Chapter Five. Africa’s Contribution to the Capitalist Development of Europe – the Colonial Period

June 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Walter Rodney
The colonies have been created for the metropole by the metropoleFrench saying.
‘Sales operations in the United States and management of the fourteen (Unilever) plants are directed from Lever House on New York’s fashionable Park Avenue. You look at this tall, striking, glass-and-steel structure and you wonder how many hours of underpaid black labour and how many thousands of tons of underpriced palm oil and peanuts and cocoa it cost to build it.’W. Altheus Hunton
5. 1 Expatriation of African Surplus under Colonialism
(a) Capital and African wage labour
Colonial Africa fell within that part of the international capitalist economy from which surplus was drawn to feed the metropolitan sector. As seen earlier, exploitation of land and labour is essential for human social advance, but only on the assumption that the product is made available within the area where the exploitation takes place. Colonialism was not merely a system of exploitation, but one whose essential purpose was to repatriate the profits to the so-called ‘mother country’. From an African view-point, that amounted to consistent (1 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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expatriation of surplus produced by African labour out of African resources. It meant the development of Europe as part of the same dialectical process in which Africa was underdeveloped.
By any standards, labour was cheap in Africa, and the amount of surplus extracted from the African labourer was great. The employer under colonialism paid an extremely small wage – a wage usually insufficient to keep the worker physically alive – and, therefore, he had to grow food to survive. This applied in particular to farm labour of the plantation type, to work in mines, and to certain forms of urban employment. At the time of the imposition of European colonial rule, Africans were able to gain a livelihood from the land. Many retained some contact with the land in the years ahead, and they worked away from their shambas in order to pay taxes or because they were forced to do so. After feudalism in Europe had ended, the worker had absolutely no means of sustenance other than through the sale of his labour to capitalists. Therefore, to some extent the employer was responsible for ensuring the physical survival of the worker by giving him a ‘living wage’. In Africa, this was not the case. Europeans offered the lowest possible wage and relied on legislation backed by force to do the rest.
There were several reasons why the African worker was more crudely exploited than his European counterpart in the present century. Firstly, the alien colonial state had a monopoly of political power, after crushing all opposition by armed force. Secondly, the African working class was small, very dispersed, and very unstable owing to migratory practices. Thirdly, while capitalism was willing to exploit all workers (2 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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everywhere, European capitalists in Africa had additional racial justifications for dealing unjustly with the African worker. The racist theory that the black man was inferior led to the conclusion that he deserved lower wages; and, interestingly enough, the light-skinned Arab and Berber populations of North Africa were treated as ‘blacks’ by the white racist French. The combination of the above factors in turn made it extremely difficult for African workers to organise themselves. It is only the organisation and resoluteness of the working class which protects it from the natural tendency of the capitalist to exploit to the utmost. That is why in all colonial territories, when African workers realised the necessity for trade union solidarity, numerous obstacles were laid in their paths by the colonial regimes.
Wages paid to workers in Europe and North America were much higher than wages paid to African workers in comparable categories. The Nigerian coalminer at Enugu earned 1/- per day for working underground and 0/9d per day for jobs on the surface. Such a miserable wage would be beyond comprehension of a Scottish or German coalminer who could virtually earn in an hour what the Enugu miner was paid for a six-day week. The same disparity existed with port workers. The records of the large American shipping company, Farrell Lines, show that in 1955, of the total amount spent on loading and discharging cargo moving between Africa and America, five-sixths went to American workers and one-sixth to Africans. Yet, it was the same amount of cargo loaded and unloaded at both ends. The wages paid to the American stevedore and the European coalminers were still such as to ensure that the capitalists made a profit. The point here is (3 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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merely to illustrate how much greater was the rate of exploitation of African workers.
When discrepancies such as the above were pointed out during the colonial period and subsequently, those who justified colonialism were quick to reply that the standard and cost of living was higher in capitalist countries. The fact is that the higher standard was made possible by the exploitation of colonies, and there was no justification for keeping African living standards so depressed in an age where better was possible and in a situation where a higher standard was possible because of the work output of Africans themselves. The kind of living standard supportable by African labour within the continent is readily illustrated by the salaries and the life-style of the whites inside Africa.
Colonial governments discriminated against the employment of Africans in senior categories; and, whenever it happened that a white and a black filled the same post, the white man was sure to be paid considerably more. This was true at all levels, ranging from civil service posts to mine workers. African salaried workers in the British colonies of Gold Coast and Nigeria were better off than their brothers in many other parts of the continent, but they were restricted to the ‘Junior staff’ level in the civil service. In the period before the last world war, European civil servants in the Gold Coast received an average of £40 per month, with quarters and other privileges. Africans got an average salary of £4. There were instances where one European in an establishment earned as much as his twenty-five African assistants put together. Outside the civil service, Africans obtained work in building (4 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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projects, in mines and as domestics – all low-paying jobs. It was exploitation without responsibility and without redress. In 1934, forty-one Africans were killed in a gold mine disaster in the Gold Coast, and the capitalist company offered only £3 to the dependants of each of these men as compensation.
Where European settlers were found in considerable numbers, the wage differential was readily perceived. In North Africa, the wages of Moroccans and Algerians were from 16% to 25% those of Europeans. In East Africa, the position was much worse, notably in Kenya and Tanganyika. A comparison with white settler earnings and standards brings out by sharp contrast how incredibly low African wages were. While Lord Delamere controlled 100,000 acres of Kenya’s land, the Kenyan had to carry a kipande pass in his own country to beg for a wage of 15/- or 20/- per month. The absolute limit of brutal exploitation was found in the Southern parts of the continent; and in Southern Rhodesia, for example, agricultural labourers rarely received more than 15/- per month. Workers in mines got a little more if they were semi-skilled, but they also had more intolerable working conditions. Unskilled labourers in the mines of Northern Rhodesia often got as little as 7/- per month. A lorry-driver on the famous copper-belt was in a semi-skilled grade. In one mine, Europeans performed that job for £30 per month, while in another, Africans did it for £3 per month.
In all colonial territories, wages were reduced during the period of crisis which shook the capitalist world during the 1930s, and they were not restored or increased until after the last capitalist world war. In (5 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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Southern Rhodesia in 1949, Africans employed in municipal areas were awarded minimum wages from 35/- to 75/- per month. That was a considerable improvement over previous years, but white workers (on the job for 8 hours per day compared to the Africans’ 10 or 14 hours) received a minimum wage of 20/- per day plus free quarters, etc.
The Rhodesians offered a miniature version of South Africa’s apartheid system, which oppressed the largest industrial working class on the continent. In the Union of South Africa, African labourers worked deep underground, under inhuman conditions which would not have been tolerated by miners in Europe. Consequently, black South African workers recovered gold from deposits which elsewhere would be regarded as non-commercial. And yet it is the white section of the working class which received whatever benefits were available in terms of wages and salaries. Officials have admitted that the mining companies could pay whites higher than miners in any other part of the world because of the super profits made by paying black workers a mere pittance.* [*As is well known, those conditions still operate. However, this chapter presents matters in the past tense to picture the colonial epoch.]
In the final analysis, the shareholders of the mining companies were the ones who benefited most of all. They remained in Europe and North America and collected fabulous dividends every year from the gold, diamonds, manganese, uranium, etc. which were brought out of the South African sub-soil by African labour. For years, the capitalist press itself praised Southern Africa as an investment outlet returning super (6 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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profits on capital invested. From the very beginning of the Scramble for Africa, huge fortunes were made from gold and diamonds in Southern Africa by people like Cecil Rhodes. In the present century, both the investment and the outflow of surplus have increased. Investment was mainly concentrated in mining and finance where the profits were greatest. In the mid-1950s, British investments in South Africa were estimated at £860 million and yielded a stable profit of 15% or £129 million every year. Most mining companies had returns well above that average. DeBeers Consolidated Mines made a profit that was both phenomenal and consistently high – between $26 million and $29 million throughout the 1950s.
The complex of Southern African mining concerns operated not just in South Africa itself, but also in South West Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and the Congo. Congo was consistently a source of immense wealth for Europe, because from the time of colonisation until 1906, King Leopold of Belgium made at least $20 million from rubber and ivory. The period of mineral exploitation started quite early, and then gained momentum after political control passed from King Leopold to the Belgium state in 1908. Total foreign capital inflow into the Congo between 1887 and 1953 was estimated by the Belgians to have been £5,700 million. The value of the outflow in the same period was said to have been £4,300 million, exclusive of profits retained within the Congo. As was true everywhere else on the continent, the expatriation of surplus from Congo increased as the colonial period wore on. In the five years preceding independence the net outflow of capital from Congo to (7 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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Belgium reached massive proportions. Most of the expatriation of surplus was handled by a major European finance monopoly, the Societé Generale. The Societé Generale had as its most important subsidiary the Union Miniére de Haute Katanga, which has monopolised Congolese copper production since 1889 (when it was known as the Compagnie de Katanga). Union Miniére has been known to make a profit of £27 million in a single year.
It is no wonder that of the total wealth produced in Congo in any given year during the colonial period, more than one-third went out in the form of profits for big business and salaries for their expatriate staffs. But the comparable figure for Northern Rhodesia under the British was one half. In Katanga, Union Miniére at least had a reputation for leaving some of the profits behind in the form of things like housing and maternity services for African workers. The Rhodesian Copper Belt Companies expatriated profits without compunction.
It should not be forgotten that outside of Southern Africa, there were also significant mining operations during the colonial period. In North Africa, foreign capital exploited natural resources of phosphates, oil, lead, zinc, manganese and iron ore. In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there were important workings of gold, diamonds, iron ore and bauxite. To all that should be added the tin of Nigeria, the gold and manganese of Ghana, the gold and diamonds of Tanganyika, and the copper of Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville. In each case, an understanding of the situation must begin with an enquiry into the degree of exploitation of African resources and labour, and then must (8 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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proceed to follow the surplus to its destination outside of Africa – into the bank accounts of the capitalists who control the majority shares in the huge multi-national mining combines.
The African working class produced a less spectacular surplus for export with regard to companies engaged in agriculture. Agricultural plantations were widespread in North, East and South Africa; and they also appeared in West Africa to a lesser extent. Their profits depended on the incredibly low wages and harsh working conditions imposed on African agricultural labourers and on the fact that they invested very little capital in obtaining the land, which was robbed whole-sale from Africans by colonial powers and then sold to whites at nominal prices. For instance, after the Kenya highlands had been declared ‘Crown Land’, the British handed over to Lord Delamere 100,000 acres of the best land at a cost of penny per acre. Lord Francis Scott purchased 350,000 acres, the East African Estates Ltd. got another 350,000 acres, and the East African Syndicate took 100,000 acres adjoining Lord Delamere’s estate – all at giveaway prices. Needless to say, such plantations made huge profits, even if the rate was lower than in a South African gold mine or an Angolan diamond mine.
During the colonial era, Liberia was supposedly independent; but to all intents and purposes, it was a colony of the U.S.A. In 1926, the Firestone Rubber Company of the U.S.A. was able to acquire one million acres of forest land in Liberia at a cost of 6 cents per acre and 1% of the value of the exported rubber. Because of the demand for and the strategic importance of rubber, Firestone’s profits from Liberia’s (9 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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land and labour carried them to 25th position among the giant companies of the U.S.A.
(b) European Trading Companies versus the African Peasant
So far, this section has been dealing with that part of the surplus produced by African wage earners in mines, plantations, etc. But the African working class under colonialism was extremely small and the vast majority of Africans engaged in the colonial money economy were independent peasants. How then can it be said that these self-employed peasants were contributing to the expatriation of African surplus? Apologists for colonialism argue that it was a positive benefit for such farmers to have been given the opportunity to create surplus by growing or collecting produce such as cocoa, coffee, palm oil, etc. It is essential that this misrepresentation be clarified.
A peasant growing a cash crop or collecting produce had his labour exploited by a long chain of individuals, starting with local businessmen. Sometimes, those local businessmen were Europeans. Very rarely were they Africans, and more usually they were a minority group brought in from outside and serving as intermediaries between the white colonialists and the exploited African peasant. In West Africa, the Lebanese and Syrians played this role; while in East Africa the Indians rose to this position. Arabs were also in the middleman category in Zanzibar and a few other places on the East African coast.
Cash crop peasants never had any capital of their own. They existed from one crop to another, depending on good harvests and good prices. (10 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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Any bad harvest or fall of prices caused the peasants to borrow in order to find money to pay taxes and buy certain necessities. As security, they mortgaged their future crops to moneylenders in the middleman category. Non-payment of debts could and did lead to their farms being taken away by the moneylenders. The rate of interest on the loans was always fantastically high, amounting to what is known as ‘usury’. In East Africa, things were so bad that even the British colonial government had to step in and enact a ‘Native Credit Ordinance’ to protect Africans from Asian businessmen.
However, in spite of some minor clashes between the colonialists and the middlemen, the two were part and parcel of the same apparatus of exploitation. On the whole, the Lebanese and Indians did the smaller jobs which Europeans could not be bothered with. They owned things such as cotton ginneries which separated the seed from the lint; while of course Europeans concentrated on the cotton mills in Europe. The middlemen also went out to the villages, while Europeans liked to stay in towns. In the villages, the Indians and Lebanese took over virtually all buying and selling; channelling most of the profits back to Europeans in the towns and those overseas.
The share of profits which went to middlemen was insignificant in comparison to those profits reaped by big European business interests and by the European governments themselves. The capitalist institution which came into most direct contact with African peasants was the colonial trading company: that is to say, a company specialising in moving goods to and from the colonies. The most notorious were the (11 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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French concerns, Compagnie Française d’Afrique Occidentale (CFAO) and Societé Commerciale Ouest Africaine (SCOA) and the British controlled United Africa Company (UAC). These were responsible for expatriating a great proportion of Africa’s wealth produced by peasant toil.
Several of the colonial trading companies already had African blood on their hands from participation in the slave trade. Thus, after French merchants in Bordeaux made fortunes from the European slave trade, they transferred that capital to the trade in groundnuts from Senegal and Gambia in the middle of the 19th century. The firms concerned continued to operate in the colonial period, although they changed hands and there were a lot of mergers. In Senegal, Mauretania and Mali, the names of Maurel & Prom, Maurel Brothers, Buhan & Teyssere, Delmas & Clastre were all well known. Several of them were eventually incorporated into SCOA, which was dominated by a consortium of French and Swiss financiers. A parallel process in the French port of Marseilles led to the transfer of slave-trade capital into direct trade between Africa and France. After the end of the first World War, most of the small Marseilles firms were absorbed into the massive CFAO, which imported into French West Africa whatever European goods the market would take, and exported in turn the agricultural produce that was largely the consequence of peasant labour. CFAO also had British and Dutch capital, and its activities extended into Liberia and into British and Belgian colonies. It is said that SCOA and CFAO made a profit of up to 90% in good years and 25 % in bad years. (12 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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In Britain, the notorious slave-trading port of Liverpool was the first to switch to palm oil early in the 19th century when the trade in slaves became difficult or impossible. This meant that Liverpool firms were no longer exploiting Africa by removing its labour physically to another part of the world. Instead, they were exploiting the labour and raw materials of Africa inside Africa. Throughout the 19th century and right into the colonial era, Liverpool concentrated largely on importing African peasant produce. Backed by the industrial districts of Manchester and Cheshire, this British port was in control of a great proportion of Britain’s and Europe’s trade with Africa in the colonial period-just as it had done in the slave trade period. Glasgow also had a keen interest in the colonial trade, so did the merchants and big business interests of London. By 1929, London replaced Liverpool as chief port dealing with African import/export.
As indicated, the UAC was the British company which was best known among the commercial concerns. It was a subsidiary of the giant Anglo-Dutch monopoly, Unilever; and its agencies were found in all the British colonies of West Africa and on a smaller scale in East Africa. Unilever also controlled the Compagnie du Niger Français, the Compagnie Française de la Cote d’Ivoire, SCKN in Chad, NOSOCO in Senegal, NSCA in Portuguese Guinea, and John Walken & Co. Ltd. in Dahomey. Certain other British and French firms were not found in every colony, but they did well in the particular area in which they were entrenched. For example, there was John Holt in Nigeria.
In East Africa, the import/export business tended to have smaller firms (13 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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than in West Africa, but even so there were five or six which were much larger than the rest and appropriated the largest amounts. One of the oldest was Smith Mackenzie, which was an offshoot of the Scottish company of Mackinnon and Mackenzie which had spearheaded British colonisation in East Africa and which also had interests in India. Other notable commercial firms were those of A. Baumann, Wigglesworth and Company, Dalgetty, Leslie & Anderson, Ralli Bros., Michael Cotts, Jos Hansen, the African Mercantile and Twentsche Overseas Trading Co. Some of them amalgamated before colonial rule was over, and they all had several other subsidiaries, as well as themselves being related to bigger companies in the metropoles. The UAC also had a slice of the East African import trade, having bought up the firm of Gailey and Roberts which was started by white settlers in 1904.
The pattern of appropriation of surplus in East Africa was easy to follow, in that there was centralisation of the extractive mechanisms in Nairobi and the port of Mombasa. All the big firms operated from Nairobi, with important offices in Mombasa to deal with warehousing, shipping, insuring, etc. Uganda and Tanganyika were then brought into the picture via their capital cities of Kampala and Dar es Salaam, where the big firms had branches. Up to the start of the last war, the volume of trade from East Africa was fairly small, but it jumped rapidly after that. For instance, the value of Kenya imports rose from £4 million in 1938 to £34 million in 1950 and to £70 million in 1960. The value of exports was of course rising at the same time, and the commercial firms were among the principal beneficiaries of the growth in foreign trade. (14 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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Trading companies made huge fortunes on relatively small investments in those parts of Africa where peasant cash-crop farming was widespread. The companies did not have to spend a penny to grow the agricultural raw materials. The African peasant went in for cash-crop farming for many reasons. A minority eagerly took up the opportunity to continue to acquire European goods, which they had become accustomed to during the pre-colonial period. Many others in every section of the continent took to earning cash because they had to pay various taxes in money or because they were forced to work. Good examples of Africans literally being forced to grow cash crops by gun and whip were to be found in Tanganyika under German rule, in Portuguese colonies, and in French Equatorial Africa and the French Sudan in the 1930s. [These facts came most dramatically to the attention of the outside world when Africans resorted to violence. For example, forced cultivation of cotton was a major grievance behind the outbreak of Maji Maji wars in Tanganyika and behind the nationalist revolt in Angola as late as 1960.] In any event, there were very few cases where the peasant was wholly dependent on the cash for his actual sustenance. The trading companies took full advantage of that fact. Knowing that an African peasant and his family would keep alive by their own food shambas, the companies had no obligation to pay prices sufficient for the maintenance of a peasant and his family. In a way, the companies were simply receiving tribute from a conquered people, without even the necessity to trouble themselves as to how the tributary goods were produced.
Trading companies also had their own means of transport inside Africa, (15 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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such as motor vessels and lorries. But, usually they transferred the burden of transport costs on to the peasant via the Lebanese or Indian middlemen. Those capitalist companies held the African farmer in a double squeeze, by controlling the price paid for the crop and by controlling the price of imported goods such as tools, clothing and bicycles to which peasants aspired. For example, prices of palm products were severely reduced by the UAC and other trading companies in Nigeria in 1929, while the cost of living was rising due to increased charges for imported goods. In 1924, the price for palm oil had been 14/- per gallon. This fell to 7/- in 1928 and to 1/2d in the following year. Although the trading companies received less for every ton of palm oil during the depression years, their profit margin increased – showing how brazenly surplus was being pounded out of the peasant. In the midst of the depression the UAC was showing a handsome profit. The profits in 1934 were £6,302,875 and a dividend of 15% was paid on ordinary shares.
In every part of colonial Africa, the depression years followed the same pattern. In Sukumaland (Tanganyika) the price of cotton dropped in 1930 from 50 cents (6d) to 10 cents per pound. The French colonies were hit a little later, because the depression did not make its impact on the French monetary zone until after 1931. Then, prices of Senegalese groundnuts were cut by more than half. Coffee and cocoa dropped even further, since they were relative luxuries to the European buyer. Again, it can be noted that French firms such as CFAO and SCOA faced lower prices when they sold the raw materials in Europe, but they never absorbed any losses. Instead, African peasants and workers bore the (16 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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pressure, even if it meant forced labour. African peasants in French territories were forced to join so-called co-operative societies which made them grow certain crops like cotton and made them accept whatever price was offered.
Hardly had the depression ended, when Europe was at war. The Western powers dragged in the African people to fight for freedom! The trading firms stepped up the rate of plunder in the name of God and country. On the Gold Coast, they paid £10 per ton for cocoa beans as compared to £50 before the war. At the same time, the price of imported goods doubled or trebled. Many necessities passed beyond the reach of the ordinary man. On the Gold Coast, a piece of cotton print which had sold before the war for 12/6d was 90/- in 1945. In Nigeria, a yard of khaki which was 3/- in pre-war days went up to 16/- ; a bundle of iron sheets formerly costing 30/- went up to 100/-, etc.
Urban workers were hardest hit by rising prices, since they had to purchase everyday necessities with money, and part of their food was imported. Worker dissatisfaction highlighted this exploitative post-war situation. There were several strikes, and in the Gold Coast, the boycott of imported goods in 1948 is famous as the prelude to self-government under Nkrumah. However, peasants were also restless under low prices and expensive imports. In Uganda, the cotton-growing peasants could stand things no longer by 1947. They could not get their hands on the big British import/export firms, but they could at least deal with the Indian and African middlemen. So they marched against the Indian-owned cotton ginneries and demonstrated outside the palace of the (17 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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Kabaka – the hereditary ruler who often functioned as a British agent in Uganda.
To ensure that at all times the profit margin was kept as high as possible, the trading firms found it convenient to form ‘pools’. The pools fixed the price to be paid to the African cultivator, and kept the price down to the minimum. In addition, the trading companies spread into several other aspects of the economic life of the colonies, in such a way as to introduce several straws for the sucking out of surplus. In Morocco, to give one example, the Compagnie General du Maroc owned large estates, livestock farms, timber workings, mines, fisheries, railways, ports and power stations The giants like CFAO and UAC also had their fingers in everything. CFAO’s interests ranged from groundnut plantations to shares in the Fabre & Frassinet shipping line. The people of Ghana and Nigeria met the UAC everywhere that they turned. It controlled wholesale and retail trade, owned butter factories, sawmills, soap factories, singlet factories, cold storage plants, engineering and motor repair shops, tugs, coastal boats, etc. Some of those businesses directly exploited African wage labour, while in one way or another all operations skimmed the cream produced by peasant efforts in the cash crop sector.
Sometimes, the firms which purchased agricultural products in Africa were the same concerns which manufactured goods based on those agricultural raw materials. For instance, Cadbury and Fry, the two foremost English manufacturers of cocoa and chocolate, were buyers on the West African coast, while in East Africa the tea manufacturing (18 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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concern of Brooke Bond both grew and exported tea. Many of the Marseilles, Bordeaux and Liverpool trading companies were also engaged in manufacturing items such as soap and margarine in their home territories. This applied fully to the UAC, while the powerful Lesieur group processing oils and fats in France had commercial buyers in Africa. However, it is possible to separate the trading operations from the industrial ones. The latter represented the final stage in the long process of exploiting the labour of African peasants – in some ways the most damaging stage.
Peasants worked for large numbers of hours to produce a given cash crop, and the price of the product was the price of those long hours of labour. Since primary produce from Africa has always received low prices, it follows that the buyer and user of the raw material was engaging in massive exploitation of the peasants.
The above generalisation can be illustrated with reference to cotton, which is one of the most widely encountered cash crops in Africa. The Ugandan farmer grew cotton which ultimately made its way into an English factory in Lancashire or a British-owned factory in India. The Lancashire factory owner paid his workers as little as possible, but his exploitation of their labour was limited by several factors. His exploitation of the labour of the Ugandan peasant was unlimited because of his power in the colonial state, which ensured that Ugandans worked long hours for very little. Besides, the price of the finished cotton shirt was so high that when re-imported into Uganda, cotton in the form of a shirt was beyond the purchasing power of the peasant who (19 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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grew the cotton.
The differences between the prices of African exports of raw materials and their importation of manufactured goods constituted a form of unequal exchange. Throughout the colonial period, this inequality in exchange got worse. Economists refer to the process as one of deteriorating terms of trade. In 1939, with the same quantity of primary goods colonies could buy only 60% of manufactured goods which they bought in the decade 1870-80 before colonial rule. By 1960, the amount of European manufactured goods purchasable by the same quantity of African raw materials had fallen still further. There was no objective economic law which determined that primary produce should be worth so little. Indeed, the developed countries sold certain raw materials like timber and wheat at much higher prices than a colony could command. The explanation is that the unequal exchange was forced upon Africa by the political and military supremacy of the colonisers, just as in the sphere of international relations unequal treaties were forced upon small states in the dependencies, like those in Latin America.
The unequal nature of the trade between the metropole and the colonies was emphasised by the concept of the ‘protected market’, which meant even an inefficient metropolitan producer could find a guaranteed market in the colony where his class had political control. Furthermore, as in the preceding era of pre-colonial trade, European manufacturers built up useful sidelines of goods which would have been sub-standard in their own markets, especially in textiles. The European farmer also gained in the same way by selling cheap butter, while the Scandinavian (20 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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fisherman came into his own through the export of salted cod. Africa was not a large market for European products, compared to other continents, but both buying-prices and selling-prices were set by European capitalists. That certainly allowed their manufacturers and traders more easy access to the surplus of wealth produced in Africa than they would have had if Africans were in a position to raise the price of their own exports.
(c) Shipping and Banking Services

