The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World: Weihua He Interviews Walter Mignolo

Hong Kong and Shanghai, January-June 2012.

Section Two

The Specter of Coloniality in the Modern World

Question 1: With the expansion of the imperial powers in the sixteenth century, the West and the East began to encounter each other in more substantial ways, which involved habitation, domination and exploitation. Under the Salvationist rhetoric of the imperial powers, the world was divided and consequently the East was constructed as the Other. According to Karl Marx, this is the inevitable result of capitalists’s desire for profit or imperialism which is the more advanced stage of capitalism, while decolonial theorists mainly attributed it to the encroaching of modernity.

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Walter Mignolo: First of all, “West” and “East” is as we know and feel them today is an invention of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. It was Pope Alexander the VI who divided the globe in Indias Occidentales and Indias Orientales and offered them to the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns! The Christian ordering of the world that became hegemonic because “Western Civilization” became hegemonic. East and West were first of all conceived from Jerusalem as center of the World, in Medieval Christendom. The West was the West of Jerusalem. The famous T/O map that I analyzed in The Darker Side of the Renaissance (1995, now being translated into Mandarin), and in The Idea of Latin America (2005, translated into Korean) has Jerusalem at the center, Asia to the Orient, Africa to the South and Europe to the West. That orientation only makes sense with Jerusalem at the center. If the centers were Beijing or Buenos Aires, other would be the story. But neither Beijing nor Buenos Aires (which did not exist during the Middle Ages), had at the potential and the possibilities of controlling knowledge as Western Christians managed to do through the conquest of the America and the follow up—Britain and France taking over Spain and Portugal and colonizing directly (India, North Africa) and indirectly disrupting China’s history, social organization and above all submitting its people to the humiliation of the imperial wound. Beijing was the center of Chinese Civilization and Rome became—much later–the center of Western Civilization. And when Rome became the center, where Pope Alexander VI was, it displaced Constantinople (today Istanbul) where Emperor Constantine included Christianity in the Roman Empire and displaced Jerusalem, as the Christian persecution of the Jews increased when the latter were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. But because of the expansion of Christianity and later on of secular Europe, Europe itself became the center of the world. That is what Chinese realized in the Opium War: that the world had changed, China was not alone and Beijing was no longer the center of a world organized in nested rectangles. With Pope Alexander VI the center moved from Jerusalem and Istanbul to Rome but the end result was the same. It was him that divided the planet in “Indias Occidentales” and “Indias Orientales” by means of two Treatises: Tordesilla, 1494 and Zaragoza, 1529. These are the two pillars of the modern/colonial world, the invention of the East and the West, the foundation of Occidentalism (the land of Japheth, the West) and Orientalism (knowledge being controlled in Europe, the West and the Center, and Asia the East.

So, then, you are right. For us (in the project modernity/coloniality) the encounter between East and West is not the inevitable result of imperialism, but its very beginning: the very idea of what we call modern/colonial world was built in two pillars: the distinction between “Indias Occidentales” and “Indias Orientales.” Macau, for example, was the first European colony in the “East” (that is, in the Portuguese waters and lands of Indias Orientales), founded in 1554 and the last to be released as you know better than I do (1999). The encroachment is what we write as “modernity/coloniality.” The slash “/” both divides and unites (entangles) modernity and coloniality. And when we write modernity/coloniality/decoloniality there is another encroachment: decoloniality is encroaching on coloniality, coloniality provokes decoloniality and thus they are also both united and separated for coloniality is the trap that modernity tends and decoloniality the projects to delink and escape the trap. Thus, we insist that coloniality is constitutive of modernity not an inevitable result. Now, when it comes to East and West, which of course is part of that logic of encroachment, the issue needs further clarification. Most postcolonial theorists come from the legacies of British and French imperialism and start in the eighteenth century and, as the “post” indicates, their theories start and depart from French post-structuralism.

