The main issues about contemporary race, imperialism and underdevelopment Essay

When it was said “Imperialism generates underdevelopment, using ‘underdevelopment’ as a term to cover both lack of capitalist industry and unevenness of industrial development along with mass misery within that development, it was Warren who replied that imperialism generates development meaning growth of capitalism, and increasing evenness of development, and increased social welfare”. (Foster)

On the other hand, any planning approach which depends rather exclusively on fiscal or pure economic policies from the top eventually finds itself mired in a cycle of underdevelopment, or gross economic growth without equitable human development. It is precisely for such reasons that a quick recognition of the positive qualities, the psychological fundamentals, among the poor themselves is mandatory for poverty alleviation in particular.

According to Robb,

“In order to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor, their realities, needs vulnerability, social isolation, powerlessness, insecurity and self-respect…

Underdevelopment refers to the cradle of poverty alleviation, sustainable development and a civic society.”

(Robb, 1999, p. 4).

Most of the dependency theory writers hold the opinion that the “same process that brought development to the homelands of capitalism and to North America and Australasia simultaneously brought underdevelopment to the rest of the colonized world, trapping previously autonomous societies in poverty that was self-perpetuating because any significant profits made in them was extracted by Western firms or rulers”. (Frank, 1978)

“Underdevelopment evolve an important feature of dependency theory with the proposition that the end of colonialism was apparent rather than real, “decolonisation” being really a transition to “neocolonialism,” in which foreign capital continued to exploit the local population but with protection from a local client-state rather than from European officials. This analysis was built upon in left-wing critiques of U.S. government policy as well as of transnational corporations, which covers around 1500–1840, and elsewhere elaborated from the classic “dependency” argument in his own “world system” framework. This, however, envisaged some scope for upward economic mobility for underdeveloped countries and provided some recognition of a reality that was then becoming increasingly clear: that industrialisation was underway in formerly “underdeveloped” countries of East Asia in the 1960s to 1980s, while there had also been long-term growth of manufacturing in certain other parts of the third world, most notably Brazil”. (2006b)

In other words, the problem was not only about poverty and underdevelopment, but also as some Caribbean economists admitted, it was all about governance and the instigated psychology of dependence. Ramesh writes, “as these researchers noted, Lewis’ ‘strategies for industrialisation’ went beyond pure economic factors and in fact required that the population develop ‘drive and appropriate attitudes’. But such ‘drives’, social motivations and attitudes can only find sustaining viability in an accommodating, enhancing environment. If not, even when they appear they did not blossom. The recent history of the social and political life of the Caribbean has been one of grand promises and broken expectations, of broken spirits always fighting to heal and console themselves over and over again. And the psychological consequences have been quite debilitating”. (Ramesh, 2000, p. 4)

When it comes to social and political life, it is true that “Power and poverty are two of the most dominant issues in social science. They seem to occupy opposite ends in the continuum of human life. In fact, power, especially the lack of it, is inextricably linked to the condition and experience of poverty. Hence, it is useful to have both a macro view of development and as well a micro view of the poverty experience. The struggle of poor people to gain power, to alleviate their circumstances, is part of the poverty experience. Moving from the grand theories of underdevelopment and colonial exploitation, and coming closer to the ground, the psychological and behavioural complexities in the struggle of poverty form a basis for this present work. In other words, until the ‘revolution’ comes, what can the poor do or tell us that will help the alleviation process, policy formulation and implementation? In the context of scarce or unevenly distributed physical resources, how much can be done with and for the undeveloped”? (Labini, 2001, p. 43)

European Imperialism has always concerned about underdevelopment as “debates that suggest ‘informal empire’ mainly applied to areas and regions of the non-European developing countries, and the original definition of the term assumed the unequal political and economic status of these countries. However, the overseas influence of Great Britain ranged far beyond the confines of formal and informal empires, due to the global network of the City of London and the financial and service sectors in a capitalist world-economy. In the context of British imperial history China used to be regarded as a typical example of informal empire in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. On the other hand, after the conclusion of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902, Japan was treated as an ally of Great Britain rather than as part of the British informal empire”. (Labini, 2001, p. 32)

“Nevertheless even in the 1930s, the United Kingdom continued to exert financial influence upon Japan and the colonies of other Great Powers through the establishment of the sterling area, by setting ‘the rules of the game’ for international finance in East Asia. At that time, the Chinese Nationalist Government strengthened its political authority, and partly manipulated the balance of power in East Asia as a newly emerging nation-state. Thus debates continue about the validity of applying the concept of informal empire to China while analysing the dynamic interactions between the British government, the Nationalist Government of China and her ‘bureaucratic capitalism’, as well as the evolution of a Japanese informal empire in East Asia, by using a more sophisticated version of informality”. (Akita, 2002, p. 5)