Channels for the exploitation of surplus were not exhausted by the trading companies and the industrial concerns. The shipping companies constituted an exploitative channel that cannot be overlooked. The largest shipping companies were those under the flags of the colonising nations, especially the British. The shippers were virtually a law unto themselves, being very favourably regarded by their home governments as earners of super profits, as stimulators of industry and trade, as carriers of mail, and as contributors to the navy when war came. African peasants had absolutely no control over the freight rates which were charged, and actually paid more than citizens in other lands. The rate for flour from Liverpool to West Africa was 35/- per ton as compared with only 7/6d from Liverpool to New York (a roughly equivalent distance). Freight rates normally varied with the volume of cargo carried, but the rate for cocoa was established at 50/- per ton when amounts exported were small at the beginning of this century, and the same high figure remained when exports increased. Coffee carried from Kenya to New York in the 1950s earned the shippers $40 (about (21 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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280/-) per ton. Theoretically, it was the merchant who paid the shipper the freight charges, but in practical terms it meant that peasant production was bearing all the costs, since the merchants paid out of profits made by buying cheaply from the peasants. Alternatively, white settler planters paid the costs as in Kenya, and then regained their profits through exploitation of rural wage labour.
Shipping companies retained a high profit margin by a practice similar to the ‘pools’ of the commercial firms. They established what were known as ‘Conference Lines’ which allowed two or more shippers to share the freight loads between themselves on the most favourable basis possible. Their returns on investment were so high and their greed so uncontrollable that even the merchants of the colonising powers protested. From 1929 to 1931, the UAC (backed by Unilever) engaged in an economic war with the West African Lines Conference – comprising the British shipping firm of EIder Dempster, the Holland West Africa Line and a German West Africa Line. In that instance, the trading monopoly won a victory over the shipping monopoly; but it was a fight between two elephants, and the grass was trampled all the more. At the end of it all, the African peasant was the greatest loser, because both traders and shippers adjusted their differences by lowering prices of primary products as paid to Africans.
In the background of the colonial scene hovered the banks, insurance companies, maritime underwriters and other financial houses. One can say ‘in the background’ because the peasant never dealt directly with such institutions, and was generally ignorant of their exploiting (22 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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functions. The peasant or worker had no access to bank loans because he had no ‘securities’ or ‘collateral’. Banks and finance houses dealt only with other capitalists who could prove to the bankers that whatever happened the bank would recover its money and make a profit. In the epoch of imperialism, the bankers became the aristocrats of the capitalist world, so in another sense, they were very much in the foreground. The amount of surplus produced by African workers and peasants and passing into the hands of metropolitan bankers is quite phenomenal. They registered a return on capital higher even than the mining companies, and each new direct investment that they made spelt further alienation of the fruits of African labour. Furthermore, all investment in the colonies was in effect the involvement of the big finance monopolies, since the smallest trading company was ultimately linked a big banker. The returns on colonial investment were consistently higher than those on investments in the metropoles, so the financiers stood to benefit from sponsoring colonial enterprise.
In the earliest years of colonialism, the banks in Africa were small and relatively independent. This applied to the Banque de Senegal, started as early as 1853, and to the Bank of British West Africa which began as an offshoot of the shipping firm of Elder Dempster. However, the great banking houses of Europe, which carried on remote control of developments ever since the 1880s, soon moved in directly on the colonial banking scene when the volume of capitalist transactions made this worthwhile. The Banque de Senegal merged into the Banque de L’Afrique Occidentale (BAO) in 1901, acquiring links with the powerful Bank of Indo-China, which in turn was a special creation of (23 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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several powerful metropolitan French bankers. In 1924, the Banque Comerciale de 1’Afrique (BCA) emerged in the French territories, linked with the Credit Lyonais and the BNCI in France. By that time the Bank of British West Africa had its finance backed by Lloyds Bank, Westminster Bank, the Standard Bank and the National Provincial Bank – all in England. The other great English banking firm, Barclays, moved directly into Africa. It purchased the Colonial Bank and set it up as Barclays DCO (i.e., Dominion and Colonial).
The Bank of British West Africa (which became the Bank of West Africa in 1957) and Barclays held between them the lion’s share of the banking business of British West Africa, just as French West and Equatorial Africa were shared out between the BAO and the BCA. There was also a union of French and British banking capital in West Africa in 1949 with the formation of the British and French West Africa Bank. French and Belgian exploitation also overlapped in the financial sphere, since the Societé Generale had both Belgian and French capital. It supported banks in French Africa and the Congo. Other weaker colonial powers were served by the international banks such as Barclays, as well as using their colonial territories as grazing ground for their own national banks. In Libya, the Banco di Roma and the Banco di Napoli operated; while in Portuguese territories the most familiar name was that of the Banco Ultramarino.
In Southern Africa, the outstanding banking firm was the Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd., started in 1862 in the Cape Colony by the heads of business houses having close connections with London. Its (24 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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headquarters were placed in London, and it made a fortune out of financing gold and diamond strikes, and through handling the loot of Cecil Rhodes and De Beers. By 1895, the Standard Bank spread into Bechuanaland, Rhodesia and Mozambique; and it was the second British bank to be established in British East Africa. The actual scale of profits was quite formidable. ln a book officially sponsored by the Standard Bank, the writer modestly concluded as follows:
Little attention has been paid in the text of this book to the financial outcome of the Standard Bank’s activities, yet their profitability was an inevitable outcome of survival and was therefore bound to be a primary objective from first to last.
In 1960, the Standard Bank produced a net profit of £1,1810000 and paid a 14% dividend to its shareholders. Most of the latter were in Europe or else were whites South Africa, while the profit was produced mainly by black people of South and East Africa. Furthermore, European banks transferred the reserves of their African branches to the London head office to be invested in London money market. This was the way in which most rapidly expatriated African surplus to the metropoles.
The first bank to be set up in East Africa in the 1890’s was an offshoot of a British bank operating in India. It later came to be called the National & Grindlays. In neighbouring Tanganyika the Germans established the German East African Bank in 1905, but after the first world war the British had a near monopoly of East African banking. Altogether nine foreign banks were in existence in East Africa during (25 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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the colonial period, out of which the big three were National & Grindlays, the Standard Bank and Barclays.
East Africa provides an interesting example of how effectively foreign banks served to dispossess Africa of its wealth. Most of the banking and other financial services were rendered to white settlers whose conception of ‘home’ was Britain. Consequently when the white settlers felt threatened towards the end of the colonial period they rushed to send their money home to Britain, For example, when the decision to concede self-government to Kenya was taken by the British in 1960, a sum of Shs. 40 million was immediately transferred to ‘safety’ in London by whites in Tanganyika. That sum, like all other remittances by colonial banks represented the exploitation of African land resources labour.
(d) The Colonial Administration as Economic Exploiter
In addition to private companies, the colonial state also engaged directly in the economic exploitation and impoverishment of Africa. The equivalent of the colonial office in each colonising country worked hand in hand with their governors in Africa to carry out a number of functions; the principal ones being as follows:
(a) To protect national interests against competition from other capitalists.
(b) To arbitrate the conflicts between their own capitalists.
(c) To guarantee optimum conditions under which private (26 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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companies could exploit Africans.
The last mentioned objective was the most crucial. That is why colonial governments were repeatedly speaking about ‘the maintenance of law and order’, by which they meant the maintenance of conditions most favourable to the expansion of capitalism and the plunder of Africa. This led the colonial governments to impose taxes.
One of the main purposes of the colonial taxation system was to provide requisite funds for administering the colony as a field of exploitation. European colonisers ensured that Africans paid for the upkeep of the governors and police who oppressed them and served as watchdogs for private capitalists. Indeed, taxes and customs duties were levied in the 19th century with the aim of allowing the colonial powers to recover the costs of the armed forces which they despatched to conquer Africa. In effect, therefore, the colonial governments never put a penny into the colonies. All expenses were met by exploiting the labour and natural resources of the continent; and for all practical purposes the expense of maintaining the colonial government machinery was a form of alienation of the products of African labour. The French colonies were especially victimised in this respect. Particularly since 1921, the local revenue raised from taxation had to meet all expenses as well as to build up a reserve.
Having set up the police, army, civil service and judiciary on African soil, the colonising powers were then in a position to intervene much more directly in the economic life of the people than had been the case previously. One major problem in Africa from a capitalist viewpoint (27 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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was how to induce Africans to become labourers or cash-crop farmers. In some areas, such as West Africa, Africans had become so attached to European manufactures during the early period of trade that, on their own initiative, they were prepared to go to great lengths to participate in the colonial money economy. But that was not the universal response. In many instances, Africans did not consider the monetary incentives great enough to justify changing their way of life so as to become labourers or cash-crop farmers. In such cases, the colonial state intervened to use law, taxation and outright force to make Africans pursue a line favourable to capitalist profits.
When colonial governments seized African lands, they achieved two things simultaneously. They satisfied their own citizens (who wanted mining concessions or farming land) and they created the conditions whereby landless Africans had to work not just to pay taxes but also to survive. In settler areas such as Kenya and Rhodesia the colonial government also prevented Africans from growing cash-crops so that their labour would be available directly for the whites. One of the Kenya white settlers, Colonel Grogan, put it bluntly when he said of the Kikuyu: ‘We have stolen his land. Now we must steal his limbs. Compulsory labour is the corollary of our occupation of the country.’
In those parts of the continent where land was still in African hands, colonial governments forced Africans to produce cash-crops no matter how low the prices were. The favourite technique was taxation. Money taxes were introduced on numerous items – cattle, land, houses and the people themselves. Money to pay taxes was got by growing cash-crops (28 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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or working on European farms or in their mines. An interesting example of what colonialism was all about was provided in French Equatorial Africa, where French officials banned the Mandja people (now in Congo Brazzaville) from hunting, so that they would engage solely in cotton cultivation. The French enforced the ban although there was little livestock in the area and hunting was the main source of meat in the people’s diet.
Finally, when all else failed, colonial powers resorted widely to the physical coercion of labour – backed up of course by legal sanctions, since anything which the colonial government chose to do was ‘legal’. The laws and by-laws which peasants in British East Africa were required to maintain minimum acreages of cash-crops like cotton and groundnuts were in effect forms of coercion by the colonial state, although they are not normally considered under the heading of ‘forced labour’.
The simplest form of forced labour was that which colonial governments exacted to carry out ‘public works’. Labour for a given number of days per year had to be given free for these ‘public works’ – building castles for governors, prisons for Africans, barracks for troops, and bungalows for colonial officials. A great deal of this forced labour went into the construction of roads, railways and ports to provide the infrastructure for private capitalist investment and to facilitate the export of cash-crops. Taking only one example from the British colony of Sierra Leone, one finds that the railway which started at the end of the 19th century required forced labour from thousands of peasants (29 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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driven from the villages. The hard work and appalling conditions led to the death of a large number of those engaged in work on the railway. In the British territories, this kind of forced labour (including juvenile labour) was wide-spread enough to call forth in 1923 a ‘Native Authority Ordinance’ restricting the use of compulsory labour for porterage, railway and road building. More often than not, means were found of circumventing this legislation. An international Forced Labour Convention was signed by all colonial powers in 1930, but again it was flouted in practice.
The French government had a cunning way of getting free labour by first demanding that African males should enlist as French soldiers and then using them as unpaid labourers. This and other forced labour legislation known as ‘prestation’ was extensively applied in vast areas of French Sudan and French Equatorial Africa. Because cash-crops are not well established in those areas, the main method of extracting surplus was by taking the population and making it work in plantation or cash-crop regions nearer the coast. Present day Upper Volta, Chad and Congo Brazzaville were huge suppliers of forced labour under colonialism. The French got Africans to start building the Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire railway in 1921, and it was not completed until 1933. Every year of its construction, some 10,000 people were driven to the site – sometimes from more than 1,000 kilometres away. At least 25% of the labour force died annually from starvation and disease, the worst period being from 1922 to 1929.
Quite apart from the fact that the ‘public works’ were of direct value to (30 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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the capitalists, the colonial government also aided private capitalists by providing them with labour recruited by force. This was particularly true in the early years of colonialism, but continued in varying degrees up to the second World War, and even to the end of colonialism in some places. In British territories, the practice was revived during the economic depression 1929-33 and during the subsequent war. In Kenya and Tanganyika, forced labour was re-introduced to keep settler plantations functioning during the war. In Nigeria, it was the tin companies which benefited from the forced-labour legislation, allowing them to get away with paying workers 5d per day plus rations. For most of the colonial period, the French government performed the same kind of service for the big timber companies who had great concessions of territory in Gabon and Ivory Coast.
The Portuguese and Belgian colonial regimes were the most brazen in directly rounding up Africans to go and work for private capitalists under conditions equivalent to slavery. In Congo, brutal and extensive forced labour started under King Leopold in the last century. So many Congolese were killed and maimed by Leopold’s officials and police that this earned European disapproval even in the midst of the general pattern of colonial outrages. When Leopold handed over to the Belgian government in 1908, he had already made a huge fortune; and the Belgian government hardly relaxed the intensity of exploitation in Congo.
The Portuguese have the worst record of engaging in slavery-like practices, and they too have been repeatedly condemned by (31 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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international public opinion. One peculiar characteristic of Portuguese colonialism was the provision of forced labour not only for its own citizens but also for capitalists outside the boundaries of the colonies. Angolans and Mozambicans were exported to the South African mines to work for subsistence, while the capitalists in South Africa paid the Portuguese government a certain sum for each labourer supplied. [The export of Africans to South Africa is still continuing.]
In the above example, the Portuguese colonialists were co-operating with capitalists of other nationalities to maximise the exploitation of African labour. Throughout the colonial period, there were instances of such co-operation, as well as competition between metropolitan powers. Generally speaking, a European power was expected to intervene when the profits of its national bourgeoisie were threatened by the activities of other nations. After all, the whole purpose of establishing colonial governments in Africa was to provide protection to national monopoly economic interests. Thus, the Belgian government legislated to ensure that freight to and from the Congo would be mainly carried by Belgian shipping lines; and the French government placed high taxes on groundnuts brought into France by foreign ships, which was another way of ensuring that groundnuts from French Africa would be exported in French ships. In a sense, this meant that Africans were losing their surplus through one straw rather than another. But it also meant that the sum total of exploitation was also greater, because if competition among Europeans were allowed, it would have brought down the cost of services and raised the price paid for agricultural products. (32 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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Africans suffered most from exclusive trade with the ‘mother country’ in cases where the ‘mother country’ was backward. African peasants in Portuguese colonies got lower prices for their crops and paid more for imported items. Yet, Britain, the biggest of the colonialists in Africa, was also faced with competition from the more vigorous capitalists of Germany, the U.S.A. and Japan. British merchants and industrialists lobbied their government to erect barriers against competition. For example, Japanese cloth exports to British East Africa rose from 25 million yards in 1927 to 63 million yards in 1933; and this led Walter Runciman, President of the British Board of Trade, to get Parliament to impose heavy tariffs on Japanese goods entering British colonies in Africa. This meant that Africans had to pay higher prices for a staple import, since British cloth was more expensive. From the viewpoint of the African peasant, that amounted to further alienation of the fruits of his labour.
A perfect illustration of the identity of interests between the colonial governments and their bourgeois citizens was provided by the conduct of Produce Marketing Boards in Africa. The origins of the Boards go back to the Gold Coast ‘cocoa hold-up’ of 1937. For several months, cocoa farmers refused to sell their crop unless the price was raised. One apparently favourable result of the ‘hold-up’ was that the British government agreed to set up a Marketing Board to purchase cocoa from the peasants in place of the big business interests like the UAC and Cadbury which had up until then been the buyers. A West African Cocoa Control Board was set up in 1938, but the British government used this as a bush to hide the private capitalists and to allow them to (33 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:04 AM]
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continue making their exorbitant profits.
In theory, a Marketing Board was supposed to pay the peasant a reasonable price for his crop. The Board sold the crop overseas and kept a surplus for the improvement of agriculture and for paying the peasants a stable price if world market prices declined. In practice, the Boards paid peasants a low fixed rate during many years when world prices were rising. None of the benefits went to Africans, but rather to the British government itself and to the private companies, which were used as intermediaries in the buying and selling of the produce. Big companies like the UAC and John Holt were given quotas to fulfil on behalf of the Boards. As agents of the government, they were no longer exposed to direct attack, and their profits were secure.
The idea of the Marketing Boards gained support from top British policy makers because the War came just at that time, and the British government was anxious to take steps to secure certain colonial products in the necessary quantities and at the right times, given the limited number of ships available for commercial purposes during war. They were also anxious to save private capitalists who were adversely affected by events connected with the war. For example, East African sisal became of vital importance to Britain and her war allies after the Japanese cut off supplies of similar hard fibres from the Philippines and Dutch East Indies. Actually, even before fighting broke out, sisal was bought in bulk by the British government to help the non-African plantation owners in East Africa who had lost markets in Germany and other parts of Europe. Similarly, oil-seeds (such as palm produce and (34 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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groundnuts) were bought by a Board from September 1939, in preparation for shortages of butter and marine oils.
With regard to all peasant cash-crops, the Produce Marketing Boards made purchases at figures that were way below world market prices. For instance, the West African Produce Board paid Nigerians £16.15s for a ton of palm oil in 1946 and sold that through the Ministry of Food for £95, which was nearer to the world market price. Groundnuts which received £15 per ton when bought by the Boards was sold in Britain at £110 per ton. Furthermore, export duties were levied on the Boards’ sales by the colonial administrators, and that was an indirect tax on the peasants. The situation reached a point where many peasants tried to escape from under the Boards. In Sierra Leone in 1952, the price for coffee was so low that growers smuggled their crop into nearby French territories. At about the same time, Nigerian peasants were running away from palm oil into collection or timber felling which did not come under the jurisdiction of the Produce Boards.
If one accepts that the government is always the servant of a particular class, it is perfectly understandable that the colonial governments should have been in collusion with capitalists to syphon off surplus from Africa to Europe. But even if one does not start from that (Marxist) premise, it would be impossible to ignore the evidence of how the colonial administrators worked as committees on behalf of the big capitalists. The governors in the colonies had to listen to the local representatives of the companies and to their principals. Indeed, there were company representatives who wielded influence in several (35 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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colonies at the same time. Before the first World War, the single most important individual in the whole of British West Africa was Sir Alfred Jones – chairman of Elder Dempster Lines, chairman of the Bank of West Africa, President of the British Cotton-Growing Association. In French West Africa in the late 1940s, the French governor showed himself very anxious to please one Marc Rucart, a man with major interests in several of the French trading companies. Such examples could be cited for each colony throughout its history, although in some of them the influence of the white settlers was greater than that of individual metropolitan businessmen.
Company shareholders in Europe not only lobbied Parliament but actually controlled the administration itself. The Chairman of the Cocoa Board within the Ministry of Food was none other than John Cadbury, a director of Cadbury Brothers who were participant in the buying ‘pool’ which exploited West African cocoa farmers. Former employees of Unilever held key positions in the Oils and Fats Division of the Ministry of Food, and continued to receive cheques from Unilever! The Oils and Fats Division handed over the allocation of buying quotas for the Produce Boards to the Association of West African Merchants, which was dominated by Unilever’s subsidiary, the UAC.
It is no wonder that the Ministry of Food sent a prominent Lebanese business man a directive that he had to sign an agreement drawn up by the UAC. It is no wonder that the companies had government aid in keeping prices down in Africa and in securing forced labour where necessary. It is no wonder that Unilever then sold soap, margarine, etc. (36 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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at profitable prices within a market assured by the British government.
Of course, the metropolitan governments also ensured that a certain proportion of the colonial surplus went directly into the coffers of the state. They all had some forms of direct investment in capitalist enterprises. The Belgian government was an investor in mining, and so too was the Portuguese government through its part-ownership of the Angolan Diamond Company. The French government was always willing to associate itself with the financial sector. When colonial banks were in trouble, they could count on rescue from the French government, and, indeed, a proportion of their shares passed into the hands of the French government. The British colonial government was perhaps the least anxious to become directly involved in everyday business enterprises, but it did run the Eastern Nigerian coal mines – apart from railways.
Marketing Boards helped the colonising power to get its hands on some immediate cash. One finds that the Cocoa Board sold to the British Ministry of Food at very low prices; and the Ministry in turn sold to British manufacturers, making a profit that was as high as £11 million in some years. More important still, the Board sold to the U.S.A., which was the largest market and one where prices were very high. None of the profits went back to the African farmer, but instead represented British foreign exchange in American dollars.
From 1943, Britain and the U.S.A. engaged in what was known as ‘reverse lend lease’. This meant that wartime United States loans to Britain were repaid partly by raw materials shipped from British (37 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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colonies to the U.S.A. Tin and rubber from Malaya were very important in that context, while Africa supplied a wide range of products, both mineral and agricultural. Cocoa was third as a dollar earner after tin and rubber. In 1947, West African cocoa brought over 100 million dollars (£38 million) to the British dollar balance. Besides, having a virtual monopoly of the production of diamonds, (South) Africa was also able to sell to the U.S.A. and earn dollars for Britain. In 1946, Harry F. Oppenheimer told his fellow directors of the De Beers Consolidated Mines that ‘sales of gem diamonds during the war secured about 300 million American dollars for Great Britain’.
It was on this very issue of currency that the colonial government did the most manipulations to ensure that Africa’s wealth was stashed away in the coffers of the metropolitan state. In the British colonial sphere, coins and notes were first issued through private banks. Then this function was taken over by the West African Currency Board and the East African Currency Board established in 1912 and 1919, respectively. The currency issued by those Boards in the colonies had to be backed by ‘sterling reserves’, which was money earned by Africa. The manner in which the system worked was as follows. When a colony earned foreign exchange (mainly) through exports, these earnings were held in Britain in Pounds Sterling. An equivalent amount of local East or West African currency was issued for circulation in the respective colonies, while the Sterling was invested in British Government Stock thereby earning even more profit for Britain. The commercial banks worked hand in hand with the metropolitan government and the Currency Boards to make the system work. (38 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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Together they established an intricate financial network which served the common end of enriching Europe at Africa’s expense.
The contribution to sterling reserves by any colony was a gift to the British treasury, for which the colony received little interest. By the end of the 1950s, the sterling reserves of a small colony like Sierra Leone had reached £60 million; while in 1955 the British government was holding £210 million derived from the sale of cocoa and minerals from Gold Coast. Egypt and the Sudan were also heavy contributors to Britain. Africa’s total contribution to Britain’s sterling balances in 1945 was £446 million, which went up to £1,446 million by 1955-more than half the total gold and dollar reserves of Britain and the Commonwealth, which then stood at £2,120 million. Men like Arthur Creech-Jones and Oliver Lyttleton, major figures in British colonial policy-making, admitted that in the early 1950s Britain was living on the dollar earnings of the colonies.
The British government was outdone by its Belgian counterpart in exacting tribute from its colonies, especially during and after the last War. After Belgium was overrun by the Germans, a government-in-exile was set up in London. The Colonial Secretary of that exiled regime, Mr. Godding, admitted that,
During the war, the Congo was able to finance all the expenditure of the Belgian government in London, including the diplomatic service as well as the cost of our armed forces in Europe and Africa, a total of some £40 million. In fact, thanks to the resources of the Congo, the Belgian government in London had not to borrow a shilling or a dollar, and the Belgian gold reserve could be left intact. (39 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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Since the War, surplus of earnings by the Congo in currencies other than the Belgian franc have all accrued to the National Bank of Belgium. Therefore, quite apart from all that the private capitalists looted from Congo, the Belgian government was also a direct beneficiary to the tune of millions of francs per annum.
To discuss French colonialism in this context would be largely to repeat remarks made with reference to the British and Belgians. Guinea was supposedly a ‘poor’ colony, but in 1952 it earned France one billion (old) francs or about 5.6 million dollars in foreign exchange, based on the sale of bauxite, coffee and bananas. French financial techniques were slightly different from other colonial powers. France tended to use the commercial banks more, rather than set up separate currency boards. France also squeezed more out of Africans by imposing levies for military purposes. The French government dressed Africans in French army uniforms and used them to fight other Africans, to fight other colonised peoples like the Vietnamese, and to fight in European wars. The colonial budgets had to bear the cost of sending these African ‘French’ soldiers to die, but if they returned alive they had to be paid pensions out of African funds.
To sum up briefly, colonialism meant a great intensification of exploitation within Africa – to a level much higher than that previously in existence under communalism or feudal-type African societies. Simultaneously, it meant the export of that surplus in massive proportions, for that was the central purpose of colonialism. (40 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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2.2 The Strengthening of the Technological and Military Aspects of Capitalism
(a) A Preliminary Examination of the Non-monetary Benefits of Colonialism to Europe
There are still some bourgeois propagandists who assert that colonialism was not a paying concern for Europeans, just as there are those who say that the slave trade was not profitable to Europeans. It is not worthwhile to engage in a direct refutation of such a viewpoint, since it consumes time which could otherwise be more usefully employed. The foregoing section was a statement on the level of actual monetary profits made by colonialist powers out of Africa. But, Africa’s contribution to European capitalism was far greater than mere monetary returns. The colonial system permitted the rapid development of technology and skills within the metropolitan sectors of imperialism. It also allowed for the elaboration of the modern organisational techniques of the capitalist firm and of imperialism as a whole. Indeed, colonialism gave capitalism an added lease of life and prolonged its existence in Western Europe, which had been the cradle of capitalism.
At the beginning of the colonial period, science and technology as applied to production already had a firm base inside Europe – a situation which was itself connected to overseas trade, as previously explained. Europe then was entering the age of electricity, of advanced ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, and of the proliferation of manufactured chemicals. All of these were carried to great heights (41 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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during the colonial period. Electrical devices were raised to the qualitatively new level of electronics, incorporating miniaturisation of equipment, fantastic progress in telecommunications, and the creation of computers. Chemical industries were producing a wide range of synthetic substitutes for raw materials, and a whole new branch of petro-chemicals had come into existence. The combination of metals by metallurgical innovations meant that products could be offered to meet far-reaching demands of heat resistance, lightness, tensile strength, etc. .At the end of colonialism (say 1960), Europe was on the verge of another epoch – that of nuclear power.
It is common knowledge that the gap between the output of the metropoles and that of the colonies increased by at least fifteen to twenty times during the epoch of colonialism. More than anything else, it was the advance of scientific technique in the metropoles which was the cause of the great gulf between African and Western European levels of productivity by the end of the colonial period. Therefore, it is essential to understand the role of colonialism itself in bringing about that scientific progress in the metropoles, and its application to industry.
It would be extremely simple-minded to say that colonialism in Africa or anywhere else caused Europe to develop its science and technology. The tendency towards technological innovation and renovation was inherent in capitalism itself, because of the drive for profits. However, it would be entirely accurate to say that the colonisation of Africa and other parts of the world formed an indispensable link in a chain of events which made possible the technological transformation of the (42 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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base of European capitalism. Without that link, European capitalism would not have been producing goods and services at the level attained in 1960. In other words, our very yardsticks for measuring developed and underdeveloped nations would have been different.
Profits from African colonialism mingled with profits from every other source to finance scientific research. This was true in the general sense that the affluence of capitalist society in the present century allowed more money and leisure for research. It is also true because the development of capitalism in the imperialist epoch continued the division of labour inside the capitalist metropoles to the point where scientific research was a branch of the division of labour, and indeed one of its most important branches. European society moved away from scientific research as an ad hoc, personal, and even whimsical affair to a situation where research was given priority by governments, armies and private capitalists. It was funded and guided. Careful scrutiny reveals that the source of funding and the direction in which research was guided were heavily influenced by the colonial situation. Firstly, it should be recalled that profits made by Europe from Africa represented investible surpluses. The profit was not merely an end in itself. Thus, the East and West African Currency Boards invested in British Government Stock, while the commercial banks and insurance companies invested in government bonds, mortgages and industrial shares. These investment funds acquired from the colonies spread to many sectors in the metropoles and benefited industries that had nothing to do with processing of colonial products. (43 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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However, it is easier to trace the impact of colonial exploitation on industries directly connected with colonial imports. Such industries had to improvise that kind of machinery which most effectively utilised colonial raw materials. That led for example to machinery for crushing palm kernels and to a process for utilising the less delicately favoured coffee by turning it into a soluble powder, namely ‘instant coffee’. Merchants and industrialists also considered ways in which colonial raw materials could be modified to meet specifications of European factories in quality and quantity. An example of this type would be the care taken by the Dutch in Java and by the Americans in Liberia to breed and graft new varieties of rubber plants yielding more and being more resistant to disease. Ultimately, the search for better-quality raw materials merged with the search for sources of raw material which would make European capitalism less dependent on colonial areas – and that led to synthetics.
In the sphere of shipping, it can readily be appreciated that certain technological modifications and innovations would be connected with the fact that such a high proportion of shipping was used to tie together colonies and metropoles. Ships had to be refrigerated to carry perishable goods; they had to make special holds for bulky or liquid cargoes such as palm oil; and the transport of petroleum from the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of the world led to oil tankers as a special class of ships. The design of ships and the nature of their cargoes in turn affected the kind of port installations in the metropoles.
Where connections were remote or even apparently nonexistent, it can (44 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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still be claimed that colonialism was a factor in the European technological revolution. As science blossomed in the present century, its interconnections became numerous and complex. It is impossible to trace the origin of every idea and every invention, but it is well understood by serious historians of science that the growth of the body of scientific knowledge and its application to everyday life is dependent upon a large number of forces operating within the society as a whole, and not just upon the ideas within given branches of science. With the rise of imperialism, one of the most potent forces within metropolitan capitalist societies was precisely that emanating from colonial or semi-colonial areas.
The above considerations apply fully to any discussion of the military aspects of imperialism, the protection of empire being one of the crucial stimulants added lo the science of armaments in a society that was already militaristically inclined ever since the feudal era. The new colonial dimension to European military pre-occupation was particularly noticeable in the sharp naval rivalry between Britain, Germany, France and Japan before and during the first world war. That rivalry over colonies and for spheres of capitalist investment produced new types of armed naval vessels, such as destroyers and submarines. By the end of the second world war, military research had become the most highly organised branch of scientific research, and one that was subsidised by the capitalist states from the profits of international exploitation.
During the inter-war years, Africa’s foremost contribution to the (45 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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evolution of organisational techniques in Europe was to the strengthening of monopoly capital. Before the war of 1914, the Pan-Africanists Duse Muhammad Ali and W. E. B. du Bois recognised that monopoly capital was the leading element in imperialist expansion. The most thorough and the best-known analysis of this phenomenon was made by the Russian revolutionary leader, Lenin. Lenin was virtually prophetic, because as the colonial age advanced it became more and more obvious that those who stood to benefit most were the monopoly concerns, and especially those involved in finance.
Africa (plus Asia and Latin America) contributed to the elaboration of the strategies by which competition among small companies gave way to domination by a small handful of firms in various economic activities. It was on the India trade routes that shipping companies first started the ‘Conference Lines’ in 1875. This monopoly practice spread rapidly to the South African trade and reached a high pitch in West Africa in the early years of this century. On the commercial side, it was in West Africa that both the French and the English derived considerable experience in pooling and market-sharing; apart from the fact that little companies were steadily being gobbled up by bigger ones from the beginning to the end of colonialism.* [* See section 5.1 (a)]
It was in Southern Africa that there emerged the most carefully planned structures of interlocking directorates, holding companies and giant corporations which were multi-national both in their capital subscriptions and through the fact that their economic activities were dispersed in many lands. Individual entrepreneurs like Oppenheimer (46 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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made huge fortunes from the Southern African soil, but Southern Africa was never really in the era of individual and family businesses, characteristic of Europe and America up to the early part of this century. The big mining companies were impersonal professional things. They were rationalised in terms of personnel, production, marketing, advertising, etc., and they could undertake long-term commitments. At all times, inner productive forces gave capitalism its drive towards expansion and domination. It was the system which expanded. But in addition, one can see in Africa and in Southern Africa in particular the rise of a capitalist super-structure manned by individuals capable of consciously planning the exploitation of resources right into the next century, and aiming at racist domination of the black people of Africa until the end of time.
Ever since the 15th century, Europe was in strategic command of world trade and of the legal and organisational aspects of the movement of goods between continents. Europe’s power increased with imperialism, because imperialism meant investments, and investments (with or without colonial rule) gave European capitalists control over production within each continent. The amount of benefits to capitalism increased accordingly, since Europe could determine the quantity and quality of different raw material inputs which would need to be brought together in the interests of capitalism as a whole, and of the bourgeois class in particular. For instance, sugar production in the West Indies was joined in the colonial period by cocoa production within Africa, so that both merged into the chocolate industry of Europe and North America. In the metallurgical field, iron ore from Sweden, Brazil or Sierra Leone could (47 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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be turned into different types of steel with the addition of manganese from the Gold Coast or chrome from Southern Rhodesia. Such examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely to cover the whole range of capitalist production in the colonial period.
As John Stuart Mill said, the trade between England and the West Indies in the 18th century was like the trade between town and country. In the present century, the links are even closer and it is more marked that the town (Europe) is living off the countryside (Africa, Asia and Latin America). When it said that colonies should exist for the metropoles by producing raw materials and buying manufactured goods, the underlying theory was to introduce an international division of labour covering working people everywhere. That is to say, up to that point, each society had allocated to its own members particular functions in production-some hunted, some made clothes, some built houses, etc. But with colonialism, the capitalists determined what types of labour the workers should carry on in the world at large. Africans were to dig minerals out of the sub-soil, grow agricultural crops, collect natural products and perform a number of other odds and ends such as bicycle repairing. Inside of Europe, North America and Japan, workers would refine the minerals and the raw materials and make the bicycles.
The international division of labour brought about by imperialism and colonialism ensured that there would be the maximum increase in the level of skills in the capitalist nations. It took mainly physical strength to dig the minerals from and to farm the African soil, but the extraction of the metals from the ores and the subsequent manufacture of finished (48 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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goods in Europe promoted more and more technology and skills there as time went on. Take the iron and steel industry as an example. Modern steel manufacture derives from the Siemens open hearth system and the Bessemer process, which were both already in existence in the second half of the last century. They both underwent major modifications, transforming steel manufacture from intermittent operations to something requiring huge continuous electrical furnaces. In more recent years, skilled workmen have been replaced by automation and computerisation, but altogether the gains in technology and skills were immense, as compared with the years before imperialism got under way.
Iron ore was not one of Africa’s major exports in the colonial days and it may therefore appear to be an irrelevant example. However, iron was very significant in the economy of Sierra Leone, Liberia and North Africa. It can be used to illustrate the trend by which the international division of labour allowed technology and skills to grow in the metropoles. Furthermore, it must be recalled that Africa was an important source of the minerals that went into making steel alloys, notably manganese and chrome. Manganese was essential in the Bessemer process. It was mined in several places in Africa, with the Nouta mine on the Gold Coast having the largest single manganese deposit in the world. American companies owned the Gold Coast and North African mines and used the product in the steel industry of the U.S.A. Chrome from South Africa and Southern Rhodesia also played a similar role in steel metallurgy, being essential for the manufacture of stainless steel. (49 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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Columbite was another of the African minerals valuable for the creation of steel alloys. Being highly heat-resistant, one of its principal uses was in making steel for jet-engines. First of all, it was the rapid development of European industry and technology which caused columbite to assume value. It had been a discarded by-product of tin mining in Nigeria up to 1952. Then, once it was utilised, it gave further stimulus to European technology in the very sophisticated sphere of aero-engines.
Obviously, according to the international division of labour prevailing under colonialism, it was the American, Canadian, British and French workers who had access to the skills involved in working with columbite, rather than the Nigerian worker who dug the ore out of the ground. For certain reasons, columbite fell off sharply in demand after a few years, but during that time it had contributed towards making the European metallurgist even more proficient and experienced. In that way, it was helping to promote self-sustained growth and to produce the gap which is evident in any comparison of the developed and underdeveloped countries.
Copper, too, fell neatly into the category under discussion. Unskilled production by Africans was required to get the ore for export, followed by refinement in a European capitalist plant. Copper was Africa’s chief mineral export. Being an excellent conductor of electricity, it became an indispensable part of the capitalist electrical industry. It is an essential component of generators, motors, electrical locomotives, telephones, telegraphs, light and power lines, motor cars, buildings, ammunition, (50 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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radios, refrigerators and a host of other things. A technological era tends to be defined by the principal source of power. Today, we speak of a Nuclear Age, since the potential of nuclear power is shown to be immense. The Industrial Revolution in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries was the Age of Steam. In a parallel manner, the colonial epoch was the Age of Electricity. Therefore, the vital copper exports from Congo, Northern Rhodesia and other parts of Africa were contributing to the leading sector of European technology. From that strategic position, its multiplier effects were innumerable and were of incalculable benefit to capitalist development.
In the context of a discussion of raw materials, special reference must again be made to the military. African minerals played a decisive role both with regard to conventional weapons and with regard to the breakthrough to atomic and nuclear weapons. It was from the Belgian Congo during the second world war that the U.S.A. began getting the uranium, which was a pre-requisite to the making of the first atomic bomb. In any case, by the end of the colonial period, industry and the war-machine in the colonising nations had become so intertwined and inseparable that any contribution to one was a contribution to the other. Therefore, Africa’s massive contribution to what initially appears as peaceful pursuits such as the making of copper wire and steel alloys ultimately took the shape of explosive devices, aircraft-carriers, and so on.
It was only after European firearms reached a certain stage of effectiveness in the 19th century that it became possible for whites to (51 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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colonise and dominate the whole world. Similarly, the invention of a massive array of new instruments of destruction in the metropoles was both a psychological and a practical disincentive to colonised peoples seeking to regain power and independence. It will readily be recalled that a basic prop to colonialism in Africa and elsewhere was the ‘gun-boat policy’, which was resorted to every time that the local police and armed forces seemed incapable of maintaining the metropolitan law and the colonial order of affairs. From the viewpoint of the colonised, the strengthening of the military apparatus of the European powers through colonial exploitation was doubly detrimental. Not only did it increase the overall technological gap between metropole and colony, but it immeasurably widened the gap in the most sensitive area, which had to do with concepts such as power and independence.
The international division of labour of the colonial period also ensured that there would be growth of employment opportunities in Europe, apart from the millions of white settlers and expatriates who earned a livelihood in and from Africa. Agricultural raw materials were processed in such a way as to form by-products, constituting industries in their own right. The number of jobs created in Europe and North America by the import of mineral ores from Africa, Asia and Latin America can be seen from the massive employment roll of institutions such as steel works, motor-car factories, alumina and aluminium plants, copper wire firms, etc. Furthermore, those in turn stimulated the building industry, the transport industry, the munitions industry, and so on. The mining that went on in Africa left holes in the ground, and the pattern of agricultural production left African soils impoverished; but, (52 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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in Europe, agricultural and mineral imports built a massive industrial complex.
In the earliest phases of human organization, production was scattered and atomised. That is to say, families preserved a separate identity while working for their upkeep. Over time, production became more social and inter-related in character. The making of a pair of shoes in a mature feudal trading economy involved the cattle rearer, a tanner of the leather, and a shoemaker – instead of one peasant killing an animal and making himself a pair of shoes, as under self-sufficient communalism. The extent to which a society-achieves this social inter-dependence in making commodities is an index of its development, through specialisation and co-ordination.
Undoubtedly, European capitalism achieved more and more a social character in its production. It integrated the whole world; and with colonial experience as an important stimulus, it integrated very closely every aspect of its own economy – from agriculture to banking. But distribution was not social in character. The fruits of human labour went to a given minority class, which was of the white race and resident in Europe and North America. This is the crux of the dialectical process of development and underdevelopment, as it evolved over the colonial period.
(b) The example of Unilever as a major beneficiary of African exploitation
Just as it was necessary to follow African surplus through the channels (53 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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of exploitation such as banks and mining companies, so the non-monetary contribution which Africa made to European capitalism can also be accurately traced by following the careers of the said companies. We offer below a brief outline of the relevant features of the development of a single firm – that of Unilever – in relationship to its exploitation of African resources and people.
In 1885, while Africa was being carved up at the Conference table, one William H. Lever started making soap on the Merseyside near Liverpool in England. He called his soap ‘Sunlight’ and in the swamps where his factory stood, the township of Port Sunlight grew up. Within ten years, the firm of Lever was selling 40,000 tons of soap per year in England alone and was building an export business and factories in other parts of Europe, America and the British colonies. Then came ‘Lifebuoy’, ‘Lux’, ‘Vim’, and within another ten years, Lever was selling 60,000 tons of soap in Britain, and in addition had factories producing and selling in Canada, the U.S.A., South Africa, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. However, soap did not grow in any of those countries. The basic item in its manufacture was stearin, obtained from oils and fats. Apart from animal tallow and whale oil, the desirable raw materials all came from the tropics: namely palm oil, palm-kernel oil, groundnut oil, and copra. West Africa happened to be the world’s great palm produce zone and was also a major grower of groundnuts.
