Nations Ascendant: Towards a Global Intellectual History of Self Determination

At the turn of the twentieth century, the global imperial order was in peril. In cities across the world, revolutionary factions emerged where nationalists deliberated radical, even violent paths to a post- imperial world. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin belonged to and wrote of this world – a world primarily defined by the crisis of the imperial order and the looming question of the future of national communities. As Lenin along with his compatriots seized power in Moscow in October 1917, he announced the dawn of a new era where the empires of the world would eventually fall in the throes of the impending world revolution. My talk, based on my first book project, shows how that his call resonated with all sorts of imperial decriers who saw, in his victory, the possibility of a new world. From Rio Grande to River Ganges, anti-colonialists turned to Moscow to help realize their own political visions. Encouraged by the triumph of Lenin and his party, anti-colonialists tied the end of imperialism to the revolutionary end of global socioeconomic hierarchies. This historical narrative responds to recent scholarly provocations to study decolonization in connected rather than discrete terms and to employ the methodological tools of global history to write new historical accounts, which attend to the ends of empire as a global phenomenon. One of my the key intellectual objectives is to think of Asian, African, and Caribbean anti-colonialists not only as itinerant revolutionaries and campaigners but as intellectuals, thinkers, and writers. I demonstrate the many ways in which anti-colonialists interpreted, built on, modified, and otherwise responded to Lenin’s critique of imperialism. For many, anti-imperialism now not only meant opposition to foreign rule but also a wholesale rejection of the prevalent global economic order. Hence, inequality and development became an inextricable part of visions of a postcolonial global order. Moreover, this presentation highlights how the inter-war period marks a decisive shift in the intellectual history of decolonization.

Zaib un Nisa Aziz is a historian of global and imperial history, with a focus on the British Empire and Modern South Asia. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of South Florida, Tampa. In her past and present research, she seeks to push the geographic, temporal and thematic boundaries of the historical study of the end of empire and its aftermath, and is particularly interested in histories of decolonisation, labour and internationalism. Her current book project, tentatively titled ‘Nations Ascendant: The Global Struggle Against Empire and The Making of our World’, traces the origins and politics of an international community of colonial activists, thinkers and campaigners, and shows how they came to share ideas about universal decolonisation and the end of empires.

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