Imperialism is an action that involves a nation extending its power by
the acquisition of inhabited territory. It may also include the
exploitation of these territories, an action that is linked to
Colonialism is generally regarded as an expression of
It is different from New Imperialism, as the term imperialism is
usually applied to the colonization of the Americas between the 15th
and 19th centuries, as opposed to the expansion of Western Powers (and
Japan) during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, both
are examples of imperialism.
1 Etymology and usage
Colonialism vs. imperialism
Orientalism and imaginative geography
4.1 Age of Imperialism
5 Theories of imperialism
6 Environmental determinism
Imperialism by country
7.6 Ottoman Empire
Russia and the Soviet Union
7.8 United States
Imperialism in the Caribbean basin
7.9.2 Scholarly debate and controversy
8 See also
10 Further reading
10.1 Primary sources
11 External links
Etymology and usage
The word imperialism originated from the Latin word imperium, which
means supreme power. It first became common with its current sense in
Great Britain, during the 1870s and was used with a negative
connotation. Previously the word imperialism had been used to
describe to what was perceived as Napoleon III's attempts of obtaining
political support through foreign military interventions. The term
was and is mainly applied to Western (and Japanese) political and
economic dominance, especially in
Asia and Africa, in the 19th and
20th centuries. Its precise meaning continues to be debated by
scholars. Some writers, such as Edward Said, use the term more broadly
to describe any system of domination and subordination organised with
an imperial center and a periphery. This definition encompasses
both nominal empires and neocolonialism.
Colonialism vs. imperialism
Imperial powers in 1898
"The word 'empire' comes from the Latin word imperium; for which the
closest modern English equivalent would perhaps be 'sovereignty', or
simply 'rule'". The greatest distinction of an empire is through
the amount of land that a nation has conquered and expanded. Political
power grows from conquering land; however, cultural and economic
aspects flourish through sea and trade routes. A distinction about
empires is "that although political empires were built mostly by
expansion overland, economic and cultural influences spread at least
as much by sea". Some of the main aspects of trade that went
overseas consisted of animals and plant products. European empires in
Africa "have come to be seen as the classic forms of
imperialism: and indeed most books on the subject confine themselves
to the European seaborne empires". European expansion caused the
world to be divided by how developed and developing nation are
portrayed through the world systems theory. The two main regions are
the core and the periphery. The core consists of high areas of income
and profit; the periphery is on the opposing side of the spectrum
consisting of areas of low income and profit. These critical theories
of Geo-politics have led to increased discussion of the meaning and
impact of imperialism on the modern post-colonial world. The Russian
leader Lenin suggested that "imperialism was the highest form of
capitalism, claiming that imperialism developed after colonialism, and
was distinguished from colonialism by monopoly capitalism". This
idea from Lenin stresses how important new political world order has
become in our modern era.
Geopolitics now focuses on states becoming
major economic players in the market; some states today are viewed as
empires due to their political and economic authority over other
Entrance of the Russian troops in Tiflis, 26 November 1799, by Franz
The term "imperialism" is often conflated with "colonialism"; however,
many scholars have argued that each have their own distinct
Imperialism and colonialism have been used in order to
describe one's perceived superiority, domination and influence upon a
person or group of people. Robert Young writes that while imperialism
operates from the center, is a state policy and is developed for
ideological as well as financial reasons, colonialism is simply the
development for settlement or commercial intentions. However,
colonialism still includes invasion.
Colonialism in modern usage
also tends to imply a degree of geographic separation between the
colony and the imperial power. Particularly,
Edward Said distinguishes
the difference between imperialism and colonialism by stating;
"imperialism involved 'the practice, the theory and the attitudes of a
dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory', while
colonialism refers to the 'implanting of settlements on a distant
territory.' Contiguous land empires such as the Russian or Ottoman
have traditionally been excluded from discussions of colonialism,
though this is beginning to change, since it is accepted that they
also sent populations into the territories they ruled.:116 Thus it
can be said that imperialism includes some form of colonialism, but
colonialism itself does not automatically imply imperialism, as it
lacks a political focus.[further explanation needed]
Imperialism and colonialism both dictate the political and economic
advantage over a land and the indigenous populations they control, yet
scholars sometimes find it difficult to illustrate the difference
between the two.:107 Although imperialism and colonialism focus on
the suppression of an other, if colonialism refers to the process of a
country taking physical control of another, imperialism refers to the
political and monetary dominance, either formally or informally.
Colonialism is seen to be the architect deciding how to start
dominating areas and then imperialism can be seen as creating the idea
behind conquest cooperating with colonialism.
Colonialism is when the
imperial nation begins a conquest over an area and then eventually is
able to rule over the areas the previous nation had controlled.
Colonialism's core meaning is the exploitation of the valuable assets
and supplies of the nation that was conquered and the conquering
nation then gaining the benefits from the spoils of the
war.:170–75 The meaning of imperialism is to create an empire,
by conquering the other state's lands and therefore increasing its own
Colonialism is the builder and preserver of the colonial
possessions in an area by a population coming from a foreign
Colonialism can completely change the existing
social structure, physical structure and economics of an area; it is
not unusual that the characteristics of the conquering peoples are
inherited by the conquered indigenous populations.:41 Few colonies
remain remote from their mother country. Thus, most will eventually
establish a separate nationality or remain under complete control of
their mother colony.
Stephen Howe, while generally hostile to empires, has summarized the
beneficial effects of the main empires:
At least some of the great modern empires – the British, French,
Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and even the Ottoman – have virtues that
have been too readily forgotten. They provided stability, security,
and legal order for their subjects. They constrained, and at their
best, tried to transcend, the potentially savage ethnic or religious
antagonisms among the peoples. And the aristocracies which ruled most
of them were often far more liberal, humane, and cosmopolitan than
their supposedly ever more democratic successors.
