Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

'The Wretched of the Earth'

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

'The Wretched of the Earth'

Article excerpt

The 'Wretched of the Earth' are neglected in our 'compartmentalised world'. The volume of publications on inequality has increased five-fold since 1992, but many of these focus on the top one per cent of households located in the Global North (International Social Science Council 2016). The more recent publication by the leading journal, Social Forces, on 'Liberalization, Economic Growth, and Income Inequality in Advanced Industrial Societies' (Kwon 2016, my emphasis) continues this trend. So, in this special issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy (JAPE), I asked the contributors to focus on 'the wretched of the earth', how their social conditions are shaped by the appalling economic inequalities, the dire implications for society, economy and environment, why this compartmentalisation continues to deepen, and what can be done about it.

Almost all the political economic analysis of the currently extreme global economic inequalities focuses exclusively on capitalism as the root of the problem and neoliberalism as the conveyor belt. Although useful, this diagnosis needs to be situated in a broader view of the nature of Western civilisation and its aggressive expansion. Historically built on a philosophy of exclusion, monopoly, and a superiority complex, Western civilisation fuelled slavery, imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, environmental pillage, and shocking forms of patriarchy. Its 'discourse upon the origin and foundation on the inequality among mankind', to quote Jean Jacques Rousseau (1776), is patronising. The tendency of its apostles is to claim that the root of inequality can be nature or nurture and that even conventions impelling inequality are patterned after natural forces (Rousseau 1776). Some of these claims are insidious, but toxic nevertheless. Such was eminently the case of the great Karl Marx. As C. J. Robinson showed in his 1983 classic, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, Marx erred in describing the working class in England as 'English' when, in fact, the working class to which he referred had many Black people who were not English. This historic exclusion of Blacks could not have been accidental.

Most citizens, scholars, and students of Western civilisation tend to suffer some form of superiority complex, and many suffer multiple maladies of their own self-importance and the purity of their collective race. Their protestation only comes to bear when they experience a fraction of the ills of this civilisation when it implodes. As Walter Rodney showed in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972/2011), slaves, in particular Blacks, suffered for many years the humiliation of life with little complaint, including by progressives in the West. Of course, the slave trade was officially terminated. However, it was only when a dose of this treatment was meted out by the repulsive Nazi regime in Germany against sections of the White population that the question of slavery and race-based inequality attained world-wide attention.

This historical experience recalls the penetrating analysis by Frantz Fanon (1961) of the compartmentalisation of the world in which nobody cares about 'the Wretched of the Earth'. Slaves were disproportionately coloured and the coloniser subjected coloured peoples to the most degrading forms of work only to spit them out into townships and shanty towns. The justifying veil of 'cultural difference' used as the logic for compartmentalisation was eventually torn apart and burnt by fiery revolution which, for a while, appears to disrupt the shocking levels of compartmentalisation and appears to be bringing the wretched of the earth to the fore. Alas! With the rails and the chains of the veil and the system unbroken, racialised compartmentalisation reasserts its ugly soul moulded, writ large, in the furnace of neo-colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

But, the drama of compartmentalisation continues, and is arguably magnified, in today's gilded age. …

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