Postcoloniality as a concept is indebted to postmodernity, and postmodernity, was popularized by Lyotard’s La condition postmodern (1978). Decoloniality has a different genealogy of thoughts. It goes back to Indonesia, to the Bandung Conference, when Sukarno gathered the leaders of 29 Asian and African countries. China was one of the 29th. At that point China was part of the Third World. Religion and racism were two of the major issues in Bandung. The goal: neither communism nor capitalism, but decolonization. So, decolonization was born at the same time as the idea of Third World countries, neither capitalist (First World) nor communist (Second World). It is in that genealogy of thoughts that we can understand Frantz Fanon, dependency theory, Ali Shariati in Iran, and, more recently, thinkers as Ashis Nandy and Vandana Shiva in India, the concept of “coloniality” and therefore “decoloniality.” For decolonial thinkers, whether in India, Africa or the Caribbean, the point of reference of coloniality is the sixteenth not the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century is the “second stage” of modernity and Western formation and expansion.

Decolonial thinkers may have taken a step forward in relation to postcolonial ones because we have been always taking a step backward. That is, while the postcolonial has the Enlightenment as its point of reference the decolonial has the Renaissance. The 500 years of world history are the years in which Western Civilization emerged, asserted itself through the first three centuries and expanded globally in since 1750, approximately. The colonial history of India that provided the impulse for postcolonialism (including the subaltern studies project), endured Western interferences since the second half of the eighteenth century. For that reason, post-colonialism is grounded in both the colonial history of India and in post-structuralist (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) and Marxist (Gramsci) thinkers. While decoloniality is historically grounded the history of the Americas, since 1500, and theoretically in the Bandung Conference (1955): both moments are connected in the history of global coloniality although they are disconnected if you look at them either from the perspective of particular empires (Spanish, English or French) or of national/colonial history (Indonesia or Bolivia for example). One of our tasks is precisely to show the underlying network, the colonial matrix of power that connects all those moments and places and make them dependents of Western imperial expansion. But coming back to the language of decoloniality, the Bandung Conference made visible a common concern of many countries in Africa and in Asia in the fifties; Aimee Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism was written in Paris, and published in 1955 and Frantz Fanon (born and raised in Martinique) lived in France before moving to Algeria where he wrote his decolonial political treatise, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961, in Algeria. Here you have geopolitics of knowing and knowledge at work. Even if Cesaire and Fanon were in Paris, their conceptualization of colonialism and their decolonial thinking did not come from the history, experience and memories of Europe but of the colonies. Let’s go back to the Bandung Conference. Sukarno of course was not in Paris, but in Indonesia, sensing, feeling to the bones the experience of colonialism. In one of the transcriptions of his opening address at the Bandung Conference (remember that China was part of the Third World at that time and was one of the 29 countries at the Bandung Conference), Sukarno is quoted as saying:

All of us, I am certain, are united by more important things than those, which superficially divide us. We are united, for instance, by a common detestation of colonialism in whatever form it appears. We are united by a common detestation of racialism. And we are united by a common determination to preserve and stabilize peace in the world.

We are often told “Colonialism is dead.” Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. 1 say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree.

China, we should remember, was one of the third world countries (the division into three worlds was invented in France at that very time) at the conference. Let’s remembering in passing that Mao Zedong considered Russia a First World country. And that understandable: Russia was Second World seen from France, Western Europe and the United States. From Mao’s China things look different. That is why in our theory we pay a lot of attention to the enunciation and to the geopolitics of knowledge.

To sum up: dependency theory, philosophy of liberation and theology of liberation, the New World Group in the Caribbean (parallel to dependency theory in the continent), were the responses from the Atlantic to the process of decolonization in Asia and Africa. All that was before the idea of postmodernity emerged and postcoloniality was conceived. The postcolonial needed the postmodern (Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition, 1978). So the postcolonial is an idea of the 80s, while the decolonial goes back to Bandung. The Bandung Conference and the meeting of the Non-Aligned countries (Belgrade, 1961) were not alien to Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals and intellectuals/activists, who were at the same time scholars. Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth was translated into Spanish and published in Mexico in 1962. Now The Wretched was read by Sartre as a fundamental decolonial statement. Homi Bhabha appropriated it for the postcolonial, but Lewis Gordon and many other Caribbean intellectuals (Paget Henry, Nelson Maldonado-Torres) are taking Fanon back to his decolonial vain. French Caribbean thinkers and literature did not need the postcolonial in order to be Caribbean thinkers and intellectuals. On the contrary, the postcolonial needs Caribbean thinkers and writers, as well as Africans, to be postcolonial scholars. Since the decolonial is the way of thinking that unveils the colonial matrix of power, the difference with the postcolonial is obvious. I will say this: Catholicism and Protestantism are two positions within Christianity. Same with the decolonial and the postcolonial. And please do not attempt to find equivalences, that is, whether the post- or the deco- correspond to Catholicism or Protestantism. What I am saying is that within a same frame there are different roads.

