Imperialism is alive and well. It can come in many forms. These days it generally tends to be more subtle and covert…though not always.
“Imperialism is a system of exploitation that occurs not only in the brutal form of those who come with guns to conquer territory. Imperialism often occurs in more subtle forms, a loan, food aid, blackmail . We are fighting this system that allows a handful of men on Earth to rule all of humanity.”
– Thomas Sankara
There are three main pillars of imperialism.
1. Political imperialism is the process through which a dominant country establishes political control, a “sphere of influence”, as they like to call it. This form of imperialism is usually applied through colonial expansion or the establishment of a puppet government, the latter of which being the preferred method of today.
2. Economic imperialism refers to the way in which dominant powers establish economic power over developing countries. This is by far the most prominent form of imperialism and can be found everywhere.
Traditionally this was part of colonial expansion and involved slavery and the plunder of another nations natural resources and raw materials.
Today, economic imperialism is applied through institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), bodies that exert the West’s economic domination over poor countries through structural adjustment and austerity programmes. Another commonly used mechanism is “free trade”.
“Free trade is a great concept, as are free markets and freedom. The problem is none of these things exist in practice because they don’t provide sufficient advantages to the ruling class. The Fed and HFT systems now dominate global markets, western nations systematically overthrow any (freely elected) foreign government that doesn’t bow down to them and free trade agreements are put in place to ensure investors maximize profits no matter what the costs to society.”
“Free trade imperialism was a nineteenth-century English political movement that advocated a primary focus on commercial domination, rather than formal colonisation and territorial expansion. Over time, the phrase came to refer to the use of military and diplomatic power to force underdeveloped, or militarily weaker, countries to grant access to their markets to more powerful states.
The result of this policy was the rise of an informal economic control that stopped short of outright colonisation, but significantly curtailed the sovereignty of weaker countries. Free trade imperialism was practiced by many colonial states, but was primarily associated with British policies, especially in Latin America and Asia.”
Or as Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang puts it;
“Free trade economists have to explain how free trade can be an explanation for the economic success of today’s rich countries, when it simply had not been practised very much before they became rich … The place to start is with a true history of capitalism and globalisation … I will show how many things that the reader may have accepted as ‘historical facts’ are either wrong or partial truths. Britain and the US are not the homes of free trade; in fact, for a long time they were the most protectionist countries in the world. Not all countries have succeeded through protection and subsidies, but few have done so without them … In the long run, free trade is a policy that is likely to condemn developing countries to specialise in sectors that offer low productivity growth and thus low growth in living standards.”
“For developing countries, free trade has rarely been a matter of choice; it was often an imposition from outside, sometimes even through military power. Most of them did very poorly under free trade; they did much better when they used protection and subsidies. The best-performing economies have been those that opened up their economies selectively and gradually. Neo-liberal free-trade free-market policy claims to sacrifice equity for growth, but in fact it achieves neither; growth has slowed down in the past two and a half decades when markets were freed and borders opened.”
Remember this the next time you hear about Jacob Rees-Mogg making millions from “emerging markets” through his Somerset Capital Management fund.
3. Cultural imperialism. This denotes how a dominant group’s cultural practices come to dominate the cultural landscape of a population. You can see this in films and music. Look at the chart listings, how many are American, for example. Or art. When European art is idealised as fine art while African art is derided as “local craftsmanship,” this suggests cultural imperialism. Another example would be statues of tyrants, sound familiar?
Occasionally these will overlap. A classic example of this is Iraq. The George W. Bush Doctrine of preemptive warfare in Iraq (under the pretence of establishing “democracy”) was political. The real reason, the drive for influence and control over the Middle East oil supply, was economic. During the period of occupation, American music, television and film has slipped into the native Iraqi mainstream…this is cultural.
Iraq is the perfect trifecta of Western imperialism.