Ernest Belfort Bax

Missionary and Mercantile Enterprise

(16 June 1894)

Missionary and Mercantile Enterprise, Justice, 16th June 1894, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Lord Stanmore’s exposures of the results of missionary enterprise in Fiji, Tonga or where-ever else in the South Seas it may have been, of the reduction of a free and happy savage race to an abject state of physical and mental inanition – the description of a system which has set itself deliberately to destroy all that made native life worth living, and has implanted in its place the vilest forms of modern European shoddy (moral and material) – though grotesque enough in its hideousness, is undeniably one of the saddest pictures of the results of modern capitalism. The working-class of Europe have grown up in the midst of the system which oppresses them, and it is their own apathy which allows this oppression to go on, but with these poor wretched children of nature, on whom the missionary bursts in and inflicts his accursed Capitalist-Christian gospel, it is otherwise.

Three millions annually are said to be spent in missions – read “the demoralisation of native races” – by the British capitalist classes, and there is not a protest raised. Instead, the cunning or half-baked philanthropist dilates bunkum on the wickedness of the upper classes in gambling – on the unutterable vileness of the Prince of Wales in playing baccarat, or of Lord Rosebery in keeping race-horses – a thing which at most only injures themselves. Even the advanced or democratic philanthropist, who ought to know better, is afraid of the British small middle-class, the thrifty shopkeeper who abhors gambling and loves missions – hence his attitude. He has to “keep in” with the small capitalist, nonconformist voter.

It is high time that the Socialist working classes became thoroughly alive to the fact that missions, philanthropy to the “benighted heathen” anti-slavery zeal e tutu quanti, mean at bottom one thing and one thing only, the opening up of markets for British capital; that every new market opened up is an obstacle in the way of their own emancipation, and besides a fraudulent conversion of public money for the benefit of a class. As things now are, the “classes” have the whole public revenue at their command to squander on the “opening up” of as many new “fields for British enterprise” as they please. It is impossible as things are now, by Parliamentary means to defeat a market-hunting scheme, for the simple reason that every Tory, without exception, will vote for such scheme, and a large number, almost certainly a majority, of Liberals, will also vote for it. This will remain so until the working class can force the hand of the Liberal-capitalist on this point as he is said to be doing on some others. Let every Socialist “heckle” every candidate who has given a favourable vote to any annexation scheme whatever and spoil his candidature. Let him not be hoodwinked by “flam” anent the suppression of the slave trade. The great enemy .of the capitalist exploiter in Central Africa at the present time is the Arab or native slave-holder, and more strength be to his elbow, say I, as incomparably the lesser of two evils.

One of the most important strategical functions the labour parties in the colonies could perform at the present time for the cause of labour would be to systematically carry out the idea suggested by the local labour party in South Africa during the Matabele war, i.e., to join the native tribes, instruct them in the art of shooting properly, and in the rudimentary tactics of civilised warfare, and present as solid a front as may be to the forces of Imperialist, Chartered Company, and Colonial, Capitalism. A strong democratic public opinion at home making itself felt at the poll, and the probability of a stiff fight at the field of action would make annexation at the very least a slower, more expensive, and more difficult task than it is at present. The union of the native struggling to preserve his home and the proletariat struggling to attain his emancipation fighting side by side in a conflict with capital would be indeed a hopeful sign of the times. Anyway it is a thing of vital importance to the early realisation of Socialism to stem the tide of annexation and colonial expansion without delay.

The importance the capitalist on his side attaches to the “opening up” of Africa with a view of “dishing” the Socialist and Labour movements at home, is shown by the action of the official Liberal party in their forcing a sham candidate – a candidate they know is impossible to carry the seat – upon the Radicals of North Lambeth, against strong local opposition. The official Liberal capitalist gang, as much as the Tories, want to have Stanley, the market hunter and authority on short and easy ways of dealing with Africans – in the house, and they are prepared to sacrifice a seat which would probably otherwise fall to a Radical pledged to anti-annexation, in order to get him there.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 11.6.2004