What is the meaning of economic imperialism? Its
theoretical roots can be traced back to 1900 when the German Social Democrats
.placed the subject of Weltpolitik, that
is, the policy of imperial expansion on a global scale, on the agenda of their
annual party congress held at
here that Rosa Luxemburg first pointed out that imperialism was the final stage of capitalism
The classic and clearest statement of this theory, however, was provided by John Atkinson Hobson. He argued that overproduction, surplus capital, and under-consumption in industrialized
nations led them 'to place larger and larger portions of their economic resources outside the area of their present political domain, and to stimulate a policy of political expansion so as to take in new areas'. This he saw as the 'economic taproot of imperialism'. Admitting that non-economic
forces did play a part in imperial expansion, he was nevertheless convinced that although ' An ambitious statesman, a pushing trader, may suggest or even initiate a step of imperial expansion, may assist in educating patriotic public opinion of the urgent need of some fresh advance . . . the final determination rests with the financial power'
V . I. Lenin emphasized that the new imperialism was characterized by the transition of capitalism from a 'pre-monopolist' orientation 'in which free competition was predominant . . . to the stage of monopoly capitalism to finance capital' which 'is connected with the intensification of the struggle for the partition of the world'
Following Luxemburg, and in opposition to Hobson, Lenin believed that capitalism was doomed to self-destruction because having finally partitioned the world, the capitalists, now rentiers and parasites living on incomes from their investments, would be threatened by the growing
nations who would demand a repartition of the world. The capitalists, greedy as ever, would refuse to comply. T h e issue, therefore, would be settled by war which they would inevitably lose. W a r , then, is the inevitable consequence of imperialism, the violent death of capitalism.
(1) monopoly increases the share of profit, and concentrates it into fewer hands;
(2) a large fraction of monopoly profit is saved, so saving tends to increase;
(3) domestic investment opportunities are limited (it is sometimes also argued that
monopoly reduces investment), so saving tends to outrun investment;
(4) excess saving produces a chronic lack of demand, unless some outlet is found;
(5) capital export can provide an outlet for excess saving;
(6) a pressure for annexation of territory emerges, to safeguard existing investments or to open the way for new investment.
A second, related, line of argument links demand deficiency to a search for external markets, and hence to annexation.
Darwinians, therefore, were elated to be able to justify the
conquest of what they called 'subject races' or 'backward races' by the 'master
race' as the inevitable process of 'natural selection' by which the stronger dominates
the weaker in the struggle for existence. They preached, therefore, that might
was right. The partition of
So how would this support the British policy of tribal autonomy (as opposed to the Fench assimilationism?
Evangelical Christianity had no qualms, nevertheless, in accepting its racial implications.
The racial content of evangelical Christianity was,
however, tempered with a generous dose of humanitarian and philanthropic zeal -
sentiments widespread among European policy-makers during the conquest of
For Schumpeter, imperialism was the consequence of certain imponderable, psychological elements and not of economic pressures.... The impulse to aggression is governed by man's universal thirst for usurpation. Imperialism, therefore, is a collective national egotism: 'the objectless disposition on the part of a state to unlimited forcible expansion'.13 The new imperialism, he argued, was also atavistic in character, that is, it was a reversion
to earlier primitive political and social instincts in man which may have been justified in pre-modern times but were certainly not in the modern world. He then demonstrated how capitalism was, by its nature, 'anti-imperialistic' and benign. Presided over by innovative entrepreneurs, it
was opposed entirely to the aggressive, imperialistic motivations of the ancient monarchies and warrior classes, whose ambitions had no clear objects. Capitalism, on the contrary, had clear objects and was, therefore, opposed completely to this atavistic behaviour characteristic of ancient regimes. Thus he concluded that the economic explanation of the new imperialism, based as it was on the logical development of capitalism, was invalid.
In diplomatic theories we see the national egotism of European states either in conflict with one another, or acting in concert to ensure self-preservation, or reacting decisively against the forces of primordial African nationalisms. It is proposed, therefore, to treat these theories in the following terms: national prestige; balance of power; and global strategy.
