Che Guevara and American Economic Imperialism

Che Guevara was your stereotypical revolutionary. Raised in a rich household, he was trained to be a doctor before he realized his interests were helping the poor. The son of a leftist father, he grew up listening to socialist ideologies from Spanish Republicans. After allying with the Cubans Fidel and Raul Castro, he helped to liberate Cuba from Batista’s rule and gained political influence within Cuba society because of his role within the revolution. In 1964, he was sent to address the UN in regards to Africa and Caribbean decolonization. In his speech to the UN, Che builds the Cubans as a reactive nation as opposed to proactively provoking the United States and challenging their imperialist rule within Africa (indirectly) and more specifically the Caribbean. While Che states that the US’s military influence has helped to oppress many a person, their economic system dwarfs that of the socialist states and prevents any attempts at economic freedom for them and their citizens. “So long as the economically dependent peoples do not free themselves from the capitalist markets, and as a bloc with the socialist countries, impose new terms of trade between the exploited and the exploiters, there will be no sound economic development, and in certain cases there will be retrogression, in which the weak countries will fall under the political domination of imperialist and colonialists” (Blaisdell 273). Che believes that these economics will prevent the burgeoning socialist states from ever truly freeing themselves from imperialism and in turn prevent them from ever truly breaking free of capitalism. Without an equal power base, capitalism and socialism will never resolve their conflict and continue to fight one another in an unequal relationship instead of peacefully coexisting, which is what Che wants to see happen.

Original source as delivered by Che:


Imperialism and “The horror!”

Jules Ferry, a two-time prime minister of France, supported the ideals of Imperialism. In 1884 France, competition amongst Britain, Germany, and the United States sparked a sense of urgency in people like Ferry. Germany conquered nations in Africa, prevailing over Britain and creating pressure in Britain. Ferry notes that this competition, as well as supply and demand and freedom of trade are major problems. In a proud, almost desperate tone, he insists that “the superior races have a right because they have a duty. They have the duty to civilize the inferior races.” ((Jules Ferry, On French Colonial Expansion)) Ferry implies that men of higher rank need to be on board in order for French colonial expansion to take place, and he speaks to them often in his piece, addressing them as “Gentlemen.” He says, “Gentlemen, we must address them more loudly and more honestly!” ((Jules Ferry, On French Colonial Expansion)) Ferry writes in a convincing, enthusiastic tone to try to improve support for French Imperialism, which was somewhat lacking upon his writing. With competition in Western Europe and the United States increasing, Ferry notes that the time to act is now; he notes that market success in South America is dwindling because of North American products. A weak French navy needs to be improved in order to face this increasing competition, as it needs “harbors, defenses, [and] supply centers on the high seas.” ((Jules Ferry, On French Colonial Expansion)) Previously conquered territory such as Vietnam did not suffice, for individuals such as Ferry feared an economic collapse. Clearly an Imperialist, Ferry believed that exporting best served the economy of France, especially with the shrinking of markets in Europe.

Ferry’s contradictory and racist beliefs puzzled me. When I first read this, I was surprised with the “hierarchy of races” that he believed in. Nonetheless, Ferry’s beliefs set the basis of the beginning of the French colonial empire. As I searched more, I found out that Ferry became interested in acquiring the Congo. I immediately thought of the novel Heart of Darkness, a novel that accurately represents the evil ideologies of imperialism and takes place in the Congo. One of the novel’s main characters, Kurtz, conducts raids for ivory, and other immoral acts because of his greed. His lack of compassion and respect for the natives is evident. To not extend into too much further detail, Kurtz’s last words are “The horror! The horror!” These last words resemble his realization of his brutality, and how “the horror” ultimately killed him. I thought the connection between Ferry and this novel worked rather well. Heart of Darkness included such brutal, sickening images, and when reading it I found it difficult to truly believe the fact that European imperialism mirrored the brutalities in Heart of Darkness. This world has such a long history.

Do countries act with immorality in order to achieve their realist goals, or are we shifting away from this in today’s society? How can you compare French and other countries’ Imperialism with Christopher Columbus? Why must states be so competitive; is “world peace” without any imperialism ever possible?

Passing the Torch: Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”

In 1899 Rudyard Kipling composed the poem “The White Man’s Burden” in response to the American colonization of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. With his tone of command urging the white landowners of the United States to “Take up the White Man’s burden” ((The White Man’s Burden, 1899)), Kipling is implying that the USA must now carry the torch of imperialism once held by Great Britain as well as other European nations. Kipling’s message is one of command and warning, by implying that if the United States is to become an imperial power it must commit fully to the duty and complexities inherent with this position of power. It is clearly no small task, as it requires large economic burdens as well as a large commitment of manpower to travel and conquer foreign lands.

