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Pan Movements and Their Role in Upholding Imperialism

Lauren Croteau

HIST 3940

Dr. Epstein

April 16, 2017


Pan movements are often cited as aides to the process of decolonization. Imperialism

functions by dividing the members of colonial society in order to exploit colonists with as little

organized resistance as possible. I will be studying the role of pan-African philosophy in efforts

at decolonization in Ghana, the first African country to declare independence from its colonizers

and one of the most successful in establishing a stable economy. I will also examine Japanese

Pan-Asianism and anti-Westernization in Japanese policies in Korea. By comparing the two

empires, I find that issues of historical memory, ethnic and class divides, and nationalism

ignored within the intellectual basis of pan movements undermine their goal of unity, dooming

them to failure. Another weakness of pan movements is their refusal to fully reject capitalism,

seeing as imperialism is a natural outgrowth of the Western capitalist system. Although Pan-

Africanism and Pan-Asianism rebelled against western imperialism, their lack of

intersectionality in their critique of colonialist systems and inability to separate themselves from

capitalism meant decolonization and anti-Westernization efforts still upheld imperialists systems

and thus failed in their goal of decolonization.

The crux of pan-Africanism is the factor that unifies all Africans against their imperialist

enemies: race. Pan-Africanism as a movement in both the Americas and Africa focused on racial

equality which, while an integral aspect to colonial liberation, was only one fraction of the

colonial problem. Kwame Nkrumah, the president of independent Ghana and leader of the

Convention Peoples Party (CPP), was a prominent pan-Africanist. His political thought and own

conceptions of what pan-Africanism meant are crucial to understanding his policies and the

failures in the ideology itself that lead to Nkrumahs actions in Ghana. Nkrumah believed pan-

Africanism was a precondition for the survival of Africa and Africans.1 The unity of African

1
Ama Biney, The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 9.

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states was essential in fighting off neocolonialism and superseded any nationalist concerns. Part

of Nkrumahs plan for decolonization in Ghana was implementing socialism, which required an

industrial and agricultural revolution. His socialist beliefs developed into a philosophy called

Nkrumaism that places its major emphasis on Pan-Africanism rather than socialism.2 The

pervasiveness of pan-Africanism in Nkrumahs political ideology lead to several inconsistencies

in thought and policy and resulted in Nkrumahs failure to both free Ghana of colonial influences

and also to realize pan-African unity.

The focus on pre-colonial society in pan-African thought created a separate identity from

colonizers, but did not help in advancing past colonialism. Drawing on historical roots, pan-

Africanists saw socialism and pan-Africanism as related because the communalism which

characterized African culture was essentially socialist.3 The assertion that pan-Africanism and

socialism go hand in hand makes sense considering the oppression Africans experienced at the

hands of European capitalists, but it lacks nuance. Even before imperialists arrived, conflicts

between the empire-like Asante and the Fante Confederation reveal a lack of unity. Despite these

divisions, Nkrumah called upon the memory of both Fante and Ashanti leaders as models of

African resistance.4 Pan-Africanism by itself does not address the stratification that existed

before imperialism, nor does it address the stratification colonizers created within members of

the African race. Africans saw their history of communalism as egalitarian and part of their

identity, yet recollections of history are problematic in that they romanticize and simplify

material historical conditions. For pan-Africanism to function properly, historical problems

2
Colin Legum, Socialism in Ghana: A Political Interpretation in African Socialism, (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 1965), 131, 141.
3
Vincent Bakpetu Thompson, Africa and Unity: The Evolution of Pan-Africanism, (London, UK: Longman Group
Ltd, 1971), 33.
4
Heather Streets-Salter and Trevor R. Getz, Empires and Colonies in the Modern World: A Global Perspective,
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 331, 450.

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cannot be overlooked for the sake of a collective identity. Nkrumah addressed some of these

divisions in his rule in Ghana, but glossed over others for the appearance of unity.

