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For other uses, see Imperialism (disambiguation).
Cecil Rhodes and the Cape-Cairo railway project. Rhodes founded the De Beers Mining Company, owned the British South Africa Company and had his name given to what became the state of Rhodesia. He liked to "paint the map British red" and declared: "all of these stars ... these vast worlds that remain out of reach. If I could, I would annex other planets".[1]

Imperialism is a type of advocacy of empire. Its name originated from the Latin word "imperium", which means to rule over large territories. Imperialism is "a policy of extending a country's power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means".[2] Imperialism has greatly shaped the contemporary world.[3] The term imperialism has been applied to Western (and Japanese) political and economic dominance especially in Asia and Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its precise meaning continues to be debated by scholars. Some writers, such as Edward Said, use the term more broadly to describe any system of domination and subordination organised with an imperial center and a periphery.[4]

Imperialism is defined as "an unequal human and territorial relationship, usually in the form of an empire, based on ideas of superiority and practices of dominance, and involving the extension of authority and control of one state or people over another."[2] Imperialism is a process and ideology that does not only focus on political dominance, but rather, conquest over expansion. Imperialism is particularly focused on the control that one group, often a state power, has on another group of people.[5] There are "formal" or "informal" imperialism. "Formal imperialism" is, "the physical control or full-fledged colonial rule".[5] "Informal control" is less direct; however, it is still a powerful form of dominance.[5]

The definition of imperialism has not been finalized for centuries and was confusedly seen to represent the policies of major powers, or simply, general-purpose aggressiveness. Further on, some writers[who?] used the term imperialism, in slightly more discriminating fashion, to mean all kinds of domination or control by a group of people over another. To clear out this confusion about the definition of imperialism one could speak of "formal" and "informal" imperialism, the first meaning physical control or "full-fledged colonial rule" while the second implied less direct rule though still containing perceivable kinds of dominance.[5] Informal rule is generally less costly than taking over territories formally. This is because, with informal rule, the control is spread more subtly through technological superiority, enforcing land officials into large debts that cannot be repaid, ownership of private industries thus expanding the controlled area, or having countries agree to uneven trade agreements forcefully.[6]

It is mostly accepted that modern-day colonialism is an expression of imperialism and cannot exist without the latter. The extent to which "informal" imperialism with no formal colonies is properly described remains a controversial topic amongst historians.[7] Both colonization and imperialism have been described by Tom Nairn and Paul James as early forms of globalization:

Even if a particular empire does not have a "global reach" as we would define it today, empires by their nature still tend to contribute to processes of globalization because of the way that imperial power tends to generate counter-power at its edge-lands and send out reverberations far beyond the territories of their immediate control.[8]

The word imperialism became common in Great Britain during the 1870s and was used with a negative connotation.[9] In Britain, the word had until then mostly been used to refer to the politics of Napoleon III in obtaining favorable public opinion in France through foreign military interventions.[9]

Colonialism vs. imperialism[edit]

"The word ‘empire’ comes from the Latin word imperium; for which the closest modern English equivalent would perhaps be ‘sovereignty’, or simply ‘rule’".[10] The greatest distinction of an empire is through the amount of land that a nation has conquered and expanded. Political power grew from conquering land, however cultural and economic aspects flourished through sea and trade routes. Europe and the United States of America had controlled over eighty percent of the globe's land area along with holding important seaports at their possession. A distinction about empires is "that although political empires were built mostly by expansion overland, economic and cultural influences spread at least as much by sea".[11] Some of the main aspects of trade that went overseas consisted of animals and plant products. European empires in Asia and Africa "have come to be seen as the classic forms of imperialism: and indeed most books on the subject confine themselves to the European seaborne empires".[12] European expansion caused the world to be divided by how developed and developing nation are portrayed through the world systems theory. The two main regions are the core and the periphery. The core consists of high areas of income and profit; the periphery is on the opposing side of the spectrum consisting of areas of low income and profit. These critical theories of Geo-politics have led to increased discussion of the meaning and impact of imperialism on the modern post-colonial world. The Russian leader Lenin suggested that "imperialism was the highest form of capitalism, claiming that imperialism developed after colonialism, and was distinguished from colonialism by monopoly capitalism".[13] This idea from Lenin stresses how important new political world order has become in our modern era. Geopolitics now focuses on states becoming major economic players in the market; some states today are viewed as empires due to their political and economic authority over other nations.

