Cosmopolitan Modernity and Post-imperial Relations: Dominion Australia and Indian Internationalism in the Interwar Pacific
Abstract In the penultimate chapter, this book turns to a range of cosmopolitan internationalisms active in transnational networks of the interwar Pacific. Indian and Australian cosmopolitans who were visitors in each other’s countries and delegates at the same international conferences epitomise the mobility and interpersonal exchange that characterises many of the cosmopolitan thought zones discussed in previous chapters. While their international activities in the interwar Pacific, linking interpersonal cosmopolitanisms with the ideal of world government in this era, offer further insight into the range of shared if also divergent grounds upon which cosmopolitanism thought zones formed and through which a variety of interconnected post-imperial worlds continued to be imagined following World War 1.
Keywords Pan-Pacific internationalism • White Australia • Cross-cultural exchange • Theosophy
In its final chapter this book turns to a range of cosmopolitan internationalisms active in transnational networks operating out of the interwar Pacific. Indian and Australian cosmopolitans who were visitors in each other’s countries and delegates at the same international conferences epitomise the mobility and interpersonal exchange that characterises many of the cosmopolitan thought zones discussed in the previous © The Author(s) 2017
J. Haggis et al., Cosmopolitan Lives on the Cusp of Empire, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-52748-2_5
chapters. Their international activities in the interwar Pacific offer further insight into the range of shared and divergent grounds upon which cosmopolitanism thought zones formed over our period of investigation and through which a variety of interconnected post-imperial worlds were imagined.
Indeed, the proliferation of non-government movements and networks in the 1920s and 1930s can be seen as a bridge between the affective cosmopolitanisms interwoven through the pages of this book, and the ideal of world government that gained traction following World War 1. Given official internationalism at the League of Nations and the International Labour Organisation was limited to official government representation, myriad non-government experts, commentators, activists and visionaries set about creating their own collaborative spaces. ‘India’ and Indians were part of this interwar international landscape.1 The cosmopolitan thought zones created and embodied by such internationalists built upon a Christian liberal progressive project to modernise interracial and intercultural relations through encouraging dialogue between ‘East and West’. Thus, the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) established in 1925 constitutes a leading example of the many educational and missionary non-government organisations and networks, some already discussed in this book, that set out to facilitate the formation of intersecting cosmopolitan worldviews between individuals and societies considered to be otherwise culturally, racially and historically divided.
The reform oflaissez-faire capitalism was one such area for collaborative thinking. As Tomoko Akami has shown in her study of the IPR, in the interwar decades, the conditions of modern capital were a key topic among progressives concerned to debate the future of international relations.2 By the late 1920s, the rise of fascism and a world crisis in capitalism had complicated hopes that old-style colonial and race relations would be replaced by indirect rule. As the end of empire seemed indefinitely postponed, how to manage economic development in the colonial world exercised both sides of the colonial divide. According to Ritu Birla, by the 1920s, British liberals anticipated the arrival of new Economic Man in India, for example.3 While most obviously among Indian nationalists, Gandhi’s self-rule movement espoused the ideals of rural communitarian- ism. Communitarianism had been circulating, however, from the 1890s through G.K. Gokhale’s organisation, The Servants ofIndia. According to C.A. Bayly, Gokhale promoted rural industrialism in India but also predicted a degree of urban industrialisation that would only become reality under Nehru in the post-independence era.4
The importance of ‘India’ to the ‘East-West’ agenda of the Pan-Pacific movement has been largely overlooked. Yet India was a key example of the modernising East that the IPR sought to incorporate within its progressive agenda. With Japan and China already independent nations, it was assumed India would soon achieve Dominion status within the British Commonwealth. Moreover, Indian indenture in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific was a cause of humanitarian concern that numbered among the ‘problems of the Pacific’ that Pan-Pacific internationalists sought to solve. They were also concerned with the ‘Indian problem’ of over-population, poverty, and lack of mass education, which they saw as limiting the capacity for India to modernise. Until that cycle was broken, Western commentators predicted that indenture would continue and independence would remain deferred. The second half of this chapter investigates debates about labour and reform in India and China at the IPR conference in Japan in 1929. As argued below, the process of exchanging views on industrialisation revealed both the limits of cosmopolitanism aspired to by participants, and their shared investment in international dialogue to shape a post-imperial world.
One of the filaments holding these discussions together was the emphasis on faith, which remained intrinsic to liberal social scientific accounts of the future of humankind. As Tamsin Peitch has noted, the social science focus of twentieth-century international networks built upon, rather than superseded, religious networks from the nineteenth century.5 In this way, Young Men’s and Women’s Christian Associations in Asia, including in India, inspired the formation of the IPRin the mid-1920s. The Indian and Australian internationalists described below travelled along established routes of exchange, including those of the YWCA and YMCA, and thus along the ‘imperial fault lines’ of Christianity that have long revealed the unevenness of British imperial rule.6 Meanwhile, Indian liberal nationalists influenced by the internationalist agenda of the Theosophical Movement were, by the interwar decades, writing in a similar vein as Gandhi about India’s rightful place as a moral force within the British empire.7 As argued below, Australian theosophist Bessie Rischbieth shared this vision.
The opening section of this chapter concerns the cosmopolitan lives of three internationalists who were deeply engaged in promoting that worldview in the Pacific. As progressive commentators and educators, in the 1920s and 1930s each was concerned to strengthen dialogue between
Australia and India. Indian Christian Kotanda Rao visited Australia in 1936 as a representative of The Servants of India, where he offered a critique of the White Australia policy. Bessie Rischbieth, an Australian member of the Pan-Pacific Women’s Association, went to India in 1930 as a convert to theosophy and on return told Australian audiences about her experiences. The only Indian delegate to the IPR’s 1929 conference, S.K. Datta, who participated as a member of the British delegation, visited Australia following the First World War as part of his leadership role in the Indian YMCA. These individuals sought to increase cross-cultural understanding despite widespread anger among Asian nations at this period about the White Australia policy,8 and Indian nationalists’ attacks on the treatment of Indians resident in South Africa and Australia.9