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The 5 differences between colonialism and imperialism

The 5 differences between colonialism and imperialism

February 11, 2024

The concepts of colonialism and imperialism are often confused, but they are not synonymous. It is true that both are political, military and economic phenomena in which one nation submits to another to exploit it and use it to its advantage in its geostrategic objectives, but beyond this similarity, we must distinguish between what each implies.

In this article we will see what are the differences between colonialism and imperialism and in what ways does each one affect people's lives?

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Main differences between imperialism and colonialism

In the present or in the past, a large part of the people have been unable to enjoy sovereignty to decide on their territory . The interests of foreign powers, many times, govern everything that happens both in the public and private sphere. And it is that neither the force of arms nor the favors bought with money know borders.

Below you can find a list of the differences between colonialism and imperialism.

1. Amplitude of the term

The concept of imperialism refers to the suppression of the national sovereignty of the population of a country , either formally or informally, in favor of another, which dominates the first.

On the other hand, colonialism can be understood as a way of suppressing the sovereignty of one region and in favor of another that is more concrete than imperialism. Thus, colonialism is a relatively specific phenomenon, while imperialism is a broader concept, as we shall see.

2. The explicit or implicit character of the domination

In colonialism it is evident that there is a country that dominates another by force , in the same way that a kidnapper dominates the hostage. This does not prevent the dominating nation from taking advantage of the situation, since it does not need to give the impression that it does not direct all relevant political and economic events that occur in the dominated part.

In imperialism, on the other hand, it may happen that the country that exploits the other follows a strategy whereby its dominating role is disguised, creating the conditions to make it appear that the weak country is sovereign. For example, it does not directly contradict the decisions of local government bodies, although these are subject to what foreign authorities dictate . It may be the case that the real authorities of a country are in an embassy, ​​and not in the parliament or national congress.

3. Use or non-use of direct physical violence

Where there is colonialism, violence towards the population can be exercised with relative freedom , without having to render accounts before other authorities. This is done both to repress the possible popular revolts of the colonies from the metropolis and to make clear the military superiority of the colonizing nation over the colonized through fear.

On the other hand, in imperialism it is not essential to resort to the use of direct military repression against the population to make the domination effective. This is so because the tools that the dominating country can use to impose their interests are so varied that they will be able to choose other ways, such as propaganda. In many cases the dominant elites are not identified with the owners of capital coming from abroad.

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4. Differences in the arrival of settlers

In colonization, there is always an arrival of settlers who arrive to the occupied lands, often expelling their former owners directly without making a purchase. These can be families whose emigration may have been promoted by the metropolis to weaken the influence of the native ethnic groups, or it may be a minority of families that are limited to own the great resources of this territory. In addition, these families live separately from the native population, dealing only with servants.

In imperialism, on the other hand, this form of emigration does not have to occur and, in fact, it is often the inhabitants of the subjugated lands who are forced to emigrate to the metropolis. On the other hand, in imperialism the dominated country can be stable enough so that the families that control the territory do not need to move to the area.

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5. Objectives sought by the dominant country

Wherever there is colonialism, there is also the will to exploit the natural resources of the subjugated region.Thus, raw materials are extracted from these areas and these are normally processed in the nation that dominates the other, given that it is at this stage of production where there is more added value.

In imperialism the previous situation can also occur, but it does not always happen. Sometimes, simply, a region is dominated to favor military or other interests . For example, it is possible to take control of a country close to another country with which it competes to destabilize the region and harm the adversary, making it always subject to the risk of internal rebellions, secessionist movements, etc.


Both colonialism and imperialism are based on suppressing the sovereignty of a national collective in favor of the extractive or geostrategic interests of the elites of the dominant country , but beyond this, both types of power are exercised somewhat differently.

In general, colonialism is based on brute force in order to plunder the natural resources of the subjugated zone, as well as to exploit the popular classes through slavery or semi-slavery. In imperialism, this domination can be more disguised under the pretext that each individual has the freedom to offer or not the jobs that are offered and the mercantile deals to which he can choose from his situation of clear inferiority.

In any case, the dominant elites use the material inequalities already existing between their country of origin and the subject to create new inequalities through the exploitation of other countries and a tight control of the borders.

Colonisation and Imperialism, What is the difference? Positive & negative impact on world, Part 1 (February 2024).

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