What is sub-imperialism in world history

You can also read the article "Travail et migrations forcés dans les colonies européennes" in the EHNE.


In world history, no continent has had so many different forms of colonies and no one has defined access to the world via the civilization mission as a secular program as incomparably as modern Europe. When Spain and Portugal signed the "World Partition Treaty" on June 7th, 1494, they thereby declared a genuinely European claim to hegemony. It was never raised in this form by an empire in antiquity or by a non-European colonial power in modern times such as Japan or the USA. The extraordinary continuity of Chinese colonialism or that of the Aztecs in Central America before the Spanish came is structurally comparable to the modern European expansion. But similar to that of the Phoenician and Roman empires, the phenomenon of expansion mostly ended in colonization and not in colonial penetration. The imperial expansion since around 1870 was not an invention of Europe, but in its temporal and spatial dimensions it was just as unique as in its variety of colonial methods of rule. It is significant that the impetus for colonialism was often derived as an answer from European history itself. This included the capitalist pursuit of profit, the colonies as valves for overpopulation, the spirit of discovery, scientific interest, religious and ideological impulses through to social Darwinist and racist motives. Colonialist drives of this kind, however, did not explain the expansive economic, military or other forces in the "periphery" which forced their governments in the "mother countries" to push forward defensively.

What is understood today by globalization has a significant background in the universal historical record of the non-European world from the early modern period to the epoch of decolonization. No European country is exempt from this; more or less everyone was directly or indirectly involved in the colonial division of the world. The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) put a world power concept into words, which understood colonial ownership as a political, economic and cultural right, not least as a civilization missionary obligation, which was only finally shaken by India's independence in 1947.1 Both dates mark the emergence and decline of a key problem in European history, perhaps its most momentous: that the always precarious colonial rule gave rise to complex rivalries among Europeans as well as among the indigenous peoples in the colonies; that it could create cooperation and close relationships between conquerors and conquered at the same time; and that, after all, it was at no time free from violence and war, despotism, arbitrariness and lack of rights. This makes the simultaneity and multiplicity of European colonial and imperialisms a cross-border experience. Few transnational specifics of European history illustrate the diversity of a European consciousness so clearly.

But what was colonialism? If one goes back to essential elements of the Spanish world empire thought since the 16th century, then it was similar to the English and Portuguese until more recently in the often held idea that the European nations created their empires for themselves and without the participation of others. The discovery was followed by the conquest: Christopher Columbus (approx. 1451–1506) landed in 1492 on a west Indian island that he named San Salvador to emphasize the religious character of the occupation. Spain's power was not finally broken until the Treaty of Paris of 17632, which ended the Seven Years War and cemented British colonial supremacy. He also showed the interweaving of Europe with the American continent, because the seeds were sown for the independence struggle of the United States as well as for the rebellions in Central and South America between 1780 and 1820. After the French Revolution had fought for human and civil rights, a slave revolt in 1804 gave rise to the first black republic in world history. Their leader François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (approx. 1743-1803) was a slave himself until he was 45, a student of the French Jesuits and an admirer of the writings of Guillaume-Thomas Raynal (1711-1796). Colonialism was by no means a one-dimensional affair with a solely European orientation and European explorers like Columbus and Vasco da Gama (1468–1524) [], who had made the first East India voyage just a decade after this. Instead, colonialism should be understood as a dynamic interrelationship, within the framework of which the colonial empires and the individual colonies had a massive influence on the historical development of their European "mother countries". This extended to the program of rulers' titles. As a result of da Gama's successful establishment of trade relations with the south-west Indian spice port of Calicut, King Manuel I (1469–1521) called himself not only King of Portugal, but also ruler of Arabia, Persia and India. Like the Portuguese, the Spanish empire had reached all of Europe, because in addition to the native people, European and non-European immigrants also worked on it. The Spanish empire can hardly be imagined without the Belgians, Italians and Chinese; In trade and administration, Portuguese was largely influenced by Germans, Flemings, Muslims and Jews.3

Colonialism and imperialism

According to Wolfgang Reinhard, colonialism represents a "development difference" due to the "control of one people over another".4 In contrast to the more dynamic, but also politically even more evaluative and emotionally charged form of imperialism, colonialism, as the result of a will to expand and rule, was initially to be understood as a condition that established colonial foreign rule. It has existed in different forms in almost all epochs of world history. Even after the official dissolution of its formal status in the age of decolonization, it could be retained as a myth, such as in Portugal after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, when one dealt with the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970), but hardly with the colonial one Past in Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Macao and East Timor. As early as 1933, the Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre mentioned in his controversial book Casa-grande e Senzala (Manor and slave hut) advocate the thesis that, as the oldest European colonial nation, the Portuguese had a special ability to expand. It consisted of mixing cultures peacefully without racism and colonial massacres. Using Brazil as an example, he rationalized colonial paternalism with the allegedly successful relationship between masters and slaves.

