Imperialism – Concept, causes and colonialism

We explain what imperialism is and what were the causes of this political doctrine. Also, its relationship with colonialism and capitalism.

Imperialism can come about through colonization techniques.

What is imperialism?

When we speak of imperialism, we are alluding to a political doctrine that establishes the relationship between nations in terms of superiority and submission, in which one dominates and exercises authority over another. This domination can occur through colonization techniques (settlement, economic exploitation, military presence) or through cultural subordination (also called acculturation).

Empires have existed since the beginning of humanity, and their dynamics of conquest have always been more or less the same. However, by imperialism we usually refer to the period of European expansion throughout the world, which began in the 15th century and lasted until the Contemporary Age, when after the Second World War there was a complex process of de-colonization in Africa and Asia, mainly, since the American colonies did so through wars of independence in the 18th and 19th centuries.

During this stage of world colonization, the great European kingdoms established political, economic and military centers of control and collection of resources in different latitudes: the newly discovered American continent, the African continent looted to feed the slave industry, and the Asian continent, from the exotic and high-value commercial inputs were extracted. The most intense period of this process of imperial expansion it was constituted by the decades between 1880 and 1914, in which the so-called cast of africa.

The relationship between the Empire and its colonies is essentially one of political and economic domination, either through brute force (military conquest) or the implementation of laws that favor the metropolis, imposing restrictions, taxes or unfair commercial terms on the colony, but that according to imperial logic would be the cost of being part of “A more advanced society.” But the truth is that it is a way to gain a monopoly of goods and resources.

Causes of imperialism

European imperialism was due to the following causes:

  • The need for raw materials. Recall that the Europe of the time was waking up to early capitalism, so it needed to maintain a stable flow of raw materials to process and turn into refined or manufactured products. For this, the colonial system was ideal, which extracted the raw material from the less developed countries at an economic price and with slave or semi-slave labor.
  • The imperial competition. The various kingdoms (now empires) of Europe competed with each other to see who developed first and who could exercise dominance over the others, maximizing their territory on other continents. In the same way, they were competing for control of the commercial maritime routes, which were the commercial heart of the world at the time.
  • The exploration of the world and science. The rise of rationalism and the ability of human beings to transform the reality around them (science and technology) required new materials to know and process, in order to accumulate an industrial potential that would give it an advantage over other Empires. The world, for the first time in history, was not infinite and unknown, but knowable, explorable.
  • Ethnocentrism. The prevailing ideology in Europe at the time saw the settlers of the rest of the world as racially inferior, which allowed them to occupy their territories and their almost slave exploitation, considering that they were “bringing progress” to peoples who otherwise they would never know.

Imperialism and colonialism

Colonialism subjects a population to servitude and slavery.

Imperialism should not be confused with colonialism, even if they are processes that usually go hand in hand. Colonialism is an extractivist political-economic system, in which a powerful state dominates a weaker state to extract its material goods and resources, actively usurping its land and resources, subjecting its population to conditions of servitude or slavery, and imposing the laws and systems of government than the invader better suit you.

The difference between imperialism and colonialism has to do with the fact that the first of these terms can occur without the second, simply as a relationship of inequality or abuse in the relations between two sovereign states, while colonialism basically suppresses the existence of the subject state, or allows its existence only as a colonial state or a political satellite (protectorate).

Imperialism and capitalism

Imperialism gave rise to the development of industrial capitalism.

Imperialism laid in Europe the energy, technological and material bases for the development of industrial capitalism, that is, that everything plundered from other nations allowed them to invest in their own systems and grow, developing first and delaying the development of the former colonies, since they made them economically, financially and politically dependent on the metropolis.

This inequality, according to some theories, is reflected in the present times in the role assumed by the Third World of massive producer of raw material, a role that forces it to depend on the economies of the First World. In return, the First World countries serve as moneylenders, sell them technology and still see them with a certain political paternalism.