Ho Chi Minh

In A ‘High Civilization’

First Published: La Vie Ouvriere, May 26, 1922
Source: Selected Works of Ho Chi Minh Vol. 1
Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House
Transcription/Markup: Roland Ferguson and Christian Liebl
Online Version: Ho Chi Minh Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2003

M. Albert Sarraut has told the colonial group of the Chamber of Deputies that ‘it is in the sphere of overseas activity that, faithful to the splendid mission by which she has dazzled the world and history, beneficent France is carrying on a work of progress and justice, of the elevation of races, of lofty civilization, whose nobility every day enhances the centuries-old radiance of her tradition’.

Now, here is how this work of progress and justice etc., is put into practice... On the pretext of acting against vagrancy, the natives of Madagascar are put to forced labour. Thus, on the back of a sheet of paper which is the native’s identity card, there are small squares to be filled in by the employer. In the first of these squares are printed the essential particulars which should be counter-signed by the employer:

                      Employed by Mr...
                      from.... to....
                                          The employer: (signed)

Any native whose identity card is not duly filled in as prescribed above is considered a vagrant and gets from three months to one year’s imprisonment, and is liable, after serving his term, to be prohibited from residing in certain areas for from five to ten years.

Now let us see how the native workers are treated by these civilizing employers.

One of them wrote to an overseer who had asked for the wages due to one of his workers, ‘Tell that pig to go and eat dirt, it is the only food fit for him!’

Another, discovering that 5,000 francs had been stolen from his home, submitted his eight native employees to contact with live electric wires in order to obtain a confession. It was discovered later that the thief was the employer’s own son. The civilizing son had a good time. The civilizing father was not worried. The fortunate proteges of France are still in Tananarive hospital.