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Part 6c: Imperialism resisted
By Henry C K Liu

  • Part 1: The race toward barbarism
  • Part 2: That old time religion
  • Part 3: Rule of law vs Confucianism
  • Part 4: Taoism and modernity
  • Part 5: The Enlightenment and modernity
  • Part 6a: Imperialism as modernity
  • Part 6b: Imperialism and fragmentation

    Between the epochal Treaty of Berlin and World War I, the Ottoman state enjoyed a minor victory against the Greeks in a short 1897-98 war but suffered additional losses in the 1911-12 Tripolitanian war with Italy and, more seriously, in the Balkan wars of 1912-13. In these latter conflicts, the Ottoman successor states of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia at first fought against the Ottomans and then among themselves. In the end, the Ottomans lost the last of their European possessions except for the coastal plain between Edirne and the capital city, Istanbul.

    In 1879, Otto von Bismarck formed a military alliance with Austria-Hungary, to which Italy was added in 1882, giving it the name Triple Alliance. He also finessed a concurrent alliance with Russia, the enemy of Austria-Hungary over the Balkans. Britain then found itself holding the balance in the global game of balance of power.

    After Bismarck's retirement and the lapse of the German-Russian alliance, France answered with a Dual Alliance with Russia in 1894. Britain had formed an alliance with Japan in 1902 against their common enemy, Russia. A naval race between Britain and Germany after 1889 woke Britain up from its historical preoccupation with French threats and pushed Britain into the fold of the Dual Alliance in the form of an Entente Cordiale in 1904, in which Britain recognized French penetration into Morocco in exchange for French recognition of British occupation of Egypt.

    Having been defeated by Japan in 1904, Russia settled its differences with Britain with a view to preserve Russian interests in the Far East, and the Triple Entente was formed with France, Russia and Britain. In March 1905, Kaiser William II disembarked from a German warship in Tangier, where he made a startling speech in support of Morocco's independence from France, aiming to split France and Britain. Germany demanded and managed an international conference on Morocco in 1906 but failed to dislodge international support for French claim on Morocco.

    The second Morocco Crisis of 1911 arose out of the dispatch of the German gunboat Panther to Agadir on July 1. The ostentatious pretext for this gunboat diplomacy was the request of German firms in Agadir for protection in the disorderly state of the country. But inasmuch as there were no German subjects at Agadir and the port was not open to Europeans, it was clear that the real motive was a desire to reopen the whole question to prevent a further French penetration unless France would negotiate for a final settlement of the problem.

    On October 4, a convention gave France a de facto protectorate in Morocco; in return, France pledged itself most explicitly to observe the principle of open door. On November 2, it was agreed that the German Empire should receive two prongs of French territory, which would bring the Cameroons in touch with the Congo and Ubangi Rivers at Bonga and Mongumba, respectively, while Germany surrendered the Duck's Beak in the Lake Chad region. The only difficulty arose over the German demand that France transfer to the German Empire its right of preemption to the Belgian Congo, but with the assistance of Russia, a formula was found by which any change in the status of the Congo was reserved to the decision of the powers signatory of the Berlin African act of 1885. On November 4, 1911, the Morocco and Congo conventions were signed in Berlin, a letter from the German foreign secretary to the French ambassador being annexed in which Germany recognized a French protectorate in Morocco.

    The settlement was a great triumph for France, secured by the manifestations of national solidarity at home and the diplomatic assistance of Great Britain. Many Frenchmen regretted the cession of French territory, but Morocco was certainly far more valuable than the Congo, and above all the Republic had scored a distinct victory over the mighty German Empire, which had defeated it in 1870-71. In Germany there was a corresponding discontent, which manifested itself in bitter criticisms of the imperial government's diplomacy and in violent outbursts of hatred for Great Britain, whose intervention spoiled the German game.

    The land Germany received was valuable chiefly as the entering wedge for further penetration of the Belgian Congo. Such designs were substantiated by a conversation between the French ambassador in Berlin and the German foreign minister in the spring of 1914, in which the latter declared that Belgium was not in a position to develop the Congo adequately and ought "to give it up". The reverses sustained in this diplomatic bout with France and Great Britain were a decisive factor in German consideration of a world war, for it had been brought home to Berlin that diplomatically the Triple Entente of France, Russia and Britain was stronger than the Triple Alliance of Prussia, Austria-Hungary and Italy, a condition that only war could correct.

