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European Colonialism in the 19th Century

Before the era of the great geographic discoveries, the word "colony" meant a settlement in a foreign territory. The word "colony" got a contemporary meaning. Since that time, capitalism, which became the dominant socio-economic system, and colonialism, which was an essential factor for the capitalization of production, went side-by-side. A colonial robbery and trade were a significant source of the primitive accumulation of capital (Lehning 2013).

The European expansion initiated by Columbus and Vasco da Gama reached its apogee at the end of the 19th century, when the world was divided between the great powers, which owned vast colonial empires. There were a substantial number of empires in the history. Most of them were created by capturing the neighbouring regions. Colonial empires, in contrast, were built by the European countries during the conquest of distant non-European nations. Covering virtually all continents, they owed their existence to the vast economic and technological superiority of the metropolis. The apogee of this process took place in the 19th century. This century is often called the century of imperialism. The emergence of colonial empires took place in the 15th century, when Columbus reached America, and the Portuguese discovered the sea route to India. Already possessing small colonies in Asia, the Europeans began the exploration of the New World. By the 18th century, Latin America was divided between Spain and Portugal. Britain and France fought for the supremacy in North America until Britain won the Seven Years' War (Hobson 2006).

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By the end of the 19th century, the process of formation of the world market was ended. It resulted in a crucial economic and territorial division of the world. Monopolization of the foreign market implied the seizure of colonies that were the guaranteed markets for goods and raw material source. The scientific, technical and military superiority of the European countries facilitated the conquest of the territory of nations living at a lower stage of development. In the 70-80s, there were new forms and methods in the colonial policy of the capitalist countries. Monopoly capitalism completely subdued the economy of dependent countries to the needs of metropolises. It impeded the development of capitalist relations arguing the lopsided agro-raw specialization of colonies. The 19th century was filled with colonial conquests accompanied by anti-colonial wars (Lehning 2013).

The 19th century was marked by the leadership in science, technology and military power of the European countries, the most powerful of which was the first industrial country in the world - the United Kingdom. The Europeans occupied almost the entire world and turned other countries to colonies and markets for their goods. Around 1870, the Europeans turned their sights on Africa. By 1815, Britain owned an immense empire, which constantly expanded its borders. However, most of its rivals - Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands - experienced the stagnation. Thus, in the 19th century, Britain entered the final phase of the European imperialism with a wide margin, when a large part of Asia and Africa was colonized. Nevertheless, France, its long-time rival, also showed the extraordinary activity. The British rule in South-East Asia was strengthened. Eventually, the entire Indian subcontinent (including present Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) directly or indirectly came under the British rule. India was actually run by the East India Company until the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857. After the rebellion, the government took upon itself the board of India (Boahen 2011).

The improvement of vehicles and weapons opened up new possibilities for colonial conquests. The invention of the steamer reduced the duration of shipping. After 1812, England had a substantial amount of steamships, which were also not dependent on the trade winds. The construction of canals and other waterworks, improving and streamlining of artificial navigable waterways had resulted in the significant growth in the world trade. The discovery of the Suez Canal was the event of great international importance. A way from England or the Netherlands, which had waged around the Cape of Good Hope, decreased by 13 thousand kilometres. After the discovery of the Cape, there was the revival of trade and political activities of the colonial powers on the East Coast (Lehning 2013).

In the conquered colonies that lost the political and economic independence, metropolis planted capitalist relations. This happened in North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where the local population could not withstand the force of the colonialists. Native people were either physically destroyed or herded into reservations. However, the colonization in the East was different. Colonialists could not gain a foothold completely. In the East, they were in the minority, and attempts to change the structure of society were not successful. The main reason was a great number of traditions and stability of the Eastern society. The Colonization of peoples of Africa and Asia had an impact on their development. However, the introduction of capitalist relations stroke against the resistance of traditional structures (Lehning 2013).


Colonial and dependent countries turned into a market for finished industrial products and a source of raw materials for the industry in developed countries. These areas were included in the sphere of influence of the most developed countries. They took the significant place in the global market. However, the exchange of goods drew colonial countries in the world trade turnover contributing to their socio-economic development (the development of local industry for the processing of raw materials, transport and communication). In colonial economic policies of industrialized countries, the central place occupied the export of capital, which was significantly higher than the export of goods (Fieldhouse 1999).

Colonial powers fought for the dominance and control over resources. They occupied new territories. In the already conquered lands, the metropolis through the local colonial administration pursued a policy that took into account local peculiarities. In India, most of the Rajas, Nawabs and Sultans worked closely with the colonialists, who disposed in their self-governing principalities. Against those, who sought to preserve the real independence, the army of the East India Company fought bloody wars. Thus, in the middle of the 19th century, the Sikhs were defeated. The state of Punjab was annexed and converted into a province. England managed to subjugate the whole India. Plantations of cotton, jute and tea began to emerge. The labour of indentured hired coolies was used there. The British developed the means of transport and communications. They expanded ports. The first textile factories, including those belonging to the Indians, appeared there. The delivery of finished industrial products and organization of their production led to the ruin of artisans. There was the stratification of the peasantry in India. Several principalities lost their former independence (Lehning 2013).

