What is Imperialism?

What is Imperialism?

The imperialist and colonial powers however, quarreled one and other to have their own influence over the colonies.  The colonial power did not at all care for the interests of the peoples of the colonies.

European powers (particularly but not exclusively Portugal, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and France) have always been keen to expand their power and to have as many colonies under their control and influence, as possible these could.  It was a time when most of the European nations had feudal economies and agriculture was their main occupation.  Gradually many of these nations become economically powerful.  These then tries to expand and captured many colonies both in the East and in Africa.  These were retained for a long time when a wave of nationalism came among the people of the colonies and they rose in revolt.  Many imperialist powers were forced to leave their colonies; some however, did not regret the loss.

During the 19th century again thinking developed that the colonies were most essentially needed for economic development of the colonial power and that politically these provided both prestige as well as stability.  An era of imperialism thus again started.  As the system developed with the exploitation of the peoples of colonies, negligence of their economic prosperity, mental development, lack of industrialization of the colonies, disrespect for the

people and their customs and traditions became very common.  In the struggle that followed, colonial powers were forced to leave the colonies.  Thus the circle started and completed itself.

But some changes came during the two intervals and in stages.  In the first stage imperial powers left the colonies in hatred without maintaining or keeping any contacts with the people of the colonies.  But in the second phase colonial power left the colony but with a desire to maintain some contacts and relations with that and keep that under its influence.

18th Century Imperialism:

From 16th century to up to the end of the 18thcentury England followed what is commonly known as the old colonial system.  Main features of this system were economic exploitation, discouragement of colonial industry and tight control over colonial trade and shipping.  In the 17th century England passed several navigation laws by which it was provided that commodities from any part of Asia, Africa and America imported into England or Ireland should be carried in England and colonial ships.

In the economic field there was clear exploitation.  It was believed that interests of the mother country were supreme and paramount.  Underlying philosophy of the system was that the colonies existed for the sake of mother country.  These were not to export anything to any country except the mother country.  A colony was not allowed to manufacture any commodity, which was likely to create competition of a commodity already being manufactured by the mother country.  Not only this, but colony was to hire ships of the mother country for exporting goods.  The colonies were treated as a market by the mother country.  Raw material was exported from the colony into the mother country at low rates and in turn finished goods were dumped in the colony at much higher costs.  There was in short pure and simple exploitation of manual and natural resource of the peoples of the colony by the mother country.

Another feature was that under their system trade and industries were not to be encouraged.  Mother country paid least attention to the industrialization of the colony.  It was for two important reasons.  First reason was the industrialization will produce the dependence of colony on the mother country.  Another reason was that it would reduce trade of the mother country with the colony.  Only an increased trade could result in drainage of wealth from the colony to mother country.  The result was that no industry was set up in the colony.  Even for consumable goods colony was to see to the mother country.

Then another feature of early imperialism or colonialism was that there was no stress on capital formation.  But this what was meant is that in the country no such infrastructure was created by which roads, buildings, machines etc., were build so that if need be at any time, the colony could keep pace with and walk on the path of industrialization and modernization.  Stress was laid on the supply and consumption of only consumable articles.

Poverty was another characteristic of imperialism. Colony people were not paid high wages for the work got done from them. They were highly taxed.  Their living standard was internationally kept low.

Then another feature of the system was that the people of the colony were not politically awakened.  No political education was given to them.  In fact no arrangements were made to teach them 3 Rs. Illiteracy was made an integral part of the whole system.  Lack of political education kept the people politically backward.

In the early colonial system, there was no system of associating the people of the colonies in the running of their own administration.  Every effort was made to run the administration of the country with the help of the strong bureaucracy which was responsible to the mother country and not to the colony.  The personnel of the bureaucracy were recruited and trained in a particular fashion in the mother country which believed that fear was the only thing which the people of the colony knew.

But when the people of the colony began demanding political rights the mother country gave them some rights but these were given by one hand and taken by the other hand.  This was done on the plea that the people of the colony were not capable of running their own administration and secondly, that if they were associated in administration they will come to know of actual weakness of administration and expertise to run the administration of their country.

One of the methods which imperial power used was to give right to vote to minimum number of people.  This is done by putting some educational and property qualifications.  Similarly the people of the colony were not encouraged to higher civil services.

Then another feature of imperialism has always been that of imposing taxes without the approval of the representatives of the people so that the failings and high handed of bureaucracy is not exposed to the public.

