Colonies and Colonial Policy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Colonies and Colonial Policy


Under capitalism, colonies are the countries and territories that are under the power of a foreign state (the metropolitan country). Deprived of political and economic independence, colonies are governed on the basis of a special regime. In pursuing a colonial policy, the metropolitan countries foist their rule upon “foreign” countries and territories. Colonial policy is a policy of enslavement and exploitation through the military, political, and economic coercion of peoples, countries, and territories—primarily economically less developed ones with populations of another nationality than that of the metropolitan country. Colonial policy is implemented by the exploiting classes of the metropolitan countries.

Colonial seizures were first made on a significant scale as early as the period of primitive accumulation, at the time of the great geographic discoveries of the mid-15th through the mid-17th century. Characteristic of colonial policy during the period of primitive accumulation were a striving to establish trade monopolies in the conquered territories, the seizure and plunder of entire countries, and the use or implantation of predatory feudal and slaveholding forms of exploitation of the local population. Colonial policy played a major role in primitive accumulation, resulting in the concentration in the European countries of a great deal of capital, which was derived chiefly from the robbery of the colonies and from the slave trade, which expanded particularly from the second half of the 17th century and which was one of the key factors in the transformation of England into the main capitalist country of that era. Trade with the colonies during the period of primitive accumulation made a substantial contribution to the development of a world market and the emergence of the rudiments of a world division of labor. “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of blackskins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 760).

The first colonial empires—those of Spain and Portugal— were formed after the great geographic discoveries. After the discovery of America in 1492, Spanish conquerors enslaved Central America and a considerable portion of South America. Having discovered a sea route to India (1498), the Portuguese established bases on the west and east coasts of Africa, consolidated their position on the west coast of India, seized the Molucca Islands in Southeast Asia, and took Brazil in the western hemisphere. In the late 16th century and the early 17th the Netherlands emerged as a strong colonial power. It reached the pinnacle of its power around the mid-17th century, when it seized most of Portugal’s colonies in the East. As a result of the Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th century, the colonial hegemony established by the Netherlands was destroyed by England. In the late 17th century and the early 18th, France began to seize colonies.

In the period of primitive accumulation colonial policy was implemented by large, privileged trading companies created specifically for that purpose. Although colonial policy was a source of enormous profits for all the colonial powers, its effect on them varied. Where colonial policy was implemented by feudal lords, it led to the stagnation and, subsequently, the decline of the state. Spain and, to a considerable degree, Portugal endeavored to reproduce their own feudal organizations in the territories they conquered. Huge sums of money flowed from the colonies to absolute monarchs, the nobility, and the church, strengthening the feudal system and paralyzing the stimulus toward the development of industry and agriculture. By contrast, where colonial policy was implemented by the bourgeoisie (Great Britain and the Netherlands), it accelerated the development of capitalist relations in the metropolitan powers, promoted the development of trade and industry there, and resulted in the strengthening and enrichment of the bourgeoisie. In the enslaved countries colonial policy led to the destruction of productive forces, hindered economic and political development, and resulted in the plunder of vast areas and the extermination of entire peoples. Military confiscation played the chief role in the exploitation of the colonies during this period.

As capitalist industry shifted from workshops to large-scale factories, fundamental changes were made in colonial policy. In addition to the outright plundering and taxation of the population, exploitation of the colonies by means of trade and unbalanced exchange became important. Economically, the colonies became more closely tied to the metropolitan countries. They were transformed into appendages that supplied the metropolitan countries with agricultural goods and raw materials. Their agricultural development was based on a one-crop system, and they became markets for industrial products and sources of raw materials for the growing capitalist industry of the métropoles. For example, in 1835, Great Britain shipped 65 times more cotton cloth to India than in 1814.

The spread of new methods of exploitation, the need to create special colonial government bodies capable of reinforcing the domination of the enslaved peoples, and the rivalry of different strata of the bourgeoisie in the metropolitan countries led to the liquidation of the monopolistic colonial trading companies and the transfer of power over the captured countries and territories to the state administrations of the metropolitan powers.