Despite Nkrumahs assertions of a collective African identity, he attempted to address

stratifications within his own government that posed a threat to African unity. The ethnic

problem was a significant colonial division that faced pan-Africanists. Ashanti chiefs,

representing pre-colonial politics and differences, fought for power and eventually lost against

Nkrumah. The president employed a strategy to undermine the chiefs in the same way that

the chiefs were subservient to the British colonial rulers under indirect rule.5 He succeeded after

a series of political maneuvers that pushed the Ashanti leaders to support the CPP government.

His triumphs in ethnic unification contrasted his failures in class unification. Tsomondo asserts

that while Pan-Africanism was essential for black political liberation and unity in Africa and

abroad, socialism was essential for Africas economic liberation through industrial

development.6 Nkrumah believed that in the African social system the formation of a pauper

class is unknown, nor is there antagonism of class against class. To combine socialism and pan-

Africanism, Nkrumah must uphold that Pan-Africanism has accomplished socialist goals. Yet

class struggle still existed within Ghana. Nkrumahs budget and its provision for compulsory

savings precipitated a strike among the railway and dock workers of Sekondi and Takoradi.7

The workers rejection of Nkrumahs economic policies reveal there are in fact differences in the

interests of the elite Nkrumah and the common workers of Ghanaian society, demonstrating the

weakness of pan-African ideology on a national level and calling into question its effectiveness

on a pan-African level.

5
Ama Biney, The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah, 83.
6
Micah S. Tsomondo, From Pan-Africanism to Socialism: The Modernization of an African Liberation Ideology,
Issue: A Journal of Opinion 5.4 (1975): 39, doi: 10.2307/1166523.
7
Legum, Socialism in Ghana, 148, 155.

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Kwame Nkrumah, like many pan-Africanist leaders, was a Western-educated elite and, as

such, implemented policies that did not reflect popular sentiment.8 He contrasted the Ashanti,

who represented traditional African society, by being a modernizer who gained his power from

the colonial system he detested. In 1960, he introduced a plebiscite to vote on a Ghanaian

republic with a new constitution which essentially removed the checks on his power as president.

Furthermore, the CPP may have manipulated the votes, adding to the secrecy and

authoritarianism of Nkrumahs government. Nkrumah further undermined any need for popular

support in 1962-66 by continuing the detention of his political opponents and establishing a

one-party state.9 The need to suppress dissidents and ensure one person rules over Ghana is

inconsistent with Nkrumahs idea of a unified body of Africans. The elite position of many pan-

Africanist leaders explained their lack of popular support and nondemocratic methods

reminiscent of colonialism and authoritarianism, neither practice reconcilable with pan-African

thought.

In addition to the general flaws with Nkrumahs idea of pan-Africanism, the Ghanaian

president failed to reconcile anti-imperialist and socialist theory with practice and broke several

his own rules. Nkrumahs anti-colonialist philosophy asserted that even aid is a neocolonial

tool that fails to benefit the recipient state by raising the standards of living of Africans.10

Despite his anti-colonial convictions, Nkrumah himself engaged in neo-colonialism in accepting

American money for the Volta River Project, seeing as Ghanaian modernization required

substantial (primarily western) subsidies to become the ideal, industrialized state Nkrumah saw

in his pan-African dreams. After Nkrumahs undemocratic policies created worry and suspicion

8
Heather Streets-Salter and Trevor R. Getz, Empires and Colonies in the Modern World: A Global Perspective,
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 457.
9
Ama Biney, The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah, 88-9, 91.
10
Ama Biney, The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah, 131.

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among members of the South African ANC, they began to turn away from Ghana as a supporter.

Ghana, despite Nkrumahs visions of unity, focus[ed] on the ANCs rivals as they continued to

try and exert their influence over the South African scene.11 By feeding into African rivalries,

Nkrumah fought against the idea of pan-African unity that underpinned all of his policies.

