Imperialism and the Continued Pillage of Asia and Africa
The unevenness of development and industrialization between Europe and elsewhere, especially Africa, Asia and the Americas, has had a devastating effect on the peoples of less developed nations, ever since Europeans looking for riches on foreign shores set foot on their lands. They traversed the seas not to discover new places and cultures for the sake of discovery, but to loot, to plunder and to enslave the natives. They were neither refugees like today’s Syrians who are fleeing a devastating war and indiscriminate massacres because their country has been marked for regime change by imperialism, nor were they trying to escape extreme poverty and drug wars like today’s Central Americans who try to come to US. Unlike today’s refugees of wars and poverty, migrant Europeans came with heavy guns and mercenaries. Their ships headed for Africa were fitted with chains and whips and built to transport slaves back to Europe and America.
Indigenous Americans too paid a heavy price – perhaps the heaviest of all. They lost tens of millions of their inhabitants, as a result of the migration of heavily armed and militarized people, who came to pillage, maraud and take what they could and ended up just about wiping out the indigenous population. It’s almost as if some hundred atomic bombs were dropped on them.
The pillage of Africa and Asia has continued to this day, though in somewhat different form. Today’s imperialism is more slick and deceptive and less transparent in its goals, objectives and actions, but substantively, it isn’t much different from colonialism of the last few hundred years. The objective is still to loot and plunder and make the rich in richer countries even richer, whether through outright invasions, occupations, destabilizations, military coups and regime changes, like it’s being attempted right now in Syria in the name of fighting terrorists, or through neoliberal policies of crushing debts and unfair trade agreements that lower wages for all workers, both here and abroad, or through export of capital to poor countries with compliant, “friendly” and repressive governments that practically enslave their workers on behalf multinational corporations, in sweat shops that too often end up to be those cheap workers’ morgues.
Today, Europeans and Americans do go to less developed and impoverished countries for discovery and sightseeing – to try their food, to hear their music and to get a glimpse at their nature. But, the unevenness is still apparent, as Western tourists come face to face with crushing poverty. Many of these tourists don’t have to travel thousands of miles to see such poverty. They could seen it in inner cities of their own capitalist societies only a few miles from where they live, but they couldn’t be served exotic food in exotic restaurants, set in the midst of people who are just like them, except much poorer. In a way, maybe racism isn’t such a bad thing, after all. It had the benefit of hiding that fact from European migrants of the past. It’s easier on your conscience when you don’t realize that they too are human beings.
But, not all Europeans, Americans, Canadians and Australians, who go to impoverished Asian or African countries, go for sightseeing or discovery. Many still go with the mindset of their European ancestors who went to exploit and abuse. Men in their forties, fifties and sixties go to Asia to sleep with underage girls, as young as 13, 14 and 15, who have nothing to trade for food except their bodies which they sell to rich men from the West out of desperation. Others go for entirely different purpose. They go with their rifles and bows and arrows to hunt down and kill large, exotic and rare animals, some of which are on endangered animals list, just for fun and “sport”. Is there any other way for people of European descent to exploit Asia and Africa that they haven’t already done?
But, did it have to be this way? Did that first interaction and every other afterwards between the disparate and uneven cultures have to be so abusive, violent and exploitative? What socioeconomic system, culture and mindset drove the Europeans to such barbarism and usurpation? What was it about their own class relations within their own societies that produced the mode of thinking that made them view other nations as subject of exploitation and plunder? Wasn’t it their mode of production, which rose in Europe in the 18th Century, which was based on exploitation of man by man that created that mindset? Indeed, by the time Europeans got to foreign lands, they already had the mindset and drive to accumulate wealth at the expense of others and were after newer and bigger riches and loots. Capitalists were already enslaving their own workers, after their previous kings and elite landowners had exploited their peasants for hundreds of years and those before them had done the same to slaves. Europeans weren’t the only ones to have experienced exploitation of their own kind for millennia, but Europe was the first to become industrialized and acquire modern and powerful weapons and set sail to conquer new lands. They knew nothing but wars of conquest, pillage and exploitation. So, how could it have been otherwise?
Things aren’t much different today. The exploitative mindset lives and thrives within the capitalist economic system, as it did during slavery and serfdom and is perpetuated by the capitalist elite since their existence as a class depends on it. Yesterday’s kings and lords have been replaced with corporate owners. In fact, the nature of the relations between the imperialist states and people of impoverished nations is just as abusive, violent and exploitative as in the past. What is different is that poorer nations are more easily accessible and the abuse and plunder is less transparent. What’s also different now is that the number and scale of imperialist wars, invasions and regime changes has reached a critical level and so has devastation of the environment and the disparity between rich and poor of the world.
Capitalism as a system that’s based on exploitation and which produces disparity and wars has run its course and brought us to the brink of mass annihilation. Humanity has seen too many wars, too much destruction, devastation, exploitation, conflict, racism and disparity. Isn’t it time for new values, new mindset, new thinking and new relations? Isn’t it time for humanity to rise above all that madness and create a different world? Isn’t it time for capitalism and its incessant obsession for greed and wealth accumulation at the expense of billions of people and the wars, injustices and destruction it causes to be thrown in the dustbin of history. Isn’t it time for change?