Read this article to learn about the causes for the emergence of independent nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America after the World Wars!
Within about 25 years of the end of the Second World War, most countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America which had been under imperialist rule won their freedom.
Most of the others that remained became free during the next few years.
In the year 1995, with the exception of small pockets in different parts of the world, every country in the world is free from the direct political control of another country.
A major country which in a fundamental sense was, until recently, not free was South Africa.
This country had been free—in fact, she was formally a republic—in the sense that she was not ruled by another country. South Africa was ruled by the White minority and about 80 per cent of the country’s population was denied any say in the political system on grounds of race. However, by early May 1994, the system of racial oppression had finally collapsed and a democratic, non-racist government came into being.
Another country where a somewhat different system of oppressive rule had been imposed was Palestine. In this country, a ‘Jewish’ state, Israel, was set up by people, most of who had come there from other parts of the world, mainly from Europe.
After establishing their rule, they had displaced the inhabitants of the country and those Palestinians who continued to live in the territories occupied by Israel were subjected to colonial type rule. During the mid-1990s, some steps were agreed to which were expected to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. However, the hopes aroused in the 1990s have come to a naught.
With the ending of the system of White rule in South Africa and the creation, when it happens, of an independent state of Palestine almost the entire world will become free. During the twentieth century both the continents of Asia and Africa witnessed the rise of nationalism and the growth of nationalist movements. These nationalist movements played an important role during the Second World War and the defeat of Axis Powers.
The Second World War had been viewed everywhere as a war to defend freedom and democracy. It had strengthened the forces of the freedom movements in countries which were under colonial rule of the allied power fighting fascist aggressions.
Even in colonial countries which were occupied by the Axis Powers, there occurred movements for freedom and independence. In Asia, for example, the British rule over India had continued, but in many other countries, the British, the French and the Dutch had been ousted by the Japanese. (In the case of French colonies, formally the ruling power continued to be Vichy France.) In all these countries, nationalist movements had grown powerful during the war and there was a wave of anti- imperialist upsurge in all these countries.
When the war ended the old imperialist powers tried to re-establish their rule over their colonies, but were met with strong resistance, and in some cases armed resistance. Some of the conflicts between the imperialist countries and the nationalist movements became transformed into Cold War conflicts, with the US coming in support of the imperialist powers. In many parts of Africa where nationalism had begun to emerge during the inter-war period, powerful nationalist movements took shape after the war.
Weakening of Imperialism:
Many other factors helped in speeding up the collapse of imperialism after the war. The Second World War had, besides destroying fascism, weakened the imperialist countries of Europe. Many of these countries were themselves victims of fascist aggressions.
For example, three imperialist countries of Europe—France, Belgium and Holland (the Netherlands)—themselves had been under German occupation during the war. Their military power as well as economies had been shattered during the war.
Britain, which had the biggest empire, had also emerged from the war with a shattered economy. None of these countries was a great power any more. In their place the greatest powers in the world now were USA and the Soviet Union.
The setting up of socialist governments in Eastern Europe under the rule of the communist parties also was a factor which weakened the power of the imperialist countries. They were no longer in a position to sustain a protracted colonial war.
The countries which carried long colonial wars faced serious internal problems. For example, France’s colonial war in Indo-China and Algeria created serious political crises in France which at one time threatened her political system. The colonial wars waged by Portugal in Africa were a major factor in the downfall of the Portuguese dictatorship.
In the changed political climate, imperialism was no longer considered a mark of a ‘superior’ civilisation. On the contrary, it was now associated in the minds of the people everywhere, including the colonial countries, with brute force, injustice and exploitation, and was considered inhuman and immoral.
The dominant ideas in the world after 1945 were ideas of self-determination, national sovereignty, equality and cooperation between states. Thus, the efforts to maintain colonial’ rule were no longer popular with the people even of the imperialist countries.
The colonial wars waged by France were opposed by vast sections of the French people. Some of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Britain were seen in 1956 when Britain, along with France and Israel, invaded Egypt.
The imperialists now put forward other reasons for holding on to their colonies. They started saying that their control on the colonies is important in order to prepare the people in the colonies for peaceful transition to independence, prevent fratricidal and tribal wars, safeguard the interests of the minorities, resist terrorism and communism, educate the people of the colonies for a democratic system of governance, etc.
Most scholars also hold the view that the cost of maintaining their control over the colonies had become too high for the colonial countries to afford. It was also no longer necessary to establish direct political control over a country in order to exploit its economy.
Solidarity of the Anti-Imperialist Movements:
An important factor which strengthened movements for freedom was the growth of solidarity among the freedom movements of different countries. Each country’s freedom movement supported the freedom struggles in other countries.
In India, for example, mass demonstrations were held in 1946 in support of the independence of Indonesia and Indo-China, and against the Indian troops who were being sent by British colonial rulers of India to restore the Dutch and the French rule in Indonesia and Indo-China respectively.
This solidarity played a crucial role as countries gained independence. As a country became independent, she actively aided the independence movements in other countries.
The forums of the Commonwealth and, much more importantly, of the United Nations, were used by the newly independent countries to support the cause of the countries still under foreign rule.
Anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism were among the most important objectives of the Non-Aligned Movement. It pursued these objectives by extending support to the movements of national independence in the colonies.
It is not surprising that the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) which led Namibia’s struggle for independence was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement since long before Namibia became independent in 1990. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) became a member of the Non- Aligned Movement in 1976.
The independent states of Africa have played a crucial role in strengthening the struggles for freedom in Africa. In 1963, they set up the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) with “the eradication of all forms of colonialism from the continent of Africa” as one of its purposes. The freedom movements also received the support of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.
Role of the United Nations:
The United Nations also has been a major force in promoting the process which has brought about the ending of colonialism. The United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights symbolise the universal aspirations of the international community.
The question of colonies was taken up by the United Nations from the very beginning of its foundation. As the number of former colonies joining the United Nations, the question of ending colonialism received great importance in the United Nations and it played an increasingly active role in facilitating the achievement of independence by the colonies. Its role was crucial in bringing about the independence of Nambia.
One of the first countries to achieve independence after the Second World War was India. Though the British rulers had succeeded in partitioning the country, India’s independence was of great historic importance. India’s freedom movement had been a source of inspiration to freedom movements in all colonial countries of Asia and Africa.
Even before independence, the leaders of India’s freedom movement had brought together the leaders of many Asian countries on a common platform at the Asian Relations Conference which they organised. This conference symbolised the emergence of Asia as a new factor in the world. Independent India became a source of strength to all peoples fighting for their independence.