AskDefine | Define imperialist

Dictionary Definition

imperialist adj : of or relating to imperialism; "imperialistic wars" [syn: imperialistic] n : a believer in imperialism

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. of, or relating to imperialism


  1. An advocate of imperialism.

Extensive Definition

For the computer game, see Imperialism (computer game).
Imperialism has two meanings, one describing an action and the other describing an attitude. Most commonly it is understood in relation to Empire building, as the forceful extension of a nation's authority by territorial conquest establishing economic and political domination of other nations. In its second meaning the term describes the imperialistic attitude of superiority, subordination and dominion over foreign people. Imperialism is often autocratic, e.g. in early 20th century Japan, and sometimes monolithic in character. While the term imperialism often refers to a political or geographical domain such as the Ottoman Empire the British Empire, or the Russian Empire, etc, the term can equally be applied to domains of knowledge, beliefs, values and expertise, such as the empires of Christianity (see Christendom) or Islam (see Caliphate).


Imperialism is found in the ancient histories of Roman Empire, Greece, the Persian Empire, China (see Ten Great Campaigns), the Ottoman Empire (see Ottoman wars in Europe), the Islamic Caliphate, India, Egypt, Africa, the Aztec empire, and many other areas. Although the practice has existed for thousands of years, the term "Age of Imperialism" refers to the Scramble for Africa, along with the Scramble for India. The term 'Imperialism' was coined in the sixteenth century, reflecting the imperial policies of Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, and the Netherlands into Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Currently, there is an effort to broaden the definition of "imperialism" so it applies to any instance of a greater power acting or being perceived to act at the expense of a lesser power. Including 'perception' in the definition makes it circular, solipsistic, and subjective. Under this broader definition, 'imperialism' not only describes colonial, territorial policies;but also describes economic dominance and influence.
European dominance of the east through economic exploitation and political rule, (as distinct from the word colonialism, which usually implied establishment of settler colonies often with slavery as the labor system), the word was coined in the mid-nineteenth century.

