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The cover image of this issue comes from a painting created in 1979 by Eddie Chambers. At the time he saw the anti-migrant rhetoric of Thatcher merging with the street violence of the far right, stoking an atmosphere of nationalist imperialism across the UK. Called The Destruction of the National Front, it’s widely considered the foundation piece of the Black Art movement of the 1980s.
That group’s vision of empathy, DIY autonomy and creative solidarity with anti-racist struggle around the world has been central to the work of Red Pepper’s new race section in its formative months. It is also at the heart of this issue, since today, as in 1979, we find ourselves on the threshold of a new era of empire.
As Walden Bello indicates in his essay ‘How Empire Struck Back’, the Keynesian promise of the Obama administration ended in ruins. The reassertion of neoliberal financial systems has in turn paved the way for the petty nationalism of Trump and Brexit, a new age of imperialist rivalry between the USA and China (and with it the threat of nuclear war with North Korea), and the ascendancy of autocrats the world over, from Erdogan to Modi, from Duterte to Kabila.
Empire 2.0, as the future has been dubbed by anonymous Whitehall hacks, is a world where governments sell us dreams of imperial nostalgia, spectacles of border-violence and MOAB massacres, as though all of this could keep us safe from the inequality and fundamental instability of a broken political system.
Nostalgia is all this future has to offer – and for a past that never even happened because, as Nadine El-Enany and Yasser Louati argue, empire was never the benevolent, civilising force – nor the flag-waving glory – we are invited to believe in.
Empire was horror. It still is. And that same system of violence – of torture, genocide and rape – that kept rubber and other raw materials coming from the Congo in the 19th century to feed the new industrial European appetite is, today, nurtured in part by the rising global demand for consumer electronics.
It’s the same system that is driving global displacement on a massive scale; the same nightmare, of both a horde against the border and an enemy within, that feeds the populist reaction in the west; and it’s the same system that in turn curtails our liberty, that spends on nuclear defence but not on schools or national health, that sees democracy as grounds for the extraction, like coltan, like gold, like uranium ore, of power.
Empire will eat itself. It already does. But the lure of nostalgia may see it coming back to bite us again and again until we face up to the fact of how deep its roots run through all we know – of race, of class, of sexuality and gender, of nature itself. This is the understanding that lies at the heart of the intersectional solidarity that Peninah Wangari-Jones outlines, and it’s this way our future lies.
Thanks to all who gave to the Black Journalism Fund crowdfunder