    The German Drang nach Osten (drive to the east) policy spurred the Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. The assassination of the grand duke of Austria, the heir to the Hapsburgs, in Sarajevo, the capital of Austrian Bosnia, precipitated World War I. The balance-of-power doctrine, maintained through alliances, that had stabilized Europe through imperialistic conquests outside of Europe had led to a power vacuum from the collapse of the Ottoman Dominion that threw European powers into a global conflict in trying to fill it. The pressure from Russia and Britain and France limited the Ottoman option and caused it to join the Central Powers in World War I.

    The Drang nach Osten policy also manifested itself in the financing of the Baghdad Railroad. One of the most important strategic resources fought over in the Great War was the Near Eastern Railroad. Under the German-Turkish alliance, it was called the Berlin-Baghdad Railroad. Later, when the railroad came under French control, the slogans were "Bordeaux to Baghdad" and "Calais to Cairo". Great Britain favored "London to Baghdad".

    The route followed by the Near Eastern Railroad had been of great strategic importance for centuries, in part because it allowed access to the raw-material resources of the region. The Near Eastern Railroad, along with the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Suez Canal, were intended as modern versions of the great trade routes of the Middle Ages. The old caravan routes that had linked East and Near East were now extended directly into Western Europe by rail and to the Mediterranean Sea by canal. Westerners took great advantages of their new access to the Near East via the railroad during and after World War I. Allied troops were sent into the region in great numbers. Missionaries expanded their numbers and their projects. Americans in particular were able to exploit this new opportunity because their country had not suffered the devastations of the Great War and their wealth had increased greatly because of it.

    The outbreak of war in 1914 between two grand coalitions - Britain, France and Russia against Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy - doomed the Ottoman Dominion. Majority sentiment among the Ottoman elite probably favored a British alliance, but that was not an available option. Britain already had gained Cyprus and Egypt; thus the road to India was well guarded. In any event, Britain and France were not able to reconcile a potential Ottoman ally's claims for territorial integrity with their Russian ally's demands for Ottoman lands, especially the waterways connecting the Black and Aegean seas. Ottoman statesmen well understood that neutrality was not a possibility since it would have made partition by the winning coalition inevitable. And so, yielding to the historical anti-British, anti-French and anti-Russian sentiments among the Young Turk elites who had seized power during the Balkan wars crisis, the Ottomans entered the war on what turned out to be the losing side.

    During the multi-front, four-year war, the Ottoman world endured truly horrendous casualties through battles and disease, and the massacre of its population by the enemy military. As the war ended, British and French troops were in victorious occupation of Anatolian and Arab provinces, as well as the capital city itself. During the war, the two European powers had prepared the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 to partition the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Dominion between them. The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret understanding concluded in May 1916, during World War I, between Great Britain and France, with the assent of Russia, for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

    The agreement, taking its name from its negotiators, Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France, spelled out the division of Ottoman Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine into various French and British-administered areas. The agreement conflicted with pledges already given by the British to the Hashemite leader Hussein ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, who was persuaded to lead an Arab revolt in the Hejaz against the Ottoman rulers on the understanding that the Arabs would eventually receive much of the territory won. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Paris Peace Conference and the Cairo Conference were genres of political dominance of the European imperialist powers, which shifted borders and annexed territories, inventing dependency through mandates and protectorates. The British had persuaded the Arabs to rise up against the Ottoman rulers. The British high commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, corresponded with the Sharif of Mecca, promising an independent Arab state in return for fighting the Ottomans. Unaware of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, the Sharif of Mecca initiated a revolt against Ottoman rule in 1916 with the help of the British.

    This secret agreement was proof of British duplicity. The Arabs learned about the agreement only in 1917, when the new Soviet Union published it. The agreement deprived the Arabs of the right to rule their newly-won territories. Most of the Middle East came under British and French control. The vision of a free and united Arab realm had been an illusion perpetrated by Western imperialism. The Sykes-Picot Agreement set scenes for a century of border conflicts that continue today. The Paris Peace Conference in 1919 legitimized imperialist partitions. Britain was entrusted with mandatory powers for Iraq and Palestine, while Syria and Lebanon came under the French mandate. Under Article 22, the League of Nations stated: "Territories inhabited by peoples unable to stand themselves would be entrusted to advanced nations until such time as the local population can handle matters."

