George Padmore

British Imperialists Treat the Negro Masses
Like Nazis Treat the Jews


From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 42, 20 October 1941, p. 4.
Originally published in New Leader (London).
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In our last issue we reprinted an article from the British New Leader, organ of the Independent Labor Party, on “How Far Is the British Empire a Dictatorship?” In this issue we continue the picture of the British Empire with another article reprinted from the same paper, and written by George Padmore, internationally known Negro socialist.

Germany and her Axis partners, Italy and Japan, are trying to impose their imperialistic aims upon the peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa with tanks and dive bombers. They engage the attention of the British people to the exclusion of the equally sinister plans of territorial expansion within their own empire.

Imperialistic urges and fascist proclivities are not confined, however, to Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese militarists. Not so dramatically manifested, they are, nevertheless, equally rampant among British crypto-fascists in southern Africa. By paying lip-service to humanitarian ideals of democracy and self-determination, Field Marshal Smuts is able to mask the real aims of the ruling oligarchy. The mine-owners and big agrarians are interested only in “the war for democracy” in so far as it will enable them to advance their own imperialist schemes.

About this, let us have no illusions. Even before the war the South African industrialists, with the indorsement of General Hertzog and the ex-Minister of Defense, Oswald Pirow, who is now openly supporting Hitler’s “New Order,” were demanding territorial expansion. Having acquired Southwest Africa as their first colony, they were clamoring for the annexation of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland – the last native territories in southern Africa under British imperial protection. Their “Lebensraum” now includes Abyssinia!

South Africa’s Claims

“This is a matter over which the Union is very closely concerned,” writes the Johannesburg Forum. “Not only have our soldiers earned the right of a big say in the future of Abyssinia, but political and strategic considerations on the African continent demand that the Union government should be consulted at every stage ...

“Both the Union and Rhodesia are entitled to have their just say in the post-war reconstruction of this continent and they certainly do not mean to be overlooked when a settlement has to be made in Abyssinia.”

This is certainly an ambitious demand! But if South Africa is going to base her territorial claims on the fact that a few thousand white men from the Union took part in the Abyssinian campaign against the Italians, then what about the colored troops that fought in East Africa? Surely the Indians, Nigerians, Gold Coasters, Kenyans, Nyasa-landers, Somalis, Free French Senegalese, etc., have as much right to claim part of the loot as these megalomaniac South African freebooters – what a preposterous line of argument!

But what about the people most concerned in deciding their own future – the Abyssinians? It will be interesting to know how the South Africans and Rhodesians intend to satisfy their territorial ambitions in the light of the Roosevelt-Churchill declaration that “they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.”

In South Africa and Rhodesia, the blacks have as much voice in their governments as the Jews in that of the Third Reich. And the Abyssinians certainly have no desire to enjoy the blessings of the Union’s “native policy.” Never were so many oppressed so much by so few as in South Africa and Rhodesia.

South Rhodesia’s Claims

Addressing a party rally of the United Congress (the Rhodesian Tories) in Salisbury on August 5, Sir Godfrey Huggins, Prime Minister, demanded more “living space” for the 60,000 white settlers. This is to be satisfied not only at the expense of the natives of southern Rhodesia, but of the neighboring colonies of northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

The Prime Minister (who was knighted a few months ago) expressed the hope that the Churchill government will allow him to annex these territories before the end of the war.

“They were not prepared to be put off regarding the question of amalgamation,” he added, “because the question might be a difficult one in the House of Commons and might even cost votes outside. They had no say in the election of the House of Commons and were therefore not interested in their reactions to Rhodesian affairs. However, they saw no reason why the more enlightened people who migrated and built up the commonwealth should be dictated to by the insularity of those who stayed at home.” (Times, August 6)

I shall leave it to others to answer Sir Godfrey’s slurs on the “insularity of those who had stayed at home.” Here I want to explain for the benefit of these same despised Britons, especially those associated with the socialist and trade union movements, the reasons why the Africans have the same lathing for Huggins and the “native policy” as Jews have for Hitler and his national socialism.