But that was what other European colonial powers wanted to say about themselves. Even the harshest critics of the policy of expansion - beginning with Bartolomé de las Casas (1474–1566) up to the Marxist-Leninist criticism in the 20th century - did not doubt the sense of the civilizing mission justifying colonial hegemony.5 What they criticized, like the abolitionists, were the colonial excesses, which could mean mismanagement, corruption and, in extreme cases, genocide. But that the colonies became an integral part of the "mother country", that the colonial nation was indivisible, at home on several continents and as such would not do anything fundamentally bad, can be demonstrated in European colonial ideology from its early beginnings. Intellectual transfer processes had already taken place here, most noticeably during the Enlightenment in the mutual influence of Adam Smith (1723–1790), Denis Diderot (1713–1784), Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) [] and their contemporaries.6 They agreed on a moderate criticism of the methods of colonial expansion and a simultaneous enthusiastic, cosmopolitan enthusiasm for the appropriation of the non-European world. If slavery and cosmopolitanism were theoretically impossible to reduce to a common denominator, practice since the 16th century has explained the legitimation of conquest from its success. The Dutch, English, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Russian colonial enterprises, each of which had the world measured among themselves with soldiers, scientists, merchants and missionaries in their own way, shared the common perception of the "other" on the basis of the supposed cultural Superiority of the "own". As different as the spread of Christianity with the non-conformist, dissenteric elements of Protestantism in North America and the Catholic forces in South America proceeded, the result was ultimately just as different. Spain, for example, was not able to use Latin America for a profitable export economy, whereas the British managed to monopolize the slave trade as the most lucrative long-distance trade.

When in the course of the 19th century, in addition to the old colonial powers mentioned, the Italians, Belgians and Germans also laid claim to their part in the world, the term "imperialism" became ideologically charged and altogether imprecise, but unreplaceable historical concept.7 In the phase of high imperialism between 1870 and the First World War, every major European nation-state, together with the USA and Japan, was involved in appropriating territories outside Europe. This is what makes this epoch so unique for European history, even if it was no more spectacular than earlier in terms of other criteria such as space and time. The European conquest of the north and south of America in the 16th and 17th centuries or that of India in the 18th and early 19th centuries were no less decisive in terms of their spatial dimension or the number of people who came under European rule the "Scramble for Africa", which is a synonym for the unsystematic and hasty intervention of the Europeans in the entire African continent. But unlike in earlier epochs, for the first time a broad European public was directly involved in the process of expansion politically, economically and culturally. This had profound influences on the historical development of European societies themselves, which was also reflected, for example, in the professional careers of politicians, diplomats and high-ranking military officials. After all, it was due to massive economic and diplomatic rivalries between the European colonial powers and widespread chauvinism.

This process was also largely triggered by internal crises in Africa itself. As in the 16th, the rivalry between the Christian and Islamic missions in northern Africa broke out again at the end of the 19th century. In a classic from the historiography of imperialism, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher have stated that Europe is not the only place to understand the motivations for European expansion. At least as far as late Victorian society is concerned, according to Robinson and Gallagher, these were primarily based in Africa.8 So if non-western societies were no longer just victims of Europe and not a few of their elites took part in colonial and imperial rule, a layer of European settlers, Christian missionaries, colonial officers, etc., established itself as a third force bridging the "periphery" and the "center" ., who have been called "men on the spot" in research. Their lobbyist influence on the expansion of the colonial empires was no smaller than that of political and economic interest groups in the metropolises, although their motives were more situation-dependent on the events in the colonies than could and should be the case in the European centers of power. This can be said for the Asian, African and Pacific regions alike. Colonial places of remembrance and their monument culture call the conflicts and ambivalences of European colonial rule into the public mind to this day.9

This fact makes high imperialism a European and global project in the "center" and in the "periphery". Finally, he illustrates the crucial importance of political and military force for the imperial process. "Gunboat diplomacy", one of the historical slogans for Europeans' dealings with Africa in the last third of the 19th century, was also present in Turkey and China. Informal imperialism, often synonymous with the dominance of free trade over other methods of colonial influence, lost its weight to the extent that coercion could only be exercised through force. The war with China over the opium trade (1840–1842) clearly demonstrated this. Also the brutal suppression of the Indian "Mutiny" in 1857/1858 by the British represented the opposite of the Manchester view that thanks to free trade the world would step into the equilibrium of peaceful and cooperative exchange between Europe and non-Europe instead of one-sided exploitation. The protection of national economic interests or the defense of prestige later led numerous German observers to the conclusion that the English practiced trade imperialism, while the French wanted to increase the nation's reputation in the world through their empire.

