Having burned the palace of the ruling Qing dynasty, the imperialists decided to take their side and help them defeat the Taiping. As Zeng Guofan’s encirclement strategy takes hold, the imperialists are running the Ever Victorious Army with figures like Garnet Wolesley (who fought Louis Riel in Canada) and Charles Gordon (who we’ll meet again in the Scramble for Africa). It ends with the fall of Nanjing, terrible massacres, and an accounting of the death toll and what was left of China at the end of the worst civil war in history.
Anjuli Raza Kolb is the author of Epidemic Empire: Colonialism, Contagion, and Terror 1817-2020, new from University of Chicago Press. It’s a huge book with many threads, so in this discussion we pick up one: the idea of “colonial science”, how imperialism manages to co-opt and use every type of knowledge; and the question of whether some of the knowledge produced in imperialism can be turned to liberation (thinking of Fanon, or the Haitian Revolution).
In the midst of the most destructive war in China’s history, the imperialists decided it was time to sack and burn China a second time. In this episode, on the Second Opium War, we talk about the deepening imperialism, get you into the bizarre imperialist mind of Lord Elgin as he rationalizes the burning of the palace in Beijing, show you again how Marx was well ahead of his contemporaries writing about the Peiho stitchup, and talk about the strategies of Ye Mingchen and of Prince Seng.
The end of the first Opium War was just the beginning of the horrors China faced under imperialism. Beginning in 1850, China was rocked by a 10-year long civil war that took an estimated 20-30 million lives. You read that correctly. In the middle of that war, the imperialists attacked China again and fought a second opium war, which we’ll get to next. But first, the first part of the Taiping Rebellion, from 1850-56.
We reach back in time a little bit to start the Civilizations Series on 19th century China – now known as the century of humiliation. The Opium War was one of the moments that turbo-charged imperialism. We tell the story the way Civilizations does – going back and forth between the imperialists and the local forces that tried valiantly (and in the case of our protagonist this episode, Lin Zexu, honorably) to resist. The series will continue with Opium War 2, the Taiping Rebellion, the reforms, and the Boxer Rebellion – but first, Opium War 1.
By 1885, the Indian Act was in place, most Indigenous people were forced onto reserves, and the nadir of Canadian colonialism (so far) was set. Part 3 of 3 our series on Canada takes us through the residential school system and the racialist ideologies openly expressed throughout this phase of Canadian history.
Along with colonialism, smallpox and the driving to extinction of the beaver and then the buffalo played an immense role in the creation of what is now Canada. We tell the story of these factors in the development of Canadian colonialism from the days of New France and the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Riel Resistance of 1870, in part 2 of our series on Canada (that will go at least to 3 and probably 4 parts).
Some readings and errata on the Civilizations Resources page.
Part 1 of at least 3 on Canada, this one sets up the story of Canadian colonialism with some required historical touchpoints about Canada’s devolution into independence from Britain, the story of Confederation as a series of business deals, and the role of racism in Canadian immigration policy.
Organizing an academic panel or a public meeting is something many people can do: it just takes energy and experience, an interest in the matter being discussed and some consideration for the people attending. If it is a matter of public interest, of injustice and oppression, and the meeting itself is part of a struggle for justice – now there are fewer people who can do it. Now, make the topic Palestine, where saying obvious truths in public brings counter-demonstrations, threats, and condemnation from the major media all the way to the parliaments of the country, and the people who can enable education in this context are just a few rare gems. We just lost one of those gems in Mary Jo (“MJ”) Nadeau.
For me MJ is the perfect example of the Lao Tzu proverb.
“A leader is best
When people barely know she exists
Of a good leader, who talks little,
When her work is done, her aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.”
In 2010, Studies in Political Economy published an article by MJ (with co-author Alan Sears) called The Palestine Test: Countering the Silencing Campaign. The article was about this element of MJ’s life’s work. MJ and Alan argued “the Palestine test is becoming a crucial measure of commitment to freedom of expression, social justice, and academic freedom on North American campuses in the context of a silencing campaign to shut down Palestine solidarity work.” The following decade, the silencing they outlined in the article has positively roared.
It is not easy to define what an organizer is. For activists, it’s an exalted title. I can try to put it this way: Much writing, speaking, marching, and demonstrating goes on. Whether anything changes, whether there is a chance to struggle another day – that effort succeeds or fails based on what organizers do. To put it another way: what’s the difference between a mailing list and an organization? The difference, in at least one case I know of, is whether there is an organizer – in this case, MJ. Often those who know appear arrogant or unapproachable in proportion to their experience of knowledge – MJ proved the opposite to be true, with vast knowledge and vast humility.
Around when the article was published I had to call MJ about some organizing problem. When she picked up, I said, “I’m ready.” “For what?” “To take the Palestine test. I think I’m ready to take it.”
The silencing campaign MJ warned about is pervasive and now involves the tech giants and social media platforms that promised to make communication easier. Amid the ever-intensifying silencing, it seemed that less and less was possible to do. But if you wanted to know what was possible, and what people were doing, you could find out by going to MJ.
The Paris Commune was so much more than a short bloody two-month interlude in European politics. In this episode, the story of the Paris Commune as related by Karl Marx in his address to the International Workingmen’s Association. From passing debt relief programs to tearing down militarist statues, the Paris Commune was a real revolution, for a moment at least. With the usual asides and notes about what else was going on.