A controversial aspect of imperialism is the defense and justification
of empire-building based on seemingly rational grounds. In ancient
China, tianxia denoted the lands, space, and area divinely appointed
Emperor by universal and well-defined principles of order.The
center of this land was directly apportioned to the Imperial court,
forming the center of a world view that centered on the Imperial court
and went concentrically outward to major and minor officials and then
the common citizens, tributary states, and finally ending with the
fringe "barbarians". Tianxia's idea of hierarchy gave Chinese a
privileged position and was justified through the promise of order and
J. A. Hobson identifies this justification on general grounds
as: "It is desirable that the earth should be peopled, governed, and
developed, as far as possible, by the races which can do this work
best, i.e. by the races of highest 'social efficiency'". Many
others argued that imperialism is justified for several different
Friedrich Ratzel believed that in order for a state to
survive, imperialism was needed.
Halford Mackinder felt that Great
Britain needed to be one of the greatest imperialists and therefore
justified imperialism. The purportedly scientific nature of
"Social Darwinism" and a theory of races formed a supposedly rational
justification for imperialism. The rhetoric of colonizers being
racially superior appears to have achieved its purpose, for example
Latin America "whiteness" is still prized today and various
forms of blanqueamiento (whitening) are common.
Royal Geographical Society
Royal Geographical Society of London and other geographical
societies in Europe had great influence and were able to fund
travelers who would come back with tales of their discoveries.
These societies also served as a space for travellers to share these
stories. Political geographers such as
Friedrich Ratzel of Germany
Halford Mackinder of Britain also supported imperialism.
Ratzel believed expansion was necessary for a state's survival while
Mackinder supported Britain's imperial expansion; these two arguments
dominated the discipline for decades.
Geographical theories such as environmental determinism also suggested
that tropical environments created uncivilized people in need of
European guidance. For instance, American geographer Ellen
Churchill Semple argued that even though human beings originated in
the tropics they were only able to become fully human in the temperate
zone. Tropicality can be paralleled with Edward Said's Orientalism
as the west's construction of the east as the "other". According
to Said, orientalism allowed Europe to establish itself as the
superior and the norm, which justified its dominance over the
Technology and economic efficiency were often improved in territories
subjected to imperialism through the building of roads, other
infrastructure and introduction of new technologies.
The principles of imperialism are often generalizable to the policies
and practices of the
British Empire "during the last generation, and
proceeds rather by diagnosis than by historical description".
British imperialism in some sparsely-inhabited regions appears to have
applied a principle now termed
Terra nullius (Latin expression which
Roman law meaning 'empty land'). The country of Australia
serves as a case study in relation to British settlement and colonial
rule of the continent in the eighteenth century, that was arguably
premised on terra nullius, as its settlers considered it unused by its
Orientalism and imaginative geography
Imperial control, territorial and cultural, is justified through
discourses about the imperialists' understanding of different
spaces. Conceptually, imagined geographies explain the limitations
of the imperialist understanding of the societies (human reality) of
the different spaces inhabited by the non–European Other.
Edward Said said that the West developed the
concept of The Orient—an imagined geography of the Eastern
world—which functions as an essentializing discourse that represents
neither the ethnic diversity nor the social reality of the Eastern
world. That by reducing the East into cultural essences, the
imperial discourse uses place-based identities to create cultural
difference and psychologic distance between "We, the West" and "They,
the East" and between "Here, in the West" and "There, in the
That cultural differentiation was especially noticeable in the books
and paintings of early Oriental studies, the European examinations of
the Orient, which misrepresented the East as irrational and backward,
the opposite of the rational and progressive West. Defining
the East as a negative vision of the Western world, as its inferior,
not only increased the sense-of-self of the West, but also was a way
of ordering the East, and making it known to the West, so that it
could be dominated and controlled. Therefore,
the ideological justification of early Western imperialism—a body of
knowledge and ideas that rationalized social, cultural, political, and
economic control of other, non-white peoples.
See also: Cartographic propaganda
One of the main tools used by imperialists was cartography.
Cartography is "the art, science and technology of making maps"
but this definition is problematic. It implies that maps are objective
representations of the world when in reality they serve very political
means. For Harley, maps serve as an example of Foucault's power
and knowledge concept.
To better illustrate this idea, Bassett focuses his analysis of the
role of nineteenth-century maps during the "scramble for Africa".
He states that maps "contributed to empire by promoting, assisting,
and legitimizing the extension of French and British power into West
Africa". During his analysis of nineteenth-century cartographic
techniques, he highlights the use of blank space to denote unknown or
unexplored territory. This provided incentives for imperial and
colonial powers to obtain "information to fill in blank spaces on
Although cartographic processes advanced through imperialism, further
analysis of their progress reveals many biases linked to eurocentrism.
According to Bassett, "[n]ineteenth-century explorers commonly
requested Africans to sketch maps of unknown areas on the ground. Many
of those maps were highly regarded for their accuracy" but were
not printed in Europe unless Europeans verified them.
Ottoman wars in Europe
Imperialism has played an important role in the histories of Japan,
Korea, India, China, Assyria, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Roman
Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire,
the British Empire, and many other empires.
Imperialism was a basic
component to the conquests of
Genghis Khan during the Mongol Empire,
and of other war-lords. Historically recognized Muslim empires number
in the dozens. Sub-Saharan
Africa has also featured dozens of empires
that predate the European colonial era, for example the Ethiopian
Empire, Oyo Empire, Asante Union, Luba Empire, Lunda Empire, and
Mutapa Empire. The Americas during the pre-Columbian era also had
large empires such as the Aztec
Empire and the Incan Empire.
Although normally used to imply forcible imposition of a foreign
government's control over another country or over conquered territory
that was previously without a unified government, "imperialism" is
sometimes used[by whom?] to describe loose or indirect political or
economic influence on weak states by more powerful ones.
