European empires from the early modern period to the twentieth century dominated much of the globe. Scholarship on Imperialism has focused on the destruction and exploitation that these European colonies wrought on their subjects and territories. However, were there any positive results from this process?
No, imperialism is at its core exploitativeShow moreShow less
Europeans built empires not to uplift or help other people but to enrich themselves in material and land.
Though nineteenth-century Europeans tried to justify their imperial ventures as ‘civilising'. Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden serves as an excellent example. Colonies were built for economic exploitation.
European empires were initially built in Asia and Africa to gain access to certain products like spices, unavailable in Europe. In order to extract these commodities European empires created global systems of commerce and the movement of labour to enrich themselves. Slaves from West Africa were vital for cultivation of sugar in the West Indies and their transport was facilitated by major European Empires like the French, Spanish, British, and Portuguese, as well as the United States. Even after abolishing slavery empires relied on forced labour extract commodities. In the British Empire indentured Indian labourers were duped or forced to the Caribbean to harvest sugar and kept in conditions very similar to slavery.
Physical infrastructure, built by European Empires, was also created only to exploit colonies. As Sven Beckert notes in Empire of Cotton British, business interests directed both the rapid spread of Indian territorial colonisation and how these areas developed. Imperialists built telegraph cables and railways to facilitate the transport cotton from inland India to the coast. This cotton was grown for the benefit of factories in Northern England and to enrich capitalists in Britain and relied on coerced Indian labour. As the roving Muslim activist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani noted, whatever advancements were brought to European colonies were only put in place ‘to drain the substance of our wealth and facilitate the mans of trade for the inhabitants of the British Isles and extend their sphere of riches.’ The colonial state was built foremost to exploit, any claim that it uplift or civilise its subjects was mere posturing.
[P1] Empires were only built to extract commodities.
[P2] This economic exploitation directed colonial endeavours far more than any desire to uplift subject peoples.