The 15th Century, then, saw the multiplication of the primary accumulation of European capitalism; and Africa played the most important part in the process as the principal arena of European colonialism, the very genesis and foundation of the capitalist system. From the turn of the 16th Century the Americas and Asia were added to this foundation, and out of this totality arose capitalism and modern Europe itself. Before capitalist colonialism there was no Europe4, only a collection of feudal, mercantile and tribal towns, farms, villages, discrete states and kingdoms vying and warring with each other, just as in Africa, but on a different property basis – that of private property in the land. Europe then was neither a concept nor a reality, at most a vague idea that Arabs – but not ‘Europeans’ – had had long ago of some place north-west of Greece. As long as Europe remained isolated from the world, there was no Europe. When it became connected with, and dependent on, first Africa, then the Americas and finally Asia, it began to become a reality and an idea. Only when Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, English, German, Danish and Swedish confronted and clashed with Africa, America and Asia did the need arise for them to consider themselves as a set, a whole, different from, hostile to and, eventually, superior to Africans, Americans and Asians. Colonialism gave them a common interest.
This common interest – slaving, plantations, the world market, looting, precious metals, spices and territory, markets and sources of wealth – was also the source of their conflicts among themselves. From 1500 on they had already started to quarrel and fight over the colonial booty. In these intra-European conflicts Portugal and Spain had in time to give way to Holland and France, and these in the 18th Century to Britain, while German ‘hidden colonialists’, Calvinists, Catholics and Jews alike, steadily garnered what they could of the booty without shedding their blood or losing their own property in the process. The ‘scramble for Africa’ that led to the 1884-5 Berlin Conference had its roots in four centuries of struggles between the European powers for the division of Africa. Colonialism, the basis of European unity, was the basis also of its disunity.
Europe was born out of colonialism, as the exploiting, oppressing, negating pole that tried always to destroy and assimilate its opposite pole: the rest of the world. Europe was ‘the emergence of novelty out of the conflict of opposites’ – capitalism and those pre-capitalist systems of oriental, American and African despotisms* which this capitalism destructively assimilated. This assimilation was its first life-blood. This conflict was the first content of colonialism; after the destruction and assimilation the content of it changed. The first form was that of ‘primary accumulation’, from the 14th Century to the 19th; the next was that of regular accumulation, with an inertial momentum carried forward from the primary accumulation.
With capitalism arose Europe, and with Europe the myth of ‘European civilization’ – a civilization based on African slavery, American plantations, Asian spices, precious metals from all three ‘non-European’ continents – based, too, on Indian numerals, Arab algebra, astronomy and navigation (an Arab-Indian took da Gama to India from Mombasa) and Chinese gunpowder, paper and compasses. This non-European European civilization was the narcissus-like admiration of its own conquests. The sword, gunfire, murder, rape, robbery and slavery formed the real material basis for the idea of European superiority.
It was out of this process that the very idea of a European man arose, an idea that did not exist even in etymology before the 17th Century. Before the slave-trade in Africa there was neither a Europe nor a European. Finally, with the European arose the myth of European superiority and separate existence as a special species or ‘race’; there arose indeed the myth of race in general, unknown to mankind before – even the word did not exist before the lingua franca of the Crusades – the particular myth that there was a creature called a European, which implied, from the beginning, a ‘white man’. Colonialism, especially in Africa, created the concept and ideology of race5. Before capitalist-colonialism there were no races; but now, suddenly and increasingly, there were races: once born, the myth grew into a ‘reality’.
Mankind’s ignorance about the existence of that European invention, race, was so deep that even as late as 1619, after two centuries of slaving, the Portuguese writer López could portray the European and the non-European, not as such, but as equal men, dignified and altruistic6.
But López’s view was exceptional: long before his time, racialism had become an instrument for mass expropriation, slaving and decimation in Africa, as in Asia and America. Colonialism was always racialist from solider to missionary, king to trader, and – from the 19th Century – from capitalist to ‘socialist’.
The chronology of the expansion of colonialism in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries is also the chronology of racialism. But it is at the same time a history of struggles between capitalist colonialism and the ‘lost past’. Colonialism won this war clearly and thoroughly everywhere. But it could not win by merely destroying the lost past: it had to transform it, to assimilate its exploitative non-communal features into capitalism itself and reshape the communal features to make them part of the same capitalism. The process of transforming the enemy into a part of the victory was long and difficult for Europe: the resistance was never-ending. Many African peoples still say they were conquered and dispossessed, but never deafeated and subjected in spirit. Nor was this resistance even and simple, and it is with the complexity o it that we are now concerned.
* The American, Asian and African modes of production may be defined in terms of their ‘surplus axis’ which was communal at the producing end, and also, via the despots, at the distribution end as well (of the form C – C, where C – ‘communal’). The ‘European modes of production’, after ‘primitive communism’, were based on privately employed labour and privately owned land at the producer end and private consumers or redistributors at the distribution end of the surplus axis (i.e. of form P – P).
4. H. Jaffe, Pyramid of Nations, chapter on Formation of Europe, Luxembourg 1980.
5. S.J. Gould, The Mismeasurement of Man, Harvard, 1980, on the racism of Agazzis, Franco-American biologist, Cyril Burt, who faked IQ tests in England; and of US Presidents from 1776. In a letter to the author, 20 October 1983, Gould wrote:
‘I agree that the concept of race can be rejected on social grounds, as you do, but I thought it would be interesting to point out that it also has no biological rationale any more in the light of current work on the continuity of geographic variation and the different patterns of geographic variation shown inevitably by characters of the same organisms – hence my essay in Ever Since Darwin.’
A. Lincoln, Addresses, New York, 1914, pp. 67 and 96 show the South African type racialism of Lincoln. Jefferson, Washington and Benjamin Franklin were among ‘democrats’ who believed in ‘races’ and their inequality and who drafted the anti-African and anti-‘Indian’ racist clauses of the United States Constitution. The European settlers in the Americas were as racialistic and genocidal as those in southern Africa, Kenya, Tanganyika and Algeria.
6 E. López, op. cit. (illustrated in H. Jaffe, Africa, op. cit., p. 201). The illustrated and German text show signs of pre-colonial non-racialism and humanism.
Hosea Jaffe - A History of Africa, 1985