Ideas of intellectual decolonisation are as old and as diverse as empires and colonialism themselves. For all the superficial evidence of shared intellectual vestiges and mutual cross-fertilisation among the former constituencies of Britain’s settler empire (including ambivalent ‘cousins’ in the United States), –all experiencing newly energised social and political movements addressing the legacies of racial injustice, indigenous rights and white privilege – these global cross-currents bear witness to the greatly diminished resonance of identifiably ‘British world’ patterns of mutual influence. Indeed, such interconnections have been perhaps at least as salient across Europe, all over Africa, to and from Latin America, and more. In light of the calls for Rhodes Must Fall, Black Lives Matters and the decolonisation of the university, this concluding chapter interrogates recent uses of the concepts of decolonisation and decoloniality to suggest both the potential and the problems inherent in these – and their relative autonomy from the afterlife of Greater Britain.
The end of empire and the collapse of Australia’s Cold War policy
This chapter challenges the widely held view that the end of empire moment in Australia saw Canberra easily switch dependency from London to Washington. Rather, it contends that the twilight of British imperialism in the region was followed by increasing Australian doubts about American staying power in Asia. As a result, policymakers in Canberra faced nothing less than the collapse of a Cold War policy that aimed to keep their ‘great and powerful’ friends engaged in the region. In the wake of the British announcements on East of Suez, American policymakers looked to Australia not only for ongoing support in the war in Vietnam, but for assurance that Australian forces would step up to fill the strategic void left by Britain’s intended departure from the region. The American and British pressure to increase the Australian defence commitments to Malaysia and Singapore therefore presented the governments of Harold Holt (1966-–67) and John Gorton (1968–-71) with an acute dilemma. Caught in a geopolitical whirlwind not of its own making, the Australian government looked to ANZUS as an anchor in a post-imperial world, but it could not provide an easy substitute for the one-time verities of Greater Britain.
Within a British World, Anglicanism was both an agent of, and sustained by, cultures of Britishness. In turn the transformation of the Church of England into the worldwide Anglican Communion was profoundly shaped by the idea and existence of Greater Britain. After the Second World War the break-up of Greater Britain and the erosion of Britishness overlapped, and was interwoven with, the relative decline of Anglicanism in the ‘old’ Commonwealth. This chapter explores how senior British Anglicans perceived these developments. It first charts how British Anglicans visiting Australia after the Second World War were beguiled by its Britishness and convinced of the key role it should play in a Communion in which there were disintegrative forces at work. Yet they also worried about a weakening of the ‘Anglican-ness’ of the Antipodean dominions, fearful that Anglicanism might lose ground to Roman Catholicism. It was hence the implications of the decline of Greater Britain for their own Church that principally animated British Anglicans. But this focus did not preclude imperial sentiment, and senior Anglicans responded to perceived ‘threats’ through efforts to bolster the British connection as well as strengthen the Anglican Communion to maintain it in a position of worldwide influence.
This chapter examines the shock of alienation that has become a ubiquitous theme in scholarly treatment of the empire Windrush arrivals in Britain in the decades after the Second World War. It critiques the tendency to treat West Indian conceptions of Britishness as a species of false consciousness, awaiting correction upon exposure to attitudes in Britain itself, often couched in terms of a ‘rude awakening’. Such naïve readings take too much at face value and overlook a much longer history spanning both sides of the Atlantic of West Indian Britishness as ‘as an ideal continually betrayed’ (Putnam, 2014). Viewed in this light, the Windrush moment was not simply about the barriers of social and political exclusion in Britain suddenly disabusing ‘loyal’ black Britons of their former affinities. Rather the ‘rude awakening’ was itself an established feature of West Indian protest and critique, containing elements of deep continuity as well as rupture.
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.