Hong Kong and Shanghai, January-June 2012.
Knowledge is always situated. As a young scholar from China working on western theories, I always felt frustrated with the eurocentrism embedded within them. The frustration comes first because they are not addressing the problems lingering in my mind; and second at the moment I realized that I had the wrong expectations: why should theories developed to deal with European issues and problems address issues and problems in China? During my yearlong stay at Duke University as a visiting graduate student from 2008 to 2009, I attended Professor Walter Mignolo’s seminar. Participating in class discussion, talking with Professor Mignolo, reading the materials assigned, and delivering class presentations with other students, I was ushered into the exciting world of decolonial thinking. It offered to me a totally new perspective to theorize the world from, that is, the perspective of third-world countries. I found these works rather illuminating in laying bare the contemporary world order from the perspective of the coloniality of power in this globalized age.
However, works by decolonial thinkers are not well known in China, which is undoubtedly another manifestation of eurocentrism in the field of knowledge in my country. After I returned to China, Professor Mignolo also visited China several times and gave talks at various Chinese universities. In order to help Chinese scholars have a better and more complete idea about these valuable intellectual assets of decolonial thinkers, I approached Professor Mignolo and proposed to do an interview with him so as to introduce decolonial theory into Chinese academia in a more systematic way. Professor Mignolo, who is very much concerned with the question of knowledge in countries like China, was pleased with the idea. Thus, we began to exchange emails concerning issues we considered relevant to address, the format of the interview as well as the possible impact of this interview in China. In order to make this interview more significant theoretically, I also invited my colleague Haiyan Xie to contribute some questions, since she was pursuing research on Chinese modernity. In the Spring of 2012 Walter Mignolo and I met in Shanghai, walked and talked during two days, enjoyed some of the many delightful teas in front of the Huangpu river, visited Lu Xun’s Memorial Hall, and the section of Chinese painting in the Museum of Contemporary Art, and in the process we gave the last touch to the interview.
After its completion, the interview was soon accepted by Marxism and Reality,1 an important journal owned by Central Compilation & Translation Bureau in China. And it was the longest article carried in that issue, for journals in China usually do not publish long articles. The Chinese version was well received and very soon Social Sciences Weekly — a newspaper based in Shanghai — also published a shortened version of this interview.2 With these initial efforts, we hope that more works by decolonial scholars can be introduced into China to enhance more substantial dialogues between decolonial and Chinese scholars in relevant areas. What follows is a shortened version of a 22000-word interview.
Geo-politics and the Origin of De-coloniality
Question 1: After the collapse of the former colonial system, the dominance of western ideology was challenged, weakened and subverted all over the world. Numerous politicians, economists and intellectuals have engaged in projects which aim to reveal the dark sides of modernity, which is often regarded as the hidden logic of the old world order. As a result, the controversy around modernity has always been an important issue in the academia. However, the warfare against modernity is divided if we take its major concerns into consideration. Within the boundary of the former Western empires, the reflection is mainly on its linear logic of development, the relegation of women to less important positions and the atrocities it caused upon nature. However, these anxieties were overshadowed by their preoccupation with its expansionist and imperial mentality in third world countries. Numerous distinguished Chinese scholars like Prof. Wang Ning, Wang Hui, Yan Xuetong and Qin Hui are engaged in similar projects and helped to utter the voice of Chinese scholars in the international arena. Abroad, the intellectual endeavors of decolonial scholars have also helped to shape the current intellectual debate. Unfortunately, many of the works written by decolonial scholars are relatively less known here in China, though names like Partha Chatterjee are often quoted here. And my understating is that the decolonial project was motivated by the same desire to transcend the limits of modernity. As we often talk about the geo-politics of knowledge, how would you describe the geopolitics of the decolonial project?+ View Response
Walter Mignolo: It is not surprising that coloniality is not, at least at this point, in the scholarly and intellectual arena, in China. After all, China was never colonized, although it did not escape coloniality, as the Opium War amply attested. The problem is that too many people yet do not make the distinction between colonialism and coloniality. Coloniality doesn’t need colonialism as, once again, the Opium War demonstrated. Coloniality is the underlying logic (e.g., the colonial matrix of power upon which Western empires founded themselves, justified their imperial expansion and their intervention all over the world. Coloniality is short is the very foundation of Western civilization. Another reason why the concept of “coloniality” did not call scholarly and intellectual attention (in China as in other places) is because it originated in South America and not in Europe. People, and progressive at that, are still taking for granted that concepts theoretically relevant have to come from Western Europe (France, Germany and England, and some from Italy) and the US but not from any place else. In many other places people are afraid of their own thinking and need the legitimization of Western institutions and publishing houses. But that is changing, as is changing the sphere of political economy and theory. A few decades ago the rest of the world was praying to the IMF and the World Bank. Now many are learning to say, thanks, but no, we have our own way of doing things. Well, coloniality is a concept that emerged from this spirit and attitude in the Third World, at the moment in which it was becoming ex-Third World: the concept was introduced in Peru, by sociologist Anibal Quijano, in 1990.