Balance of power
F. H . Hinsley on the other hand, emphasizes
Russian and British rivalries in the Balkans and the
Power politics from that point on were removed from
The European interest in
economics. The foremost exponents of this view, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, who stress the
strategic importance of
J. S. Keltie's remarkable book, The Partition of Africa published in 1893, does note
perceptively that the Scramble of the 1880s was the logical consequence of the nibbling at the continent which started some 300 years ago. It also gives a nodding acceptance to the view that the partition was economically motivated although that is not its central argument.
George Hardy, the prolific French colonial historian, also
demonstrated the local African dimensions of the partition,...
He argues that although the immediate cause of partition was the economic
rivalry of the countries
We may explains the partition in both African and European terms, and therefore see the African dimension theory as supplementing the Eurocentric theories already discussed. We may see the partition and conquest as the logical consequence of European nibbling at Africa which started well before the nineteenth century; he accepts that the essentially economic impulse that necessitated that nibbling changed drastically during the last quarter of the nineteenth century; that the change was caused by the transition from slave to legitimate trade and the subsequent decline in both the export and import trade during that period, and that it was this economic change in Africa and the consequent African resistance to increasing European influence that precipitated the actual military conquest. It would appear, indeed, that the African dimension theory provides a better rounded, more historically focused theory of the partition than any of the purely Eurocentric theories.
Oddly the latter analysis is roughly set out by Lord Lugard in his 1922
classic 'The Dual Mandate'
though he stresses a more hands-off approach because
Although by the end of the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the
European powers of France, Britain,
commercial interests and were exercising considerable influence in different
they wanted, and no statesmen in their right senses would have freely
elected to incur the costs, and court the unforeseen contingencies of formal
annexation when they could derive the same advantages from informal
control. 'Refusals to annex', it has been remarked perceptively, 'are no
proof of reluctance to control'.34 This explains both the attitudes of
But this attitude began to change as a result of three major events which
occurred between 1876 and 1880. The first was the new interest which
Leopold I of the Belgians in 1865, proclaimed in
by the so-called
1876 and which resulted in the setting up of the African International
Association and the employment of H .
creation of the
European nations Leopold managed to obtain before the
conference had ended its deliberations.
The second significant series of events was the
from 1876 onwards.,
which by 1880 had resulted in the annexation to the Portuguese crown
of the practically independent estates of the Afro-Portuguese rulers in
then, the Scramble was under way by 1876.
The third and final factor which helped to set the partition in motion
was undoubtedly the expansionist mood which characterized French
colonial policy between 1879 and 1880. This was signified by her participation
Savorgnan de Brazza into the
with Chief Makoko of the Bateke, and the revival of French colonial
initiative in both
These moves on the part of these powers between 1876 and 1880 gave
a clear indication that they were all now committed to colonial expansion
and the establishment of formal control in
finally compelled both
for informal control and influence in favour of a formal policy leading
to their annexations in Southern, East and
1883 onwards.37 T h e German initiative, for instance, resulted in the annexation
By the early 1880s, the Scramble was well under way, and it was out
of fear of being pushed out of
the calling of an international conference to sort out the territorial disputes
in the area of
But what about the Wallerstein argument?
the transformation of Africa's economic relations with the wider world, and in particular with Europe, a transformation that took place in a period beginning approximately in 1750 and culminated in the extensive European direct colonization of the last decades of the nineteenth century.
There had long been trading networks in various parts of Africa, and many of these networks had extended beyond the frontiers of the African continent By and large, these extra-continental trading links constituted the same kind of long-distance trade' as that which had been well known for millennia in Asia and Europe as well...
traditional compartmentalization between largely non-commercialized agricultural production and the long-distance trade in nonagricultural (luxury) products remained the rule even in those cases where there were small European agricultural settler communities, such as the
of, and a key element in, the construction of the
European-centred capitalist world-economy that had come into existence c. 1450.