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Question 2: This comparative description is rather illuminating. In Edward Said’s theoretical formulation, his main concern is to explore the archives of the colonial past. By highlighting the hidden agenda of certain historical records, Said aims to interrogate the implicit relationship between culture and imperialism and to deconstruct the binary oppositions, which tend to relegate the East to a secondary place. On the other hand, It seems that the decolonial approach pays more attention to epistemology. Besides dwelling upon the colonial past, it is equally concerned with the formation of the future world. Can these observations tell decolonialism apart from postcolonialism?

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Walter Mignolo: Basically, yes, that is one entry to see the differences between the postcolonial and the decolonial. The other is the particular local histories in which postcolonial and decolonial intellectual inhabits. Like it or not, be aware of it or not, coloniality is an unavoidable experience for 80% of the world, that is, the non Euro-US world. However, there are in this regions and countries Native Americans and enslaved Africans, and in Europe Roma and Jews who couldn’t escape coloniality. I think the basic difference between decoloniality and postcoloniality, is that the latter depends and piggy backed on the concept of postmodernity while the former is an unfolding of the Bandung Conference, in 1955. That is why the past in the present toward the future is crucial for decolonial thinking and that is why without an epistemic revolution there cannot be political or economic revolutions: politics and economy are tied up and grounded in Western political theory and political economy.

Now, enter re-westernization and dewesternization as an option coexisting with the decolonial option. China is responding well to that in the process of political dewesternization, which means to manage capitalist economy beyond the rules of the IMF. If you read Christine Lagarde’s speech delivered on March 18, 2012 as you read a literary text, you will see several interesting indicators: although she is a French officer at the IMF, she speaks as if her position at the IMF allows her to be impartial and above developed and emerging economies. Second, she cannot avoid honoring China’s economic growth, and she cannot avoid being “ma/paternalistic.” She knows that the time when Western officer of international institutions give advice to emerging economy has passed. However, she couldn’t restrain from offering some advice. And third, she delivered a congratulatory push to suggest changes in China’s fiscal policies. Finally, she quoted Confucius. The fourth point showed that re-westernization continues but now can no longer be a bully. It has to be condescending but presented as respectful recognition of China’s achievement.

But let me add a few lines in the direction you are suggesting. Said’s Orientalism was published in 1978. Let’s say in passing, and please do not take this as a critique of Said but rather of his readers, The illustrious scholar and intellectual Syed Hussein Al-Attas, published in 1977 The Myth of the Lazy Native: A Study of the Image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and Its Function in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism. It was Bruce Lawrence who called this book to my attention and pointed it in Said’s direction. The point here is that Said’s perspective in Orientalism (1978) is that of Comparative Literary Studies, while Al-Attas was the perspective of a Malaysian social scientist who was reflecting on his own history rather than an observer of how Orientalism was made. In this case, there is no opposition between East and West, but entanglement. Al-Atta is a Malaysian intellectual dwelling and thinking in Malaysia: his discourse was addressed to Malaysian basically. That is why we do not know much about Al-Attas and this book but we know much about Said. Said is an Egyptian-Palestinian intellectual dwelling and writing in the US and addressing a Western audience. Here you have a case to understand why the enunciation and geopolitics of knowledge is so crucial in decolonial thinking. In the same vain, and yet in another trajectory, when Kishore Mahbubani—dwelling in Singapore– published in 1999: Can Asian Think?, where he addressed that question head on in a very provocative and effective manner, he was addressing a Western audience as a Singaporean and by so doing already engaging in the process of dewesternization. Said’s book was a pioneering book of what a few years later became known as postcolonialism.