Philosophically, “coloniality” next to “biopolitics” are two key concepts of contemporary intellectual and political debates. “Biopolitics” originated in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century but it was Michel Foucault who gave the theoretical foundation of the concept in the second half of the same century. Through “biopolitics” and then “biopower” Foucault confronted and explained specific issues of the past and present of European history. Basically, how since the second half of the seventeenth century emerged in Europe and increased in the following centuries, a form of control of the population that consisted in the control of the bodies. “Biopolitics” and “biopowers” are the concepts through which the control of the population was a need of the emerging nation/states. Since nation/states at that time were only a European phenomena, an outcome of its own history, bio-politics and bio-power were not crucial concerns in the non-European world. The concern was “coloniality” where Europe expanded and with the imperial expansion racism in the way we understand it today was born. From the colonies, racism is one of the key elements of coloniality.Thus, coloniality/racism is a decolonial concept while biopolitics/biopower is a postmodern concept. However, since biopolitics and biopower were based in the history of France mainly, and the core of Europe, with the core of Europe (England, France and German) leading countries of European imperial expansion, the nation-state became also a form affirming local histories and gaining independence from Europe (e.g., China in the process that led to the 1912 Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen, or the subsequent struggle for decolonization since the end of WWII). The modern nation-state is also a European invention responding to European needs (like the separation of Church and State), and then expanded all over the world. The modern nation-state was built by an emerging ethno-class (the white European bourgeoisie), displacing the monarchy and the church and becoming a potent tool of political coloniality.
These are precisely the historical experiences and the conditions that brought about the concept of “coloniality.” No one in Europe was thinking “coloniality”, they did not see it; they did not feel it. They can understand “colonialism” but “coloniality” is another matter. It is more difficult to see, they only see modernity and invent concepts like alternative, peripheral, subaltern etc. modernities, assuming that there is only one real one. By multiplying modernities eurocentered scholars and intellectuals continue to hide coloniality.
In Latin America—where the concept of coloniality emerged— the history is five hundred years long, and it is only related to the history of Europe because Europeans were the conquerors, colonizers, slave traders and slaveholders. After all of that “importation” you do not want again to “import” biopolitics and biopower to deal with the problems that Europe created. Biopolitics and biopower are important regional critical concepts that cannot be converted into a single story as if Europe has the goodwill to create the problems and the solutions while the rest of the world will watch the unfolding, like watching a tennis match where you do not participate. “Coloniality” is one of the concepts that introduced a different story, literally, and released repressed sensibilities rationalization, memories and above all, needs. “Coloniality” is in the genealogy of Frantz Fanon’s crucial concepts such as “sociogenesis” and the “damnes” but not on the same channel with biopolitics, biopower and multitude. That is why the geopolitics of knowledge is a necessary companion of coloniality and why the universality of knowledge is taken for granted in all European (and Euro-Anglo-American) debates on bio-politics and bio-power.
