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Imperialism | Colonial Policy


Deutscher Kolonial-Atlas mit Jahrbuch (Atlas German Colonies, with Yearbook), edited by the German Colonial Society, 1918, General Matters

General Matters

"Not craving for conquests, not ambition, not the drive to take on adventures or a temporary mood have caused the persons in charge of taking decisions for the Deutsches Reich, in contradiction with tradition and principles to acquire territories overseas. They have been compelled to act so in recognition of the urgent necessity to secure areas of operation for German trade." These words, which the historian Dr. Alfred Zimmermann wrote in the introduction of his "Geschichte der Deutschen Kolonialpolitik" (History of German Colonial Policy), published in 1914, describe in a few words the causes, which, around the middle of the 1880es, caused many circles in Germany to support a policy of colonial expansion. Two points were namely responsible to turn the strife for colonial possessions into reality : the progressing industrialization of Germany and with it its rising demand for raw materials, and the fact that the larger colonial powers more and more showed the tendency to close their possessions against foreign entrepreneurial spirit. It is well known that Bismarck himself only slowly and reluctantly entered in German colonial policy, already voices had demanded already in the 1860es that Prussia should acquire colonial property. Only when difficulties were reported to him, which have been created for German merchants in the South Sea and West Africa by the British government, he was compelled to protect the German interests in the colonies of other powers, and he warmed up to a policy he himself had regarded untimely only a short time before. He had been supported, in the mid-1880es, in this view by the lukewarm attitude of the majority of the German population toward all questions non-European, and when he expanded German protection over wide areas of the globe, in part against British opposition, this did not prevent him from holding on to an unenthusiastic attitude toward colonial policy. Yet it has to be considered that compated to the economic and political needs of the world at the outbreak of the war, those of Germany in the 1880es were very low. Nothing is better suited to characterize the enormous difference than the famous quote from Bismarck, that Constantinople would not be worth the bones of a single Pommeranian grenadier, and on the other hand the fact that today German troops fight on the Palestine front and in Mesopotamia hand in hand with Turkish soldiers against the British world power. And also the economic needs Germany had of the world in Bismarck's era have been negligible compared to industrial Germany at the outbreak of the war. In this aspect we should only remind that our external trade rose from 5.8 billion Mark in 1885 to 20 billion Mark in 1912. But Bismarck was far from failing to recognize the great importance of own colonial property for the domestic economy. In his speech on British policy in Egypt in Reichstag on March 13th 1885 [6th period of legislation, 66th session, p.1798, p.1799, p.1800, p.1801] the following sentences are included : "Assume, a share of the cotton, the coffee, which we import, would grow on German soil overseas, would that not be an increase of German national wealth ? Presently we purchase our entire cotton demand from the Americans, are dependent on a kind of an American monopoly, as the Indian and Asiatic cotton is not processed with that perfection so that it can be easily further processed, as it is the case with the American. If we, investing the same intelligence as the Americans, plant and process cotton in territories such as Neu-Guinea and Kamerun, in equatorial regions of Africa, if we could buy cotton from German overseas plantation owners rather than from Americans - this would be of advantage for the German national wealth, while the money we pay presently for cotton, coffee, copra and other equatorial products, as a fonds perdu, is subtracted from our national wealth." [p.1800] As already mentioned, besides reasons of international economy it was also the fact of a gigantic, detrimental emigration from which Germany suffered in the 1870es and 1880es. If, for instance, in the years from 1881 to 1884 between 150,000 and 200,000 persons left the Deutsches Reich for good, mostly in order to settle in the United States, this resulted in a loss of manpower which hardly could be matched by natural population increase. And if we now know, based on the experience made, that the plans of Karl Peters, who mainly (p.5) for the purpose of creating a colony for German settlement, acquired what was to become Deutsch-Ostafrika, were based on false assumptions, the fact of a loss of manpower through emigration remains, in other words, the preservation of the Volkskraft (collective people's power) on German soil remained one of the strongest driving forces when it comes to the creation of German colonial possessions. These were added, if often unconsciously, by a certain imperialistic drive, which expressed itself not only in Germany, but similarly in the other European countries. If the liberal English Lord Roseberry coined the phrase that the world had to become English if England was to influence its course, it is only natural that such claims formed an impetus for young, energetic states. Just Germany's entry into the ranks of the colonial powers has given an impetus to other European nations in this direction, the results of which are listed in the following table.

