India and the Anti-imperialist World, 1927–39

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:50 PM
Marshfield Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Michele Louro, Salem State University
In 1927, more than 170 delegates from across the world joined together in Brussels for the inaugural meeting of the League against Imperialism (LAI). The meeting marked a powerful and inclusive moment of anti-imperialist activism that connected experiences of colonialism in India to similar stories “told in a dozen different languages” about British aggression in China, Dutch imperialism in Indonesia, and American interventionism in Mexico. Solidarity was not only intercolonial, and the Brussels Congress, as it came to be known, worked across ideological and political party boundaries as well. Leaders of working class movements – communists, socialists and trade unionists – and the “subject peoples” in the colonies were “brothers” in the struggle against imperialism. The effusiveness for solidarity in Brussels inspired the delegates to establish the League against Imperialism, an institution whose goal was to coordinate a sustained and widespread campaign against imperialist powers and capitalist classes of the interwar world.

As the key node in the British imperium, India and Indians were preeminent in the internationalist moment of the late colonial and interwar years and especially in the making of the LAI. This paper situates Indian activists, intellectuals, and anticolonial nationalists in the global history of interwar anti-imperialist internationalism. It explores not only the better-known stories of Jawaharlal Nehru’s engagement with the LAI, but also a diverse constellation of Indian activists inspired by the LAI’s internationalist message and global appeal. In tracing the relationship between India and the LAI, the paper argues that Indian politics were never confined to the nation in the 1920s and 1930s, but rather Indian anti-colonialism was interconnected to a broader vision of anti-imperialist internationalism rooted in the interwar years.