In 1887, the Austrian firm of Schicht, which was later to be incorporated in the Unilever combine, built the first palm kernel crushing mill in Austria, supplied with raw materials by a Liverpool (54 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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firm of oil merchants. That was not simply coincidence, but part of the logic of imperialism and the opening up of Africa as the raw material reservoir for Europe. As early as 1902, Lever sent out his own ‘explorers’ to Africa, and they came to the decision that the Congo would be the most likely place to get palm produce, because the Belgian government was willing to offer huge concessions of land with innumerable palm trees. Lever obtained the necessary concessions in Congo and brought in machinery to extract oil from palm kernels.
But the main palm oil experts came from areas on the coast to the north of the Congo. Therefore, in 1910, Lever purchased W. B. McIver, a small Liverpool firm in Nigeria. That was followed by acquisitions of two small companies in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Indeed, Lever (at that time called Lever Bros) got a foothold in every colony in West Africa. The first major breakthrough occurred when Lever bought the Niger Company in 1920 for £8 million. Then in 1929, the African and Eastern, the last big rival trading concern, was brought into partnership; and the result of the merger was called the United Africa Company (UAC).
During the 1914-18 war, Lever had begun making margarine, which required the same raw materials as soap: namely, oils and fats. The subsequent years were ones in which such enterprises in Europe were constantly getting bigger through takeovers and mergers. The big names in soap and margarine manufacture on the European continent were two Dutch firms, Jurgens and Van der Bergh, and the Austrian firms of Schicht and Centra. The Dutch companies fírst achieved a dominant (55 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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position; and then in 1929 there was a grand merger between their combine and Lever’s, who in the meantime had been busy buying off virtually all other competitors. The 1929 merger created Unilever as a single monopoly, divided for the sake of convenience into Unilever Ltd (registered in Britain) and Unilever N.V. (registered in Holland).
For its massive input of oils and fats, Unilever depended largely on its UAC subsidiary which was formed that very year. The UAC itself never stopped growing. In 1933, it took over the important trading firm of G. B. Ollivant, and in 1936 it bought the Swiss Trading Company on the Gold Coast. By that time, it was not relying simply on wild palms in the Congo, but had organised plantations. The Lever faces in the U.S.A. drew their oil supplies mainly from the Congo, and in 1925 (even before Unilever and the UAC emerged as such) the Lever works in Boston showed a profit of £250.000.
Unilever flourished in war and in peace. Only in Eastern Europe did the advent of Socialism lead to the loss of factories through nationalisation. By the end of the colonial period, Unilever was a world force, selling traditional soaps, detergents, margarine, lard, ghee, cooking oil, canned foods, candles, glycerine, oil cake, and toilet preparations such as tooth paste. From where did this giant octopus suck most of its sustenance? Let the answer be provided by the Information Division of Unilever House, London.
Most striking of all in the post-war development of Unilever, had been the progress of the United Africa Company. In the worst of the depression, the management of Unilever had never ceased lo put money into UAC, (56 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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justifying their action more by general faith in the future of Africa than by particular consideration of UAC’s immediate prospects. Their reward has come with the post-war prosperity of the primary producer, which has made Africa a market for all kinds of goods, from frozen peas lo motor cars. Unilever’s centre of gravity lies in Europe, but far and away its largest member (the UAC) is almost wholly dependent for its livelihood (represented by a turnover of £300 million) on the well-being of West Africa.
In some instances, Lever’s African enterprises made losses in the strict cost-accounting sense. It took years before the Congo plantations paid for themselves and made a profit. It also took some time before the purchase of the Niger Company in 1920 was financially justified; while the SCKN in Chad never showed worthwhile monetary profits. But, even in the worst financial years, the subsidiaries comprising the UAC were invaluable assets, in that they allowed the manufacturing side of Unilever to have control over a guaranteed source of essential raw materials. Of course, the UAC itself also provided handsome monetary dividends, but it is the purpose here to draw attention not to the financial gains of UAC and Unilever but to the way that the exploitation of Africa led to multiple technical and organisational developments in Europe.
Both the soap industry and the margarine industry had their own scientific and technical problems which had to be solved. Scientific advance is most generally a response to real need. Oils for margarine and for cooking purposes had to be deodorised; substitutes had to be sought for natural lard; and, when margarine was faced with competition from cheap butter, the necessity arose to find means of (57 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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producing new high-grade margarine with added vitamins. In 1916, two Lever experts published in a British scientific journal the results of tests showing the growth of animals fed with vitamin concentrates inside margarine. They kept in touch with Cambridge University scientists who pursued the problem, and by 1927 the vitamin-rich margarine was ready for human consumption.
With regard to soap (and to a lesser extent margarine), it was essential to devise a process for hardening oils into fats – notably whale oil, but also vegetable oils. This process, referred to as ‘hydrogenation’, attracted the attention of scientists in the early years of this century. They were paid and urged on by rival soap companies, including Lever and the other European firms which later merged to form Unilever.
One of the most striking illustrations of the technological ramifications of the processing of colonial raw materials is in the field of detergents. Soap itself is a detergent or ‘washing agent’, but ordinary soaps suffer from several limitations, such as the tendency to decompose in hard water and in acids. Those limitations could only be overcome by ‘soapless detergents’, without the kind of fatty base of previous soaps. When Germany was cut off from colonial supplies of oils and fats in the first imperialist war, German scientists were spurred on to the first experiments in producing detergents out of coal tar. Later on in the 1930s, chemical companies began making similar detergents on a larger scale, especially in the U.S.A. Two of the firms which immediately stepped into detergent research were Unilever and Procter & Gamble, :a soap combine with its headquarters in Cincinnati, U.S.A. (58 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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It may at first appear strange that though detergents were competitors to ordinary soap, they were nevertheless promoted by soap firms. However, it is the practice of monopoly concerns to move into new fields which supplement or even replace their old businesses. That is necessary to avoid their entire capital from being tied up in products that go out of fashion. The soap firms could not leave detergents to chemical firms, or else their own hard soap, soap flakes and soap powders would have suffered, and they would not have been the ones with the new brands on the markets. So great effort was put into the chemistry of detergents by Unilever, retaining to a considerable extent the vegetable oils, but modifying them chemically. That kind of research was not left to chance or to private individuals. By 1960, Unilever had four main laboratories – two in England, one in Holland, and one in the U.S.A. These four, together with other smaller research units, employed over 3,000 people, of whom about one-third were qualified scientists and technologists.
The multiplier effects radiating from Unilever and its colonial exploitation can be traced with some accuracy. When palm kernels were crushed, the residue formed a cake which was excellent for livestock. One by-product of the soap industry was glycerine, which was utilised in the making of explosives. Europeans killed themselves with some of the explosives, but some went into peaceful purposes, such as mining, quarrying and construction. Several other products were linked to soap through the common base in oils and fats-notably cosmetics, shampoos, perfumes, shaving creams, toothpaste and dyes. As one writer put it, those by-products ‘served to broaden the (59 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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commercial base on which Unilever rested, while making further use of the fund of knowledge already possessed by the oils and fats technologist’. Besides, these operations were creating hundreds of thousands of additional jobs for European workers.
The manufacturing of soap and margarine required raw material inputs other than oils and fats. Soap making consumed large quantities of caustic soda, so that in 1911 Lever bought land in Cheshire suitable for the manufacture of that alkali. Capitalist giants nourished by colonialism and imperialism could afford to do things in a big way. When Lever needed abrasives, the company bought a limestone mine in Bohemia; and when Unilever wanted to assure themselves of supplies of wrapping paper, they bought a paper mill.
Transport was another key problem which stimulated growth at the European end. Within a month of buying the Niger Company in 1920, Lever was engaged in a project for constructing facilities on the Mersey to receive ocean-going ships bringing cargoes from West Africa. The UAC was a pioneer in getting ships constructed to carry palm oil in bulk tanks, and Van der Bergh considered buying a shipyard to build ships for his company some years before the merger. This did not materialise, but Unilever did acquire several ships of their own, including vessels fresh from the shipyards and made to their specifications.
Another linkage of the Unilever industries was that with retail distribution. Their products had to be sold to the housewife, and the Dutch firms that went into Unilever decided that they should own (60 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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grocery stores to guarantee sales. By 1922, Jurgens had control of a chain of grocery stores in England, appropriately named the ‘Home and Colonial’. Van der Bergh (at that time a rival) was not to be left behind, so he secured majority shares in the chain store owned by Lipton of Lipton’s Tea fame. All of these shops passed to Unilever. The grocery store business soon ceased being considered merely as an outlet for soap and margarine, and became an end in itself.
Sometimes, the multiplier effects do not seem connected. On the surface, there was no apparent reason why Lever should set up a huge retail chain called Mac Fisheries to shell fish! There is little in common between soap, sausages and ice cream – but Lever bought Walls as a sausage firm and later Walls opened an ice cream manufacturing plant. The underlying connection is that capital seeks domination. It grows and spreads and seeks to get hold of everything in sight. The exploitation of Africa gave European monopoly capital full opportunities to indulge in its tendencies for expansion and domination.
Before leaving Unilever, it should be noted in conclusion how a company such as that pointed the way towards change in the capitalist system. The device of the dual structure of Unilever Ltd and Unilever NV was an innovation first utilised when Schicht and Centra of Central Europe merged with the Dutch margarine firms of Jurgens and Van der Bergh, and it was designed to cut down taxation. Unilever comprised two holding -companies with the same governing boards and with arrangements to transfer and equalise profits. It was a professional company from its inception. All of the firms involved in the merger had (61 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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years of experience in rationalising staff, production plants, and marketing procedures. Schicht was one of the earliest to work out a system of cost-accounting and financial control. Lever had himself been a pioneer of mass advertising in Europe and in the competitive field of the U.S.A. The firm of Unilever inherited and perfected the techniques of mass production and advertising so as to achieve mass consumption.
The significance of the organisational changes are best seen on a long term basis, by comparing Unilever’s sophisticated international organisation with the chartered companies of the 16th and 17th centuries which had difficulties managing accounts. The efficient accounting and business methods which are supposed to characterise capitalist firms did not drop from the sky. They are the result of historical evolution, and in that evolution the exploitation of Africa played a key role-from the era of the chartered companies right through the colonial period,
(c) Contributions of colonialism to individual colonising powers
Analysis of the non-monetary benefits of colonialism to the colonisers can of course be carried out most readily within the framework of relations between each colony and its ‘mother country’, apart from the framework of the individual firm, which has just been discussed in some detail. Using the conventional approach of European metropole in relationship to its own colonies, one finds a wide range of positive effects, although the benefits varied in extent from colony to colony. Portugal was the lowliest of the colonising powers in Africa, and it was (62 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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nothing in Europe without its colonies: so much so that it came to insist that Angola, Mozambique and Guinea were integral parts of Portugal, just like any province of the European country named Portugal. France sometimes propounded the same doctrine by which Algeria, Martinique and Vietnam were all supposedly ‘overseas France’.
Neither Britain nor Belgium put forward any theories of a greater Britain or overseas Belgium; but in practice they were as determined as other colonial powers to ensure that sustenance should flow from colony to metropole without hindrance. Few areas of the national life of those Western European countries failed to benefit from the decades of parasitic exploitation of the colonies. One Nigerian after visiting Brussels in 1960, wrote,
I saw for myself the massive palaces, museums and other public buildings paid for by Congo ivory and rubber.
In recent times, African writers and researchers have also been amazed to find the amount of looted African treasure stacked away in the British Museum; and there are comparable if somewhat smaller collections of African art in Paris, Berlin and New York. Those are some of the things which, in addition to monetary wealth, help to define the metropoles as developed and ‘civilised’.
Sustenance given by colonies to the colonisers was most obvious and very decisive in the case of contributions by soldiers from among the colonised. Without colonial troops, there would have been no ‘British forces’ fighting on the Asian front in the 1939-45 war, because the (63 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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ranks of the ‘British forces’ were filled with Indians and other colonials, including Africans and West Indians. It is a general characteristic of colonialism that the metropole utilised the manpower of the colonies. The Romans had used soldiers of one conquered nationality to conquer other nationalities, as well as to defend Rome against enemies. Britain applied this to Africa ever since the early 19th century, when the West Indian Regiment was sent across the Atlantic to protect British interests on the West African coast. The West Indian Regiment had black men in the ranks, Irish (colonials) as NCOs, and Englishmen as officers. By the end of the 19th century, the West Indian Regiment also included lots of Sierra Leoneans.
The most important force in the conquest of West African colonies by the British was the West African Frontier Force – the soldiers being Africans and the officers English. In 1894, it was joined by the West African Regiment, formed to help suppress the so-called ‘Hut tax war’ in Sierra Leone, which was the expression of widespread resistance against the imposition of colonial rule. In East and Central Africa, the King’s African Rifles was the unit which tapped African fighting power on behalf of Britain. The African regiments supplemented the metropolitan military apparatus in several ways. Firstly, they were used as emergency forces to put down nationalist uprisings in the various colonies. Secondly, they were used to fight other Europeans inside Africa, notably during the first and second world wars. And thirdly, they were carried to European battlefields or to theatres of war outside Africa. (64 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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African roles in European military operations were vividly displayed by the East African campaign during the first World War, when Britain and Germany fought for possession of East Africa. At the beginning of the war, the Germans had in Tanganyika a regular force of 216 Europeans and 2,540 African askari. During the war, 3,000 Europeans and 11,000 askari were enrolled. On the British side, the main force was the K.A.R., comprising mainly East Africans and soldiers from Nyasaland. The battalions of the K.A.R. had by November 1918 over 35,000 men, of whom nine out of ten were Africans.
Quite early in the East African campaign, the British brought in an expeditionary force of Punjabis and Sikhs, as well as regiments of West Africans. Some Sudanese and West Indians were also there. At first, a few white settlers joined the war, because they thought it was a picnic; but within a year the white residents of British East Africa were showing extreme reluctance to join local fighting forces. In effect, therefore, Africans were fighting Africans to see which European power should rule over them. The German and the British had only to provide the officers. According to the history books, the ‘British’ won the campaign in East Africa.
France was the colonial power that secured the greatest number of soldiers from Africa. In 1912, conscription of African soldiers into the French army was pursued on a large scale. During the 1914-18 war, 200,000 soldiers were recruited in French West Africa, through the use of methods reminiscent of slave hunting. These ‘French’ soldiers served against the Germans in Togo and Cameroon, as well as in Europe itself. (65 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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On the European battlefields, an estimated 25,000 ‘French’ Africans lost their lives, and many more returned mutilated, for they were used as cannon fodder in the European capitalist war.
France was so impressed by the military advantages to be gained from colonial rule that when a part of Cameroon was mandated to France by the League of Nations, France insisted on the privilege of using Cameroon African troops for purposes unconnected with the defence of Cameroon. Naturally, France also made the maximum use of African troops in the last World War. Indeed, Africans saved France after the initial losses when France and most of French Africa fell under the Germans and the fascist (Vichy) French. In French Equatorial Africa, it was a black man. Felix Eboué, who proved loyal to the forces led by General de Gaulle, and who mobilised manpower against the French and German fascists. Africa provided the base and much of the manpower for launching the counterattack which helped General de Gaulle and the ‘Free French’ to return to power in France.
French use of African troops did not end with the last war. West Africans were sent to Madagascar in 1948, and put down nationalist forces in a most bloody manner. African troops were also employed to fight the people of Indochina up to 1954; and, later still, black African troops and Senegalese in particular were used against the Algerian liberation movement.
No comprehensive studies have as yet been devoted to the role of Africans in the armies of the colonial powers in a variety of contexts. However, the indications are that such studies would reveal a pattern (66 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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very similar to that discovered by historians who have looked at the role of black soldiers in the white-controlled armies of the U.S.A.: namely, that there was tremendous discrimination against black fighting men, even though black soldiers made great and unacknowledged contributions to important victories won by the white officered armies of the U.S.A. and the colonial powers. Hints regarding the discrimination are to be seen from regulations such as that barring African soldiers in the West African Regiment from wearing shoes and from the fact that there were actually race riots in the European campaigns, just as black troops fighting for the U.S.A. continued to riot right up to the Vietnam campaign.
A number of Africans served as colonial soldiers because they mistakenly hoped that the army would be an avenue for displaying the courage and dignity of Africa, and, perhaps, in the process, even earning the freedom of the continent, by making Europeans pleased and grateful. That hope was without foundation from the outset, because the colonialists were viciously using African soldiers as pawns to preserve colonialism and capitalism in general. A very striking instance of the above fact was provided when John Chilembwe led an African nationalist uprising in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1915. Nyasaland was then a British colony, and although the British were fighting the Germans in East Africa at that time, they immediately dispatched a column of the K.A.R. to contend against Chilembwe. Furthermore, before the K.A.R. arrived, it was a German lieutenant who organised the resistance of Nyasaland white settlers against Chilembwe’s bid for freedom. In the light of that evidence, one writer commented: (67 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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While their countrymen in Europe fought the bloodiest war known, in Africa Europeans were instinctively white men first – and German and British second, (for) John Chilembwe was part of something that in the end would swamp all their colonial dreams.
The African continent and the African people were used by the colonialists in some curious ways to advance their military strengths and techniques. By chance, North Africa and the Sahara became available as a laboratory for the evolution of techniques of armoured warfare, in the period when Rommel and Montgomery battled for superiority. And, by design, Ethiopians were used as guinea-pigs, upon whom the Italian fascists experimented with poison gas. This followed their brazen invasion in 1935 of that small portion of Africa which still clung to some form of political independence. At that time, the Italians argued that it was absolutely essential that the fruits of colonialism be opened to Italy if it were to take ‘its place in the sun’. Significantly enough, both Britain and France had already seen so much of the sun and products of Africa that they found it difficult to refute Italy’s claims.
Britain and France ruled over the greater part of colonial Africa and they also had the largest empires in other parts of the world. The whole existence and development of capitalism in Britain and France between 1885 and 1960 was bound up with colonisation, and Africa played a major role. African colonies meant surplus appropriated on a grand scale; they led to innovations and forward leaps in technology and the organisation of capitalist enterprise; and they buttressed the capitalist system at home and abroad with fighting men. Sometimes, it appeared (68 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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that these two principal colonial powers reaped so many colonial benefits that they suffered from ‘too much of a good thing’.
Certainly, in Britain’s case, it can be argued that colonialism allowed British industry to lead a soft life, and that, in some decisive spheres of production and marketing, Britain grew lazy. Industrial plant installed in the 19th century was not renovated or replaced, and little dynamism was put into selling new lines of goods. In contrast, when deprived of colonies after 1918, Germany was forced to live off its own resources and ingenuity. Nevertheless, while that is an interesting detail of the whole colonial picture, it must be borne in mind that colonialism was one aspect of imperialism. Colonialism was based on alien political rule and was restricted to some parts of the world. Imperialism, however, underlay all colonies, extended all over the world (except where replaced by Socialist revolutions), and it allowed the participation of all capitalist nations. Therefore, lack of colonies on the part of any capitalist nation was not a barrier to enjoying the fruits of exploiting the colonial and semi-colonial world, which was the backyard of metropolitan capitalism.
(d) Colonialism as a prop to metropolitan economies and capitalism as a system
The composition of Unilever should serve as a warning that colonialism was not simply a matter of ties between a given colony and its mother country, but between colonies on the one hand and metropoles on the other. The German capital in Unilever joined the British in exploiting Africa and the Dutch in exploiting the East Indies. The rewards spread (69 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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through the capitalist system in such a way that even those capitalist nations who were not colonial powers were also beneficiaries of the spoils. Unilever factories established in Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.A. were participants in the expropriation of Africa’s surplus and in using that surplus for their own development.
Germany always had a stake in colonial Africa, even after 1918 when the other capitalist powers deprived Germany of its colonies. German shipping revived in the 1920s and played an active role in East, West and South Africa. German financial houses also had contacts with Africa, the most direct being the Twentsche Bank in East Africa. Dutch shipping companies were involved with the German and British in the West African Conference Line, while the Scandinavian shippers were noted for the hiring out of ‘tramp’ ships which freighted cargo between Africa and Europe outside of the scheduled lines. The old East African Trading Company was supported by Danish capital. The Swiss had no colonies in Africa, but they had substantial capital in SCOA, they played a key role in imperialist banking, and they kept out of the wars fought by other capitalists so that they could still continue to trade with both sides and thereby acquire colonial produce. Then there was Japan – a capitalist/imperialist power with colonies in Asia and with a keen interest in trade with Africa. Japanese capitalists tried to undersell their European counterparts, but the trade they conducted with Africa was still unequal and disadvantageous Africans.
To fully understand the colonial period, it is necessary to think terms of ‘the economic partition of Africa’. Unlike the political partition of the (70 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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19th century, the economic partition had no fixed or visible boundaries. It consisted of the proportions in which capitalist powers divided up among themselves the monetary and non-monetary gains from Africa. For instance, Portugal had two large political colonies in Southern Africa, but economically Mozambique and Angola were divided among several capitalist powers, which were invited by the Portuguese government, because Portuguese capitalists were too weak to handle those vast territories.
Congo and South Africa had their own special arrangements of economic partition, both of them being valuable territories. At first, Congo was designated ‘the Congo Free State’ under King Leopold of Belgium. That meant that it was to have been a free trade zone and an area open to investment by capitalists of all nationalities. In practice, Leopold used administrative devices to monopolise the wealth of the Congo, and that was one of the principal reasons why the international capitalist community moved against Leopold in 1908. When Belgium took over the administration of the Congo, it also ensured that most of the surplus and other benefits should accrue to Belgium. However, non-Belgian capitalist interests were able to penetrate via investment in mining; and, as the colonial period advanced, the British, French and Americans cut bigger pieces of the Congo cake.
For a long while, South Africa was the most important raw material reservoir for the whole of imperialism. Britain was the European power which had already been entrenched in South Africa for many years, by the time that gold and diamonds were discovered in the 19th century, on (71 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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the eve of the Scramble. Britain had to come to terms with the Boer settlers, whose livelihood then came primarily from the land and whose main interest was to see to the exploitation and domination of the African population and other groups of non-white immigrants. Therefore, the economic and political partition of Africa gave Britain the lion’s share of the mineral wealth, while the Boers retained the political power necessary to institutionalise white racism. As capitalists of other nationalities entered into relations with South Africa through investment and trade, those capitalists agreed to and strengthened the racist/fascist social relations of South Africa.
Economic partition and repartition of Africa was going on all the time, because the proportions of the spoils that went to different capitalist countries kept changing. Special mention must be made of the U.S.A., because its share of the benefits from Africa were constantly increasing throughout the colonial period.
As time went on, the U.S.A. got an ever bigger slice of the unequal trade between the metropoles and colonial Africa. The share of the U.S.A. in Africa’s trade rose from just over 28 million dollars in 1913 to 150 million dollars in 1932 to 1,200 million dollars in 1948, at which figure it represented nearly 15% of Africa’s foreign trade. The share of the U.S.A. in West Africa’s trade rose from 38 million dollars in 1938 to 163 million dollars in 1946 and to 517 million dollars by 1954.
However, it was South Africa which was America’s best trading partner in Africa, supplying the U.S.A. with gold, diamonds, manganese and other minerals and buying heavy machinery in turn. Apart from direct (72 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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U.S.A./South African trade, most of South Africa’s gold was resold in London to American buyers, just as most Gold Coast and Nigerian cocoa was resold to the U.S.A.
Inter-continental trade brought out the need for shipping services and America did not leave those in the hands of capitalists of other nations. James Farrell, President of the United States Steel Export Company, acquired a shipping line to Africa because of his ‘belief in the future of the Dark Continent’. Officials of the UAC had said exactly the same thing, and it is obvious that, like them, Farrell meant the bright future of metropolitan capitalism in exploiting Africa. It is always best when these individuals speak for themselves. Vice-Admiral Cochrane of the United States Navy was a great admirer of Farrell shipping lines. In 1959, he wrote an introduction to a study of Farrell’s operations in Africa, in which he said,
We read of stiff international competition to assure the supply of strategic materials for our current industrial-military economy. Farrell Lines is making American maritime history. It is demonstrating clearly and emphatically that ships wearing the flag of a nation do in fact stimulate the commerce of that nation . . . demonstrating the value of American-flag ocean commerce to the health and wealth of the United States.
U.S. capitalists did not confine themselves to mere trade with Africa, but they also acquired considerable assets within colonies. It is common knowledge that Liberia was an American colony in everything but name. The U.S.A. supposedly aided the Liberian government with loans, but used the opportunity to take over Liberian customs revenue, to plunder thousands of square miles of Liberian land, and generally to (73 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:05 AM]
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dictate to the weak government of Liberia. The main investment in Liberia was undertaken by Firestone Rubber Company. Firestone made such huge profits from Liberian rubber that it was the subject of a book sponsored by American capitalists to show how well American business flourished overseas. Between 1940 and 1965, Firestone took 160 million dollars worth of rubber out of Liberia; while in return the Liberian government received 8 million dollars. In earlier years, the percentage of the value that went to the Liberian government was much smaller, but, at the best of times, the average net profit made by Firestone was three times the Liberian revenue.
And yet the non-monetary benefits to the U.S. capitalist economy were worth far more than the money returns. Vice-Admiral Cochrane, in the quotation above, went to the heart of the matter when he mentioned strategic raw materials for the functioning of the industrial and military machine of the U.S. imperialists. Firestone acquired its Liberian plantations precisely because Britain and Holland had been raising the price of the rubber which came from their Asian colonies of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, respectively. In Liberia, the U.S. rubber industry obtained a source that was reliable in peace and in war – one that was cheap and entirely under American control. One of rubber’s most immediate connections was with the motor-car industry, and so it is not surprising that Henry Firestone was a great friend and business colleague of John Ford. Liberian rubber turned the town of Akron (Ohio) into a powerful rubber tyre manufacturing centre, and the tyres then went over to the even bigger motor-car works of Ford in Detroit. (74 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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American investment in Africa during the last 15 years of colonialism was in some ways at the expense of the actual colonising powers and yet ultimately it was in the interests of Western European capitalism. This paradox is explained by noting that the U.S.A. had become the world’s leading capitalist/imperialist power by the outbreak of the second World War. It possessed the colonies of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, but much more important were its imperialistic investments throughout Latin America and to a lesser extent in Asia and Africa. America’s foreign investments in the 1930s drew slightly ahead of those of Britain, which were a long way ahead of the imperialist outlay of France, Germany and Japan. The 1939-45 war tremendously accelerated the changeover in America’s favour.
Europe suffered staggering losses, but no battles were fought on American soil, and so its productive capacity expanded. Therefore, after 1945, U.S. capital moved into Africa, Asia and Europe itself with new aggressiveness and confidence, due to the fact that other capitalist competitors were still lying on the ground. In 1949, both British and French bankers had no choice but to invite American financiers into the African continent, for the French and British had insufficient capital of their own. The U.S.-controlled International Bank for Reconstruction and Development became an important vehicle for American influence in Africa and one of the tools for the economic re-partition of the continent.
Research by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah revealed that direct private investment by Americans in Africa increased between 1945 and 1958 (75 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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from 110 million dollars to 789 million dollars, most of it drawn from profits. Official estimates profits made by U.S. companies from 1946 to 1959 in Africa are put at 1,234 million dollars. In considering the question of economic partition, what is relevant is the rate of growth of U.S. investments and profits compared to those Britain, France, Belgium, etc. For instance, the American investment in 1951 was 313 million dollars, which was nearly three times what it was five years earlier, and in the subsequent five years the investment went up two and a half times. Meanwhile, British and French investment increased much more slowly.
However, while the U.S.A. was edging out the other colonialists, they all stood to gain from the advances made within the North American capitalist economy in terms of science, technology, organisation and military power. As pointed out earlier, when an African colony contributed to European metallurgical industries or to its electrical industry, that contribution passed into other aspects of the society, because the sectors concerned were playing leading roles within the capitalist economy. Similarly, the U.S.A. was a geographical area that was in the forefront of capitalist development. For instance, its technological know-how passed into Western European hands by way of a series of legal devices such as patents.
Furthermore, because the U.S.A. was by then the world’s leading capitalist state, it also had to assume active responsibility for maintaining the capitalist imperialist structure in all economic, political and military aspects. After the war, the U.S.A. moved into Western (76 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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Europe and Japan both to establish its own stranglehold and at the same time to give a blood transfusion to capitalism in those areas. A lot of the blood was definitely African. It is not just that America made (relatively) small profits out of Africa in the 19th century and in the early 20th century, but above all it must be recalled that North America was that part of the European capitalist system which had been the most direct beneficiary of the massacre of the (’Red’) Indians and the enslavement of Africans. The continued exploitation of African peoples within its own boundaries and in the Caribbean and Latin America must also be cited as evidence against U.S. monster imperialism. The U.S.A. was a worthy successor to Britain as the leading force and policeman of the imperialist/ colonialist world from 1945 onwards.
Under the Marshall Plan, by which U.S. capitalism aided Western European capitalism after the last war, it was announced that American experts were exploring Africa from end to end for agricultural and mineral wealth – especially the latter. Marshall Plan money (though the Economic Commission for Africa) went to firms like the Mines de Zellidja, which mined lead and zinc in North Africa; and, at the same time, the money allowed Americans to buy controlling shares in the company. Thus in 1954, Morgan of the U.S.A. shared with Rothschilds of Europe most of the net profit of 1,250 million old francs (8.16 million dollars) made by the Mines de Zellidja in that year. Similarly, the Belgian government received substantial aid from the U.S.A. to implement a ten-year economic programme in Congo from 1950 to 1959; and. as the price of the aid, U.S. monopolies established control over some companies in Congo. The U.S.A. took second place after (77 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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Belgium in Congo’s foreign trade, and U.S. capitalists had to be granted a range of privileges.
So the paradox continued, whereby the U.S. capitalists intruded and elbowed out French, British and Belgian capitalists in colonial Africa, while providing the funds without which the Western European nations could not have revived and could not have increased their exploitation of Africa – which is what they did in the period 1945-1960.
Over the last few decades of colonialism, colonial possessions served capitalism as a safety-valve in time of crisis. The first major occasion when this was displayed was during the great economic depression of 1929-34. During that period, forced labour was increased in Africa and the prices paid to Africans for their crops were reduced. Workers were paid less and imported goods cost a great deal more. That was a time when workers in the metropolitan countries also suffered terribly; but the colonialists did the best they could to transfer the burdens of the depression away from Europe and on to the colonies.
The great economic depression did not affect the Soviet Union, where Socialism caused great development; but the slump spread from one end of the capitalist system to the other. It was a product of the irrationality of the capitalist mode of production. The search for profits caused production to run ahead of people’s capacity to purchase, and ultimately both production and employment had to be drastically reduced. Africans had nothing to do with the inherent shortcomings of capitalism; but, when Europeans were in a mess, they had no scruples about intensifying the exploitation of Africa. The economic depression (78 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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was not a situation from which Britain could benefit at the expense of Sweden or where Belgium could gain at the expense of the U.S.A. They were all drowning, and that was why the benefits of the colonies saved not only the colonising powers but all capitalist nations.
The second major occasion on which the colonies had to bail out the metropoles was during the last World War. As noted earlier, the African people were required to make huge sacrifices and to supply vital raw materials at little cost to the metropoles. Africa’s military importance was also decisive. Not only did Africans fight and die on various battlefields of the war, but the continent held a key strategic position. In November, 1942, a third front was opened in Africa (following the European and Asian fronts), and that front was the means to final victory.
Accidents of geography meant that Africa controlled communications in the Mediterranean and in the South Atlantic, and it commanded the two western entrances into the Indian Ocean. As one military analyst put it, ‘The side that held Africa was on the way to final victory’. With the aid of African fighting men and resources, the major colonial powers maintained control of the continent in the face of attacks, by the Italians, who had only Libya, Somaliland and (briefly) Ethiopia. The Germans of course by then had no colonies in Africa, and they had to use what was offered by the Italians and fascist Vichy Frenchmen.
Unlike the first World War, the second World War was not simply one between capitalist powers. The aggressor states of Italy, Germany and Japan were fascist. The governments of Portugal, Spain and South (79 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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Africa also subscribed to that ideology, although for opportunist reasons both the Portuguese and the South African Boers found it more convenient to be allied with Britain, France, the U.S.A. and the other bourgeois democracies.
Fascism is a deformity of capitalism. It heightens the imperialist tendency towards domination which is inherent in capitalism, and it safeguards the principle of private property. At the same time, fascism immeasurably strengthens the institutional racism already bred by capitalism, whether it be against Jews (as in Hitler’s case) or against African peoples (as in the ideology of Portugal’s Salazar and the leaders of South Africa). Fascism reverses the political gains of the bourgeois democratic system such as free elections, equality before the law, parliaments, etc., and it also extolls authoritarianism and the reactionary union of the church with the state. In Portugal and Spain, it was the Catholic Church – in South Africa, it was the Dutch Reformed Church.
Like its progenitor, capitalism, fascism is totally opposed to Socialism. Fascist Germany and Italy attacked both the other capitalist states and the Soviet Union, which was still the only Socialist state in the world by 1939. The defeat of fascism was therefore a victory for Socialism, and at the same time it preserved the other capitalist nations from having to take the historically retrograde step of fascism.
When the last World War ended, Africa’s further role was to help Europe reconstruct. In that crisis, the U.S.A. played a major part, as has just been mentioned; but the colonising nations also had direct recourse to their colonies, in spite of shortage of capital. It is noteworthy that (80 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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European capitalism from the late 1940s onwards recognised Afríca’s potential as a saviour of their own war-torn economies, and they openly made statements to that effect.
It was in 1946 that the Ministry of Colonies in the French cabinet was renamed the Ministry of Overseas France and colonised Africans were euphemistically called ‘Overseas Frenchmen’. About that time, a statement from the French Ministry of Education frankly admitted that,
France would be only a little state of Europe without the seventy-five million overseas Frenchmen whose young force has revealed itself to the world in such a remarkable manner. (Referring to Africa’s role in the war.)
Shortly afterwards, when France prepared its Four Year Plan for 1949-52, statements such as the following were to be encountered:
Morocco will take an active part in the recovery of France by supplying manganese, cobalt and lead ore, canned goods and agricultural produce.
At the end of the last war, both Britain and France set up agencies for the ‘development’ of their colonies. In the British sphere, this was known as the Colonial Development and Welfare (C.D. & W.), while the French fund was known as FIDES. Their principal function was to provide loans, the purpose of which was to help the colonies to help the metropoles. In other words, the crisis of post-war reconstruction required that even greater effort should be made to maximise the resources of colonies.
It was no ordinary post-war crisis which Western Europe faced in the (81 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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1940s and 1950s. The bourgeoisie had to rebuild capitalist states at a time when Socialism had already proved itself in the Soviet Union, and in a period when the Red Army of the Soviets had aided groups of Socialists to come to power in Eastern Europe. This was the greatest challenge ever be faced by the bourgeoisie because (unlike fascism) Socialism threatened the basic capitalist principle of private ownership of the means of production. Furthermore, Socialist principles were making their presence felt even in remote corners of the colonies, and the capitalists realised the necessity for cutting the colonies off from Socialist thought, as well as using colonial resources to stave off what they termed ‘the threat of Communism’.
In the capitalist struggle to keep off the challenge of Socialism as a competing mode of production and way of life, Africa played at least two key roles – one being to provide for the capitalist militarists, and the other being to provide a wide range of raw materials essential for modern armament industries. The most vital of these raw materials were uranium and other radioactive substances for atomic and later nuclear weapons, including the hydrogen bomb. Almost rivalling uranium in importance were certain rare minerals (like lithium from Rhodesia) needed for the special steels that went into new aircraft rockets, tanks, guns, bombs, etc.
Colonial powers already had small military establishments in each colony, and right up to the end of the colonial era, it was considered necessary to strengthen those. For instance, in the 1955 French budget there was a special vote of six billion francs (16.8 million dollars) for (82 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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the improvement of military installations in the colonies, and notably for strategic bases in Dakar and Djibouti. Some time previously, the Belgians had completed a huge air base near Kamina in the Congo.
Added to the regular bases in long-established colonies, the imperialist powers were able to set up military installations in African territories which fell into their hands during the war. In this context, the U.S.A. was particularly important, because it was already the principal buttress of the capitalist defence system in the form of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Thus, after helping to recapture North Africa from the fascists, the United States was able to build major air-force bases in Morocco and Libya. In Italian Eritrea, the Americans stepped in with modern radar stations; and Ethiopia conceded military bases.
Though nominally independent, Liberia had little option but to accept a massive military presence of Americans, as a logical consequence of America’s economic exploitation and domination of Liberia. When the U.S.A. agreed to a port at Monrovia in 1943, they also obtained the concession that the U.S.A. was to have ‘the right to establish, maintain and control such naval, air and military facilities and installations at the site of the port, and in the general vicinity thereof, as may be desired for the protection of strategic interests of the U.S.A. in the South Atlantic’. Throughout the war, Liberia’s Robertsfield airfield had of considerable value to the U.S.A. and later on it continued to have a military utility. To tie matters up further, the U.S.A. entered into what it called a military assistance pact with Liberia in 1951.
Needless to say, in the 1950s when most Africans were still colonial (83 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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subjects, they had absolutely no control over the utilisation of their soil for militaristic ends. Virtually the whole of North Africa was turned into a sphere of operations for NATO, with bases aimed at the Soviet Union. They could easily have become involved in nuclear war without African peoples having any knowledge of the matter. The colonial powers actually held military conferences in African cities like Dakar and Nairobi in the early 1950s, inviting the whites of South Africa and Rhodesia and the government of the U.S.A. Time and time again, the evidence points to this cynical use of Africa to buttress capitalism economically and militarily, and therefore in effect forcing Africa to contribute to its own exploitation.
Apart from saving capitalism in times of crisis, the dependencies had always been prolonging the life of capitalism by taking the edge off the internal contradictions and conflicts which were a part of the capitalist system. The principal contradiction within capitalism from the outset was between the capitalists and the workers. To keep their system going, the capitalists had constantly to step up the rate of exploitation of their workers. At the same time, European workers were gaining increasing mastery over the means of production in the factories and mines, and they were learning to work collectively in big enterprises and within their own trade union structures. If the bourgeoisie continued to deprive them of the major part of the fruits of their own labour and to oppress them socially and politically, then those two classes were set on a collision path. Ever since the mid-19th century, Marx had predicted class collision would come in the form of Revolution in which workers would emerge victorious. The capitalists (84 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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were terribly afraid of that possibility, knowing full well that they themselves had seized power from the feudal landlord class by means of Revolution. However, imperialism introduced a new factor into this situation – one that deferred the confrontation between workers and capitalists in the metropoles.
Only in Russia was there a workers’ Revolution, and Russia was on the fringe of Europe rather than being one of its metropolitan capitalist centres. That very fact highlighted how much capitalism in places like Britain, France and Germany had been stabilised by exploiting the colonies and other semi-colonies such as Latin America, where states were independent in name only.
Surplus from Africa was partly used to offer a few more benefits to European workers and served as a bribe to make the latter less revolutionary. The bribe came in the form of increased wages, better working conditions, and expanded social services. The benefits of colonialism were diffused throughout European society in many ways. Most capitalist enterprises offered consumer goods which were mass-produced at low prices, and therefore the European housewife got some relief. For instance, instant coffee brought that beverage within the reach of the ordinary worker. Meanwhile, the capitalist still made his fortune by ensuring that the Ivory Coast or Colombian grower got no price increases. In that way, colonialism was serving all classes and sectors of Western Europe and other capitalist metropoles.
European workers have paid a great price for the few material benefits which accrued to them as crumbs from the colonial table. The class in (85 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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power controls the dissemination of information. The capitalists misinformed and miseducated workers in the metropoles to the point where they became allies in colonial exploitation. In accepting to be led like sheep, European workers were perpetuating their own enslavement to the capitalists. They ceased to seek political power and contented themselves with bargaining for small wage increases, which were usually counterbalanced by increased costs of living. They ceased to be creative and allowed bourgeois cultural decadence to overtake them all. They failed to exercise any independent judgement on the great issues of war and peace, and therefore ended up by slaughtering not only colonial peoples but also themselves.
Fascism was a monster born of capitalist parents. Fascism came as the end-product of centuries of capitalist bestiality, exploitation, domination and racism-mainly exercised outside of Europe. It is highly significant that many settlers and colonial officials displayed a leaning towards fascism. Apartheid in South Africa is nothing but fascism. It was gaining roots ever since the early period of white colonisation in the 17th century, and particularly after the mining industry brought South Africa fully into the capitalist orbit in the 19th century. Another example of the fascist potential of colonialism was seen when France was overrun by Nazi Germany in 1940. The French fascists collaborated with Hitler to establish what was called the Vichy regime in France, and the French white settlers in Africa supported the Vichy regime. A more striking instance to the same effect was the fascist ideology developed by the white settlers in Algeria, who not only opposed independence for Algeria under Algerian rule, but they also (86 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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strove to bring down the more progressive or liberal governments of metropolitan France.
Inside Europe itself, some specific and highly revealing connections can be found between colonialist behaviour and the destruction of the few contributions made by capitalism to human development. For instance, when Colonel Von Lettow returned from leading the German forces in East Africa in World War I, he was promoted to a general in the German army, and Von Lettow was in command of the massacre of German communists in Hamburg in 1918. That was a decisive turning point in German history, for once the most progressive workers had been crushed, the path was clear for the fascist deformation of the future. In brutally suppressing the Maji Maji War in Tanganyika and in attempting genocide against the Herero people of Namibia (South West Africa), the German ruling class were getting the experience which they later applied against the Jews and against German workers and progressives.
When the fascist dictatorship was inaugurated in Portugal in 1926, it drew inspiration from Portugal’s colonial past. After Salazar became the dictator in 1932, he stated that his ‘New State’ in Portugal would be based on the labour the ‘inferior peoples’, meaning of course Africans. In addition, Portuguese peasants and workers had to submit to police terror, poverty and dehumanisation, so they paid (and are still paying) a high price for fascism at home and colonialism abroad.
Colonialism strengthened the Western European ruling class and capitalism as a whole. Particularly in its later it was evidently giving a (87 of 89) [8/22/05 11:07:06 AM]
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new lease of life to a mode of production that was otherwise dying. From every view-point other than that of the minority class of capitalists, colonialism was a monstrous institution holding back the liberation of man.

