Globalisation is the work of colonisation
This article was initially published in French. Click here to read the original version.
Bande de colons (Band of Colonists) your latest work, deals with the figure of the colonists in Canada. Does this figure allow us to understand the depoliticization processes underway today?
What prompted me to write this book is that many people in Quebec present themselves as colonized and are at the same time described as colonizers. In reality, they are somewhere in between: they are both descendants of the French who colonised Canada and then were themselves "colonised" by the British. What characterises them is that they do not really have responsibility in the strong sense. The settler is a figure who lives as a free electron, in a depoliticised form. He sees himself sometimes on the side of the powerful and sometimes on the side of the weak according to convenience. He sees himself very badly. He is the mediocre par excellence: he conforms to rules that he himself has not determined in view of small advantages, drawn according to what he guesses to be the expectations of the powerful, always dodging all obstacles that risk tipping him into a position that resembles that of the dominated, even if for racist reasons he will never be totally assimilated to them.
In Canada, the people of origin account for 2% of the population, compared to 100% five centuries ago.
From 1860 onwards, the triumphant British regime thus defined three statuses in colonial Canada: Aboriginal, French Canadian or British subject. The French Canadian is, in a way, the proletariat of the colonial category. They are not part of the colonial oligarchy, which shapes the colony by passing laws, and at the same time constitutes a minority of powerful shareholders, public decision-makers, judicial officials, etc.
And yet, these French Canadians are nonetheless settlers?
Although situated in an in-between position, French Canadians were also part of an enterprise to dominate and despoil Canada. And this continues to this day! The colonial work of plundering is still going on in Canada. It is not something that happened elsewhere, like the colonisation of Algeria or sub-Saharan Africa by France. This is happening here and now. Where we set foot every day, where we make our homes, where we establish our cities. We are nothing but settlers, even today. This reality is immediate: when you drive through the country, you see the word settlement on signs. This status is not metaphorical, it is formal.
But in other regions, colonial work has also deeply affected societies.
Without denying the exploitation of Algerians, Tunisians, Senegalese or Congolese by France, the Canadian context is specific, like Java or Australia, which were also British settlements. In Canada, people of origin make up 2% of the population, compared to 100% five centuries ago. France has never sent enough French people to Senegal, Mali or Chad to ultimately represent 98% of the local population! In Canada, the colonised have become totally ostracised on their own territory. We can even speak of a slow genocide: the Algonquins are a civilization that has been gradually eradicated.
Can the colonial context of Canada and the different statuses associated with it be related to a form of society organised into social classes?
Unlike French colonisation, in Canada racial differences did not divide the labour. It was the settlers - people from Europe - who worked the land themselves. This meant that not all settlers were on the same footing: some were comfortable and cooperative with the regime, others were completely enslaved and tried to survive by any means necessary. The status of the Canadian settler transcended the historical European social categories of middle class and proletarian. In contrast, the colonists in the French colonies were either entrepreneurs, administrators or managers to oversee the work done by others. The local colonised populations were ordered to exploit rubber, cocoa or oil. In Canada, the colonised were not the proletarians. It was an indefinable stratum, which you can perhaps find in France among certain immigrant communities that have been totally marginalised to the point of no longer seeing them. It's another relationship to the world.
In any case, today there is no longer a proletariat in the sense that the Communist Party described it in the 1950s. The proletariat is sociologically composite, so much so that it is difficult to find class solidarity. There are no longer those who go to the factory in the morning in the same movement to produce the goods the country needs. The proletarians bring together different statuses, different cultural, family and migratory histories - which partly explains why the French left has not been able to federate since the 1980s.
Could we however, create a parallel between French Canadians both colonists and colonized, and the middle class, victim and guardian of the class struggle?
Yes, especially since for my book I drew a lot of inspiration from the work of Charles Wright Mill, the sociologist who did a great job of identifying middle-class thinking.
