Development as Neocolonialism

The Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 set the precedence for development relations between the Global North and Global South. Attendees of the conference came form the promenade first world capitalist countries, where they planned for the future of global capitalism after WWII and in the face with communism. The conference designed two institutions — the International Monetary fund and the World Bank — designed, initially, to help European countries rebuild after WWII by providing loans to reinvest capital into major industries.

But also during the time, Europe’s former colonies were breaking away from their overlords, demanding sovereignty, and independence. Countries like Britain, also, found that they could no longer fiancé occupation. After WWII, formal Empire came to an end, but this did not mean that Empire, itself had ended. Under the auspices of the U.S. and other post-industrial capitalists societies, Empire continued, but this time it was more nuanced, informal, under the radar, so to speak.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund would eventually switch attention from rebuilding the first world to developing the third world. Historian Robert K. Young, in Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (2001) , as “a way of describing the assumed necessity of incorporating the rest of the world into the realm of modernity, that is, the Western economic system in which capitalism produces progressive economic growth.”[1] In other words, development, as such, is a manner of transforming non-European/ non-capitalism societies into European capitalist societies that participate in the global economy. In a way, neocolonialism is an extension of colonialism and imperialism in that it extends Western hegemony, albeit, with focus on ‘hands off’ strategies wherever and whenever possible. These strategies, according to historians John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, in The Imperialism of Free Trade, are indicative of informal Empire — America’s Modus Operandi.

The nation was part of modernity. It signified autonomy, sovereignty, and independence from foreign influence, much like the sovereign individual did for Enlightenment philosophers. Nationalism was a Western creation, but its prestige became globally renowned and in the twentieth century, nationalism became the goal of many former colonies. It signified, as mentioned above, autonomy. But with the advent of neocolonialism, it’s been shown that political sovereignty mounts to little when the commanding heights of economics are not owned nor controlled by and for the people of a particular nation. Neocolonialism involves financial control by foreign entities through institutions such as the IMF, usually understood as foreign capital investment. Through projects, such as Structural Adjustment Projects, foreign economic influence becomes political and nations are governed/ controlled by proxy. This marks the era of neocolonialism.

Bretton Woods and the institutions that developed from the conference — especially the IMF — require a more in depth analysis, especially in light of today’s financial capitalism and the indeterminacy of the ‘floating dollar’ since the 1970s.

[1] Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016., 49.

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