The type of management and control that is described by the concept of coloniality (short hand for colonial matrix of power) goes back to the seventeenth century (were Foucault locates the form of control he describes as bio politics). The processes that we describe as coloniality go back to the fifteenth century and the formation of the Atlantic commercial circuits. That is, when the Atlantic was incorporated into the global economy, when Western globalism started and with it the foundation of Western civilization began to unfold. What emerged there and we describe as coloniality or colonial matrix of power, was a global structure of management and control that lasted until today. Coloniality is what allowed Europe to be Europe and to manage not only its own population, but also the population of the planet. The Opium War was the moment in which China felt the effect and the consequences of coloniality: it took a while to recover, and now China is disputing the control of the colonial matrix of power that, for five hundred years, was in the hands of Western imperial countries and the alliances between them. There is a conversation today among Western progressive intellectuals making sense of China and East Asia who are talking about “contested modernities.” That makes more sense than “alternative modernities.” But still, they hide coloniality. What we have been witnessing in the past few decades is an increasing struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power….in the name of modernity and modernization. Coloniality is embedded among “contested modernities.”
So you could begin to understand how biopolitics/biopower (unveiled and analyzed by European intellectuals) is only one aspect of the complex colonial matrix of power (unveiled and analyzed by Third World intellectuals). Crucial here is then the point of origination of both concepts and the geopolitics of knowing and understanding. I am not saying that one shall be displaced with the other. I am saying that both shall and will co-exist but that they are irreducible to each other. We have to start thinking in terms of geopolitics of knowledge and leave behind the modern set of mind according to which only one story is possible and desirable and you have to eliminate everyone who do not bend, think or feel like the single story tells you to do, feel or think.
Biopolitics/biopower are regional not universal concepts, and if they are global, they are also partial for in the colonies and ex-colonies there are other concerns and needs that are not accounted for with those concepts. Crucial for European sensibilities, these concepts are not in the skin of billions of people of the non-European world, except of the few who are followers and promoters of what is going on in Europe. The concepts could only account partially for some European strategy of control but they are far from helping to understand the complexity of the colonial world. We claim that “coloniality” is global, but not universal. In time, it is restricted to the world order that began in the sixteenth century with the formation of the Atlantic commercial circuits. It doesn’t make sense for us to talk about coloniality in the Roman Empire, in ancient Chinese Dynasties or among the Incas before the conquest: coloniality goes hand in hand with capitalism and none of the civilizations before 1500 were based on a capitalist economy. Coloniality introduced the perspective of people at the receiving end of biopolitics and biopower, it accounts for the wide spectrum of colonial worlds. The difference is that the colonial matrix of power that originated in the history of the colonies subsumes the history of Europe and of the colonies, from the perspective of the colonies. In that regard, it brings to the foreground the other stories that European narratives hide when the story of the world is told from the perspective of Europe. As you see, decolonial thinking focus on the enunciation, not so much on what is said but on who is saying it, when, why, and what for. The analytic of coloniality is always already a decolonial statement. Decoloniality, however, is not limited to the analytic but it is also a prospective concept, as we will see in your questions 11 and 12 when we talk about progress and development.
Now, this is the crucial point: while Europe built itself over the control of knowledge (which allowed for the organization of itself, politically, economically, intellectually, artistically, religiously), and “biopolitics/biopower” is part of that control even if the concepts are critical of state regulations, “coloniality/colonial matrix of power” first of all unveils that imperial history built itself in the name of salvation (by conversion to Christianity, by the civilizing mission, by development and modernization) and secondly shows that the underlying matrix of European imperial power and of Western Civilization lies in it its rhetoric of modernity (which is the rhetoric of salvation) and its constitutive part, the logic of coloniality. Thus the strong thesis we are advocating is that coloniality is constitutive of modernity and it is the underlying structure of Euro-America imperial expansion and domination. That is why “contested modernities” implies “struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power.”