Nkrumahs failure in upholding even the most basic tenets of his pan-African philosophy

demonstrate the lack of feasibility of pan-Africanism in practice.

Much like pan-Africanism, race played a significant role in pan-Asian thought, but pan-

Asianisms relationship with race was less strong than its African counterpart. The United States

implementation of the Immigration Act, legislation completely banning Japanese immigrants

from the US, strengthened race consciousness among some Western educated individuals in

Asia. However, early ideas of pan-Asianism arose out of a liberal opposition to Meiji

Westernization and combined its criticism of Japan's foreign policy toward East Asia with

opposition to the elitist nondemocratic process of modernization then under way at home,

painting the driving force behind pan-Asianism as a civilizational rather than racial difference.12

In his speech on Greater Asianism, Sun Yat-sen described the Western imperialist conquest of

other nations as Rule of Might and described the Eastern tribute systems based on mutual

respect as Rule of Right. Sun Yat-sens differentiation between Europes Rule of Might and

Asias Rule of Right further validates the claim that civilizational and cultural differences

played an important role in pan-Asianism.13 Some Chinese thinkers such as Li Dazhao even

believed that Russians should be considered Asian based on their geographical location,

11
Jeffrey S. Ahlman, Road to Ghana: Nkrumah, Southern Africa and the Eclipse of a Decolonizing Africa,
Kronos 37 (November 2011): 29, 33, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41502443
12
Cemil Aydin, Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian
Thought, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 151, 34.
13
Sun Yat-sen, Pan Asianism (speech, Kobe, Japan, November 28, 1924), Wikisource,
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Sun_Yat-sen%27s_speech_on_Pan-Asianism.

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contrasting earlier sentiments that the Russo-Japanese War was a victory of the East over the

West.14 The geographical element in tandem with race and civilization demonstrate the

complexity of pan-Asianism in its many iterations. The lack of unity in pan-Asianist thought

alone foreshadows its inability to unite Asian countries against Western or even Eastern

oppressors.

With race and conceptions of Asia ambiguous, pan-Asianism sought to create an

identity separate from its colonizers by drawing sharp divides between East and West. Sun Yat-

sen called on history to incite pride in Eastern civilization, proclaiming: Several thousand years

ago, [Asias] peoples had already attained an advanced civilization; even the ancient civilizations

of the West, of Greece and Rome, had their origins on Asiatic soil.15 Attributing Western

civilizational development to Eastern contributions succeeds in establishing the East as a place

with a rich rather than savage history, but it begs the question of how Eastern civilization is to

use those roots to overcome Western colonial influence. Japanese Prince Hirobumi Ito argued for

a different take on history in which feudal Japan was not lacking mental or moral fibre, but the

scientific, technical, and materialistic side of modern civilization.16 Hirobumis assertion is

problematic in that it equates modernity with Western advances, implying that the moral

characteristics touted by himself and Sun Yat-sen are not grounds for Eastern civilizations to be

considered modern. Perhaps more problematic is the fact that Ito considers a society ruled by the

rich with little rights and freedoms for peasants represented mental and moral fibre. The

historical problem resembles that of Africas pan movement, as anti-Western sentiment

14
Cemil Aydin, Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, 89.
15
Sun Yat-sen, Pan-Asianism (1924).
16
Prince Hirobumi Ito, Some Reminiscences of the Grant of the New Constitution, in Fifty Years of New Japan,
ed. Marcus B. Huish (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1909), 122-133.

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apologized for the oppressive feudal system and failed to propose an indigenous solution to the

colonial problem.

History also served imperialist nationalist sentiment that ran counter to pan-Asianism.

Okawa believed Japan's sacrifice in the Sino-Japanese and the Russo-Japanese wars created

the historical legitimacy for its treaty privileges in Manchuria.17 After Japanese and European

attempts to encroach on Chinese territory, the Chinese responded by emphasizing Chinese

historical claims to supremacy over, or at least special interest in, those areas.18 Both Japan and

China were victims of imperialism who responded with nationalism which, in turn, invoked

imperialist sentiments.

