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Title: Anticolonialism  
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Subject: Political movement, Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi, Social criticism
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In political science and international relations, anti-imperialism is the opposition to colonialism, colonial empire, and imperialism. As such, anti-imperialism includes opposition to wars of conquest, especially wars meant to conquer and colonise countries whose territories do not border the imperial power, and wars meant to subjugate peoples of different cultures; the term also comprises political opposition to the territorial expansion of a country beyond its established borders.[1]


In the late 1870s, the term Imperialism was introduced to the English language by opponents of the aggressively imperial policies of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1874–80).[2] It was shortly appropriated by supporters of "imperialism" such as Joseph Chamberlain. For some, imperialism designated a policy of idealism and philanthropy; others alleged that it was characterized by political self-interest, and a growing number associated it with capitalist greed. John A. Hobson and Lenin added a more theoretical macroeconomic connotation to the term. Many theoreticians on the left have followed either or both in emphasizing the structural or systemic character of "imperialism." Such writers have expanded the time period associated with the term so that it now designates neither a policy, nor a short space of decades in the late 19th century, but a global system extending over a period of centuries, often going back to Christopher Columbus and, in some facts, to the Crusades. As the application of the term has expanded, its meaning has shifted along five distinct but often parallel axes: the moral, the economic, the systemic, the cultural, and the temporal. Those changes reflect - among other shifts in sensibility - a growing unease, even squeamishness, with the fact of power, specifically, Western power.[3][4]

The relationships among capitalism, aristocracy, and imperialism have been discussed and analysed by theoreticians, historians, political scientists such as John Atkinson Hobson and Thorstein Veblen, Joseph Schumpeter and Norman Angell.[5] Those intellectuals produced much of their works about imperialism before the First World War (1914–18), yet their combined work informed the study of the impact of imperialism upon Europe, and contributed to the political and ideologic reflections on the rise of the military-industrial complex in the US from the 1950s onwards.

J.A. Hobson said that domestic social reforms could cure the international disease of imperialism by removing its economic foundation. Hobson theorized that state intervention through taxation could boost broader consumption, create wealth, and encourage a peaceful multilateral world order. Conversely, should the state not intervene, rentiers (people who earn income from property or securities) would generate socially negative wealth that fostered imperialism and protectionism.[6][7]

Political movement

As a self-conscious political movement, anti-imperialism originated in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in opposition to the growing European colonial empires and the US control of the Philippines after 1898.[8] However, it reached its highest level of popular support in the colonies themselves, where it formed the basis for a wide variety of national liberation movements during the mid-20th century and later. These movements, and their anti-imperialist ideas, were instrumental in the decolonization process of the 1950s and 1960s, which saw most European colonies in Asia and Africa achieving their independence.[9]

Anti-Imperialist League

An early use of the term "anti-imperialist" occurred after the United States entered the Spanish-American War in 1898.[10] Most activists supported the war itself but opposed the annexation of new territory, especially the Philippines.[11] The Anti-Imperialist League was founded on June 15, 1898 in Boston, in opposition of the acquisition of the Philippines, which happened anyway.The anti-imperialists opposed the expansion because they believed imperialism violated the credo of republicanism, especially the need for "consent of the governed."

Appalled by American imperialism, the Anti-Imperialist League, which included famous citizens such as Andrew Carnegie and William James, formed a platform which stated

We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free. We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist that the subjugation of any people is "criminal aggression" and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our Government...

We cordially invite the cooperation of all men and women who remain loyal to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.[12]

Fred Harrington states, "the anti-imperialist's did not oppose expansion because of commercial, religious, constitutional, or humanitarian reasons but instead because they thought that an imperialist policy ran counter to the political doctrines of the Declaration of Independence, Washington's Farewell Address, and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address".[13][14][15]

Marxism, Leninism, and anti-imperialism

About the nature of imperialism, and how to oppose and defeat it, the revolutionary Ché Guevara said:

We must bear in mind that imperialism is a world system, the last stage of capitalism — and it must be defeated in a world confrontation. The strategic end of this struggle should be the destruction of imperialism. Our share, the responsibility of the exploited and underdeveloped of the world, is to eliminate the foundations of imperialism: our oppressed nations, from where they extract capitals, raw materials, technicians, and cheap labor, and to which they export new capitals — instruments of domination — arms and all kinds of articles; thus submerging us in an absolute dependence