  Size of the Colonial Empire in square km Population.
1871 1916 1871 1916
Great Britain 20,459,000 29,760,000 159,750,000 374,689,000
Russia 14,901,000 17,166,000 5,500,000 32,229,000
Portugal 1,917,000 2,090,000 3,873,000 7,400,000
Netherlands 1,775,000 2,045,000 22,453,000 38,053,000
France 1,206,000 10,552,000 6,469,000 55,190,000
Spain  303,000 232,000 6,500,000 220,000
Denmark 121,000 193,000 40,000 124,000
USA - 307,000 - 9,677,000
Italy - 1,584,000 - 1,300,000
Germany - 2,913,000 - 16,000,000
Belgium - 2,382,000 - 20,000,000
Japan - 332,000 - 13,575,000

(after Dr. A Zimmermann, Die Kolonialreiche der Grossmächte (The Colonial 
Empires of the Great Powers), Berlin 1915)

If it is considered that Germany, with a population exceeding that of France by almost 100% and a trade which has long surpassed that of France, and disposes over such a modest overseas empire, while France in the course of 45 years has expanded its overseas empire more than 8-fold, if one considers, on the other hand, that little Belgium disposes over colonial possession almost equal to that of Germany, this leads to the conclusion that the German imperialism, inasfar as it is of colonial-political nature, was far from - as it has been repeatedly stated by the opposing side in the war - having become a cause of the war. 
When Germany joined the ranks of the colonial powers, it did not have any colonial-political and colonial-economic experience which would even remotely match those which other states had gained, partially in centuries of colonial activity. Consequently the first decades of German colonial policy were an experience of learning-by-doing. Nothing was ready-to-take, and what had to be acquired, had first to be created. Not only lacked any knowledge of the new terrain, but also the personnel which would have been capable to develop the new land. In addition, over-optimistic early successes failed to materialize, resulting in a certain indifference of the home country toward the colonies, an indifference which not the least was reflected by the actions and measures of government. It was forgotten that countries of the size of, f.ex., Deutsch-Ostafrika could only been opened up if necessary transportation was available. It was frequently overlooked that it was necessary to revolutionize the spiritual constitution and the economy of the natives, adapting them to modern conditions; it was forgotten, that the native, standing on a lower level of civilization, has first to be familiarized with the new arrangement of conditions, which had to seem alien, and more than once, hostile to him, because it often was forced, in the end to his advantange, to interfere with cherished old traditions. So the entire German colonial history had to be a period of fermentation, of a transition, until the foundation was laid on which a modern economy can develop.

With the understanding of overseas affairs growing in Germany, the attitude regarding the value of German colonial policy changed. Had German colonial policy, for large strate of society, seemed nothing but a decorative, yet unnecessary element in the edifice of the Reich, the growing successes in the area of colonial economy, the intensification of the connections between homeland and colonies, namely in the working class and its most prominent expression, the social democracy, aroused understanding of the value of our own colonial possessions. A consequence of this insight was a more benevolent treatment of the transportation question, mainly the colonial railroad policy implemented since the begin of the century. Were these large expenses, at first burdened on the Reich, it quickly turned out that they were good investments. Cecil Rhodes once has said : "railways are 
more expensive than cannons, but in Africa they also have a wider range." Reviewing the history of the German protectorates during the last 10 years before the war, it is evident how beneficial the modern transportation policy has proved, not only under the aspect that the motherland (p.6) and its individual parts gained advantages from the development of individual colonies, but mainly by raising the native population. The great difference between modern colonial policy and medieval colonial policy, as it was represented by the Spaniards and Portuguese in India, is that the latter was exclusively exploitative, while modern colonial policy primarily is constructive. To be a colonizing nation does not merely mean to take possession of a stretch of land to make it serve the needs of the motherland; the term includes a number of obligations, mainly the improvement of living conditions for those natives, standing on a lower civilizatoric level, entrusted to the colonizing nation. To further go into details is reserved for further discussions. Here we refer only to the question which is of importance to any present and future evaluation of colonial matters. At the Congo Conference, which had assembled in Berlin at the invitation of Bismarck in 1885, it had been agreed that a power which exercises rights of sovereignty of protectorate in Central Africa, if it became involved in a war, the other signatory powers should take on the obligation, in case of such a request being made, to exclude certain stretches of land in Africa by neutralization. The belligerent stretches should refrain from extending the hostilities onto territory neutralized in such a way. This clause had been included in the General Act at the proposal of the USA, where the memory of the gruesome Indian campaigns of the late 18th century were still vivid memory, so that they wanted to avoid to have the inhabitants of Central Africa witness a war between whites. This sound argument convinced all signatories of the Congo Act, mainly Germany, Britain and France, that it was in the interest of culture and of what had been constructed with such an effort in Central Africa, to leave the natives out of such a conflict, not the least in order not to awaken their instincts, detrimental to the image of the white race and her cultural accomplishments. Immediately after the war broke out, Germany undertook steps to cause the USA in this respect to assert its authority, and Belgium as owner of the Congo Colony supported this step. Finally, the regulations of article 11 of the Congo Act failed, due to the disinterested attitude of the USA, after France and Britain practically had torn up the regulations just days after the war had broken out, by carrying the war both into Kamerun and Deutsch-Ostafrika. If the respective resolution of the Congo Act did not apply to Togo and Germany's possessions in the South Pacific, it would have corresponded to its underlying philosophy to exclude these areas as war theatres. As the war now has been carried into these areas and the solidarity of the white race, in the eyes of the natives, has been injures in the severest way, after especially France has transported ten thousands, hundred thousands of its black natives to the battlefields of Macedonia and between British Channel and the Swiss border, we unfortunately have to register that the entire relation between black and white, between the small number of rulers and the millions of ruled, has been placed on a different socio-political foundation. The consequences of these facts may be as they are : France and Britain carry the responsibility for these, which form one of the severest crimes against Europe's civilization!