As I mentioned above, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition was published in 1978, as I mentioned a while ago in relation to postcolonalism. It was only after that date that “postcolonialism” became thinkable. “Post-colonialism” doesn’t make sense if you do not have “post-modernity.” So that Orientalism was considered a postcolonial argument after the fact. And finally, Said’s The Question of Palestine published the same year as Orientalism is a second place in Said’s work quoted and commented in the academy. For me, The Question of Palestine is a decolonial argument, parallel, 20-25 years later to Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized (1955, I believe) and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961). So, yes, epistemology is crucial to decolonial thinking because ontology is always an epistemic construct so that for us it is necessary but not sufficient to “study” the economic and political aspects of “capitalism.” Capitalism is possible because its architects and supporters were able to build a structure of knowledge, epistemology, that justify the building of capitalism in spite of all the disasters that many of us know capitalism brings with it. However, the knowledge we have about the deadly consequences of capitalism is always superseded by the control of knowledge of actors and institutions that created it, transformed it, maintains it and now are “saving it.” And the control of knowledge means also formation (e.g., education) and transformation (e.g. media) of subjectivities.

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Question 3: As you have mentioned, despite the fact that they were victims of modernity during the colonial period, most of the former coloniesbegan to crave for modernity themselves and tried their best to replicate the metropolitan states after their independence. For most of those third-world countries, one of their primary goals is to develop their economy and improve the living conditions of their people after they won their political independence. The efforts of Gandhi, Mandela, Nkruma and Nasser can be cited as examples of this craze for modernity, though some of them failed tragically. So this is a quite complex issue. All through these years, the living conditions in some third world countries have undoubtedly improved a lot by adopting market economy and other liberal measures to stimulate the economy. But on the other hand, as Samir Amin has pointed out that the gap between these third world countries and the first world countries is not narrowing but widening. How should we interpret this phenomenon? And is it possible for those developing countries to avoid reenacting the darker side of modernity while pursuing market economy?

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Walter Mignolo: This is a key issue, and it is related to the dispute for the colonial matrix of power that I mentioned in before. It is also a key issue in the sense that your question could be responded to by invoking “contested modernities” or “the struggle for the control of the colonial matrix of power.” But I will say this from the beginning: there is no way to avoid coloniality once you enter the road market economy and under the belief that “modernity” is something you have to catch up with. The belief that modernity is something you have to catch up with was the most successful fiction of the European imaginary. And we are still struggling with it. However, from decolonial perspectives, modernity is not something you have to catch up with. When I make this argument, one of the counterarguments I hear is the following: but you enjoy technology and electrical power, don’t you? You like to have hot showers and air conditioner when is extremely hot. My answer is yes, and then I respond with a question: what do all those things, electricity, technology, hot water have to do with “modernity”? Think about it, I will not give you the answer yet. But I gave you the elements to think about how to answer this question. The second more pressing question is that of development and growth. Once again, what does modernity have to do with growth and development? We need to delink, as Amin said it in the 80s, but not from capitalist economy but from the colonial matrix of power of which economic coloniality is one sphere.

First of all, we have to delink from the idea that economic growth is the road to happiness for all. It is for a minority, that minority that is growing bigger in wealth while the majority is growing bigger in poverty. So, economic growth is a lie, a lie that keeps the logic of coloniality hidden under the rhetoric of modernity. I am not talking here about a socialist distribution of wealth but of a radical change of horizon in which growth, development = wealth is not the guiding light of governments (which shall not necessarily be States), financial institutions (which shall not be necessarily banks), industries (which do not necessarily need to be corporations), institutions for nurturing and education (which shall not necessarily be corporate universities that support research for national security and for transnational corporations). If the horizon of life is to live in plenitude and to enjoy the life of the planet, well, it is necessary to delink from the fantasies and illusions of modernity.

