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.