Nonetheless, the "Informal Empire" was the predominant model. In the British context it has led to the exaggerated thesis that the nation is not interested in expansion and that it marks it as "absentmindedness" in this regard.10 Anyone who understands global capitalism in the modern age as the successor to the formerly direct territorial rule, because it exerts no less pressure on the political and social systems in order to enforce his economic interests, sees the beginnings of informal imperialism going back deep into the 19th century. One could counter this thesis up to the present day, however, that it not only underestimates the dimension of the creation of empires, but also their dissolution.11 The consequences of the problematic withdrawal of the French from Algeria, the Italians from Eritrea or the British from India and Ireland are omnipresent to this day. In this respect, colonization and decolonization were two related historical processes, comparable to the systole and diastole of the heart muscle of the metropolis. Only the interaction of both and numerous other factors resulted in the world-historical consequences of European expansion.

Spaces and Epochs

Colonial areas or their borders as well as epochs and their caesuras offer two possibilities to approach European colonialism. If one takes, for example, the independence of the North American colonies in 1776 [], it marks one of the most important turning points - from the Atlantic to the Asian perspective of the British Empire - and also the first experience of decolonization of global importance in the history of European imperialism. The second did not begin until the 1950s, here in particular on the African continent and with a time lag from the freedom movements of Central and South America and Asia. By the 18th century, the leading European colonial powers, above all England, had consolidated their global hegemonic position. If they did not create overseas empires, like the Russian monarchy in Siberia and the Habsburgs in southeastern Europe, they conquered territories in the form of continental colonialism. This continental variant essentially corresponded to the later westward shift of the American frontier and the north migration of the South African border as well as the sub-imperialism e.g. between Egypt and Sudan. While the direct development of North and South America was almost completely completed, that of the Asian and African areas did not begin to a large extent until after 1800 - in Africa, for example, since 1830 with the French conquest of Algeria, from where Morocco and Tunis also came under French influence should be. The Russian conquest of Siberia, which followed the course of the rivers in a similar way to the American one, had the aim of acquiring the lucrative fur trade. At the same time as gold and precious stones were being mined in Brazil, silver mines had also been found in the Siberian highlands and the financial and, in particular, communications-related value of a caravan route between Russia and China had been recognized. Also the base colonies that the Dutch have in Indonesia and the English operated on the coasts of India, were initially reserved solely for the commercial interest in spices, tea, coffee and cotton. As long as they did not expand into the country and penetrate large areas, they were of no military use.

1772, as Governor Warren Hastings (1732-1818) [] not only aimed at the economic, but also the political and administrative development of the hinterland of Bengal and its administration was overshadowed by numerous scandals, the anger of his prominent critic Edmund Burke (1729–1797) at the methods of colonial rule discharged. He also directed attention to the newly created area of ​​tension in the competition of competencies between the administrative center in London and the "men on the spot", those increasingly powerful servants of European colonialism who at the same time pursued their own interests in the "periphery". This was to become a fixed topos of mutual accusation in the 19th century, after the model of the East India Company founded in 1599 (monopoly until 1858) and the Dutch Vereenigden Oost-Indischen Compagnie (1602–1798) based on shares based business enterprises of Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Austria, Brandenburg-Prussia or Poland were brought into being and in some cases were given sovereign rights. Financially, they were based on the stock exchanges, which were becoming more and more central to European economic life, and a modern banking system that coordinated the international trade in luxury goods such as silk fabrics and with food such as potatoes, corn and rice, which were new for Europe. Only the English company was permanently successful, and within limits also the Dutch company, which had its main focus in the spice trade and contributed to the expansion of the colonial empire in Southeast Asia, while the British established a monopoly on cotton. With the trade in goods, for example with coffee from Java and tea from China, the Europeans continuously opened up new areas, especially the Asians, which could be "opened" almost non-violently (China since 1685). The formal use of colonial violence, on the other hand, symbolized nothing more vividly than the slave trade with the establishment of slave ports on the coasts of West and East Africa as starting points for the shipping of slaves to the plantations of Central and South America.