Like the Canadian settlers, the middle class has no class consciousness, and even a bad class consciousness. There is a certain shame in being part of this middle class because we are not much, we are not responsible for our assets, and our benefits are not up to us, others choose to give them to us. We are continually recipients of borrowed attributes. If you work for a big company which is prestigious and you say "I work for Microsoft, I work for Google", maybe there will be, beyond the salary, the benefits you can get from your work, a kind of cultural capital, you will be valued because you will work for a big group which is impressive from the point of view of its activities. But all these attributes can be taken away from you overnight, they are not yours. If you are fired, you lose that prestige. And so, you can see that everything that belongs to you, everything that determines you, everything that qualifies you, belongs to others, and you are continually a borrowed character, a character of little conceptual thickness.
If we use the metaphor associating the middle class with “colonists”, in the service of which “colonial power”?
This is where the analogy becomes more complex. If you are a colonist in France today, it cannot be in the service of the Republic, which, if you stick to the school catechism, theoretically wants to reflect the popular will thanks to the functioning of institutions that put themselves at the service of a people from which they draw their legitimacy. In reality, there is of course a whole class which controls the regime by claiming to speak on behalf of everyone and which is in the driver's seat to put the Republic at the service of the dominant.
Would we then be a colonist in the service of the bourgeoisie? But the current bourgeoisie is only one part of the ruling class. It is part of it in that it has a long history of domination, but there are also all the upstarts and especially all the legal persons who have great economic and political power: pension funds, energy companies, banks, etc. All these structures can be counted as members of the ruling class. All these structures can be counted as members of the ruling class without being natural persons insofar as they take decisions, sign contracts, lay off, invest, etc.
What is serious today is that companies are confirming that they have the legitimacy to exercise sovereignty and social responsibility.
Like settlers, the middle classes would therefore participate in a new form of colonisation, by and for companies?
To answer this question, there would be a lot of work to do. But what is true is that Canada is at the forefront of this movement of corporate colonisation of the world. When we look at the role and influence of large multinationals, such as Michelin or Total, it does indeed look like a new kind of colonisation. These companies operate within several states, organising the legal, security, social and economic dynamics according to their interests. They are able to influence a country to the point of enslaving its leaders, who end up carrying out their designs to the detriment of their citizens' interests, simply to gain a small advantage. These compliant leaders then help to colonise their own country.
This form of colonisation does not say its name but it is real. Take the case of Monsanto, for example: arable land is being destroyed for the benefit of a private company with the help of states. For what purpose? To generate production for a certain market, regardless of the public interest in having fertile land in the long term. Another example is the company Total, which is going to 'save' industry in a certain region, 'protect' a certain historical monument, start a certain school, and almost single-handedly rebuild Notre Dame. Companies that present themselves as a second state are very common. It is not a state within a state. It is another power, alongside the state, linked to the state, but also sovereign. Just like during the Renaissance, because in order to think about sovereignty, you have to think about the whole web of power and include the Church.
How would you explain the colonisation movement of the world by companies?
You really have to be naive to think that a company is strictly about capitalisation, in other words profits and dividends to be paid to its shareholders. Financial results are the means. The end is power. The pleasure of the billionaire shareholder is not to wonder how he will spend his billions, because he already has plenty. No, his pleasure is to rule and dominate, to have people at his feet.
In fact, for a long time, the motto of Forbes financial magazine was Money, Influence, Power. Money is the starting point for having influence. And why do we want influence? To have power. What is serious today is that companies are confirmed that they are legitimate to exercise this power, which they have always sought elsewhere. Until then, we could still blame companies for being just that, entities of power, but now that they are urged to assume their sovereignty and social responsibility, we can no longer go back.
A Quebecoise philosopher and economist, Alain Deneault has written several books, including Noir Canada, Offshore, Faire l'économie de la haine, Paradis sous terre, "Gouvernance", Paradis fiscaux: la filière canadienne, Médiocratie, Une escroquerie légalisée and De quoi Total est-elle la somme? Since 2016, he has been programme director at the Collège international de philosophie in Paris.
On the same subject:
> Interview with Alain Deneault : "Notre liberté consiste dans le choix des mots qu’on utilise"
> Interview with Jean-Baptiste Fressoz : “Sous la technique, les matières”
> Interview with Emmanuel Dockès : “Jouir de la liberté, c’est prendre des risques”