Postcolonial Nations; a textual analysis

open-your-eyes-dgPost-colonialism describes what happens in the culture of a people as a result of colonization. Post-colonial studies examines the affects of colonization on the colonized as well as on the people of the colonizers, both assimilation and resistance to domination, and is a narrative that is still unfolding now. The question for Post-colonial times seems to be, how to move forward to independence and liberation while respecting the diverse cultures of the people. As newly independent nations struggle to represent themselves, using a model left them by the colonists, that of the “Nation,” one must question whether it is appropriate.

Colonial discourse, as we learned, was based on the “Enlightened” view of humanity and theories of social hierarchy that put Europeans on top, being “civilized,” rational thinkers, and Africa at the bottom, being “primitive.” For the people of the colonizers, which include us in the United States, it affects our objectivity about the world and history. We learned in class about the “Orientalism” of anything east of Europe, which projected a sense of “otherness” in representing areas of interest to colonizers and traders. The colonizers constructed the colonized for their own purposes of economic exploitation, locking the colonized into an unfair situation in their system of capitalism (Sharma 2014). The colonized are then divided between those who adopt the view of the colonizer, and those who resist. Post-colonial discourse attributes the inability to peacefully govern themselves in many nations, as the result of basing the economic and political structure on the model left behind by the colonizer, which justifies colonization and slavery, that of capitalism.

In his article “National Liberation and Culture,” Cabral argues that it is not possible to harmonize the economic and political domination of a people with the preservation of their culture, and that colonizers understood the value of culture as a factor of resistance to foreign domination. Culture is the manifestation of a people’s history, and tied to their economy and relationships with others and with their environment. (Cabral 1994, 54) He goes on to describe strategies the colonizer uses to impose itself on the culture of a people, as necessary for its survival. Cabral says that for its own security, Imperialist domination requires the “direct or indirect liquidation of the essential elements of the culture of the dominated people,” sometimes with the use of force, such as occurred in South Africa under apartheid, with the exploitation of the labor force of the African masses. Another strategy of the colonizer is to provoke and develop social gaps between members of a community, with the urban “petite bourgeoisie” normally assimilating the colonizer’s mentality and considering itself culturally superior to its own people, and subsequently rewarded with greater material privileges. In ethnic groups with a vertical social structure, such as the Fula, where cultural alienation was ineffective, the colonizer recognizes and protects the prestige of the ruling class, installing chiefs who support the interest of the colonizer in exchange for privilege. The greatest mistake made by the colonizers, according to Cabral, is in underestimating or ignoring the cultural strength of African peoples, which took “refuge in the villages, in the forests, and in the spirit of the generations who were victims of colonialism,” for it is within the culture of a people that we find resistance (55-60).

National liberation is necessarily an act of culture. Studies of liberation movements show that generally these struggles are preceded by an increase in expression of culture. If Imperialist domination must divide, then the liberation movement, as defender and representative of the culture of a people, must unite the people struggling for liberation. In Cabral’s opinion, the foundation for liberation rests in the inalienable right of every people to have their own history, and that national liberation can only truly take place when national productive forces are free from foreign domination and returning to a society its capacity to create its own progress. In spite of, or even because of colonial domination, Africa has imposed respect for her cultural values. Cabral says this marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the African continent, and the most important cultural element in the life of African peoples.

The attitude of each social group toward the liberation struggle is dictated by its economic interests, its culture, age group, and differs from village to town, peasant to intellectual, individual to individual (57). The greater the difference between the culture of the dominated people and that of the oppressor, the more possible is the victory of a liberation movement. Among the rural ruling class in groups with a hierarchal social structure, there are those who join the liberation movement to eliminate colonial oppression in order to re-establish their group’s domination over the people, preserving the cultural prejudices of their own class. The assimilated intellectual and those with high official status, characterized by total cultural alienation, align themselves politically with representatives of the rural ruling class and religious leaders, and both groups place their own class interests against the needs of the masses. Herein lies the nature of the instability of African struggles for independence, a need to distinguish within it the essential from the secondary, the progressive from the reactionary, bringing diverse interests into harmony. The hierarchal forces at work within the liberation movements cannot be ignored (58-59).

