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As imperialism (of Latin imperare "prevail"; imperium " Empire "; for example in the Roman Empire ) refers to the tendency of a state or its political leadership to gain political and economic influence in other countries or in other nations, to their Submission and integration into one's own sphere of influence. Typically, this involves building and maintaining an unequal economic, cultural or territorial relationship.

Imperialism was also adopted in retrospect for a number of ancient empires. The term as such was coined in the 16th century and was then a negative term for a rule  based on military power and despotism - in contrast to the rule of law . The late 19th century is considered to be the real age of imperialism, to which the various Marxist theories of imperialism also contributed.

The term imperialism encompasses more than colonialism and should therefore be separated from colonization . Edward Said sees imperialism as "the practice, theory and rules of conduct of a dominant urban center vis-à-vis a ruled distant territory", the province . According to Said, colonization is nothing more than the settlement of distant lands. Robert JC Young agrees that imperialism operates from the center, as state policy, while colonization no longer means settlement or economic development.

The broader concept of cultural imperialism , as well as that of cultural hegemony in the sense of Antonio Gramsci, must be distinguished from the conscious politics of power projection and the expansion of governmental authority to various territories .

Concept history

Traditional usage of the term

The terms imperialist (English) and impérialiste (French) arose in the 16th century: in the early modern period they usually referred to supporters of the Roman-German emperor . In this sense, the term imperialism was also meant when it first appeared: in 1791 in France the mentality of supporters of the Habsburg imperial family was referred to as impérialisme for the first time . From the beginning of the 19th century, both in the English and French-speaking countries, an imperialist was understood to be a partisan of Napoleon and later a proponent of Napoleon's claims to rule. With this meaning, the word imperialist appeared in German in 1826 . The term only found widespread use from the middle of the 19th century, for which the coup of Napoleon III. from 1851 provided the occasion. In the aftermath, imperialism was usually used in much the same sense as Caesarism , Napoleonism, and Bonapartism . It was not about territorial expansion, but about the claim of the ruling family to rule the state. In addition, a somewhat different usage of the language had occasionally occurred in the first half of the century, in which the person of the ruler was not in the foreground, but the idea of ​​military success and national greatness associated with the name Napoleon. Anyone who cultivated such an orientated nationalism in France was an imperialist , but not necessarily a Bonapartist.

In the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s a slow change in meaning emerged. Imperialism continued to be understood primarily as the same as Caesarism: the sole rule of a ruler who, following the example of Caesar, relies on military means and on his personal prestige, thereby masking a lack of constitutional legitimacy. According to the understanding of the time, Napoleon III embodied this type of ruler. This was increasingly linked - again in connection with the ancient Roman pattern - with the idea of ​​a tendency to expand and striving for world domination. Therefore, the term imperialism was now also used for the British world empire ("Empire") , although there was no sole rule in the sense of Caesarism. However, the traditional meaning continued to dominate; In the autumn of 1870, after the capture and deposition of Napoleon III , Wilhelm I said that “imperialism was lying on the ground,” including the empire in the style of Napoleon III. understanding. As late as 1888, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon defined imperialism as a political state in which “it is not the law but the arbitrariness of the regent that rules based on military power”.

Newer uses of the term

Empires and colonies in 1898

A more recent use of the term first caught on in England in the 1870s. It was about an internal political dispute between the proponents of a strong link between the overseas territories and the mother country and their liberal adversaries. Liberal critics, opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's policies , used to label the other side's position as imperialism. In doing so, they consciously tied in with the traditional negative connotation of this term in connection with Bonapartism, which is hated in England. They were suspicious of an official world empire policy, as it was based on the unscrupulous use of military power. As a result of the imperialist expansion, they feared a concentration of power that could create a mentality that would weaken parliamentary control and ultimately lead to despotism in England itself.

The originally derogatory terms “imperialist” and “imperialism” were soon taken up by proponents of the imperial development of power and used as self-designations in a positive sense. Since the term was burdened by the traditional negative connotation and the polemics of the critics of the expansion policy, it was used to distinguish it from “imperialism in its best sense” or “true imperialism”. This new meaning of the term slowly established itself as a secondary meaning in Germany ; one understood by "imperialists" a certain tendency in domestic political disputes in England.

The use of the term imperialism in the 20th century and in the present refers in particular to the wave of European expansion between 1870 and 1914 and its consequences. With regard to the German Reich , it is often overlooked that the English translation of Reich is "empire". That is why one spoke in English-speaking countries of the imperial government as the Imperial German Government . The striving for great power of the European powers then also led to the First World War , with which the “age of classical imperialism” ended.

After the First World War, the term “imperialism” was used in general for efforts that - for ideological and missionary reasons - strive for world domination or at least domination over large areas outside one's own state. This is how people spoke and still speak of “Soviet imperialism” and “US imperialism”. To distinguish it from today's neo-imperialism, the term “historical imperialism” is used today with a view to the “age of imperialism”.