When I first read this last year I thought it was satire. Kipling seemed to be bashing the United States for its growing imperial presence in the world with what I confused as his almost-sarcastic tone. However once I realized he was serious, consequences and costs were easier to understand. However after taking my Senior Seminar on Empire last semester, I learned about the many different imperialist nations throughout history as well as what it takes to be not only an empire, but imperialist as well. In this poem, Kipling outlines several of the tenets to imperialism:

To be imperialist, a state must dehumanize a civilization and use them as the foundation for a colonialized civilization. In the first stanza Kipling highlights this with “Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.” ((The White Man’s Burden, 1899)), inferring that a powerful state has overtaken a much smaller, foreign state and dehumanizing its people in the process.

As our class established last semester, a state must not only dominate indigenous folk, but it must also exploit them in favor of the colonizing state. Kipling highlights this in the second stanza with “To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain” ((The White Man’s Burden, 1899)), explaining that colonists are using the indigenous people’s economic source for the benefit of the colonizing state.

In those two stanzas Rudyard Kipling clearly outlines two of the most important tenets to imperialism: dominating a foreign population and siphoning their natural resources into the economy of the colonizing nation. Although this is essential to the imperialist process, it is a cruel and unforgiving ritual. The colonized state is reduced to little more than a slave state through the process called imperialism, and those indigenous people’s lives suffer as a consequence.

For class tomorrow, I pose these questions:

Where else in history have we seen these same things happen? When has a world power taken over a much weaker power in order to exploit it for various (economic, military strategic, etc.) reasons? What was the reasoning behind this takeover? Was it easily justified?

A Critique of Imperialism


John Hobson argued that the capitalist market drove the imperialistic trend of the late 1800s, as opposed to nationalism. ((John Hobson, Imperialism, 1901)) Much like colonialism, imperialism is a policy that allows for one country to take control over another, generally by military force. Hobson was writing Imperialism in London just after the Long Depression, one of the worst recessions in history. The depression affected economies worldwide; however, England took the hardest hit. Being in the midst of all the economic failure around him must have prompted Hobson to criticize imperialism. Although many people were literate in England at this time, Hobson was most likely writing for Parliamentary members because they had the most political influence. 

Hobson argued that nationalism was a term being used too loosely; he inferred that imperialism couldn’t be considered a nationalist policy because it involved people in the empire who were not geographically, culturally, or linguistically bound. ((John Hobson, Imperialism, 1901)) He called out the British government for not focusing on their political and economic problems instead spreading their power to other parts of the world that were not asking to be controlled. ((John Hobson, Imperialism, 1901)) Hobson’s intent with this piece was essentially to tell the British government to get their act together and deal with their issues rather than create more problems in other parts of the world.

Morel’s Morals

Edward Morel was born in France in 1873, although he attended school in Britain and eventually became a naturalized British citizen in 1896. Throughout his life he held various jobs and was known as a British journalist, author, pacifist and politician. In 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote “The White Man’s Burden” which celebrated colonialism and discussed the duty of the white man to civilize ‘savage’ populations. ((Rudyard Kipling, The White Man’s Burden, 1899)) Morel wrote The Black Man’s Burden in direct response to this work by Kipling. In The Black Man’s Burden, he discussed how colonialism decimated African populations through famine, forced labor and disease as well as by destroying social ties and breaking their spirits. ((Edward Morel, The Black Man’s Burden, 1903)) In this time period, there were few advocates for African rights but Morel developed an uncommon sympathy and respect for African cultures earlier in his life when working for a British shipping company. When looking at this company’s trade between Belgium and the Congo, Morel saw that no commercial goods were brought to the Congo, but valuable natural resources were brought back. Morel explored this relationship more, realizing that the resources were brought back at the expense of the native African people. He resigned his job at the shipping company and began to campaign against Congo misrule. He published his own magazine and started the Congo Reform Association to advocate for change in colonial practices in the Congo.

African colonies in 1914.

African colonies in 1914.

Morel was an unusual case for his time in Britain as many were supportive of imperialism and its ability to provide economic benefits to the controlling country. He spoke out against imperialism and brought many other prominent figures into the Congo Reform Association, eventually succeeding in changing the colonial rule there. Do you think that support from British citizens was necessary for change in colonial practices or would the suppressed peoples eventually have resisted and demanded this change for themselves? Did Morel go far enough in demanding better conditions for laborers or should he have advocated for no longer having colonies?

Same Party, Different Views

Despite being of the same political party, Stalin and Lenin express very different opinions on the Soviet Union’s issues. Stalin’s document “Concerning the Presentation of the National Question” from May 8th 1921 describes the differences of the national questions as given by the Communists in relation to the national question adopted by the leaders of the Second and Two and-a-Half Internationals, Socialists, Social-Democrats, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, and other parties. He explains that they differ in four points, then goes on to explain those points. First, Stalin explains the merging of the National question with the general question of the liberation of the colonies as a whole. Secondly, Stalin determines the vague slogan of “the rights of nations to self-determination” to mean a nation’s right to autocracy. Thirdly, he explains a connection between national and colonial questions of the rule of capital. He explains that in order to “win the war” there is a need to revolutionize enemies. Lastly, Stalin describes the need for equality of nations and not just “national equality of rights”.

