Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt


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The book tells us that after tens of years of overt extermination, the white settlers, themselves often originally dissidents and rebels against imperialism, resorted to poisoned flour to kill the blacks, because it was harder to trace once some rudimentary laws were extended to the Aborgines. Fittingly, this book combines the knowledge of a historian with a sharp, journalistic, readable style.

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It was. The evidence of this is in the tales of those who fought imperialism from to ; often failing, occasionally winning, always desperate.

What if the British Empire Never Existed?

Gott covers four different categories of resister. Firstly, the indigenous people who revolted against colonisation, as in the Americas and Australia. Secondly, the resistance of people who were to be subjugated by means other than extermination and the mass influx of white colonialists, such as India. These are an antidote to a great many historical and academic books, which can be impenetrably dull. Even between readings for the review it tended to fall open on fascinating passages. Indeed, I think that Gott understates the case that the British Empire was in fact one vast system of violent encounters.

One only has to spend a little time in the colonial records of the empire itself to realize that violence in the empire was an everyday affair.

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Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt

Historians are only just now beginning to grapple with the implications and dimensions of that reality. The problem is that he is totally lacking in subtlety and nuance. Gott understands this violence simply through the blunt and absolute categories of resistance, repression, and revolt. He fails to distinguish between the different kinds of violence in the empire--between full-scale, politicized revolt, for example, and more mundane struggles over resources.

For Gott the relations between rulers and ruled are simply those between the dominant and the dominated. But social relations in the empire were always more complicated than this.

Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt

Collaboration, for example, was an equally everyday fact of the British Empire; and it was not simply the obverse of resistance. Nor was collaboration confined to ornamentalist elites, as Gott seems to think.

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Who actually ran the British Empire? Who provided the clerks, the civil servants, and the soldiers that kept the empire running?


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Similarly, social and political relations in empire were a lot more complicated and untidy than the binary and simplistic categories that Gott uses. And this is not simply a matter of a failure to properly read evidence. Even more disabling to the usefulness of his argument is that such categories do an enormous disservice to the subalterns of empire themselves. It was never that simple.

If they were local elites, for example, they were often clever, calculating, ruthless, devious politicians in their own right, for whom empire presented opportunities as well as threats. If they were outside of elite circles, they were constantly reaching for the weapons of the weak.

Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt - History Extra

Gott has had a distinguished career as a journalist specializing in Latin America, and he is the author of a very readable history of Cuba. It is a surprise then to find his book turgid, plodding, and wearing. This book is a clever book, but not a particularly brainy one. As befits a Cambridge-trained historian and now a Conservative MP , each of the essays in this book reads like a very good tutorial paper: erudite, smart, and elegant, but often not very profound and ultimately presenting a simplified view of empire history.

Like Gott, Kwarteng operates with a similar set of simple-minded models as to what the British Empire was all about. He is concerned to dispel the notion that the empire was a concerted, planned affair and to argue that its structures and features were a pragmatic response to immediate problems and challenges. And like Marshall, both Gott and Kwarteng have written books for the times. They each present a bill of indictment against the British Empire that is unlikely to surprise many people who have even the most casual acquaintance with recent writing on the empire.

Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt
Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt
Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt
Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt
Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt Britains Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt

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