George Padmore 1932

“Left” Imperialism and the Negro Toilers1

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 14, No. 5, May 1932.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.

SOME days ago my attention was drawn to a review of my book, Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers, by J. F. Horrabin, in the March issue of the Plebs.

It is quite true that Mr. Horrabin is unknown among the vast majority of Negro2 workers in America and the colonies, but, nevertheless, he deserves to be answered, because Plebs is read by many honest, class-conscious British workers, who might not be sufficiently acquainted with the conditions of the Negro masses under imperialism to recognise the falsity of the statements of this apologist of British imperialism.

After paying the author the compliment that the book is “a first-rate piece of work,” Mr. Horrabin reveals his true reformist character by stating that it is “only marred by an over-emphasis obviously dictated by the author’s political beliefs.” We would like to assure this worthy lackey of the British ruling class, that the political beliefs of the author, which he seems so much to abhor, are the beliefs of thousands of black proletarians throughout the world, who are more and more accepting these “abhorred beliefs” as the only path to national freedom and social emancipation.

We are glad to note that this Labour fakir admits that the record of his Party—the Labour Government—is written with the blood, not only of the British working class, but of millions of colonial toilers in India, Africa, and other countries.

But what seems to peeve this philistine is my remark that: “The policy of British imperialism, whether administered by Conservatives, Liberals, or Labour, has been fundamentally the same in East Africa.” Nobody who knows the facts can deny this. It is in this very respect that an open Tory imperialist like Sir Charles Eliot is more honest than Mr. Horrabin, when he said that, regardless of what the Colonial Office might say, the actual fact is, white interests must be paramount in Kenya. It is characteristic of the British Labour fakirs, from the “left” Maxton to the “right” Henderson, to cover up their treachery to the oppressed colonial peoples by quibbling over such catch words as “paramountcy,” “trusteeship,” “dominion status,” &c., &c. And here we see Horrabin, following the reformist tradition, making a great fuss over the word “paramountcy.”

The Paramountcy Humbug

But let it not be forgotten that this very word, “paramountcy,” did not even originate with the Labour Party, but was the trump card which the Tories in 1923 used during the controversy between the European planters and the Indian traders in Kenya. At that time the latter were demanding the removal of certain political and economic restrictions imposed upon them by the white slave holders and their Government.

The Duke of Devonshire, the then Secretary of State—who, by the way, was not a Labour Minister—in a Memorandum on the Indian-European controversy enunciated the doctrine of “paramountcy” in the following words:

“Primarily, Kenya is an African territory and His Majesty’s Government think it necessary definitely to record their considered opinion that the interests of the African natives must be paramount, and that if, and when, those interests and the interests of the immigrant races should conflict, the former should prevail. . . .”

This was how the word “paramountcy” came into being. But the European colonists, like the then imperial Government, knew full well that the application of this policy—giving “paramountcy” to the Africans in political, economic, and social matters—was just so much humbug. It was just a scheme whereby the demands of the Indians were defeated. In other words: Since two alien groups were quarrelling for political and economic domination in East Africa, the “dictators” at Whitehall found it convenient to use the Africans as their scapegoats by coining the political term—“paramountcy.”

Same Policy—Different Labels

Notwithstanding all the pledges of the Labour Party to the Negroes, especially in East Africa, embodied in their declaration: “Labour and the Colonies,” all that these fakirs did when they got into power was to reiterate this worthless phrase, and to publish a White Paper on the Native Question, stating that the “interests” of the natives must be “paramount.”

Governments have come and Governments have gone—whether they call themselves Conservative, Liberal, or Labour—and one thing we blacks all know, despite all this quibbling over the word “paramountcy” we don’t own one more foot of our land, or enjoy any greater political or social advantages than before the coming into being of this mysterious word “paramountcy.”

Again, this philistine goes on to charge us with distorting the facts. Heaven knows that the points in our indictment against the Labour Party need no exaggeration! Why then should Mr. Horrabin become so indignant when we say that the conditions in Tanganyika are as bad as in Kenya? Since we believe that Mr. Horrabin’s skin lacks black pigmentation, this might be something which enables him to recognise difference between these two colonies; but Negroes certainly cannot.

Now, what are the facts? To quote all the available authorities on this question would make a book in itself. Let us content ourselves with a few quotations from a most respectable bourgeois authority, namely, Raymond Leslie Buell, formerly Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University, and a recognised authority on Africa (by the way, Dr. Buell does not suffer from the author’s political beliefs, and therefore his statements should be more acceptable to a “liberal” like Mr. Horrabin):

Tanganyika Land Laws

In his book, The Native Problem in Africa (New York, 1928), Vol. I, page 489, Buell writes:

When a European wishes to acquire land in Tanganyika, the Governor instructs the administrative official in the district concerned to report as to the effect such an alienation would have upon native interests and rights. The sole responsibility is vested by the law in the Governor, and if his administrative official is ignorant of native law, the Governor may alienate native land, and the native occupier has no redress. (Emphasis mine: G.P.). The law, moreover, merely says that the Governor shall have ‘regard for native customs.’ From the standpoint of the natives, the Tanganyika land law, therefore, contains fewer precise guarantees than did the German land law which provided for the establishment of reserves four times as large as the land under cultivation. ...”

