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in the 20TH CENTURY
~compare to Stearns’ Chapter 33~
In retrospect the Great War of 1914-1918, shook the foundations of Western hegemony. Perhaps
unbeknownst to Europeans at the time, the tragedy of war that befell Europe served to undermine
much of its authority in the world. As a result, this monumental event often serves as a marker event
distinguishing the decades that followed World War I from all previous eras. For intellectuals and
political leaders throughout Africa and Asia, the appalling devastation of World War I cast doubt on
the claims that the Europeans had made for over a century that they were, by virtue of their racial
superiority, the fittest of all peoples to rule the globe. With millions of lives lost, economies disrupted,
and infrastructures destroyed, Europe faced an unprecedented rebuilding effort and made a mockery
of European claims of superiority and racially ingrained capacity to rule. Then, as a result of a second
devastating global war, much the world achieved its independence from European rule in the mid1900s after being colonized in the mid-1800s. Since it is impossible to relate the history of the
independence struggles in all of the European colonies, the focus of this chapter will be the influence
of the World Wars on independence movements and three basic patterns that decolonization
followed: (1) peaceful independence movements based on negotiation, (2) violent wars for
independence, and (3) nations that gained independence prior to the World Wars but remained
heavily influenced by colonization’s legacy.
33.1 – Patterns of Independence Movements
World War I: Anti-Colonial Nationalism is Born
World War I presented the subjugated peoples of Africa and Asia with the spectacle of Europe’s
“civilizers” sending their young men by the millions to be slaughtered in horrific trench warfare.
Moreover, the fact that the three main adversaries in the war—Great Britain, France, and Germany—
were colonial powers meant that when they plunged into war, they pulled their empires into the abyss
with them. A truly global conflict erupted as the British and French were able to draw raw materials,
laborers, and soldiers from their colonial possessions, and these proved critical to their ability to
sustain the long war of attrition against Germany.
European reliance on their colonial possessions was revealed and heightened by the war effort. To
fight the war, European soldiers maintaining order in colonial possessions were sent to battlefronts in
Europe to meet the need for manpower. This need to recall administrative and military personnel from
British and French colonies meant that European officials were compelled to fill their vacated posts
with African and Asian administrators, many of whom enjoyed real responsibility for the first time. Not
only did Africans and Asians fill political needs, but the colonies were also key economic producers for
Britain and France. Native populations supplied food for the home fronts, as well as vital raw
materials such as oil, jute, and cotton for the battlefields. In fact, contrary to long-standing colonial
policy, the hard-pressed British even encouraged a considerable expansion of industrial production in
India to supplement the output of their overextended home factories. Thus, the war years contributed
to the development in India of the largest industrial sector in the colonized world. Thus, the war itself
was pivotal in the colonies’ native populations in fostering political leadership, seeds of industrial
growth, and deep resentment for the sacrifices that the war effort required.
Additionally, African and Asian soldiers by the hundreds of thousands served on the Western Front or
in the far-flung theaters of war in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and east Africa. So not only were
Europeans killing each other, but for the first time, African and Asian soldiers were ordered by their
European officers to kill other Europeans. In this process of war, the vulnerability of the seemingly
invincible Europeans and the deep divisions between them were starkly revealed. Though the
European colonizers had frequently quarreled over colonial territory in the late 19th century, during
Chapter 33
World War I they actually fought each other in the colonies for the first time.
Further undermining colonization, Europeans actively sought to earn the support of Western-educated
elites, win the cooperation of new Arab allies, and maintain the loyalty of their traditional native allies
by making promises regarding future leadership. Whether promised self-determination, greater
access to administrative posts, or economic development, these concessions often seriously
compromised Europe’s prewar dominance and plans for further expansion. In the end however, the
British and French repeatedly broke their promises when negotiating the postwar settlement at
Versailles. Wartime promises to the Arabs in return for supporting the Entente were forgotten, as
Britain and France divided the Arab heartlands of the Middle East between themselves. China's pleas
for protection from Japanese aggression were dismissed, and a youthful Ho Chi Minh, the future
leader of Vietnam, was rudely refused an audience with Woodrow Wilson. The betrayal of these
pledges understandably contributed a great deal to postwar agitation against colonial rule and eroded
any remaining confidence in European leadership. When the British and French victors sought to
restore their prewar political prerogatives, the first wave of decolonization was set in motion.
The social and economic disruptions caused by the war gave added impetus to movements and
processes already underway. African and Asian opposition to colonization dated back to the 19th
century, but World War I led to a postwar surge in anti-colonial resistance that crystalized public
support in colonies for nationalist agitators, who had previously been viewed as elitist.
World War II: Nationalism Accelerates
During World War II, the Nazi rout of the French and Japan’s rapid capture of Western colonies in
Southeast Asia ended all remaining illusions colonized peoples had left about the superiority of their
colonial overlords. Because the Japanese were non-Europeans, their early victories over the
Europeans and Americans played a particularly critical role in destroying the myth of Caucasian
invincibility. Additionally, Japan’s harsh conquest and heavy demands of Southeast Asians during the
war further strengthened the masses’ determination to fight for self-rule.
Amongst the European powers, colonies were again used for resources and soldiers – a policy that
reiterated African and Asian distaste for European rule. When World War II ended, Europeans
attempted to re-establish old colonial regimes – an effort that only furthered nationalist sentiment in
Africa and Asia. When this growing tide of anti-European sentiment was combined with the reality
that Europe was weakened by the devastation of World War II, change seemed inevitable. Then, the
final factor that ended European colonial rule in Africa and Asia was a European populace whose
determination to hold increasingly resistant colonies was sapped by the carnage of World War II.
The end of World War II set the stage, in other words, for two of the great movements that would
shape the ensuing decades in world history. First, Africans and Asians challenged the tired remnants
of European control—the movement known as "decolonization." Scores of new nations were formed
in the decades that followed World War II. From the Philippines to West Africa, independence was
won in most tropical dependencies with surprisingly little bloodshed and remarkable speed; the
opposite was true in colonies with large settler communities, where liberation struggles were usually
violent and prolonged. Second, the emerging power of the U.S. and Soviet Union took on global
implications. During WWII, the U.S. allied with Britain under the condition that all people have the
"right… to choose the form of government under which they live." The Soviets were equally vocal in
their condemnation of colonialism and were forthcoming with material support for nationalist
campaigns. Then, given the context of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union aided the
push toward self-rule in hopes of gaining ideological allies in Africa and Asia.
The nationalist movements that won independence for most of the peoples of Africa and Asia after
World War II usually involved some degree of mass mobilization. Peasants and working-class
Chapter 33
townspeople, who hitherto had little voice in politics beyond their village boundaries, were drawn into
political contests that toppled empires and established new nations. To win the support of the
masses, nationalist leaders promised them jobs, civil rights, and equality once independence was
won. The leaders of many nationalist movements nurtured visions of post-independence utopias in
the minds of their followers. The people were told that a good life would follow once the Europeans,
who monopolized the best jobs and exploited the economy, were driven away.
Depending on the skills of their leaders and the resources at their disposal, newly independent
nations have tackled the daunting task of development with varying degrees of success. Ways have
been found to raise the living standards of some populations in emerging nations. But these
strategies have rarely benefited the majority. It may be too early to judge the governments and
economies newly independent nations, but few have developed the path to the social justice and
development that nationalist leaders saw as the ultimate goal of decolonization. Although some
countries have made significant progress, the majority of emerging nations struggle with political
instability and economic development that is increasingly behind industrialized powers.
Negotiated Independence
33.2 – India
Because India and much of Southeast Asia had been colonized long before Africa, movements for
independence arose in Asian colonies somewhat earlier than in their African counterparts. By the last
years of the 19th century, Western-educated Indians had been organized politically for decades.
Because of India's size and the pivotal role it played in the British Empire (by far the largest of the
European imperialist empires), the Indian nationalist movement pioneered patterns of nationalist
challenge and European retreat that were later followed in many other colonies.
Growing Nationalism
Surrounded by the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean, South Asia enjoyed a certain geographic unity,
but before the 20th century few of its people thought of themselves as “Indians.” Cultural identities
were rooted in differences of family, caste, language, region, and religion. Unlike previous invaders
and imperial governments, the British never assimilated into Indian society because their acute sense
of racial and cultural distinctiveness kept them apart. This served to intensify Indians’ awareness of
their collective difference from their alien rulers. Furthermore, British railroads, telegraph lines, postal
services, administrative networks, newspapers, and schools as well as the English language bound
India’s many regions and peoples together more firmly than ever before and facilitated
communication, especially among those with a modern education.
