ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, Autumn 1965


Harold Jackson

How It Really Was


From International Socialism, No.22, Autumn 1965, pp.31-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Congo Since Independence: January 1960–December 1961
Catherine Hoskyns
Chatham House/Oxford, 55s

Catherine Hoskyns has written an astonishingly clear narrative of events in the Congo from January 1960, when Belgium decided to grant independence within six months, to December 1961 when the territorial integrity of the Congo Republic was re-established, at least in principle. It is by far the best work available on what actually took place, and in particular sheds much light on developments in the Equateur and Orientale regions (centred on Leopoldville and Stanleyville respectively).

Yet it is a profoundly disappointing book. Somehow, whether because of Miss Hoskyns’ own approach or because of whatever mandate Chatham House forced her to work under, she fails completely to give any coherent account of the social and economic forces at work in the Congo drama. There are few heroes and many villains in her play, yet nobody is really evil: everyone in the long run has the interests of the Congo at heart – or their part of the Congo at any rate. Though Miss Hoskyns chronicles the actions of many countries or groupings who were at fault, she steadfastly refuses to draw a balance sheet, even in her conclusions, which accurately reflects the interference which took place.

Firstly the role of Belgium. If we string together passing references the following picture emerges: interference with Lumumba and efforts to prevent his forming the first Congo government (pp.75-6); King Baudouin’s nauseatingly paternalistic speech at Independence Day (p.85); Belgian armed intervention after the army mutiny (originally against Lumumba because he refused to Africanise enough of the higher army command posts) on a much larger scale than could be justified by her stated desire to protect her own nationals. The intervention started on 10 July, and the following day Tshombe proclaimed Katanga independent (pp.126-8). Belgian troops in Katanga disarmed units of the Force Publique and expelled those favourable to the Central Government (p.150) – ‘it is clear that it [Katangan secession] was only made possible in these early stages by support from Belgium’ (p.149). And later on too, as it was dear even to Hammarskjold by the end of 1960 ‘just how far Belgian military and technical assistance was propping up the Tshombe regime’ (p.248), the command of the gendarmerie was almost entirely in Belgian hands (p.249). Dayal’s report to the UN (2 November) was a bitter attack on Belgium whom he accused of sabotaging the UN mission (p.253). Quite an indictment – and little to justify the conclusion that ‘one of the main reasons why the Belgians acted as they did was their lack of understanding of new trends in Africa and in the world’ (p.468) unless this is taken to mean that Belgian neo-colonialist techniques were crude (as compared with, say, French success in Africa) rather than reprehensible.

Secondly there is no attempt to disentangle the influences of Belgium as such, and of Belgian capital in the Congo. Apart from paying lip-service to the motive of ‘financial considerations’ the crucial role of the mining corporation Union Minière is virtually ignored in explaining how Katanga’s secession came to be financed and consolidated. For it was this corporation which originally financed the building of the Conokat Party (now in control), paid export duties to Katanga and not to the central government, and in fact provided a minimum of 60 per cent of the Katangese budget. (For this as a whole Conor Cruise O’Brien’s To Katanga and Back is essential reading, and shows an acute awareness of how pressure groups both in the UN and in Katanga functioned.) The fact that in July 1961 Union Minière began to pay dividends, due to the central government, directly to Katanga is mentioned only casually (p.373). Its implications for the significance of capitalist influence prior to this are not recognised.

Thirdly on the role of the United Nations. On this there are extremely clear expositions of all security council and general assembly debates and resolutions, but the extent to which a country (e.g. Britain) could vote for a resolution and then actively oppose its implementation is not sufficiently emphasised. So one gets again only passing references to what were indeed turning points in the Congo’s history. For example Andrew Cordier’s use of UN troops to close the airport and broadcasting station decisively turned the balance against Lumumba in his constitutional struggle against Kasavubu, who had access to the French Congo radio-station. However Miss Hoskyns brings out well the fact that both the CIA and the UN knew in advance that Kasavubu intended to depose Lumumba, and apparently were gleeful if not positively encouraging (pp.200-5).

We learn that Hammarskjöld and his colleagues were ‘irritated by the failure of those countries with influence in Katanga to persuade her leaders to cooperate at the time.of the Lovanium session’ (the reconvening of parliament) i.e. active sabotage of a peaceful solution to the problem. When O’Brien tried to get the re-integration of Katanga by the use of force, in order to prevent civil war, Welensky gave Tshombe full support. His statement was read to Tshombe in the presence of the British consul, Dunnett, and gave him the impression that Britain supported the statement (which is probably true!) Furthermore Dunnett failed to contact O’Brien on the morning of 13 September when Tshombe was with him, thus depriving O’Brien of his last opportunity to persuade Tshombe to give in; straight after this Tshombe fled to the Northern Rhodesian border where Welensky was concentrating troops in his support. Finally Britain refused to allow overflying rights through Uganda for jets from Ethiopia to come to the defence of UN troops.

All in all then there is an acute misplacing of emphasis in general, and a failure in particular to understand that just about everytmng the UN aid or did not do while in the Congo constituted an interference in the Congo’s internal affairs: the type of interference which was tolerated or welcomed was generally that most desired by the United States. It was only in fact because of her pressure that the secession of Katanga was finally overcome, in return for which the Gizengist grouping round Stanleyville had also to be forced to come to terms, as the US feared that an independent Katanga would encourage an independent Orientale province to be set up and to go communist.

Much of the information one needs to draw a true picture is available – scattered through the book, with the significant exception of enough about the Union Minière and capitalist intrigues in general. It is her acute unwillingness to apportion blame in her account of a UN success story which sends Miss Hoskyns astray; yet the history of this period is one of virtually all blame and no success (even from a liberal standpoint), in what was perhaps the most blatant campaign of neo-colonialist intervention in Africa to date.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 12.5.2008