A major problem facing pan-Asianism was the increasing gap separating the Japanese

perspective on Asian solidarity from the nationalist perspectives in China and Korea.19 With the

decline of Chinese regional superiority, the rise of Japanese regional superiority, and the

increasing amount of Western influences, Korea found itself in the center of the new regional

order. A desire for a modern and viable nation and a need to defend from foreign aggression

prompted Korea to create a new national identity. Kato Hiroyukis Japanese interpretation of

social Darwinism significantly influenced Korean intellectual thought as the first modern ism

introduced to Korea. Hiroyukis philosophy combined Western thought with Confucian

collectivist ideas, emphasizing the nation as a social unit. He touted the importance of focusing

on external struggle, or conflicts between nations, versus internal struggle, which would

include class struggle or gender inequality. Despite the rise of nationalism, pan-Asianism was

more salient than nationalism as an ideology of Korean independence and security. The

17
Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, 167-8.
18
Madhavi Thampi, Asianism, Nationalism and Culturalism in Early Twentieth Century China, in Okakura
Tenshin and Pan-Asianism, ed. Brij Tankha, (New Delhi: Global Oriental, 2009), 85.
19
Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, 156.

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popularity of pan-Asianism over nationalism makes sense, seeing as Korea was comparatively

weaker than its surrounding Asian states and took solace in the promise of protection and

cooperation with more advanced nations. However, it was no accident that pan-Asianism first

appeared in Japan and often advocated Japanese leadership and the fact that Japanese influences

on Korean intellectual life were so prominent facilitates Japanese claims to Korea.20

The presence of nationalism, although normally counter to pan movements, aided Japans

justification of imperialism in Korea. The idea of linked but separate identities within each Asian

nation allowed Japan to create an image of Korean individualism, laziness, and filth. The

assertion of individualism is particularly interesting as it assigns the decidedly Eastern nation of

Korea a trait notoriously associated with the Western society pan-Asianism vehemently opposes.

Although, as the Japanese confessed, the Koreans were not distinctively different from the

Japanese, the idea of unique national identities prompted the Japanese to create a Korean identity

that justified their civilizing colonial mission. The reforms insisted by the Japanese were not

only aimed outward at Koreans but also inwardly at their own urban poor. Several of the filthy

Korean habits were also present in Japanese society, particularly among urban women.21

Notably, when creating their own Korean identity, Koreans had promoted a language used

primarily by the lower classes and women as a significant part of their Korean heritage.22 Japans

and Koreas treatments of their vulnerable communities coincides with their roles as Pan-Asian

colonizer and nationalist colonized. Creating a Korean character separate from the Japanese

20
Gi-Wook Shin, Pan-Asianism and Nationalism, in Ethnic Nationalism in Korea, (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2006), 27, 29-30, 32.
21
Todd A. Henry, Sanitizing Empire: Japanese Articulations of Korean Otherness and the
Construction of Early Colonial Seoul, 19051919, in The Journal of Asian Studies 64.3 (August 2005): 646, 641,
648-9.
22
Gi-Wook Shin, Pan Asianism and Nationalism, 28.

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character, despite their many similarities, allowed the Japanese to justify their imperialists

ventures, but also shed light on the lack of unity and cultural superiority of their own country.

The vague and vast definitions of pan-Asianism as well as the strict dichotomy between

East and West allowed Japan to take advantage of pan-Asian rhetoric to excuse their own

imperialist desires. Korean Pan-Asianist An Kyongsu believed a union of Japan, China, and

Korea would allow East Asian nations to protect themselves from Western imperialism. The

perceived solidarity among these Asian nations allowed Japan to invoke pan-Asian sentiments

when employing Western ideas of imperialism. In 1905, Japan betrayed its earlier promise of

Asian solidarity when it made Korea its protectorate country.23 Yet Japans rhetoric indicated

otherwise, claiming that it fought Russia to liberate Korea.24 The idea of pan-Asianism as a tool

for Japanese colonialism is thinly veiled, as liberation of Asia was never an original war

objective for the military who ignored and cast off Asian nations it claimed to unite and

liberate.25 The pan-Asian idea of solidarity and unity allowed Japan to excuse its clearly Western

behavior by claiming that, as a part of the Asian race who won a war against the West, Japans

claims to Korea were not only legitimate but also benevolent.