Changes in the forms and methods of exploitation of the colonies were not accompanied by a decrease in its intensity. Enormous riches were exported from the colonies, and the use of these resources led to the accelerated development of capitalism in Europe and North America. The intensified penetration of the colonies by commodity-money relations and the inclusion of the colonies in the world exchange led to the disintegration of their precapitalist socioeconomic forms and to the emergence and development of bourgeois relations. Under colonial conditions, this was a particularly difficult and contradictory process. Although the colonialists had an interest in increasing the marketable surplus of peasant farming, they impeded economic progress in the colonies in every way possible, maintaining and strengthening feudal and prefeudal relations and regarding the feudal and tribal elites in the enslaved countries as their supporters in colonial society. The domination of foreign capitalists, the duty-free import of industrial goods, and the pumping out of raw materials for almost no compensation led to the ruin and impoverishment of the native population, the destruction of colonial handicrafts and of the rudiments of workshop industry that had originated prior to the coming of the colonialists, and the decline of the economies of the colonies.

Table 1a. Metropolitan countries in 1970
 Area (sq km)Population
1 ln 1914 2ln 1938 3Denmark proper 4Of whom 17.5 million are Africans, mulattoes, and Indians living under conditions of colonial oppression
Great Britain ...............244,10055,711,000
Netherlands ...............36,60013,019,000
Portugal ...............92,1009,630,000
USA ...............9,363,400205,395,000
France ...............551,00050,775,000
Spain ...............504,80033,290,000
Germany ...............541.000164,926,0001
Italy ...............310.200243.578.0002
japan ...............382.500271,253,0002
Belgium ...............305009 676 000
Denmark ...............43.00034,921,0003
Republic of South Africa (until 1961, Union of South Africa) ...............1,221,00021,282,0004
Australia ...............7,686,60012,552,000
New Zealand ...............268 7002,816,000

With the beginning of the era of capitalism, Great Britain became the greatest colonial power. Defeating France in a long struggle during the 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain increased its holdings at France’s expense as well as at the expense of the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal. Great Britain brought India under its control. The Opium Wars, as a result of which onerous treaties were forced on China, were waged between 1840 and 1842 by Great Britain and between 1856 and 1860 by France and Great Britain. Having seized Hsiangkang (Hong Kong), Great Britain attempted to subjugate Afghanistan, captured strongholds along the Persian Gulf, and took Aden. Great Britain’s colonial monopoly, in addition to its industrial monopoly, ensured its position as the most powerful state for virtually the entire 19th century. Other powers also pursued policies of colonial expansion. France subdued Algeria (1830–48) and Vietnam (the 1850’s through the 1880’s) and established protectorates over Cambodia (1863) and Laos (1893). The colonial expansion of Russian tsarism moved primarily toward the southeast and east. Parts of Middle Asia and the Caucasus were turned into Russian colonies. In the first half of the 19th century the USA entered the struggle for colonies. The Monroe Doctrine, which was proclaimed by the USA in 1823, was evidence of its claims to the monopolistic exploitation of the countries of Latin America. During the 1840’s and 1850’s the USA foisted unfair treaties on China and Japan.

The policy of colonial enslavement encountered the heroic resistance of the peoples who had become its victims, and it provoked a number of mighty national liberation movements in the colonies and dependent countries, including the people’s war for independence in Algeria (1832–47), which was led by Abd al-Kadir, the war of independence of the Spanish colonies in America (1810–26), which resulted in the abolition of Spanish rule, and the popular uprising in India (1857–59). Among the revolts inspired by colonial policy were the Taiping Rebellion in China (1850–64), the uprising of the Egyptian people under the leadership of Arabi Pasha (1879–82), the uprising of the Mahdists in the Sudan (1881–98), the uprisings in the countries of Indochina in the late 1880’s and 1890’s, and the uprisings of the Hereros and Hottentots in Southwest Africa (1904–07).

