Sample Historical Essay on Colonial Capitalism

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Capitalism was a global phenomenon from the outset, not only by way of trade but also by way of extraction of resources from the colonies that underpinned capital accumulation in the metropolis.

cotton imageThe development of capitalism in the middle-ages resulted in the saturation of domestic markets especially in Europe, thus necessitating the search for markets and cheap labour abroad, resulting in the pursuit and scramble for colonies and the division of the world among capitalist countries. 1

The pillage and exploitation of the Americas and the West Indies, and that of Africa by virtue of the slave trade, and, not least, the discovery by Europeans of the sea route to India and the Far East, led to a very rapid growth in world trade by the sixteenth century. It is important to recognise the global character of the colonial enterprise from the outset. The financing of Indo-European trade, for instance, with gold and silver and precious stones was made possible by colonial link of Europe namely the Iberian conquest and exploitation of Latin America that brought about a steady flow of precious metals into Europe. That pattern of exports to Europe of Indian manufactures against payment in precious metals was the reverse of the classical pattern of colonial trade that was to be brought into being not until the second half of the 19th century. 2

Before the turn of the 19th century indentured slave labour was toiling in colonial plantations all over the world. Twentieth century industrial squalor now began to spread while near slavery in the plantations and mines provided the cheap commodities, raw material and fuel for industry seeking cheap labour. 3


The beginning of industrial capitalism in South Africa was part of the global development of imperialism in the last 30 years of the 19th century. Vast amounts of capital were exported, mainly from Britain, to develop industrial diamond and gold mining in South Africa. From small diggings operated by owner-artisans, the mining industry was quickly dominated by vast corporations. Today’s companies like De Beers date back to these early decades. 4

Imperialist political domination of the whole South African terrain after the Anglo-Boer war meant that infrastructural development, taxation and, above all, labour regulation could be directed towards the requirements of the mining corporations. 5

None can doubt the truth contained in what Comrade Fidel Castro said in 1988 that the history of Africa will be divided into before and after Cuito Cuanavale. So, because the victory of the revolutionary democratic forces in that battle against the bulwark of colonialism, apartheid South Africa, was a deciding factor and tocsin for the ultimate victory of the anti-colonial struggle throughout the continent. 6

It will be remembered that the forces of colonialism made their last desperate stand in this Southern region of Africa, where imperialist forces concentrated all their efforts, energy, weapons and human resources to ensure the permanent sustenance of their evil cause. 7

On the other hand, the national liberation movement waged the most heroic, daring, stoic battle to rid the continent of the menace of colonialism. On each occasion, people’s struggle did not triumph without guts and blood, and on each occasion, where it was defeated, colonial forces left trails of blood and devastation as they sought to wrest strategic victory and ensure that were free only in form while in oppressed in substance. 8

As they lost political power, the colonial forces, accustomed to plundering resources, sought to create client States everywhere in Africa that would basically facilitate this outcome and preserve their economic interests. To deepen dependence on them, as they were wrecking the economies, they were bludgeoning South Africa into an unceasing debt burden that has resulted in massive outflows of capital to the developed countries from Africa that, itself, serves to preserve colonial economic relations. 9

Indeed, these client States were to become a prominent feature of post-colonial independent Africa. Leaders of the progressive national liberation movement were assassinated in many countries; there were civil wars, coups de tat and other anti-democratic manoeuvres that were to deny the African people, after many years of fighting for freedom, their political and socio-economic rights. 10

While they claimed to be democratic, everywhere in Africa imperialists propped up and supported brutal dictatorships so long as they could preclude the seizure of power by the revolutionary democratic movement. 11

In this entire arrangement, South Africa occupied a strategic position as an outpost of imperialism and colonialism. White supremacists thought that they could guard this turf with all their arsenal, disrupt and destroy the Frontline States in order to cut the ANC off from all sources of assistance and eventually to destroy it so that it does not interfere with this set up. 12

It was no coincidence that African people throughout the continent joined together in a common effort to defeat the apartheid monster in South Africa. Upon this one fact hinged the most critical questions of the emancipation of Africa as a whole. Africa understood that for as long as the apartheid regime remained intact in South Africa, so long would Africa herself and all her children remain in permanent bondage. The basic fact was that apartheid was incompatible with and antithetical to Africa’s independence. 13


Cuba has progressed through the stages of colonization, globalization and development differently than any other Latin American country. In Cuba, the occurrence of these stages has been more recent, stable and progressive. Cuba functioned as a colonial state under the overpowering United States government until Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1958. The eventual break in trade relations between the United States and Cuba has caused the unusual evolution of globalization due to the trade embargoes imposed on Cuban exports. The abnormal progress of Cuba in such ways has led to Cuba’s unique state of being a developed, third world country. 14

In the past 43 years of the Revolution, Cuba’s movement toward development has been exceptional. Castro’s emphasis on the necessity of a developmental infrastructure has led to a highly functioning and educated society. Although Cuba is restrained by extreme economic difficulties that cause (or are caused by) irregularities in the governmental system, the population of the small archipelago is literate, healthy, fed, and housed. This social security has created a rather patriotic civil society, Cuba’s strongest and most admirable quality. 15

The relative unification and pride that Cubans feel for their country was fostered by the United States colonization prior to the Revolution. During the United States occupation of Cuba, in the beginning of the twentieth century, the development experienced was contrary to that of a sustainable concept. The United States intervention in Cuba caused a dichotomy in the existing cultures; there were those who were privileged with dollars (all too frequently only the U.S. Americans and diplomats) and those who were left out of the raging casino economy, the majority of whom were Cuban natives. Development in this epoch was therefore faulted because benefits only reached a small sector while the rest of the population was left uneducated and obligated to exploitation. The majority was thus a stratified populace, plagued by poverty and stagnancy. Cuba for this reason lacked the ability to develop. 16

The history of international development has been stained by colonization, a process that applies a standard scheme of imposition and penetration in communities. In the quest for rapid acquisition of wealth, colonization has reaped negative effects throughout the world by understating the individuality of regions. The result of colonization has overwhelmingly left countries in political, economic, environmental and social disarray, which ultimately leaves the unstable countries dependent upon foreign support systems. Therefore, colonization as a development model does not succeed in forming a functional market system wherein “the structural transformation of the economy, society, polity and culture permits self-generating and self-perpetuating use and development of a people’s potential.” 17

Reference List

  1. Bernard S. Cohn. Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge. Princeton Univ Pr; August 19, 1996.
  2. Bernard S. Cohn.
  3. Bernard S. Cohn.
  4. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff. Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. University of Chicago Press; June 1991.
  5. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  6. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  7. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  8. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  9. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  10. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  11. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  12. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  13. Jean Comaroff, John L. Comaroff.
  14. Peter Clegg, Timothy Shaw. The Caribbean Banana Trade: From Colonialism to Globalization. Palgrave Macmillan; October 11, 2002.
  15. Peter Clegg, Timothy Shaw.
  16. Peter Clegg, Timothy Shaw.
  17. Ania Loomba. Colonialism/Postcolonialism (The New Critical Idiom). Routledge; April 1998.

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