Professor J.B.S. Haldane once asserted that he would rather be a Jew in Berlin than a Kaffir in South Africa. I can well believe him. It is no exaggeration to say that Hitler and his Gestapo sadists are merely applying, with the usual Germanic efficiency, in Poland and other conquered countries, colonial practices borrowed lock, stock and barrel from the British in southern Africa.

The only difference is: Hitler’s victims are white, Smuts’ and Huggins’ are black. Perhaps that accounts for the reasons why the British press denounces the Nazis – and rightly so – but remains silent (with few exceptions) about the sufferings of the blacks in southern Africa.

Well, let’s lift the veil of censorship and have a look at British colonial administration in this part of the empire.

An Economic Problem

Apart from the Union, southern Rhodesia is the only “self-governing” territory on the African continent. This country, which is more than three times the size of England, is exploited by 60,000 settlers of predominantly Anglo-Saxon stock. The reason I emphasize this point at the outset is because it is the practice of apologists for British imperialism to assert that the fascist conditions under which the native races in southern Africa live are due entirely to the predominant Boer or Dutch elements in the Union. Nonsense! Even some British socialist intellectuals, who should certainly know better, peddle this kind of twaddle. Consequently, it must be exposed.

As I have always maintained, the problems of imperialism may be complicated by racial and religious factors, but they remain fundamentally economic and can be solved only by abolishing capitalism, the social system which nurtures and exploits racial and religious differences in the interest of those who live by rent, profit and interest. To blame the Boers alone is not only stupid, but dishonest. Are they responsible for the “native policy” in Kenya? And the color bar practices in other parts of the Empire and even in Great Britain?

The Boers have absolutely nothing to do with the government of Southern Rhodesia, which is entirely under Englishmen. Moreover, all legislation affecting Africans enacted by the Rhodesian Parliament must first receive the endorsement of the Secretary of State for Dominions before it becomes law.

No! A predilection to misgovern colored races is not the peculiar monopoly of any imperialist nation – British, American, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Belgian or Portuguese. All use the same methods – in different degrees and intensity whenever it suits them to do so, in order to maintain their domination over subject peoples.

The Negroes themselves are no exception. I have always considered it my special duty to expose and denounce the misrule of the black governing classes in Haiti, Liberia and Abyssinia, while at the same time defending these semi-colonial countries against imperialist aggression.

A true socialist must be an internationalist and as such be prepared to denounce the imperialistic doings of his “own” ruling class, for only then will he be entitled to criticize the misdeeds of other nations.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of British socialists give so little attention to colonial affairs that “foreigners” are inclined to consider them hypocrites when they protest aggainst the behavior of the fascist dictators. Honestly, how can we, for example, denounce Japanese imperialism in China and Indo-China and at the same time justify, and even defend, British Imperialism in India and Dutch imperialism in the East Indies?

No! We must be honest to ourselves. If imperialism is bad for a yellow power to practice, then it must be equally bad for white ones. A socialist must be an anti-imperialist and an anti-imperialist, to be consistent, must be a socialist. Otherwise our enemies are right in branding us arch-hypocrites.

The Conquest of Rhodesia

The story of the conquest of Rhodesia by Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company at the close of the last century is one of the blackest pages in the dark history of British imperialism. The treachery and deception practiced by Rhodes and his factotums, Rudd, Maguire, Thompson, and the missionary, J.S. Moffat, in their dealings with the Matebeles and their chief, Lo Bengula, if paralleled, have never been surpassed.

After the Matabelen war of 1893, Rhodesia was administered by the South Africa Company till 1923, when it was formally taken over by the imperial government and authority vested in the British settlers – mine owners, farmers and traders.

For ceding its sovereignty the South Africa Company received 3,750,000 pounds sterling compensation and was allowed to retain ownership of 10,195,000 acres of land, including mineral rights. At that time the assets of the company were over 7,000,000 pounds. In addition it holds 1,599,051 one-pound shares in the Rhodesia railways and 700,000 acres of land in Bechuanaland. It will also derive half of the revenue derived from the sale of land in Northern Rhodesia until 1965! In 1933 the company sold its rights to the settlers’ government for the sum of two million pounds. Although the South Africa Company has relinquished its administration over this imperial legacy of Rhodes, it still remains the most powerful economic and financial power in Rhodesia.

Last updated on 21 August 2021