Karl Kautsky

Socialism and
Colonial Policy

VII. Forcible or Peaceful Colonising

If our analysis is correct, then it follows that the proletariat always directs itself energetically against the acquisition of new colonies, and must support equally energetically all native colonial independence movements Our aim must be: the emancipation of the colonies; the independence of the nations inhabiting them.

One cannot from the proletarian point of view argue for the sale of colonies. We fight against colonial policy on principle, and therefore not just in Germany. Whether a colony goes from German into French or Dutch possession, or vice versa, does not alter the fact that we fight against their inhabitants being under foreign rule. The sale of a colony as a temporary expedient, to replace barbaric by milder rule, is of no concern to us here.

However our socialist colonial politicians, as represented in Stuttgart by Kol, David and Bernstein, strenuously oppose giving up the colonies. They give three reasons for not giving them up:

  1. There are nations which need to be placed under tutelage, which cannot be allowed to run around on their own;
  2. The colonies must in all cases pass through the capitalist stage if they are to be able to reach socialism;
  3. Giving up the colonies would let these fall back culturally.

All three reasons show the same thing as is shown by the refusal to give up the colonies: that the defenders of a ‘socialist’ colonial policy in fact are bidding for a share in present day colonial policy from which they merely wish to strip the barbaric methods. Whether the reasons given prove anything else be sides, we shall see partly.

The first reason has already been partly dealt with in our investigation of the ‘right’ of a higher culture to dominion over a lower one. Only a few remarks are required to complete the case that is made there.

The sentence on the necessary tutelage, even dominion, over some nations can be taken in two ways.

On the one hand, it can be taken as an assertion that mankind falls into two large groups of nations: those of higher culture, and those of lesser endowments who cannot develop themselves further under their own power, and who therefore are either dominated and further developed by the more advanced nations or, where they resist this, must be cleared out of the way.

But if this assertion is correct, colonial policy would provide the least appropriate means of making the necessary selection among nations. As we have seen, it is not the cultural development of a nation, but its ability to resist and the richness of its resources, which determine whether it is selected to be an object of colonial policy or not.

But this division of mankind into two separate groups is wrong. It is an expression of European pride and megalomania, a variation of the belief that Europe alone was in possession of the true faith, which must be forced on all other nations It has not the slightest scientific basis. Certainly there are great intellectual differences between individual nations, as well as differences of a physical kind. But with regard to the so-called racial characteristics, it cannot be decided with any certainty whether or how far they can be traced back to descent from a particular original race of human apes, and whether or how far they came into being in the course of historical development. The unity of mankind is however proven by the fact that there is one rule of development for all nations, despite all differences in modes of development; by the fact that we find the same features among the savages and barbarians of the remotest zones as existed among the ancestors of the present civilized nations. And it is not possible to say with certainty of any people, not even the most backward, that it is incapable of development; it is not possible to discover a limit to its capacity for development. If anyone denies this it is incumbent on him to provide proof – a thing never yet attempted.

But it is probable that the advocates of a socialist colonial policy do not mean their division of mankind into lower and higher races in this sense either. They perhaps start from the generally conceded fact that peoples exist at the most varied cultural levels, and merely suppose that it would be highly desirable if the advanced peoples were to advance the development of the retarded as far as possible. They think that this would not be possible by the peaceful methods of trade, example and enlightenment. Primitive barbarity requires force to overcome it, and thus a colonial policy, that is, the conquest and subjugation of the country, is required.

I was roundly scolded for rejecting this view by van Kol in Stuttgart:

The learned Kautsky made a worse mistake when he advised on the promotion of industrial development in the colonies. We should bring machinery and tools to Africa: Book-learning: With this he will civilise the country! ... If we Europeans arrived there with tools and machinery, we would be sacrificed without protection to the natives. For this reason must we arrive with weapons in our hands.

One question above all: if the savages want nothing to do with better tools, if the savages were as obstinately to reject axes, knives, spades, hammers and gimlets etc., as in real life they greedily demand them, why force these things upon them, arms in hand? Is one also, arms in hand, to force the savages to use these tools? But this is nothing less than forced labour. And if forced labour is to be introduced, armed intervention will indeed be necessary. It will be resisted most obstinately by the savages, who will equally obstinately resist all tools and machinery which make their appearance as the instruments of forced labour.

If, however, forced labour is not being advocated – and I hope no supporter of a socialist colonial policy wants this – what is the purpose then of intervention with armed might? Can free labourers ever be induced, other than by persuasion and example, to use improved tools in place of poorer ones? And, on the other hand, have free labourers ever refused to use improved tools when they had recognised their superiority and made themselves familiar with their use? Why should “arms in hand’ be necessary for all of this?

