The Coloniality of Power

There is a raging debate on the roles of Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham in Guyana during the Cold War between the USA and USSR. While the latter brandished “Marxism Leninism” as their theoretical weapon, the former proffered “modernisation theory” that was concocted at Harvard by Talcott Parsons under CIA auspices. JFK, from 1961, pushed the Third World into his advisor Rostow’s “stages of growth” development component. All were subsumed in the “Liberal” Paradigm that had produced slavery and Indentureship, but was now fiercely anti-communist. After Burnham’s socialist co-operative experiment ended disastrously, we had to adopt the neo-liberal Washington Consensus by 1989 – which collapsed in 2008.
The ideological attempts to peel off the effects of colonialism in the Caribbean ranged from Marxism from the 1940s, and was dominant in Guyana, to Black Power in the 1960s and 70s. But after 1980s, the battles petered out with the end of the Cold War, and we supposedly arrived at “the end of ideology”.
However, that notion was quickly disabused as the old Liberal paradigm showed cracks in the new millennium. One radical synthesising critique was presented then by the Latin American theorist Anibal Quijano, which he called the “Coloniality of Power”. He demonstrated that while “colonialism” might have ended, its structural features, dubbed “coloniality”, remains firmly in place. Quijano posits that we were all conscripted by a European-defined “modernity” that began in 1492 with the conquest of the Americas. It developed and extended the structures of power, control, and hegemony that emerged during the era of colonialism. He posits that the coloniality of power takes three forms: systems of (racial) hierarchies, systems of knowledge, and cultural systems.
Race was created to justify the enslavement of Africans using Christian myths, including a “Great Chain of Being” with God on top, followed by his angels, then mankind, with Whites on top and Blacks at the bottom. Other groups, like Indians and Chinese, were placed in intermediate positions – for which they fought to maintain their subaltern status. Remember the newly-minted lawyer Gandhi insisting that as a “Caucasian” he shouldn’t be treated like a “Kaffir” in South Africa?! Race still matters, and complicates our relationships with other groups wherever we Girmitiyas/Indentureds were shipped. It is ironic that in Guyana we are still fighting while Whites remain on top.
Quijano asserts, in addition to racial classification and slavery, “The other process was the constitution of a new structure of control of labour and its resources and products.” The global racial/ethnic hierarchy of Europeans and non-Europeans was an integral part of the development of the capitalist world system. That included transitional forms such as Indentureship, in which the control of labour was guaranteed without the moral opprobrium of slavery. The Girmit/Indentured, then, is an important cog in the extension of coloniality from slavery. We represent the contradictions inherent in the myth of “free labour” from slave labour in the “accumulation by dispossession” stage of capitalism.
The “Systems of knowledge” should be especially relevant to the academics at our local university. Quijano writes, “Europe’s hegemony over the new model of global power concentrated all forms of the control of subjectivity, culture, and especially knowledge and the production of knowledge under its hegemony.” How do we break out?
The third element of coloniality of power is the creation of cultural systems that revolve around a Eurocentric hierarchy and that enforce Eurocentric economic and knowledge production systems. We all ape Eurocentric norms in which we will invariably be second class.
We therefore all live within a multiplicity of colonialities: Conquest and modernity; Race; the nation; Sexuality; motherhood; the hegemonic mind etc. For us to have a clear idea as to what we hope to accomplish for our people, we need to appreciate the constraints at the individual, group, state/nation and global levels. For instance, why should we look down racially/ethnically at other groups when we ourselves are suffering from that scorn from others through hierarchies of race? Shouldn’t we fight for equity and equality of opportunity for all groups in each country we live in, plus gender justice and environmental sustainability?
Flight to the metropolitan countries is not the answer: we can see the contradictions playing out in nativism and racism. As the western-dominated world system crumbles after 200 years, “natives” fleeing its contradictions in the periphery would gravitate to the metropoles to face a seething, anti-immigrant machinery that combines racist populism with arbitrary applications of the rule of law. Let us build a just Guyana.