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  The process, often long, tortuous and violent, by which colonies achieve their national aspirations for political independence from the colonial metropolitan power (cf. nationalism). Decolonization can be understood as the period of late colonialism (Chamberlain, 1985). colonialism covers the period from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries and hence decolonization is uneven in its geography and history. In the New World, which had been subjected to Spanish, French, Portuguese and Dutch colonial rule in the First Age of Colonialism, the first wave of decolonization occurred in the eighteenth century. In this regard, the so-called Classical Age of Imperialism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was short, the first decolonizations of the second wave being achieved after the end of the Second World War. The two cycles of imperialism both concluded with a limited phase of decolonization followed by the rapid collapse of empires and an irresistible push to political independence (Taylor, 1994).

The first challenge to the first wave of imperialism came in 1776 as British North American colonies declared independence. While Britain maintained its Caribbean and Canadian colonies, the Napoleonic upheavals in Europe so weakened Spain and Portugal that European settlers from Mexico to Chile expelled their imperial masters. By 1825 the Spanish and Portuguese empires were dead. In the subsequent 115 years up to the Second World War, decolonization was limited to Cuba in 1898 and two groups of British colonies: the white settler colonies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) granted internal autonomy and finally full sovereignty in 1931, and Egypt and Iraq after the First World War. The Second World War marked the death knell for European colonization: India\'s separation from the British, Indonesia from the Dutch, the remaining Arab mandated territories and Indo-China from the French. The independence of Ghana in 1957 marked an avalanche of liberations in Africa, though the process was not complete until 1990 (Namibia). Between 1945 and 1989 over one hundred new independent states were created.

Decolonization is a process marked by the achievement of political independence but the duration, depth and character of decolonization movements vary substantially. In some African colonies, colonization was barely accomplished and resistance movements of varying degrees of organization and institutionalization attended the entire colonial project. In other cases, an organized anti-colonial and nationalist movement came late, accompanied by a rapid and hastily assembled set of political negotiations in which it is clear that the metropolitan power wished to hand over the reigns of power with utmost expediency (Nigeria). In others it took a war of liberation, a bloody armed struggle by leftist guerrillas or nationalist agitators pitted against white settlers or intransigent colonial states (as in Laos, Vietnam and Zimbabwe).

One of the problems of analysing decolonization, as Fred Cooper notes (1997, p. 6), is that the story \'lends itself to be read backwards and to privilege the process of ending colonial rule over anything else that was happening in those years\'. It should also be said that any account of decolonization presumes an account, or a theory, of colonialism itself: top-down interpretations take colonial projects at face value whereas the nationalist account denies any reality to the goal of modernization which the colonial state purported to bring. In general, decolonization is seen as either (i) self-government as an outcome of negotiated preparation and vision from above by a colonial state apparatus, or (ii) as a nationalist triumph from below in which power is wrested (violently or otherwise) from recalcitrant colonizers. In practice decolonization was an enormously complex process involving something of each, and shaped both by the peculiarities of colonialism itself and the particular setting in world time in which the nationalist drive began.

There are two forms of decolonization which rest on what one might call nationalist triumph. The first is built upon social mobilization in which a patchwork of anticolonial resistances and movements (many of which are synonymous with colonial conquest itself) are sown together into a unified nationalist movement by a western-educated elite (Malaysia, Ghana or Aden). Mobilization occurred across a wide and eclectic range of organizations — trade unions, professional groups, ethnic associations — bringing them into political parties and propelled by a leadership focused on racism, on liberation and the sense of national identity of the colony given its own history and culture. The second is revolutionary — Frantz Fanon (1967) is its most powerful and articulate spokesman — in which the vanguard is not western-educated elites or indeed workers, but the peasants and lumpenproletariat. It rested upon violence and upon the rejection of any semblance of neo-colonialism. Decolonization rejected bourgeois nationalism (of the first sort); rather, as Fanon put it, \'the last shall be first and the first last. Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence\' (1967, p. 30).

Both views depict nationalism as subsuming all other struggles and hence obscures and misses much history; both posit a True Cause, as Cooper (1997, p. 7) puts it, in which there is little truck with opposition. Equally the nationalist road to self-government tends to take for granted the depth and appeal of a national identity (cf. identity politics). It is precisely the shallowness of these nationalisms in the post-colonial period which reveals how limited is the simple nationalist account of decolonization itself. In practice decolonization occurred in the context of all manner of contradictions and tensions between the national question and other social questions.

There is also a narrative of decolonization which has a singular vision but from the side of the colonial state. It was the colonial bureaucracy, long before nationalist parties arose, which shaped self-government on a calculus of interest and power derived from an older conception of colonial rule (New Zealand and Canada) as a stepping stone to Independence. In this view Africa by 1947 had already been set on the road to decolonization — this is a classic instant of Whig history — in spite of the fact that the Colonial Offices typically saw early African leaders as schoolboys or demagogues (Cooper, 1997). Another version of the dirigiste theory is rendered through the cold calculation of money and cost. It was the decision-making rationale of accountants estimating costs and gains — and who in particular gained — against the backdrop of imperial power\'s economic performance after the Second World War which sealed the fate of the colonies.

In all of these accounts — for India as much as Indonesia or Iraq — colonialism is as monolithic as the explanations themselves. There is a reduction involved in seeing Indians or Kenyans as colonial subjects or as national or proto-nationalist actors. An alternative approach pursued by the so-called Subaltern School (Guha and Spivak, 1988; cf. subaltern studies) sees colonialism as a contra-metropolitan project, moving against trends to exercise power under universal social practices and norms. It was \'dominance without hegemony\'. In other words the hegemonic project of colonialism fragmented as colonial rule attached itself to local idioms of power. From this experience characterized by hybrid forms of identity, of blurred boundaries, and contradictory practices, the process of decolonization must necessarily look more complex than simply self-rule managed from above by the colonial state or mobilized from below by nationalist forces (cf. hybridity). (MW)

References Chamberlain, M. 1985: Decolonization. Oxford: Blackwell. Cooper, F. 1997: Decolonization and African society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fanon, F. 1967: Black skins, white masks. Boston: Grove. Guha, S. and Spivak, G., eds, 1988: Subaltern studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Taylor, P.J. 1994: Decolonization. In T., Unwin, Atlas of world development. Chichester: John Wiley, 22-3.

Suggested Reading Grimal, H. 1978: Decolonization. London: Routledge.



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