Van Kol thinks that the savages would kill and gobble up those coming to them with tools and machinery before they got a chance to explain the new techniques to them. He thinks my analysis to the contrary is “book learning”, which cannot stand its ground against the experience of van Kol, the old hand from the colonies. With every respect to this experience of van Kol’s, one can, however, very well have spent 16 years in Java as an engineer without having learned how to communicate with savages. Contemptible book learning, on the other hand, enables us to get to know the experiences of other people who have accurate information on intercourse with savages. Here there are actually many explorers and missionaries who testify that one can advance right into the heart of Africa and enlighten and educate the most savage savages without ‘arms in hand’. The experiences of, for instance, a Livingstone mean a little more to me in this connection than the contrary analyses and jokes of our friend van Kol. The doctor and missionary Livings tone lived in the heart of Africa, then still completely unexplored, for 30 years after 1841 almost without a break. In 1873 he fell victim not to the savages, with whom he was on the best of terms, but to the murderous climate. He needed no colonial policy, no armed might, to have an enlightening and educative effect on the negroes. And yet he had set himself the difficult and dangerous task of making propaganda against slavery amongst the slave-traders.

The translator of his last book on his travels, Letzte Reise von David Livingstone in Zentralafrika von 1865 bis zu seinem Tode 1873 (“Last Journey of David Livingstone in Central Africa from 1865 to his death in 1873”) (published by Horace Waller, Hamburg 1875, in 2 volumes), Dr. J.M. Soyes, wrote of him:

Livingstone was a great scientific investigator and discoverer but a still greater man. originally going to Africa as a missionary, his undertakings to the end preserved a pious character, in the noblest sense of the word, in that his constant aim was to combine efforts to increase the knowledge of the geography of Africa with the most loving zeal for the education and enlightenment of the natives. He was an untiring opponent of slavery. Before every village headman and chief he repeated his condemnation of the cruelty of the trade in humans, the fearful consequences of which he painted with touching perception. Again and again did he exhort the natives: ‘Do not sell one another, but love one another’ – and he gave the most moving proofs a thousand times over in his dealings with the negroes of this love of his neighbours, which ran like a red thread through all his endeavours. He treated the negroes like a father does his children or a teacher his pupils.

It was people such as Livings tone that I had in mind when, with “book learning”, I declared that whoever wishes to bring culture to the more backward peoples must first of all win their confidence. Force is the least suitable method for this.

I also had in mind the results achieved by the Jesuits in Paraguay. Not that I wanted to idealise that Jesuit state. The state served the exploiters and the cultural activities of the Jesuits were therefore confined within limits. But one thing has been made clear; how completely useless, or even counterproductive, it is to approach savages with arms in hand when the aim is not to use them for forced labour but to make them familiar with more advanced methods of production.

Instead of coming to the savages with arms in hand to force a new civilisation upon them, which they had not comprehended, the Jesuits came to them unarmed, studied their peculiarities and sought to build upon the given social base, and to impart higher knowledge to the savages. They did not touch the gentile organisation nor the communism, did not place any unaccustomed burden of work upon the savages, but sought to attract them to the new forms of labour by letting them be regarded as pleasures. One is reminded of Fourier when one reads, for instance, the report on the cotton crop, made by the Jesuit priest Antonius Sepp from Paraguay in 1698:

This is done by the children who go at it with joy and who are led out and accompanied back by trumpets and pipes to maintain their joy. They each received for this, after the harvest had been brought in, a long white shirt.

Music, dance and masquerade play an important role in the Jesuit state and the Fathers have to ensure that the church service occurs in the most joyful manner. Father Sepp says his day’s work begins with visiting the sick, then the school, after which he visits the musicians and listens to their singing; then he instructs the “harpists”, organists and “tiorbists”, and takes the dancers “in hand”. “I teach them several dances such as we are used to have in our comedies. It is most needful to captivate the unbelievers with such things here.” There is also dancing in church.

Music was the main means used by the Jesuits, on their arrival in the wilds of Paraguay, to attract its indomitable inhabitants so that they could be settled and instructed in all the arts.