Ché Guevara, Message to the Tricontinental, 1967 [16]

In the mid-19th century, in Das Kapital (1867–94), Karl Marx considered imperialism to be part of the prehistory of the capitalist mode of production. Conversely, in the early 20th century, Lenin defined imperialism as “the highest stage of capitalism”, the economic stage in which monopoly finance capital becomes the dominant application of capital.[17] As such, said financial and economic circumstances impelled national governments and private business corporations to world-wide competition for control of natural resources and human labour by means of colonialism.[18]

The Marxist and Leninist views of imperialism, and related theories, such as dependency theory, address the economic dominance and exploitation of a country, rather than the military and the political dominance of a people, their country, and its natural resources. Hence, the primary purpose of imperialism is economic exploitation, rather than mere control of either a country or of a region. The Marxist and the Leninist denotation thus differs from the usual political-science denotation of imperialism as the direct control (intervention, occupation, and rule) characteristic of colonial and neo-colonial empires, as used in the realm of international relations.[19][20]

In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917), Lenin outlined the five features of capitalist development that lead to imperialism:

  1. Concentration of production and capital leading to the dominance of national and multinational monopolies and cartels.
  2. Industrial capital as the dominant form of capital has been replaced by finance capital, with the industrial capitalists increasingly reliant on capital provided by monopolistic financial institutions; “Again and again, the final word in the development of banking is monopoly.”
  3. The export of the aforementioned finance capital is emphasized over the export of goods;
  4. The economic division of the world by between multinational cartels;
  5. The political division of the world into colonies by the great powers, in which the great powers monopolise investment.[21]

Generally, The relationship among Marxists and radical, left-wing organisations who are anti-war, often involves persuading such political activists to progress from [1]

In the 20th century, the USSR represented themselves as the foremost enemy of imperialism, and thus politically and materially supported Third World revolutionary organisations who fought for national independence; as such the USSR sent military advisors to Ethiopia, Angola, Egypt, and Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the USSR behaved as an imperialist power, when it asserted sphere-of-influence dominance upon Afghanistan (1979–89); and dominated the countries of Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, and the Caucasus, as accorded in the Yalta Agreement (4–11 February 1945) during the Second World War (1939–45).

Such imperialist behaviour, ideologically discredited the USSR for not abiding the principles of Marxism; alternatively anarchists presented such Soviet imperialism as evidence that the philosophy of Marxism would resolve and eliminate imperialism. Notably, Mao Zedong developed the theory that the USSR was a “social-imperialist” nation, a socialist people with tendencies to imperialism, an important aspect of Maoist analysis of the history of the USSR.[22] Contemporarily, the term Anti-imperialism is most commonly applied by Marxists, and political organisations of like ideologic bent, who propose anti-capitalism, present a class analysis of society, et cetera.[23]

Feminism and anti-imperialism

Feminist theories of international relations often fall under the category of anti-imperialism. They may draw a connection between sexism or patriarchy and war and hegemony in any of several ways, for example: a link between the idea of masculinity and the drive towards war; a theory of the way the self and the other are constructed which ties allegedly sexist modern Western notions of male and female to allegedly racist, colonialist modern Western notions of the nation-state and the alien; a location of the cause of the alleged failure of government officials to attempt seriously to resolve conflicts peacefully or consider others' perspectives in an ideology which derides the supposedly feminine qualities of love, empathy, and surrender. J. Ann Tickner and Cynthia Enloe are well-known writers in this field. bell hooks also discusses this philosophy, especially in its relation to the lives and stereotypes of black males.

Right-wing anti-imperialism

There is a fairly strict division between "right-wing" anti-imperialism within powerful countries and that within their weaker clients or opponents, resulting from the fact that most right-leaning opponents of imperialism remain ideologically attached to their own nation or people.

Modern lines of thought within allegedly imperialist powers that are arguably both "right-wing" and "anti-imperialist" tend to divide into two general strains, Libertarianism and Paleoconservatism. The latter, prominently represented by Andrew Bacevich and Patrick Buchanan, is differentiated from the former, prominently represented by Justin Raimondo and Ron Paul, by an association with social conservatism. Both are more influential within the United States than outside it, and both tend to see imperialism as in neither the best interests nor the real traditions of their country, giving them an ideological continuity with non-interventionism.