    As the war ended, Britain and France both sent troops to enforce their claims and peace conferences subsequently confirmed this wartime division. Palestine was the exception, becoming part of the British zone and not, as was originally planned, an international zone. Britain thus obtained much of present-day Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, while France took the Syrian and Lebanese lands - both remaining in control until after World War II.

    Britain merged the Ottoman provinces Baghdad, Basra and Mosul into a new state of Iraq, inhabited by three different groups of people: Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds. Under British rule, the new Iraqis were subjected to more taxes than under Ottoman rule. Nationalist revolt rose against the new British rulers in 1920.

    To crush the Iraqi national-liberation movement, Winston Churchill, as secretary of state for war, introduced new military tactics with massive bombing of villages as the original "shock and awe" doctrine, revived eight decades later by the US military. Churchill ordered the use of mustard gas, stating: "I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes." Churchill argued that the usage of gas was a "scientific expedient" and it "should not be prevented by the prejudices of those who do not think clearly". Whole villages were bombed and gassed. There was wholesale slaughter of civilians. Men, women and children fleeing from villages were machine-gunned by low-flying planes. The Royal Air Force routinely bombed and used poison gas against the Kurd, Sunni and Shi'ite tribes without discrimination.

    In 1911, Italy and France were in competition over Libya. Fearful that France might attack the Ottoman Empire and seize Libya, the Italians attacked first. They defeated the Ottomans and, through a peace treaty, obtained the Dodacanese Islands and Libya from the Ottomans. Encouraged by this development, the new states of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro attacked the Ottomans, hoping to gain all of the Ottoman provinces in the north of Greece, Thrace, and the southern European coast of the Black Sea. They easily defeated the Ottomans and drove them back, almost to the very edge of Europe.

    The Second Balkan War erupted just two years later (1913) when Greece, Serbia and Montenegro disapproved of the amount of territory that Bulgaria had annexed. Joined by the Ottomans, these three powers managed to roll back Bulgarian territorial gains. This was the last military victory in Ottoman history. It is a strange note in history that this last defeat and triumph for the Ottomans would precipitate a situation that would snowball into World War I. The Ottoman territories that fell into European hands precipitated a crisis among European powers that would eventually lead directly to that great conflict.

    As a result of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Ottomans lost all their territory in Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Mesopotamia. The European powers fought one another in Africa and the Middle East by encouraging revolution among the peoples there. The victorious Allied Powers - the United States, France and Britain - parceled out parts of the once-vast Ottoman Empire and its resources among themselves according to various treaties. The US received the governorship of the capital city Istanbul (Constantinople), France received Syria, and Great Britain got much of Anatolia, ie the newly-established Republic of Turkey. Correspondingly, Turkey and its ally during World War I, Germany, suffered territorial and strategic losses.

    In 1922, Ottoman rule officially came to an end when Turkey was declared a republic. While the Ottomans were suffering from defeats in Europe, internally they were faced with revolution by liberal nationalists who wished to adopt a Western style of government. These nationalists called themselves the "Young Turks", and in the early 1920s they began an open revolt against the Ottoman government. The goal of the revolution was to modernize and Westernize Turkey, and the primary theoretician of that change was Mustafa Kemal, who is known in Turkish history as Ataturk ("Father of the Turks").

    As president of Turkey from 1922-28, Ataturk introduced a series of legislative reforms that adopted European legal systems and civil codes and thus overthrew both the Shariah and the kanun. He legislated against Arabic script and converted Turkish writing to the European Roman script. He legislated against the Arabic call to prayer and eliminated the caliphate and all the mystical Sufi orders of Islam.

    Ataturk was the first to theorize and put into practice the secularization of the Islamic state and society. Nothing like it had ever happened in the whole of Islamic history. Efforts to emulate this secularization, however, have by and large been unsuccessful in other Islamic states.

