore, there is an ever-​increasing number of scholars around the world who are cre­ating in­sti­tu­tions and pro­du­cing know­ledge for the pur­pose of moving in the dir­ec­tion of “life” and abandoning the paradigm of “growth.”

There are various co-​existing pro­jects and we should get used to seeing them in their sin­gu­larity and in their con­flictive in­ter­ac­tions rather than to think that there is only one world or that the world should be ho­mo­gen­eous. We are already living on a planet in which many worlds co-​exist. This co­ex­ist­ence, un­for­tu­nately, is not pa­ci­fist in nature, but con­flictive and vi­olent. There are nu­merous in­sti­tu­tions and or­gan­iz­a­tions that lead to what I will call, fol­lowing John Rawls’s ter­min­o­logy, “honest liberals” — to which we can add “honest Christians” and “honest Marxists.” This is what I refer to as Western Civilization. But of course you have Christians and Marxists in China (and per­haps you can identify some lib­erals too), in Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia. What I was at­tempting to do is to draw dif­ferent para­meters in order to un­der­stand the world order. And cer­tainly there are and will be in­sti­tu­tional changes due pre­cisely to the con­flict between the three tra­ject­ories I have out­lined, along with the im­possib­ility of the global eco­nomy to main­tain con­stant growth and to limit im­mig­ra­tion within the nation-​states, as de­manded by rad­ical cap­it­alism and the ex­treme right. Dialogue of Civilizations pre­sup­posed a single prin­ciple: that no rights le­git­im­izing a world­view should be­come The World View. And once we ac­cept this prin­ciple, there will be no need for the States to struggle to im­pose their views over the other or for the cor­por­a­tions to im­pose one type of eco­nomy that fa­vors the cor­por­a­tions and not the people. Because of this, today we have the fin­an­cial crisis; the “global out­raged” (in­dig­nados) and fears about the pro­lif­er­a­tion of nuc­lear weapons dec­ades after the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

My ref­er­ence to pla­cing in­sti­tu­tions first and life second refers to the agents and in­sti­tu­tions that are making the de­cisions on Wall Street, the European Union, the G8, the IMF and the people who con­gregate around Davos. The in­sti­tu­tions that rule the world are rep­res­ented at Davos, the G8, the Food Summit and the Environmental Summit. When Evo Morales fol­lowed up on the failure of the Summit in Copenhagen with one in Cochabamba, under the prin­ciple of put­ting Pachamama (Mother World) first, it had very little global im­pact. And in Bolivia it was, in­ter­est­ingly enough, the Left that cri­ti­cized the summit, calling them “Pachamamicos,” meaning ro­mantics and ideal­ists who are at­tempting to stifle eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Bolivia. Indian in­tel­lec­tuals re­sponded to the white Left by calling them “Modernicos” (a derog­atory term that can be trans­lated as “modernistics”).

I am cer­tainly for building; not for des­troying. I mean that in­sti­tu­tions, like cap­it­alism, des­troy nature and human life to in­crease wealth. But we need both courses of ac­tion sim­ul­tan­eously: to create new in­sti­tu­tions and to work within the ones we already have. As for “des­troying” I did not mean — in your quote — that we have to des­troy in­sti­tu­tions. The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of wealth in a cap­it­alist eco­nomy that re­quires nat­ural re­sources leads to the “de­struc­tion of the en­vir­on­ment.” And here we have the cart in front of the horse again. Now, to change in­sti­tu­tions can be in­ter­preted in two dif­ferent dir­ec­tions. One is within our cur­rent civil­iz­a­tion, which I re­ferred to in the pre­vious an­swer — you work to­ward more reg­u­la­tions and public policy, the in­ten­tion of which is to pre­vent legal de­lin­quency, as with Wall Street, Enron or the hun­dreds of cases that were brought out into the open during the fin­an­cial crisis such as, for ex­ample, this art­icle on cor­rup­tion as a pos­sible con­trib­utor to the fin­an­cial crisis.

The other dir­ec­tion con­cerns trans­forming the ex­isting in­sti­tu­tions; chan­ging the terms and not simply the con­tent of the con­ver­sa­tion. This means that we (and I mean all of us on the planet) need a civil­iz­a­tional ho­rizon that places the life of the planet, meaning our lives, too, first and the in­sti­tu­tions second. The point I was trying to make in the 2009 in­ter­view, which you men­tioned at the be­gin­ning of this dia­logue, is that cur­rently life is at the ser­vice of the in­sti­tu­tions, and what is needed is to put the in­sti­tu­tions at the ser­vice of life. If we achieve this, we will not have en­vir­on­mental cata­strophes like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and nu­merous other dis­asters. We will not have prob­lems with the com­mer­cial­iz­a­tion of medi­cine and phar­ma­co­logy and the com­modi­fic­a­tion of food; that is, people making money off of treating food and water as a com­modity rather than as basic human rights.

The de­bates taking place in Bolivia today are helpful as part of this con­ver­sa­tion. One of the ar­gu­ments of the de­bate is to “re­fund” the State. That is, in Bolivia the State is a modern/​colonial State funded after “in­de­pend­ence” from Spain, which trans­formed the Viceroyalty of Peru into sev­eral re­pub­lics (Peru and Bolivia among them). This was the mo­ment of the “fund­a­tion” of the State. Now, Indian na­tions have taken their des­tiny in their own hands, a “re­fund­a­tion” of the State is being called for. That is, working within the ex­isting in­sti­tu­tions. The other po­s­i­tion of the de­bate is “to de­col­onize the State” and de­col­on­izing the State means to create new in­sti­tu­tions and to ac­cept that the State is not the un­avoid­able form of a peaceful and just gov­ern­ment. New in­sti­tu­tions must be cre­ated which serve the pur­pose of a civil­iz­a­tional ho­rizon that puts life (and not wealth and ma­na­gerial polit­ical and eco­nomic con­trol) as the sov­er­eign goal of human ex­ist­ence on the planet. More in­ter­esting in this de­bate is that the Bolivian State has re­cently turned to­ward dewest­ern­iz­a­tion: State cap­it­alism of a leftist persuasion.

Wal­ter D. Mignolo is Wil­liam H. Wan­na­maker Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor and Dir­ector of the Cen­ter for Global Stud­ies and the Human­it­ies at Duke Uni­ver­sity. He has been work­ing for the past 25 years on the form­a­tion and trans­form­a­tion of the modern/​colonial world sys­tem and on the idea of West­ern Civilization.

Chris­topher Mat­tison is a Vis­it­ing Fel­low at the Hong Kong Advanced Insti­tute for Cross-​Disciplinary Stud­ies (HKAICS) and co-​curator of its Hong Kong Atlas — an on­line archive of Hong Kong writing.

Ori­gin­ally pub­lished by the HKAICS.

  2 comments for “Neither Capitalism nor Communism, but Decolonization: Interview with Walter Mignolo (Part I)

  1. Albertina
    23 February 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I agree with Mignolos’ vison and con­cern that we need to de-​westernize and re­fund the Governments, es­pe­cially in the de­vel­oping coun­tries, to­wards the goal of life versus pro­gress and wealth ac­cu­mu­la­tion. Unfortunately, the ex­ample of Bolivia is a bad one, as the na­tion­al­iz­a­tion of mines did not bring about any im­prove­ment of the miners’ life con­di­tions, but brought it back to me­di­eval working con­di­tions. In Canadian or Norwegian owned mines, at least safety and heatlh con­cerns are re­spected. This is to say that an easy de-​westernization does not guar­antee im­prove­ment of living and working con­di­tions in the de­vel­oping world.

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