E. Belfort Bax

Socialism And The Pro-Boer Movement

(27 July 1901)

Socialism and the Pro-Boer Movement, Justice, 27th July 1901, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Why must the Socialist logically be a pro-Boer? That the Socialists of the world are all instinctively pro-Boer (barring a few eccentric individuals), although some may nervously squirm at the name, is an undoubted fact. Now let us endeavour to answer the question on the basis of Socialist principle. Militant Socialism, it has been rightly said, has for one of its most important functions the championship of those fundamental ethical principles of justice, equality and fairplay, which in one or another guise arc essential as the uniting bonds of all phases of human society. Today these principles, even as regards individuals, are often at the mercies of dominant class-interest, or even of that of some section of the dominant class, as witness the case of Dreyfus, while as between nations they are not recognised at all whenever it suits the purpose of a powerful State to throw them overboard. Among the elementary rights of peoples, so long as they exist in the form of separate States, is the right to existence and to self-government. This right has been categorically denied to a weak State by a strong one in the cowardly hope that the weak State could be easily and cheaply crushed. Apart altogether from the question of the origin of the war, these are the plain facts. Here there is case enough, one would think, why all consistent Socialists should be pro-Boers. Case enough, I say, apart from the sordid stock-jobbing motive of the whole policy. For what does it mean to be a pro-Boer? Not necessarily to love the South African Dutch as a nation, although this may be also. Personally, I have no objection to be termed pro-Boer in this sense also, since both from their public conduct and all the independent and unbiassed testimony available (not to mention a slight personal experience) I feel bound to regard them as physically and morally an exceptionally fine race of human beings. But to be a pro-Boer, in itself, simply means to wish the Boers to regain in its integrity that freedom and independence which a powerful State, at the behest of its money-bags, has, in a treacherous and cowardly manner, sought to rob them of.

Now let us consider the objections of some of those who have conscientiously opposed the war to calling themselves pro-Boers even in this sense. First comes the man who has his doubts about the wisdom of making restitution for what he admits is a crime, because in his opinion the Boer Government at Pretoria fell short of perfection. That its imperfections were infinitely less than those of the British Government which acted as its censor matters not. The Transvaal government was not a Socialist administration, we know, and it was probably imperfect, but, judging from the testimonial of those who lived under it and had no axe to grind by maligning Boer institutions, it would I compare favourably with any European Government, while the Free State has been generally put forward even by English statesmen as the model of a politically democratic constitution. But the question as to the goodness or the badness of the Boer Government is altogether beside the mark. The Boer Government was set there by the Boer people, and whether it was bad or good was no more concern of the British Government than the goodness or badness of the latter would be of the German Government, in spite of the fact that there are some sixty thousand disfranchised Germans in London at the present time. For my own part, I would move heaven and earth to reinstate precisely the same persons whom the fraternity of liars, swindlers and thieves, who machined this war, have had the brazen impudence to call a “corrupt oligarchy,” merely because this so-called “oligarchy” would have naught of their own corrupt villainy. The Kruger Government has been overthrown on a false issue. If it be corrupt let the Transvaal burghers see to it and mend it.

Next comes the man who is indignant at the conduct of the South African Dutch to the natives. The tender solicitude of the British mineowner in Kimberley for the natives in his compounds, the parental treatment of the conquered Matabele and Mashona, altogether the record of the Englishman (“after all” in his own estimation so much better than other nations), doubtless ought to have made the native hail the khaki men as his heaven-sent saviours from the cruel and wicked Boer. Strangely enough the perverse native has in the present war helped the Boer rather than the Britisher. The fact is, as Mr. Fox-Bourne, who ought to know something of this matter, says, the Boers have on the whole treated the natives very well indeed. In fact, the Boer legislation to prevent the excessive exploitation of the native was one of the causes of the war. To see the difference between Boer and British ideas of native treatment it is only necessary to read the report of the Transvaal Native Commission, with the evidence of the British Rhodesian witnesses. That the career of the Boers is spotless in relation to the native races, no one wishes to maintain. But there is at least this much to be said for the Boers, that they have been more than a century in South Africa, and that their occupation dates from a period when the rights of native races had not been heard of – a period long before the present generation. The British Rhodesian, on the other hand, is even now going about like a squeaking sewer-rat, ever seeking fresh native flesh and plunder to devour, and to therewith gorge himself. The present generation of Boers found the colonisation of the Transvaal by their forefathers an accomplished fact. Since then all they have done is to defend their hearths and homes.

Yet again, another of our friends who opposed the war, but are “no pro-Boers,” comes up and declares he would hesitate to restore the Transvaal Republic lest, forsooth, the Boers, if allowed to retain their arms (without which, of course, any settlement would be illusory), might possibly, some time or other, avenge themselves on Britain for their slaughtered kinsfolk by marching on Capetown. In other words, he would not right a wrong done out of cowardice lest, perchance, he might, at some later date, get punished for the wrong. This is, indeed, the policy of the armed highwayman, who thinks it would be dangerous to let his plundered victim live lest the latter might subsequently identify him, and put the police on his track. Delightful morality, truly! A crime is to be perpetuated, and added to, for fear the criminal should be brought to justice. I need scarcely point out the absurdity of the theory that the Boers, if once reinstated, would be at all anxious to embark in a hurry on risky adventures of conquest.

We come finally to the man who always opposed the war, but is shocked at the alleged killing of the wounded at Vlakfontein. This “outrage,” which has been faked up by the jingo press as a counterblast to the British “concentration camps,” while disbelieved as a matter of fact, is justly regarded by continental opinion as, even if true, a very small instalment of reprisal for the barbarities of the British troops throughout the whole campaign. To take a precisely parallel instance. The D.T. maunders about the “cruel, callous and cowardly business of vengefully despatching stricken and wounded men” when the supposed “despatched” happen to be British marauders. But what had the D.T. to say to the dastardly British Lancers who at Elandslaagte deliberately tortured and butchered wounded Boers, and then boasted of it in language fit only for cannibals? Again, what about the mean curs who whine at the Boers using, and “inflicting terrible injuries” with the very same bullets which British soldiers use and the British Government sent down to be used against the Boers ? Truly the modern British “patriot” furnishes a type of Human Vermin, in the shameless depths of whose lying and meanness we may discover the differention of a species hitherto unknown to anthropologists.

Let us hope, then, that the salt of the soil of Britain, the British Socialist, will keep staunch to the end of this miserable business, undaunted alike by abuse and by the sophisms which endeavour to persuade him that a people of peasant farmers, in what is substantially a pre-capitalistic phase of economic development, are not much better than on a level with mining exploiters and financial thimble-riggers, simply because some half-dozen men among them happen to be well off. Do not let us forget that the devil sometimes makes up as an angel of light according to Christian tradition, and that similarly the living British jingo when convenient may mask himself in a feigned zeal for social reform. Look out for the Asquithian gang in this connection.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 15.6.2004