The most important political expression of an “Indian” identity took shape in the Indian National
Congress (INC), often called the Congress Party, which was established in 1885.This was an
association of English-educated Indians—lawyers, journalists, teachers, businessmen—drawn
overwhelmingly from prominent high-caste Hindu families. It represented the beginning of a new kind
of political protest, quite different from the rebellions that had periodically erupted in the rural areas of
colonial India. The INC was largely an urban phenomenon and quite moderate in its demands.
Initially, its well-educated members did not seek to overthrow British rule; rather they hoped remove
barriers to Indian employment in the colonial bureaucracy and increase Indian representation in local
legislative bodies. From such positions of influence, they argued, they could better protect the
interests of India during British colonial rule. Many Western-educated Indians were increasingly
troubled, however, by the growing virulence of British racism.
Chapter 33
As an elite organization, the INC had difficulty gaining a mass following among India’s vast peasant
population. That began to change during World War I. To attract Indian support for the war effort, the
British in 1917 had promised “the gradual development of self-governing institutions,” which energized
nationalist politicians to demand more rapid political change. Furthermore, British attacks on the
Islamic Ottoman Empire antagonized India’s Muslims. INC politicians also increasingly stressed the
drain of Indian resources and existence of rural poverty. As evidence, they cited how taxes on Indians
paid for generous bureaucratic salaries that the Indians were qualified to assume, how the government
only purchased steel or rail equipment from British manufacturers, and how policies promoting the
production of cash crops (like cotton, jute, indigo) played a major role in regional famines.
Occasional political concessions added some legitimacy to the INC, but often the British opinion was
that a price had to be paid for the peace and good government that came with colonial rule. Finally, on
1919, a group of Indian protesters gathered in a public square in the city of Amritsar. To end the rally,
British soldiers fired their guns into the crowd for ten minutes. The event, named the Amritsar
Massacre, killed approximately 1000 Indian protesters and sparked mass appeal for independence.
This was the context in which Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) arrived on the Indian political scene.
While it was economic inequality, political conditions, and repressive actions following World War I
that broadened the interest in nationalism, it was Mohandas Gandhi that emerged to lead the
movement. Gandhi quickly rose within the leadership ranks of the INC and used the growing
momentum to turn localized protest into a sustained all-India campaign against the policies of the
colonial overlords. Due to a combination of factors, Gandhi was more able to build a following
amongst a wide spectrum of Indians—peasants and the urban poor, intellectuals and artisans,
capitalists and socialists, Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi’s conduct and actions—his simple and
unpretentious lifestyle, his support of Muslims, his frequent reference to Hindu religious themes—
transformed the INC into a mass organization. Perhaps the most important strategy was one he
developed a decade earlier as a lawyer in the Indian migrant community in South Africa. Gandhi's
nonviolent but quite confrontational protest tactics endeared him both to the moderates and to more
radical elements within the nationalist movement. His advocacy of peaceful boycotts, strikes,
noncooperation, and mass demonstrations—which he labeled collectively satyagraha, or truth
force—proved an effective way of weakening British control while limiting opportunities for violent
reprisals that would allow the British to make full use of their superior military strength.
It is difficult to separate Gandhi's approach to mass protest from Gandhi as an individual and thinker.
His background as a Western-educated lawyer gave him considerable exposure to the world beyond
India and an astute understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the British colonizers. These
qualities and his soon legendary skill in negotiating with the British made it possible for Gandhi to
build up a strong following among middle-class, Western-educated Indians. But the success of
Gandhi's protest tactics also hinged on the involvement of ever increasing numbers of the Indian
people in anti-colonial resistance. Gandhi's widespread popular appeal, in turn, gave him even
greater influence among nationalist politicians. The latter were very much aware of the leverage his
mass following gave to them in their ongoing contests with the British overlords. Under Gandhi's
leadership, nationalist protest surged in India during the 1920s and 1930s.
Gandhi’s ideology was a radicalism of a different kind, which earned him both supporters and
detractors. He did not call for social revolution but sought the moral transformation of India by
stressing inclusion and duty. For example, he also worked to raise the status of India’s untouchables,
and many ordinary people spoke of Gandhi’s possessed miraculous powers (which earned him the
nickname, Mahatma or Great Soul). But, Gandhi had to contend with a wide range of movements,
whose very diversity tore at the national unity that he so ardently sought. Not everyone accepted
Gandhi’s nonviolence or religious inclusiveness. And some in the Congress Party believed that efforts
to improve the position of untouchables were a distraction from the chief task of gaining
independence. By far the most serious threat to a unified movement derived from the growing divide
Chapter 33
between the country’s Hindu and Muslim populations. As early as 1906, the formation of a Muslim
League contradicted the Congress Party’s claim to speak for all Indians. As the British allowed more
elected Indian representatives on local councils, the League demanded separate electorates, with a
fixed number of seats for Muslims. As a distinct minority within India, some Muslims feared that their
voice could be swamped by a numerically dominant Hindu population, despite Gandhi’s inclusive
philosophy. Some Hindu politicians confirmed those fears when they cast the nationalist struggle in
Hindu religious terms or promoting the teaching of Hindi language over Urdu (favored by Muslims).
Winning of Independence
World War II soon put India on a path to independence, as hardships similar to those caused by
World War I now added to a mass nationalist movement. At first, the Congress Party agreed to
support the Allies’ war effort if the British committed to Indian independence once the conflict was
over. Although some politicians indicated that they were willing to negotiate India's eventual
independence, Britain’s leader, Winston Churchill, staunchly rejected this idea. Instead, nationalist
leaders renewed civil disobedience campaigns. In 1942, the Quit India Movement called for
immediate Indian independence, boycott of British goods, and non-cooperation with British employers.
The British responded with repression and mass arrests; as a result, Gandhi and other INC politicians
were imprisoned for much of World War II. The only nationalist group to support the British cause was
the Muslim League, led by the uncompromising Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This wartime support won
the Muslim League much favor as their demands for a separate Muslim state hardened and became a
key factor in shaping decolonization in South Asia.
Following the devastation of World War II, new British leadership was ready to negotiate with India's
nationalist leaders. With independence all but assured, the process of decolonization focused on the
type of states that would be carved out of the subcontinent after the British withdrawal. Jinnah and the
Muslim League played on Muslim anxieties that a single Indian nation would be dominated by the
Hindu majority, and that the Muslim minority would become the targets of increasing discrimination. It
was therefore essential, they insisted, that a separate Muslim state called Pakistan be created from
those areas in northwest and east India where Muslims were the most numerous. As religious
tensions and violence rose, the British concluded that a bloodbath could be averted only by
partition—the creation of two nations in the subcontinent: one secular, one Muslim. Thus, in the
summer of 1947, the British handed power over to the Congress party, who headed the new nation of
India, and to Jinnah, who became the first president of Pakistan.
In part because of the haste with which the British withdrew their forces from the deeply divided
subcontinent, a bloodbath occurred anyway. Viciously, religious violence destroyed whole villages and
extremists attacked trains full of passenger. In addition to hundreds of thousands of casualties, these
atrocities led to a massive refugee crisis (totaling 10 million) as Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims attempted
to find safe areas for their communities. Those who fled were so terrified that they were willing to give
up their land, their villages, and most of their worldly possessions. Gandhi himself, desperately trying
to stem the mounting tide of violence in India’s villages, refused to attend the independence
celebrations. The factionalism was compounded by Gandhi’s assassination by a Hindu fanatic in
1948, only a year after independence. The great triumph of independence, secured from the powerful
British Empire, was overshadowed by the violent tragedy of partition.
The India that emerged from partition enjoyed, perhaps, more advantages than any other nation that
gained its independence in the 20th century. To begin with, India’s development started with a larger
industrial sector, a better communication system, a more established bureaucracy, and a larger
middle class than most other emerging nations. These advantages have yielded a remarkably stable
government and an economy primed for growth.
Following Gandhi’s assassination, the most logical choice for voters was prominent Congress official
and close Gandhi ally, Jawaharlal Nehru. In contrast to Gandhi, Nehru thoroughly embraced science,
Chapter 33
technology, and industry as essential to India’s future. To achieve these goals, Nehru and his
successors pushed state intervention and protectionism in some sectors but also encouraged foreign
investment from both the U.S. and Soviet Union. The result has been industrial and agricultural
growth that has generated the tax revenue necessary to promote literacy schemes, family planning,
and village electrification. With these gains the Congress Party has continued to rule at the federal
level for most of the independence era, even if opposition parties have controlled many local
governments and remained vocal in the national parliament. So, despite corruption, secessionist
movements, religious tension, and linguistic tension, India remains the world’s largest democracy.
