Alternative Temporal and Geographical Trajectories for the Cold War

AHA Session 37
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 3
Friday, January 2, 2015: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Liberty Suite 5 (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Erez Manela, Harvard University
Erez Manela, Harvard University

Session Abstract

Until recently, most historical work on the Cold War focused on the period between 1945 and 1989. The effect of this attention on the postwar era has been dual: on the one hand, it identifies the United States and the Soviet Union as the two main Cold War antagonists, and on the other it marginalizes the importance of the interwar period in shaping the contours of the conflict. But as a small but growing number of scholars are beginning to demonstrate, the struggle between communism and anti-communism was critical to international politics beginning in the interwar period, long before the classically understood Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Each of the papers in this panel seeks to push back our understanding of the origins of the Cold War to the 1920s. Moreover, each paper explores a region not commonly associated with the struggle between communism and anti-communism in the interwar period. Thus, Heather Streets-Salter argues that by 1925 colonial authorities in the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, and British Malaya perceived communism as one of the greatest threats to colonial stability in the region, particularly because the communist parties in the region were believed to be receiving orders directly from Moscow. Michele Louro’s paper uses the travels of an American communist (J.W. Johnstone) between the U.S., Berlin, Moscow, and finally India in 1928 to demonstrate the transnational networks that characterized communism in this period. In addition, Johnstone’s treatment—arrest, imprisonment, and deportation—demonstrate the deep anxieties of British and American authorities over precisely those networks. Carolien Stolte shifts our attention to Soviet Central Asia, where a variety of Indian revolutionaries sought inspiration and support for their anti-imperial programs. Although not all of these revolutionaries identified themselves as communists, she argues that strong British fears about the spread of communism in India caused authorities to classify all such revolutionaries in that light. The panel is rounded out with a comment by Erez Manela, a noted scholar on the international political climate in the period immediately following World War I. Taken together, the papers in this panel demonstrate not only the global reach of the struggle between communism and anti-communism in this period, but also that the virulence of the Cold War antagonisms in the post World War II era had roots in a much earlier era.

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