How did industrialization lead to imperialism? 

Industrialization led to imperialism in that industrialized nations needed new markets for their goods as well as access to cheap raw materials. Imperialism provided them with both.

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As other educators have clarified in detail the causal relationship between industrialization and economic colonialism, let’s start by looking at the distinction you make about the question of “empire.” An imperialist system of government is certainly interested in dominating a foreign nation for opening new trade markets and extracting resources. And it is also true that throughout history, technological advance with new materials and methods, as well as new production capabilities, have always driven exploration and conquest.

Yet, since the apex of the industrial revolution with the late nineteenth century’s perfection of large-scale steel manufacturing for railroads, naval vessels, and mechanized weaponry, the most advanced industrial states, like the UK, US, Japan, and Germany, began to pursue a more aggressive and militaristic agenda.

Beyond the traditional economic or religious justifications for colonialization, modern capabilities had given the global powers new might, extending the reach of their dominance further than had previously been feasible. The convergence of the new technological and productive know-how with the typical colonialist ideology of dehumanizing supremacism ushered in a new era of military-industrial imperialism that defined the global order until the end of World War II. In 1898, the United States defeated the old Spanish empire to take control of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allowing the American military to begin to establish its lingering presence in strategic regions of the world. Not unlike the British in India, China, and Southeast Asia, the muscular American imperialist policy was based in notions of a Christian “civilizing” mission bestowing democracy on a “backwards” people.

Even more overtly militaristic than the Americans was the Japanese Empire, whose rapidly advanced industrial capability emboldened the island nation to seize control of parts of China, Russia, and all of Korea. Meanwhile, the German industrial state fueled its imperialist expansion into China and Africa, and its technological and organizational advantages would lead to its menacing Europe in the runup to both the First and Second World Wars.

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There is a straight line between industrialization and imperialism. Industrialization allows a large number of goods to be produced quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. However, the population of a given nation can only absorb so many goods, so supply can quickly outstrip demand. For example, people don't need twelve vacuum cleaners or 1,500 shirts, even if factories can produce these quantities. Oversupply becomes a problem. A second problem is the need for raw materials to turn into finished goods.

Realizing they could not continue to grow without expanding their markets and finding more sources of raw materials, European and other advanced industrial nations began to look around the world for cheap resources and new markets. The strong countries realized they could use their military superiority to take control of weaker governments, which is what imperialism is. The controlling nation would then force the weaker governments to sell the "mother country" raw materials cheaply and compel them to buy their goods at high prices.

For example, European nations discovered they could take over large land areas in Africa very easily through the use of the newly invented machine gun. This allowed them access to cheap raw materials, such as rubber, while providing captive markets for their goods. Imperialism helped enrich European and other industrially advanced nations at the expense of the rest of the world.

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A previous contributor has already discussed the economic incentives for imperialism. In addition to those points, however, it would also be worth discussing the ways in which imperialism actually enabled imperialism to proceed.

Be aware, when we call something a revolution, we tend to be referring to the dramatic turning points in history—for example, the Neolithic Revolution represented the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian ones; more recently, one can point towards the information revolution (microchips, the internet, etc: think how much the world has changed just within the last few decades). The Industrial Revolution, which represents the transition from an agrarian economy (based in agriculture) to an industrial economy, represents another one of those fundamental turning points. This dramatically increased the power which industrialized nations could exert.

Industrialization brought about technological advancement. One can observe this in the acceleration of weapons' technology through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth: the steam engine brought about a switch from wind powered navies to steam powered navies. Additionally, one can point towards advancements in artillery and firearms. Furthermore, one should consider advances in communications as well, particularly as they apply to logistics: for example, think about the practical applications of railroads, telegraph lines, steamships again, etc. Militarily, economically, politically: the effects of industrialization were extensive, and these impacts themselves had a major role in supporting and enabling imperial expansion.

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Industrialization led to imperialism for several reasons. When industries began to develop in various countries, there were several things that were necessary. One of those things was the need for resources. Industrialized countries found they were able to obtain cheaper resources from their colonies than from other countries. Thus, countries wanted to gain colonies so they could obtain the resources needed in their industries.

Another factor showing how industrialization contributed to imperialism is that the industrialized countries needed places where they could sell their products. The colonies were a great place for these countries to sell their finished products. The industrialized countries knew they could rely on their colonies to buy the finished products made in their industries. This helped promote imperialism.

Having colonies allowed a country to protect its world trade. Alfred Mahan, in his book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783, argued countries that are world powers must be able to protect their trade. Having colonies allowed these countries to have bases around the world where their ships, both military and commercial, could stop, refuel, and resupply. If a war were to occur, the countries could also use their colonies as a base from where they could conduct military operations.

The growth of industries enhanced the need for countries to become imperialistic. Establishing colonies and the growth of industries were related.

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