The Coincidence of Densification and Disentanglement: An Alternative History of the 20th century
After the ends of World War I, Woodrow Wilson, Leon Trotzky and Saionji Kinmochi agreed only in in one point in their visions for the future international order, namely to take distance from the former fabric of international relations based on the model of the Congress of Vienna. As Soviet foreign minister, Trotzky had published the secret treaties the Tzar had agreed upon. The American President Wilson proclaimed a new democratic era of ‘open diplomacy’, and Kinmochi, together with the Japanese delegation in Paris, argued vehemently for racial equality in international relations. The incompatibility of such visions of international order is discussed as one reason why the results of the Paris Peace Conferences did not last for long. Till today, the historical master narrative highlights that it was mainly the legacies of World War I, although in combination with the increasing economic and political pressures of the interwar period, that led to Word War II.
This contribution challenges the historiographical narrative of the continuously un-resolved legacies of the First World War. It argues, in contrast, that one of the main problems resulting from 1919 was what I call the oxymoronic simultaneity of multi-layered forms of networked governance and the promise of territory based civil rights on a global level. This approach confronts the idea of an increasingly connected world with the newly constructed nations and modern nation states, after World War I all based on characteristics of alleged authenticity with regard to language, religion and belonging. This approach takes the problem of statelessness, the figure of the ‚enemy alien’ and mass migration to advance an alternative history of the postwar period, focusing on the coincidence of processes of densification and disentanglement of the world as the basis of the new international order.
Nehru, India and Global Anti-Imperialism Between the World Wars
In 1927, Jawaharlal Nehru, then a rising star of India’s independence struggle, embarked on a two-year sojourn to Europe. He recalled the moment as a time of “tremendous change.” He added, “The old world I knew had expired in the blood and horror of the War and a new world awaited me.” Nehru’s reflections captured a widely held sentiment about a “new world” emerging in the 1920s. Both the war and the Bolshevik Revolution had done much to destabilize the old world order of the past, while a proliferation of international organizations, most notably the League of Nations and the Communist International, hosted robust debates over interstate relations and the staying power of imperialism, racism and capitalism. Most significant to Nehru’s engagement with this “new world” was his participation in a global anti-imperialist movement, which provided platforms and networks that connected him to other anti-colonial leaders and sympathetic leftists worldwide.
This paper draws upon research from my forthcoming book, Comrades against Imperialism: Nehru, India and the Interwar World (Cambridge University Press). It offers a history of Nehru’s participation in the League against Imperialism (LAI), a rarely studied yet important institution that coordinated a worldwide resistance to imperialist powers and capitalist classes. In the late 1920s, the LAI represented an alternative forum that could, in the words of its founder, be a “real” League of Nations for it was inclusive of colonial leaders seeking national sovereignty. This alternative to the “Wilsonian moment” and the League of Nations had widespread appeal in the late 1920s, and the LAI attracted not only Nehru, but also other future heads of state like Indonesia’s Sukarno and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta.
This paper argues that the LAI was a catalyst in extending Nehru’s conceptualization of anticolonial struggle beyond the frames of the colony or even the British Empire. In doing so, the paper shifts the focus of interwar international histories away from great power politics and the League of Nations. Instead it underscores the significance of a global history of anti-colonialism through less familiar stories like the LAI. Finally, this history provides a significant and neglected history of Nehru’s anti-imperialism in his formative years before he became India’s Prime Minister (1947-1964) and an architect of third world solidarity.
“Universal Conscience” and Lasting Peace: League of Nation Youth Education in the 1920s and 1930s
The efforts to re-imagine and restructure the world order and its political,
geographical and legal terms under the auspices of the League of Nations were paralleled
with an ambition to create a populace with a new mind-set for the post-war world. If states
and international law could be re-invented to serve the ideals of the league and world peace it
seemed both logical and necessary that people, too, could be transformed so that the future
citizenry would be composed of ‘a race of men and women trained from their youth to the
realisation of the world’s common interests and common humanity’. As put to the general
assembly in 1921 by the chair of the youth education committee Professor Gilbert Murray,
the very future of the League of Nations depended upon ‘the formation of a universal
A significant amount of League of Nations’ resources and policies in the 1920s and
30s were concerned with educating the world’s youth in the ideals of the League,
international peace and understanding, yet this aspect of League history has, so far, only been
scarcely explored by historians. This investment in the world’s youth indicates a development
by which the League’s outspoken concerns to protect the youth from the impact of politics
shifted towards utilising the youth for political aims. Even the very young were seen as
important political agents and actors for lasting peace and it was recommended, for example,
that League youth education was to begin in primary school to take full effect. But how
exactly was ‘internationalism’ turned into a global pedagogic programme? For the Youth
Education Committee in charge, this monumental task began with addressing the
foundational question of what the universal values were that constituted civilisation and
thereby creating a moral framework for their actions. Not surprisingly, its international
members, including representatives from France, Romania, Serbia, India, Japan and Cuba
had differing views.
Drawing on the extensive records of the League of Nation’s youth education
committees and sub-committees, their internal communication, reports and correspondence
with external partners as well as material relating to League publications and events, this
paper will assess both the imagined post-war international identity as well as the actions
taken to create citizens with a universal conscience.