Slavery & imperialism were the means to achieve the ends, of sustained world domination by a few big players in the world economy. After the original colonising missions of Christopher Colombus, a process of occupation by imperial nations of new regions of the world began in earnest, as private capitalists, monarchs and feudal Lords waded through blood to colonise new areas of the world and loot the human and natural resources they found there. The primary motives for the colonial mission were plainly expressed by Cecil Rhodes, the ‘founder’ of “Rhodesia”: “We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories“.2 Taken from “Whose Common Future” by The Ecologist, 1992: “Other objectives included providing living space for Europe’s “surplus population” – in effect those who had been dispossessed of their lands and livelihoods by the encroachment of market capitalism, and to create markets for European (and later North American) goods by denying markets to local artisans and by forcing local people into the colonial market economy.“3
Back in the 16th century, the silver mining of Potosi in Bolivia generated the fortunes of Flemish, German, Genovese (and Venetian) bankers. “Between 1503 and 1660, 185,000 kilos of gold and 16 million kilos of silver were shipped from Latin America to Europe. The native American leader Guaicaipuro Cuautemoc argues that his people should see this transfer not as a war crime, but as “the first of several friendly loans, granted by America for Europe’s development”. Were they to charge compound interest on this loan, levied at the modest rate of 10 per cent, Europe would owe the indigenous people of Latin America a stack of gold and silver which exceeded the weight of the planet.“(Monbiot, G). 1 In Africa, the colonisers’ stated intention to civilise the natives intertwined with their portrayal of these peoples as “savages”. The perverse irony at the heart of this mirage of benevolent dictatorship was that it was the west’s chosen methods of execution to inact their plunder of resources and, much earlier on, the cattle-market of the African slave-trade, which was savage.
The beginnings of modern colonialism began in 1884 – at the Berlin Conference where European powers met to decide how to carve up the world. The British used the concept of ‘Terra Nullius’ – the idea that ‘the land was inhabitated by nobody’ – to justify the colonial seizure of the entire African sub-continent and the occupation of Palestine.
Whether it was the Spanish Empire’s goal of Christianisation, or the civilizing mission of France and Britain or the post-WW II development/modernization mission led by the US, one common theme echoes throughout – namely a justification for the subjugation of the non-European world. A common thread links the British Empire, the Roman Empire which lasted for over 500 years, and the world capitalism at the start of the 21st century. That thread is the power divide that exists between the ultra-rich and the rest, quite apart from the division between the owning class and the working class, a scenario dependent at an international scale upon military intervention and economic exploitation – namely imperialism. In the course of history, poignant legacies of individual acts have resonated down the centuries. For instance, it was Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD who originally named all of the Philistine, Nabatean, Phoenician, Israelite, Judean, & Samarian peoples as one Palestine.
Our history books are rich with examples of different empires across the world fighting against eachother jockeying into positions of ascendency against rivals, such as between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories in Central and Southern Asia. Russia was fearful of British commercial and military inroads into Central Asia, and Britain was fearful of Russia adding “the jewel in the crown”, India, to the vast empire that Russia was building in Asia.
Opinions and perspectives as to the historic legacy of colonialism vary according to where one’s standpoint exists on the issue. What is clear, however, is that within the UK, along with the creation of large pools of cheap labour in a relatively short period of time of decades with the acceleration of land enclosure* in the late-18th/early 19th century, slavery & imperialism was the springboard for the industrial revolution in Western Europe and the platform upon which global capitalism has grown ever since. Without it, nation states, multinational corporations and banks would not have the asset base they enjoy now at the start of the 21st century.
*[The systematic policy of kicking people off commonly managed lands (for eg) to build up a mass of “rent seekers” combined with other factors such as the systems suite of business innovations (double-entry accounting, the joint-stock company, etc.) to advance the capitalist system’s ability to capture ever increasing population growth so as to enable wealthy people to continue to extract money from the working poor. The UK Enclosure Movement in 16th and 17th Century Britain plus the redistributions of land after the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (centrally the ‘English Civil War‘) – but especially from the deepening of colonial rule over Ireland after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland – all laid the groundwork for a massive colonial empire to grow as the British alongside other imperial powers spread this logic of wealth extraction across the globe.]