Territories that were once part of the British Empire.

The term "imperialism" is often conflated with "colonialism", however many scholars have argued that each have their own distinct definition. Imperialism and colonialism have been used in order to describe one's superiority, domination and influence upon a person or group of people. Robert Young writes that while imperialism operates from the center, is a state policy and is developed for ideological as well as financial reasons, colonialism is simply the development for settlement or commercial intentions. Colonialism in modern usage also tends to imply a degree of geographic separation between the colony and the imperial power. Particularly, Edward Said distinguishes the difference between imperialism and colonialism by stating; "imperialism involved 'the practice, the theory and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory', while colonialism refers to the 'implanting of settlements on a distant territory.'[14] Contiguous land empires such as the Russian or Ottoman are generally excluded from discussions of colonialism.[15]:116 Thus it can be said that imperialism includes some form of colonialism, but colonialism itself does not automatically imply imperialism, as it lacks a political focus.[further explanation needed]

Imperialism and colonialism both dictate that the political and economic advantage over a land and the indigenous populations they control, yet scholars sometimes find it difficult to illustrate the difference between the two.[16] Although imperialism and colonialism focus on the suppression of an other, if Colonialism refers to the process of a country taking physical control of another, Imperialism refers to the political and monetary dominance, either formally or informally. Colonialism is seen to be the architect deciding how to start dominating areas and then imperialism can be seen as creating the idea behind conquest cooperating with colonialism. Colonialism is when the imperial nation begins a conquest over an area and then eventually is able to rule over the areas the previous nation had controlled. Colonialism's core meaning is the exploitation of the valuable assets and supplies of the nation that was conquered and the conquering nation then gaining the benefits from the spoils of the war.[17] The meaning of imperialism is to create an empire, by conquering the other state's lands and therefore increasing its own dominance. Colonialism is the builder and preserver of the colonial possessions in an area by a population coming from a foreign region.[18] Colonialism can completely change the existing social structure, physical structure and economics of an area; it’s not unusual that the characteristics of the conquering peoples are inherited by the conquered indigenous populations.[19]


A controversial aspect of imperialism is the defense and justification of empire-building based on seemingly rational grounds. J. A. Hobson identifies this justification on general grounds as: "It is desirable that the earth should be peopled, governed, and developed, as far as possible, by the races which can do this work best, i.e. by the races of highest 'social efficiency'".[20] Many others argued that imperialism is justified for several different reasons. Friedrich Ratzel believed that in order for a state to survive, imperialism was needed. Halford Mackinder felt that Great Britain needed to be one of the greatest imperialists and therefore justified imperialism.[21] The rhetoric of colonizers being racially superior appears to have achieved its purpose, for example throughout Latin America "whiteness" is still prized today and various forms of blanqueamiento (whitening) are common.

Technology and economic efficiency were often improved in territories subjected to imperialism through the building of roads, other infrastructure and introduction of new technologies.

The principles of imperialism are often generalizable to the policies and practices of the British Empire "during the last generation, and proceeds rather by diagnosis than by historical description".[22] British imperialism often used the concept of Terra nullius (Latin expression which stems from Roman law meaning 'empty land'). The country of Australia serves as a case study in relation to British settlement and colonial rule of the continent in the eighteenth century, as it was premised on terra nullius, and its settlers considered it unused by its sparse Aboriginal inhabitants.

