Complementing new writings that highlight the significance of monarchy in the history of Britain’s decolonisation and the place of republicanism in anti-colonial nationalist political thought, this chapter presents a perspective on these phenomena from the vantage point of a minority, diasporic South Asian population in the Indian Ocean city of Durban in South Africa’s most Anglophone province. Tracing public and political sentiment during key moments, from the royal visit to southern Africa and the independence of India in 1947 to the declaration of a Republic of South Africa in 1961 and the turn to the armed struggle by the African National Congress, it explores the discomfiting questions about belonging, affiliation, identity and subjecthood that these moments provoked. It also shows the contradictory pulls exerted by a vestigial empire loyalism and monarchism, Indian nationalism, and an incipient South African non-racial political movement.
This introductory chapter addresses two key issues. First, the anatomy of ‘break-up’ as a recurring theme in British historiography and social commentary since the 1960s, and the long habit of ascribing the loosening bonds of the Union to the ‘dynamic absence’ of empire. Here, it is shown that the link between the end of empire and the ‘break-up of Britain’ is rarely, if ever established beyond a crude caricature. Second, the absence at the heart of the equation is squarely addressed, surveying the interpretative possibilities (and the conceptual difficulties) of endowing the properties of ‘break-up’ with a much wider territorial and cultural remit. It is argued that the end of empire was not simply an inert backdrop to the realignment of national allegiances in Britain but entailed simultaneous challenges to notions of collective selfhood among a vast constituency of peoples and cultures around the world, equally engaged in extricating themselves from the obsolete totems of empire and Britishness – unevenly and with widely varying outcomes. Indeed, valuable perspective can be gained from putting the travails of the Union in their proper perspective; as just one of any number of civic ruptures occasioned by the serial dislocations of decolonisation.
Analogies between Unionist Ulster and White Rhodesia were drawn throughout the twentieth century, by such diverse figures as King George V, Sir Charles Coghlan, Winston Churchill, Sir Roy Welensky, Sir Edgar Whitehead, Harold Wilson and Captain Terence O’Neill. Both communities shared a growing sense of alienation from Britain and suspicion of metropolitan ‘betrayal’. ‘Imperial consciousness’ could be both highly parochial and expansive, for one did not need to know any detail about the empire to believe it was ‘great’. Both communities could identify more readily with an imperial monarchy than with the metropolitan state, particularly when decolonisation coincided with Britain’s decision to join the EEC. UDI came to represent a ‘frontier’ reassertion of ‘greater’ British loyalty, admired in both communities which had originated in systematic conquests and colonisations, albeit in periods widely separated in time. A dated vocabulary of empire, as well as an attribution of ‘racial’ characteristics to sectarian differences, proved to be particularly resilient in Ulster, heightening its external, rather than integral, relationship to the wider British state. Thus, for Wilson, the unrequited Britishness of both self-governing communities provided him with the most acute external problems of his premiership and, indeed, of post-war Britain.
Greater Britain in the Second World War and beyond
‘Together’ was the slogan of British imperial propaganda during the Second World War, and propagandists put in considerable effort to show a togetherness that crossed differences of race and ethnicity. This chapter looks at the racial hierarchies and definitions of Britishness which gave the lie to this official rhetoric of togetherness. It demonstrates that racism ran like a deep scar through the policies of governments in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. In different places and at different moments, white people were privileged in decisions about who could enlist in the armed forces, who could serve as combatants, who received promotion and who was evacuated from colonies invaded by the Japanese. The chapter traces some of the experiences and feelings of people assigned different places in the racial hierarchy and the continued impact of racial exclusion and definitions of Britishness in the aftermath of war.
Mass migration from Britain to the Commonwealth, 1945–2000
Jean P. Smith
Though it has received less attention than migration to the United Kingdom after the Second World War, rates of migration from the United Kingdom were significant in this period, outpacing immigration until late into the twentieth century. While some Britons moved to destinations outside of the Commonwealth, such as the United States and, later, Europe, the majority moved to the settler colonies of the ‘old’ Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Rhodesia. These nations offered subsidies and incentives to British and other European migrants as they sought to increase their supply of skilled workers and increase their white populations. Despite the increasing political separation between Britain and the former Dominions and the development of domestic rather than imperial national cultures and identities, until the late twentieth century these countries continued to recruit and subsidise British migration. This migration reflects the long legacy of imperial and settler colonial racial ideologies not only in the formation of these immigration policies, but also in often implicit beliefs about identity and belonging, about who is a desirable migrant and what kind of migration is unremarkable.
The (British) Commonwealth of Nations, decolonisation and the break-up of Greater Britain
The transformation of the tight-knit interwar British Commonwealth of Nations in the post-war world into a loose international association was a major element of British decolonisation. This chapter reconceptualises this changing nature of the Commonwealth emphasising discontinuity and distinguishing two separate entities: an Empire-Commonwealth, and a post-colonial Commonwealth. The chapter charts the loose practices of coordination of the Empire-Commonwealth, before arguing that the dramatic transformation of global institutions, power and culture after 1945 then reshaped the Commonwealth, leaving a post-colonial Commonwealth shorn the attributes of a supra-national political entity (however informal) which characterised its interwar predecessor.