In the 1870’s “free competition” capitalism began to develop into imperialism, which emerged at the turn of the 20th century. The oppression and exploitation of countries that were backward in socioeconomic terms became part and parcel of the totality of relations of monopoly capitalism. As V. I. Lenin pointed out, imperialism created “a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ’advanced’ countries” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 305). The colonial system of imperialism took shape—a system of political subordination, economic exploitation, and ideological suppression of the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which were turned into appendages supplying the world capitalist economy with agricultural goods and raw materials. There was an enormous increase in colonial seizures during this period. For example, between 1876 and 1914, Great Britain seized territories totaling 9 million sq km with a population of 146.6 million, France took 9.7 million sq km inhabited by 49 million people, Germany, 2.9 million sq km inhabited by 12.3 million people, the USA, 300,000 sq km inhabited by 9.7 million people, and Japan, 300,000 sq km inhabited by 19.2 million people. Virtually the entire African continent fell victim to colonial enslavement. All the previously “free” territory on earth came under the control of the imperialist powers. In regard to this, Lenin wrote: “the characteristic feature of the period under review is the final partitioning of the globe—final, not in the sense that repartition is impossible; on the contrary, repartitions are possible and inevitable—but in the sense that the colonial policy of the capitalist countries has completed the seizure of the unoccupied territories on our planet. For the first time the world is completely divided up, so that in the future only redivision is possible, that is, territories can only pass from one “owner” to another, instead of passing as ownerless territory to an ’owner’ “ (ibid, p. 374).

Under the colonial system of imperialism the main form of colonial enslavement is the direct military-political domination of the oppressed countries and peoples by the metropolitan countries. The colonial empires of the imperialist states of Western Europe, as well as the USA and Japan, made up the foundation of the colonial system. In addition to colonies, these empires included protectorates, and in the British Empire, dominions as well. A large number of countries were semicolonies, that is, “dependent countries which, politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence” (ibid., p. 383). Prior to World War I (1914–18), China, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Siam, and many Latin American countries had a semicolonial status. In 1914 colonies and dependent countries accounted for about 66.8 percent of the territory and 60 percent of the population of the globe. The territorial partition of the world among the imperialist powers was a fundamental aspect and, frequently, the very basis, of the economic partition of the world among the imperialist monopolies. Countries under colonial rule found themselves included in the system of the world capitalist division of labor.

During the era of monopoly capitalism the colonies and dependent countries became, above all, spheres for the investment of capital, although they retained their significance as markets for the industries of the metropolitan countries. This made it possible for foreign monopolies to concentrate in their own hands complete control over the economy of the enslaved countries.

Capital was exported to the colonies and dependent countries partly because there was a surplus of capital in the metropolitan countries, where sufficiently profitable investment opportunities were lacking. Besides, to a considerable degree, capital was attracted to the colonies because the enslaved countries had not only cheap raw materials and land but also cheap labor—the consequence of chronic unemployment, agrarian overpopulation, the general poverty of the masses of the people, and the possibility of extensively employing forced labor, including women and children.

The exploitation of the peoples of the colonies and dependent countries is one of the most important sources of superprofits for the monopolies. It furnishes the funds that promote the creation of an upper stratum in the working class of the metropolitan state (the so-called worker aristocracy). Often, colonial exploitation provides the funds to pay for concessions to broader strata of the metropole’s population, as well. The imperialist monopolies use the superprofits obtained in the colonies and dependent countries to finance both the growing state machinery and militarism and for the struggle against rivals. Colonial expansion feeds chauvinistic attitudes in the metropolitan countries, creating an obstacle to the development of class consciousness among the toiling people. The strategic military importance of the colonies increases, and their role as suppliers of cannon fodder and strategic raw materials for the imperialist states expands.

During the epoch of imperialism, when the economies of the dependent countries were completely subordinate to the requirements of the metropolitan states and to the preservation of feudal and prefeudal relations in the colonies, capitalist production continued to develop in the dependent countries in abnormal forms that were particularly onerous for the local population. Capitalist methods of exploitation were closely intertwined with precapitalist methods.

The imperialist monopolies retarded the development of national capital in the colonies in every way possible, hindering the creation of large-scale modern industry. (The only exception was mining, the development of which was encouraged to the utmost in order to wring valuable mineral resources from the colonies. Light industry was also encouraged to some extent.) The onesided agrarian-raw materials specialization of the colonial economies became more and more consolidated.