Imaginative Geographies and Orientalism[edit]

Imperial control, both territorial and non-territorial, is justified through discourses that shape our understanding of different spaces.[23] The concept of imaginative geographies explains how this understanding is limited by our attitudes and ideas which work to obscure the reality of these spaces.[23]

Orientalism, as theorized by Edward Said, refers to how the West developed an imaginative geography of the East.[24] This imaginative geography relies on an essentializing discourse that represents neither the diversity nor the social reality of the East.[25] Rather, by essentializing the East, this discourse uses the idea of place-based identities to create difference and distance between "we" the West and "them" the East, or "here" in the West and "there" in the East.[26] This difference was particularly apparent in textual and visual works of early European studies of the Orient that positioned the East as irrational and backward in opposition to the rational and progressive West.[23][27] Defining the East as a negative vision of itself, as its inferior, not only increased the West’s sense of self, but also was a way of ordering the East and making it known to the West so that it could be dominated and controlled.[28][29] The discourse of Orientalism therefore served as an ideological justification of early Western imperialism, as it formed a body of knowledge and ideas that rationalized social, cultural, political, and economic control of other territories.[26][30]


One of the main tools used by imperialists was cartography. Cartography is "the art, science and technology of making maps"[31] but this definition is problematic. It implies that maps are objective representations of the world when in reality they serve very political means.[31] For Harley, maps serve as an example of Foucault’s power and knowledge concept.

To better illustrate this idea, Bassett focuses his analysis of the role of nineteenth-century maps during the "scramble for Africa".[32] He states that maps "contributed to empire by promoting, assisting, and legitimizing the extension of French and British power into West Africa".[32] During his analysis of nineteenth-century cartographic techniques, he highlights the use of blank space to denote unknown or unexplored territory.[32] This provided incentives for imperial and colonial powers to obtain "information to fill in blank spaces on contemporary maps".[32]

Although cartographic processes advanced through imperialism, further analysis of their progress reveals many biases linked to eurocentrism. According to Bassett, "[n]ineteenth-century explorers commonly requested Africans to sketch maps of unknown areas on the ground. Many of those maps were highly regarded for their accuracy"[32] but were not printed in Europe unless Europeans verified them.


Imperialism has played a part in the histories of Japan, the Assyrian Empire, the Chinese Empire, the Roman Empire, Greece, the Byzantine Empire, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Ancient Egypt, the British Empire, India, and many other empires. Imperialism was a basic component to the conquests of Genghis Khan during the Mongol Empire, and of other war-lords. Historically recognized Muslim empires number in the dozens. Sub-Saharan Africa has also featured dozens of empires that predate the European colonial era, for example the Ethiopian Empire, Oyo Empire, Asante Union, Luba Empire, Lunda Empire, and Mutapa Empire. The Americas during the pre-Columbian era also had large empires such as the Aztec Empire and the Incan Empire.

Although normally used to imply forcible imposition of a foreign government's control over another country or over conquered territory that was previously without a unified government, "imperialism" is sometimes used[by whom?] to describe loose or indirect political or economic influence on weak states by more powerful ones.[33]

Cultural imperialism is when a country's influence is felt in social and cultural circles, i.e. its soft power, such that it changes the moral, cultural and societal worldview of another. This is more than just "foreign" music, television or film becoming popular with young people, but that popular culture changing their own expectations of life and their desire for their own country to become more like the foreign country depicted. For example, depictions of opulent American lifestyles in the soap opera Dallas during the Cold War changed the expectations of Romanians; a more recent example is the influence of smuggled South Korean drama series in North Korea. The importance of soft power is not lost on authoritarian regimes, fighting such influence with bans on foreign popular culture, control of the internet and unauthorised satellite dishes e.t.c.. Nor is such a usage of culture recent, as part of Roman imperialism local elites would be exposed to the benefits and luxuries of Roman culture and lifestyle, with the aim that they would then become willing participants.

