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What is colonialism? Discuss the different stages of colonialism.

 It is considered that colonialism is the internal disarticulation and external integration of the rural economy and the realization of the extended reproduction of capital not in the colony but in the imperialist metropolis. Under the colonialism different modes of production from feudalism to petty commodity production to agrarian, industrial and finance capitalism coexist. Actually, unlike capitalism where profit or surplus is the right of private owners, in colonialism the surplus is the right of state who control the colonies. Basically it was not only the representation of modes of production but the social formation. Here class was not important but the societal structure is important. Here, national liberation struggle against colonial powers became important because exploitation is a constant feature of colonialism. And this struggles become political in nature.

Basic Features of Colonialism

Following were the basic features of colonialism:

1. Subordinate Position: Colonies were always as a subordinate part of mother country.

2. Unequal Exchange: Metropolis consider the colonies as a market of their produced goods and supplier of raw materials and during this exchange the balance of economy became always against the colonies

3. External Integration and Internal Disarticulation: During this economic exchange colonies were attached to world economic system but the internal economic infrastructure were always disarticulated.

4. Drain of Wealth: Took place through unrequited exports and state expenditure on armed forces and civil services.

5. Foreign Political Domination: Political control by the colonizers.


Colonialism has generally three distinct stages. However, some countries went only one or two stages only as it was in the case of India, Egypt and Indonesia. Almost two century has the history for these three stages. With the change in the policy, institutions, culture, ideas and ideologies the nature of subordination changed. However these stages not clearly differentiated with each other but overlapped with each other.

The stages were the result of four factors:

● the historical development of capitalism as a world system;

● the change in the society, economy and polity of the metropolis;

● the change in its position in the world economy and lastly;

● the colony’s own historical development.

First Stage: Monopoly Trade and Plunder

This stage had two basic objectives. In this stage monopoly of the trade was main goal for the traders. Import of indigenously manufactured goods was the main trend for the trade’s profits and all kind of competitor kept out. For this dual policy was used for the abolition of local traders they used invasion while for Europeans they used the military defeat. Later political take over of the colony enabled them to steal the wealth of colony. Drain of wealth was the main feature of this stage as was in the case of India. It amounted to two to three per cent of the national income of Britain at that time. In this stage no basic changes in the societal structure was made only domination over economy and polity was present.

Second Stage: Era of Free Trade

In this stage, colonies were mainly used for the supplier of raw materials so that they can manufactured the goods in their factories. Industrial bourgeoisie of the metropolis saw the colony as a market for their manufactured goods. They tried to increase the exports from the colony so that they can make balance in payments and also to make more profits. In this stage, industrial bourgeoisie opposed the drain of wealth because it was against of his business interest. Actually they want this profit for longer period and in continuation. Trading was the main roots for business. It is also important that in this stage changes in the economy, polity, administration, social, cultural and ideological structure were initiated to enable exploitation in the new way. And it all happened in the name of development and modernization. The colony was now integrated to the world economy and its isolation from the world had been started abolishing. Investments from the capitalist in different sectors were allowed. Transport and communication has been developed for the better way exploitation of local raw materials. Ports were developed for the export. In this stage liberal imperialism got the attention due to the integration with the greater world. Also the concept of self-government introduced and for this purpose education and administration has been developed.

Third Stage: Era of Finance Capital

This stage was critical because it was the stage of struggle where the search for the raw materials and food grains and also the markets for the produced goods were seen. Investments became the major economic trends in this stage. And the new investments were only possible in the colonies and to protect the interest of investors the control over colonies increased. In this stage the thinking about protectionism increased because new kind of autocracy started prevailing in this stage.

On the other the colonies did not respond according to these investments from the metropolis. Actually in the early stage it was overexploitation of raw materials so there was scarcity of raw materials emerged. In this stage they again changed the policy for modernization now it was limited modernization and tried to them underdeveloped but this policy of limited modernization became a constraint for the colonizers. However, this stage did not take off because colonialism has already broken the economies of colonies and it was not possible to make the investment and gain profit from them. So that the earlier two stages were very common in traditional and older colonies as it was the case in India. 

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