Read this article to learn about Colonialism:- 1. Meaning of Colonialism 2. Features of Colonialism.

Meaning of Colonialism:

Colonialism, as a historical phenomenon of territorial expansion, is intimately connected with the rise and growth of the modern capitalist world system.

So it is entwined with history, economics, politics, etc., of the modern capitalist society.

Colonialism is a complex phenomenon of capitalist expansion.


In a narrow sense, colonialism refers to the process of control of supplies of raw materials, mineral resources, and markets in underdeveloped and pre-­capitalist regions. Such narrow definition of colonialism overlooks a vital aspect of colonialism relating to political activity and the drive for dominance over the daily lives of the people of colonies.

In a modern sense, colonialism is a general description of the state of subjection—political, economic, intellectual—of a non-European society as a result of the process of colonial organisation. Colonialism deprives a society of its freedom and its earth and, above all, it leaves its people intellectually and morally disoriented.

Colonialism, as a historical pheno­menon, refers to foreign domination which implies that the colonised area is regulated in a manner known as ‘unequal exchange’. Colonised societies are intended to serve the interests of the ruling country. Thus, by colonialism, we mean a system of political and social relations between two countries—of which one is the ruler and the other is its colony.

So colonialism refers to foreign domination in social, economic, and political policies of the colony countries. Obviously, the destiny of the colony is governed by the policies of the foreign country so as to sub-serve the interests of the ruling country.


The economic and social development of a colonial country is completely subordinated to the ruling country. Colonial economy is stripped off all independent economic decisions. The development of agricultural, utilisation of the country’s vast natural resources, its industrial and tariff policies, trading relations with foreign countries, and so on are left into the hands of the ruling country.

In summary, economic policies of colonies conform to the interests of the rulers and not of the subjects. Obviously, this unequal relationship between these countries results in a state of underdevelopment of the colony. India was the largest colonial possession of Britain. She was able to exploit India for nearly 200 years—1757 to 1947.

Basic Features of Colonialism in India:

Colonialism in India, as a historical phenomenon, was as modern as industrial capitalism in Britain. Further, colonial Indian economy had been integrated with world capitalism. The historical process that led to colonial integration of India with world capitalist economy inevitably led to the underdevelopment of India, or “the development of underdevelopment.” Above all, Indian economy and her social developments were completely tied to the British economy and social development.


According to the wishes and whims of the British State situated in London the Indian economy was managed. The Government was not well fitted to the task of bringing about a favourable change. As soon as industrial revolution in England got momentum, Great Britain was transformed into a leading nation of the world. On the other hand, India was transformed in a skilful way into a leading backward colonial country of the world.

Of course, these two processes are not independent of each other—at least in terms of cause and effect. In this connection, it is to be pointed out here that the colonial integration with the world capitalist economy occurred during the 19th century on the plea of modernisation, economic development, and trans­plantation of capitalism in India.

To safeguard the interests of the British Government, India was transformed into a chief market for British manufactured articles. India’s industrialisation was scrupulously thwarted. India became a rich source of supply of raw materials for Britain’s industries.

In fact, India was made “supplier of anything and everything, mender, repairer of all things on earth, but maker of none.” India became the solid as well as the most remunerative field for investment of British capital.

The claim that Britain was an agency of ‘modernisation’ had been belied by the all-round British control over the entire transport system, banking and insurance business, industries and mines, foreign trade, and what not. The benefits of all these services flowed to Britain while putting India in a grave situation. Thus, what development took place in India during the British rule was extremely unpalatable to India. What emerges from this discussion is that colonialism is not to be identified only with political control or colonial policy. It is something more than that. It is best seen as a totality or a unified structure.

Colonial India had the following four basic features:

Firstly, colonialism was the complete but complex integration and enmeshing of India’s economy and society with the world capitalist system carried out for a period of roughly 200 years in a subordinate or subservient position. It is to be noted here that dependence or subservience of the colonial economy and society was the crucial or determining aspect “and not mere linkage or integration with world capitalism or the world market”.

Secondly, “colonialism in India is encompassed by the twin notions of unequal exchange (Aghiri Emanuel) and internal disarticulation of the economy and the articulation of its different disarticulated parts, through the world market and imperialist hegemony, with the metropolitan economy (S. Amin and Hamaz Alvi).”

In fact, this was one of the principal forms of colonial exploitation through which India led British industries by supplying raw materials and foodstuff and bought manufactured goods from biscuits, shoes to machinery, cars and railway engines from Britain.

As a result of this ‘unequal trade policy’, India was increasingly reduced to the status of an agricultural appendage and a subordinate trading partner of Britain in the latter part of the 18th and the earlier part of the 19th century.

Thirdly, as far as the process of economic development is concerned, .the generation as well as utilisation of economic surplus is crucial for any economy. The advancement of the Indian economy had been largely halted during the British regime due to the low availability of actual social surplus or internal savings available for investment in the economy. Such scarcity of internal savings is attributed to drain of wealth or unilateral transfer of surplus to the metropolis through unrequited exports.

The fourth basic feature of colonialism “was the crucial role played by the colonial state in the subordination of India to Britain and in construction, determining and maintaining other features of the colonial structure.” Being an important colony of Britain, India was managed and administered by Britain.

India’s policies were determined in Britain not for the interests of India, but for the British economy and society. As a result of such active state policy in various fields, British economy prospered at the expense of the Indian economy.

It has been already pointed out that the Indian colonial economy passed through three distinct successive phases (of trade, industry and finance) during which the phenomenon of ‘subordination’ was vividly felt. But this did not mean that ‘forms’ or ‘patterns’ of subordination remained constant.

Over time, forms or patterns of subordination underwent changes with the changing conditions of the historical development of capitalism as a worldwide system, the place of Britain within this system, and the development of colonialism in India. Appropriation of social surplus was another hallmark of colonialism.

Like subordination, the appropriation of India’s social surplus by Britain was a constant and regular phenomenon though its forms underwent changes with the changes in stages of British exploitation of this country. In view of this, Bipan Chandra holds that the stages of colonialism in British India were basically differentiated by the patterns of subordination or subservience and surplus appropriation.

However, colonialism in India, as a structure or social formation, was beset with inner contradictions right from the beginning, the character of which changed with the changes in stages.

“Crucial contradiction came into being between the need to make India a reproductive colony on an extended scale in order to sub-serve the interests of British industrial and finance capital and the objective consequences of capitalism producing the opposite result of under developing India. This, in turn, led to the basic or central contradiction between colonialism and the Indian people, leading to the struggle for national liberation.”