Globalization: Imperialism By Another Name

This article examines the weakness of the definition of a global socialist economy and expose the true nature of globalization.

Ikemba Balanta

4/1/20228 min read

No matter how it is dressed up, globalization is imperialism by another name. What separates the two is a matter of administration of the colonized group, but the process an outcome of both imperialism and globalization have been indistinguishable. The argument here is not suggesting that globalization cannot manifest into various forms. A global socialist economy would just as much describe the integration of people and nations of the world. But, what becomes problematic is the incomplete definition of the term, which ignores the policies that are driving this process. This article examines the weakness of these definitions and expose the true nature of globalization.

A study of the international political economy does not come with out a discussion about globalization. That is because very few groups live in isolation. The last six hundred years have seen European expansion bring the world into closer contact with one another. But the problem with studies on this subject is the way it is treated by social scientists. The concept of globalization is used to describe a process of integrating people around the globe through policies and economic interdependence. When describing this process from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century, we implicitly characterize it as imperialism and colonialism. It is only since the 1970s that imperialism and colonialism have become globalization. The term globalization is used in a way to belie the fact that it is a product of imperialism and colonialism. It is like using gentrification to describe ethnic cleansing. Both come with negative connotations, but gentrification can be argued as progressive and good for communities historically impoverished. This argument is used with globalization, which comes with less baggage than imperialism.

Globalization, as a process, does not describe anything that has not happened historically. The only difference is the rapidity in which it is happening. When one examines the history of globalization and what it really is, then those who have been the victims of it will celebrate is retreat and contribute to its eventual demise. Globalization is the product of European imperialism, beginning with Portugal and Spain in the fifteenth century. It has been written about extensively in the history books. In 1415, led by Prince Henry the Navigator, Portugal invaded north Africa and captured Cueta. That put in motion a series of events that culminated into the colonization and enslavement of Africans. During the fifteenth century a series of papal bulls were issued by the sitting Pope. These included Dum Diversas, Romanus Pontifex, and Inter Caetera which entailed the perpetual enslavement of non-Christians and the annexation of “discovered” lands. Columbus’s contact with the Indigenous people of the Americas extended the expansion of Europe across the Atlantic. Over the next six hundred years, the darker nations of the world would experience oppression and exploitation at the hands of Europeans. Today’s international political economy was born out of imperialism and colonialism, globalization is only an extension of that process.

Globalization is multifarious and various definitions have been used to describe it. A quick google search will provide you a definition like this: globalization is the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale. According to this definition globalization is a mere business venture or some organization establishing international ties or a network. Authors Richar J. Payne and Jamal R. Nassar define globalization as “the integration of markets, politics, values, and environmental concerns across borders.”[1] Frederick P. Stutz and Barney Warf describes it as a worldwide process that make the world, its economic system, and its society more uniform, more integrated, and more interdependent.[2] When political scientists and economists describe globalization as the mere integrating of markets, organizations, and culture among other things, they failed to explain the forces that are behind the merging of different societies. This is purposely done as a means to obfuscate the truth about the international political economy. The fact remains that the world economy is highly controlled and influenced by imperialists European nations and the United States. This is not meant to negate the fact that other nations, such as China, Russia, Japan, India, etc. have immense influence on the world economy, and represent a formidable challenge to the European world order. The point is that the international political economy is the design of western European nations, and you either align yourself with the colonizer and his system, or you become the colonized.

Manfred B. Steger, professor of global studies, wrote Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, in which he explores various definitions of globalization. Steger asserts,“the term globalization should be used to refer to a set of social processes that are thought to transform our present social condition into one of globality. At its core, then, globalization is about shifting forms of human contact.”[3] For Steger, globality represents the result of this process. Globality is not permanent, it changes come about through the ever-evolving process of globalization. Steger goes on to offer four distinct qualities of globalization: 1) globalization involves the creation of new and the multiplication of existing social networks and activities that increasingly overcome traditional political, economic, cultural and geographical boundaries. 2) globalization is reflected in the expansion and the stretching of social relations, activities, and interdependencies. 3) globalization involves the intensification and acceleration of social exchanges and activities. 4) the creation, expansion, and intensification of social interconnections and interdependencies do not occur merely on an objective, material level.[4] By identifying these themes throughout various definitions, he offers the following working definition:

globalization refers to a multidimensional set of social processes that create, multiply, stretch, and intensify worldwide social interdependencies and exchanges while at the same time fostering in people a growing awareness of deepening connections between the local and the distant.[5]