In the 20th century, imperialism has meant political manipulation within the machinations of tyrannical empire building and global financial institutions (the IMF & World Bank) so that imperialist nations can commandeer non-mutually beneficial international trade practices in tandem with the monopolizing acts of transnational corporations; hand in glove with this trend has been self-seeking international military coercion on the part of first world nations which since World War II has particularly been advanced by the United States and Israel, underpinned by the economic structural landscape dominated by and embedded within the Dollar Empire as the international currency of universality.
US GDP has been the central economic block in the world for the majority of the 20th century, whilst at the start of the 21st century, China is the supreme production factory of the entire western world (China’s ascendency, however, is so rapid that coming out of the financial crisis of 2008, China’s rate of growth of GDP is such that it’s economy is feted to overtake that of the US by the middle of the 21st century). The vast extent of the military architecture of the US State, essential to protect their own interests (and the interests of global capitalism) has been traditionally proportionate to the extent of their GDP. In recent years, it’s scale has been extended even further. The nature of the Empire now is also different in that this capitalist consumer society is truly international, with the divide between haves and have-nots no longer geographically specific, but certainly, as ever, class based. Ankie Hoogvelt – (Taken from “Globalisation & The Post-Colonial World, The New Political Economy of Development”): “A new stage of capitalism has fermented in the core of the system, whereby geographic core-periphery polarisation is being replaced by a social core-periphery divide that cuts across geographical regions.” 4
There is a constant battle for the elite ultra-rich class to maintain their position of domination propped up by some of their materially-appeased subjects – the taxpaying workforce. In the North, since the 1970s, the proportion of multinational revenue streams appropriated by corporation tax has reduced considerably. Countries in the North in perpetuity are in a competitive race to the bottom to attract foreign investment and outcompete rivals – with the repercussion from advancement in competitiveness being income inequality in their own countries and structural problems such as structural unemployment as older industry/manufacturing becomes more uneconomic. For countries in the south, an altogether stark and desperate void of underdevelopment has persisted.
The legacy of colonialism manifests in the widespread and entrenched poverty and underdevelopment of nations in Africa, Central America, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Far-East, particularly some of the poorest nations on Earth such as those within the African continent, and perhaps most staggeringly, Haiti. It is a long-term process exacerbated for decades by debt peonage and distortions in global trade which in some cases has resulted in deteriorating terms of trade for many years. World market distortions caused by high tariffs for processed products originating from countries of the south being exported into developed world markets/trade blocks has historically skewed the playing field of world trade against the Global South, with the US and nation states of the EU, whilst benefiting from their respective protectionist agricultural support arrangements, having commandeered non-mutually beneficial international trade practices facilitated via the liberalization of trade and investment in agriculture via international agreements within the World Trade Organisation through Free Trade Agreements and Economic Partnership Agreements. The North has exploited this political arrangement, allowing countries in the EU and the US to sell their grains on world markets – driving down price (good for the urban poor in the Global South, but bad for grain exporters in developing countries). Meanwhile, the North blocks imports from the South, with world supply of many agricultural commodities disproportionately appropriated by big transnational agribusiness corporations (TNCs), to the extent that TNCs have largely succeeded in exerting huge control over the world food and agricultural economy. Meanwhile, while the structural dynamics of the global food system are such that liberalisation of commodity trading on world markets magnifies market volatility, the trade is nevertheless dominated and in some sectors monopolised by transnational agribusiness corporations (TNCs), with farmers across the world at the mercy of bulk-commodity supply TNCs who source production from anywhere in the world.
1). Monbiot, G: “There is no debt”, The Guardian, 20/07/2000; Ref: http://www.monbiot.com/2000/07/20/there-is-no-debt/
2). The Ecologist (July/August 1992): “WHOSE COMMON FUTURE? RECLAIMING THE COMMONS”, Vol.22, No.4
3). Ibid, The Ecologist
4). Ankie Hoogvelt, (2001): “GLOBALISATION & THE POST-COLONIAL WORLD, The New Political Economy of Development”, (Palgrave, Hampshire, UK,) (p-64).