At its height, the British empire was the largest in history, and for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913 the British Empire controlled 412 million people, 23% of the world’s population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35 million km2 (13.7 million sq mi), almost a quarter of the world’s land area. As a result, its constitutional, legal, linguistic, and cultural legacies are widespread, so it could reasonably be expected that interactions with the history of empire should involves histories of resistance to empire, both from inside and outwith the UK.

Unfortunately, as we march through The Queen’s 70th Jubilee and into post-Brexit Britain, voices of anti-imperial dissenters and resistors have been consistently targeted or marginalised in public conversations about how people interact with imperial legacies. If we do hear from critics of empire, their points are quickly drowned by reactionary comments from empire apologists in legacy media: Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch reminding us in The Times that ‘there were other good things that happened [under Empire]…we need to tell both sides of the story’ as a response to being challenged on British imperial atrocities, such as how the Royal African Company transported more enslaved Africans than any other organisation during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and how that stolen wealth still underpins the United Kingdom and its monarchy, today.

To provide a counter-balance for anyone sick of the bunting brigade or uncritical flag-shaggers, we’re taking this opportunity to publish a short series of poems which invite readers to critically reassess our relationship to the afterlives, legacies, and realities of the British empire. These poems follow in the tradition of resistance writing strongly present in the histories of anti-colonial national liberation movements from Ireland to Jamaica, from South Africa to India, and often from imprisoned subjects, writing directly to empire, challenging oppressive power, and daring to imagine alternatives. Resistance is a right, and in the words of Colombian human rights defender Berenice Celeita, ‘…culture is a sacred space for resistance. Culture feeds hope. That’s why they attack, and why we must defend it’.


An Imperial Dissenters’ Reading List

Insurgent Empire – Priyamvada Gopal
Stage Invasion – Peter Bearder
Dread Poetry & Freedom – David Austin
Discourse On Colonialism – Aime Cesaire
Uncommon Wealth – Kojo Koram
The New Age Of Empire – Kehinde Andrews