Imperialism – UPSC GS1

Strong nation subordinate the economies of small nations under their domination for their own interest. Forced them to buy and sell on their own terms.
The term imperialism means the practice of extending the power, control or rule by a country over the political and economic life of the areas outside its own
Imperialism refers to the process of capitalist development, which leads the capitalist countries to conquer and dominate pre-capitalist countries of the world
The imperialist country or Metropolis (literal meaning mother country), subordinates another country/ colony for its own economic and political interests.
This may be done through military or other means and particularly through colonialism
New Imperialism
During the initial period of Industrial Revolution, the pursuit of colonies had slowed down. Why?
  • because Between 1775 and 1875, Europeans lost more territory than they acquired in North America and Latin America, because of successful revolution.
  • Spanish colonial rule from Mexico to Argentina was overturned.
  • There was a widespread feeling in Europe that colonies were more trouble than they were worth and the sooner or later colonies would revolt and fight for independence.
  • Benjamin Disraeli said “These wretched colonies will all be independent in a few years and are millstones around our necks.”
However, the pursuits and rivalries re-emerged in the last quarter of the 19th century.
This new face of imperialism (1875-1914) is often described as the new imperialism.
New imperialism resulted because of the economic system that had developed as a result of Industrial Revolution.
During this phase a few industrialized capitalist countries established their Political and economic control and domination over the rest of the world.
The form of domination and control included direct colonial rule, sphere of influence and various types of commercial and economic agreements.
Players in New Imperialism:
  • New imperialist countries emerged viz. Germany, Italy, Belgium, USA and Japan.
  • While, Britain and France continued to be powerful and expand.
  • Power of Spain and Portugal declined.
Factors that led to the rise of Imperialism:
  • Industrial Revolution and capitalism : Industrial Revolution created the capitalist system of production. The capitalist entrepreneurs used two ways to make big profits:Minimum wages for workers: Which led to : low wages = low purchasing power of the majority of the domestic population= low demand of products in home countryMore and More production: Which led to: the production of goods was far in excess of the demand at home
Result?=> Because of the “underconsumption” in domestic market, the capitalist nations had to find new markets and buyers to sell their products.
Marxists view:
  • Lenin argued that Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, and it’d lead to the demise of Capitalism.
  • In Capitalist system, wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the possibility for investment at home is exhausted, and capitalists have no choice but to invest abroad, establish colonies, and exploit small, weak nations.
Problem with this explanation?
1. It fails to explain pre-capitalist imperialism of Greece and Rome.
2. It fails to explain the Communist imperialism of Soviet Union itself!
  • As started above, the capitalist countries, Western powers had to find new markets for selling their goods.
  • England was the first country where industries developed, therefore she gained almost complete control over the world markets.
  • Even when other European countries began to use machines, they could not compete with England’s low prices.
  • So, they tried to protect and stimulate its domestic industries by imposing heavy tariffs on imported items.
Result? = European powers could not sell their products to each other. They had to find totally new markets and customers in Asia, Africa and the two Americas.
It was the economic policy prevailing in Europe during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. This policy assumed following:
  • Volume of world wealth and trade was relatively static, so one country’s gain required another country/colony’s loss.
  • Wealth of a nation depended primarily on the possession of gold and silver.
  • A colonial possession should provide wealth to the country that controlled it.
  • Exports to foreign countries is preferable to imports or domestic trade, because exports brought more money into the country.
  • Governmental interference in the national economy is justified if it helps achieving the of above objectives.
So nations acted accordingly. They setup “trading posts” which would later become “forts”, arm twisted local rulers to gain exclusive market for their products and so on.
All this was done and justified as the objectives of mercantilism were fulfilled.
Supply of raw materials:
As the industries grew in Europe, they needed more and more raw material. For example,
1. Cotton= India and Egypt
2. rubber= Congo and East Indies
They also needed =food grains, tea, coffee, Indigo, tobacco, sugar, coal, iron, tin, gold, copper and later oil.
Result?=> Imperialists forced the colonies to cultivate only one or two crops which were needed as raw material for their own industries (e.g. indigo in India, Sugar in Cuba.)
Smuggling: sometimes, goods produced in one country were sold to another country to pay for the goods from that country. e.g. The English promoted cultivation of opium in India, then smuggled into China to pay for the goods they had bought from China.
Towards the end of 19th century, Western countries began to look upon Asia and Africa as good places to invest their capital. But Why?
Both Asia and Africa had abundant supply of raw material and cheap labour=good profit.
As we saw, low wages + excessive production= Under consumption.
Therefore, if capital was invested in Europe, it would only fetch 3 to 4% profit, because of little purchasing power of local people.
But if the same amount was invested in Asia or Africa, you could earn as high as 20% profit.
Besides, Towards the end of 19th century, financial institutions such as banks expanded their influence and power, thus making FDI(!) easier than earlier.
Result?=>The export of capital for investment in other countries began to become more important in the export of goods.
Infrastructure Investment:
The Western powers invested in their colonies to promote industries that could produce goods for export e.g. mining and plantation.
They also invested to strengthen control over colony’s economy e.g. Railways, postal network.
Result?=> political domination became necessary
Why political domination became necessary?
As the foreign powers invested more and more money in business and infrastructure in Asia, Africa and Americas, their risk increased:
what if the weak local prince, Nawab or tribes chief could not contain an uprising or rebellion?
What if there was a change in the government?
Such things could lead to reduction in profit or even loss of whole investment.
For the same reasons, French investors in Morocco (N.Africa), appealed to their home government in France, to annex it. Thus Morocco became “French Morocco”.
