George Walford: Colonial Ideology

Systematic ideology provides an explanation for the worsening conditions in so many former colonies since the empires withdrew. The high degree of freedom of action in economic affairs favoured by the ideology of Principle and Domination tends to produce (along with other, more desirable consequences), exploitation of the many by the more fortunate, enterprising or avaricious few. When operating largely free of restraint by any more developed ideology it produced chattel slavery in the archaic civilizations and, in western Europe in the early 19th Century, the conditions described in Engels’ Condition of the Working Class. Further ideological development brought changes. From about the mid-19th Century onwards, the same ideological advances that led to the mechanisation of industry produced also increasing social influence for the ideology of precision. This advocates greater restraints upon freedom of economic action, and its growing power brought a multiplicity of individual measures – factory acts, unemployment insurance, medical insurance, workmen’s compensation acts and the like – to improve the conditions of those less successful in the competition. In 1867, in the Preface to the first German edition of Capital, Marx was already praising the competence, freedom from partisanship and respect of persons (what we can perhaps call the professional precision) of the English factory-inspectors, medical reporters on public health and commissioners of inquiry into the exploitation of women and children, into housing and food. This ethos came to be extended to the colonies, but as an exotic importation rather than a native growth. When the empires withdrew it went with them, the colonies reverting to a condition governed by the less advanced condition of their indigenous ideological structure, in which the ideology of precision has not yet attained effective strength. In these newly-independent lands the ideology of principle and domination now reigns almost unchecked, producing a level of exploitation and oppression no longer found in the more advanced states. In the words of Archbishop Tutu: “Africa is bleeding. The awful truth is that there has often been far greater personal freedom in the much-maligned colonial days than now.” [1]

In the advanced countries it took many centuries for the ideology of Precision to achieve its present influence, but the former colonies have a brighter prospect; it comes easier the second time. [1] Quoted in Sunday Times 14 July.

from Ideological Commentary 53, Autumn 1991.