Imperialism and Globalization

By Amin, Samir | Monthly Review, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Imperialism and Globalization


Amin, Samir, Monthly Review


Imperialism is not a stage, not even the highest stage, of capitalism: from the beginning, it is inherent in capitalism's expansion. The imperialist conquest of the planet by the Europeans and their North American children was carried out in two phases and is perhaps entering a third.

The first phase of this devastating enterprise was organized around the conquest of the Americas, in the framework of the mercantilist system of Atlantic Europe at the time. The net result was the destruction of the Indian civilizations and their Hispanicization- Christianization, or simply the total genocide on which the United States was built. The fundamental racism of the Anglo-Saxon colonists explains why this model was reproduced elsewhere, in Australia, in Tasmania (the most complete genocide in history), and in New Zealand. For whereas the Catholic Spaniards acted in the name of the religion that had to be imposed on conquered peoples, the Anglo-Protestants took from their reading of the Bible the right to wipe out the "infidels." The infamous slavery of the Blacks, made necessary by the extermination of the Indians--or their resistance--briskly took over to ensure that the useful parts of the continent were "turned to account." No one today has any doubt as to the real motives for all these horrors or is ignorant of their intimate relation to the expansion of mercantile capital. Nevertheless, the contemporary Europeans accepted the ideological discourse that justified them, and the voices of protest--that of Las Casas, for example--did not find many sympathetic listeners.

The disastrous results of this first chapter of world capitalist expansion produced, some time later, the forces of liberation that challenged the logics that produced them. The first revolution of the Western Hemisphere was that of the slaves of Saint Domingue (present-clay Haiti) at the end of the eighteenth century, followed more than a century later by the Mexican revolution of the decade of 1910, and fifty years after that by the Cuban revolution. And if I do not cite here either the famous "American revolution" or that of the Spanish colonies that soon followed, it is because those only transferred the power of decision from the metropolis to the colonists so that they could go on doing the same thing, pursue the same project with even greater brutality, but without having to share the profits with the "mother country."

The second phase of imperialist devastation was based on the industrial revolution and manifested itself in the colonial subjection of Asia and Africa. "To open the markets"--like the market for opium forced on the Chinese by the Puritans of England--and to seize the natural resources of the globe were the real motives here, as everyone knows today. But again, European opinion--including the workers' movement of the Second International--did not see these realities and accepted the new legitimizing discourse of capital. This time, it was the famous "civilizing mission." The voices that expressed the clearest thinking at the time were those of cynical bourgeoises, like Cecil Rhodes, who envisaged colonial conquest so as to avoid social revolution in England. Again, the voices of protest--from the Paris Commune to the Bolsheviks--had little resonance.

This second phase of imperialism is at the origin of the greatest problem with which mankind has ever been confronted: the over-whelming polarization that has increased the inequality between peoples from a maximum ratio of two to one around 1800, to sixty to one today, with only 20 percent of the earth's population being included in the centers that benefit from the system. At the same time, these prodigious achievements of capitalist civilization gave rise to the most violent confrontations between the imperialist powers that the world has ever seen. Imperialist aggression again produced the forces that resisted its project the socialist revolutions that took place in Russia and China (not accidentally all occurred within the peripheries that were victims of the polarizing expansion of really existing capitalism) and the revolutions of national liberation. …

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