By the seventeenth century this
capitalist world-economy included as part of its peripheral production
areas the 'extended'
The greatest impact on
of the capitalist world-economy had occurred between 1450
and 1600-50. In that period, no part of
primarily within the geographic zones that had already been included in the sixteenth century.
about 1730-50, for reasons internal to the functioning of
the capitalist world-economy,
Incoporation involved for the 'incorporators' creating new (often colonial) political
structures that were capable of organizing production and participating in the interstate system. new 'stronger' ones were created.... the resulting political structures were those of
peripheral zones, 'weak' in relation to the 'strong' state-structures of the
core zones of the capitalist world-economy.
The process of incorporation in
From the point of view of the 'incorporators', some of the existing political structures had to be 'weakened' But in other places, new political authorities had to be created, ones that were strong enough to ensure the smooth functioning of transformed economic processes. Eventually, as we
know, totally new, colonial political systems were created almost everywhere, but not for the most part immediately.
into the world-economy involves essentially two processes. The first and
primary one is the transformation of some significant segment of production
processes such that they become part of the integrated set of production
processes that constitute the social division of labour in the world-economy. T
h e second is the transformation of the political structures such that they
become 'states' which are part of and constrained by the rules and workings of
the interstate system, these states then being strong enough to facilitate the
relatively free flow of the factors of production within the world-economy but
not strong enough to interfere with them, at least to interfere with them more
than for limited periods and in limited ways. It is our contention that such incorporation occurred
for northern, western, and southern
if the quadruple combination of production oriented to a world market, production of essentials, restructuring of the labour-force, and profitability exist, then we have the economic
base of incorporation with its political consequences. It
should be underlined that
The decline of the slave trade, important as it was, was secondary to the generalized need of the capitalist world-economy for new areas of low-cost production, as part of the general expansion of its level of economic activity and rate of accumulation.
T h e island of Zanzibar was incorporated into the world-economy via its dominant role in the world market for cloves by the mid-nineteenth century, which involved the establishment of a plantation system.32 Sugar plantations were created on Mauritius, and Madagascar developed rice and beef production for export to Mauritius.33 It was, however, the Scramble for Africa which later spilled over into eastern Africa and precipitated the kind of change of which it was the result elsewhere in Africa. .... involvement in the world-economy required political structures that ensured the functioning of the economy; its commerce, its production, its labour-force supply.
...political stabilization, which took the form of
creating states which participated in and were therefore constrained by the
interstate system. Ultimately, as w e know, this led in most of
to the creation of colonial states.
See Gallagher and Robinson on p.5-6
wish you to focus on theories of Imperialism and see if we can apply them to
the African context. To this end I wish to draw your attention to perhaps the
two most cited theories - those of Hobson and of Lenin
1) The AJP Taylor piece is especially good (and only three pages)
2) The 'Uzoigwe' piece - read pp. 1-9...but I have given you the rest of the chapter as well as it contains a huge amount of seriously good historical material after page 9, so is worth reading if you are so minded.
3) The Gallagher and Robinson piece of Imp and Free trade is quite long and hard but engages critically and historically with Hobson, Lenin et al. and is worth the effort
We have already discussed Wallerstein's ideas of the Word Ssytem theory approach to capitalsm but it can be usefully contrasted with Imperialist theories so...look at the Wallerstein bit pages 19-29 of the document (and not of published page numbers) I sent you in (this reading .
below is a readable summary (with my annotations) of how
THEORIES OF CAPITALISM AS A WORLD SYSTEM
Marxist theories of the development of capitalism on a world scale fall into two groups: those that concentrate on the progressive role of capitalism in developing the forces of production (machines plus labour power plus inputs+output of goods and the pressure to produce that makes all workers exploited until one day a revolution), and those that present capitalism as a system of exploitation of one area by another, (i.e. some countries exploit/rip off others) so development in a few places is at the expense of the ‘development of underdevelopment’ (i.e. increasing exploitation of weak countries) in most of the world. Capitalism, according to the first approach, creates the material preconditions (i.e. capitalism sets things up for the revolution) for a better (socialist) society, as well as the class forces that will bring it about, while the second approach suggests that it is precisely the failure of capitalism to generate economic development that makes (i.e. world) revolution necessary. The historical record suggests that there is an element of truth to both of these opposed positions; capitalism has generated massive technological and economic advances and also enormous geographical disparities in economic development.
