Ideological Trends in European Colonisation in the 1920s – 1930s

Publication type Article
Status Published
Affiliation: Institute of World History RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameISTORIYA

The author focuses on the analysis of ideological trends of European colonisation in the 1920s – 1930s in the context of the emerging transformation of colonial policy in general. After the Great War, the European colonial empires were experiencing greater challenges in governing their colonies and were threatened by various revolutionary and anti-colonial movements. Colonial officials and propagandists along with the European political class hoped to meet the challenges that arose by reforming colonial policies. By and large, the key tenet of colonial ideology remained the following formula: achievements to demonstrate the practices of the colonisers and backwardness to characterise the local population. The colonial discourse of the 1920s and 1930s became more complex and was an apologia of European institutions and values. It explicitly posited the validity of the ideals of progress supposedly inevitably brought about by colonisation. Discussions and propaganda were dominated by the idea of 'humanist colonisation'. The ideologues and inspirers of colonial policy downplayed the real benefits that justified continued domination and emphasised, if not the complete unselfishness, then at least the great generosity of the colonisers' mission, which went beyond the interests of the imperial nation. They tried to soften the memory of the bloody events of the conquests by presenting them as a necessary price to pay for development and progress. The most significant contribution to the development of colonial ideology between the two world wars was the notion of the dual mandate formulated by Lord Lugard. According to this doctrine, the colonial power exercises the powers of the trustee and Europeans are entrusted with a dual mission: to improve the lives of subjugated peoples and to develop the capabilities of these countries for the benefit of humanity. This concept was a fictitious and artificial one, yet it made it possible to present colonisation as compatible with democratic imperatives, highlighting the possibility of evolution from colonial dependency to freedoms and representative institutions. The author concludes that in the 1920s – 1930s, colonial powers gradually shifted to a humanitarian rhetoric of colonial rule that was more in keeping with the spirit of the times. However, ideas and practices of differentiation and exclusion towards the indigenous population of the colonies continued to be normative. Thus, the opposition between Europeans and local populations remained a fundamental feature of colonial societies.

Keywordsсolonial ideology, colonisation, 'civilised world', 'civilising mission', ideas of superiority, dual mandate, League of Nations, Comintern, Frederick Lugard, Woodrow Wilson
Publication date20.11.2023
Number of characters31245
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