The Falklands and Gibraltar in Thatcher’s (Greater) Britain
This chapter examines the evolution of the disputes in the Falklands and Gibraltar – two territories that punched well above their weight in Thatcher’s Britain – within the broader context of the unravelling of Greater Britain in the wake of empire. It focuses on a number of crises in the early 1980s –particularly the British Nationality Act of 1981, the Falklands War and the decision to close the Royal Naval Dockyard in Gibraltar. This was a time of uncertainty in both British Overseas Territories – a time of transition, hopeful expectations and worrying disappointments – and these events provoked an emotional rollercoaster in both territories, thrusting Gibraltarians and Falkland Islanders in all directions. At the heart of this was the evolving nature of these communities’ bond with Britain, which had until then been the solid bedrock of their national identification. The chapter argues that it is only by examining the disputes side by side that we can appreciate how some of the key forces driving the local responses to these international events transcended the territories themselves. Looking at these two cases together through the transnational prism of Greater Britain can help us better understand their disproportionate reverberations in Thatcher’s Britain.
This chapter places Churchill’s description of the Munich Agreement as ‘a total and unmitigated defeat’ within the context of his evolving attitudes to diplomacy over the course of the 1930s. In particular, it investigates his understanding of what he referred to as ‘the European system’. As a young man, he had adhered to a brutally realist view of Great Power politics, but in the interwar years this was somewhat tempered by his promotion of ideas of collective security. Such rhetoric had an opportunistic aspect, as he sought to court progressive opinion in Britain; and it was well said of him that he only became enthusiastic about the League of Nations when he thought it might lead to a war. Nevertheless, his views did undergo a genuine evolution. Notably, his approach to the USSR changed, as can be demonstrated by reference to newspaper articles that he published that have up to now escaped notice by scholars. He was never less than strongly anti-communist, but he was perhaps above all anti-Trotskyist; thus, whereas at the start of the decade he highlighted the threat of Soviet rearmament, by the mid-1930s he had become convinced that Stalin’s policy of ‘socialism in one country’ meant that Russia could potentially be trusted to act as a Great Power within the system on traditional tsarist lines. Churchill’s belief that the Soviet Union would behave selfishly but rationally and predictably therefore constituted a key element of his approach to the Munich Crisis.
Hungary and Poland in the vortex of the Munich Crisis of 1938
Hungary, like Germany, was a vanquished power after the Great War, and propaganda denouncing the peace settlement was ubiquitous. Slogans condemning the peace permeated public life, politics, education, academia, literature, the press and broadcasting. The mentality engendered by this atmosphere infused the private discourses of families and individuals. The victimhood mentality helped to mould and sustain Admiral Horthy’s interwar regency. The ‘Szeged idea’ – drawn up in the southern town of Szeged in 1919 – remained the binding element of public and private discourse, predicated on anti-liberal and anti-Western principles that would rebuild and govern Hungary along Christian-national lines. In this atmosphere, Hungary’s small liberal elite, who had no sympathy with Hitler’s regime, struggled to denounce the injustice of Munich. An annex of Munich referred the territorial dispute between Hungary and Czechoslovakia to direct negotiations that eventually awarded Hungary southern Slovakia in November 1938 and Subcarpathian Ruthenia in March 1939. Thus Hungary, a country with a largely silent opposition, became a beneficiary of Munich. The politicians’ views are easily decoded, deriving from geopolitical circumstances. However, the absence of dissent by public intellectuals, the press and public opinion points to a deeper crisis in interwar Hungarian political culture. Using a range of non-political publications, journals, literary magazines, private diaries and other sources, this chapter elucidates the social and psychological dynamic behind Hungary’s quiescent and often complicit attitude during the Munich Crisis.
In school textbooks, TV documentaries and political speeches, the Munich Agreement appears within a sweeping narrative of ‘the Road to War’ or the ‘Price of Appeasement’. This is a story in which the repeated failures of France, Britain and the League of Nations to ‘stand up’ to the dictators culminates in Germany’s Anschluss with Austria, annexation of the Sudetenland and attack on Poland. Into this interwar drama, featuring a bullying Germany, a hesitant France and a spineless Britain, a little-known country called ‘Czechoslovakia’ suddenly appears to take on the part of sacrificial lamb. In this familiar narrative, Czechoslovakia features imperfectly, not as a state that could influence other countries’ foreign policies, but simply as a victim. The Munich Agreement, which still haunts the Czech imagination, became part of an Allied wartime narrative that has proved remarkably resilient. Although Czechoslovak security was fatally weakened by the removal of the Sudetenland, and although Czechoslovakia was let down by its Allies and humiliated at Munich, this only tells part of the story. Czechoslovakia’s reputation as righteous victim has depended on its supposed record as an innately decent and tolerant state until the Munich catastrophe sapped its moral fibre. Examining more closely the interwar Czechoslovak state’s attitudes towards its non-Czech citizens, and the regional responses to Munich within the first and second republics, allows a more complicated picture to emerge. Taking a less sentimental and Whiggish view of the interwar Czechoslovak state leads to a cautionary tale with a rather different moral.