IMPERIALISM AND COLONIALISM- World History Notes for UPSC, Stage of capitalism, Imperial powers, Notes for UPSC mains, Notes for IAS Exam
In the tropics most Europeans died or could not sustain self-replicating populations. But, in temperate America where few Europeans went they flourished demographically. Tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever checked the Portuguese migration in Africa. Disease brought by the Europeans devastated the indigenous population of the New World. After 1704, influenza and smallpox caused rapid decline of the Maya people. During 1743-9, half of the indigenous population of the Amazon Valley fell victim to measles and smallpox. Smallpox wiped out half of the Cherokee in North America in the late 1730s. British cattle were introduced into Virginia. They multiplied rapidly and the agricultural lands of the Indians were changed into grazing and pastoral land. Horses spread throughout North America through trade and theft. Instead of allowing the Indians to grow their vegetable crops, the Spanish introduced sugar plantations, cotton, tobacco and vineyards. The Europeans introduced timber and dyewood in Brazil which were exported. Citrus fruits bought from Spain were introduced in the new World in the early sixteenth century. The Spaniards brought banana in 1516 to West Indies from the Canary Islands. Actually the Portuguese had introduced banana in the Canary Islands from tropical Africa. Catastrophic mortality among the ‘native’ Americans following the arrival of the Europeans generated search for cheap labour for working in the estates, plantations and mines. The resulting slave trade altered the demography by initiating a major movement of the Africans from Africa to South America, West Indies and the southern states of North America. Between 1680 and 1860, the loss of population due to slavery from West Africa was a little over 10%. Slaves were acquired from Africa either by raiding or through contacts with the African rulers. The slaves were sold to the European traders in return for guns, gunpowder and European clothes. And the African potentates used the guns for acquiring more slaves for selling the Europeans. Thus a vicious ‘gun- slave’ cycle developed. During the fifteenth century, African slaves were transported to Lisbon for sale. Founded in 1575, Luanda in Angola became the leading port through which slaves were shipped to Brazil. Congo was a vital source of slaves. In 1515 African slaves for the first time were sent to the Americas. Spain sent the African slaves to Hispaniola in the Caribbean and started receiving slave grown American sugar. Direct large scale trans-Atlantic traffic in slaves started from 1532. The British transported more slaves than the French. Between 1691 and 1779, British ships transported 2,300,000 slaves from the African ports. In the sixteenth century about 367,000 African slaves were sent to the Americas. Angola supplied 2 million slaves in the eighteenth century mostly to Brazil. Most of the Africans transported as slaves in the eighteenth century went to Brazil and West Indies, and less than a fifth went to North America. The Portuguese moved slaves into the sugar plantations of Northeast Brazil and from 1710s into the gold and diamond fields of Mionas Gerais. In the late eighteenth century the slaves were used in the sugar and coffee plantations near Rio De Janeiro. In most cases the number of black slaves exceeded the number of white colonists. The extensive scope of slavery in the New World becomes clear. Brazil between 1800 and 1850 had between 1,000,000 to 2,500,000 slaves. The slaves amounted to 33% of the population of the country. Slavery was rampant in the southern states of USA. Individuals were taken away from their communities and families in Africa. Many died while being captured. In the port towns and in the ships while being transported across the Atlantic, they were crowded together in hazardous circumstances. About 10% of the slaves died while being transported across the Atlantic. Hacking down sugarcane was a backbreaking task. Slaves lived in deplorable conditions. They were less well fed, housed and clothed than the white population. Some white settlers were also coerced by the state to migrate overseas. Between 1720 and 1763, the British Parliament passed another 16 Acts that established transportation as a penalty for crimes of perjury and poaching. Imperialism is the system of political control exercised by the metropolis over the domestic and foreign policy and over the domestic politics of another polity, which we shall call the periphery (countries at the margins of the economic hierarchy). Four important characteristic features of imperialism are:
- Sharp increase in international flow of commodities, men and capital,
- Interdependent set of relations between countries at different levels of industrial development,
- Advanced and superior technology in imperialist countries, and
- Competition between advanced capitalist countries
There were many empires in history but empire in the era of capitalism is imperialism. In earlier eras the motive was exaction of tribute. Under capitalism the economies and societies of the conquered or dominated areas were transformed, adapted and manipulated to serve the imperatives of capital accumulation in the imperialist countries placed at the centre of the economic hierarchy. Imperialism is a specifically European phenomenon whereas colonialism is the system prevalent in the colonies. Imperialism can be both formal and informal. Formal imperialism involves annexation and direct rule while informal empire means indirect rule by local elites who are independent legally but politically dependent on the metropolis.
These types are:
(1) Trading empires which took the initiative in early conquests but eventually lost out in the era of industrial capitalism, such as Portugal and Spain.
(2) Industrial empires with full-fledged colonies, such as Britain and France.
(3) Industrial empires without, or with few, formal colonies, such as Germany.
At the same time, it is important to remember different historical stages through which capitalist expansion took place leading to the formation of empires. The changing nature of capitalism may be said to have gone through the stages, mentioned below:
(1) End of 15th to mid 17th Century-rise of commercial capital and rapid growth of world commerce.
(2) Mid 17th to later 18th Century-commercial capital ripens into a dominant economic force.
(3) Late 18th Century to 1870s-the era of industrial capital.
(4) 1880 to World War I – rise of monopoly capital, division of Globe, etc.
(5) Post World War I-socialism, decolonization, rise of multinational corporations.
(6) In this sense, stages of imperialism coincide with stages of capitalism.
