Decolonization Resource Collection: Politics

The UN Subcommittee on Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in London (1964). Image courtesy of the United Nations.

Primary sources

Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916)
Also called the Asia Minor Agreement, this was a secret agreement made during World War I between Great Britain and France, with the assent of imperial Russia, for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The agreement led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French- and British-administered areas.

Sukarno, “Speech at the Opening of the Bandung Conference” (1955)
In this speech, President Sukarno of Indonesia officially opens the Bandung Conference, organized in an effort to promote and solidify African and Asian unity, particularly between states recently liberated from imperial rule. Sukarno praises political (rather than violent) means of achieving decolonization.

Harold Macmillan, “The Winds of Change” (1960)
British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan’s 1960 address to the South African Parliament turned out to be the most famous public speech of his long political career. In “the Winds of Change,” MacMillan concedes that decolonization has had an irreversible effect on the continent of Africa, and that the days of the once-powerful British Empire were numbered.

American Indian Movement, “Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Position Paper” (October 1972)
This position paper, authored by several leaders and participants of the American Indian Movement and associated organizations, asserted the sovereignty of Indian Nations and demanded the United States federal government assume full responsibility for generations of treaty betrayal. The Nixon Administration refused to accept the document, further aggravating the tension between the US federal government (particularly the FBI) and supporters of the American Indian Movement.

Secondary sources

Articles and essays

Greenough, Paul R., “Political Mobilization and the Underground Literature of the Quit India Movement, 1942-44,” History Workshop Journal 27, 7/8 (1999).
In the face of strict press controls and the banning of major Congress meetings, an underground press immediately sprang up in India during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. In this essay, Greenough sketches the variety of these underground publications, focusing closely on one rebel newspaper, Biplabi, from south-western Bengal.

Ileto, Reynaldo, “Wars with the U.S. and Japan and the Politics of History in the Philippines” in Kiichi Fujiwara and Yoshiko Nagano (eds.), The Philippines and Japan in America’s Shadow, Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2011.
In this article, Ileto provides an extensive analysis of how the history of the Philippines, often like Filipino peoples themselves, has fallen victim to political and ideological competition between the American and Japanese empires during the mid-twentieth century.

Inder Singh, Anita, “Keeping India in the Commonwealth: British Political and Military Aims, 1947-49,” Journal of Contemporary History 20, 3 (1985).
Singh questions the degree to which Indian independence influenced the decision-making process of the British military bureaucracy. In the politically polarized climate that consumed South Asia and the Middle East in the years following World War II, global political ideologies are strongly at play in British and Indian political attitudes post-independence.

Katler, Christoph, “From Global to Local and Back: The ‘Third World’ Concept and the New Radical Left in France,” Journal of Global History 12, 1 (2017).
In the second half of the twentieth century, the transnational ‘Third World’ concept defined how people all over the globe perceived the world. This article explains the concept’s extraordinary traction by looking at the interplay of local uses and global contexts through which it emerged. Focusing on the particularly relevant setting of France, it examines the term’s invention in the context of the Cold War, development thinking, and decolonization.

Talbot, Ian, “The Second World War and Local Indian Politics: 1939-1947,” The International  History Review 6, 4 (1984).
Talbot grapples with the question of whether British fears of being unable to prevent an Indian civil war in the Punjab affected Britain’s decision to leave India, and whether the Muslim League owed its late rise to power in this province to the impact of World War II on local and imperial politics.

Books and readers

Aydin, Cemil, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007.
In this rich intellectual history, Aydin challenges the notion that anti-Westernism in the Muslim world is a political and religious reaction to the liberal and democratic values of the West. By focusing on the agency and achievements of non-Western intellectuals, Aydin demonstrates that modern anti-Western discourse grew out of the legitimacy crisis of a single, Eurocentric global polity in the age of high imperialism.

Badie, Bertrand, The Imported State: The Westernization of the Political Order, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.
The book analyzes the different conditions in which the modern state was grafted onto different cultural realities: a metropolitan model adopted by settlers or imposed as an instrument of colonial domination, or a representation of modernity selected by non-Western leaders out of fascination for its alleged efficiency and rationality. The author shows that, from the beginning, various logics of importation led non-Western cultures to invent their own practices of the state, thereby transforming the original model.

Bamba, Abou, African Miracle, African Mirage: Transnational Politics and the Paradox of Modernization in Ivory Coast, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2016.
Bamba incorporates economics, political science, and history to craft a bold, transnational study of the development practices and intersecting colonial cultures that continue to shape Ivory Coast today. He considers French, American, and Ivorian development discourses in examining the roles of hydroelectric projects and the sugar, coffee, and cocoa industries in the country’s boom and bust. In so doing, he brings the agency of Ivorians themselves to the fore in a way not often seen in histories of development.