From here we can derive two conclusions: one is that biopolitics/biopower is a small part of the colonial matrix of power (and to talk about colonial biopower is really a fancy word game without theoretical and historical foundation), and that now, in the twenty-first century the main conflicts are around the control of the colonial matrix. The West (European Union and the US) can no longer control. The economic strength of China is that it has the means to dispute the control of the colonial matrix, and so do the BRICs countries. Sure, they are all capitalist countries, EU, US and the BRICs. But there is an enormous difference. All BRIC countries (population, languages, religions, skin color, writing system) has been racialized and therefore made inferior to Europe from the perspective of Europe. No longer. So, we can explain the history of the formation of the modern/colonial world since 1500 by explaining the formation, transformation and lately dispute for the control of the colonial matrix (“contested modernities” for Western progressive intellectuals).3
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Question 2: Most intellectual projects endeavor to revisit the “wounds” inflicted upon the colonies while decoloniality is also prospective. Maybe that can partly account for the glamour of this project. Besides re-interrogating the colonial past, what are the particularities of this project if we take the origin, main theoretical suppositions and the political agenda of decoloniality into consideration?+ View Response
Walter Mignolo: I would start by underlining two “particularities.” The first was brought about in the Bandung Conference, in 1955. In a nutshell, what Sukarno was proposing was “neither capitalism, nor communism but decolonization.” Not a third way a la Giddens or Beck, but something else, away from the two sides of the coin of the European enlightenment. Notice also that representatives of 29 countries attended the conference. Sukarno made clear that the “belt” of countries present at the conference were a third part of the world and were people of color and of non-Christian persuasion. That is, he was pointing at racism in its religious and secular manifestations. Secondly, the “wound” is both colonial and imperial, and they interact through history in very interesting ways. The humiliation China suffered after the Opium War is better described as “imperial wound”, similarly to the Ottoman Sultanate, for example, while the humiliation that Indigenous people suffered since the sixteenth century, and Africans from the slave trade to the European partition of the continent in 1884, is better described as “colonial wound”, that to distinguish coloniality without colonialism (China, Ottoman Sultanate) and coloniality with colonialism (Africa, South America and the Caribbean, Native Americans and Africans in the US). Let me elaborate on this by referring to the historical trajectory of the concept and the needs to which it responded.
Historically, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the project known as modernity/coloniality/decoloniality and some times for short modernity/(de)coloniality, originated in South America. Two years later Enrique Dussel, Argentine philosopher of liberation, residing in Mexico, introduced the concept of transmodernity. Transmodernity which means both, that modernity was a historical process in which Europe was marching all alone, but was a process in which Europe made itself through its imperial/colonial expansion. That is the analytic of transmodernity. The prospective is that the world of the future shall be transmodern and not postmodern, for postmodern is an expression that only recognizes Europe as a protagonist of history, while transmodenrity points towards a future in which the entire world will participate. We are already at the beginning of that process. The collapse of the European Union, the crisis in the US today (after Enron, Iraq and Wall Street), indicates that the European Union and the US lost their credibility and their leadership carries the future in their own shoulders. Now, all that will involve economic and political decisions, but much of the struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power will cross by the colonial difference (colonial wound) and the imperial difference (imperial wound). This important dimension of feeling, sensing, memories, and wounds cannot be superseded by economic calculus and politics strategies. Dependency theory in Latin America was as much theoretical as it was existential. Dependency was not only economic analytic but also the feeling and the realization that being dependent was being somewhat inferior or at least in inferior conditions.
