Economical and Political Causes of Imperialism
One of the components of capitalism is the creation of profits and generating surplus through selling in the markets, a state’s wealth is determined by the monopoly of market it possesses. These markets are composed of customers who are in demand of the product so what happens when these customers can produce their own? This essay is going to critically discuss the causes of the new imperialism with reference to the British interests in the Southern Africa.
Imperialism refers to the policy of using a country’s influence and powers to acquire colonies outside its own borders.
This can be done through political manipulation or through military force. Imperialism is usually done for the betterment of the imperial power more especially the economy of that state. Imperialist was fueled by expansion of markets, free labor, military, capital export and power. An example of imperialism would be that of England when she was no longer regarded as the workshop of the world as the United State and Germany had developed they own capitalist state by the end of the 19th century many had accumulated enormous surplus which why England was left with no choice but to expand and become the capital finance of her colonies.
New imperialism to the wave of European expansion that began in the 19th century which was after the First World War. According to Feinstein (2005)” Countries which had fallen behind during the world and the Great Depression were now able to catch up and take advantage of advances in technological ways of production”.
This mean that for those countries that were devastated by war, during this time these states were now up on their feet and catching up. This resulted to new imperialism because of the phase know as the “Golden age” where by state had accumulated so much surplus , the demand for products had decreased unlike during the time of the war where the state were in demand for equipment, so now they had to look for other alternatives to keep the markets going. According to Lenin imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism (1914) whereby all European countries had adopted their own capitalist monopoly. An example of the new imperialism is the Scramble for Africa, which was characterized by violent expansion of European the 1880s.
The causes of imperialism were economically and politically motivated. Among the economic causes of was the need for power and free market, in the imperialist world power was determined by how much profit and surplus a state generate. If the state had many markets it was regarded as powerful. It was when other states began to build their own capitalist state that those who owned the means of production and relied on these countries as markets were running out of markets. Running out of market resulted to overproduction and the generation of profits declined. Consequently, this forced them to expand their power especially to the underdeveloped countries. According to Hobson (1902), the reason for expansion was the underconsumption at home (Europe) created the need for outlet European manufactured good and more mainly for European capital which lay at the basis of the new imperialism. This created the need for expansion and the driving force for colonizing. Hobson views underconsumption as what triggered the expansion of European countries, this means that demand for the products was less than supply because all the Europeans countries had accumulated their own wealth thereby fueling expansion.
Export capital or financial capital is also one of the causes for imperial expansion. This was done in the form of loans and financial aid especially in the underdeveloped countries. This was done so to develop the countries that were underdeveloped. For example, England in 19th century became the finance capital for her colonies. However, Lenin views that the finance capital was more interested in the extraction of raw materials and agricultural improvements where by it would provide skill training to those who were responsible for producing for the benefit of the imperial colonies(Lenin:1940). This mean that all the loans and investment were not directed to improving the livelihood of the people in the underdeveloped state but was to finance exploitation of their resources for their benefit. What justifies this was the Goldie Company that was stablished by British businessman Goldie which was aimed in protecting the British interest in Niger.
The need for slaves also encourages the European powers to exert their power to foreign states. Slaves were used as the means to produce for the imperialist. The slaves were either sold and bought to work overseas, for example the slaves that were sent to America to work in the industries in Chicago, or the they would work within the colony itself such as those free slaves were found by Britain in the 1890 in Sierra Leora in the West Africa, who were going to work in the Gold mines they had found (…………)
Political causes were military, during the imperial period the power of the state was determined by the number of colonies a state had. The imperial states that owned many colonies was marked as powerful which means that it was more prone to having enemies and competitors who may want to destroy. That need for army was caused by this, so that’s why these colonial states employed people in their colonies to work in the navy to protect the interests of the imperialist.
Basically what caused imperialism was the European country’s eager to be powerful, in which competition that rose between the during The Boom period was a major constraint to stand out as the being powerful amongst the countries , that mainly because within the borders of Europe all the state had accumulated wealth that competition between rose. According to Lenin “imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism” (Lenin,1914), this mean that the European capitalism head reached its peak point, and imperialism was the continuation of capitalism.
