York Professor Emeritus John Saul has long been championing the rights of those repressed by colonial empires and his latest book is no exception. Decolonization and Empire: Contesting the Rhetoric and Reality of Resubordination in Southern Africa and Beyond takes issue with the concept of liberation as it applies to South Africa, arguing that the influence of the empire still exists today.
“Despite liberation, empire continues. It is not so obviously or exclusively, as in the past, the empire of formal nationally based imperiums. Now it is one of capital itself,” says Saul. The launch of his new book Decolonization and Empire (Fernwood Publishing, 2008) is on Thursday, Oct. 16, from 7 to 9pm, at TYPE Books, 883 Queen St. W., Toronto.
Left: John Saul
“My current writing grows out of lifelong active commitment to the global struggle against the arrogance and exploitation inherent in the various colonial empires – the British, the French, the American, the Dutch, the Portuguese and so on – and in particular, my commitment to the several liberation/anti-apartheid struggles against the continuing residues of such empires in southern Africa during the latter part of the 20th century,” says Saul, a political scientist and anti-apartheid activist.
Decolonization and Empire forms a loose trilogy with Saul’s previous two books Development After Globalization: Theory and Practice for the Embattled South in a New Imperial Age (Zed Books, 2006) and The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy in Southern Africa (Monthly Review Press, 2005). “These books were all designed to clarify the challenges that faced popular movements and regimes attempting to redress the many inequities in the world, especially the role of governments and corporations in countries like Canada who sought to maintain western hegemony and profits despite the enforced demise of formal empire,” says Saul.
In Decolonization and Empire Saul looks at capitalist-driven globalization and how it has developed what he calls its own logic of domination in the global south. He emphasizes the decolonization of many parts of the world after the Second World War while also noting that it was often followed by neo-colonialism – dubbed by many a false decolonization.
Today, says Saul, there is an ever more globalized capitalism, which is increasingly unmoored from its national belongings and has produced what can only be called an empire of global capital. “Although specific national purposes do continue to express themselves imperialistically (as most notably evidenced by the activities of the United States) even the US is no longer immune from the negative impact of the unfettered movement of capital and capitalists around the world,” he says.
The situation, however, is at its worst in the global south. “There, and especially in Africa, countries find themselves re-subordinated, not so much to the imperial countries they once knew as their colonial or neo-colonial masters, but to a new master – capital itself.” In writing his present book, Saul hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the world’s poorest people and of the way in which they are being increasingly subordinated to a global economic order that bears no promise for them. For what we are seeing, he suggests, is a recolonization of many of the countries of the global south, a recolonization whereby such countries continue to be dogged by the negative and polarizing effects of empire and by persistent inequality and exploitation.
“I would like to help the reader to see through the feckless rationalizations, the nascent culture of a revived western and capitalist imperialism…and to see more clearly that post-war national liberation struggles have been a classic case of the failure of liberation in any sense beyond the, admittedly important, removal of overt racial overlordship,” says Saul. “A radical transformation of the present global economic and political order is necessary and…just as we once opposed colonization in southern Africa and elsewhere, we must now oppose recolonization there too – and support efforts to resist it because people are dying, or living lives of stunted possibility, around the world, as a direct reflex of the global system from which so many of us, though not everyone, here in Canada benefit.”
Saul sees organizations such the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – the chief disciplinary agencies of the Empire of Capital – as contributing to the subordination and recolonization of the global south. He believes the people of the global south need to challenge the world system and their own local elites who, more often than not, have chosen to become willing collaborators and beneficiaries within such a perverse global hierarchy. For this system, he says, does not meet their own needs, nor does it serve their interests.
One of the chapters in Decolonization and Empire – “The Strange Death of Liberated Southern Africa” – is a reflection of what Saul calls “the epitaph to many of my own high hopes for the liberation struggle there…not only from racist cruelty, but from economic exploitation.”
Still Saul holds out hope for the future citing the recent demise of Thabo Mbeki, and the African National Congress elite that surrounded him, as opening up space for independent initiatives from unions, peasant groups and community-based urban movements.
Saul has taught at York since 1973. He has also taught in Africa, including Mozambique, for about a decade in all. He is author of some 18 books, mainly on Africa, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, The Acadamies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada.
By Sandra McLean, YFile writer.