“Under the existing land law, he (i.e., the Governor: G.P.) has complete power; the rights of the native are subject to no judicial guarantee.

“The Tanganyika Land Ordinance, as it stands at present, accepts the principle of protecting native rights in the land, as prescribed in the Mandate, but it does not establish a procedure which will ensure that the principle will be applied.” (Page 490.)

The importance of the above quotations will be better understood if we add here another quotation from Buell, page 489: “ . . . the demand for such leases (of land to Europeans: G.P.) on account of difference of climate is much greater in Tanganyika than in Nigeria, and the Governor of Tanganyika will be, therefore, subject to pressure for the alienation of land which does not exist in Nigeria.” So much for the question of land.

Farce of Labour “Protection”

It is also very instructive to read about the conditions under which the native, driven away from his own land, has to work for the white plantation owner hundreds of miles away from his tribal home. Buell says: “Until the Government issues regulations defining what provision employers must make in regard to housing, clothing, food and medical care, one cannot say that Tanganyika labour is receiving the protection given labour elsewhere in Africa. In the absence of such regulations and of a corps of labour inspectors, Tanganyika labour receives virtually no protection at all. The 1926-27 Estimates provide, however, for five labour officers.” (Page 498.) The efforts of these officers, just as those of the Medical Department, have, as Buell says of this latter one, “of course no legal weight.” (Page 498.)

On Page 499 we read: “While the British vest similar powers (i.e.,corporal punishment in the case of labour offences: G.P.) in the hands of the administrators, they are usually miles away from the place of employment and employers are constantly tempted to take the law into their own hands. The Tanganyika Labour Commissioner says: “so great is this difficulty of dealing with minor offences, that the practice of illegal punishment is undoubtedly widespread. This punishment usually takes the form of a thrashing or a fine. . . . Under the guise of punishing the violation of sanitary regulations, the employer may impose fines for anything which meets his displeasure—and the native has small redress.”

“Desertion” Checks

Since Mr. Horrabin is so convinced that “there is some difference between conditions in Tanganyika and in Kenya,” we would like to offer to our readers some material illustrating this “difference.”

“Under the Tanganyika Masters and Servants Ordinance, desertion is a criminal offence cognizable to the police. The ordinance is therefore more severe than the Masters and Servants Ordinance in Kenya,” says Buell on page 500. The author then goes on as follows: “A native deserter is liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred shillings or to imprisonment for six months or both. . . . Neither paying a fine nor serving a term of imprisonment shall have the effect of cancelling a deserter’s contract of service. This means that after serving his sentence, a native can be compelled to return to his employer, also a provision of great severity, which is not found, for example, in the labour legislation of Sierra Leone.”

“Still more astonishing is section 31 of the Tanganyika ordinance, which provides that the court may order any male person, if he appears to be under the age of sixteen, ‘and to require punishment in the way of discipline,’ and is liable to punishment under the ordinance, ‘to be detained for one day in any suitable place of detention, and to be corporally punished,’ in accordance with the Whipping Regulations. Thus a native boy who is guilty of ‘neglect of duty’ or of ‘desertion’ may be whipped to the extent of twelve strokes.” (Page 500.)

The Mandate in Practice

Buell comments on these regulations as follows: “While the terms of the mandate (of Great Britain over Tanganyika: G.P.) do not explicitly prohibit ‘involuntary servitude,’ they do prohibit ‘all forms of forced and compulsory labour.’ . . . In view of the broad scope of the mandate and of the very great danger that natives do not understand the terms of the contract which they sign, or are indirectly obliged to sign such a contract against their will, it seems that this interpretation is too restrictive, and that ‘involuntary’ servitude is a form of forced labour, which is prohibited by the mandate. If this interpretation is correct, labour laws which make desertion a criminal offence do not conform to the obligations of the mandate. . . .” (Page 501.)

Indeed, how are these natives, who are so cruelly punished for “desertion,” being recruited for work on the plantations? Are they really signing the contract “voluntarily”?