In Marxism , imperialism was initially understood by Karl Kautsky following Plato's dialogueThe State ” as a specific policy for the subjugation of an agrarian territory outside the state. This contradicted the Marxist economic theory , which described imperialism as a special stage of development (stage) of capitalism . The older theory of Rosa Luxemburg in this regard was analytically based on the saturation of the internal market, the conquest of the world market and the competition for it by national capitals. On the other hand, Lenin's later theory of imperialism was empirically based on the occurrence of certain phenomena (such as the amalgamation of industrial and banking capital to form finance capital). Lenin also saw the monopoly phase of capitalism, which he described as characteristic of imperialism, as its highest and last stage. At the end of his life, however, in contrast to his earlier view of imperialism, Lenin saw in his letter "On the Question of Nationalities" the possibility of imperialist relations between the socialist Soviet Union and other states. While Lenin, Luxemburg and Kautsky resolutely rejected imperialism and colonialism as part of an overall system of capitalist oppression, there were also dissenting voices, such as that of the Dutch social democrat Henri van Kol , who defended colonial conquests of non-European regions as a “civilization policy”. Such views, however, remained a small minority within Marxism, theoretically and politically formative were the analyzes critical of imperialism.

In stark contrast to the Marxist view, the economist Schumpeter did not see imperialism as a necessary result of competition in a capitalist economic order. Rather, he saw it as an expression of irrational chauvinism by the upper classes to consolidate their power. In this respect, it can occur in all stages of history and in different political systems.

In 1940, Jawaharlal Nehru identified Nazism “as the 'twin brother' of Western imperialism”, which was supposed to function in Europe like Western imperialism overseas. Pankaj Mishra argues that after 1945 the horrors of Nazism and Communism made people forget that modern British and American societies were founded on a racist imperialism.

The term “imperialism” overlaps in many ways with that of colonialism . According to Jens Flemming , however, one difference lies in the striving for power. In his view, not all colonialism has to be geared towards building an empire. At the same time, the category of imperialism includes not only direct forms of rule, but also indirect relationships of dependence ( indirect rule ) on states.

In his theory of empire, Herfried Münkler draws parallels between today's US foreign policy and that of earlier empires, focusing on the subjective motivation of Macchiavellian actors.

The indigenous American professor Jack D. Forbes sees imperialism as a symptom of what he describes as a “ Wétiko psychosis ”, a collective fascination among Europeans for evil , collective psychotic greed and pathological inhumanity.

Critique of theories of imperialism

Historians John Andrew Gallagher and Ronald Robinson rejected the idea of ​​formal legal control of one government over the other as the basis of imperialism. Most historians would be drawn to different colored cards (literally “red colored cards” in the sense of Cecil Rhodes ). Most of British emigration, trade and investment took place outside the formal British Empire.

While military force sometimes played a role in empire building, the crucial role in the British Empire was the involvement of local economic and administrative elites. The indirect domination of India was essentially based on the political weakness of the Mughal states encountered .

Painter and Jeffrey go so far as to say that the second European expansion was based more on the accidental interaction of European powers and their domestic politics than on conscious imperialism. No European empire as such had a really definable purpose, whether economic or otherwise. The empires represented only one phase of Europe's complex interaction with the rest of the world.

A counter-thesis to “imperialism” formulated early (1902/12) is that of a possible peaceful ultra-imperialism . This implies that imperialism with its belligerent contradictions can be overcome - and that inherent to the system within capitalism itself. In this economic sense, “ globalization ” is also used today , which, according to Thomas L. Friedman, can also have a peacemaking effect.

Imperialism before the 19th century

Great empires of antiquity

The first imperial expansions resulted from the concentration of power in dealing with large irrigation structures and dams in China (Hoangho), India (Indus), Mesopotamia (Euphrates and Tigris) and Egypt (Nile), according to Wittfogel in the " hydraulic cultures ". The name given to the growth of Rome . According to the principle of divide et impera (Latin for “ divide and rule ”), they gave the conquered areas a certain degree of co-determination through self-determination of the population or their own government, which was represented by a governor. In addition to the short-lived Alexander Empire, which was important for Hellenism due to its expansion , the Roman Empire played a major role. The Pax Romana referred to the domain SPQR in which the Romans pacified their conquered territories by sharing power with the local elites (see also Augustan threshold ).

middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages , the Byzantine Empire also succeeded in conquering the eastern Mediterranean , the Near East and parts of Italy , thereby partially restoring the Roman Empire to its old extent. Until the 13th century Byzantium was one of the dominant great powers in Europe, it was not until the 4th Crusade , the conquest of Constantinople by the Venetians and "Franks", that power began to gradually decline until Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottomans in 1453. The northern Italian city-states of Genoa and Venice also created extensive trading empires with bases and colonies on the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean region. ( Genoese colonies , Venetian colonies )

Other important imperial empires of the Middle Ages were the Franconian Empire , which also claimed the successor to the Roman Empire, and the Aragon Crown , which mainly ruled the western Mediterranean.

