Neocolonialism: Short Explanation, Long History
Colonization extends beyond just the physical: it also involves a process of eradicating the indigenous culture, language, and history, and replacing it with the social construct of the colonizer. Children are forcibly removed from their families and sent to schools where they learn strictly the language, history, and values of the whites—values that include a belief that whites are the superior race. The result of this self-hatred (internalized racism) allows the colonizers to shift their rule to neocolonial economies. Here’s how neocolonialism works:
Colonialism is the direct military occupation of another country in order to control the people, the resources and the economy. But after several generations of eradicating a people’s history, culture, language, and self-esteem, resistance to the colonial occupier begins to fade and even the leaders of any opposition have been raised with the values of the colonizer. What most commonly happens is that the colonizers are able to create surrogate governments composed of local men who do not want to disrupt the economy—an economy that continues to benefit the European colonizer. This is neocolonialism.
Under neocolonialism, the local surrogate governments support development that enriches the capitalist European nations who still own most of the land and natural resources, including the mines, the plantations, the oil refineries, etc. (The local surrogates also often gain personally from their relationships with the neocolonials.)
These surrogate governments typically agree to international loan schemes for “development” purposes (e.g., building highways and dams), but which then place their nations into crippling debt. In order to pay off the debt, these nations agree to export their raw materials at prices and at unsustainable environmental levels that favor the neocolonial capitalists, but that put very little money back into the local economies. In fact, “servicing the debt” (paying off the loans) drains the nation’s economy, resources, and ability to sustain itself.
What’s more, because of the normal business cycles of capitalism which result from constant production, global prices for the raw commodities go down periodically, forcing the neocolonial nations to produce and sell even more of their export products just to keep up with interest payments on their loans. In addition, more land is taken away from growing local food and used to produce export crops like cotton, tobacco, or carnations.
The impact of this speeded-up, “scorched-earth” production on local cultures and economies is stunningly destructive. For example, in the case of wood products, forests are being destroyed at a record pace to produce lumber for exports. The deforested lands are then turned into subsistence-level farming plots by families who have been forced off their fertile traditional lands by megafarms devoted to export-oriented cattle ranching and one-crop agriculture, both of which devastate the soil, water, and surrounding ecosystem.a
This is how neocolonialism impoverishes indebted nations headed up by surrogate governments and keeps them impoverished. Even worse, when these nations inevitably fall behind in their payments, the World Bank and other international bankers demand “austerity measures” in order to shift more of the nation’s money into paying off the debt. Austerity measures are cutbacks in social services, like health care, job training, education, and basic food subsidies.
These austerity measures not only impoverish the people even more, but the deepening crisis and desperation allows the neocolonial corporations to cut back the already devalued wages that are paid to workers in factories, mines, plantations, and sweat shops across the Global South. Though workers across the Global South organize to demand living wages and decent working conditions, the surrogate governments protect the neocolonial capitalists by sending in military forces to crush the uprisings and imprison union leaders.
The basic system of colonialism and then neocolonialism is structured the same throughout the Global South: The white colonizers expropriated the lands and resources of the Global South, instituted a campaign of cultural erasure and race-based devaluation in order to ensure a permanent source of cheap labor and cheap raw materials.
These raw materials are extracted from the Global South at very little cost, shipped to the Global North where higher-paid workers in the “home” country assemble products from the raw materials. These finished products are not only sold in the home country, but they are also shipped back to the Global South countries to be sold at a huge profit, where they compete with locally-made products. Because the white Global North is valued more highly than the South, these products often sell at a premium; however, they are considered more desireable because they are imported from America and Europe.b
Although the process of neocolonialization involves co-opting the hearts and minds of those colonized, it must be continually reinforced because the human mind and spirit will always seek freedom and dignity. In the Global South, neocolonization is reinforced by economic sanctions and periodic military force. From the Global North, the system of race-based exploitation is maintained by the consumerist economy and affluence entitlement: So long as the right to purchase unlimited clothing and electronics is more important than valuing all workers equally, the shoppers of the Global North will continue to keep the system in place and make the neocolonial capitalists rich.
It should also be pointed out that the very first example of the process of neocolonization was and still is the exploitation and domination of one gender over another. Though the initial control of females by males had to have been through physical force, the only way to continue convincing females that they are inferior to men is through the process of colonization as described earlier. Once the colonization process is completed, it then becomes possible to use women as surrogates to reinforce patriarchy and misogynist exploitation against other females.
The most insidious part of using surrogates to maintain neocolonization is that those who are colonized tend to view anyone who looks like them as their allies, rather than perpetrators of the same racist or misogynist exploitation as the colonizer.
Source of economics basics:
Understanding How the Business Cycle Works and Why We Have Depressions1
The Role of Race in Upholding Capitalism
The Notes to Neocolonialism
a: Some of the countries where this has occurred over the past 20 years include Brazil, Madagascar, Colombia, Cambodia, Thailand, Mexico, Nigeria, and Ghana.2
b: Another way that neocolonial capitalists undermine local industry is by deliberately lowering their prices in order to eliminate the competition, which of course, further harms the local economy.