Frants Fanon on ‘National Culture’

June 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

To take part in the African revolution it is not enough to write a revolutionary song; you must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves, and of themselves.
In order to achieve real action, you must yourself be a living part of Africa and of her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for the freeing, the progress, and the happiness of Africa. There is no place outside that fight for the artist or for the intellectual who is not himself concerned with and completely at one with the people in the great battle of Africa and of suffering humanity—Sekou Toure. [* “The political leader as the representative of a culture.” Address to the second Congress of Black Writers and Artists, Rome, 1959.]
Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it. In underdeveloped countries the preceding generations have both resisted the work or erosion carried by colonialism and also helped on the maturing of the struggles of today. We must rid ourselves of the habit, now that we are in the thick of the fight, of minimizing the action of our fathers or of feigning incomprehension when considering their silence and passivity. They fought as well as they could, with the arms that they possessed then; and if the echoes of their struggle have not resounded in the international arena, we must realize that the reason for this silence lies less in their lack of heroism than in the fundamentally different international situation of our time. It needed more than one native to say “We’ve had enough”; more than one peasant rising crushed, more than one demonstration put down before we could today hold our own, certain in our victory. As for we who have decided to break the back of colonialism, our historic mission is to sanction all revolts, all desperate actions, all those abortive attempts drowned in rivers of blood.
In this chapter we shall analyze the problem, which is felt to be fundamental, of the legitimacy of the claims of a nation. It must be recognized that the political party which mobilizes the people hardly touches on this problem of legitimacy. The political parties start from living reality and it is in the name of this reality, in the name of the stark facts which weigh down the present and the future of men and women, that they fix their line of action. The political party may well speak in moving terms of the nation, but what it is concerned with is that the people who are listening understand the need to take part in the fight if, quite simply, they wish to continue to exist.
Today we know that in the first phase of the national struggle colonialism tries to disarm national demands by putting forward economic doctrines. As soon as the first demands are set out, colonialism pretends to consider them, recognizing with ostentatious humility that the territory is suffering from serious underdevelopment which necessitates a great economic and social effort. And, in fact, it so happens that certain spectacular measures (centers of work for the unemployed which are opened here and there, for example) delay the crystallization of national consciousness for a few years. But, sooner or later, colonialism sees that it is not within its powers to put into practice a project of economic and social reforms which will satisfy the aspirations of the colonized people. Even where food supplies are concerned, colonialism gives proof of its inherent incapability. The colonialist state quickly discovers that if it wishes to disarm the nationalist parties on strictly economic questions then it will have to do in the colonies exactly what it has refused to do in its own country. It is not mere chance that almost everywhere today there flourishes the doctrine of Cartierism.
The disillusioned bitterness we find in Carrier when up against the obstinate determination of France to link to herself peoples which she must feed while so many French people live in want shows up the impossible situation in which colonialism finds itself when the colonial system is called upon to transform itself into an unselfish program of aid and assistance. It is why, once again, there is no use in wasting time repeating that hunger with dignity is preferable to bread eaten in slavery. On the contrary, we must become convinced that colonialism is incapable of procuring for the colonized peoples the material conditions which might make them forget their concern for dignity. Once colonialism has realized where its tactics of social reform are leading, we see it falling back on its old reflexes, reinforcing police effectives, bringing up troops, and setting a reign of terror which is better adapted to its interests and its psychology.
Inside the political parties, and most often in offshoots from these parties, cultured individuals of the colonized race make their appearance. For these individuals, the demand for a national culture and the affirmation of the existence of such a culture represent a special battlefield. While the politicians situate their action in actual present-day events, men of culture take their stand in the field of history. Confronted with the native intellectual who decides to make an aggressive response to the colonialist theory of pre-colonial barbarism, colonialism will react only slightly, and still less because the ideas developed by the young colonized intelligentsia are widely professed by specialists in the mother country. It is in fact a commonplace to state that for several decades large numbers of research workers have, in the main, rehabilitated the African, Mexican, and Peruvian civilizations. The passion with which native intellectuals defend the existence of their national culture may be a source of amazement; but those who condemn this exaggerated passion are strangely apt to forget that their own psyche and their own selves are conveniently sheltered behind a French or German culture which has given full proof of its existence and which is uncontested.
I am ready to concede that on the plane of factual being the past existence of an Aztec civilization does not change anything very much in the diet of the Mexican peasant of today. I admit that all the proofs of a wonderful Songhai civilization will not change the fact that today the Songhais are underfed and illiterate, thrown between sky and water with empty heads and empty eyes, But it has been remarked several times that this passionate search for a national culture which existed before the colonial era finds its legitimate reason in the anxiety shared by native intellectuals to shrink away from that Western culture in which they all risk being swamped. Because they realize they are in danger of losing their lives and thus becoming lost to their people, these men, hotheaded and with anger in their hearts, relentlessly determine to renew contact once more with the oldest and most pre-colonial springs of life of their people.
Let us go further. Perhaps this passionate research and this anger are kept up or at least directed by the secret hope of discovering beyond the misery of today, beyond self-contempt, resignation, and abjuration, some very beautiful and splendid era whose existence rehabilitates us both in regard to ourselves and in regard to others. I have said that I have decided to go further. Perhaps unconsciously, the native intellectuals, since they could not stand wonderstruck before the history of today’s barbarity, decided to back further and to delve deeper down; and, let us make no mistake, it was with the greatest delight that they discovered that there was nothing to be ashamed of in the past, but rather dignity, glory, and solemnity. The claim to a national culture in the past does not only rehabilitate that nation and serve as a justification for the hope of a future national culture. In the sphere of psycho-affective equilibrium it is responsible for an important change in the native. Perhaps we have not sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not simply content to impose its rule upon the present and the future of a dominated country. Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destrovs it. TTr’s work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.
When we consider the efforts made to carry out the cultural estrangement so characteristic of the colonial epoch, we realize that nothing has been left to chance and that the total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness. The effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the natives’ heads the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would at once fall back into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality.
On the unconscious plane, colonialism therefore did not seek to be considered by the native as a gentle,” loving mother who protects her child from a hostile environment, but rather as a mother who unceasingly restrains her fundamentally perverse offspring from managing to commit suicide and from giving free rein to its evil instincts. The colonial mother protects her child from itself, from its ego, and from its physiology, its biology, and its own unhappiness which is its very essence.
In such a situation the claims of the native intellectual are not a luxury but a necessity in any coherent program. The native intellectual who takes up arms to defend his nation’s legitimacy and who wants to bring proofs to bear out that legitimacy, who is willing to strip himself naked to study the history of his body, is obliged to dissect the heart of his people.
Such an examination is not specifically national. The native intellectual who decides to give battle to colonial lies fights on the field of the whole continent. The past is given back its value. Culture, extracted from the past to be displayed in all its splendor, is not necessarily that of his own country. Colonialism, which has not bothered to put too fine a point on its efforts, has never ceased to maintain that the Nergo is a savage; and for the colonist, the Negro was neither an Angolan nor a Nigerian, for he simply spoke of “the Negro.” For colonialism, this vast continent was the haunt of savages, a country riddled with superstitions and fanaticism, destined for contempt, weighed down by the curse of God, a country of cannibals —in short, the Negro’s country. Colonialism’s condemnation is continental in its scope. The contention by colonialism that the darkest night of humanity lay over pre-colonial history concerns the whole of the African continent. The efforts of the native to rehabilitate himself and to escape from the claws of colonialism are logically inscribed from the same point of view as that of colonialism. The native intellectual who has gone far beyond the domains of Western culture and who has got it into his head to proclaim the existence of another culture never does so in the name of Angola or of Dahomey. The culture which is affirmed is African culture. The Negro, never so much a Negro as since he has been dominated by the whites, when he decides to prove that he has a culture and to behave like a cultured person, comes to realize that history points out a well-defined path to him: he must demonstrate that a Negro culture exists. And it is only too true that those who are most responsible for this racialization of thought, or at least for the first movement toward that thought, are and remain those Europeans who have never ceased to set up white culture to fill the gap left by the absence of other cultures. Colonialism did not dream of wasting its time in denying the existence of one national culture after another. Therefore the reply of the colonized peoples will be straight away continental in its breadth. In Africa, the native literature of the last twenty years is not a national literature but a Negro literature. The concept of negritude, for example, was the emotional if not the logical antithesis of that insult which the white man flung at humanity. This rush of negritude against the white man’s contempt showed itself in certain spheres to be the one idea capable of lifting interdictions and anathemas. Because the New Gui-nean or Kenyan intellectuals found themselves above all up against a general ostracism and delivered to the combined contempt of their overlords, their reaction was to sing praises in admiration of each other. The unconditional affirmation of African culture has succeeded the unconditional affirmation of European culture. On the whole, the poets of negritude oppose the idea of an old Europe to a young Africa, tiresome reasoning to lyricism, oppressive logic to high-stepping nature, and on one side stiffness, ceremony, etiquette, and scepticism, while on the other frankness, liveliness, liberty, and—why not?— luxuriance: but also irresponsibility.
The poets of negritude will not stop at the limits of the continent. From America, black voices will take up the hymn with fuller unison. The “black world” will see the light and Busia from Ghana, Birago Diop from Senegal, Hampate Ba from the Soudan, and Saint-Clair Drake from Chicago will not hesitate to assert the existence of common ties and a motive power that is identical.
The example of the Arab world might equally well be quoted here. We know that the majority of Arab territories have been under colonial domination. Colonialism has made the same effort in these regions to plant deep in the minds of the native population the idea that before the advent of colonialism their history was one which was dominated by barbarism. The struggle for national liberty has been accompanied by a cultural phenomenon known by the name of the awakening of Islam. The passion with which contemporary Arab writers remind their people of the great pages of their history is a reply to the lies told by the occupying power. The great names of Arabic literature and the great past of Arab civilization have been brandished about with the same ardor as those of the African civilizations. The Arab leaders have tried to return to the famous Dar El Islam which shone so brightly from the twelfth to the fourteenth century.
Today, in the political sphere, the Arab League is giving palpable form to this will to take up again the heritage of the past and to bring it to culmination. Today, Arab doctors and Arab poets speak to each other across the frontiers, and strive to create a new Arab culture and a new Arab civilization. It is in the name of Arabism that these men join together, and that they try to think together. Everywhere, however, in the Arab world, national feeling has preserved even under colonial domination a liveliness that we fail to find in Africa. At the same time that spontaneous communion of each with all, present in the African movement, is not to be found in the Arab League. On the contrary, paradoxically, everyone tries to sing the praises of the achievements of his nation. The cultural process is freed from the indifferentiation which characterized it in the African world, but the Arabs do not always manage to stand aside in order to achieve their aims. The living culture is not national but Arab. The problem is not as yet to secure a national culture, not as yet to lay hold of a movement differentiated by nations, but to assume an African or Arabic culture when confronted by the all-embracing condemnation pronounced by the dominating power. In the African world, as in the Arab, we see that the claims of the man of culture in a colonized country are all-embracing, continental, and in the case of the Arabs, worldwide.
This historical necessity in which the men of African culture find themselves to racialize their claims and to speak more of African culture than of national culture will tend to lead them up a blind alley. Let us take for example the case of the African Cultural Society. This society had been created by African intellectuals who wished to get to know each other and to compare their experiences and the results of their respective research work. The aim of this society was therefore to affirm the existence of an African culture, to evaluate this culture on the plane of distinct nations, and to reveal the internal motive forces of each of their national cultures. But at the same time this society fulfilled another need: the need to exist side by side with the European Cultural Society, which threatened to transform itself into a Universal Cultural Society. There was therefore at the bottom of this decision the anxiety to be present at the universal trysting place fully armed, with a culture springing from the very heart of the African continent. Now, this Society will very quickly show its inability to shoulder these different tasks, and will limit itself to exhibitionist demonstrations, while the habitual behavior of the members of this Society will be confined to showing Europeans that such a thing as African culture exists, and opposing their ideas to those of ostentatious and narcissistic Europeans. We have shown that such an attitude is normal and draws its legitimacy from the lies propagated by men of Western culture, but the degradation of the aims of this Society will become more marked with the elaboration of the concept of negritude. The African Society will become the cultural society of the black world and will come to include the Negro dispersion, that is to say the tens of thousands of black people spread over the American continents.
The Negroes who live in the United States and in Central or Latin America in fact experience the need to attach themselves to a cultural matrix. Their problem is not fundamentally different from that of the Africans. The whites of America did not mete out to them any different treatment from that of the whites who ruled over the Africans. We have seen that the whites were used to putting all Negroes in the same bag. During the first congress of the African Cultural Society which was held in Paris in 1956, the American Negroes of their own accord considered their problems from the same standpoint as those of their African brothers. Cultured Africans, speaking of African civilizations, decreed that there should be a reasonable status within the state for those who had formerly been slaves. But little by little the American Negroes realized that the essential problems confronting them were not the same as those that confronted the African Negroes. The Negroes of Chicago only resemble the Nigerians or the Tanganyikans in so far as they were all defined in relation to the whites. But once the first comparisons had been made and subjective feelings were assuaged, the American Negroes realized that the objective problems were fundamentally heterogeneous. The test cases of civil liberty whereby both whites and blacks in America try to drive back racial discrimination have very little in common in their principles and objectives with the heroic fight of the Angolan people against the detestable Portuguese colonialism. Thus, during the second congress of the African Cultural Society the American Negroes decided to create an American society for people of black cultures.
Negritude therefore finds its first limitation in the phenomena which take account of the formation of the historical character of men. Negro and African-Negro culture broke up into different entities because the men who wished to incarnate these cultures realized that every culture is first and foremost national, and that the problems which kept Richard Wright or Langston Hughes on the alert were fundamentally different from those which might confront Leopold Senghor or Jomo Kenyatta. In the same way certain Arab states, though they had chanted the marvelous hymn of Arab renaissance, had nevertheless to realize that their geographical position and the economic ties of their region were stronger even than the past that they wished to revive. Thus we find today the Arab states organically linked once more with societies which are Mediterranean in their culture. The fact is that these states are submitted to modern pressure and to new channels of trade while the network of trade relations which was dominant during the great period of Arab history has disappeared. But above all there is the fact that the political regimes of certain Arab states are so different, and so far away from each other in their conceptions, that even a cultural meeting between these states is meaningless.
Thus we see that the cultural problem as it sometimes exists in colonized countries runs the risk of giving rise to serious ambiguities. The lack of culture of the Negroes, as proclaimed by colonialism, and the inherent barbarity of the Arabs ought logically to lead to the exaltation of cultural manifestations which are not simply national but continental, and extremely racial. In Africa, the movement of men of culture is a movement toward the Negro-African culture or the Arab-Moslem culture. It is not specifically toward a national culture. Culture is becoming more and more cut off from the events of today. It finds its refuge beside a hearth that glows with passionate emotion, and from there makes its way by realistic paths which are the only means by which it may be made fruitful, homogeneous, and consistent.
If the action of the native intellectual is limited historically, there remains nevertheless the fact that it contributes greatly to upholding and justifying the action of politicians. It is true that the attitude of the native intellectual sometimes takes on the aspect of a cult or of a religion. But if we really wish to analyze this attitude correctly we will come to see that it is symptomatic of the intellectual’s realization of the danger that he is running in cutting his last moorings and of breaking adrift from his people. This stated belief in a national culture is in fact an ardent, despairing turning toward anything that will afford him secure anchorage. In order to ensure his salvation and to escape from the supremacy of the white man’s culture the native feels the need to turn backward toward his unknown roots and to lose himself at whatever cost in his own barbarous people. Because he feels he is becoming estranged, that is to say because he feels that he is the living haunt of contradictions which run the risk of becoming insurmountable, the native tears himself away from the swamp that may suck him down and accepts everything, decides to take all for granted and confirms everything even though he may lose body and soul. The native finds that he is expected to answer for everything, and to all comers. He not only turns himself into the defender of his people’s past; he is willing to be counted as one of them, and henceforward he is even capable of laughing at his past cowardice.
This tearing away, painful and difficult though it may be, is however necessary. If it is not accomplished there will be serious psycho-affective injuries and the result will be individuals without an anchor, without a horizon, colorless, stateless, rootless—a race of angels. It will be also quite normal to hear certain natives declare, “I speak as a Senegalese and as a Frenchman . . .” “I speak as an Algerian and as a Frenchman . . .” The intellectual who is Arab and French, or Nigerian and English, when he comes up against the need to take on two nationalities, chooses, if he wants to remain true to himself, the negation of one of these determinations. But most often, since they cannot or will not make a choice, such intellectuals gather together all the historical determining factors which have conditioned them and take up a fundamentally “universal standpoint.”
This is because the native intellectual has thrown himself greedily upon Western culture. Like adopted children who only stop investigating the new family framework at the moment when a minimum nucleus of security crystallizes in their psyche, the native intellectual will try to make European culture his own. He will not be content to get to know Rabelais and Diderot, Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe; he will bind them to his intelligence as closely as possible:
La dame n’Stait pas seule
Elle avait un mari
Un mari tres comme il faut
Qui citait Racine et Corneille
Et Voltaire et Rousseau
Et le Pere Hugo et le jeune Musset
Et Gide et Valery
Et tant d’autres encore.* [* The lady was not alone; she had a most respectable husband, who knew how to quote Racine and Comeille, Voltaire and Rousseau, Victor Hugo and Musset, Gide, Valery and as many more again. (Rene Depestre: “Face a la Nuit.”)]
But at the moment when the nationalist parties are mobilizing the people in the name of national independence, the native intellectual sometimes spurns these acquisitions which he suddenly feels make him a stranger in his own land. It is always easier to proclaim rejection than actually to reject. The intellectual who through the medium of culture has filtered into Western civilization, who has managed to become part of the body of European culture—in other words who has exchanged his own culture for another—will come to realize that the cultural matrix, which now he wishes to assume since he is anxious to appear original, can hardly supply any figureheads which will bear comparison with those, so many in number and so great in prestige, of the occupying power’s civilization. History, of course, though nevertheless written by the Westerners and to serve their purposes, will be able to evaluate from time to time certain periods of the African past.
But, standing face to face with his country at the present time, and observing clearly and objectively the events of today throughout the continent which he wants to make his own, the intellectual is terrified by the void, the degradation, and the savagery he sees there. Now he feels that he must get away from the white culture. He must seek his culture elsewhere, anywhere at all; and if he fails to find the substance of culture of the same grandeur and scope as displayed by the ruling power, the native intellectual will very often fall back upon emotional attitudes and will develop a psychology which is dominated by exceptional sensitivity and susceptibility. This withdrawal, which is due in the first instance to a begging of the question in his internal behavior mechanism and his own character, brings out, above all, a reflex and contradiction which is muscular.
This is sufficient explanation of the style of those native intellectuals who decide to give expression to this phase of consciousness which is in the process of being liberated. It is a harsh style, full of images, for the image is the drawbridge which allows unconscious energies to be scattered on the surrounding meadows. It is a vigorous style, alive with rhythms, struck through and through with bursting life; it is full of color, too, bronzed, sunbaked, and violent. This style, which in its time astonished the peoples of the West, has nothing racial about it, in spite of frequent statements to the contrary; it expresses above all a hand-to-hand struggle and it reveals the need that man has to liberate himself from a part of his being which already contained the seeds of decay. Whether the fight is painful, quick, or inevitable, muscular action must substitute itself for concepts.
If in the world of poetry this movement reaches unaccustomed heights, the fact remains that in the real world the intellectual often follows up a blind alley. When at the height of his intercourse with his people, whatever they were or whatever they are, the intellectual decides to come down into the common paths of real life, he only brings back from his adventuring formulas which are sterile in the extreme. He sets a high value on the customs, traditions, and the appearances of his people; but his inevitable, painful experience only seems to be a banal search for exoticism. The sari becomes sacred, and shoes that come from Paris or Italy are left off in favor of pam-pooties, while suddenly the language of the ruling power is felt to burn your lips. Finding your fellow countrymen sometimes means in this phase to will to be a nigger, not a nigger like all other niggers but a real nigger, a Negro cur, just the sort of nigger that the white man wants you to be. Going back to your own people means to become a dirty wog, to go native as much as you can, to become unrecognizable, and to cut off those wings that before you had allowed to grow.
The native intellectual decides to make an inventory of the bad habits drawn from the colonial world, and hastens to remind everyone of the good old customs of the people, that people which he has decided contains all truth and goodness. The scandalized attitude with which the settlers who live in the colonial territory greet this new departure only serves to strengthen the native’s decision. When the colonialists, who had tasted the sweets of their victory over these assimilated people, realize that these men whom they considered as saved souls are beginning to fall back into the ways of niggers, the whole system totters. Every native won over, every native who had taken the pledge not only marks a failure for the colonial structure when he decides to lose himself and to go back to his own side, but also stands as a symbol for the useless-ness and the shallowness of all the work that has been accomplished. Each native who goes back over the line is a radical condemnation of the methods and of the regime; and the native intellectual finds in the scandal he gives rise to a justification and an encouragement to persevere in the path he has chosen.
If we wanted to trace in the works of native writers the different phases which characterize this evolution we would find spread out before us a panorama on three levels. In the first phase, the native intellectual gives proof that he has assimilated the culture of the occupying power. His writings correspond point by point with those of his opposite numbers in the mother country. His inspiration is European and we can easily link up these works with definite trends in the literature of the mother country. This is the period of unqualified assimilation. We find in this literature coming from the colonies the Parnassians, the Symbolists, and the Surrealists.
In the second phase we find the native is disturbed; he decides to remember what he is. This period of creative work approximately corresponds to that immersion which we have just described. But since the native is not a part of his people, since he only has exterior relations with his people, he is content to recall their life only. Past happenings of the byegone days of his chlidhood will be brought up out of the depths of his memory; old legends will be reinterpreted in the light of a borrowed estheticism and of a conception of the world which was discovered under other skies.
Sometimes this literature of just-before-the-battle is dominated by humor and by allegory; but often too it is symptomatic of a period of distress and difficulty, where death is experienced, and disgust too. We spew ourselves up; but already underneath laughter can be heard.
Finally in the third phase, which is called the fighting phase, the native, after having tried to lose himself in the people and with the people, will on the contrary shake the people. Instead of according the people’s lethargy an honored place in his esteem, he turns himself into an awakener of the people; hence comes a fighting literature, a revolutionary literature, and a national literature. During this phase a great many men and women who up till then would never have thought of producing a literary work, now that they find themselves in exceptional circumstances—in prison, with the Maquis, or on the eve of their execution—feel the need to speak to their nation, to compose the sentence which expresses the heart of the people, and to become the mouthpiece of a new reality in action.
The native intellectual nevertheless sooner or later will realize that you do not show proof of your nation from its culture but that you substantiate its existence in the fight which the people wage against the forces of occupation. No colonial system draws its justification from the fact that the territories it dominates are culturally nonexistent. You will never make colonialism blush for shame by spreading out little-known cultural treasures under its eyes. At the very moment when the native intellectual is anxiously trying to create a cultural work he fails to realize that he is utilizing techniques and language which are borrowed from the stranger in his country. He contents himself with stamping these instruments with a hallmark which he wishes to be national, but which is strangely reminiscent of exoticism. The native intellectual who comes back to his people by way of cultural achievements behaves in fact like a foreigner. Sometimes he has no
hesitation in using a dialect in order to show his will to be as near as possible to the people; but the ideas that he expresses and the preoccupations he is taken up with have no common yardstick to measure the real situation which the men and the women of his country know. The culture that the intellectual leans toward is often no more than a stock of particularisms. He wishes to attach himself to the people; but instead he only catches hold of their outer garments. And these outer garments are merely the reflection of a hidden life, teeming and perpetually in motion. That extremely obvious objectivity which seems to characterize a people is in fact only the inert, already forsaken result of frequent, and not always very coherent, adaptations of a much more fundamental substance which itself is continually being renewed. The man of culture, instead of setting out to find this substance, will let himself be hypnotized by these mummified fragments which because they are static are in fact symbols of negation and outworn contrivances. Culture has never the translucidity of custom; it abhors all simplification. In its essence it is opposed to custom, for custom is always the deterioration of culture. The desire to attach oneself to tradition or bring abandoned traditions to life again does not only mean going against the current of history but also opposing one’s own people. When a people undertakes an armed struggle or even a political struggle against a relentless colonialism, the significance of tradition changes. All that has made up the technique of passive resistance in the past may, during this phase, be radically condemned. In an underdeveloped country during the period of struggle traditions are fundamentally unstable and are shot through by centrifugal tendencies. This is why the intellectual often runs the risk of being out of date. The peoples who have carried on the struggle are more and more impervious to demagogy; and those who wish to follow them reveal themselves as nothing more than common opportunists, in other words, latecomers.
In the sphere of plastic arts, for example, the native artist who wishes at whatever cost to create a national work of art shuts himself up in a stereotyped reproduction of details. These artists who have nevertheless thoroughly studied modern techniques and who have taken part in the main trends of contemporary painting and architecture, turn their backs on foreign culture, deny it, and set out to look for a true national culture, setting great store on what they consider to be the constant principles of national art. But these people forget that the forms of thought and what it feeds on, together with modern techniques of information, language, and dress have dialectically reorganized the people’s intelligences and that the constant principles which acted as safeguards during the colonial period are now undergoing extremely radical changes.
The artist who has decided to illustrate the truths of the nation turns paradoxically toward the past and away from actual events. What he ultimately intends to embrace are in fact the castoffs of thought, its shells and corpses, a knowledge which has been stabilized once and for all. But the native intellectual who wishes to create an authentic work of art must realize that the truths of a nation are in the first place its realities. He must go on until he has found the seething pot out of which the learning of the future will emerge.
Before independence, the native painter was insensible to the national scene. He set a high value on non-figurative art, or more often specialized in still lifes. After independence his anxiety to rejoin his people will confine him to the most detailed representation of reality. This is representative art which has no internal rhythms, an art which is serene and immobile, evocative not of life but of death. Enlightened circles are in ecstasies when confronted with this “inner truth” which is so well expressed; but we have the right to ask if this truth is in fact a reality, and if it is not already outworn and denied, called in question by the epoch through which the people are treading out their path toward history.
In the realm of poetry we may establish the same facts. After the period of assimilation characterized by rhyming poetry, the poetic tom-tom’s rhythms break through. This is a poetry of revolt; but it is also descriptive and analytical poetry. The poet ought however to understand that nothing can replace the reasoned, irrevocable taking up of arms on the people’s side. Let us quote Depestre once more:
The lady was not alone;
She had a husband,
A husband who knew everything,
But to tell the truth knew nothing,
For you can’t have culture without making concessions.
You concede your flesh and blood to it,
You concede your own self to others;
By conceding you gain
Classicism and Romanticism,
And all that our souls are steeped in.* [* Rend Depestre: “Face a la Nuit.” f Rene Char, Partage Formel.]
The native poet who is preoccupied with creating a national work of art and who is determined to describe his people fails in his aim, for he is not yet ready to make that fundamental concession that Depestre speaks of. The French poet Rene Char shows his understanding of the difficulty when he reminds us that “the poem emerges out of a subjective imposition and an objective choice. A poem is the assembling and moving together of determining original values, in contemporary relation with someone that these circumstances bring to the front.”t
Yes, the first duty of the native poet is to see clearly the people he has chosen as the subject of his work of art. He cannot go forward resolutely unless he first realizes the extent of his estrangement from them. We have taken everything from the other side; and the other side gives us nothing unless by a thousand detours we swing finally round in their direction, unless by ten thousand wiles and a hundred thousand tricks they manage to draw us toward them, to seduce us, and to imprison us. Taking means in nearly every case being taken: thus it is not enough to try to free oneself by repeating proclamations and denials. It is not enough to try to get back to the people in that past out of which they have already emerged; rather we must join them in that fluctuating movement which they are just giving a shape to, and which, as soon as it has started, will be the signal for everything to be called in question. Let there be no mistake about it; it is to this zone of occult instability where the people dwell that we must come; and it is there that our souls are crystallized and that our perceptions and our lives are transfused with light.
Keita Fodeba, today Minister of Internal Affairs in the Republic of Guinea, when he was the director of the “African Ballet” did not play any tricks with the reality which the people of Guinea offered him. He reinterpreted all the rhythmic images of his country from a revolutionary standpoint. But he did more. In his poetic works, which are not well known, we find a constant desire to define accurately the historic moments of the struggle and to mark off the field in which were to be unfolded the actions and ideas around which the popular will would crystallize. Here is a poem by Keita Fodeba which is a true invitation to thought, to de-mystification, and to battle:
(Guitar music)
Dawn was breaking. The little village, which had danced half the night to the sound of its tom-toms, was waking slowly. Ragged shepherds playing their flutes were leading their flocks down into the valley. The girls of the village with their canaries followed one by one along the winding path that leads to the fountain. In the marabout’s courtyard a group of children were softly chanting in chorus some verses from the Koran.
(Guitar music)
Dawn was breaking—dawn, the fight between night and day. But the night was exhausted and could fight no more, and slowly died. A few rays of the sun, the forerunners of this victory of the day, still hovered on the horizon, pale and timid, while the last stars gently glided under the mass of clouds, crimson like the blooming flamboyant flowers.
(Guitar music)
Dawn was breaking. And down at the end of the vast plain with its purple contours, the silhouette of a bent man tilling the ground could be seen, the silhouette of Naman the laborer. Each time he lifted his hoe the frightened birds rose, and flew swiftly away to find the quiet banks of the Djoliba, the great Niger river. The man’s gray cotton trousers, soaked by the dew, flapped against the grass on either side. Sweating, unresting, always bent over he worked with his hoe; for the seed had to be sown before the next rains came.
(Cora music)
Dawn was breaking, still breaking. The sparrows circled amongst the leaves announcing the day. On the damp track leading to the plain a child, carrying his little quiver of arrows round him like a bandolier, was running breathless toward Naman. He called out: “Brother Naman, the headman of the village wants you to come to the council tree.”
(Cora music)
The laborer, surprised by such a message so early in the morning, laid down his hoe and walked toward the village which now was shining in the beams of the rising sun. Al-readv t^e old men of the village were sitting under the tree, looking more solemn than ever. Beside them a man in uniform, a district guard, sat impassively, quietly smoking his pipe.
(Cora music)
Naman took his place on the sheepskin. The headman’s spokesman stood up to announce to the assembly the will of the old men: “The white men have sent a district guard to ask for a man from the village who will go to the war in their country. The chief men, after taking counsel together, have decided to send the young man who is the best representative of our race, so that he may go and give proof to the white men of that courage which has always been a feature of our Manding.”
(Guitar music)
Naman was thus officially marked out, for every evening the village girls praised his great stature and muscular appearance in musical couplets. Gentle Kadia, his young wife, overwhelmed by the news, suddenly ceased grinding corn, put the mortar away under the barn, and without saying a word shut herself into her hut to weep over her misfortune with stifled sobs. For death had taken her first husband; and she could not believe that now the white people had taken Naman from her, Naman who was the center of all her new-sprung hopes.
(Guitar music)
The next day, in spite of her tears and lamentations, the full-toned drumming of the war tom-toms accompanied Naman to the village’s little harbor where he boarded a trawler which was going to the district capital. That night, instead of dancing in the marketplace as they usually did, the village girls came to keep watch in Naman’s outer room, and there told their tales until morning around a wood fire.
(Guitar music)
Several months went by without any news of Naman reaching the village. Kadia was so worried that she went to the cunning fetish-worker from the neighboring village. The village elders themselves held a short secret council on the matter, but nothing came of it.
(Cora music)
At last one day a letter from Naman came to the village, to Kadia’s address. She was worried as to what was happening to her husband, and so that same night she came, after hours of tiring walking, to the capital of the district, where a translator read the letter to her.
Naman was in North Africa; Tie was well, and he asked for news of the harvest, of the feastings, the river, the dances, the council tree … in fact, for news of all the village.
(Balafo music)
That night the old women of the village honored Kadia by allowing her to come to the courtyard of the oldest woman and listen to the talk that went on nightly among them. The headman of the village, happy to have heard news of Naman, gave a great banquet to all the beggars of the neighborhood.
(Balafo music)
Again several months went by and everyone was once more anxious, for nothing more was heard of Naman. Kadia was thinking of going again to consult the fetish-worker when she received a second letter. Naman, after passing through Corsica and Italy, was now in Germany and was proud of having been decorated.
(Balafo music)
But the next time there was only a postcard to say that Naman had been made prisoner by the Germans. This news weighed heavily on the village. The old men held council and decided that henceforward Naman would be allowed to dance the Douga, that sacred dance of the vultures that no one who has not performed some outstanding feat is allowed to dance, that dance of the Mali emperors of which every step is a stage in the history of the Mali race. Kadia found consolation in the fact that her husband had been raised to the dignity of a hero of his country.
(Guitar music)
Time went by. A year followed another, and Naman was still in Germany. He did not write any more.
(Guitar music)
One fine day, the village headman received word from Dakar that Naman would soon be home. The mutter of the tom-toms was at once heard. There was dancing and singing till dawn. The village girls composed new songs for his homecoming, for the old men who were the devotees of the Douga spoke no more about that famous dance of the Manding.
But a month later, Corporal Moussa, a great friend of Naman’s, wrote a tragic letter to Kadia: “Dawn was breaking. We were at Tiaroye-sur-Mer. In the course of a widespread dispute between us and our white officers from Dakar, a bullet struck Naman. He lies in the land of Senegal.”
(Guitar music)
Yes; dawn was breaking. The first rays of the sun hardly touched the surface of the sea as they gilded its little foam-flecked waves. Stirred by the breeze, the palm trees gently bent their trunks down toward the ocean, as if saddened by the morning’s battle. The crows came in noisy flocks to warn the neighborhood by their cawing of the tragedy that was staining the dawn at Tiaroye with blood. And in the flaming blue sky, just above Naman’s body, a huge vulture was hovering heavily. It seemed to say to him “Naman! You have not danced that dance that is named after me. Others will dance it.”
(Cora music)
If I have chosen to quote this long poem, it is on account of its unquestioned pedagogical value. Here, things are clear; it is a precise, forward-looking exposition. The understanding of the poem is not merely an intellectual advance, but a political advance. To understand this poem is to understand the part one has played, to recognize one’s advance, and to furbish up one’s weapons. There is not a single colonized person who will not receive the message that this poem holds. Naman, the hero of the battlefields of Europe, Naman who eternally ensures the power and perenniality of the mother country, Naman is machine-gunned by the police force at the very moment that he comes back to the country of his birth: and this is S£tif in 1945, this is Fort-le-France, this is Saigon, Dakar, and Lagos. All those niggers, all those wogs who fought to defend the liberty of France or for British civilization recognize themselves in this poem by Keita Fodeba.
But Keita Fodeba sees further. In colonized countries, colonialism, after having made use of the natives on the battlefields, uses them as trained soldiers to put down the movements of independence. The ex-service associations are in the colonies one of the most anti-nationalist elements which exist The poet Keita Fodeba was training the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Guinea to frustrate the plots organized by French colonialism. The French secret service intend to use, among other means, the ex-servicemen to break up the young independent Guinean state.
The colonized man who writes for his people ought to use the past with the intention of opening the future, as an invitation to action and a basis for hope. But to ensure that hope and to give it form, he must take part in action and throw himself body and soul into the national struggle. You may speak about everything under the sun; but when you decide to speak of that unique thing in man’s life that is represented by the fact of opening up new horizons, by bringing light to your own country, and by raising yourself and your people to their feet, then you must collaborate on the physical plane.
The responsibility of the native man of culture is not a responsibility vis-a-vis his national culture, but a global responsibility with regard to the totality of the nation, whose culture merely, after all, represents one aspect of that nation. The cultured native should not concern himself with choosing the level on which he wishes to fight or the sector where he decides to give battle for his nation. To fight for national culture means in the first place to fight for the liberation of the nation, that material keystone which makes the building of a culture possible. There is no other fight for culture which can develop apart from the popular struggle. To take an example: all those men and women who are fighting with their bare hands against French colonialism in Algeria are not by any means strangers to the national culture of Algeria. The national Algerian culture is taking on form and content as the battles are being fought out, in prisons, under the guillotine, and in every French outpost which is captured or destroyed.
We must not therefore be content with delving into the past of a people in order to find coherent elements which will counteract colonialism’s attempts to falsify and harm. We must work and fight with the same rhythm as the people to construct the future and to prepare the ground where vigorous shoots are already springing up. A national culture is not a folklore, nor an abstract populism that believes it can discover the people’s true nature. It is not made up of the inert dregs of gratuitous actions, that is to say actions which are less and less attached to the ever-present reality of the people. A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify, and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence. A national culture in underdeveloped countries should therefore take its place at the very heart of the struggle for freedom which these countries are carrying on. Men of African cultures who are still fighting in the name of African-Negro culture and who have called many congresses in the name of the unity of that culture should today realize that all their efforts amount to is to make comparisons between coins and sarcophagi.
There is no common destiny to be shared between the national cultures of Senegal and Guinea; but there is a common destinv between the Senegalese and Guinean nations which are both dominated by the same French colonialism. If it is wished that the national culture of Senegal should come to resemble the national culture of Guinea, it is not enough for the rulers of the two peoples to decide to consider their problems—whether the problem of liberation is concerned, or the trade-union question, or economic difficulties—from similar viewpoints. And even here there does not seem to be complete identity, for the rhythm of the people and that of their rulers are not the same. There can be no two cultures which are completely identical. To believe that it is possible to create ? black culture is to forget that niggers are disappearing, just as those people who brought them into being are seeing the breakup of their economic and cultural supremacy.* * [At the last school prize giving in Dakar, the president of the Senegalese Republic, Leopold Senghor, decided to include the study of the idea of ncgriludc in the curriculum.]
There will never be such a thing as black culture because there is not a single politician who feels he has a vocation to bring black republics into being. The problem is to get to know the place that these men mean to give their people, the kind of social relations that they decide to set up, and the conception that they have of the future
If this decision was due to a desire to stndv historical causes, no one can criticize it. But if on the other hand it was taken in order to create black self-consious-ness, it is simply a turning of his back upon history which has already taken cognizance of the disappearance of the majority of Negroes of humanity. It is this that counts; everything else is mystification, signifying nothing.
In 1959, the cultured Africans who met at Rome never stopped talking about unity. But one of the people who was loudest in the praise of this cultural unity, Jacques Rabemananjara, is today a minister in the Madagascan government, and as such has decided, with his government, to oppose the Algerian people in the General Assembly of the United Nations. Rabemananjara, if he had been true to himself, ought to have resigned from the government and denounced those men who claim to incarnate the will of the Madagascan people. The ninety thousand dead of Madagascar have not given Rabemananjara authority to oppose the aspirations of the Algerian people in the General Assembly of the United Nations.
It is around the peoples’ struggles that African-Negro culture takes on substance, and not around songs, poems, or folklore. Senghor, who is also a member of the Society of African Culture and who has worked with us on the question of African culture, is not afraid for his part either to give the order to his delegation to support French proposals on Algeria. Adherence to African-Negro culture and to the cultural unity of Africa is arrived at in the first place by upholding unconditionally the peoples’ struggle for freedom. No one can truly wish for the spread of African culture if he does not give practical support to the creation of the conditions necessary to the existence of that culture; in other words, to the liberation of the whole continent.
I say again that no speech-making and no proclamation concerning culture will turn us from our fundamental tasks: the liberation of the national territory; a continual struggle against colonialism in its new forms; and an obstinate refusal to enter the charmed circle of mutual admiration at the summit.
Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to oversimplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women.
Three years ago at our first congress I showed that, in the colonial situation, dynamism is replaced fairly quickly by a substantification of the attitudes of the colonizing power. The area of culture is then marked off by fences and signposts. These are in fact so many defense mechanisms of the most elementary type, comparable for more than one good reason to the simple instinct for preservation. The interest of this period for us is that the oppressor does not manage to convince himself of the objective non-existence of the oppressed nation and its culture. Every effort is made to bring the colonized person to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behavior, to recognize the unreality of his “nation,” and, in the the last extreme, the confused and imperfect character of his own biological structure.
Vis-a-vis this state of affairs, the native’s reactions are not unanimous. While the mass of the people maintain intact traditions which are completely different from those of the colonial situation, and the artisanal style solidifies into a formalism which is more and more stereotyped, the intellectual throws himself in frenzied fashion into the frantic acquisition of the culture of the occupying power and takes every opportunity of unfavorably criticizing his own national culture, or else takes refuge in setting out and substantiating the claims of that culture in a way that is passionate but rapidly becomes unproductive.
The common nature of these two reactions lies in the fact that they both lead to impossible contradictions. Whether a turncoat or a substantialist, the native is ineffectual precisely because the analysis of the colonial situation is not carried out on strict lines. The colonial situation calls a halt to national culture in almost every field. Within the framework of colonial domination there is not and there will never be such phenomena as new cultural departures or changes in the national culture. Here and there valiant attempts are sometimes made to reanimate the cultural dynamic and to give fresh impulses to its themes, its forms, and its tonalities. The immediate, palpable, and obvious interest of such leaps ahead is nil. But if we follow up the consequences to the very end we see that preparations are being thus made to brush the cobwebs off national consciousness, to question oppression, and to open up the struggle for freedom.
A national culture under colonial domination is a contested culture whose destruction is sought in systematic fashion. It very quickly becomes a culture condemned to secrecy. This idea of a clandestine culture is immediately seen in the reactions of the occupying power which interprets attachment to traditions as faithfulness to the spirit of the nation and as a refusal to submit. This persistence in following forms of cultures which are already condemned to extinction is already a demonstration of nationality; but it is a demonstration which is a throwback to the laws of inertia. There is no taking of the offensive and no redefining of relationships. There is simply a concentration on a hard core of culture which is becoming more and more shrivelled up, inert, and empty.
By the time a century or two of exploitation has passed there comes about a veritable emaciation of the stock of national culture. It becomes a set of automatic habits, some traditions of dress, and a few broken-down institutions. Little movement can be discerned in such remnants of culture; there is no real creativity and no overflowing life. The poverty of the people, national oppression, and the inhibition of culture are one and the same thing. After a century of colonial domination we find a culture which is rigid in the extreme, or rather what we find are the dregs of culture, its mineral strata. The withering away of the reality of the nation and the death pangs of the national culture are linked to each other in mutual dependence. This is why it is of capital importance to follow the evolution of these relations during the struggle for national freedom. The negation of the native’s culture, the contempt for any manifestation of culture whether active or emotional, and the placing outside the pale of all specialized branches of organization contribute to breed aggressive patterns of conduct in the native. But these patterns of conduct are of the reflexive type; they are poorly differentiated, anarchic, and ineffective. Colonial exploitation, poverty, and endemic famine drive the native more and more to open, organized revolt. The necessity for an open and decisive breach is formed progressively and. imperceptibly, and comes to be felt by the great majority of the people. Those tensions which hitherto were non-existent come into being. International events, the collapse of whole sections of colonial empires and the contradictions inherent in the colonial system strengthen and uphold the native’s combativity while promoting and giving support to national consciousness.
These new-found tensions which are present at all stages in the real nature of colonialism have their repercussions on the cultural plane. In literature, for example, there is relative overproduction. From being a reply on a minor scale to the dominating power, the literature produced by natives becomes differentiated and makes itself into a will to particularism. The intelligentsia, which during the period of repression was essentially a consuming public, now themselves become producers. This literature at first chooses to confine itself to the tragic and poetic style; but later on novels, short stories, and essays are attempted. It is as if a kind of internal organization or law of expression existed which wills that poetic expression become less frequent in proportion as the objectives and the methods of the struggle for liberation become more precise. Themes are completely altered; in fact, we find less and less of bitter, hopeless recrimination and less also of that violent, resounding, florid writing which on the whole serves to reassure the occupying power. The colonialists have in former times encouraged these modes of expression and made their existence possible. Stinging denunciations, the exposing of distressing conditions and passions which find their outlet in expression are in fact assimilated by the occupying power in a cathartic process. To aid such processes is in a certain sense to avoid their dramatization and to clear the atmosphere.
But such a situation can only be transitory. In fact, the progress of national consciousness among the people modifies and gives precision to the literary utterances of the native intellectual. The continued cohesion of the people constitutes for the intellectual an invitation to go further than his cry of protest. The lament first makes the indictment; and then it makes an appeal. In the period that follows, the words of command are heard. The crystallization of the national consciousness will both disrupt literary styles and themes, and also create a completely new public. While at the beginning the native intellectual used to produce his work to be read exclusively by the oppressor, whether with the intention of charming him or of denouncing him through ethnic or subjectivist means, now the native writer progressively takes on the habit of addressing his own people.
It is only from that moment that we can speak of a national literature. Here there is, at the level of literary creation, the taking up and clarification of themes which are typically nationalist. This may be properly called a literature of combat, in the sense that it calls on the whole people to fight for their existence as a nation. It is a literature of combat, because it molds the national consciousness, giving it form and contours and flinging open before it new and boundless horizons; it is a literature of combat because it assumes responsibility, and because it is the will to liberty expressed in terms of time and space.
On another level, the oral tradition—stories, epics, and songs of the people—which formerly were filed away as set pieces are now beginning to change. The storytellers who used to relate inert episodes now bring them alive and introduce into them modifications which are increasingly fundamental. There is a tendency to bring conflicts up to date and to modernize the kinds of struggle which the stories evoke, together with the names of heroes and the types of weapons. The method of allusion is more and more widely used. The formula “This all happened long ago” is substituted with that of “What we are going to speak of happened somewhere else, but it might well have happened here today, and it might happen tomorrow.” The example of Algeria is significant in this context. From 1952-53 on, the storytellers, who were before that time stereotyped and tedious to listen to, completely overturned their traditional methods of storytelling and the contents of their tales. Their public, which was formerly scattered, became compact. The epic, with its typified categories, reappeared; it became an authentic form of entertainment which took on once more a cultural value. Colonialism made no mistake when from 1955 on it proceeded to arrest these storytellers systematically.
The contact of the people with the new movement gives rise to a new rhythm of life and to forgotten muscular tensions, and develops the imagination. Every time the storyteller relates a fresh episode to his public, he presides over a real invocation. The existence of a new type of man is revealed to the public. The present is no longer turned in upon itself but spread out for all to see. The storyteller once more gives free rein to his imagination; he makes innovations and he creates a work of art. It even happens that the characters, which are barely ready for such a transformation—highway robbers or more or less antisocial vagabonds—are taken up and remodeled. The emergence of the imagination and of the creative urge in the songs and epic stories of a colonized country is worth following. The storyteller replies to the expectant people by successive approximations, and makes his way, apparently alone but in fact helped on by his public, toward the seeking out of new patterns, that is to say national patterns. Comedy and farce disappear, or lose their attraction. As for dramatization, it is no longer placed on the plane of the troubled intellectual and his tormented conscience. By losing its characteristics of despair and revolt, the drama becomes part of the common lot of the people and forms part of an action in preparation or already in progress.
Where handicrafts are concerned, the forms of expression which formerly were the dregs of art, surviving as if in a daze, now begin to reach out. Woodwork, for example, which formerly turned out certain faces and attitudes by the million, begins to be differentiated. The inexpressive or overwrought mask comes to life and the arms tend to be raised from the body as if to sketch an action. Compositions containing two, three, or five figures appear. The traditional schools are led on to creative efforts by the rising avalanche of amateurs or of critics. This new vigor in this sector of cultural life very often passes unseen; and yet its contribution to the national effort is of capital importance. By carving figures and faces which are full of life, and bv taking as his theme a group fixed on the same pedestal, the artist invites participation in an organized movement.
If we study the repercussions of the awakening of national consciousness in the domains of ceramics and pottery-making, the same observations may be drawn. Formalism is abandoned in the craftsman’s work. Jugs, jars, and trays are modified, at first imperceptibly, then almost savage’y. The colors, of which formerly there were but few and which obeyed the traditional rules of harmony, increase in number and are influenced by the repercussion of the rising revolution. Certain ochres and blues, which seemed fo-b-‘dden to all eternity in a given cultural area, now assert themselves without giving rise to scandal. In the same way the s ylization of the human face, which according to sociologists is typical of very clearly defined regions, becomes suddenly completely relative. The specialist coming from the home country and the ethnologist are quick to note these changes. On the whole such changes are condemned in the name of a rigid code of artistic style and
of a cultural life which grows up at the heart of the colonial system. The colonialist specialists do not recognize :hese new forms and rush to the help of the traditions of the indigenous society. It is the colonialists who become the defenders of the native style. We remember perfectly, and the example took on a certain measure of importance since the real nature of colonialism was not involved, the reactions of the white jazz specialists when after the Second World War new styles such as the be-bop took definite shape. The fact is that in their eyes jazz should only be the despairing, broken-down nostalgia of an old Negro who is trapped between five glasses of whiskey, the curse of his race, and the racial hatred of the white men. As soon as the Negro comes to an understanding of himself, and understands the rest of the world differently, when he gives birth to hope and forces back the racist universe, it is clear that his trumpet sounds more clearly and his voice less hoarsely. The new fashions in jazz are not simply born of economic competition. We must without any doubt see in them one of the consequences of the defeat, slow but sure, of the southern world of the United States. And it is not Utopian to suppose that in fifty years’ time the type of jazz howl hiccuped by a poor misfortu-nate Negro will be upheld only by the whites who believe in it as an expression of negritude, and who are faithful to this arrested image of a type of relationship.
We might in the same way seek and find in dancing, singing, and traditional rites and ceremonies the same upward-springing trend, and make out the same changes and the same impatience in this field. Well before the political or fighting phase of the national movement, an attentive spectator can thus feel and see the manifestation of new vigor and feel the approaching conflict. He will note unusual forms of expression and themes which are fresh and imbued with a power which is no longer that of invocation but rather of the assembling of the people, a summoning together for a precise purpose. Everything works together to awaken the native’s sensibility and to to make unreal and inacceptable the contemplative attitude, or the acceptance of defeat. The native rebuilds his perceptions because he renews the purpose and dynamism of the craftsmen, of dancing and music, and of literature and the oral tradition. His world comes to lose its accursed character. The conditions necessary for the inevitable conflict are brought together.
We have noted the appearance of the movement in cultural forms and we have seen that this movement and these new forms are linked to the state of maturity of the national consciousness. Now, this movement tends more and more to express itself objectively, in institutions. From thence comes the need for a national existence, whatever the cost.
A frequent mistake, and one which is moreover hardly justifiable, is to try to find cultural expressions for and to give new values to native culture within the framework of colonial domination. This is why we arrive at a proposition which at first sight seems paradoxical: the fact that in a colonized country the most elementary, most savage, and the most undifferentiated nationalism is the most fervent and efficient means of defending national culture. For culture is first the expression of a nation, the expression of its preferences, of its taboos and of its patterns. It is at every stage of the whole of society that other taboos, values, and patterns are formed. A national culture is the sum total of all these appraisals; it is the result of internal and external tensions exerted over society as a whole and also at every level of that society. In the colonial situation, culture, which is doubly deprived of the support of the nation and of the state, falls away and dies. The condition for its existence is therefore national liberation and the renaissance of the state.
The nation is not only the condition of culture, its fruitfulness, its continuous renewal, and its deepening. It is also a necessity. It is the fight for national existence which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation. Later on it is the nation which will ensure the conditions and framework necessary to culture. The nation gathers together the various indispensable elements necessary for the creation of a culture, those elements which alone can give it credibility, validity, life, and creative power. In the same way it is its national character that will make such a culture open to other cultures and which will enable it to influence and permeate other cultures. A non-existent culture can hardly be expected to have bearing on reality, or to influence reality. The first necessity is the re-establishment of the nation in order to give life to national culture in the strictly biological sense of the phrase.
Thus we have followed the breakup of the old strata of culture, a shattering which becomes increasingly fundamental; and we have noticed, on the eve of the decisive conflict for national freedom, the renewing of forms of expression and the rebirth of the imagination. There remains one essential question: what are the relations between the struggle—whether political or military—and culture? Is there a suspension of culture during the conflict? Is the national struggle an expression of a culture? Finally, ought one to say that the battle for freedom however fertile a posteriori with regard to culture is in itself a negation of culture? In short, is the struggle for liberation a cultural phenomenon or not?
We believe that the conscious and organized undertaking by a colonized people to re-establish the sovereignty of that nation constitutes the most complete and obvious cultural manifestation that exists. It is not alone the success of the struggle which afterward gives validity and vigor to culture; culture is not put into cold storage during the conflict. The struggle itself in its development and in its internal progression sends culture along different paths and traces out entirely new ones for it. The struggle for freedom does not give back to the national culture its former value and shapes; this struggle which aims at a fundamentally different set of relations between men cannot leave intact either the form or the content of the people’s culture. After the conflict there is not only the disappearance of colonialism but also the disappearance of the colonized man.
This new humanity cannot do otherwise than define a new humanism both for itself and for others. It is prefigured in the objectives and methods of the conflict. A struggle which mobilizes all classes of the people and which expresses their aims and their impatience, which is not afraid to count almost exclusively on the people’s support, will of necessity triumph. The value of this type of conflict is that it supplies the maximum of conditions necessary for the development and aims of culture. After national freedom has been obtained in these conditions, there is no such painful cultural indecision which is found in certain countries which are newly independent, because the nation by its manner of coming into being and in the terms of its existence exerts a fundamental influence over culture. A nation which is born of the people’s concerted action and which embodies the real aspirations of the people while changing the state cannot exist save in the expression of exceptionally rich forms of culture.
The natives who are anxious for the culture of their country rnd who wish to give to it a universal dimension ought not therefore to place their confidence in the single principle of inevitable, undifferentiated independence written into the consciousness of the people in order to achieve their task. The liberation of the nation is one thing; the methods and popular content of the fight are another. It seems to us that the future of national culture and its riches are equally also part and parcel of the values which have ordained the struggle for freedom.
And now it is time to denounce certain pharisees. National claims, it is here and there stated, are a phase that humanity has left behind. It is the day of great concerted actions, and retarded nationalists ought in consequence to set their mistakes aright. We however consider that the mistake, which may have very serious consequences, lies in wishing to skip the national period. If culture is the expression of national consciousness, I will not hesitate to affirm that in the case with which we are dealing it is the national consciousness which is the most elaborate form of culture.
The consciousness of self is not the closing of a door to communication. Philosophic thought teaches us, on the contrary, that it is its guarantee. National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension. This problem of national consciousness and of national culture takes on in Africa a special dimension. The birth of national consciousness in Africa has a strictly contemporaneous connection with the African consciousness. The responsibility of the African as regards national culture is also a responsibility with regard to African Negro culture. This joint responsibility is not the fact of a metaphysical principle but the awareness of a simple rule which wills that every independent nation in an Africa where colonialism is still entrenched is an encircled nation, a nation which is fragile and in permanent danger.
If man is known by his acts, then we will say that the most urgent thing today for the intellectual is to build up his nation. If this building up is true, that is to say if it interprets the manifest will of the people and reveals the eager African peoples, then the building of a nation is of necessity accompanied by the discovery and encouragement of universalizing values. Far from keeping aloof from other nations, therefore, it is national liberation which leads the nation to play its part on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately only the source of all culture.
-The Wretched of the Earth-

