Societal Responses to the Pursuit of “Empire” in the early 20th century

One potential shared experience occurring in the Philippines, Germany and India has to do with reactionary responses to imperial expansion, both internal and external. That is, large numbers of local residents tended to group together under novel social unions, both violent and nonviolent, to secure a foothold in the changing times. In Bombay, India, and in Germany in general, there is considerable economic changes taking place in the first years of the 20th century. In the former’s case, British imperial and capitalist influences culminated in the commercial viability of growing cotton en masse, while in the latter the imperial forces were internally directed to foster mass labor towards a quickly industrializing Germany. In fact, in both cases there was a push towards urbanization, and the construction of railroads for cheaper movement of goods and resources. The system of mass labor that served as the foundation, however, would not prove neutral, as industrialization gave way to certain social upheaval. A considerable amount of workers in both areas would push for unionization. Nikolas Osstoroth in Germany in particular illustrates a personal story of interest in Socialist organizing in response to labor conditions and pay.


The third example of social upheaval, this time in the Philippines, further illustrates the trend of some significant societal change in response to empire building, albeit in not the same nonviolent way as in the prior examples. Filipino resistance around this time to slow, methodical takeover by U.S. forces can be looked upon as a societal resistance, or adaptation, to a foreign force. Specifically, guerilla warfare employed by Filipino forces could arguably be akin to the organized social groups of unions in Bombay, and a blooming Socialist undercurrent or cause in Germany, both in response to the local changes done in the name of “empire”. In a written exchange between General James Franklin Bell and Mabini, a Filipino revolutionary, there can be seen a clash of ideals on the Filipino societal upheaval in response to U.S. intervention. On page 198 of “Race-Making and Colonial Violence in the U.S. Empire”, Bell argues that resistance was only justified if success were to be possible, and that fighting against the “impossible” would designate the losing combatants as “‘incompetent in the management of civil affairs to the extent of their ignorance of the demands of humanity”’. That is, the losing side should surrender for the sake of humanity, under the laws of “civilization”, and could be deemed uncivilized if they violate these principles. Mabini, however, greatly disagreed, pointing out that the winning side can always set the narrative, as the Americans thought “the U.S. war was ‘just and humanitarian’ because its army was powerful” (199). Guerilla warfare, in Mabini’s opinion, was not something the Filipino people expressly desired, but rather something borne out of necessity, a tactic they were “‘forced to adopt”’ (199). To Mabini, their guerilla warfare was a resistance to U.S. tyranny and rule. This resistance was the true “mark of a ‘civilized’ people” (199). In sum, a novel method of warfare practiced by Filipino forces against an encroaching U.S. presence could arguably be one of the many global responses, or backlash, to the pursuit of “empire”, as is the case with unionism and Socialist movements.

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