Southern Africa, developed by the Dutch as a settlement colony since the 17th century and important for the British since 1815 due to the gold and diamond mines, was excluded from this. Similar to Egypt, it played a special role, also in terms of perception by the Europeans. The shipping route on the Cape and on the Suez Canal was of fundamental importance from a military and commercial point of view. Being present in Egypt was also of great symbolic importance, which manifested itself in attempts at conquest by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) to Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). What is striking about this parallel is the belief that concentrated power in Europe and on the Nile - as the gateway to Asia - is a condition for concentrated power in the world. Even a British colonial administrator like Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer (1841–1917), who was stationed in Calcutta and Cairo, knew like no other that the survival of the Empire depended on the Crown Jewel India as well as on the Suez Canal. His book Ancient and Modern Imperialism (1910) is a testimony to intimate knowledge of the functioning of colonial rule, as it was passed on under the various administrative posts. What the British cost to defend their interests 6,000 miles from London was shown by the devastating South African War (also Second Boer War, 1899–1902). Volunteers from numerous European countries fought on the side of the Boers against the British, who in turn recruited large troops from Australia and Canada. The gesture of imperial rule finally lost its legitimacy when the British and French military had to leave the Suez Canal zone under pressure from the USA and the Soviet Union. The canal as well as the Cape are therefore, on the one hand, prime spaces for encounters between Europeans and non-Europeans and, on the other hand, spaces for encounters in the succession of different European colonialisms.

Distinct epoch caesuras are out of the question in this panorama. For that, the undertakings in which all European colonial powers were more or less involved (voyages of discovery, scientific projects such as mapping, building mercantilist colonial economies, etc.) were too varied in their time periods, also too fluid, and the constantly changing interrelationships between Europe and outside Europe were too divergent. But there have been phases in the overall development of European colonialism that can be broken down analogously to the development of the great power system of the European states:

1. In the beginning Portugal and Spain (1580–1640 in personal union) were primarily interested in overseas trade as far as Brazil and the Philippines and inspired by the Christian missionary idea. With a few exceptions, they succeeded in avoiding colonial overlaps.

2. Meanwhile, the competition intensified from the 17th century when the English, French and Dutch did not advance into the territories of the Spaniards and Portuguese, but into neighboring regions. The North American Atlantic coast between the French possessions of today's Canada and Spanish claims in the south shows this in an exemplary manner.

3. When the crisis of the Ancien Régime could no longer be averted in Europe, the colonial empires also lost their cohesion. The British prevailed against their French rivals in North America and India, against the Dutch in Southeast Asia and against the Spanish in South America. They replaced the independence of the United States with their superior power in India, South Africa and especially on the oceans with their almost unrivaled Royal Navy and modern free trade.

4. The colonial conquest of Africa on a grand scale began with France's conquest of Algeria in 1830, which at the same time more than before released the intra-European economic and industrial tensions as colonialist forces and culminated in high imperialism between 1870 and the First World War.12

5. Since the emergence of a pluralistic colonial system in the course of the 19th century, not only the European colonial powers were involved in the division of the world, but also Japan and Russia. The prototype for a successful combination of continental inland colonization in the form of the westward shift of the frontier and maritime colonial policy in the Asian region was the USA, which was at the same time the most successful model of anti-colonialism. By 1900 at the latest, the European system of great powers was faced with the challenge of global competition. In Niall Ferguson's controversial interpretation, it was only logical that the USA took over Great Britain's position as "global hegemon" in the 20th century, marginalized both formal and informal colonialism in Europe, while continuing globalization as "anglobalization".13

to shape

Genuine European colonial powers such as the Spanish, Portuguese, French and British have been characterized since the 16th century for developing concepts of their world domination, which were based on the legacy of Rome.14 That is not to say that stragglers like Italy, Belgium and the German Empire did not produce their own forms of imperial thought and, as a result, had specific colonial systems with which they could catch up with the great historical empires. German colonial officials, practitioners such as Heinrich Schnee (1871–1949) and Carl Peters (1856–1918) [], saw German colonialism in the light of and in contrast to British and French colonialism as well as in the context of world politics. They also took part in the Europe-wide debate about what role model the Roman Empire could have for Europe. But in contrast to the empires of the late 19th century, for example, the Spanish world domination in the premodern and the British from 1750 at the latest were characterized by an unprecedented geographical expansion, which made a thorough understanding of empire and expansionism a prerequisite. Their common frame of reference was the "Atlantic world", which has also found acceptance as a historical concept for determining colonial practices.15 "Imperiality" and "globality" were to a certain extent one and supported by a Christian universalistic, almost messianic claim to leadership. However, the price that Spain had to pay for its position in the world empire was high and owed to the European constellation of powers. Its global superiority contrasted with the renunciation of claims to the imperial dignity of the empire as a result of the Habsburg division of inheritance.

