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Colonialism is not historical – it is alive and well

This weekend’s Latin America conference is a staging post in the struggle against colonialist thinking and towards building international solidarity, says ROGER McKENZIE

INTERNATIONALISM is much more than empty expressions of solidarity.

It should be a practical expression of our desire to defeat colonialist thinking and the racism that underpins it.

The annual Latin American conference that takes place on Saturday December 4 at Friends House in central London provides a great chance to think about how this colonialist thinking works and how to organise to defeat it.

The seemingly never-ending Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect example of how deep this colonial thinking goes. 

The latest variant of the virus has been labelled as being South African in origin, even though it has been found in countries as far apart as England, New Zealand, Brazil, France, India, the Philippines and Indonesia.

This is an example of a colonialist thinking that can’t accept for a moment that some of the world’s leading epidemiologists work out of South Africa and that their expertise enabled them to spot the new variant quicker than anyone else.

This colonialist view is far from harmless. It is part of the ideology of white supremacy. It plays out on a day to day basis in Britain, and elsewhere in the global North, in the racial divisions that they promote.

It feeds the idea that nothing good can ever come out of Africa or its descendants and leads to racism in workplaces and communities.

It is the same racist colonialist thinking that regards Africans, wherever they are in the world, as less important than people of the rich nations of the global North by refusing to make more doses of the vaccine available to the continent. 

The fact that nearly two years into the pandemic less than 5 per cent of the population of the continent of Africa have been vaccinated is more than a stain on the morals of the global North.

It is a conscious political decision born from the racist colonialist thinking that holds black people to be inferior.

It’s as if the world has already forgotten the television images of Indians creating their own funeral pyres in car parks because the official sites could not cope with the volume of Covid-related deaths.

This is not chance or solely because of the incompetence of the Modi BJP government.

It is a consequence of the colonial thinking behind the refusal of the rich nations of the north to force big pharma — the major pharmaceutical companies — to share their vaccine technology patents. 

Big pharma know what they are doing when they fund politicians in the US and elsewhere. They know that these politicians are not going to bite the hand that feeds them.

This is the same big pharma that manufactured doses of the vaccine in South Africa by paying low wages to the locals and then immediately shipped the products up to the global North where massive profits could be made from the disgraceful hoarding of the rich nations.

I am not against countries of the global North making sure that their populations are safe. I am against the idea that some people on our planet are worth more than others. I am for the idea that none of us are safe unless all of us are safe. 

So we must use this opportunity to develop a firm understanding of the way that colonialist thinking affects all of us and to develop strategies to challenge it in our own thinking and actions as well as others’.

Capital organises more than ever on transnational lines. Nations and corporations work hand in hand to secure and increase profits by dividing and exploiting the workers.

We must understand how colonialism is not some far-off historical phenomenon. It is alive and well and has constantly transformed itself in whatever in order to meet the needs of capital.

We must always question whether any of our own actions show any racist colonialist thinking — no matter how small — as well as working to show how these attitudes and behaviours divide us against each other and serve to benefit the ruling elite. 

This makes the role of activists at the Latin America conference this weekend more important than it has perhaps ever been.

None of us can take part in the conference with the arrogance that we have all the answers or are somehow immune to this colonialist thinking. 

We must recognise the role of colonialist thinking and use the conference to challenge ourselves and others to move in a critical but confident way towards building an organising model of liberation both for ourselves and those struggling, wherever they are, to put bread on the table and to keep a roof over their heads.

The Latin American conference is a staging post in the struggle against colonialist thinking and towards building international solidarity. 

Colonialist thinking undermines solidarity and our ability to work to bring about the fundamental and irreversible shift in society in favour of working-class people that is so urgently required — not merely as some future ambition but right now. 

I’m proud to be general secretary of Liberation. Our movement understands that the struggle against colonialism cannot be neatly divided between the domestic and international.

They are intrinsically linked and must be fought on that basis. We invite you to work with us in this fight against colonialism by joining Liberation at liberationorg.co.uk.

Roger McKenzie is general secretary of Liberation and a writer and organiser. You can buy tickets for the Latin America conference at bit.ly/LA21ticket.

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