Indian Anti-imperialism in World History: A Two Centuries Overview

AHA Session 107
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 2
Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Room 502 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Dwaipayan Sen, Amherst College

Session Abstract

From Adam Smith’s critique of the new, arch-mercantilist imperialism of the East India Company in Bengal, to Karl Marx’s writings on the Company’s 1853 charter renewal and the 1857 Indian Revolt, to, finally, the debate at the second meeting of the Comintern between M. N. Roy and V. I. Lenin, against the background of the first of Gandhi’s satyagraha campaigns in India, of the National and Colonial Theses, the Indian Question and, indeed, Indian anti-imperialist resistance movements have figured centrally in the internationalist imagination.  This panel takes up the history of liberal and socialist anti-imperialism on the “Indian Question” or the “Colonial Question” over the entire course of modern Indian history. It does so in three distinct moments—anti-East India Company liberalism (1757-1857), late liberal and socialist anti-imperialism (1858-1918), and Marxist and nationalist anti-imperialism (1919-1950). In a series of interlocking papers, the question of India's potential role in global revolutionary transformation will be played through readings of Denis Diderot, Adam Smith, and Karl Marx (Spencer Leonard); the debates on imperialism and colonialism among European socialists and Indian radicals in the late 19th century through to World War I (Sunit Singh); and, finally, through the debates within Indian Communist Party and other dissident strains of Indian radicalism in the period between the Great War and Indian Independence (Ninad Pandit).   Atiya Khan’s paper will provide a coda to the panel by speaking of the crisis of the Left—its complicity with the Pakistan demand, its failure to constitute itself as a genuine political alternative on a national scale in India and Pakistan, and its eventual demise in the 1970s.

By examining the vicissitudes of Indian struggles as conceived within international liberal, socialist, and Marxist revolutionary theory and strategy, this panel seeks to ask the following questions in the spirit of the 2017 AHA Annual Conference theme, “Historical Scale: Linking Levels of Experience”: In what broad and overarching sense was the international significance of their country’s struggles a crucial condition in the emergence and shaping of a modern Indian intelligentsia and, indeed, of those struggles themselves, however local and disjointed? How can the Indian and Colonial questions that since decolonization have been hived off into national histories and area studies frameworks be reintegrated into histories of democratic struggle on a world scale? How, finally, by the end of our period, did the opposition to imperialism become synonymous with, or collapse into, nationalism, and how does the collapse of the left (and the manner of its collapse) ramify into the present? That is, how does the historical experience of the Indian left illuminate the curious simultaneity of neoliberal globalization with the collapse of the old internationalism?

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