    In Arabia and Anatolia, new states under European protection emerged from the Ottoman wreckage. After a prolonged struggle, the Saudi state defeated its many rivals in the Arabian Peninsula, including the Hashemites of Mecca, finally forming the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. As World War I approached its end, Ottoman resistance forces had formed in various areas, concentrating in the Anatolian provinces that had provided the bulk of Ottoman troops. In the ensuing months and years, as Great Power claims to the Arab provinces of the empire were implemented, general strategies of Ottoman resistance against foreign occupation transmuted into ones for the liberation of Anatolia only. Fighting and defeating the invading Greek forces that claimed western and northern Anatolia for Greece, the resistance leaders gradually redefined their struggle as a Turkish one, for the liberation of a Turkish homeland in Anatolia.

    The concentration of significant Ottoman-cum-Turkish forces in Anatolia meant that any British and French occupation would be very costly. The emerging Turkish leadership, in recognition of pragmatic reality for its part, was willing to negotiate on certain issues vital to Great Power interests, such as repayment of outstanding Ottoman debts, the question of the waterways connecting the Black and Aegean seas, and renunciation of claims to the former Arab provinces. In the end, the Great Powers and the Turkish nationalists agreed to terminate the Ottoman Empire. The sultanate ceased to exist in 1922, and the Ottoman caliphate ended in 1923.

    The end of Ottomanism left the former Ottoman territories with a century of endless war and widespread poverty even with the discovery in the region of the richest resource of the modern era - oil. The carnage continues today.

    The New Imperialism
    The Victorian Era marks the maturing of Western modernity, considered the height of the industrial revolution in Britain and the apex of the British Empire, defined as the years from 1837 to 1901. The Victorian period was personified by Her Majesty Queen Victoria's rule in this period. She abhorred all modern devices, including the telephone, which was invented by Alexander Bell in 1876, the year she became Empress of India. The age was a clash between the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity and restraint and the widespread presence of deplorable social phenomena, including prostitution, child labor, and having an economy based to a large extent on the exploitation of the working classes at home and the "inferior peoples" of the colonies. Charles Dickens' modernity contrasted sharply with Rudyard Kipling's modernity.

    The term "New Imperialism" refers to an era of colonial expansion spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I (1871-1914). The term "imperialism" was a new word in the mid-19th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was first recorded in 1858 to describe Pax Britannica. At that time, imperialism was regarded as a new phenomenon deserving of a new word to describe it. Moreover, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 19th-century England "imperialism" was generally used only to describe British policies. However, soon after the invention of the term, "imperialism" was used retroactively in reference to policies of the Roman Empire to justify the legitimacy of British hegemony.

    In the 20th century, the term has been used to describe the policies of both the Soviet Union (socialist imperialism) and the US, although analytically these differed greatly from each other and from 19th-century imperialism. Furthermore, the term has been expanded to apply, in general, to any historical instance of the aggrandizement of a greater power at the expense of lesser powers. Consequently, historians today refer to European imperialism after the Franco-Prussian War as the "New Imperialism". Of late, the term "empire" has been revived by some, including self-proclaimed Marxists, in a positive light as a preferred universal institution to impose global peace and order.

    Between 1871 and 1914, there was a renewed drive for economic and physical expansion among the world's more powerful nation-states, including those outside Western Europe, such as Japan and the US. During this period, Europe added 20 percent of the Earth's land area (nearly 23 million square kilometers) to its collection of overseas colonial possessions and almost all of the world's non-white population. As it had not yet been formally or informally occupied by the Western powers, Africa became the primary target, although expansion also took place in other areas, notably the East Asian seaboard and Southeast Asian islands, where the US and Japan laid claim to territory. Contemporary English writers variously described the New Imperialism as "the Era of Empire for Empire's Sake", "the Great Adventure", and "the Scramble for Africa".

    The defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815 led to a continental order decidedly favorable to Britain's interests, known as the Concert of Europe. Austria was a barrier to the expansion of unified Italian and German nation-states until after the Crimean War, forcing other potential imperial powers to concentrate on continental concerns rather than overseas trade. Britain, an island nation with a longstanding tradition of naval and maritime superiority, however, could afford the luxury of encouraging commercial ties with overseas markets.

