Ho Chi Minh

Report On The National And Colonial Questions At The Fifth Congress Of The Communist International

First Published: The Fifth Congress of the Communist International July 8th, 1924
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

Comrades, I only wish to put forward some suggestions about Comrade Manuilsky’s criticisms of our policy on the colonial question. But before entering upon the matter, it is desirable to give some statistics in order to help us to see its importance more clearly.

Great Britan 151,000 45,500,000 34,910,000 403,600,000
France 536,000 39,000,000 10,250,000 55,600,000
The United States 9,420,000 100,000,000 1,850,000 12,000,000
Spain 504,500 20,700,000 371,600 853,000
Italy 286,600 38,500,000 1,460,000 1,623,000
Japan 418,000 57,070,000 288,000 21,249,000
Belgium 29,500 7,642,000 2,400,000 8,500,000
Portugal 92,000 5,545,000 2,062,000 8,738,000
Holland 32,500 6,700,000 2,046,000 48,030,000

Therefore, nine countries with a population of 320,657,000 and an area of 11,470,300 square kilometres, are exploiting colonies embracing dozens of nationalities, with a population of 560,193,000 and covering an area of 55,637,000 square kilometres. The whole area of the colonies is five times greater than that of the mother countries, and the whole population of the mother countries amounts to less than three-fifths of that of the colonies.

These figures are still more striking if the biggest imperialist countries are taken separately. The British colonies taken as a whole are eight and a half times more populous and about 232 times bigger than Great Britain. France occupies an area 19 times bigger than her own. The population of the French colonies exceeds that of France by 16,600,000.

Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that so long as the French and British Communist Parties have not brought out a really progressive policy with regard to the colonies, have not come into contact with the colonial peoples, their programme as a whole is and will be ineffective because it goes counter to Leninism. I will explain myself more clearly. In his speech on Lenin and the national question Comrade Stalin said that the reformists and leaders of the Second International dared not align the white people of the colonies with their coloured counterparts. Lenin also refused to recognize this division and pushed aside the obstacle separating the civilized slaves of imperialism from the uncivilized slaves.

According to Lenin, the victory of the revolution in Western Europe depended on its close contact with the liberation movement against imperialism in enslaved colonies and with the national question, both of which form a part of the common problem of the proletarian revolution and dictatorship.

Later, Comrade Stalin spoke of the viewpoint which held that the European proletarians can achieve success without a direct alliance with the liberation movement in the colonies. And he considered this a counter-revolutionary viewpoint. But if we judge from practice to make our theoretical examination, we are entitled to say that our big Parties, excepting the Soviet Communist Party, still hold the above-mentioned viewpoint because they are inactive in this matter.

What have the bourgeois class in the colonialist countries done towards oppressing so many people enslaved by them? They have done everything. Using the means given them by the State administrative machine, they have carried out an intense propaganda. They have crammed the heads. of the people of the mother countries with speeches, films, newspapers, exhibitions and every other means, so that they have a colonialist outlook; they have displayed before their eyes pictures of the easy, honourable and rich life which seems to await them in the colonies.

As for our Communist Parties in Great Britain, Holland, Belgium and other countries - what have they done to cope with the colonial invasions perpetrated by the bourgeois. class of their countries? What have they done from the day they accepted Lenin’s political programme to educate the working class of their countries in the spirit of just internationalism, and that of close contact with the working. masses in the colonies? What our Parties have done in this domain is almost worthless. As for me, I was born in a French colony, and am a member of the French Communist Party, and I am very sorry to say that our Communist Party has done hardly anything for the colonies.

It is the task of the communist newspapers to introduce the colonial question to our militants to awaken the working masses in the colonies, win them over to the cause of Communism, but what have our newspapers done? Nothing at all.

If we compare the number of columns devoted to the colonial question in the bourgeois newspapers such as The Times, Figaro, Evre or in those of different opinions such as Le Populaire, or Liberty, with those devoted to the same question in l´Humanite, the central organ of our Party, we are bound to say that this comparison will not be favourable to us.

When the Ministry of Colonies worked out a plan for transforming many African regions into large private plantations, and turning the people of these regions into veritable slaves attached to the new employers’ land, our newspapers still remained silent. In the French West African colonies, forcible measures for enlistment unknown for centuries were carried out, and yet our newspapers maintained a close silence. The colonialist authorities in Indo-China turned themselves into slave traders, and sold the inhabitants of north Viet Nam to planters in the Pacific islands; they lengthened the natives’ military service from two to four years; they sold the greater part of the colonial land to financier sharks; they increased taxes by a further 30 per cent in spite of the natives’ inability to pay the old ones. And all this was done while the natives were being driven to bankruptcy and dying of hunger through flood. However, our newspapers still maintained silence. Thus, it is no wonder that the natives are inclined to side with organizations for democracy and freedom such as the Society for the Rights of Man and the Citizen together with other similar organizations which take care of them or pretend to take care of them.

