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Imperialism is a system of economic domination involving the principal state and the subaltern state (the former dominating the latter). Imperialism may refer to the expansion of empires, which existed in the ancient, feudal, and capitalist mode of production, or with modern imperialism whose existence is contingent on the existence of capitalism. It is associated with the export of capital.




Capitalist markets, as per the forces commanding them to expand, seek new areas to develop into when their current ones are already saturated.[citation needed][tendency-based slant] Hence, nations begin conducting imperialism on their behalf. Usually this is accompanied by a made-up justification for the aggressive nature of such, e.g. by saying that the target nations are primitive, subhuman, or that they are a threat and need to be "liberated".[citation needed][clarification needed]

Effects on imperial subjects

The point is not that imperialism does not result in economic development – it clearly does – however, the bulk of it is for the benefit of foreign capitalists, who restrict the growth of an indigenous capitalist class and create small islands of industry among backwardness.[citation needed] The economic development in the nations subject to imperialism are mere casualties, unintended consequences of a relation that could have instead benefited the local people. In many cases the imperialists also perpetuate the local power of pre-capitalist authorities like tribal chieftains to hinder the growth of modern, nationally oriented political movements:

All the English bourgeoisie may be forced to do will neither emancipate nor materially mend the social condition of the mass of the people, depending not only on the development of the productive powers, but on their appropriation by the people. But what they will not fail to do is to lay down the material premises for both. Has the bourgeoisie ever done more? Has it ever effected a progress without dragging individuals and people through blood and dirt, through misery and degradation?

The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the now ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindoos themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether.

Decolonization and neo-colonial relations

Decolonization and neo-colonial relations occurred partially as a result of direct governance becoming too unwieldy[citation needed], with independence movements being too strong for colonial powers after World War II, on top of inter-imperialist rivalry. The United States often promoted decolonization in order to loosen up the controls by other colonial powers in order to get a bigger share for itself[citation needed], a precursor to which may be seen in the Open Door Policy that began in the late 19th century, in which the United States wanted to make control over China "fair" by keeping any one nation from having exclusive trading rights to an area; though of course the US wouldn't have done this if it had been in control of a dominant portion of China already. So it was with the former colonies.[needs copy edit]

Empires did not break apart out of goodwill; in most cases there was fought a brutal war by the natives against the colonialists wherein the colonialists decided that the colonies were not worth it, particularly within the post-World War II context, and so decided to grant them their “independence” – on a map, those new countries are their own, however they are still deeply tied to their previous masters economically, often with a strikingly similar relationship – the poor, resource-rich country provides its master resources in exchange for money, most of which ends up in the hands of the ruling class of that country anyways, never to really be reinvested back into the nation with a proper intent of developing it.[citation needed][needs copy edit] Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire is a particularly good example of a leader in such a role. One term that recognizes and rather formalizes these kinds of neo-colonial relationships is Françafrique, which refers to France's sphere of influence in Africa.

Role of religion

Missionaries are sent early on to soften up the population for exploitation. Ephesians 6:5-8, for instance, gives this instruction to conquered peoples (who would pretty much end up as slaves in some way):

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win favor when their eye is on your, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

The verse after this tells the masters of slaves to “not threaten them”, though it remains that slavery is normalized through religion and the slaves are taught to think of it as a good thing even. [needs copy edit]Alongside this is the focus on the afterlife, placating the conquered people into thinking that the life they live, and particularly the pain and exploitation of it, does not really matter.

Another part of the Bible which perpetuates slavery [instances needed] and imperialism is Romans 13:1-5:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

Endless wars

Some leaders of Western countries say they want to end endless wars, however either they only do this for political clout or they will be prevented by private interests, since the West is largely and increasingly reliant on expanding to newer markets, as is the nature of capitalism. Lenin wrote about this phenomenon in his work Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Imperialism is primarily carried out by the United States, which had assumed the de facto leadership role of such after World War II, where the United Kingdom and France were in shambles and so within the United States rose the military-industrial complex. This carries over into modern times where the United States spends much more than the other Western countries on its military, as it has become specialized in that role, with the other countries either helping out only minorly or outright piggybacking on the results.

Relationship to capitalism

The work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism by V. I. Lenin is responsible for the idea that the imperial epoch is the highest stage of capitalism's development, and therefore that capitalism has not developed since the development of imperialism but is stagnating. This idea is still common today but is not synonymous with Lenin's analysis from the early 20th century.

Theories of imperialism


Lenin viewed imperialism as a qualitatively distinct stage of capitalism, describing five of its basic economic attributes:


The monopoly stage of capitalism is the result of the tendency for capital to concentrate into fewer and fewer hands. This concentration of production and capital had developed to such a high stage that it had created monopolies that played a decisive role in economic life.

Finance capital

Before entering into the monopoly stage of capitalism the economy had been dominated by the private capital of the industrial capitalists. Technological advancement had increased the costs of constant capital, forcing the industrial capitalists to finance their investments with loans to an increasing extent. This tendency gave birth to finance capital, defined as "capital controlled by banks and employed by industrialists."

Capital export

When investment opportunities became scarce in the home countries of the financial oligarchy, they were forced to look outwards. The issue of capital export would acquire "exceptional importance" under imperialism.

International monopoly

Monopoly capitalism would take on global proportions, that international monopolist capitalist associations would share the world among themselves.

The division of the world

The world would be completely divided between the various imperialist powers, leaving imperialist wars of redistribution as the last available method for the respective national bourgeoisie to increase their profit margins.


Authors Nye and Welch[citation needed] argue that Lenin's theory does not apply to World War I since the representatives of business and banking opposed the war efforts. This is countered by arguing that states nonetheless ventured to facilitate the interests of finance capital.[citation needed]

J.A. Hobson

Nikolai Bukharin

Unequal exchange

Arghiri Emmanuel developed the concept of unequal exchange. It is a theory which asserts that the relationship between imperial and subject countries is one in which the normal exchange of equivalents described by Marx does not apply.

World-systems theory

World-systems theory (also known as world-systems analysis or the world-systems perspective) is a multidisciplinary, macro-scale approach to world history and social change developed by Immanuel Wallerstein which emphasizes the world-system (and not nation states) as the primary (but not exclusive) unit of social analysis.

"World-system" refers to the inter-regional and transnational division of labor, which divides the world into core countries, semi-periphery countries, and the periphery countries. Core countries focus on higher skill, capital-intensive production, and the rest of the world focuses on low-skill, labor-intensive production and extraction of raw materials. This constantly reinforces the dominance of the core countries. Nonetheless, the system has dynamic characteristics, in part as a result of revolutions in transport technology, and individual states can gain or lose their core (semi-periphery, periphery) status over time. For a time, some countries become the world hegemon; during the last few centuries, as the world-system has extended geographically and intensified economically, this status has passed from the Netherlands, to the United Kingdom and (most recently) to the United States of America.

Zak Cope

Samir Amin

Michael Hudson

David Harvey

Bill Warren

Karl Kautsky

See also