[eDebate] Reply to Tom Meagher

JP Lacy lacyjp
Sun Apr 27 23:02:28 CDT 2008

Why not study US-Russian relations if coloniality is so central to 
understanding them?

If coloniality is "at the core of US-Russia relations," "the engine of 
the entire Cold War," if it  "influences everything about US-Russia 
relations," and is "the only historical phenomenon that could possibly 
have caused the Cold War," then why should we avoid debating Russia-US 

The more you explain the importance of coloniality, the more you 
elucidate ways it could be explored *very* productively if the topic 
were Russia.

--JP Lacy
lacyjp at wfu.edu

Tom Meagher wrote:
> 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 19^th and early to mid 20^th 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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