The Pitfalls of National Consciousness

June 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Frants Fanon

History teaches us clearly that the battle against colonialism does not run straight away along the lines of nationalism. For a very long time the native devotes his energies to ending certain definite abuses: forced labor, corporal punishment, inequality of salaries, limitation of political rights, etc. This fight for democracy against the oppression of mankind will slowly leave the confusion of neo-liberal universalism to emerge, sometimes laboriously, as a claim to nationhood. It so happens that the unpre-paredness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.
National consciousness, instead of being the all-embracing crystallization of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been. The faults that we find in it are quite sufficient explanation of the facility with which, when dealing with young and independent nations, the nation is passed over for the race, and the tribe is preferred to the state. These are the cracks in the edifice which show the process of retrogression, that is so harmful and prejudicial to national effort and national unity. We shall see that such retrograde steps with all the weaknesses and serious dangers that they entail are the historical result of the incapacity of the national middle class to rationalize popular action, that is to say their incapacity to see into the reasons for that action.
This traditional weakness, which is almost congenital to the national consciousness of underdeveloped countries, is not solely the result of the mutilation of the colonized people by the colonial regime. It is also the result of the intellectual laziness of the national middle class, of its spiritual penury, and of the profoundly cosmopolitan mold that its mind is set in.
The national middle class which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is an underdeveloped middle class. It has practically no economic power, and in any case it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace. In its narcissism, the national middle class is easily convinced that it can advantageously replace the middle class of the mother country. But that same independence which literally drives it into a corner will give rise within its ranks to catastrophic reactions, and will oblige it to send out frenzied appeals for help to the former mother country. The university and merchant classes which make up the most enlightened section of the new state are in fact characterized by the smallness of their number and their being concentrated in the capital, and the type of activities in which they are engaged: business, agriculture, and the liberal professions. Neither financiers nor industrial
magnates are to be found within this national middle class. The national bourgeoisie of underdeveloped countries is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labor; it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems to be to keep in the running and to be part of the racket. The psychology of the national bourgeoisie is that of the businessman, not that of a captain of industry; and it is only too true that the greed of the settlers and the system of embargoes set up by colonialism have hardly left them any other choice.
Under the colonial system, a middle class which accumulates capital is an impossible phenomenon. Now, precisely, it would seem that the historical vocation of an authentic national middle class in an underdeveloped country is to repudiate its own nature in so far it as it is bourgeois, that is to say in so far as it is the tool of capitalism, and to make itself the willing slave of that revolutionary capital which is the people.
In an underdeveloped country an authentic national middle class ought to consider as its bounden duty to betray the calling fate has marked out for it, and to put itself to school with the people: in other words to put at the people’s disposal the intellectual and technical capital that it has snatched when going through the colonial universities. But unhappily we shall see that very often the national middle class does not follow this heroic, positive, fruitful, and just path; rather, it disappears with its soul set at peace into the shocking ways—shocking because anti-national—of a traditional bourgeoisie, of a bourgeoisie which is stupidly, contemptibly, cynically bourgeois. S The objective of nationalist parties as from a certain Y^LH i given period is, we have seen, strictly national. They I mobilize the people with slogans of independence, and for the rest leave it to future events. When such parties are , questioned on the economic program of the state that they j are clamoring for, or on the nature of the regime which I they propose to install, they are incapable of replying, because, precisely, they are completely ignorant of the economy of their own country.
This economy has always developed outside the limits of their knowledge. They have nothing more than an approximate, bookish acquaintance with the actual and potential resources of their country’s soil and mineral deposits; and therefore they can only speak of these resources on a general and abstract plane. After independence this underdeveloped middle class, reduced in numbers and without capital, which refuses to follow the path of revolution, will fall into deplorable stagnation. It is unable to give free rein to its genius, which formerly it was wont to lament, though rather too glibly, was held in check by colonial domination. The precariousness of its resources and the paucity of its managerial class force it back for years into an artisan economy. From its point of view, which is inevitably a very limited one, a national economy is an economy based on what may be called local products. Long speeches will be made about the artisan class. Since the
middle classes find it impossible to set up factories that would be more profit-earning both for themselves and for the country as a whole, they will surround the artisan class with a chauvinistic tenderness in keeping with the new awareness of national dignity, and which moreover will bring them in quite a lot of money. This cult of local products and this incapability to seek out new systems of management will be equally manifested by the bogging down of the national middle class in the methods of agricultural production which were characteristic of the colonial period.
The national economy of the period of independence is not set on a new footing. It is still concerned with the groundnut harvest, with the cocoa crop and the olive yield. In the same way there is no change in the marketing of basic products, and not a single industry is set up in the country. We go on sending out raw materials; we go on being Europe’s small farmers, who specialize in unfinished products.
Yet the national middle class constantly demands the nationalization of the economy and of the trading sectors. This is because, from their point of view, nationalization does not mean placing the whole economy at the service of the nation and deciding to satisfy the needs of the nation. For them, nationalization does not mean governing the state with regard to the new social relations whose growth it has been decided to encourage. To them, nationalization quite simply means the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a legacy of the colonial period.
Since the middle class has neither sufficient material nor intellectual resources (by intellectual resources we mean engineers and technicians), it limits its claims to the taking over of business offices and commercial houses formerly occupied by the settlers. The national bourgeoisie steps into the shoes of the former European settlement: doctors, barristers, traders, commercial travelers, general agents, and transport agents. It considers that the dignity of the country and its own welfare require that it should occupy all these posts. From now on it will insist that all the big foreign companies should pass through its hands, whether these companies wish to keep on their connections with the country, or to open it up. The national middle class discovers its historic mission: that of intermediary.
Seen through its eyes, its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the mask of neo-colonialism. The national bourgeoisie will be quite content with the role of the Western bourgeoisie’s business agent, and it will play its part without any complexes in a most dignified manner. But this same lucrative role, this cheap-Jack’s function, this meanness of outlook and this absence of all ambition symbolize the incapability of the national middle class to fulfill its historic role of bourgeoisie. Here, the dynamic, pioneer aspect, the characteristics of the inventor and of the discoverer of new worlds which are found in all national bourgeoisies are lamentably absent. In the colonial countries, the spirit of indulgence is dominant at the core of the bourgeoisie; and this is because the national bourgeoisie identifies itself with the Western bourgeoisie, from whom it has leamt its lessons. It follows the Western bourgeoisie along its path of negation and decadence without ever having emulated it in its first stages of exploration and invention, stages which are an acquisition of that Western bourgeoisie whatever the circumstances. In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries identifies itself with the decadence of the bourgeoisie of the West. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end. It is already senile before it has come to know the petulance, the fearlessness, or the will to succeed of youth.
The national bourgeoisie will be greatly helped on its way toward decadence by the Western bourgeoisies, who come to it as tourists avid for the exotic, for big game hunting, and for casinos. The national bourgeoisie organizes centers of rest and relaxation and pleasure resorts to meet the wishes of the Western bourgeoisie. Such activity is given the name of tourism, and for the occasion will be built up as a national industry. If proof is needed of the eventual transformation of certain elements of the ex-native bourgeoisie into the organizers of parties for their Western opposite numbers, it is worth while having a look at what has happened in Latin America. The casinos of Havana and of Mexico, the beaches of Rio, the little Brazilian and Mexican girls, the half-breed thirteen-year-olds, the ports of Acapulco and Copacabana—all these are the stigma of this depravation of the national middle class. Because it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.
Once again we must keep before us the unfortunate example of certain Latin American republics. The banking magnates, the technocrats, and the big businessmen of the United States have only to step onto a plane and they are wafted into subtropical climes, there for a space of a week or ten days to luxuriate in the delicious depravities which their “reserves” hold for them.
The behavior of the national landed proprietors is practically identical with that of the middle classes of the towns. The big farmers have, as soon as independence is proclaimed, demanded the nationalization of agricultural production. Through manifold scheming practices they manage to make a clean sweep of the farms formerly owned by settlers, thus reinforcing their hold on the district. But they do not try to introduce new agricultural methods, nor to farm more intensively, nor to integrate their farming systems into a genuinely national economy.
In fact, the landed proprietors will insist that the state should give them a hundred times more facilities and privileges than were enjoyed by the foreign settlers in former times. The exploitation of agricultural workers will be intensified and made legitimate. Using two or three slogans, these new colonists will demand an enormous amount of work from the agricultural laborers, in the name of the national effort of course. There will be no modernization of agriculture, no planning for development, and no initiative; for initiative throws these people into a panic since it implies a minimum of risk, and completely upsets the hesitant, prudent, landed bourgeoisie, which gradually slips more and more into the lines laid down by colonialism. In the districts where this is the case, the only efforts made to better things are due to the government; it orders them, encourages them, and finances them. The landed bourgeoisie refuses to take the slightest risk, and remains opposed to any venture and to any hazard. It has no intention of building upon sand; it demands solid investments and quick returns. The enormous profits which it pockets, enormous if we take into account the national revenue, are never reinvested. The money-in-the-stocking mentality is dominant in the psychology of these
landed proprietors. Sometimes, especially in the years immediately following independence, the bourgeoisie does not hesitate to invest in foreign banks the profits that it makes out of its native soil. On the other hand large sums are spent on display: on cars, country houses, and on all those things which have been justly described by economists as characterizing an underdeveloped bourgeoisie.
We have said that the native bourgeoisie which comes to power uses its class aggressiveness to corner the positions formerly kept for foreigners. On the morrow of independence, in fact, it violently attacks colonial personalities: barristers, traders, landed proprietors, doctors, and higher civil servants. It will fight to the bitter end against these people “who insult our dignity as a nation.” It waves aloft the notion of the nationalization and Africanization of the ruling classes. The fact is that such action will become more and more tinged by racism, until the bourgeoisie bluntly puts the problem to the government by saying “We must have these posts.” They will not stop their snarling until they have taken over everyone.
The working class of the towns, the masses of unemployed, the small artisans and craftsmen for their part line up behind this nationalist attitude; but in all justice let it be said, they only follow in the steps of their bourgeoisie. If the national bourgeoisie goes into competition with the Europeans, the artisans and craftsmen start a fight against non-national Africans. In the Ivory Coast, the anti-Dahoman and anti-Voltaic troubles are in fact racial riots. The Dahoman and Voltaic peoples, who control the greater part of the petty trade, are, once independence is declared, the object of hostile manifestations on the part of the people of the Ivory Coast. From nationalism we have passed to ultra-nationalism, to chauvinism, and finally to racism. These foreigners are called on to leave; their shops are burned, their street stalls are wrecked, and in fact the government of the Ivory Coast commands them to go, thus giving their nationals satisfaction. In Senegal it is the anti-Soudanese demonstrations which called forth these words from Mr. Mamadou Dia:
‘The truth is that the Senegalese people have only adopted the Mali mystique through attachment to its leaders. Their adhesion to the Mali has no other significance than that of a fresh act of faith in the political policy of the latter. The Senegalese territory was no less real, in fact it was all the more so in that the presence of the Soudanese in Dakar was too obviously manifested for it to be forgotten. It is this fact which explains that, far from being regretted, the break-up of the Federation has been greeted with relief by the mass of the people and nowhere was a hand raised to maintain it.’*
While certain sections of the Senegalese people jump * Mamadou Dia, Nations africaines et solidarity mondial, p. the chance which is afforded them by their own leaders to get rid of the Soudanese, who hamper them in commercial matters or in administrative posts, the Congolese, who stood by hardly daring to believe in the mass exodus of the Belgians, decide to bring pressure to bear on the Senegalese who have settled in Leopoldville and Elisabeth-ville and to get them to leave.
As we see it, the mechanism is identical in the two sets of circumstances. If the Europeans get in the way of the intellectuals and business bourgeoisie of the young nation, for the mass of the people in the towns competition is represented principally by Africans of another nation. On the Ivory Coast these competitors are the Dahomans; in Ghana they are the Nigerians; in Senegal, they are the Soudanese.
When the bourgeoisie’s demands for a ruling class made up exclusively of Negroes or Arabs do not spring from an authentic movement of nationalization but merely correspond to an anxiety to place in the bourgeoisie’s hands the power held hitherto by the foreigner, the masses on their level present the same demands, confining however the notion of Negro or Arab within certain territorial limits. Between resounding assertions of the unity of the continent and this behavior of the masses which has its inspiration in their leaders, many different attitudes may be traced. We observe a permanent seesaw between African unity, which fades quicker and quicker into the mists of oblivion, and a heartbreaking return to chauvinism in its most bitter and detestable form.
On the Senegalese side, the leaders who have been the main theoreticians of African unity, and who several times over have sacrificed their local political organizations and their personal positions to this idea, are, though in all good faith, undeniably responsible. Their mistake—our mistake— has been, under pretext of fighting “Balkanization,” not to have taken into consideration the pre-colonial fact of terri-torialism. Our mistake has been not to have paid enough attention in our analyses to this phenomenon, which is the fruit of colonialism if you like, but also a sociological fact which no theory of unity, be it ever so laudable or attractive, can abolish. We have allowed ourselves to be seduced by a mirage: that of the structure which is the most pleasing to our minds; and, mistaking our ideal for reality, we have believed it enough to condemn territorialism, and its natural sequel, micro-nationalism, for us to get the better of them, and to assure the success of our chimerical undertaking.*
From the chauvinism of the Senegalese to the tribalism of the Yolofs is not a big step. For in fact, everywhere that the national bourgeoisie has failed to break through to the people as a whole, to enlighten them, and to consider all problems in the first place with regard to them—a failure due to the bourgeoisie’s attitude of mistrust and to the haziness of its political tenets—everywhere that national bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of extending its vision of the world sufficiently, we observe a falling back toward old tribal attitudes, and, furious and sick at heart, we perceive that race feeling in its most exacerbated form is triumphing. Since the sole motto of the bourgeoisie is “Replace the foreigner,” and because it hastens in every walk of life to secure justice for itself and to take over the posts that the foreigner has vacated, the “small people” of the nation—taxi drivers, cake sellers, and bootblacks—will be equally quick to insist that the Dahomans go home to their own country, or will even go further and demand that the Foulbis and the Peuhls return to their jungle or their mountains.
It is from this viewpoint that we must interpret the fact that in young, independent countries, here and there federalism triumphs. We know that colonial domination has marked certain regions out for privilege. The colony’s economy is not integrated into that of the nation as a whole. It is still organized in order to complete the economy of the different mother countries. Colonialism hardly ever exploits the whole of a country. It contents itself with bringing to light the natural resources, which it extracts, and exports to meet the needs of the mother country’s industries, thereby allowing certain sectors of the colony to become relatively rich. But the rest of the colony follows its path of underdevelopment and poverty, or at all events sinks into it more deeply.
Immediately after independence, the nationals who live in the more prosperous regions realize their good luck, and show a primary and profound reaction in refusing to feed the other nationals. The districts which are rich in groundnuts’, in cocoa, and in diamonds come to the forefront, and dominate the empty panorama which the rest of the nation presents. The nationals of these rich regions look upon the others with hatred, and find in them envy and covetousness, and homicidal impulses. Old rivalries which were there before colonialism, old interracial hatreds come to the surface. The Balubas refuse to feed the Luluas; Katanga forms itself into a state; and Albert Kal-ondji gets himself crowned king of South Kasai.
African unity, that vague formula, yet one to which the men and women of Africa were passionately attached, and whose operative value served to bring immense pressure to bear on colonialism, African unity takes off the mask, and crumbles into regionalism inside the hollow shell of nationality itself. The national bourgeoisie, since it is strung up to defend its immediate interests, and sees no further than the end of its nose, reveals itself incapable of simply bringing national unity into being, or of building up the nation on a stable and productive basis. The national front which has forced colonialism to withdraw cracks up, and wastes the victory it has gained.
This merciless fight engaged upon by races and tribes, and this aggressive anxiety to occupy the posts left vacant by the departure of the foreigner, will equally give rise to religious rivalries. In the country districts and the bush, minor confraternities, local religions, and maraboutic cults will show a new vitality and will once more take up their round of excommunications. In the big towns, on the level of the administrative classes, we will observe the coming to grips of the two great revealed religions, Islam and Catholicism.
Colonialism, which had been shaken to its very foundations by the birth of African unity, recovers its balance and tries now to break that will to unity by using all the movement’s weaknesses. Colonialism will set the African peoples moving by revealing to them the existence of “spiritual” rivalries. In Senegal, it is the newspaper New Africa which week by week distills hatred of Islam and of the Arabs. The Lebanese, in whose hands is the greater part of the small trading enterprises on the western seaboard, are marked out for national obloquy. The missionaries find it opportune to remind the masses that long before the advent of European colonialism the great African empires were disrupted by the Arab invasion. There is no hesitation in saying that it was the Arab occupation which paved the way for European colonialism; Arab imperialism is commonly spoken of, and the cultural imperialism of Islam is condemned. Moslems are usually kept out of the more important posts. In other regions the reverse is the case, and it is the native Christians who are considered as conscious, objective enemies of national independence.
Colonialism pulls every string shamelessly, and is only too content to set at loggerheads those Africans who only yesterday were leagued against the settlers. The idea of a Saint Bartholomew takes shape in certain minds, and the advocates of colonialism laugh to themselves derisively when they hear magnificent declarations about African unity. Inside a single nation, religion splits up the people into different spiritual communities, all of them kept up and stiffened by colonialism and its instruments. Totally unexpected events break out here and there. In regions where Catholicism or Protestantism predominates, we see the Moslem minorities flinging themselves with unaccustomed ardor into their devotions. The Islamic feast-days are revived, and the Moslem religion defends itself inch by inch against the violent absolutism of the Catholic faith. Ministers of state are heard to say for the benefit of certain individuals that if they are not content they have only to go to Cairo. Sometimes American Protestantism transplants its anti-Catholic prejudices into African soil, and keeps up tribal rivalries through religion. Taking the continent as a whole, this religious tension may be responsible for the revival of the commonest racial feeling. Africa is divided into Black and White, and the names that are substituted—Africa South of the Sahara, Africa North of the Sahara—do not manage to hide this latent racism. Here, it is affirmed that White Africa has a thousand-year-old tradition of culture; that she is Mediterranean, that she is a continuation of Europe, and that she shares in Greco-Latin civilization. Black Africa is looked on as a region that is inert, brutal, uncivilized, in a word, savage. There, all day long you may hear unpleasant remarks about veiled women, polygamy, and the supposed disdain the Arabs have for the feminine sex. All such remarks are reminiscent in their aggressiveness of those that are so often heard coming from the settler’s lips. The national bourgeoisie of each of these two great regions, which has totally assimilated colonialist thought in its most corrupt form, takes over from the Europeans and establishes in the continent a racial philosophy which is extremely harmful for the future of Africa. By its laziness and will to imitation, it promotes the ingrafting and stiffening of racism which was characteristic of the colonial era. Thus it is by no means astonishing to hear in a country that calls itself African remarks which are neither more nor less than racist, and to observe the existence of paternalist behavior which gives you the bitter impression that you are in Paris, Brussels, or London.
In certain regions of Africa, driveling paternalism with regard to the blacks and the loathsome idea derived from Western culture that the black man is impervious to logic and the sciences reign in all their nakedness. Sometimes it may be ascertained that the black minorities are hemmed in by a kind of semi-slavery which renders legitimate that species of wariness, or in other words mistrust, which the countries of Black Africa feel with regard to the countries of White Africa. It is all too common that a citizen of Black Africa hears himself called a “Negro” by the children when walking in the streets of a big town in White Africa, or finds that civil servants address him in pidgin English.
Yes, unfortunately it is not unknown that students from Black Africa who attend secondary schools north of the Sahara hear their schoolfellows asking if in their country there are houses, if they know what electricity is, or if they practice cannibalism in their families. Yes, unfortunately it is not unknown that in certain regions north of the Sahara Africans coming from countries south of the Sahara meet nationals who implore them to take them “anywhere at all on condition we meet Negroes.” In parallel fashion, in certain young states of Black Africa members of parliament, or even ministers, maintain without a trace of humor that the danger is not at all of a reoccupation of their country by colonialism but of an eventual invasion by “those vandals of Arabs coming from the North.”
As we see it, the bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie is not apparent in the economic field only. They have come to power in the name of a narrow nationalism and representing a race; they will prove themselves incapable of triumphantly putting into practice a program with even a minimum humanist content, in spite of fine-sounding declarations which are devoid of meaning since the speakers bandy about in irresponsible fashion phrases that come straight out of European treatises on morals and political philosophy. When the bourgeoisie is strong, when it can arrange everything and everybody to serve its power, it does not hesitate to affirm positively certain democratic ideas which claim to be universally applicable. There must be very exceptional circumstances if such a bourgeoisie, solidly based economically, is forced into denying its own humanist ideology. The Western bourgeoisie, though fundamentally racist, most often manages to mask this racism by a multiplicity of nuances which allow it to preserve intact its proclamation of mankind’s outstanding dignity.
The Western bourgeoisie has prepared enough fences and railings to have no real fear of the competition of those whom it exploits and holds in contempt. Western bourgeois racial prejudice as regards the nigger and the Arab is a racism of contempt; it is a racism which minimizes what it hates. Bourgeois ideology, however, which is the proclamation of an essential equality between men, manages to appear logical in its own eyes by inviting the sub-men to become human, and to take as their prototype Western humanity as incarnated in the Western bourgeoisie.
The racial prejudice of the young national bourgeoisie is a racism of defense, based on fear. Essentially it is no different from vulgar tribalism, or the rivalries between septs or confraternities. We may understand why keenwitted international observers have hardly taken seriously the great flights of oratory about African unity, for it is true that there are so many cracks in that unity visible to the naked eye that it is only reasonable to insist that all these contradictions ought to be resolved before the day of unity can come.
The peoples of Africa have only recently come to know themselves. They have decided, in the name of the whole continent, to weigh in strongly against the colonial regime. Now the nationalist bourgeoisies, who in region after region hasten to make their own fortunes and to set up a national system of exploitation, do their utmost to put obstacles in the path of this “Utopia.” The national bourgeoisies, who are quite clear as to what their objectives are, have decided to bar the way to that unity, to that coordinated effort on the part of two hundred and fifty million men to triumph over stupidity, hunger, and inhumanity at one and the same time. This is why we must understand that African unity can only be achieved through the upward thrust of the people, and under the leadership of the people, that is to say, in defiance of the interests of the bourgeoisie.
As regards internal affairs and in the sphere of institutions, the national bourgeoisie will give equal proof of its incapacity. In a certain number of underdeveloped countries the parliamentary game is faked from the beginning. Powerless economically, unable to bring about the existence of coherent social relations, and standing on the principle of its domination as a class, the bourgeoisie chooses the solution that seems to it the easiest, that of the single party. It does not yet have the quiet conscience and the calm that economic power and the control of the state machine alone can give. It does not create a state that reassures the ordinary citizen, but rather one that rouses his anxiety.
The state, which by its strength and discretion ought to inspire confidence and disarm and lull everybody to sleep, on the contrary seeks to impose itself in spectacular fashion. It makes a display, it jostles people and bullies them, thus intimating to the citizen that he is in continual danger. The single party is the modern form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, unmasked, unpainted, unscrupulous, and cynical.
It is true that such a dictatorship does not go very far. It cannot halt the processes of its own contradictions. Since the bourgeoisie has not the economic means to ensure its domination and to throw a few crumbs to the rest of the country; since, moreover, it is preoccupied with filling its pockets as rapidly as possible but also as prosaically as possible, the country sinks all the more deeply into stagnation. And in order to hide this stagnation and to mark this regression, to reassure itself and to give itself something to boast about, the bourgeoisie can find nothing better to do than to erect grandiose buildings in the capital and to lay out money on what are called prestige expenses.
The national bourgeoisie turns its back more and more on the interior and on the real facts of its undeveloped country, and tends to look toward the former mother country and the foreign capitalists who count on its obliging compliance. As it does not share its profits with the people, and in no way allows them to enjoy any of the dues that are paid to it by the big foreign companies, it will discover the need for a popular leader to whom will fall the dual role of stabilizing the regime and of perpetuating the domination of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois dictatorship of underdeveloped countries draws its strength from the existence of a leader. We know that in the well-developed countries the bourgeois dictatorship is the result of the economic power of the bourgeoisie. In the underdeveloped countries on the contrary the leader stands for moral power, in whose shelter the thin and poverty-stricken bourgeoisie of the young nation decides to get rich.
The people who for years on end have seen this leader and heard him speak, who from a distance in a kind of dream have followed his contests with the colonial power, spontaneously put their trust in this patriot. Before independence, the leader generally embodies the aspirations of the people for independence, political liberty, and national dignity. But as soon as independence is declared, far from embodying in concrete form the needs of the people in what touches bread, land, and the restoration of the country to the sacred hands of the people, the leader will reveal his inner purpose: to become the general president of that company of profiteers impatient for their returns which constitutes the national bourgeoisie.
In spite of his frequently honest conduct and his sincere declarations, the leader as seen objectively is the fierce defender of these interests, today combined, of the national bourgeoisie and the ex-colonial companies. His honesty, which is his soul’s true bent, crumbles away little by little. His contact with the masses is so unreal that he comes to believe that his autliority is hated and that the services that he has rendered his country are being called in question. The leader judges the ingratitude of the masses harshly, and every day that passes ranges himself a little more resolutely on the side of the exploiters. He therefore knowingly becomes the aider and abettor of the young bourgeoisie which is plunging into the mire of corruption and pleasure.
The economic channels of the young state sink back inevitably into neo-colonialist lines. The national economy, formerly protected, is today literally controlled. The budget is balanced through loans and gifts, while every three or four months the chief ministers themselves or else their governmental delegations come to the erstwhile mother countries or elsewhere, fishing for capital.
The former colonial power increases its demands, accumulates concessions and guarantees and takes fewer and fewer pains to mask the hold it has over the national government. The people stagnate deplorably in unbearable poverty; slowly they awaken to the unutterable treason of their leaders. This awakening is all the more acute in that the bourgeoisie is incapable of learning its lesson. The distribution of wealth that it effects is not spread out between a great many sectors; it is not ranged among different levels, nor does it set up a hierarchy of halftones. The new caste is an affront all the more disgusting in that the immense majority, nine-tenths of the population, continue to die of starvation. The scandalous enrichment, speedy and pitiless, of this caste is accompanied by a decisive awakening on the part of the people, and a growing awareness that promises stormy days to come. The bourgeois caste, that section of the nation which annexes for its
own profit all the wealth of the country, by a kind of unexpected logic will pass disparaging judgments upon the other Negroes and the other Arabs that more often than not are reminiscent of the racist doctrines of the former representatives of the colonial power. At one and the same time the poverty of the people, the immoderate money-making of the bourgeois caste, and its widespread scorn for the rest of the nation will harden thought and action.
But such threats will lead to the reaffirmation of authority and the appearance of dictatorship. The leader, who has behind him a lifetime of political action and devoted patriotism, constitutes a screen between the people and the rapacious bourgeoisie since he stands surety for the ventures of that caste and closes his eyes to their insolence, their mediocrity, and their fundamental immorality. He acts as a braking-power on the awakening consciousness of the people. He comes to the aid of the bourgeois caste and hides his maneuvers from the people, thus becoming the most eager worker in the task of mystifying and bewildering the masses. Every time he speaks to the people he calls to mind his often heroic life, the struggles he has led in the name of the people and the victories that in their name he has achieved, thereby intimating clearly to the masses that they ought to go on putting their confidence in him. There are plenty of examples of African patriots who have introduced into the cautious political advance of their elders a decisive style characterized by its nationalist outlook. These men came from the backwoods,
and they proclaimed, to the scandal of the dominating power and the shame of the nationals of the capital, that they came from the backwoods and that they spoke in the name of the Negroes. These men, who have sung the praises of their race, who have taken upon themselves the whole burden of the past, complete with cannibalism and degeneracy, find themselves today, alas, at the head of a team of administrators which turns its back on the jungle and which proclaims that the vocation of the people is to obey, to go on obeying, and to be obedient till the end of time.
The leader pacifies the people. For years on end after independence has been won, we see him, incapable of urging on the people to a concrete task, unable really to open the future to them or of flinging them into the path of national reconstruction, that is to say, of their own reconstruction; we see him reassessing the history of independence and recalling the sacred unity of the struggle for liberation. The leader, because he refuses to break up the national bourgeoisie, asks the people to fall back into the past and to become drunk on the remembrance of the epoch which led up to independence. The leader, seen objectively, brings the people to a halt and persists in either expelling them from history or preventing them from taking root in it. During the struggle for liberation the leader awakened the people and promised them a forward march, heroic and unmitigated. Today, he uses every means to put them to sleep, and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to look back on the long way they have come since then.
Now it must be said that the masses show themselves totally incapable of appreciating the long way they have come. The peasant who goes on scratching out a living from the soil, and the unemployed man who never finds employment do not manage, in spite of public holidays and flags, new and brightly colored though they may be, to convince themselves that anything has really changed in their lives. The bourgeoisie who are in power vainly increase the number of processions; the masses have no illusions. They are hungry; and the police officers, though they are now Africans, do not serve to reassure them particularly. The masses begin to sulk; they turn away from this nation in which they have been given no place and begin to lose interest in it.
From time to time, however, the leader makes an effort; he speaks on the radio or makes a tour of the country to pacify the people, to calm them and bemuse them. The leader is all the more necessary in that there is no party. During the period of the struggle for independence there was one right enough, a party led by the present leader. But since then this party has sadly disintegrated; nothing is left but the shell of a party, the name, the emblem, and the motto. The living party, which ought to make possible the free exchange of ideas which have been elaborated according to the real needs of the mass of the people, has been transformed into a trade union of individual interests. Since the proclamation of independence the party no longer helps the people to set out its demands, to become more aware of its needs and better able to establish its power. Today, the party’s mission is to deliver to the people the instructions which issue from the summit. There no longer exists the fruitful give-and-take from the bottom to the top and from the top to the bottom which creates and guarantees democracy in a party. Quite on the contrary, the party has made itself into a screen between the masses and the leaders. There is no longer any party life, for the branches which were set up during the colonial period are today completely demobilized.
The militant champs on his bit. Now it is that the attitude taken up by certain militants during the struggle for liberation is seen to be justified, for the fact is that in the thick of the fight more than a few militants asked the leaders to formulate a dogma, to set out their objectives, and to draw up a program. But under the pretext of safeguarding national unity, the leaders categorically refused to attempt such a task. The only worthwhile dogma, it was repeatedly stated, is the union of the nation against colonialism. And on they went, armed with an impetuous slogan which stood for principles, while their only ideological activity took the form of a series of variants on the theme of the right of peoples to self-determination, borne on the wind of history which would inevitably sweep away colonialism. When the militants asked whether the wind of history couldn’t be a little more clearly analyzed, the leaders gave them instead hope and trust, the necessity of decolonialization and its inevitability, and more to that effect.
After independence, the party sinks into an extraordinary lethargy. The militants are only called upon when so-called popular manifestations are afoot, or international conferences, or independence celebrations. The local party leaders are given administrative posts, the party becomes an administration, and the militants disappear into the crowd and take the empty title of citizen. Now that they have fulfilled their historical mission of leading the bourgeoisie to power, they are firmly invited to retire so that the bourgeoisie may carry out its mission in peace and quiet. But we have seen that the national bourgeoisie of underdeveloped countries is incapable of carrying out any mission whatever. After a few years, the break-up of the party becomes obvious, and any observer, even the most superficial, can notice that the party, today the skeleton of its former self, only serves to immobilize the people. The party, which during the battle had drawn to itself the whole nation, is falling to pieces. The intellectuals who on the eve of independence rallied to the party, now make it clear by their attitude that they gave their support with no other end in view than to secure their slices of the cake of independence. The party is becoming a means of private advancement.
There exists inside the new regime, however, an inequality in the acquisition of wealth and in monopolization. Some have a double source of income and demonstrate that they are specialized in opportunism. Privileges multiply and corruption triumphs, while morality declines. Today the vultures are too numerous and too voracious in proportion to the lean spoils of the national wealth. The party, a true instrument of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, reinforces the machine, and ensures that the people are hemmed in and immobilized. The party helps the government to hold the people down. It becomes more and more clearly anti-democratic, an implement of coercion. The party is objectively, sometimes subjectively, the accomplice of the merchant bourgeoisie. In the same way that the national bourgeoisie conjures away its phase of construction in order to throw itself into the enjoyment of its wealth, in parallel fashion in the institutional sphere it jumps the parliamentary phase and chooses a dictatorship of the national-socialist type. We know today that this fascism at high interest which has triumphed for half a century in Latin America is the dialectic result of states which were semi-colonial during the period of independence.
In these poor, underdeveloped countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty, the army and the police constitute the pillars of the regime; an army and a police force (another rule which must not be forgotten) which are advised by foreign experts. The strength of the police force and the power of the army are proportionate to the stagnation in which the rest of the nation is sunk. By dint of yearly loans, concessions are snatched up by foreigners; scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of parliament feather their nests and there is not a soul down to the simple policeman or the customs officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption.
The opposition becomes more aggressive and the people at once catch on to its propaganda. From now on their hostility to the bourgeoisie is plainly visible. This young bourgeoisie which appears to be afflicted with precocious senility takes no heed of the advice showered upon it, and reveals itself incapable of understanding that it would be in its interest to draw a veil, even if only the flimsiest kind, over its exploitation. It is the most Christian newspaper, The African Weekly, published in Brazzaville, which addresses the princes of the regime thus:
“You who are in good positions, you and your wives, today you enjoy many comforts; perhaps a good education, a fine house, good contacts, and many missions on which you are delegated which open new horizons to you. But all your wealth forms a hard shell which prevents your seeing the poverty that surrounds you. Take care!”
This warning coming from The African “Weekly and addressed to the henchmen of Monsieur Youlou has, we may imagine, nothing revolutionary about it. What The African Weekly wants to point out to the starvers of the Congolese people is that God will punish their conduct. It continues: “If there is no room in your heart for consideration toward those who are beneath you, there will be no room for you in God’s house.”
It is clear that the national bourgeoisie hardly worries at all about such an indictment. With its wave lengths tuned in to Europe, it continues firmly and resolutely to make the most of the situation. The enormous profits which it derives from the exploitation of the people are exported to foreign countries. The young national bourgeoisie is often more suspicious of the regime that it has set up than are the foreign companies. The national bourgeoisie refuses to invest in its own country and behaves toward the state that protects and nurtures it with, it must be remarked, astonishing ingratitude. It acquires foreign securities in the European markets, and goes off to spend the weekend in Paris or Hamburg. The behavior of the national bourgeoisie of certain underdeveloped countries is reminiscent of the members of a gang, who after every holdup hide their share in the loot from the other members who are their accomplices and prudently start thinking about their retirement. Such behavior shows that more or less consciously the national bourgeoisie is playing to lose if the game goes on too long. They guess that the present situation will not last indefinitely but they intend to make the most of it. Such exploitation and such contempt for the state, however, inevitably gives rise to discontent among the mass of the people. It is in these conditions that the regime becomes harsher. In the absence of a parliament it is the army that becomes the arbiter: but sooner or later it will realize its power and will hold over the government’s head the threat of a manifesto.
As we see it, the national bourgeoisie of certain underdeveloped countries has learned nothing from books. If they had looked closer at the Latin American countries they doubtless would have recognized the dangers which threaten them. We may thus conclude that this bourgeoisie in miniature that thrusts itself into the forefront is condemned to mark time, accomplishing nothing. In underdeveloped countries the bourgeois phase is impossibly arid. Certainly, there is a police dictatorship and a profiteering caste, but the construction of an elaborate bourgeois society seems to be condemned to failure. The ranks of decked-out profiteers whose grasping hands scrape up the bank notes from a poverty-stricken country will sooner or later be men of straw in the hands of the army, cleverly handled by foreign experts. In this way the former mother country practices indirect government, both by the bourgeoisie that it upholds and also by the national army led by its experts, an army that pins the people down, immobilizing and terrorizing them.
The observations that we have been able to make about the national bourgeoisie bring us to a conclusion which should cause no surprise. In underdeveloped countries, the bourgeoisie should not be allowed to find the conditions necessary for its existence and its growth. In other words, the combined effort of the masses led by a party and of intellectuals who are highly conscious and armed with revolutionary principles ought to bar the way to this useless and harmful middle class.
The theoretical question that for the last fifty years has been raised whenever the history of underdeveloped countries is under discussion—whether or not the bourgeois phase can be skipped—ought to be answered in the field of revolutionary action, and not by logic. The bourgeois phase in underdeveloped countries can only justify itself in so far as the national bourgeoisie has sufficient economic and technical strength to build up a bourgeois society, to create the conditions necessary for the development of a large-scale proletariat, to mechanize agriculture, and finally to make possible the existence of an authentic national culture.
A bourgeoisie similar to that which developed in Europe is able to elaborate an ideology and at the same time strengthen its own power. Such a bourgeoisie, dynamic, educated, and secular has fully succeeded in its undertaking of the accumulation of capital and has given to the nation a minimum of prosperity. In underdeveloped countries, we have seen that no true bourgeoisie exists; there is only a sort of little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept the dividends that the former colonial power hands out to it. This get-rich-quick middle class shows itself incapable of great ideas or of inventiveness. It remembers what it has read in European textbooks and imperceptibly it becomes not even the replica of Europe, but its caricature.
The struggle against the bourgeoisie of underdeveloped countries is far from being a theoretical one. It is not concerned with making out its condemnation as laid down by the judgment of history. The national bourgeoisie of underdeveloped countries must not be opposed because it threatens to slow down the total, harmonious development of the nation. It must simply be stoutly opposed because, literally, it is good for nothing. This bourgeoisie, expressing its mediocrity in its profits, its achievements, and in its thought tries to hide this mediocrity by buildings which have prestige value at the individual level, by chromium-plating on big American cars, by holidays on the Riviera and weekends in neon-lit nightclubs.
This bourgeoisie which turns its back more and more on the people as a whole does not even succeed in extracting spectacular concessions from the West, such as investments which would be of value for the country’s economy or the setting up of certain industries. On the contrary, assembly plants spring up and consecrate the type of neo-colonialist industrialization in which the country’s economy flounders. Thus it must not be said that the national bourgeoisie retards the country’s evolution, that it makes it lose time or that it threatens to lead the nation up blind alleys. In fact, the bourgeois phase in the history of underdeveloped countries is a completely useless phase. When this caste has vanished, devoured by its own contradictions, it will be seen that nothing new has happened since independence was proclaimed, and that everything must be started again from scratch. The changeover will not take place at the level of the structures set up by the bourgeoisie during its reign, since that caste has done nothing more than take over unchanged the legacy of the economy, the thought, and the institutions left by the colonialists.
It is all the easier to neutralize this bourgeois class in that, as we have seen, it is numerically, intellectually, and economically weak. In the colonized territories, the bourgeois caste draws its strength after independence chiefly from agreements reached with the former colonial power.
The national bourgeoisie has all the more opportunity to take over from the oppressor since it has been given time for a leisurely tete-a-tete with the ex-colonial power. But deep-rooted contradictions undermine the ranks of that bourgeoisie; it is this that gives the observer an impression of instability. There is not as yet a homogeneity of caste. Many intellectuals, for example, condemn this regime based on the domination of the few. In underdeveloped countries, there are certain members of the elite, intellectuals and civil servants, who are sincere, who feel the necessity for a planned economy, the outlawing of profiteers, and the strict prohibition of attempts at mystification. In addition, such men fight in a certain measure for the mass participation of the people in the ordering of public affairs.
In those underdeveloped countries which accede to independence, there almost always exists a small number of honest intellectuals, who have no very precise ideas about politics, but who instinctively distrust the race for positions and pensions which is symptomatic of the early days of independence in colonized countries. The personal situation of these men (breadwinners of large families) or their background (hard struggles and a strictly moral upbringing) explains their manifest contempt for profiteers and schemers. We must know how to use these men in the decisive battle that we mean to engage upon which will lead to a healthier outlook for the nation. Closing the road to the national bourgeoisie is, certainly, the means whereby the vicissitudes of newfound independence may be avoided, and with them the decline of morals, the installing of corruption within the country, economic regression, and the immediate disaster of an anti-democratic regime depending on force and intimidation. But it is also the only means toward progress.
What holds up the taking of a decision by the profoundly democratic elements of the young nation and adds to their timidity is the apparent strength of the bourgeoisie. In newly independent underdeveloped countries, the whole of the ruling class swarms into the towns built by colonialism. The absence of any analysis of the total population induces onlookers to think that there exists a powerful and perfectly organized bourgeoisie. In fact, we know today that the bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries is non-existent. What creates a bourgeoisie is not the bourgeois spirit, nor its taste or manners, nor even its aspirations. The bourgeoisie is above all the direct product of precise economic conditions.
Now, in the colonies, the economic conditions are conditions of a foreign bourgeoisie. Through its agents, it is the bourgeoisie of the mother country that we find present in the colonial towns. The bourgeoisie in the colonies is, before independence, a Western bourgeoisie, a true branch of the bourgeoisie of the mother country, that derives its legitimacy, its force, and its stability from the bourgeoisie of the homeland. During the period of unrest that precedes independence, certain native elements, intellectuals, and traders, who live in the midst of that imported bourgeoisie, try to identify themselves with it. A permanent wish for identification with the bourgeois representatives of the mother country is to be found among the native intellectuals and merchants.
This native bourgeoisie, which has adopted unreservedly and with enthusiasm the ways of thinking characteristic of the mother country, which has become wonderfully detached from its own thought and has based its consciousness upon foundations which are typically foreign, will realize, with its mouth watering, that it lacks something essential to a bourgeoisie: money. The bourgeoisie of an underdeveloped country is a bourgeoisie in spirit only. It is not its economic strength, nor the dynamism of its leaders, nor the breadth of its ideas that ensures its peculiar quality as bourgeoisie. Consequently it remains at the beginning and for a long time afterward a bourgeoisie of the civil service. It is the positions that it holds in the new national administration which will give it strength and serenity. If the government gives it enough time and opportunity, this bourgeoisie will manage to put away enough money to stiffen its domination. But it will always reveal itself as incapable of giving birth to an authentic bourgeois society with all the economic and industrial consequences which this entails.
From the beginning the national bourgeoisie directs its efforts toward activities of the intermediary type. The basis of its strength is found in its aptitude for trade and small business enterprises, and in securing commissions. It is not its money that works, but its business acumen. It does not go in for investments and it cannot achieve that accumulation of capital necessary to the birth and blossoming of an authentic bourgeoisie. At that rate it would take centuries to set on foot an embryonic industrial revolution, and in any case it would find the way barred by the relentless opposition of the former mother country, which will have taken all precautions when setting up neo-colo-nialist trade conventions.
If the government wants to bring the country out of its stagnation and set it well on the road toward development and progress, it must first and foremost nationalize the middleman’s trading sector. The bourgeoisie, who wish to see both the triumph of the spirit of money-making and the enjoyment of consumer goods, and at the same time the triumph of their contemptuous attitude toward the mass of the people and the scandalous aspect of profit-making (should not we rather call it robbery?), in fact invest largely in this sector. The intermediary market which formerly was dominated by the settlers will be invaded by the young national bourgeoisie. In a colonial economy the intermediary sector is by far the most important. If you want to progresSj you must decide in the first few hours to nationalize this sector. But it is clear that such a nationalization ought not to take on a rigidly state-controlled aspect. It is not a question of placing at the head of these services citizens who have had no political education. Every time such a procedure has been adopted it has been seen that the government has in fact contributed to the triumph of a dictatorship of civil servants who had been set in the mold of the former mother country, and who quickly showed themselves incapable of thinking in terms of the nation as a whole. These civil servants very soon began to sabotage the national economy and to throw its structure out of joint; under them, corruption, prevarication, the diversion of stocks, and the black market came to stay. Nationalizing the intermediary sector means
organizing wholesale and retail cooperatives on a democratic basis; it also means decentralizing these cooperatives by getting the mass of the people interested in the ordering of public affairs. You will not be able to do all this unless you give the people some political education. Previously, it was realized that this key problem should be clarified once and for all. Today, it is true that the principle of the political education of the masses is generally subscribed to in underdeveloped countries. But it does not seem that this primordial task is really taken to heart. When people stress the need to educate the people politically, they decide to point out at the same time that they want to be supported by the people in the action that they are taking. A government which declares that it wishes to educate the people politically thus expresses its desire to govern with the people and for the people. It ought not to speak a language destined to camouflage a bourgeois administration. In the capitalist countries, the bourgeois governments have long since left this infantile stage of authority behind. To put it bluntly, they govern with the help of their laws, their economic strength, and their police. Now that their power is firmly established they no longer need to lose time in striking demagogic attitudes. They govern in their own interests, and they have the courage of their own strength. They have created legitimacy, and they are strong in their own right.
The bourgeois caste in newly independent countries has not yet the cynicism nor the unruffled calm which is founded on the strength of long-established bourgeoisies. From this springs the fact that it shows a certain anxiety to hide its real convictions, to sidetrack, and in short to set itself up as a popular force. But the inclusion of the masses in politics does not consist in mobilizing three or four times a year ten thousand or a hundred thousand men and women. These mass meetings and spectacular gatherings are akin to the old tactics that date from before independence, whereby you exhibited your forces in order to prove to yourself and to others that you had the people behind you. The political education of the masses proposes not to treat the masses as children but to make adults of them.
This brings us to consider the role of the political party in an underdeveloped country. We have seen in the preceding pages that very often simple souls, who moreover belong to the newly born bourgeoisie, never stop repeating that in an underdeveloped country the direction of affairs by a strong authority, in other words a dictatorship, is a necessity. With this in view the party is given the task of supervising the masses. The party plays understudy to the administration and the police, and controls the masses, not in order to make sure that they really participate in the business of governing the nation, but in order to remind them constantly that the government expects from them obedience and discipline. That famous dictatorship, whose supporters believe that it is called for by the historical process and consider it an indispensable prelude to the dawn of independence, in fact symbolizes the decision of the bourgeois caste to govern the underdeveloped country first with the help of the people, but soon against them. The progressive transformation of the party into an information service is the indication that the government holds itself more and more on the defensive. The incoherent mass of the people is seen as a blind force that must be continually held in check either by mystification or by the fear inspired by the police force. The party acts as a barometer and as an information service. The militant is turned into an informer. He is entrusted with punitive expeditions against the villages. The embryo opposition parties are liquidated by beatings and stonings. The opposition candidates see their houses set on fire. The police increase their provocations. In these conditions, you may be sure, the party is unchallenged and 99.99% of the votes are cast for the government candidate. We should add that in Africa a certain number of governments actually behave in this way. All the opposition parties, which moreover are usually progressive and would therefore tend to work for the greater influence of the masses in the conduct of public matters, and who desire that the proud, money-making bourgeoisie should be brought to heel, have been by dint of baton charges and prisons condemned first to silence and then to a clandestine existence.
The political party in many parts of Africa which are today independent is puffed up in a most dangerous way. In the presence of a member of the party, the people are silent, behave like a flock of sheep, and publish panegyrics in praise of the government or the leader. But in the street when evening comes, away from the village, in the caf£s or by the river, the bitter disappointment of the people, their despair but also their unceasing anger makes itself heard. The party, instead of welcoming the expression of popular discontent, instead of taking for its fundamental purpose the free flow of ideas from the people up to the government, forms a screen, and forbids such ideas. The party leaders behave like common sergeant-majors, frequently reminding the people of the need for “silence in the ranks.” This party which used to call itself the servant of the people, which used to claim that it worked for the full expression of the people’s will, as soon as the colonial power puts the country into its control hastens to send the people back to their caves. As far as national unity is concerned the party will also make many mistakes, as for example when the so-called national party behaves as a party based on ethnic differences. It becomes, in fact, the tribe which makes itself into a party. This party which of its own will proclaims that it is a national
party, and which claims to speak in the name of the totality of the people, secretly, sometimes even openly, organizes an authentic ethnic dictatorship. We no longer see the rise of a bourgeois dictatorship, but a tribal dictatorship. The ministers, the members of the cabinet, the ambassadors and local commissioners are chosen from the same ethnological group as the leader, sometimes directly from his own family. Such regimes of the family sort seem to go back to the old laws of inbreeding, and not anger but shame is felt when we are faced with such stupidity, such an imposture, such intellectual and spiritual poverty. These heads of the government are the true traitors in Africa, for they sell their country to the most terrifying of all its enemies: stupidity. This tribalizing of the central authority, it is certain, encourages regionalist ideas and separatism. All the decentralizing tendencies spring up again and triumph, and the nation falls to
pieces, broken in bits. The leader, who once used to call for “African unity” and who thought of his own little family, wakes up one day to find himself saddled with five tribes, who also want to have their own ambassadors and ministers; and irresponsible as ever, still unaware and still despicable, he denounces their “treason.”
We have more than once drawn attention to the baleful influence frequently wielded by the leader. This is due to the fact that the party in certain districts is organized like a gang, with the toughest person in it as its head. The ascendency of such a leader and his power over others is often mentioned, and people have no hesitation in declaring, in a tone of slightly admiring complicity, that he strikes terror into his nearest collaborators. In order to avoid these many pitfalls an unceasing battle must be waged, a battle to prevent the party from ever becoming a willing tool in the hands of a leader. “Leader”: the word comes from the English verb “to lead,” but a frequent French translation is “to drive.” The driver, the shepherd of the people, no longer exists today. The people are no longer a herd; they do not need to be driven. If the leader drives me on, I want him to realize that at the same time I show him the way; the nation ought not to be
something bossed by a Grand Panjandrum. We may understand the panic caused in government circles each time one of these leaders falls ill; they are obsessed by the question of who is to succeed him. What will happen to the country if the leader disappears? The ruling classes who have abdicated in favor of the leader, irresponsible, oblivious of everything and essentially preoccupied with the pleasures of their everyday life, their cocktail parties, their journeys paid for by government money, the profits they can make out of various schemes—from time to time these people discover the spiritual wasteland at the heart of the nation. A country that really wishes to answer the questions that history puts to it, that wants to develop not only its towns but also the brains of its inhabitants, such a country must possess a trustworthy political party. The party is not a tool in the hands of the government. Quite on the contrary, the party is a tool in the hands of the people; it is they who decide on the policy that the government carries out. The party is not, and ought never to be, the only political bureau where all the members of the government and the chief dignitaries of the regime may meet freely together. Only too frequently the political bureau, unfortunately, consists of all the party and its members who reside permanently in the capital. In an underdeveloped country, the leading members of the party ought to avoid the capital as if it had the plague. They ought, with some few exceptions, to live in the country districts. The centralization of all activity in the city ought to be avoided. No excuse of administrative discipline should be taken as legitimizing that excrescence of a capital
which is already overpopulated and overdeveloped with regard to nine-tenths of the country. The party should be decentralized in the extreme. It is the only way to bring life to regions which are dead, those regions which are not yet awakened to life.
In practice, there will be at least one member of the political bureau in each area and he will deliberately not be appointed as head of that area. He will have no administrative powers. The regional member of the political bureau is not expected to hold the highest rank in the regional administrative organization. He ought not automatically to belong to the regional administrative body. For the people, the party is not an authority, but an organism through which they as the people exercise their authority and express their will. The less there is of confusion and duality of powers, the more the party will play its part of guide and the more surely it will constitute for the people a decisive guarantee. If the party is mingled with the government, the fact of being a party militant means that you take the short cut to gain private ends, to hold a post in the government, step up the ladder, get promotion and make a career for yourself.
In an underdeveloped country, the setting up of dynamic district officials stops the process whereby the towns become top-heavy and the incoherent rush toward the cities of the mass of country people. The setting up early in the days of independence of regional organizations and officials who have full authority to do everything in their power to awaken such a region, to bring life to it, and to hasten the growth of consciousness in it is a necessity from which there is no escape for a country that wishes to progress. Otherwise, the government big-wigs and the party officials group themselves around the leader. The government services swell to huge proportions, not because they are developing and specializing, but because new-found cousins and fresh militants are looking for jobs and hope to edge themselves into the government machine. And the dream of every citizen is to get up to the capital, and to have his share of the cake. The local districts are deserted; the mass of the country people with no one to lead them, uneducated and unsupported, turn their backs on their poorly labored fields and flock toward the outer ring of suburbs, thus swelling out of all proportion the ranks of the lumpenproletariat.
The moment for a fresh national crisis is not far off. To avoid it, we think that a quite different policy should be followed: that the interior, the back country, ought to be the most privileged part of the country. Moreover, in the last resort, there is nothing inconvenient in the government choosing its seat elsewhere than in the capital. The capital must be deconsecrated; the outcast masses must be shown that we have decided to work for them. It is with this idea in mind that the government of Brazil tried to found Brazilia. The dead city of Rio de Janeiro was an insult to the Brazilian people. But, unfortunately, Brazilia is just another new capital, as monstrous as the first. The only advantage of this achievement is that, today, there exists a road through the bush to it.
No, there is no serious reason which can be opposed to the choice of another capital, or to the moving of the government as a whole toward one of the most underpopulated regions. The capital of underdeveloped countries is a commercial notion inherited from the colonial period. But we who are citizens of the underdeveloped countries, we ought to seek every occasion for contacts with the rural masses. We must create a national policy, in other words a policy for the masses. We ought never to lose contact with the people which has battled for its independence and for the concrete betterment of its existence.
The native civil servants and technicians ought not to bury themselves in diagrams and statistics, but rather in the hearts of the people. They ought not to bristle up every time there is question of a move to be made to the “interior.” We should no longer see the young women of the country threaten their husbands with divorce if they do not manage to avoid being appointed to a rural post. For these reasons, the political bureau of the party ought to treat these forgotten districts in a very privileged manner; and the life of the capital, an altogether artificial life which is stuck onto the real, national life like a foreign body, ought to take up the least space possible in the life of the nation, which is sacred and fundamental. In an underdeveloped country, the party ought to be organized in such fashion that it is not simply content with having contacts with the masses. The party should be the direct expression of the masses. The party is not an administration responsible for transmitting government orders; it is the energetic spokesman and the incorruptible defender of the masses. In order to arrive at this conception of the party, we must above all rid ourselves of the very Western, very bourgeois and therefore contemptuous attitude that the masses are incapable of governing themselves. In fact, experience proves that the masses understand perfectly the most complicated problems. One of the greatest services that the Algerian revolution will have rendered to the intellectuals of Algeria will be to have placed them in contact with the people, to have allowed them to see the extreme, ineffable poverty of the people, at the same time allowing them to watch the awakening of the people’s intelligence and the onward progress of their consciousness. The Algerian people, that mass of starving illiterates, those men and women plunged for centuries in the most appalling obscurity have held out against tanks and airplanes, against napalm and “psychological services,” but above all against corruption and brainwashing, against traitors and against the “national” armies of General Bel-lounis. This people has held out in spite of hesitant or feeble individuals, and in spite of would-be dictators. This people has held out because for seven years its struggle has opened up for it vistas that it never dreamed existed. Today, arms factories are working in the midst of the mountains several yards underground; today, the people’s tribunals are functioning at every level, and local planning commissions are organizing the division of large-scale holdings, and working out the Algeria of tomorrow. An isolated individual may obstinately refuse to understand a problem, but the group or the village understands with disconcerting rapidity. It is true that if care is taken to use only a language that is understood by graduates in law and economics, you can easily prove that the masses have to be managed from above. But if you speak the language of everyday, if you are not obsessed by the perverse desire to spread confusion and to rid yourself of the people, then you will realize that the masses are quick to seize every shade of meaning and to learn all the tricks of the trade. If recourse is had to technical language, this signifies that it has been decided to consider the masses as uninitiated. Such a language is hard put to it to hide the lecturers’ wish to cheat the people and to leave them out of things. The business of obscuring language is a mask behind which stands out the much greater business of plunder. The people’s property and the people’s sovereignty are to be stripped from them at one and the same time. Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you really want them to understand. And if you think that you don’t need them, and that on the contrary they may hinder the smooth running of the many limited liability companies whose aim it is to make the people even poorer, then the problem is quite clear.
For if you think that you can manage a country without letting the people interfere, if you think that the people upset the game by their mere presence, whether they slow it down or whether by their natural ignorance they sabotage it, then you must have no hesitation: you must keep the people out. Now, it so happens that when the people are invited to partake in the management of the country, they do not slow the movement down but on the contrary they speed it up. We Algerians have had the occasion and the good fortune during the course of this war to handle a fair number of questions. In certain country districts, the politico-military leaders of the revolution found themselves in fact confronted with situations which called for radical solutions. We shall look at some of these situations.
During the years 1956-57, French colonialism had marked off certain zones as forbidden, and within these zones people’s movements were strictly controlled. Thus the peasants could no longer go freely to the towns and buy provisions. During this period, the grocers made huge profits. The prices of tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, and salt soared. The black market flourished blatantly. The peasants who could not pay in money mortgaged their crops, in other words their land, or else lopped off field after field of their fathers’ farms and during the second phase worked them for the grocer. As soon as the political commissioners realized the danger of the situation they reacted immediately. Thus a rational system of provisioning was instituted: the grocer who went to the town was obliged to buy from nationalist wholesalers who handed him an invoice which clearly showed the prices of the goods. When the retailer got back to the village, before doing anything else he had to go to the political commissioner who checked the invoice, decided on the margin of profit and fixed the price at which the various goods should be sold. However, the retailer soon discovered a new trick, and after three or four days declared that his stocks had run out. In fact, he went on with his business of selling on the black market on the sly. The reaction of the politico-military authorities was thoroughgoing. Heavy penalizations were decided on, and the fines collected were put into the village funds and used for social purposes or to pay for public works in the general interest. Sometimes it was decided to shut down the shop for a while. Then if there was a repetition of black marketeering, the business was at once confiscated and a managing committee elected to carry it on, which paid a monthly allowance to the former owner.
Taking these experiences as a starting point, the functioning of the main laws of economics was explained to the people, with concrete examples. The accumulation of capital ceased to be a theory and became a very real and immediate mode of behavior. The people understood how that once a man was in trade, he could become rich and increase his turnover. Then and then only did the peasants tell the tale of how the grocer gave them loans at exorbitant interest, and others recalled how he evicted them from their land and how from owners they became laborers. The more the people understand, the more watchful they become, and the more they come to realize that finally everything depends on them and their salvation lies in their own cohesion, in the true understanding of their interests, and in knowing who their enemies are. The people come to understand that wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized, protected robbery. Rich people are no longer respectable people; they are nothing more than flesh-eating animals, jackals, and vultures which wallow in the people’s blood. Wi*-h another end in view the political commissioners have had to decide that nobody will work for anyone else any longer. The land belongs to
those that till it. This is a principle which has through explanation become a fundamental law of the Algerian revolution. The peasants who used to employ agricultural laborers have been obliged to give a share of the land to their former employees.
So it may been seen that production per acre trebled, in spite of the many raids by the French, in spite of bombardments from the air, and the difficulty of getting manures. The fellahs who at harvest time were able to judge and weigh the crops thus obtained wanted to know whence came such a phenomenon; and they were quick to understand that the idea of work is not as simple as all that, that slavery is opposed to work, and that work presupposes liberty, responsibility, and consciousness.
In those districts where we have been able to carry out successfully these interesting experiments, where we have watched man being created by revolutionary beginnings, the peasants have very clearly caught hold of the idea that the more intelligence you bring to your work, the more pleasure you will have in it. We have been able to make the masses understand that work is not simply the output of energy, nor the functioning of certain muscles, but that people work more by using their brains and their hearts than with only their muscles and their sweat. In the same way in these liberated districts which are at the same time excluded from the old trade routes we have had to modify production, which formerly looked only toward the towns and toward export. We have organized production to meet consumers’ needs for the people and for the units of the national army of liberation. We have quadrupled the production of lentils and organized the manufacture of charcoal. Green vegetables and charcoal have been sent through the mountains from the north to the south, whereas the southern districts send meat to the north. This coordination was decided upon by the FLN and it was they who set up
the system of communications. We did not have any technicians or planners coming from big Western universities; but in these liberated regions, the daily ration went up to the hitherto unheard-of figure of 3,200 calories. The people were not content with coming triumphant out of this test. They started asking themselves theoretical questions: for example, why did certain districts never see an orange before the war of liberation, while thousands of tons are exported every year abroad? Why were grapes unknown to a great many Algerians whereas the European peoples enjoyed them by the million? Today, the people have a very clear notion of what belongs to them. The Algerian people today know that they are the sole owners of the soil and mineral wealth of their country. And if some individuals do not understand the unrelenting refusal of the FLN to tolerate any encroachment on this right of ownership, and its fierce refusal to allow any compromise on principles, they must one and all remember that the Algerian people is today an adult people, responsible and fully conscious of its responsibilities. In short, the Algerians are men of property.
If we have taken the example of Algeria to illustrate our subject, it is not at all with the intention of glorifying our own people, but simply to show the important part played by the war in leading them toward consciousness of themselves. It is clear that other peoples have come to the same conclusion in different ways. We know for sure today that in Algeria the test of force was inevitable; but other countries through political action and through the work of clarification undertaken by a party have led their people to the same results. In Algeria, we have realized that the masses are equal to the problems which confront them. In an underdeveloped country, experience proves that the important thing is not that three hundred people form a plan and decide upon carrying it out, but that the whole people plan and decide even if it takes them twice or three times as long. The fact is that the time taken up by explaining, the time ‘lost” in treating the
worker as a human being, will be caught up in the execution of the plan. People must know where they are going, and why. The politician should not ignore the fact that the future remains a closed book so long as the consciousness of the people remains imperfect, elementary, and cloudy. We African politicians must have very clear ideas on the situation of our people. But this clarity of ideas must be profoundly dialectical. The awakening of the whole people will not come about all at once; the people’s work in the building of the nation will not immediately take on its full dimensions: first because the means of communication and transmission are only beginning to be developed; secondly because the yardstick of time must no longer be that of the moment or up till the next harvest, but must become that of the rest of the world, and lastly because the spirit of discouragement which has been deeply rooted in people’s minds by colonial domination is still very near the surface. But we must not overlook the fact that victory over those weaknesses which are the heritage of the material and spiritual domination of the country by another is a necessity from which no government will be able to escape. Let us take the example of work under the colonial regime. The settler never stopped complaining that the native is slow. Today, in certain countries which have become independent, we hear the ruling classes taking up the same cry. The fact is that the settler wanted the native to be enthusiastic. By a sort of process of mystification which constitutes the most sublime type of separation from reality, he wanted to persuade the slave that the land that he worked belonged to him, that the mines where he lost his health were owned by him. The settler was
singularly forgetful of the fact that he was growing rich through the death throes of the slave. In fact what the settler was saying to the native was “Kill yourself that I may become rich.” Today, we must behave in a different fashion. We ought not to say to the people: “Kill yourselves that the country may become rich.” If we want to increase the national revenue, and decrease the importing of certain products which are useless, or even harmful, if we want to increase agricultural production and overcome illiteracy, we must explain what we are about. The people must understand what is at stake. Public business ought to be the business of the public. So the necessity of creating a large number of well-informed nuclei at the bottom crops up again. Too often, in fact, we are content to establish national organizations at the top and always in the capital: the Women’s Union, the Young People’s Federation, Trade Unions, etc. But if one takes the trouble to investigate what is behind the office in the capital, if you go into the inner room where the reports ought to be, you will be shocked by the emptiness, the blank spaces, and the bluff. There must be a basis; there must be cells that supply content and life. The masses should be able to meet together, discuss, propose, and receive directions. The citizens should be able to speak, to express themselves, and to put forward new ideas. The branch meeting and the committee meeting are liturgical acts. They are privileged occasions given to a human being to listen and to speak. At each meeting, the brain increases its means of participation and the eye discovers a landscape more and more in keeping with human dignity.
The large proportion of young people in the underdeveloped countries raises specific problems for the government, which must be tackled with lucidity. The young people of the towns, idle and often illiterate, are a prey to all sorts of disintegrating influences. It is to the youth of an underdeveloped country that the industrialized countries most often offer their pastimes. Normally, there is a certain homogeneity between the mental and material level of the members of any given society and the pleasures which that society creates for itself. But in underdeveloped countries, young people have at their disposition leisure occupations designed for the youth of capitalist countries: detective novels, penny-in-the-slot machines, sexy photographs, pornographic literature, films banned to those under sixteen, and above all alcohol. In the West, the family circle, the effects of education, and the relatively high standard of living of the working classes
provide a more or less efficient protection against the harmful action of these pastimes. But in an African country, where mental development is uneven, where the violent collision of two worlds has considerably shaken old traditions and thrown the universe of the perceptions out of focus, the impressionability and sensibility of the young African are at the mercy of the various assaults made upon them by the very nature of Western culture. His family very often proves itself incapable of showing stability and homogeneity when faced with such attacks.
In this domain, the government’s duty is to act as a filter and a stabilizer. But the youth commissioners in underdeveloped countries often make the mistake of imagining their role to be that of youth commissioners in fully developed countries. They speak of strengthening the soul, of developing the body, and of facilitating the growth of sportsmanlike qualities. It is our opinion that they should beware of these conceptions. The young people of an underdeveloped country are above all idle: occupations must be found for them. For this reason the youth commissioners ought for practical purposes to be attached to the Ministry of Labor. The Ministry of Labor, which is a prime necessity in an underdeveloped country, functions in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning, which is another necessary institution in underdeveloped countries. The youth of Africa ought not to be sent to sports stadiums but into the fields and into the schools. The stadium ought
not to be a show place erected in the towns, but a bit of open ground in the midst of the fields that the young people must reclaim, cultivate, and give to the nation. The capitalist conception of sport is fundamentally different from that which should exist in an underdeveloped country. The African politician should not be preoccupied with turning out sportsmen, but with turning out fully conscious men, who play games as well. If games are not integrated into the national life, that is to say in the building of the nation, and if you turn out national sportsmen and not fully conscious men, you will very quickly see sport rotted by professionalism and commercialism. Sport should not be a pastime or a distraction for the bourgeoisie of the towns. The greatest task before us is to understand at each moment what is happening in our country. We ought not to cultivate the exceptional or to seek for a hero, who is another form of leader. We ought to uplift the people; we must develop their brains, fill them with ideas, change them and make them into human beings.
We once more come up against that obsession of ours —which we would like to see shared by all African politicians—about the need for effort to be well informed, for work which is enlightened and freed from its historic intel-tellectual darkness. To hold a responsible position in an underdeveloped country is to know that in the end everything depends on the education of the masses, on the raising of the level of thought, and on what we are too quick to call “political teaching.”
In fact, we often believe with criminal superficiality that to educate the masses politically is to deliver a long political harangue from time to time. We think that it is enough that the leader or one of his lieutenants should speak in a pompous tone about the principal events of the day for them to have fulfilled this bounden duty to educate the masses politically. Now, political education means opening their minds, awakening them, and allowing the birth of their intelligence; as Cesaire said, it is “to invent souls.” To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean, making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a demiurge, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the demiurge is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people. In order to put all this into practice, in order really to incarnate the people, we repeat that there must be decentralization in the extreme. The movement from the top to the bottom and from the bottom to the top should be a fixed principle, not through concern for formalism but because simply to respect this principle is the guarantee of salvation. It is from the base that forces mount up which supply the summit with its dynamic, and make it possible dialectically for it to leap ahead. Once again we Algerians have been quick to understand these facts, for no member of the government at the head of any recognized state has had the chance of availing himself of such a mission of salvation. For it is the rank-and-file who are fighting in Algeria, and the rank-and-file know well that without their daily struggle, hard and heroic as it is, the summit would collapse; and in the same way those at the bottom know that without a head and without leadership the base would split apart in incoherence and anarchy. The summit only draws its worth and its strength from the existence of the people at war. Literally, it is the people who freely create a summit for themselves, and not the summit that tolerates the people.
The masses should know that the government and the party are at their service. A deserving people, in other words a people conscious of its dignity, is a people that never forgets these facts. During the colonial occupation the people were told that they must give their lives so that dignity might triumph. But the African peoples quickly came to understand that it was not only the occupying power that threatened their dignity. The African peoples were quick to realize that dignity and sovereignty were exact equivalents, and in fact, a free people living in dignity is a sovereign people. It is no use demonstrating that the African peoples are childish or weak. A government or a party gets the people it deserves and sooner or later a people gets the government it deserves.
Practical experience in certain regions confirms this point of view. It sometimes happens at meetings that militants use sweeping, dogmatic formulas. The preference for this short cut, in which spontaneity and over-simple sinking of differences dangerously combine to defeat intellectual elaboration, frequently triumphs. When we meet this shirking of responsibility in a militant it is not enough to tell him he is wrong. We must make him ready for responsibility, encourage him to follow up his chain of reasoning, and make him realize the true nature, often shocking, inhuman, and in the long run sterile, of such oversimplification.
Nobody, neither leader nor rank-and-filer, can hold back the truth. The search for truth in local attitudes is a collective affair. Some are richer in experience, and elaborate their thought more rapidly, and in the past have been able to establish a greater number of mental links. But they ought to avoid riding roughshod over the people, for the success of the decision which is adopted depends upon the coordinated, conscious effort of the whole of the people. No one can get out of the situation scot free. Everyone will be butchered or tortured; and in the framework of the independent nation everyone will go hungry and everyone will suffer in the slump. The collective struggle presupposes collective responsibility at the base and collegiate responsibility at the top. Yes, everybody will have to be compromised in the fight for the common good. No one has clean hands; there are no innocents and no onlookers. We all have dirty hands; we are all soiling them
in the swamps of our country and in the terrifying emptiness of our brains. Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor.
The duty of those at the head of the movement is to have the masses behind them. Allegiance presupposes awareness and understanding of the mission which has to be fulfilled; in short, an intellectual position, however embryonic. We must not voodoo -the people, nor dissolve them in emotion and confusion. Only those underdeveloped countries led by revolutionary elite who have come up from the people can today allow the entry of the masses upon the scene of history. But, we must repeat, it is absolutely.

-the wretched of the earth-

Walter Rodney: The European Slave Trade as a Basic Factor in African Underdevelopment

June 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

To discuss trade between Africans and Europeans in the four centuries before colonial rule is virtually to discuss slave trade. Strictly speaking, the African only became a slave when he reached a society where he worked as a slave. Before that, he was first a free man and then a captive. Nevertheless, it is acceptable to talk about the trade in slaves to refer to the shipment of captives from Africa to various other parts of the world where they were to live and work as the property of Europeans. The title of this section is deliberately chosen to call attention to the fact that the shipments were all by Europeans to markets controlled by Europeans, and this was in the interest of European capitalism and nothing else. In East Africa and the Sudan, many Africans were taken by Arabs and were sold to Arab buyers. This is known (in European books) as the ‘Arab Slave Trade’. Therefore, let it be clear that when Europeans shipped Africans to European buyers it was the ‘European Slave trade’ from Africa.
Undoubtedly, with few exceptions such as Hawkins, European buyers purchased African captives on the coasts of Africa and the transaction between themselves and Africans was a form of trade. It is also true that very often a captive was sold and resold as he made his way from the interior to the port of embarkation — and that too was form of trade. However, on the whole, the process by which captives were obtained on African soil was not trade at all. It was through warfare, trickery, banditry and kidnapping. When one tries to measure the effect of European slave trading on the African continent, it is very essential to realise that one is measuring the effect of social violence rather than trade in any normal sense of the word.
Many things remain uncertain about the slave trade and its consequences for Africa, but the general picture of destructiveness is clear, and that destructiveness can be shown to be the logical consequence of the manner of recruitment of captives in Africa. One of the uncertainties concerns the basic question of how many Africans were imported. This has long been an object of speculation, with estimates ranging from a few millions to over one hundred million. A recent study has suggested a figure of about ten million Africans landed alive in the Americas, the Atlantic islands and Europe. Because it is a low figure, it is already being used by European scholars who are apologists for the capitalist system and its long record of brutality in Europe and abroad. In order to white-wash the European slave trade, they find it convenient to start by minimising the numbers concerned.

The truth is that any figure of Africans imported into the Americas which is narrowly based on the surviving records is bound to be low, because there were so many people at the time who had a vested interest in smuggling slaves (and withholding data). Nevertheless, if the low figure of ten million was accepted as a basis for evaluating the impact of slaving on Africa as a whole, the conclusions that could legitimately be drawn would confound those who attempt to make light of the experience of the rape of Africans from 1445 to 1870.
On any basic figure of Africans landed alive in the Americas, one would have to make several extensions — starting with a calculation to cover mortality in transhipment. The Atlantic crossing or ‘Middle Passage’, as it was called by European slavers, was notorious for the number of deaths incurred, averaging in the vicinity of 15% to 20%. There were also numerous deaths in Africa between time of capture and time of embarkation, especially in cases where captives had to travel hundreds of miles to the coast. Most important of all (given that warfare was the principal means of obtaining captives) it is necessary to make some estimate as to the number of people killed and injured so as to extract the millions who were taken alive and sound. The resultant figure would be many times the millions landed alive outside of Africa, and it is that figure which represents the number of Africans directly removed from the population and labour force of Africa because of the establishment of slave production by Europeans.

