Imperialism and social reform english Social-Imperial Thought 1895-1914

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Indeed, the basic attitude of the Fabians toward the problems of empire and social reform was, for practical purposes, indistinguishable from that of the Asquith government. The Fabians, too, were concerned about the rearing of an 'imperial race' to help meet the German challenge. The controversy over Free Trade had revealed a differentiating element. While the Liberal-Imperialists were disposed to accept Free Trade as unalterable dogma, the Fabians were not. In the years ahead, the Fabians were disposed to look more and more favourably upon the imperialists who had no commitments to Liberalism.

They turned with special interest, for example, toward the victor of the South African War, Viscount Milner, a Coefficient. In 1913, the Fabian weekly New Statesman published an editorial article which praised Milner's 'high ideal of "Imperialism",' his conception of national life, and his repudiation of the self-seeking gospel of philosophic radicalism. The Fabian journal regretted that 'modern Conservatism is much more touchy about the integrity of property than concerned about the integrity of the Empire' but regarded Milner as an outstanding exception within the ranks of Toryism. 'In his desire for the integrity of the Empire,' the journal concluded, 'Lord Milner, like the Socialists, is really concerned about the breeding of "an Imperial race"; and necessarily finds himself demanding legislation essentially Socialist in character.' 25 The socialists of the Labour Party and of the Second International might have demurred from the so-called 'Socialist' goal of breeding an 'imperial race.'



The New Statesman, I, May 17, 1913, pp. 167-168.



Men, iron, money, and bread be the strength of war, but of these four, the first two be most necessary; because men and iron find money and bread; but bread and money find not men and iron


In all ages there have been cities or countries surpassing others in manufactures, trade and navigation; but the world has never witnessed a supremacy to be compared with that existing in our time. In all ages states have aspired to domination, but no edifice of power has ever been constructed upon so broad a base. How miserable appears the ambition of those who attempted to establish universal domination upon the power of arms, in comparison with the great attempt of England to transform her whole territory into an immense manufacturing and commercial city, into an immense port, and to become to other nations what a vast city is to the country, the center of arts and knowledge, of an immense commerce, of opulence, of navigation, of naval and military power; a cosmopolitic country supplying all nations with manufactured products, and asking in return from each country its raw materials and commodities; the arsenal of extensive capital, the universal banker, regulating, if not controlling the circulating money of the whole world, and making all nations tributary to her by loans and the payment of interest.

FRIEDRICH LIST, National System of Political Economy, 1841

The story is told of the blind men who wished to discover the nature of an elephant. One, feeling the animal's sturdy legs, declared that an elephant must be like a tree, while another, seizing hold of its trunk, insisted that, on the contrary, it resembled heavy rope. The economists, historians, and polemi-

cists who have investigated or debated the problems to which modern imperialism has given rise have been in a similar position. Each has found himself describing, more or less accurately, a part of the phenomenon and has insisted that it was the whole. The Marxists -- with their insistence that modern imperialism has resulted exclusively from the need to export capital -- have been most guilty in this regard. But more and more social scientists are coming to understand the complexities of the problem of imperialism, to perceive that, like the elephant, it cannot be understood by examining one part and ignoring the others. Inevitably, the aspects of imperialism which a historian will emphasize will be determined by his subject. In this investigation, we are clearly dealing not with a unitary, monolithic imperialism, but with two kinds of imperialism, which are epitomized in the excerpts quoted above.

Achille Loria, a professor of political economy at the University of Turin, wrote an article, in 1907, called "Les deux notions de l'impérialisme," in which he drew portraits of what he called 'economic imperialism' and 'commercial imperialism.' The first he described as violent annexation on the part of old and well-populated states of thinly populated states which because of special conditions -- tropical climate, for example -- cannot be colonized. This was the imperialism of the Boer War which Hobson had described, Loria added, the imperialism of capital export. 'Commercial imperialism,' on the other hand, pertained to the strengthening of bonds between the mother country and its colonies -- it might mean an all-out fiscal union or simply the granting of tariff preference. The method by which the first imperialism was carried out was war, the second by peaceful agreement. The two imperialisms might clash, Loria continued, because well-established colonial areas might believe they were endangering their security by allying themselves with a bellicose mother-country, but usually there was a harmonious relationship between the two-with commercial imperialism being nourished by economic imperialism. After a lengthy and intelligent discussion of his two imperialisms, Loria abandoned his attempt to distinguish between them and concluded that commercial imperialism was really 'un phénomène dérivatif,' already contained in the idea of economic imperialism, and hence only economic imperial-

ism deserved to be the object of scientific research, thereby agreeing, substantially, with the Marxists. 1

More recently, two young economic historians have made a more insightful attempt to distinguish between types of modern imperialism. Gallagher and Robinson have painted a picture of 'the imperialism of free trade' in their description of the extension of the British Empire through the course of the nineteenth century -- even during the so-called anti-imperialist mid-century. The chief objective of this British imperialism was to make trade secure. In many instances, in Latin America for example, annexation was unnecessary to the expansion and security of. British trade and investment. In other cases, along the Indian frontier, for example, wars and annexations were the rule even in mid-century. Different techniques were employed to suit different conditions, but there was continuous imperial expansion, both 'formal' and 'informal.' In the last part of the century, during the time of the partitioning of Africa, the use of more informal techniques was seriously undermined by foreign industrial and colonial competition. As a result there had to be greater reliance upon the policy of war and annexation, whence comes the view that imperialism replaced anti-imperialism during the 'eighties and 'nineties. 2 What was actually happening was that a neo-mercantilist imperialism was challenging a 'cosmopolitan' imperialism, a policy which sought commercial monopoly was battling a policy whose objective was the securing of free and safe access to markets, an imperialism of annexation and war was opposing the old imperialism of economic penetration and establishment of informal political controls. In political terms, the Tariff Reformers were challenging the imperialism of the Free Traders, the imperialism of Rosebery and the Liberal-Imperialists.

