On colonialism and Imperialism.
Undoubtedly, colonisation and Imperial conquest occurred during the ancient Persian, Greek and later Roman civilisations. It was nothing new. However, the modern versions of these socio-economic practices need to be understood within the evolution of the capitalist mode of production. In beginners guides 3 & 4, it was noted that the capitalist production process needed ever more external sources of raw materials and markets to keep the entire system going and profits accumulating. The more capitalism developed, the greater these pressures grew.
Moreover, numerous agriculture changes and increased mechanisation within capitalist industry also led to relative population surpluses. In time, methods and machines developed to increase commodity production, began to replace working people. It is capitalisms recurring problem. When more commodities are produced than can be sold within capitalist nations, and more people are born than can be profitably employed, colonialism and commodity exports can be used to solve these problems.
The economic need for territorial expansion soon became self-evident and the essence of European colonisation in North America, Africa and the East is revealed by the business models they chose. For North America, the ‘London Company’ was formed in the UK to ‘settle’ (!) Virginia, whilst the ‘Plymouth Company’ was founded to ‘settle’ Main. For Africa the ‘boards’ of the ‘British South Africa Company’ and the ‘Royal Niger Company didn’t hide their geographical focus. The British East India Company openly advertised it’s interests. These particular examples were based in the UK.
Colonisation during the capitalist era was arguably more extensive and intensive than ancient times. Ancient forms did not usually set out to destroy local modes of production. These were generally supplemented or left largely intact. However, in the capitalist era, motives were different. The aim was Profit and trade, not just land or produce acquisition. In order to feed the circulation of profitable commodities, pro-capitalist colonists marginalised local modes of production and later imposed their own.
The successive phases of capitalist development also introduced large-scale displacement, dispossession, enslavement and extermination. In their global extent these acts of calculated inhumanity to indigenous peoples were without historical parallel. The real-world imposition of international capitalism on continents and islands, required a parallel ideological world of rationalisation and justification.
The rationalisations took the form of extending religious patriarchal prejudices of superior (and inferior) religions, classes and genders to encompass foreign people. Considerable effort was put into the invention of ‘race’ and associated superior and inferior categories of ‘racial types’. Such ‘fabrications’ were used to convince people that differences in skin colour and culture were not human adaptations to geographical location and economic history, but something else.
Numerous academics and intellectuals reasoned that dark skin shades, along with cultural and morphological adaptations had their origins in the evolution of a lower sub-species, while pale skin humans evolved from a higher one.
Once in vogue such false ideas perfectly fitted the arrogant, colonialist and Imperialist mindset. The three C’s, Commerce, Christianity and Civilisation articulated by David Livingstone and other ‘God and Mammon’ colonisers, actually became five as Conquest and Control were added during a later Imperialist stage. Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany – Spain and Holland to a lesser extent – were the main perpetrators of global pillage.
With increased production volumes via steam power, plus assumed European biological/ cultural superiority, the entire globe came under the prejudiced scrutiny of European private enterprises. During these expansionary periods, capitalists had actively created monopolies, cartels and extended the finance-capital banking sector noted in Beginners guide 4. Government trained armies and navies were employed to assist ‘their’ capitalists to implement Imperialist dispossession and plunder, only thinly disguised as trade.
Further expansion of production required expansion of raw material sources and markets. Thus, former hostilities between rival company elites for ‘market share’, morphed into wars between hostile and competing ‘Empire-building’ national elites. Alongside this ‘progress’ (sic) in trade, came the continuous development of weapons technology. Trade joined God as a motive for native genocides. Diplomacy aside, the results of disputed annexations and ‘spheres of influence’ depended upon the strength and skills of the armed forces available to each side.
International and local wars for trade advantages, became routine during the 18th and 19th centuries, leading to the outbreak of two world wars in the 20th century. Despite academic/political rationalisations, once examined economically, these conflicts, were over which countries would dominate world trade. Switching from coal to oil for producing steam and electrical power, meant that when it was found abundant in the middle-east, this region became a battleground for rival capitalist nations of Europe to control.
Given the biased mainstream assessment of the two world wars (ie it was fought by good people against bad), it is worth quoting some rare candour. The 1914-18 First World War perspective for German capitalism was; “Our people has grown …at home discontent is rife…German’s boundaries are too narrow. We must become land hungry and acquire new territories for settlement” (Baron von Vietinghoff-Scheel.) Prior to the Second World War, (1939-45) Hitler wrote;
“In an era when the earth is gradually being divided up among states..we cannot speak of a world power whose mother country is limited to…five hundred thousand square kilometres” (Hitler. Mein Kamf). Those governments who twice fought against Germany’s “world power” ambitions (Britain and France plus Allies) were not against Empire building, they were actually defending, whilst expanding, their own world power and Imperial ambitions.
Millions of people, recruited by elites on all sides of these by now globalised wars, were quickly killed or wounded in a fight to sustain modes of production which were already shortening their lives during normal working days, (and years) of pollution and danger. Moreover, since capitalist production still relies on burning oil for energy, regional conflict continues there. Interference by the pro-capitalist agents of Imperialism’s latest offspring – neo-liberalism – is still causing existential problems for working people in Europe, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, etc.
Roy Ratcliffe (October 2019)