C.L.R. James

Sir Stafford Cripps and “Trusteeship”

(September 1938)

Source: International African Opinion, Vol. 1, No. 3, September 1938.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg with thanks to Marika Sherwood.

At the Peace and Empire Conference held at the Friends’ House, Euston Road, London, on July 15th and 16th [1938], under the auspices of the India League, Sir Stafford Cripps stated what amounted to this: that while India was strong enough to have freedom now, Africa for some time would have to be governed by some sort of international mandate. He used the word “trusteeship.” Sir Stafford Cripps, we may presume, envisaged a Socialist Britain. No intelligent man can conceive of a “free India” and a capitalist Britain, far less a free Africa. We presume also that the trustees will not include Fascism or any sort of capitalism. He has often told us that it is capitalism which is the basic evil of empire. The trustees will, therefore, be Socialist.

It is clear that Sir Stafford Cripps has the typical vice of many European Socialists, even revolutionaries. He conceives Africans as essentially passive recipients of freedom given to them by Europeans. Possibly Sir Stafford thinks that the British working class will gain freedom by the ballot-box and the speeches of Major Attlee and himself. Thinking Africans know that ultimately they will win theirs, arms in hand, or forever remain slaves. The Moors are fighting with Franco for their further enslavement. If the Spanish Loyalist Government had offered them their independence, they would have fought with it. But on one side or the other Africans will have to fight. They will organise themselves, create armies, develop leaders. We have an historic parallel. The half-brutish and degraded slaves in San Domingo in 1791 joined the French Revolution. In six years illiterate slaves were Generals of division and able administrators. Toussaint Louverture was Commander-in-Chief and Governor of an island as large as Ireland, appointed as such by the French Revolutionary Government, and he could not spell three words of French. The African slaves will do the same and more at the prospect of a new existence. Without them and the other colonial masses, the British worker can win at most only temporary success. Is it to leaders and people like these who have conquered their liberty in blood and sacrifice that Sir Stafford will offer his “trusteeship"? Sir Stafford thinks in stiff instead of fluid terms, a gross practice in any politician.

Sir Stafford is also a victim of one of the crudest of bourgeois sophistries. How comes it that such a man wants to transfer “trusteeship” to a new order? When and where has any people governed any other people as trustees? If one race employs the labour of another at 4d. a day and monopolises all products, then it has to terrorise the people, and talk about “trusteeship.” Under those circumstances “trusteeship” is a fig-leaf. Under all others it is an impertinent stupidity. A Socialist Europe in its own interests will need to release and stimulate production in Africa. It will send engineering commissions, scientific agriculturists, teachers, etc. But why has it to govern? Even under capitalism Kenya natives have subscribed to send for black priests and teachers from America, striving to get away from the perpetual domination of whites. Africans will have their own leaders, will collaborate with international commissions, but will govern themselves. As time goes on, more and more the technical administration will be run by Africans. When the San Domingo blacks had won freedom they begged for France for teachers, skilled workmen, for trained administrators to assist them. But they did not want anyone to govern them. France sent an army to restore slavery. True Socialism will be different. But any sort of “trusteeship” will be needed only by exploitation. The European movement is indeed backward when Sir Stafford can make these proposals without a protest being made.

Finally, we ask British workers to follow these tendencies to their logical conclusion. The capacity of the masses for truly Socialist self-government depends on their standard of living. In this regard the British workers are more favourably placed than most. But an important past of this struggle will rest with the subjective qualities of the leaders, their balance between individual leadership and the creative capacity of the masses. In backward communities like Africa, India, and China there is a danger of a huge native bureaucracy developing after freedom is achieved. A counter-balance to this will be a European working-class movement conscious and alive to the dangers, from the lessons of history and its own experience. But the surest way to lay up infinite trouble, not only for Africans but for Europeans, is to encourage reactionary ideas like trusteeship for backward peoples. The bureaucratic mentality which displays itself so blatantly in regard to people abroad can be trusted to show itself at home. It must be fought by Africans and European workers alike in their common interests.

Last updated on 11 September 2015