Much has been written on how colonial subjects took up British and European ideas and turned them against empire when making claims to freedom and self-determination. The possibility of reverse influence has been largely overlooked. Insurgent Empire shows how Britain’s enslaved and colonial subjects were not merely victims of empire and subsequent beneficiaries of its crises of conscience but also agents whose resistance both contributed to their own liberation and shaped British ideas about freedom and who could be free. This book examines dissent over the question of empire in Britain and shows how it was influenced by rebellions and resistance in the colonies from the West Indies and East Africa to Egypt and India. It also shows how a pivotal role in fomenting dissent was played by anticolonial campaigners based in London, at the heart of the empire.
“It is widely recognised and understood today that colonial dictatorship was resisted from the moment of its imposition. Much less widely known, however, is the record of active dissension from the imperial project within the metropole itself. It is with the multifarious forms assumed by this ‘internal’ tradition of dissent that Priyamvada Gopal concerns herself in this extraordinarily valuable and brilliantly readable book. Insurgent Empire covers a vast geographical range (sub-Saharan and north Africa, Afghanistan and India, the Caribbean and the Americas) and tracks historically from the 1857 uprising in North India through to the ‘Mau Mau’ insurgency in Kenya a century later. The book contributes something altogether new and exciting to the existing critical literature in its suggestion that the ‘internal’ opposition to imperial policies and polities was from the outset a dialogical exercise, premised on an active learning from the anti-colonial movements. Gopal shows that the ideas of freedom, justice and common humanity, in the name of which the metropolitan dissenters against imperialism raised their standard, had themselves taken shape in the struggle against imperialism.”
“Priyamvada Gopal has calmly and authoritatively produced this impressive study of resistance against Empire, in the face of the kind of constant hostility that only serves to reminds us why her work is so urgent in the first place. We all owe her a debt.”
“An audacious, expansive and rigorously researched counter-history of empire. Rather than treat colonized humanity as victims or reactionaries, Gopal’s narrative discloses a cast of resisters that shaped the idea of freedom across Britain and its possessions.”
“Priyamvada Gopal is an astonishing writer and thinker, one who is fearless in how she uses history to explain where we are now. Her work is essential to showing how empire and colonialism pervades every nook and cranny of the British establishment today and why we should all continue to speak truth to power, like she does every damn day.”
“This impressive book challenges the assumptions that underpin many academic and journalistic understandings of the British empire; it restores the idea of resistance and dissent, placing anti-colonial struggle from the 1857 uprising in India, to Mau Mau in Kenya, at the heart of historical change. It argues convincingly that, when it did occur, British anti-colonialism in the metropole was forged through exposure to imperial insurgency. By doing so, it tackles the whole premise of British liberal imperial progress and benevolence which remains so pervasive to this day. It’s also a hopeful book, indicating ways out of mythological cul-de-sacs. Erudite, but highly readable, this book will be definitely be on my reading lists for students.”