Slave Trade:
The Spanish rule in Americas had resulted large-scale extermination of original inhabitants/Native-Americans. Because they were forced to work in gold/silver mines and were massacred, if resisted.
Foreigners brought new diseases, and Native Americans had no immunity against them.
Later, the Europeans introduced plantation system in North America, West Indies and Brazil. for the cultivation of sugarcane, cotton and tobacco (to supply as raw material to home industries).
These plantations needed lot of labourers.
Hence it became necessary to establish trading posts in the coastal areas of Africa to keep steady supply of African slaves.
later, Britain and other powers used “abolition of slavery” as an excuse to wage war against African chiefs and kings, but their hidden aim was to expand territorial possession. (For timber, ivory, minerals and oil)
Transport and Communication:
The Industrial Revolution brought drastic changes in transport and communication.
Steamship could carry goods much faster than the old sailing vessels.
The imperialist countries built railroads and inland waterways in the conquered areas, with the help of cheap local labour.
Thus could get raw material out of the interiors and send their manufactured products, faster than ever before.
Thus every area of the world was brought within easy reach of the industrialized countries.
Rise of extreme Nationalism:
The later part of 19th century was a period of intense nationalism. Germany and Italy had just succeeded in becoming unified nations. Nationalism in the late 19th century came to be associated with chauvinism. Nationalist intellectuals in all European powers argued that national greatness meant seizing colonial territory.
Once the scramble for colonies began, failure to enter the race was perceived as a sign of weakness, totally unacceptable to an aspiring great power. Many nations developed myth of their superiority over other people. Each country felt that she too must have colonies to increase her own prestige and power. Imperialism became the fashion of the age.
Writers and speakers in England, France and Germany promoted the idea of imperialism and took great pride in calling their territories as “empires”. Germany’s expansion under Hitler was also based on the belief that German national culture was inherently superior than others. By the end of the 19th century colonialism like nationalism developed into a mass cult.
Colonies were symbols of national greatness and nationalists of every economic class were proud of them. Soviet union’s policy to ‘liberate’ the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Third World, and USA’s “protecting Freedom” = also examples of imperialism driven by moral and ideological concerns.
Mind Diversion:
Colonies helped to ensure social peace and prevented socialist revolution at home by taking the minds of the working class off their misery. He who would avoid civil war must be an imperialist. (Cecil Rhodes)
Fear and Security:
Initially, colonies were acquired to get cheap raw material and market to sell finished products. But then Imperialist countries started acquiring places for their military or strategic importance also.
For example, England established naval bases and coaling stations at Port Said, Aden, Hong Kong, Singapore and Cyprus – not to protect England but to protect its conquered lands and trade routes to India from her rival nations.
The rival nations installed similar bases elsewhere to protect their colonies and trade routes from England.
Thus, if you acquired one colony, you had to acquire other colonies to protect the first colony => leading to a chain reaction and race for grabbing more and more colonies. (And ultimately first World war).
Civilising mission:
Many European writers and thinkers used to blatantly support and justify Imperialism and colonization.
Rudyard Kipling England – Wrote a poem titled “White man’s burden”. It gives a rhetorical command to white men to colonize and rule people of other nations.
Jules Ferry- France – Superior races have the duty of civilizing the inferior races.
To many Europeans and Americans, the prospect of saving souls seemed as
important as the prospect of expanding prestige and profit.
They considered it was their Christian and moral responsibility to educated
ignorant peoples into higher culture and convert them to Christianity.
Hence for them, imperialism = a noble task, a way of bringing civilization to do backward people of the world.
Christian Missionaries:
Usually they went alone into an unknown areas in a spirit of duty and religion. But often they were followed by profiteering traders and soldiers.
Then wars took place to protect the missionaries.
All these seemed quite natural to most Western people, because they considered it their nation’s destiny to civilize and Christianize the people of Asia and Africa.
US President McKinley himself justified the annexation of Philippines in following words:
“ We must help our little brown brothers….there was nothing left to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos and uplift and civilise them as our fellow men for whom Christ also died.”
Adventurers and Explorers:
They had prominent role in Europe’s taking over of Africa. They first went into unknown or little-known territories and brought back the reports that often indicated opportunities for trade and development. On the basis of such reports, a trading post would be first setup.
Gradually, the explorer’s home government would take over the protection of the entire area around the trading Post. Then this imperial home government would proceed to claim the entire territory as her own colony.
Favourable condition in Asia and Africa:Military Strength:Asian and African state did not have the economic might of imperialist powers- to fight a long war.They fought with axes, bows and outdated firearms (if any), while Europeans had new rifles and a “maxim-gun” (a fast firing machine gun) + the naval artillery to pound the coastal cities of their enemies. while Indian and Arab ships didn’t have guns.The only exceptions, where Europeans could not succeed in war = Afghanistan and Ethiopia.Internal Rivalries:Politically, Asian and African states were not united. There were Conflicts between states and within states, the ruler vs. chiefs, warlords, merchants etc.Hence they often sought the support of Europeans against their rivals.No Empires:In the ancient and mediaeval times, powerful empires had existed in Asia and Africa.But during 19th century their governments became very weak. They still followed the old ways of governing, even though they had outlived their usefulness.The loyalty of people still rested in local princes or tribal chieftains. They didn’t have the strong feelings for “nation state”, like the Europeans.No Machines:The Westerners admired and desired the fine quality goods made by Asian and African craftsmen.But these craftsmen relied entirely on handmade tools= small scale production, could not compete with factory made products

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