The Masses of India
The Radical Underground: The Secret Circulation of Propaganda and the Rise of Global Anti-Imperial Consciousness 1919-1936
Between 1914 and 1945, the India Office maintained a growing list of “proscribed publications” featuring any literature deemed seditionist, dissident or provocative against the British Empire. The historical record suggests that hundreds of titles and thousands of physical copies of books, pamphlets, newspapers and other published material were confiscated during this period. This paper excavates this banned bibliography to understand the formation of global anti-colonial imaginaries. Based on archival work in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and United States, this paper traces some of these revolutionary texts as well as the context in which they circulated. For the purposes of this presentation, this paper will follow the circulation and censorship of the revolutionary periodical ‘The Masses of India’ published in Paris in the mid 1920s, to reflect both on anti-colonial imaginations as well as into the colonial mind.
This paper seeks to make two interventions. First, it thinks critically about the conditions of possibility that allowed for the circulation of dissident texts. Police archives, intelligence records and diplomatic correspondence show that port cities were critical to the formation of the global anti-colonial. Anti-colonialists were able to subvert networks of capital, commodities and labor and employ them as means to carry out propaganda. Dissident networks often mapped on to existing trade and shipping routes. These records also show the activities of the sailors, dockworkers, small publicists and bookshop owners who were responsible for the smuggling of propaganda. This paper reads detailed police records against the grain to show that the development of this international community of radicals and revolutionaries often depended on the material work carried out by these subaltern figures.
Second, this paper will show that circulation of revolutionary texts allowed for the creation of a global anti-colonial imaginary. Newspapers such as ‘the Masses of India’ were published in European capitals and percolated through various colonial spaces. This newspaper, like many leftist organs, covered news of growing anti-imperial resistance not just in India but across the colonized world. This broad coverage brought various anti-colonial struggles into the same analytic paradigm. Furthermore, the transregional circulation of such texts allowed for members of distant and disparate anti-imperial movements to recognize in each other a commonality of experience. I contend that it is this mutual recognition that leads to the rise of universalist arguments against all imperial formations. In this way, this paper tells the story of the formation of an imagined community bound by an internationalist anti-colonial politics.
Zaib Aziz is a PhD Candidate in Global History with a regional specialization in Modern South Asia at the Department of History at Yale University. In 2019-2020, she is a Fox Fellow at Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on global anticolonial thought and practice in the early 20th century.