Civil liberties, exemplified by free press and elections, have also been upheld, and the government
has outlawed caste discrimination. India has had the good fortune to be governed by INC leaders
who were deeply committed to democracy, civil rights, economic development, and social reform. In
recent decades, India has developed one of the largest and most sophisticated high-tech sectors in
the world, providing tens of thousands of computer and Internet experts for U.S. and European firms.
Despite its successes, India has suffered from growing pains that are so common in newly
independent nations. Whatever the government's intentions, there have simply not been the
resources to raise the living standards of a majority of its huge population. The middle class has
grown – as seen in Indian films and affluent urban neighborhoods. But, nearly 50% of India's people
have gained little since independence, often living on as little as $1.25 per day. In part, population
growth has offset economic gains, but social reform has also been slow. Outlawing caste and
urbanization have not ended the system’s latent practice in rural areas. And, groups such as the
wealthy landlords, who supported the nationalist drive for independence, have continued to dominate
the great mass of landless peasants.
The Pakistan that emerged from partition was for several decades a clumsy two-part country: its
western section in the Indus Valley and its eastern portion on the opposite side of India in the Ganges
Delta. This situation did not bode well for the country. The Bengalis, occupying the poorer eastern
section, complained that they were treated as second-class citizens. With political and economic
power entrenched in the West Pakistan, boundary issues produced political instability and threatened
the viability of Pakistan. Ultimately in 1971, extreme contrasts of geography and culture led to
violence and the secession of East Pakistan, leading to the formation of the independent of country of
Bangladesh. This separation did not solve Pakistan’s problems, however, as it has remained
politically unstable, prone to military rule, and economically under-developed.
33.3 – Ghana (& Tropical Africa)
Growing Nationalism
With India’s earlier colonization, its nationalist movement organized much earlier than could be
expected in Africa. Most of Africa had only come under European colonial rule a few decades before
the outbreak of World War I. During that short time, European missionary efforts had produced small
groups of Western-educated Africans in parts of west and southern Africa by the end of the 19th
century. Like their counterparts in India, most Western-educated Africans were staunchly loyal to their
British and French overlords during the First World War. But like in India, World War I was a pivotal
point in Africa’s drive toward independence. Other key themes were also repeated—such as the lead
taken by Western-educated elites, the importance of charismatic leaders in spreading the anti-colonial
struggle to the masses, and a reliance on nonviolent forms of protest.
With the backing of both traditional African leaders and Western-educated elites, the British and
French were able to draw on their African possessions for manpower and raw materials throughout
World War I. But this reliance took its toll on European dominance and Africa in the long run. In
addition to local rebellions aimed at the use of African soldiers, the war effort seriously diminished
demand for luxury cash crops and re-routed food that Africans produced. African villagers were not
happy to go hungry so that their crops could feed the Entente armies. But, the British were quick to
Chapter 33
promise that once the war was won young Africans who enlisted in the armed forces would be
rewarded with honors, public recognition, and opportunities for better jobs. So, while relations
between Europeans and colonized Africans were tense during World War I, there were enough
Africans loyal to the cause that colonial rule was not seriously disrupted or threatened.
European justifications for their wartime demands were discredited after the war. Europeans kept few
of their wartime promises, which contributed a good deal to unrest in the early 1920s. Simmering
tensions came to the fore, as major strikes and riots broke out repeated in the postwar years. Under
pressure, western-educated Africans were given greater opportunities to build political associations
and serve in a limited number of administrative posts, especially in British colonies. As postwar
tempers abated and political concessions were made, nationalist groups matured as they sought to
strengthen their following and intellectual basis. Calls for political mobilization among the Westerneducated became even more pronounced in the late 1920s. Though most of these early political
organizations were too loosely structured to be considered true political parties, some of their leaders
recognized a growing need to build a mass base and sense of nationalism. By the 1930s, the Great
Depression led to more aggressive questioning of British policies, and the economic slump also led
African leaders to reach out to ordinary villagers through newspapers more than ever before. But,
these efforts yielded little success, and the creation of a mass nationalist movement would only come
to full fruition after colonies were plunged yet again into a second global war.
World War II proved even more unsettling to Africa than the first global conflict. Forced labor and
confiscation of crops returned; inflation again cut down on African earnings. But, the wartime needs
brought on by World War II now led the British and French to abandon their longstanding restrictions
on industrial development in colonial Africa. Factories were established to process urgently needed
vegetable oils, foods, and minerals. These, in turn, contributed to a growing urban migration as
Africans searched for work. Any lingering patience with the war effort was seriously tested when many
Africans were unable to find employment. The urban unemployed made for a reservoir of disgruntled,
idle workers that would be skillfully recruited by nationalist politicians in the postwar decades.
Winning of Independence
The process of independence in African tropical dependencies was epitomized by the British colony,
Gold Coast. After hundreds of thousands of African soldiers spent six years using the latest
European weapons to destroy Europeans, the desire to destroy their colonial rule seemed within
reach. The emerging anti-European sentiment was compounded when African servicemen
experienced renewed racial discrimination. Previously fighting bravely on behalf of Europeans,
African veterans of World War II were soon among the staunchest supporters of postwar
independence campaigns in British and French colonies. With an infusion of support, African
nationalists turned more radical – pushing more aggressively for independence through civil
disobedience. Leaders of political organizations now garnered widespread support.
In this context, Kwame Nkrumah rose to prominence in Gold Coast. Highly educated in missionary
schools and American universities, he witnessed a land in ferment upon returning to the Gold Coast in
the late 1940s. Well-connected to civil rights activists in both the U.S. and Africa, Nkrumah and his
political allies organized protests in early 1948 over issues of pensions for ex-servicemen, the dominant
role of foreigners in the economy, the shortage of housing, and other economic and political
grievances. When British police fired into a crowd of demonstrators and ex-servicemen in the coastal
city of Accra, rioting broke out in towns across the Gold Coast colony. To calm the rioting, the British
threw six African leaders, including Nkrumah, into jail. Having killed three former soldiers and
wounding more than 60, both urban workers and cash crop farmers entered the political fray, united
against the British. Until that point, change that placed real power in African hands was not a priority
among British leaders. Now, the government steadily increased its financial backing for state and
mission schools, and in 1948 the first center of higher learning, the University College, was opened.
African leaders were also given seats on colonial legislative councils. Having just earned major political
Chapter 33
concessions, many Western-educated African politicians were reluctant to organize mass public
support into an independence movement. Rejecting this cautious approach, Nkrumah broke with more
established leaders and formed his own political party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP).
Having already pioneered a new style of politics by organizing mass rallies, boycotts, and strikes,
Kwame Nkrumah now called for “self-government now,” and pioneered the drive for independence in
tropical Africa. With increasing popular backing, the CPP initiated a campaign of "positive action,"
intended to instigate widespread strikes and nonviolent resistance in 1950. When some violence
occurred, Nkrumah was promptly arrested and imprisoned for agitation. But this merely increased his
prestige as a hero of the cause. Undeterred by imprisonment or British threats, Nkrumah’s stature and
following had grown to unparalleled levels by the mid-1950s. As a result, educated Africans were
given more and more representation in legislative bodies, and gradually they took over administration
of the colony. The British recognition of Nkrumah as the prime minister of an independent nation in
1957 simply concluded a transfer of power from the European colonizers to the Western-educated
African elite that had been under way for nearly a decade. The new nation was named, Ghana, and
set off a wave of peaceful transfers of power to nationalists in tropical Africa in the 1960s.
After assuming power as prime minister of Ghana in 1957, Nkrumah moved vigorously to initiate
programs that would translate his high aspirations for his people into reality. He was genuinely
committed to social reform and economic uplift for the Ghanaian people. Nkrumah's time in office was
initially successful, as forestry, fishing, and mining expanded. Also, production of Ghana’s main
export, cocoa, doubled. Nkrumah taxed these additional revenues in order to invest in various
development projects, because his main goal was to rapidly industrialize Ghana's economy. He
reasoned that to become truly independent Ghana had to escape reduce dependence on the colonial
trade system. In order to industrialize, Nkrumah used government funds to build a dam on the Volta
River for irrigation and hydro-electric power. Government funds were also used for village projects in
which local people built schools and roads. Nkrumah identified social reform as a key obstacle of
development, so he introduced free health care and education. The education initiative called for a 7year plan to focus on mathematics, English and vernacular literacy, and the expansion of technical
schools and apprenticeship programs. If he were to succeed, Nkrumah further believed that he must
eliminate “tribalism”, a source of loyalties held more deeply than those to the nation-state.