    Between the Congress of Vienna (after the defeat of Napoleon) and the Franco-Prussian War, Britain reaped the benefits of being the world's sole industrial nation. If political conditions in a particular overseas markets were stable enough, Britain could control its market for industrial goods through free trade alone without having to resort to formal rule or mercantilism. Britain was even supplying half the needs in manufactured goods of such nations as Germany, France, Belgium and the US. In this sense, the movement toward aggressive international rivalry, the movement toward formal empire and imperialist competition, had its roots in the breakdown of Pax Britannica.

    The decline of Pax Britannica after the Franco-Prussian War was made possible by changes in the European and world economies and in the continental balance of power, the breakdown of the Concert of Europe and the consequent establishment of nation-states in Germany and Italy. These developments rendered global imperialist competition feasible, in spite of Britain's centuries of long-established naval and maritime superiority. As unification of Germany by the Prussian Garrison State went forward, contending capitalist powers were thus ready to compete with Britain over stakes in overseas markets. The aggressive chauvinism of Napoleon III and the relative political stability of France under the Third Republic also rendered France more capable of challenging Britain's global preeminence. Germany, Italy and France were simply no longer as embroiled in European concerns and domestic disputes as they had been before the Franco-Prussian War. The dispute shifted to the non-Western world and led to World War I, which gravely wounded the British and put an end to the Prussian state. World War II was precipitated by the competition between Japan and the US to fill the vacuum left by the decline of the British Empire in Asia.

    Banks, through the finance of industry, were able to exert a great deal of control over the British economy, politics and policy. During the period of unregulated cutthroat competition of the mid-Victorian era, as nations saw the advantage of expansion, private producers also became aware of the advantages of consolidation, in the forms of larger corporations, through mergers and alliances of separate firms, such as mass production, lobbying power, and efficient union-busting. Size was recognized as a base for power. To create and operate such industrial cartels required larger sums than the manufacturer could ordinarily provide, resulting in a new capitalist stage of development. Concurrently, the need to break up old superstates to prevent their revitalization as formidable competitors took on universal recognition.

    By the 1870s, London financial houses had achieved an unprecedented control of industry, contributing to an increasing concerns among elite policymakers regarding British protection of overseas investments - particularly those in foreign governments' securities and debt and in foreign-government-backed development enterprises such as railroads and strategic canals. The huge expansion of these investments after about 1860 and with the economic and political instability of many areas of high investment, calls upon the government for protection became increasingly pronounced. After service sector of the economy (banking, insurance, rail transportation and shipping) became more prominent at the expense of manufacturing, the influence of London's financial interest began rising precipitously. The financial sector had an effect the decisions taken by Britain's disproportionately aristocratic bureaucrats and parliamentarians. Late-Victorian politicians, most of whom were stockholders, "shared a common culture with the financial class", observed historian Bernard Porter. Colonialism became a recognized solution to the need to expand markets, increase opportunities for investors, and ensure the supply of raw material. Cecil Rhodes, one of the great figures of England's colonization of Africa, recognized the importance of overseas expansion for maintaining peace at home.

    The Panic of 1873 caused a long depression that did not recover until 1896. It had a number of causes and was itself an important cause of New Imperialism. A major financial reversal began in Europe from excessive financing on huge overseas projects that could not generate profits in time to service the huge debt to provided the high returns that invested were led to expect.

    The crisis reached the US in the autumn of 1873. The signal event was the failure of Jay Cooke and Co, the country's preeminent investment banking concern. The firm had handled most of the government's Civil War bonds at great profit and was the principal backer of the Northern Pacific Railroad by raising US$100 million from the investing public. The financing of the fantastic expansion of railroads was analogous to the excess financing of telecommunication of recent years. The difference was then the US did not have a central bank to bail out the failing banks. The Federal Reserve did not come into existence until 1913.

    Cooke's fall touched off broad repercussions that engulfed the entire nation. The New York Stock Exchange closed for 10 days. Credit dried up, foreclosures skyrocketed, banks failed and factories closed, costing massive unemployment overnight, without help from any government safety net. Most of the major railroads failed and transportation came to a standstill.