The massive loss to the African labour force was made more critical because it was composed of able-bodied young men and young women. Slave buyers preferred their victims between the ages of 15 and 35, and preferably in the early twenties; the sex ratio being about two men to one woman. Europeans often accepted younger African children, but rarely any older person. They shipped the most healthy wherever possible, taking the trouble to get those who had already survived an attack of smallpox, and who were therefore immune from further attacks of that disease, which was then one of the world’s great killer diseases.
Absence of data about the size of Africa’s population in the 15th century makes it difficult to carry out any scientific assessment of the results of the population outflow. But, nothing suggests that there was any increase in the continent’s population over the centuries of slaving, although that was the trend in other parts of the world. Obviously, fewer babies were born than would otherwise have been the case if millions of child-bearing ages were not eliminated. Besides, it is essential to recognise that the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean was not the only connection which Europeans had with slaving in Africa. The slave trade on the Indian Ocean has been called the ‘East African slave trade’ and the ‘Arab slave trade’ for so long that it hides the extent to which it was also a European slave trade. When the slave trade from East Africa was at its height in the 18th century and in the early 19th century, the destination of most captives was the European-owned plantation economies of Mauritius, Réunion and Seychelles-as well as the Americas, via the Jape of Good Hope. Resides, Africans labouring as slaves in certain Arab countries in the 18th and 19th centuries were all ultimately serving the European capitalist system which set up a demand for slave-grown products, such as the cloves grown — Zanzibar under the supervision of Arab masters.
No one has been able to come up with a figure representing total losses to the African population sustained through the extraction of slave labour from all areas to all destinations over the many centuries that slave trade existed. However, on every other continent from the 15th century onwards, the population showed constant and sometimes spectacular natural increase; while it is striking that the same did not apply to Africa. One European scholar gave the following estimates of world population (in millions) according to continents:
1650 1750 1850 1900
Africa 100 100 100 120
Europe 103 144 274 423
Asia 257 437 656 857
None of the above figures are really precise, but they do indicate a consensus among researchers on population that the huge African continent has an abnormal record of stagnation in this respect, and there is no causative factor other than the trade in slaves to which attention can be drawn.
An emphasis on population loss as such is highly relevant to the question of socio-economic development. Population growth played a major role in European development in providing labour, markets, and the pressures which led to further advance. Japanese population growth had similar positive effects; and in other parts of Asia which remained pre-capitalist, the size of the population led to a much more intensive exploitation of the land than has ever been the case in what is still a sparsely-peopled African continent.
So long as the population density was low, then human beings viewed as units of labour were far more important than other factors of production such as land. From one end of the continent to the other, it is easy to find examples that African people were conscious that population was in their circumstances the most important factor of production. Among the Bemba, for instance, numbers of subjects were held to be more important than land. Among the Shambala of Tanzania, the same feeling was expressed in the saying ‘a king is people’. Among the Balanta of Guinea-Bissau, the family’s strength is represented by the number of hands there are to cultivate the land. Certainly, many African rulers acquiesced in the European slave trade for what they considered to be reasons of self-interest, but on no scale of rationality could the outflow of population be measured as being anything but disastrous for African societies.
African economic activity was affected both directly and indirectly by population loss. For instance, when the inhabitants of a given area were reduced below a certain number in an environment where tsetse fly was present, the remaining few had to abandon the area. In effect, enslavement was causing these people to lose their battle to tame and harness nature — a battle which is at the basis of development. Violence also meant insecurity. The opportunity presented by European slave dealers became the major (though not the only) stimulus for a great deal of social violence between different African communities and within any given community. It took the form more of raiding and kidnapping than of regular warfare, and that fact increased the element of fear and uncertainty.
Both openly and by implication, all the European powers n the 19th century indicated their awareness of the fact that the activities connected with producing captives were inconsistent with other economic pursuits. That was the time when Britain in particular wanted Africans to collect palm produce and rubber and to grow agricultural crops for export in place of slaves; and it was clear that slave-raiding was violently conflicting with that objective in Western, Eastern and Central Africa. Long before that date, Europeans accepted that fact when their self-interest was involved. For example, in the 17th century, the Portuguese and Dutch actually discouraged slave trade on the ‘Gold Coast’ for they recognised that it could be incompatible with gold trade. However, by the end of that century, gold had been discovered in Brazil, and the importance of gold supplies from Africa was lessened. Within the total Atlantic pattern, African slaves became more important than gold, and Brazilian gold was offered for African captives at Whydah (Dahomey) and Accra. At that point, slaving began undermining the ‘Gold Coast’ economy and destroying the gold trade. Slave-raiding and kidnapping made it unsafe to mine and to travel with gold; and raiding for captives proved more profitable than gold-mining. One European on the scene noted that ‘as one fortunate marauding makes a native rich in a day, they therefore exert themselves rather in war, robbery and plunder than in their old business of digging and collecting gold’.
The above changeover from gold-mining to slave-raiding took place within a period of a few years between 1700 and 1710, when the ‘Gold Coast’ came to supply about 5,000 to 6,000 captives per year. By the end of the 18th century, a much smaller number of captives were exported from the ‘Go1d Coast’, but the damage had already been done. It is worth noting that Europeans sought out different parts of West and Central Africa at different times to play the role of major suppliers of slaves to the Americas. This meant that virtually every section of the long western coastline between the Senegal and Cunene rivers had at least a few years experience of intensive trade in slaves — with all its consequences. Besides, in the history of Eastern Nigeria, the Congo, Northern Angola and Dahomey, there were periods extending over decades when exports remained at an average of many thousands per year. Most of those areas were also relatively highly developed within the African context. They were lead rig forces inside Africa, whose energies would otherwise have gone towards their own self-improvement and the betterment of the continent as a whole.
The changeover to warlike activities and kidnapping must have affected all branches of economic activity, and agriculture in particular. Occasionally, in certain localities food production was increased to provide supplies for slave ships, but the overall consequence of slaving on agricultural activities in Western, Eastern and Central Africa were negative. Labour was drawn off from agriculture and conditions became unsettled. Dahomey, which in the 16th century was known for exporting food to parts of what is now Togo, was suffering from famines in the 19th century. The present generation of Africans will readily recall that in the colonial period when able-bodied men left their homes as migrant labourers that upset the farming routine in the home districts and often caused famines. Slave trading after all, meant migration of labour in a manner one hundred times more brutal and disruptive.
To achieve economic development, one essential condition is to make the maximum use of the country’s labour and natural resources. Usually, that demands peaceful conditions, but there have been times in history when social groups have grown stronger by raiding their neighbours for women, cattle and goods, because they then used the ‘booty’ from the raids for the benefit of their own community. Slaving in Africa did not even have that redeeming value. Captives were shipped outside instead of being utilised within any given African community for creating wealth from nature. It was only as an accidental by-product that in some areas Africans who recruited captives for Europeans realised that they were better off keeping some captives for themselves. In any case, slaving prevented the remaining population from effectively engaging in agriculture and industry, and it employed professional slave hunters and warriors to destroy rather than build. Mite apart from the moral aspect and the immense suffering that it caused, the European slave trade was economically totally irrational from the viewpoint of African development.
For certain purposes, it is necessary to be more specific and to speak of the trade in slaves not in general continent-wide terms but rather with reference to the varying impact on several regions. The relative intensity of slave-raiding in different areas is fairly well known. Some South African peoples were enslaved by the Boers and some North African Muslims by Christian Europeans, but those were minor episodes. The zones most notorious for human exports were, firstly, West Africa from Senegal to Angola along a belt extending about 200 miles inland and, secondly, that part of East Central Africa which today covers, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Northern Zambia and Eastern Congo. Furthermore, within each of those broad areas, finer distinctions can be drawn.
It might therefore appear that slave trade did not adversely affect the development of some parts of Africa, simply because exports were non-existent or at a low level. However, the contention that European slave trade was an underdeveloping factor for the continent as a whole must be upheld, because it does not follow that an African district which did not trade with Europe was entirely free from whatever influences were exerted by Europe. European trade goods percolated into the deepest interior, and (more significantly) the orientation of large areas of the continent towards human exports that other positive inter-actions were thereby ruled out.
The above proposition may be more fully grasped by making some comparisons. In any given economy, the various components reflect the well-being of others. Therefore, when there is depression in one sector, that depression invariably transfers itself to others to some extent. Similarly, when there is buoyancy in one sector then others benefit. Turning to biological sciences, it will be found that students of ecology recognise that a single change, such as the disappearance of a small species could trigger off negative or positive reactions in spheres that superficially appear unconnected. Parts of Africa left ‘free’ by export trends in captives must have been affected by the tremendous dislocation — in ways that are not easy to comprehend, because it is so much a question of what might have happened.
Hypothetical questions such as ‘what might have happened if . . . ?’ sometimes lead to absurd speculations. But it is entirely legitimate and very necessary to ask ‘what might have happened in Barotseland (southern Zambia) if there were not generalised slave-trading across the whole belt of central Africa which lay immediately north of Barotseland?’. ‘What would have happened in Buganda if the Katangese were concentrating on selling copper to the Baganda instead of captives to Europeans?’
During the colonial epoch, the British forced Africans to sing
Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves Britons never never never shall be slaves
The British themselves started singing the tune in the early 18th century, at the height of using Africans as slaves. ‘What would have been Britain’s level of development had millions of them been put to work as slaves outside of their homeland over a period of four centuries?’ Furthermore, assuming that those wonderful fellows could never never never have been slaves, one could speculate further on the probable effects on their development had continental Europe been enslaved. Had that been the case, its nearest neighbours would have been removed from the ambit of fruitful trade with Britain. After all, trade between the British Isles and places like the Baltic and the Mediterranean is unanimously considered by scholars to have been the earliest stimulus to the English economy in the late feudal and early capitalist period, even before the era of overseas expansion.
One tactic that is now being employed by certain European (including American) scholars is to say that the European slave trade was undoubtedly a moral evil, but it was economically good for Africa. Here attention will be drawn only very briefly to a few of those arguments to indicate how ridiculous they can be. One that receives much emphasis that African rulers and other persons obtained Europe commodities in exchange for their captives, and this was how Africans gained ‘wealth’. This suggestion fails to take into account the fact that several European imports were competing with and strangling African products; it fails to take into account the fact that none of the long list of European articles were of the type which entered into the productive process, but were rather items to be rapidly consumed or stowed away uselessly; and it incredibly overlooks the fact that the majority of the imports were of the worst quality even as consumer goods — cheap gin, cheap gunpowder, pots and kettles full of holes, beads, and other assorted rubbish.
Following from the above, it is suggested that certain African kingdoms grew strong economically and politically a consequence of the trade with Europeans. The greatest of the West African kingdoms, such as Oyo, Benin, Dahomey and Asante are cited as examples. Oyo and Benin were great, before making contact with Europeans, and while both Dahomey and Asante grew stronger during the period of the European slave trade, the roots of their achievements went back to much earlier years. Furthermore — and this is a major fallacy in the argument of the slave trade apologists — the fact that a given African state grew politically more powerful at the same time as it engaged in selling captives to Europeans is not automatically to be attributed to the credit of the trade in slaves. A cholera epidemic may kill thousands in a country and yet the population increases. The increase obviously came about in spite of and not because of the cholera. This simple logic escapes those who speak about the European slave trade benefitting Africa. The destructive tendency of slave trading can be clearly established; and, wherever a state seemingly progressed in the epoch of slave trading, the conclusion is simply that it did so in spite of the adverse effects of a process that was more damaging than cholera. This is the picture that emerges from a detailed study of Dahomey, for instance, and in the final analysis although Dahomey did its best to expand politically and militarily while still tied to slave trade, that form of economic activity seriously undermined its economic base and left it much worse off.
A few of the arguments about the economic benefits of the European slave trade for Africa amount to nothing more than saying that exporting millions of captives was a way pf avoiding starvation in Africa! To attempt to reply to that would be painful and time-wasting. But, perhaps a slightly more subtle version of the same argument requires a reply: namely, the argument that Africa gained because in the process of slave trading new food crops were acquired from the American continent and these became staples in Africa. The crops in question are maize and cassava, which became staples in Africa late in the 19th century and in the present century. But the spread of food crops is one of the most common phenomena in human history. Most crops originated in only one of the continents, and then social contact caused their transfer to other parts of the world. Trading in slaves has no special bearing on whether crops spread-the simplest forms of trade would have achieved the same result. Today, the Italians have (hard) wheat foods like spaghetti and macaroni as their staple, while most Europeans use the potato. The Italians took the idea of the spaghetti type foods from the Chinese noodle after Marco Polo returned from travels there, while Europe adopted the potato from American Indians. In neither case were Europeans enslaved before they could receive a benefit that was the logical heritage of all mankind, but Africans are to be told that the European slave trade developed us by bringing us maize and cassava.
All of the above points are taken from books and articles published recently, as the fruit of research in major British and American Universities. They are probably not the commonest views even among European bourgeois scholars, but they are representative of a growing trend that seems likely to become the new accepted orthodoxy in metropolitan capitalist countries; and this significantly coincides with Europe’s struggle against the further decolonization of Africa economically and mentally. In one sense, it is preferable to ignore such rubbish and isolate our youth from its insults; but unfortunately one of the aspects of current African underdevelopment is that the capitalist publishers and bourgeois scholars dominate the scene and help mould opinions the world over. It is for that reason that writing of the type which justifies the trade in slaves has to be exposed as racist bourgeois propaganda, having no connection with reality or logic. It is a question not merely of history but of present day liberation struggle in Africa.

Technological Stagnation and Distortion of the African Economy in the Pre-Colonial Epoch.
It has already been indicated that in the 15th century European technology was not totally superior to that of other parts of the world. There were certain specific features which were highly advantageous to Europe-such as shipping and (to a lesser extent) guns. Europeans trading to Africa had to make use of Asian and African consumer goods, showing that their system of production was not absolutely superior. It is particularly striking that in the early centuries of trade, Europeans relied heavily on Indian cloths for resale in Africa, and they also purchased cloths on several parts of the West African coast for resale elsewhere. Morocco, Mauretania, Senegambia, Ivory Coast, Benin, Yorubaland and Loango were all exporters to other parts of Africa — through European middlemen. Yet, by the time that Africa entered the colonial era, it was concentrating almost entirely on the export of raw cotton and the import of manufactured cotton cloth. This remarkable reversal is tied to technological advance in Europe and to stagnation of technology in Africa owing to the very trade with Europe.
Cloth manufacture in the world went through a stage of handlooms and small-scale craft production.
Up to the 16th century, that was the general pattern in Africa, Asia and Europe: with Asian cloth makers being the most skilled in the world. India is the classic example where the British used every means at their disposal to kill the cloth industry, so that British cloth could be marketed everywhere, including inside India itself. In Africa, the situation was not so clear-cut, nor did it require as much conscious effort by Europeans to destroy African cloth manufacture, but the trend was the same. Europe benefitted technologically from its external trade contacts, while Africa either failed to benefit or actually lost. Vital inventions and innovations appeared in England in the late 18th century, after profits from external trade had been re-invested. Indeed, the new machinery represented the investment of primary capital accumulated from trading and from slavery. African and Indian trade strengthened British industry, which in turn crushed whatever industry existed in that is now called the ‘underdeveloped’ countries.
African demand for cloth was increasing rapidly in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, so that there was a market for all cloth produced locally as well as room for imports from Europe and Asia. But, directed by an acquisitive capitalist class, European industry increased its capacity to produce on a large scale by harnessing the energy of wind, water and coal. European cloth industry was able to copy fashionable Indian and African patterns, and eventually to replace them. Partly by establishing a stranglehold on the distribution of cloth around the shores of Africa, and partly by swamping African products by importing cloth in bulk, European traders eventually succeeded in putting an end to the expansion of African cloth manufacture.
There are many varied social factors which combine to determine when a society makes a breakthrough from small scale craft technology to equipment designed to harness nature so that labour becomes more effective. One of the major factors is the existence of a demand for more products than can be made by hand, so that technology is asked to respond to a definite social need-such as that for clothes. When European cloth became dominant on the African market, it meant that African producers were cut off from the increasing demand. The craft producers either abandoned their tasks in the face of cheap available European cloth, or they continued on the same small hand-worked instruments to create styles and pieces for localized markets. Therefore, there was what can be called ‘technological arrest’ or stagnation, and in some instances actual regression, since people forgot even the simple technique of their forefathers. The abandonment of traditional iron smelting in most parts of Africa is probably the most important instance of technological regression.
Development means a capacity for self-sustaining growth. It means that an economy must register advances which in turn will promote further progress. The loss of industry and skill in Africa was extremely small, if we measure it from the viewpoint of modern scientific achievements or even by standards of England in the late 18th century. However, it must be borne in mind that to be held back at one stage means that it is impossible to go on to a further stage. When a person was forced to leave school after only two years of primary school education, it is no reflection on him that he is academically and intellectually less developed than someone who had the opportunity to be schooled right through to university level. What Africa experienced in the early centuries of trade was precisely a loss of development opportunity, and this is of the greatest importance.
One of the features associated with technological advance is a spirit of scientific enquiry closely related to the process of production. This leads to inventiveness and innovation. During the period of capitalist development in Europe, this was very much the case, and historians lay great emphasis on the spirit of inventiveness of the English in the 18th century. Socialist societies do not leave inventions merely to chance or good luck — they actively cultivate tendencies for innovation. For instance, in the German Democratic Republic, the youth established a ‘Young Innovators’ Fair’ in 1958, calling upon the intellectual creativity of socialist youth, so that within ten years over 2,000 new inventions were presented at that fair. The connection between Africa and Europe from the 15th century onwards served to block this spirit of technological innovation both directly and indirectly.

The European slave trade was a direct block, in removing millions of youth and young adults who are the human :agents from whom inventiveness springs. Those who remained in areas badly hit by slave-capturing were preoccupied about their freedom rather than with improvements in production. Besides, even the busiest African in West, Central, or East Africa was concerned more with trade than with production, because of the nature of the contacts with Europe; and that situation was not conducive to the introduction of technological advances. The most dynamic groups over a great area of Africa became associated with foreign trade — notably, the Afro-Portuguese middlemen of Upper Guinea, the Akan market women, the Aro traders of the Bight of Biafra, the mulattos of Angola, the Yao traders of Mozambique, and the Swahili and Wanyamwezi of East Africa. The trade which they carried on was in export items like captives and ivory which did not require the invention of machinery. Apart from that, they were agents for distributing European imports.
When Britain was the world’s leading economic power, it used to be referred to as a nation of shopkeepers: but most the goods in their shops were produced by themselves, and it was while grappling with the problems posed by production that their engineers came up with so many inventions. In Africa, the trading groups could make no contribution to technological improvement because their role and preoccupation took their minds and energies away from production.
Apart from inventiveness, we must also consider the borrowing of technology. When a society for whatever reason finds itself technologically trailing behind others, it catches not so much by independent inventions but by borrowing. Indeed, very few of man’s major scientific discoveries have been separately discovered in different places by different people. Once a principle or a tool is known, it spreads or diffuses to other peoples. Why then did European technology failed to make its way into Africa during the many centuries of contact between the two continents? The basic reason is that the very nature of Afro-European trade was highly unfavourable to the movement of positive ideas and techniques from the European capitalist system to the African pre-capitalist (communal, feudal, and pre-feudal) system of production.
The only non-European society that borrowed effectively from Europe and became capitalist is that of Japan. Japan was already a highly developed feudal society progressing towards its own capitalist forms in the 19th century. Its people were neither enslaved nor colonised by Europe, and its foreign trade relations were quite advantageous. For instance, Japanese textile manufacturers had the stimulus of their own growing internal market and some abroad in Asia and Europe. Under those circumstances, the young Japanese capitalist class (including many former feudalist landowners) borrowed technology from Europe and successfully domesticated it before the end of the 19th century. The use of this example from outside of Africa is meant to emphasise that for Africa to have received European technology the demand would have had to come from inside Africa — and most probably from a class or group who saw profit in the new technology. There had to be both willingness on the part of Europeans to transfer technology and African socio-economic structures capable of making use of that technology and internalising it.
Hunting for elephants or captives did not usually induce in Africa a demand for any technology other than firearms. The lines of economic activity attached to foreign trade were either destructive as slavery was, or at best purely extractive, like ivory hunting and cutting camwood trees. Therefore, there was no reason for wanting to call upon European skills. The African economies would have had little room for such skills unless negative types of exports were completely stopped. A remarkable fact that is seldom brought to light is that several African rulers in different parts of the continent saw the situation clearly, and sought European technology for internal development, which was meant to replace the trade in slaves.
Europeans deliberately ignored those African requests that Europe should place certain skills and techniques at their disposal. This was an element in the Kongo situation of the early 16th century, which has already been mentioned. It happened in Ethiopia also, though in Ethiopia no trade in captives was established with Europeans. A Portuguese embassy reached the Ethiopian court in 1520. Having examined Portuguese swords, muskets, clothes, books and other objects, the Emperor Lebna Dengel felt the need to introduce European technical knowledge into Ethiopia. Correspondence exists between the Emperor and European rulers such as kings Manuel I and John III of Portugal and Pope Leo X, in which requests were made for European assistance to Ethiopian industry. Until late in the 19th century, Ethiopian , petitions to that effect were being repeated with little or no success.
In the first half of the 18th century, there were two further examples of African rulers appreciating European technology, and stating their preference for skills and not slave ships. When Agaja Trudo of Dahomey sought to stop the trade in captives, he made an appeal to European craftsmen, and he sent an ambassador to London for that purpose. One European who stayed at the court of Dahomey in the late 1720s told his countrymen that ‘if any tailor, carpenter, smith or any other sort of white man that is free be willing to come here, he will find very good encouragement’. The Asantehene, Opoku Ware (1720-50), also asked Europeans to set up factories and distilleries in Asante, but he got no response.
Bearing in mind the history of Japan, it should be noted that the first requests for technical assistance came from the Ethiopian and Kongo empires, which in the 16th century where at a level undoubtedly comparable to most European feudal states, with the important exception that they had not produced the seeds of capitalism. During the 18th century the great African states of Dahomey and Asante became prominent. They had passed out of the communal stage and had a somewhat feudal class stratification along with specialisation in many activities such as the working of gold, iron and cloth. Asante society under Opoku Ware had already shown a capacity for seeking out innovations, by going to the trouble of taking imported silk and unravelling it so as to combine the silk threads with cotton to make the famous kente cloth. In other words, there would have been no difficulty in such African societies mastering European technical skills and bridging the rather narrow gap which existed between them and Europe at that time.
Well into the 19th century, Europe displayed the same indifference to requests for practical assistance from Africa, although by that period both African rulers and European capitalists were talking about replacing slave trade. In the early 19th century, one king of Calabar (in Eastern Nigeria) wrote the British asking for a sugar refinery; while around 1804 king Adandozan of Dahomey was bold enough to ask for a firearms factory! By that date, many parts of West Africa were going to war with European firearms and gunpowder. There grew up a saying in Dahomey that ‘He who makes the powder wins the war’, which was a far-sighted recognition that Africans were bound to fall before the superiority of Europeans in the field of arms technology. Of course, Europeans were also fully aware that their arms technology was decisive, and there was not the slightest chance that they would have agreed to teach Africans to make firearms and ammunition.
The circumstances of African trade with Europe were unfavourable to creating a consistent African demand for technology relevant to development; and when that demand was raised it was ignored or rejected by the capitalists. After all, it would not have been in the interests of capitalism to develop Africa. In more recent times, Western capitalists had refused to build the Volta River Dam for Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, until they realised that the Czechoslovakians would do the job; they refused to build the Aswan Dam for Egypt, and the Soviet Union had to come to the rescue; and in a similar situation they placed obstacles in the way of the building of a railway from Tanzania to Zambia, and it was the Socialist state of China that stepped in to express solidarity with African peasants and workers in a practical way. Placing the whole question in historical perspective allows us to see that capitalism has always discouraged technological evolution in Africa and blocks Africa’s access to its own technology. As will be seen in a subsequent section, capitalism introduced into Africa only such limited aspects of its material culture as were essential to more efficient exploitation, but the general tendency has been for capitalism to underdevelop Africa in technology.
The European slave trade and overseas trade in general had what are known as ‘multiplier effects’ on Europe’s development in a very positive sense. This means that the benefits of foreign contacts extended to many areas of European life not directly connected with foreign trade, and the whole society was better equipped for its own internal development. The opposite was true of Africa not only in the crucial sphere of technology but also with regard to the size and purpose of each economy in Africa. Under the normal processes of evolution, an economy grows steadily larger so that after a while two neighbouring economies merge into one. That was precisely how national economies were created in the states of Western Europe through the gradual combination of what were once separate provincial economies. Trade with Africa actually helped Europe to weld together more closely the different national economies, but in Africa there was disruption and disintegration at the local level. At the same time, each local economy ceased to be directed exclusively or even primarily towards the satisfaction of the wants of its inhabitants; and (whether or not the particular Africans recognised it) their economic effort served external interests and made them dependent on those external forces based in western Europe. In this way, the African economy taken as a whole was diverted away from its previous line of development and became distorted.
It has now become common knowledge that one of the principal reasons why genuine industrialisation cannot easily be realised in Africa today is that the market for manufactured goods in any single African country is too small, and there is no integration of the markets across large areas of Africa. The kind of relationship which Africa has had with Europe from the very beginning, has worked in a direction opposite to integration of local economies. Certain interterritorial links established on the continent were broken down after the 15th century because of European trade. Several examples arose on the West African coast down to Angola, because in those parts European trade was most voluminous, and the surviving written record is also more extensive.
When the Portuguese arrived in the region of modern Ghana in the 1470s, they had few commodities to offer the inhabitants in exchange for the gold coveted by Europe. However, they were able to tranship from Benin in Nigeria supplies of cotton cloths, beads, and female slaves, which were saleable on the ‘Gold Coast’. The Portuguese were responding to a given demand on the ‘Gold Coast’, so that a previous trade must have been in existence between the people of Benin and those of the ‘Gold Coast’, particularly the Akan. The Akan were gold producers, and the people of Benin were specialist craftsmen who had a surplus of cloth and beads which they manufactured themselves. As an expansionist state with a large army, Benin also had access to prisoners of war, while the Akan seemed concerned with building their own population and labour force, so the latter acquired female captives from Benin and rapidly integrated them as wives. When the Portuguese intervened in this exchange, it was subordinated to the interests of European trade. As soon as Portugal and other European nations had sufficient goods so as not to be dependent on the re-export of certain commodities from Benin, then all that remained were the links between the ‘Gold Coast’ and Europe on the one hand and between Benin and Europe on the other.
Probably, Benin products had reached the ‘Gold Coast’ by way of the creeks behind the coast of what is now Dahomey and Togo. Therefore, it would have been more convenient when Europeans established a direct link across the open sea. As pointed out earlier, the superiority of Europeans at sea was of the greatest strategic value, along with their organisational ability. This was illustrated in several places, beginning with the Maghreb and Mauretania. After the Portuguese took control of the Atlantic coast of North-West Africa, they were able to secure horses, woollen goods and beads, which they shipped further south to West Africa for gold and slaves ; up to the early 16th century, the most important article brought by the Portuguese for trade in Senegambia was the horse. In exchange for one horse they received as many as fifteen captives. North African woollens and beads were also utilised by the Portuguese in buying gold on the river Gambia and as far south as Sierra Leone.
It needs to be recalled that the Western Sudan had links with the West African coast and with North Africa. Long before the European arrival, horses were moving from North Africa to be inter-bred with local West African stock. Long before the European arrival, the Arabs and Mauretanians travelled to the river Senegal and further south to meet the Mandinga Djola traders and hand over to them products such as beads made in Ceuta and cloth spun from the wool of North African sheep. With the advantage of rapidity of transport by sea as opposed to overland across the desert, the Portuguese were in effect breaking up the economic integration of the region. As with the Benin / Akan example, the point to note is that after the Portuguese became middlemen they had the opportunity of developing a new trade pattern by which both North West Africa and West Africa looked to Europe and forgot about each other.
A similar situation came into existence on the Upper Guinea coast, and this time the European exploitation was aided by the presence of white settlers in the Cape Verde Islands. The Portuguese and the Cape Verde settlers broke into the pattern of local Upper Guinea trade ever since the 1470s. They intervened in transfers of raw cotton and indigo dye from one African community to another, and the Cape Verdean settlers established a flourishing cotton-growing and cotton-manufacturing industry. They used labour and techniques from the mainland, and exported the finished products along the length of the coast down to Accra.
The Portuguese also took over the trade in cowries in the Kongo and its off-shore islands, the trade in salt along the Angolan coast, and the trade in high-quality palm cloth between northern and southern Angola. In some instances, they achieved dominance not just because of their ships and commercial skills but also by the use of force — providing they were operating on the coast and could bring their cannon into use. In East Africa, for instance, the Portuguese used violence to capture trade from the Arabs and Swahili. The disruption of African commerce between the ‘Ivory Coast’ and the ‘Gold Coast’ followed that pattern. A strong coastal canoe trade existed between these two regions, with the people of Cape Lahou (modern Ivory Coast) sailing past Cape Three Points to sell their cloth as far east as Accra. The Portuguese set up a fort at Axim near Cape Three Poínts to service gold trade with the hinterland; and one of its functions was to chop the east-west coastal African trade. They banned Axim residents from going to Cape Lahou, and they stopped canoes from ‘Ivory Coast’ from travelling east beyond Axim. The purpose was obviously to make both areas separate economic entities exclusively tied to Europe.
The above-mentioned African commerce proved to have roots. The Dutch found it still going on when they took over Axim in 1637. The servants of the Dutch West India Company which was operating on the ‘Gold Coast’ wanted put a complete stop to the African trade; and when that was not achieved they tried to force the people of the ‘Ivory Coast’ to buy a certain amount of Dutch goods. The Dutch ruled that each Axim canoeman going to Cape Lahou should carry Dutch goods worth at least 4 ounces of gold. The purpose was to convert a purely inter-African exchange into a European/African trade.
What was doubly detrimental to African attempts to integrate their own economies was the fact that when Europeans became middlemen in local trade networks, they did so mainly to facilitate the extraction of captives, and thereby subordinated the whole economy to the European slave trade. In Upper Guinea and the Cape Verde islands, the Portuguese and their mulatto descendants engaged in a large variety of exchanges involving cotton, dyes, kola nuts and European products. The purpose of it all was to fill the holds of slave ships. In Congo and Angola, the same picture emerges. The salt, cowry shells and palm cloth that came in Portuguese hands made up for their shortage of trade goods and served to purchase captives on different parts of the coast and deep in the interior.
The element of subordination and dependence is crucial to an understanding of African underdevelopment today, and its roots lie far back in the era of international trade. It is also worth noting that there is a type of false or pseudo integration which is a camouflage for dependence. In contemporary times, it takes the form of free-trade areas in the formerly colonised sections of the world. Those free-trade areas are made to order for the penetration of multi-national corporations. From the 15th century onwards, pseudo integration appeared in the form of the interlocking of African economies over long distances from the coast, so as to allow the passage of human captives and ivory from a given point inland to a given port on the Atlantic or Indian Ocean. For example, captives were moved from Congo through what is now Zambia and Malawi to Mozambique, where Portuguese, Arab or French buyers took them over. That was not genuine integration of the economies of the African territories concerned. Such trade merely represented the extent of foreign penetration, thereby stifling local trades.
The West African gold trade was not destroyed, but it became directly dependent on European buyers by being diverted from the northward routes across the Sahara. Within the savannah belt of the Western Sudan, the trans-Saharan gold trade had nourished one of the most highly developed political zones in all Africa from the 5th century onwards. But it was more convenient for Europe to obtain its gold on the West Coast than through North African intermediaries, and one is left to speculate on what might have occurred in the Western Sudan if there had been a steady increase in the gold trade over the 17th and 18th centuries. Nevertheless, there is something to be said in favour of African trade with Europe in this particular commodity. Gold production involved mining and an orderly system of distribution within Africa. Akan country and parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique sustained flourishing socio-political systems up to the 19th century, largely because of gold production.
Certain benefits also derived from the export of ivory. The search for ivory became the most important activity in several East African societies at one time or another, sometimes in combination with the trade in captives. The Wanyamwezi of Tanzania were East Africa’s best known traders — acquiring their reputation through carrying goods for hundreds of miles between Lake Tanganyika and the Indian Ocean. When the Wanyamwezi gave their attention to the export of ivory, this sparked off other beneficial developments, such as increased trading in hoes, food and salt between themselves and their neighbours.
Yet, ivory was an asset that was rapidly exhausted in any given region, and the struggle to secure new supplies could lead to violence comparable to that which accompanied the search for human captives. Besides, the most decisive limitation of ivory trade was the fact that it did not grow logically from local needs and local production. Large quantities of ivory were not required by any society inside Africa, and no African society turned to elephant hunting and ivory collection on a big scale until the demand came from Europe or Asia. Any African society which took ivory exports seriously, then had to re-structure its economy so as to make ivory trade successful. That in turn led to excessive and undesirable dependence on the overseas market and an external economy. There could be growth in the volume of commerce and the rise of some positive side-effects, but there was decrease in capacity to achieve economic independence and self-sustaining social progress. Besides, at all times one must keep in mind the dialectical opposite of the trade in Africa: namely, production in Europe or in America under European control. The few socially-desirable by-products of elephant hunting within Africa were chicken-feed in comparison with the profits, technology and skills associated with the product in Europe. In that way, the gap between Africa and Europe was constantly widening; and it is on the basis of that gap that we arrive at development and underdevelopment.
4.3 Continuing Politico-Military Developments in Africa, — 1500 to 1885.
Modern African nationalist historians correctly stress that Africa had a meaningful past long before the coming of Europeans. They also stress that Africans made their own history long after coming into contact with Europe, and indeed right up to the period of colonisation. That African centred approach to the continent’s past is quite compatible with one which equally emphasises the transformatory role of external forces, such as overseas trade in slaves, gold, ivory, etc. The reconciliation of the two approaches is facilitated by bearing in mind the following three factors:
(a) The external (and mainly European) impact up to 1885 was very uneven in geographical terms, with the coasts being obviously more exposed.
(b) Commerce with Europeans affected different aspects of African life in varying degrees, with the political, military and ideological apparatus being virtually untouched.
(c) Dynamic features of independent African evolution and development (as illustrated in chapter 2) continued to operate after 1500.

It has already been argued that it would be misleading to try and compartmentalise Africa into areas that were affected by slave trading and those which were not, for the continent as a whole had to bear the costs. However, for present purposes, it is enough to make the crude distinction between those parts of Africa which were directly caught up in European-generated activities and those parts which to all appearances continued in the traditional manner.
Developments continued in certain areas such as south Central Africa,, because the population there was free to pursue a path dictated by the interplay between African people and the African environment in the particular localities. Besides, there were achievements even in those societies under the heaviest bombardment of slaving. Slave trading led to the commercial domination of Africa by Europe, within the context of international trade. In very few instances did Europeans manage to displace African political authorities in the various social systems. So African states in close contact with Europe in the pre-colonial era nevertheless had scope for political manoeuvre, and their evolution could and did continue.
Military conquest of Africa awaited the years of the imperialist Scramble. In pre-colonial centuries of contact with Europe, African armies were in existence, with all the socio-political implications which attach to an armed sector in society. Equally important was the fact that direct imports; from Europe in the cultural and ideological spheres were virtually nil. Christianity tried sporadically and ambivalently to make an impact on some parts of the continent. But most of the few missionaries in places like the Congo, Angola and Upper Guinea concentrated on blessing Africans as they were about to be launched across the Atlantic into slavery. As it was, Christianity continued only in Ethiopia, where it had indigenous roots. Elsewhere, there flourished Islam and other religions which had nothing to do with European trade. As before, religion continued to act as an element of the superstructure, which was crucial in the development of the state.
So long as there is political power, so long as people can be mobilised to use weapons, and so long as society has the opportunity to define its own ideology, culture, etc., then the people of that society have some control over their own destinies, in spite of constraints such as those imposed as the African continent slipped into orbit as a satellite of capitalist Europe. After all, although historical development is inseparable from material conditions and the state of technology, it is also partially controlled by a people’s consciousness at various stages. That is part of the interdependence of base and superstructure alluded to at the outset.
Revolution is the most dramatic appearance of a conscious people or class on the stage of history; but, to greater or lesser extent, the ruling class in any society is always engaged in the developmental process as conscious instruments of change or conservatism. Attention in this section will be focussed on the political sphere and its power companion, the military. In those areas, Africans were able to excel even in the face of slave trading.
Politico-military development in Africa from 1500 to 1885 meant that African social collectives had become more capable of defending the interests of their members, as opposed to the interests of people outside the given community. It also meant that the individual in a politically mature and militarily strong state would be free from external threat of physical removal. He would have more opportunities to apply his own skill in fields as diversified as minstrelry and bronze-working, under the protection of the state. He could also use his creativity and inventiveness to refine the religion of his people, or to work out a more manageable constitution, or to contribute to new techniques of war, or to advance agriculture and trade. Of course, it is also true that the benefits of all such contributions went mainly to a small section of African society, both within and without the zone of slaving; for, as communalism receded, the principle of egalitarian distribution was disregarded. These various points can be illustrated by concrete historical examples drawn from all over the continent during the pre-colonial period in question.
(a) The Yoruba
In a previous discussion, the Yoruba state of Oyo was merely listed as one of the outstanding representatives of African development up to the eve of European arrival in the 15th century. The remarkable 14th- and 15th-century artistic achievements of Oyo, of its parent state of life, and of the related state of Benin have been well studied, because of the preservation of ivory, terracotta and bronze sculptures. It is clear that the earliest bronzes were the best and that there was a deterioration in execution and sensitivity from the 16th through to the 18th century.
However, politically, states such as Oyo and Benin did continue to prosper for a very long time after the arrival of Europeans on the West African coast. Since Oyo and the Yoruba people were within an intensive area of slave trading, their fate between 1500 and 1885 is of considerable significance.
The kingdom of Oyo kept fairly clear of any involvement with slave trading until the late 18th century. Instead, its people concentrated on local production and trade, and on the consolidation and expansion of the trade. Indeed, although the nucleus of the Oyo kingdom had already been established in the 15th century, it was during the next three centuries that it expanded to take control of most of what was later termed Western Nigeria, large zones north of the river Niger and the whole of what is now Dahomey. In effect, it was an empire, ruled over by an Alafin in conjunction with an aristocracy. It was in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries that the subtle constitutional mechanisms which regulated relations between the Alafin and his principal subjects and between the capital and the provinces were crystallised.
In so far as Oyo had an interest in the coast, it was as an outlet more for cloth than for slaves. Being some distance inland, the Yoruba of Oyo concentrated on relations with the hinterland, thereby connecting with the Western Sudanic trading zone. It was from the North that Oyo got the horses which made its armies feared and respected. Oyo is a prime example of that African development which had its roots Jeep in the past, in the contradictions between man and environment. Its people continued to develop on the basis of forces which they did not consciously manipulate, as well as through the deliberate utilisation of political techniques.
Early in the 19th century, Oyo and Yorubaland in general began to export captives in considerable numbers. They were obtained partly by military campaigns outside Yorubaland, but also through local slave procuring. Local slave procuring involved kidnapping, armed raids, uncertainty and disunity. Those features, together with internal constitutional tensions and an external threat from the Islamic North, brought about the downfall of the Oyo empire by about 1830. The famous Yoruba ancestral home of Ife was also despoiled and its citizens turned into refugees, because of quarrels among the Yoruba over kidnapping for sale into slavery.
But it was testimony to the level of development in that part of Africa that, within a few years the inhabitants were able to reconstruct new political states: notably those of New Oyo, Ibadan, Ijaye, Abeokuta and Ijebu — each centred on a town, and with enough land for successful agriculture. Until the British arrived to kindly impose ‘order’ in Nigeria, the Yoruba people kept experimenting with various political forms, with heavy emphasis on the military, and keeping to the religion of their forefathers.
Being conscious of territorial boundaries, the inhabitants and rulers of any given state invariably become involved in clashes with neighbouring states. The state in the feudal epoch in Europe and Asia was particularly concerned with its military capacity. The ruling class comprised in whole or in part the professional fighting forces of the state. One rationalisation by which they justified their enjoyment of the major portion of the surplus of society was that they offered armed protection to the ordinary peasant or serf. This generalisation was as true of 19th-century Yorubaland as it was of Prussia and Japan. Without a doubt, Africans in that region were proceeding along the line of development leading to social organisation comparable to feudalism in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa such as Ethiopia and the Maghreb, which were at that stage some centuries earlier.
In the Oyo empire, the civil power was dominant, and the military generals were servants of the king. Subsequently, however, the military took over effective political power. For instance, the Ajaye state was founded by Kurunmi, said to have been the greatest Yoruba general of those troubled times following the fall of Oyo. Kurunmi established a personal military ascendancy in Ajaye. Ibadan was slightly different, in that there it was a group of military officers who collectively formed the political elite. Efforts to put civilians back in power were half-hearted and unsuccessful. After all, the town itself grew out of a military encampment.
The city-state of Abeokuta perhaps made the most consistent effort to make the military an arm of the civil state. But, what mattered most was the defence of the townships within the fortified walls of Abeokuta. Abeokuta’s fortified walls became famous as the place where many a rival army met disaster; and, under those circumstances, the Ologun or war-chiefs were the social and political powers.
While the militarisation of politics was going on in Yorubaland, changes were taking place in the structure of the society, which brought about sharper class stratification. Numerous captives were taken in war, most of whom were sold to Europeans, so that Yorubaland became notorious as a slave supplying region right up to the 1860s. But many war prisoners were retained locally, in conditions approximating either to slavery or to serfdom, depending on whether or not they were first-generation captives. Sometimes, refugees fleeing from destroyed towns also had no option other than to become clients or serfs of other free Yoruba. Such refugees were made to give service to their new overlords by farming the land, in return for armed protection. However, serfs were also used as soldiers, which means that they had access to the means of production (the land) only through meeting an obligation in military labour. That is a measure of the extent to which the principle of kinship had been weakened, and it indicates that, in contrast to the typical communal village, states such as those in 19th-century Yorubaland allocated roles and rewards to their citizens on the basis of reciprocal obligations characteristic of feudalism.
During the period under discussion, the division of labour among the Yoruba was extended with the rise of professional soldiers or ‘war-boys,’ as they were called. The professional soldiers, who were sons of aristocrats, left farming disdainfully to prisoners and serfs-the large number of whom ensured agricultural plenty. Other branches of economic activity also flourished, notably the making of cloth and palm oil and the trade in various products. These things were true, in spite of the fact that by that time some labour was being lost both in the form of slaves exported and in the form of labour power devoted to capturing people for export. European visitors to Yorubaland in the middle of the 19th century could still admire the level of its material culture, along with the highly colourful and impressive aspects of its non-material culture such as the annual ‘Yam Festivals’ and the ritual of the religious cults of Shango, Ogboni, etc.
One item of European technology that was anxiously sought by Africans and that was fairly easily obtainable from Europeans was the firearm. From the 1820s onwards, the Yoruba acquired European firearms in large numbers, and integrated them into the pattern of trade, politics and military strategy. On the eve of colonial rule, Yoruba generals were reaching out for breech-loading rifles and even rockets; but Europe stepped in too quickly for that move to get very far. Through a series of actions which started as early as 1860 in Lagos (and which included missionary infiltration as well as armed invasion) the British managed to bring that part of Africa under colonial rule.
Economic development is a matter of an increasing capacity to produce, and it is tied up with patterns of land tenure and class relations. These basic facts were well brought out both positively and negatively in Yoruba history, in the decades before independence was lost. So long as agricultural production was not disrupted, then for so long any given Yoruba state remained in a strong position. Ibadan was once the greatest military power in Yorubaland, selling captives as well as retaining many for use as labourers for its own benefit. But Ibadan’s farming areas were hit by war, and Ibadan’s rulers also started removing prisoners farming the land and selling them instead to Europeans. That became necessary because Ibadan needed firearms, and those could be obtained only by selling slaves. It was at that point that the undermining effect of the presence of European slave buyers on the coast became really paramount.
By selling its own captives and serfs, Ibadan was undermining its own socio-economic base. If the prisoners were to develop into a true serf class, then those prisoners would have had to be guaranteed the right to remain fixed on the soil and protected from sale. That was one of the reasons why slavery as a mode of production in Europe had to give way to serfdom and feudalism; and, under normal circumstances, Yoruba society did rapidly guarantee the irremovability of those captives who were integrated into the local production pattern. But, forces unleashed by the European presence as slave buyers were too great to be withstood, and any hope of solving the problem disappeared with the loss of political power under colonialism.
Too often, historians lay undue emphasis on the failure of 19th-century Yoruba states to unite and produce an entity as large as the former empire of Oyo. But, firstly, the size of a political unit is not the most important criterion for evaluating the achievement of its peoples. And, secondly, a given people can disintegrate politically and later integrate even more effectively. The Yoruba states of Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijaye, etc., had populations of up to 100,000 citizens — as large as most of the city-states, principalities and palatinates of feudal Germany. That is a comparison which is worth bringing to light, and it is one that struck European observers who happened to visit Yorubaland in the middle years of the 19th century.
Germany has long had a common culture and language, and there was a form of political unity under the Holy Roman Empire from the 12th to the 15th century. However, after the Reformation and the break-up of the Holy Roman Empire, the German people were divided into as many separate political entities as there are days in the year, some of them being hardly bigger than a public park. Yet, the internal class relations and productive forces continued to develop throughout Germany, and ultimately by 1870 unity was again achieved, with feudalism giving way to a powerful capitalist nation state. Similarly, the Yoruba were a widely spread cultural entity with a single language. After the fall of the Oyo empire the developmental processes were slowed down by both internal and external factors, but they were not stopped. It took the arrival of European colonialism to do that.
Within the sphere of West and Central African slaving, state building continued with varying degrees of success. For instance, the Akan state system grew up in a manner as impressive as that of the Oyo empire. Fortunately for the Akan, slave exports reached alarming proportions only during the first half of the 18th century. By that time, a state such as Asante had sunk roots deep enough to withstand the adverse effects of slaving. It continued to be incorporated with the heartlands of the Western Sudan, and by the 1870s when the British tried to dictate to Asante, these famous African people did not give up without heroic armed struggle.
Asante’s connection with the export of slaves in the 18th century led its rulers to concentrate on expansionism of the type which would bring in captives through wars, raids, tribute, and as articles of trade from regions where they had been made prisoner. Besides, since the 15th century, Akan country was building up rather than exporting its human resources. Captives were incorporated locally into the society; and on the eve of colonialism a substantial proportion of Asante society was made up of Odonko-ba — the descendants of one-time captives, who were the labouring population on the land. Development had come not through exporting and losing labour but by increasing and maximising it.
(b) Dahomey
Asante’s eastern neighbour beyond the Volta river was Dahomey. Since Dahomey was more deeply involved in the European slave trade and for a much longer period, its experiences shall be cited at a greater length.
Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Dahomey had a stagnant if not declining population, and an economy that had virtually no props other than slave exports. What Dahomey succeeded in doing in spite of all that is a tribute to the achievements of man inside the African continent. It should be made clear that the groundwork far the socio-political development of the Aja or Fon people of Dahomey was laid down in the period preceding the influence of Europe on West Africa. By the 15th century, the Aja states of Allada and Whydah were already in existence, having a loose connection with the Yoruba of Ife. Dahomey was an offshoot from Allada in the 16th century, and by the early 18th century it expanded to incorporate both Allada and Whydah.

