[eDebate] Reply to Tom Meagher

Tom Meagher meagher.tom
Sun Apr 27 21:47:05 CDT 2008


Here are the statements I made about the Soviet Union, Russia, and the Cold
War in my initial post:

"But can you even produce a decent argument that the history of European
colonialism since 1455 is not at the core of US-Russia relations, and was
not the engine of the entire Cold War?"

"And even if Calum is ahead, if I win my 'coloniality influences everything
about US-Russia relations' argument, shouldn't a research focus on
coloniality come first?"

"[T]he US's racial politics and the period of global coloniality going back
to 1455 are the only historical phenomenon that could possibly have caused
the Cold War."

I want to know which is being disputed, given my elaboration of what I mean
by coloniality in my initial response to Calum. Calum has dismissed that
discussion as having "very little to do with the Cold War," when in fact it
was intended to clarify why I would be willing to make these broad claims.
Calum summarizes his arguments as:

"1. Colonialism is very important, but it does not determine 100% of the
history of the Cold War.  2. The claim that it does puts Western history at
the center of the world again and ignores the important particularities of
Russian history. 3. The study of proximate causes is more valuable than the
study of ultimate causes."

Point 1 is not responsive to my statements above. Point 2 is contingent on
the relevance of Point 1, and its more generalized claim is refuted in my
discussion of centering in the previous post. Point 3 I will return to
later.

I deemed coloniality (not colonialism) to a) be "at the core of US-Russia
relations," b) be "the engine of the entire Cold War", c) "influence[]
everything about US-Russia relations, and d) be "the only historical
phenomenon that could possibly have caused the Cold War." I have not
equivocated any of these statements; I have elaborated upon them. None of
them should ever have been construed to mean that "Colonialism ?
determine[s] 100% of the history of the Cold War." Allow me to briefly
discuss each particular of these four claims.

A) I think it should be clear from my arguments that coloniality is at the
core of US politics. The creation of the government, the economic system,
and the boundaries of the US are undeniably the effects of coloniality. My
previous discussion of the coloniality of knowledge, power, being, and
freedom should clarify the radical extent to which I feel knowledge
production and politics in the US are rooted in an episteme that emerged
from and seeks to maintain coloniality. Further, Russia is, to a lesser but
still huge extent, influenced by coloniality. While Russia has had its own
unique variants of Marxism and now liberalism, these are heavily influenced
by the political theory and philosophical anthropology of "western Europe"
that emerged as new ways to define human reality and potential that served
the purposes of spreading and maintaining colonialism first and coloniality
wherever colonialism ceased. If you take "at the core" to mean that it is
the standout issue upon which both sides focus, then I am wrong; I think it
should be clear that that was not my meaning. The ambitions and means of the
US, as well as a great many of the ambitions and means of Russia, stem
directly the effects of coloniality.

B) I chose the word engine for a reason. An engine is not the same as a car.
A car has a frame, a transmission, wheels, and importantly, a human driver.
The Cold War had the same. The legacy of coloniality was the engine that
propelled the conflict, not the entirety of the conflict itself nor the
human driver behind the wheel. Both sides revved the engine based on
specific circumstances. They were human drivers. The engine, I argue, was
the coloniality of being, power, freedom, and knowledge.

Would I have been taken to task for suggesting that the engine of the Cold
War was the ideological conflict between the two states? Would you take this
to mean that that ideological conflict "determine[d] 100% of the history of
the Cold War"?

Russia was not isolated from coloniality just because it was a phenomenon
emerging out of western Europe. I don't see how this point can be contested.


Further, I deemed coloniality the engine of the Cold War, not the engine of
internal Soviet politics.

C) I think it is clear that I labeled my argument here "Coloniality
influences everything about US-Russia relations." How could it be otherwise,
even if Russia itself were to bear no influence of coloniality? Everything
about US-Russia relations is influenced by the purpose of the US state,
which is to carry out a diverse set of mandates rooted in the coloniality of
knowledge and advocated and enacted by subjects who are imbued with the
coloniality of being. The US state is an example par excellence of the
coloniality of power. My arguments for the scope of the influence of
coloniality are grounded in the literature, not in my own assertion. That I
am under-informed about the internal dynamics of Russia does not mean that I
don't have sufficient evidence to argue that coloniality's influence is
sufficiently broad to support my claim.