We are now in a world order significantly different to the one Samir Amin was looking at when he made that observation. As a matter of fact, that observation was also made in the 1950s by Argentinian economist Raul Presbisch (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 1950-1963). Presbisch observed that the plan of development and modernization for Latin America and the Caribbean that United Nations asked him to report, was impossible in the current state of international economic relations for, as we know, developed countries are such because they live from the resources and the surplus extracted from underdeveloped countries. Dependency theory (as I mentioned before when talking about Quijano) and the Caribbean New World Group emerged precisely to think how to get out of the trap, that is, of the entanglement of modernity/coloniality. The Caribbean New World Group has a very interesting economic history of the Caribbean as a “plantation economy.” I mention this because it is common to other parts of the world, like in South East Asia as Syed Hussein Alatas demonstrated in The Myth of the Lazy Native. A Study of the image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and its function in the ideology of Colonial Capitalism (1977).

As you rightly observe, it was a frustrating experience for people and honest politicians and intellectuals to see how the gap between developed and underdeveloped countries continue to grow. What are developed are not the economies but the gap, and millions of people know that development is not convenient for them but they do not have a say and if they protest, they are considered delinquent or terrorist that prevent progress and development. In many parts of the world, “Foreign Debt” was the killer since the end of the 60s. Now it is the killer in Europe, as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal know very well. Now we are seeing it in Europe! The situation has changed, and Greece, Italy and Spain are (next to former-Eastern European countries), in conditions similar to Third World countries before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But let me say this before continuing: dewesternization refers to “emergent” economies that discovered the way to maintain capitalist economy and at the same time to struggle for the control of all other domains of the colonial matrix of power, chiefly political decisions in the international arena and the dispute for the control of knowledge. China is no doubt a paramount example of economic take off disobeying the IMF and the World Bank. Now, that doesn’t solve the problems within each country and even less the question of coloniality. The good thing about dewesternization is to avoid one and only global imperialism; perhaps it was what Hardt and Negri were thinking about when they wrote Empire. They wrote the book in the nineties when still many believed in the end of history and in the infinite economic growth, the illusion of the techno-bubble and the “irrational exuberance”. But dewesternization doesn’t solve the problem of coloniality—as far as capitalism is preserved, economic coloniality is preserved too.

What has changed, what is going on? As you know better than I (and I have just mentioned when talking about the Bandung Conference), China was a Third World country during the Cold War, as was India and Brazil. And Russia (or Soviet Union) was the Second World. Now four of those countries are BRICs that is power emerged, rather than emerging, economies. What happened? What happened is that the leaders of these countries understood that it is impossible to narrow the gap if the country follows the instructions of the IMF, the World Bank and the political dictates of Washington. I will not say that China and Russia or Brazil are First World Countries now. I will say that that division doesn’t hold any more. We are in a polycentric and capitalist world order and there are more than two contenders in the arena. I call that “dewesternization.” Dependency theorists were saying that in the seventies, you cannot “develop” if you follow the instructions of the IMF on how to develop. You have to figure out yourself, that is, to become economically independent in decision-making and interconnected in the negotiations. That, once again are dewesternizing projects that BRICs countries are leading.

China understood that before Brazil and India. Russia needed a decade to figure out how to build a strong economic and political state (?) after the disaster induced by neo-liberalism that made 10 Russians multi-billionaires in a couple of years. Vladimir Putin is controversial internationally and contested inside Russia. But imagine what may have happened to Russia if the country was in the hands of Yeltzin’s friends? A no-win situation, indeed. Now Russia is one of the BRICS states and these countries are learning what a capitalist economy is and instead of following Western instructions they are rather thanking the West for letting him know what capitalist economy is and to manage it in their own way. That is precisely what dewesternization is. Amin was not seeing deweseternization as an unfolding of history. He was too much programmed by Marxist teleology and the Right vs. Left conflict and because of that, Amin was unable to understand the role of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, in North Africa and in the Muslim World (as it is clear in the last chapter of his book on delinking).