The kings of Allada and Whydah had made the mistake of either failing to protect their own citizens from enslavement or of actually conniving at their enslavement. Dahomey never followed such a policy, which was directly antagonistic to the very maintenance of the state. Instead, Dahomey eventually became the classic raiding state of West Africa, after failing to get Europeans to accept any products other than human beings. To achieve that, Dahomey had first to build up a tightly organised military state, whose monarch came much closer to an authoritarian or despot than did the Alafin of Oyo or the Asantehene of Asante. Secondly, Dahomey invested a great deal of time and ingenuity on its army, so as to protect its own citizens and wage war abroad.
Within European history, the state of Sparta stood out as one that was completely dedicated to the art of war. Europeans in Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries invariably referred to Dahomey as a Black Sparta. Throughout the 18th century, the cavalry of Oyo was more than a match for Dahomey’s foot soldiers, and Dahomey remained a tribute-paying portion of the Oyo empire. But with the fall of Oyo, Dahomey became the supreme military state in that region, and indeed wreaked vengeance on its former Yoruba overlords. Warfare was necessary for securing slaves outside of Dahomey and for obtaining firearms. It was in fact essential for survival.
Dahomey’s profound pre-occupation with militaristic activities can be illustrated in many ways. Their value system rewarded the brave and the victorious, while ruthlessly despising and even liquidating the cowardly and the unsuccessful on the battlefield. The two chief ministers of the king were the commanders of the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ armies, and other military officers held political appointments. Then, too, the artistic media constantly harped upon the theme of war. Beautiful mosaics and paintings appeared on the walls of the palaces of Dahomey — all dealing with military victories. Historical accounts, as rendered by professional reciters, reflected the same bias; and the cloth workers busied themselves making emblems, ‘colours’, and umbrellas for the generals and the regiments.
Two unique innovations set Dahomey off from its African neighbours and even gives it a special claim within the context of feudal or semi-feudal military organisation. Firstly, Dahomey encouraged young boys to become apprentices of war. By the age of 11 or 12, a boy would be attached to a veteran soldier-helping to carry his supplies, and observing battle. The second innovation (and the one that was more widely commented upon) was Dahomey’s utilisation of its female population within the army. Apparently, the wives in the royal palace started off as a ceremonial guard in the 18th century, and then progressed to become an integral part of Dahomey’s fighting machine, on terms of complete equality of hardship and reward. Dahomey’s population in the 19th century was probably no more than 200,000; and the state consistently managed to send 12,000 to 15,000 actives on its annual campaigns. Of those, it was estimated in 1845 that some 5,000 were women — the so-called ‘Amazons of Dahomey’, who were feared for their ferocity in battle.
In the long run, the trade in slaves cast a blight on Dahomey. Slaving campaigns were costly and not always rewarding in terms of captives. European buyers failed to turn up during certain years, depending on European conditions. E.g., during the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the subsequent revolutionary wars, there was a lull in Dahomian slave exports, because far fewer European ships could be spared for the trade in slaves. Without selling captives to get firearms to carry on more warfare for slaves, Dahomey felt its glory and military honour was slipping. Resort to human sacrifice was one attempt to compensate for the diminishing reputation of the state and its monarch as was the case with the Oba of Benin in the 19th century.
Even so, the story of the reputed savagery of Dahomey was exaggerated incredibly. The Dahomian state created such refinements as a population census; it conducted diplomacy far and wide, with all the niceties and the protocol that one usually hears of only in connection with ‘civilised’ European states; and it built up a system of espionage and intelligence as an essential ingredient in its own security. Above all, attention should be focussed at least briefly on the role of the artist in Dahomian society. Much of African art springs from elaboration of things functional, such as pottery and cloth. However, both religion and the state power also stimulated art. For instance, the brasses and bronzes of Ife were executed on behalf of the religious cults and were associated with the Oni of Ife and the royal family. Indeed, it is a most widespread phenomenon that the feudal ruling class gave its protection to artists, along with sustenance and recognition. This was true in Mandarin China with pottery makers and theatre artists; it was true of 16th century Italy of the Renaissance; and it was true of Dahomey from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
No one now knows which Dahomian is to be credited with any given artistic achievement of the independent pre-colonial period. However, in that time, particular individuals were being given the opportunity for self-discovery and self-development and of serving the society as a whole. Their task was to give pleasure and to capture the hopes and ambitions of the people in palace wall paintings, in wrought-iron sculptures, in the stamped patterns of hand-woven cloths designed for royalty, on the intricately carved heads of the safe-conduct staffs of the king’s ambassadors, and in the lively tales of how the founder of the Dahomian kingdom came out of the belly of a leopard. It was art that centred around royalty and noble families, but it was also a national product and a point of identification for the people as a whole. Subsequently, such artistic skills either disappeared or became debased to serve the curiosity of philistine colonialists.
It is still held in some quarters that Dahomey’s development in certain spheres must be credited to slave trading. To demonstrate conclusively that African political and military development through to the 19th century was an extension of groundwork already laid in an earlier epoch, it is best to turn to zones where foreign influence was non-existent. The interlacustrine zone of East Africa is one such.
(c) The Eastern Inter-Lacustrine States
In an earlier discussion, attention was directed to Bunyoro-Kitara as the most advanced socio-political formation in East Africa up to the 15th century. Its ruling dynasty, the Bachwezi, declined for reasons that are not clear, and they were overwhelmed by new immigrants from the north. While there is some doubt as to whether the Bachwezi had an Ethiopian origin, it is clearly established that the 16th century immigrants were Luo peoples from a section of the Nile that flows through the Sudan.
Following upon Luo migrations, a new line known as the Babito dynasty, was placed in power over Bunyoro proper. Other branches of the same dynasty were enthroned in several places, sometimes breaking off from the main line. As late as the 19th century, a separate Babito kingdom was carved out in Toro. Meanwhile, the Bachwezi or Bahima had staged a comeback in regions to the south, in the form of a clan known as the Bahinda. The Bahinda were one of the pastoralist clans of the old Bunyoro-Kitara state, and in the period from the 16th century onwards their stronghold was in Ankole and Karagwe.
Obviously, the new Babito ruling class immediately sought to take control of the land, but in accordance with settled African customs, they later tried to project themselves as the original owners of the land, rather than usurpers. In Busoga, where there were several small Babito kings, a researcher reported the following dialogue about land between a member of a royal clan and a commoner:
Royal clan member — ‘We found this place empty and made something of it. You fellows later came round begging for land, so we were generous and gave you some. Naturally you’re now our slaves.’
Commoner — ‘Oho! What a lie! We were here long before you. You took your power by trickery. You princes have always been scoundrels!’
At no stage in the independent history of these interlacustrine states did land become purely a personal possession, to be monopolised by a given class, as in the classic European feudal model. Scholars frequently demand this feature before they concede that feudalism has arrived; but they fail to take into account the reality of the distribution and usufruct (or produce) of the land being in the hands of a few, and they fail to realise that where cattle were a dominant form of wealth then private ownership of herds was also part of a process by which producers were separated from the means of production. To be specific, those who owned the herds were usually the Bahinda or other Bahima or the new Babito families, while those who tended them were clients and virtually serfs of the owners. As far as land was concerned, the peasant who farmed it paid a heavy tax in crops to the clan heads and ruling authorities, to allow the latter to live without resort to agricultural work.
It is necessary to recall that in the process of independent evolution on all continents, the increase in productive capacity was accompanied by increasing inequality at all stages except socialism. To say that the inter-lacustrine zone continued developing uninterruptedly up to the eve of colonialism is to highlight the expanded productive capacity of the states and at the same time to recognise frankly that it was the result of increased exploitation not only of natural resources but also of the labour of the majority. The latter were disenfranchised and oppressed to get them to toil in the interests of a few who lived in palaces.

The inter-lacustrine kingdoms fell mainly in what is now Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Only in the north-east of Tanzania are there representatives of the inter-lacustrine complex of states. North-east Tanzania was the most developed portion of the country in the pre-colonial epoch, because the rest of mainland Tanzania comprised numerous small kingdoms that had not decisively left behind the communal stage. But north-east Tanzania was also the corner of the country in which problems arose when a new ideology of egalitarianism was being preached after the end of the colonial era, because there was already a regime of inequality in the distribution of land and produce and in the rights granted to individuals. In fact, in any meaningful political sense, the area was feudal.
There is some disagreement as to the origins of the important inter-lacustrine state of Buganda. Some traditions give it the same Luo origin as Bunyoro, while others tend to hold that it was a Bachwezi survival. Its social structure certainly paralleled that of Babito Bunyoro closely. Unlike in Ankole, in Buganda the Bahima did not have the reins of political power. They were only associated with the cattle-owning ruling class, very often in the junior capacity of herdsmen. In any event, Buganda’s history was one of gradual expansion and consolidation at the expense of Bunyoro and other neighbours. By the 18th century, it had become the dominant power in the whole region.
The Buganda state had a sound agricultural base, with bananas as a staple and with cattle products being available. Their craftsmen manufactured bark-cloth for export, and local production of iron and pots was supplemented by imports from neighbouring African communities. Their lack of salt was a big stimulus to the extending of their trade network to obtain the necessary supplies; and, as was true of the Western Sudan, such an extension of the network of commerce was in effect integrating the productive resources of a large area. Carl Peters, the advance agent of German colonialism in East Africa remarked that ‘in estimating the political and commercial affairs of East Africa too little stress is laid on this internal trade among the tribes. The barter trade of Buganda defies all direct calculation.’ In Buganda’s case, the absence of slave trading must have been important in expanding internal production and trade, and therefore providing a sound base for the political superstructure.
The kings of Buganda set up a small permanent armed force, which served as a bodyguard; and the rest of the national army was raised when necessary. The political administration was centralised under the Kabaka, and district rulers were appointed by the Kabaka and his council, rather than left to be provided by the clans on a hereditary family basis. Great ingenuity went into devising plans for administering this large kingdom through a network of local officials. Perhaps the best tributes to the political sophistication of Buganda came from the British, when they found Buganda and other East African feudalities in the 19th century. They were the best tributes because they were reluctantly extracted from white racists and culturally arrogant colonialists, who did not want to admit that Africans were capable of anything.

Actually, Europeans were so impressed with what they saw in the inter-lacustrine zone that they invented the thesis that those political states could not possibly have been the work of Africans and must have been built at an earlier date by white ‘Hamites’ from Ethiopia. This myth seemed to get some support from the fact that the Bachwezi were said to have been light-skinned. However, in the first place, had the Bachwezi come from Ethiopia they would have been black or brown Africans. And secondly, as noted earlier, the cultures of East Africa were syntheses of local developments, plus African contributions from outside the specific localities. They were certainly not foreign imports.
Assuming that the Bachwezi or Bahima were from Ethiopia, then they lost their language and became Bantus-peaking like their subjects. The same thing happened to the Babito dynasty of Luo extraction, indicating that they had been absorbed by the local culture. Furthermore, the Babito and the Bahima/Bahinda also forged close connections from the 16th to the 19th centuries. In effect, out of different ethnic groups, castes and classes, a number of ‘nationalities’ were emerging. The ‘nationality’ group is held to be that social formation which immediately precedes the nation state, and the definition applies to the peoples of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole, Karagwe and Toro, as well as to those in Rwanda and Burundi.
(d) Rwanda
The western most portion of the inter-lacustrine zone comprised the kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi. The two countries which today bear those names are centred around the old kingdoms. The experiences of (52 of 88) [8/22/05 11:06:23 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
Rwanda will be instanced here.
Like the old Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom and like its north-eastern neighbour state in Ankole, Rwanda was split into two major social groups. Though the great majority of the population were cultivators known as the Bahutu, political power was in the hands of Batutsi pastoralists, comprising about 10% of the population. An even smaller minority were the Batwa (about 1 %), who were at a very low level of pre-agricultural social organisation.
The relative physiques of the three social segments in Rwanda offers an interesting commentary on the development of human beings as a species. The Batutsi are one of the tallest human groups in the world; the Bahutu are short and stocky; and the Batwa are pygmies. The differences can be explained largely in terms of social occupation and diet. The Batwa were not living in settled agricultural communities : instead, they wandered around in small bands, hunting and digging roots, thereby failing to assure themselves of plentiful or rich food. At the other extreme, the Batutsi pastoralists were subsisting on a constantly accessible and rich diet of milk and meat. The Bahutu were more socially advanced than the Batwa; they ate more and more regularly than the latter because Bahutu agriculture meant that they did not live entirely on the whims of nature, following scarce game like the Batwa. However, the quality of their food fell short of the protein-rich Batutsi diet. Thus, the development of man, the physical being is also linked in a broad sense to the expansion of productive capacity and the distribution of food.

In any event, it was their political and military achievements rather than their height which distinguished the Batutsi from a historical viewpoint. Their contribution to the kingdom of Rwanda goes back to the 14th century, to a period contemporaneous with the Bachwezi. There were indeed striking parallels and actual links between Rwanda and Ankole and between Karagwe and Burundi. But unlike Bunyoro-Kitara, Rwanda in the 14th and 15th centuries, was far from being a single political entity. There were several small chiefdoms, and it was the expansion of a central Rwanda Tutsi clan which gradually created a small compact state in the 17th century. Later still, that central Rwanda state extended its frontiers; and it was still doing so when the colonialists arrived. For instance, rulers in Mpororo (Ankole) were already paying tribute to Rwanda, which was growing at Ankole’s expense.
At the head of the Rwanda kingdom was the Mwami. Like so many other African rulers, his powers were sanctioned by religious beliefs and his person surrounded by religious ritual. Feudal kings in Europe often tried to get their subjects to believe that royal authority emanated from God and that the king therefore ruled by ‘divine right’. Subjects of African kings like those of the Mwami of Rwanda often accepted something quite close to that proposition. Of course, in addition, the authority of the king had to be based on real power, and the Mwami of Rwanda did not overlook that fact.
Rujugira was a famous Mwami of the 18th century, and the last of the independent line was Rwaabugiri (known also as Kigeri IV), who díed in 1895. Gahindiro is another whose praises were sung by the court musicians and historians. Each of them was associated with one or more contributions to refining and elaborating the power structure of the state, which meant that they each embodied certain historical, class and national forces.
The Mwami Rujugira in the 18th century took the step of placing his frontier zones under the exclusive authority of a military commander, and stationing strong contingents of soldiers -there. The move was significant because in any young and growing state the most uncertain areas are those on the frontiers, known as the ‘marcher provinces’ in European feudal terminology. Rujugira was in effect placing the marcher provinces under military law, and he also put permanent military camps at strategic places.
Early in the 19th century, Mwami Gahindiro overhauled the civil administration. In each province, there was created both a land-chief and a cattle chief-one being responsible for farm rents and the other for cattle dues. Besides, there were smaller district authorities or ‘hill chiefs’ within all the provinces, all members of the Batutsi aristocracy. Whether by accident or design, it turned out that administrators responsible for different areas and different matters were jealous of each other, and that kept them from uniting to conspire against the Mwami. The ‘hill chiefs’ were for a long time hereditary within given Batsutsi clans or lineages; but under Rwaabugiri they became appointive-another move which strengthened central government. Meanwhile, the civil servants and councillors (collectively known as Biru) were given grants of land which were free from the intervention of the land- and cattle-chiefs, thereby cementing the loyalty of the Biru to the throne.
The system of social relations which emerged in Rwanda were more completely hierarchical and feudal than in most other parts of Africa. Hierarchy and socio-legal interdependence of classes and individuals were features found in the army, the civil administration and in the social fabric itself. The key to everything else was the control over cattle, through an institution known as ubuhake. This meant that the poor (in cattle) and those of low status (by birth) could approach anyone with more cattle and more respected status, and offer his physical labour services in return for cattle and protection. The cattle were never given as outright property, but only the usufruct was handed over to a client. Therefore, the client could have the use of the cattle for so long as he reciprocated by handing over milk and meat to his overlord, and for so long as he remained loyal. Of course, the peasant on the land also had to perform labour services and provide tribute in the form of food.
The Batutsi aristocracy fulfilled their function of offering ‘protection’ partly by making representations at the Mwami’s court or by defending their dependents in legal cases. Above all, however, the protection came through specialisation in the military art. Ever since the 15th century, there was compulsory military service for certain Batutsi lineages. Sons of the Batutsi aristocracy became royal pages, receiving all their educational training within a military context. Each new Mwami made a fresh recruitment to add to existing forces. Some Bahutu were associated with particular regiments to provide supplies, and the Batwa were also incorporated as specialist archers (with poisoned arrows).
Of course, the ‘protection’ which the Batutsi gave the Bahutu was a myth, in the sense that what they were guarding was their exploitation of the Bahutu. They defended them from external enemies, so that the population became dense and plentiful. They conserved the Bahutu, so that the latter could exercise their highly developed agronomical knowledge to produce surplus. Furthermore, the top stratum of Batutsi were the cattle owners, and they left their cattle to the lesser Batutsi to tend, thereby exploiting the labour and profound empirical knowledge which the common cattle herders possessed. As in Europe and Asia, such was the socioeconomic base which supported a life of leisure and intrigue among the Batutsi aristocracy.
There was little inter-marriage between Batutsi and Bahutu, and hence they are regarded as castes. The Batwa, too, can be similarly categorised; but since the castes were hierarchically placed one over the other, it was also a situation of class, and there was upward and downward mobility from one class to another to a certain extent. At the same time, Batutsi, Bahutu and Batwa together evolved as the Rwanda nation, having common interests to defend against even the Batutsi, Bahutu and Batwa who comprised the kingdom of Burundi. The people of Rwanda were not unique in developing a state and a sense of national consciousness, while at the same time experiencing the rise of more sharply differentiated classes and castes in society. The important thing is that they were free to develop relatively unaffected by alien influence, and certainly free from direct ravages of slave trading.
(e) Ama-Zulu
The same freedom from slave trading was operational in South Africa, for West African exports of capotes began in Angola and East African exports came from Mozambique and zones further north. The area south of the Limpopo was one that had some of the simpler social formations in Africa up to the 15th century. The eastern side was sparsely peopled up to a late date by the Khoi Khoi herdsmen, who were slowly edged out by Bantu speakers. When European ships touched on the Natal coast in the 16th century, it was still a region of widely-scattered homesteads; but in the years to come the population became denser and important politico-military development took place.
Anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the African past would have heard the name of Shaka, the Zulu leader who most embodied the social and political changes which took place in the eastern portion of South Africa. One biographer (a European) had this to say of Shaka:
‘Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Hannibal. Charlemagne . . . such men as these have arisen periodically throughout the history of the world to blaze a trail of glory that has raised them high above the common level. Such a man was Shaka, perhaps the greatest of them all.’
The above praise-song appeared on the back-cover of the biography in question; and, since capitalist publishers treat books just like boxes of soap-powder, one has admittedly to be suspicious of any advertisement designed to sell the book. Nevertheless, all commentators on Shaka (both African and European) frequently compare him favourably with the ‘Great Men’ of European history. It is therefore appropriate to examine Ama-Zulu society up to the 19th century with a view to understanding the role of the leader in relationship to the development of society as a whole.
Shaka was born about the year 1787, and the impressive achievements attributed to him in his 40-year life span can only be briefly enumerated here. By 1816, he was head of a small Ama-Ngoni clan, the Ama-Zulu. Within a few years, he had re-organised it militarily — both in terms of weapons and the tactics and strategy of war — so that the Ama-Zulu clan became a feared fighting force. Through warfare and political manoeuvring , he united and commanded the Ama-Ngoni who had previously been divided into dozens of independent or semi-independent clans. At one point, it seemed as though Shaka was about to unite under one rule the whole of the region that is now Natal, Lesotho and Swaziland. That task was not accomplished when he met his death in 1828, nor were his successors able to maintain Shaka’s sway. But the territory belonging to the Ama-Zulu nation in the late 19th century was 100 times greater than the 100 sq. miles of the original patrimony of the Ama-Zulu clan as inherited by Shaka in 1816. It was a diminished and less powerful AmaZulu that was still capable in 1876 of inflicting upon the British one of the most crushing defeats in their history of overseas adventuring — at the battle of Isandlwana.
Shaka grew up at a time when the questions of unity and of effective armies were being posed seriously for the first time among the Ama-Ngoni. Previously, the clans (which generally coincided with chiefdoms) displayed a tendency to segment or break into smaller and smaller units. As the eldest son of a clan head grew to adulthood, he went off to settle his own kraal; and a new junior clan was born, for his father’s clan remained senior and its headship passed to the eldest son of the ‘great wife’. That pattern of segmentation was possible so long as population density was low and land was plentiful for farming and-grazing. Under those circumstances, there was little competition for resources or political power; and wars were hardly any more dangerous than a game of football in Latin America. Usually a clan had traditional rivalry with another given clan. They knew each other well, and their champions fought in a spirit of festivity. One or two might have been killed, but then everyone went home until the rematch.
Early in the 19th century, the casual tempo of Ama-Zulu life and politics had changed considerably. A greater population meant less and less room for junior members to ‘hive off’ on their own. It meant less grazing land for cattle, and disputes over cattle and land. As the Ama-Zulu began to fight more frequently, so they began to feel the necessity to fight more effectively. At the same time, senior clan heads began to recognise the need for a political structure to ensure unity, the maximisation of resources and the minimisation of internecine conflict.
Shaka addressed himself to both the military and political problems of Zululand, which he saw as two sides of the same coin. He thought that the centralising political nucleus should achieve military superiority and demonstrate it to other sectors. That would generally lead to peaceful acceptance of the greater political state, or else the dissidents would be thoroughly crushed.
The era of conflict and warfare in Zululand in the early 19th century brought troops face to face much more often, but the pattern of military encounter still remained that of the long-distance hurling of light Umkhonto or spears. For close fighting, a weapon grasped in the hands is much more damaging-as feudal armies discovered in Europe and Asia, and therefore resorted to sword and pike. Shaka, while serving as a young soldier, came up with the solution of devising a heavy short assegai, which was used purely for stabbing rather than throwing. In addition, he discarded the loose sandals so as to achieve more speed in closing with the enemy and more dexterity at close quarters. Through experience, Shaka and his fellow youth then discovered the specific techniques of using their shields and assegais to best effect.
Of course, warfare comprises not just the encounter of individual soldiers, but (more importantly) a pattern of tactics and strategy in relationship to the opposing forces taken as a whole. This aspect of war also attracted Shaka’s attention, and his outstanding innovation came in the form of izimpi (regiments) deployed so as to allow for a reserve behind the fighting vanguard and for two wings or ‘horns’ capable of encircling the enemy’s flanks. Finally (and most importantly), an army has to be trained, disciplined and organised so that it is a meaningful unit in peace and in war. Shaka created new regiments to include men up to 40 years of age. He kept his izimpi on constant exercises and ‘fatigues’, so that the individual soldier was fit and proficient, while the army as a whole synchronised in accordance with the wishes of its commanders.
The Zulu army was more than a fighting force. It was an educational institution for the young, and an instrument for building loyalties that cut across clans and could be considered as national. Promotion came through merit, and not through clan or regional origin. The enforced use of the Zulu branch of the family of Ngoni languages also worked in the direction of national consciousness. Over an area of 12,000 sq. miles, citizens came to call themselves ‘Ama-Zulu’, and to relegate their clan names to second place. Over a much larger area still, Zulu influence was profoundly felt. Policies such as curbing the excesses of witchcraft diviners (izanusi) and the fact that Zululand became free of internal struggles led to an influx of population from outside its boundaries — a positive contribution to the resources of the Zulu state.
European travellers who have left written accounts of Zululand in Shaka’s time were impressed by the cleanliness (as they were in Benin in the 15th century) and they were equally struck by the social order, absence of theft, sense of security, etc. (just like the Arabs who travelled in the Western Sudan during its period of imperial greatness). In actual fact, both the cleanliness and the security of life and property were part of Zulu life from long before, and under Shaka what was impressive was the scale on which these things extended, owing to the protective umbrella of the state. The people being impressed were Europeans; and European evidence is the best evidence in that it can scarcely be said to have been pro-African propaganda. One white visitor who saw a march-past of fifteen of Shaka’s regiments, wrote that:
‘it was a most exciting scene, surprising to us, who could not have imagined that a nation termed “savages” could be so disciplined and kept in order.’
A great deal more could be added concerning Ama-Zulu political institutions and its army. But what is relevant here is to understand why a Shaka was possible in Africa in the 19th century, before the coming of colonial rule.
Had Shaka been a slave to some cotton planter in Mississippi or some sugar planter in Jamaica, he might have had an ear or a hand chopped off for being a ‘recalcitrant nigger’, or at best he might have distinguished himself in leading a slave revolt. For the only great men among the unfree and the oppressed are those who struggle to destroy the oppressor. On a slave plantation, Shaka would not have built a Zulu army and a Zulu state — that much is certain. Nor could any African build anything during the colonial period, however much a genius he may have been. As it was, Shaka was a herdsman and a warrior. As a youth, he tended cattle on the open plains — free to develop his own potential and apply it to his environment.
Shaka was able to invest his talents and creative energies in a worthwhile endeavour of construction. He was not concerned with fighting for or against slave traders; he was not concerned with the problem of how to re-sell goods made in Sweden and France. He was concerned with how to develop the Zulu arca within the limits imposed by his people’s resources.
It must be recognised that things such as military techniques were responses to real needs, that the work of the individual originates in and is backed by the action of society as a whole, and that whatever was achieved by any one leader must have been bounded by historical circumstances and the level of development, which determine the extent to which an individual can first discover, then augment and then display his potential.
To substantiate the above points, it can be noted that Shaka was challenged to create the heavy stabbing assegai, when he realised that the throwing spear broke when used as a stabbing weapon. More important still, what Shaka came up with depended upon the collective effort of the Ama-Zulu. Shaka could ask that a better assegai be forged, because the Ama-Ngoni had been working iron for a long time, and specialist blacksmiths had arisen within certain clans. It was a tribute to the organisational and agricultural capacity of the society as a whole that it could feed and maintain a standing army of 30,000 men, re-equip them with iron weapons, and issue each soldier with the full-length Zulu shield made from cattle hide.
Because the scientific basis and experimental pre-conditions were lacking in Zulu society, Shaka could not have devised a firearm — no matter how much genius he possessed. But, he could get his people to forge better weapons, as we explained above; and he found them receptive to better selective breeding practices when he set up special royal herds, because the people already had a vast fund of empirical knowledge about cattle and a love of the cattle herding profession.
In the politico-military sphere, Shaka was following in the footsteps of his original protector, Dingizwayo, and to some extent in the footsteps of Zwide, who was a rival to both Dingizwayo and Shaka. Dingizwayo opened up trade with the Portuguese at Delagoa Bay in 1797 (mainly in ivory), and he stimulated arts and crafts. His most distinguished innovation was in the army, when he instituted a system of recruiting regiments according to age grades. Previously, each locality tended to dominate within a given regiment; and, in any event, people were accustomed to fighting side by side with members of their own kraal, locality and clan. However, when all men in a given age-grade were brought into the same regiment, this emphasised a greater national feeling and also increased Dingizwayo’s power vis-a-vis the smaller clan heads.
Dingizwayo was head of the important Ama-Mthethwa clan, and he succeeded in establishing his paramountcy in what later became the southern portion of Zululand. In the north, Zwide of the Ama-Ndwandwe was also engaging in political consolidation. Shaka served in one of the junior age-grade regiments of Dingizwayo, and remained faithful to the latter’s centralising power, until Dingizwayo met his death at the hands of Zwide in 1818. Thereafter, Shaka took up many of the military and political techniques of Dingizwayo and greatly improved them. That is development: It is a matter of building upon what is inherited and advancing slowly, provided that no one comes to ‘civilise’ you.

The regions of Yorubaland, Dahomey, the inter-lacustrine kingdoms and Zululand, which have so far been discussed, are examples of leading forces in the political development which was taking place in Africa right up to the eve of colonisation. They were not the only leading forces, and even where the states were territorially much smaller, there were observable advances in political organisation.
Areas of Africa that were most advanced by the 15th century generally maintained their standards, with few exceptions such as Kongo. In North Africa and Ethiopia, for example, feudal structures remained intact, though there was a noticeable lack of continued growth. In the Western Sudan, the Hausa states were heirs to the political and commercial tradition of the great empires after the fall of Songhai in the 17th century; and early in the 19th century there arose the Islamic Caliphate of Sokoto with its centre in Hausaland. The Sokoto empire was one of the largest political units ever established on the African continent, and it suffered from many internal schisms through lack of adequate mechanisms for integrating so vast a territory. Experiments to deal with the problem of unity were continued in the Western Sudan, with Islam as the hoped-for unifying factor. An Islamic theocratic state was established across the Niger bend by Ahmadu Ahmadu in the middle of the 19th century, while another was created by Al Haj Omar on the upper Niger. Most outstanding of all was the Mandinga state carved out under the leadership of Samori Toure by the 1880s. Samori Toure was not a scholar like the renowned Uthman dan Fodio and Al Haj Omar, who before him had been creators of Islamic states; but Samori Toure was a military genius and a political innovator, who went further than the others in setting up a political administration where a sense of loyalty could prevail over and above clans, localities and ethnic groups.
Zimbabwe, too, progressed, with only slight interference from Europeans. Locally, the centre of power shifted from Mutapa to Changamire; and eventually in the 19th century, Nguni groups (fleeing from the power of the Zulu) overran Zimbabwe. So long as the Nguni were warrior bands on the march, they obviously proved destructive; but by the middle of the 19th century the Nguni had already spread their own building techniques to Mozambique and to what is now Southern Rhodesia, and had joined with the local population to establish new and larger kingdoms — infused with a sense of nationality, as was the case in Zululand.
Meanwhile, across vast areas of Central Africa, striking political change was also taking place. Up to the 15th century, the level of social organisation was low in the area between Kongo and Zimbabwe. Precisely in that area, there arose the group of states known as the Luba-Lunda complex. Their political structures rather than their territorial size made them , significant; and their achievements were registered in the face of constantly encroaching slaving activities.
On the large island of Madagascar, the several small states of an earlier epoch had by the late 18th century given way to the powerful feudal Merina kingdom. More often than not, Madagascar is ignored in general assessments of the African continent, although (both in the physical and cultural sense) Africa is writ large on the Malagasy people. They, too, suffered from loss of population through slave exports; but the Merina kingdom did better than most slaving states, because more intensive cultivation of high-yielding swamp rice and the breeding of cattle offset the loss of labour. This situation should serve as a reminder that development accompanied by slave trading must not be superficially and illogically attributed to the export of the population and the dislocation attendant upon slave raiding. The bases of the political development of the Merina kingdom and of all others (whether or not engaged in slaving) lay in their own environment — in the material resources, human resources, technology and social relations. So long as any African society could at least maintain its inherited advantages springing from many centuries of evolutionary change, then for so long could the superstructure continue to expand and give further opportunities to whole groups of people, to classes and to individuals.
At the beginning of this section, attention was drawn to the necessity for reconciling a recognition of African development up to 1885 with an awareness of the losses simultaneously incurred by the continent in that epoch, due to the nature of the contact with capitalist Europe. That issue must also be explicitly alluded to at this point. It is clearly ridiculous to assert that contacts with Europe built or benefitted Africa in the pre-colonial period. Nor does it represent reality to suggest (as President Leopold Senghor once did) that the slave trade swept Africa like a bush fire, leaving nothing standing. The truth is that a developing Africa went into slave trading and European commercial relations as into a gale-force wind, which shipwrecked a few societies, set many others off course, and generally slowed down the rate of advance. However (pursuing the metaphor further) it must be noted that African captains were still making decisions before 1885, though already forces were at work which caused European capitalists to insist on, and succeed in taking over, command.

How Europe Became the Dominant Section of a World-wide Trade System?

June 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

‘British trade is a magnificent superstructure of American commerce and naval power on an African foundation.’Malachi Postlethwayt,

‘The African Trade, the Great Pillar and Support of the British Plantation Trade in North America, 1745.’
‘If you were to lose each year more than 200 million livres that you now get from your colonies; if you had not the exclusive trade with your colonies lo feed your manufactures, lo maintain your navy, lo keep your agriculture going, lo repay for your imports, lo provide for your luxury needs, lo advantageously balance your trade with Europe and Asia, then I say it clearly, the kingdom would be irretrievably lost.’
Bishop Maury (of France) : Argument against France’s ending the slave trade and giving freedom to its slave colonies. Presented in the French National Assembly, 1791.

By Walter Rodney
Because of the superficiality of many of the approaches to ‘underdevelopment’, and because of resulting misconceptions, it is necessary to re-emphasise that development and underdevelopment are not only comparative terms, but that they also have a dialectical relationship one to the other: that is to say, the two help produce each other by interaction. Western Europe and Africa had a relationship which ensured the transfer of wealth from Africa to Europe. The transfer was possible only after trade became truly international; and that takes one back to the late 15th century when Africa and Europe were drawn into common relations for the first time — along with Asia and the Americas.

The developed and underdeveloped parts of the present capitalist section of the world have been in continuous contact four and a half centuries. The contention here is that over that period Africa helped to develop Western Europe in the same proportion as Western Europe helped to underdevelop Africa.
The first significant thing about the internationalisation of trade in the 15th century was that Europeans took the initiative and went to other parts of the world. No Chinese boats reached Europe, and if any African canoes reached the Americas (as is sometimes maintained) they did not establish two-way links. What was called international trade was nothing but the extension overseas of European interests. The strategy behind international trade and the production that supported it was firmly in European hands, and specifically, in the hands of the sea-going nations from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. They owned and directed the great majority of the world’s sea-going vessels, and they controlled the financing of the trade between four continents. Africans ,a little clue as to the tri-continental links between Africa,Europe and the Americas. Europe had a monopoly of knowledge about the international exchange system seen as a whole, for Western Europe was the only sector capable of viewing the system as a whole.

Europeans used the superiority of their ships and cannon to gain control of al] the world’s waterways, starting with the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast of North Africa. From 1415, when the Portuguese captured Ceuta near Gibraltar, they maintained the offensive against the Maghreb. Within the next sixty years, they seized ports such as Arzila, El-Ksar-es-Seghir and Tangier, and fortified them. By the second half of the 15th century, the Portuguese controlled the Atlantic coast of Morocco and used its economic and strategic advantages to prepare for further navigations which eventually carried their ships round the Cape of Good Hope in 1495. After reaching the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese sought with some success to replace Arabs as the merchants who tied East Africa to India and the rest of Asia. the 17th and 18th centuries, the Portuguese carried most of the East African ivory which was marketed in India; while Indian cloth and beads were sold in East and West Africa by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French. The same applied to cowry shells from the East Indies. Therefore, by control of the seas, Europe took the first steps towards transforming the several parts of Africa and Asia into economic satellites.
When the Portuguese and the Spanish were still in command of a major sector of world trade in the first half of the seventeenth century, they engaged in buying cotton cloth in India to exchange for slaves in Africa to mine gold in Central and South America. Part of the gold in the Americas would then be used to purchase spices and silks from the Far East. The concept of metropole and dependency automatically came into existence when parts of Africa were caught up in the web of international commerce. On the one hand, there were the European countries who decided on the role to be played by the African economy; and on the other hand, Africa formed an extension to the European capitalist market. As far as foreign trade was concerned, Africa was dependent on what Europeans were prepared to buy and sell.

Europe exported to Africa goods which were already being produced and used in Europe itself — Dutch linen, Spanish iron, English pewter, Portuguese wines, French brandy, Venetian glass beads, German muskets, etc. Europeans were also able to unload on the African continent goods which had become unsaleable in Europe. Thus, items like old sheets, cast-off uniforms, technologically outdated firearms, and lots of odds and ends found guaranteed markets in Africa. Africans slowly became aware of the possibility of demanding and obtaining better imported goods, and pressure was exerted on the captains of European ships; but the overall range of trade goods which left the European ports of Hamburg, Copenhagen and Liverpool was determined almost exclusively by the pattern of production and consumption within Europe.

From the beginning, Europe assumed the power to make decisions within the international trading system. An excellent illustration of that is the fact that the so-called international law which governed the conduct of nations on the high seas was nothing else but European law.

Africans did not participate in its making, and in many instances African people were simply the victims, for the law recognised them only as transportable merchandise. If the African slave was thrown overboard at sea, the only legal problem that arose was whether or not the slave-ship could claim compensation from the insurers! Above all, European decision-making power was exercised in selecting what Africa should export — in accordance with European. needs.
The ships of the Portuguese gave the search for gold the highest priority, partly on the basis of well-known information that West African gold reached Europe across the Sahara and partly on the basis of guesswork. The Portuguese were successful in obtaining gold in parts of West Africa and in eastern Central Africa; and it was the ‘Gold Coast’ which attracted the greatest attention from Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries. The number of forts built there was proof to that effect, and the nations involved included the Scandinavians and the Prussians (Germans) apart from other colonial stalwarts like the British, Dutch and Portuguese.

Europeans were anxious to acquire gold in Africa because there was a pressing need for gold coin within the growing capitalist money economy. Since gold was limited to very small areas of Africa as far as Europeans were then aware, the principal export was human beings. Only in a very few places at given times was the export of another commodity of equal or greater importance. For instance, in the Senegal there was gum, in Sierra Leone camwood, and in Mozambique ivory. However, even after taking those things into account, one can say that Europe allocated to Africa the role of supplier of human captives to be used as slaves in various parts of the world.
When Europeans reached the Americas, they recognised its enormous potential in gold and silver and tropical produce. But that potential could not be made a reality without adequate labour supplies. The indigenous Indian population could not withstand new European diseases such as small-pox, nor could they bear the organised toil of slave plantations and slave mines, having barely emerged from the hunting stage. That is why in islands like Cuba and Hispaniola, the local Indian population was virtually wiped out by the white invaders. At the same time, Europe itself had a very small population and could not afford to release the labour required to tap the wealth of the Americas. Therefore, they turned to the nearest continent, Africa, which incidentally had a population accustomed to settled agriculture and disciplined labour in many spheres. Those were the objective conditions lying behind the start of the European slave trade, and those are the reasons why the capitalist class in Europe used their control of international trade to ensure that Africa specialised in exporting captives.
Obviously, if Europe could tell Africans what to export that was an expression of European power. However, it would be a mistake to believe that it was an overwhelming military power. Europeans found it impossible to conquer Africans during the early centuries of trade, except in isolated spots on the coast. European power resided in their system of production which was at a somewhat higher level than Africa’s at that time. European society was leaving feudalism and was moving towards capitalism; African society was then entering a phase comparable to feudalism.
The fact that Europe was the first part of the world to move from feudalism towards capitalism gave Europeans a headstart over humanity elsewhere in the scientific understanding of the universe, the making of tools and the efficient organisation of labour. European technical superiority did not apply to all aspects of production, but the advantage which they possessed in a few key areas proved decisive. For example, African canoes on the river Nile and the Senegal coast were of a high standard, but the relevant sphere of operations was the ocean, where European ships could take command. West Africans had developed metal casting to a fine artistic perfection in many parts of Nigeria, but when it came to the meeting with Europe beautiful bronzes were far less relevant than the crudest cannon. African wooden utensils were sometimes works of great beauty, but Europe produced pots and pans that had many practical advantages. Literacy, organisational experience, and the capacity to produce on an ever-expanding scale also counted in the European favour.
European manufactures in the early years of trade with Africa were often of poor quality, but they were of new varieties and were found attractive. Estaban Montejo, an African who ran away from a Cuban slave plantation in the 19th century, recalled that his people were enticed into slavery by the colour red. He said:
It was the scarlet which did for the Africans; both the kings and the rest surrendered without a struggle. When the kings saw that the whites were taking out these scarlet handkerchiefs as if they were waving, they told the blacks, ‘Go on then, go and get a scarlet handkerchief’, and the blacks were so excited 6y the scarlet they ran down lo the ships like sheep and there they were captured.

That version by one of the victims of slavery is very poetic. What it means is that some African rulers found European goods sufficiently desirable to hand over captives which they had taken in warfare. Soon, war began to be fought between one community and another for the sole purpose of getting prisoners for sale to Europeans, and even inside a given community a ruler might be tempted to exploit his own subjects and capture them for sale. A chain reaction was started by European demand for slaves (and only slaves) and by their offer of consumer goods — this process being connected with divisions within African society.
It is often said for the colonial period that vertical political divisions in Africa made conquest easy. This is even more true of the way that Africa succumbed to the slave trade. National unification was a product of mature feudalism and of capitalism. Inside of Europe, there were far fewer political divisions than in Africa where communalism meant political fragmentation with the family as the nucleus, and there were only a few states that had real territorial solidity. Furthermore, when one European nation challenged another to obtain captives from an African ruler, Europe benefitted from whichever of the two nations won the conflict.

Any European trader could arrive on the coast of West Africa and exploit the political differences which he found there. For example, in the small territory that the Portuguese later claimed as Guinea-Bissau, there were more than a dozen ethnic groups. It was so easy to set one off against another that Europeans called it a ‘slave trader’s paradise’.
Although class divisions were not pronounced in African society, they too contributed to the case with which Europe imposed itself commercially on large parts of the African continent. The rulers had a certain status and authority, and when bamboozled by European goods they began to use that position to raid outside their societies as well as to exploit a internally by victimizing some of their own subjects. In the simplest of societies where there were no kings, it proved impossible for Europeans to strike up the alliance which was necessary to carry on a trade in captives on the coast. In those societies with ruling groups, the association with Europeans was easily established; and afterwards Europe hardened the existing internal class divisions and created new ones.
In effect, particular aspects of African society became weaknesses when Europeans arrived as representatives of a different phase of development. And yet the subjugation of the African economy through slave trade was a slow process at the outset, and in some instances African opposition or disinterest had to be overcome. In the Congo, the slave trade did not get under way without grave doubts and opposition from the king of the state of Kongo at the beginning of the 16th century. He asked for masons, priests, clerks, physicians, etc.; but instead he was overwhelmed by slave ships sent from Portugal, and a vicious trade was opened up by playing off one part of the Kongo Kingdom against another. The king of the Kongo had conceived of possibilities of mutually beneficial interchange between his people and the European state, but the latter forced him to specialise in the export of human cargo. It is also interesting to note that while the Oba (king) of Benin was willing to sell a few female captives, it took a great deal of persuasion and pressure from Europeans to get him to sell male African prisoners of war, who would otherwise have been brought into the ranks of Benin society.

Once trade in slaves had been started in any given part of Africa, it soon became clear that it was beyond the capacity of any single African state to change the situation. In Angola, the Portuguese employed an unusual number of their own troops and tried to seize political power from Africans. The Angolan state of Matamba on the river Kwango was founded around 1630 as a direct reaction against the Portuguese. With Queen Nzinga at its head, Matamba tried to co-ordinate resistance against the Portuguese in Angola. However, Portugal gained the upper hand in 1648, and this left Matamba isolated. Matamba could not forever stand aside. So long as it opposed trade with the Portuguese, it was an object of hostility from neighbouring African states which had compromised with Europeans and slave trading. So in 1656 queen Nzinga resumed business with the Portuguese — a major concession to the decision-making role of Europeans within the Angolan economy.

Another example of African resistance during the course of the slave trade comes from the Baga people in what is now the Republic of Guinea. The Baga lived in small states, and about 1720 one of their leaders (Tomba by name) aimed at securing an alliance to stop the slave traffic. He was defeated by local European resident-traders, mulattoes and other slave-trading Africans. It is not difficult to understand why Europeans should have taken immediate steps to see that Tomba and his Baga followers did not opt out of the role allocated to them by Europe. A parallel which presents itself is the manner in which Europeans got together to wage the ‘Opium War’ against China in the 19th century to ensure that Western capitalists would make profit while the Chinese were turned into dope addicts.
Of course, it is only as a last resort that the capitalist metropoles need to use armed force to ensure the pursuit of favourable policies in the dependent areas. Normally, economic weapons are sufficient. In the 1720s, Dahomey opposed European slave traders, and was deprived of European imports — some of which had become necessary by that time. Agaja Trudo, Dahomey’s greatest king, appreciated that European demand for slaves and the pursuit of slaving in and around Dahomey was in conflict with Dahomey’s development. Between 1724 and 1726, he looted and burnt European forts and slave camps; and he reduced the trade from the ‘Slave Coast’ to a mere trickle, by blocking the paths leading to sources of supply in the interior. European salve dealers were very bitter, and they tried to sponsor some African collaborators against Agaja Trudo. They failed to unseat him or to crush the Dahomian state, but in turn Agaja failed to persuade them to develop new lines of economic activity, such as local plantation agriculture; and, being anxious to acquire firearms and cowries through the Europeans, he had to agree to the resumption of slave trading in 1730.
After 1730, Dahomian slaving was placed under royal control and was much more restricted than previously. Yet, the failure of this determined effort demonstrated that a single African state at that time could not emancipate itself from European control. The small size of African states and the numerous political divisions made it so much easier for Europe to make the decisions as to Africa’s role in world production and trade.
Many guilty consciences have been created by the slave trade. Europeans know that they carried on the slave trade, and Africans are aware that the trade would have been impossible if certain Africans did not co-operate with the slave ships. To case their guilty conscience, Europeans try to throw the major responsibility for the slave trade on to the Africans. One European author of a book on the slave trade (appropriately entitled Sins of Our Fathers) explained how many other white people urged him to state that the trade was the responsibility of African chiefs, and that Europeans merely turned up to buy the captives — as though without European demand there would have been captives sitting on the beach by the millions! Issues such as those are not the principal concern of this study, but they can be correctly approached only after understanding that Europe became the centre of a world-wide system and that it was European capitalism which set slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in motion.
The trade in human beings from Africa was a response to external factors. At first, the labour was needed in Portugal, Spain and in Atlantic islands such as Sâo Tome, Cape Verde and the Canaries; then came the period when the Greater Antilles and the Spanish American mainland needed replacements for the Indians who were victims of genocide ; and then the demands of Caribbean and mainland plantation societies had to be met. The records show direct connections between levels of exports from Africa and European demand for slave labour in some part of the American plantation economy. When the Dutch took Pernambuco in Brazil in 1634, the Director of the Dutch West Indian Company immediately informed their agents on the ‘Gold Coast’ that they were to take the necessary steps to pursue the trade in slaves on the adjacent coast east of the Volta — thus creating for that area the infamous name of the ‘Slave Coast.’ When the British West Indian islands took to growing sugar cane, the Gambia was one of the first places to respond. Examples of this kind of external control can be instanced right up to the end of the trade, and this embraces Eastern Africa also, since European markets in the Indian Ocean islands became important in the 18th and 19th centuries, and since demand in places like Brazil caused Mozambicans to be shipped round the Cape of Good Hope.

