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”→
Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther, which recently became the first superhero drama to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, takes place in the secret African Kingdom of Wakanda. The Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, rules over this imaginary empire – a refuge from the colonialists and capitalists who have historically impoverished the real continent of Africa.
But fans of the box-office hit might not realize that they don’t need to look to the make-believe world of the Black Panther to find a modern-day black kingdom that aspired to be a safe haven from racism and inequality.
The fictional kingdom has a real-life corollary in the historic Kingdom of Hayti, which existed as a sort of Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere from 1811 to 1820.
The Haitian Revolution led to the creation of the first free black state in the Americas. But the world was hardly expecting a former enslaved man named Henry Christophe to make himself the king of it.
Kenya’s Mau Mau Uprising (1952-1964) was plagued with violence. The rebellion was the result of discontent with British colonial rule. When the British had arrived in Kenya, they stole land from the native population; among them, the Kikuyu people suffered most from this. As living conditions grew harder for the Kikuyu under British occupation, they began an aggressive campaign to fight back against British colonial forces. To quell the rising violence and anti-colonial sentiment, the British created a system of detention camps to incarcerate thousands of the Kikuyu population. In these camps, prisoners were tortured, abused, and, in some cases, murdered.
Historically, black men and women in the United States frequently linked national and geopolitical concerns. Recognizing that the condition of black people in the United States was “but a local phase of a world problem,” black activists articulated global visions of freedom and employed a range of strategies intent on shaping foreign policies and influencing world events.
During the early twentieth century, John Q. Adams, an African American journalist, called on people of African descent to link their experiences and concerns with those of people of color in other parts of the globe. Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1848, Adams moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1886, where he became associate editor, and subsequent owner, of the Appeal newspaper. The paper’s debut coincided with key historical developments of the period including the hardening of U.S. Jim Crow segregation laws, the rising tide of anti-immigration sentiment, and the rapid growth of American imperial expansion overseas.
Fredrik Petersson Åbo Akademi University Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU), Moscow
In 1927, the “First International Congress against Imperialism and Colonialism” convened in Brussels at Palais d’Egmont. The event celebrated the establishment of the League against Imperialism, and as the congress reached its crescendo, Willi Münzenberg, the German communist and General Secretary of International Arbeiterhilfe (IAH), declared that this was “neither the end, nor the beginning of a new powerful movement”. Nearly 28 years later, amid the aftermath of the brutality of the Second World War, Münzenberg’s anti-colonial vision was revitalized at the Afro-Asian conference in Bandung, Indonesia.
In the 1955 Bandung Conference’s opening address, Achmed Sukarno, the Indonesian president, declared to the leaders of the twenty-nine countries in attendance: “I recognise that we are gathered here today as a result of sacrifices. . . . I recall in this connection the Conference of the ‘League against Imperialism and Colonialism’ which was held in Brussels almost thirty years ago.” Separated by many decades and vast distance, these two events illustrate why a global history of transnational anti-colonial movements in the 20th century cannot be fixed around a particular moment in time and space – rather, it is a history enacted in radical spaces in a changing world. Continue reading “Prelude to Bandung: The Interwar Origins of Anti-Colonialism”→
Mathilde von Bülow Lecturer in International and Imperial history, University of Nottingham
Today, Germany’s Mannschaft will face Algeria’s Fennecs at Porto Alegre, after both teams made it through the group stage of the FIFA World Cup. Though it has yet to be played, the match is already being hailed as an historic, even epic, event. Why? Because it represents the first time the Algerian squad has progressed to the final sixteen at a World Cup. Its larger symbolism, however, is rooted in a longstanding Algerian resistance to French colonialism, which underpinned the secret history of Algerian-German football relations. Continue reading “The Secret History Behind Today’s Algeria-Germany #WorldCup Match”→