Although this view of two imperialisms is much more fruitful, it does not quite go far enough for our purposes. It tends too much to regard imperialism as all of one piece with the different imperialisms as responses to different conditions, one succeeding the other in almost mechanical fashion; when for-



Achille Loria, "'Les deux notions de l'impérialisme", Révue économique internationale, 1907, III, pp. 459-477.


John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, "The Imperialism of Free Trade," The Economic History Review, Second Series, Vol. VI, No. 1, August 1953, pp. 1-15.

eign competition made free trade imperialism difficult, neomercantile imperialism took over. The two imperialisms confront each other as alternate methods, one more appropriate to the time of British hegemony, the other to the time of keener international rivalry. There is something to be said for this view especially when we look back on Edwardian England from the vantage point of the present. If, however, we scrutinize the ideas of the men of the time who called themselves imperialists, we will discover a period of overlapping conflict, a period when there was visible not merely two different methods of pursuing but a single objective, but two different objectives and two different ideologies corresponding to these objectives, and, more pertinent to the subject of this monograph, two different social-imperialisms corresponding to the two imperialisms.

There are a number of ways in which the two imperialisms can be distinguished. We can speak -- as we have already -- of the 'imperialism of protection' and the 'imperialism of free trade.' They might also, with some justice, be labelled the 'imperialism of finance' and the 'imperialism of industry.' At this point, the Marxist would object -- Luxemburg, Hilferding, and Bukharin did so object -- and suggest that such a distinction was nonsense, that during this period finance capital had taken over industrial capital, that the banks were the controlling forces in industry and the state. It is not our task to assess this analysis with respect to Germany or the United States -and the Marxists take most of their data from these countries. It is, however, possible to cite evidence which would indicate that such a development did not take place in England. Nikolai Bukharin, a prominent exponent of the Marxist view, in his Imperialism and World Economy, has concluded that 'only ignorance can at present refer to England as a representative of an entirely different economic type' -- different, that is, from Germany and the United States. To prove his contention, Bukharin pointed to examples of British industrial concentration, however, not finance's control of industry. 3 Nor are the other Marxists more successful in proving the control of British industry by finance. Schumpeter, a non-Marxist economist,



Nikolai Bukharin, Imperialism and World Economy ( New York, 1929), p. 68 and passim.

agreed with the Marxists that 'there has come into being a close alliance between high finance and the cartel magnates, often going as far as personal identity,' this 'although the relation between capitalists and entrepreneurs is one of the typical and fundamental conflicts of the capitalist economy.' 'Monopoly capitalism,' Schumpeter asserted, 'has virtually fused the big banks and cartels into one.' But in an appendage worthy of emphasis, Schumpeter insisted that this had happened 'everywhere except, significantly, in England.' 4 In England the 'fundamental conflict' between capitalist and entrepreneur persisted.

The banks of England, luxuriating in the profits of England's position as the international clearing house, had no interest in going beyond the orthodox commercial banking policy of providing trade and other short-term credit. In many respects, this has remained to this day the position of a large segment of British finance. In England, it was possible for the banker to contemplate the decline of British industry with equanimity, feeling that his own interest was entirely unaffected. We have seen this attitude expressed by Halford Mackinder in his addresses to the Institute of Bankers. In England, then, if we follow Schumpeter, the typical and fundamental conflict of the capitalist economy -- that between the capitalist (the rentier) and the entrepreneur -- continued unabated. The financial interests were prospering under the system of Free Trade and felt that system essential to their successful operations. Naturally they and their political spokesmen, men such as Rosebery, Mackinder, and the other LiberalImperialists, supported Free Trade. Beatrice Webb, a shrewd contemporary observer, pronounced the Liberal-Imperialists as 'desperately in awe of the City.' 5 Elsewhere in her diaries she referred to Winston Churchill -- who quit the Unionists and went over to the Liberals on the issue of Free Trade -- as objecting 'to a self-contained Empire as he thinks it would destroy this cosmopolitan capitalism.' 6 The industrialist (the entrepreneur) on the other hand, opposed Free Trade as injurious to himself and demanded protection. In Schumpeter's



Schumpeter, Imperialism, pp. 106-107.


Beatrice Webb, op. cit., p. 219.


Ibid., p. 269.

view, in doing this, the entrepreneur had thrown away his capitalist birthright and had joined forces with the dark forces of the feudal past.

We have already noted that as early as the 'eighties two groups had appeared in the Imperial Federation League; one believed that closer imperial relations could be brought about only by preferential trade; the other believed that closer ties were primarily a matter of sentiment -- although they were interested in closer co-operation on matters of defence -- and were convinced free traders. Howard Vincent, aided by the colonial spokesmen in the I.F.L., led the League's preference forces. The Liberal-Imperialist Rosebery was the chief spokesman for the Free Traders. 7 The debate over the Chamberlain programme between 1903-1914 continued this struggle.

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