Cultural imperialism is an extremely fuzzy concept, pointing to the
supposed influence of one dominant culture over others, i.e. a form of
soft power, which changes the moral, cultural, and societal worldview
of the subordinate country. In some ways, this is such an expansion of
the concept of imperialism as to be meaningless. This is more than
just "foreign" music, television or film becoming popular with young
people, but that popular culture changing their own expectations of
life and their desire for their own country to become more like the
foreign country depicted. For example, depictions of opulent American
lifestyles in the soap opera Dallas during the
Cold War changed the
expectations of Romanians; a more recent example is the influence of
smuggled South Korean drama series in North Korea. The importance of
soft power is not lost on authoritarian regimes, fighting such
influence with bans on foreign popular culture, control of the
internet and unauthorised satellite dishes etc. Nor is such a usage of
culture recent, as part of Roman imperialism local elites would be
exposed to the benefits and luxuries of Roman culture and lifestyle,
with the aim that they would then become willing participants.
Imperialism has been subject to moral or immoral censure by its
critics[which?], and thus the term is frequently used in international
propaganda as a pejorative for expansionist and aggressive foreign
Age of Imperialism
International relations, 1648–1814
International relations, 1648–1814 and International
relations of the Great Powers (1814–1919)
The Age of Imperialism, a time period beginning around 1760, saw
European industrializing nations, engaging in the process of
colonizing, influencing, and annexing other parts of the world.
19th century episodes included the "Scramble for Africa."
Africa, divided into colonies under multiple empires, c. 1913
In the 1970s British historians John Gallagher (1919–1980) and
Ronald Robinson (1920–1999) argued that European leaders rejected
the notion that "imperialism" required formal, legal control by one
government over a colonial region. Much more important was informal
control of independent areas. According to Wm. Roger Louis, "In
their view, historians have been mesmerized by formal empire and maps
of the world with regions colored red. The bulk of British emigration,
trade, and capital went to areas outside the formal British Empire.
Key to their thinking is the idea of empire 'informally if possible
and formally if necessary.'" Oron Hale says that Gallagher and
Robinson looked at the British involvement in
Africa where they "found
few capitalists, less capital, and not much pressure from the alleged
traditional promoters of colonial expansion. Cabinet decisions to
annex or not to annex were made, usually on the basis of political or
Looking at the main empires from 1875–1914, historians estimate a
mixed record in terms of profitability. At first planners expected
that colonies would provide an excellent captive market for
manufactured items. Apart from India, this was seldom true. By the
1890s, imperialists saw the economic benefit primarily in the
production of inexpensive raw materials to feed the domestic
manufacturing sector. Overall,
Great Britain did very well in terms of
profits from India, but not from most of the rest of its empire. The
Netherlands did very well in the East Indies. Germany and Italy got
very little trade or raw materials from their empires. France did
slightly better. The Belgian Congo was notoriously profitable when it
was a capitalistic rubber plantation owned and operated by King
Leopold II as a private enterprise. However, scandal after scandal
regarding very badly mistreated labour led the international community
to force the government of Belgium to take it over in 1908, and it
became much less profitable. The
Philippines cost the United States
much more than expected because of military action against
Because of the resources made available by imperialism, the world's
economy grew significantly and became much more interconnected in the
decades before World War I, making the many imperial powers rich and
Europe's expansion into territorial imperialism was largely focused on
economic growth by collecting resources from colonies, in combination
with assuming political control by military and political means. The
India in the mid-18th century offers an example of
this focus: there, the "British exploited the political weakness of
the Mughal state, and, while military activity was important at
various times, the economic and administrative incorporation of local
elites was also of crucial significance" for the establishment of
control over the subcontinent's resources, markets, and manpower.
Although a substantial number of colonies had been designed to provide
economic profit and to ship resources to home ports in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, Fieldhouse[who?]suggests that in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries in places such as
Africa and Asia,
this idea is not necessarily valid::183–84
Modern empires were not artificially constructed economic machines.
The second expansion of Europe was a complex historical process in
which political, social and emotional forces in Europe and on the
periphery were more influential than calculated imperialism.
Individual colonies might serve an economic purpose; collectively no
empire had any definable function, economic or otherwise. Empires
represented only a particular phase in the ever-changing relationship
of Europe with the rest of the world: analogies with industrial
systems or investment in real estate were simply misleading.:184
During this time, European merchants had the ability to "roam the high
seas and appropriate surpluses from around the world (sometimes
peaceably, sometimes violently) and to concentrate them in
British assault on Canton during the First Opium War, May 1841
European expansion greatly accelerated in the 19th century. To obtain
raw materials, Europe expanded imports from other countries and from
the colonies. European industrialists sought raw materials such as
dyes, cotton, vegetable oils, and metal ores from overseas.
Concurrently, industrialization was quickly making Europe the center
of manufacturing and economic growth, driving resource needs.
Communication became much more advanced during European expansion.
With the invention of railroads and telegraphs, it became easier to
communicate with other countries and to extend the administrative
control of a home nation over its colonies. Steam railroads and
steam-driven ocean shipping made possible the fast, cheap transport of
massive amounts of goods to and from colonies.
Along with advancements in communication, Europe also continued to
advance in military technology. European chemists made new explosives
that made artillery much more deadly. By the 1880s, the machine gun
had become a reliable battlefield weapon. This technology gave
European armies an advantage over their opponents, as armies in
less-developed countries were still fighting with arrows, swords, and
leather shields (e.g. the Zulus in Southern
Africa during the
Anglo-Zulu War of 1879).
Theories of imperialism
Anglophone academic studies often base their theories regarding
imperialism on the British experience of Empire. The term imperialism
was originally introduced into English in its present sense in the
late 1870s by opponents of the allegedly aggressive and ostentatious
imperial policies of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Supporters of "imperialism" such as
Joseph Chamberlain quickly
appropriated the concept. For some,[who?] imperialism designated a
policy of idealism and philanthropy; others alleged that it was
characterized by political self-interest, and a growing number
associated it with capitalist greed.
