Aden and the End of Empire, 1936–1960


Esdaile, Michael James. “Aden and the End of Empire, 1936–1960.” History and MES, 2011.

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


This dissertation seeks to reinsert the port city of Aden into the postwar world of the rising Cold War, escalating decolonization, and growing global interconnectivity. As the world's second largest port during the 1950s, Aden is a significant venue for historical research and an under-appreciated link of the imperial and “Western” chain of port cities that circled the globe after the Second World War. Rather than retreating from “East of Suez” the British Empire re-imagined their control of Aden as a modern Cold War project inline with both enlightened imperialism and Free World interests. The city's decolonization is therefore a paradigmatic case of British postwar efforts to retain some of their more valuable and functional colonies in a bipolar world system. Aden's rise and fall also provides insight into novel forms of anti-imperial resistance that surfaced between the onset of Aden's formal colonization in 1937 and the rapid expansion of the city's postwar economy, best symbolized by the opening of the Little Aden Oil Refinery in 1954. During this time span organized labor would play the central part in resisting Aden's uncontrolled expansion as well as the determined British attempt to surgically remove Aden from the Arab political space and transform it instead into a global port city. The imperial administration attempted to do so by enhancing the city's cosmopolitan ethnic makeup and recasting Aden as an important node of the burgeoning Anglo-American alliance. Though both efforts were successful to a certain degree, the imperial administration simultaneously neglected several longstanding socioeconomic issues that plagued Aden's economy: namely, immigration, housing and cost of living. These problems gradually leached into the political debates concerning Aden's future and gradually drove Aden's labor movement and anti-imperial body politic towards extremism and rejectionism. Labor-Empire actions and reactions fulminated in a pivotal turning point of its postwar development in 1960. This moment—the removal of the right to strike—neatly illustrates how later anti-imperial movements engaged with different dialogues, networks and international spaces in order to outflank their imperial opponents and force them to adopt new and unprecedented strategies to counter and neutralize these new threats.

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