Monday, August 25, 2014

(1919-1941) Imperialism and Nationalism - World History

Though the First World War destroyed the German and Ottoman empires, the British and French empires reached their greatest territorial extent after 1919. Nevertheless, the war had eroded the foundations of imperialism in Asia and the Middle East while by the 1930s the stability of Europe’s empires was being shaken by the Depression.

THE IMPERIAL CONTRIBUTION to the Allied cause during the First World War led Lloyed George to reflect that “the British empire was not an abstraction but a living force to be reckoned with”. Britain, like France, then consolidated the strategic underpinning of its empire by the acquisition of new Middle East territories and expansion in Africa. This was possible because the new League of Nations distributed former Ottoman and German dependencies in the form of “mandates” among the victorious powers. Britain gained trusteeships for Palestine, Iraq and Transjordan, as well as former German colonies in Tanganyika and, with France, Togoland and German Cameroon. France also gained Syria and Lebanon. Germany’s Pacific islands and New Guinea went to New Zealand and Australia respectively and German South West Africa went to South Africa.

Ironically, by 1919 the British faced significant challenges. National identities had been consolidated in the white self-governing colonies, and after the war these countries, termed “dominions” since 1907, pressed for a definition of their status as independent countries within the British Commonwealth. At the same time, there was growing criticism of colonialism from the United States and the Soviet Union, while, despite the real economic rewards they brought with them, the empires were increasingly expensive to maintain.

Nationalist opposition 

Above all the European empires faced growing opposition from within their territories, led by educated elites who sought a role in local administration or even national autonomy. The war lubricated the existing nationalist movements in India and Egypt, and intensified opposition in Ireland. Between 1920-2 and again in the early 1930s Mahatma Gandhi led the first nationalist Congress All-India campaigns for self rule. Confronted by mass opposition, in 1919 and 1935 Britain greatly extended Indian participation in government. Egypt, although Britain retained great influence and military rights, was given independence in 1922, while, after violently suppressing guerilla warfare, Britain conceded “dominion status” in 1921 to a new state created in southern Ireland. Meanwhile post-war uprisings in the newly acquired territories of the Middle East presaged problems to come. In Palestine, where Britain had committed itself to supporting the creation of a Jewish homeland, Jewish immigration after Hitler came to power in Germany led to a wide-spread Arab uprising after 1936. Iraq meanwhile had secured independence by 1932.

In other European colonies the 1920s were less troubled. In tropical Africa, a “thin white line” of officials administered the colonies acquired in the late 19th century, and African chiefs were incorporated into colonial structures of local governance. Large settler communities developed in east and central Africa, especially in Kenya and southern Rhodesia.

Imperialism in the 1930s 

The 1930s saw a last burst of imperialism as Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and Italy conquered Abyssinia in 1935-6. The league of Nations, however ineffective in practice at dealing with such aggression, had nonetheless, through its mandate system, introduced the idea of international accountability in colonies affairs. Together with the British idea of progress towards “dominion status”, it gave rise to a new conception of colonial rule as something temporary and limited. Other colonial powers also faced mounting opposition. In north Africa, Italy experienced continuous resistance while nationalist movements mushroomed in the French territories of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. In the Dutch East Indies, a phase of revolutionary movements, beginning with the communist revolt of 1926, was seen off with only limited changes in provincial government, but in Indo-China the preservation of firm French controlled to unrest in the 1930s and the creation of a nationalist guerilla organization, the Viet Minh, by Ho Chi Minh in 1941.

Differing political and social conditions meant that there were fewer challenges in sub-Saharan Africa; nonetheless, discontent with colonial rule took a variety of forms, and the Depression in particular, hitting colonial economies vulnerable to changes in world trade, saw widespread unrest. Cocoa farmers in the Gold Coast were stirred to protest. In the West Indies, meanwhile, unemployment and falling export prices led to a series of strikes and riots between 1935 and 1938.

By 1939 the development of nationalism in Asia and north Africa and the rise of new more radical nationalist leaders – Sukarno in Indonesia, Nehru in India, Bourguiba in Tunisia – was placing strains on the European colonial empires. It was the Second World War, however, which was to deliver the fatal blow to European colonialism.

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