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‘The Dark Millions in the Colonies are Unavenged’: Anti-Fascism and Anti-Imperialism in the 1930s

  • TOM BUCHANAN (a1)
Abstract

The quotation in this title expresses a dilemma, as the ‘dark millions’ were likely to remain ‘unavenged’ so long as authors were asked to take sides on the Spanish Civil War rather than colonial oppression. Indeed, anti-fascism might well be thought of as, in a sense, antithetical to anti-imperialism. This article explores the relationship between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism, focusing on Britain and France. The first part looks at anti-imperialism in the era of the Popular Front; the second looks at how the tensions between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism were played out in the case of the major conflicts of the later 1930s in Abyssinia, Spain and China; the third discusses the imperialist assumptions of many anti-fascists. The article concludes by looking at the early phase of the Second World War.

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1 From ‘The Question’, Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War (Left Review, 1937).

2 Labour Party Annual Conference Report (2–6 Oct. 1933), 228–9.

3 Pennybacker, Susan D., From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 266 .

4 Buchanan, Tom, East Wind: China and the British Left, 1925–76 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 3043 ; Petersson, Fredrik, ‘Hub of the Anti-Imperialist Movement; The League Against Imperialism and Berlin, 1927–1933’, Interventions: Journal of Post-Colonial Studies, 16, 1 (2014), 4971 , here 55.

5 Saville, John, ‘The League against Imperialism’, Dictionary of Labour Biography, vii (1984), 4050 , 48; Howe, Stephen, Anti-Colonialism and British Politics, 1918–64, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 65 , esp. note 107.

6 For a good account of the early phase of the LAI see Petersson, ‘Hub of the anti-imperialist movement’. See also Kuck, Nathanael, ‘Anti-Colonialism in a Post-Colonial Environment – the Case of Berlin, 1914–33’, Journal of Contemporary History, 49, 1 (2014), 134–59.

7 Derrick, Jonathan, Africa's ‘Agitators’: Militant Anti-Colonialism in Africa and the West, 1918–1939, (London: Hurst, 2008), 216–26.

8 Makonnen, Ras, Pan-Africanism from Within, (Nairobi and London: Oxford University Press, 1973), esp. 159. Makonnen was born as George Griffiths in Guyana, but claimed Tigrean ancestry and changed his name following the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.

9 Ezra, Elizabeth, The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 2630 .

10 At its 1937 congress the CPGB Central Committee admitted that ‘insufficient’ work had been done to assist anti-imperialist movements in the Colonies: Report of the Central Committee to the 14th National Congress, (CPGB, 1937), 13. In September 1938, at the height of the Munich crisis, the primary reference to anti-colonialism came in fraternal greetings from Nehru and a greeting to the West Indian workers: For Peace and Plenty! Report of the 15th Congress of the CPGB (1938), 19–20 and 175–6. See also Redfern, Neil, Class or Nation: Communism, Imperialism and Two World Wars (London: I B Tauris, 2012 edn), 93–5. For the Menon quotation see Report of Menon's telephone conversation with Ben Bradley, 12 May 1938, The National Archives, Kew (TNA) KV2/2509.

11 Letter, 11 May 1937, UDBN/25/2, Bridgeman papers, Hull History Centre; Saville, ‘The League against Imperialism’.

12 Attlee, Clement, The Labour Party in Perspective, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1937), 229 .

13 Barnes, Leonard, Empire or Democracy? A Study of the Colonial Question, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1939).

14 Buchanan, East Wind, 58–9.

15 Cohen, William B., ‘The Colonial Policy of the Popular Front’, French Historical Studies, 7, 3 (Spring 1972), 368–93. For a more recent and more sympathetic account see Chafer, Tony and Sackur, Amanda, eds., French Colonial Empire and the Popular Front: Hope and Disillusion, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999). See also Thomas, Martin, The French Empire between the Wars (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 271339 .

16 Chafer and Sackur, French Colonial Empire, 17, citing Maurice Moutet's phrase ‘colonisation altruiste’.

17 Rodinson, Maxime, Marxism and the Muslim World (London: Zed Press, 1979), 98 .

18 Ibid. 97–8.

19 Cohen, ‘Colonial Policy’, 380.

20 Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim World, 98.

21 Hansard, Parl. Debs., 28 Feb. 1938, cols. 850–1. Bevan noted apropos the volunteers that: ‘I have heard them called different things in different parts of the world’.