John A. Hobson, A leading English Liberal, developed a highly
influential interpretation of Imperialism: A Study (1902) that
expanded on his belief that free enterprise capitalism had a negative
impact on the majority of the population. In
Imperialism he argued
that the financing of overseas empires drained money that was needed
at home. It was invested abroad because lower wages paid the workers
overseas made for higher profits and higher rates of return, compared
to domestic wages. So although domestic wages remained higher, they
did not grow nearly as fast as they might have otherwise. Exporting
capital, he concluded, put a lid on the growth of domestic wages in
the domestic standard of living. . By the 1970s, historians such as
David K. Fieldhouse and Oron Hale could argue that "the Hobsonian
foundation has been almost completely demolished.":5–6 The
British experience failed to support it. However, European Socialists
picked up Hobson's ideas and made it into their own theory of
imperialism, most notably in Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of
Capitalism (1916). Lenin portrayed
Imperialism as the closure of the
world market and the end of capitalist free-competition that arose
from the need for capitalist economies to constantly expand
investment, material resources and manpower in such a way that
necessitated colonial expansion. Later Marxist theoreticians echo this
conception of imperialism as a structural feature of capitalism. which
explained the World War as the battle between imperialists for control
of external markets. Lenin's treatise became a standard textbook that
flourished until the Collapse of communism in 1989–91.
Some theoreticians on the non-Communist left have emphasized the
structural or systemic character of "imperialism". Such writers have
expanded the period associated with the term so that it now designates
neither a policy, nor a short space of decades in the late 19th
century, but a world system extending over a period of centuries,
often going back to
Christopher Columbus and, in some accounts, to the
Crusades. As the application of the term has expanded, its meaning has
shifted along five distinct but often parallel axes: the moral, the
economic, the systemic, the cultural, and the temporal. Those changes
reflect—among other shifts in sensibility—a growing unease, even
great distaste, with the pervasiveness of such power, specifically,
Historians and political theorists have long debated the correlation
between capitalism, class and imperialism. Much of the debate was
pioneered by such theorists as
J. A. Hobson (1858–1940), Joseph
Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), and Norman
Angell (1872–1967). While these non-Marxist writers were at their
most prolific before World War I, they remained active in the interwar
years. Their combined work informed the study of imperialism and its
impact on Europe, as well as contributing to reflections on the rise
of the military-political complex in the
United States from the 1950s.
Hobson argued that domestic social reforms could cure the
international disease of imperialism by removing its economic
foundation. Hobson theorized that state intervention through taxation
could boost broader consumption, create wealth, and encourage a
peaceful, tolerant, multipolar world order.
The concept of environmental determinism served as a moral
justification for domination of certain territories and peoples. It
was believed that certain persons' behaviours were determined by the
environment in which they lived and thus validated their domination.
For example, people living in tropical environments were seen as "less
civilized", therefore justifying colonial control as a civilizing
mission. Across the three waves of
European colonialism (first in the
Americas, second in
Asia and lastly in Africa), environmental
determinism was used to place categorically indigenous people in a
racial hierarchy. This takes two forms, orientalism and tropicality.
According to geographic scholars under colonizing empires, the world
could be split into climatic zones. These scholars believed that
Northern Europe and the Mid-Atlantic temperate climate produced a
hard-working, moral, and upstanding human being. Alternatively,
tropical climates yielded lazy attitudes, sexual promiscuity, exotic
culture, and moral degeneracy. The people of these climates were
believed to be in need of guidance and intervention from the European
empire to aid in the governing of a more evolved social structure;
they were seen as incapable of such a feat. Similarly, orientalism is
a view of a people based on their geographical location.
Imperialism by country
Main articles: Historiography of the
British Empire and British Empire
The end result of the
Boer Wars was the annexation of the Boer
Republics to the
British Empire in 1902
Britain's imperialist ambitions can be seen as early as the sixteenth
century. In 1599 the British East
India Company was established and
was chartered by Queen Elizabeth in the following year.:174 With
the establishment of trading posts in India, the British were able to
maintain strength relative to others empires such as the Portuguese
who already had set up trading posts in India.:174 In 1767
political activity caused exploitation of the East
causing the plundering of the local economy, almost bringing the
company into bankruptcy. By the year 1670 Britain's imperialist
ambitions were well off as she had colonies in Virginia,
Massachusetts, Bermuda, Honduras, Antigua, Barbados,
Jamaica and Nova
Due to the vast imperialist ambitions of European countries, Britain
had several clashes with France. This competition was evident in the
colonization of what is now known as Canada.
John Cabot claimed
Newfoundland for the British while the French established colonies
along the St. Lawrence River and claiming it as "New France".
Britain continued to expand by colonizing countries such as New
Zealand and Australia, both of which were not empty land as they had
their own locals and cultures.:175 Britain's nationalistic
movements were evident with the creation of the commonwealth countries
where there was a shared nature of national identity.:147
British Empire was based on mercantilism, and involved
colonies and holdings primarily in North America, the Caribbean, and
India. Its growth was reversed by the loss of the American colonies in
1776. Britain made compensating gains in India, Australia, and in
constructing an informal economic empire through control of trade and
Latin America after the independence of Spanish and
Portuguese colonies in about 1820. By the 1840s, Britain had
adopted a highly successful policy of free trade that gave it
dominance in the trade of much of the world. After losing its
Empire to the Americans, Britain then turned its attention
towards Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. Following the defeat of
Napoleonic France in 1815, Britain enjoyed a century of almost
unchallenged dominance and expanded its imperial holdings around the
globe. Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as
Pax Britannica ("British Peace"), a period of relative peace in Europe
and the world (1815–1914) during which the
British Empire became the
global hegemon and adopted the role of global
Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the
Suez Canal hit during the
initial Anglo-French assault on Egypt, 5 November 1956
In the early 19th century, the
Industrial Revolution began to
transform Britain; by the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 the
country was described as the "workshop of the world". The British
Empire expanded to include India, large parts of
Africa and many other
territories throughout the world. Alongside the formal control it
exerted over its own colonies, British dominance of much of world
trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many
regions, such as
Asia and Latin America. Domestically,
political attitudes favoured free trade and laissez-faire policies and
a gradual widening of the voting franchise. During this century, the
population increased at a dramatic rate, accompanied by rapid
urbanisation, causing significant social and economic stresses. To
seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the Conservative Party
Disraeli launched a period of imperialist expansion in Egypt,
South Africa, and elsewhere. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand became
A resurgence came in the late 19th century with the Scramble for
Africa and major additions in
Asia and the Middle East. The British
spirit of imperialism was expressed by
Joseph Chamberlain and Lord
Rosebury, and implemented in
Africa by Cecil Rhodes. The
Social Darwinism and theories of race formed an
ideological underpinning during this time. Other influential spokesmen
included Lord Cromer, Lord Curzon, General Kitchener, Lord Milner, and
the writer Rudyard Kipling. The
British Empire was the largest
Empire that the world has ever seen both in terms of landmass and
population. Its power, both military and economic, remained unmatched.