If we go even further, we shall see incredible things, making everybody think that our Party has a disregard for all that concerns the colonies. For instance: I‘Humanite did not publish the International Peasants’ Appeal to the people of the colonies issued by the Communist International.

Prior to the Lyons conference, the items listed for debate covered all political programmes except that on the colonial question. L‘Humanite carried many articles on the Senegal boxer Siki’s success, but did not raise its voice when the dockers at Dakar port, Siki’s brothers, were arrested in the middle of their work, tied hand and foot, hauled on to lorries and taken to jail. Later they were sent to the garrisons to be turned into ‘defenders of civilization’, that is to say, into soldiers. The central organ of our Party daily informed our readers of the feats of the pilot Uadi, who flew from Paris to Indo-China. But when the colonial administration pillaged the people of ‘Dai Nam’, robbed them of their fields to give them to the French profiteers, sent out bombers with orders to the pilots to teach reason to the pitiful and despoiled local people, the organ of our Party did not find it necessary to bring this news to the knowledge of its readers.

Comrades, the press of the French bourgeoisie has realized that the national question cannot be separated from the colonial question. In my opinion, our Party has not thoroughly understood this. The lessons of the Ruhr, when the native troops who were sent out ‘to comfort’ the starving German workers, encircled the suspected French regiments; the example of the Eastern troops, in which the native forces were given machine-guns ‘to mobilize the spirit’ of the French troops worn out by the hard and protracted war; the events which occurred in 1917 at places where Russian troops were stationed in France; the lesson of the strike of agricultural workers in the Pyrenees where native troops were forced to play the shameful part of saboteurs; and finally the presence of 207,000 colonial troops in France itself - all these have not made our Party think, have not made our Party find it necessary to lay down a clear and firm policy on colonial questions. The Party has missed many good opportunities for propaganda. The new leading organs of the Party have acknowledged that the Party is in a corner over this question. This is a good sign, because once the leaders of the Party have realized and recognized this weak point in the Party’s policy, there is hope that the Party will do its utmost to rectify its errors. I firmly believe that this Congress will be the turning point and will urge the Party to correct its past shortcomings. Although Comrade Manuilsky is quite right in his remarks on the elections in Algeria, to be objective, I must say that it is true that our Party has committed errors here but has corrected them by nominating colonial representatives as candidates in the elections for the Seine department. Though this is still too little, it is fairly satisfactory as a beginning. I am very happy to see that at present our Party is again filled with the best intentions and enthusiasm, and that it needs only to be strengthened by practical deeds to be brought to a correct policy on the colonial question.

What are these practical deeds? To work out long political programmes and pass high-sounding resolutions which are, after the Congress, sent to the museum as has always been done in the past, is not enough. We must adopt concrete measures. I propose the following points:

1 - To publish in l‘Humanite a new feature of at least two columns weekly devoted to regular coverage of colonial questions.

2 - To increase propaganda and choose Party members among the natives of the colonial countries in which there are already branches of the Communist International.

3 - To send comrades from the colonial countries to study at the Eastern Communist University in Moscow.

4 - To come to an agreement with the United General Confederation of Labour on the organization of working people from colonial countries working in France.

5 - To set Party members the task of paying more attention to colonial questions.

In my opinion, these proposals are national, and if the Communist International and delegates of our Party approve them, I believe that at the Sixth Congress, the French Communist Party will be able to say that the united front of the masses of the metropolitan country and colonies has become a reality.

Comrades, as Lenin’s disciples, we must concentrate all our forces and energies on colonial questions as on all other questions in order to implement Lenin’s teachings.

Comrade Douglas (an English delegate)...

Comrade Smeran...

Comrade Nguyen Ai Quoc:

The French colonies occupy an area of 10,241,510 square kilometres with 55,571,000 inhabitants scattered over all four continents. In spite of the differences in races, climates, customs, traditions and economic and social development, there are two common points that make them alike and can later bring about unity in the common struggle.

1 - The economic situation: in all the French colonies, industry and commerce are little developed and the majority of the population are engaged in agriculture. Ninety-five per cent of the population are peasants.

2 - In all the colonies, the native peoples are unremittingly exploited by French imperialist capital.

I have not enough time to make a thorough analysis of the situation of the peasants in each colony. Therefore I shall take only a few typical examples to give an idea of the peasants’ life in the colonies.

