At the dawn of the 20th century large colonial powers had carved up the world between themselves. ‘Core’ zones were marked by their level of economic development and the ‘peripheral’ zones their level of economic underdevelopment. The political organization of economic dependencies in the form of colonies and semi-colonies was established by a small number of nation-states. This domination of the periphery by the core nations is known as Imperialism. Imperialism in this overt political form, with directly administered peripheral zones is a salient feature of the first half of the 20th century. By the second half of the 20th century there began a process of decolonisation, whereby the direct political control of peripheral zones became problematic and untenable because of increasing political opposition in the form of national-liberation movements. Even though the formal political control of peripheral zones has been alleviated, many contend that the economic domination and relations of dependency persist. This represents one concern for evaluating the continuing relevance of imperialism in the mid to late 20th century. Another issue in evaluating the persistence of imperialism is the role of the nation state. Imperialism saw intra-imperialist conflict between different national-bourgeois over the division and re-division of the world. A leading organ of this conflict was the respective national-bourgeoisie’s nation-state. Some Neo-Marxists have argued that given the ostensive decline of the nation-state, imperial sovereignty is increasingly being replaced by a new form of sovereignty and economic organisation that transcends the nation as a unit of political and economic organization. These two issues: the persistence of unequal relations between the core and periphery and place of the nation-state within global capitalism are central to understanding the applicability of imperialism to the 20th century as a whole.
Written by Mathew Toll.
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(Written late 2007)