“If we consider the late nineteenth-century imperialism we would see the importance of international rivalries among European Powers for the acceleration of the partition in tropical Africa. It concerns the relationship between economic imperialism, informal empire and territorial empire. Focusing on British expansion in Southern Africa, a new interpretation of the Selborne Memorandum of 1896 was presented, which insisted that the success of financial imperialism and informal empire in the South African Republic threatened British governmental plans for uniting South Africa. Hence the South African crisis revealed a conflict between two arms of gentlemanly capitalism, one led by the City of London and the other in government”. (Akita, 2002, p. 8)

“Later stages of British imperialism between 1945 and the early 1960s, highlights particular prominence to international finance. In this aspect Krozewski provides a critical assessment of the applicability of gentlemanly capitalism to the post1945 period, and criticises the ‘continuity theory’ of Cain and Hopkins. He suggests that the transformation of British society and the British state before and after the Second World War, especially the changing role of the state and the coming of welfarism not only reduced the influence of the gentlemanly elite but also was responsible for changing the structure and constraints of international relations after 1945, especially the emergence of liberal multilateralism in a new international economic order dominated by the United States, exerted a strong influence on Britain’s international position and policies. Briefly stated, his argument is that the social and economic conditions, both within Britain and in the wider world, which nurtured gentlemanly capitalism no longer, existed after 1945. Krozewski also refers to ‘complementarity’ as a systemic component of international relations and outlines how regional economies interconnected with each other”. (Akita, 2002, p. 32)

“Today we observe a growing number of Asian and Latin American countries showing an increasing dynamism in their development. Economic stagnation is to be found mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa; in some parts of the region per capita income is even declining. Why is this so? More generally: why is there such a great variety in economic and civic developments in the different countries of the world? As racial explanations are of no concern to this debate as superiority or inferiority of different populations cannot be gauged using a unique criterion. Thus, from the physical point of view, Africans are by no means inferior, it is enough to look to athletic competitions and to the list of world champions – a considerable number of them are Blacks”. (Ramesh, 2000, p. 54)

Paul writes in Journal of Theology, “The problems of Africa are as numerous as they are daunting: warfare within and between nations, economic underdevelopment and massive impoverishment, health crises aggravated by crumbling social infrastructures, environmental degradation, human rights abuses, and endemic corruption that sorely weaken civil society. This important book by an up-and-coming African theologian goes beyond a mere cataloguing of social problems; it attempts to search out and identify root causes and to suggest the philosophical and theological underpinnings of renewed social structures that will be apt at establishing and advancing the common good”. (Paul, 2005, p. 482)

“As for Africa, and especially for the Sub-Saharan region, we have to emphasise that in several countries the ancient tribal system is still in place and, with it, the struggle between different ethnic groups. The situation has been aggravated, in our time, by the artificial boundaries created by European powers when they conquered certain territories: the boundaries of the colonies subsequently became the boundaries of many contemporary African countries, compelling different ethnic groups and tribes to live together. Ethnic conflicts are often the result of a struggle for political supremacy of one group over another. Conflicts between different social classes are very rare and the Marxian class struggle practically does not exist in Africa. In these countries dependent workers are, as a rule, small minorities (no more than 10 or 20 per cent) and the conflicts between them and the capitalists are hardly relevant from the social point of view. Ethnic conflicts, on the contrary, are important and sometimes dramatic: they create serious obstacles to cultural and scientific development, even to an imitative type, and even to economic growth. Ethnic conflicts characterize the social life of a number of advanced countries as well; but in such countries their impact on growth is much more limited”. (Akita, 2002, p. 54)

In other words, African political relations with Britain influenced metropolitan accounts of African cultural identity. The impact of organised political resistance on imperialism has affected its ability to mediate operations of culture, subjectivity and the economy; its complex relationship to imperialist constructions of race, gender, class and nation.

“This fatalism however overlooks the historically highly contestable and contested constructions of British nation and nationalism. In effect, Gilroy’s analysis replicates the cultural determinism that he ascribes to cultural nationalists, by presupposing an unchangeable homogeneity of white British national ideology. The more challenging approach would be to work theoretically and politically to foreground the seldom-acknowledged heterogeneity of British ness through history. And one way to do this is by opening up a comparative mutually illuminating analysis of the languages and practices of British nationalism, colonialism and imperialism. Gilroy, in focusing solely on the interaction of languages of race and nation, forecloses such analysis”. (Chrisman, 2003, p. 4)

By the 1910s, however, the political advantages that Africans could claim over African Americans had largely vanished through European imperialism. While thinking of black Atlanticism, when focus the period between 1865 and 1910, it is found that political self-determination (in the form of citizenship) has become the theoretical provenance of the African American, through the passage of universal male suffrage, and the majority of continental Africans has lost that right.