Imperialism has been subject to moral or immoral censure by its critics[which?], and thus the term is frequently used in international propaganda as a pejorative for expansionist and aggressive foreign policy.[33]

Age of Imperialism[edit]

The Age of Imperialism, a time period beginning around 1700, saw (generally European) industrializing nations engaging in the process of colonizing, influencing, and annexing other parts of the world in order to gain political power.[citation needed] Although imperialist practices have existed for thousands of years, the term "Age of Imperialism" generally refers to the activities of European powers from the early 18th century through to the middle of the 20th century, for example, the "The Great Game" in Persian lands, the "Scramble for Africa" and the "Open Door Policy" in China.[34]

Africa, divided into colonies under multiple empires, circa 1913

During the 20th century, historians John Gallagher (1919–1980) and Ronald Robinson (1920–1999) constructed a framework for understanding European imperialism. They claim that European imperialism was influential, and Europeans rejected the notion that "imperialism" required formal, legal control by one government over another country. "In their view, historians have been mesmerized by formal empire and maps of the world with regions colored red. The bulk of British emigration, trade, and capital went to areas outside the formal British Empire. Key to their thinking is the idea of empire 'informally if possible and formally if necessary.'"[attribution needed][35] Because of the resources made available by imperialism, the world's economy grew significantly and became much more interconnected in the decades before World War I, making the many imperial powers rich and prosperous.[36]

Europe's expansion into territorial imperialism was largely focused on economic growth by collecting resources from colonies, in combination with assuming political control by military and political means. The colonization of India in the mid-18th century offers an example of this focus: there, the "British exploited the political weakness of the Mughal state, and, while military activity was important at various times, the economic and administrative incorporation of local elites was also of crucial significance" for the establishment of control over the subcontinent's resources, markets, and manpower. Although a substantial number of colonies had been designed[by whom?] to provide economic profit and to ship resources to home ports (mostly through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), Fieldhouse suggests that in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in places such as Africa and Asia, this idea is not necessarily valid:[37]

Modern empires were not artificially constructed economic machines. The second expansion of Europe was a complex historical process in which political, social and emotional forces in Europe and on the periphery were more influential than calculated imperialism. Individual colonies might serve an economic purpose; collectively no empire had any definable function, economic or otherwise. Empires represented only a particular phase in the ever-changing relationship of Europe with the rest of the world: analogies with industrial systems or investment in real estate were simply misleading.[38]

During this time, European merchants had the ability to "roam the high seas and appropriate surpluses from around the world (sometimes peaceably, sometimes violently) and to concentrate them in Europe".[39]

European expansion greatly accelerated in the 19th century. To obtain raw materials, Europe expanded imports from other countries and from the colonies. European industrialists sought raw materials such as dyes, cotton, vegetable oils, and metal ores from overseas. Concurrently, industrialization was quickly making Europe the center of manufacturing and economic growth, driving resource needs.[40]

Communication became much more advanced during European expansion. With the invention of railroads and telegraphs, it became easier to communicate with other countries and to extend the administrative control of a home nation over its colonies. Railroads and globalized shipping assisted in transporting massive amounts of goods to and from colonies.[40]

Along with advancements in communication, Europe also continued to advance in military technology. European chemists made deadly explosives that could be used in combat, and with innovations in machinery they were able to manufacture improved firearms. By the 1880s, the machine gun had become an effective battlefield weapon. This technology gave European armies an advantage over their opponents, as armies in less-developed countries were still fighting with arrows, swords, and leather shields (e.g. the Zulus in Southern Africa during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879).[40]

Theories of imperialism[edit]

