Discourse on Colonialism

by Aimé Césaire

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516

Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism is an important work in the theory of postcolonialism. Some quotes from the essay which are representative of its main points include the following:

  1. "I say that between colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance; that out of all the colonial expeditions that have been undertaken, out of all the colonial statutes that have been drawn up, out of all the memoranda that have been dispatched by all the ministries, there could not come a single human value." Here, Césaire dismisses the claim that colonization has ever been—in any way—benevolent. He does not believe that claims of "civilizing" "savage" people with Western religion, government, and other ways of life are accurate or good, believing instead that colonization in fact worsens peoples by brutalizing and degrading them and introducing them to violence, race hatred, and other vicious problems that come from Western oppression.

  2. "Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses. No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a class-room monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production. My turn to state an equation: colonization = 'thing-ification.'" Here, Césaire dismisses the idea that colonization is in any way good because it encourages contact between civilizations. He claims none of the contact was good contact, and then he introduces his ideas influenced by Marxist thought. Marxism speaks of "commodification"—of treating something or someone simply as a "commodity" without any regard for other values the thing (or person) might have—emotional, religious, historical, moral, and so on. Césaire's "thing-ification" is a similar concept, referencing the way colonized people are reduced to "things" in their colonized societies—they are turned from people with meaningful lives into "instrument[s] of production" that produce labor and goods for their colonizers, who take the roles of positions like "prison guards" and "slave drivers."

  3. "Every day that passes, every denial of justice, every beating by the police, every demand of the workers that is drowned in blood, every scandal that is hushed up, every punitive expedition, every police van, every gendarme and every militiaman, brings home to us the value of our old societies. They were communal societies, never societies of the many for the few. They were societies that were not only ante-capitalist, as has been said, but also anti-capitalist. They were democratic societies, always. They were cooperative societies, fraternal societies. I make a systematic defense of the societies destroyed by imperialism." Here, Césaire makes clear his valuation of societies that have been destroyed by white European colonization. His preference for communal, democratic, cooperative societies makes clear his denunciation of capitalism and his preference for Marxism or socialism. This quote also makes it absolutely clear that he is in favor of absolutely nothing that has come from colonization: it is a pure dismissal of everything for which it stands.

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