Ho Chi Minh

The Colonial Abyss

First Published: l'Humanite, January 19, 1923
Source: Selected Works of Ho Chi Minh Vol. 1
Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House
Transcription/Markup: Christian Liebl
Online Version: Ho Chi Minh Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2003

France possesses a colonial empire of ten million square kilometres, inhabited by 56 million people of yellow and black races. To turn all this to advantage, M. Albert Sarraut, Minister of Colonies, wants to find three or four thousand million francs. To this end, he has ‘organized’ a big press campaign and made countless speeches. The worthy Minister has also written a book of 656 pages (price 20 francs per volume). Pending the arrival of these thousands of millions, we beg His Excellency to allow us to fill out his arguments a little.

The budget for Cochin-China, for example, which amounted to 5,561,680 piastres (or 12,791,000 francs) for 1911, rose to 7,321,817 piastres (or 16,840,000 francs) for 1912. In 1922, it went up to 12,821,325 piastres (or 96,169,000 francs). A simple subtraction shows us that between 1911 and 1922 there was a difference of 83,369,000 francs (the rates for the piastre being 2.25 and 7.50 francs) in the budget of this colony. Where did that money go? Simply on expenses for personnel which in effect swallowed 100 per cent of total receipts.

Other examples of mad extravagance combine to throw away money that the poor Annamese have sweated for. We do not yet know the exact figure in piastres spent for the Emperor of Annam’s trip to France, but we do know that to await the day of good augury, the only one on which the Bamboo Dragon could embark, the vessel Porthos was paid compensation for four days at the rate of 100,000 francs per day (400,000 francs). So: Travelling expenses 400,000 francs. Reception expenses 240,000 francs (not including the pay of policemen charged with the extraordinary supervision of the Annamese in France); cost of lodging in Marseilles the Annamese militiamen for ‘presenting arms’ to His Excellency and His Majesty: 77,600 francs.

As we are in Marseilles, let us avail ourselves of the opportunity to see what its Colonial Exhibition has cost us. First of all, in addition to catering for highly-placed metropolitan personnel, they sent for about thirty high functionaries from the colonies who, while taking their aperitifs somewhere along the Cannebiere, were paid expenses both at the Exhibition and in the colonies. Indo-China alone had to pay 12 million for this Exhibition. And do you know how this money was spent? Here is an example: the famous reproduction of the Angkor Wat palaces required 8,000 cubic metres of timber at 400 or 500 francs a metre. Total: 1,200,000 to 1,500,000 francs!

Other examples of waste. To carry M. le Gouverneur Geniralf luxury automobiles and cars were not enough, there had to be a special railway carriage for him. The fitting- up of this carriage cost the Treasury 145,250 francs.

In eleven months of activity, the Economic Agency burdened the economy of Indo-China with a sum of 464,000 francs.

At the Colonial School, where future civllizers are turned out, 41 professors of all types are maintained to teach 30 or 35 students. Again several thousand francs.

The permanent survey of defence works for the colonies costs the budget 758,168 francs annually.

Now, Messrs the Inspectors have never left Paris and do not know the colonies any better than they know the age-old moon.

If we go to other colonies, we everywhere find the same corruption. For the reception of a semi-official ‘economic’ mission, the budget of Martinique was relieved of 40,000 francs. Within a period of ten years the budget of Morocco has gone up from 17 to 200 million francs, although they have cut down by 33 per cent expenditures of local interest, that is to say, expenses likely to benefit the natives.

There are millions and even thousands of millions that could be found easily if they knew how to look for them. But the Minister prefers to try to get them out of the natives!

A question

Is it true that, through excess of the humanitarian feelings so many times proclaimed by M. Albert Sarraut, in the jail at Nha Trang (central Viet Nam) detainees have been put on dry rations, that is to say that they are deprived of water at their meals? Is it true that the detainees have had their noses coated with tincture of iodine to be more easily recognized in case of escape?