Quijano was involved, in the 70s, in the debates on dependency theory, while Dussel was engaged, at the same time (late sixties and early seventies), with the beginning of theology and philosophy of liberation. Historically, the concept of coloniality came into being in the early nineties as a consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, it would not have been possible without the previous work of Peruvian intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui (contemporary of Gramsci) in the 20s. It was Mariátegui that connected the colonial history in Latin America with capitalism. Thus, the underlying logic that connects both is ¨coloniality.¨ That was Quijano’s touch of genius, to see that colonialism and capitalism are based on the logic of coloniality and that the logic of coloniality is also what explains racism: basically the idea is that you cannot exploit and expropriate an equal. You have to make people inferior in order to be able to manage them and take away their labor and their land. That is why racism emerged in the modern/colonial world, that is, in the sixteen hundreds. I am telling this story to help in dispensing with the idea that European genealogy of thoughts is the only point of reference. It is one; it is a genealogy of thought that from the right to the left belongs to European and Euro-US imperial history. We are getting used to the idea that the intellectual loci of enunciations are multiplying, and the world is becoming polycentric not only in economy and politics, but also in epistemology and hermeneutics. What is important to underline here in relation to your question, is that genealogies of thoughts are ingrained in “structures of feelings” (as Raymond Williams had it), and structure of feelings are imbedded in the legacies of colonial and imperial wounds (something Williams did not take into account).
The colonial wound, and particularly the colonial wound, has been inflicted through history in the complicity between an economy of growth (e.g., capitalism) that sacrifice everything to its success and racism. The Atlantic commercial circuits connected the globe and the process known today in its latest version (the neo-liberal one), globalization, began. A new type of economy emerged. The historical foundation of the colonial matrix of power brought together a type of economy that was non-existing until then: an economy of inversion of the surplus and of dispensability of human life to increase economic gains (e.g. massive enslavement of Africans to work in the Caribbean plantations), a new form of political organization in which the metropolitan centers managed their colonies; which at their turn prompted the invention of international law. Last but not least, racism was needed both for political and economic reasons. Racism, as we know it today goes hand in hand with capitalism and with the modern state, both in its monarchic, Renaissance version, as well as in its nation-state, Enlightenment version: racism is the invention of those who controlled and managed discourses and knowledge and are able to make certain people feel that they are less human. Racism allows for the justification of Indigenous genocide and African slavery: lesser humans, as they were considered, their lives were and are still dispensable. Lesser humans are people who are both epistemically and ontologically deficient. They are not quite rational, and therefore they are inferior or, they are inferior and, therefore, they are not quite rational. Look around and these principles still apply. From the trade of women and human organs, to the commercialization of migrants to the poisoning of land and rivers were people lived for millennia, to extract gold for the global market, you will see that the economy of growth comes first and live (the planet and us), second.
Now let me tell you a little bit more about coloniality and the colonial matrix of power, and how the colonial and imperial wounds are important aspects of it. The colonial matrix of power is a complex structure that we describe as five interrelated domains: the domains of knowledge and subjectivity, of the economy, of authority (e.g., politics), of gender and sexuality and of the “natural” world (e.g., that in which our bodies are part of and what constitute our constant “becoming” as “human being” organized in communities (Caliphates, Empires, Monarchies, Churches, Mosques, Nation-States, Inter-communities relations, etc.). You see why the spheres of feeling and sensibilities (the Greeks called it aiesthesis, which was colonized by modern philosophy and turned into aesthetics: a theory to control “taste”). Remember, as I said before, that there is no such thing as the colonial matrix of power before the sixteenth century. You cannot find it in Ancient China, in Ancient India and Persia, in Ancient African Kingdoms, in Ancient Greece, in Rome, in the Islamic Caliphate or in the Andean Incanate (the Incas were not an empire in the same way that Romans were not an Incanate. The colonial matrix of power is precisely what allowed the West to build itself as overcoming all existing civilizations in the name of modernity.