Non-European Imperialism of the Middle Ages

The Mongol empires under Genghis Khan and his heirs

Islamic expansion

Since the expansion of religion was of central importance due to Islam, which emerged in the 7th century, religiously motivated imperialism also developed here. After the death of the Prophet Mohammed , large parts of North Africa and the Middle East were conquered under the caliph dynasties of the Umayyads and Abbasids , creating an Islamic-Arab world empire that in parts lasted into the 13th century.

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire in its greatest expansion around 1595

The Ottoman Empire increased taking of Constantinople in 1453 by one of the leading great powers in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

At the time of its greatest expansion in the 17th century, it stretched from its heartlands Asia Minor and Rumelia northward to the area around the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, and westward far into the Balkans. For centuries the Ottoman Empire claimed a major European power role politically, militarily and economically alongside the Holy Roman Empire, France and England. In the Mediterranean, the empire fought with the Italian republics of Venice and Genoa, the Papal States and the Order of Malta for economic and political supremacy. From the 18th to the late 19th century, the Russian tsarist empire fought for rule over the Black Sea region. In the Indian Ocean, the empire challenged Portugal in the struggle for priority in long-distance trade with India and Indonesia. The history of the Ottoman Empire is closely linked to that of Western Europe due to the continuously intensive political, economic and cultural relations.

Mongolian Empire

The Mongolian Empire emerged with the conquests of Genghis Khan and was later connected to the Chinese Empire ( Yuan Dynasty ) by his grandson Kublai Khan , which included almost all of Central Asia around 1260 .

Colonialism of Portugal and Spain

Spanish empire
In 1497 Spain conquered the North African Melilla and stayed for 450 years. Photos from 1909.

Just two years after the discovery of America in 1492 by Christopher Columbus , the race between the two maritime powers culminated Portugal and Spain in a division of the earth by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Then the colonization of Central and South America began. Adventurers like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro drove the exploitation of the local Aztecs and Incas for Spain. So the aim was to conquer the supposedly "uncivilized", ie. H. underdeveloped population. The Spaniards under Cortes and Pizarro enslaved the Aztecs and Incas. They acted according to the principles of conquering (of land), annihilation (of culture) and establishing (own states → viceroyalty ), so one spoke of the conquistadors system of Spain (from the Spanish word conquista , which means "conquest").

The two Iberian countries also tried to gain a foothold in Asia. So Portugal managed to acquire Goa , Macau and the Spice Islands ; Spain occupied the Philippines and some Pacific islands. The Portuguese initially only set up bases near the foreign cultures and used this contact more economically. It was not until the 17th century that larger areas of land such as Brazil in South America, Mozambique and Angola in Africa began to be conquered.

Age of Imperialism

The division of Africa among the colonial powers in 1913
  • Third French RepublicThird French Republic France
  • United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom
  • German EmpireThe German Imperium German Empire
  • Italy 1861Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946) Italy
  • PortugalPortugal Portugal
  • BelgiumBelgium Belgium
  • Spain 1875Spain Spain
  • The "age of imperialism" (also "classical imperialism" or "high imperialism") refers to an epoch of the worldwide expansion of domains to overseas territories from around 1870 until the beginning of the First World War, driven mainly by European great and medium powers (1914), motivated primarily by strategic interests of an economic and political nature, later also increasingly by striving for prestige and irrational rivalries between the imperialist powers. The formal imperialism ( colonialism ) practiced during this period, especially in Africa ( race for Africa ), is only one aspect of imperialism, which also includes informal power-political and economic penetration (e.g. in China and the Ottoman Empire ).

    High imperialism was preceded by the phase of early imperialism , which began around 1815 and was mainly shaped by forms of informal imperialism.

    One can distinguish three characteristic forms of imperialist rule formation:

    1. From a trading base to a rulership with the start of its own industry (example: India ).
    2. Domination while maintaining the appearance of sovereignty and autonomy (example: China at the time of the " Unequal Treaties ", during the Qing Dynasty )
    3. economic domination of sovereign states without their own industry (example: Balkan states , Ottoman Empire ).

    The extent to which imperialism shaped political thought at times across Europe can already be seen from the parallel use of the term: Charles Dilkes wrote his book Greater Britain in England in 1869 , Paul Rohrbach published his book The Greater Germany in August 1915 , and there was talk in France “la Plus Grande France” has been a standing phrase and demand since the 1880s. Rudyard Kipling's much-discussed poem “ The White Man's Burden ” from 1899 is known to this day . Kipling's message is that modern, dynamic states like the USA must push back the stagnating European colonial powers like Spain; Building an empire would involve considerable obligations and sacrifices. The poem is regarded as one of the essential testimonies as well as moral justification attempts of imperialism; his title became proverbial.

    Great Britain

    The two rival superpowers in 1812: French Empire (dark green) and occupied territories (light green), British Empire (red)

    The Industrial Revolution happened earlier in Britain than in any other country on earth. In 1805, the British defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar , and from 1806 to 1814 the United Kingdom defied Napoleon's continental blockade . Great Britain opened up new sales markets (especially in North America).