“And at the same time this period witnesses some nationalist continental Africans starting to question the cultural supremacy of the ‘Christianity and civilisation’ with which Tiyo Soga credits diasporic Africans and Europeans; their diverse cultural productions reveal a highly uneven admixture of Fanon’s assimilation, nativist and fighting stages. Thus African relations with African Americans now can simultaneously involve valorisation of black diasporic political possibility and scepticism towards their cultural assimilations. The shift from nineteenth-century negative to twentieth-century positive perception of African American political status is clear in the comments of African National Congress founder Sol Plaatje when he visited the USA in 1922”. (Chrisman, 2003, p. 23)

“Plaatje’s perception of African-American achievements here develops from his observation of the national specificity of the USA. Admire African Americans as he does, Plaatje admires even more the objectively superior social, educational and economic opportunities that the USA as a country supplies its black citizens. As he sees it, these material conditions supply the possibility for Negro accomplishment. That he feels inspired by African Americans’ example might seem to bear out that black South African intellectuals were led to imitate African Americans. But the inspiration is quickly offset here by Plaatje’s despondent recognition of the incommensurability between the two countries. Without a similar material base, modern African-American activities cannot simply be transposed to South Africa, their achievements imitated within black South Africa. It is the need for a specifically national, and nationally specific, material transformation that Plaatje’s account suggests”. (Chrisman, 2003, p. 25)

“But in 1910 British and Afrikaner provinces united to form the nation state of South Africa. This initiated the systematic assault on Africans, which began, with the devastating Land Act that removed land ownership and sharecropping rights from rural Africans, forced them into ‘native reserves’ and brutal economic exploitation by white farmers. This is the context for the composition of Native Life in South Africa, which focuses on the origins and terrible consequences of that legislation”. (Chrisman, 2003, p. 30)

Bachtell John writes in his article, “the world-wide environmental crisis has been brought on by the policies of imperialism. Underdevelopment, poverty and environmental degradation go hand in hand. The weakest anti-pollution laws and enforcement are in developing countries, which are dumping grounds for criminal transnational corporate polluters of hazardous industrial wastes and landfills mainly from the developed capitalist countries. Insecticides long banned as a result of mass movements in the developed capitalist countries are still routinely applied in third world agricultural fields. Natural resources, agricultural lands and forests are being pillaged and ruined as a result of transnational policies. Advanced soil erosion is spreading along with desertification. The world environmental crisis is a crisis of the new stage of capitalist globalisation. Overcoming underdevelopment has now become an environmental question”. (2006a)

“In recent years, historians have begun to approach the study of eighteenth-century British imperialism from a range of new perspectives, and this is reflected in the number of terms they have employed to describe the defining features of the empire. Generally speaking, attention has shifted away from the imperialism that manifested itself in the administrative, constitutional and military studies of earlier generations of scholars. Much more emphasis is now placed upon the cultural and material aspects of imperialism, and Britain’s Atlantic possessions are now thought to have belonged to an ‘empire of goods’ or an ‘empire of paper’.” (Breen) Foster has suggested that the imperialism of twentieth century is followed by the start of capitalism and British hegemony breakdown and is still on its way U.S imperialism and Vietnam Syndrome.


Akita Shigeru, 2002. “Gentlemanly Capitalism, Imperialism and Global History”: Palgrave

Macmillan. Place of Publication: New York.

Chrisman Laura, 2003. “Postcolonial Contraventions: Cultural Readings of Race, Imperialism,

and Transnationalism”: Manchester University Press. Place of Publication: Manchester,


Deosaran Ramesh, 2000. “Psychonomics and Poverty: Towards Governance and a Civil

Society”: University of the West Indies Press. Place of Publication: Barbados.

Foster Collin,

March 2002.htm>

Foster John Bellamy, July-August 2003. “The New Age of Imperialism” in Monthly Review.

Volume: 55. Issue: 3.

Frank, Andre Gunder, 1978. “Dependent Accumulation and Under-Development”.


Labini Sylos Paolo, 2001. “Underdevelopment: A Strategy for Reform”: Cambridge University

Press. Place of Publication: Cambridge, England.

Paul Fitzgerald, 2005. “Human Rights, Cultural Difference and the Church in Africa” in

“Theological Studies”. Volume: 66. Issue: 2.

Robb, C. M. (1999). Can the poor influence policy? Participatory poverty assessments in the

developing world. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

T.H. Breen, ‘An Empire of Goods. The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690–1776’,Journal

of British Studies, XXV (1986); Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic, 1675–1740. An

exploration of communication and community (New York, 1986).

2006a, <>

2006b, <>