But Nkrumah’s ambitious schemes for everything from universal education to industrial development
soon ran into trouble. Most devastatingly, the price of cocoa fell sharply soon after Ghana’s
independence. Tens of thousands of cocoa farmers were hard hit, and the resources for Nkrumah's
development plans suddenly dried up. Government development spending continued however, and
the country was driven into debt—estimated at $1 billion by the mid-1960s. And discontent grew from
Nkrumah’s his efforts to stamp out tribal and religious loyalties. Also, his leftist leanings may have won
support from the Soviet bloc but led to growing tension with the U.S. As a result, groups, who
previously helped Nkrumah come to power, grew hostile and challenged his initiatives.
Nkrumah's response to these growing problems was a retreat into authoritarian rule and continuation
of failed programs – even without funding. Increasingly dictatorial, he controlled the media and
outlawed rival political parties. He also jailed opposition leaders, while making charismatic appeals to
the masses. Nkrumah sought to maintain support by giving fiery speeches that emphasized a revival
of African traditions and African civilization. Even the nation’s name, Ghana, was a hint at Nkrumah’s
love of propaganda. The 10th century Ghanaian kingdom was actually centered much farther to the
north and had little to do with the peoples of the Gold Coast. In addition to inventing connections to
Ghana's past, Nkrumah staged events dedicated to the "revolution," which often consisted of building
giant statues of himself. Crushing rivals, Nkrumah propagated a totalitarian, cult of personality by
comparing himself to Confucius, Muhammad, Shakespeare, and Napoleon. His loyalists predicted
that Nkrumah’s birthplace would serve as a "Mecca" for all of Africa's leaders, but in 1966, during the
rapid deteriorating of the Ghanaian economy, he was removed from power by military coup.
Chapter 33
Violent Independence Movements
In no way were all decolonization movements peaceful. The pattern of relatively peaceful withdrawal
by stages that characterized the process of decolonization in most of Asia and Africa proved
unworkable in: (1) most settler colonies and (2) several French colonies. In fact, several colonies
needed to wage particularly bloody campaigns to achieve independence. In settler colonies, like
Algeria and Kenya, substantial numbers of Europeans settled permanently in the 19th and early 20th
centuries. In each case, the presence of European settler communities, varying in size from millions
in Algeria to tens of thousands in Kenya, blocked both the rise of indigenous nationalist movements
and concessions on the part of the colonial overlords. In French colonies, the French colonial
governments had been administered through direct rule. Such an emphasis on hierarchy and French
direction was only possible due to their focus on assimilating the indigenous people to French ways of
life. Therefore, the French were more apt to view their colonies as truly part of France and any efforts
toward independence as betrayals. Still, as in colonies that achieved independence through
negotiation, the global context of the world wars and Cold War were pivotal in shaping these
movements and violent struggles.
33.4 – Algeria (& Settler Africa)
Growing Nationalism
European colonial holdings were instrumental to their ability to conduct a massive world war in the
beginning of the 20th century. Colonies were used for their material support of the war in Europe in
addition to providing soldiers drafted for the frontlines. In an effort to offset the resulting poverty,
famine, and hardships, European governments often promised that reforms and better pay would
follow after the Great War had concluded. But, European’s failure to keep these promises bred
discontent and use of African soldiers on the battlefront shattered any idea of white supremacy. As
an influential colonial administrator pointed out, the desperate plight of the British and French also
forced them to teach tens of thousands of Africans:
…how to kill white men, around whom [they had] been taught to weave a web of sanctity of life.
[They] also know how to handle bombs and Lewis guns and Maxims ... and [they have] seen the
white men budge when [they have] stood fast. Altogether [they have] acquired much knowledge
that might be put to uncomfortable use someday.
The strain of World War I contributed a good deal to unrest during the 1920s and 1930s in Africa.
This was particularly true of the French colonies, where opportunities for political organization, much
less protest, were severely constricted before, during, and after the war. Major strikes and riots broke
out repeatedly after the war.
But, while the interwar years were a time of growing anti-European sentiment, they were largely
peaceful. Although political organization was harshly restricted in French colonial Africa, France
allowed a small but well-educated group of Africans representation in the French parliament. These
conditions meant that French-speaking West Africans concentrated their organizational and ideological efforts in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. West African expatriates, for example, began the
negritude literary movement in Paris, which did much to combat the racial stereotyping that had so
long viewed Africans as inferior to the Europeans. Writers eloquently argued that in the pre-colonial
era, African peoples had built societies where women were freer and the elderly were better cared for
than in the “civilized” West. The African leaders and writers of the interwar years may have done
much to raise appreciation for African issues both in Europe and Africa, but calls for independence
were much slower to develop.
The global depression during the 1930s and a second world war in less than thirty years added
significant economic strain to Africa – a continent long hurt by its dependence on trade with Europe.
Palm oil, nuts, rubber, tin, aluminum, food stuffs were among the goods exported from Africa during
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World War II. The revenue from these exports only totally benefitted European-owned firms, at the
expense of badly housed and underfed African labor. Now seeing independence as a necessity,
Germany’s swift rout of the French and Belgians shattered whatever was left of the colonizers'
reputation for military prowess. This was a dangerous development in settler colonies. Because the
European settlers regarded the colonies to which they had migrated as their permanent homes, they
fought all attempts to give the African majority political representation or even to grant them civil
rights. European settlers also refused any reform measures that required them to give up any of the
lands they had occupied. Fearful of angering the highly vocal settler minority, colonial officials did not
push reforms particularly hard either. Economically desperate, forbidden from nonviolent protest, and
unable to make headway through negotiations, many African leaders turned to violent, revolutionary
struggles to win their independence after World War II.
Winning Independence
The first of these erupted in British-controlled Kenya in the early 1950s. Impatient with the failure of
the nonviolent approach adopted by leader Jomo Kenyatta, an underground guerilla organization
coalesced around a group of more radical leaders. In the early 1950s, the radicals mounted a
campaign of terror against the British, the settlers, and Africans who were considered collaborators. At
the height of the struggle in 1954, some 200,000 rebels violently fought for independence in Kenya.
The British responded with an all-out military effort to crush the guerrilla movement, which was
dismissed as savagery. In the process, the British, at the settlers' insistence, imprisoned Kenyatta,
thus eliminating the nonviolent alternative to the guerrillas. The rebel movement had been militarily
defeated by 1956 at the cost of thousands of lives. But the British were now in a mood to negotiate
with the nationalists, despite strong objections from the European settlers. Kenyatta was released
from prison, and he emerged as the spokesperson for the Africans of Kenya. By 1963 a multiracial
Kenya had won its independence. Under what was, in effect, Kenyatta's one-party rule, it remained
until the mid-1980s one of the most stable and more prosperous of the new African states.
Perhaps the bloodiest decolonization was in the settler colony of Algeria. The struggle of the Arab
and Berber peoples of Algeria for independence was longer and even more vicious than that in
Kenya. In 1946, when the French government was restored following the fall of the Nazis, a new
constitution was written establishing the Fourth Republic of France. In this document, Algeria was
considered to be a department of France, with the same legal status as a province inside of France,
and not just a colony. Long seen as an integral part of France, the presence of more than a million
European settlers in the colony only served to bolster the resolve of French politicians to retain it at all
costs. As Premier Pierre Mendes-France declared, “One does not compromise when it comes to
defending the internal peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the Republic. The Algerian
departments are part of the French Republic. They have been French for a long time, and they are
irrevocably French… Between them and metropolitan France there can be no separation.”
In the decade after World War II, Algerian nationalists started to openly push for an end to colonialism
and the special privileges held by white settlers. But by 1954, sporadic rioting grew into sustained
guerrilla resistance. Led by the National Liberation Front (FLN), military outposts and government
targets were attacked. Within a few years, large segments of the Algerian Arab population were
mobilized into full-scale revolt against European dominance, and their attacks broadened to include
the French settler population. The French government responded to the revolt with force, committing
over 400,000 troops to Algeria. High-ranking French army officers came to see the defeat of this
movement as a way to restore a reputation that had been badly tarnished by defeats in Vietnam
during the same period. By 1958 most of the urban cells of the FLN were destroyed. However, the
fight in the rural and mountainous regions of Algeria intensified. The FLN conducted a brutal
campaign that the French countered with a massive show of military force that included aerial
bombardments. Resettlement camps were established to isolate people thought to be supporting the
rebels. Over two million Algerians were forced from their homes. In 1958, public opinion in France
became so divided over Algeria that the French government in Paris collapsed from the strain in 1958,
Chapter 33
thereby putting an end to the Fourth Republic. As a result, revered French leader, Charles De Gaulle,
agreed to take charge and called for a new constitution, establishing the Fifth Republic.
