Why Did Nationalist Movements Fail to Achieve Much Before World War Two?

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Nationalist movements have been present since the start of colonial rule and the eminent failure of these nationalist movements before the onset of World War Two have not gone un-noticed by historians. ‘nationalism is linked with the idea of progress, a progress which man himself can induce or control.’ The firm control that the pre-WWII Western colonial powers imposed on the territories that they governed ensure that the local people would not demand for the sovereignty of their state. However a select few revolutionaries formed nationalist movements in order to regain the independence of their states. Unfortunately, many of these nationalist movements failed to achieve much before the start of World War Two and it is in this essay that we will go into greater depth of the factors that influenced or affected the question of why nationalist movements failed to achieve much before the start of World War Two.

The first half of the essay details the anti-colonial aspect of the nationalist movements, both the radical anti-colonial and the traditional anti-colonial. The colonial powers were intolerant of the anti-colonial movements as these groups had the concept and ideas of getting rid of the colonial powers. Therefore the anti-colonial groups met with numerous setbacks due to the repression and suppression of the colonial powers.

The traditional anti-colonial group ceased to sustain its presence due to the suppression by the colonial powers before the movement could gain any momentum and ability to spread to the other parts of the country. Burma is the case study in question. There was a peasant rebellion that broke out in Tharrawaddy District in December 1930. ‘Its leader, Hsaya San, was a former monk, a practitioner of indigenous mediine, and an active organizer for the most pro-peasant faction of the GCBA. Under its auspices, he had undertaken in 1927-1928 an extensive survey of agrarian conditions and peasant grievances against colonial rule.’ The way that Hsaya San organized his rebellion, as well as his background, showed that by the late 1920s, the village organizations of the GCBA and the wunthanu athin were seen as ‘the only hope for ending the economic and political plight of the peasantry.’ The rebellion broke out very quickly, after Hsaya San’s two years of touring villages and encouraging the peasants to take the initiative and take action. The rebellion spread very quickly and swelled so much that 12,000 troops had to be brought in from India in order to suppress the rebellion. Towards the end of 1931, the leaders of the rebellion were captured and the rebellion began to wane and was broken by the middle of 1932. The Hsaya San Rebellion was sparked off by the peasants’ unhappiness with taxation, rice prices, unemployment and was made worse by the Great Depression. ‘The Hsaya San Rebellion prove the futility of peasant rebellion to any who might have been tempted to mount one.’ The colonial powers were much too strong to overthrow, however the revolution did manage to achieve some in that it ‘awakened public opinion’ and was able to unite the people and show the unpopularity of colonial rule. The example of Burma shows that the colonial powers were willing to use as much resources in order to stop and suppress the uprisings of the people, in this case, the Hsaya San Rebellion.

The anti-colonial movements were not tolerated by the colonial rulers and thus suppressed. The peasant rebellions in Thailand were another example of the failure of the traditional anti-colonial movement. The peasant rebellions came about due to

internal colonialism and pressures to modernize. The former tributary states and semi- independent provinces were forced to Siamese authority and this form of internal colonialism not only eroded the power of local ruling families, but imposed hardships on the villagers through the rapid dismantling of the subsistence economy and the...
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