The Jesuit Charlevoix reports of them:

They understood, as though it was innate to them, with little effort all arts in which they were instructed. Although no propensity to invent anything new was observed in them, it was soon noticed that they possessed the gift of imitation all the more completely ... They construct and play all kinds of musical instruments. It has been observed that they have made the best constructed organs after looking at them. The same applies to globes, carpets of the Turkish type and all things difficult of manufacture. Every settlement has a school in which the children learn to read and write. There is also another one in which music and dancing are taught ... Everywhere there are workshops with gilders, painters, sculptors, goldsmiths, watchmakers, locksmiths, carpenters, joiners, weavers, copper-founders, in one word, workshops for all the arts and crafts which could be useful to them. As soon as the children reach the age when they are able to work, they are taken to these workshops and appointed to the profession for which they show most liking. Their first masters were Jesuit brethren who had been brought out for the purpose. Frequently, even the missioners themselves were obliged to guide the plough and handle the spade in order to start agriculture off and encourage them to cultivate the land, to soup and to reap.” (Geschichte von Paraguay (“History of Paraguay”), Nurenberg 1768, Vo1.I p.359, Vo1.II p 7.)

It was in this way, and not with arms in hand, that the Jesuits won the trust of the Indians and gained influence over them. In fact, rather than “exerting tutelage” over the savages by armed might, they ventured to give them arms to defend their new civilisation from those Europeans who thought to civilise them in the customary manner. Unfortunately, the powerful forces fielded by European culture were superior in military matters. In 1750 the Spanish and Portuguese started a war against that singular community, which defended itself desperately. Its complete destruction took five years. The inhabitants were either carried away into slavery or chased into the primitive forests. The land itself has since gone wild and its inhabitants are naked savages.

As I have already said, I am far from idealising the Jesuit state of Paraguay. It too was only a means of exploitation; the order of Jesuits only civilised the Indians as much as was in its own interests. But it proves one thing beyond all doubt: that “arms in hand” are not necessary to carry out a civilising policy and that peaceful means of civilising are superior.

Certainly, intelligence, study and kind patience are required. People who are only able to envisage such a civilising policy as taking a steam engine to Central Africa and giving it over to the savages to do with as they wish will exert themselves in vain. The policy of armed might is certainly much simpler and requires much less knowledge, intelligence and patience. What Cavour said of the state of siege applies to it: Any fool can rule like this.

But it is precisely because the peaceful method makes much higher demands on the civilisers and teachers that the violent method has won out. Today, under the rule of force, the dross of civilisation, good for nothing in Europe, seems quite good enough to impart a higher culture to savages, whilst the method of unarmed cultural effort can only be entrusted to selected people. As the teachers are, so will the pupils be; replace frightened, hardened and hostile teachers with happy and trustful friends. If in the first case all the intelligence of the “pupils” is only employed in avoiding the “teacher” or in injuring him, in the second case it is used to comprehend him and please him by success.

Of course van Kol does not have the intention of using armed force or violent behaviour. It is plainly only to be used to maintain the social order intact. But things have their logic which takes its course, whatever ones wishes are in the matter. When armed might is summoned up in a strike, this is only supposed to be to maintain the social order. But it always proves to be the best way of embittering and provoking the strikers. If anything threatens the social order, it is the summoning of armed might.

This applies to the primitive man no less than to the civilised man.

Van Kol and his friends may only see “naive doctrinaire book learning” in all of this. But it is the book learning which was promulgated by the likes of Owen and Fourier, and which animated all the great socialist thinkers from Thomas More to Marx; and it is based on the best pedagogic practice since Comenius.

The proletariat has not the least grounds for revising any part of this.

These explanations should not, however, persuade us to have too great an involvement in the “education” of backward peoples. Proletarians know from their own experience how unpleasant philanthropists who feel the need to patronize them can become. What proletarians need is the opening up of the sources of higher culture and guidance in their use. As to the range and purpose of this culture, they prefer to determine this for themselves. It is easier for them to find out what they need, than it is for some stranger, who cannot get to know their needs and conditions of life as well as themselves The same applies to all nations, backward or advanced.

Even the Jesuits in Paraguay went in for far too much tutelage and too many rulers. Free trade with the primitive races, which makes available to them the knowledge, the understanding, the ownership of tools and methods enabling them to render their labour more productive, will in all these places suffice to advance their development rapidly, as long as these tools and these methods are not brought to them as means of or preliminaries for exploitation and oppress ion. There is no question, for instance, that the Moroccans would have the slightest objection to their harbours being improved, and to being connected by trains with the towns of the interior. But if these harbours and trains are to serve, as in Algiers and Tunis, to ease the penetration of the country by French soldiers, tax-collectors and usurers, then to be sure they oppose these technical improvements most vigorously.

Even savages are very eager for improved tools – naturally only for those they can use in conjunction with the given conditions of production. To come to them with steam engines would be book learning indeed!

