Dora B. Montefiore 1918

Capitalism and Native Races

Source: The Call, 7 November 1918, p. 4
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Whilst I was turning over in my mind reminiscences of what I had seen of the heartless exploitation of native races in many parts of the world, in order to write an indictment of British methods, as a continuation of the recently-issued Blue Book on the German treatment of the natives in South-West Africa, comrade AA Watts most ably collected from various sources a powerful all-round indictment which can be used as a reference whenever the hypocritical cry is raised that other nations are more to blame than we British are in the matter of treatment of backward and helpless natives. I feel, however, that I can supplement from personal observation everything that our comrade has written. I desire specially to underline the hypocrisy of any nation or group of white men blaming any other nation or group for its treatment sexually of native or coloured women, when white men everywhere use native women without any sense of sexual responsibility, and bring into the world thousands of children of bastard race, who, brought up by native mothers, sink in the usual way to the level of the unskilled and casual labourer, or the prostitute of the larger cities. Cape Colony is peopled to a large extent by these “coloured” people of various shades from saffron to mahogany; they swarm in the slums of Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg; and they are the living indictment of the way white men have treated, and are still treating, native women. That being the case as regards the English and the Dutch in South Africa, it seems slightly out of place to complain in these Blue Book reports of German men doing the same thing.

Then, as regards the decimation of the Hereros, I have been in German South-West Africa and have seen something of the remnant of that race which German militarism was too stupidly brutish to spare; but I have also met men of British race in South Africa who served under the Union Jack during what are known as the two Zulu wars, and they have told me of the horrible massacres of Zulus, boys as well as grown men, in which they were compelled by the orders of their officers to take part. The remnant of the Zulu race, men of the most perfect physique, are being slowly destroyed at Durban and elsewhere by being used as ricksha-runners, one man pulling two full-grown Europeans. Most of them die of heart or lung disease after a few years of this degrading occupation.

To go back a little further in the history of our colonisation, when we first took possession of Tasmania it was inhabited by a fairly intelligent and quite healthy race. The last native died within a hundred years of our occupation of the Island. The effects of drink, disease, and calculated cruelty did not take long to accomplish their horrible work. Nowadays we of the British race are less openly cruel in our relations with native races; but we are more systematically and callously cruel as exploiters; as witness the thousands of natives who die every year in the Rand and other mines; and the natives of West Australia who, as has been proved within the last few years, after being infected by, white men with venereal disease, are, in the interests of hygiene, marched in gangs through the Bush chained together by the neck, and taken to islands on the coast hundreds, of miles away from their native villages.

There is one passage in the South-West African Blue Book which is of special interest to me as it recalled scenes in my travels which made me ashamed of both British and German authorities. I travelled, both in 1913 and again in 1914, by German West Africa mail steamers from the Cape to Southampton. At Cape Town, on each occasion, after all the passengers and luggage were on board, two or three hundred “Cape boys” were brought in a lighter alongside the steamer, aboard which they scrambled by the aid of ropes. They were the indentured labour for German diamond mines, and were bound for Luderitzbucht, the first port of call after leaving Cape Town. Their accommodation was on the forward part of the deck without any shelter against the weather, and there they slept, ate, and lived for the three days and nights of their journey. On reaching Luderitzbucht the lighter to take them ashore was brought alongside, and the steam crane, used for lowering luggage, dangled a rope over the forward part of the deck; to this a dozen or more coloured men would cling each time, whilst the action of the crane raised them from the deck and then lowered them into the lighter, where they sprawled and tumbled over one another in their thin cotton clothing soaked to the skin by the thick morning mist which lay over the harbour. Luderitzbucht has a smaller rainfall than Aden; not a tree or a shrub grows on the desolate hills surrounding the harbour; and I was told that the treatment awaiting these unfortunate coloured men (every one of whom had a white man’s blood in him) was such that a large percentage never returned to their homes at Cape Town. The British South African Government from their side could easily have prevented this traffic in human beings; but all Governments, except that of Russia, are the Executives of capitalist States and are prepared to help any form of capitalist exploitation of workers incapable of helping themselves. Now that these capitalist States have fallen out the workers may be able to profit from their quarrels, and one important step for them to take is to organise industrially all coloured and native workers.

I was living in Australia in the early nineties, when a very profitable business was being carried on by trading steamers, whose owners bought up from the natives of the South Sea Islands large quantities of copra, or dried cocoa-nut. This was paid for with pocket-knives, looking-glasses, and pocket handkerchiefs; an officer and two or three of the crew going on shore to transact the business. On these occasions it frequently happened that one of the white men insulted or outraged a native woman. The next time any white men came ashore the natives would attack them with spears, and if a white man was killed this “outrage” was reported to the Australian Government, and a man-of-war was sent down to punish the natives of this particular island. The punishment took the form of shelling all the native villages within range of the naval guns indiscriminately.

Quite a respectable-sized Blue Book might be published on the subject of the treatment of native races by capitalist Governments.