Because of the growing importance of the colonies, the struggle for rule over them became one of the main causes of contradictions, conflicts, and wars among the imperialist powers during the epoch of imperialism. The struggle was exacerbated by the uneven political and economic development of capitalism. Newly strong imperialist states endeavored to take away some of the booty of the old colonial powers. In the late 19th century and the early 20th, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the USA advanced claims against older colonial powers. The first war for the repartition of the world was unleashed by the USA against Spain in 1898 for the purpose of seizing the latter’s colonies. The USA captured the Philippines and the islands of Guam and Puerto Rico and established control over Cuba. In 1898 the USA annexed the Hawaiian Islands, and in 1903 it seized the Panama Canal Zone. Using even armed intervention, the USA tried to establish its rule over the countries of Central and South America. By means of the “open door” policy, the USA elbowed its way into China and tried to push out its imperialist rivals (Great Britain, France, Russia, Japan, and Germany), which had established their own spheres of influence there in the late 19th century. Attacking the position of Great Britain, France, and Russia, Germany implemented an extensive policy of expansion in Turkey and other areas of the Middle East, in North Africa, and in the Far East. In 1911–12, Italy captured Tripoli and Cyrenaica (the territory of Libya). Japan, which had defeated Russia (1904–05), took possession of the Liaotung Peninsula, the southern branchline of the Chinese Eastern Railway, and southern Sakhalin and in 1910 annexed Korea and established virtual control over southern Manchuria.

Contradictions also grew more intense among the old rivals—Great Britain and France and Great Britain and Russia—which had continued the policy of colonial expansion. After a three-year war (1899–1902), Great Britain captured the Boer republics and established a dominion, the Union of South Africa. France and Spain established a protectorate over Morocco (1911–12). These are only a few examples of expansionism.

The struggle for the repartition of colonies and spheres of influence was among the most important causes of World War I. Having been defeated in the war, Germany was deprived of all its colonies, which passed to Great Britain, France, Japan, Belgium, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa under the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Parts of the Ottoman Empire, including Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, fell under British and French rule.

World War I and especially the Great October Socialist Revolution laid the foundation for the general crisis of capitalism, one manifestation of which was the crisis of the colonial system of imperialism. The October Revolution opened the epoch of victorious national liberation revolutions in the colonial and dependent countries. The crisis of the colonial system of imperialism was reflected in the powerful upsurge of the liberation struggle: the May Fourth Movement in China (1919), the anti-Japanese uprising in Korea (1919), and the mass national liberation movements in countries such as India, Indonesia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, and South Africa. In their struggle against the imperialist colonialists Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan were given vital aid by Soviet Russia. With the fraternal support of the Soviet people, Mongolia chose to develop a noncapitalist system. Imperialism still retained the colonial system, but the imperialist powers were forced to disguise the partition of the colonial possessions of the states defeated in World War I with the mandate system of the League of Nations.