I understand that my use of the term coloniality may be criticized for
casting such a large net. But I have not invented this term and my use of it
stems directly from and is consistent with the literature.

D) Saying that global coloniality "is the only phenomenon that could
possibly have caused the Cold War" may be the point where my arguments
seemed to lose their nuance. I do not mean that it is the only phenomenon
that could have caused a cold war between two superpowers. I mean it is the
only phenomenon that would have been capable of producing the Cold War as it
actually existed.

The Soviet Union was responding to a global scenario/situation created by
coloniality. It was responding to the Bolshevik revolution, influenced by a
political theory that I've argued is grounded in coloniality. It was
responding to the US and its European interlocutors. It was responding to
the Japanese imperialism of the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries,
which, though of course specific to Japan, was hugely influenced by the
technologies of colonialism and coloniality that were exported to it.

The Cold War, as it occurred, could not be analyzed as two nations arguing
for their own superiority as national formations. Rather, each made claims
that its respective ways of being and political theories were the best for
the globe. Each did so in international forums presenting arguments grounded
in Eurocentric thought, even if the bases for adoption of this rhetoric were
not themselves grounded in Eurocentric thought.

The Soviet Union advanced an argument against the US in the wake of World
War II that the U.S.'s colonies should be sufficient evidence to show that
their economic model was not universalizable; Puerto Rico's living
conditions were among the worst in the world at the time. The US responded
by turning Puerto Rico into a show case for a model of development; it did
so not by making Puerto Rico into a free market with a sovereign liberal
democratic government but rather by devoting huge sums of money to Puerto
Rico's social programs, cutting deals to ensure international investments,
and commuting millions of Puerto Ricans into the US mainland to by and large
face unfavorable living conditions. In subsequent decades, the US turned
other nations like Taiwan and South Korea into showcases for its development
model, with the key being in each case that the US created the appealing
showcase artificially by exercising its considerable power to improve their
quality of life.

The Soviet Union combated this in large part by imposing Marxian systems on
its satellite nations and bankrolling anti-colonial struggles that were
willing to commit to Marxian systems of power after the rev. This form of
colonialism may have bore a uniquely Russian stamp, but it was taken
directly from the techniques derived from the global phenomenon of
coloniality. Further, I don't know how other aspects of the Cold War could
be discussed without reference to this dynamic. Nuclear developments and
planning, for instance, were heavily influenced by the system of global
credibility that each side was attempting to advance.

Rather than attempting to force the entirety of the Cold War into fitting
neatly into the box of coloniality, I am arguing that a more precise and
accurate historiography depends upon research on coloniality as a phenomenon
in itself. I don't think that I would be taken to task for arguing that the
Cold War could not be precisely and accurately described without a solid
understanding of capitalism or communism that pursues these issues outside
of their Cold War application. I am suggesting the same .

Perhaps these differences between my arguments and Calum's understanding of
them can largely be attributed to the title of my post, "Right, *Russia* is
at the core of everything." Perhaps this was a bad choice. I did not mean it
to imply that coloniality per se is at the core of "everything." Rather, I
was suggesting that Calum's argument for a Russia topic was premised on the
extremely far-reaching impacts of US-Russian relations, and that coloniality
? in my mind, the research focus of a reparations topic ? had
further-reaching impacts.

