“When We Get the Monsters Off Our Backs”:
The League Against Imperialism, Political Thought, and Mass Politics, 1927-1937
This dissertation is an intellectual history of the League Against Imperialism and for National Independence (LAI), which was active from 1927 to 1937. The group’s first meeting took place at the Palais d’Egmont in Brussels in February 1927, at which 174 delegates from 34 countries resolved to end imperialism. Initially founded with the backing of the Communist International, the LAI brought together communists, socialists, and nationalists from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, South America, and the United States to forge an alliance between diverse groups with a common enemy. After the Brussels Congress, local sections in European cities began to organize migrant and local workers to enact the politics of the meeting hall in city squares and in the streets. The organization was quietly dissolved a decade later in London.
This dissertation argues that through the LAI’s aspirations to both international scope and mass struggle, members staged inventive and consequential debates about global transformation, the nation-state, the world economy, and the relationship between fascism, capitalism, and imperialism. It charts the course of this organization’s political thought, via its initial founding congress in Brussels in 1927, the Soviet Union’s turn away from a united front to a “class-against-class” strategy in 1928, and through the metropolitan anti-imperialism of activists in Berlin, London, and Paris that grew as the next world war approached. This is at once a history of imperial anxieties, revolutionary strategy, and political concepts.
The coordination of discrete but connected political struggles for national independence, trade unions, communist revolution, Black liberation, peace, and anti-fascism brought together celebrated and ambitious political leaders of the 1920s-1930s to meet and strategize under the auspices of the LAI. This association produced material support for anti-colonial campaigns and relationships of solidarity that alarmed imperial governments. This drew people thousands of kilometres apart into a single conflict as depicted in newspapers, public performances, urban protests, and official memoranda. This dissertation accounts for the theoretical and material political work of this group as an attempt to produce a postcolonial and postcapitalist future against the restrictions of imperial surveillance, internal disagreements, and shifting priorities.