After the First Boer War, the South African
Republic and Orange Free
State were recognized by Britain but eventually re-annexed after the
Second Boer War.
World War II
World War II had weakened Britain's position in the world, especially
Decolonization movements proliferated throughout the Cold
War, resulting in Indian independence and the establishment of
independent states throughout Africa. British imperialism continued
for a few years, notably with its involvement in the Iranian coup
d'état of 1953 and in
Egypt during the
Suez Crisis in 1956. However,
United States and
Soviet Union emerging from
World War II
World War II as
the sole superpowers, Britain's role as a worldwide power declined
Main article: Chinese imperialism
Ancient China has been one of the world's oldest empires that still
exist. Due to its long history of being imperialist expansion, China
has been seen by its neighboring countries as a threat due to large
population, giant economy, large military force as well as its
territorial evolution in most of history of China.
Starting with the unification of
China under the Qin Dynasty, later
Chinese dynasties continued to follow its form of expansions. The most
successful Chinese imperial dynasties are Tang and Qing Dynasty, due
to its expansions.
Main article: French colonial empire
Map of the first (green) and second (blue — plain and hatched)
French colonial empires
French poster about the "Madagascar War"
During the 16th century, the
French colonization of the Americas
French colonization of the Americas began
with the creation of New France. It was followed by French East India
Company's trading posts in
Asia in the 17th century.
France had its "First colonial empire" from 1534 until 1814 : it
New France (Canada, Acadie,
Newfoundland and Louisiane),
French West Indies
French West Indies (Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe, Martinique), French
Mascarene Islands (Mauritius Island,
Réunion) and French India.
Its "Second colonial empire" began with the conquest of
1830 and came for the most part to an end with the granting of
Algeria in 1962. The French history was marked by
numerous wars, large and small, and also by significant help to France
itself from the colonials in the world wars. France took control
Algeria in 1830 but began in earnest to rebuild its worldwide
empire after 1850, concentrating chiefly in North and West Africa
(French North Africa, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa),
as well as South-East
Asia (French Indochina), with other conquests in
the South Pacific (New Caledonia, French Polynesia).
French Republicans, at first hostile to empire, only became supportive
when Germany started to build her own colonial empire. As it
developed, the new empire took on roles of trade with France,
supplying raw materials and purchasing manufactured items, as well as
lending prestige to the motherland and spreading French civilization
and language as well as Catholicism. It also provided crucial manpower
in both World Wars.. It became a moral justification to lift the
world up to French standards by bringing Christianity and French
culture. In 1884 the leading exponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry
declared France had a civilising mission: "The higher races have a
right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the
inferior". Full citizenship rights – assimilation – were
offered, although in reality assimilation was always on the distant
horizon. Contrasting from Britain, France sent small numbers of
settlers to its colonies, with the only notable exception of Algeria,
where French settlers nevertheless always remained a small minority.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the
French colonial empire
French colonial empire was the
second-largest colonial empire in the world behind the British Empire,
extending over 12,347,000 km2 (4,767,000 sq. miles) at its height
in the 1920s and 1930s. France controlled nearly 1/10th of the Earth's
land area, with a population of 110 million people on the eve of
World War II
World War II (5% of the world's population at the time).
In World War II,
Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle and the Free French used the
overseas colonies as bases from which they fought to liberate France.
However, after 1945 anti-colonial movements began to challenge the
Empire. France fought and lost a bitter war in
Vietnam in the 1950s.
Whereas they won the war in Algeria, the French leader at the time,
Charles de Gaulle, decided to grant
Algeria independence anyway in
1962. Its settlers and many local supporters relocated to France.
Nearly all of France's colonies gained independence by 1960, but
France retained great financial and diplomatic influence. It has
repeatedly sent troops to assist its former colonies in
suppressing insurrections and coups d'état.
Main articles: Holy Roman Empire, List of former German colonies, and
German colonial empire
German colonial empire, the third largest colonial empire during the
19th century after the British and the French ones
German participation in imperialism was negligible until the late 19th
century. Prussia unified the other states into the second German
Empire in 1871. Its Chancellor,
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck (1862–90), long
opposed colonial acquisitions, arguing that the burden of obtaining,
maintaining, and defending such possessions would outweigh any
potential benefits. He felt that colonies did not pay for themselves,
that the German bureaucratic system would not work well in the tropics
and the diplomatic disputes over colonies would distract Germany from
its central interest, Europe itself.
However, public opinion and elite opinion in Germany demanded colonies
for reasons of international prestige, so Bismarck was forced to
oblige. In 1883–84 Germany began to build a colonial empire in
Africa and the South Pacific. The establishment of the German
colonial empire started with
German New Guinea
German New Guinea in 1884.
German colonies included the present territories of in Africa:
Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Namibia, Cameroon,
Ghana and Togo; in
Oceania: New Guinea, Solomon islands, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Mariana
Caroline Islands and Samoa; and in Asia: Tsingtao,
the Jiaozhou Bay.