Independence is more than political, it means complete liberation of the productive forces, and construction one’s own social and cultural progress. This means, Cabral says, assessing and preserving the cultural values and objectives of every well defined social group of every category, giving it a “new national dimension.” He points out the reality of the epic accomplishments of the African, in the development of economic, political, and social structures, frequently in all sorts of adverse conditions. However, no culture is perfect, all culture is in flux, proceeding in an uneven fashion, and all cultures are composed of virtues and failings, strengths and weaknesses. Just as damaging to Africa as underestimating its cultural values, is to blindly, indiscriminately accept them. Cabral says that culture, in a movement, is a powerful source of courage, support, and ability to sacrifice and even perform “miracles.” The struggle itself reveals the cultural complexities that must be dealt with in order to progress. The armed struggle for liberation from colonial domination itself brings together people of differing social groups, the petite bourgeoisie and urban working class, living and working daily with the various rural peasant groups, acquiring a clearer understanding of the economic realities of the people. It also implies forced “cultural progress” in the inherent qualities of the struggle, such as the practice of “democracy,” “criticism,” and the creation of services, education, and training (59-64).

Cabral concludes that a necessary framework for national independence, in perspective of developing national and social progress, must at least have these objectives: The development of a popular culture taking into consideration all positive Indigenous cultural values, and a national culture based on the history of the struggle itself; The constant promotion of political and moral awareness, of all social groups, and a spirit of sacrifice for the cause of independence; Finally, the development of a technological culture (65). It must be considered, however, that perhaps the model of civil society left by colonists, that of the “state,” and its mode of economy, capitalism, which justifies colonization, war, and slavery, is even appropriate. In the article “Communities and the Nation,” Partha Chatterjee argues that the difficulties of Indian national social progress lie in the affects of colonialism, and in trying to adapt to the capitalist model and definition of “community,” that of “nationhood.”

This article begins with a discussion of the word jati, and its uses as a category of social classification, relating it to a story about Kamalakanta, who used his great analytic skills to mock and call attention to, the nebulous application of the word, resisting to be categorized by jati while standing as a witness in court. The same word used to denote caste in Indian sociology, can also be used to refer to other groups of people, mostly with the sense of origin by birth, such as “family,” “Indian,” “human,” or to other animal “species,” or even a category as arbitrary as “opium users.” It is assumed membership is not by self-interested individual choice, or contractual agreement, but by immediate inclusion as if by birth. Questions of group loyalty, and as one can belong to multiple groups, to which group, recur constantly in contemporary political discourse in India, and the author asks the question, why give the concept of jati the “fixity” that was demanded of Kamalakanta? (Chatterjee 1993, 221-223)

The enumeration of Indian society by ethnic community was intended to divide, cause competition, and to make them look like a non-nation who can’t get along. As previously discussed by Cabral, Chatterjee describes the first step of colonizers was to separate and enumerate the diverse communities it planned to rule. Prior to this it had not been necessary for communities to count how many of them there were, and community boundaries were “fuzzy.” Enumeration of Indian communities was a construction of the colonizer, in the narrative of colonial discourse, defining minority and majority groups, and thereby establishing “caste,” and “religion” as the sociological keys which subsequently shaped the forms of seeking representation in the state, which was by caste or religion. Even though the caste system is no longer on the census, it is still embodied in political discourse, and post-colonial politics is not free of colonial construct. When the nation was being formed, many distinct types of communities came together into large “political solidarities,” however the partnerships between jati were not based on equality. Some feel all forms of the modern state in India are Western intrusions, and feel India should return to traditional social systems, but we cannot send the state back to its origin (223-225).

To move forward, Chatterjee suggests, India needs to confront the mechanisms installed by the colonizers that seek to obliterate the “fuzziness” of its communities, namely, the concept of a “civil society,” separate from the “state,” that emerged in Western Europe and was installed in the colonies, and its system of capital. The concept of a civil society, which exists outside of the political authority of the state, has its roots in medieval ideas, that society is not identical with political authority, the Christian idea of “The Church” as an independent society, and the growth of independent self-governing cities, with Estate holders who may or may not be in support of the ruling monarch. These concepts influenced the political philosophies of Locke and Montesquieu, as discussed in an essay by Charles Taylor, both of whom defend subjective rights by appealing to a notion of “community.” Locke asserts that we are born with natural rights from God, and that man forms first society then government by mutual contract, for the protection of their subjective rights, and if government fails to do so, man can dismantle it. The defense of subjective rights is founded in vertu, the patriotic spirit of citizens, a sense of community that did not exist prior to establishment of political authority, yet is regarded as distinct from it. It was on these ideas that Hegel based his new concept of “civil society,” as separate from the state, and also, as we know, the basis for our own “Bill of Rights.” The problems arise in conceptualizing the relationship between rights and community, with the two extremes being grounding rights on individual will and abolishing community, or attributing to community a single determinate form, negating all other forms of community, which the author argues is intricately tied to capitalism (228-230).

