Imperialism Throughout History: a Study

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Imperialism is the extension of a country’s territory or influence through various means, like war or diplomacy. While it is on the decline in the 21st century, it has existed as a concept since humans began to form collective civilizations. As technology advanced, humans found ways to expedite imperialism and the moral fidelity of it is seen less positively now looking back.

Under various names, Britain has been the greatest employer of imperialist tactics. At its height, it controlled about a quarter of the world’s population and landmass. It has since declined after freeing most of their overseas territories from British rule, and the concept of an empire is now mostly nonexistent, but even up until the early 20th century the British Empire was in full swing. Its crown jewel, British India, was one of the most exploited colonies ever and retrospectively, was an example of how not to treat your subjects as a monarch. The United States has been involved in imperialism since before its conception with its aggressive forward settling on local Native American tribes. Since then, it has extended its influence and is the dominating force in culture in 2018. The US has also historically meddled in other countries’ affairs, from militarily policing other countries at war or not at war to influencing foreign elections and causing political messes in places like Latin America and the Middle East. Other countries like Russia, Spain, China (under various dynasties), Portugal and more have all employed imperialist tactics to further their interests. Most of Africa and South America were European holdings at one point, and Asia has had its fair share of Western control as well.

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Mercantilism is the concept of a finite amount of wealth in the world and the existence of colonies to serve the homeland with the foreign resources and other useful things they may provide. Mercantilism is an extension of imperialism. Poor treatment of colonies during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries can be blamed on mercantilist and imperialist attitudes in Europe. Mercantilist trading companies like Britain’s East India Company gained control in their respective areas and took advantage of the local populace for maximum profit.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the famed Argentine revolutionary and Marxist, initially set upon his quest to free as much of the world from capitalism as he could in part due to the effects of imperalism he witnessed first hand as he journeyed across South America. By then, foreign powers had taken control of most of South America and the local populace was suffering for it. By the end of his journeys, he had become a full blown Marxist communist and was committed to improving quality of life wherever he could. While he did not really succeed (quality of life is still pretty bad in Cuba where he played a part in the revolution, and he failed elsewhere), the state of Cuba after the communist revolution is perhaps a direct result of imperialism and what happens when the opposite extreme is put in place. Guevara made an enemy of imperialist powers and was captured by the CIA and executed for his crimes in Bolivia. Guevara’s style of communism was quite aggressive – he mostly favored Lenin’s conventional style of communism (which was different to Marx’s original view in that Lenin’s form favored a state that oversaw communism) but also supported “exporting the revolution”, so he could extend communism across the world.

Patrice Lumumba was a leftist politician from the Congo who was assassinated by the European-influenced president of the Congo, Joseph Mobutu in 1960 shortly after becoming Prime Minister of the country. He supported the Congo’s freedom from Belgian imperialism and for this he was killed. Belgian treatment and exploitation of Congolese people was terrible and this is what influenced Lumumba’s politics. He was also a proponent of Pan-Africanism, which promoted unity among Africans and decried foreign intervention and exploitation on the continent. He didn’t do what he did for the Congo but for the whole of Africa.

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