Dr. R. Pöch reports of the Papuans in New Guinea that their young men freely volunteer for work on the plantations in order to obtain iron knives and axes, with which they are usually rewarded there. In his book on The Rise of the American Proletarian, Lewis quotes the claim made by Peary that the Eskimos place an almost unbelievable value on tools. “A man offered me his wife and two children for a skinning knife. And a woman offered me everything she possessed for a needle.

The alleged incorrigible laziness of primitive man, who only works when an outside power forces him to do so, is also a legend. The only truth in this is that he will work for others only if he is forced to. How much he will work for himself depends entirely on circumstances, such as the fruitfulness of nature, the extent of his own needs and finally on the kind of labour involved There are human activities, which are so pleasurable in themselves, that they are practised for their own sakes, often with true passion, such as hunting or artistic creation. Other labours have no charm of their own, such as, for example, agricultural work, or monotonous, unartistic industry. From such labours the primitive man prefers to escape – but so does civilised man!: he undertakes it freely only in as much as his own or his dependents’ existence is at stake. But his sense of duty is highly developed, and where circumstances require that he works for his family or his tribe then he can become an untiring worker.

Dr. Pöch, who was quoted earlier, says of the Papuans of New Guinea:

One often hears the reproach that the Papuans are lazy and dirty. I would not readily subscribe to either of these assertions. In general, only as much work is done as is necessary: the coastal dwellers work less because the flat fertile coastal strip is more fruitful, and the mountain dwellers work more. Anyone who has been in the mountains of New Guinea, and seen the men thin out the primitive forest on the steep slopes and dig the hard soil with sticks, or the women struggling home from their plots in the evenings laden with harvest produce, anyone who has seen these things will not easily call the Papuans lazy. Their often beautifully built homes, the great primitive boats made from a single tree trunk (canoes) with their outrigging, are evidence of their diligent labour.

I will give one example of Papuan cleanliness: A felled tree lay slanted across the path near the entry to a Papuan village. I felt it was my duty as an ethnologist to ask about everything and had often found that the most simple things have their significance. ‘The trunk is for cleaning feet on in dirty weather before entering the village square’, was the explanation. And the village square, the area between the huts, is really clean; rubbish is not tolerated there, and the women daily bring fresh white coral sand from the sea shore and spread it out. Later on, I once had occasion to walk through a village when it gas raining. When I say the beam I remembered its purpose and wiped my shoes. An old man then came out of his house and shouted: ‘The first white man to clean his shoes!! However, I really cannot hold it against Europeans if they do not initially know that this Papuan, smeared with coconut oil and red clay, and smelling quite strange, is such a fanatic for cleanliness with regard to his village area.”

Livingstone reports about a tribe in central Africa (the Ulungu people on the lake of Tanganika):

My long stay here gives me the opportunity of observing that the men as well as the women are constantly occupied. The men plait mats or weave or spin. The only time 1 see the people idle is in the morning, at about 7 o’clock, when they all come and sit down in order to greet the first rays of the sun as it rises over our clump of trees. And even this time is often used to thread pearls. (Letzte Reise von David Livingstone, Hamburg 1875, Vol.I, p.265)

Livingstone describes a village of smiths in another part of his book:

The blows of the hammers sound uninterruptedly, a proof of how diligent the people are. They combine agriculture and hunting with nets with their handicraft. (p.180)

Is there much “education” or “tutelage” required for such people? One gives them better tools; makes higher, that is, scientific, knowledge available to them; and apart from that leaves them to themselves, Here also, everyone must find their own salvation.

With respect to the policy of civilising the primitive peoples, which must be striven for from a socialist point of view, it would be less necessary to exert tutelage over the peoples to be civilised than over the would-be civilisers who are to operate among them.

Any unsuitable individual amongst these could have a fatal effect. For amongst uncivilised peoples individual differences, like class differences, are little developed. For this reason, feelings of solidarity with their comrades in the tribe and veneration for the moral commandments of the tribe are still particularly great. But they judge the whites according to their own customs, and judge the whole by the part, make the individual responsible for the collective. On the other hand they also carry over the respect felt for the race to each of its individuals.

Thus some lumpen rascal from Europe can easily enough mess up a whole tribe, which sees him as a miniature of the whole. Again some “rowdy” can by his provocations embitter a whole peaceful tribe against the European world in general and both consequences are difficult to correct.

Foster friendly trade with the uncivilised peoples; transmit knowledge and tools whilst keeping all unsuitable elements at a distance – that would be the kernel of the civilising policy incumbent on the civilised peoples. It is this which was the ideal of most of those comrades who supported a “socialist colonial policy”.


Last updated on 11.12.2003