Table 1b. Crisis and disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism, 1918–38
   Colonial possessions1  
 Area (sq km)PopulationArea (sq km)PopulationArea (sq km)Population
1Changes in areas are explained not only by new seizures or losses, but in a number of cases, also by new estimates or measurements of areas. Population data for a number of colonies are often based on rough estimates. 2Beginning with 1923, data do not include the territories and population of dominions and their colonies. Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa became colonial powers after World War I. 3Including Alaska (according to various estimates, 1,552,500 or 1,530,000 or 1,519,000 sq km; 49th state of the USA as of 1958) and the Hawaiian Islands (16,600 sq km; as of 1959, the 50th state of the USA) 4Including Ethiopia (785,000 sq km; population, 5.3 million), which was seized by Italy in 1935–36 5Excluding Manchuria, which was under Japanese occupation between 1931 and 1945 (1,303,000 sq km; population, 35.3 million in 1937) 6The Faeroe Islands and the portion of Greenland that is free of glaciers, later included in the Kingdom of Denmark ’Area of the globe taken as 134,900,000 sq km
Source: Otto Hühners Geographisch-statistische Tabellen aller Länder der Erde, 65 Jahrgang Frankfurt am Main, 1918. Issues 66, 67, 69, 73. Vienna, 1921, 1924, 1927, 1939 (data for 1918, 1923, and 1938) M. B. Vol’f and V. S. Klupt, Statistich spravochnlkpo ekonomlch geografiistran kapitalistich mira Moscow, 1959 A. G. Shiger, Politich kartamira Moscow, 1961 (Data on population of the globe.) Compiled by A. B. German
Great Britain ...............33,598,500393,831,90015,123,9002398,562,000214,213,000444,691,000
Netherlands ...............2,045,60047,593,5002,042,20049,534,6002,046,00066,654,400
Portugal ...............2,079,6008,795,3002,085,0008,830,8002,081,9008,947,200
USA3 ...............1,854,90010,491,5001,856,30012,360,4001,842,90015,763,700
France ...............10,649,80055,031,30011,939,30059,936,00011,893,70069,228,600
Spain ...............312,600574,000340,000786,400339,900984,200
Germany ...............2,952,90012,360,300
Italy ...............1,591,0001,184,0001,593,9001,897,4003,484,60048,588,4004
Japan ...............291,30021,289,000298,40022,008,600298,400530,829,1005
Belgium ...............2,365,00015,003,3002,438,50010,152,8002,391,00014,500,000
Denmark ...............194,000143,80089,500635,700688,100643,5006
Republic of South Africa (until 1961, Union of South Africa) ...............835,100227,700823,900359,100
New Zealand ...............3,60041,4003,60074,000
Territories under joint administration ...............15,00062,20015,00046,000
Percent of the area and population of the globe7 ...............42.932.328.231.229.630.7

During the period between the two world wars there was a further deepening of the crisis of the colonial system. The scope, massiveness, and level of organization of the national liberation struggle increased, enjoying every kind of support from the USSR and the world workers’ and communist movement. The conflict between the requirements for the development of productive forces on the basis of national independence and the dominance of foreign monopolies, which endeavored to preserve backward, stagnant conditions, became deeper and sharper owing to a number of phenomena: the intensified development of capitalist relations in the colonies, certain economic advances based on the latter phenomenon, and the growing exploitation of the enslaved countries by the imperialists, who attempted to “stabilize” capitalism in the metropolitan countries at the expense of the colonies. As a rule, social forces that had arisen as a result of capitalist development—the working class, patriotic intelligentsia, and national bourgeoisie—emerged as the pioneers of the national liberation struggle. The exacerbation of contradictions between the colonies and the metropolitan countries set in motion the peasantry and the semiproletarian strata of the city and countryside, who emerged as the basic mass force of the anti-imperialist and antifeudal struggle.

During World War II (1939–45) and particularly during the postwar years a new stage in the crisis of the colonial system unfolded. As a result of the war German and Italian fascism and militarist Japan were crushed, and almost all of the imperialist powers were severely weakened. The working class in the colonies continued to grow during the war. In a number of countries, the position of the patriotic intelligentsia and national bourgeoisie was strengthened, and their level of political activity was raised. Hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the colonies were mobilized into the armies of the Western powers and fought under democratic slogans. Returning home, they felt with particular acuteness the intolerance of the systems that reigned there. In many colonial countries of Asia (for example, Indonesia, Malaya, Burma, Vietnam, and the Philippines) national armed forces were formed and fought the Japanese aggressors and their servitors. After their victory over their German, Japanese, and Italian rivals, the British, French, American, and Dutch imperialists, who tried to reestablish their rule over colonial possessions that had been seized by the powers of the fascist bloc during the war, encountered the powerful resistance of the colonial peoples.

As a number of European and Asian countries broke away from the capitalist system after World War II and the world socialist system was formed—a system that was increasingly a decisive factor in international development—the conditions necessary for the elimination of the colonial system of imperialism took shape. Because of the existence of the powerful socialist camp and the growing struggle of the colonial peoples, the imperialist states found themselves no longer capable of suppressing the national liberation movement in the colonies. The new wave of national liberation revolutions that began under these conditions led to the disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism.

