[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Teach]: French on Munro, 'The Anticolonial Front: The African American Freedom Struggle and Global Decolonisation, 1945-1960'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sun Nov 10 18:43:18 MST 2019

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Date: Thu, Oct 31, 2019 at 2:52 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Teach]: French on Munro, 'The Anticolonial Front:
The African American Freedom Struggle and Global Decolonisation, 1945-1960'
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John Munro.  The Anticolonial Front: The African American Freedom
Struggle and Global Decolonisation, 1945-1960.  Cambridge  Cambridge
University Press, 2017.  354 pp.  $39.99 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Gregg French (Saint Mary's University)
Published on H-Teach (October, 2019)
Commissioned by Camarin M. Porter

An Anticolonial Opposition to the Imperial State

The field of transnational history emerged in the last decade of the
twentieth century. Led by Ian Tyrrell, and later developed by the
likes of Akira Iriye, Pierre-Yves Saunier, Thomas Bender, and Daniel
T. Rodgers, the broadly defined area of study challenged nationally
focused approaches to the past by exploring the nearly infinite ways
that the global has influenced the domestic. Since its inception,
countless social and cultural historians have adopted a transnational
lens. This method of investigation has enabled these historians to
unearth the connections that existed between globally situated,
non-state actors as well as how their ideas and beliefs circulated
across national borders. Transnational understandings of the past
have also expanded into, most notably, the fields of both imperial
and diplomatic history, as well as American studies. This
proliferation has prompted scholars to de-exceptionalize the
monolithic American experience and has brought to light the continued
existence of the US empire in its many interconnected, hegemonic

In _The Anticolonial Front: The African American Freedom Struggle and
Global Decolonization, 1945-1960_, historian John Munro adopts an
intersectional, transnational approach to the study of the African
American freedom movements that influenced the postwar era in the
United States by connecting them with anticolonial independence
efforts that emerged throughout Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. By
illustrating the shared struggles for justice that linked African
Americans with people of color throughout the colonial world, Munro
presents the white supremacist American state as an imperial power on
a par with its European counterparts. Against the backdrop of the
bipolarity of the early Cold War era, Munro also persuasively argues
that anticommunism was used as a powerful tool by the American state
and its supporters to counteract Black radicals from the Left. This
created a narrative that furthered the "othering" process of African
Americans within a race-based capitalist state and advanced the
construction of a broad-based, interconnected, global anticolonial

Rather than presenting the early Cold War era, global imperialism,
decolonization, the Old and New Left, the long civil rights movement,
neocolonialism, and neoliberalism as separate movements, periods, or
entities, Munro challenges the reader's preconceived understanding of
liberalism and empire during the middle portion of the twentieth
century. He does this by "presenting an untidy and uneven picture
that includes elements of capitulation, criticism, and unintended
subversion," and by doing so, successfully positions _The
Anticolonial Front_ at the vanguard of transnational historiographies
that examine race in America, the global civil rights movement,
imperialism, and decolonization (pp. 10-11). Take for example, as
Munro suggests, the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (NAACP). The organization was formed in 1909 and one
of its early leaders was W. E. B. Du Bois. By the post-World War II
era, Du Bois had shifted further to the left on the political
spectrum and firmly believed that racial capitalism caused injustices
throughout the colonial world, including the United States. Within
the framework of the global Cold War, the NAACP was more than willing
to oppose European imperialism, but as Munro contends, the
organization became a "political path that, although not subsumed by
the official US position of the day [anticommunism], loyally adjoined
with it" (p. 11). This submission to the state did not sit well with
Du Bois and in turn, he resigned in 1948. This example, as well as
many others throughout the work, illustrates that elements of
imperialism, decolonization, race, anticommunism, and the broadly
defined popular front influenced perceptions, understandings, and
decisions in the early Cold War era.

Made up of eight chapters, as well as an introduction and an
epilogue, Munro's book ushers the reader from the prewar era in the
United States through the decade and a half following World War II
and concludes with a critique of the cultural legacies associated
with the rise of both neocolonialism and neoliberalism. Throughout
this journey, Munro maintains his focus on the role of non-state
actors--more specifically, the activists, intellectuals, artists,
writers, and state-viewed criminals who, in various ways, formed an
international network in opposition to the social injustices they
experienced at the hands of an imperial overseer. Munro explores the
connections, feelings, and desires of these non-state actors by
examining the official records of several organizations that spoke
out against inequalities; personal papers; novels; magazines;
newspapers; and journals of the period. All of this was done with the
intention of providing agency to these individuals and challenging
the far-too-common trend of the state being taken to represent the
monolithic voice of its people.

