League of Empires: Interwar Internationalism, European Colonialism, and the Problem of “Native Labor”

Monday, January 5, 2015: 8:30 AM
Concourse H (New York Hilton)
Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo, University of Lisbon
The emergence of the League of Nations marked an important historical moment in the internationalization of imperial and colonial affairs Among other important aspects, the League entailed the broadening of the scope of the international obligation to suppress slavery and all its forms, providing a global platform for the circulation of comparable information about colonial realities and creating the basic conditions for the establishment of standards of imperial civilization, via the formulation of norms and legal frameworks (e.g. about slavery, forced labor, racial discrimination, “native welfare”). At the same time, through its Slavery Commission, it also promoted the definition of common instruments of analysis and comparison of imperial and colonial politics and policies (e.g. questionnaires). All these processes were sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO), namely by its Committee of Experts on Native Labor. The international scrutiny and tentative supervision of the imperial and colonial modi operandi, which potentially involved the restriction of imperial sovereignty, were gradually institutionalized.

By exploring the historical co-constitution of distinct internationalisms and imperialisms, this paper explores the intersection of political power and shared norms. The debates within the League and ILO and the role played by humanitarian transnational pressure groups are analyzed, as are the ways in which European colonial empires dealt with these new frameworks, resisting their potential constrains via strategies of interimperial cooperation, but also seizing their actual political and economic opportunities, aiming to enhance their international legitimacy as Empire-states and to consolidate their colonial rule.

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