Lenin criticizes Stalin’s Presentation of the National Question in his own writings “On the Questions of the Nationalities or of Autonomization” on December 30th of 1922. He declares the question of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics to be the question of autotomizing. He outwardly criticizes Stalin’s want for autonomization and claims it to be “wrong and untimely”. He also questions Stalin’s explanation behind the want for autonomization. Lenin goes on to explain that Stalin did not show enough concern in taking measures to defend those from other nations, and outwardly declares the Soviet’s fatal role to be Stalin and his preoccupation with the administrative aspect and by his rage against social-nationalism.

One common thread in both documents is that both Stalin and Lenin declare imperialism as the common enemy. However, other than having a common enemy, Lenin throughout his writing makes a great effort to show his disagreement with Stalin’s actions and opinions. He even goes as far as questioning Stalin’s understanding of “nationalism”.  Lenin also seems to find Stalin’s actions and explanations behind his actions to be unsound. With that, Stalin’s document provide some insight into his arguably irrational mindset in some areas, as Lenin points out. Lenin sheds light on these issues by asking why Stalin believes autonomy to be the best option, and why then? Also, Lenin’s outward disapproval of Stalin and of his positions and actions acts as a harbinger to Stalin’s abusive years ahead. If the epitome of the Communist party was feeling weary about Stalin, that should have been warning enough for his turbulent years ahead in power.

Che Guevara, “Colonialism is Doomed”

Che Guevara was an Argentinian doctor turned Cuban revolutionary and spokesperson whose popularity peaked after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. He became an ally to the Castros, and often spoke out against several American policies. In his speech to the UN in 1964, Colonialism is Doomed, he referenced colonialism as “complacent” and stated, “But imperialism, particularly United States imperialism, has tried to make the world believe that peaceful coexistence is the exclusive right of the great powers on earth.” He referenced the Soviet Union and China as threats to the US and alluded to the bullish ways of NATO and the Turkish government, which he believed eliminated hope for peaceful coexistence.

ACLAIM – Imperialism

Author: The author is John Hobson, a classically educated English economist. Throughout his life, Hobson became known as a critic of Imperialism, to a point where people began to frown upon how open his criticisms were.

Context: This piece was written in 1902, at a time where the British economic system was experiencing a stark downturn. They were no longer the clear superpower in the world, with countries such as the United States and Germany steadily gaining economic and military strength.

Language: The language used is very complex in structure and in tense – the reader can tell that it was composed by an educated author. His writing mentions economics on a wide scale, but it still easy enough to read if you don’t posses an economic back ground.

Audience: The intended audience is that of a rich, educated populace – people who know what they are reading and have the ability to do something with their newly acquired knowledge.

Intent: To show how imperialism has destroyed the economic system of England. He explains how it has caused overproduction and underconsumption, therefore leading to a inefficient method of production. He wants to educate people on how a good economic system works – it isn’t necessarily all about cheap goods, there has to be a sustainable demand for those goods as well.

Message: Nationalism should take over as the prevailing foreign policy of the nation. If the country is more inward based, it would spur on national production and make for a more autonomous (and productive) people.

The Black Man’s Burden

Author: Edward Morel (1873-1924), a British journalist who was active in the British pacific movement. Opponent of Imperialism.

Context: The Black Man’s Burden was written in 1903, an accelerated stage of Imperialism. This piece particularly draws the public attention to the abuses of European colonization in Africa.

Language: complex sentences; articulate wording; serious tone criticizing how the European imperialism had killed the soul of Africa.

Audience: The audience include people who have some educational background and the imperialists.

Intention: By summarizing the dehumanization brought by the colonization of Europe in Africa, Morel criticizes Imperialism and slavery as crimes that “unrestrained by convention or law.” And he wanted to draw the public’s attention to act against Imperialism and push the pacific movement forward.

Message: The Africa in no way could react against the capital exploitation of the Europeans. Imperialists were killing and exploiting people in Africa which signifies the dark and brutal side of humanity.

ACLAIM: Hobson, Imperialism 1902

Author: John A. Hobson; English economist and critic of imperialism. Born into upper-middle class family. Hobson was highly educated and associated with several different political groups after moving to London in 1887. He had rather extreme views concerning imperialism and was ultimately outed by the academic community for the overly forward nature of his writing.
Context: 1902; English production begins to be rivaled by Germany, the United States, and Belgium. These states encroach on international markets previously monopolized by Great Britain. The rate of production outmatched the rate of consumption and England needed to find other markets for the surplus of goods. Hobson emphasized his theory of underconsumption.
Language: Intellectual language; not meant for average working class, however also not filled with economic jargon.
Audience: Educated middle and upper-classes; clearly not written to be understood by a borderline illiterate working class.
Intent: To analyze and critique the causes and effects of imperialism. Hobson considered the state of international economics, especially international markets previously dominated by the UK. Hobson critiqued the underconsumption that results in surpluses. Lower demand, higher supply, lower prices, lower profit margins.
Message: Imperialism is the result of production outpacing consumption. Imperialism would not be necessary if domestic consumption increased to match the rate of production. “So long as England held a virtual monopoly of the world markets for certain important classes of manufactured goods, Imperialism was unnecessary.”