    Advances in heavy industry made advances in shipbuilding possible . The steamship allowed new dimensions. Coal and iron deposits became important power factors. Great Britain changed through industrialization from an agricultural to an industrial state . The increase in mass production required new outlets which they hoped to find in the colonies. The colonies also had a lot of unused agricultural land and cheap labor, which made great profits possible.

    After Napoleon's defeat in Europe in 1815 and the end of the British-French colonial conflict , Great Britain was the undisputed leading sea ​​power in the world; the British took on the role of a "world policeman", a state doctrine later known as " Pax Britannica " . Foreign policy was shaped by the principle of “ splendid isolation ”: other powers were bound by conflicts in Europe, while the British stayed out and, by concentrating on trade, consolidated or expanded their supremacy. With its strong position in the world economy , Great Britain also influenced the domestic politics of numerous nominally independent states; these included China , Argentina and Siam (also known as the “informal empire”). In 1858 the British government took control of India from the British East India Company , and in the Second Boer War (1899–1902) Great Britain gained sole supremacy in South Africa.

    The British Empire in 1921

    By 1914, the British Empire ruled a quarter of the earth's land area. Great Britain (like all other European powers) emerged from the First World War weakened personally and financially, but gained territories from the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire in the form of mandated areas from the League of Nations , including Tanganyika , Palestine and Iraq . The British colonial empire had reached its greatest extent.

    In World War II , as in the First, the United Kingdom received support from its colonies; nevertheless, after the war it was on the verge of insolvency. British India was in the independent states in 1947 India and Pakistan divided, Burma in 1948 independent. The Suez Crisis of 1956 showed the limits of the old colonial powers Great Britain and France in a changing world. In the African year 1960, British Somaliland and Nigeria independent. The British presence in the Middle East ended with the withdrawal from Bahrain in 1971 after the announcement in 1967 that it would withdraw from the formerly dependent territories East of Suez . Vanuatu gained independence in the Pacific in 1980. The 1982 Falklands War against Argentina was like a brief relapse into imperialist times that were believed to be bygone. With the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the end of the Empire was often established.

    The European empires were dissolved at a time (cf. decolonization ) when the military inequality between the colonies and the European powers France and Great Britain was greater than ever before.

    The 14 British overseas territories , the 15 Commonwealth Realms , states whose head of state is the British monarch and the community of former British colonies, the Commonwealth of Nations, are a legacy of the imperial era .


    The Napoleonic French Empire with occupied territories at the time of its greatest expansion in 1812

    The French imperialist aspirations often competed with those of the British Empire , which since the Battle of Trafalgar , the world's leading (1805) naval power was. Many French viewed England as an archenemy. The restoration of the former world power status had high priority. The lost Franco-German War in 1870/71 was a setback for these efforts. There was also Franco-British competition for some colonies (for example during the Faschoda crisis ). In the 18th century France still had numerous colonies in America and India , but they had to cede them to Great Britain after the Seven Years' War in North America (1754–1762) .

    Large parts of northern Africa were also colonies of France ( French West Africa - large parts of the Sahara and surrounding areas). France and the Sultan of Morocco agreed in the Treaty of Fez of March 30, 1912 on the establishment of a French protectorate (" French Morocco "; capital was Rabat ). The head of state officially remained the sultan. With the conclusion of the Franco-Spanish treaty of November 27, 1912, France granted Spain its own zone of influence in northern Morocco (Zone d'influence espagnole) , and Tangier became the center of an international demilitarized area. After the First World War, France gained territories from the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire in the form of mandate areas of the League of Nations , including Cameroon , Togo , Syria and Lebanon . The French colonial empire had reached its greatest expansion.

    Indochina only became independent in 1954 after a war. The Suez Crisis of 1956 showed the limits of the old colonial powers Great Britain and France in a changing world. In the African year 1960, 14 French colonies gained independence in Africa. Algeria became independent in 1962, also only after a war.

    A legacy of the imperialist era are the French overseas territories , the special role of France in Africa ("Francafrique", see Eurafrika # The role of France and the CFA franc zone ) and the community of states of predominantly former colonies, the Francophonie .

    German Empire

    Germany and its colonial empire 1914:
  • The German Imperium
  • German colonies and protected areas
  • Since the colonies of German states did not exist before 1871 , German colonial policy did not begin until 1884/85. Bismarck granted several African areas ( German South West Africa , German East Africa , Cameroon , Togo ) and German New Guinea the status of a "protected area". Within a few years these areas were converted into colonies . The German empire developed after the replacement of Bismarck in 1890 under Kaiser Wilhelm II. With the " New Course " an imperialist-oriented policies. In 1897, the later Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow called for a German " place in the sun " in the Reichstag . This premise of national prestige thinking was to shape German " world politics " until 1914. During the time of “world politics” under Wilhelm II (1888–1914), only a few, smaller areas (such as Kiautschou and German Samoa ) could be acquired, which were nevertheless considered “ model colonies ”. The colonies acquired by Germany, however, were economically and strategically insignificant, as they had neither large natural resources nor agricultural land and they also did not function as relevant sales markets.