Buell describes the situation as follows: “Recruiting methods for the plantations in Tanganyika are similar to those in Kenya.” (Page 502.) To get an idea of what that means for the native, we can imagine, if we hear what the Governor, in a circular on Agriculture and Labour, of August 5, 1926, stated: “In localities in which the native cannot grow economic crops owing to lack of transport facilities (those with transport facilities have of course been denied them in order to more effectively oppress them: G.P.), administrative officers can best serve the State by exhorting the natives, through their chiefs, to adopt some form of active work, pointing out that situated as they are, they can only do so profitably by engaging to work for the Government or on the farms which are seeking their labour.” (Emphasis mine; quoted from Buell, page 509: G.P.).

We could go on enumerating dozens of such quotations from various authorities, official and otherwise—for even the imperialists do not hide up what Mr. Horrabin tries to conceal—but space prevents us from doing so.

Again, this gentleman challenges the following statement on page 87 of my book:

“In 1929 the natives of Uganda attempted to organize.” Although he admits the truth of this fact, and, more so, the open brutality of the imperialist representatives of the Labour Government in murdering these Africans in cold blood—this “Socialist,” notwithstanding his platitudes, would justify this under the excuse that “they were not proletarians.”

But this pseudo-Marxist should know that Simon-pure proletarians, thanks to the economic backwardness, enforced by imperialism on a colony such as Uganda, would not exist. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of these natives are semi-proletarian who, because of the fact that it is illegal to organise openly into a labour movement, are compelled to resort to the native churches and under the disguise of “religious” bodies discuss their basic social, economic, and political problems.

Now, what was the problem in question?

Facts which even you, Mr. Horrabin, would never unearth, because, my good sir, you must not be so naïve as to believe that everything that goes on among the blacks, must be known to you. However, for your enlightenment, we will say that this “peculiar sect of Christians”—to use your own words—were discussing the Government’s attempt to increase taxation on them—under the excuse of carrying through public health measures—at the very time when the agrarian crisis was playing havoc with their lives.

Phrases That Mask Murder

There is hardly a problem in Africa which, however unimportant it might appear to the outsider, does not involve the struggle for fundamental economic and political rights of the Negroes. Therefore, what might appear to the casual observer as an ordinary administrative measure, means for us more taxation, smaller incomes—not to talk about an absolute denial of our political right of saying whether we want such-and-such a measure enacted or not.

When the Belgian Government, with the blessings of Mr. Horrabin’s political bed-fellow, Vandervelde, were recently massacring our black class brothers in the Congo—they were “suppressing witch doctors”. But we who have connections with the Congo know that the revolt of the workers and peasants was caused by the effects of the crisis, the tremendous growth of unemployment and the attempt of the Government to collect taxes.

Similarly, when the Japanese imperialists wanted to carry through their massacre and plunder in Manchuria, they yelled “bandits.” So here we have it: In East Africa—“a peculiar sect of Christians,” in Congo—“witch doctors,” in Manchuria—“bandits.”

Aren’t you Labour leaders in Britain ashamed to be repeating the catch words of your masters?

I shall treat your “query”: “Would the U.S.S.R. permit a primitive religious sect to block sanitary or health measures?” with the contempt it deserves. For this is just an indirect way of slandering the Soviet proletariat, who, as you know damn well, are liquidating illiteracy, and raising the culture of peoples who but yesterday were as “primitive” as we Africans, without sending the Red Army to massacre defenceless peasants, as MacDonald and Thomas, with the silent approval of the Horrabins, sent the King’s African Rifles to shoot down “that peculiar sect of Christians” in Uganda in 1929.

But, finally, a question to this philistine, who on page 66 of the Plebs, writes: “Truly, the black inhabitants of Earth have a long and fearful score to pay off against their white brethren.” Mr. Horrabin, do you really mean this? If so, you are objectively supporting the thesis of the Ku Klux Klan, Hitler, and all jingoists, who, season in and season out, are preaching race war, by warning the “Nordics,” the “Aryans,” or whatever these “peculiar sect of whites” call themselves, that one day the “darker races” will wake up and sweep them off the face of the Earth.

Well, whatever you mean—we savage Africans, we barbarous blacks, we “peculiar sect of Christians,” have learnt enough from the victorious Russian revolution on the one side and from the record of the Labour party on the other to repudiate such a thesis. We know that our emancipation is part and parcel of the victorious struggles of the international proletariat, and the colonial peoples, whether white, black or yellow, and has nothing to do with a “race” struggle of “Black against White.”

We, too, have our own black capitalists and imperialist lackeys like yourself to fight against. And truly, when the day of reckoning comes, we have a long and fearful score to pay off not against our white class brothers, but against the imperialists and their agents, white and black.



1. Reprinted from the Weekly Worker.

2. Incidentally, since Mr. Horrabin assumes to speak with authority on the so-called Negro problem, we would greatly appreciate if in his future writings he would spell the word Negro with a capital “N.” For reasons, see “Negro Year-Book,” Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, 1931, pages 21-26.