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 Mainz. It was

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.


Hobson summary:


(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 Africa was consequently seen by them as part of this inevitable, natural process.


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 Africa. It has been argued, therefore, that the partition of Africa was due, in no small measure, to a 'broader missionary' and humanitarian impulse which aimed at the regeneration of African peoples.




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.


France sought compensation for European loss in overseas gain. England would offset her European isolation by enlarging and glorifying the British empire. Russia, halted in the Balkans, would turn anew to Asia, and Germany and Italy would show the world that the prestige they had won by might inside Europe they were entitled to enhance by imperial exploits outside. The lesser powers, with no great prestige at stake, managed to get on without any new imperialism, though

Portugal and Holland displayed a revived pride in the empires they already possessed and the latter's was administered with renewed vigor. He concludes, the partition of Africa was not an economic phenomenon





Balance of power

F. H . Hinsley on the other hand, emphasizes Europe's need for peace and stability at home as the primary cause of the partition. According to him, the decisive date for the shift towards an extra-European age - an age of imperialism - was 1878. From that year, at the Congress of Berlin,

Russian and British rivalries in the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire brought the nations of Europe to the very verge of conflagration.


Power politics from that point on were removed from Europe and played out in Africa and Asia. When conflicting interests in Africa threatened to destroy European peace, the European powers had no choice but to carve up Africa in order to preserve the European diplomatic balance that had stabilized itself by the 1880s.






The European interest in Africa which gave rise to the Scramble was a matter of global strategy, not

economics. The foremost exponents of this view, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, who stress the strategic importance of Africa to India for Britain, blame the partition of Africa on the impact of atavistic 'proto-nationalist' movements in Africa which threatened the global strategic interests of European nations. Africa was occupied not because of what it could offer materially to the Europeans - for it was economically worthless - but because it was threatening European

interests elsewhere.





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  of industrial Europe, it was at the same time an important phase in the longstanding contact between Europe and Africa. H e suggests that African resistance to increasing European influence precipitated the actual conquest just as the increasing commercial rivalry of the  industrialized nations led to the partition.




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 Africa was not then (end of 19th C) perceived as worth colonisation


Although by the end of the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the

European powers of France, Britain, Portugal and Germany had acquired

commercial interests and were exercising considerable influence in different

parts of Africa, their direct political control there was extremely limited.

Both Germany and, especially, Britain were able to wield all the influence

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

Salisbury and Bismarck and indeed of most of the major actors in the



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 Africa. This was signified

by the so-called Brussels Geographical Conference which he convened in

1876 and which resulted in the setting up of the African International

Association and the employment of H . M . Stanley in 1879 to explore the

Congos in the name of the Association. These moves culminated in the

creation of the Congo Free State, whose recognition by all the great

European nations Leopold managed to obtain before the Berlin West African

conference had ended its deliberations.


The second significant series of events was the activities of Portugal

from 1876 onwards., Portugal sent out a flurry of expeditions

which by 1880 had resulted in the annexation to the Portuguese crown

of the practically independent estates of the Afro-Portuguese rulers in

Mozambique. So far as the Portuguese and King Leopold were concerned,

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

with Britain in the dual control of Egypt (1879), the dispatch of

Savorgnan de Brazza into the Congo and the ratification of his treaties

with Chief Makoko of the Bateke, and the revival of French colonial

initiative in both Tunisia and Madagascar.36


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 Africa, and it was this that

finally compelled both Britain and Germany to abandon their preference

for informal control and influence in favour of a formal policy leading

to their annexations in Southern, East and West Africa from the end of

1883 onwards.37 T h e German initiative, for instance, resulted in the annexation

of South West Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons, and German East

Africa, which in turn further accelerated the pace of the Scramble.


By the early 1880s, the Scramble was well under way, and it was out

of fear of being pushed out of Africa altogether that Portugal proposed

the calling of an international conference to sort out the territorial disputes

in the area of Central Africa.




But what about the Wallerstein argument?


Africa's economic relations with the wider  world did not occur with the late nineteenth-century partition by European powers. Rather, conversely, the partition of Africa was a consequence of

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

prazeros in the Zambezi valley or the Boers on the Cape coast. The one zone in which the economic situation was somewhat different was those parts of West and Central Africa where communities had begun to participate in the slave trade. The slave trade was of course a product

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' Caribbean zone of the Americas.



The greatest impact on Africa's future development was a more fundamental process that was occurring within thecapitalist world-economy. T h e first long economic and geographic expansion

of the capitalist world-economy had occurred between 1450 and 1600-50. In that period, no part of Africa could be said to have been part of this historical system. The period 1600/50-1730/50 was, for the capitalist world economy, a period of relative stagnation, of taking a breath, of consolidation,

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, Africa resumed its economic and geographical expansion. In the next hundred years, it would incorporate into its production network five new major geographical areas hitherto external to the capitalist world-economy: Russia, the Ottoman empire, India, the 'further' zones of the Americas (Canada, western North America, the southern cone of South America), as well as (northern, western, and southern) Africa. It is the story of the incorporation of this fifth zone that is our subject. From the point of view of the Europe-based capitalist world-economy, all five zones of expansion shared certain features. They were all zones with which Europe was already in contact via long-distance 'luxury' trade. They were all potential production zones of primary products that could utilize low-cost labour.



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 Africa stood in between these two extremes. There were multiple existing political structures. Some of them were relatively strong and bureaucratized; others were virtually acephalous. Africa in no sense constituted a single 'economy'.


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.


'Incorporation' 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 Africa in the period after 1750 (and ending c. 1900), but that eastern Africa did not begin to be incorporated until c. 1850 or even 1875.




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 Africa did not choose to be incorporated into the world-economy. No region ever did. Incorporation was an exogenously originated process, which was resisted. African resistance was not inefficacious...



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 Africa

to the creation of colonial states.


See Gallagher and Robinson on p.5-6




I 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
WST contrasts with classical marxist ideas of imperialism e.g. of Marx, Lenin etc .  BTW 'Frank' refers to Andre Gunder Frank

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).