Stage of capitalism Imperial powers
(1) Merchant capitalism Portugal and Spain.
(2) Industrial capitalism Britain, France and
(3) Finance capitalism Britain, USA and
The theories of imperialism can be grouped into two broad types, economic (J.A. Hobson, Hilferding, Rosa Luxembourg and Lenin) and political (Schumpeter, Fieldhouse, Gallagher and Robinson). They can also be distinguished as metro centric (Schumpeter, Lenin, Hobson) and pericentric (Gallagher and Robinson, Fieldhouse).
In Imperialism (1902) Hobson explains imperialism as an outcome of the capitalist system. The key concept used is under consumption. Industry looked for foreign markets as it could not find domestic markets for its goods, wages being low. With major industrial powers competing for foreign markets there was a race for colonies which would serve as captive markets. Under consumption also leads to over saving as domestic investment does not make sound economic sense when there is little purchasing power. Thus Hobson concluded that “…the dominant directive motive” behind imperialism “was the demand for markets and for profitable investment by the exporting and financial classes within each imperialist regime.” Dismissed other motives as secondary, be it power, pride and prestige or “trade follows the flag” or the mission of civilizing the natives. For Schumpeter, “Imperialism is the objectless disposition on the part of a state to unlimited forcible expansion.” Political expansion was a function of commercial expansion- “trade with informal control if possible; trade with rule when necessary.” Gallagher and Robinson’s explanation of imperialism was pericentric. In their view imperialism was a process driven by pressures from the peripheries-Asia, Africa and Latin Africa. The scramble for colonies was a preemptive move by European powers to occupy whatever territory they could in Asia and Africa so as to keep out rival nations. Fieldhouse advanced a political explanation for imperialism. The new imperialism was the extension into the periphery of the political struggle in Europe. At the centre the balance was so nicely adjusted that no major change in the status or territory of any side was possible. Colonies became a means out of this impasse. A whole range of theories and explanations have been offered for imperialism and are now available with us. These can broadly be classified into economic and non- economic explanations. The economic explanation include the factors pertaining to overproduction and under consumption (Hobson), requirements of finance capitalism (Hilferding), unequal exchange between the imperial powers and the colonies (Rosa Luxembourg), and the highest stage of capitalism (Lenin). The non-economic explanations have looked at imperialism as a pre-modern atavistic force (Schumpeter); or have offered a pericentric view concentrating on the developments in the colonies rather than the metropolis (Gallaghar and Robinson); or have seen it merely as an expression of political struggle within Europe (Fieldhouse). In 1500 Europe’s dominant position could not be taken for granted. The Ottoman Empire, China under the Mings and India under the Mughals were at the same stage of development. They suffered from one major drawback, however, and that was their domination by a centralized authority which did not provide conditions conducive to intellectual growth. Improved cartography, navigational tables, the telescope and the barometer made travel by sea safer. This strengthened Europe’s technological advantage further. The discovery of America and of the route to the Indies via the Cape of Good Hope had great consequences for Europe. It liberated Europe from a confined geographic and mental cell.
The old colonialism had its natural limits. Flow of precious metals declined. By the late 18th century Spanish and Portuguese power declined and they lost their colonies. Dutch monopoly on shipping ended. Britain was now the world leader in empire, finance and trade. Europe’s conquest of America, Africa and Asia from the sixteenth century was possible only because of her mastery of the seas. In this the countries on the Atlantic seaboard, Portugal, Spain, France, Britain and Holland, had an obvious advantage because of their geographical location. Europe’s domination was disastrous for other people: the indigenous populations in the Americas were wiped out and twelve million Africans were made slaves between 1500 and 1860. Europe benefited vastly in this era when merchant capital controlled the world economy. Institutions such as the modern state and bureaucracy and the scientific revolution in knowledge laid the foundations of the modern world. Hobsbawm describes the Industrial Revolution in Britain as that unusual moment in world history when the world’s economy was built around Britain. The early British industrial economy relied for its expansion on foreign trade. Overseas markets for products and overseas outlets for capital were crucial. The cotton industry exported eighty per cent of its output at the end of the nineteenth century. The iron and steel industry exported forty per cent of its output in the mid nineteenth century. In return Britain bought specialized local products such as cotton from the US, wool from Australia, wheat from Argentina. etc. The age of mercantilism was over and with it tariff barriers stood dismantled. The new watchword was free trade. With the spread of industrial capitalism the need grew for colonies as markets for manufactured goods especially textiles and suppliers of raw materials such as cotton and food grains. The colony emerged as a subordinate trading partner whose economic surplus was appropriated through trade based on unequal exchange. This international division of labour condemned the colony to producing goods of low value using backward techniques. By the 1860s other countries like Germany and United States, were catching up with Britain in industrialization. In 1900 Britain was the unquestioned world leader. Her empire extended to twelve million square miles and a quarter of the world’s population. The race for colonies speeded up from the 1880s with the entry of Germany, Italy, US, Belgium and Japan into the race for colonies. These imperialist rivalries which carved up the world into colonies, semi colonies and spheres of influence also divided Europe into blocks armed to the teeth, the logical corollary of which was World War I. The informal empire of trade and finance was added to the empire of industrial capital. Capital accumulation on a large scale took place because of the development of trade and industry at home and extended exploitation of colonies and semi colonies. The stranglehold of monopoly capital can be gauged from the statistic that by 1914 European nation controlled over 84.4 per cent of the world. Capital was concentrated in and channeled through first, the City of London and then New York, the centre of the international network of trade and finance.
Between 1870 and 1913, London was the financial and trading hub of the world. By 1913