By the end of 1959, the French army was the closest it would get to a complete military victory. As the
Algerian rebels were gradually defeated in the field, the French people had wearied of the seemingly
endless war. De Gaulle began a negotiated independence for Algeria as he became convinced that he
could not restore France to its once powerful status as long as its resources continued to be drained
by the Algerian conflict. De Gaulle’s call for self-determination led to an agreement between the
Algerian nationalists and the French government that temporarily protected the rights of the colonists
for a three-year period – after which, the colonists could either return to France or seek Algerian
citizenship. These negotiations deeply angered the French settler community, who prolonged the
Algerian struggle with a violent backlash. Settlers attacked Arabs, Berbers, and even French citizens
who favored Algerian independence. One violent settler organization attempted to assassinate De
Gaulle. Given the violent struggle, some six million Algerians voted for independence in 1962. On
July 5, Algeria officially declared its independence from France. After the bitter civil war, a multiracial
accommodation (like in Kenya) was out of the question. Over 900,000 French settlers left Algeria
within months after its birth. In addition, tens of thousands of French-sympathizing Arabs fled to
France and formed the core of the substantial Algerian population now present in France.
Violent independence movements did not define all French colonies however. Ongoing negotiations
with highly westernized leaders in Senegal and the Ivory Coast led to reforms and political
concessions. The slow French retreat ensured that moderate African leaders, who were eager to
retain French economic and cultural ties, would dominate the nationalist movements and the postindependence period in French West Africa. Between 1956 and 1960, the French colonies moved by
stages toward nationhood. By 1960 all of France's West African colonies were free. But, the more
conciliatory approach toward the peoples of West Africa came only after costly military struggles to
hold on to their colonies in Algeria and Vietnam.
33.5 - Vietnam
Growing Nationalism
French interest in Vietnam reached back as far as the 17th century. Initially, the French were focused
on extending trade and Catholicism to the region. But, like other tropical dependencies, Vietnamese
conflicts provided the opening for French political control and colonization of Indochina. Despite a
long tradition of rebelling against foreign rule, Vietnamese leaders fiercely resisted French rule with no
success. By the mid-1800s, all of Indochina was under French control. In the decades that followed,
the French concentrated on drawing revenue and resources from Vietnam while providing very little in
return. The French determination to make Vietnam a profitable colony resulted in deepening social
and economic problems that were already severe under Vietnamese rulers. Heavy French taxes and
limited land for subsistence led to large numbers of Vietnamese fleeing their ancestral villages to work
on plantations established by French and Chinese entrepreneurs. As a result of a troubling 19th
century, Vietnam was a colony typified by economic inequity prior to World War I.
The failure of Vietnamese rulers to resist the French did much to discredit the old, Confucian order.
Perhaps because it was imported rather than homegrown, the Vietnamese rejected Confucianism and
with less trauma than the Chinese once its failings were clear. But its demise left a vacuum that the
Vietnamese, like the Chinese, would struggle for decades to fill.
In the early 20th century, a new Western-educated middle class, similar to that found in other colonial
settings, was formed. It was made up mainly of the children of the traditional elite. Some, taking
advantage of their parents' wealth, went to French schools, spoke fluent French, craved French
fashions, and worked in the French colonial administration. Despite a respect for French culture,
many French-educated Vietnamese witnessed inequality that was troubling. Like their colonized
Chapter 33
counterparts elsewhere, well-educated Vietnamese soon formed political organizations that were
initially concentrated on racism, improving their wages, and gaining access to positions in the colonial
government. But the Versailles conference that ended World War I did much to re-ignite Vietnam’s
traditional nationalist pride. By brushing aside talk of self-determination, the French sparked
Vietnamese commitment to violent revolution in the early 1920s. Now firmly pitted against French
colonial rule, the political organizations of elite Vietnamese merged into a nationalist movement led by
the Vietnamese Nationalist Party (or VNQDD). With a following comprised of teachers and
intellectuals, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party used clandestine attacks to assassinate French
officials and Vietnamese collaborators in the late 1920s. Replacing their strategy of isolated attacks,
the Nationalist Party launched large-scale mutiny in 1930 with the aim of expelling the French in a
single blow. But, the mutiny was quickly put down, with heavy French retribution, harassment, and
censorship. Leading figures were captured and executed, and the Nationalist Party never regained its
political strength in Vietnam after the crackdown.
While the liberal-oriented Vietnamese Nationalist Party led the charge, interest in communism grew
amongst some in Vietnam. Dogged by its elite roots, the Nationalist Party was never able to develop
mass support from peasants and urban laborers. Instead the Communist Party and its charismatic
leader, Ho Chi Minh, supported the lower classes and their calls for independence during the 1930s.
At the same time that Europeans and other Asians were flirting with the ideas of communism in the
1920s, Ho Chi Minh was studying Marxism in France and the Soviet Union. He also attended the
Chinese military academic that was established by the Soviet Union. Although rivals of the Nationalist
Party, the communists were also disillusioned by the failures of self-determination and were dedicated
to revolutionary struggle against the French – now with broader support. Harsh French repression
and then Japan’s invasion of Southeast Asia during World War II forced the communists underground
however. But like the Chinese communists, these circumstances actually worked to Ho Chi Minh’s
advantage in the long run. The communist party in Vietnam, called the Viet Minh, skillfully used
guerilla tactics in north against the Japanese and French. In its remote rugged base, the Viet Minh
established their organizational structure and ideology. Coupled with their guerilla defense of
Vietnam, the Viet Minh garnered serious support from peasants by testing their programs for land
reform and mass education. The fact that the Viet Minh actually put effort into providing assistance to
the peasants convinced the much-abused Vietnamese people that here at last was a political
organization genuinely committed to improving their lot.
Winning Independence
French colonial rule in Indochina was weakened by the Japanese invasion during World War II, and
the Vietnamese communists were ready to use the colonizers' setbacks to advance the struggle for
national liberation. With the abrupt end of World War II and Japanese rule, only the Viet Minh were
prepared to fill the power vacuum. Rapidly advancing from the rural hill regions, the Viet Minh were
in control of Hanoi by 1945, and Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the establishment of the independent nation
of Vietnam. Although the communist Viet Minh had liberated much of the north, they had very little
control in the south. While rival Vietnamese factions jostled for power in the south, the French
reoccupied the southern Vietnam after World War II, eager to reclaim their colonial empire. From
there, the French moved to reassert their colonial control over the whole of Indochina in 1946. The
effect of this move was the division of Vietnam into a communist north and a French-held south.
Despite the Viet Minh’s widespread support in North Vietnam, the French denounced the Viet Minh
claim of independence as illegitimate, and a bloody war ensued. Soon Vietnam was consumed freefor-all as Vietnamese factions and the French all fought for control of Vietnam. After nearly a decade
of guerilla war, the Viet Minh had gained control of much of the Vietnamese countryside, and the
French clung to the fortified towns due to increasing American financial and military assistance.
Finally, in 1954 the Viet Minh decisively defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. The victory gained
international recognition for a free, communist North Vietnam, but the south remained separate.
With the French removed, the United Nations not only brokered a treaty that recognized an
Chapter 33
independent communist state in North Vietnam, it also planned for a reunited Vietnam. The treaty
promised elections throughout Vietnam within two years to decide who should govern a combined
north and south. However, this electoral contest never materialized. Like much of the world, Vietnam
became entangled in the Cold War maneuvers of the United States and the Soviet Union. In the
context of the Cold War the U.S. wanted to fiercely counter the growing fame of Ho Chi Minh as a
communist leader, despite cooperation between the Viet Minh and U.S. armed forces against Japan
during World War II. The anticommunist hysteria in the United States in the early 1950s fed the
American perception that South Vietnam, like South Korea, must be protected from communist
takeover. Appearing to have impeccable nationalist credentials, Ngo Dinh Diem was installed as the
leader of a nominally democratic South Vietnam as a result. Propped up by U.S. economic and
military assistance, Diem appeared to be a strong candidate to reunite Vietnam under a banner of
democracy. Yet, his Catholic beliefs and connections to the U.S. would soon alienate him from the
great majority of the Vietnamese people. In response to Diem, the communist Viet Minh in North
Vietnam aided a communist resistance in the south, known as the Viet Cong. As the north sent
weapons and advisors to their southern comrades, a guerilla war escalated with the communist Viet
Minh and Viet Cong against Diem and the United States.