I shall begin with my country, Indo-China, which naturally I know better than the other colonies. When France occupied this colony, the war drove the peasants away from their villages. Later, on their return they found their lands occupied by the colonists who had followed in the wake of the victorious army. They had shared among themselves the land the native peasants had cultivated for generations. In consequence the Annamese peasants were turned into serfs and forced to cultivate their own lands for foreign masters.

Numerous unfortunates who could not suffer the extremely hard conditions imposed by the occupiers, left their lands and wandered about the country. They were called ‘pirates’ by the French, who sought every means to prosecute them.

The lands thieved in this way, were allotted to the planters. They needed merely to say a word in order to get tracts of land sometimes covering more than 20,000 or 25,000 hectares.

These planters not only occupied lands without any payment but also obtained all that was necessary to exploit those lands including labour. The administration allowed them to make use of a number of prisoners without any payment, or ordered the communes to supply them with manpower.

Besides these wolves and the administration, the Catholic Mission is to be mentioned. The Catholic Mission alone occupied one quarter of the areas under cultivation in Cochin-China. To secure for itself all those lands it used every imaginable and unimaginable method, including bribery, fraud and coercion. Here are a few examples. Availing itself of crop failures it gave the peasants loans, with their rice-fields on mortgage. The interest rates being too high, the peasants were unable to get out of debt and had to cede their mortgaged fields outright to the Mission. Using all kinds of underhand methods, the Mission did its utmost to find out secret information that could be harmful to be authorities. It used this information as a threat to force the authorities to comply with its will. Together with the big capitalists the Mission founded companies for the exploitation of the plantations which were occupied without any payment and the lands stolen from the peasants. The henchmen of the Mission held high positions in the government. The Mission exploited believers no less ruthlessly than the planters. Another of its tricks was to get together poor people and force them to reclaim waste land with promises that once the land was cultivated it would be divided among the peasants. But as soon as the land was. reclaimed and the crops about to be harvested, the Mission declared that the land belonged to it and drove out those who had toiled to make it productive. Robbed by their ‘protectors’ (Catholic or non-Catholic), the Annamese peasants were not even left in peace to work on their remaining tiny plots of land. The land registry service carried out a fraudulent cadastral survey to make the peasants pay more taxes. These increased every year. Recently, after occupying thousands of hectares of land belonging to the Annamese highlanders to give them to the profiteers, the authorities sent airplanes to the place so that the victims dared not think of rebelling.

The despoiled peasants, ruined and driven away, again found ways and means to reclaim virgin land. But once it was under cultivation, the administration would seize it and oblige them to buy it at prices fixed by the administration. Those unable to pay would be driven out pitilessly.

Last year, the country was devastated by floods; however, land taxes increased 30 per cent.

In addition to the iniquitous taxes that ruin them, the peasants still have to go on corvee, pay poll-tax, salt-tax, buy government-bonds, subscribe to various funds and many other things, and sign unequal contracts, etc.

French capitalists in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco have carried out the same policy of robbery and exploitation. All the good irrigated land was kept for the French. The natives were driven away to areas at the foot of the mountains or to arid spots. The financial companies, profiteers and high functionaries divided the land in the colonies among themselves.

Through direct and indirect operations, the banks in Algeria and Tunisia in 1914 made 12,258,000 francs profit from a capital of 25 million francs.

The Bank of Morocco, with a capital of 15,400,000 francs, made 1,753,000 francs profit in 1921.

The French Algerian Company has occupied 324,000 hectares of the best land.

The Algerian General Company has occupied 100,000 hectares.

A private company has occupied 50,000 hectares of forest without any payment, while the Capziere phosphate and railway company has occupied 50,000 hectares of land rich in ores, and in addition has secured priority rights over 20,000 hectares of land in its neighbourhood.

A former French deputy has occupied a plantation covering 1,125 hectares of land, with mines to the value of 10 million francs, producing a yearly income of four million francs. The natives, the real owners of these mines, receive annually only one tenth of a franc per hectare.

French colonial policy has abolished the right of collective ownership and replaced it by private ownership. It has also abolished small ownership to the advantage of big ownership of the plantations. This policy has incurred for the native peasants the loss of 5 million hectares of their best land.

In 15 years, the peasants in Kabylia were robbed of 192,090 hectares.

From 1913, each year the Moroccan peasants were robbed of 12,000 hectares of land under cultivation. Since France was victorious in the war ‘for Justice’, that figure has risen to 14,540 hectares.