Boone, Catherine, Property and Political Order: Land Rights and the Structure of Conflict in Africa, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
In sub-Saharan Africa, property relationships around land and access to natural resources vary across localities, districts and farming regions. These differences produce patterned variations in relationships between individuals, communities and the state. This book captures these patterns in an analysis of structure and variation in rural land tenure regimes. The analysis shows how property institutions – institutions that define political authority and hierarchy around land – shape dynamics of great interest to scholars of politics, including the dynamics of land-related competition and conflict, territorial conflict, patron-client relations, electoral cleavage and mobilization, ethnic politics, rural rebellion, and the localization and ‘nationalization’ of political competition.

Cohen, Andrew, The Politics and Economics of Decolonization in Africa: The Failed Experiment of the Central African Federation, London, UK: IB Tauris, 2015.
Drawing on newly released archival material, this book offers a fresh examination of Britain’s central African territories in the late colonial period and provides a detailed assessment of how events in Britain, Africa and the UN shaped the process of decolonization. The author situates the Central African Federation – which consisted of modern day Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi – in its wider international context, shedding light on the Federation’s complex relationships with South Africa, with US Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy and with the expanding United Nations.

Dilley, Andrew, Finance, Politics, and Imperialism: Australia, Canada, and the City of London, c. 1896-1914, London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Dilley offers a major new study of financial dependence, examining the connections this dependence forged between the City and political life in Edwardian Australia and Canada, mediated by ideas of political economy. In doing so he reconstructs the occasionally imperialistic politic of finance which pervaded the British World at this time.

Ferguson, James, The Anti-Politics Machine: ‘Development’, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.
Ferguson analyzes the institutional framework within which “development” projects are crafted and the nature of “development discourse.” In a close examination of the attempted implementation of the Thaba-Tseka project in Lesotho, Ferguson shows how, instead, the “development” apparatus in Lesotho acts as an “anti-politics machine,” everywhere whisking political realities out of sight and all the while performing, almost unnoticed, its own pre-eminently political operation of strengthening the state presence in the local region.

Hanlon, David, Making Micronesia: A Political Biography of Tosiwo Nakayama, Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2014.
This biography tells the story of Tosiwo Nakayama, the first president of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Born to a Japanese father and an island woman in 1931 on an atoll northwest of the main Chuuk Lagoon group, Nakayama grew up during Japan’s colonial administration of greater Micronesia and later proved adept at adjusting to life in post-war Chuuk and under the American-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. After studying at the University of Hawai‘i, Nakayama returned to Chuuk in 1958 and quickly advanced through a series of administrative positions before winning election to the House of Delegates (later Senate) of the Congress of Micronesia. He served as its president from 1965 to 1967 and again from 1973 to 1978.

Howe, Stephen, Anticolonialism in British Politics: The Left and the End of Empire, 1918-1964,  Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1993.
This book surveys the attitudes and activities relating to colonial issues of British critics of Empire during the years of decolonization. It also evaluates the changing ways in which, arising out of the experience of Empire and decolonization, more general ideas about imperialism, nationalism, and underdevelopment were developed during these years.

Husain, Aiyaz, Mapping the End of Empire: American and British Strategic Visions in the Postwar World, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
By the end of World War II, strategists in Washington and London looked ahead to a new era in which the United States shouldered global responsibilities and Britain concentrated its regional interests more narrowly. This book reveals how Anglo–American perceptions of geography shaped postcolonial futures from the Middle East to South Asia. Husain shows that American and British postwar strategy drew on popular notions of geography as well as academic and military knowledge. Once codified in maps and memoranda, these perspectives became foundations of foreign policy.

Lee, Christopher (ed.), Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment and its Political Afterlives, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010.
The essays in this volume explore the diverse repercussions of the 1955 Bandung Conference, tracing the diplomatic, intellectual, and sociocultural histories that have emanated from it. This collection consequently addresses the complex intersection of postcolonial history and cold war history and speaks to contemporary discussions of Afro-Asianism, empire, and decolonization, thus reestablishing the conference’s importance in twentieth-century global history.

Wallerstein, Immanuel, Africa: The Politics of Independence and Unity, Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
This volume combines into one edition for the first time “Africa: The Politics of Independence” and “Africa: The Politics of Unity.” With a new introduction by the author, this edition provides some of the earliest and most valuable analysis of African politics during the period when the colonial system began to disintegrate.

White, Luise, The Assassination of Herbert Chitepo: Texts and Politics in ZimbabweIndianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003.
In a style that is as much murder mystery as it is history writing, Luise White uncovers why African nationalist Herbert Chitepo’s assassination continues to incite conflict and controversy in Zimbabwe’s national politics. White casts doubt on official accounts of the murder and addresses how and for whom history is written and how myths and ideas about civic culture were founded in war-torn Zimbabwe.