    In 1905 the First Morocco Crisis occurred because Germany countered France's efforts to incorporate Morocco into its colonial empire (it intended to establish a protectorate ), citing international treaties. In addition, the German Reich leadership hoped to put the Entente cordiale under threats of war so that it would dissolve. In fact, general staff meetings took place between France and Great Britain, which actually made the Entente cordiale a functional military alliance .

    The Second Morocco Crisis followed in 1911 . French troops marched into the Moroccan cities of Rabat and Fez , Germany sent the gunboat Panther ( Panthersprung to Agadir ). Germany received New Cameroon from France as compensation to round off its Cameroonian possessions, but saw itself isolated in terms of foreign policy. In particular , the imperialistically motivated naval laws enforced by Alfred von Tirpitz between 1898 and 1912 had already placed a heavy burden on German-English relations.

    After the defeat of the Central Powers in the First World War in 1918, the fate of the German colonies was determined by the victorious powers in the Treaty of Versailles . The colonies were placed under the League of Nations , which handed them over as mandate areas to interested victorious powers.

    After the seizure of power by the Nazis in 1933, there was the Nazi state inconsistent efforts to recover the old colonies . However, the concept of living space in the east , which was also permeated by imperialist theories, had a stronger effect . After the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, isolated attempts were made to implement it.


    Russia reached its greatest territorial expansion in the 19th century.

    The imperialism of the Russian Empire differed markedly from the imperialisms of the other great powers. It mainly referred to the territorial expansion (see: Russian colonization ): Siberia (up to the island of Sakhalin ), in the south the largely unmapped areas of the Caucasus (this was where the conflict with the Ottoman Empire occurred, see Turkish Wars ), Northern Persia, Afghanistan, Samarkand , Tashkent and Northern Mongolia. One of the most important driving forces behind this expansion was the Russian endeavor to achieve an ice-free seaport in order to be able to station a year-round operational fleet. Here especially the expansion to the east and the founding of the city of Vladivostok (German: "Ruler of the East"), as well as the policy around the straits on the Bosporus (another conflict with the Ottoman Empire, see also Navalism ). In the 19th century there was a long rivalry between Great Britain ( British Empire ) and the Tsarist Empire ( The Great Game ), which was about supremacy in Central Asia . In 1876 Russia conquered what is now Kyrgyzstan , Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan .

    Russian imperialism was accompanied by a deliberate policy of Russification of the conquered territories. Russification served as an instrument to stabilize rule and was therefore directed against the cultural independence of the ruled peoples.

    In addition, there was the idea of ​​entering a negotiating position with Great Britain by expanding to the south. With pressure on the periphery (northern Persia, Afghanistan and northern India), the central nerve of the British Empire was threatened: the sea routes to India and the crown colony itself. The tsars hoped that Britain would give way on the straits issue.

    In 1904/05, Russia's expansion was halted by the war against Japan . It was precisely the relocation of the conflict areas to East Asia that laid the foundation for the later escalation in Central Europe, which would not be understandable at all without the events on the fringes of the spheres of interest : the First World War .

    After the October Revolution of 1917, some countries gained independence, such as Finland , Poland and the Baltic countries. Others, as Soviet republics, gained a certain degree of self-government during and after the civil war, such as the Ukraine , Belarus , the areas in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

    After the Second World War , the Soviet Union annexed areas on its western border, formed a system of satellite states ( Eastern Bloc or Warsaw Pact ) in Eastern Europe and tried to bring communist parties to power in other countries. This policy has often been referred to as "Soviet imperialism".


    The imperialism of the Japanese Empire towards the end of the 19th century is the least considered by the relevant literature, although its course made it no less important for the events that followed.

    After US Admiral Matthew Perry entered the port of today's Tokyo unmolested with his fleet of four warships in 1854 and ended the so-called closure of Japan , the foundation of the Meiji Restoration was laid. In an unprecedented development it was possible to implement radical reforms and to catch up with the industrialized countries at a breathtaking speed. Just 30 years later, Japan had become a notable territorial power that not only defeated China in a war in 1894/95 and concluded an equal alliance with Great Britain in 1902 : in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 it destroyed a large part of the Russian fleet and was able to do so curb the further expansion of the tsarist empire in Asia (Manchuria, Korea). The beginnings of the Russian Revolution and the relocation of the main powers of the conflict to Europe, especially to the Balkan Peninsula, are also connected with this war .

    Colonies of various colonial powers in the Pacific, September 1, 1939

    With the victory of 1905 Japan had moved up into the circle of the great powers. It knew how to use the imperial game of secret diplomacy in its favor, so that it was able to realize its ambitions in Korea and northern China in the run-up to the First World War. After the First World War, Japan received groups of German islands in the Pacific from the League of Nations as mandate areas. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria and in 1937 began the war against China .

