Imperialism Down the History Lane

Imperialism is the longest surviving political institution in human history. It survived vicissitudes of time and turmoils despite its detestable characteristics of greed and grabbing,

Written by

RIZWAN ULLAH

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Imperialism is the longest surviving political institution in human history. It survived vicissitudes of time and turmoils despite its detestable characteristics of greed and grabbing, cruelty and exploitation. It has acquired new incarnations to present a sophisticated and more acceptable face. It has adapted to changing circumstances, but has never failed to show its paws and claws, to clutch and grab what belonged to others whenever there was an opportunity for that.
In fact imperialism is a euphemism for brute force to administer state affairs. The agents who use that force may not have adopted it as a political philosophy in action just as the proponents of communism and various forms of democracy have done. Imperialism is derived through the dynasty or lineage and passed on to future generations through hierarchy or through the same original brute force which was the first cause of its creation. Next come the subjects whose affairs are supposed to be dealt with by the holder and user of that force. The system runs with an amount of cooperation and coordination called subordination of the subjects. The system must run even in case of opposition by them which is called revolt or uprising which calls for the use of stronger force to curb or crush it and force the rebels into submission. The process or a chain of action and reaction over the years, and centuries after the introduction of the system, ends in failure, it gives rise to or takes various forms of administering the state affairs whose smooth continuity had broken for a span of time.
The agent who wields the real power, called the emperor, maintains armies to fight against enemies and suppress rebels. His, failure or defeat leads to the emergence of another system for administering the affairs of the subjects, called people. The defeated ruler may go into oblivion or join others of the same flock. They may make an alliance, settle terms of agreement and share the booty. But after the give and take some of the partners in power remain the same as before.
Before proceeding further it may be mentioned that the human being and all living creatures, and for that matter, their organisations and institutions, adapt to the changing situations and circumstances for their survival. But after having survived a situation their form, shape and behaviour do not remain the same as before. Observe a tree, when deprived of sunlight it tilts towards the side it is likely to come into contact with that source of energy and life, but in that process of survival it is stunted or twisted. Similarly when imperialism wins a battle for its survival all of its original features do not remain intact. After having undergone some changes in its form and features it is likely to assume another euphemism, the capitalism.
Again to take the example of a plant: in its early life its need for energy is small but grows with the growth of the plant into a tree. So it grows leaves on its growing number of branches. The leaves absorb more energy from the sun and the air. This is true of imperialism. When it spreads its tentacles and grabs wider areas it needs more and more armies for its security and ever expanding paraphernalia, so the need for more and more resources. That need leads to usurping and occupying more land, more resources of the institutions of imperialism. The captured and occupied lands were termed as colonies. The people of the land who were forced to serve the masters, naturally disliked and hated to work as subjects; they too had aspirations for freedom similar to those of their colonisers. Naturally then they would rise into rebellion and overthrow that authority when they get an opportunity to do so or they would make alliances with other people in a similar position as that of theirs. However, the process of making colonies, holding them by force and exploiting their resources in terms of men and materials was called colonialism. It is a system known to be more cruel and merciless than its earlier form, that is, imperialism. It may be seen as a passing phase in the life of imperialism which needs other forms of treaties and alliances with organisations or institutions facing, or likely to face in foreseeable future. As all these people making an extended sort of alliance are rich and powerful they meet at a middle ground and agree on a common cause. A new institution thus comes into being, in political jargon called capitalism. Thus we observe that what is called capitalism is a new incarnation of the foregoing imperialism. All matters when split in the process of their natural decay, or break-up under the pressure of force they generate and spread some energy which in its turn causes collateral damage to the surroundings. Similar is the case of human organisations which, when split, release some energy which has a damaging effect on the society as a whole. This process of split and damage is called conflict and war of various intensities and dimensions.
The new avtar of imperialism, that is, capitalism, is quite beguiling. To avoid the impression that it continues to carry the inherent features of imperialism and colonialism of being acquisitive, assertive and oppressive, it assumed a new nomenclature, that is globalisation. It sounds nice and quite acceptable as it indicates some sort of universality in social and economic fields of activity which would inevitably bring equality among all people – a dream which could not be realised through much hyped claims of socialism and democracy. But as I have just said, such claims by the proponents of this new avtar or such hopes by the expectant people are not likely to materialise. The globe is still too big for any human institution so far devised and developed to capture and manage its affairs under a single umbrella. So the coming generations must be prepared for greater inequality in the matter of possession and distribution of wealth and resources. In the meanwhile the all pervading process of decay will continue to evolve new systems. Let us hope it would be better, more considerate and passionate towards humanity, especially to those suffering due to the ravages of poverty, wars and natural calamities.
History bears witness to the fact that empires, the manifest face of imperialism, broke while giving birth to saplings of the same kind and then faded into oblivion. The decay of Roman Empire and the emergence of British Empire can be referred to as examples. Then the latter grew, expanded and added mass by spreading its tentacles and grabbing other areas which were called colonies, sometimes claiming them as their overseas territories. Another example may be that of the Tsarist Empire run down and demolished by an emerging empire calling itself as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In fact they were colonies with a different nomenclature. Before our own eyes that new empire broke up releasing parts of the union from an invisible and undeclared bondage.
Now those breakaway parts of that short lived empire are finding themselves into a melting pot of the European Union that includes some elements of the old Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, a misnomer for the Ottoman Caliphate. This seems to be an alternative to an institution aspiring for a global presence, mainly with the intention to achieve mastery over all economic resources which actually amounts to becoming a powerful state of global dimensions.
However, only the time will tell how the new experiment of making a compact and strong union of contiguous region consisting of independent and self sufficient states works. If the experiment succeeds, it will be a case for study by Arab countries who have failed in the past in similar experiments for obvious reasons.
It is an example for us on the subcontinent, rather for neighbouring Asian states, to study and follow. We have bountiful natural and human resources but all of us suffer due to their inefficient and insufficient exploitation and absence of a sound planning for their proper distribution throughout the region. India being the largest unit in the region, should step forward with maturity and confidence. One can only pray and hope that extremist elements of various sorts and the politically ambitious will show some restraint to make the experiment in establishing a strong and self-sufficient region a success. Establishment of similar regional blocks all over the world may solve many problems raised by ambitious power hungry people. It may be an alternative to many political theories experimented with so far. Science and technology with their conquest of time and space have greatly helped the achievement of that great ideal.