Publisher’s Note: This classic work, first published in France in 1955, profoundly influenced the generation of scholars and activists at the forefront of liberation struggles in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Nearly twenty years later, when published for the first time in English, Discourse on Colonialism inspired a new generation engaged in the Civil Rights, Black Power, and anti-war movements and has sold more than 75,000 copies to date.
Aimé Césaire eloquently describes the brutal impact of capitalism and colonialism on both the colonizer and colonized, exposing the contradictions and hypocrisy implicit in western notions of “progress” and “civilization” upon encountering the “savage,” “uncultured,” or “primitive.” Here, Césaire reaffirms African values, identity, and culture, and their relevance, reminding us that “the relationship between consciousness and reality are extremely complex. . . . It is equally necessary to decolonize our minds, our inner life, at the same time that we decolonize society.”
Comment: Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism is a foundational text in postcolonial theory, which provides an excoriating critique of not only European practices of colonialism, but also the underlying theories and logics used to justify them. Specifically, Césaire takes aim at the view of colonialism as a ‘civilising mission’, where benevolent Europeans would provide non-white non- Europeans with the tools necessary for modernisation. Instead, he argued that colonialism wrought destruction everywhere it went, killing people, eradicating civilisations, and obliterating any alternative cultural ideas that contrasted European values. Crucially, Césaire explores the psychological effects of colonialism on both the colonised and the coloniser – a theme that would be taken further by Frantz Fanon (a student of Césaire’s) in his writings.