George Padmore 1939

The British Empire Is Worst Racket Yet Invented By Man

Source: New Leader, 15 December 1939.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for the Marxists’ Internet Archive 2007.

“If Imperialism means a certain racial superiority, suppression of political and economic freedom of other peoples, exploitation of resources of other countries for the benefit of the Imperialist countries then I say those are not characteristics of this country.” Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister.

As a piece of humbug this statement cannot be beaten. How is it possible to maintain an empire without imperialist methods? This is just a contradiction in terms and Mr. Chamberlain certainly knows better. For his father in collusion with Cecil Rhodes annexed more territory in Africa for British Imperialism than Hitler has yet succeeded in grabbing in Europe for German Imperialism. But all who know British imperialists are not surprised at Mr. Chamberlain’s statement, for they are the most hypocritical ruling class in the world.

Neville’s Father

Space will only permit a very brief reference to the manifestations of racial superiority and suppression of economic and political freedom within the British Empire, and, since South Africa and the Rhodesians are associated with the name of Joseph Chamberlain, I will confine myself to these territories.

The policy of “no equality between black and white either in Church or State” is the official doctrine governing inter-racial relations in Africa. It is the most blatant expression of racial superiority. In South Africa and Rhodesia the natives are treated as social pariahs. Politically they are completely disenfranchised, and economically

they have been reduced to the status of helots.

Robbed of their lands, deprived of all means of independent economic existence, taxed in order to compel them to go and work for the Europeans at starvation wages, herded into reserves and compounds, the lot of the South African natives is more tragic even than that of the Jews under the swastika. Not without reason Professor Haldane recently declared that he would prefer to be a Jew in Germany than a Kaffir in Johannesburg.

This state of affairs is not confined to South Africa but constitutes the general sociological structure wherever Europeans have settled, Rhodesia, Kenya, etc.

No Exploitation

When Mr. Chamberlain talks about the absence of economic exploitation, he consciously disregards the facts. The Rand mines, for instance, make such large profits that they are able to pay out more than 20,000,000 in dividends annually and to contribute 14,000,000 in taxes to the Union revenue.

Whence comes this profit? Only from the ruthless exploitation of the 300,000 African miners, who are paid a wage of 1s. 6d. per day as compared with the 20s. per day paid to the white miners. This wide difference in wages between the white and black miners is legalised by the Colour Bar Act, with the full endorsement of the Labour Party and the trade unions.

The copper mines of Rhodesia in 1937 paid out 5,000,000 in dividends, while to 17,000 African wage-earners it paid 244,000. Another set of parasites – this time the South African Company – also benefited to the tune of 500,000 simply for the privilege of having titles to these mineral lands which Cecil Rhodes had filched from the African chiefs. The British Empire is the biggest racket that the ingenuity of man has yet conceived. Hitler and his gang are just amateurs at empire racketeering.

South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya – these names are synonymous with all that is worst in racial oppression and economic exploitation. As the well-known colonial authority, Dr. Norman Leys, has most aptly put it: “When the historian of the future looks for examples of the worst result of the capitalist system of society, where avarice allied with racial pride and domination showed least signs of shame, where the common people were most despised and poorest, where the law was least regarded and loyalty least possible, he will point to South Africa and Kenya.”

British imperialist methods are as ruthless as those of their rivals. But having had longer experience they have developed a technique of cleverly masking their exploitation. Moreover they have been able to enlist in this conspiracy of silence the support of the leaders of organised labour by sharing with them some of the spoils of their colonial exploitation.

Labour Imperialists

This united front between the imperialists and the trade unionists constitutes the historic basis of reformism in the British Labour movement, which makes the Labour defender of British imperialist interests in the present war. Whenever the Empire is threatened Labour is compelled to rally to its support, since it is the junior partner in John Bull, Ltd.

Thus, it is no accident that we have Major Attlee denouncing Red Imperialism on the one hand, and collaborating with Red, White and Blue Imperialism, on the other!

It is only when there is some riot in Jamaica, or shooting in Palestine, or unrest on the North-West Frontier, that the average Briton is made even remotely conscious of his responsibility toward the hundreds of millions of coloured people over whom the British ruling class speciously claim to be exercising a benevolent trusteeship.

This consciousness, however, is only momentary, and explains why a British Prime Minister is able to make such a false statement as the one quoted at the beginning of this article without being challenged even by the leaders of His Majesty’s Opposition.

Hypocritical Cant

Africans and peoples of African descent who have been the victims of “those evil things – brute force, bad faith, injustice, persecution and oppression,” practised upon them from the days of Queen Elizabeth’s slave system to the present form of modern capitalist-imperialist slavery can well sympathise with the Jews and other victims of Nazi oppression, but we repudiate all this hypocritical cant of Mr. Chamberlain.

We want deeds not words. If the honour of the British people is ever to be retrieved and amends made for the injustices committed in their name, then this is the time for the British working class to come forward boldly in support of the demands of the colonial peoples for justice and freedom.

The job of the British working class is not to play the role of watchdog for a cynical ruling class, but to try and straighten out the mess that their “betters” have landed them into. Unless they turn their attention to this essential task they will find themselves every decade or so taking up arms “in defence of democracy.”

It is time for the British working class to set about changing the colonial system by assisting in the complete liquidation of capitalist-imperialism. Only by taking the lead in this all-important task will they show the colonial peoples and the German workers that they stand in a different camp from the imperialist robbers.

The Only Hope

We do not demand national freedom as a means in itself. We are internationalists and, as such, want to see a World Federal Union, with colonies as free units, part of such a Union. We know, however, that this will remain a utopian dream until such time as Imperialism has been liquidated and mankind released from the yoke of capitalist bondage. Federation, yes. But federation on the basis of free collaboration of all peoples, backward as well as advanced. Socialism plus Federation is the only hope of mankind!