Red Decolonizations: Communists and the Struggles for National Liberation

AHA Session 162
National History Center of the American Historical Association 7
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Mercury Ballroom (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Matthew Connelly, Columbia University
Jason C. Parker, Texas A&M University

Session Abstract

Communist parties around the world continue to boast about their roles in decolonization. While there is credence to their claims, this panel will show the ambivalence that often accompanies their claims about national liberation. These parties were indeed often invested in supporting popular anti-colonial agitations, but their rhetorical and practical responses were constrained by various, at times conflicting, loyalties on the local and global levels. Even as they attempted to forge an internationalist discourse of liberation, and place their claims within it, they faced limitations set by their particular situations. Decades later, their roles in anti-colonialist movements have become the subject to renewed interest, including popular, that mythicizes or vilifies them in postcolonial histories.

By examining case studies from a large geographic and temporal scope, this panel highlights how communists combined flexibilities and rigidities, ideologies and practicalities, militancy and compromise. Together, these papers lead us away from grand sweeping declarations to productive discussions of how particular decolonizations were claimed, shaped, and narrated by individuals working within their local and global contexts. Leena Dallasheh (Humboldt State University) focuses on the changing roles of Palestinian communists at the end of the British Mandate in Palestine. After the UN passed the Partition Plan, these communists had to reconsider their previous rejection to partition and redefine decolonization. Dallasheh explores the pressures and dilemmas communists faced in this period, particularly with the creation of the State of Israel. Placing them in their local, national, and international context, she highlights the tensions in their position in shaping the meanings and possibilities of Palestinian decolonization. Jennifer L. Foray (Purdue University) revisits the Dutch Communist Party’s (CPH, then CPN) position on Indonesian independence. While this party led anti-colonialist agitation for decades, and was the only party to oppose the Dutch government’s large-scale military actions against the Republic of Indonesia in mid-1947, they also faced and responded to challenges at home and overseas. By tracing their attempts to negotiate these, Foray challenges the heroic narrative to present the nuances and evolution in their policy and practices in the context of both the domestic situation and the developing conflict in Indonesia. Elisabeth Leake (University of Leeds) examines the anti-colonialist rhetoric of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). While Afghanistan was never, strictly speaking, a colony, the party employed decolonization discourse as a legitimizing tool. This, however, was undermined by their ties with the Soviet Union, as Cold War policies led them to increasingly use ‘decolonization’ as a rallying call against US imperialism. By analyzing this rhetoric, she highlights the changing meaning of ‘decolonization’ and its utilization by actors as a means to political ends.

Jason Parker (Texas A&M) will offer comments. Matthew Connelly (Columbia University) will chair.

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