Difference between Imperialism and Colonialism – (with examples)

We explain to you what are the differences between imperialism and colonialism, their similarities and examples throughout history.

Difference between colonialism and imperialism
Both colonialism and imperialism imply an unequal relationship between nations.

What is the difference between imperialism and colonialism?

It is common to confuse the terms imperialism and colonialism, especially when they are used colloquially or informally. Strictly speaking, both denote very different concepts of relations between two or more nations, one of which exercises political, economic, military and even cultural power over the others.

However, in each case it does so through different mechanisms: under imperialism the subject nations remain formally autonomous, even though they are under the influence and manipulation of the powerful nation; Conversely, in colonialism, the subjugated nations become colonies of the powerful nation.

To fully understand this difference, let’s start by defining each term:

  • Imperialism is a term derived from Latin imperium, “Order” or “command”, and that is used to designate a political doctrine, whose foundation is that a people or a State (from here called “Empire”) dominates another or others of less military and economic power, through a set of practices that establish an unequal, unfair and coercive international relationship. This means that an Empire dominates other nations through military, commercial or other mechanisms, to impose relationships that only benefit it.
  • Colonialism, term derived from Latin colonus, “Farmer”, designates a relationship similar to the one described above, but in this case the subaltern nations cease to exist and become controlled (and even populated) directly by the empire or by the invading power. This process is called colonization and it is usually imposed violently through military power, stripping the colonized of their lands and forcing them to form part of the conquering society, within which they are always in a place of handicap or inferiority.

Thus, although in both cases there are relations of domination that are generally imposed through military power, as we can see, colonialism supposes the usurpation of the lands of the subjected nations, while imperialism allows them an independent existence, but subject to the yoke of your convenience. This distinction implies other differences, such as the following:

The submitting power is considered an “Empire” and the subject nations are part of its “area of ​​influence”.The submitting power or “metropolis” can be an Empire at the same time. But the subjugated nations disappear and their lands become the property of the invading nation’s territory.
The citizens of the nations subjected to the imperial power maintain their autonomy except in those matters that are convenient for the Empire.Citizens of colonized nations become citizens of the colonizing power, generally in a subaltern situation, since the entire society becomes administered by the invading power.
The imperial power can exercise direct or indirect control over its subordinates in mainly political and economic matters, leaving the rest of civil life to its free will.The colonized territories (that is, the colonies) are ruled directly by the colonizers, who reorganize the social and productive forces at their convenience. Thus, the colonies produce economically to sustain the metropolis, that is, they put their natural resources and those of their population at its service.
The culture of the Empire is usually promoted within its area of ​​influence, but there may also be dynamics of resistance and cultural struggle.The culture of the colonies is assimilated to that of the metropolis, and colonized citizens are often subjected to processes of acculturation or deep cultural domination.

Examples of imperialism and colonialism

Multiple empires and colonies have existed since ancient times, and are international expressions of the human struggle for control of resources. Here are some historical examples of both colonialism and imperialism relationships of various kinds:

  • The Persian Empire It was an important expansive power of antiquity (it was born in the 6th century BC), in whose area of ​​influence were the territories of Mesopotamia, the Arabian peninsula and many others that were annexed throughout its many centuries of existence. Their main military rivals were the ancient Greek kingdoms.
  • The colonization of America by the Spanish Empire between the 16th and 17th centuries, once the war of conquest in which the Native American peoples was defeated was over. This complex process of social and cultural change gave rise to the Latin American nations.
  • The partition and colonization of Africa by the European imperial powers between 1881 and 1914 it established as territories under its control 90% of the African surface, leaving only Ethiopia and Liberia as independent nations. The Europeans created the new African nations from scratch, using parallels to define their borders (that is why Africa is the only continent with countries with completely straight borders) and grouping rival nations and tribes in the same country, who did not share a language, no history, no religion. The consequences of this can be seen in the recent history of Africa.
  • American imperialism, understood as the political and cultural dominance exercised by the United States over Latin America and much of the third world in the 20th century, was part of the phenomena associated with the Cold War between that power and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) . In the name of the anti-communist struggle, the US government financed and supported numerous military dictatorships in Latin America.