Workers of the Empire, Unite

BookWorkers of the Empire, Unite

Workers of the Empire, Unite

Radical and Popular Challenges to British Imperialism, 1910s-1960s

Studies in Labour History, 15


March 1st, 2021



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In most studies of British decolonisation, the world of labour is neglected, the key roles being allocated to metropolitan statesmen and native elites. Instead this volume focuses on the role played by working people, their experiences, initiatives and organisations, in the dissolution of the British Empire, both in the metropole and in the colonies. How central was the intervention of the metropolitan Left in the liquidation of the British Empire? Were labour mobilisations in the colonies only stepping stones for bourgeois nationalists? To what extent were British labour activists willing and able to form connections with colonial workers, and vice versa? Here are some of the complex questions on which this volume sheds new light. Though convergences were fragile and temporary, this book recapture the sense of uncertainty that accompanied the final decades of the British Empire, a period when radical minorities hoped that coordinated efforts across borders might lead not only to the destruction of the British Empire but to that of capitalism and imperialism in general. Exploiting rare primary sources and adopting a resolutely transnational approach, our collection makes an original contribution to both labour history and imperial studies.

'With excellent framing essays by the editors that enrich the discussion, connecting the multiple areas of new empirical inquiry to larger questions of historiography and deeper social context, this is the go-to text on the role of Labour and the Left within the politics of the British decolonization experience.'
Professor Leon Fink, Distinguished Emeritus Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

'Beliard and Kirk’s collection of essays on radical challenges to British imperialism provides a valuable series of case studies. [...] Some will not agree with all its judgements but its case studies, like Tom Sibley’s on Fava, throw light on how far the influence of Britain’s imperialist state penetrated all aspects of our society including the labour movement.'
John Foster, Morning Star

‘Workers of the Empire, Unite is a sophisticated and scholarly contribution to the ongoing process of what might be called decolonizing British labor history through excellent historical studies relating to British labor and decolonization.’
Christian Høgsbjerg, Journal of British Studies

Author Information

Yann Béliard is a Senior Lecturer in British Studies, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. Neville Kirk is Emeritus Professor of Labour and Social History at Manchester Metropolitan University. His publications include Labour and Society in Britain and the USA (1994), Comrades and Cousins (2003), Custom and Conflict in 'The Land of the Gael' (2007, 2009) and Labour and the Politics of Empire (2011, 2014). He is editor of Liverpool University Press's series Studies in Labour History and a member of the executive committee of the UK Society for the Study of Labour History.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Notes on contributors
List of abbreviations
List of illustrations
Foreword: Paul Pickering (Australian National University)
Introduction: Yann Béliard (Sorbonne Nouvelle University), Labour, empire and decolonisation: historiographical landmarks
PART 1 – Contesting Imperialism (1910s-1950s)
Chapter 1: Marie Terrier (CREW, Sorbonne Nouvelle University), Annie Besant’s fight for Home Rule in India, 1910s-1920s
Chapter 2: Yann Béliard (Sorbonne Nouvelle University), Sylvia Pankhurst vs. the British Empire: the Workers’ Dreadnought experience, 1917 1924
Chapter 3: Nicholas Owen (University of Oxford), Alliances from above and below: the failures and successes of communist anti-imperialism in India, 1920 1934
Chapter 4: Matt Perry (Newcastle University), ‘The Lingua Franca of the Bangle’: Ellen Wilkinson, the Indian nationalist movement and British Labour, 1932
Chapter 5: Quentin Gasteuil (Ecole normale supérieure Paris-Saclay (ENS) / Sorbonne University), A comparative and transnational approach to socialist anti-colonialism: the Fenner Brockway – Marceau Pivert connection, 1930s-1950s
PART 2 – Labour, Decolonisation and Independence (1940s-1960s)
Chapter 6: Gareth Curless (University of Exeter), Decolonisation and claim making in the Sudan, c. 1945-1958
Chapter 7: Tom Sibley (International Centre for Trade Union Rights, ICTUR), Class, Cold War and colonialism: the deportation of Albert Fava from Gibraltar to Britain, 1948
Chapter 8: David Hyde (University of East London), Decolonisation and ‘Development Untoward’: crisis and conflict on Kenya’s tea plantations, 1959-1960
Chapter 9: Evan Smith (Flinders University of South Australia), For socialist revolution or national liberation? Anti-colonialism and the Communist Parties of Great Britain, Australia and South Africa in the era of decolonisation
Conclusion: Neville Kirk (Manchester Metropolitan University), Eight points on labour and the end of the British Empire
Afterword: Yann Béliard (Sorbonne Nouvelle University), Towards a people’s history of British decolonisation