Let me return to Calum's point 3, "The study of proximate causes is more
valuable than the study of ultimate causes." None of my argumentation
disputes this. I dispute the issue choice of Russia. To suggest coloniality
as a phenomenon is "at the core" of US-Russian relations (as opposed to "the
core of US-Russian relations," which is a different argument that I did not
make) is not a suggestion that one should only seek root/ultimate causes in
studying any phenomenon at the expense of proximate causes. It is to argue
that scholarship on US-Russian relations that is not apprised of scholarship
on coloniality is severely impaired. The study of proximate causes relies on
historiography, and the study of coloniality yields multiple interventions
into methods of historiography. The argument that the "cause" of the Cold
War cannot be adequately explained without a discussion of and research into
coloniality is not an argument in favor of a particular extant historical
understanding of the Cold War against Calum's historical understanding of
it. Rather, it is to argue that research that the community may soon choose
not to explore in depth on the national level is research that would
heighten its ability to debate a Russia topic.

Calum writes:

You may have missed the point of my post.  Colonialism was important, but
there is no one mechanism that explains all of history.  That's what you
first claimed.  It's obviously incorrect, and a bunch of cites about
colonialism don't change that.

Again, I have made no argument for a single mechanism explaining all of
history. I have made an argument that world history since 1455 cannot fully
be explained without research into the phenomenon of coloniality. Support
your "That's what you first claimed" assertion with textual references. And
it is heavily indicative of a lack of research on these issues that Calum is
not respecting the distinction made between colonialism and coloniality,
which is grounded in the literature. Colonialism is a system of control, and
coloniality refers to the effects of this system that last well beyond
colonialism itself. That Calum is seemingly unaware of this distinction
implies to me that his historiography is not as accurate or precise as it
could be.

Calum also takes issue with my statement that "Soviet politics bore 100% of
the influence of global coloniality." Perhaps this wording was less than
optimal, but my argument is that there is no part of the phenomenon of
global coloniality (the 100%) that had not influenced Soviet politics.
Soviet politics continued to bear other influences, as Russia does today.
"100% of the influence" is meant to distinguish my claim from the lesser
claim that Russia was influenced only by some sub-phenomena or epiphenomena
rather than by the phenomenon itself. Calum is instead responding to an
argument that would have been worded as "Coloniality determined 100% of
Soviet politics." Given the elegance of the latter, why would I have chosen
the clunkier former statement if not for precision?
Calum also addresses my WWII references with the following:

"Saying that coloniality was 'at the heart of WWII' doesn't mean anything.
As I acknowledged before, colonialism is one quite plausible explanation for
World War II.  But it's not the only one."

I think the problem here clearly is that Calum is conflating my argument
about coloniality with an argument that could be advanced about colonialism.
My argument is not that WWII was the result of a handful of nations
attempting to expand their colonial holdings, although obviously this is
true to some extent. Rather, my argument is the *coloniality* is at the
heart of WWII. It is not at the heart of every war in history. I do not see
how one can analyze German or Japanese politics of the era without a
discussion of coloniality. Aime Cesaire presented this argument almost sixty
years ago. As Calum is no doubt aware, European critical theory has made the
argument but attributed it to the phenomenon of modernity. Theorists on
coloniality such as Mignolo have been maintaining that coloniality and
modernity are two sides of the same coin. The arguments that modernity was
not at the heart of Nazism are generally arguments focusing on the positive
achievements of modernity. I chose not to indict modernity as a whole but
rather to focus on its underside, coloniality, which is not the will of
nations to colonize people or nations but rather the impact on knowledge
production and material conditions of European attempts to legitimize and
expand its colonialism. Whether modernity itself is to blame is a different
story. The argument is rather that European fascism applied the technologies
of colonialism (which it had developed on the peoples of most of the rest of
the globe) to the interior of Europe. Cesaire pointed out the hypocrisy of
those who called the Shoah a completely unique moment in history by pointing
out that they did not object to the same treatment of non-European peoples
and that Hitler's techniques were not unprecedented. There is no shortage of
literature on the linkage between knowledge production emerging out of
colonialism/racism and Hitler's worldview. Japan and the other fascisms of
Europe also bear the influence of coloniality. As did France (Vichy and
otherwise), England, the U.S., and so forth.