22 Steer to Philip Noel-Baker, 24 Jan. 193[8], NBKR 9/64, Noel-Baker papers, Churchill College Cambridge.

23 Hansard, Parl. Debs., 14 June 1938, col. 170.

24 Kelemen, Paul, The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), 34 .

25 Ben Bradley to Len Bradley, 3 April 1931, CP/IND/BRAD/01/03, Labour History Archive and Study Centre (LHASC), Manchester; Owen, Nicholas, The British Left and India: Metropolitan Anti-Imperialism, 1885–1947, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), esp. ch. 8.

26 Full Text of the Resolutions Adopted at the Seventh Congress, (1935), 16 (emphasis in original).

27 Sarathi Gupta, Partha, Imperialism and the British Labour Movement, 1914–1964, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1975), 258–9.

28 Nehru, J., China, Spain and the War (Allahbad: Kitabistan, 1940).

29 The Keys, 6, 1 (July–Sept. 1938).

30 Nehru, Jawaharlal, The Unity of India: Collected Writings, 1937–1940 (London: Lindsay Drummond, 1941), 313 .

31 Brecker, Michael, Nehru: a Political Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), 259 .

32 Dimitroff, Georgi, The United Front, (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1938), 77 .

33 Pollitt, Harry, Unity Against the National Government (London: CPGB, 1935), 9 .

34 For historical pageantry see Wallis, Mick, ‘Heirs to the Pageant: Mass Spectacle and the Popular Front’ in Croft, Andy, ed., A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party of Great Britain (London: Pluto Press, 1998), 4867 .

35 New Leader, 3 Mar. 1939.

36 Britton, Sarah, ‘“Come and See the Empire by the All Red Route!” Anti-Imperialism and Exhibitions in Interwar Britain’, History Workshop Journal, 69, 1 (2010) 6887 , esp. 78–85.

37 New Leader, 27 Jan. 1939. Guérin was a leader of the Parti Socialiste Ouvrier et Paysan, a left-wing breakaway from the French Socialist party.

38 Quoted in Hooker, James R., Black Revolutionary: George Padmore's Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism (London: Pall Mall Press, 1967), 31 . For a different account see Brockway, Fenner. Workers’ Front, (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938), 162–3.

39 Padmore, George, Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa, (London: Denis Dobson, 1956),148 .

40 See in particular Pennybacker, Scottsboro to Munich, ch. 1 and 4.

41 Report of Albert Hall Rally, 7 Feb. 1937, Left Book News, Mar. 1937, 289–90.

42 Garratt to E. J. Thompson, 20 Apr. 1937, E. J. Thompson papers, Mss Eng.c.5289, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

43 Carritt, Michael, A Mole in the Crown, (Calcutta: Rupa & Co, 1986), 194 .

44 Discussion, Sept. 1936, 9–12.

45 Burns, Emile, Abyssinia and Italy (London: Gollancz, 1935), 182–3.

46 Leonard Barnes, Fact, 3 June 1937, 10.

47 Pennybacker, Scottsboro to Munich, 126–33; Clarke III, J. Calvitt, ‘Soviet Appeasement, Collective Security and the Italo–Ethiopian War of 1935 and 1936’, in Bruce Strang, G., ed., Collision of Empires: Italy's Invasion of Ethiopia and its International Impact (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013).

48 Padmore, George, Africa and World Peace (London: Secker & Warburg, 1937), 153 .

49 Daily Worker, 11 Oct. 1935; see also the ILP statement that any war that might result from ‘the clash of capitalist interests’ in Abyssinia was not worth British lives: New Leader, 13 Sept. 1935. For a detailed account see Cohen, Gidon, The Failure of a Dream: The Independent Labour Party from Disaffiliation to World War Two (London: Tauris Academic, 2007), 91–4 and 170–6.

50 Steer, George, Caesar in Abyssinia (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1936).

51 Letter of 7 Oct. 1935 cited by Gaynor Johnson, ‘Philip Noel-Baker, the League of Nations and the Abyssinian Crisis, 1935–6’, in Strang, Collision of Empires, 60–1.

