>"America is just as much a colonial power as England ever was." Do you agree?

>These were the words spoken by Malcom X in 1964. The whole quote was:

“America is just as much a colonial power as England ever was. America is just as much a colonial power as France ever was. In fact America is more so a colonial power than they, because she’s a hypocritical colonial power. What do you call second class citizenship? Why, that’s colonisation. Second class citizenship is nothing but twentieth century slavery.”

Was he right to say such things in 1964? Would he be right today?

5 comments

  • >Malcolm is engaging principally in rhetoric when he speaks of the US as a 'colonial power'. To me, this extract is rather an inverse echo of Dr King's speech the previous August. King emphasised the positives of America's civic creed when he quoted from the Declaration of American independence:'It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal"'In short, racial equality is American, it is part of her positive identity and her extraordinariness; folks should embrace it.Malcolm is doing the opposite. The US has always had a problem with Empire. It was itself a colony, it fought a revolution against the biggest Empire the world has ever known, it has steadfastly refused to promote or prop up the empires of others (a key argument behind the refusal to sign the Treaty of Versailles and join the League of Nations in 1919). Empire is anathema and Malcolm is knowingly playing up on that – 'second class citizenship' is 'colonisation'. It is the exact opposite of Dr King's attempt to secure support for civil equality by appealing to Americans' (particularly northern white Americans') pride in their sense of self. It all reminds me of Malcolm's comment on the symbiotic relationship between he and King, in which he archly and astutely cast himself as the outside, the archetypal Stagger Lee to King's Booker T Washington, a good cop/bad cop thing, if you will: 'I raise hell in the backyard and they let him in through the front door' (that isn't an exact quote, I can't find the one I'm thinking of unfortunately; the meaning's the same – that he played up on white fears of black men and this made the 'respectable' face of and voice of moderate black America more appealing and secured it greater access.)So, it is rhetoric. A colonial power is not simply one that imposes 'second class citizenship' (if that were the case practically every single western state up until the mid 20th century, maybe even today to an extent, in places where gay couples, for example, are denied marriage and adoption rights that heterosexual couples have, was or is a colonial power. Nor does hypocrisy a defining characteristic of a colonial power, as Malcolm implies, and thus being hypocritical about one's supposed colonialist behaviour doesn't make one any more or less of a colonial power. Technically, it's rubbish, but it's not meant to be a critique of America's actual place in the world or its foreign policy, it's a rhetorical device designed to prick America's conscience by comparing it to a characteristic of something it has always defined itself squarely against.

  • >Was he right?In his narrow sense of 'colonial power' – referring to the fact that America still had de jure and de facto apartheid throughout much of the country, and unequal civil rights as well – he was right absolutely. In many states, particularly regarding the relative protection and rights under the law of, say, homosexual and heterosexual couples, he still is right.In the foreign policy sense, as well, he was sort of right in 1964 (though, I stress, it doesn't matter one jot to his point or purpose whether he was). America has never been a formal colonial power, but from Manifest Destiny (the self-proclaimed right of Europeans to populate the North American continent), the Monroe Doctrine (the self allocation of North, central and Latin America as the 'sphere of influence' of the United States) and so on, it's anti-imperial origins and diplomacy (witness Versailles) have often sat uncomfortably with its practice. In 1964, let's not forget, it was fighting a war in Vietnam fought, after the French empire had pulled out, to deny the express will of most south Vietnamese to be united in a single political entity with the Communist North. The policy of containment and attendant proxy wars in south east Asia (Vietnam, Korea), north Africa and the Middle East (Iran), Latin America (Nicaragua), Europe (Marshall aid and funding for British soldiers in Greece's civil wars) throughout the period of the high Cold War (particularly the 1950s-early 1970s) were, in a very real sense, ideological and political imperialism born of a strategic need to defend liberal democracy, which itself was born of a neurotic fear of Soviet expansionism (which never really existed, beyond a purely defensive level). Since the Cold War, America's foreign policy has broadly been less imperialist, but post-9/11 interventions in Iraq, for example, and the desperate attempt to secure the democratic peace in Afghanistan, alongside rhetoric of an 'Axis of Evil' point to a very similar desire to create strategic, politically- and ideologically-friendly outposts throughout the world, only this time in defence not against a threatening idea with a state, but a threatening idea without one. As such, such activity is nowhere near as frenetic as it was in the 1950s or, indeed, when Malcom was speaking, but should, say, Pakistan collapse (God help us) or (only slightly less worrying) a succession crisis develop in North Korea, creating political vacuums in nuclear-armed countries (one of which was explicitly named as part of an 'Axis of Evil' the other, while an ally, has a western border with Afghanistan that just might be the most physically dangerous and ideologically-threatening place on earth) then I think we should see more activity like that of the mid-20th century which would, ultimately, like Iraq and Afghanistan (and – and the same audience Malcolm was trying to reach in 1964 would detest this – Palmerston's foreign policy in 1850s Britain), end up exporting liberal democracy by the barrel of a gun.A colonial power? Not in a formal or true sense, but America's foreign policy, particularly since the Second World War, has been strongly interventionist where it has been deemed necessary and conducted with the (principally defensive) aim of exporting western values to strategic and vulnerable places, as if seeking spatial and developmental advantage in some grand game of geopolitical chess with first, a rival superpower, and now, sub- and inter-state organisations. It doesn't, as Malcolm implies (and, again I stress, it's irrelevant what he implies because he was not speaking literally about US foreign policy) usually result in second class citizenships (in fact, the exact opposite is desired), but the very fact that a set of values have been and are being forcibly exported to areas (colonies), strategically-determined by the US, in the interest of the security US (the metripole) is a kind of colonialism.

  • >So, colonialism, as in the classic sense (to which Malcolm alluded) of 18th and 19th century Britain or France? No. But, in the broader sense of colonialism as a large, powerful country, forcibly using smaller countries, on an indefinite or permanent basis, whether formally or informally, in its own interests: yes.

  • >I was about to agree until I say you'd written "it's rubbish". Yes it is partly rhetoric designed specifically to further a certain cause. However I don't think it would have gone anywhere if there wasn't an element of truth in it. And yes I do think that there are second class citizens in every western state, from gays as you mention, to the homeless, sick and disabled; not to mention the fact that slavery, at 27 million worldwide (and over 50,000 in the UK) is higher than it ever has been in human history!I believe that Malcolm wasn't only building upon the work of MLK. In fact I think a large part of this colonisation-2nd class citizenship association has its origins in Lenin's work. Lenin was the one who turned the analyses of colonialism and imperialism to the inward working of societies. And he had a perfectly valid point, even if, as was Malcolm's, his case was exagerated. What is colonialisation? It's the act of settling in a new area, and subjecting it to rule by a power that locals see as foreign. Many people at that time did see their government as foreign, and still do today. It's a bit off subject but during Charles and Diana's wedding a group of Welsh people organised holidays so that they wouldn't be in the country when the wedding took place. The group's leader said that he didn't think there'd been a legitimate Prince of Wales since Llewelyn. In other words if a group of people are treated collectively as 2nd class citizens, and they believe themselves to be governed by foreign powers (in this case rich whites with a different view of life) then they have an argument, no matter how weak, to call themselves exploited colonialists.P.S. Remember you have to comment on the Reform Party facebook page on higher education funding.

  • >Ah, only your first comment had come up when I wrote that comment. If you agree that the US is to some extent imperialistic, but in a more modern sense then in actual fact we agree. I hate it when that happens…

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