League Against Imperialism

Other names: 

Precursor: League Against Colonial Oppression
Original title: League Against Imperialism and For National Independence

Date began: 
10 Feb 1927
Date ended: 
01 Jan 1937
Precise date ended unknown: 

The roots of the League Against Imperialism (LAI) lay in the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) in July 1920, which considered the formulation of a colonial policy, and included a debate between Lenin and Manabendra Nath Roy, founder of India’s Communist Party. Some years of debate over the viability of an international union to fight imperialism followed. A joint meeting of the Workers’ International Relief and the Committee Against Atrocities in Syria in February 1926 resulted in the formation of a League Against Colonial Oppression, a precursor to the LAI.

In Brussels in 1927 the LAI was officially founded in the presence of key international political figures, including Jawaharlal Nehru, General Secretary of the Indian National Congress. Shapurji Saklatvala had attended the meeting in the House of Commons to decide on the British delegation, but was not himself present in Brussels, although his name was added to the minutes. Messages of support for the LAI were sent by Albert Einstein, Victor Margueritte and M. K. Gandhi. A Sino-Indian declaration of solidarity, drafted by Nehru, was signed at the congress. The League’s stated aim was to ‘deter imperialist governments from oppressing weak nations’.

Just two months after the Brussels Congress the Government of India banned LAI literature from entering India, but the All-India Congress Committee recommended in May 1927 that the Indian National Congress (INC) seek membership of the LAI, ratified in December 1927. Controversies over the exact political affiliation of the LAI continued for some years, and by 1931 many members had left or been expelled from the League. In April 1930, Nehru, stung by condemnation of the Delhi Manifesto by members of the LAI, directed Congress to cease all correspondence with the LAI; Nehru was expelled from the LAI the following year.

The LAI in Britain consistently exploited the Labour Party’s uncertain commitment to the anti-imperialist cause, offering a practical alternative to socialist rhetoric. Furthermore, the LAI claimed that economic troubles in England including rising unemployment were directly related to capitalist investment and involvement in Empire. The British Section of the LAI was held to be one of the most active, particularly in its India operations. These included streams of resolutions, petitions and articles as well as demonstrations and meetings. One such meeting in October 1928 in Limehouse Town Hall protested against the Labour Party’s participation in the Simon Commission, and was attended by Tarini Sinha, member of the Indian Office of the ILP, Sarojini Naidu and Maulana Mohammed Ali, members of the INC.

Ultimately, suspicions of the LAI’s Communist affiliation brought about its downfall, alongside the difficulties of aligning various nationalist movements with different forms of socialism. In December 1931 the LAI’s headquarters in Berlin were raided, and the League then moved to Paris for some months before settling in London. By the mid-1930s, however, the League was barely an international organization, membership had fallen in most countries, and the decision to cease activities was taken early in 1937.


Indian Delegation, 1927 Brussels Congress:

Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, J. Naidu (Association of Indians in Central Europe), A. C. N. Nambiar (Association of Indian Journalists), Jawaharlal Nehru (member of Executive Committee of LAI), Bakar Ali Mirza (Indian Oxford Union), Tarini Sinha (Indian Office of the ILP),

English Delegation, 1927 Brussels Congress (selected members):

Reginald Bridgeman, Shapurji Saklatvala (member of LAI)

LAI in Britain: Ben Bradley (secretary 1934-40), Bhabani Bhattacharya, Fenner Brockway (chairman, 1928), Clemens Palme Dutt (member of the executive committee of the British Section of the LAI)

Published works: 

Report of the National Conference of the League Against Imperialism, British Section, February 1931. (London: The League against Imperialism, 1931).

Secondary works: 

Bush, Barbara, Imperialism, Race and Resistance: Africa and Britain, 1919-1945 (London and New York: Routledge, 1999)

Haithcox, John Patrick, Communism and Nationalism in India: M. N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-39 (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1971)

Hargreaves, John D, ‘The Comintern and Anti-Colonialism: New Research Opportunities’, African Affairs 92.367 (Apr. 1993), (Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal African Society), pp. 255-61.

Howe, Stephen, Anticolonialism in British Politics: The Left and the End of Empire, 1918-1964 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993)

Jones, Jean, The League Against Imperialism, Socialist History Society Occasional Pamphlet Series No. 4, (Preston: Lancashire Community Press, 1996)

Saville, John, ‘Reginald Bridgeman,’ in Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (eds.) Dictionary of Labour Biography, VII (London: 1984), pp. 40-50.


Report of the National Conference of the League Against Imperialism, British Section, February 1931 (London: The League against Imperialism, 1931), p. 13


A snapshot of the attitudes and motivations of the British Section of the LAI. This extract is on contemporary interpretations of the movement towards independence in India


In the discussion… a delegate from the Indian Freedom League said that Labour Party leaders in Britain had deserted the struggle against imperialism, but that in India Gandhi had created a psychology of revolt which will never die, even if Gandhi and the leaders of the Indian National Congress were to betray the struggle by compromise with the British Government. Other speakers showed that the great movement of mass revolt in India had arisen not because of Gandhi, but in spite of his policy and that Jawaharlal Nehru, who had said that Indian should not discuss conditions of self-government while British troops remained in India, was now supporting Gandhi in negotiations with the Viceroy. The Congress leaders had done nothing to establish the League in India, although this was proposed at Brussels in 1927.

Archive source: 

The International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam. Their main website, http://www.iisg.nl/index.php, gives a list of materials relating to the LAI