The Colonies

A.) Colonial Expansion

In 1914, there was little room for colonial expansion, yet considerable expectations in that direction, especially in Germany and Italy.
At the Paris Peace Conference, Germany's colonies and the Ottoman Empire's Arabian domains were partitioned among the victorious powers. There was little room left for further colonial expansion; the markets and the world's mineral resources had been claimed. In the interwar years, only ITALY and JAPAN would pursue a policy of active expansionism.
Britain and France, having a bad conscience for having made exaggerated territorial promises to Italy in 1915, which did not materialize in 1919, compensated the country with territorial concessions in Africa, enlarging LIBYA (1919) and SOMALIA (1925); colonial territory was used as a pawn in European diplomacy.

B.) The Emergence of Resistance against Colonial Rule

World War I had marked a turning point in colonial history. Before the war, white rule, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific and Caribbean, was rarely challenged; the political organization, technology, knowledge were regarded as superior; the colonial powers had established an infrastructure (railroads, bridges, ports), an economy (mines), introduced new crops (plantations), could cure diseases, accomplishments the natives could only admire.
Yet World War I had proven that the whites did not have all the answers; they fought each other and recruited colonial troops in order to fill their ranks. The African soldiers returning from the trenches of France, those who returned from serving in the occupied Rhineland (1919-1930) had a different view of the white man.
During the war, the colonial population had, just as the civilian population in the motherland, been asked to contribute to the war effort. There were shortages in certain goods, surcharges were collected on posted letters (war tax) etc. Gandhi postponed his campaigns until after the war and proclaimed his support for the British war effort.
JAPAN, a not-western country, had been accepted among the Entente powers and was treated as one to the victors, granted Great Power status in the emerging League of Nations. Thus it served as a role model for many political movements emerging in the colonies. Another role model was ETHIOPIA, accepted as member of the League of Nations in 1923.
Germany had been deprived of it's colonies in the TREATY OF VERSAILLES, because it "had proven incapable of managing them". Yet the German administration of the colonies in Africa, for example, had not been that different from that of French or British colonies. The new colonial masters of the now ex-German colonies were responsible to the League of nations, to which they regularly had to report about the progress of their mandated territory.
Finally, President Woodrow Wilson's 14 points promised the right to govern themselves to the nations of eastern-central Europe. Not only the Irish, but people under colonial rule everywhere in the world, now claimed this right for themselves.
Meanwhile, an elite of colonials with a western education had emerged and was to grow stronger over the years. MOHANDAS K. GANDHI had studied in London, HO CHI MINH studied in Paris. This elite learned to understand how the machinery of western administration worked and how contradictions in it could be tackled.

Especially in the ancient civilizations of Asia and throughout the Arab world, resistance against colonial rule mounted. In 1921 Chinese students demonstrated against the fact that the League of Nations was considering to award Tsingtau (the former German lease of KIAUTSCHOU) to Japan (which had occupied it in Nov. 1914); they published the 21 DEMANDS and succeeded; Tsingtau/Kiautschou was returned to China.
In Korea, on the occasion of the death of the last king, students organized the DEMONSTRATIONS OF MARCH 1ST, a massive public protest against Japanese colonial rule. Referring to Wilson's 14 points, Korean politicians demanded independence. The demonstrations were brutally crushed, many fled. A GOVERNMENT-IN-EXILE was founded in Shanghai.
In many colonies of southeast Asia, patriotic organizations were founded striving for self-government or independence.
Much of the Arab world had just been placed under British/French administration; the French and British were not happy with their mandates over Syria, Palestine and Iraq, as these lands proved extremely difficult to govern. EGYPT was granted self-government ("independence") in 1922.
In many colonies any political organisation with the aim of achieving political participation/self-government suffered from the fact that many colonies had been created by the colonial powers based on strategic or economical interests; the population of such a colony consisted of a multitude of ethnicities speaking a multitude of languages, missing a common identity. Colonial powers, in order to extend their rule, attempted to use rivalries between ethnicities (Tamil and Singhalese on Ceylon/Sri Lanka), religious groups (Muslims and Hindu in India) or cities (Aleppo, Damascus in Syria) to strengthen their hold on the area.

In the 1930es it became evident that colonialism, at least in Asia, was on the retreat. In 1932 the Kingdom of IRAQ (est. 1921) was granted full independence and admitted to the League of Nations. In 1936, the US decided to grant the PHILIPPINES independence in 1946. With Gandhi's movement for Indian self-government growing stronger and stronger, Britain in 1937 separated BURMA, CEYLON and the Gulf territories from India - a sign of weakness, as Britain was preparing for the eventuality of Indian independence.
The SOVIET UNION Union publicly criticized Colonialism (Imperialism) and, on it's own ground, established (formally) a federal constitution, giving the peoples of central Asia and the Caucasus region self-government : TRANSCAUCASIA, TURKESTAN, KIRGIZSTAN.
The Italian invasion and colonization of ETHIOPIA in 1935 was counteracting this trend. The League of Nations condemned the act and called on it's members to join the ECONOMIC SANCTIONS against Italy - public opinion was in favour of the Ethiopians.


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 3rd 2004

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