Right-wing nationalists and religious fundamentalist movements that have emerged in reaction to alleged imperialism might also fall within this category; for example, Khomeinism historically derived much of its popularity from its appeal to widespread anger at American intervention or influence in Iran and the Middle East.

The Indian Jamaat-e-Islami Hind launched a 10-day Nation-wide campaign titled Anti-Imperialism Campaign in December 2009.[24]


Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt assert that traditional anti-imperialism is no longer relevant. In the book Empire,[25] Negri and Hardt argue that imperialism is no longer the practice or domain of any one nation or state. Rather, they claim, the "Empire" is a conglomeration of all states, nations, corporations, media, popular and intellectual culture and so forth, and thus, traditional anti-imperialist methods and strategies can no longer be applied against them.

French philosopher and author Bernard-Henri Lévy also argues in his book Left in Dark Times [26] that modern anti-imperialism is nothing more than thinly disguised anti-Americanism and has been too commonly evoked by Third World dictators and extremist movements to distract their audiences from their own crimes and abuses of power.

See also

Politics portal



  • Griffiths, Martin, and Terry O'Callaghan, and Steven C. Roach 2008. International Relations: The Key Concepts. Second Edition. New York: Routledge.
  • Heywood, C. 2004. Political Theory: An Introduction New York: Palgrave MacMillan
  • Harrington, Fred H. "The Anti-Imperialist Movement in the United States, 1898-1900", Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Sep., 1935), pp. 211–230 in JSTOR
  • Proudman, Mark F.. "Words for Scholars: The Semantics of 'Imperialism'". Journal of the Historical Society, September 2008, Vol. 8 Issue 3, p395-433

Further reading

  • Ali, Tariq et al. Anti-Imperialism: A Guide for the Movement ISBN 1-898876-96-7
  • Boittin, Jennifer Anne. Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris (2010)
  • Brendon, Piers. "A Moral Audit of the British Empire." History Today, (Oct 2007), Vol. 57 Issue 10, pp 44–47, online at EBSCO
  • Brendon, Piers. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Cain, P. J. and A.G. Hopkins. British Imperialism, 1688-2000 (2nd ed. 2001), 739pp, detailed economic history that presents the new "gentlemanly capitalists" thesis excerpt and text search
  • Castro, Daniel, Walter D.Mignolo, and Irene Silverblatt. Another Face of Empire: Bartolomé de Las Casas, Indigenous Rights, and Ecclesiastical Imperialism (2007) excerpt and text search, Spanish colonies
  • Cullinane, Michael Patrick. Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism, 1898-1909. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  • Ferguson, Niall. Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (2002), excerpt and text search
  • Hamilton, Richard. President McKinley, War, and Empire (2006).
  • Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire (2001), influential statement from the left
  • Herman, Arthur. Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age (2009) [excerpt and text search]
  • Hobson, J.A. Imperialism: A Study(1905) except and text search 2010 edition
  • James, Lawrence. The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (1997).
  • Karsh, Efraim. Islamic Imperialism: A History (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Olson, James S. et al., eds. Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism (1991) online edition
  • Owen, Nicholas. The British Left and India: Metropolitan Anti-Imperialism, 1885-1947 (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Polsgrove, Carol. Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause (2009)
  • Sagromoso, Domitilla, James Gow, and Rachel Kerr. Russian Imperialism Revisited: Neo-Empire, State Interests and Hegemonic Power (2010)
  • Tompkins, E. Berkeley, ed. Anti-Imperialism in the United States: The Great Debate, 1890—1920. (1970) excerpts from primary and secondary sources
  • Wang, Jianwei. "The Chinese interpretation of the concept of imperialism in the anti-imperialist context of the 1920s.," Journal of Modern Chinese History (2012) 6#2 pp 164–181.

External links

  • The Anti-Imperialists, A Web based guide to American Anti-Imperialism
  • CWIHP at the Wilson Center for Scholars: Primary Document Collection on Anti-Imperialism in the Cold War
  • Pacific Northwest Antiwar and Radical History Project, multimedia collection of photographs, video, oral histories and essays.
  • Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism by V.I. Lenin Full text at
  • Thomas Sankara, The Militant, April 13, 2009
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