Monday, April 5, 2010

When Empire Hits Home I: War, Racism and the Empire of Poverty

Andrew Gavin Marshall, Center for Research on Globalization
At a time of such great international turmoil economically and politically, it is increasingly important to identify and understand the social dynamics of crisis. A global social crisis has long preceded the economic crisis, and has only been exacerbated by it. The great shame of human civilization is the fact that over half of it lives in abysmal poverty.
Poverty is not simply a matter of ‘bad luck’; it is a result of socio-political-economic factors that allow for very few people in the world to control so much wealth and so many resources, while so many are left with so little. The capitalist world system was built upon war, race, and empire. Malcolm X once declared, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”
The global political economy is a system that enriches the very few at the expense of the vast majority. This exploitation is organized through imperialism, war, and the social construction of race. It is vitally important to address the relationship between war, poverty and race in the context of the current global economic crisis. Western nations have plundered the rest of the world for centuries, and now the great empire is hitting home. What is done abroad comes home to roost.
The Social Construction of ‘Race’
500 years ago, the world was going through massive transformations, as the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and British colonized the ‘New World’ and in time, a new system of ‘Capitalism’ and ‘nation states’ began to emerge. The world was in a great period of transition and systemic change in which it was the Europeans that emerged as the dominant world powers. The colonies in the Americas required a massive labour force, “Between 1607 and 1783, more than 350,000 ‘white’ bond-labourers arrived in the British colonies.”[1]
The Americas had both un-free blacks and whites, with blacks being a minority, yet they “exercised basic rights in law.”[2] Problems arrived in the form of elites trying to control the labour class. Slaves were made up of Indian, black and white labourers; yet, problems arose with this “mixed” population of un-free labour. The problem with Indian labourers was that they knew the land and could escape to “undiscovered” territory, and enslavement would often instigate rebellions and war:
The social costs of trying to discipline un-free native labour had proved too high. Natives would eventually be genocidally eliminated, once population settlement and military power made victory more or less certain; for the time being, however, different sources of bond labour had to be found.[3]
Between 1607 and 1682, more than 90,000 European immigrants, “three-quarters of them chattel bond-labourers, were brought to Virginia and Maryland.” Following the “establishment of the Royal African Company in 1672, a steady supply of African slaves was secured.” Problems became paramount, however, as the lower classes tended to be very rebellious, which consisted of “an amalgam of indentured servants and slaves, of poor whites and blacks, of landless freemen and debtors.” The lower classes were united in opposition to the elites oppressing them, regardless of background.[4]
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