Imperialism in Operation

Imperialism had and continues to have these features, though method of achieving the purpose, to an extent has changed, under imperialism.  During the 17thand 18th centuries all these countries which industrialized themselves, were keen that they should become big imperial powers.  Thus imperialism found its manifestation in several parts of the world.  In this process of expansion and imperialist design no part of the world remained uninfluenced.  The process once started continued till 1820, when many European powers lost their colonies.  Both in the East as well as in America, France lost her colonies.  During the American war of Independence, England lost the whole of America colonies.

South American possessions were lost to Spain during this very period. In 1822, Portugal lost Brazil.  Bent there was not much of a weeping in the world over the losses because in many quarters there was a feeling that colonies were not an asset. In Germany, iron Chancellor Bismarck also held the view that a mother country did not enjoy any real advantage by maintaining colonies.

But as vigour of Adam Smith’s philosophy of free trade slow down with that imperial powers again thought of having their colonies.  There was again a thinking and desire that colonies were unavoidable for prosperity and happiness of the people of the mother country.  Without such prosperity mother country was bound to face many problems.  But Britain, France, Holland, Spain and Russia started on their expansion programmes and activities.  France was a success in creating an empire in Indo-China as well as Africa.

British Empire became so vast that it was said that the sun never set on that empire.  Germany had her possessions and areas of influence in Pacific Islands and some parts of Africa.  Africa was also divided among Spain, Holland and Belgium.  In Asia, Holland also occupied East Indies.  Japan occupied both Formosa and Korea.  Thus by the beginning of the 20th century many imperialist powers of the west were in a position to occupy many parts of Africa, West Indies and Asia.

Reasons for Spread of Imperialism

In the beginning imperialism did not spread peacefully. For acquiring colonies or territories there was a vigorous capitation and wars which was usually fought on one pretext or the other between the powers which wished bring territories under their control.  Every expansion was thus accompanied by bloodshed, miseries and waste of manual and material resources.  A problem therefore, which needs attention in as to why was a desire and what was the need for imperialism.

Foremost thing to have colonies for dumping of the manufactured goods with most of the countries of the west having industrialized themselves there was increased production.  Goods in large quantities were produced which under no circumstances could be consumed at home level.  The alternative being was international market for dumping these international levels.  Thus need for expansion and following policy of imperialism became unavoidable.

Another reason for imperialism was that of providing employment to both skilled and unskilled labour of the mother country.  Because of industrialization machine had replaced man.  So there was a surplus man power in every industrialized country.  Since home market was not in a position to absorb man-power therefore, only other alternative was to find employment somewhere else.  The only other pace could be the colonies.

Then another reason which prompted imperialism was that most of these countries were militarily week.  To worsen the situation the countries were divided in small independent units; each unit or state fighting with the other.  There was no sense of unity and that did not come even in the face of great and grave threat which foreign powers posed to their independence. Once Western powers came to know of this weakness, process and speed of expansion became rapid.

Availability of raw material and desire for exploitation of natural resources was a very important reason for imperialism.  Natural resources in some of these countries were very vast.  But many of these nations were aware of the existence of these resources in Asian and African countries.  These wanted to exploit these resources to their own advantage. Another significant reason for the imperialism was political stability at home.  Every government realized that expansion meant honour, respect and prestige at home and nations among.

If expansion programme was going on smoothly the chances of removal of political party from power became remote.  Thus imperialism got closely linked with political stability.  Prestige among western nations regarding to imperial expansion tempted western powers to follow imperialistic policy.  There powers wanted to excel each other in controlling and occupying more and more colonies because more a power had colonies, more was its prestige and respect in the world.

Spread of Christianity:

Almost all the Western powers believed that Christians were the most civilized people of the world and thus it was their religious duty to spread the message of Christ all over the world, particularly among Asian and African people, whom they considered as uncivilized or semi-cultured.  According to them this could best be possible, when countries of this part of the world, were under their domination and supremacy.

Increasing Nationalism:

Lastly imperialism became so popular with countries because of the feelings of nationalism.  It was a time when political leaders on the one hand and political philosophers and literary figures on the other spread the message of nationalism in the country.  Nationalism in the international filed demanded more and more colonies, so that no other nation excelled theirs.  Therefore, feeling of nationalism resulted in a hot race for acquiring more and more territories and colonies.