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The reasons behind decolonization

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The emergence of a new international order soon after the Second World War.
    1. The shakiness of the colonial empires.
    2. The role of the US and the USSR.
    3. The role of international organisations.
  3. The revolution of thoughts about colonialism.
    1. In the colonies.
    2. In the metropoles: Surrealism and socialism.
    3. The role of the Catholic and Protestant Churches.
  4. Bibliography.

Between the two world wars, colonialism reached its zenith. Geographically first: at this time, colonial empires were indeed established in every continent, notably in Africa where France and Britain had the lion's share. Economically speaking, the context of economic slump and protectionism during the thirties had increased the dependence of the western powers towards their colonies. The First World War was absolutely no caesura concerning colonialism: the triumph of the colonial powers was surely partly built on their colonies' contributions and efforts during the war. But this was seen as evidence of their loyalty towards their colonial masters and their behaviour was alleged to confirm that white colonialism was well-funded. On the other hand, the Second World War was synonymous with a dramatic expansion of the fights to the colonies, notably in Africa, which emphasized the emerging strategic and political importance of these areas, in addition to the economic dimension.

[...] The reason behind the American anti-colonialism was historic. The US used to be a colony which had fought for its independence, so how could they be colonialist them? This might be fairly seen as simplistic and reducing. Indeed, the Americans have in a sense colonised and slaughtered the Indians of America. Nevertheless, the American anti-colonialism is deeply rooted in traditional US values (such as liberty, egalitarianism, etc.) and showed itself with the principle of the ?open claim for the end of monopoles, import controls and high tariffs in order not to disadvantage their economy. [...]


[...] But as long as communism did not threat their interests, the US carried out very strong anti-colonialist policies. A striking illustration of this behaviour is what happened in Northern Africa: the US was openly in favour of the end of these protectorates. As for the USSR's anti-colonialism, it seemed much more uncompromising. International communism actively participated to the formation and the logistic backing of the African freedom fighters. USSR also supported more structured organizations, such as the League against Imperialism and Colonial Oppression, Messali Hadj's Northern African Star and René Maran's Ligue Universelle de Défense de la Race Noire. [...]


[...] Moreover, the reasons behind the Second World War were mainly ideological: it was the fight of democracy against expansionist and racist thesis of the Nazis. Consequently, the victory of the Allies also questioned colonialist thesis such as the existence of a hierarchy between cultures. Economically, of course, the great European powers had to face reconstruction and to start to repay the American aid. Politically then, the two great winners of the war were not colonial powers, but incontestably the US and the USSR, who both shared anti-colonialist views. [...]

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