We Are Not What We Seem: Black Nationalism and Class Struggle in the American Century

By Rod Bush | Go to book overview

3
The Washington–Du Bois Conflict
African American Social Movements in the
“Age of Imperialism,” 1890–World War I

Some scholars and leaders of radical social movements have followed the Hobson-Lenin thesis in referring to the period at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century as the age of imperialism. I use the phrase “age of imperialism” to indicate a period during which the core powers scrambled to obtain direct colonial rule in many parts of the third world. That is an indisputable fact. I do not, however, agree with the Hobson-Lenin paradigm, which sees imperialism as a stage of capitalism. Rather, I hold that imperialism is a cyclical constant in which there is a constant alternation between formal empire (as during the period under discussion here) and informal empire (or neocolonialism).1

But even if imperialism was not a new stage of capitalism, it was very consequential politically in a number of ways. The advent of the new imperialist era marked the beginning of the United States' ascendancy to hegemony in the world-system. The rise and decline of hegemonies is one of the basic structures of the capitalist world-economy. The story of U.S. hegemony can best be begun in 1873, the beginning of the so-called Great Depression of the nineteenth century.2 A third important trend during the period 1870–1914 was the prodigious growth and expansion of the European workers' movement.3

In addition this moment is also said to mark the end of British world hegemony, in virtue of the increasingly successful competition of the United States and Germany. The new “balance-of-power” situation and the acute great power rivalry that ensued were manifested primarily in these years in the periphery and semiperiphery of the world-system. These manifestations, according to Wallerstein, included the “scramble” for colonies in Africa, Southeastern Asia, and the Pacific; the dismantlement

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