* * *

Trade. The German external trade in 1913 had a value of 20.868 billion Mark. 
Its development over the last decade is shown by the following table (1)

(in million Mark)

  1902 1903 1904 1905 1906
import 5805,8 6321,2 6854,5 7436,0 8028,9
export 4812,8 5130,0 5315,6 5841,8 6361,2
total trade 10618,6 11451,1 12170,1 13277,8 14390,1


  1907 1908 1909 1910 1911 1912
import 8748,9 7666,6 8526,9 8934,1 970,6 10695
export 6846,2 6399,0 6594,2 7474,2 810,6 8957
total trade 15595,1 14065,6 15121,1 16408,3 1781,2 19652

Thus, our export has increased by almost 100 % since 1902.

Merchant Fleet : on January 1st 1893 : 3728 ships with 1,3 million net-register tons and 41,635 crew. On January 1st 1911 : 4675 ships with 2,9 million net-register tons and 73,993 crew. (p.7)

German navigation : 1893 : 133,874 ships with 27.45 mill. register tons, 1909 : 219,761 ships with 57.13 mill. register tons, 1911: 226.270 ships with 63.20 mill. register tons.

Overseas the German Navy in 1914 had the following stations :

I. West African (West Coast of Africa with island groups off the coast). 2 gunboats (Panther, Eber).
II. East African (East coast of Africa with island groups off the coast, Red Sea, Persian Gulf), 2 unprotected cruisers (Seeadler, Geier); one survey vessel : Möwe.
III. East and West coast of America, 1 small protected cruiser (Bremen, later Karlsruhe)
IV. Australian station (Australia and the Pacific islands), 2 gunboats (Condor, Cormoran), 1 survey vessel (Planet).
V. East Asiatic station. (East and South coast of Asia with island groups off the coast, including the East Indian archipelago)
a) cruiser squadron : 2 two battle cruisers (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau), 3 small protected cruisers (Leipzig, Nurnberg, Emden), 1 escort steamer (Titania).
b) placed under the cruiser squadron were : 4 gunboats (Iltis, Jaguar, Tiger, Luchs), 3 river gunboats (Tsingtau, Vaterland, Otter), 2 torpedo boats (Taku, S 90).

Traffic in the Suez Canal in 1000 net register tons

Year English German French Dutch
1870 289.2 - 84.7 0.3
1871 546.5 2.1 89.1 0.6
1880 2432.9 37.8 185.4 125.7
1890 5331.1 490.6 365.9 248.5
1900 5605.4 1466.4 751.8 507.0
1910 10413.6 2563.7 833.0 854.5

The international cable net

In 1914 the international sea cable net consisted of 2576 cable lines with a total length of 531,691 km as compared to 2528 cables of a total length of 498,951 km in 1911.
Of the 2542 cables,
I. 2164 (1911 : 2129) were in state property, with 100.989 (90,789) km
II. 412 (399) cables were property of private companies, of 430,702 (408,262) km


I. The most important shares of cables in state property



no. km no. km
France 81 23,053 77 21,043
Pacific Cable Board 7 17,009 5 14,539
England, Australian Federation, New Zealand, Canada)
Japan 180 9,114 179 7,531
Spain 24 5,803 24 5,808
Dutch East Indies 21 7,669 18 5,695
Germany 98 5,474 97 5,532
England 225 5,315 222 5,003
USA 15 4,001 13 3,981
British India 6 3,603 6 3,603
Norway 770 2,598 770 2,598