    The post-Civil War period was one of frenetic, unregulated growth with the government playing no role in regulating against abuses. More than any other single event, the extreme overbuilding of the nation's railroad system laid the groundwork of the Panic and a long depression that followed. In addition to the ruined fortunes of many Americans, the Panic of 1873 caused bitter antagonism between workers and the leaders of finance and industry. This tension would erupt into the labor unrest and populist protests that marked the following decades.

    In Britain, powerful industrial lobbies and government leaders concluded that profits fell because too many manufactures and too much capital were chasing too few consumers in the domestic market. Overseas markets, whether in colonial areas or in nominally sovereign, pre-industrial states outside Western Europe, a greater profit premium awaits surplus British capital. These leaders also demanded an end to free trade and a return to mercantilist-style protectionism. The combination pointed to the need for empire. The manufacturers and their bankers were eager for new destinations for exports and pushed the government to secure captive markets in Africa, the Ottoman Dominion and Asia.

    Among the new conditions, more markedly evident in Britain, the forerunner of Europe's industrial states, were the long-term effects of the severe "Long Depression" of 1873-96, which had followed 15 years of great economic instability. Business after 1873 in practically every industry suffered from lengthy periods of low and falling profit rates and price deflation. The continental powers' abandonment of free trade shrank the European market. Business and government leaders, such as King Leopold II of Belgium, concluded that protected overseas colonial markets would solve the problems of overcapacity, low prices and over-accumulation of surplus capital caused by shrinking continental markets.

    The economy of France was as well devastated during the Long Depression. In losing the Franco-Prussian War, France had been forced to pay substantial reparation payments to Prussia. The nation was also torn by civil struggle between socialists and republicans. The victorious republicans remained very unstable after taking back Paris in 1871. The French government ended free trade and began to pursue colonization as a way to increase its power and aid the French economy.

    British imperialism suddenly found itself faced with serious competition. The Long Depression had bred long-standing fears regarding economic decline and the emergent strength of trade unionism and socialism in every European nation and plunged Europe into an era of aggressive national rivalry. Newly industrializing nation-states such as Prussia and Austria felt compelled to secure colonies as a matter of survival. German imperialists argued that Britain's world-power position gave the British unfair advantages on international markets, thus limiting Germany's economic growth and threatening its security.

    Many European statesmen and industrialists wanted to accelerate the process of colonialism, securing colonies even before their economies needed them. Their reasoning was that markets might soon become glutted, and a nation's economic survival depend on its being able to offload its surplus products elsewhere. British reactionaries hence concluded that formal policy for imperialism was necessary for Britain because of the relative decline of the British share of the world's export trade and the rise of German, US and French economic competition. Continental political developments in the late 19th century also rendered such imperialist competition feasible. Trade, instead of an exchange of comparative advantage, because a device of national security. When the current US president, George W Bush, declared that trade is an issue of national security, he was in essence harking back to 19th-century imperialism.

    Like the other states of continental Europe, Russia was working hard to industrialize as rapidly as possible. While the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 was a stunning defeat, this embarrassment only cause the Russian leaders to push harder on their industrialization drive. British Conservatives in particular feared that Russia would continue to expand southward into Ottoman territory and acquire a port on the Mediterranean or even Constantinople, a long-touted goal of Russian foreign policy and Orthodoxy.

    These fears became especially pronounced after the 1869 completion of the Suez Canal, prompting the official rationale behind Benjamin Disraeli's purchase of the waterway. The close proximity of the czar's territorially expanding empire in Central Asia to India also terrified Lord Curzon, thus triggering the British wars of expansion in Afghanistan. Cecil Rhodes advocated the prospect of a "Cape to Cairo" empire, which would link by rail the extrinsically important canal to the intrinsically mineral-and-diamond-rich south, from a strategic standpoint. Though hampered by German conquest of Tanganyika until the end of World War I, Rhodes lobbied on behalf of such a sprawling East African empire. Until the Entente Cordiale, the British leadership was long very concerned that Britain was extremely vulnerable to a land attack on her colonies combined with a naval assault by Russia's ally France.

