Scramble for colonies


1914 is a turning point in world history. The political and social processes that began in 1789 culminated in the First world war that out in the year and decisively shaped the course of the twentieth century.Historians, therefore, call this as ‘the long nineteenth century; This was the first industrial war that drew on the economic resources of the entire world, and also affected large sections of the civilian population. the political map of the world was redrawn. three major empires lay shattered by the end of the war: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans. the biggest outcome of the war was the Russian revolution. it was a unique event as well as the first revolution of its kind in world history. for the first time, countries tried to bring about world peace through the league of nations. in this lesson, we discuss the circumstances leading to the outbreak of the first world war and its repercussions, including the Russian revolution and the formation of an internal peace organisation, namely the league of nations.

Capitalist Countries Race for Markets

The aim of capitalistic industry was to produce more and more. the surplus wealth thus produced was used to build more factories railways, steamships and other such undertakings. Revolution in the means of communication and transportation in the latter half of the nineteenth century facilitated the process of European expansion in Africa and other places.

A striking feature of nineteenth century was that Europe emerged as the dominant power while Asia and Africa were colonized and exploited within Europe, England held a pre-eminent position as the world leader of capitalism an ever-growing demand for markets and raw materials made the capitalist powers race around the world for expanding their empire for exploitation.

After 1870, the alliance of industry and finance seeking profits in markets for goods and capital which was an essential characteristic of imperialism became evident in the latter half of the nineteenth century. the old ideas of free trade collapsed. there were trusts in the USA and cartels in Germany.

A trust is an industrial organisation engaged in the production or distribution of any commodity. the trust would possess adequate control over the supply and price of that commodity to its own advantage.

Capitalism inevitably led to imperialism. according to Lenin, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. besides being a market for surplus goods, colonies served another purpose. Imperialism was not just about colonies. It became a total system, the logic of which was total militarisation and total war.


In the nineteenth century, European powers had colonised many other countries, by 1880, most of the Asian countries had been colonised. Only Africa was left. the occupation, division and colonisation of Africa took place from 1881 to 1914. after 1870, England, France, Belgium, Italy and Germany joined in the scramble for colonies.

clashes amongst great powers

Despite the lead in industrial growth and the control of a vast empire England was not satisfied, England was in competition with Germany and the united states, which were producing cheaper manufactured goods and thus capturing England’s markets, national rivalry led to frequent clashes between these great powers in Asia and Africa and Europe.

Asia: The Rise of Japan

In Asia, Japan during this period (Meiji era from 1867 to 1912), imitating western nations had become their equal in many respects. though the outlook of the rulers still remained feudal, japan took to western education and machinery. with a modern army and navy, japan had emerged as an advanced industrialised power. In 1894 she forced a war on china. the crushing defeat of china by little japan in the sino-japanese war (1894-95) surprised the world. Despite the warning of the three grat powers russia, Germany and france -japan annexed the Liaotung peninsula with port Arthur. by this action japan proved that it was the strongest nation of the east asia.

Japan, however, in view of the pressure mounted by european powers, soon gave up its claim over port Arthur Russia took advantage of this and sent a large army to manchuria. japan entered into an alliance with england in 1902 and demanded that russia withdraw troops from manchuria russia underestimated japan in 1904 the war began between the two countries. in this Russo-japanese war. Japan defeated Russia and got back port Arthur After this war Japan entered the “circle of the great powers”

Strong-arm Diplomacy of Japan

Afiter 1905 Japan took control of korean domestic and foreign policy. The assassination of a prominent japanese diplomat provided the excuse in 1910 for japan’s annexatian of korea. The confusion in china following the downfall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912 provided japan an opportunity for further expansion. japan demanded the transfer of Geman rights in shantung to japan and the recognition of japanese hold over manchuria. this strong-arm diplomacy aroused the hostility of both china and the European Powers.

colonisation and its fallout

In 1876 barely 10 pecent of Africa was under european rule. By 1900 practically the whole of Africa was colonised. Britain france and begium had divided the continent between them, leaving a few areas for Germany and Italy. Britain France Russia and Germany also established “spheres of influene” in china. japan took over korea and taiwan. france conquered Indo-china the US took the philippines from spain, and Britain and russia agreed to partition Iron.

The first Europen attempts to carve out colonies in Africa resulted in bloody battles. The french had to fight a long and bitter war to french had to fight a long and bitter war to conquer Algeria and senegal. The british lost to the zulus (1879) and to the sudanese Army (1884). The Italian army suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of an Ethiopian army at Adowa (1896).

European Alliances and counter-Alliances

In 1900 five of the European Great Powers were divided into two armed camps. one camp consisted of the Central powers-Germany Austria-Hungary and Italy under the guidance of Bismarck, they had formed the triple alliance in 1882. the understanding was that Germany and Austria would help each other The other camp consisted of France and Russia. Their alliance was formed in 1894 with the promise of mutual help if Germany attacked either of them. An isolated Britain wanted to break her isolation and approached Germany twice but in vain. As Japan was increasingly hostile towards Russia. as France was the ally of Russia it preferred to ally with Britain (1902). The Anglo-Japanese Alliance prompted France to seek an alliance with Britain to resolve colonial disputes over Morocco and Egypt. this resulted in the entente cordiale (1904). In return for letting the french have a free hand in Morocco, France agreed to recognize the British occupation of Egypt. Britan subsequently reached an agreement with Russia over Persia. Afghanistan and Tibet. Thus was formed the Triple Entente of Brltain france and russia.

* * All the Notes in this blog, are referred from Tamil Nadu State Board Books and Samacheer Kalvi Books. Kindly check with the original Tamil Nadu state board books and Ncert Books.
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