What Is the Discourse on Colonialism?

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  • Written By: Emily Daw
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Discourse on Colonialism is an essay by Aimé Césaire, a Martinican politician and writer, that was first published in 1950. Césaire was known for his emphasis on "negritude," or the common identity of black people. In the essay, Césaire accuses European colonialists of oppressing colonized peoples through inherent racism and classism.

Césaire argued in the Discourse on Colonialism that, contrary to what some believed, colonialism was not and had never been a benevolent movement aimed at improving the lives of colonized people. He said that, instead, colonists' motives were entirely self-centered — gaining wealth and glory for themselves and their countries. Motives such as bringing "civilization" to the non-European world, he said, were invented later in an attempt to justify atrocities committed by past and contemporary colonizers.

Discourse on Colonialism goes on to quote a number of writings by colonial supporters in which white races are portrayed as inherently more intelligent, civilized leaders than those of other races. Césaire criticizes "humanist" approaches to colonialism, having said that such approaches continue to deny the humanity of the colonized peoples. Drawing on Marxist theory, Césaire further criticized the bourgeois, capitalistic European culture and said that capitalism would always disintegrate into Nazism.


Césaire claimed that the societies of the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and other areas before colonialism were more communal and egalitarian than those that replaced them. He said that it is possible for colonies as well as former colonies to move beyond the evils done to them and to create new classless societies that will interact positively with one another. In addition, he warned against believing that American domination would be better than European colonization.

Due to its often harsh tone and radical statements, Discourse on Colonialism has often been called a "declaration of war" on colonialism. In the decades following the publication of Discourse on Colonialism, many colonies in Africa and Asia did gain independence from Europe. Césaire's homeland of Martinique, however, was still a French "overseas department" as of 2011. Although Martinicans are considered full French citizens and are represented in Parliament, some still object to what is seen as foreign rule.

Following in Césaire's footsteps, many politicians and theorists continue to evaluate the situation of former colonies through the framework of Marxism. Some, such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, claim that European countries now dominate the rest of the world through "neocolonialism" in place of the old political colonial structures. Neocolonialism is defined as the practice of exploiting other countries through economic means.


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