Karl Kautsky

Socialism and
Colonial Policy

A Letter from Frederick Engels

It is now a quarter of a century since the colonial movement began in Germany. Whilst occupied in studying it, I once also asked Frederick Engels what attitude the English workers took towards their colonies.

Engels replied to me on 12th September 1882 as follows:

You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy. Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general. There is no workers’ party here, you see, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers’ consumption is based on the boom of England’s monopoly of the world market and the colonies. In my opinion the colonies proper, i.e. the countries occupied by a European population – Canada, the Cape, Australia – will all become independent; on the other hand, the countries inhabited by a native population, which are simply subjugated – India, Algeria, the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish possessions – must be taken over for the time bein by the proletariat and led as rapidly as possible towards independence. How this process will develop is difficult to say. India will perhaps, indeed very probably, make a revolution, and as a proletariat in process of self-emancipation cannot conduct any colonial wars, it would have to be allowed to run its course; it would not pass off without all sorts of destruction, of course, but that: sort of thing is inseparable from all revolutions. The same might also take place elsewhere, e.g. in Algeria and Egypt, and would certainly be the best thing for us. We shall have enough to do at home. Once Europe is reorganised, and North America, that will furnish such colossal power and such an example that the half-civilised countries will of themselves follow in their wake; economic needs, if anything, will see to that. But as to what social and political phases these countries will then have to pass through before they likewise arrive at socialist organisation, I think we today can advance only rather idle hypotheses. One thing alone is certain: the victorious proletariat can force no blessings of any kind upon any foreign nation without undermining its own victory by so doing. Which of course by no means excludes defensive wars of various kinds.

The Egyptian business is a Russian diplomatic manoeuvre. Gladstone is to take Egypt (which he does not have and if he had it, would not keep far long), so that Russia can take Armenia; which of course, according to Gladstone, would again be the liberation of a Christian country from the Mohammedan yoke. Everything else in the case is pretence, humbug, subterfuge. Whether this little plan will succeeds will soon be seen.

The end refers to the occupation of Egypt by the English after the Egyptian uprising under Arabi-Pasha. Recently, a letter from Engels of 9th September 1882 was published in which he warned against judging the Egyptian national movement from a purely emotional point of view. From this the conclusion was drawn that Engels had been particularly sympathetic to Egypt’s annexation by England. We see from the above how little that was the case.


Last updated on 11.12.2003