As the communist tide swelled in the Vietnamese countryside, the United States escalated military
intervention. From thousands of special advisors in the early 1950s, the U.S. commitment rose to
nearly 500,000 men and women, who made up a massive force of occupation by 1968. But despite
bombarding North Vietnam with more bombs than used in World War II on Germany, Italy, and Japan
combined, Americans could not defeat the communist movement. In part, their failure resulted from
their very presence, which made it possible for the communists to convince the majority of the
Vietnamese people that they were fighting for their independence from yet another imperialist
aggressor. Frustrated by guerilla war, the loss of 60,000 American lives, and one million South
Vietnamese casualties, U.S. tension over the war effort necessitated a change. With the communists
refusing to yield, U.S. diplomats negotiated an end to direct American involvement in the conflict in the
early 1970s. Without U.S. support, the communists overwhelmed the south and united Vietnam under
a single government in 1975 for the first time in over a century.
In the years since communist victory in 1975, efforts to build an effective communist society in
Vietnam have failed. After decades of war, this failure, in part, can be linked to U.S. efforts to isolate
communist societies from the rest of the international community. Faced with a shattered economy, a
devastated environment, and little international assistance, Vietnam's aging revolutionary leaders
pushed hardline Marxist, Leninist, and even Stalinist agendas. Like their Chinese counterparts, the
rigid dictatorial regime and centralized economy stifled growth and, if anything, left the Vietnamese
people almost as impoverished as they had been during colonialism and war. By the late 1980s, the
obvious failure of hardline approaches in Vietnam, the collapse of communist regimes throughout
Eastern Europe, and the success of reform in China, prompted pragmatic reform measures in
Vietnam aimed at expanding the market sector of the economy. In response, Japanese, European,
and even American political and economic institutions have normalized relations with Vietnam’s
government and invested in its industrial sectors. But, like many other postcolonial nations, Vietnam
has paid a high price for its efforts at integration into the globalizing economy. Many of its workers
have had to endure the sweatshop conditions widely found in foreign factories, social inequality has
increased markedly, and the free education system and public services once provided by the
communist state have nearly disappeared.
Chapter 33
Independent with Lingering Colonial Legacy
33.6 - South Africa: Persistence of White Supremacy
South Africa’s twentieth century freedom struggle differed greatly from those of India, Ghana, or
Algeria – most notably because Britain had granted South Africa its independence in 1910.
Independence, however, had been granted to a South African government wholly controlled by a
white settler minority, which represented less than 20 percent of the total population. The country’s
black African majority had no political rights whatsoever within the state. Rather than fighting against
an occupying European colonial power, black South Africans struggled against internal forces that
lingered from a long colonial past.
Economically, the most prominent white settlers were of British descent. They or their forebears had
come to South Africa during the nineteenth century, when Great Britain was the ruling colonial power.
But the politically dominant section of the white community, known as Boers or Afrikaners, was
descended from the early Dutch settlers, who had arrived in the mid-seventeenth century. The term
“Afrikaner” reflected their image of themselves as “white Africans” and permanent residents of the
continent rather than colonial intruders. The Afrikaners had unsuccessfully sought independence from
a British-ruled South Africa in a bitter struggle (the Boer War, 1899–1902), and a sense of difference
and antagonism lingered. Despite continuing hostility between white South Africans of British and
Afrikaner background, both felt that their way of life and standard of living were jeopardized by any
move toward black African majority rule. The rigidity of this sizable and threatened settler community
helps explain why black African rule and true independence was delayed until 1994.
South Africa’s ability to preserve white supremacy until 1994 rested on several factors that
distinguished it from other settler societies. To begin with, the white population of South Africa, equally
divided between the Dutch-descended Afrikaners and the more recently arrived British, was a good
deal larger than that of any of the other settler societies (roughly 4.5 million). And unlike the settlers in
Kenya and Algeria who had the option of retreating to Europe, the Afrikaners had no European
homeland to fall back upon. They had lived in South Africa as long as other Europeans had in North
America, and they considered themselves quite distinct from the Dutch. Next, the Afrikaners had for
centuries created an elaborate ideology of white supremacy that quoted biblical verses and spoke of
struggle against both the African "savages" and the British "imperialists." Last, and ironically, British
defeat of the Afrikaners in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902 also contributed much to the capacity of the
white settler minority to maintain its place of dominance in South Africa. A sense of guilt – arising
especially from the British use internment camps for Afrikaner women and children during the war – led
the victors to make major political concessions to the Afrikaners in the postwar decades. The most
important of these led parliamentary parties to select an Afrikaner as South Africa’s prime minister,
which essentially turned over the fate of the black African majority to the openly racist Afrikaners.
With Afrikaners now the driving force in South Africa, the continued subjugation of black Africans
became a central aim of political parties that emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, most notably the
Afrikaner National Party. After India gained independence, South Africa was by far the most
strategic, populous, and wealthy area where colonial domination of the majority population remained.
In 1948, the Afrikaner National Party was elected as the majority party in the all-white South African
legislature. Following their electoral victory, the Nationalist party devoted itself to establishing lasting
white domination over the political, social, and economic life of the new nation. Through thousands of
laws, the Afrikaners instituted a rigid system of racial segregation, called apartheid. The Dutch
Afrikaner-led Nationalist party further solidified its control through a series of elections in which the
majority black population was not allowed to vote. Among other things, laws were passed that
reserved skilled and high-paying jobs for whites. The right to vote and political representation were
denied to the black Africans, and ultimately to Indians and those of mixed descent. It was illegal for
Chapter 33
members of any of these groups to hold mass meetings, organize political parties, or form labor
unions. When taken together, the apartheid laws dominated all aspects of South African life until the
1990s, but the system was not designed to just ensure a monopoly of political power and economic
dominance. The white minority, both British- and Dutch-descended, also imposed a system of
extreme social segregation on all races of South Africa. Separate and unequal facilities were
established for different racial groups for recreation, education, housing, work, and medical care.
Socializing, dating, and sexual intercourse across racial lines were strictly prohibited. The Afrikaners
opportunistically cultivated divisions among the diverse black African population, which contributed to
their ability to preserve a bastion of white supremacy. Spatial separation was organized on a far
grander scale than separate bathrooms. While the rest of Africa was gaining its independence,
numerous homelands within South Africa were created, each designated for the main "tribal" groups
within the black African population. Though touted by the Afrikaners as the ultimate way to preserve
African cultures, the forced relocation of black South Africans to homelands left the majority
population with a small portion land and some of the poorest land in South Africa. Non-white South
Africans were required to carry passes that listed the parts of South Africa where they were allowed to
work and live. If caught by the police without their passes or in areas where they were not permitted to
travel, non-white South Africans were routinely given stiff jail sentences.
To maintain the blatantly racist and inequitable system of apartheid, the white minority had to build a
police state and expend a large portion of the federal budget on a well-trained military establishment.
Because of the land's great mineral wealth, the Afrikaner nationalists were able to find the resources to
fund their garrison state for decades. Unlike many other colonies and their predominantly agrarian
economy, South Africa by the early twentieth century had developed a mature industrial economy,
based initially in gold and diamond mining but by midcentury included secondary industries such as
steel, chemicals, automobile manufacturing, rubber processing, and heavy engineering. Particularly
since the 1960s, the economy benefited from extensive foreign investment and loans. Almost all black
Africans were involved in this complex modern economy: working in urban industries or mines,
providing labor for white-owned farms, or receiving payments from relatives who did. Because the
homelands were overpopulated and poverty-stricken, the white minority was guaranteed a ready supply
of cheap black labor to work in their factories and mines and on their farms. The extreme dependence
of most Africans on the white-controlled economy rendered individuals highly vulnerable to repressive
action. Denied citizenship in South Africa proper, black laborers were virtually forced to travel (often for
months at a time) between their job sites and their homelands, where they had left their families.
The combined effects of apartheid restrictions, police repression, and limited educational opportunities
hampered the growth of black African political parties and their efforts to mobilize popular support for
the struggle for decolonization. Black organizations did form, such as the African National Congress
(or ANC), but in time they were declared illegal. During the 1950s, a young generation of leaders, like
Nelson Mandela, emerged in the ANC. They focused on launching nonviolent civil disobedience
campaigns—boycotts, strikes, demonstrations, and the burning of the hated passes. The government
of South Africa responded with tremendous force, including the shooting of sixty-nine unarmed
demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960. African leaders such as Nelson Mandela were shipped off to
maximum-security prisons, and other leaders, such as Steve Biko, were murdered while in police
custody. The Afrikaner government banned the ANC, prohibited all forms of black protest, and
brutally repressed even nonviolent resistance. With all avenues of constitutional negotiation and
peaceful protest closed, many advocates of black majority rule turned to guerrilla resistance from the
1960s onward – authorizing selected acts of sabotage and assassination. In an effort to foster pride,
unity, and political awareness among the country’s African majority, young people erupted in protest
in 1976 in a segregated and impoverished black neighborhood outside Johannesburg. Hundreds of
protesters were killed, and the South African government responded in the 1980s by declaring a state
of emergency, which simply intensified the restrictions already in place. The government repeatedly
justified its repression by labeling virtually all black protest as communist-inspired and playing on the
racial fears of the white minority. It appeared that the hardening hostility between the unyielding white
Chapter 33
minority and the frustrated black majority was building to a very violent upheaval.
