“The Entire World Will Federate or Die”: The Postwar Federal Moment and the Global South’s Path to Political Modernity

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:40 AM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jason C. Parker, Texas A&M University
When Trinidadian Chief Minister spoke the above words, the infant West Indies Federation of which his island was a part faced an existential crisis which, in the end, it did not survive.  As with its counterparts scattered around the decolonizing and postcolonial globe, the West Indies Federation proved unable to overcome the centrifugal forces within it. In what we might call the “federal moment” in postwar international history, federated nation-states were created as vehicles to political independence.  The model diffused power among levels of government and geographical regions to create an internal balancing of interests.  The 1930s brought the idea into vogue, as it then seemed a salvation for economic relations as capitalism faltered, and for political relations as empires began tottering.  Moreover, the model rhymed with the romantic, pan-racial hymns of nationhood as thinkers from Woodrow Wilson to Mohandas Gandhi to Kwame Nkrumah rethought the relationship between “race” and nation.  Finally, federation enabled the new polities to collate interests, priorities, and resources, and thus would facilitate economic development.This promise, alas, was short-lived; as harsh reality set in, most Federations saw centrifugal frictions become irresistible.  No single template explained the disintegrating unions from the Caribbean to Africa to Southeast Asia.  The careers of some were bitterly short, others somewhat longer; some peaceful, others bloody.  Yet the one thing they had in common was that in all cases, insularity trumped solidarity.  This paper will examine two such experimental unions – the West Indies Federation and Malaya/Malaysia – in the worldwide context of this “federal moment” between 1947 and 1965.  It assesses the problems that communalism, nationalism, geography, and deprivation posed to federation projects in the Global South, with attention to their essential processes of border- and constitution-drawing, sovereignty- and identity-defining, and resource- and responsibility-sharing among the newborn states.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation