The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers George Padmore 1931
Now that we have described some of the conditions under which Negro toilers live in various parts of the world, all of which glaringly expose the brutal and inhuman policies adopted by the various capitalist exploiters in order to extract super-profits out of the labour of these toilers, we shall now attempt briefly to chronicle some of the recent Revolts, Uprisings and Strikes, which have occurred in the different sections of the Black World. These counter-offensives against the imperialists are of great significance, for they demonstrate the tremendous revolutionary potentialities of the Negro toiling masses, and show their readiness to wage a relentless struggle against European and American imperialism as well as their own native and racial oppressors who are the agents and lackeys of the white imperialists.
In this terrible land of Anglo-Boer imperialism the struggles between the natives and the capitalist oppressors are daily becoming more and more acute. Within recent years several armed clashes have occurred between the black workers and their class-conscious white allies, under the leadership of the Communist Party, against the employers and the armed forces of the South African Fascist Government.
The bourgeoisie, fearing the growing unrest of the natives, thanks to the activities of the South African Communist Party and the Non-European Federation of Trade Unions affiliated to the R.I.L.U., the only real champions for a Black South African Republic, conducted a series of “czarist” raids upon the native quarters in Durban in 1929. Special squads of police and soldiers were transported from Johannesburg to carry out these offensives. These armed forces were augmented by special fascist bands of hooligans.
Added to the general oppressive laws of the South African ruling class, the Government attempted to prevent the natives from brewing their own beer in order to force them to maintain the municipal beer houses. This the natives refused to do and organised a general boycott on the Government shops. The women took an active part in this campaign, because they were directly affected. Due to the scandalously small wages paid the men, the women and girls are forced to manufacture and sell native beer in order to get money to help augment the family budget and pay their own taxes. This boycott was also a reflection of some of the more basic grievances under which the natives suffer. The Durban campaign soon spread throughout the country, arousing thousands of workers to active demonstration against taxation and the Pass laws. Everywhere the Government tax-gatherers met with active resistance. The bloody Hertzog Government, taking advantage of this as a pretext, declared open war on the blacks. The military department, together with the Minister of Justice, Oswald Pirow, mobilised squads of military and armed police and despatched them to all the centres where the natives had defied the State. Durban was the centre of the most vicious onslaught. Early one morning, while the entire native quarter was asleep, soldiers broke into their shacks and without the slightest warning began to shoot and bayonet men, women and children. Machine guns and tear gas were also freely used in this raid. Again British imperialism had triumphed! The only difference was that MacDonald’s “Labour” and not the Conservative Government was in office. True to their social-imperialist role these arch-hypocrites, who glibly talk about Pax Britannica, had no word of protest and condemnation to offer to Hertzog and his gang of murderers. But the blood of these African martyrs was not shed in vain. The natives, instead of becoming cowed and intimidated, began to organise their forces under the leadership of the Communist Party and to wage a counter-offensive against their fascist oppressors. Although without arms (South African capitalists will not sell Negroes guns nor does the law permit them to bear arms), they took possession of the streets not only in Durban, but in other cities, especially Potchefstroom in the Transvaal, where demonstrations and meetings were held as protests against the Hertzog Government.
At some of these meetings the natives not only pledged themselves to carry on the fight against white terror, but burned the effigies of Pirow, Hertzog, Smuts and other representatives of the bourgeoisie. During one of the demonstrations held in Cape Town the authorities attempted to prohibit a procession of the natives. The workers became more defiant, ignored the police orders and refused to give up possession of the streets. A few days later a clash occurred between the natives and the fascists at Potchefstroom, where four natives and a number of Europeans were wounded.
The demonstrations against fascism reached a climax on Dingaan’s Day in 1929, the occasion on which the South African bourgeoisie celebrated the anniversary of their “victory” over the Zulus led by chief Dingaan. In former years this was an exclusive imperialist holiday, but in 1928 the natives for the first time staged a counter-demonstration against their overlords. Thousands of natives participated. The fascists made an attack upon the black workers which developed into a free fight, during which a Negro worker, one of the most outstanding revolutionary fighters, was shot. On the occasion of his funeral the natives, disregarding the attempts of the police to break up their procession, marched through the main centres of Durban with banners bearing revolutionary slogans. The procession stopped at intervals to renew their pledges of carrying on the fight in revenge for the cowardly death of their comrade.
The provocative actions of the Government in order to provide some pretext for spilling more native blood still continue. Almost every week the tax collectors, accompanied by a squad of armed policemen, make raids upon the native sections through the industrial centres of South Africa. The general procedure on these occasions is to concentrate the armed forces in some secret place in close proximity to the workers’ tenements. The raids take place early in the mornings when the workers and their families are asleep. At a given signal by the chief tax-gatherer the police rush on the huts and with the butts of their guns break down the doors and enter. They then demand that the workers show their Poll tax receipts. Those who cannot produce their slave badges are arrested and marched off to jail. But worst of all is the treatment accorded to the native prisoners. No distinction is made between men, women and children. They are all treated alike – cuffed, kicked, flogged and handcuffed. The next stage is to take the natives before a magistrate who imposes fines upon them which they cannot pay, with the result that they are turned over to some capitalists who make them work out the amount of the fines. According to the “South African Worker,” 26-9-30, one of the biggest raids took place in Johannesburg in August, 1930. Over 800 natives were rounded up and 270 pounds collected. A fortnight later another one was staged in Cape Town. On this occasion 250 natives were taken prisoners. This was followed by another in Kimberley; approximately 1,000 workers were arrested. The most unusual thing about the Kimberley affair was the fines of ten shillings each inflicted on those who had already paid their taxes, but had left their receipts at home for fear they might get lost! The magistrate, however, told them that they must not hide away their receipts but keep them in readiness for inspection at any moment when raids are made.
A bloody outrage was committed at Worcester, a town about 60 miles from Cape Town, in May, 1930. The conditions of the agricultural workers in this district were so terrible that the workers held general meetings at which they decided to organise. As soon as this news reached the farmers and the police, a raid was organised on the workers’ quarters under the pretext that they were looking for illegal liquor stills. The natives resisted the police and drove them away with sticks and stones. The police, reinforced by armed bands of white fascists, returned and shot five workers and wounded seventeen. Twenty-three of those who succeeded in escaping were afterwards arrested and thrown into jail. The revolutionary leader, Abe Simpi, who organised a shock troop of natives and led the counter-offensive against the Government’s troops, was hunted down by special armed bands of hooligans who discovered his whereabouts in the mountains where he had fled. After a brutal assault this revolutionary fighter was thrown into one of the filthy dungeons of South African capitalism to rot away the remainder of his life.
Just a few weeks before the Worcester massacre the Government carried out an attack by means of bombing planes, with tear gas, on the native tribes in the Northern Transvaal who had gone out on revolt against certain chiefs who were the hand-picked agents of the Government, aiding in the extortion of taxes and forced labour from the natives.
Since these events the spirit of revolution has taken hold of the toiling masses in South Africa to such an extent that every day brings news to the outside world of rapidly developing class struggles in South Africa. Thanks to the desperate condition in which South African economy finds itself, the workers are more and more compelled to fight in order to avoid actual starvation, for their standard of life is already so low that it cannot stand further wage cuts and worsening without causing a complete disintegration of the social life of the toiling population.
One of the most recent manifestations of the attitude of the proletariat was during the strike on the Carnavorl-East London Railroad. The workers went out on strike, but due to the betrayal by the reformist native leader, Kadalie, the Government was able to achieve what the soldiers with all their machine guns and tear gas bombs had failed to do, and that was to break the strike and arrest the militant rank and file leaders. Kadalie, the black traitor-who some years before had attempted to sell the Industrial and Commercial Union, at one time the biggest native mass trade union organisation-to Amsterdam, but was defeated through the vigilance of the masses, appealed to the workers to obey the law (Masters and Servants Act) and return to work. The men refused, but with their funds in the possession of the bureaucrats, and the refusal of the white unions to help them, they were compelled to surrender after a few weeks’ bitter resistance.
The bourgeoisie, realising that their days of power are more and more becoming numbered, are making desperate efforts to bolster up their slave regime. With this object in view Pirow, the ideological leader of the South African fascists, introduced and had enacted two amendments to the Riotous Assemblies Act and the Masters and Servants Act respectively. The amendment to the Riotous Assemblies Act gives Pirow dictatorial powers to deport any person, native or non-native, from South Africa, who carried on any political agitation among the black workers. The law also enables him arbitrarily to prohibit the holding of mass meetings by the natives. It also empowers the Minister to ban any printed material circulated among the black toiling masses. In short, Pirow has now become the Mussolini of South Africa.
The amendment to the Masters and Servants Act, which forms the very basis upon which South African fascism is able to enslave the natives, provides that a tax of £5 be imposed upon any black worker between the age of 19 and 50 in the Transvaal and Natal, who fails to do a minimum of three months’ work for a white employer every year. The Act also provides for punishment by whipping to be inflicted on any native who fails to live up to the terms of this vicious piece of legislation.
The Government intends to remove the present leper colony from Robben Island in order to make provisions for the accommodation of all revolutionary fighters and native agitators. This island has been described as the “South African Siberia.” Here native agitators will be isolated from the masses, and gradually starved to death.
By means of these legal weapons, together with the thousand and one other anti-racial and labour statutes which go to make up the South African slave code, the fascists hope to be able to carry on their government in the name of Almighty God, the King and Democracy! But every act of Pirow, Hertzog, Smuts and Company merely increases the revolutionary mood of the masses. For example, on the day when the above-referred-to Bills (Riotous Assemblies Act, and Masters and Servants Act) were being voted upon, the natives, led by the Communists, organised demonstrations before the Parliament buildings during which a number of the members of the Government, including Pirow, were assaulted as they attempted to leave Parliament. This they succeeded in doing only after a squad of 500 soldiers who were stationed in the basement of the building had opened fire on the demonstrators, killing a few and wounding many others.
The storm continues to gather fury from day to day, for the latest events in South Africa show that Communism is gaining great influence over the broad toiling masses who are rallying to the banner of the Communists, the only revolutionary party in the country that is actively fighting for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishing of a native republic. The Communist Party has called upon the workers to make preparations for a nation-wide Dingaan’s Day celebration under the revolutionary slogans: All out on the streets on Dingaan’s Day! Join in the Pass-burning campaign! Refuse to pay Poll Tax! Down with the slave drivers’ Government! Long live the Native Republic!
The following letter by a native worker under the caption “Break those chains,” recently printed in the “South African Worker” (Umsebeuzi), shows the fighting spirit of the masses against South African imperialism:
“Fellow African workers! You are being called upon to demonstrate on Dingaan’s Day behind the fighting banners of the I.C.U., the African National Congress and the Communist Party. You must remember it has been said that freedom will not descend from heaven; the people themselves must work for freedom. Liberty must be earned before it can be enjoyed.
“On Dingaan’s Day we are going to show the rulers of this country and their tools, like Pirow, Hertzog, Thaele, Grobler and the rest, that we want our country back, whatever it may cost. We are going to scrap those filthy passes and that blood-suckers’ Poll Tax, and we are not going humbly to pray to any god to do it for us. We are going to smash the Riotous Assemblies Act and we are going to oppose Pirow’s Native Service Contract Bill (which proposes to fine us £5 if we do not work for a white boss and to give us lashes if we are sent to prison under the Master and Servants Act). We are not going to tolerate any more colour-discriminating laws.
“Therefore, Africans, let us be ready for Dingaan’s Day. We must adopt this slogan – ‘Freedom or Death.’ We Africans need not fear; we are the overwhelming majority. Through the leadership of our militant African National organisations and the Communist Party we can make a powerful mobilisation of our forces and cause the blood-suckers to sit up. If we cannot demonstrate now we arc not worthy to be free men who died on the battlefield. Let us go forward in the spirit of Dingaan, Makana and Moshesh [native revolutionary leaders], to free our country from white imperialism. Down with the Poll Tax and Pass laws! To hell with the Native Service Contract Bill!”
How did the demonstrations pass off?
The “Manchester Guardian” of 17-12-30, quoting Reuters’ correspondent in Durban, states that:
“A serious native riot broke out in Durban following a meeting of natives to commemorate Dingaan’s Day, held in the centre of the town.
“The natives formed into a procession headed by one of their number bearing a red flag. The police ordered it to break up, as processions are prohibited by the by-laws. The natives responded by pelting the police and Europeans generally with stones.
“Finally, native police, heavily armed and carrying sticks and knobkerries, charged the procession. Scenes of wild confusion ensued, ending in the general flight of the natives. Seventeen natives were taken to hospital with injuries, and one was found to be dead on arrival. Several of the injured are in a serious condition.
“It is understood that one of the natives is suffering from a bullet wound, and it is learned that this was fired by a European civilian. Before the procession was formed the natives burned over 2,000 natives’ passes as well as numerous hut, dog and poll-tax receipts.
“The Minister of Justice, Mr. Pirow, was burned in effigy at a meeting of natives at Pretoria yesterday. This demonstration was the result of the strong action taken by the Minister against the unrest of native labour connected with the colour bar.”
News of events in other industrial centres of South Africa had not yet reached the outside world at the time of writing, but we can rest assured that the struggles of the natives against the slave laws of the South African bourgeoisie have been and will continue to be militantly conducted until the bloody regime of the Anglo-Boers is overthrown and reflected by a Native Toilers’ Government, with safeguards for the toiling minorities of other races.
In Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, the British imperialists, through increased measures of taxation and land expropriation, as well as forced labour, are provoking the natives into a state of unrest so as to provide a justification to use armed force in crushing the revolutionary movement that has been developing in East Africa for a number of years. This movement, inspired by the Indian revolutionary movement, thanks to the thousands of Indians who are residents in these colonies, has developed tremendous proportions within recent years. As an indication of this, strikes are of frequent occurrence, especially among the industrial workers in Kenya. In order to conduct the revolutionary movement on an organised scale, the natives formed the East African Native Association, which led many bitter class battles against the attempt of the employers to cut wages and of the Government to increase taxes. The early successes of the organisation won widespread support among all sections of the toiling population. Thousands of industrial and agricultural workers followed its leadership. As a result of these militant struggles the employers and the Government became alarmed and declared the Association illegal. This, however, did not prevent the workers from carrying on the struggle. In order to maintain a legal existence the association changed its name to the Kikuyu Central Association. But no sooner had it come into being than a general strike was called. Thousands of workers refused to work. Plantation labourers left the farms of the European overlords. Domestic servants refused to provide food for their imperialist masters. Within a few days all the Kikuyu Province was at a standstill. Great mass meetings and demonstrations were held in all of the native villages. Harry Thuku, one of the most fearless fighters in East Africa, was elected as head of the strike committee of action. Harry Thuku, together with a group of young men and women agitators, went from village to village arousing the masses and organising them in support of the struggle. Branches of the association were established everywhere. In Nairobi over 20,000 workers enrolled at one meeting. The method adopted by Thuku in organising the agrarian masses was as follows. He called together the most fearless and trustworthy members of the association, especially among the youth. After instructing them as to the tactics to be adopted in order to evade the police and other political agents of the Government, he directed them to go into the village and organise sub-committees of action which were given charge to mobilise the population. In this way the movement was able to strike roots over widespread areas. Thuku’s fearless leadership won the admiration and support of all the oppressed peoples, especially the children, who had been forced out of school in order to work on the farms. They created popular songs about their young leader and the association. As the struggle continued it took on more and more of a political character, with the result that the Governor ordered the commander of the military forces of Kenya to mobilise the King’s African Rifles, a native regiment under British officers, in order to suppress the mass revolt. The imperialists first attempted to do this by arresting Thuku, but due to the tremendous mass following and the lack of faith, even among the soldiers, who have economic and social ties with the toiling population, they dared not adopt this method. The Government then resorted to trickery and cunning. The district commissions, under whom the chiefs and headmen function, which is known as the method of Indirect Rule, were instructed to call these native lackeys together and inform them that Thuku was a dangerous man, that his revolt was not only directed at the Government but that he wanted to create a republic and make himself the president. And furthermore, if he succeeded, he would take away the positions from the chiefs and headmen. In order to avoid this and thereby maintain their position their duty was to disassociate themselves from Thuku and the nationalist movement. As was to be expected the chiefs and headmen, bribed by promises that the Government would increase their salaries after the uprising was suppressed, agreed to sign a proclamation prepared by agents of the Government, in which they appealed to the masses to return back to work under the pretext that the Government intended to reduce taxation and to force the employers to increase wages. Misled by these demagogic appeals, the workers gradually began to desert Thuku and the Kikuyu organisation. The Government, taking advantage of the situation, sent an army of soldiers to Thuku’s house and arrested him. Simultaneous with this arrest the headquarters of the native movement at Nairobi was raided, and all of the records and documents of the association seized and removed to police headquarters. As soon as news of this incident became known the members of the central committee of the association issued an appeal to the workers in which they exposed the treachery of the Government and the chiefs. A general strike was again called, which met with as much success as the first one. Monster mass meetings were held in the public square in Nairobi, at which a special deputation was elected and mandated to interview the Governor in order to put forward the demands of the workers, among which was the immediate release of Thuku. The Governor was away, but his assistant informed the deputation that he was prepared to listen to their demands at a conference, but before this could take place the deputation must request the people to disperse. The workers refused to accede to this demand. They immediately marched to the prison where Thuku was held and insisted upon remaining there until their leader was liberated. The Government then brought out armoured cars and machine guns on the streets. But before the workers could disperse the officers ordered the soldiers to fire upon the crowd. According to a letter published in “Manchester Guardian” of March 20th, 1929, by a European who had witnessed the slaughter, 150 were killed. A very much larger number afterwards died from wounds, for relatives and friends took the wounded away and did not report these deaths for fear that they themselves would have been arrested as participants in the demonstration. Despite this massacre the workers persisted to reappear on the street. They continued to clamour for the freedom of Thuku. The Government, realising that even with the use of armoured cars and machine guns they could not crush the revolutionary spirit of the workers, again resorted to trickery. The officials sent out a rumour that Thuku would be removed from the prison at a certain hour. At the appointed time they drove a car, surrounded by a police escort, from the direction of the prison towards another police station. The workers, believing that their leader was really being transported in the automobile, began following it in order to fight for his release. After the crowd had got some distance away from the prison, and before they could discover the hoax played upon them, the officials hustled Thuku into another car, drove him out of the city and lodged him in another prison about 50 miles away. After this the Government launched a reign of terrorism. The soldiers with fixed bayonets marched through the workers’ quarters and carried out wholesale arrests. Hundreds of such victims were given from 2 to 3 years’ imprisonment Others were fined from 10 to 20 shillings for having been absent from work without the permission of their masters. When we remember that the wages of most of these workers hardly exceed a few shillings per month we can appreciate the hardship that the fines imposed upon them, for this meant months of labour without pay in order to liquidate the court fines.
All associations have since been declared illegal. All forms of agitation and organisation among the natives of Kenya meet with the most brutal reprisals. Since the dissolution of the Kikuyu organisation the chiefs have been encouraged to form their own, which are merely pawns in the hands of the officials through which the Government is able to carry out its bloody rule.
However, despite all these attempts of British imperialism to keep the natives in a condition of slavery, the very conditions under which they live force them to find ways and means to carry on the struggle.
In November, 1929, Sir Edward Grigg, the Governor of Kenya, was compelled to admit in a dispatch to the British Colonial Office that the situation in Kenya was again assuming alarming proportions. For example, in the districts of Lumdwa and Masi the workers had denounced the chiefs as agents of the British and had driven many of them away from the villages. They also attacked the Government tax-agents. Special contingents of the King’s African Rifles had to be sent into the districts where the unrest had broken out in order to disarm the natives. In order to suppress the growing anti-British movement which is taking place throughout the East African colonies, the representatives of MacDonald’s “Labour” Government have ordered the chiefs to prohibit the holding of mass meetings and to report on the activities of native agitators so as to have them arrested and deported.
During the summer of 1929 the natives of Uganda attempted to organise. While holding a meeting in a chapel the British officials, accompanied by squads of armed police, made a sudden raid upon the meeting, where five natives were shot and thirty wounded. The local government, as well as the Colonial Office of MacDonald’s “Socialist” Government, justified this provocative attack on the ground that strong measures were necessary to stamp out “sedition.”
In Basutoland the peasants have also organised an association called the Lakho-La-Baffo, which is affiliated to the League Against Imperialism. This association carried on the struggle against British oppression in that country. It is made up largely of peasants whose warlike traditions have been a thorn in the flesh of the British imperialists. Revolts have frequently occurred among these tribesmen in recent years, and have only been suppressed by the use of military planes attacking the villages with bombs. Due to the isolation from the native population in South Africa on the one hand, and the military vigilance of the British on the other, the Basutos have not been able to consolidate these forces with those of the Union of South Africa, which is necessary to guarantee a successful uprising. The organisation, however, repudiates any attempt at compromise in the struggle with their oppressors, and is facing the question of armed struggle of the toiling masses as the only means of freeing themselves from British imperialism.
Despite the attempts of the Nigerian Government to whitewash its bloody deeds in connection with the shooting of 83 unarmed women and the wounding of 87 others in December, 1929, the general discontent and widespread unrest which has seized the country has forced the Government to publish the findings of the Special Commission which was appointed to investigate the causes for the uprising.
The world economic crisis of capitalism has had a tremendous effect upon Nigeria. As a result of the agrarian crisis thousands of peasants have been ruined, due to the catastrophic fall in the prices of their principal commodities, such as palm kernels, palm oil, cocoa, ground nuts and cotton. This in turn has greatly affected the finances of the country, which to a very considerable extent are derived from Custom duties on imports and exports. So the Government, in order to find a way out of its financial dilemma, attempted to throw the whole burden upon the toiling masses, especially the peasants, by increasing direct taxation upon them. The Government, however, realised that this was a delicate undertaking in the light of the pauperised condition of these overtaxed toilers, so the British political officials mobilised the chiefs in the territories assessed and instructed them to impose a special tax on the women, as the men had previously been taxed. In this way the Government hoped to force the women and children to leave the villages and seek work on the plantations and other industries owned by foreign capitalists in order to provide the money to pay the tax-gatherers. But, instead of submitting to this high-handed imperialist policy, over 30,000 women organised monster protest demonstrations against the British imperialists and their agents, the “warrant” chiefs (chiefs selected by the Government). They carried out a series of offensives against the Europeans, especially the banks and the trading companies, their principal economic exploiters. They broke into these business places and seized the buildings for days. It was only after the “Labour” – Imperialist Government of MacDonald had instructed the Governor to order troops to the scene that the uprising was crushed. This was followed by bloody reprisals. Hundreds of people were arrested and thrown into jail, scores of huts burnt to the ground and fields laid waste, all in order to intimidate the natives and subdue their militancy. For days after the revolt the areas where the fighting had occurred were converted into military camps. Martial law was proclaimed, and a rigid censorship imposed on the native press in order to prevent news from reaching the outside world. The Governor even went to the extent of calling a meeting of all the African editors in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, at which he informed them that if they dared to print any news of what was happening in the South Eastern Province they would be subjected to imprisonment under the Public Safety Statutes of the Criminal Code.
In the face of such bureaucratic terrorism it was difficult for the world to know what was going on for several days. However, after the suppression of the uprising, the Government issued a communiqué in which it gave a most distorted account of the events and justified its murderous onslaught on the African women. Dr. Drummond Shiels, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, in answer to a question put to him in the House of Commons in connection with the shooting, exonerated the Nigerian Government, and even went to the extent of saying “that the Colonial Office was satisfied that the officials on the spot acted in the best interest of the country.”
In keeping with the usual hypocritical gestures of British imperialism, a committee was appointed under the presidency of Major de Birell Grey, the Resident of the Colony of Lagos, and Mr. H. W. Blackall, the Government legal advisor.
After a so-called investigation into the circumstances of the uprising they issued a report which was placed before the Legislative Council and approved by the Government’s majority.
This infamous document described the heroic struggle of the natives as an attempt at mob-law, and justified the firing of the troops in order to protect the property of the British capitalists.
The publication of this report merely added fuel to the fire. The natives held mass meetings in various sections of the country at which resolutions were drawn up denouncing the report. The workers also protested against taxation and other political and social disadvantages with which they are burdened. They refused to pay more taxes and threatened to renew the struggle. The Government became alarmed at this widespread discontent and appointed a second Commission. The natives threatened to boycott this commission unless they were permitted representation on it. After much reluctancy, the Government consented to include two Africans. The Commission was finally organised in February, 1930, and consisted of the following: The Hon. Donald Kingdon, Chief Justice of Nigeria, chairman; Messrs. B. R. Osborne and Graham Paul, representing banking and commercial interests respectively; Mr. W. Hunt, Government official, Mr. E. C. Moore and Sir Kitoyi the African representatives.
The Commission immediately began its work by visiting the disturbed areas, where witnesses were examined and a general survey carried out. On the basis of its investigation the Commission published its findings in the middle of August, 1930. The report was unanimous with the exception of one or two reservations by the European representatives of finance-capital. It gives the main contributory causes for the revolt as follows:
(1) Discontent caused by taxation of men introduced in the affected provinces in 1928; also the widespread belief throughout the areas where the revolts took place that the Governor was about to introduce a direct tax upon women;
(2) Discontent at the persecution, extortion and corruption practised by the chiefs and members of the native courts who were appointed by British political officers, to whom they are responsible and not to the toiling masses; and
(3) The low price which the peasants are receiving for their raw produce and the high prices they are made to pay for imported commodities by European trading companies. With respect to the suppression of the disturbances, the report points out that large numbers of troops of the Royal West African Frontier Force were employed in addition to the armed constabulary; that firing took place thirteen times. Rifles and machine guns were used. The report finds that the firing was justified on most occasions.
Nevertheless, Sir Frank Baddelev, the Colonial Secretary of Nigeria, speaking at a dinner of the Colonial Conference in London, said that “the revolt was the work of the agents of Moscow. The Government had discovered the circulation of the ‘Negro Worker,’ a trade union journal published by the R.I.L.U. in Moscow, among the workers of Lagos, and was adopting every precaution to prevent the spreading of Bolshevism among the natives.”
In concluding its report the Commission makes a number of recommendations: (1) that the system known as “lump sum assignment” should be slowly introduced with the cooperation of the chiefs and the people; (2) that the present system of taxation should be re-examined in view of the fall in the price of produce and the widespread poverty resulting therefrom; (3) that the Governor should appoint a special commission to inquire into the workings of the native court system, which has become the fattening house for the chiefs. The Commission also points out that the Government must pay more attention to the political influence of the women. In this respect is it very significant to note what “The Times” correspondent in Nigeria wrote:
“The trouble was of a nature and extent unprecedented in Nigeria. In a country where the women throughout the centuries have remained in subjection to the men, this was eventually a women’s movement, organised, developed and carried out by he women, without either the help or commission of their menfolk, though probably with their tacit sympathy.”
Yet in the face of all of these facts the Governor of Nigeria, since the publication of the report, had the audacity to impose a fine of £850 on the township of Aba, the capital of the Eastern Province and the storm centre of the revolt. In doing so the Governor stated that the Collective Punishment Ordinance of the colony entitled him to adopt this measure, in order to raise the money to reimburse the European merchants and bankers for the damages which they suffered. Again the toilers protested. The political officers of the province, faced with the possibility of another revolt, appealed to the Governor to withdraw the fine. Again the Government was forced to retreat. Nigeria is aflame! Every day the crisis deepens and brings ruin to wider and wider sections of the peasantry. Unemployment is also increasing at astonishing proportions among the workers in the mining industries. The native petty-bourgeoisie is also being ruined. All of which is making for the radicalisation of broader and broader masses of the Nigerian population.
A number of strikes of a political character have taken place in West Africa since the war. Thanks to the industrialisation and the extensive exploitation going on in these colonies the class struggle is assuming an acute form, by taking on more and more of an anti-imperialist character. For example, in October, 1930, a strike occurred in Gambia, in the course of which the workers were faced the necessity of defending their trade union organisation against the combined attacks of the foreign capitalists and the armed forces of the State. According to an account which appeared in the Monthly Circular of the Labour Research Department for January, 1930:
“The trouble started early in October, when four to five hundred sailors-members of the Seamen’s Society-engaged on the coastal steamers which are mostly owned by the combine, went on strike against heavy reduction of wages. Their case was that since 1920-21 there had been a systematic reduction of their wages. Up to 1920-21 the rates of pay had varied according to the size of the boat on which the sailor was employed, and the maximum and the minimum figures were as follows:
“70 ton craft – Captain, £18; mate, £6; sailor, £5; cook, £2 4s. per month.
12 ton craft – Captain, £4; mate, £3 12s.; sailor, £3; cook £2 4s.
Monthly rations – 45 lbs. rice; 10s. fish money; one bag salt; three gals. cotton seed oil.
Reduced Wages – Captains, £3 to £2 16s. per month, regardless of tonnage; sailors, £1 12s. to £1 8s; cooks, 16s; fish money, 4s.; crew to provide own salt and oil.
“In spite of the fact that the Seamen’s Society was outside the Bathurst Trade Union, the latter took up their case and wrote to the Colonial Secretary to ask that the Government should intervene to bring about ‘an amicable understanding,’ suggesting that a board of arbitration should be appointed to inquire into the whole matter of wages and cost of living. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated October 18th, the union secretary wrote:
“’Captains have been forced to do the work of sailors; captains and sailors have been victimised by dismissal and forfeiture of pay. Over and above all, the local seamen are employed only for three to four months of the year, so that the reduction complained of does not insure for them a living wage.’
“By October 26th the Seamen’s Society had become incorporated with the Bathurst Trade Union; on October 30th thirty-one union delegates interviewed the Governor, who refused to recognise the Union and said he could not arrange for arbitration until he had heard the case of the merchants. The strike therefore dragged on for sixty-two days.
“In the meantime a struggle affecting a much larger number of the members of the Bathurst Trade Union was developing. Withdrawal notices were issued by the Union on behalf of: (1) shipwrights, carpenters and masons; (2) motor engineers, motor drivers, steam-boat engineers, greasers, firemen and blacksmiths, on account of reductions of wages from 10s. to 4s. a day. In those trades, as with the seamen, if not more so, the vast majority are employed for some three or four months of the year; during the remaining eight or nine months they have to subsist on what they can earn in those months. The Chamber of Commerce, representing the bulk of the employers affected, refused to come to an official understanding with the men, or to set up a court of arbitration as requested by the Union.
“In the middle of October Messrs. Palmine entered the fray, their Danish local manager having given three days’ notice to all those of their employees who were members of the Bathurst Trade Union to quit the union or be dismissed. In the weeks ending October 12th and October 19th Messrs. Palmine, Ltd., and Messrs. United Africa, Ltd., issued lockout notices to all their employees with a view to a reduction of wages. The result of all this was that when the withdrawal notices and the lockout notices expired all the men affected by reductions of wages and non-recognition of the Union refused to return to work and by November hundreds of mechanics of all classes had laid down their tools and Bathurst was in the throes of its first general strike.
“The matters in dispute as given in the ‘Gambia Outlook’ of November 9th were as follows: ‘(1) recognition by the Chamber of Commerce of the Union’s claims to represent the workers of Bathurst; (2) regulation of minimum rates of pay for all trades. On the whole workers, according to the Union, are underpaid, the cost of living is rising, and altogether there is no justification for the systematic reduction of wages, which for years past has caused deep dissatisfaction in the ranks of the working classes.’
“As one of the specific conditions for calling off the strike, the Union demanded ‘a guarantee that there would be no victimisation of Union members, reference being made to cases of such victimisation by various firms.’
“Negotiations are entered into between the Bathurst Trade Union and the Chamber of Commerce, which recognised the Union’s claim to represent the workers and for certain concessions on wages, but refused to fix minimum rates for the better-paid classes of skilled workers. At this stage matters were complicated by the police raid of November 14th, already referred to in last month’s ‘Circular’ when, in the words of the ‘Gambia Outlook’ on November 6th,’ for the first time in history an armed raid was made on the civilian community, in which a cordon of police with truncheons took part, the other section being armed with rifles and fixed bayonets. Peaceful passengers were charged through the streets and up to date some 40 civilians have been reported wounded.’
“This police raid which has caused public indignation in Bathurst is said to have been occasioned by some stone-throwing around the car of the Hon. L. C. Ogden, area supervisor of Messrs. United Africa Co., Ltd. It is alleged that his chauffeur got into conflict with some strikers and that the trouble arose from this, but it is significant that neither Mr. Ogden nor the chauffeur were among the injured, most of whom were Africans, and are alleged to have been peaceful citizens. The Riot Act was not read and evidently there was no ‘rioting.’ In response to an immediate protest made by representative citizens the Governor gave an undertaking that ‘an inquiry would be held at once into the methods used by the police to disperse the crowd.’ A detachment of the Royal West African Force was brought into Bathurst, but was not used.
“The events of the 14th were merely an indication of the state of panic into which the Government had been thrown by the extent and solidarity of the general strike, which had already lasted 20 days, whilst the sailors’ strike had lasted 60 days. On that day, therefore, the Colonial Secretary addressed an ‘urgent’ letter to the Union announcing that ‘in view of the serious position which has arisen in the industry of the colony, His Excellency is prepared to appoint a Board to arbitrate if both parties are agreeable to this course.’ The letter concludes, ‘His Excellency feels sure that you will realise the urgency of the matter and the need, in the interests of the colony, to effect an immediate settlement.’ It is interesting to find the Governor, on November 14th, waking up to the urgency of the situation which the Union had been urging him to consider ever since October 8th, and being so suddenly anxious to apply a method of solution advocated by the Union over a month earlier. By this time, of course, it was already too late; the Union, having achieved its main objects by strike methods, did not feel called upon to give them up for the doubtful blessings of an arbitration board decision. Direct negotiations with the Chamber of Commerce were continued, and on November 16th a satisfactory settlement was reached. The exact terms as to wages are not yet to hand, but it is clear that the Union has won recognition, and that the workers are returning to work with an increase on last year’s wages and a definite guarantee that there shall be no victimisation. The Union, and the workers of Bathurst generally, are to be congratulated on a victory which has been won solely by solidarity and determination, and which will undoubtedly result in a great accession of strength to the Union.
“The attitude taken by the Governor of Gambia, Sir Edward Denham, during the dispute has been severely criticised by the Union officials. His refusal to submit the matter to arbitration on the ground that it was the ‘private affair’ of Bathurst firms, and their employees, and his tacit connivance at the importation of labour from outside the colony, notwithstanding the growing unemployment, is specially complained of. On October 31st, when the strike had just begun, the Governor issued a public notice intended to prevent picketing. This notice, after stating that attempts were being made ‘to influence and bring pressure upon workers to leave their employments,’ concluded: ‘It is further notified that any person who, by intimidation or molestation, compels, persuades, or induces, or attempts to compel, persuade or induce any worker, who is willing to work, from doing so, is liable to be prosecuted under the Criminal Law.’
“It is also stated by the Acting Commissioner of Police that the Governor was aware of the action of the force on the 14th, and that he has given the men to know he is proud of their action. Since the settlement of the strike the Governor has further shown his hostility to the Union by causing it to be ejected from its meeting place – at the Mahommedan School. There is also trouble in the Public Works Department, owing to the Government decision to employ men on piece work on spite of the Union’s refusal to allow its members to work under this system.
“The attitude of the Labour Government at home seems to be one of complete confidence in the Governor, in spite of the fact that he was appointed under a Conservative Government and has shown hostility to trade unionism. When the victimisation of trade unionists in Bathurst was first brought to Lord Passfield’s notice on October 31st, he returned a very indifferent reply on November 6th to the effect that he had not received any report of the Governor of Gambia, and, even after further information had been sent in, an official of the Colonial Office stated on November 14th that Lord Passfield saw no good reason to call for a report. It is only when reports of the events on the 14th appeared in the press, and it had been stated that the matter would be raised in the House of Commons, that Lord Passfield tried to allay criticism by stating that he was receiving a report from the Governor. Both to answers to questions in the House and in answer to letters the Colonial Office had tried to minimise the whole affair, and to hide the fact that there has been a serious industrial crisis in Bathurst, from which the workers have emerged victorious.
“The trouble in Bathurst is merely another illustration of the effects upon the workers of capitalist rationalisation. Up to 1820-21 the ground nut crop, which is practically the sole source of income for the natives of Gambia, was collected from up the rivers by native agents, and sold to a number of competing firms who were obliged to pay a reasonable price. As the firms grew bigger they set up trading stations up the rivers, employed their own boats, and made even larger profits. Amalgamations were entered into, the big firms such as Levers, the African and Eastern, etc., eating up the little ones, and prices to the native producers were gradually forced down. The local merchants’ pool for the crop – or ‘participation’ as it is called in Gambia – also prevented competition and forced the producers to accept whatever price they were offered. In May last the United Africa Company was formed as an amalgamation of the Niger Co. (controlled by Lever Bros.) and the African and Eastern Trade Corporation; a final amalgamation in September last was made between the United Africa Ltd. and the Margarine Union (of which Palmine Ltd., is a subsidiary company); this is of immense importance for Gambia, for it is the exclusive sphere of the Margarine Union’s Combine. It gives the Combine a practically complete monopoly of the ground nut crop and invests the local merchants’ pool for the crop with the force of official sanction given on behalf of the shareholders. In the opinion of the city editor of the ‘Daily Mirror’ (September 3rd, 1929) the full benefits of the amalgamation will take some time to materialise, but the Combine will, in future, ‘earn very big profits for its shareholders.’ One of the methods of obtaining these big profits was, as foretold by the ‘Gambia Outlook’ of September 28th, the exercise of rigid economy, and, as usual, this economy was first directed towards wages, hence the attack on the Bathurst Trade Union and the lockout notices of October, threats of dismissals of many workers, a hundred being already reported as being sacked in the Sierra Leone branches of the Combine. In addition to this intensified exploitation of African wage-earners, this Combine is also grinding down the native farmers.
“In 1924-25, before the amalgamations had taken place, the native producer of ground nuts received from £9 to £10 per ton for his produce, on the basis of £15 to £16 per ton on the European market. It is admitted that the producer is entitled to £9 to £10 per ton, a price which was reckoned to leave the capitalist an ample margin of profit. But the situation now that the Combine has a monopoly is quite otherwise; to quote the ‘Gambia Outlook’ for November 2nd:
“’the only possible way in which the farmers can fight the exploitation of the Combine is by themselves combining, which is now proposed.’”
Several strikes have occurred in Sierra Leone. The last one, which assumed large proportions, was the railway strike of 1926. For a number of years the employees, most of whom are natives, were frequently complaining to the Government, which owns and operates the railroads, about their general economic conditions. The protest of the workers met with no redress, so they decided to organise in spite of the prohibition placed on strikes by means of the Masters and Servants Ordinance, which makes it a criminal offence for a worker to go on strike. As a result of the agitation of the most militant men, the Sierra Leone Railwaymen’s Union was formed. The Union drew up a list of demands which it presented to the European manager of railways. The Government replied by immediately dismissing some of the workers who took the initiative in the movement. The Union then decided to call a strike. The Government, on the other hand, realising that widespread sympathy prevailed among the toiling population for the railwaymen, immediately mobilised all the available military forces and concentrated them at various strategic points along the railroad. Shortly after the strike began the workers attempted to adopt the same tactics as those followed during the strike of 1919 – that was to spread the strike to other industries as well as to propagandise the police force to raise demands (2,400 of the police had joined the 1919 strike when the Government refused to increase their wages).
This time the repressive methods of the State prevented these plans from materialising. Within six weeks the Government had recruited sufficient number of strike-breakers to take the place of those who had downed tools. The militancy of the strikers was marvellous. Even the manager of railways had to admit that “in my twenty-two years of railway service I have seen strikes in England and elsewhere, but it was not until I came to Sierra Leone that I saw the disgraceful acts which were done by strikers, and there is no denying these incidents. When I left Boia two rails were removed in front of my train at one place, and another loosened. At another a rail was placed across the line; the men lighting up the engine were stoned. When the first train arrived at Bo a mob, armed with sticks, attacked the train; the rails were removed or loosened on curves, at steep banks and at the approach to a bridge; telegraph poles were pulled down, wires cut and telegraph instruments interfered with, preventing telegraphic communication with the Protectorate.”
The Governor, addressing a meeting of the Legislative Council, declared that the situation was more than an industrial dispute, “It was a revolt against the State by its own servants.”
Taking advantage of the widespread discontent engendered by the strike, and certain statements in the native press which hinted at rebellion, the Governor launched an attack on the Freetown municipality, the only form of representative institution then existing in the country. He declared that “the natives by supporting the strike had proved unworthy of the principle of elective representation.” This type of imperialist reasoning needs no refutation – the toilers of Sierra Leone, thanks to the oppressive methods of the commercial and political agents of British imperialism, have no illusions of British justice. Commenting on the 1926 strike, Dr. Buell (Vol. I, p. 890) “Native Problem in Africa,” writes: “This strike was of more far-reaching importance in that it has revealed the development of the same type of industrial problem in Africa which has tormented Europe and America for so many years. In Africa this problem is made infinitely more difficult by the fact that the employer is European and the employees are primitive people.”
The most recent peasant outbreak occurred in Sierra Leone during the middle of February, 1931. This was one of the most serious rebellions which have broken out on the West Coast since the crisis. Despite the attempts of the British Government to suppress all information about the uprising, the native petty-bourgeois press of Sierra Leone openly writes: “The principal causes for the revolt were economic.” Hundreds of natives led by a battalion of 50 men armed with guns invaded the Kambia District in Sierra Leone, which adjoins the neighbouring French colony of Guinea, in February. The peasants were led by Hydara, a Negro moslem leader, who is reported to have had tremendous influence over the natives of Kambia, thousands of whom he converted to Mohammedanism, and under the cloak of religion organised an anti-imperialist movement against the British Government. After arming his followers Hydara raised the standard of revolt by calling upon the peasants to refuse to pay their hut taxes and to drive the British officials away from the province. Hydara also demanded that all Crown lands in the Protectorate of Sierra Leone be confiscated and divided among the landless peasants in order they might be able to grow food to feed themselves in view of the fact that the palm kernel industry, their chief source of income, had completely collapsed, due to over-production.
In order to avoid starvation the peasants were turning their attention to the cultivation of food crops, such as rice, but the Government officials were opposed to this and were demanding the immediate payment of taxes. Hydara’s agitation had tremendous influence throughout the Kambia province. The British Government attempted to arrest him, but the natives threatened death to all Europeans who entered their territory. The situation became so alarming that the central Government in Freetown ordered a detachment of the Royal West African Frontier Force to the scene of rebellion. The soldiers, mostly natives drawn from the other sections of Sierra Leone commanded by British officers, while attempting to embark in Kambia were fired upon by the insurgents. Skirmishes followed during the course of which several natives and soldiers were killed, including Hydara and Captain H. J. Holmes, the English officer in command of the troops. After several days of fighting the soldiers, thanks to their overwhelming numbers and superior arms, were able to put down the revolt. After this, the most repressive campaign was launched. Hundreds of huts of natives who took part in the uprising were burned to the ground, and men and women arrested and thrown into jail or deported from the territory.
Although the revolt has been suppressed, great unrest still prevails throughout the Protectorate of Sierra Leone. Even the British Government, in its official communiqué issued by the Colonial Secretary of Sierra Leone, has been forced to admit that the Hydara movement has a tremendous influence over the natives of Sierra Leone and the French colony of Guinea. Troops have taken possession of the Kambia District in order to terrorize the peasants and to suppress any new manifestations of open revolt.
With respect to the Gold Coast the economic situation is becoming very acute, thanks to the cocoa crisis and the tremendous growth of unemployment in agriculture and mining. Spontaneous strikes and demonstrations are of frequent occurrence.
The farmers have organised an association of over 200,000 cocoa growers to oppose the monopoly of the British capitalists, especially the United Africa Company. The farmers have refused to market their crops as a protest against the high-handed policy of robbery carried on by the foreign capitalists with the support of the Government.
The last outbreak which occurred among the industrial workers took place in September, 1930, at the Ariston Mines in the Prestea district of the Gold Coast. From the limited news which broke through the censorship and reached the outside world the facts appear to be as follows:
The Company, in order to increase the exploitation of its labourers, attempted to introduce a quarterly system of paying wages instead of monthly. The miners refused to agree to these terms and called a strike. The European employers (managers, engineers, paymasters, etc.) organised an armed squad and marched through the surrounding native village where the workers were holding meetings, and without warning fired into the crowds, wounding about ten natives and killing five. When news of this bloody onslaught reached the other villages near the mining area, hundreds of men and boys armed with sticks, knives and all kinds of primitive weapons marched to the mines and attacked the European quarters. The mines were closed down for several days in order to avoid a general wreckage.
Despite the idea prevalent among the petty-bourgeois Negroes, especially in the United States, that French imperialism pursues a more human and liberal policy towards its black colonial population than other imperialist powers, the bloody massacres which have occurred in the French Congo within recent years give the lie to this bourgeois propaganda. French imperialism, in order to carry out its ruthless policy, has been forced to utilise the services of its black petty-bourgeois colonials more than any other imperialist power. This is especially so in respect to its military policy, which bases itself to a considerable extent upon the militarisation of French Negroes, and just because of this France has been compelled to adopt a less openly hostile attitude towards her black bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie than in the case of Great Britain and the United States. It is these very lackeys, dressed in the uniforms of these imperialist masters, who play the role of hangmen and enslavers of the toiling population of their own race.
One of the most bloody onslaughts that has ever been perpetrated in Africa occurred in 1928. Incited by the most oppressive measures of capitalist exploitation, some of which we have described in the previous chapter, the black toiling population of the Congo regions raised the banner of revolt against their French masters. This was the second time within four years that these people attempted to strike a blow for freedom. In 1924 the insurrection lasted several days, and was finally suppressed by the overwhelming military forces of the French Government. Thousands of natives were massacred. The revolt of 1928, like the previous one, was inspired by a series of causes, chief among them being the resentment of the natives at the inhuman way in which they had been treated by the overseers on the railroads now under construction, and in the mines; also the subjection of their women and children to forced labour on the plantations, compulsory military training among the youth, as well as the attempts of the Government to enforce taxation. However, unlike the insurrection of 1924, the last revolt showed more class-consciousness among the workers and was better organised. The revolt embraced a number of important districts in the French Equatorial region, and lasted for over four months, during which time the natives, despite their limited arms, inflicted a number of defeats on the French troops, capturing a large section of their infantry. Mines were blown up, bridges destroyed, and a number of buildings on the French concessions destroyed. The natives displayed tremendous bravery and military prowess which the French bourgeois press, despite its attempt to suppress information, has been forced to admit. In order to stamp out the revolt, which was spreading from village to village, French military reinforcements were brought from the military base in Finda. But even this overwhelming force met with great resistance, owing to the guerilla tactics adopted by the insurgents, who were also favoured by the great tropical forests which exist in those regions. After the revolt was finally suppressed the Government launched a campaign of terror, during which period more people were murdered than in actual combat. Every native suspected of having taken part in the uprising was shot. Old men and women were publicly whipped in the villages, as a warning to the younger generation never to attempt to do like their elders. This, however, did not prevent the natives from again rebelling in April, 1930. This time a white French revolutionary worker and several natives were arrested at Brazzaville, the capital of the Middle Congo, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for attempting to organise a trade union. Learning of the sentence, several thousands of native workers went on strike and proceeded to the court for the purpose of demanding the freedom of their comrades. The police attempted to break up the demonstration, but were attacked with stones. The soldiers were then called out, and without any warning opened fire upon the demonstrators. The natives offered desperate resistance, throwing stones at the soldiers, during which encounters the Governor of the Middle Congo, who appeared on the scene, was wounded. For several days the business life of Brazzaville was at a standstill, during which time the native quarters were occupied by troops. The serious character of this revolt can be gleaned from the Brussels paper “Soir,” whose Congo correspondent writes “The soldiers had to act especially energetically in the low Congo settlement near Brazzzaville. This settlement is famed as the operative base of the native Communist elements.”
Strikes and other manifestations of discontent are of frequent occurrence in French West Africa, especially among the workers on the Thies-Niger Railway. The last widespread revolt in this region occurred in 1925 among the Bambarra tribe, most of whom are employed on railroad construction. The immediate cause for this revolt was the attempt of the Government to arrest certain native leaders for carrying on agitation against forced labour. The Government ordered the arrest of three men, who were to be flogged as a sort of warning to the others. The workers immediately protested, and declared a general strike. On this occasion the soldiers, most of whom were West African tribesmen, refused to obey their white officers, with the result that the agitators were freed and the Government ordered the director of the railroad to investigate the grievances of the workers in order to prevent the disruption of the railroad service which disorganised French trade for several weeks.
In this territory, formerly a part of German East Africa but which was given to Belgium as a mandate of the League of Nations after the war, was the scene of a widespread revolt in 1929.
Negroes starved by the thousands after being plundered of their lands, other thousands dying in droves in the Central African swamps in their desperate trek for food, hundreds of others kidnapped and forced into slavery in the Katonga copper mines, and then a revolt of the Equatorial tribes sweeping through the jungle, until drowned in blood by British and Belgian imperialists – this is the story of a people fighting for freedom against great odds.
The British and Belgian censors at first successfully silenced the story of one of the largest Negro rebellions which the white imperialists in Africa have yet had to face.
The only news permitted to reach Europe were missionary reports that thousands of Negro men, women and children were fleeing famine conditions throughout the Eastern Belgian Congo, and that the still living bodies of hundreds had been devoured by hyenas as they fell. It is now known that these thousands of black toilers were fleeing the guns of the Belgian and British troops as well as the ravages of famine.
Immediately after Belgium acquired this mandated territory, following the lines of her traditional colonial policy, she carried out a wholesale confiscation of native lands. These lands were parcelled out among Belgian companies. Many Social-Democratic concessionaries also received their full share of the loot.
As a result of this plundering and kidnapping of the natives, the fields were not tilled and a famine broke out in the district of Ruanda. Although thousands of natives were affected, the Belgian colonial administrators had no assistance to offer. At the same time the British “Labour” Government, through its representative of Uganda, ordered all exports of food to the stricken area cut off. The situation of the natives quickly became more and more terrible. As the pangs of hunger began to mount, the spirit of rebellion swept from the Belgian Ruanda to British Uganda, where the neighbouring tribes on the frontier also rose up in arms.
Under the leadership of the “King” of Ruanda’s daughter and a leader of the Wa-Tusi tribe, the starving and desperate natives everywhere carried on their revolt throughout the British and Belgian districts.
The first serious clash occurred at Gatsolon, where the native chiefs known to be friendly with the imperialist officials were killed outright, together with a number of Belgian soldiers and officials. Armed with all the appliances of modern warfare, the Belgian troops were rushed to suppress the rebellion, and against them the natives, armed only with spears and knives, were nevertheless able to hold out for several weeks.
Finally, the leaders of the revolt had to give in. They fled through the swamps followed by the Belgian soldiers until they reached the Uganda frontier. There the British authorities arrested them and handed them over to the Belgian pursuers. The “King” of Ruanda’s brother was one of the prisoners taken and, together with over a thousand tribesmen, shot. After the insurrection the British King’s African Rifles and a Belgian regiment were stationed in Kiforte, the centre of the revolt.
For the moment the uprising has been suppressed, but the movement for liberation of the native peoples of the Congo has received a tremendous impetus from the rebellion.