52 Cited in Winslow, Barbara, ‘Sylvia Pankhurst and Ethiopia’, in Hackett, Robin and Wachman, Guy, eds., At Home and Abroad in the Empire, (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 2009), 181 , citing New Times and Ethiopia News, 1 Aug. 1936, 4. Witness John Strachey's comment that the Abyssinians were ‘primitive peoples’ sacrificed to the appeasement of Italy, Left News, Sept. 1937.

53 New Leader, 5 June 1936.

54 See Joseph Fronczak, ‘Local People's Global Politics: A Transnational History of the Hands off Ethiopia Movement of 1935’, Diplomatic History (2014), for a valuable – if rather overstated – contribution.

55 Although there were major political disagreements on the Republican side, the debate was principally about the nature of the Republic and its appropriate strategy rather than the nature of its opponents.

56 Left News, Dec. 1937, 595. See also Attlee, Labour Party in Perspective, 232.

57 Left News, May 1939, 1257.

58 Garratt, G. T., Mussolini's Roman Empire (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1938), 183 . The battle of the Jarama marked the first appearance of the British Battalion of the International Brigades. The British diplomat Geoffrey Thompson made a similar point in his memoirs: the International Brigaders were ‘ironically enough, fighting for British imperial interests in the Mediterranean’. Thomspson, Geoffrey, Front-Line Diplomat (London: Hutchinson, 1959), 120 .

59 National Council of Labour, 25 Aug. 1936, TUC archives, Mss 292/946/14/19, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick.

60 Reynolds News, 7 Aug. 1936.

61 Tribune, 4 Nov. 1938.

62 Thomas, Martin, Britain, France and Appeasement: Anglo–French Relations in the Popular Front Era (Oxford: Berg, 1960), 91–2.

63 Hansard, Parl. Debs, 19 July 1937, col. 1920.

64 Hansard, Parl. Debs, 28 Oct. 1937, col. 315.

65 For the context see Derrick, Africa's Agitators, 360–7; Balfour, Sebastian, Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Fleming, Shannon E., ‘Spanish Morocco and the Alzamiento Nacional, 1936–1939: the Military, Economic and Political Mobilization of a Protectorate’, Journal of Contemporary History, 18, 1 (1983), 2742 .

66 Tribune, 15 Jan. 1937.

67 Lee, Jennie, This Great Journey, 1904–45 (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1963), 162–3.

68 Garratt, Mussolini's Roman Empire, 28; see also C. L. R. James’ comment that, following the conquest of Ethiopia, Mussolini would make an army ‘out of these splendid Abyssinian fighters’ and invade neighbouring British colonies: The Keys, 3/3, Jan.–Mar. 1936; Makonnen, Pan-Africanism, 157.

69 George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (CEJL), i, An Age Like This, 1920–1940 (1970 edition), 431–2.

70 Gordon, Lois, Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Journalist, (Chichester, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007), 221 ; Padmore in New Leader, 20 May 1938.

71 Pittsburgh Courier, 17 July 1937.

72 Padmore, Africa and World Peace, 266.

73 Nehru, Unity of India, 376–7.

74 Cockburn, Claud, I Claud. . ., (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), 192–5.

75 New Leader, 20 May 1938.

76 de Madariaga, Maria Rosa, ‘The Intervention of Moroccan Troops in the Spanish Civil War: A Reconsideration’, European History Quarterly, 22, 1 (1992), 92 . See also Antonio, Miguel Alonso, Luna, ‘La mission de Carlos Baraibar en Marruecos durante la guerra civil’, Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie V, Historia Contemporánea, 15 (2002), 391406 .

77 Buchanan, Tom, ‘“Shanghai–Madrid Axis”: Comparing British Responses to the Conflicts in Spain and China, 1936–1939’, Contemporary European History, 21, 4 (2012) 533–52.

78 Jon Kimche, New Leader, ‘Empire Special’, 29 Apr. 1938.

79 New Statesman, 18 June 1938, 1023; see also Manuscript of ‘Footprints: The Memoirs of Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke’, Selwyn-Clarke Papers, Mss Brit. Emp. S.470, Bodleian Library, esp. 70–85.

80 Auden, W. H. and Isherwood, Christopher, Journey to a War, (London: Faber & Faber, 1939), 240 .

81 Redfern, Class or Nation, 94–5.

82 New Leader, 21 Jan. 1938.

83 Daily Worker, 29 Dec. 1937, responding to Reynolds News, 26 Dec. 1937; see also Daily Worker 12 Jan. and 15 Jan. 1938.

