Imperialism Today & Globalisation

The mechanics and the processes that make up an Imperial system in the modern age are global systems; intellectually, both are vast and complicated, and in trying to illustrate them systematically one has to simplify and thereby prone to overstatement.

It is crucial to have an overview of the situation. Those who venture outside the shores of their own land need to understand what they see, wherever they find themselves, in terms of a whole, an Imperial whole. Today our Imperial system is global in extent and affects everyone worldwide.

An attempt is being made in the following paragraphs to look at our world as a whole and to make sense of what we see in this context. In Western social sciences, looking at systems as wholes is unusual, and in a religion-based educational system this way of examining our world is no easy task.

Whether one lives in the Sahara desert, in the furthest reaches of Afghanistan, or in the teaming cities of Asia or select Africa, he will be affected by Capitalism and Imperialism. You might be growing poppies for the drug trade, or trading cars illegally to allow the rich to avoid taxes, or drinking water from bottles manufactured by a multinational company, there is no escaping it: wherever we live we cannot avoid the forces that drive this world.

Equally, the major powers of our time will be at work, whether you see them or not: it is a fact that the ruling classes of each state and the leading corporations of the great powers are working to reorganise your country.

This essay is therefore dedicated to all humankind, to help in a small way to understand the huge forces at work within our global system.


Imperialism needs to be defined scrupulously if it is to make any sense at all.

The Imperialism we all face today can be seen as part of the world of empires, which go back as far as history will take us. This new Imperialism is special and unlike any empire that has gone before.

There is one key component of Imperialism that does need to be identified separately and yet is often used in the same breath, i.e. Colonialism. Colonialism is the process of invasion by a hegemonic power, which either rules the country in its own interests or lets it be ruled by the indigenous population as a proxy government, but again in its own interests. During the last two centuries, the Imperial powers established Colonialism for their own ends, first in the 1880s and, more recently, it is happening again with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonial invasions are therefore part of the Imperial expansion that exists everywhere, but they need to be understood as a part of the total process. Over the last two hundred years Imperialism has been the system of world power used by dominant states with the purpose of controlling resources in their own interests. These interests vary from raw materials to markets, and cover a wide range of factors, which have altered considerably over time.

Some Key Components

Whether we are talking of today’s Imperialism or of that of the last two hundred years, it is worth elucidating briefly some of its key components.

  • The system of Imperial rules has changed and is changing all the time. Although the hegemonic power has now changed hands from Britain to the US - in itself not a minor matter - Imperial rule is still deeply imbedded in Capitalism. So far as the hegemonic power is concerned. Imperial expansion and Capitalism are part and parcel of the same system. Capitalism, as shall later be defined, is a rapidly changing and dynamic system.
  • Hegemonic Imperialism is competitive. Because the system is dynamic there has always been, sooner or later, another power competing with the dominant one at any moment in time. Firstly, in the 1870s Germany started catching up with Britain. The 191418 war was Britain’s attempt to subjugate Germany, but the result of this action proved to be quite different from the original intent. Then the Russian Revolution produced a new competitor in the fight for hegemony; this brought about the Cold War between the IJS and the USSR, which ended with the collapse of the latter.

Today the parameters of the Imperial struggle are not yet defined sufficiently to know what the future will bring. China’s economy, which is growing at a furious pace, will sooner rather than later clash with that of the US. Internationally, Islam, which I shall not define here, is also attempting to create a different kind of society demanded by the hegemonic US.

The Imperial struggle between nations and between different societal systems is part of this process and is a key component of today’s Imperialism.

Globalization Elements of Today's Imperialism

The system of domination comprises the following elements, which will be expounded in the next section:

  • Capitalist Accumulation or Globalization
  • Domination of Finance
  • Trade and Investment as Imperialism
  • Imperialism, Capitalism, Technology and Science
  • Military Power
  • Ideological Control

Struggle for Imperial Dominance: 1815 – Present

In 1815, with the British defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, Britain was the world leading power. Over the next hundred years that power was extended across the whole world. Conscious of their own superiority, Britain’s ruling classes developed its institutions in finance, trade and investment, as well as its military power and the devices for buttressing its superiority on a worldwide scale. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Britain had harnessed the technological achievements of Capitalism to dominate the world. By 1900 she appeared unstoppable, and no one who understood these things thought otherwise.

However, twenty years later, by the end of the 1914-18 war Britain was exhausted, its gold reserves had all but gone to the US to pay for the war, and millions of her young men were dead. Germany had been the new competitive power in the decades before 1914, and the war was intended as a knockout blow to reassert British ascendancy. Not only did this fail, but the war led to the Russian Revolution and, whether the revolution was waiting to happen or not, the war provided the stimulus for it.

Suddenly there was a new competitor. The new Soviet empire rejected the Capitalist system and nationalised its own assets without compensation. To this day, for Capitalists the greatest sin remains nationalisation. The Soviets were the next threat to the new hegemonic power.

The manifestation of this new threat did not come fully to the fore on the international stage until after 1945. The 1939-45 war, when the Europeans and then the Japanese - the major Capitalist powers - tore themselves apart a second time and lost millions of lives, ended with the peace treaty, which was meant to punish and impoverish Germany.

By the end of the Second World War, the US was not only certain of its superior status in the world, but it was also willing to use its muscle to promote its own interests. In 1944, the Bretton Woods agreement set up a new international financial system with the US dollar as the sole trading currency, replacing the pound sterling.

The period from 1944 to 1989 saw the United States fight to the death to destroy the USSR in every manner it could conceive bar a nuclear war. Every oppressive dictator, however corrupt, was supported by the US as long as they espoused the anti-Communist cause.

The final blow occurred in Afghanistan when the Pakistani government decided that the agnostic Soviets were a greater threat than the Capitalist West. US money and arms, as well as those of other countries, were pumped into the Pakistani secret services to fund a jihad against the Soviets. It succeeded and, at the time of writing, the US is at present attempting to undo all the harm that resulted from that particular operation. Islamic Pakistan chose that option for ideological reasons, and the price was very high.

In 1989, the US appeared to be the only dominant power in the world, and people asked themselves if the Americans would behave benignly? Such questions were asked by people who did not understand Imperialism. The dominant power at any one time wants to be in control, to enrich its ruling classes, and to be seen and feared by the rest of the world. In today’s world there is no such a thing as a benign Imperial power.

The challenge from China is still an unknown quantity. The challenge from Islam takes many different forms: bin Laden who is supposed to be in the deserts of Afghanistan; the challenge to the US colonial experiment in Iraq which at present is a daily occurrence; those arguing for a revolutionary Islam; and the powers that be which are attempting to train future Islamic leaders who reject everything coming from the West. There are many leads, but no clarity so far.

Roger van Zwanenberg


Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.
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