One of the most formidable anti-imperialist movements in Central Africa broke out in the Belgian Congo. This movement, not unlike similar ones in other parts of the continent, is described as of a semi-religious political character. It was started by a man named Simon Kibangi, a carpenter by trade, who rallied thousands of natives in the Lower Congo by promising to deliver them from the oppression of the Belgian imperialists. Kibangi was converted to the Baptist form of Christianity by missionaries who, as he afterwards discovered, were merely the tools of the imperialists. The first stage of agitation was conducted largely among the natives who had become Christian converts, Kibangi appealing to them to desert the religion of the whites and to organise their own church. This immediately brought the workers into conflict with the Government, because they refused to work on certain days in order to devote their time to the new religious movement. This began to have a tremendous effect upon the industrial life of the Congo, which is absolutely dependent on native labour. Later on the movement assumed more and more of a political character, thanks to the influence of native students from the British and French West African colonies, who had migrated to the Congo in order to get clerical employment. Many of these students were arrested by the Belgian Government and deported from the country on the grounds of spreading sedition among the Congo natives. They also attempted to arrest Kibangi, who took refuge in a native hut which was gallantly defended by his followers. They drove the soldiers away after a pitched battle, in the course of which several workers and soldiers were killed. This created a general panic throughout the native settlement of Kin-Shasha, where machine guns and military forces were stationed. Moreover, Kibangi was finally arrested and charged before a military court-martial with attempting to organise the natives for the purpose of overthrowing the Congo State. Kibangi was condemned to death. Nine others were given life imprisonment, two 20 years, one 5 years, while a girl by the name of Mandambi, whom the Government prosecutor characterised as the most revolutionary woman in the Congo, was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment. The sentences passed by the court merely inflamed the revolutionary spirit of the masses. Strikes broke out in all parts of the Congo. Business at Thiseville was so badly affected that the European merchants petitioned the home Government with the request that Kibangi should be publicly hanged. The natives threatened to massacre every white man if their leader was put to death. The situation between the natives and the European population reached a stage of open conflict, which was only appeased by commuting the sentence on Kibangi to life imprisonment and the quashing of the sentences upon several of the other leaders on the condition that they would leave the territory.
Despite all attempts to crush the revolutionary movement it continues to have great influence in the Congo, especially among the youth who are breaking away from tribal influence, thanks to their proletarisation and increasing class-consciousness.
According to the Paper News Agency “Fides,” of November 1st, 1930, a renewed wave of Kibangi propaganda broke out in Mitadi, in the Lower Congo, aiming at the natives’ independence and hostility to the Christian missionaries and white capitalists. As a result of the natives’ hostility even the medical service in this territory has had to be abandoned. The Brussels correspondent of the “African World” states that the present agitation is probably the result of propaganda carried out by Moscow agents and that the Government should immediately proclaim martial law and shoot on the spot the ring-leaders irrespective of race and nationality.
In this island there is also a well-developed anti-imperialist movement. In May, 1929, mass demonstrations were held under the leadership of Communists. Many of the demonstrators were arrested. In January, 1930, they were tried, and two of the Communist leaders were sentenced. One of them – Plaoue – was sentenced to 5 years’ and the other – Vittori – 3 1/2 years’ imprisonment.
The underlying factors of the 1929 Haitian revolt against American imperialism, like the uprising in Nigeria, were (I) the worsening of the conditions of the peasantry, due to the world crisis which has caused a falling of the prices of agricultural products, especially coffee; (2) the expropriation of lands for the development of industrialised agriculture by American capitalists, and (3) the attempts on the part of the imperialists to force the natives to contribute labour for road building without pay.
As soon as the uprising occurred, martial law was proclaimed by Colonel Richards Coots, the American officer commanding marines in Port-au-Prince. The troops were immediately got in readiness, and bloody attacks were made against all those who participated in the uprising.
The first stage was a strike among the students of the National University. They held parades through the principal streets of Port-au-Prince, protesting against the educational bureaucracy saddled upon them by President Borneo and his American educational advisors. In order to cut down national expenses, the Government recently made a sweeping reduction in the education budget. So incensed are all sections of the population against the present fascist dictatorship that no sooner had the students walked out of their classes than the native staff in the Customs Department joined in the strike. The clerks attacked the American officials with ink bottles, parts of typewriters and other office accessories, chasing them out of the building. The dock workers also declared a general strike, and within a few hours the entire business life of the city of Port-au-Prince was at a standstill.
Thousands of Haitian workers gathered before the Government administration building and the President’s palace, shouting “DOWN WITH BORNEO!” “DOWN WITH AMERICAN IMPERIALISM!”
The most serious manifestations, however, took place in the country districts. Because of their impoverished condition the peasants showed the most militancy. Immediately after learning what had taken place in the city they organised their forces and began a march on the capital.
Thousands of them gathered at a place called Aux Cayes, an important agricultural settlement. An advance guard of about 150 men and women armed with machetes (long knives used for cutting sugar canes) and sticks, marched ahead of the demonstrators. They were bent upon driving the American officials and their puppet, Borneo, out of Port-au-Prince.
As the column advanced on the capital, shouting “DOWN WITH BORNEO!” “DOWN WITH FREEMAN!” (who is the most vicious agent of American imperialism on the island, enjoying a salary of $10,000), they were met by a regiment of marines armed with every device of modern warfare.
The soldiers demanded that the peasants halt and return to their villages, which they refused to do. The marines then opened fire, killing five and wounding twenty. Despite the overwhelming superiority in numbers and equipment of the American forces, the natives fought heroically, making successful counter-attacks upon the military outposts at Chatel and Torbecks. By bringing up their reinforcements the peasants were able to break into the national guard-house at St. Michael, where they inflicted a severe assault on Lieutenant George Bertein, a Haitian petty-bourgeois renegade in the service of the American imperialists.
As the struggle increased more marines as well as American business men, who volunteered their services as a special fascist corps, were hurried off in armoured cars to various sections of the island to suppress the insurrection which was spreading from village to village.
While all this was taking place in the outskirts of the city, General Russell, the then High Commissioner, telegraphed to President Hoover informing him of the uprising. The American “dictator,” who is fast adopting to himself the mantle of Mussolini, ordered the cruiser Galveston, then at its naval base in Cuba, to proceed to Haiti. The bombing plane, Wright, with 500 more marines, was also dispatched on its mission of “peace and goodwill.”
With this formidable array the revolt was crushed with the same ruthlessness which characterised the marine campaigns in Nicaragua.
The reaction that has followed has created an atmosphere of widespread terrorism. Workers are afraid to express opposition sentiments for fear of being thrown into jail or murdered by the soldiers.
These outrages have aroused such world-wide protests among the working class and toiling masses of the colonies, especially in Latin-America, where Yankee imperialism rules supreme, that the Wall Street controlled Government in Washington was forced to dispatch a commission to “investigate” conditions. The Commissioners will merely carry out in the commission the instructions of their masters and whitewash the marine murderers of their bloody crimes, as has been done in the past.
The Haitian toilers know this only too well, and on the occasion of the arrival of the Commission at Port-au-Prince organised boycott demonstrations, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the marines and the abolition of the present dictatorship. The masses are still in a fighting mood. This was demonstrated when 5,000 workers and peasants shouting “LONG LIVE LIBERTY!” held a protest meeting before the Government buildings.
Since this incident a number of minor skirmishes have occurred between the toilers and the police in different parts of the island. The Haitian toiling masses will carry on the struggle until their country is freed from marine rule and foreign domination.
There are also signs of unrest among the natives in the British West Indian colonies of Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and British Guiana, the United States’ Virgin Islands, and the French colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe. In the British group of islands, a nationalist movement has already crystallised itself around the Labour Party of Trinidad and the left-wing intellectuals in the other islands. Monster mass meetings are being held throughout the islands, rallying together the workers and poor farmers under the slogan of “THE WEST INDIES FOR THE WEST INDIANS!”
This unrest shows itself in a number of spontaneous strikes which have occurred in the various islands during recent years. The longshoremen’s strike which took place in Trinidad some time ago marked the beginning of the rapid development of the trade union movement in that colony. Despite the weak leadership, reflected in the reformist programme and tactics of the labour leaders in Trinidad, the wide masses which strikes embrace show the potential forces of the Negro workers. For example, the longshoremen’s strike occurred during one of the busy shipping seasons in the harbour of Port of Spain. The strike was called when the shipping companies (Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., Harrison Line, Lamport and Holt, Royal Netherlands, etc., etc.) threatened to cut down the wages of the men. The workers not only refused to handle freight but organised themselves into committees of action and marched through the city, where they closed down all the shipping firms until a settlement was arrived at. The military commander of troops, Colonel May, not confident as to the reaction of his garrison, refrained from provoking an armed uprising, despite the pressure brought to bear on the Government by the Chamber of Commerce to drive the workers from the streets, so as to enable the companies to conduct their shipping business.
