The 'Left' and the Critique of Empire c. 1860-1914

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: History


The book re-examines the formation of a cosmopolitan or internationalist critique of empire on the 'left' in the late Victorian and Edwardian period, focussing on the Positivists, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, and a variety of later socialist writers. Its central argument is that the 'Left' critique associated principally with socialism by 1900 emerges from a diverse range of sources in the previous half century. A number of the figures examined here have been the focus of separate studies (e.g., Annie Besant, H.M. Hyndman). But they have not been presented together as critics of empire, with an examination of the sources of their anti-imperial ideas, which, it will be demonstrated, often lay outside the socialist tradition, and led towards a position which a number of these writers termed 'humanitarianism'. The central argument of the book focuses upon the rejection of empire tout court, and the sources for identification with non-European peoples, here primarily Hindus and Muslims, as the ground for seeing them as equal to Europeans on a cultural level, or at least possessing a parallel degree of civility. A secondary argument traces this rejection of imperialism as such from such cosmopolitan conceptions to socialist rejections of Indian, Egyptian and southern African imperial incursions from the 1870s until 1914.


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