Discourse on Colonialism

by Aimé Césaire

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

Aimé Césaire was a black French poet and politician, and Discourse on Colonialism, Discours sur le colonialisme in the original French, is an important work in postcolonial studies that discusses the devastating effects of white Western colonialism on the peoples they colonized. The main themes he discusses in this essay are a) the self-centered nature of the so-called "civilizing" missions of white colonizers and b) the inevitability of capitalism becoming something like Nazism.

He claims that "no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization—and therefore force—is already a sick civilization, a civilization that is morally diseased." This is in response to claims that colonization was done for the good of the colonized peoples, that it was done to "civilize" them through molding them to white Western ideals of religion, language, government, gender, and many other ways of life Western people often see as natural. One of the main projects of the essay is to disprove and dismiss this justification for colonization and insist upon its inherent violence and injustice.

His other main project is to characterize capitalism as corrupt. He uses Marxist ideas like that of the bourgeois (the ruling class which owns most of society's wealth—in common American discourse, we might say "the 1%") to describe capitalism as inevitably unjust and racist. He talks a lot about Hitler to discuss this point, writing, "At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler." He claims what the white man "cannot forgive Hitler for it is not crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa." Capitalism, to Césaire, is an inherently unjust system based on the suppression of the working class, especially nonwhite people, which inevitably results in worsening conditions that lead to people like Hitler taking power. Hitler is so notable to white Western society, he claims, because his colonizing behavior, before only applied to nonwhite places like India and Africa, was applied to Europe, upsetting the power structures Western society relies on. It is therefore an apt example of the problems to which capitalism inevitably leads.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access