In anglophone academic works, theories regarding imperialism are often based on the British experience. The term "Imperialism" was originally introduced into English in its present sense in the late 1870s by opponents of the allegedly aggressive and ostentatious imperial policies of British prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. It was shortly appropriated by supporters of "imperialism" such as Joseph Chamberlain. For some, imperialism designated a policy of idealism and philanthropy; others alleged that it was characterized by political self-interest, and a growing number associated it with capitalist greed. Liberal John A. Hobson and Marxist Vladimir Lenin added a more theoretical macroeconomic connotation to the term. Lenin in particular exerted substantial influence over later Marxist conceptions of imperialism with his work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In his writings Lenin portrayed Imperialism as a natural extension of capitalism that arose from need for capitalist economies to constantly expand investment, material resources and manpower in such a way that necessitated colonial expansion. This conception of imperialism as a structural feature of capitalism is echoed in by later Marxist theoreticians. Many theoreticians on the left have followed in emphasizing the structural or systemic character of "imperialism". Such writers have expanded the time period associated with the term so that it now designates neither a policy, nor a short space of decades in the late 19th century, but a world system extending over a period of centuries, often going back to Christopher Columbus and, in some accounts, to the Crusades. As the application of the term has expanded, its meaning has shifted along five distinct but often parallel axes: the moral, the economic, the systemic, the cultural, and the temporal. Those changes reflect - among other shifts in sensibility - a growing unease, even squeamishness, with the fact of power, specifically, Western power.[41][42]

The correlation between capitalism, aristocracy, and imperialism has long been debated among historians and political theorists. Much of the debate was pioneered by such theorists as J. A. Hobson (1858–1940), Joseph Schumpeter (1883–1950), Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), and Norman Angell (1872–1967). While these non-Marxist writers were at their most prolific before World War I, they remained active in the interwar years. Their combined work informed the study of imperialism's impact on Europe, as well as contributed to reflections on the rise of the military-political complex in the United States from the 1950s. Hobson argued that domestic social reforms could cure the international disease of imperialism by removing its economic foundation. Hobson theorized that state intervention through taxation could boost broader consumption, create wealth, and encourage a peaceful, tolerant, multipolar world order.[43][44]

Environmental determinism[edit]

The concept environmental determinism served as a moral justification for domination of certain territories and peoples. It was believed that a certain person's behaviours were determined by the environment in which they lived and thus validated their domination. For example, people living in tropical environments were seen as "less civilized" therefore justifying colonial control as a civilizing mission. Based on the three waves of European colonialism first in the Americas, second in Asia and lastly in Africa, Environmental determinism was used to categorically place indigenous people in a racial hierarchy.

If the world was split into climatic zones, it was explained that Northern Europe and the Mid-Atlantic climate produced a hard working, moral and upstanding human being. The Mediterranean climate which produced a lazy attitude, sexually promiscuous culture, as well a moral degeneracy. Finally the climates of Sub-Saharan Africa were said to produce a childlike species. One that needed guidance and European intervention to "help" them govern themselves, as they were seen as incapable of such feats.[45]

Imperialism by country[edit]


Britain's imperialist ambitions can be seen as early as the fifteenth century. in 1599 the British East India Company was established and was chartered by Queen Elizabeth in the following year.[46] With the establishment of trading posts in India, the British were able to maintain strength relative to others empires such as the Portuguese who already had set up trading posts in India.[46] In 1767 political activity caused exploitation of the East India Company causing the plundering of the local economy, almost bringing the company into bankruptcy.[47]

By the year 1670 Britain imperialist ambitions were well off as she had colonies in Virginia, Bermudas, Honduras, Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica and Nova Scotia.[47]

Due to the vast imperialist ambitions of European countries, Britain had several clashes with France. This competition was evident in the colonization of what is now known as Canada. John Cabot claimed Newfoundland for the British while the French established colonies along the St. Lawrence River and claiming it as "New France".[48] It was clear that Britain had formed a strong state because she had a complex network of relations.[49]

Britain continued to expand by colonizing countries such as New Zealand and Australia both of which were not empty land as they had their own locals and cultures.[50] Britain's nationalistic movements were evident with the creation of the common wealth countries where there was a shared nature of national identity.[51]


French poster about the "Madagascar War"

The "First colonial empire", that existed until 1814, by which time most of it had been lost, and the "Second colonial empire", which began with the conquest of Algiers in 1830 and came for the most part to an end with the granting of independence to Algeria in 1962.[52] The French history was marked by numerous wars, large and small, and also by significant help to France itself from the colonials in the world wars.[53]