84 See David Macri, Franco, Clash of Empires in South China: the Allied Nations’ Proxy War with Japan, 1935–1941, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012).

85 As Orwell wrote in July 1939: ‘One threat to the Suez Canal, and “anti-fascism” and “defence of British interests” are discovered to be identical’: Orwell, CEJL, i, 434.

86 Orwell, CEJL, i, 590–1.

87 Reynolds News, 4 Oct. 1936, 22 Aug. 1937 and 3 Jan. 1937.

88 Hansard, Parl. Debs, 14 Apr. 1937, cols. 1077–8.

89 Ercoli, , The Fight Against War and Fascism (London: CPGB, 1935), 5862 .

90 Levy, David A. L., ‘The French Popular Front, 1936–37’, in Graham, Helen and Preston, Paul, eds., The Popular Front in Europe, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), 62–3. See also Wardhaugh, Jessica, ‘Fighting for the Unknown Soldier: The Contested Territory of the French Nation in 1934–1938’, Modern & Contemporary France, 15, 2 (2007), 185201 .

91 Daily Worker, 17 May 1938 and 31 Dec. 1938 (emphasis added).

92 Clive, Lewis, The People's Army (London: Gollancz, 1938), 215 and 222.

93 Christian Hogsbjerg, ‘C. L. R. James and Italy's conquest of Abyssinia’, Socialist History, 28 ‘The Abyssinian Crisis – Seventy Years on’ (2006), 22; Manchester Guardian, 29 July 1935.

94 Daily Worker, 14 Aug. 1937.

95 Daily Worker, 22 Nov. 1937.

96 See Blum's speech of 6 Dec. 1936 in Kenwood, Alun, ed., The Spanish Civil War: A Cultural and Historical Reader (Oxford: Berg, 1993), 202–14.

97 Tribune, 22 Jan. 1937.

98 Steer, G. L., Judgment on German Africa (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1939), 315 and 320.

99 Hansard, Parl. Debs, 26 July 1938, col. 3060.

100 Discussion, Aug. 1936, Editorial, 4.

101 Hansard, Parl. Debs, 28 Nov. 1939, col. 28.

102 Gatrell, Peter, The Making of the Modern Refugee, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 73–4.

103 Phone check, 29 Jan. 1940, TNA, KV2 / 2801.

104 Morgan, Kevin, Against Fascism and War: Ruptures and Continuities in British Communist Politics, 1935–1941, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), 187–8.

105 Inside the Empire, 1, 6 (1940), 3; Autobiographical note, 1943, LHASC, CP/IND/BRAD/01/01.

106 Bridgeman to Pollitt, 21 May 1942, UDBN/26/2, Hull History Centre.

107 Kisch, Richard, The Days of the Good Soldiers (London: Journeyman, 1985), 100 .

108 Garratt to Thompson, 3 Sept. 1940 and Garratt to Thompson, 9 Sept. 1941, E. J. Thompson papers, Mss Eng.c.52893, Bodleian Library, Oxford; Takehiko Honda, ‘Geoffrey Theodore Garratt’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

109 Steer, George, Sealed and Delivered: A Book on the Abyssinian Campaign, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1942), 200 and 212.

110 Pikoulis, John, Alun Lewis: A Life, (Bridgend: Seren Books, 1991), 56 ; Lewis, Gweno, ed., Alun Lewis, Letters to my wife, (Bridgend: Seren Books, 1989), letter dated 9 Sept. 1943, 392–3.

111 Branson, Clive, British Soldier in India: The Letters of Clive Branson, (London: The Communist Party, 1944), 73 and 19.

112 James, C. L. R., World Revolution, 1917–1936; The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (London: Secker & Warburg, 1937), 13 .

113 New Leader, 27 Jan. 1939.

114 Tribune, 20 Jan. 1939.

115 Orwell, George, The Lion and the Unicorn, (London: Secker & Warburg, 1962), 76 ; West, W. J., ed., Orwell: The War Broadcasts (London: Duckworth/BBC, 1985), text of Orwell's resignation letter, 24 Sept. 1943, 57–8.

116 The Negro Worker, 7, 7–8 (Sept.–Oct. 1937), 8–9 (emphasis in original).

I am grateful to Hugo Garcia and the journal's two anonymous referees for their comments and advice on this article.

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