Thus, what came to be known as capitalism (e.g., Weber and Lenin) is for us a new type of economy that emerged in the sixteenth century as with the Atlantic commercial circuits. But it came together with the process of building new knoweldges and forming new subjects: the modern and modern/colonial subjects. For us the economy is only one domain of the colonial matrix of power, albeit since the 1970s it became the privileged domain. What for liberal and Marxists is “capitalism” for us is “economic coloniality”, meaning that there are other forms of economy that are not tied up with coloniality. In the past five hundred years of economic coloniality, the economy was part of society until WWII but since then, society became part of the economy. Neo-liberalism was the last moment of that trajectory. Economic coloniality began to be formed with the massive appropriation of land in the New World and the massive exploitation of labor, Indians first and enslaved Africans secondly. The triangular trade in which enslaved Africans were bought, sold and transported to the Americas; the commodities (gold, silver, sugar, cotton, tobacco) from America transported to Europe and generating a global market; weapons transported from Europe to Africa to trade for enslaved people. The surpluses of such an economic exchange were re-invested instead of being stored, as it was the case in all other co-existing economies. This new type of economy introduced also the dispensability of human life: because of that subjectivity it was possible to believe in a hierarchy within the human species. And those who were inferior (that is the economic need and justification of racism), their lives were dispensable in pro of economic growth and benefit of the superior beings. Once again, if we review the Opium War we will realize that the profit the British made was their first concern, not the million of Chinese who ruined their lives because of the drogue, as well as people in England and the US becoming “consumers” who contributed to the wealth of the British Empire.
Here is where the concept of transmodernity, introduced by Dussel comes into the picture. And why this concept is important? Once again, postmodernity was a concept that emerged in Europe to account for the transformations that European intellectuals were “feeling.” Postmodernity and transmodernity are inscribed in different structures of feelings of the actors elaborating and promoting them. Transmodernity carries the memories of the colonial wound, and is open to dialogue with the imperial wound, since it is a concept that emerged from racialized and marginalized sensibilities: being of European descent in South America and the Caribbean is not being European. The feeling was that the concept of “modernity” was no longer capable of accounting for the experience of men and women of European descent, and even less of the majority of non-Europeans on the planet. Post-modernity responded to feelings and sensibilities of the time in Europe, to the closing of the universal time of historical macro-narratives (e.g., Hegel). However, postmodernist couldn’t escape to the Eurocentered linear concept of time. That is why for European intellectuals postmodernity naturally follows modernity, there is a change, but it is a change within the same. That is a very alien experience for 80% of the people of the world for whom modernity was always one side of the story; the other was coloniality. For ex-Third World intellectuals modernity was, and will continue to be in different forms, transmodern; that is modernity/coloniality is transmodern. And it was, is and will be transmodern for the emerging economies that are living behind the Third World (like East and South East Asia). Transmodernity open up the views to the work of coloniality, while conflictive modernities shut it down. The “/” that unites and divides modernity and coloniality is not only military, economic and political, but it touches and forms subjectivities: thus, racism and imperial and colonial wounds. It is in the “/” of modernity/coloniality where the colonial and imperial wounds dwell and where transmodernity is becoming the orientation to global futures.
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Question 3: You emphasized modernity repeatedly in your above statements and a related question is how to understand modernity from the perspective of decoloniality. Besides, as we have noticed, decoloniality and decolonization are two different concepts in your theoretical framework, how should we understand the differences between them?+ View Response
Walter Mignolo: The idea of modernity was built on the celebration of newness. The very idea of newness was ingrained in the idea of modernity since European baptized the New World; the lands and people that appear in their consciousness at the end of the fifteenth century. So that post-modernity captured in and by the European mind was, they felt, the sign of a new era. For people in the non-European world the “feeling” was different. They/us were entangled with European history but we were not living that experience. We, in South America (as well as in Asia and Africa—I will leave the US aside for the moment), new that “modernity” was something alien to our own history. Our history (Quijano, Dussel, myself and other members of the project) was/is that of modernity/coloniality—the history of the formation of the Atlantic commercial circuits; of the historical foundation of capitalism; of racism as we know it today; of the beginning of the Western project of economic expansion, of converting and civilizing the planet. We cannot understand modernity in the way Giddens and Beck do. We live in different skins, have different memories, our memories are not that of imperial England or the memories of Germany’s genocide in Africa (the Herero) and in Europe (six million Jews and another nine or ten million of non-Jews). For us modernity is incomprehensible without coloniality. Not for Giddens and Beck. Dussel pointed out that, historically, that in the sixteenth century, with the European Renaissance, and then the Enlightenment, the history of Europe is entangled with the non-European world that Europeans want to have under their wing. So that modernity is indeed trans-modernity in the sense that the entire world participated in the making of Europe and then Euro-America from fifteen hundred on. And the future will be also trans-modern but no longer having Europe and US at its center. The trans-modern future will be (is already underway) built on the principles of pluri-versality. We are already witnessing this mutation. The BRICs countries are decentering the world order, although maintaining the economy of exploitation, expropriation and exploitation that Weber and Lenin named capitalism. However, BRICs countries are neither liberal nor neo-liberal. That is why Confucianism is gaining ground in China. Dewesternization seems to be the common ground of BRICs countries leading the way. And of course, Confucianism is one way of dealing with dewesternization, not the only one, even less the model for all processes of dewesternization.
