“Neocolonialism” Revisited: An Empirical Enquiry into the Term’s Theoretical Substance Today
The term “neocolonialism” refers to the situation of former colonies remaining dependent on the metropoles and institutions of the West even after they achieved formal independence from the old European empires. In the 1960s and 1970s the term became a central category of analysis for anticolonial thought and even today, in the face of another wave of globalization, it serves as an explanatory factor. This essay examines the term’s analytical power by confronting it with two specific historical case studies. These are the British Empire’s economic intervention in Indian Bengal between 1870 and 1930 and the engagement of international financial institutions in central African Zambia in the name of structural adjustment during the late 1970s and 1980s. Notwithstanding certain continuities in unequal economic relations beyond the point of political decolonization, the essay argues that the concept of “neocolonialism” is not helpful as an analytical tool. It neglects local agency, overemphasizes the power of the imperial or neocolonial metropole and ignores the actual transformation of international economic relations. Instead, the article advocates the term “global capitalism”, which better grasps the ambivalent motives and consequences of economic interventions without disguising existing power differentials.