During the war and in the first postwar decade, the colonial system disintegrated, primarily in Asia. In 1943, Syria and Lebanon achieved state sovereignty. In 1945 the colonialist regime was overthrown in Vietnam, and the independence of Indonesia was proclaimed. Subsequently, however, the peoples of these lands had to repel imperialist aggression. The achievement of independence by India (1947) was of great importance for the downfall of the colonial order in Asia as well as in other parts of the world, and the victory of the people’s revolution in China (1949) inflicted a very powerful blow on the entire colonial system of imperialism. The victory of the people’s democratic system in North Korea, which was liberated by the Soviet Army and the Korean popular revolutionary forces, and its triumph in North Vietnam also played an important role in the fall of colonialism in Asia. China, North Korea, and North Vietnam began the task of building socialism. In the first postwar decade Jordan (formerly Transjordan, 1946), the Philippines (1946), Pakistan (1947), Burma (1948), Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon, 1948), Libya (1951), Cambodia (1953), and Laos (1953–54) were proclaimed sovereign states.

In the second postwar decade, the decay of the colonial system seized Africa and spread to the western hemisphere. As a result of the July Revolution of 1952 in Egypt, the country was liberated from semicolonial dependence. Between 1956 and 1965, 33 African countries achieved the status of sovereign states, and the former colonies became independent states. Among the first of them were the Sudan, Morocco, and Tunisia (1956), Ghana (1957), and the Republic of Guinea (1958). In 1960, Cameroon, Togo, Mali, Senegal, the Malagasy Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (since 1971, Zaire), Somalia, Dahomey, Niger, Upper Volta, the Republic of the Ivory Coast, Chad, the Central African Republic (formerly Ubangi-Shari), the People’s Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Nigeria, and Mauritania gained independence. In 1961, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika achieved state sovereignty; in 1962, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, and Uganda, and in 1963, Kenya, as well as Zanzibar, which joined Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania in April 1964. Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and Malawi (formerly Nyasaland) were granted independence in 1964, and Gambia, in 1965.

In the western hemisphere, the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, and the Cuban people began the task of building socialism. Among the British colonies that gained independence in the 1960’s were Cyprus (1960), Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago, which united to form one state (1962), and Malta (1964). In Oceania the independence of Western Samoa was proclaimed in 1962. Of the Asian colonies, Kuwait achieved independence in 1961, and the Maldive Islands and Singapore, in 1965.

A number of states were proclaimed independent in Africa after 1965, including Botswana (formerly Bechuanaland, 1966), Lesotho (formerly Basutoland, 1966), Mauritius, Swaziland, and Equatorial Guinea (all in 1968), Guinea (Bissau, 1973), and the Cape Verde Islands, Mozambique, Angola, Sâo Tome and Principe, and the Comoro Islands (all in 1975). In Asia independence was proclaimed in the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen (1967; since 1970, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen), Bangladesh (1971), Bahrain (1971), Qatar (1971), the United Arab Emirates (1971; formerly known as the Trucial States), and Oman (1971). In America, Guyana (formerly British Guiana) and Barbados became independent in 1966, the Bahama Islands in 1973, Grenada in 1974, and Surinam in 1975. Oceania’s newly independent states are Nauru (1968), Tonga (1970), Fiji (1970), and Papua-New Guinea (1975).

However, by the end of 1975 about 50 territories with an area of about 1.5 million sq km and a population of more than 10 million were still under the colonial yoke. Puerto Rico, for example, is actually a colony of the USA. The Chinese territory of Hsiangkang (Hong Kong) remains the possession of Great Britain, and Aomen (Macao) belongs to Portugal. Furthermore, about 18 million Africans, métis, and Indians in the Republic of South Africa, as well as the 5 million Africans of Southern Rhodesia, live under conditions of colonial oppression.

The British, French, Dutch, and Belgian colonial empires were destroyed as a result of the disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism. The last colonial empire, that of Portugal, has also collapsed, owing to the success of the national liberation struggle in the Portuguese colonies and the overthrow of fascism in Portugal. Imperialism lost its direct military-political rule over hundreds of millions of people, as well as many political, economic and strategic positions of paramount importance. The path of social progress was taken by two-thirds of humanity, which imperialism had excluded from active participation in the historical process, and the course of the entire world revolutionary process was accelerated. “The downfall of the system of colonial slavery under the pressure of the national liberation movement,” notes the Declaration of the Conference of 1960 of Representatives of Communist and Workers’ Parties, “is a phenomenon second in importance only to the formation of the world socialist system.” The collapse of the colonial system of imperialism could not have taken place without the consolidation of socialism in a substantial part of the world.

