The pitiless brutality with which early industrial countries satisfied their hunger for raw materials, land and power and which left its mark on whole continents, cannot be seen in the landscape of the West today.
“A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps … I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking.”
This scene, from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is set in they heyday of European colonialism, a little more than 100 years ago.
The pitiless brutality with which early industrial countries satisfied their hunger for raw materials, land and power and which left its mark on whole continents, cannot be seen in the landscape of the West today. The memory of exploitation, slavery and extermination has succumbed to democratic amnesia, as if the countries of the West had always been as they now are and their superior wealth and power were not built upon a murderous history.
Instead, the West prides itself on its inventiveness, its observance and defense of human rights, its political correctness and humanitarian stance when a civil war, flooding or drought threatens human life in some part of Africa or Asia. Governments order military intervention to spread democracy, overlooking that most Western democracies rest on a history of exclusion, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Whereas the asymmetrical history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has translated into luxurious living standards in Western societies, its violence still weighs heavily on many parts of the second and third world. Quite a few post-colonial countries have never made it to the real statehood, let alone achieved prosperity; many have continued to experience the old exploitation under different conditions, and the signs often point towards further decline rather than significant improvement.
[cherry_banner image=”4624″ title=”Adbusters #120″ url=”http://subscribe.adbusters.org/collections/back-issues/products/ab120″ template=”issue.tmpl”]Manifesto for World Revolution, Part 3[/cherry_banner]