    1941 Japan joined the German side in World War II and took the Pacific one, the Pacific colonies of Britain, France, the Netherlands and the USA. Japan remained the only imperialist power in the East Asian region until the end of World War II. After the defeat in 1945 it had to give up all occupied territories.

    United States

    Caricature on the imperialism debate in the USA

    With the conquest of land in the west, the oppression of the Indians , the forcible appropriation of Texas and other areas of Mexico in 1848 , the American policy, influenced by its own sense of mission ( Manifest Destiny ), showed imperialist features early on. Before the war of secession , the internal American debate about the admission of slavery had led to considerable delays in the discussion about one's own position on colonies when it expanded to the American continent.

    With the victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States also entered the circle of imperialist world powers. The acquisition of the Philippines and Puerto Rico as well as the occupation of Cuba and the construction of the Panama Canal were also seen in the domestic political debate as the first step towards competing with the European colonial powers.

    After its victory in World War I, the United States received German island groups in the Pacific from the League of Nations as mandate areas. During the Second World War, other Pacific islands came under US rule.

    The foreign policy of the USA in South and Central America up to the 1980s, with its interventions and influences, is often cited as an example of neo-imperial power politics.

    The outer territories of the United States are a legacy of the imperialist era .


    Similar to the German Empire, Italy had only found a general state order from the second half of the 19th century and now began to acquire colonies in the course of the boom in Italian industry in order to be able to meet the demand for raw materials.

    Italian colonies (1939, light green) and Italian-occupied territories (gray-green) during World War II

    Initially colonies in East Africa were acquired by private trading companies, which later became state property. From 1894 to 1896 one tried - in vain - to conquer the Empire of Abyssinia . It was not until 1935/36 that Italy was able to overthrow Abyssinia (→ Abyssinian War ), whereby mustard gas was also used, and united it with its East African possessions to form the colony of Italian East Africa . In 1911, Italy began a war with the Ottoman Empire in order to annex its provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica . After only one year, the weakened Ottoman Empire had to cede the provinces to Italy, which it combined to form the Italian Libya colony in 1934 .

    After the First World War, Italy was able to achieve the most important irredeemable targets and gained territories in the north and northeast, including South Tyrol and Istria . In 1939 Albania was annexed.

    During the Second World War, Italy tried to expand its colonial holdings on the German side, briefly conquering British Somaliland in 1940 before the British repulsed the Italian troops.

    After the end of World War II, Italy lost its colonies. Italian Somaliland was under Italian administration from January 1, 1950 to mid-1960 as a UN mandate ( Italian Trustee Territory of Somalia ).


    After the constitution of the Belgian state in 1830, the imperial question began to gain importance here too. Among other things, King Leopold I endeavored to establish Belgian settler colonies overseas from 1842 to 1855, but these were only moderately successful and did not lead to the hoped-for land seizure for the Belgian state. Other colonial plans envisaged conquering large areas in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania, which could never be realized due to the lack of military strength and the resistance of the other colonial powers.

    Congolese village leveled to create a rubber plantation

    Only King Leopold II succeeded in acquiring the so-called Congo Free State as a private property in 1885 . However, in the course of the Congo atrocities in 1908 , he had to leave this to the Belgian state, which converted the Free State into the colony of the Belgian Congo . After the First World War, Belgium was awarded the former German colony of Rwanda-Urundi as a League of Nations mandate , which it finally incorporated into its colony of Belgian Congo. From 1894 to 1910, the Ladoenklave in southern Sudan was also under Belgian administration as a lease area from Great Britain.

    In 1960, the African year , the Congo gained independence after Belgium hastily withdrawn and the country sank into chaos.


    Map with all areas that ever belonged to the Dutch colonial empire (dark green: possessions of the Dutch West India Company , light green: possessions of the Dutch East India Company ).

    The Dutch colonialism began in the late 16th century, conquered and took over many Portuguese colonies and soon formed the two centers of gravity West Indies and the Dutch East Indies . On the (now Indonesian) Spice Islands , the Dutch enforced their claim to the trade monopoly by force in 1620, which led to the murder and deportation of the local population. During the French occupation and the coalition wars (1811 to 1816), the Netherlands lost a large part of their colonial empire to Great Britain. In Indonesia, however, they then expanded their rule. Between about 1890 and 1910 the hinterland of the previous bases was organized as a colony and Aceh was conquered for the last time in 1908 .

    After the expulsion in World War II, the Netherlands tried in vain to reoccupy Indonesia after the Japanese defeat (see Indonesian War of Independence ). Dutch New Guinea fell to Indonesia in 1962. Suriname only gained independence in 1975.

    The Kingdom of the Netherlands has consisted of four equal parts since 2010: Aruba , Curaçao , Sint Maarten and the Dutch heartland. Three other island areas, Bonaire , Saba and Sint Eustatius , form “ special communities ”.


