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10-08-2015, 16:06

THE SPREAD OF COLONIAL RULE

In the nineteenth century, a new phase of Western expansion into Asia and Africa began. Whereas European aims in the East before 1800 could be summed up in the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s famous phrase “Christians and spices,” in the early nineteenth century, a new relationship took shape: European nations began to view Asian and African societies as a source of industrial raw materials and a market for Western manufactured goods. No longer were Western gold and silver exchanged for cloves, pepper, tea, silk, and porcelain. Now the prodigious output of European factories was sent to Africa and Asia in return for oil, tin, rubber, and the other resources needed to fuel the Western industrial machine. The reason for this change, of course, was the Industrial Revolution. Now industrializing countries in the West needed vital rawmaterials that were not available at home as well as a reliable market for the goods produced in their factories. The latter factor became increasingly crucial as capitalist societies began to discover that their home markets could not always absorb domestic output. When consumer demand lagged, economic depression threatened. As Western economic expansion into Asia and Africa gathered strength during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it became fashionable to call the process imperialism. Although the term imperialism has many meanings, in this instance it referred to the efforts of capitalist states in the West to seize markets, cheap raw materials, and lucrative sources for the investment of capital in the countries beyond Western civilization. In this interpretation, the primary motives behind the Western expansion were economic. The best-known promoter of this view was the British political economist John A. Hobson, who published a major analysis, Imperialism: A Study, in 1902. In this influential book, Hobson maintained that modern imperialism was a direct consequence of the modern industrial economy. In his view, the industrialized states of the West often produced more goods than could be absorbed by the domestic market and thus had to export their manufactures to make a profit. As in the earlier phase of Western expansion, however, the issue was not simply an economic one, since economic concerns were inevitably tinged with political ones and with questions of national grandeur and moral purpose as well. In nineteenth-century Europe, economic wealth, national status, and political power went hand in hand with the possession of a colonial empire, at least in the minds of observers at the time. To nineteenthcentury global strategists, colonies brought tangible benefits in the world of balance-of-power politics as well as economic profits, and many nations became involved in the pursuit of colonies as much to gain advantage over their rivals as to acquire territory for its own sake. The relationship between colonialism and national survival was expressed directly in a speech by the French politician Jules Ferry in 1885. A policy of “containment or abstinence,” he warned, would set France on “the broad road to decadence” and initiate its decline into a “third- or fourth-rate power.” British imperialists agreed. To Cecil Rhodes, the extraction of material wealth from the colonies was only a secondary matter. “My ruling purpose,” he remarked, “is the extension of the British Empire.” 2 That British Empire, on which (as the saying went) “the sun never set,” was the envy of its rivals and was viewed as the primary source of British global dominance during the latter half of the nineteenth century. With the change in European motives for colonization came a corresponding shift in tactics. Earlier, when their economic interests were more limited, European states had generally been satisfied to deal with existing independent states rather than attempt to establish direct control over vast territories. There had been exceptions where state power at the local level was on the point of collapse (as in India), where European economic interests were especially intense (as in Latin America and the East Indies), or where there was no centralized authority (as in North America and the Philippines). But for the most part, the Western presence in Asia and Africa had been limited to controlling the regional trade network and establishing a few footholds where the foreigners could carry on trade and missionary activity. After 1800, the demands of industrialization in Europe created a new set of dynamics. Maintaining access to industrial raw materials, such as oil and rubber, and setting up reliable markets for European manufactured products required more extensive control over colonial territories. As competition for colonies increased, the colonial powers sought to solidify their hold over their territories to protect them from attack by their rivals. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the quest for colonies became a scramble as all the major European states, now joined by theUnited States and Japan, engaged in a global land grab. In many cases, economic interests were secondary to security concerns or national prestige. In Africa, for example, the British engaged in a struggle with their rivals to protect their interests in the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. In Southeast Asia, the United States seized the Philippines from Spain at least partly to keep them out of the hands of the Japanese, and the French took over Indochina for fear that it would otherwise be occupied by Germany, Japan, or the United States. By 1900, virtually all the societies of Africa and Asia were either under full colonial rule or, as in the case of China and the Ottoman Empire, on the point of virtual collapse. Only a handful of states, such as Japan in East Asia, Thailand in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Iran in the Middle East, and mountainous Ethiopia in East Africa, managed to escape internal disintegration or political subjection to colonial rule. As the twentieth century began, European hegemony over the ancient civilizations of Asia and Africa seemed complete.

 

 

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