During the 16th century, the French colonization of the Americas began with the creation of New France. It was followed by the establishment of trading posts in Asia and Africa in the 17th century.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the second-largest colonial empire in the world behind the British Empire, extending over 12,347,000 km2 (4,767,000 sq. miles) at its height in the 1920s and 1930s. France controlled nearly 1/10th of the Earth's land area, with a population of 110 million people on the eve of World War II (5% of the world's population at the time).[54]

France took control of Algeria in 1830 but began in earnest to rebuild its worldwide empire after 1850, concentrating chiefly in North and West Africa, as well as South-East Asia, with other conquests in Central and East Africa, as well as the South Pacific. Republicans, at first hostile to empire, only became supportive when Germany started to build her own colonial empire. As it developed, the new empire took on roles of trade with France, supplying raw materials and purchasing manufactured items, as well as lending prestige to the motherland and spreading French civilization and language as well as Catholicism. It also provided crucial manpower in both World Wars.[55]

It became a moral justification to lift the world up to French standards by bringing Christianity and French culture. In 1884 the leading exponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry declared France had a civilising mission: "The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior".[56] Full citizenship rights – ‘’assimilation’’ – were offered, although in reality assimilation was always on the distant horizon.[57] Contrasting from Britain, France sent small numbers of settlers to its colonies, with the only notable exception of Algeria, where French settlers nevertheless always remained a small minority.

In World War II, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French used the overseas colonies as bases from which they fought to liberate France. However after 1945 anti-colonial movements began to challenge the Empire. France fought and lost a bitter war in Vietnam in the 1950's. Whereas they won the war in Algeria, the French leader at the time, Charles de Gaulle, decided to grant Algeria independance anyway in 1962. Its settlers and many local supporters relocated to France. Nearly all of France's colonies gained independence by 1960, but France retained great financial and diplomatic influence. It has repeatedly sent troops to assist its former colonies in Africa in suppressing insurrections and coups d’état.[58]


From their original homelands in Scandinavia and northern Europe, Germanic tribes expanded throughout northern and western Europe in the middle period of classical antiquity; southern Europe in late antiquity, conquering Celtic and other peoples; and by 800 CE, forming the Holy Roman Empire, the first German Empire. However, there was no real systemic continuity from the Western Roman Empire to its German successor which was famously described as "not holy, not Roman, and not an empire",[59] as a great number of small states and principalities existed in the loosely autonomous confederation. Although by 1000 CE, the Germanic conquest of central, western, and southern Europe (west of and including Italy) was complete, excluding only Muslim Iberia. There was, however, little cultural integration or national identity, and "Germany" remained largely a conceptual term referring to an amorphous area of central Europe.

German colonial empire.

Not a maritime power, and not a nation-state, as it would eventually become, Germany’s participation in Western imperialism was negligible until the late 19th century. The participation of Austria was primarily as a result of Habsburg control of the First Empire, the Spanish throne, and other royal houses.[further explanation needed] After the defeat of Napoleon, who caused the dissolution of that Holy Roman Empire, Prussia and the German states continued to stand aloof from imperialism, preferring to manipulate the European system through the Concert of Europe. After Prussia unified the other states into the second German Empire after the Franco-German War, its long-time Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck (1862–90), long opposed colonial acquisitions, arguing that the burden of obtaining, maintaining, and defending such possessions would outweigh any potential benefits. He felt that colonies did not pay for themselves, that the German bureaucratic system would not work well in the tropics and the diplomatic disputes over colonies would distract Germany from its central interest, Europe itself.[60]

However, in 1883–84 Germany began to build a colonial empire in Africa and the South Pacific, before losing interest in imperialism. Historians have debated exactly why Germany made this sudden and short-lived move.[61][verification needed] Bismarck was aware that public opinion had started to demand colonies for reasons of German prestige.[62] He was influenced by Hamburg merchants and traders, his neighbors at Friedrichsruh. The establishment of the German colonial empire proceeded smoothly, starting with German New Guinea in 1884.[63]


Japanese march into Zhengyangmen of Beijing after capturing the city in July 1937.