More Calum:

"I'm sure you are well aware of other colonialisms.  You apparently were not
well informed about Russian history, as you seem to ignore the fact that
Soviet behavior in the Cold War was influenced by a long history before
1455, that the influence of Catholicism was weak on Russia, and that Russian
imperialism began early. "

Point to the evidence that I ignore other elements. This is a link of
omission, and such a link only has an effect if my arguments were an attempt
to interpret Russian history. I did not do this. I argued that Russian
history was effected by a phenomenon that requires being studied on its own
terms. I never made an argument that Russian imperialism was a direct result
of coloniality; I argued that its contemporary and Cold War variants are
inextricable from the phenomenon of coloniality.

Further, my citation of 1455 was never an argument for the influence of
Catholicism over Russia. 1455 was not the moment that coloniality began to
change Russian history; it was the moment that inaugurated the phenomenon of
global coloniality. You may choose to dispute that, but that, and not a
Catholic Russia argument, was my point.

"Russian identity, though, is at times explicitly defined in opposition to
the West.  It's a complex dynamic that is not explained by the events of
1455.  This was the part of my post about the symbol of the double-headed
eagle, the boyars, "The Scythians," etc.  Russian political development does
not fall into this mold; Russian intellectual life does not draw only on the
traditions of the West."

I would not make and have not made a "draw only" claim. That Russian
identity is often explicitly defined in opposition to the West is itself a
warrant for my argument that Russia is profoundly influenced by coloniality.
Russia often uses Western terminology and categories of thought in defining
itself; those, as I have argued, are subject to and largely born in
coloniality. There is no nation without a particularity of experience, but
this does not mean that coloniality does not extend its grip to each nation.
The impact and scope of coloniality is global, but its local particulars
depend on humans with histories and coloniality, though strong, is not
strong enough to have eliminated all of these local histories.

More:

"Okay.  Not 'importance,' not even 'centrality,' was the initial claim.  You
are explaining colonialism; rehashing things familiar to many of us; not
establishing that it was the ONLY cause of the Cold War. There are a barrage
of sophisticated-sounding arguments here, but I think that the reason there
are so many cites and polished-sounding references is because they are part
of a core explanation of colonialism, which is not at issue here.  Yes
colonialism.  No, not 100% of the Cold War."

I cannot but call BS on your claim that I am rehashing things familiar to
you. Just because you may know the history of colonialism does not mean you
are familiar with research on coloniality. I have offered an explanation of
coloniality because you seem unwilling or unable to distinguish it from
colonialism. If you are indeed familiar with the scholars I am citing you
would not continue to conflate coloniality with colonialism.

And:

"Of course you want to center your ideas on a bunch of places colonized by
Western Europe.  That's because it's the Lucifer of Paradise Lost, the rock
star of evil.  If you want to explain Russian behavior, try "epistemologies
centered in" Kiev, Volgograd, Sochi, and Vladivostok."

But who has said my goal was to "explain Russian behavior?" Certainly not I.
The reason for centering epistemologies in these locations (and by their
multiplicity, it should be clear that I am arguing for an epistemology
without one center) is because of the significance of coloniality and the
necessity of liminal subjects in developing an epistemology that escapes the
impacts of the coloniality of knowledge and being. Certainly, the special
issue of the SAQ I cited is evidence that I do not renounce epistemologies
centered in the former USSR. I have not cited it extensively because I don't
have access to it right now, but I'm guessing that you and many other
readers probably can.

"If this really is your only aim, you should research the history of Russian
imperialism more thoroughly.  You seem to have spent much time with the
victims of Western European imperialism, but this is an understudied area of
history--partly due to its deliberate erasure by the Soviet Union.  I've
read as much about it as I can, but it's difficult, and I've had trouble
finding more than fragmentary documents.  This would be a great thing to do,
and is probably necessary if you're going to tie Catholic church doctrine to
Russian Orthodox imperialism."

I appreciate the research suggestion and will take it up when I can. I hope
that you will consider doing the same with mine.

Calum's initial response took me to task for my reluctance to flesh out my
arguments in spite of my fear of them becoming a strawperson. It was enough
to make me get over that fear. I feel that Calum's second response validates
the initial fear.

Tom**
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