Lenin's theory of imperialism

European intellectuals have contributed to formal theories of imperialism. In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), V.I. Lenin said capitalism necessarily induced monopoly capitalism as imperialism to find new business and resources, representing the last and highest stage of capitalism. The necessary expansion of capitalism beyond the boundaries of nation-states — a foundation of Leninism — was shared by Rosa Luxemburg (The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to an Economic Explanation of Imperialism) and liberal philosopher Hannah Arendt. Since then, Marxist scholars extended Lenin's theory to be synonymous with capitalist international trade and banking.
Although Karl Marx did not publish a theory of imperialism, he identified colonialism (cf. Das Kapital) as an aspect of the prehistory of the capitalist mode of production. Lenin's definition: "the highest stage of capitalism" addressed the time when monopoly finance capital was dominant, forcing nations and private corporations to compete to control the world's natural resources and markets.
Marxist imperialism theory, and the related dependency theory, emphasise the economic relationships among countries (and within countries), rather than formal political and military relationships. Thus, imperialism is not necessarily direct formal control of one country by another, but the economic exploitation of one by another. This Marxism contrasts with the popular conception of imperialism, as directly-controlled colonial and neocolonial empires.
Per Lenin, Imperialism is Capitalism, with five simultaneous features:
(1) Concentration of production and capital led to the creation of national and multinational monopolies — not as in liberal economics, but as de facto power over their markets — while "free competition" remains the domain of local and niche markets:
''Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism, and of commodity production generally; monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition, but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes, creating large-scale industry and forcing out small industry, replacing large-scale by still larger-scale industry, and carrying concentration of production and capital to the point where out of it has grown and is growing monopoly: cartels, syndicates and trusts, and merging with them, the capital of a dozen or so banks, which manipulate thousands of millions. At the same time the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts. Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher system.'' (Ch. VII)
[Following Marx's value theory, Lenin saw monopoly capitalism limited by the law of falling profit, as the ratio of constant capital to variable capital increased. Per Marx, only living labour (variable capital) creates profit in the form of surplus-value. As the ratio of surplus value to the sum of constant and variable capital falls, so does the rate of profit on invested capital.]
(2) Finance capital replaces industrial capital (the dominant capital), (reiterating Rudolf Hilferding's point in Finance Capital), as industrial capitalists rely more upon bank-generated finance capital.
(3) Finance capital exportation replaces the exportation of goods (though they continue in production);
(4) The economic division of the world, by multi-national enterprises via international cartels; and
(5) The political division of the world by the great powers, wherein exporting finance capital to their colonies allows their exploitation for resources and continued investment. This superexploitation of poor countries allows the capitalist industrial nations to keep some of their own workers content with slightly higher living standards. (cf. labor aristocracy; globalization)
Claiming to be Leninist, the U.S.S.R. proclaimed itself foremost enemy of imperialism, supporting armed, national independence or communist movements in the Third World while simultaneously dominating Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Marxists and Maoists to the left of Trotsky, such as Tony Cliff, claim the Soviet Union was imperialist. Maoists claim it occurred after Khrushchev's ascension in 1956; Cliff says it occurred under Stalin in the 1940s (see Soviet occupations). Harry Magdoff's Age of Imperialism (1954) discusses Marxism and imperialism.
Lenin's theory of imperialism has been critiqued by many scholars. One problem with Lenin's theory concerns the measured volumes of trade and capital flow among European capitalist societies and between European capitalist societies and poor Third World societies. European capitalist systems since the nineteenth century have always done the vast bulk of their trading among themselves, with a relative sliver of trade and capital flow going out to non-developed societies in comparison with trade and capital flow within the great European systems.
Lenin's theory also contradicts Marx's doctrine of the reserved army of the unemployed (i.e. the lumpen proletariat), which holds that capitalism, for systemic reasons, cannot generate enough capital to employ all those who want to work. Lenin failed to see the contradiction, between the claim that capitalism builds up so much capital that it must send the excess overseas to "exploit" less developed societies, and the claim that capitalism cannot generate enough capital to sustain full employment.
The aforementioned contradiction can be seen as a distortion of Marxist-Leninist Theory. It is true that Marx uncovered systematic failures inherent to capitalism such as the inability of capitalism to provide work for all people. For instance, many modern Nations have an unemployment rate significantly greater than zero. The United States is one particular example. However, Marx attributed such a failure to the dynamics of capitalist production. Capitalists, in general, own the means of production (e.g. factories) and make profit. What is important here is how the profit is re-invested into the capitalist system. Rather than pay their workers higher wages or hire a larger work force, capitalists spend a significant portion of their profits on technological development. For example, the modern assembly line relies heavily on machinery. These machines take away the jobs of human workers. At the same time, capitalists are able to churn out more products using such machinery. Capital, then, can be increased (at least for a short time). In terms of imperialism, Lenin's theory does not contradict Marx's analysis of capitalism. Both men believed in and witnessed the formation of monopolies. Both men also stressed the insatiable appetite of capitalism to search for new markets that can increase profit. Since the bottom line for monopolies is to increase profit, Lenin was right insofar as imperialism is caused by the search for new markets.
Currently, Marxists view globalization as imperialism's latest incarnation.

See also


Further reading

  • Robert Bickers/Christian Henriot (Hg.): New frontiers : imperialism's new communities in East Asia, 1842-1953, Manchester [u.a.] : Manchester University Press 2000, ISBN 0-7190-5604-7
  • Empire, by Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-674-00671-2
  • Guy Ankerl: Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharatai, Chinese, and Western., Geneva, INU PRESS,
2000, ISBN2-88155-004-5.

External links

imperialist in Arabic: إمبريالية
imperialist in Aragonese: Imperialismo
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imperialist in Bulgarian: Империализъм
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imperialist in Croatian: Imperijalizam
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imperialist in Italian: Imperialismo
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imperialist in Georgian: იმპერიალიზმი
imperialist in Lithuanian: Imperializmas
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imperialist in Thai: ลัทธิจักรวรรดินิยม
imperialist in Turkish: Emperyalizm
imperialist in Ukrainian: Імперіалізм
imperialist in Chinese: 帝国主义

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bircher, Bourbon, Tory, conservatist, conservative, diehard, extreme right-winger, hard hat, monarchist, radical right, reactionarist, reactionary, reactionist, right, right wing, right-winger, rightist, royalist, social Darwinist, standpat, standpatter, ultraconservative
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