II. The most important shares of cables owned by private companies

1913 1912
no. km no. km
Eastern Telegraph Company, London 106 84,287 104 79,678
Eastern Extens Austral. a. China T.C., London 36 47,099 35 44,489
Western Tel. C., London 30 44,217 30 44,217
Commercial Cable Comp., Paris 15 30,783 15 30,756
Anglo-American T.C., London 15 24,111 15 24,111
C. Francaise D. C. T., Paris 24 21,203 24 21,203
Central a. S. American T. C., New York 24 20,644 21 20,471
E. a. S. African T. C., London 17 19,460 17 19,460
Commercial Pacific C. C., New York 6 18,570 6 18,570
Deutsch-Atlantische Telegraphengesellschaft, Köln 5 17,730 5 17,728
Grande Compagnie des telegraphes du Nord, Kopenhagen 29 17,309 27 16,509
Western Union Telegraph Comp., New York 9 13,606 12 13,648
Deutsch-Südamerikanische Telegraphengesellschaft, Köln 5 13,640 3 10,715


radio-telegraphic stations in public service.

at the end of March 1914

Germany 17
Belgium 1
Bulgaria 1
Denmark 1
France 12
Great Britain and Ireland 14
Italy 14
Malta 1
Montenegro 1
Netherlands 1
Norway 8
Austria-Hungary 3
Portugal 2
Russia 16
Sweden 5
Spain 9
1) Europe total 109
Argentina 12
Bahama Islands 1
Brasil 18
British Guyana 1
British Honduras 1
Canada 50
Chile 1
Colombia 1
Costa Rica 3
Cuba 8
Curaçao 1
Honduras 2
Jamaika 1
Mexiko 8
Nikaragua 1
Panama 4
Peru 6
Portorico 3
Tobago 1
Trinidad 1
Uruguay 13
USA 183
2) Amerika total 308
Egypt 2
Algier 1
Acores 5
Belgian Congo 14
British Somaliland 2
Canarian Islands 2
Comores 1
Deutsch-Ostafrika 3
Deutsch-Südwestafrika 2
Eritrea 1
French Equatorial Africa 1
French West Africa 4
British Gold Coast 1
Italian Somaliland 10
Kamerun 1
Liberia 2
Madagascar 2
Morocco 3
Nigeria 1
Portuguese West Africa 1
Sierra Leone 1
Spanish Guinea 1
Union of South Africa 3
Tunis 1
Zanzibar 2
3) Afrika total 67
British India 8
Ceylon 1
China 9
French Indochina 3
Japan 8
Kiautschou 1
Dutch East Indies 5
Persia 2
Philippines 8
Siam 2
4) Asia total 47
Australian Federation 19
Cocos Islands 1
Fiji Islands 3
Hawaii 8
Karolinen 1
Marianen 2
Marshall Islands 1
New Zealand 3
Palau Islands 1
5) Australia total 39
world total 567
of these
German property 31
British property 117


Britain's most important naval stations

on the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas
Gibraltar (since 1704)
Malta (since 1800)
Cyprus (since 1878)
Port Said (since 1882)
St. Helena (since 1650)
Falkland Islands (since 1839)
Guayana (since 1796)
Jamaica (since 1659)
Bermuda Islands (since 1609)
Newfoundland (since 1623)
on the Indian Ocean and its adjacent seas
Cape Town (since 1800)
Zanzibar (since 1890)
Aden (since 1839)
Suez (since 1882)
Bombay (since 1769)
Colombo (since 1796)
Calautta (since 1696)
Singapore (since 1824)
on the Pacific Ocean
Hongkong (since 1842)
New Guinea (since 1886)
Queensland (since 1859)
Neu-Zeeland (since 1833)
Tonga Islands (since 1904)
Vancouver (since 1848)


(1) The statistical data in part, the information on the countries pp.12ff are taken from the Illustriertes Jahrbuch (illustrated Yearbook) of the Kleiner Kolonialatlas (Small colonial atlas) 1914 edition, edited by Hubert Henoch; the most recent data were considered.

Source: Deutscher Kolonial-Atlas mit Jahrbuch, (Atlas German Colonies, with Yearbook), edited by P. Sprigade und M. Moisel, Surveys and retrospects by Dr. Karstedt. Berlin 1918, pp.4ff

GM (digitalisation) and AG (translation) 
posted on the web for psm-data; many thanks to

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin / Preußischer Kulturbesitz 

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz


Dokument in deutscher Sprache


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