However, the modern nation-state empires were not exposed to a loss of unity associated with the global dimension. Their urge to expand resulted primarily from secular factors such as profit and prestige, not at least from a concept of universal monarchy that was committed to Christian salvation, peace and justice. Charles V's (1500–1558) idea of ​​a world empire had survived insofar as the civilizing mission of modern European imperialisms became a transnational, but not primarily religious, motor. Their driving forces were varied, not necessarily ideological, but as in the French case they formed part of the cost-benefit considerations. The Governor General of Indochina, Albert Sarraut (1872–1962) [], had defined the leitmotif of "mise en valeur" (development) in 1923 and based this on the fact that the colonies were merely an extraterritorial component of a "larger France" or a "France Africaine".16 With a view to the white colonies like Canada and Australia, there had been similar considerations in Victorian England. For the historian John Robert Seeley (1834–1895) and before him Charles Dilke (1843–1911), the Empire was a symbol of the "expansion of England" into a colonial world in which Cricket was played exactly as it was in Oxford.17 Nation and expansion conditioned each other without sacrificing diversity. James Anthony Froude (1818–1894) warned that those who overemphasize the value of India and the African colonies underestimate that of the "white settlements". His book Oceana, or England and her colonies (1886) was an attempt to stage the British Empire as the legitimate heir of the Roman Republic by following the principle of politically prudent forms of rule when it subordinated colonialism and republicanism to reason and thus attached more weight to the code of good governance than to authority or military authority economic monopoly of force in the African and Asian colonies.18Winston Churchill (1874–1965) invented the exclusive term "English-speaking peoples" for it.

That this rule could apply to overseas empires, but would be different for continental ones such as that of the Habsburgs, was discussed by contemporary observers in the area of ​​tension of the dual monarchy and above all in contrast to the pulsating German empire. Austrian history of the empire was formulated in imperial terminology - after all, the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was officially accepted at the Berlin Congress in 1878 - but it was not centralized, but multinational and tolerated local independence until regional and religious diversities were confirmed. Habsburg's deficit in not being able to create a national identity was partially compensated for by the strengthening of the popular dynasty, although this, for example in the person of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830–1916), was unable to cope with the extreme high imperialism of the turn of the century and the empire took place nostalgically modern led. If similar backward-looking tendencies became apparent among other European monarchs, they sought compensation through political or cultural measures. One of the best-known examples is the coronation of Victoria (1819–1901) as Empress of India in 1876, which was, as it were, an imitation of the Bonapartist succession practice of the Spanish monarchy in South America. Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) had promoted the dignity of Victoria because he saw a crisis in Great Britain and the Empire in the monarch's truism and neglect after the death of Prince Consort Albert (1819–1861). As a result, British imperialism initially became even more unrivaled and the centrality of Europe in the world of the 19th century became even more clearly an economic, military and maritime centrality of Great Britain. Based on the Royal Navy and world trade, the "Pax Britannica" symbolized the program of pacifist colonialism. In the sense of a world empire that would create peace, there could be several "global players", but only one globally acting hegemon. This transfiguration of maritime rule was reflected in Alfred Mahan's (1840–1914) classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890), a manifesto for the triumphant "anglobalization", that is, earth-spanning and peoples-connecting expansion of the West.

The overseas and continental colonial empires of Europe were shaped by the fact that they constructed their imperial rule over a developmental difference to the "other" and thus contributed significantly to a changed self-perception of Europe in the world. Essentially, it was more about the self than the external image. Rule was foreign rule over peoples understood as "subordinate". It had to be achieved through violent conquest and secured with colonial methods in order to guarantee economic, military and cultural exploitation. The European claim to superiority thus legitimized itself as the logic of the unequal interrelationship between colonial societies and a new type of capitalism in Europe, especially the British "gentlemanly capitalists",19