Depart­ment of Mod­ern South Asian His­to­ry Col­lo­qui­um

Asian Indus­tri­al­ism, Labour Move­ments and Cul­tur­al Nation­al­ism: Inter­war con­texts of Ger­man trade-union writ­ings on “Work­ing India”

Prof. Dr. Ravi Ahuja

The 1920s saw a flur­ry of Euro­pean trade-union del­e­ga­tions head­ing towards Asia. Among them was a joint del­e­ga­tion of British and Ger­man tex­tile work­ers’ unions that vis­it­ed India’s indus­tri­al dis­tricts in the win­ter months of 1926/27. This British-Ger­man del­e­ga­tion could not agree on a joint report being split over the issue of colo­nial­ism. The Ger­man book-length report, pub­lished in 1928 as Das werk­tätige Indi­en (‘Toil­ing India’) had a most curi­ous recep­tion in Ger­many. A unique doc­u­men­ta­tion of the Indi­an labour land­scape and a pas­sion­ate defense of Indi­an nation­al­ism, the book also dis­played dis­turb­ing ide­o­log­i­cal ambiva­lences. It even helped to estab­lish lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in 1932, between sec­tions of the social demo­c­ra­t­ic Ger­man trade union lead­er­ship and cer­tain sec­tions of the anti­re­pub­li­can and ultra-nation­al­ist extreme Right. This talk, then, explores how the ‘Indi­an ques­tion’ could be con­strued as an area of friend­ly com­mu­ni­ca­tion between appar­ent­ly irrec­on­cil­able polit­i­cal currents.

Organ­is­er: Südasien-Insti­tut (

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