American Anticolonialisms in Global Perspective

AHA Session 137
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 311 (Hynes Convention Center)
Erez Manela, Harvard University
Jason C. Parker, Texas A&M University

Session Abstract

The dismantling of formal Europeanism was perhaps the twentieth century’s greatest political legacy. The Americas, having largely released themselves from official colonial control long before 1900, had an ambivalent role to play in the ending of empires that took place before and after World War II. Officially, the United States often spoke in an anticolonial idiom, but its actions indicated other priorities. At the same time, activist and intellectual networks were linked to the world of anticolonial politics in multiple and sometimes unexpected ways that gave rise to renewed bonds of solidarity and mutual aid amid the growing transnational opposition to empire. This panel brings together three papers that shed new light on these dynamics, dynamics that helped define the twentieth century while shaping the political contours of the present.

During the interwar years, Moscow, as Ani Mukherji’s paper shows, was a hub of anticolonialist activity that attracted a myriad of artists, activists, and students from across the colonial world, a surprising number having been recruited in the United States. This paper will focus on three of the major intellectuals who organized and theorized this work: Manabendranath Roy, Katayama Sen, and George Padmore, each of whom traveled to Moscow after experiencing radical transformations in the United States. Through such an examination, we are able to more clearly discern interwar tensions between the US and USSR, while more fully coming to terms with how themes of race and territoriality, as well as processes of migration and decolonization, were central to the unfolding of the geopolitical Cold War confrontation.Shifting to decolonization and nation-building in the Anglophone Caribbean and moving from interwar period to Bandung era, Eric Duke interrogates tensions between articulations of pan-colonial cooperation and the exigencies of racial or ethnic nationalisms. More specifically, this paper looks at demands for a federation of colonies in the British Caribbean region from the 1930s through 1950s – particularly within Black Diaspora politics stretching back to the late nineteenth century – in order to argue that the idea of federation came to embody transracial appeal simultaneous to its being an inherently racialized project. Thus, federation’s alignment with African and African freedom struggles belied the assumption that common anticolonial purpose flattened existing hierarchies of loyalty within the struggles of so-called “coloured” people across the globe. Turning to the Cold War period itself, John Munro’s paper looks at three milestone events. The Asian-African Conference that met in Bandung in 1955, the First World Congress of Black Writers and Artists held in Paris during 1956, and Ghana’s 1957 independence each exemplified the salience of transnational movements against imperialism in the 1950s. This paper will argue that they also demonstrated that the Cold War would be about the struggle between the forces of empire and those of decolonization as much as it was about the confrontation between the superpowers, while the movements they represented rearranged the world map by unsettling the relationship between center and periphery that had been foundational to Western dominance. 

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