Beyond this growing internal pressure, South Africa faced mounting international demands to end
apartheid as well. Exclusion from the Olympics, the refusal of many entertainers to perform in South
Africa, and the withdrawal of private investment funds isolated South Africa from the Western world.
An international boycott greatly weakened the South African economy.
The combination of internal and external pressures persuaded many white South Africans by the late
1980s that discussion with African nationalist leaders was the only alternative to a massive, bloody,
and futile struggle to preserve white privileges. Led by the courageous F.W. de Klerk, moderate
Afrikaner leaders pushed for reforms that began to dismantle the system of apartheid. The dramatic
release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the legalization of the ANC, signaled that at long
last the leaders of the white majority were ready to negotiate the future of South African politics and
society. Repealing many apartheid policies, a prolonged process of negotiations ultimately gave all
adult South Africans the right to vote. In 1994, the first free and fair elections that included South
Africa’s black majority resulted in the end of apartheid.
The well-run and remarkably participatory 1994 elections brought to power the African National
Congress party, led by Nelson Mandela, who became the first black president of South Africa.
Mandela proved to be one of the most skillful and respected political leaders on the world scene as
well as a moderating force in the potentially volatile South Africa. The peaceful surrender of power by
F.W. de Klerk's Nationalist party, which was supported by most of the white minority, suggested that a
pluralist democracy might well succeed in South Africa. But major obstacles remain. Bitter interethnic
rivalries, hard-line white supremacist organizations, and the misdistribution of wealth make a just and
equitable social order formidable. Yet, South Africa is considered, along with Brazil, Russia, India,
China (BRICS) among the most powerful emerging states today.
33.7 – Latin America: Neo-Colonialism
Despite gaining independence, the realities of the postcolonial economy presented major obstacles to
the industrial development schemes that leaders of emerging nations often sought. This reality was
particularly stark in Latin America, where nations had gained their independence a century earlier
than other colonies but still had lingering economic ties with the West. Not only did Latin America and
most of the nations that emerged from colonialism have little in the way of an industrial base, but their
means of obtaining one were meager. To buy the machines and hire or train the technical experts that
were essential to get industrialization going, the new nations needed to earn capital they could invest
for these ends. Some funds could be accumulated by saving a portion of the state revenues collected
from the peasantry. In most cases, however, there was little left once the bureaucrats had been paid,
essential public works and education had been funded. Thus, most emerging nations depended on
the sale of cash crops and minerals to earn the money they need to finance industrialization. Price
fluctuations of these commodities created further problems. As a result, many Latin American (and
African) nations struggled economically and politically in the 20th century due to neo-colonial
dependence, where Europe and the United States exert so much economic and cultural control that it
has been reminiscent of colonization.
In Latin America, the countries who gained independence a hundred years earlier wrestled with
growing feelings of nationalism aroused by lingering Western economic influence. Foreshadowing the
experience of African and Asia after they earned their independence, Latin America witnessed a
struggle between the forces of revolution and reaction during much of the 20th century.
Mexican Revolution: 1910-1920
Several cataclysmic events launched Latin America into the 20th century and set in motion trends that
would determine much of the region's subsequent history. The first of these events was the 10-year
Chapter 33
civil war and political upheaval of the Mexican Revolution. Like the Chinese Revolution and Russian
Revolution that occurred during the same decade, the Mexican Revolution reflected concerns about
world economic relationships.
The Mexican regime of Porfirio Diaz had been in power since 1876 and seemed unshakable. During
the Diaz dictatorship, tremendous economic changes had been made, and foreign investment in
mining, railroads, and other sectors of the economy had created a sense of prosperity among the
Mexican elite. However, this progress came at considerable expense. Foreign interests dominated the
economy, and U.S. firms owned 20% of Mexico’s territory. The hacienda system of extensive
landholdings by a small elite dominated agriculture and the peasant labor force. The government took
repressive measures to quiet workers, peasants, and American Indians who opposed the loss of their
lands or the unbearable working conditions. Political opponents often were imprisoned or forced into
exile. In short, Diaz ruled with an iron fist through a corrupt political machine financed by exporting
raw materials to foreign markets. As a result, Mexico faced major issues. The economy was
dependent on exports, and growing nationalism resented foreign influence.
As a result of Diaz’s iron grip on authority, foreign influence, and class divisions, a chaotic ten year
civil war erupted in Mexico. In the north, small farmers, railroaders, and cowboys coalesced under the
colorful commander Pancho Villa. In the south, a peasant-based guerrilla movement led by Emiliano
Zapata developed around an old conflict between American Indians and sugar landlords with the goal
of land reform. Even a few elites called for moderate political reforms to ease popular unrest. When
Diaz sought to crush these efforts, he was driven from power by these numerous factions. With Diaz
removed, these factions fought a violent struggle for power. Zapata demanded sweeping land reform.
Military generals and government loyalists sought to install a dictatorship with large landowner and
foreign support. And, moderate reforms pleased neither the lower nor upper classes. The tide of
revolution could not be stopped by any of these single solutions. Moderate leaders were
assassinated. Villa, Zapata, and the middle-class rose against the loyalists. An extended period of
warfare followed, and the tides of battle shifted constantly. U.S. intervention complicated matters while
aiming to bring order to border regions.
Ultimately, Villa and Zapata maintained control of their home territories, but they could not wrestle
control from more moderate political leaders in Mexico City. Alvaro Obregon, an able general who
learned machine gun and trench tactics from the war raging in Europe, defeated Villa's cavalry in a
series of bloody battles in 1915 and emerged as leader of the government. Politicians then began to
consolidate the changes that taken place in the previous confused and bloody five years. In
particular, a new constitution was written. The new Mexican Constitution of 1917 promised land
reform, limited the foreign ownership of key resources, and guaranteed the rights of workers. Workers
mobilized by the revolution to strike and some cases fight were given representation in the
government. The constitution also placed restrictions on church ownership of property while promising
educational reforms for the masses. By 1920, the civil war had ended, and Obregon was elected
president. There was much to be done. The revolution had devastated the country; 1.5 million people
had died, major industries were destroyed, and farming was disrupted.
As in any revolution, the question of continuity arose when the fighting ended. The revolutionary
leadership hoped to institutionalize the new regime by creating a one-party system. This organization,
called the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI), developed slowly during the 1920s and
1930s into a dominant force in Mexican politics. Ten years after the revolution’s end, the PRI
launched an extensive program of primary education and land reform, redistributing more than 40
million acres. Although Mexico became a multiparty democracy in theory, in reality the PRI controlled
politics and, by accommodation and sometimes repression, maintained its hold on national political
life. Some presidents governed much like the strongmen in the 19th century had done, but the party
structure and the need to incorporate various interests within the government coalition limited the
worst aspects of Caudillo rule. Voters were often only presented with a single candidate – one from
Chapter 33
the PRI, but the policy of limiting the presidency to one six-year term ensured some change in leadership. Between 1940 and 2000, rule became more focused on economic growth than the revolutionary
social justice, but politics remained politics was dominated by the PRI.
The Interwar Years
Although Spanish and Portuguese colonies won political independence in the early nineteenth
century, much of the 20th century witnessed a quest for genuine economic independence. During the
1800s, industry did not develop, and large landowners profited the most from economic development,
using their advantage to enhance their social and political power. A turning point was World War I,
despite Latin America’s limited involvement. The disruption of traditional markets for Latin American
exports and the contraction of European imports caused an economic realignment in several nations
of the region. They were forced to rely on themselves. A spurt of manufacturing began, and economic
nationalism spread throughout Latin America as small steps were taken to overcome the traditional
dependence on outside supply.
