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(en) Workers Solidarity #76 - What is Imperialism ?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 2 Aug 2003 08:18:21 +0200 (CEST)


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Imperialism is one of those words that often seems to be
little more than an effective way of making people stop
listening to you. However, despite the frequency with which
it is thrown around by left wing groups, with little or no
explanation of the ideas behind it, it does have real meaning
and is something that we can all recognise in the world
around us - especially in this age of US wars against third
world regimes.

To put it succinctly, imperialism is the process whereby
powerful groups try to extend their power and increase their
wealth by bringing ever more of the world under their
domination. Although the word comes to us from Roman
times, imperialism has been around for a lot longer. In fact,
pretty much every well-known ancient civilisation was an
imperialist power, sending armies abroad to conquer new
lands, from the Egyptian pharaohs, to the Aztecs and Incas.
Even Athens, birthplace of democracy, had its empire and
there are several recorded instances of Athenian armies
massacring their subjects in order to ensure they didn't get
any notions of independence.

Imperialism is a direct consequence of hierarchical
organisation. Power corrupts and leads to a thirst for more
power. Thus, in any hierarchical society, once a group has
attained power in their own realm, they will start to look
outwards and continue to extend their influence through
imperialism until they are toppled from within, or encounter a
more powerful imperialist rival.

The modern history of imperialism dates from the 15th
century, when technical advances in navigation and sailing
suddenly opened up vast areas of the world to the European
powers. This came at a time when their expansion to the
East had been blocked by the Ottoman empire, and they had
fallen into a prolonged period of inconclusive warfare
amongst themselves. Their technical advantages over the
people of the newly accessible lands, especially in warfare,
made expansion in that direction a very attractive prospect.
European armies and gunboats travelled the world. The
British, Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese slugged it
out over 4 centuries in a race to conquer these new lands and
to appropriate their resources. Where they could, as in the
Americas and Australia, they simply took over the land and
slaughtered the population or put them to work as slaves.

Elsewhere, in Asia and Africa, the native societies were too
powerful to be militarily subjugated, so they relied on their
monopoly of naval technology to impose ever more uneven
terms of trade. West Africa provides a good case study. In
the 15th century the trade was a relatively even exchange of
goods. Cloth, tools, wine and horses were exchanged for
gold, pepper and ivory. By the mid 16th century this trade had
become entirely one-sided as the European powers traded
decreasing quantities of weapons and iron in exchange for
vast numbers of slaves to work their American plantations.
This underlines the fact that trade relations, as well as
conquering armies, have always been a powerful weapon in
the hands of the imperialists.

Today we can see this pattern repeated. The world's major
capitalists define the global rules of trade through such
international bodies as the WTO, IMF, World Bank and UN.
Although these are presented as being neutral bodies, with
voluntary membership, they are in fact imperialist tools. They
oversee the transfer of vast quantities of resources and
wealth every year from the poorer parts of the world into the
bank accounts of the super rich. After centuries of
exploitation and theft, they tell us that Africa apparently
owes the West $227 billion [1]. The force of arms, although
normally hidden, is never too far away. If a local ruler is weak
enough, and not sufficiently compliant with the rules of global
capitalism, they will be conquered through force of arms and
replaced with a more willing servant.

Although imperialism is often seen as one country
oppressing another, this view clouds the picture. In this age
of global capitalism, the group with real power are the big
capitalists. They will use whatever political vehicle is most
suitable to impose their power. In this era, the US is the
undisputed centre of political power in the world and so it is
through the US that the capitalists flex their muscles. The
people of the US, sent out to kill and die for Chevron and
GM, are victims of this imperialism as well as the Iraqis,
Afghanis and Somalis whom they kill. So, rather than the US
oppressing the rest of the world, we can best understand
imperialism, and indeed fight against it, if we see it as the
global class of capitalists oppressing the rest of humanity.

[1]Episcopal news service:
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/ens/99-093D.html

More at

* Anarchism and the fight against Imperialism
http://struggle.ws/wsm/imperialism.html
* Stop refuelling at Shannon warport
http://struggle.ws/wsm/shannon.html
* Stopthewar
http://struggle.ws/stopthewar.html

This page is from the print version of the
Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.
http://struggle.ws/wsm/paper.html

Print out the PDF file of this issue
http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf/ws/76.html

Print out the PDF file of the most recent issue
http://struggle.ws/wsm/ws/latest.html



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