The work begins in the decade preceding the outbreak of World War II
as the popular front intersected with the anticolonial Black freedom
struggle in the United States. In this chapter, Munro appropriately
adds nuance to the preexisting narrative by arguing that the popular
front "subordinated anticapitalism, antiracism, and anticolonialism
to secure greater unity against fascist danger," in much the same way
that the NAACP and other leftward-learning groups would accept
colonialism at home but oppose it abroad during the Cold War era (p.
16). By challenging this narrative, Munro is informing the reader
that even the Old Left in the United States was not a united group
and in reality, often held diverging opinions on both domestic and
global events, as well as on race and their understanding of the US
imperial state.

The book then shifts to the postwar era and the international
networks that were renewed between colonial peoples throughout what
would be later referred to as the Third and Fourth Worlds, as well as
the United States. These networks were strengthened by the Manchester
Pan-African Congress of 1945 (chapter 2) and the Southern Negro Youth
Congress (chapter 3), which was held in Columbia, South Carolina,
during the following year. At these events, the ideas and beliefs of
Du Bois, George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Amy Ashwood
Garvey, Esther Cooper, and Paul Robeson furthered transnational
linkages that challenged imperial manifestations that were based on
white supremacy and gender inequality, all of which were predicated
and promoted by the capitalist system. The anticolonial rhetoric that
came out of these conferences was spread by several publications
throughout the 1940s and 1950s. These publications make up the focus
of chapter 4. Although these outlets varied in their views toward
anticolonialism, they undeniably disseminated valuable information
and enabled a dispersed group of individuals to remain connected.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 position the proponents of anticolonialism
within the context of the early Cold War era in both the United
States and abroad. Chapter 5 details events in the United States,
where the Smith Act, McCarthyism, and the Red Scare combined to
strengthen the power of the capitalist state under the umbrella of
anticommunism. This demonized various individuals and groups on the
left, such as the Communists, fellow travelers, and independent
leftists, and in doing so, weakened their calls for justice and
equality. Chapters 6 and 7 once again shift the focus of the work to
the international theater. In chapter 6, Munro maintains that the
anticolonial unity that was established in Manchester and Columbia
continued to be on display at the Asian-African Conference in
Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955 and the First World Congress of Black
Writers and Artists, which was held in Paris in 1956. At these
conferences, the supporters of anticolonialism attempted to navigate
the bipolarity of the early Cold War era and their own desires for
independence by attempting to present a level of solidarity. Chapter
7 explores Ghana's independence in 1957. Here, Munro reinforces the
importance of the anticolonial transnational networks that existed
throughout the postwar era but also astutely points out that the
independence that was established by Kwame Nkrumah and his followers
did not mean freedom from the "bonds of empire" or "racial
capitalism" (p. 247), arguing that decolonization was occurring but
that the neocolonial reality was also setting in throughout the once
colonized world (p. 270).

The book comes to a close with an examination of the transnationally
linked freedom movements that emerged in the 1960s; how
neocolonialism undermined many of the goals of these movements for
equality; and finally, the rise of an even "deadlier weapon,"
neoliberalism (p. 311). In chapter 8, Munro reinforces the importance
of the often overlooked anticolonial front during the early Cold War
era by arguing that a "new wave of antiracist and anticolonial
struggle[s]" emerged out of the "anticolonial thought and action of
the 1945-1960 period" (p. 280). The work concludes with the epilogue,
which not only addresses both the development of neocolonialism and
neoliberalism but also how these hegemonic imperial structures
continue to reinforce the power of the state in the present. Here,
Munro accentuates the importance of the work by drawing connections
between the Black radicals of the postwar era and the present-day
Black Lives Matter movement, specifically, their opposition to the
power of the gendered, racial capitalism of the state.

_The Anticolonial Front_ presents the complex transnational
connections that existed between often marginalized non-state actors
in the early Cold War era as they found both commonalities and
differences in their drives for justice throughout the colonized
world, including the United States. The work is at its best when
addressing the shared commonalities that existed between African
Americans and people of color throughout the colonial world,
illustrating the power of the US imperial state and its European
counterparts in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The work would be a
worthwhile addition to an upper-year undergraduate or graduate
seminar course that explores US imperial history, race and
colonialism, or the global civil rights movement from an
intersectional approach. Additionally, the book serves as an
important reminder of how settler-colonial states and various
international organizations continue to "conceal colonialism" in the
present (p. 313).

Citation: Gregg French. Review of Munro, John, _The Anticolonial
Front: The African American Freedom Struggle and Global
Decolonisation, 1945-1960_. H-Teach, H-Net Reviews. October, 2019.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51109

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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