    Observing the rise of trade unionism, socialism, and other protest movements during an era of mass society in both Europe and later North America, the elite in particular was able to use imperial jingoism to coopt the support of the impoverished industrial working class. Riding the sentiments of the late-19th-century Romantic Age, imperialism either inculcated the masses with, or realized their own tendencies toward, "glorious" neo-aristocratic virtues and helped instill broad nationalist sentiments. In an age of mass media, every citizen became deeply patriotic during even minor wars. A good example of this was the Spanish-American War of 1898 fought for control of Cuba and the Philippines as enterprises of "manifest destiny".

    Europe's elites also found advantage in formalizing overseas expansion: mammoth monopolies wanted imperial protection of overseas investments against competition and political unrest, bureaucrats wanted more posts, military officers desired the easy glory of colonial wars, and the waning landed gentry wanted formal titles for their untitled siblings. Many of the common people also clamored for colonies. This was especially true in Germany, where the leader, Otto von Bismarck, firmly disliked colonies and saw them as burdensome and useless. The people of Germany thought differently and demanded colonial expansion to match that of the other European states. By the end of Bismarck's time in office he was forced to concede to the people and annexed some small islands in the South Pacific. He was dismissed by the new Kaiser Wilhelm II, who responded to the people's demands by risking German security in attempts to gain colonies in Africa.

    J A Hobson and later Lenin linked the problem of shrinking continental markets driving European capital overseas to an inequitable distribution of wealth in industrial Europe. Lenin contended that the wages of workers did not represent enough purchasing power to absorb the vast amount of capital accumulated during the Second Industrial Revolution. A fundamental maldistribution of purchasing power during the great industrial expansion of the post-World War I era might have been the Second Great Depression's main contributing factor.

    Hobson concluded that finance was manipulating events to its own profit, but often against broader national interests. Second, any such statistics only obscure the fact that formal African control of tropical Africa had strategic implications in an era of feasible inter-capitalist competition, particularly for Britain, which was under intense economic and thus political pressure to secure lucrative markets such as India, China and Latin America.

    After the revolution, feudalism dissipated in France, with a qualitative change in the organization of the productive forces brought about by capitalism. In the communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the state, armed with a socialist vision based on theory, had to combat a working feudalism without the benefit of an alternative model besides capitalism. The productive relations of industrialization were not at odds with the dictatorship of the proletariat. Industrialization was carried out without capitalism. Socialist industrialization worked in the early decades of the Soviet experience. The Soviet economic collapse in the 1980s was caused by the US-induced arms race where under capitalism, profit from private defense contractors recharged the US economy, while in the USSR, the arms race merely drained resources from the socialist economy.

    Just as industrial capitalism had replaced mercantilism and commercial capitalism in the 18th century, finance capitalism supplanted industrial capitalism in the late 19th century. A new form of neo-imperialism emerged in which direct political control becomes less necessary. Today, what is needed to ensure US control are local governments friendly to US economic domination through global finance.

    The relationship of Christianity to the modern world has been very complicated. Often Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox leaders and their separate congregations have resisted the modern emphasis on individualism, rationalism, and democracy. They have insisted on the authority of traditional structures, liturgies, and beliefs. The major Protestant groups emerged in an atmosphere in which "tradition" was blamed for many abuses in the church. Although in this sense they opened the way for modern ideas in the church, Martin Luther, John Calvin and others were socially conservative. The most radical wings of the major Protestant groups (eg Huldreich Zwingli's Puritans) were the most critical of the authority of tradition, of traditional liturgy, sacramental theology, and ecclesiastical institutions (eg, bishops). The relationship of the Puritans to the middle-class political and social revolutions of the 17th-19th centuries has been much debated, but that some relationship existed between them is undeniable.

    The virtues and failures of modernity are beginning to come into focus for social scientists, philosophers and theologians in a postmodern era. "Advances" in medicine, science, transportation, and political relationships are coupled with serious ecological, social, and religious problems: pollution, alienation, medical costs and ethics, care for elderly people, crises of religious belief and overt paganization of society. What is liberating for one person or group is a tragedy for another. Within the Christian Church, democratization of leadership may constitute an advance over the tyranny of bishops or elders for some, yet lead to weak leadership and confusion for others. For four centuries Protestants perceived their rejection of images, liturgy and sacraments as a liberation from superstition and idolatry, yet this rejection of sacrament and liturgy is perceived by many in the 21st century as having left spiritual worship devoid of symbols - pale, lifeless and alienating.

