This chapter focuses on the period that is usually described as the era of classical imperialism, from the 1880s to 1945. It is often described as the classical period because it was associated with imperialist world war, and a new wave of colonial annexation, as the European powers, Japan and the US formally colonized territories. Between 1876 and 1915, about a quarter of the globe was distributed or redistributed as colonies, mainly by Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the US, Japan and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Portugal (Hobsbawm 1987: 57–9). The chapter focuses on those theories and theorists — usually, but not always Marxist — which attempted to link these new developments to a new phase of capitalist expansion. The, sometimes conflicting, claims of Hobson, Lenin, Bukharin, Hilferding, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Kautsky will first be outlined. The chapter will then move on to re-examine the case for liberal imperialism, with specific reference to British imperialism, which, it will be suggested again, was different from other imperialisms at the time. The third section of the chapter will examine the claims of both the liberal advocates, and classical Marxist critics, of imperialism. Some specific arguments will be made concerning the two conflicting approaches, and it will be suggested that classical Marxist theories are more convincing than liberal apologies for imperialism.
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