These were memorable days in this slave outpost of the British slave Empire, for it was the first time that the young working class had entered into open struggle not only against the employers but against the State. However, after the strike was suppressed by naval marines landed from a British cruiser, most of the leaders were arrested. Sonic were imprisoned and others deported. The Government was able to carry out these reprisals simply because the petty-bourgeois reformist leaders who were at the head of the movement, when confronted with the necessity of leading the mass uprising, became timid and deserted the struggle. The workers, on the other hand, were unable to produce the necessary leadership to take charge of the situation and conduct a counter-offensive, for they had permitted the entire apparatus of the unions to be dominated by the reformists.
Since 1929, thanks to the severe agrarian crisis, expressed in the tremendous fall in the price of sugar, which has ruined the West Indian sugar planters, wide unrest is developing among the agricultural labourers. The first open outburst occurred in July, 1930.
According to a report which appeared in the Trinidad Press
“Over 800 East Indians and Negroes, composed mainly of sugar field labourers from Felicity State, Chaguanas, and their sympathisers, assembled in Woodford Square, Port of Spain. Their object, it was stated, was to show the Government their dissatisfaction with the labour conditions on that estate.
“Six of the number formed a deputation which demanded action from the Government.
“The trouble began a week ago, when a large body of the labourers on Felicity estate struck. They complained that the task work allotted them had been increased, and asked either for a return to the old task measurements or increased wages.
“There was reported to be considerable unrest, but the prompt though pacific action of the police prevented an armed demonstration from assuming ugly proportions.
“It is understood that a compromise was effected on the basis that the old tasks would be adopted. But this decision was not endorsed by the estate authorities, and the trouble started afresh.
“The Government Commission of Labour together with the employers assured the workers that their demands would be granted. However, when they returned to the plantation all the promises made to them were broken; they were disarmed and their leaders arrested and charged with rioting. Shortly after this incident another strike occurred on one of the big sugar plantations in the Caroni District in Trinidad. The workers destroyed much property and drove all of the native overseers and European superintendents away from the plantation. The situation was only brought under control after large squads of armed police were despatched to the scene of the trouble.”
The general conditions of the toiling masses are becoming worse and worse daily. With the closing down of the big sugar factories as well as the curtailment in oil production – one of the basic industries in Trinidad – thousands of workers are being thrown out of employment.
On the occasion of the visit of Lord Olivier, one of the leaders of the British “Labour” Party, who acted as the chairman of the Committee to inquire into the sugar industry in the British West Indies in 1930, the Negro workers in Barbados organised protest demonstrations demanding the abolition of their present semi-serf conditions, their right to the franchise and their right to free lands which are at present monopolised by small groups of white colonial autocrats and absentee English landlords. Among these is the Earl of Harewood, the son-in-law of King George the Fifth. This shows how the remnants of the English feudal nobility have entrenched themselves on the colonial toilers. Lord Olivier, with all the hypocrisy characteristic of a social-fascist, frowned upon the demands of the black workers, and only interested himself in putting forward the demands of the sugar planters for imperial subsidy in order to enable them to continue their exploitation of the Negro and East Indian workers. The natives, however, are becoming more and more class-conscious, and have already created their own trade union and political organisation, in order to carry on the struggle against their imperialist oppressors.
In Jamaica, a colony where the natives have tremendous revolutionary traditions (the Maroon rebellions of the eighteenth century and of 1865), the workers are beginning to form trade union and political organisations. The recent strikes (1929 and 1930) have created such alarm that the Government has ordered the native regiment to be disbanded, replacing it by British soldiers, because they fear that in the event of a national uprising native soldiers would fraternise with the toiling masses.
American imperialism, through the United Fruit Company, one of the biggest corporations operating in Latin America and the West Indies, is dealing a death blow to the British interests in the banana industry in Jamaica. This rivalry has had a tremendous effect in worsening the conditions of the Jamaican blacks, who, however, are using the strike weapon with much success. A number of political strikes took place among the dock and transport workers in 1930, resulting in armed clashes between the workers and the police, who are natives under the command of European officers.
One of the clashes with the police took place at Rio Cabre, near Spanish Town. The Government is constructing a bridge there and employing labour at 3/- per day. A few weeks after work began, the men, realising how badly they were being exploited, formed a strike committee and downed tools. They demanded eight hours labour at 3/6 per day instead of 3/-. The employers (Government contractors) refused and the men began to picket the bridge. The Government ordered armed police to the scene, and attempted to break the strike through intimidation. The labourers refused to return to work under the old conditions. Strike-breakers were brought in, and the strikers took active measures to see that the blacklegs did not work. Then the police sided with the strike-breakers, and a general pitched battle took place. The police used their rifles and bayonets, while the strikers kept up the offensive with bottles and stones. Only after reinforcement was rushed to the scene were the strikers outnumbered and dispersed by the superior arms of the police.
The Jamaica Trades and Labour Union, which was organised in 1929 through the activities of the revolutionary Trade Union Unity League and the Negro Labour Congress in America, is taking the leadership in the class struggles of the toiling masses. Branches have been established in the most important industrial areas of the island. Special attention is being paid to the organisation of the agricultural workers, especially those employed in the banana industry.
In the French island of Guadeloupe the labour situation is also becoming very tense. In February, 1930, the workers in one of the largest sugar factories declared a strike demanding shorter hours and an increase in wages. Several clashes took place between the strikers and the gendarmerie (police) which resulted in the death of three strikers and two policemen. Four other workers were also badly wounded by police gun-fire.
The strike lasted for several days. Auxiliary divisions of gendarmerie from the neighbouring islands of Martinique were brought in to help suppress the strike. There is much agitation among the agricultural labourers, who are being more and more victimised because of the crisis which exists in the sugar industry. The sugar manufacturers and plantation owners are attempting to throw the burden on the backs of the workers by cutting down wages and increasing hours.
The revolutionary spirit among the Negro toilers is not only confined to the black colonial masses, but is also manifesting itself among the Negro proletariat in the United States.
Thanks to the economic crisis, which has worsened the standard of living of these workers to a very marked degree, the Negro masses are becoming more and more radicalised. This leftward swing of the Negro masses is bringing them into closer and closer alliance with the class-conscious white workers under the leadership of the Communist Party and Trade Union Unity League, the revolutionary trade union centre in the U.S.A. In order to break up this alliance between the whites and blacks, and thereby weaken the counter-offensive of the workers against the capitalists, the bourgeoisie, with the aid of their social-fascist lackeys of the Socialist Party and the American Federation of Labour, as well as the open fascist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Shirts, the American Legion, etc., have launched a new wave of white terror (lynching) against the Negro masses. The bourgeoisie hope that, by playing up social prejudice and inciting lynchings and race riots, they will be able to distract the attention of the workers from their common class interests in fighting against the widespread misery and starvation. The Negro workers are showing their determination not to permit themselves to be led astray and thereby breaking up the united front between themselves and the white workers against their oppressors.
The most striking expressions of solidarity between the toilers of both races are to be seen in the united struggles of the Unemployed.
For example, on the 6th of March, 1930, the first International Day of Struggle against Unemployment, organised and led by the Communist Party and the T.U.U.L., thousands of Negro workers not only participated in the monster demonstrations which took place in all the big industrial centres of the country, but played a leading role.
Since then the Negro workers., together with their class-conscious white allies, have carried on repeated struggles in various parts of the United States. A demonstration of over three thousand workers, about two-thirds Negroes, took place in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 21st, 1930, under militant slogans demanding work or relief.
The same applied to the Hunger March which took place in Toledo, Ohio, on December 22nd, 1930 – while in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Denver, Colorado, thousands of Negro and white workers carried on militant struggles against the police who attempted to break up their demonstration. In the course of all these demonstrations the police and other capitalist agents have directed most vicious attacks upon the blacks, in order to break up the inter-racial solidarity and to intimidate the Negroes from taking an active part in the struggles of their class.
Apart from these joint struggles of the white and black unemployed, the Negroes themselves have organised many spontaneous strikes and demonstrations. In Chicago, Negro women, by means of a successful campaign of picketing white capitalist enterprises (Woolworth Stores) won the right to be employed in places that attempted to discriminate against them. Spontaneous manifestations of struggle are becoming widespread in the South. In Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, etc., Negro tenants and farm labourers are breaking into the warehouses of the white farmers and landlords and helping themselves to food. Agricultural workers in Tennessee called a number of strikes in 1930. The same applies to New Orleans, where Negro dockers went on a spontaneous strike. Besides these cases of spontaneous demonstrations, there has been a wave of resistance by the Negro workers in the South in the form of armed defence. Landlords attempting to terrorise Negroes and attack them and their families have been shot. In December, 1930, an unemployed demonstration of 300 Negroes with banners “We want work or food” was organised in Shreveport, Louisiana, which developed into a clash between the workers and the police. Wherever we turn in America Today we find an increasing spirit of revolutionary consciousness among the Negro masses.