During the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, Japan absorbed Taiwan. As a result of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan took part of Sakhalin Island from Russia. Korea was annexed in 1910. During World War I, Japan took German-leased territories in China’s Shandong Province, as well as the Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Islands. In 1918, Japan occupied parts of far eastern Russia and parts of eastern Siberia as a participant in the Siberian Intervention. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria from China. During the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Japan's military invaded central China and by the end of the Pacific War, Japan had conquered much of the Far East, including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippine Islands, Indonesia, part of New Guinea and some islands of the Pacific Ocean. Japan also invaded Thailand, pressuring the country into a Thai/Japanese alliance. Its colonial ambitions were ended by the victory of the United States in the Second World War and the following treaties which remanded those territories to American administration or their original owners.[64][65][66]

Soviet Union[edit]

The maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet influence, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961.

By the 18th century, the Russian Empire extended its control to the Pacific, forming a common border with the Qing Empire.

Bolshevik leaders had effectively reestablished a polity with roughly the same extent as that empire by 1921, however with an internationalist ideology: Lenin in particular asserted the right to limited self-determination for national minorities within the new territory.[67] Beginning in 1923, the policy of "Indigenization" [korenizatsiia] was intended to support non-Russians develop their national cultures within a socialist framework. Never formally revoked, it stopped being implemented after 1932. After World War II, the Soviet Union installed socialist regimes modeled on those it had installed in 1919–20 in the old Tsarist Empire in areas its forces occupied in Eastern Europe.[68] The Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China supported post–World War II communist movements in foreign nations and colonies to advance their own interests, but were not always successful.[69]

Trotsky, and others, believed that the revolution could only succeed in Russia as part of a world revolution. Lenin wrote extensively on the matter and famously declared that Imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism. However, after Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin established 'socialism in one country' for the Soviet Union, creating the model for subsequent inward looking Stalinist states and purging the early Internationalist elements. The internationalist tendencies of the early revolution would be abandoned until they returned in the framework of a client state in competition with the Americans during the Cold War. With the beginning of the new era, the after Stalin period called the "thaw", in late 1950's, the new political leader Nikita Khrushchev put even more pressure on the Soviet-American relations starting a new wave of anti-imperialist propaganda. In his speech on the UN conference in 1960, he announced the continuation of the war on imperialism, stating that soon the people of different countries will come together and overthrow their imperialist leaders. Although the Soviet Union declared itself anti-imperialist, critics argue that it exhibited tendencies common to historic empires.[70][71] Some scholars hold that the Soviet Union was a hybrid entity containing elements common to both multinational empires and nation states. It has also been argued that the USSR practiced colonialism as did other imperial powers and was carrying on the old Russian tradition of expansion and control.[72] Mao Zedong once argued that the Soviet Union had itself become an imperialist power while maintaining a socialist façade. Moreover, the ideas of imperialism were widely spread in action on the higher levels of government. Non Russian Marxists within the Russian Federation and later the USSR, like Sultan Galiev and Vasyl Shakhrai, considered the Soviet Regime a renewed version of the Russian imperialism and colonialism.

Great Britain[edit]

Smoke rises from oil tanks beside the Suez Canal hit during the initial Anglo-French assault on Egypt, 5 November 1956

The First British Empire was based on mercantilism, and involved colonies and holdings primarily in North America, the Caribbean, and India. Its growth was reversed by the loss of the American colonies in 1776. Britain made compensating gains in India, Australia, and in constructing an informal economic empire through control of trade and finance in Latin America after the independence of Spanish and Portuguese colonies about 1820.[73] By the 1840s, Britain had adopted a highly successful policy of free trade that gave it dominance in the trade of much of the world.[74] After losing its first Empire to the Americans, Britain then turned its attention towards Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. Following the defeat of Napoleonic France in 1815, Britain enjoyed a century of almost unchallenged dominance and expanded its imperial holdings around the globe. Increasing degrees of internal autonomy were granted to its white settler colonies in the 20th century.[75]

