Motives of Colonialism

Motives of Colonialism:

All nations busy in colonialism have always three objectives before them viz, world empire which was desired by Hitler, Alexander the Great and Napoleon I; continental empire which was the great urge of Louis XIV, Napoleon III and William II and lastly local preponderance which was found in the policies of Frederick the Great, Louis XV, Maria Theresa and Catherine II. Now the question naturally arises, what were the causes or factors or motives which led the colonialists towards one of these goals? The main motives can be divided into five headings, viz. economic gain, psychological motive, humanitarian motive, national defence and surplus population-

Economic Growth:

One of the fundamental motives of colonialism is economic gain. This includes conquest mainly for the sake of three things, viz. raw materials, market for surplus goods and investment for surplus capital.

  • Raw Materials- “The fight for raw materials,” writes Dr Schacht, “plays the most important part in world politics, and even greater role than before the war (1914)”. Dr Heinrich Schnee, former governor of German East Africa made similar pleas. He said, “Great industrial nations need colonies to supply them with raw materials”. Almost all the major industrial powers depend on imported raw material because either it is cheaper to import than to produce or the domestic supply is not sufficient.
  • Surplus Goods- Colonies are even more valued for markets for surplus goods. Parker T. Moon estimates that colonies today provide a market for one-fourth perhaps more of the manufacturers exported by industrial nations, and colonial markets are growing more rapidly than all other markets. In fact, each big industrial nation produces more than its own inhabitants can possibly consume. So each has a surplus which must be sold in the foreign lands.
  • Surplus Capital- An empire is valued not only for raw materials or surplus goods but also for surplus capital. Investment interests have often played a big role in the process of colonialism. Surplus capital which is created by the industrial expansion of the leading powers of the world suggests reinvestment for more and more profits. “Now it is a commonplace business law that the capital as an investment in an industry cannot be indefinitely increased by reinvestment of earnings, and still obtain a profitable return, unless the industry can be indefinitely expanded”. So the surplus capital suggests two things i.e. either to reinvest this surplus capital at home in unprofitable enterprises or invest it in less advanced countries to get large amounts of profit. The point of view was made clear by the French economist, Paul Leroy Beaulieu, who in 1886 observed, “The same capital which will earn three or four per cent in agricultural improvements in France will bring ten, fifteen, twenty per cent in an agricultural enterprise in United Staes, Canada, La Plata, Australia or New Zealand”. This is the reason why before 1915 France invested fifty billion francs in a foreign country; British Capitalists invested two billion pounds sterling in British colonies and two billion pounds in other underdeveloped countries. Even today investment of surplus capital in colonies and other backward countries is still on the increase.

Psychological Motive:

Besides the economic urge, psychological motives played a great role in colonialism- the lust for adventure and for power, the added prestige and glory which seemed to accrue from a vast colonial empire not only to the governing classes but to the masses of the colonizing nations, the new sentiment of pride and superiority which animated even the lowest members of the white races in their dealings with the ‘backward’ races. In fact, colonial possession is often considered an addition to the national prestige of the imperialistic state. This ideal was stated by Mussolini when he said, “The fascist state is a will to power and an empire”. The Roman tradition is the idea of force. In the Fascist doctrine, the imperial idea is not only a territorial, military and mercantile expansion but also one of spiritual and moral expansion. For fascism, the tendency to the imperial idea means expansion of the nation and is a manifestation of vitality. For centuries it was the boast of Englishmen in which they gloried saying that the sun never sets on the British Empire. So the thirst for power and drive for conquest play a notable role in imperialism.

Humanitarian Motive:

Humanitarian motive, which is styled by Kipling as ‘The White Man’s Burden’ suggests that the white men are the superior race and it becomes their prime duty to uplift the inferior races. In fact, many members of civilized society sincerely believe in abolishing ignorance, slavery and cannibalism from the backward people and to civilize them by imparting to them their own religion and civilization. This aspect of imperialism was well-expressed by President Mckinley, who while giving reasons for annexing the Philippine Islands declared “there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos and uplift and civilize and Christianize them as our fellowmen for whom Christ also died”. Joseph Chamberlain, the leading exponent of imperialism, too declared in 1893 “It is our duty to take our share in the work of civilization in Africa”.

A humanitarian motive is rightly called by P. T. Moon as aggressive altruism because it means using brutal force to impose on unwilling native peoples the blessings of French or German or British or American Civilization. Commenting upon this aspect of ‘imperialism’ P. T. Moon in his pioneer work ‘Imperialism and World Politics’ observed “This altruism goes to such lengths that the civilizing nations are willing not only to shoot Hindus or Zulus or Filipinos or Mexicans into a culture, but even to undergo the hardships of war with equally zealous civilizing nations, and to call upon savages from Africa, as they did in 1914, to join in the battle on behalf of the superior variety of European civilization”.

National Defence:

Many defenders of colonialism believe that it also serves national defence by providing raw materials, lines of communication, essential markets and population from which troops can be drawn. Int the nineteenth century England utilized Afghanistan, Persia and Tibet as buffer states for the defence of India against Russia. During the First World War, Britian drew nearly 40,000 troops from India, and France drew nearly 50,000 troops from her colonies.

Surplus Population:

Colonialism is also desired as an outlet of a surplus population. Mussolini declared “Italy’s surplus manpower must emigrate”. Thus Germany, Italy and Japan employed this argument frequently to justify their desire for colonial acquisition.

However, this is not a good remedy for over-population and has not worked in practice. Germany annexed many colonies from 1884 to 1914, but the number of Germans who settled in these colonies was very small. Similarly, Italy acquired an African Empire, but the number of Italians who settled in the colonies too was insignificant. Japan also obtained many colonies such as Korea, Formosa and Manchuria but the Japanese did not care to go to these colonies? In fact, imperialism was an utter failure in providing homes for the surplus population.

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