What do you understand by Theory of Colonialism ?

Derived from Greek, the terms “colonization” and “colonialism” broadly denotes the permanent settlement of a new territory by a group of people who have moved there from their original home: a colony. Although the two terms are frequently used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings. While foreigners frequently use colonization to refer to the process of permanent settlement of a new territory. Colonialism refers to political control or rule of the people of a given territories, by a foreign state. It is thus possible colonization may occur without colonialism. However, in the context of modern world,” colonization” is also often used to refer to the process of establishing the colonial rule of a state over the inhabitants of other territories, whether or not significant movements of population accompany this form the country of colonizing state to its colonial territory.

Russell Brand – Colonialism is what Scotland can escape same as ...

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However, when this does occur, it is distinguished by the term “settler colonies”. For example, in the Americas settler Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and other Europeans established colonies in the centuries following Columbus’s fateful voyage of 1942, while a permanent settler presence was insignificant in the European colonies of Asia. Africa presents examples of both settler colonies-the French in Algeria, Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique, British in Kenya and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Dutch and then British in South Africa-and other colonies where the European presence was mostly limited to the agents of political rule (civil and military officials) and economic activity (merchants, plantation managers, mining engineers), who returned “home” on retirement. However, in French colonialism, colonies were thought of as part of the mother country, meaning that colonial peoples were granted formal rights of citizenship.

The evolution of imperialism in the 20th century has assumed two distinct forms-colonialism and neo-colonialism. The latter will be taken up separately in the next section of the Unit. However, from the point of view of colonialism being a part form of imperialism, it is broadly understood as the theory or practice of establishing control over foreign territory and turning it into a “colony” colonialism is thus usually distinguished by settlement and by economic domination. In contrast, neocolonialism is essentially an economic phenomenon based on the export of capital from an advanced country to a less developed one, as seen, for example, in so-called US “dollar imperialism” in Latin America.


The Marxists are probably the ones to have presented the most systematic treatment of the theory of colonialism by focusing on several general issues. First, they try to link the direct political control of non-capitalist societies with the reproductive requirements of European and American industrial capitalist economies in the 19th Century. Second, they focus on the political, economic and ideological implications of industrial capitalist entry into non-capitalist entry into non-capitalist societies with a view to understanding the possibility of development of socialism in both the industrial capitalist and colonized societies. This was necessary as they considered capitalism to be a prerequisite to socialism. And finally, they analyze the possible consequences of socialist developments in colonial societies for socialist transformation in colonizing countries.

In the Marxist tradition, these issues have been approached from within different theoretical and political perspectives. The most detailed commentary by Marx on colonialism appeared in 1853, which he wrote while analyzing the impact of British colonial rule on India. Marx argued that colonial control was necessary not simply as a means for excluding rival industrial nations and in cases where the reproduction of non-capitalist economies was particularly resistant to capitalist penetration .In Capital III, Marx further stressed the importance of the conical state for transforming those non-capitalist modes whose political level was crucial for their reproduction.

Luxemburg further developed the role of colonialism in effecting capitalist penetration in non-capitalist economies there by transforming them in capitalist economies. She posited four capitalist mechanisms for undermining natural economies or non-capitalist modes of production. This, she argued, could be done by introduction of a commodity economy and an internal separation of trade from agriculture, or by a forcible possession of their fertile land, raw materials and labor power. She argued that only colonialism could achieve this undermining successfully which came as a last resort when all other mechanisms like trade, investment and monetization has failed to restrict the production of the natural economy.

It was the publication of Hilferding’s Finance Capital in 1910 that colonialism began to be viewed more specifically as the outcome of developments in a particular phase of industrial capitalist growth. Hilferding associated colonialism with the rise to dominance of finance capital and the resultant increase in the export of capital from industrial capitalist economies in the late 19th Centurty leading to conflicts between industrial nation states over the annexation and consolidation of conical areas. Lenin extended this further by arguing that the export of capital to colonized areas would lead to an expansion and deepening of capitalist development. As already seen above, Lenin was highly critical of Kautsky’s theory of “ultra-imperialism” and instead focused on inter-imperialist rivalry between nation states by questioning their possibilities for cooperative exploration of colonized areas. This, coupled with Lenin’s belief in Marx’s nations of capitalist penetration as progressive, ultimately laid the basis for one stand of the debate on colonialism in the Third International. The views of Kautsky and Bukharin on colonialism formed other strands of the debate. They were of the view that capitalist production, rather than spreading evenly through the colonial economy, would remain confined to sectors operating in the interests of the industrial capitalist economies. However, M.N. Roy, Eugene Varga, and Pronin were the ones who later on the best represented Lenin’s perspective on colonialism. These debates on the forms of capitalist development through colonialism ultimately laid the basis for the emergence of new theories of underdevelopment and dependency-a subject matter that we shall take up in detail in the next Unit.

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