A resurgence came in the late 19th century, with the Scramble for Africa and major additions in Asia and the Middle East. The British spirit of imperialism was expressed by Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Rosebury, and implemented in Africa by Cecil Rhodes. Other influential spokesmen included Lord Cromer, Lord Curzon, General Kitchner, Lord Milner, and the writer Rudyard Kipling.[76] The British Empire was the largest Empire that the world has ever seen both in terms of landmass and population. Its power, both military and economic, remained unmatched.

United States[edit]

Main article: American imperialism
Ceremonies during the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii, 1898

The early United States expressed its opposition to Imperialism, at least in a form distinct from its own Manifest Destiny, in policies such as the Monroe Doctrine. However, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, policies such as Theodore Roosevelt’s interventionism in Central America and Woodrow Wilson’s mission to "make the world safe for democracy"[77] were often backed by military force, but more often affected from behind the scenes, consistent with the general notion of hegemony and imperium of historical empires.[78][79] In 1898, Americans who opposed imperialism created the Anti-Imperialist League to oppose the US annexation of the Philippines and Cuba. One year later, a war erupted in the Philippines causing business, labor and government leaders in the US to condemn America's occupation in the Philippines as they also denounced them for causing the deaths of many Filipinos.[80] American foreign policy was denounced as a "racket" by Smedley Butler, an American general. He said, "Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents".[81]

Post World War Two, The United States of America and the Soviet Union joined interests over a global conflict where they both became superpowers; this time frame was known as the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States did not diminish its global ability to project force and became a "hyper-power". A system of "Unipolarity" came to define international politics, with the United States at the center.

Some have described the internal strife between various people groups as a form of imperialism or colonialism. This internal form is distinct from informal U.S. imperialism in the form of political and financial hegemony.[82] This internal form of imperialism is also distinct from the United State's formation of "colonies" abroad.[82] Through the treatment of its indigenous peoples during westward expansion, the United States took on the form of an imperial power prior to any attempts at external imperialism. This internal form of empire has been referred to as "internal colonialism".[83] Participation in the African slave trade and the subsequent treatment of its 12 to 15 million Africans is viewed by some to be a more modern extension of America's "internal colonialism".[84] This internal colonialism faced resistance, as external colonialism did, but the anti-colonial presence was far less prominent due to the nearly complete dominance that the United States was able to assert over both indigenous peoples and African-Americans.[85] In his lecture on April 16, 2003, Edward Said made a bold statement on modern imperialism in the United States, whom he described as using aggressive means of attack towards the contemporary Orient, "due to their backward living, lack of democracy and the violation of women’s rights. The western world forgets during this process of converting the other that enlightenment and democracy are concepts that not all will agree upon".[86]

In 2015, the United States reportedly had nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries around the world.[87]

Ottoman Empire[edit]

Ottoman troops marching in Aleppo.

The Ottoman Empire was an imperial state that lasted from 1299 to 1923. During the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire was a powerful multinational, multilingual empire controlling much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. At the beginning of the 17th century the empire contained 32 provinces and numerous vassal states. Some of these were later absorbed into the empire, while others were granted various types of autonomy during the course of centuries.

With Istanbul as its capital and control of lands around the Mediterranean basin, the Ottoman Empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. Following a long period of military setbacks against European powers, the Ottoman Empire gradually declined into the late nineteenth century. The empire allied with Germany in the early 20th century, with the imperial ambition of recovering its lost territories, but it dissolved in the aftermath of World War I, leading to the emergence of the new state of Turkey in the Ottoman Anatolian heartland, as well as the creation of modern Balkan and Middle Eastern states, thus ending Turkish colonial ambitions.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]