I have been talking about politico-economic dewesternization, mainly secular, as we find it among BRICS countries. But a second aspect of dewesternization is politico-religious, and Islam is one of the strong forces moving in that direction. Malaysia, Indonesia and Iran are three such countries. Dewesternization (which is, let’s not forget, based on strong economic grounding or development if you wish) is making the world poly-centered, a world order with a common economy and many centers of decision. If capitalist is “the common”, that is, the common ground of world economy the other domains of the colonial matrix are being disputed: the control of authority, the control and management of knowledge and subjectivity, of gender and sexuality, and racism is contested at a global level: “Eastern” people were considered “Yellow” and inferior to “White.” No longer.

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Question 4: I totally agree with what you said about your judgment about the current international situation. The thriving of the new economies in the third world cannot conceal the fact that colonialism did not end with the collapse of the empire after World War II. With multi-national companies and world organizations like the World Bank as its vanguard, colonialism does not take the form of actual domination and control. The colonial mechanism is still maintained by the networks weaved by capital.

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Walter Mignolo: I would say that coloniality is not “maintained by the networks weaved by capital” but, on the contrary, that it is the persistence of “the networks weaved by coloniality that maintains capital(ism).” Now here you see the difference between Marxist and decolonial thinking. “Capitalism” is something that Max Weber and Vladimir Lenin did not agreed upon. Weber liked it, Lenin did not. But they both agree that there is something we can call capitalism. For us what is crucial is the colonial matrix, and “economic coloniality” is one sphere of the colonial matrix, the sphere that (neo) liberals and Marxists have fetishized.

So, the persistence of the colonial matrix of power has maintained economic coloniality and, in the past 30 years, economic coloniality has become the sphere of the colonial matrix that governs the other spheres. But it was not always like that. In the history of the American colonialism mutated into internal colonialism from 1776 to 1830 approximately, the US (called “American”) Revolution, 1776 the Haitian Revolution of 1804 and several independences in Spanish America, 1809-1830, all showed in different and complex ways that the first cycle of colonialism ended, but not coloniality, the logic of management and control behind the rhetoric of modernity. Coloniality mutated into four different forms: a) internal colonialism in the US and in the Spanish American new republics. Internal colonialism means that the colonial matrix of power was now in the hand of Creoles (e.g., people of European descent born in the New World, basically Anglos in the North and Latin (Spanish and Portuguese in the South) and b) imperialism without colonies (China and Japan were brought into the colonial matrix without being colonized like India or French Indochina). That happened in South America and the Caribbean were the British and the French, displaced Spain and Portugal, and “supervised” the local elites that were collaborators of the new stage of imperial/colonial expansion and capital accumulation; c) the Creoles Anglo elite in the US who also transformed British colonialism into US internal colonialism took a different path: the road to imperialism, a project that was achieved after WWII; and d) the most unexpected decolonizing act that took place in Haiti in 1804–unthinkable revolution made by the bottom of the New World population, enslaved Africans and theirs descents. That people of European descent lead the US revolution and the Spanish America independence is understandable. They belonged to the ruling class, but as Creoles were played down by the metropolitan elites occupying all the key monastic, economic and political sites. But that the enslaved will take freedom in their hand was indeed unthinkable, and that unthinkability cost Haiti the troubles it has endured until today.

So, the second stage in Asia and Africa, that is, decolonization from 1947 to 1970 is nothing else but the continuation and mutation of what happened in the Americas at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century: local elites sending the imperial colonizer home and doing themselves what the colonizer were doing. Imperialism/colonialism ended in Africa and Asia, but not coloniality. To understand that what happened in America and the Caribbean at the end of eighteenth and beginning of nineteenth century equivalent to what happened in Asia and Africa in the second half of the twentieth century (well India independence in 1947), you have to bet out a lineal concept of history and understand how the modern/colonial world system came into being, was transformed, maintained and engendered decolonial struggles.