In the 1920s, Latin American became increasingly disillusioned by World War I, open trade, and
ineffective liberal governments. The Russian Revolution, ongoing Mexican Revolution, and political
atmosphere in Europe following WWI served to spread radical ideas and new political possibilities
throughout Latin America. One of the first institutions in Latin America to witness this ideological shift
was the university. Taking their inspiration from two revolutions contrary to the ideals of the United
States, university students hailed the Mexican and Russian Revolutions and in the 1920s began to
demand reforms. Students and Latin American universities became distinctly political – with
influential ideologies from Marxism to anti-imperialism explored. So, universities became training
grounds for future political leaders, including Fidel Castro. The result was the formation of political
parties that either openly espoused communism or otherwise adopted rebellious agendas for change.
Although criticism of existing governments and liberal economies came from these left-leaning parties,
it also came from traditional elements in society such as the Roman Catholic Church, which disliked
the secularization represented by a capitalist society.
The 1930s Great Depression made matters worse. Prices and exports of Latin American
commodities collapsed as Europe and the United States drastically reduced their purchases and
raised tariffs to protect domestic products. With their foreign sales plummeting, Latin American
countries could not buy the industrial goods they needed from abroad. The global depression
provoked an even greater shift toward economic nationalism, as popularly based governments were
increasingly replaced by conservative authoritarian rule in the 1930s. Like their European
counterparts, many Latin American nations turned to fascist inspired governments. Aimed at curbing
capitalism, the authoritarian regimes of the 1930s and 1940s attempted to harness popular unrest
while avoiding Marxism. Supported by church and military leaders, this conservative response to the
problems of the Great Depression and economic nationalism did little to help conditions for the
masses because of conservatives’ hostility to class conflict.
One factor that slowed change in Latin America during the early 20th century was the continued
presence of the United States. In the midst of all the intellectual change, the peoples of Latin America
also most directly experienced the United States’ new economic and political power. U.S. military
intervention became a common means of protecting American interests in Latin America—more than
30 efforts occurred before 1933. The U.S. grounds for these interventions were economic, political,
and ideological. It was probably no coincidence that the capitalism embraced by the United States
came under attack during this era.
The Cold War – Communist Options
World War II was not a turning point for Latin America, which was only modestly involved in the war,
though the economies of many countries grew as a result of wartime demand. But, the Cold War was
Chapter 33
a turning point. The conflicting ideologies helped stimulate a new round of political agitation in Latin
America that was increasingly communist-leaning in nature.
By the 1940s, pressure for change had built up through much of Latin America. Although democratic
and authoritarian reformers gained some traction following World War II, the intensifying Cold War led
to a rejuvenated radical call for development. The swing toward socialism was prompted by
persistent poverty. Although several Latin American countries expanded their industrial output while
the world wars diverted European manufactures, the initiative receded after the wars leading to further
unemployment and poverty. Many countries continued to depend on a key export crop, like coffee.
These crops provided profits to owners while Western demand was high, but they also depended on
low wages for workers. In some nations, ninety percent of land was owned by six percent of the
population. Thus nationalizing mines and redistributing land became options for countries like Cuba
and Guatemala. Throughout Latin America, the failures of political democratization, economic
development, and social reforms led to consideration of radical solutions to national problems. But
the well-developed Marxist philosophy was fraught with dangers because of the Cold War and the
ideological struggle between the United States and Soviet Union.
The first place where more radical solutions were tried was Guatemala. Guatemala faced some of the
region’s worst problems, including illiteracy, poor health, and high mortality. Its economy depended
almost exclusively on banana and coffee plantations, which were frequently controlled by American
firms like the United Fruit Company. To counteract these conditions, Guatemalan president Arbenz
utilized socialist principles to nationalize many aspects of the economy. His central program was to
redistribute large tracts of cultivated land held by the privileged elite and foreign firms. These actions
won Arbenz the support of the Soviet bloc, but put Guatemala in direct conflict with American interests
- particularly United Fruit, who stood to lose half a million acres of land. As a result of this conflict of
interests, the U.S. CIA organized a Guatemala opposition group to overthrow Arbenz and set up a
pro-American military dictatorship. The failure of Guatemala’s attempt at radical change was a
warning that change would not come without internal and foreign opposition.
Achieving nominal independence in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War, Cuba was
practically an American protectorate until the 1930s. Cuba’s political institutions were weak and its
politicians corrupt. Long in the shadow of the United States, Cuba’s economy was highly reliant on
sugar exports and imports from the United States. Yet Cuba was one of Latin America’s most
prosperous countries by the 1950s, although enormous differences remained between the urban
middle classes and rural poor.
Cuba was ripe for a radical revolution when coupling these economic problems with a leader in
Fulgencio Batista, who promised reform and a democratic constitution in 1940 but was little more than
a corrupt dictator. In the 1950s, reform-minded opposition mounted, most notably among leftist,
university-educated Fidel Castro. After initial failure and exile, Fidel Castro and his guerilla forces
ultimately overthrew the Cuban government in late 1958. Castro pledged real democracy, justice, and
prosperity for all by establishing collective farms, confiscating and redistributing property, and enlisting
the support of the USSR. As result Cuba isolated itself from the U.S. and much of the international
community. This in turn led to failed economic policies as the Soviet Union tried to subsidize a Cuban
economy that remained dependent on exports. However, much of the revolution’s social reforms
were successful as public health, education, literacy, and housing rapidly improved in rural areas to
rates that exceeded most of Latin America. Since the fall of Communism in Europe, Cuba has
become one of the last bastions of that system (along with North Korea) – now without Soviet aid. Yet
the model of revolution and successful resistance to U.S. pressure was attractive to rebels in other
Latin American nations. In particular, Che Guevara, a famous Argentinean militant, used his
experience in helping the Cuban Revolution to spread anti-American and communist rhetoric to other
Latin American countries. U.S. reaction to such movements has been containment or intervention.
Chapter 33
The Cold War – U.S.-backed Options
By the mid-1960s and 1970s, political winds shifted again in direct response to region’s previous
communist sympathies. This time many believed political stability rather than radical changes was
instrumental to overcoming Latin America’s patterns of inequality and international dependency.
Military governments offered the promise of stability, promoted capitalist economic growth, and, for a
while, served the Cold War interests of the United States. The move toward military government was
precipitated by at least three developments: a long history of caudillo and military intervention, the
professionalization of the militaries, and the success of the Cuban Revolution. As a result, many
turned to military governments for stability and the influential Catholic Church for social justice.
Worried about revolutionary change, professional military officers often saw themselves as above
politics and best equipped to solve their nation’s ills. The soldiers in power imposed a new type of
bureaucratic authoritarian regime. Their governments were supposed to stand above the competing
demands of various sectors and establish economic stability. Now, as arbiters of politics, the soldiers
would place the national interest above selfish interests by imposing dictatorships. Government was
essentially a presidency, controlled by the military, in which policies were formulated and applied by
an organized bureaucracy. Political repression and torture were used to silence critics.
By the 1980s, the global struggle between the Soviet Union and United States was increasingly
tipping the balance of power in the direction of the U.S. The Soviet Union’s economy was sputtering,
and the United States seemed steadily more politically stable and technologically innovative. In this
context, many Latin American countries, with the notable exception of Cuba, witnessed an increase in
democratization in the 1980s.
The military regimes who dominated the politics of the 1970s had begun to return government to
civilian politicians. Continuing economic problems and the pressures of containing opponents wore
heavily on the military leaders, who began to realize that their solutions were no more destined for
success than those of civilian governments. Moreover, fear of Cuban-style communism had
diminished, and the end of the Cold War meant that the United States was less interested in
sponsoring regimes that were safely non-communist but repressive. Again, economies continued to
struggle however as inflation, national debt, and export economies intensified.
Despite difficulties, by the 1990s it appeared democratic trends were well-established in Latin
America, including in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Panama. The military
bureaucrats and modernizers were returning to their barracks.
The inability of democratic governments to make rapid economic gains and convince citizens that
social problems would be addressed was evidenced by the continued popularity of some leftist
groups. Communist inspired guerilla movements, like the Shining Path in Peru and FARC in
Colombia, intermittently controlled areas of the countryside and disrupted national elections. In
Colombia, these leftist insurgents used control of the drug trade to further its aims. And although
socialist party politicians occasionally achieved electoral success, only Hugo Chavez’s rise to power
in Venezuela has seriously threatened democratic institutions since 1999.
In Mexico, long an important nation in Latin America, progress was gradually made. At first, scandals
in the 1980s brought serious political challengers of the PRI to the forefront. Corruption gradually led
to mounting calls for change as the principles of the 1917 revolution seemed distant. Finally, in 2000,
a new political party was able to get its candidate, Vicente Fox, elected and embarked Mexico on a
transition from one-party government to multiparty democracy. In an effort to expand economic
development, the United States and Mexico engaged in free trade agreement (known as NAFTA) that
offered the promise of new manufacturing in Mexico.