    As early as the 18th century the Habsburg Monarchy tried to acquire colonies in Africa ( Maputo Bay ) and Asia ( Nicobar Islands ) (→ Austrian colonial policy ). Due to pressure from the other colonial powers and because of the poorly equipped Austrian Navy, they soon had to be abandoned. In the 19th century the Austro-Hungarian monarchy no longer practiced active colonialism, but with their Balkan policy they were also one of the imperialist powers. Legitimated by the Berlin Congress , it violently occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878 , which it annexed in 1908 . On this occasion as well as at later times until the beginning of the World War, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf in particular also called for the annexation of Serbia . The conflict with this country led to an import boycott of Serbian agricultural products in 1905, which corresponded to around 90 percent of its exports. As a result, France partially filled Serbia's export gap.

    In 1901 it was possible to acquire a permanent concession area in the Chinese city of Tientsin , which was then lost again in the course of the First World War.

    See also


    • Hannah Arendt : Elements and origins of total domination . In it: Part 2: Imperialism . Munich 1986 (English first edition 1951)
    • Hannah Arendt: About imperialism . In: The Hidden Tradition. Eight essays. Frankfurt a. M. 1976, ISBN 3-518-06803-2 .
    • Robert Bickers, Christian Henriot (ed.): New frontiers: imperialism's new communities in East Asia, 1842–1953 . Manchester University Press, Manchester 2000, ISBN 0-7190-5604-7 .
    • Ralph Bollmann: Praise of the Empire - The Fall of Rome and the Future of the West . wjs-Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-937989-21-8 .
    • PJ Cain, AG Hopkins: British Imperialism: 1688-2015. 3. Edition. Routledge, London 2016, ISBN 978-1-138-81773-9 .
    • François Caron: History of France. Vol. 5: France in the age of imperialism 1851-1918 . Stuttgart 1991.
    • Alexander Demandt (ed.): The end of the world empires. From the Persians to the Soviet Union . Verlag H. Beck, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-406-41850-3 .
    • Frank Deppe et al. a .: The new imperialism. Distel Verlag, Heilbronn 2004.
    • Frank Deppe, David Salomon, Ingar Solty : Imperialism. Papyrossa, Cologne 2011.
    • Jared Diamond : rich and poor. The fates of human societies . S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 1999, ISBN 3-596-14539-2 .
    • The limits of the "American Dream". Hans Sitarz as a 'money doctor' in Nicaragua 1930–1934 . In: Thomas Fischerm Anneliese Sitarz (Ed.): Latin America Studies . tape 50 . Iberoamericana / Vervuert, Frankfurt a. M. 2008, ISBN 978-3-86527-420-5 .
    • Philip S. Foner : The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism 1895-1902 . 2 volumes. New York / London 1972. (very detailed study with many sources, especially from US archives)
    • David Harvey : The New Imperialism. VSA, Hamburg 2005.
    • Karl Held (Ed.): Imperialism 1: Derivation - Anti-imperialist illusions about the state and revolution. Munich 1979, DNB 800588800 . RTF file for download (364,580 bytes) (Marxist analysis)
    • Eric J. Hobsbawm : The Imperial Age 1875-1914 . Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 2004. (TB 16391)
    • Richard H. Immerman : Empire for liberty. A history of American imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz . Princeton University Press, Princeton et al. a. 2010, ISBN 978-0-691-12762-0 .
    • Dirk van Laak : About everything in the world. German imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries . Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52824-4 .
    • Vladimir Ilyich Lenin : Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism . 1917.
    • Michael Mann : History of Power. 3 volumes, Frankfurt 1990–1998.
    • Rudolf A. Mark : In the shadow of the 'Great Game'. German “world politics” and Russian imperialism in Central Asia 1871–1914 . Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn 2012, ISBN 978-3-506-77579-5 .
    • Herfried Münkler : Empires. The logic of world domination - from ancient Rome to the United States . Rowohlt, Berlin 2005.
    • Oliver Nachtwey : World market and imperialism. On the genesis of the classical Marxist theory of imperialism. Neuer ISP-Verlag, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-89900-021-8 .
    • Sönke Neitzel : World Power or Downfall. The doctrine of world empire in the age of imperialism . Schöningh, Paderborn 2000, ISBN 3-506-76102-1 .
    • Daniel A. Offiong: Imperialism and Dependency - Obstacles to African Development. Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu / Nigeria 1980, ISBN 978-156-111-4 .
    • Leo Panitch , Sam Gindin : Global Capitalism and American Empire. From the American by Ingar Solty . VSA, Hamburg 2005.
    • John Pilger : Covert Objectives. About modern imperialism . Two thousand and one, Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-86150-632-7 .
    • Klaus Schwabe: World Power and World Order. American Foreign Policy from 1898 to the Present . Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn 2006.
    • Gregor Schöllgen : The Age of Imperialism (Oldenbourg Outline of History, Volume 15). 4th edition. Munich 2000 (excellent, comprehensive and research-oriented overall presentation with 1223 references on various individual topics).
    • Gerhard Stapelfeldt : Imperialism - Crisis and War 1870/73 to 1918/29. First volume: Political Economy . Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8300-3654-8 .
    • Gerhard Stapelfeldt : Imperialism - Crisis and War 1870/73 to 1918/29. Volume Two: Anthropology and Rationality . Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8300-3655-5 .
    • Wolfgang Caspart : The poison of global neoliberalism. With turbo capitalism into the crisis. Amalthea Signum Verlag, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3-85436-395-8 .
    • Christian Zeller (ed.): The global expropriation economy. Westfälisches Dampfboot Verlag, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-89691-549-5 .
    • René Hauswirth, Lukas Meyer, Christian Felix: The Age of Imperialism 1870–1912. (AKAD Educational Media History, GS301). Compendio Bildungsmedien, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-7155-1659-3 .