However, what the project of modernity/(de) coloniality promotes is not a polycentric capitalist world. This view is part of our analytic. What we promote is decoloniality, a march toward a polycentered and non-capitalist world, a world in which economic coloniality has been barren. This would be a world order in which the myths of modernity will not be needed because the horizon of life will be to live in harmony, in plenitude and to compete for progress and to modern as if modernity would provide in the future what was has not been able to provide in the past, since the idea of modernity was put in circulation.
Dewesternization is an important step toward non-imperial futures. I mentioned before that instead of contested modernities we, in this project, talk about the struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power. Dewesternization, in its several trajectories, is a case in point. The colonial matrix of power was built, maintained and transformed by the West (Christianity, Liberalism, Neo-liberalism and even Marxism, its oppositional force within the same rule of the game) at the same time that the West became the West because of the colonial matrix. Today, the economy of accumulation is global, so then is economic coloniality. However, what is changing is that economic coloniality is no longer responding to one set of political rules and principles. China is a clear case in point. If China’s leader decisions in 1979 would have been to follow the rules of the game and be dependent on the US, China would not be at the economic level that is has today. At the same time, economic growth contributed to regain the confidence that was lost with the Opium War. That is to say that next to economic growth there is the process of healing the imperial wound. What is disputed are Western designs and of the will of self-appointment to rule the world. Disputing the control of the colonial matrix is the challenge that BRICs countries are presenting to Western imperial legacies (Western Europe and the US).
But not only BRICs countries are engaged in processes of dewesternization. Also there are other countries in the Middle East, in Africa and in South America and the Caribbean. That means, that under dewesternization, economic coloniality will continue its march and its life, at least for a while in and by the US, the European Union, China, India or Brazil. But new venues will be opening up by the process of dewesternization as people enduring the legacies of coloniality (whether colonized like India, South America or African countries or not colonized like China and Japan) began to regain the confidence that the myth of modernity took away from them/us. One of the consequences of dewesternization at the international level is what we have been witnessing in the European Union and the US: their internal collapse also, as they can no longer enact coloniality beyond Europe and the US while maintaining a comfortable middle class in their own countries.
There is another reason, and for me the most significant, of why dewesternization is relevant. I believe that we have been in the past two decades (since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War), not in process of transition but in a revolutionary process in which the entire world is participating. That revolutionary process makes of “left and right” an obsolete conceptualization of the world. Left and right are valid in the limited and regional world of post-enlightenment Europe and its aftermath, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba. Today, dewesternization and decoloniality have exploded the narrow and limited European conceptions of politics and the political (cfr., friends and foes).
First of all, the famous French Revolution was a revolution of an emerging ethno-class, the European bourgeoisie, which was growing economically and finally asserted themselves in front of the political and economic states of the monarchy supported by the church. It was an ethno-class revolution—a part involved where white, Christians, French and European. Before that, something similar happened in England with the Levelers, mid seventeenth century, and then with the Glorious Revolution toward the end of the century, where John Locke emerged as its leading ideologue. It was, furthermore, a revolution that on the bases of mercantile capitalism (one form of economic coloniality, others are free trade, industrial revolution, technological revolutions) and the enrichment of Europe with gold, silver, sugar, cotton, tobacco, slave trade of the colonial period, solidify the bourgeoisie and created the condition of the industrial revolution. It was in other words a capitalist revolution built upon the European three centuries of colonial wealth. Today, the celebration of the French Revolution goes hand in hand with the critique of capitalism. Absurd, indeed. Well, but the point is that if the French (and before that the British’s Glorious Revolution) was an ethno-class revolution, we are now witnessing a racial revolution. Simply said, while the white and Christian bourgeoisie grounded in their economic growth overthrew the white and Christian aristocracy, now the non-European bourgeoisie of color and non-Christian are if not overthrowing yet stopping the global hegemony that the white Western bourgeoisie set up (e.g., the colonial matrix of power) and controlled during the past two centuries (nineteenth and twentieth).
