On 9 November 2019 Berlin is once more the central location for celebrations commemorating the fall of the Wall, the physical divide between East and West Germany and unique symbol of the Cold War. In 2019 the Wall will have been gone for more years than it actually stood.
Developed from August 1961 to stem the growing exodus of a skilled work-force, the Wall allowed the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to become the success story of the Warsaw Pact. However, time and again people risked everything to escape to the West. Even if they were successful they left their former lives behind and knew that any remaining family would be punished by the state: costing them, for example, that much longed-for place to study at University or a trip abroad. There were more sinister options too. In Berlin, so-called frontier-city of the Cold War, the Wall encircled the Western part of the city, measuring between 3.4 and 4.2 metres in height. There is a memorable scene in Steven Spielberg’s film Bridge of Spies (2015), when one of the protagonists watches lone figures from the inner-city railway desperately climbing the Wall. The scene is fiction – just like the scene in the Alfred Hitchcock film Torn Curtain (1966) that makes us believe that GDR citizens hijacked buses with passengers on board to escape. The Wall never needed this kind of embellishment: it was sufficiently surreal, monstrous and overwhelming as it was, including the death-strip in between both Walls – one facing West, one East. Continue reading “Marking thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall”→
Reviewed by Amina Marzouk Chouchene (PhD candidate, Manouba University)
The British Empire has been firmly tied to myth, adventure, and victory. For many Britons, “the empire was the mythic landscape of romance and adventure. It was that quarter of the globe that was colored and included darkest Africa and the mysterious East.”Cultural artifacts such as music, films, cigarette cards, and fiction have long constructed and reflected this rosy vision of the empire as a place of adventure and excitement. Against this widely held view of the empire, Jeffrey Auerbach identifies an overwhelming emotion that filled the psyche of many Britons as they moved to new lands: imperial boredom. Auerbach defines boredom as “an emotional state that individuals experience when they find themselves without anything particular to do and are uninterested in their surroundings.”
Auerbach identifies the feeling as a “modern construct” closely associated with the mid-eighteenth century. This does not mean that people were never bored before this, but that they “did not know it or express it.” Rather, it was with the spread of industrial capitalism and the Enlightenment emphasis on individual rights and happiness that the concept came to the fore.
In a well-researched and enjoyable book, the author argues “that despite the many and famous tales of glory and adventure, a significant and overlooked feature of the nineteenth century British imperial experience was boredom and disappointment.” In other words, instead of focusing on the exploits of imperial luminaries such as Walter Raleigh, James Cook, Robert Clive, David Livingstone, Cecil Rhodes and others, Auerbach pays particular attention to the moments when many travelers, colonial officers, governors, soldiers, and settlers were gripped by an intense sense of boredom in India, Australia, and southern Africa. Continue reading “Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire”→
On a Sunday afternoon in June 1938, the International African Service Bureau (IASB) held one of its numerous rallies at Trafalgar Square in central London. As one of the prime anti-colonial organisations of that time based in London and comprised of activists from West- and East Africa as well as from the West Indies,the gathering was closely monitored by the Metropolitan Police. The sergeant on duty reported that the demonstration was “attended by an audience fluctuating between 100 and 250 persons, of whom approximately 15% were Jews”. Speakers at the protest included, among others, Jomo Kenyatta (later first president of Kenya), the Trinidadian intellectual C.L.R. James, the Jamaican dockworker Chris Jones, and the Pan-Africanist activist and journalist George Padmore. Furthermore, the informant took notice of placards containing slogans such as “Fascism in the British Empire”, “Abolish fascist methods in the Colonies”, and “Imperialism is incompatible with peace”. The speakers repeatedly denounced the evil practices of British Imperialism and Colonialism in its territories and warned against any form of acquiescence with the Empire regarding the surging threat of fascism posed by Italy and Nazi-Germany. What’s more, they explicitly drew parallels between the practice of British and French colonialism and the policies and actions of their fascist rivals. In short, for the IASB combatting fascism could not be done without simultaneously overcoming imperialism from within.
This event was by no means a forum for black activists alone. There were also numerous white British speakers from the left who contributed to the demonstration. Francis Ridley is a case in point. Ridley was a leading figure in the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which was arguably the most consistent of British leftist parties when it came to the question of
how to act in solidarity with anti-colonial and anti-imperial activists in the metropolis. Next to Fenner Brockway, the long time ILP chairman, editor of the party weekly and later Labour MP and the Quaker and Socialist activist and author Reginald Reynolds, Ridley can retrospectively be regarded as a defining figure of British anti-imperialist activism from the 1930s to the 1950s. Tellingly, he was described by the police informant at the scene as a “white man”, in order to highlight the supposedly extraordinary nature of his participation in the rally. In his speech, Ridley demanded that the “democratic conditions under which the people of England lived should be extended to the black workers of the Empire. Much talk was made today of the hardships suffered by the minorities in fascist countries, but these minorities were being treated very well in comparison to the negroes in the British Empire.” Ridley thus attempted to bring the suffering of colonized peoples in the “periphery” into the “metropolis” by connecting it to the condition of subaltern peoples of Europe. The example presented here thus hints at emerging and previously underrated cross-sectional solidarities among the numerous ethnic and social groups of London. Continue reading “Rethinking Anti-Colonial Activism Through London’s Surveillance Material”→