The aggressive imperialism of Britain in the 1880s made Africa an unsettled all over, she was determined to possess all the African resources. The cause for aggressive imperialism of Britain in Africa according to Hobson was rapid industrialization in Belgium, Germany and United State threatened Britain’s possession of the world’s monopoly of markets these markets because these competitors had encroached and taken over Britain’s market. Britain was the force to expand to secure new markets in the underdeveloped countries. This resulted to British aggressive imperialism in Africa (……….)
In 1884 in the Berlin conference is was decided that European countries were going to scramble and divide Africa, and this was a result of imperialism. This was an aggressive imperialism because people were forced out of their land in a form of threatening those who owned the land. However, the Africans did not just give their land, the resisted the colonial world, this resulted to revolts and wars between the Africans and European which created unrest and disorder since the Africans lived in harmony and depended on agriculture and good exchange. For example, in the wars that took place between African kings and European and the rivals of competitions between the European countries themselves especially France and Britain. (Freund, 1984:98)
The Southern parts of Africa in 1887 experienced aggressive and brutal imperialism by Britain this is because of the Britain’s interests in the natural resources that were found in Kimberly in 1867. According to Freund “Southern Africa became the greatest prize to Europeans because of its opulence in minerals and these minerals were the strongest assets of Britain” (1984:99). This made it clear the only thing they were interested in was to extract these minerals, and Britain did leave a stone unturned since it destroyed everything that was going to stop her from getting these minerals. According to Spring “Britain’s interests in the new mineral discoveries were substantial from the start and grew considerably thereafter. Sufficiently attracted by the diamond fields, Britain was irresistibly drawn to the huge gold deposits of the Transvaal” (Spring:1995:872). As a result of this obsession by British, the British engineered land claims to justify the proclamation of British Bechuanaland diamond fields to prevent others from claiming the land (Freund, 1984:101).
The eastern side of South Africa would regard their arable and fertile land as a misfortune as it was this reason that the British expanded to this side of the country and led to them losing their land to become slaves in their own land. The land and favorable climate were essential for agricultural production. Even though the extraction of these mineral was expensive needed a lot of capital the British received investments from overseas. According to Cains and Hopkins (1985:25) cited in Spring “British investors supplied between 60 and 80 % of foreign investments by Rand in 1899” (1995:72). This means that the British already had backup back home because in 1897 the total capital of Britain was about 60 million Euros and free trade was worth 52 million Euros.
The expansion of British in Southern Africa created unrest and war which was due to the resistance by native people. For example, the war that took place between the Zulu people and white, at first the Zulu people won but by the British intervention, lost and excluded king Cetshwayo. When the British shifted their expansion to Transvaal the war broke which is mostly know as the Anglo-Boers and this was the British’s first war in Africa, where the British were defeated and became independent (Freund, 1984:103). On the positive side British imperialism brought civilization as the discovery of Gold in 1886 in Gauteng rose to new cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. It brought rationalized ways of trading buy establishing trading routes which are still used even today. South Africa would not be so modernized and civilized if it was not for the expansion of machinery and advanced technology.
In conclusion, one would say that imperialism was the continuation of Capitalism in a sense that the arrival of Europeans in Africa, money was introduced, and people were divided into three classes of economy which was not there before. The argument on the nature of British imperialism focuses on British expansion in Africa, while the Partition of Africa was certainly the most dramatic phase of the New Imperialism.
- Hobson, R., 2002. Imperialism at Sea: Naval Strategic Thought, the Ideology of Sea Power, and the Tirpitz Plan, 1875-1914 (Vol. 25). Brill.
- Hopkins, Anthony G. (1986). ‘The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882,’/0
- Lenin V.I. (1977) “Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism” in Selected Works (3 Volumes), Vol.1, Progress Publishers, Moscow.