At present, there are in Morocco only 1,070 French people, but they occupy 500,000 hectares of land. Like their Annamese peasant brothers and sisters, the peasants in Africa lead an unbearably hard life, going on corvee all the time and paying heavy taxes. Their misery and sufferings are indescribable. Due to shortage of food they have to eat wild vegetables and grasses or rotten rice and consequently are affected with typhus and tuberculosis. Even in good harvest years, peasants are seen turning up rubbish heaps, disputing food-remnants with dogs. In lean years, the corpses of peasants dead of starvation are seen everywhere in the fields and on the highways.

The peasants’ life in West Africa and French Equatorial Africa is still more frightful. These colonies are in the hands of about 40 companies. They occupy everything: land and fields, natural resources and even the natives’ lives; the latter lack even the right to work for themselves. They are compelled to work for the companies, all the time, and only for the companies. To force them to work for nothing, incredible means of coercion are used by the companies. All lands and fields are confiscated. Only those who agree to do the farming required by the companies are allowed to have some tiny plots of land. People are affected with all kinds of diseases through malnutrition, and the death rate especially among the children is very high.

Another method is to make old people, women and children work as servants. They are lodged in small huts, ill-treated, beaten, ill-fed and sometimes murdered. In some localities the number of permanent servants is kept about equal to the number of workers in order to discourage the latter from running away. So that work in the plantations shall not suffer, the natives are forbidden to work their own land in good time. Therefore, famine and epidemics occur very often, wreaking havoc in the colonies.

The few tribes who have fled to the forests and succeeded in escaping the planters’ exploitation, live like animals, feeding on roots and leaves, and die from malaria and the unwholesome climate. Meanwhile the white masters are devastating their fields and villages. The following is an excerpt from an officer’s diary describing briefly but clearly the repression of the colonial peasants:

“Raid on Colover village.”

“Raid on the Fan tribe at Cuno. Villages and gardens. destroyed.”

“Raid on Becanit village. Village burnt down; 3,000 banana-trees cut down.”

“Raid on Kwa village. Village destroyed. Gardens and farms razed to the ground.”

“Raid on Abimaphan village. All houses burnt down, all gardens and farms destroyed.”

“Raid on Examphami village. Village destroyed. The whole commune along Bom river burnt down.”

The same system of pillage, extermination and destruction prevails in the African regions under Italian, Spanish, British or Portuguese rule.

In the Belgian Congo, the population in 1891 was 25 million, but it had fallen to eight and a half million by 1911. The Hereros and Cama tribes in the former German colonies in Africa were completely exterminated. 80,000 were killed under German rule and 15,000 were killed during the ‘pacification’ period in 1914. The population of the French Congo was 20,000 in 1894. It was only 9,700 in 1911. In one province there were 10,000 inhabitants in 1910. Eight years later there remained only 1,080. In another province with 40,000 black inhabitants, in only two years, 20,000 people were killed, and in the following six- months 6,000 more were killed or disabled.

The densely populated regions bordering the rivers were turned into deserts within a matter of 15 years. Bleached bones were scattered throughout the ravaged oases and villages.

The life of the survivors was atrocious in the extreme. The peasants were robbed of the tiny plots of land allowed them by the companies, the artisans lost their crafts, and the breeders their cattle. The Matabeles were cattle-breeders: before the arrival of the British, they had 200,000 cattle. Two years later only 40,900 were left. The Hereros had 90,000 cattle. Within 12 years the German colonists had robbed them of half. Similar cases are numerous in all the black countries which came into contact with the Whites’ civilization.

In conclusion, I quote the African writer Rene Maran, author of Batuala who said: “Equatorial Africa was a densely populated area, rich in rubber. There were here all kinds of gardens and farms with plenty of poultry and goats. After only seven years everything was destroyed. Villages were in ruins, gardens and farms laid waste, poultry and goats killed. The inhabitants grew weak because they had to work beyond their strength and without any payment. They were thus not sufficiently strong and lacked the time to work their fields. Diseases broke out, famine appeared, the death rate increased. We should know that they are the descendants of strong and healthy tribes imbued with an enduring and tempered fighting spririt. Here, there is nothing left that can be called civilization...”

To complete this tragic picture, I want to add one point: French capitalism has never hesitated to drive each region in turn to famine if it might be of advantage to them. In many colonial countries, e.g., the Reunion Islands, Algeria, Madagascar, etc... the inhabitants are no longer allowed to grow cereals but have to grow other crops required by French industry. These crops are more profitable to the planters. And this has caused the cost of living in the colonies to rise and often brings about famine.

In all the French colonies, famine is on the increase and so is the people’s hatred. The native peasants are ripe for insurrection. In many colonies, they have risen many times but their uprisings have all been drowned in blood. If at present the peasants still have a passive attitude, the reason is that they still lack organization and leaders. The Communist International must help them to revolution and liberation.