The first of these views is broadly that held by the ‘classical’ Marxists, from Marx to Lenin and his contemporaries. It has been strongly revived in recent years. According to this account, the development of each country is determined primarily by its internal structure, specifically by the nature of the dominant mode of production. Capitalism, a system in which free wage workers are employed by competing firms, tends to generate economic development, while other modes (i.e. feudalism or say, slave societies) do not (at least on the same scale). External forces have their effect primarily by altering the organization of production. Competition is at the heart of a classical Marxist analysis of capitalism. The largest, most efficient firms with the newest capital equipment are the most profitable, and can increase their lead, while weaker firms fall behind and the weakest are eliminated by bankruptcy or takeover. The threat of failure forces firms to maximize profits, to reinvest profits for expansion, and to seek out new methods of production, new markets, and new sources of supply. In pre-capitalist modes ofproduction, by contrast, the exploiting class must, above all, maintain the basis of the extra-economic coercion which they exercise over the producers. As a result pre-capitalist systems are relatively static, dominated by custom, with the (potentiallyinvestable) surplus redirected into non-productive channels. The expansion of capitalism constantly expands the demand for natural resources (minerals, land, etc.); this is one motive behind the geographical expansion of capitalism. Even with a static demand, development of transport and the search for cheaper sources of goods will tend to draw new areas into the capitalist orbit. The search for cheap labour is yet another motive for geographical expansion.
In the classical Marxist account, capitalism emerged first in a few centres, generating capital accumulation and development there, and opening up a lead over
the rest of the world without necessarily taking anything from it (though capital will always take what it can get). Capitalism spread, starting the same process in other areas. Different parts of the world are runners in the same race, in which some started before others. Any advantage gained by one at the expense of others is incidental.
The alternative view has been developed since the Second World War, notably by Frank and Wallerstein, as a response to the apparent failure of capitalist development in many parts of the world. In this view, the unit of analysis must be a world system, with differing geographical areas or nation states as mere component parts. Capitalism is not defined by a specific relation between classes, but by production for profit in a world system of exchange, and by the exploitation of some areas by others. The ‘metropolis’ or ‘core’ exploits the ‘satellites’ or ‘periphery’ by direct extraction of profit or tribute, by unequal exchange, or by monopolistic control over trade. In the periphery, ruling classes owe their position to their function as intermediaries in the system of exploitation, so they have an interest in preserving it and in preserving the corresponding patterns of production. Underdevelopment is not a state of original backwardness; it is the result of the imposition of a particular pattern of specialization and exploitation in the periphery. Within the world system, different forms of ‘labour control’ may be used: forced labour, wage-labour, slavery, and so on. The class structures of different nations, and particular forms of exploitation in production, are merely results of the place of the areas concerned in the world system, not the key determining factors (as they are in a classical Marxist analysis).
In this approach, capital accumulation is seen not as a precondition for genuine, qualitative advances in the level and methods of production, but rather as a redivision of a fixed magnitude, a transfer of resources from the exploited periphery to the centre. Development in some areas and the ‘development of underdevelopment’ in others are opposite sides of the same coin. These two views involve quite different readings of history. In the classical Marxist view, capitalism started off in a few places and has since spread out geographically in a process of internationalization of capital, and has evolved through a succession of stages, with key turning points in the industrial revolution and when large-scale export of capital (not goods) started. According to Frank and Wallerstein, by contrast, capitalism as a world system dates from the sixteenth century, and has remained essentially unchanged ever since. The classical Marxists saw capitalism in dynamic terms, while their opponents saw it as a basically static system of exploitation.
The contradictions between these two views should not be overstressed, though they are very real. The world economy is a complex whole in which relations of production and exploitation exist both within and between nations. It may not matter much whether we say that underdevelopment is the product of external influences (which also determine a certain class structure and organization of production), or that underdevelopment is caused by a certain class structure and organization of production (which may be in whole or part the result of external influences).