In the 19th century, trade and predatory practices were replaced by the economic ones. The main role was assigned to big industrialists and not traders. Accordingly, there were changes in the position in the world trade. The value of colonial goods fell. However, the need for food, raw materials, dyes, wool, cotton that were especially essential for the development of the European industry increased. During this period, colonies became the agro-raw materials appendage of metropolises. Colonies were suppliers of raw and auxiliary materials for the industry and food for the growing urban populations. In such colonies, finished fabrics, hardware, and other semi-finished products were imported. For example, in 1870, the structure of India's export consisted of 36% of raw cotton, 21% - of opium, 12% - of grain and 4% - of jute. At the same time, the country's import consisted of 45% of cotton fabrics, 8% - of yarn, 13% - of metal and only 2% - of cars, mainly for processing of raw materials. It is understood that 85% of goods were imported into India from the metropolis (Salmi 2013).

A crucial role in exploitation of colonies began to play a crucial role in terms of monopolies of metropolitan countries that captured the most important sectors of the economy of colonies and dependent countries. The manual labour played a vital role in colonies. Though, the influx of the foreign capital contributed to the creation of a certain number of mechanized enterprises. For example, in 1854, the first Indian jute mill started to operate in Calcutta, and two years later, the first cotton factory was opened in Bombay. For more efficient use of resources of colonies and the reduction of traffic, metropolis built enterprises for the primary processing of raw materials and the production of certain goods: cleaning and pressing of cotton, jute, the production of dyes, iron products, building materials, sugar, dried fruits, opium, rum, coconut and soybean oil, certain types of food (rice, wheat, salt and beef), leather processing, precious wood, copper and silver. Mastering of the deep areas of colonies led to the expansion of the railway construction. With their help, entrepreneurs of monopolies significantly increased the export of raw materials from the interior regions. However, they contributed to the formation of the single internal market in the colonies and dependent countries. The development of commodity-money relations (the use of steamships and locomotives accelerated the circulation of goods and capital) markedly accelerated, as well as the crisis of the feudal system. As a result of the influx of manufactured goods of metropolises and freedom of trade, family communities, which were closed, isolated from the world, based on the domestic industry, agriculture handicrafts and unique combination of hand weaving, hand spinning and manual method of cultivation, began to collapse (Fieldhouse 1999).

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In the world market, in terms of the production of goods, new territories were drawn. Thus, in the 70s, the conquest of deep African territories increased, and the struggle for a new division of Africa between the European colonizers (Britain, France, Germany and Belgium) started. The continent was very rich in natural resources - gold, diamonds, base metals, oil and coal. In 1896, Britain and Germany signed an agreement on the division of spheres of influence in Eastern Africa. In 1897, the British and French interests in Africa were finally demarcated. Belgium became the owner of a large territory in the Congo Basin (Okoth 2006). At the end of the 19th century, at the stage of monopoly capitalism, colonial possessions were concentrated in the hands of three European countries: the UK - 33.5 million square kilometres with the population of 400 million people, France - 10.6 million square kilometres and 55 million people and Germany - 3 million square kilometres and 13.3 million people respectively. The whole world was divided on metropolises, colonies and dependent countries (Salmi 2013).

Thus, the monopolies produced an ambiguous effect on the colonial countries. On the one hand, colonies and dependent countries broke through the circle of isolation and joined the world of capitalism. The import of capital to underdeveloped countries created the basis for the development of the market and inclusion of those countries in the mechanism of single global economy. This process had the objective nature and smoothed the difference in the development between the industrialized countries of the West and the backward African and Asian countries. On the other hand, the dependency of the industrialized countries increased. In the global economy, the division of labour between metropolises and colonies established. Capitals were invested primarily in industries needed to metropolitan countries: the mining industry, railway construction and agriculture. Colonizers oriented the economy of dependent countries on the production of the relevant goods. The agrarian sector was imposed the monoculture system: namely, the preferential cultivation of one kind of agricultural products. As a result of this policy, India specialized in the production and export of cotton, tobacco, sugar and jute. Egypt supplied only cotton, Brazil - rubber and coffee, Australia and New Zealand - wool, Burma - rice, Congo - rubber (Fieldhouse 1999).

Colonial powers confirmed their own culture in colonies. They destroyed the old local traditions, imposing their own values. Missionaries, who wanted to convert "poor heathen" to Christianity, also contributed to this. The slave trade had the most pernicious influence. The parent state fully managed economies and policies in its colonies. After independence, a great number of colonies failed to establish their own stable political and economic life to the present day. Being the developing countries, they continue to depend on their former colonial powers (Lehning 2013).

Methods of the colonial rule in different regions were markedly different from each other. This was especially true to the British possessions. There could be either direct rule (no self-government) or one of various kinds of the protectorate perfected by the contract, under which the British adviser was accepted to the service by the local governor. By the XIX century, colonial powers believed that they were responsible for the spread of civilization to remote areas. Indeed, railways, medicine and other benefits were brought to the colonies from Europe. However, their economy had to satisfy the metropolis, first of all, and not the local population. The self-government training was carried out so slowly (except for the areas, where the white population was dominated) that granting the independence was delayed indefinitely. Numerous wars and uprisings of the natives, which offered a resistance or tried to free themselves from the yoke of imperialism, showed the negative consequences of the colonial conquest (Salmi 2013).

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The possession of colonies meant obtaining of the wealth and expansion of territories. That is why, for a long time, the European countries had colonies in Asia and America. Seasonings, gold and land were extremely important for them. The fight for the new territories and the influence on them started, and Africa was divided. Ore, diamonds and rubber, which was found there, promised to bring profit and prosperity. For many years, colonies had been fighting for their independence, right to self-determination and their own statehood. Many countries managed to achieve independence only in the second half of the XX century. However, most of them preserved close ties with the former metropolis.

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