Now after WWII the increasing role of the US as global leader was the sign of another important mutation of the malleability of the colonial matrix of power. The Cold War was an interesting interregnum for the Russian Revolution that took place between the first wave of the decolonization in the Americas and the second wave in Asia and Africa, is interesting because it is not decolonization but a different form of imperial expansion: the expansion of communism instead of the civilizing mission. In other words, at the time it happened, the Russian Revolution was not so much a decolonial revolution but extension of Europe in the borders of Europe, a second class empire as Madina Tlostanova (Uzbek-Cherkess scholar and intellectual living in Moscow) would have it. Just think of it, how shall we understand the Russian Revolution in the context of the first wave of decolonization in the Americas and the second wave in Africa and Asia? The Russian Empire was not a colony of Europe. So that the Russian Revolution doesn’t follow the same logic as the decolonial trajectory in the Americas it follows, rather, the logic of the French Revolution: the French Revolution was the revolution of a new class, the bourgeoisie. The Russian Revolution was a revolution in the name of the proletarian class. The Cold War was indeed not a clash between the colonies and the metropolis but a clash between two post-Enlightenment ideologies—liberalism and capitalism vs. communist economy, that is, between laissez faire capitalist and state regulated communism.

As for the world order today, which is the “before last” part of your question, I see it in relation to the previous historical scheme to what, of course, it is necessary to add the trajectory followed by China since the Opium War. As I see it, the overthrowing of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, was quite different from all the revolts that took place up to that time in the modern/colonial world (that is, in the world system whose historical foundation we, the modernity/coloniality project, date in the sixteenth century). Different in the sense that a) the revolts in the colonies of Americas were all against European Christian imperial monarchies; b) the Russian Revolution was as I said before, a revolution against the Czardom in the name of the proletarian class and c) the Chinese revolution of 1911 was a nationalist revolution, that is, the idea of the nation-state that was put in place in Europe after the French Revolution was the frame of the Chinese Guomindangs overthrowing the Qings. A nationalist revolution is very different from one based on a social class. A nationalist revolution appeals to the past of what is being formed as a nation, and that is what Sun Yat-Sen made clear in his “Three Principles of Livelihood” (1927). In this regard, the nationalist revolution in China has this in common with all the struggles for decolonization in Asia and Africa since 1945: all decolonization struggles since the nineteenth century were made in the name of nationalism, which Fanon theorized in his classical The Wretched of the Earth (1961). Mao Zedong’s effort attempted to turn the nationalist revolution into the internationalization of communism. However, contrary to the Russian Revolution, Mao never left behind the millenarian history of China while the Russian Revolution made a drastic cut with the past and came empty handed: Russians were not Europeans and the Soviets, who enacted European theories of emancipation, did not have a history to back up their revolution. The history of the formation since the fifteenth century was cut and denied by the Soviets. Today’s Russia, with Vladimir Putin, turned the legacies of the Soviet into a State controlled capitalism but devoid of historical foundations while China has the legacies of Confucius and Mencius to refurbish national and moral values to confront the aggression of Western neo-liberalism and to detach themselves from Mao’s legacies.

In a nutshell, coloniality (short hand for colonial matrix of power) was formed, transformed and controlled by Western imperial countries from 1500 to 2000. Today, dewesternization maintains the colonial matrix, but disputes its control, while decoloniality aims at transcending it. Hence, de-coloniality means to undo and to overcome coloniality. That is the most important difference with the way decolonization was conceived during the Cold War.

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Walter Mignolo

Walter D. Mignolo is William H. Wannamaker Professor and Director of the Center for Global Studies and the Humanities at Duke University. He is associated researcher at Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Quito, and an Honorary Research Associate for CISA (Center for Indian Studies in South Africa), Wits University at Johannesburg. His books include Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking (2000) and Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of Decoloniality (2007). 

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  3 comments for “The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World: Weihua He Interviews Walter Mignolo

  1. Elizabeth Leung
    22 January 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Will this entry be re-posted again?

    • Admin
      30 January 2016 at 8:36 pm

      It should be back up now. Our database couldn’t cope with the amount of words on one page so please click on the respective pages at the end to see further sections 2, 3, and 4 of this interview.

  2. Mau Perez
    2 October 2018 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing your interview to Mrs. Mignolo. I am looking to read more about Decolonial Thinking by Chinese authors, we could I find anything ?

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