Far Eastern Imperialism: 1. Modern Imperialism

S. J. Rutgers

Published: International Socialist Review, vol. 16, no. 3. September 1915. Pages 165-166.
Transcription/Markup: Micah Muer, 2021.

To understand modern imperialism in general and the important part, that the far East will have to play in the future development of imperialism, it is indispensable to have a clear idea as to the fundamental difference between the old form of commercial colonialism and the new form of expansion, in which the investment of capital plays a foremost role.

A few centuries ago, when capitalism was in its infancy, we already find an important colonial system. Portugal, Spain, and Holland secured most of the profits in this early colonial period, in which agricultural and mineral products were purchased from the East Indies, Africa and America. This was a period of mere robbery, the products being taken by force, or in exchange, for some gin or glassware of almost no value, which was presented to the Chiefs of the natives, in order to secure their co-operation in robbing the country. Especially in Holland and afterwards in England, those robbed fortunes have been a big stimulus in the developing of capitalism. Robbery and murder stood at the cradle of capitalism in Europe, and the black and brown kings of the far East had to bring their tributes in golden presents, soiled with the blood of the natives.

After this most primitive and direct plunder, which of its very nature could not be permanent, there has developed in close interchange with growing capitalism, the period of commercial colonialism, in which England has been the leading country.

In this period there is an exchange of agricultural and mineral products for the industrial products from Europe. We need hardly state, that bribery and murder play an important part also in this period. But capitalism has after all, some interest in developing the needs of the natives, in order to secure a market for their own goods. Missionaries have to teach them, that it is only decent to wear the cheap cotton clothes from Manchester; science becomes interested in their habits and history. But neither is there general need in this period of taking the foreign countries in full possession. When the Government is only sufficently [sic] strong to protect commerce and to maintain "order", there is no necessity to interfere in details. Colonies in which European people can live permanently, were allowed to become independent without great resistance and in other parts of the world native chiefs were left in a certain degree of self-government.

This also is the period in which England stands for free trade; commerce not being monopolistic in its nature, it was possible to allow other nations to have some trade, especially as long as England's industry was unrivalled, woven goods being the chief article of export. The fundamental of this period has been the free development of individual competition in European industry, under a so-called liberal government and a policy of non-state-intervention.

Now we must clearly see, that this period of free competition gradually has undergone a fundamental change. It proved, first in some big industries among which the steel industry is the most important, that free competition would lead to capitalist ruin. All "free slogans" were at once dropped and we notice in different parts of the world a rapid growth of capitalist combinations. Free competition gave way to monopolies and trusts.

It is this same capitalist development, resulting from the fact, that unlimited investment in home industries causes a fall in profits, which leads to an immense export of capital to foreign countries. Financial capital, together with trustified industries, now become the leading interests. There is a run of concessions of all kinds, among which are, foremost the railways, harbor works and the extractive industries: Coal mines, oil fields, iron and copper mines. This, however, is only the beginning and we may be sure, that before long, there will spring up many other industries in those countries, it being profitable to produce where labor and materials are cheapest.

Now look at the difference as compared with the old commercial colonialism. The construction of railroads and harbor works, which cost millions of dollars, makes monopoly necessary in that part of the world, in order to secure profits. It becomes indispensable to control the economic development, to mingle with every detail of government. This means not only aggression against those foreign countries, but also aggression between the robbers, of those large monopolies. This gigantic struggle to conquer the whole world to capitalism is no longer a colonial problem; it becomes decisive even in every part of social life at the home country. The national state, controlled by financial and trust capital, changes much of its national character to become a fighting unit in international expansion. Alas! the old national ideology does not change as quickly. Democratic institution, parliamentary system, state socialism, labor legislation, militarism, all are affected by this fundamental change called, "imperialism". Socialism will have to change its tactics in a revolutionary way, to have any influence in future.

Although American imperialism has features of its own, the general characteristics are international and will be so evermore. The present state of imperialism in this country has been influenced by the possibilities of greatly developing the inland home market. Besides the fact, however, that this exceptional situation is rapidly coming to an end, the system itself has already made great progress, being personified in the name of Rockefeller. It seems that some of you cherish a most dangerous illusion for crushing this system by strengthening old forms of democracy; but you will find, that we are only at the beginning of imperialism and that bourgeois-democracy is at its end.

The only chance to win your cause will be in learning to understand the real force of imperialism, and it is for this reason, that I hope you are interested in some remarks on far-Eastern problems.