Steger, like so many others, fall short on explaining the driving forces behind globalization. Throughout his book he becomes a victim of his own critique. He confuses globality (social condition) with globalization (social process). The process is shaped by political and economic powers established by the power structure. Africans have historically been left out of these discussions and decisions, despite the impact that it will have on their way of life, such as what happened during the Berlin Conference of 1885. The Berlin conference was convened to prevent conflict between the imperial nations in their scramble for Africa. During the twentieth century, European nations and the United States would meet again to decide on the structure of the world and to prevent conflict between the colonial states. During World War II, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were created to oversee the development and expansion of the European and U.S. political economy. The meeting to set up the international political economy is known as the Bretton Woods Conference. Cohn argues, “only a small number of states had a critical role in the process. The pre-negotiations before Bretton Woods and the conference itself were very much an Anglo-American affair, with Canada playing a useful mediating role;[6] well they use to say that the sun never sets on the British Empire. The policies of the imperial nations have been the root of African people and nations underdevelopment.

The authors of The Other World: Issues and Politics of the Developing World were close to providing an accurate description of globalization. Joseph N. Weatherby et al write:

globalization is an international regime in which the economic interests of multinational corporations and other nonstate actors (such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization) are coming to supersede the interests and powers of individual states.[7]

The authors of this work view globalization as a process in which the power over the oppress is shifting from states to corporations and nonstate entities. Globalization is understood to be an evolution from colonialism where one group of people were under the domination of another group of people to people becoming the subjects of multinational corporations. Weatherby et al state, “the logic and the drive of the capitalist world economy is now creating a fundamentally different global regime in which all the world’s people are increasingly subject to the power of multinational institutions.”[8] This is an accurate assessment, pinpointing capitalism as the driving force, and treating globalization as an imperialist endeavor.

In the wake of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, there has been a reexamination of globalization by political scientists and economists alike. The ruling class is prognosticating the future of what appears to be the reemergence of a Cold War. The global South are determining their alliance in this struggle, and geopolitical maps are being redrawn. A New York Times headline reads Wall Street Warns About the End of Globalization, epitomizing the sentiment and apprehension of businessmen, investors and those indoctrinated into being servants of colonial capitalism. BlackRock’s CEO and co-founder warned of an end to globalization and several news outlets carry the story. Perhaps this is just a setback until the imperialist powers come to an accord and then it is back to business as usual. African people can only hope that the current conflict will put in motion the dismantling of the international regime. Russia’s conflict with Ukraine has spurred western Europe and the United States to adopt policies to cripple the Russian economy which in turn has effected the international political economy. Political scientists and economists are trying to make sense of it all, questioning the impact the war will have on globalization. For some, this conflict portends the end of globalization, or at least the end of hyper-globalization. But is the end of globalization such a bad thing?

Western propaganda presents globalization as if it is a natural order of things. Researchers tend to study its causes and effects without examining the parasitic nature of this phenomenon. There is no denial that the process of integrating the peoples of the world into a global economy has negative consequences, but because the good outweigh the harms, then the harms are justified and deemed inconsequential. Therefore, the drivers of globalization operate with the mindset of a psychopath. Genocide, slavery, oppression, exploitation, etc. are explained away and become anomalies; written off as the actions of some deranged individual or group. This obfuscates the fact that it is the international political economy is the catalyst for these atrocities, and can only be prevented through a complete transformation of the global order. Not all mass deaths are the result of physical conflict. The structure of the global economy creates haves and have nots, and millions of have nots die each year due to their economic conditions.

The concept of globalization implies that the world is integrating, advancing, developing, and all that we need to do is conform to the system. The colonized are being deliberately misled into thinking that the problem is not imperialism or capitalism, that the problem lies with the colonized themselves. Characterizations of Africans as lazy, uneducated, improvident, tribal, backwards, etc. The fact is that the problem is the international political economy whose expansion was brought about through imperialism. The process of globalization does not distinguish itself from imperialism or its consequences, it is only distinguishable in its definition.



[1] Richard J. Payne and Jamal R. Nassar, Politics and Culture in the Developing World: The Impact of Globalization, 3rd edition (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008), 36.

[2] Frederick P. Stutz and Barney Warf, The World Economy: Resources, Location, Trade, and Development, 4th edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005), 13.

[3] Manfred B. Steger, Globalization: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 8.

[4] Steger, Globalization, 9-12.

[5] Steger, Globalization, 13.

[6] Theodore H. Cohn, Global Political Economy: Theory and Practice, 4th edition (New York: Pearson Education, Inc, 2008), 17.

[7] Joseph N. Weatherby, Craig Arceneaux, et al, The Other World: Issues and Politics of the Developing World, 7th edition (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007), 63.

[8] Wealtherby, The Other World, 63.