Now, you can say that the racial revolution that dewesternization is enacting maintains capitalism. And that is true. But at the same time the French Revolution and the American Revolution were revolutions that consolidated capitalism. But we tend to forget about it and remember the nice words “democracy, freedom, equality, etc.” So in a parallel way now we should pay attention that while dewesternization maintains capitalism that the Glorious, the American and the French revolution consolidated (by consolidating a new ethno-class controlling knowledge, the economy, politics, gender and sexual relations, and affirming themselves through patriarchy and racism), dewesternization opens up the doors to a racial revolution parallel to a class revolution that took place through the eighteenth century. Beyond dewesternization, do not forget, and coexisting with it, are the variegated decolonial processes that are enacting racial and patriarchal revolution and working toward a world without capitalism and therefore without coloniality. This is the moment in which the legacies of Bandung become relevant again: what it was proposed was to delink from European enlightenment legacies and to regain the racial and religious dignity that Western imperial civilization took away from most of the planet. But decoloniality, contrary to dewesternization, confronts head on economic coloniality: there cannot be peace, non-poverty, flourishing of life in the planet, while the principles that sustain the economy of growth (economic coloniality) are not changed to an economic of administration of scarcity. And this is no longer capitalism vs. socialism. Is something totally different based on decolonial visions of the futures.
Decoloniality, then, is the third global force re-orienting the present toward global futures. We see its manifestations in South America in the growing forces of Indigenous and peasant epistemic and political participation, in the so called “social movements”, chiefly in the potent organization claiming for the rights to life acting to stop the depredation of open pit mining in all the Andes Mountains, from Colombia and Ecuador to Chile and Argentina going through Peru. “Juicio Etico Popular to the Transnational Corporations” is a telling example of these processes. 4 “La via campesina” is another example. 5 Lately, the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt, the “indignados” of Spain and Greece, the students in Chile and in Colombia against the corporate transformation of the university, even the “Occupy” in the US, and of course the growing global intellectual awareness that if decolonization was a specific moment during the Cold War, decoloniality transcended it. And decoloniality transcended decolonization in the same way that coloniality transcended colonization. Colonization refers to specific historical moments and countries in the past 500 years while coloniality refers to the logic of domination behind the salvation rhetoric of modernity. Imperial modernity doesn’t need colonies to install coloniality (as China knows it very well since 1842), but it needs coloniality. In parallel fashion, decoloniality means to delink from the colonial matrix of power. Decoloniality is thus an epistemic, ethical and political project. The world cannot be changed if the people who run the world do not change. And people do not change submitting to public policies and obligations. Here is where Karl Marx had good intention but it was difficult for him to see coloniality and decoloniality at the other end of the spectrum. Instead, he projected the European experience (the proletarian class) toward global futures.
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- Walter Mignolo, Weihua He and Haiyan Xie (2012), The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World, Marxism and Reality, no. 4, p.110-120. ↩
- Weihua He and Haiyan Xie (2012, August 30), Decoloniality and its Re-imagination of the World Future: An Interview with Prof. Walter Mignolo, Social Sciences Weekly, p.5. ↩
- See for instance the much discussed book by Martin Jacques, When China Rules de World, http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2009/08/book-review-when-china-rules-the-world/ ↩
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLS8gCFZTEQ ↩
- http://viacampesina.org/en/ ↩