By the Treaty of Versailles, all German colonies were lost after World
Japan and List of territories occupied by
The Greater East
Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1942
Japanese Marines preparing to land. A modern doctrine in amphibious
warfare was one of the reasons in the fast Japanese territorial
For over 200 years,
Japan remained isolated from the rest of the
world, staying in a feudal system. However, in the 1850s military
pressure by the
United States and other world powers forced
open itself to the world markets, ending the period of isolation. A
period of conflicts and revolutions unleashed in the uncertainty of
the new period, ending in 1867 with the reunification of the political
power in only one leader: the Japanese Emperor. Everything was ready
Japan to embrace the Industrial Revolution. However, from the
start the Japanese didn't look too enthusiastic on relying on other
countries to obtain industrial manufactures and remaining forever an
underdeveloped nation, key to this understanding is the traditional
Japanese psyche of self-sustainability that made them survive isolated
for centuries. Thus,
Japan initiated a process of modernization
through central planning and a firm direction of the government. This
became one of the fastest modernization processes in world history: in
a matter of few decades it went through the full technological
evolution that took centuries in Europe. Japan's late
industrialization example became a leading case for underdeveloped
countries that suffered from European rule. By the early 1900s, Japan
was a naval power that could hold its own against an established
European power like Russia.
Without much natural resources and territory to sustain the increasing
Japanese population that industrialization brought,
Japan turned to
imperialism and expansionism as a way to compensate for its lackings
and also to strengthen itself, the national motto "Fukoku kyōhei"
(富国強兵, "Enrich the state, strengthen the military") as a sign
of this attitude. Also the mentioned typical self-sustaining mentality
of the Japanese was a cause of this change in foreign policy.
Japan was eager to take every opportunity. In 1869 they took
advantage of the defeat of the rebels of the
Republic of Ezo to
incorporate definitely the island of
Hokkaido to Japan. For centuries,
Japan viewed the
Ryukyu Islands as one of its provinces. In 1871 the
Mudan incident happened: cannibal Taiwanese aborigines murdered 54
Ryūkyūan sailors that had their ship shipwrecked. At that time the
Ryukyu Islands were claimed by both
Qing China and Japan, and the
Japanese interpreted the incident as an attack on their citizens. They
took steps to bring the islands in their jurisdiction: in 1872 the
Ryukyu Domain was declared, and in 1874 a retaliatory
Taiwan was sent, which was a success. The success of this
expedition emboldened the Japanese: not even the Americans could
defeat the Taiwanese cannibals in the
Formosa Expedition of 1867. Very
few gave it much thought at the time, but this was the first move in
the Japanese expansionism series.
Taiwan for the rest
of 1874 and then left owing to Chinese pressures, but in 1879 it
finally annexed the Ryukyu Islands. In 1875
Qing China sent a 300-men
force to subdue the Taiwanese cannibals, but unlike the Japanese the
Chinese were routed, ambushed and 250 of their men were killed; the
failure of this expedition exposed once more the failure of Qing China
to exert effective control in Taiwan, and acted as another incentive
for the Japanese to annex Taiwan. Eventually, the spoils for winning
First Sino-Japanese War
First Sino-Japanese War in 1894 included Taiwan.
Japan took its first operation against Joseon Korea, another
territory that for centuries it coveted; the Ganghwa Island incident
Korea open to international trade.
Korea was annexed in 1910. As
a result of winning the
Russo-Japanese War in 1905,
Japan took part of
Sakhalin Island from Russia. Precisely, the victory against the
Empire shook the world: never before an Asian nation defeated
a European power, and in
Japan it was seen as a feat. Japan's victory
Russia would act as an antecedent for Asian countries in the
fight against the Western powers for Decolonization. During World War
Japan took German-leased territories in China's Shandong Province,
as well as the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Islands, and kept the
islands as League of nations mandates. At first,
Japan was in good
standing with the victorious Allied powers of World War I, but
different discrepancies and dissatisfaction with the rewards of the
treaties cooled the relations with them, for example American pressure
forced it to return the Shandong area. By the '30s, economic
depression, urgency of resources and a growing distrust in the Allied
Japan lean to a hardened militaristic stance. Through the
decade, it would grow closer to Germany and Italy, forming together
the Axis alliance. In 1931
Japan took Manchuria from China.
International reactions condemned this move, but Japan's already
strong skepticism against Allied nations meant that it nevertheless
Second Sino-Japanese War
Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Japan's military invaded
central China. By now, relations with the Allied powers were at the
bottom, and an international boycott against
Japan to deprive it of
natural resources was enforced. Thus a military move to gain access to
them was needed, and so
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the
United States to World War II. Using its superior technological
advances in naval aviation and its modern doctrines of amphibious and
Japan achieved one of the fastest maritime expansions
in history, by the end of the Pacific War,
Japan had conquered much of
Asia and the Pacific, including the east of China, Hong Kong,
Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, the
Philippines, Indonesia, part of
New Guinea and many islands of the
Pacific Ocean. Just as Japan's late industrialization success and
victory against the Russian
Empire was seen as an example among
underdeveloped Asia-Pacific nations, the Japanese took advantage of
this and promoted among its conquered the goal to jointly create an
anti-European "Greater East
Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". This plan
helped the Japanese gain support from native populations during its
conquests. However, the
United States were benefited by the long-term,
war of attrition and over time the massive output of their industrial
muscle, together with improvements in their military doctrines, turned
the war in their favor. Japan's defeat in 1945 meant that its imperial
gains, along with the proposed Pan-Asian sphere, were lost
altogether, but this anti-European experience was one of
the leading antecedents in the
Decolonization movements in East Asia
and the Pacific in the second half of the 20th century.
Ottoman troops marching in Aleppo
Main articles: Ottoman
Empire and Territorial evolution of the Ottoman
Empire was an imperial state that lasted from 1299 to
1922. In 1453,
Mehmed the Conqueror
Mehmed the Conqueror besieged the capital of the
Byzantine Empire, resulting in the
Fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople after 1,500
years of Roman rule. Thereafter, making it the capital of the empire.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular at the height of its
power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire
was a powerful multinational, multilingual empire, which invaded and
colonized much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North
Africa, and the Horn of Africa. Its repeated invasions, and brutal
treatment of Slavs led to the great migration of the Serbs to escape
prosecution. At the beginning of the 17th century the empire contained
32 provinces and numerous vassal states. Some of these were later
absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types of
autonomy during the course of centuries.