    The struggle to modernize has preoccupied Chinese leaders for more than a century. The ominous prospect of dismemberment precipitated reform movements in China by 1898, five decades after the Opium War of 1841. Limited modernization efforts had been gathering pace decades earlier, taking shape in the form of a "Self-Strengthening Movement" in reaction to the Anglo-French occupation of Peking in 1860. The movement was inspired by a slogan conceived by scholar Wei Yuan: "Learn the superior barbarian techniques with which to repel the Barbarians." The movement concentrated on military modernization. Most progressive Chinese at that time felt that China had little to learn from the West.

    The Self-Strengthening Movement was proved ineffective in the defeat by Japan in 1895. Building momentum after the defeat by France in 1885 and solidified after the Japanese defeat, Chinese scholars and officials determined that a thorough institutional reform was necessary. The brilliant constitutional monarchist reformer Kang Yu-wei (1858-1927) and his student Liang Qi-chao (1873-1929) urged reforms along the lines of the Meiji Restoration of Japan and the Westernization of Russia by Peter the Great. The aim was not complete Westernization, but "Chinese learning as fundamentals, Western learning for practical application", as described by the scholar-official Zhang Zi-dong. The failure of Kang's "Hundred Days" Reform of 1898 led to reactionary sponsorship of the xenophobic Boxer uprising, which ended with an eight-power invasion of China. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), a Western-trained medical doctor and a Christian, led a revolutionary movement to overthrow the last dynastic government in Chinese history. The revolution succeeded in 1911, adopting a Western-style republic.

    In the 1911 bourgeois revolution, China had a face-lift in government structure, but the social structure built up over four millennia continued untouched. The influx of Western ideas began with the translation of the Bible and religious tracts in the pre-Opium-War period that ended in 1841. The unequal treaties that resulted from the Opium War and subsequent Western military invasions, opened China to unrestricted Christian missionary invasion.

    Of the 795 titles translated by Protestant missionaries between 1810 and 1867, 86 percent were on Christianity and only 6 percent were on the humanities and science. Chinese progressives then became convinced that a cultural revolution was necessary to modernize China. Those who had studied in Japan, Europe, the US and the USSR returned home in the mid-1910s to promote a New Cultural Movement, and an intellectual revolution that culminated in the patriotic May Fourth Student Movement. The spirit of the age was dominated by a fervent opposition to traditionalism and Confucianism, and religious superstition, except Christianity, which was mistakenly viewed as a "scientific" religion. Most progressives embraced total Westernization with an embrace of Western science and democracy within the context of the naive understanding of these terms. That movement soon split according the separate foreign experience of the returned students and activists. Hu Shih, a student of John Dewey's pragmatism, advocated an evolutionary approach to modernization, while Chen Du-xiu and Li Da-chao advocated Marxist class struggles.

    The evolution from agricultural feudalism to capitalism in the non-Western world had been captured by Western imperialism for the benefit of the West. This in turn distorted and retarded the evolution of capitalism into socialism in the whole world, both in the capitalistic core and the exploited periphery.

    In China, the traditional social stratification of four main classes - literati-scholars, farming peasants, artisans and merchants - crumbled in the face of two emerging group under Western imperialism: the compradors and the militarists who, as the new rich and the new powerful, dominated a Chinese society systemically impoverished by Western imperialism. These two classes could not possibly revive Chinese civilization because compradorism works for foreign interests and militarism is fundamentally destructive to civilization.

    It is an undeniable fact that the Communist Party of China, despite inevitable false starts and costly social experimentation, has evolved as the only social/political institution able to resist Western imperialism and its policy of dismemberment. The Party transformed the Chinese peasant from a passive member of an inert entity into an activist member of the state. As long as the Party adheres to its mission of representing the interest and welfare of the peasants that constitute 85 percent of the population, and focus on a march toward modernity with Chinese characteristics, it will avoid the fate of other modernization movements before it. The lesson for the non-Western world is that true modernity must carry a healthy dose of indigenous characteristics.

    Henry C K Liu is chairman of the New York-based Liu Investment Group.

    (Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
    Oct 15, 2003


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