The Japanese intellectual base for pan-Asianism embraced capitalism and thus by nature

could not be anti-colonial. Prominent Japanese pan-Asianist thinker Shumei Okawa believed that

socialism, as a Western ideology, by its very nature could never transform the state of Western

cultural supremacy in Asia.26 Instead of proposing an indigenous solution that incorporates

socialist elements, Okawa and other Japanese thinkers accept capitalism, Western system that

23
Gi-Wook Shin, Pan-Asianism and Nationalism, 31, 34.
24
Alexis Dudden, Illegal Korea, in Japans Colonization of Korea: Discourse and Power, (Honolulu: University
of Hawaii Press, 2005), 9.
25
Sven Saaler, Pan-Asianism in modern Japanese history: Overcoming the nation, creating a region, forging an
empire, Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, regionalism, and borders, ed. Sven Saaler and J.
Victor Koschmann, (New York: Routledge, 2007), 14.
26
Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, 149.

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gave birth to imperialism. Japanese political philosopher Kita Ikki refers to the effeminate

pacifism of doctrinaire socialism derogatively, implying that the ideal alternative is masculine

aggression of capitalism, i.e., imperialism.27 The capitalism attached to Japanese pan-Asianism

was perhaps its most overtly colonial aspect which evoked harsh criticism from Korean and

Chinese victims of Japanese imperialism. Critical Korean and Chinese media reports gave

primacy to the dichotomy of imperialism versus oppressed peoples to implicate Japan within

the category of imperialism, rather than defining pan-Asian struggles as East versus West. Thus

the Japanese destroyed their own notion of pan-Asianism by subjecting the rest of Asia to their

imperialism.28

Pan-isms alone could not cleanse either Africa or Asia of the remnants of colonialism.

Though they assisted in uniting a mass of people against the West, the policies enacted under pan

ideologies reflected the countries colonial histories rather than post-colonial ambitions. Japan

used Pan-Asianism more explicitly and malevolently to enact imperialist policies against Korea

and China, but Ghana experienced similar hierarchical systems justified by anti-Westernism. The

fact that Ghana, an authoritarian one-party state that took aid from Western countries, was one of

the more successful African countries reveals the restrictions of pan-Africanism in expelling

imperialism. The vagueness of unifying ideologies allows easy manipulation by undemocratic

leaders who overlook the issues not addressed by pan movements such as class and ethnicity.

Both pan-Asianism and pan-Africanism lack sufficient critiques of capitalism, one embracing it

while the other ignores class struggle. Their weak critique of Western economic systems

27
Kita Ikki, An Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan, in Imperialism in the Modern World: Sources and
Interpretations, ed. William D. Bowman, Frank M. Chiteji, and J. Megan Greene, (New York: Routledge, 2016),
135.
28
Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, 157.

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unsurprisingly results in neocolonialism or outright imperialism when pan ideologies are

implemented.

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Decolonizing Africa. Kronos 37 (November, 2011): 23-40.
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Dudden, Alexis. Illegal Korea, in Japans Colonization of Korea: Discourse and Power. 7-26.
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Henry, Todd A. Sanitizing Empire: Japanese Articulations of Korean Otherness and the
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Longman Group Ltd, 1971.

Tsomondo, Micah S. From Pan-Africanism to Socialism: The Modernization of an African


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Sun, Yat-sen, Pan Asianism. Speech, Kobe, Japan. November 28, 1924, Wikisource.
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Sun_Yat-sen%27s_speech_on_Pan-Asianism.

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