Under present conditions, finance capital is no longer the decisive force in international political and economic relations, as it was in the era when imperialism held complete sway. De-spite their economic weakness, many of the newly liberated countries have real political independence, thanks to the support of the world socialist system and the international workers’ and national liberation movements. Important changes leading toward freedom from the dependent status have also taken place in countries where imperialism has, to a great degree, retained political and economic control. As a rule, the national states that emerged during the liquidation of the colonial system pursue peace-loving, anti-imperialist, and anticolonialist policies and play an important role in contemporary international relations, particularly in the consolidation of the principles of peaceful coexistence.

The disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism does not lead to the immediate abolition of colonialism. In many of the newly free countries, the imperialists retain important, and sometimes even the controlling, economic positions. They “use every means (colonial wars, military blocs, conspiracies, terror, subversion, economic pressure, and bribery) to keep the newly free countries under their power and to reduce the independence they have won to mere form or to deprive them of it” (Program of the CPSU, 1972, p. 46). A striking example of how this policy has been spearheaded against the natural right of former colonial peoples to full liberation and to a choice of their own path of development was the protracted military intervention in Indochina. The defeat of this intervention and the historic victory of the Vietnamese people are of tremendous significance for the growth of the anti-imperialist struggle and the upsurge of the national liberation movement.

Although they continue to conduct “rearguard” actions of “traditional” colonialism and refuse to renounce its methods, the imperialists are, at the same time, resorting on an ever broader scale to neocolonialism, a phenomenon characterized by fundamental changes in the forms and methods of colonial policy and simultaneously, by the retention of the main content of colonialism—that is, the exploitation and oppression of the economically backward countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America by the imperialist powers. Neocolonialism is the system of the indirect control and exploitation of countries that have attained state sovereignty as a result of the disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism. Economically, this control is exercised by means of the maintenance (on the basis of the capitalist development of former colonies and semicolonies within particular forms and narrow limits) of the backwardness and agrarian-raw materials specialization of the economies of these countries, as well as the preservation of the dominance of foreign monopolies. In order

Table 1c. Crisis and disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism, 1945–72
   Colonial possessions1  
 Area (sq km)PopulationArea (sq km)PopulationArea (sq km)Population3
1Changes in areas are explained not only by new seizures or losses, but in a number of cases, also by new estimates or measurements. Population data for a number of colonies are often based on rough estimates. 2As of July 1 3numerical data on territories that were still colonies as of July 1,1972, and on their population are taken primarily from Demographic Yearbook 1970, United Nations, New York, 1971. 4Including Southern Rhodesia (390,600 sq km; 5.3 million people, 95 percent of whom are Africans) 5Including Alaska (according to various estimates, 1,552,500 or 1,530,000 or 1,519,000 sq km; 49th state of the USA as of 1958) and the Hawaiian Islands (16,600 sq km; as of 1959, the 50th state of the USA) 6Excluding Manchuria, which was under Japanese occupation between 1931 and 1945 (1,303,000 sq km; population, 35.3 million in 1937) 7The Faeroe Islands and the portion of Greenland that is free of glaciers, later included in the Kingdom of Denmark ’Area of the globe taken as 134,900,000 sq km
Source: Mirovaia ekonomika ιmezhdunarodnye otnosheniia, 1960, no. 11; 1964, no. 5 (data for 1945 and 1960). M. B. Vol’f and V. S. Klupt, Statistich. spravochnik po ekonomich. geografiistran kapitalistich. mira. Moscow, 1959. A. G. Shiger, Politich. karta mira. Moscow, 1961. (Data on population of the globe.) Compiled by A. B. German
Great Britain ...............15,713,000431,835,0005,285,00045,990,000479.000410,643,4004
Netherlands ...............2,048,10075,605,000560,0001,148,000164,200615,000
Portugal ...............2,089,90012,569,0002,089,90012,748,0002,085,80014,569,000
USA ...............1,842,900522,800,000513,2002,567,00013,2003,033,100
France ...............12,448,70076,425,0003,611,60012,304,000151,6001,760,000
Spain ...............317,0001,496,000295,700437,000266,000220,000
Germany ...............
Italy ...............
Japan ...............298,400635,000,0006
Belgium ...............2,397,10014,117,00054,0004,700,000
Denmark ...............89,500751,0007
Republic of South Africa (until 1961, Union of South Africa) ...............823,900361,000823,900554,000824,300632,000
Australia ...............475,5001,026,000475,0001,829,000461,9002,426,400
New Zealand ...............3,60090,0003,400127,00052032,000
Territories under joint administration ...............15,100153,00014,80062,00014,80084,300
Total ...............38,562,700671,528,00013,226,50082,466,0004,461,30034,015,200
Percent of the area and population of the globe8 ...............28.629.

