Anti-imperialist Loyalties in the Interwar and the Cold War Years, Part 1: The Interwar Years

AHA Session 24
World History Association 1
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Marshfield Room (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Jeffrey James Byrne, University of British Columbia

Session Abstract

This session examines the preeminent role of the League against Imperialism (LAI) in forging loyalties among anti-imperialists of the interwar world. The papers, drawing upon different regional and linguistic expertise, examine the context, actors and influence of the LAI. By addressing the fluidity and diversity of political affiliations that the LAI brought under its umbrella, the papers in this session remap the international solidarities and loyalties that were drawn during the interwar period across national boundaries and across the world; they also emphasize the significance of these solidarities in shaping local politics and identities in places such as South Asia and the Arab world.

Paper 1 situates the LAI with world histories of the interwar world, particularly in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Versailles Treaty. It argues that in spite of the sometimes quite different ideological and political commitments of its members, they were nevertheless united in their belief that imperialism was a systemic, global problem that needed to be eradicated everywhere and in all of its forms. While we know in hindsight that the LAI was a relatively short-lived organization, this paper also argues that all of the European colonial powers found it deeply threatening, and that they devoted an inordinate amount of time, resources, and paper both to hindering its growth and to sharing information about it with one another.

Paper 2 considers the significance of the LAI to Indian activists, intellectuals, and anticolonial nationalists. 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 moment.

Paper 3 inserts Arab leftists into that ‘internationalist moment’, examining their links with the movements of the interwar world, particularly their connections to the LAI. It contextualizes the attraction that Arab leftists had towards the Soviet Union within the framework of interwar anti-imperialism, arguing that anti-imperialism became the discourse through which Arab leftists mobilized for social justice, democratic and non-sectarian political systems, and rights for workers and women.