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  • Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal imperialism and the surveillance of anticolonialists in Europe, 1905–1945 by Daniel Brückenhaus
  • Zaib un Nisa Aziz
Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal imperialism and the surveillance of anticolonialists in Europe, 1905–1945
By Daniel Brückenhaus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Daniel Brückenhaus’ new monograph—the author’s first—contains all the exciting elements of new international history. Its archival span covers several countries across four continents, its source base is multilingual and it features a wide and diverse cast of characters. In this book, Brückenhaus tells the story of how European states, particularly Britain, France and Germany, responded to the rise of anticolonial activity within the continent. This work is hence a contribution to the growing historiography on the sites and spaces of transimperial and transnational radical politics in the twentieth century. Hitherto, historians have focused on the social and intellectual basis of cooperation and connections amongst revolutionary actors. Brückenhaus is also interested in the formation and workings of these networks but his chief concern is to demonstrate how these transnational movements led to internationalization of policing and the introduction of autocratic practices by supposedly liberal European states. This intervention is both important and timely because it allows us to understand how practices of anticolonial activism were shaped by, and in turn influenced, the evolving practices of policing and surveillance.

This book can be best understood as a study of a certain kind of governmentality. As such, it also converses with the increasing scholarly concern with the phenomenon of imperial and colonial anxiety. Brückenhaus demonstrates how the imperative to control thought and police movements was not restricted to the colonial spaces. On the contrary, the increasing mobility of anticolonial networks meant that imperial anxieties were also transposed to the metropole.

By tracing the movements of Asian and African anticolonialists in in British and French capitals, Brückenhaus is able to bring the colony and metropole into the same narrative frame. However, one of the critical aims of the book is to highlight the centrality of Germany to this history. In the first chapter of the book, Brückenhaus shows that the movement and subsequent vigilance of dissident elements had already begun at the turn of the century, particularly in London and Paris. But it is the outbreak of the First World War and the looming threat of German collusion with antiimperial forces that form the raison d’être of a significant expansion of police and spy networks. Anxiety about outside intrusion multiplies with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. In Chapters Three to Five, Brückenhaus explains how the German-Bolshevik threat led to intergovernmental cooperation between the British and French authorities. These chapters illustrate that the desire to control activists did not just lead to expansion of policing within the borders of France and Germany but also led to the extension of spies, agents and intelligence officers in Germany. Through an extensive range of case studies, he uncovers how anticolonial activists sought to subvert and negotiate this growing web of policing. In averting the gaze of the state, rebellious activists from India to Ghana, Vietnam to Kenya were able to forge solidarities and new networks.

But this work also serves as warning against the romanticizing of transnational cooperation in the twentieth century. The range of case studies in the book gives an idea about the heterogeneous nature of anticolonial movements and ideas. While anticolonial activists often aligned with the left, alliances with the extreme right were not out of the question. Indeed, fascism was able to capture the imagination of Indian leader Subash Chandra Bose. The complex relationship between Nazi Germany and antiimperialists forms the subject of the final chapter of the book. For many revolutionaries seeking an end of empire, political allegiance was as much a function of strategic needs as of ideological affinity. Equally, the author contends that European states could also make a political virtue of supporting anticolonial movements. This is most true, in the case of the German state, which not only provides support for anti-British movements during the Weimar period but at one stage during the Third Reich as well.

The book is thus...


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