    Web links

    Wiktionary: Imperialism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

    Individual evidence

    1. ^ Ronald John Johnston, The Dictionary of Human Geography . 4th ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2000, ISBN 0-631-20561-6 , p. 375.
    2. Dieter Groh : Caesarism . In: Basic historical concepts . Study edition, volume 1. Stuttgart 2004, pp. 726–771, here p. 731 f.
    3. a b Dieter Groh: Caesarism . In: Basic historical concepts . Study edition, volume 1. Stuttgart 2004, p. 732.
    4. ^ Richard Koebner, Helmut Dan Schmidt: Imperialism. The Story and Significance of a Political Word, 1840-1960 , Cambridge 1964, pp. 2 f.
    5. Dieter Groh: Imperialism III-VI . In: Basic historical concepts . Study edition, Volume 3. Stuttgart 2004, pp. 175–221, here: 175 f.
    6. Dieter Groh: Caesarism . In: Basic historical concepts . Study edition, Volume 1. Stuttgart 2004, p. 761.
    7. ^ Imperialism . In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon . 4th edition. Volume 8, Verlag des Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1885–1892, p. 904.
    8. Dieter Groh: Imperialism III-VI . In: Basic historical concepts . Study edition, volume 3. Stuttgart 2004, p. 180.
    9. Dieter Groh: Imperialism III-VI . In: Basic historical concepts . Study edition, Volume 3. Stuttgart 2004, pp. 185–187.
    10. a b Dieter Flach: The so-called Roman imperialism . In: Historische Zeitschrift , Volume 222, 1976, pp. 1-42, here: pp. 15-17.
    11. Dieter Groh: Imperialism III-VI . In: Basic historical concepts . Study edition, Volume 3. Stuttgart 2004, pp. 177–179.
    12. ^ Karl Kautsky. In: Die Neue Zeit , No. 2, September 11, 1914, p. 909; quoted by Lenin: Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism . In: Lenin Werke , 22, p. 272.
    13. ^ Rosa Luxemburg: The accumulation of capital . In: Collected Works 5, Dietz Verlag Berlin 1975.
    14. Lenin: Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism . In: Lenin Werke , 22, see also Lenin Imperialism and the split in socialism . In: Lenin Werke , 23, both Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1974.
    15. ^ Lenin: On the question of nationalities or autonomy . In: Lenin Werke , 36, p. 596.
    16. ^ Ralf Hoffrogge : Socialism and the workers' movement in Germany . Stuttgart 2011, p. 167 f.
    17. Pankaj Mishra: On the ruins of the empire. In: Le Monde Diplomatique. January 2013, p. 12.
    18. Pankaj Mishra: Politics in the Age of Anger , in: Heinrich Geiselberger (Hrsg.): The great regression. Frankfurt 2017, pp. 175–196, here: p. 191.
    19. Jens Flemming: Colonialism . In: history. Lexicon of basic scientific terms . Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1994, ISBN 3-499-16331-4 , p. 381 f.
    20. Empire and Imperialism .
    21. Jack D. Forbes: Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism , Seven Stories Press, 2008.
    22. ^ Wm. Roger Louis: Imperialism . 1976, p. 4.
    23. ^ John Gallagher, Ronald Robinson: The Imperialism of Free Trade . In: The Economic History Review , vol. VI, n.1, 1953.
    24. a b J. Painter, A. Jeffrey: Political Geography 2nd ed. , Sage 2009, pp 183-184.
    25. H. Arendt, EuU, p. 397.
    26. ^ Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk : The new Europe . P. 181.
    27. Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison : La République impériale. Politique et racisme d'État. Fayard, Paris 2009, p. 18.
    28. ^ Porter: The Nineteenth Century. P. 332.
    29. Olson: Historical Dictionary of the British Empire . P. 285.
    30. ^ Porter: The Nineteenth Century. P. 8.
    31. James M. McPherson: Dying for Freedom - The Story of the American Civil War . List 2000, ISBN 3-471-78178-1 .
    32. see also Hans-Ulrich Wehler : The rise of American imperialism. Studies on the development of the Imperium Americanum 1865–1900 . 1974 (2nd biblical supplementary edition 1987, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht )
    33. ^ H. Angermeier: The Austrian Imperialism of Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzendorf . In: D. Albrecht (Ed.): Festschrift for Max Spindler on his 75th birthday .
    34. dtv atlas on world history . tape 2 . dtv, Munich.