Hegel resisted the idea that the state, or even the family, is founded on contract, but founds the family on “love,” which is, of course, the free surrender of will as an individual for the unity of the group. Families, each united within themselves against the externality of other families, each represented by the (male) “head,” make up civil society, which is the domain for the protection of each family’s property through the administration of justice. Also included in civil society, are areas of “common interest,” where Hegel places police and corporation, and even the education of children, which he says is the right and a duty of society over the arbitrary wishes of the parents (232-233).  By reducing the family to a single, determinate form of the nuclear family, Hegel has narrowed its scope, leaving a gap that was filled in by the “universal family,” that of a civil society, and the only legitimate form of community, that of the “nation,” enforced by the disciplinary mechanisms of the state. Hegel’s narrative of the “natural” affiliation of the nuclear family, which we are born into and is based on love, has become the narrative for the nation.

Chatterjee argues that both the narrative of the individual and that of nation have become embedded in the narrative of capital, which seeks to suppress the narrative of community, and therefore culture, and produce a “normalized” individual and “modern regime of disciplinary power.” She goes on to call capital the “one great moment that turns the provincial thought and history of Europe into universal thought and history” (234). The universal narrative of capitalism has turned the violence of mercantile trade, war, genocide, conquest and colonialism, into a story of universal progress, development, modernization, and freedom.” Even Marx saw the need for separation of the masses from their means of labor and the destruction of pre-capitalist communities, as necessary for capitalist production. He did not anticipate the ability of capitalists to reunite labor and capital at the level of national community, using rhetoric from the narrative of family love and duty (234-235).

It is through the medium of “print capitalism,” Chatterjee says, that the homogenized “national culture” was created, through the standardization of language, aesthetic norms, and consumer tastes, which united state and civil society. Civil society became the space for the life of the individual, with the nation as the representative and only legitimate form of community. Chatterjee feels it is the contradiction between capital and community, which causes conflict when applied to newly developing nations, who cannot possibly compete in capitalist markets on their own, and is evident in the histories of anti-colonial nationalist movements. The institutions of “civil society” that arose in Europe appeared in the colonies to create a public domain for the legitimation of colonial rule. Anti-colonial nationalism occurs when the people refuse to accept this new membership into a “civil society of subject,” and form their own national identity within the narrative of the community, through their culture. Community and its culture refuse to go away, and continue to lead a “subterranean, potentially subversive” life. Culture is declared sovereign, an inner domain where the state is not allowed to enter, even if, as in the case of the colonized, the “outer” domain is surrendered to colonial power (237).

It is ironic, Chatterjee says, that once post-colonial national states attempt to continue development, this narrative of community is interrupted, as capital cannot recognize any form of community except the “enumerable form of the nation” (237). Therefore, all other forms of community identity must be subjugated, by use of mechanized state discipline if necessary. She feels that struggling nations will never produce anything other than a replication of Western Europe, which has become the story of “universal progress,” leaving the histories of the rest of the world as lacking and inadequate. She feels the struggle will continue because the narratives of community and capital are irreconcilable.

It is this unresolved struggle between the narratives of capital and community within the modern state, Chatterjee concludes, that is reflected in the embarrassing, nebulous application of the concept of jati in contemporary political discourse (238). It is the narrative of capital that poses an obstacle for the national independence and peace for India and Africa, and all post-colonized nations, where the diverse cultures of the peoples refuse to be obliterated. In this humble American’s opinion, it is the strength of these post-colonial nations that will forge a new path, a new way of living and relating to one another and our environment, for all of us.

Works Cited:

Sharma, Aparna. “Postcolonialism.” Class lectures, UCLA, Los Angeles. February 24, March 3.

Cabral, Amilcar. “National Liberation and Culture.” Edited by Neil Badmington and Julia Thomas. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory (Columbia UP), 1994: 53-65.

Chatterjee, Partha. “Communities and the Nation.” The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton University Press), 1993: 220-240.

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