Constantinople as its capital and control of lands around the
Mediterranean basin, the Ottoman
Empire was at the center of
interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries.
Following a long period of military setbacks against European powers,
Empire gradually declined into the late nineteenth
century. The empire allied with Germany in the early 20th century,
with the imperial ambition of recovering its lost territories, but it
dissolved in the aftermath of its defeat in the First World War. The
residue was the new state of
Turkey in the Ottoman Anatolian
heartland, as well as the creation of modern
Balkan and Middle Eastern
states, thus ending Turkish colonial ambitions.
Russia and the Soviet Union
Criticism of communist party rule
Criticism of communist party rule and Soviet Empire
The maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet
influence, after the
Cuban Revolution of 1959 and before the official
Sino-Soviet split of 1961
By the 18th century, the Russian
Empire extended its control to the
Pacific, forming a common border with the Qing Empire. This took place
in a large number of military invasions of the lands east, west, and
south of it. The
Polish–Russian War of 1792
Polish–Russian War of 1792 took place after Polish
nobility from the
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth wrote the
Constitution of May 3, 1791. The war resulted in eastern
conquered by Imperial
Russia as a colony until 1918. The southern
campaigns involved a series of Russo-Persian Wars, which began with
the Persian Expedition of 1796, resulting in the acquisition of
Georgia (country) as a protectorate. Between 1800 and 1864, Imperial
armies invaded south in the Russian conquest of the Caucasus, the
Murid War, and the Russo-Circassian War. This last conflict led to the
ethnic cleansing of Circassians from their lands. The Russian conquest
of Siberia over the
Khanate of Sibir
Khanate of Sibir took place in the 16th and 17th
centuries, and resulted in the slaughter of various indigenous tribes
by Russians, including the Daur, the Koryaks, the Itelmens, Mansi
people and the Chukchi. The Russian colonization of Central and
Eastern Europe and Siberia and treatment of the resident indigenous
peoples has been compared to European colonization of the Americas,
with similar negative impacts on the indigenous Siberians as upon the
indigenous peoples of the Americas. The extermination of indigenous
Siberian tribes was so complete that a relatively small population of
only 180,000 are said to exist today. The Russian
Empire exploited and
Cossacks hosts during this period, before turning them into
the special military estate
Sosloviye in the late 18th century.
Cossacks were then used in Imperial Russian campaigns against other
Bolshevik leaders had effectively reestablished a polity with roughly
the same extent as that empire by 1921, however with an
internationalist ideology: Lenin in particular asserted the right to
limited self-determination for national minorities within the new
territory. Beginning in 1923, the policy of "Indigenization"
[korenizatsiia] was intended to support non-Russians develop their
national cultures within a socialist framework. Never formally
revoked, it stopped being implemented after 1932. After World War II,
Soviet Union installed socialist regimes modeled on those it had
installed in 1919–20 in the old Tsarist
Empire in areas its forces
occupied in Eastern Europe. The
Soviet Union and the People's
China supported post–
World War II
World War II communist movements in
foreign nations and colonies to advance their own interests, but were
not always successful.
Trotsky, and others, believed that the revolution could only succeed
Russia as part of a world revolution. Lenin wrote extensively on
the matter and famously declared that
Imperialism was the highest
stage of capitalism. However, after Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin
established 'socialism in one country' for the Soviet Union, creating
the model for subsequent inward looking Stalinist states and purging
the early Internationalist elements. The internationalist tendencies
of the early revolution would be abandoned until they returned in the
framework of a client state in competition with the Americans during
the Cold War. With the beginning of the new era, the after Stalin
period called the "thaw", in the late 1950s, the new political leader
Nikita Khrushchev put even more pressure on the Soviet-American
relations starting a new wave of anti-imperialist propaganda. In his
speech on the UN conference in 1960, he announced the continuation of
the war on imperialism, stating that soon the people of different
countries will come together and overthrow their imperialist leaders.
Soviet Union declared itself anti-imperialist, critics
argue that it exhibited traits common to historic empires.
Some scholars hold that the
Soviet Union was a hybrid entity
containing elements common to both multinational empires and nation
states. It has also been argued that the USSR practiced colonialism as
did other imperial powers and was carrying on the old Russian
tradition of expansion and control.
Mao Zedong once argued that
Soviet Union had itself become an imperialist power while
maintaining a socialist façade. Moreover, the ideas of imperialism
were widely spread in action on the higher levels of government.
Non-Russian Marxists within the Russian Federation and later the USSR,
like Sultan Galiev and Vasyl Shakhrai, considered the Soviet Regime a
renewed version of the Russian imperialism and colonialism.
Main article: American imperialism
Ceremonies during the annexation of the
Republic of Hawaii, 1898
A former colony itself, the early
United States expressed its
opposition to Imperialism, at least in a form distinct from its own
Manifest Destiny, through policies such as the Monroe Doctrine.
However, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, policies
such as Theodore Roosevelt’s interventionism in Central America and
Woodrow Wilson’s mission to "make the world safe for democracy"
changed all this. They were often backed by military force, but were
more often effected from behind the scenes. This is consistent with
the general notion of hegemony and imperium of historical
empires. In 1898, Americans who opposed imperialism created
the Anti-Imperialist League to oppose the US annexation of the
Philippines and Cuba. One year later, a war erupted in the Philippines
causing business, labor and government leaders in the US to condemn
America's occupation in the
Philippines as they also denounced them
for causing the deaths of many Filipinos. American foreign policy
was denounced as a "racket" by Smedley Butler, a former American
general who had become a spokesman for the far left.
At the start of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was
opposed to European colonialism, especially in India. He pulled back
when Britain's Winston Churchill demanded that victory in the war be
the first priority. Roosevelt expected that the United Nations would
take up the problem of decolonization.
Some have described the internal strife between various people groups
as a form of imperialism or colonialism. This internal form is
distinct from informal U.S. imperialism in the form of political and
financial hegemony. This internal form of imperialism is also
distinct from the United States' formation of "colonies" abroad.
