J.R. Johnson

We Must Aid Africa’s Anti-War Militants

(March 1941)

The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 12, 24 March 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

There seems to be some slowness in collecting donations for the African revolutionaries now being persecuted by the British government for opposing the war. This is certainly because comrades and sympathizers have not got a clear picture of what a revolutionary opposition to war in the colonial countries means, and what its significance is in the struggle for socialism.

A Highly Advanced Colony

West Africa is one of the most advanced of British colonial possessions in Africa. The climate for generations prevented Europeans from settling there, so that the natives retained the land. On this basis, a Negro petty bourgeoisie, lawyers, doctors, journalists and even government officials developed. But there are millions of natives in the interior of Nigeria, for instance, governed by native chieftains who are for the most part in the pay of the British government.

In addition to the native bourgeoisie of the towns, there is a peasantry which is unique in Africa. Some sixty years ago a native smuggled in some cocoa beans from Portuguese Africa, planted them and they grew. This was the beginning of an industry which in forty years grew to $50,000,000. Luckily the natives owned the land and had a good start. Otherwise white plantation owners would have set up huge estates based on wage labor, found scientists to prove that the African physically and mentally was incapable of cultivating cocoa (they did that in Kenya) and gobbled up all the profits for themselves. To take the cocoa to the ports there is a bunch of Negro truck drivers, many owning their own trucks.

For some years this petty bourgeoisie was nationalistic in sentiment but not vigorously anti-British. It accepted the British government in large things, though full of racial pride in small. It supported the last war. But capitalism itself educates the workers. The crisis of 1929 shook up the cocoa business badly and these farmers, producing directly for the world market, felt the shock in a personal way. The British cocoa dealers, Fry’s, Rowntree, etc., all Quakers, all Liberals, forgot laissez-faire and formed a pool to cut prices.

By 1937 the farmers had had enough of it and there was a general strike in which truck drivers and the dock workers all joined. There was violence, the burning of a police station and pitched battles with the police. The British government gave in. They sent out a commission and the farmers were granted the right to organize a pool of their own and to bargain.

But the whole political situation was now very tense. The West Africans had been bitterly disappointed at Britain’s role in the Ethiopian tragedy. On the day that the Italian troops entered Addis Abbaba, the Negro children cried so much that school had to be abandoned for the day. In Nigeria some old line black toadies dominated the Lagos municipalities. A radical youth movement, many thousands strong, sprang up all over West Africa, put up candidates of its own and drove out their pro-British petty bourgeois. They denounced the CP and the war for democracy. Then came the war.

Now, even in West Africa, the British government has absolute powers. It can put anybody in jail any time it likes with no questions asked. But the extracts from the West African press, which Padmore has given in his article in Labor Action (March 10) show that even the native press is questioning the war aims of Britain. This is a sign of enormous importance. It simply could not have happened in 1914-1918. For these people are petty bourgeoisie and will not lightly risk their hides. The sentiment in the colony that West Africa has nothing to gain is undoubtedly very strong. It is not revolutionary but it is a great step forward. Certain of the more radical elements, despite their bitter experience with the Communist Party, have come forward and spoken and agitated openly. They have been jailed, some have been released, all are in difficulties. The government is making it hot for them.

A Revolutionary Obligation

What these comrades want is aid, money to help them; but what is of equal importance, money from a revolutionary organization in America. They ask for little. We should send double and treble what they ask for, as material aid and as a sign of solidarity. Some of them may never have heard of the Fourth International, but they are members, in the front line. They are few but they are in a good situation. If the European tension breaks they will be in a position to influence hundreds of thousands at once. That is the World Revolution we are always talking about.

The same process is taking place in every British colony. I hope there is no comrade who has had the slightest doubt about that, even before Padmore’s article. It will not break out today or tomorrow, but it is gathering. Let the bourgeoisie tear itself to pieces. If the Proletarian Revolution should only announce itself in Europe, anywhere, it will sweep like a flame through Africa and India. Time will show, but meanwhile every single person who comes forward and fights is precious. The news that a few dollars was sent by an American Revolutionary party will be one of the most powerful propaganda efforts that we have done for years.

Last updated on 5.12.2012