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FIGHT, January 1937

Jomo Kenyatta

The Colonial Question: Kenya


From FIGHT, January, 1937, Vol. 1, No. 3, pages12-13. Published by the Marxists Group, UK
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2009 for ETOL.


Both for the study of Imperialism to-day and for the future relations of Socialist Europe with Africa. Kenya is a key colony. The Africans in Kenya were a happy people until the white man came. They lived a simple life, but prostitution, venereal disease and poverty were unknown. They had one of the most democratic systems in the world. They had developed such an admirable system of cultivation that an early visitor to the Kikuyu, one of the tribes, spoke of their country as “one large garden.” True there was disease and superstition, but not the dreadful European diseases and superstition one finds everywhere.

It was in the eighties that the Imperialists started to take an interest in Kenya. It is a country with a fine climate where white men can live. So white men settled there and took the land of the natives away. That is all there is to it. They took the best parts for themselves and drove the natives into the worst. A few thousand whites own over five million acres. But they cultivate only 600,000 acres of it, about twelve per cent. Meanwhile they have over two million natives packed close on the worst land in reserves where they average nearly 150 to the square mile.

But the white man wants not only land but labour. The Government therefore imposes a hut-tax, 12 to 20 shillings per year. The African to get this money has to work for the settler. He has therefore to accept any wages the settler offers and the standard wage is 8 to 18 shillings per month of 30 working days. The African is registered, finger-prints taken, he has to agree to a contract. He can be fined and imprisoned for what his employer considers neglect of duty. But the African must submit because he has to pay the government tax ; otherwise he goes to gaol. He must find work if even hundreds of miles from home. Thousands leave the villages and are away from home and families for eight months in the year.

They live in the towns, fall into the hands of prostitutes, drink cheap gin and then go back to the villages, having been depraved by the worst aspects of European civilisation. They try to combine and have revolted sporadically, but the British Government sees to it that they have only a little Bible education from missionaries, and keeps them under such control that if more than five people meet together they can, and have been, arrested.

This is the business of the British worker for many reasons. First, it is because of Kenya and other East African colonies that Britain nearly came to war with Italian imperialism over Abyssinia. Germany wants colonies to exploit. It is these colonies that are one of the chief causes of Imperialist war, the burden of armaments and the slaughter of millions. Secondly Briitsh Imperialism draws strength from investments in these colonies. It is true that a few workmen get better paid jobs from the profits, but for the most part the profits go into the pockets of the capitalists, to spend in Southport, Brighton and the Riviera, or to go elsewhere looking for markets and giving still further cause for war.

As long as British capitalism has colonies the British worker must face the certainty of Imperialist war. The only way is to end capitalism. Before we consider how this is to be done, let us see first how this will affect the worker and the Colonies. Lenin in the extract quoted last month, said that the colonial peoples need not pass through the capitalist stage. The socialist state can assist them to pass from their primitive conditions straight to the socialist form. And he is quite right. For that would benefit both the Colonials and the British workers. However admirable a form of life primitive communism is, thoughtful Africans realise to-day that in the modern world, this has no place. The African must adopt Western technique in production. To do this he must learn Western ways. But as soon as the African is given an opportunity to develop freely for his own benefit and not for profit, his capacity to produce rises enormously. This has been tested particularly in the cocoa industry of West Africa. With a constantly rising standard of living, he will be able to offer far more splendid opportunities to British Socialism, and a constantly rising exchange can be effected to the benefit of both. Take coffee for instance. The British settler produces at enormous cost and prevents the Kenya African from producing because he can produce so much cheaper. If the African gets a chance, he can produce as much as a Socialist Britain could take, for under Socialism he would not have to depend on how much the worker could afford to buy, but would produce as much as he could in exchange for what the British worker could produce.

How is this to be achieved? The African is bitterly resentful when English revolutionaries talk about “giving” him freedom. He does not want to be given anything. His freedom is his own and he wants assistance to be able to fight for it. Over and over again in Kenya and other parts, the Africans have revolted. But they have a real chance of success only when British Imperialism is being attacked at the same time by the British revolutionary workers. The African has been deceived by the Labour Government which oppressed him just as much as the Tories. For some time he trusted the Communist Party but as soon as the Stalinist bureaucracy began to seek the friendship of Britain and France, they made the Third International change its propaganda and to-day it is telling Africans and Indians to fight for democracy against Fascism. We of the Fourth International say to the Africans that capitalism is capitalism even if it is democratic, and while we shall defend the democratic rights of the workers against Fascism we are out to bring down the capitalist system. And we tell Africans that when they get the opportunity, perhaps during the coming war, they must strike at British Imperialism. For them and for us the enemy is the same. That may be some time off. But what can we do now about it? There is a lot that can be done. Some of the African peoples, the Kikuyu of Kenya for instance, have representatives in London. Negro seamen live in London and can make contacts with Kenya and other parts of Africa. We can build up a real solidarity by fighting the cause of Africans, Indians, and other colonials here and by letting them know that we look to them to help us in the struggle.

The best way to begin is by gaining knowledge. We can put workers in touch with Europeans and Africans and Indians ready to provide speakers and to meet those who want to co-operate in other colonial work. The British worker should remember that Franco would never have been able to attack the Spanish workers and peasants, if the Popular Front Government in Spain had called on the Moors to seize their independence. A Moorish deputation went to the Popular Front asking for concessions: The Popular Front Government, being a capitalist government, refused. And the Moors, bitterly disappointed, listened to Franco.

Let us establish solidarity at once on the principle theoretically held and now proved in practice in Spain, that a revolutionary movement in this country can never achieve final success unless in close understanding and co-operation with the revolution in the colonies. If you wish to help or wish for help on the Colonial Question, write to: Robert Williams, 97, Kings Cross Road, London, W.C.1.

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Last updated on 9 March 2009