to perpetuate these conditions, the former colonies are included in economic associations similar to the European Common Market. Under neocolonialism, political and military control is exercised with the aid of military and military-political blocs that are thrown together under the guise of anticommunism, as well as through alliances and “associations” with the imperialist powers. If the foundation of the economic strategy of “classical” colonialism was the conservation of precapitalist forms in the economies of the colonies, the economic basis of neocolonialism is the implantation of capitalist relations in the newly independent countries. It has become one of the primary tasks of imperialism to prevent former colonies and semicolonies from breaking away from the capitalist system. The economic strategy of neocolonialism presupposes certain concessions to the newly in-dependent countries, but only those concessions that are compatible with neocolonialism’s primary economic goals—to exploit the former colonies and semicolonies and keep them in the world capitalist economic system.

Long-term neocolonialist policy assigns former colonies and semicolonies the role of regions forever dependent on the imperialist powers and far behind them in economic development. In the past the social support of colonial regimes came, as a rule, from the feudal and tribal elite as well as from the compradores. While refusing to renounce ties with these social groups, contemporary imperialists pursue a policy of agreement or even alliance with certain circles of the national bourgeoisie. Although the striving toward monopoly is evident in colonial policy even under contemporary conditions, a tendency toward “collective” colonialism has also become manifest. “Aid” from the imperialist powers to economically backward countries (for example, loans, credits, and specialists) has become a paramount instrument of realizing all aspects of neocolonialist plans. It is used to maintain and strengthen the economic position of the monopo-lies in the developing countries, to exert political pressure and to impose capitalist development on them, and to try to prevent the expansion and deepening of cooperation between the socialist community and the newly free countries. The US imperialist monopolies play the leading role in the implantation of the neocolonialist order. In recent years the developing countries’ struggle to win economic independence, get rid of imperialist exploitation, and achieve equitable economic relations has brought about a severe crisis in the policy of neocolonialism.

With the disintegration of the colonial system of imperialism and the comprehensive support of the forces of world socialism, new paths of development are open to the countries that have liberated themselves from colonial rule. In many countries the struggle for national liberation has begun to develop into a struggle against exploitative relations, both feudal and capitalist. A number of countries of Asia and Africa have decided to develop noncapitalist systems—that is, they have set a course toward the building, in the long run, of socialist societies. In these countries the property of the imperialist monopolies is being nationalized. As of 1975, the state sector accounted for more than 80 percent of industrial production in Syria, and in Burma the state controlled more than 80 percent of the mining industry and about 60 percent of manufacturing. Significant measures related to the nationalization of imperialist property have been implemented in a number of countries, including Iraq, Algeria, Guinea, Somalia, and Tanzania. Important agrarian reforms have been carried out in Syria and Iraq and are being extended in Algeria and Somalia. In the People’s Republic of the Congo, all the land and its resources have been made state property. In countries oriented toward socialism other important reforms meeting the interests of the popular masses and leading to the strengthening of national independence are being carried out.


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K. N. BRUTENTS [12–1328–1; updated]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.