Through the treatment of its indigenous peoples during westward
United States took on the form of an imperial power
prior to any attempts at external imperialism. This internal form of
empire has been referred to as "internal colonialism".
Participation in the African slave trade and the subsequent treatment
of its 12 to 15 million Africans is viewed by some to be a more
modern extension of America's "internal colonialism". However,
this internal colonialism faced resistance, as external colonialism
did, but the anti-colonial presence was far less prominent due to the
nearly complete dominance that the
United States was able to assert
over both indigenous peoples and African-Americans. In his
lecture on April 16, 2003,
Edward Said made a bold statement on modern
imperialism in the United States, whom he described as using
aggressive means of attack towards the contemporary Orient, "due to
their backward living, lack of democracy and the violation of
women’s rights. The western world forgets during this process of
converting the other that enlightenment and democracy are concepts
that not all will agree upon".
Spanish imperialism in the colonial era corresponds with the rise and
decline of the Spanish Empire, conventionally recognized as emerging
in 1402 with the conquest of the Canary Islands and fully dissolving
by 1975 with the loss of Spanish Sahara. Following the successes of
exploratory maritime voyages conducted during the Age of Discovery,
such as those undertaken by Christopher Columbus, Spain committed
considerable financial and military resources towards developing a
robust navy capable of conducting large-scale, transatlantic
expeditionary operations in order to establish and solidify a firm
imperial presence across portions of North America, South America, and
the geographic regions comprising the Caribbean basin. Concomitant
with Spanish endorsement and sponsorship of transatlantic
expeditionary voyages was the deployment of Conquistadors, which
further expanded Spanish imperial boundaries through the acquisition
and development of territories and colonies.
Imperialism in the Caribbean basin
In congruence with the colonialist activities of competing European
imperial powers throughout the 15th – 19th centuries, the Spanish
were equally engrossed in extending geopolitical power. The Caribbean
basin functioned as a key geographic focal point for advancing Spanish
imperialism. Similar to the strategic prioritization Spain placed
towards achieving victory in the conquests of the Aztec
Inca Empire, Spain placed equal strategic emphasis on expanding the
nation's imperial footprint within the Caribbean basin.
Spanish colonies and territories in the
Caribbean basin (c. 1490 –
Echoing the prevailing ideological perspectives regarding colonialism
and imperialism embraced by Spain's European rivals during the
colonial era, including the English, French, and the Dutch, the
Spanish utilized colonialism as a means of expanding imperial
geopolitical borders and securing the defense of maritime trade routes
in the Caribbean basin.
While leveraging colonialism in the same geographic operating theater
as its imperial rivals, Spain maintained distinct imperial objectives
and instituted a unique form of colonialism in support of its imperial
agenda. Spain placed significant strategic emphasis on the
acquisition, extraction, and exportation of precious metals (primarily
gold and silver). A second objective was the evangelization of
subjugated indigenous populations residing in mineral-rich and
strategically favorable locations. Notable examples of these
indigenous groups include the Taίno populations inhabiting Puerto
Rico and segments of Cuba. Compulsory labor and slavery were widely
institutionalized across Spanish-occupied territories and colonies,
with an initial emphasis on directing labor towards mining activity
and related methods of procuring semi-precious metals. The emergence
Encomienda system during the 16th – 17th centuries in
occupied colonies within the
Caribbean basin reflects a gradual shift
in imperial prioritization, increasingly focusing on large-scale
production and exportation of agricultural commodities.
Scholarly debate and controversy
The scope and scale of Spanish participation in imperialism within the
Caribbean basin remains a subject of scholarly debate among
historians. A fundamental source of contention stems from the
inadvertent conflation of theoretical conceptions of imperialism and
colonialism. Furthermore, significant variation exists in the
definition and interpretation of these terms as expounded by
historians, anthropologists, philosophers, and political scientists.
Among historians, there is substantial support in favor of approaching
imperialism as a conceptual theory emerging during the 18th – 19th
centuries, particularly within Britain, propagated by key exponents
Joseph Chamberlain and Benjamin Disraeli. In accordance with
this theoretical perspective, the activities of the Spanish in the
Caribbean are not components of a preeminent, ideologically-driven
form of imperialism. Rather, these activities are more accurately
classified as representing a form of colonialism.
Further divergence among historians can be attributed to varying
theoretical perspectives regarding imperialism that are proposed by
emerging academic schools of thought. Noteworthy examples include
cultural imperialism, whereby proponents such as John Downing and
Annabelle Sreberny-Modammadi define imperialism as "...the conquest
and control of one country by a more powerful one." Cultural
imperialism signifies the dimensions of the process that go beyond
economic exploitation or military force." Moreover, colonialism is
understood as "...the form of imperialism in which the government of
the colony is run directly by foreigners."
In spite of diverging perspectives and the absence of a unilateral
scholarly consensus regarding imperialism among historians, within the
context of Spanish expansion in the
Caribbean basin during the
colonial era, imperialism can be interpreted as an overarching
ideological agenda that is perpetuated through the institution of
colonialism. In this context, colonialism functions as an instrument
designed to achieve specific imperialist objectives.
Historiography of the British Empire
Imperialism in Leninist theory
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
International relations of the Great Powers (1814–1919)
International relations, 1648–1814
List of empires
List of largest empires
Oil imperialism theories
Uneven and combined development
European colonialism and colonization
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Marxist phraseology and terminology
Philosophy and politics
Base and superstructure
Capitalist mode of production
Dictatorship of the proletariat
Means of labor
Primitive accumulation of capital
Socialist mode of production
Two stage theory
Economics and sociology
Accumulation of capital
Capitalist mode of production
Crisis of capitalism
Commanding heights of the economy
Law of value
Means of production
Mode of production
Production for use
Relations of production
Simple commodity production
Socialist mode of production
Socially necessary labour time
Subject of labor
Enemy of the people
General line of the party
Socialism in one country
Deformed workers' state
Degenerated workers' state
One Divides Into Two
Revolutionary base area
Eastern Ganga dynasty
ancient great powers
medieval great powers
modern great powers