To what extent was nationalism the main cause of British decolonisation Decolonisation is the process by which empires disintegrated and colonies achieved in dependence. Britain decolonised between the years 1947 and 1964, nationalist movements was considered the main reason for decolonisation of the British Empire, but where other factors just as significant? Britain had flourished during the war with a victory however; this left them with severe financial and economical set-backs.
The Second World War weakened the British economy this in turn reduced their imperial power to maintain control of their colonies, Britain often used emergencies; which allowed them to buy time from nationalists which would weaken their interest. They needed to ‘cling’ to their empire, as it was the only source of support for their economy, they were able to sell cheap goods for more and paying their workers a low wage added to their economy. Although some would argue that due to the low wage paid to the workers this caused them to not be able to buy thing as they were too expensive.
Britain was shadowed by the United States and the Soviet Union, Britain’s status was way down the hierarchy, these two superpowers created an international climate which the reservation of the empire was rapidly difficult. However, the empire provided resistance from the US and USSR. Britain was also increasing the spending on nuclear weapons, rather than on weapons and soldiers in the cold war therefore, Britain couldn’t police the war. They needed army defence clearly nuclear dependence wasn’t needed.
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During the war time Japanese, Burma etc were revealing the weakness of the British imperial power, this gave hope to other territories starting with India. The nationalist’s movement was led by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian nationalist’s congress to free India, India eventually through a lot of hardship gained independence this surely accounted as significant, it shows Britain’s weakness. This inspired other colonies to be freed and use Gandhi’s non-violent tactics, also made Britain powerless, no longer influential and loses their main sour of resources for trade etc.
Due to the increased contact with African soldiers’ during the war, the Indians spread the word and soon African colonies wanted freedom, a self government and independence. Increasing colonial development which created an African middle class this helped with the nationalising of African colonies, as they had more knowledge, educated and now understand that they deserve freedom. By 1945 there was an increase in nationalist groups within Africa.
Britain had loss India therefore they needed a much more productive Africa, Britain modernised them, they spent up to 120 million pounds, the money was mainly spent on a groundnuts investment in Tanzania the investment which failed caused a huge turnover in debt for Britain. Also creating the sterling area colonies had to use pounds an attempt to make Britain much more economically productive, to improve their way of living this however, back-fired instead it encouraged nationalism activists to start really fighting for what they wanted as they thought if we have been educated we might as well use this to run our county on our own.
Some people would argue that the Asian and African nationalist movements were chances for Britain to show that they really are powerful and can control these movements, also it made Britain more determined to keep their empire intact even if this meant violence. For example in India there were peaceful movement used although turned into violence as Britain wasn’t planning to lose, the famous day of the Amritsar Massacre, when people were protesting and were brutally shot down etc. Eventually Britain lost India and they gained their independence. On the other hand, Britain also failed to keep control in Palestine.
Palestine gained independence in 1948 and became known as Israel. However, it doesn’t end there, the Arabs and Jews conflict was increasing rapidly; the UK couldn’t keep control mainly because they didn’t have enough financial support needed to police the country, so they decided to leave and the conflict increased. Some people would argue this made Britain seem like cowards as they couldn’t finish what they’ve started. There were clear consequences outstanding to this slip-up, it made Britain appear weak and this inspired other colonies to protest.
In 1956 the Suez crisis was a strong turning point for the world as it revealed Britain’s limitation from the beginning showing they couldn’t go any further both military and financially wise. This was obviously very humiliating for Britain, and Eden the prime minister at the time who decided this unintelligent action resigned soon after: under embarrassment, illegal invasion, rejection from the USA, the Frances trust in Britain vanished. The USA and USSR became the most dominant powers and left Britain behind.
Britain lost whatever influence it had left on the Middle East, and some of Europe. Britain’s relationship with the USA was seriously damaged this caused a run on the pound the value of the dollar increased, also Britain lost its sovereignty as it was under the control of the Usa in terms of nuclear power as they had dual key which Britain needs the USA to do anything with it. Egypt was the first non- white country to challenge Britain and defeat them this, this dilemma caused far worst issues. Britain lost it influence nearly worldwide, as the world lost trust in them.
That setback caused them to lose colonies because of nationalist movements such as the Gold coast in 1957, Nigeria in1961, Malaysia in 1962 etc. Britain needed to have European power but France no longer trusted in Britain. Britain’s problems at home weren’t any better; Eden just resigned after embarrassing the country. The public’s attitude at the time was that they were apathetic, they wanted and needed their own welfare: post-war recovery. Due to the increase in immigration the racism from the British increased too, for example a well known race riot in Notting hill.
However Mc Milan becomes prime minister, he accepts the need of decolonisation and believes ‘the day of the empire is gone, modern days are arising’, the fact that most empires were decolonising such as France, Belgium, Portugal took the longest but eventually let go, this shows that there was no real benefit in keeping a colony. Mc Milan changes the foreign policy and restores the relationship with the USA as they agree with being anti-colonial anyway. He decides to focus on Europe were their chances of success was much greater.
However, British conservative white settlers were reluctant to let go and believed that independence given to colonies were rushed without preparation. Mc Milan government concluded that they would leave as soon as possible. In conclusion, although nationalism appears to be the main cause of decolonisation, other factors were just as significant and more such as, post war financial issues, the Suez crisis Eden’s failure, etc. It looks to me that success usually comes through money and if the UK had financial support then they would still have their empire or have a huge status in the world.
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