Monday, May 27, 2024

Gerald Horne - The Dawning of the Apocalypse

Gerald Horne's earlier book The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism described the horrors that arose from European colonialism in the Americas. The policies of genocide that saw millions die and suffer from war, slavery and disease. But how did this come about, and in particular, how did the political ideology that justified it arise?

The Dawning of the Apocalypse tells this story. In it Horne argues that it was the struggle between the European powers, mediated by the fight against the Ottoman that gave the impetus for settler colonialism to flourish. The importance of this, as Horne says, lies in the fact that "the contemporary United States remains ensconced in the shadow of the original colonisers". The original discovery and opening up of the route to the Americas came from the adventurers and slavers of Portugal and Spain, but "the genocide that was visited pon the indigenous of North America was a rolling process, with the republican knockout blow facilitated mightily by the preceding blows inflicted by Madrid". Spain might not have won out in the Americas, but she opened up the space for Britain to do the next stage of the dirty work. 

Much of this book explores why Spain did not build on the earlier arrival of her explorers, slavers and troops in Americas. Much of this is to do with how Spain struggled with her great rivals, the Ottomans, around the Mediteranean and in North Africa. But Horne argues the biggest issue was that Spain had a different ideological approach to colonialism. 

Post 1492, Spain was on the march but exposed a glaring weakness when it at times allowed religious sectarianism to trump racist solidarity. England filled the breach when it turned this paradigm on its head and did not allow the conversion of Africans to Protestantism to prevent their being enslaved, and eventually invited the presume Catholid foe to join the brutal colonising of what became Maryland.

In other words England was able to construct a racist ideology, of whiteness, that allowed them to proceed in North American and drive through their own agenda in a more efficient, brutal and successful way that Spain could. Horne also argued that Spain's war on the Muslims, meant that they failed to develop new technological and scientific ideas that, in England's hands, provided extra tools and understanding to exploit the Americas. Spain's war with the Ottomans sucked resources out that prevented her building on their first place in the Americas. But, Horne argues, it was on the question of racism that Spain's ship floundered.

By sticking stubbornly to religiosity in an age of colonialism moving steadily toward the Pan-European "whiteness" that became London's specialty, Spain was determined to fall behind, though even when Madrid emulated London, they flubbed. Even after Alcazar, the local elite in Havana sought to expel the free Negro popluation but was blocked by higher powers. Religious intensity sat alonside solonialism uneasily, a system that tended to advantage racist intensity.

Later Horne writes:

I would say that religious secatrianism and Inquisition mandatges hampered the ability of Madrid to pursue what turned out to be the wining course executed by London, which was Pan-Europeanism and "whiteness" broadnening the base of settler colonialism - increasing the number of 'backwoods settlers' - racialiszing and deeming inferior those not deemd to be 'white' and moving aggressively on two fronts: seizing land and enslaving willy-nilly.

The problem I had with Horne's thesis is that I didn't feel he adequately explained how "whiteness" was constructed. It is certainly true that racial justifications for slavery helped create modern racism. But what of the "whiteness" behind London's strategy over Madrid? This is less clear from Horne's book and I wasn't able to find an explanation. I felt that Horne's earlier points - that Spain fell behind London for a number of reasons such as spending vast resources on fighting the Ottomans and not adequately developing its technological base, hinted at the way that England was developed further because it was able to unleash capital accumulation in a way that Spain could not. In other words, Spain was held back by its semi-feudal social organisation far longer than England. That's why England was able to eventually catch up and supercede Spain. In fact, one cold argue that "whiteness", or at least racism, was more a product of capitalism than anything else. Perhaps Spain would have got there eventually.

Nonetheless, Horne conclusion is right:

By 1700, Spanish armed forces were no more than 63,000' France's about 342,000; and said one source, "Britain was not far behind." The immediate furture was to belong to the United States, which, sharpening the effective tool that was 'whiteness' developed a population base that made these cited figures seem puny by comparison.

The backdrop to this - the indigenous struggles against colonialism, the battles against racism and slavery and the rebellion of the oppressed that Gerald Horne so able places at the heart of this book - were not enough to prevent the establishment of the racist, settler colonial power in Washington. The world has long had to pay the price.

Related Reviews

Gerald Horne - The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism

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