Africa’s contribution to the economy and beliefs of early capitalist Europe
The kinds of benefits which Europe derived from its control of world commerce are fairly well known, although it is curious that the recognition of Africa’s major contribution to European development is usually made in works devoted specifically to that subject; while European scholars of Europe often treat the European economy as if it were entirely independent. European economists of the 19th century certainly had no illusions about the inter-connections between their national economies and the world at large. J.S. Mill, as spokesman for British capitalism, said that as .far as England was concerned, ‘the trade of the West Indies is hardly to be considered as external trade, but more resembles the traffic between town and country.’ By the phrase ‘trade of the West Indies’ Mill meant the commerce between Africa, England and the West Indies, because without African labour the West Indies were valueless. Karl Marx also commented on the way that European capitalists tied Africa, the West Indies and Latin America into the capitalist system; and (being the most bitter critic of capitalism) Marx went on to point out that what was good for Europeans was obtained at the expense of untold suffering by Africans and American Indians. Marx noted that ‘the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the turning of Africa into a commercial warren for the hunting of black skins signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production’.
Some attempts have been made to try and quantify the :actual monetary profits made by Europeans from engaging rn the slave trade. The actual dimensions are not easy to fix, but the profits were fabulous. John Hawkins made three trips to West Africa in the 1560s, and stole Africans whom he sold to the Spanish in America. On returning to England after the first trip, his profit was so handsome that Queen Elizabeth I became interested in directly participating in his next venture ; and she provided for that purpose a ship named the Jesus. Hawkins left with the Jesus to steal some more Africans, and he returned to England with such dividends that Queen Elizabeth made him a knight. Hawkins chose as his coat of arms the representation of an African in chains.
Of course, there were inevitably voyages that failed, slave ships that were lost at sea, etc. Sometimes trade in Africa did well, while at other times it was the profit in the Americas that was really substantial. When all the ups and downs are ironed out, the level of profit had to be enough to justify continued participation in that particular form of trade for centuries. A few bourgeois scholars have tried to suggest that the trade in slaves did not have worthwhile monetary returns. They would have us believe that the same entrepreneurs whom they praise in other contexts as the heroes of capitalist development were so dumb with regard to slavery and slave trade, that for centuries they absorbed themselves in a non-profit venture! This kind of argument is worth noting more as an example of the distortions of which white bourgeois scholarship is capable than as something requiring serious consideration. Besides, quite apart from capital accumulation, Europe’s trade with Africa gave numerous stimuli to Europe’s growth.
Central and South American gold and silver — mined by Africans — played a crucial role in meeting the need for coin in the expanding capitalist money economy of Western Europe, while African gold was also significant in that respect. African gold helped the Portuguese to finance further navigations around the Cape of Good Hope and into Asia ever since the 15th century. African gold was also the main source for the mintage of Dutch gold coin in the 17th century ; helping Amsterdam to become the financial capital of Europe in that period; and further it was no coincidence that when the English struck a new gold coin in 1663 they called it the ‘guinea’. The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains that the guinea was ‘a gold coin at one time current in the United Kingdom. It was first coined in 1663, in the reign of Charles II, from gold imported from the Guinea Coast of West Africa by a company of merchants trading under charter from the British crown — hence the name.’
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and for most o the 19th century, the exploitation of Africa and African labour continued to be a source for the accumulation o capital to be re-invested in Western Europe. The African contribution to European capitalist growth extended over such vital sectors as shipping, insurance, the formation companies, capitalist agriculture, technology and the manufacture of machinery.
The effects were so wide-ranging that many are seldom brought to the notice of the reading public. For instance, the French St. Malo fishing industry was revived by the opening up of markets in the French slave plantations; while the Portuguese in Europe depended heavily on dyes like indigo, camwood, Brazil wood and cochineal brought from Africa and the Americas. Gum from Africa also played a part in the textile industry, which is acknowledged as having been one of the most powerful engines growth within the European economy. Then there was the export of ivory from Africa, enriching many merchants in London’s Mincing Lane, and providing the raw material for industries in England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and North America — producing items ranging from knife handles piano keys.
Africa’s being drawn into the orbit of Western Europe speed up the latter’s technological development. For example, the evolution of European shipbuilding from the 16th century to the 19th century was a logical consequence of their monopoly of sea commerce in that period. During that time, the North Africans were bottled up in the Mediterranean. and although it was from them that Europeans initially borrowed a great deal of nautical instrumentation, North Africans made no further worthwhile advances. Where the original European advantage was not sufficient to assure supremacy, they deliberately undermined other people’s efforts. The Indian navy, for instance, suffered from the rigid enforcement of the English Navigation Laws. Yet, the expenses involved in building new and better European ships were met from the profits of overseas trade with India, Africa, etc. The Dutch were pioneers in improving upon the which took the Spanish and Portuguese out across the Atlantic, and the succession of Dutch trading companies operating in Asia, Africa and America were the ones responsible for experimentation. By the 18th century, the British were using Dutch know-how as a basis for surpassing the Dutch themselves, and the Atlantic was their laboratory. It used to be said that the slave trade was a training ground for British seamen. It is probably more significant to note that the Atlantic trade was the stimulator of consistent advances in naval technology.
The most spectacular feature in Europe which was connected with African trade was the rise of sea-port towns — – notably Bristol, Liverpool, Nantes, Bordeaux and Seville. Directly or indirectly connected to those ports, there often emerged the manufacturing centres which gave rise to the ‘industrial revolution’. In England, it was the county of Lancashire which was the first centre of the industrial revolution and the economic advance in Lancashire depended first on the growth of the port of Liverpool through slave trading.
The connections between slavery and capitalism in the growth of England is adequately documented by Eric Williams in his well-known book Capitalism and Slavery. Williams gives a clear picture of the numerous benefits which England derived from trading and exploiting slaves, and he identified by name several of the personalities and capitalist firms who were the beneficiaries. Outstanding examples are provided in the persons of David and Alexander Barclay, who were engaging in slave trade in 1756 and who later used the loot to set up Barclays’ Bank. There was a similar progression in the case of Lloyds — from being a small London coffee house to being one of the world’s largest banking and insurance houses, after dipping into profits from slave trade and slavery. Then there was James Watt, expressing eternal gratitude to the West Indian slave owners who directly financed his famous steam engine, and took it from the drawing-board to the factory.
A similar picture would emerge from any detailed study of French capitalism and slavery, given the fact that during the 18th century the West Indies accounted for 20% of France’s external trade-much more than the whole of Africa in the present century. Of course, benefits were not always directly proportionate to the amount of involvement of a given European state in the Atlantic trade. The enormous profits of Portuguese overseas enterprise passed rapidly out of the Portuguese economy into the hands of the more developed Western European capitalist nations who supplied Portugal with capital, ships and trade goods. Germany was included in this category, along with England, Holland and France.
Commerce deriving from Africa helped a great deal to strengthen trans-national links within the Western European economy, bearing in mind that American produce was the consequence of African labour. Brazilian dyewoods, for example, were re-exported from Portugal into the Mediterranean, the North Sea and the Baltic, and passed into the continental cloth industry of the 17th century. Sugar from the Caribbean was re-exported from England and France to other parts of Europe to such an extent that Hamburg in Germany was the biggest sugar-refining centre in Europe in the first half of the 18th century. Germany supplied manufactures to Scandinavia, Holland, England, France and Portugal for resale in Africa. England, France and Holland found it necessary to exchange various classes of goods the better to deal with Africans for gold, slaves and ivory. The financiers and merchants of Genoa were the powers behind the markets of Lisbon and Seville; while Dutch bankers played a similar role with respect to Scandinavia and England.
Western Europe was that part of Europe in which by the 15th century the trend was most visible that feudalism was giving way to capitalism.* [* In Eastern Europe, feudalism was still strong in the 19th century.The peasants were being driven off the land in England, and agriculture was becoming a capitalist operation. It was also becoming technologically more advanced — producing food and fibres to support a larger population and to provide a more effective basis for the woollen and linen industries in particular. The technological base of industry as well as its social and economic organisation, was being transformed. African trade speeded up several aspects, including the integration of Western Europe, as noted above. That is why the African connection contributed not merely to economic growth (which relates to quantitative dimensions) but also to real development in the sense of increased capacity for further growth and independence.
In speaking of the European slave trade, mention must be made of the U.S.A., not only because its dominant population was European, but also because Europe transferred its capitalist institutions more completely to North America than to any other part of the globe, and established a powerful form of capitalism — after eliminating the indigenous inhabitants and exploiting the labour of millions of Africans: Like other parts of the New World, the American colonies of the British crown were used as means of accumulating primary capital for re-export to Europe. But the Northern colonies also had direct access to benefits from slavery in the American South and in the British and French West Indies. As in Europe, the profits made from slavery and slave trade went firstly to commercial ports and industrial areas, which meant mainly the north-eastern sea-board district known as New England and the state of New York. The Pan-Africanist, W. E. B. Du Bois, in a study of the American slave trade, quoted a report of 1862 as follows: the number of persons engaged in the slave trade and the amount of capital embarked in it exceed our powers of calculation. The city of New York has been until of late (1862) the principal port of the world for this infamous commerce; although the cities of Portland and Boston me only second to her in that distribution.
American economic development up to mid-19th century rested squarely on foreign commerce, of which slavery was a pivot. In the 1830s, slave-grown cotton accounted for about half the value of all exports from the United States of America. Furthermore, in the case of the American colonies of the 18th century, it can again be observed that Africa contributed in a variety of ways — one thing leading to another. For instance, in New England, trade with Africa, Europe and the West Indies in slaves and slave-grown products supplied cargo for their merchant marine, stimulated the growth of their ship-building industry, built up their towns and their cities, and enabled them to utilise their forests, fisheries and soil more effectively. Finally, it was the carrying trade between the West Indian slave colonies and Europe which lay behind the emancipation of the American colonies from British rule, and it was no accident that the struggle for American independence started in the leading New England town of Boston. In the 19th century, the connection with Africa continued to play an indirect role in American political growth. In the first place, profits from the slave activities went into the coffers of political parties, and even more important the African stimulation and black labour played a vital role in extending European control over the present territory of the U.S.A. — notably in the South, but including also the so-called ‘Wild West’ where black cowboys were active.
Slavery is useful for early accumulation of capital, but it is too rigid for industrial development. Slaves had to be given crude non-breakable tools which held back the capitalist development of agriculture and industry. That explains the fact that the northern portions of the U.S.A. gained far more industrial benefits from slavery than the South which actually had slave institutions on its soil; and ultimately the stage was reached during the American Civil War when the Northern capitalists fought to end slavery within the boundaries of the U.S.A., so that the country as a whole could advance to a higher level of capitalism.
In effect, one can say that within the U.S.A. the slave relations in the South had by the second half of the 19th century come into conflict with the further expansion of the productive base inside the U.S.A. as a whole, and a violent clash ensued before the capitalist relations of legally free labour became generalised. Europe maintained slavery in places that were physically remote from European society; and therefore inside Europe itself, capitalist relations were elaborated without being adversely affected by slavery in the Americas. However, even in Europe there came a moment when the leading capitalist states found that the trade in :slaves and the use of slave labour in the Americas was no longer in the interest of their further development. Britain made this decision early in the 19th century, to be followed later by France.
Since capitalism, like any other mode of production, is a total system which involves an ideological aspect, it is also necessary to focus on the effects of the ties with Africa on the development of ideas within the superstructure of European capitalist society. In that sphere, the most striking feature is undoubtedly the rise of racism as a widespread and deeply rooted element in European thought. The role of slavery in promoting racist prejudice and ideology has been carefully studied in certain situations, especially in the U.S.A. The simple fact is that no people can enslave another for centuries without coming out with a notion of superiority, and when the colour and other physical traits of those peoples were quite different it was inevitable that the prejudice should take a racist form. Within Africa itself, the same can be said for the situation in the Cape Province of South Africa where white men were establishing military and social superiority over non-whites ever since 1650.
It would be much too sweeping a statement to say that all racial and colour prejudice in Europe derived from the enslavement of Africans and the exploitation of non-white peoples in the early centuries of international trade. There was also anti-Semitism at an even earlier date inside Europe and there is always an element of suspicion and incomprehension when peoples of different cultures come together. However, it can be affirmed without reservations that the white racism which came to pervade the world was an integral part of the capitalist mode of production. Nor was it merely a question of how the individual white person treated a black person. The racism of Europe was a set of generalisations and assumptions, which had no scientific basis, but were rationalised in every sphere from theology to biology.
Occasionally, it is mistakenly held that Europeans enslaved Africans for racist reasons. European planters and miners enslaved Africans for economic reasons, so that their labour power could be exploited. Indeed, it would have been impossible to open up the New World and to use it as a constant generator of wealth, had it not been for African labour. There were no other alternatives: the American (Indian) population was virtually wiped out and Europe’s population was too small for settlement overseas at that time. Then, having become utterly dependent on African labour, Europeans at home and abroad found it necessary to rationalise that exploitation in racist terms as well. Oppression follows logically from exploitation, so as to guarantee the latter. Oppression of African people on purely racial grounds accompanied, strengthened and became indistinguishable from oppression for economic reasons.
C. L. R. James, noted Pan-Africanist and Marxist, once remarked that
The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous. But lo neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than lo make it fundamental.
It can further be argued that by the 19th century white racism had become so institutionalised in the capitalist world (and notably in the U.S.A.) that it sometimes ranked above the maximisation of profit as a motive for oppressing black people.
In the short run, European racism seemed to have done Europeans no (24 of 28) [8/22/05 11:05:43 AM]
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Walter Rodney 1973
harm, and they used those erroneous ideas to justify their further domination of non-European peoples in the colonial epoch. But the international proliferation of bigoted and unscientific racist ideas was bound to have its negative consequences in the long run. When Europeans put millions of their brothers (Jews) into ovens under the Nazis, the chickens were coming home to roost. Such behaviour inside of ‘democratic’ Europe was not as strange as it is sometimes made out to be. There was always a contradiction between the elaboration of democratic ideas inside Europe and the elaboration of authoritarian and thuggish practices by Europeans with respect to Africans. When the French Revolution was made in the name of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’, it did not extend to black Africans who were enslaved by France in the West Indies and the Indian Ocean. Indeed, France fought against the efforts of those people to emancipate themselves, and the leaders of their bourgeois revolution said plainly that they did not make it on behalf of black humanity.
It is not even true to say that capitalism developed democracy at home in Europe and not abroad. At home, it was responsible for a talk or certain rhetoric of freedom but it was never extended from the bourgeoisie to the oppressed workers; and the treatment of Africans must surely have made such hypocrisy a habit of European life, especially within the ruling class. How else can one explain the fact that the Christian church participated fully in the maintenance of slavery and still talked about saving souls! The hypocrisy reached its highest levels inside the U.S.A. The first martyr in the American national war of liberation against the British colonialists in the 18th century was an African descendant, Crispus Attucks; and both slave and free Africans played a key role in Washington’s armies. And yet, the American Constitution with its famous preamble that ‘all men are created equal’ sanctioned the continued enslavement of Africans. In recent times, it has become an object of concern to some liberals that the U.S.A. is capable of war crimes of the order of My Lai in Vietnam. But the fact of the matter is that the My Lais began with the enslavement of Africans and American Indians. Racism, violence and brutality were the concomitants of the capitalist system when it extended itself abroad in the early centuries of international trade.

Brief Guide to Reading

The subject of Africa’s contribution to European development reveals several of the factors which limit a writer’s representation of reality. Language and nationality, for instance, are effective barriers to communication. Works in English seldom take account of the effect brought about in France, Holland or Portugal by participation in slaving and other forms of commerce which exploited Africa in the pre-colonial period. The ideological gulf is responsible for the fact that most bourgeois scholars write about phenomena such as the Industrial Revolution in England without once mentioning the European slave trade as a factor in primary accumulation of capital. Marx himself had laid great emphasis on sources of overseas capital accumulation. But Marxists (as prominent as Maurice Dobb and E. J. Hobsbawm) for many years concentrated on examining the evolution of capitalism out of feudalism inside Europe, with only marginal reference to the massive exploitation of Africans, Asians and American Indians.
Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery,
Oliver Cox, Capitalism as a System.
Cox, an African American, makes the basic point that capitalism has from very early times been an international system. Eric Williams, a West Indian, was very precise and very detailed in illustrating the connection between British capitalism and the enslavement of Africans.
W. E. B. du Bois, The Suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade lo the U.S.A.
Richard Pares, Yankees and Creoles: the trade between North America.
Both of these provide data on the contribution of African labour to the development of capitalism in the U.S.A. in the epoch of slavery.
Leo Huberman, Man’s Worldly Goods: The Story of the Wealth of Nations.
F. Clairemonte, Economic Liberalism and Underdevelopment.
Huberman’s book is an excellent overall treatment of the development of capitalism out of feudalism in Europe. It includes a section in which the role of slavery is highlighted. Clairemonte’s study accords recognition to the role played by the sub-continent of India in building Europe.

P. Curtin, The Image of Africa.
Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black: American attitudes towards the Negro.
These two texts are relevant to the question of the rise of white racism, although neither of the two make sufficiently explicit the connection between racism and capitalism

Concerning Violence by Frants Fanon

June 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. At whatever level we study it—relationships between individuals, new names for sports clubs, the human admixture at cocktail parties, in the police, on the directing boards of national or private banks—decolonization is quite simply the replacing of a certain “species” of men by another “species” of men. Without any period of transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution. It is true that we could equally well stress the rise of a new nation, the setting up of a new state, its diplomatic relations, and its economic and political trends. But we have precisely chosen to speak of that kind of tabula rasa which characterizes at the outset all decolonization. Its unusual importance is that it constitutes, from the very first
day, the minimum demands of the colonized. To tell the truth, the proof of success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up. The extraordinary importance of this change is that it is willed, called for, demanded. The need for this change exists in its crude state, impetuous and compelling, in the consciousness and in the lives of the men and women who are colonized. But the possibility of this change is equally experienced in the form of a terrifying future in the consciousness of another “species” of men and women: the colonizers.
Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a program of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding. Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content. Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, which in fact owe their originality to that sort of sub-stantification which results from and is nourished by the situation in the colonies. Their first encounter was marked by violence and their existence together—that is to say the exploitation of the native by the settler—was carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons. The settler and the native are old acquaintances. In fact,
the settler is right when he speaks of knowing “them” well. For it is the settler who has brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence. The settler owes the fact of his very existence, that is to say, his property, to the colonial system.
Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men. But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to any supernatural power; the “thing” which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself.

In decolonization, there is therefore the need of a complete calling in question of the colonial situation. If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the well-known words: “The last shall be first and the first last.” Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence. That is why, if we try to describe it, all decolonization is successful.

The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them climb at a pace (too quickly, some say) the well-known steps which characterize an organized society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence.
You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual formulation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing. The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is ready for violence at all times. From birth it is clear to him that this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence.
The colonial world is a world divided into compartments. It is probably unnecessary to recall the existence of native quarters and European quarters, of schools for natives and schools for Europeans; in the same way we need not recall apartheid in South Africa. Yet, if we examine closely this system of compartments, we will atleast be able to reveal the lines of force it implies. This approach to the colonial world, its ordering and its geographical layout will allow us to mark out the lines on which a decolonized society will be reorganized.
The colonial world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations. In the colonies it is the policeman and the soldier who are the official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the settler and his rule of oppression.
In capitalist societies the educational system, whether lay or clerical, the structure of moral reflexes handed down from father to son, the exemplary honesty of workers who are given a medal after fifty years of good and loyal service, and the affection which springs from harmonious relations and good behavior—all these aesthetic expressions of respect for the established order serve to create around the exploited person an atmosphere of submission and of inhibition which lightens the task of policing considerably. In the capitalist countries a multitude of moral teachers, counselors and “bewilderers” separate the exploited from those in power. In the colonial countries, on the contrary, the policeman and the soldier, by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action maintain contact with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge. It is obvious here that the agents of government speak the language of pure force. The intermediary does not lighten the oppression, nor seek to hide the domination; he shows them up and puts them into practice with the clear conscience of an upholder of the peace; yet he is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.

The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity. Obedient to the rules of pure Aristotelian logic, they both follow the principle of reciprocal exclusivity. No conciliation is possible, for of the two terms, one is superfluous. The settlers’ town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town; the streets are covered with asphalt, and the garbage cans swallow all the leavings, unseen, unknown and hardly thought about. The settler’s feet are never visible, except perhaps in the sea; but there you’re never close enough to see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets of his town are clean and even, with no holes or stones. The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an easygoing town; its belly is always full of good things. The settlers’ town is a town of white people, of foreigners.

The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built one on top of the other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire. It is a town of niggers and dirty Arabs. The look that the native turns on the settler’s town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possession—all manner of possession: to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible. The colonized man is an envious man. And this the settler knows very well; when their glances meet he
ascertains bitterly, always on the defensive, “They want to take our place.” It is true, for there is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler’s place.
This world divided into compartments, this world cut in two is inhabited by two different species. The originality of the colonial context is that economic reality, inequality, and the immense difference of ways of life never come to mask the human realities. When you examine at close quarters the colonial context, it is evident that what parcels out the world is to begin with the fact of belonging to or not belonging to a given race, a given species. In the colonies the economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich. This is why Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem.
Everything up to and including the very nature of precapitalist society, so well explained by Marx, must here be thought out again. The serf is in essence different from the knight, but a reference to divine right is necessary to legitimize this statutory difference. In the colonies, the foreigner coming from another country imposed his rule by means of guns and machines. In defiance of his successful transplantation, in spite of his appropriation, the settler still remains a foreigner. It is neither the act of owning factories, nor estates, nor a bank balance which distinguishes the governing classes. The governing race is first and foremost those who come from elsewhere, those who are unlike the original inhabitants, “the others.”
The violence which has ruled over the ordering of the colonial world, which has ceaselessly drummed the rhythm for the destruction of native social forms and broken up without reserve the systems of reference of the economy, the customs of dress and external life, that same violence will be claimed and taken over by the native at the moment when, deciding to embody history in his own person, he surges into the forbidden quarters. To wreck the colonial world is henceforward a mental picture of action
Concerning Violence / 41
which is very clear, very easy to understand and which may be assumed by each one of the individuals which constitute the colonized people. To break up the colonial world does not mean that after the frontiers have been abolished lines of communication will be set up between the two zones. The destruction of the colonial world is no more and no less that the abolition of one zone, its burial in the depths of the earth or its expulsion from the country.
The natives’ challenge to the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of points of view. It is not a treatise on the universal, but the untidy affirmation of an original idea propounded as an absolute. The colonial world is a Manichean world. It is not enough for the settler to delimit physically, that is to say with the help of the army and the police force, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian character of colonial exploitation the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil.* Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not enough for the colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in, the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. He is the
corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him; he is the deforming element, disfiguring all that has to do with beauty or morality; he is the depository of maleficent powers, the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces. Monsieur Meyer could thus state seriously in the French National Assembly that the Republic must not be prostituted by allowing
* We have demonstrated the mechanism of this Manichean world in Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967).
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the Algerian people to become part of it. All values, in fact, are irrevocably poisoned and diseased as soon as they are allowed in contact with the colonized race. The customs of the colonized people, their traditions, their myths —above all, their myths—are the very sign of that poverty of spirit and of their constitutional depravity. That is why we must put the DDT which destroys parasites, the bearers of disease, on the same level as the Christian religion which wages war on embryonic heresies and instincts, and on evil as yet unborn. The recession of yellow fever and the advance of evangelization form part of the same balance sheet. But the triumphant communiques from the missions are in fact a source of information concerning the implantation of foreign influences in the core of the colonized people. I speak of the Christian religion, and no one need be astonished. The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church.
She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many are called but few chosen.
At times this Manicheism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal. In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms. He speaks of the yellow man’s reptilian motions, of the stink of the native quarter, of breeding swarms, of foulness, of spawn, of gesticulations. When the settler seeks to describe the native fully in exact terms he constantly refers to the bestiary. The European rarely hits on a picturesque style; but the native, who knows what is in the mind of the settler, guesses at once what he is thinking of. Those hordes of vital statistics, those hysterical masses, those faces bereft of all humanity, those distended bodies which are like nothing on earth, that mob without beginning or end, those children who seem to belong to nobody, that laziness stretched out in the sun, that vegetative rhythm of life—all this forms part of the colonial vocabulary. General de Gaulle speaks of “the yellow multitudes” and Francois Mauriac of the black, brown, and yellow masses which soon will be unleashed. The native knows all this, and laughs to himself every time he spots an allusion to the animal world in the other’s words. For he knows that he is not an animal; and it is precisely at the moment he realizes his humanity that he begins to sharpen the weapons with which he will secure its victory.
As soon as the native begins to pull on his moorings, and to cause anxiety to the settler, he is handed over to well-meaning souls who in cultural congresses point out to him the specificity and wealth of Western values. But every time Western values are mentioned they produce in the native a sort of stiffening or muscular lockjaw. During the period of decolonization, the native’s reason is appealed to. He is offered definite values, he is told frequently that decolonization need not mean regression, and that he must put his trust in qualities which are well-tried, solid, and highly esteemed. But it so happens that when the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife—or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native
laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him. In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values. In the period of decolonization, the colonized masses mock at these very values, insult them, and vomit them up.
This phenomenon is ordinarily masked because, during the period of decolonization, certain colonized intellectuals have begun a dialogue with the bourgeoisie of the colonialist country. During this phase, the indigenous population is discerned only as an indistinct mass. The few native personalities whom the colonialist bourgeois have come to know here and there have not sufficient influence on that immediate discernment to give rise to nuances. On the other hand, during the period of liberation, the colonialist bourgeoisie looks feverishly for contacts with the elite and it is with these elite that the familiar dialogue concerning values is carried on. The colonialist bourgeoisie, when it realizes that it is impossible for it to maintain its domination over the colonial countries, decides to carry out a rearguard action with regard to culture, values, techniques, and so on. Now what we must never forget is that the immense majority of colonized peoples
is oblivious to these problems. For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity. But this dignity has nothing to do with the dignity of the human individual: for that human individual has never heard tell of it. All that the native has seen in his country is that they can freely arrest him, beat him, starve him: and no professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in his place, nor to share their bread with him. As far as the native is concerned, morality is very concrete; it is to silence the settler’s defiance, to break his flaunting violence—in a word, to put him out of the picture. The well-known principle that all men are equal will be illustrated in the colonies from the moment that the native claims that he is the equal of the settler. One step more, and he is ready to fight to be more than the settler.
In fact, he has already decided to eject him and to take his place; as we see it, it is a whole material and moral universe which is breaking up. The intellectual who for his part has followed the colonialist with regard to the universal abstract will fight in order that the settler and the native may live together in peace in a new world. But the thing he does not see, precisely because he is permeated by colonialism and all its ways of thinking, is that the settler, from the moment that the colonial context disappears, has no longer any interest in remaining or in co-existing. It is not by chance that, even before any negotiation * between the Algerian and French governments has taken place, the European minority which calls itself “liberal” has already made its position clear: it demands nothing more nor less than twofold citizenship. By setting themselves apart in an abstract manner, the liberals try to force the settler into taking a very concrete jump into the unknown. Let us admit it, the settler knows perfectly well that no phraseology can be a substitute for reality.

Thus the native discovers that his life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler. He finds out that the settler’s skin is not of any more value than a native’s skin; and it must be said that this discovery shakes the world in a very necessary manner. All the new, revolutionary assurance of the native stems from it. For if, in fact, my life is worth as much as the settler’s, his glance no longer shrivels me up nor freezes me, and his voice no longer turns me into stone. I am no longer on tenterhooks in his presence; in fact, I don’t give a damn for him. Not only does his presence no longer trouble me, but I am already preparing such efficient ambushes for him that soon there will be no way out but that of flight.
We have said that the colonial context is characterized by the dichotomy which it imposes upon the whole peo-
* Fanon is writing in 1961.—Transpie.

Decolonization unifies that people by the radical decision to remove from it its heterogeneity, and by unifying it on a national, sometimes a racial, basis. We know the fierce words of the Senegalese patriots, referring to the maneuvers of their president, Senghor: “We have demanded that the higher posts should be given to Africans; and now Senghor is Africanizing the Europeans.” That is to say that the native can see clearly and immediately if decolonization has come to pass or not, for his minimum demands are simply that the last shall be first.
But the native intellectual brings variants to this petition, and, in fact, he seems to have good reasons: higher civil servants, technicians, specialists—all seem to be needed. Now, the ordinary native interprets these unfair promotions as so many acts of sabotage, and he is often heard to declare: “It wasn’t worth while, then, our becoming independent . . .”
In the colonial countries where a real struggle for freedom has taken place, where the blood of the people has flowed and where the length of the period of armed warfare has favored the backward surge of intellectuals toward bases grounded in the people, we can observe a genuine eradication of the superstructure built by these intellectuals from the bourgeois colonialist environment. The colonialist bourgeoisie, in its narcissistic dialogue, expounded by the members of its universities, had in fact deeply implanted in the minds of the colonized intellectual that the essential qualities remain eternal in spite of all the blunders men may make: the essential qualities of the West, of course. The native intellectual accepted the cogency of these ideas, and deep down in his brain you could always find a vigilant sentinel ready to defend the Greco-Latin pedestal. Now it so happens that during the straggle for liberation, at the moment that the native
intellectual comes into touch again with his people, this artificial sentinel is turned into dust. All the Mediterranean values—the triumph of the human individual, of clarity, and of beauty—become lifeless, colorless knickknacks. All those speeches seem like collections of dead words; those values which seemed to uplift the soul are revealed as worthless, simply because they have nothing to do with the concrete conflict in which the people is engaged.
Individualism is the first to disappear. The native intellectual had learnt from his masters that the individual ought to express himself fully. The colonialist bourgeoisie had hammered into the native’s mind the idea of a society of individuals where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity, and whose only wealth is individual thought. Now the native who has the opportunity to return to the people during the struggle for freedom will discover the falseness of this theory. The very forms of organization of the struggle will suggest to him a different vocabulary. Brother, sister, friend—these are words outlawed by the colonialist bourgeoisie, because for them my brother is my purse, my friend is part of my scheme for getting on. The native intellectual takes part, in a sort of auto-da-fe, in the destruction of all his idols: egoism, recrimination that springs from pride, and the childish stupidity of those who always want to have the last
word. Such a colonized intellectual, dusted over by colonial culture, will in the same way discover the substance of village assemblies, the cohesion of people’s committees, and the extraordinary fruitfulness of local meetings and groupments. Henceforward, the interests of one will be the interests of all, for in concrete fact everyone will be discovered by the troops, everyone will be massacred—or everyone will be saved. The motto “look out for yourself,” the atheist’s method of salvation, is in this context forbidden.
Self-criticism has been much talked about of late, but few people realize that it is an African institution. Whether in the djemaas * of northern Africa or in the meetings of western Africa, tradition demands that the quarrels which occur in a village should be settled in public. It is communal self-criticism, of course, and with a note of humor, because everybody is relaxed, and because in the last resort we all want the same things. But the more the intellectual imbibes the atmosphere of the people, the more completely he abandons the habits of calculation, of unwonted silence, of mental reservations, and shakes off the spirit of concealment. And it is true that already at that level we can say that the community triumphs, and that it spreads its own light and its own reason.
But it so happens sometimes that decolonization occurs in areas which have not been sufficiently shaken by the struggle for liberation, and there may be found those same know-all, smart, wily intellectuals. We find intact in them the manners and forms of thought picked up during their association with the colonialist bourgeoisie. Spoilt children of yesterday’s colonialism and of today’s national governments, they organize the loot of whatever national resources exist. Without pity, they use today’s national distress as a means of getting on through scheming and legal robbery, by import-export combines, limited liability companies, gambling on the stock exchange, or unfair promotion. They are insistent in their demands for the nationalization of commerce, that is to say the reservation of markets and advantageous bargains for nationals only. As far as doctrine is concerned, they proclaim the pressing necessity of nationalizing the robbery of the nation.
In this arid phase of national life, the so-called period of austerity, the success of their depredations is swift to call forth the violence and anger of the people. For this same people, poverty-stricken yet independent, comes very quickly to possess a social conscience in the African and international context of today; and this the petty individualists will quickly learn.
In order to assimilate and to experience the oppressor’s culture, the native has had to leave certain of his intellectual possessions in pawn. These pledges include his adoption of the forms of thought of the colonialist bourgeoisie. This is very noticeable in the inaptitude of the native intellectual to carry on a two-sided discussion; for he cannot eliminate himself when confronted with an object or an idea. On the other hand, when once he begins to militate among the people he is struck with wonder and amazement; he is literally disarmed by their good faith and honesty. The danger that will haunt him continually is that of becoming the uncritical mouthpiece of the masses; he becomes a kind of yes-man who nods assent at every word coming from the people, which he interprets as considered judgments. Now, the fellah, the unemployed man, the starving native do not lay a claim to the truth; they do not say that they represent the truth, for they are the
Objectively, the intellectual behaves in this phase like a common opportunist. In fact he has not stopped maneuvering. There is never any question of his being either rejected or welcomed by the people. What they ask is simply that all resources should be pooled. The inclusion of the native intellectual in the upward surge of the masses will in this case be differentiated by a curious cult of detail. That is not to say that the people are hostile to analysis; on the contrary, they like having things explained to them, they are glad to understand a line of argument and they like to see where they are going. But at the beginning of his association with the people the native intellectual over-stresses details and thereby comes to forget that the defeat of colonialism is the real object of the struggle. Carried away by the multitudinous aspects of the fight, he tends to concentrate on local tasks, performed with enthusiasm but almost always too solemnly. He fails to see the whole of the movement all the time. He introduces the idea of special disciplines, of specialized functions, of departments within the terrible stone crusher, the fierce mixing machine which a popular revolution is. He is occupied in action on a particular front, and it so happens that he loses sight of the unity of the movement. Thus, if a local defeat is inflicted, he may well be drawn into doubt, and from thence to despair. The people, on the other hand, take their stand from the start on the broad and inclusive positions of bread and the land: how can we obtain the land, and bread to eat? And this obstinate point of view of the masses, which may seem
shrunken and limited, is in the end the most worthwhile and the most efficient mode of procedure.
The problem of truth ought also to be considered. In every age, among the people, truth is the property of the national cause. No absolute verity, no discourse on the purity of the soul, can shake this position. The native replies to the living lie of the colonial situation by an equal falsehood. His dealings with his fellow-nationals are open; they are strained and incomprehensible with regard to the settlers. Truth is that which hurries on the break-up of the colonialist regime; it is that which promotes the emergence of the nation; it is all that protects the natives, and ruins the foreigners. In this colonialist context there is no truthful behavior: and the good is quite simply that which is evil for “them.”
Thus we see that the primary Manicheism which governed colonial society is preserved intact during the period of decolonization; that is to say that the settler never ceases to be the enemy, the opponent, the foe that must be overthrown. The oppressor, in his own sphere, starts the process, a process of domination, of exploitation and of pillage, and in the other sphere the coiled, plundered creature which is the native provides fodder for the process as best he can, the process which moves uninterruptedly from the banks of the colonial territory to the palaces and the docks of the mother country. In this becalmed zone the sea has a smooth surface, the palm tree stirs gently in the breeze, the waves lap against the pebbles, and raw materials are ceaselessly transported, justifying the presence of the settler: and all the while the native, bent double, more dead than alive, exists interminably in an unchanging dream. The settler makes history; his life is an epoch, an Odyssey. He is the absolute beginning: “This land was created by us”; he is the unceasing cause: “If we leave, all is lost, and the country will go back
to the Middle Ages.” Over against him torpid creatures, wasted by fevers, obsessed by ancestral customs, form an almost inorganic background for the innovating dynamism of colonial mercantilism.
The settler makes history and is conscious of making it. And because he constantly refers to the history of his mother country, he clearly indicates that he himself is the extension of that mother country. Thus the history which he writes is not the history of the country which he plunders but the history of his own nation in regard to all that she skims oE, all that she violates and starves.
The immobility to which the native is condemned can only be called in question if the native decides to put an end to the history of colonization—the history of pillage— and to bring into existence the history of the nation—the history of decolonization.
A world divided into compartments, a motionless, Manicheistic world, a world of statues: the statue of the general who carried out the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge; a world which is sure of itself, which crushes with its stones the backs flayed by whips: this is the colonial world. The native is a being hemmed in; apartheid is simply one form of the division into compartments of the colonial world. The first thing which the native learns is to stay in his place, and not to go beyond certain limits. This is why the dreams of the native are always of muscular prowess; his dreams are of action and of aggression. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, climbing; I dream that I burst out laughing, that I span a river in one stride, or that I am followed by a flood of motorcars which never catch up with me. During the period of colonization, the native never stops achieving his freedom from nine in the evening until six in the morning.
The colonized man will first manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his bones against his own people. This is the period when the niggers beat each other up, and the police and magistrates do not know which way to turn when faced with the astonishing waves of crime in North Africa. We shall see later how this phenomenon should be judged.* When the native is confronted with the colonial order of things, he finds he is in a state of permanent tension. The settler’s world is a hostile world, which spums the native, but at the same time it is a world of which he is envious. We have seen that the native never ceases to dream of putting himself in the place of the settler—not of becoming the settler but of substituting himself for the settler. This hostile world, ponderous and aggressive because it fends off the colonized masses with all the harshness it is capable of, represents not merely a hell from which the swiftest flight
* See the section: “Colonial War and Mental Disorders.” possible is desirable, but also a paradise close at hand which is guarded by terrible watchdogs.
The native is always on the alert, for since he can only make out with difficulty the many symbols of the colonial world, he is never sure whether or not he has crossed the frontier. Confronted with a world ruled by the settler, the native is always presumed guilty. But the native’s guilt is never a guilt which he accepts; it is rather a kind of curse, a sort of sword of Damocles, for, in his innermost spirit, the native admits no accusation. He is overpowered but not tamed; he is treated as an inferior but he is not convinced of his inferiority. He is patiently waiting until the settler is off his guard to fly at him. The native’s muscles are always tensed. You can’t say that he is terrorized, or even apprehensive. He is in fact ready at a moment’s notice to exchange the role of the quarry for that of the hunter. The native is an oppressed person whose permanent dream is to become the persecutor. The symbols of social order—the police, the bugle calls
in the barracks, military parades and the waving flags—are at one and the same time inhibitory and stimulating: for they do not convey the message “Don’t dare to budge”; rather, they cry out “Get ready to attack.” And, in fact, if the native had any tendency to fall asleep and to forget, the settler’s hauteur and the settler’s anxiety to test the strength of the colonial system would remind him at every turn that the great showdown cannot be put off indefinitely. That impulse to take the settler’s place implies a tonicity of muscles the whole time; and in fact we know that in certain emotional conditions the presence of an obstacle accentuates the tendency toward motion.
The settler-native relationship is a mass relationship. The settler pits brute force against the weight of numbers. He is an exhibitionist. His preoccupation with security makes him remind the native out loud that there he alone is master. The settler keeps alive in the native an anger which he deprives of outlet; the native is trapped in the tight links of the chains of colonialism. But we have seen that inwardly the settler can only achieve a pseudo petrification. The native’s muscular tension finds outlet regularly in bloodthirsty explosions—in tribal warfare, in feuds between septs, and in quarrels between individuals. Where individuals are concerned, a positive negation of common sense is evident. While the settler or the policeman has the right the livelong day to strike the native, to insult him and to make him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend his personality vis-a-vis his brother.
Tribal feuds only serve to perpetuate old grudges buried deep in the memory. By throwing himself with all his force into the vendetta, the native tries to persuade himself that colonialism does not exist, that everything is going on as before, that history continues. Here on the level of communal organizations we clearly discern the well-known behavior patterns of avoidance. It is as if plunging into a fraternal bloodbath allowed them to ignore the obstacle, and to put off till later the choice, nevertheless inevitable, which opens up the question of armed resistance to colonialism. Thus collective autodestruction in a very concrete form is one of the ways in which the native’s muscular tension is set free. All these patterns of conduct are those of the death reflex when faced with danger, a suicidal behavior which proves to the settler (whose existence and domination is by them all the more justified) that these men are not reasonable human beings. In the same way the native manages to by-pass the settler. A belief in fatality removes all blame from the oppressor; the cause of misfortunes
and of poverty is attributed to God: He is Fate. In this way the individual accepts the disintegration ordained by God, bows down before the settler and his lot, and by a kind of interior restabilization acquires a stony calm.
Meanwhile, however, life goes on, and the native will strengthen the inhibitions which contain his aggressiveness by drawing on the terrifying myths which are so frequently found in underdeveloped communities. There are maleficent spirits which intervene every time a step is taken in the wrong direction, leopard-men, serpent-men, six-legged dogs, zombies—a whole series of tiny animals or giants which create around the native a world of prohibitions, of barriers and of inhibitions far more terrifying than the world of the settler.

This magical superstructure which permeates native society fulfills certain well-defined functions in the dynamism of the libido. One of the characteristics of underdeveloped societies is in fact that the libido is first and foremost the concern of a group, or of the family. The feature of communities whereby a man who dreams that he has sexual relations with a woman other than his own must confess it in public and pay a fine in kind or in working days to the injured husband or family is fully described by ethnologists. We may note in passing that this proves that the so-called prehistoric societies attach great importance to the unconscious.
The atmosphere of myth and magic frightens me and so takes on an undoubted reality. By terrifying me, it integrates me in the traditions and the history of my district or of my tribe, and at the same time it reassures me, it gives me a status, as it were an identification paper. In underdeveloped countries the occult sphere is a sphere belonging to the community which is entirely under magical jurisdiction.

By entangling myself in this inextricable network where actions are repeated with crystalline inevitability, I find the everlasting world which belongs to me, and the perenniality which is thereby affirmed of the world belonging to us. Believe me, the zombies are more terrifying than the settlers; and in consequence the problem is no longer that of keeping oneself right with the colonial world and its barbed-wire entanglements, but of considering three times before urinating, spitting, or going out into the night.
The supernatural, magical powers reveal themselves as essentially personal; the settler’s powers are infinitely shrunken, stamped with their alien origin. We no longer really need to fight against them since what counts is the frightening enemy created by myths. We perceive that all is settled by a permanent confrontation on the phantasmic plane.

It has always happened in the struggle for freedom that such a people, formerly lost in an imaginary maze, a prey to unspeakable terrors yet happy to lose themselves in a dreamlike torment, such a people becomes unhinged, reorganizes itself, and in blood and tears gives birth to very real and immediate action. Feeding the moudjahidines* posting sentinels, coming to the help of families which lack the bare necessities, or taking the place of a husband who has been killed or imprisoned: such are the concrete tasks to which the people is called during the struggle for freedom.

In the colonial world, the emotional sensitivity of the native is kept on the surface of his skin like an open sore which flinches from the caustic agent; and the psyche shrinks back, obliterates itself and finds outlet in muscular demonstrations which have caused certain very wise men to say that the native is a hysterical type. This sensitive emotionalism, watched by invisible keepers who are how-
* Highly-trained soldiers who are completely dedicated to the ever in unbroken contact with the core of the personality, will find its fulfillment through eroticism in the driving forces behind the crisis’ dissolution.
On another level we see the native’s emotional sensibility exhausting itself in dances which are more or less ecstatic. This is why any study of the colonial world should take into consideration the phenomena of the dance and of possession. The native’s relaxation takes precisely the form of a muscular orgy in which the most acute aggressivity and the most impelling violence are canalized, transformed, and conjured away. The circle of the dance is a permissive circle: it protects and permits. At certain times on certain days, men and women come together at a given place, and there, under the solemn eye of the tribe, fling themselves into a seemingly unorganized pantomime, which is in reality extremely systematic, in which by various means—shakes of the head, bending of the spinal column, throwing of the whole body backward— may be deciphered as in an open book the huge effort of a community to exorcise itself, to liberate itself, to explain itself.
There are no limits—inside the circle. The hillock up which you have toiled as if to be nearer to the moon; the river bank down which you slip as if to show the connection between the dance and ablutions, cleansing and purification—these are sacred places. There are no limits—for in reality your purpose in coming together is to allow the accumulated libido, the hampered aggressivity, to dissolve as in a volcanic eruption. Symbolical killings, fantastic rides, imaginary mass murders—all must be brought out. The evil humors are undammed, and flow away with a din as of molten lava.
One step further and you are completely possessed. In fact, these are actually organized seances of possession and exorcism; they include vampirism, possession by djinns, by zombies, and by Legba, the famous god of the voodoo.
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This disintegrating of the personality, this splitting and dissolution, all this fulfills a primordial function in the organism of the colonial world. When they set out, the men and women were impatient, stamping their feet in a state of nervous excitement; when they return, peace has been restored to the village; it is once more calm, and unmoved.
During the struggle for freedom, a marked alienation from these practices is observed. The native’s back is to the wall, the knife is at his throat (or, more precisely, the electrode at his genitals): he will have no more call for his fancies. After centuries of unreality, after having wallowed in the most outlandish phantoms, at long last the native, gun in hand, stands face to face with the only forces which contend for his life—the forces of colonialism. And the youth of a colonized country, growing up in an atmosphere of shot and fire, may well make a mock of, and does not hesitate to pour scorn upon the zombies of his ancestors, the horses with two heads, the dead who rise again, and the djinns who rush into your body while you yawn. The native discovers reality and transforms it into the pattern of his customs, into the practice of violence and into his plan for freedom.
We have seen that this same violence, though kept very much on the surface all through the colonial period, yet turns in the void. We have also seen that it is canalized by the emotional outlets of dance and possession by spirits; we have seen how it is exhausted in fratricidal combats. Now the problem is to lay hold of this violence which is changing direction.

When formerly it was appeased by myths and exercised its talents in finding fresh ways of committing mass suicide, now new conditions will make possible a completely new line of action.
Nowadays a theoretical problem of prime importance is being set, on the historical plane as well as on the level of political tactics, by the liberation of the colonies: when can one affirm that the situation is ripe for a movement of national liberation? In what form should it first be manifested? Because the various means whereby decolonization has been carried out have appeared in many different aspects, reason hesitates and refuses to say which is a true decolonization, and which a false. We shall see that for a man who is in the thick of the fight it is an urgent matter to decide on the means and the tactics to employ: that is to say, how to conduct and organize the movement. If this coherence is not present there is only a blind will toward freedom, with the terribly reactionary risks which it entails.

What are the forces which in the colonial period open up new outlets and engender new aims for the violence of colonized peoples? In the first place there are the political parries and the intellectual or commercial elites. Now, the characteristic feature of certain political structures is that they proclaim abstract principles but refrain from issuing definite commands. The entire action of these nationalist political parties during the colonial period is action of the electoral type: a string of philosophico-political dissertations on the themes of the rights of peoples to self-determination, the rights of man to freedom from hunger and human dignity, and the unceasing affirmation of the principle: “One man, one vote.” The national political parties never lay stress upon the necessity of a trial of armed strength, for the good reason that their objective is not the radical overthrowing of the system. Pacifists and legalists, they are in fact partisans
of order, the new order—but to the colonialist bourgeoisie they put bluntly enough the demand which to them is the main one: “Give us more power.” On the specific question of violence, the elite are ambiguous. They are violent in their words and reformist in their attitudes.
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When the nationalist political leaders say something, they make quite clear that they do not really think it.
This characteristic on the part of the nationalist political parties should be interpreted in the light both of the make-up of their leaders and the nature of their followings. The rank-and-file of a nationalist party is urban. The workers, primary schoolteachers, artisans, and small shopkeepers who have begun to profit—at a discount, to be sure—from the colonial setup, have special interests at heart. What this sort of following demands is the betterment of their particular lot: increased salaries, for example. The dialogue between these political parties and colonialism is never broken off. Improvements are discussed, such as full electoral representation, the liberty of the press, and liberty of association. Reforms are debated. Thus it need not astonish anyone to notice that a large number of natives are militant members of the branches of political parties which stem from the mother country. These natives fight under an abstract watchword:
“Government by the workers,” and they forget that in their country it should be nationalist watchwords which are first in the field. The native intellectual has clothed his aggressiveness in his barely veiled desire to assimilate himself to the colonial world. He has used his aggressiveness to serve his own individual interests.
Thus there is very easily brought into being a kind of class of affranchised slaves, or slaves who are individually free. What the intellectual demands is the right to multiply the emancipated, and the opportunity to organize a genuine class of emancipated citizens. On the other hand, the mass of the people have no intention of standing by and watching individuals increase their chances of success. What they demand is not the settler’s position of status, but the settler’s place. The immense majority of natives want the settler’s farm. For them, there is no question of
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entering into competition with the settler. They want to take his place.
The peasantry is systematically disregarded for the most part by the propaganda put out by the nationalist parties. And it is clear that in the colonial countries the peasants alone are revolutionary, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The starving peasant, outside the class system, is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization are simply a question of relative strength. The exploited man sees that his liberation implies the use of all means, and that of force first and foremost. When in 1956, after the capitulation of Monsieur Guy Mollet to the settlers in Algeria, the Front de Lib6ration Nationale, in a famous leaflet, stated that colonialism only loosens its hold when the knife is at its throat, no Algerian really found these terms too violent. The leaflet only expressed what every Algerian felt at heart: colonialism
is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence.
At the decisive moment, the colonialist bourgeoisie, which up till then has remained inactive, comes into the field. It introduces that new idea which is in proper parlance a creation of the colonial situation: non-violence. In its simplest form this non-violence signifies to the intellectual and economic elite of the colonized country that the bourgeoisie has the same interests as they and that it is therefore urgent and indispensable to come to terms for the public good. Non-violence is an attempt to settle the colonial problem around a green baize table, before any regrettable act has been performed or irreparable gesture made, before any blood has been shed. But if the masses, without waiting for the chairs to be arranged around the
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baize table, listen to their own voice and begin committing outrages and setting fire to buildings, the elite and the nationalist bourgeois parties will be seen rushing to the colonialists to exclaim, “This is very serious! We do not know how it will end; we must find a solution—some sort of compromise.”
This idea of compromise is very important in the phenomenon of decolonization, for it is very far from being a simple one. Compromise involves the colonial system and the young nationalist bourgeoisie at one and the same time. The partisans of the colonial system discover that the masses may destroy everything. Blown-up bridges, ravaged farms, repressions, and fighting harshly disrupt the economy. Compromise is equally attractive to the nationalist bourgeoisie, who since they are not clearly aware of the possible consequences of the rising storm, are genuinely afraid of being swept away by this huge hurricane and never stop saying to the settlers: “We are still capable of stopping the slaughter; the masses still have confidence in us; act quickly if you do not want to put everything in jeopardy.” One step more, and the leader of the nationalist party keeps his distance with regard to that violence. He loudly proclaims that he has nothing to do with these
Mau-Mau, these terrorists, these throat-slitters. At best, he shuts himself off in a no man’s land between the terrorists and the settlers and willingly offers his services as go-between; that is to say, that as the settlers cannot discuss terms with these Mau-Mau, he himself will be quite willing to begin negotiations. Thus it is that the rear guard of the national struggle, that very party of people who have never ceased to be on the other side in the fight, find themselves somersaulted into the van of negotiations and compromise—precisely because that p irtv has taken very good care never to break contact with colonialism.
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Before negotiations have been set afoot, the majority of nationalist parties confine themselves for the most part to explaining and excusing this “savagery.” They do not assert that the people have to use physical force, and it sometimes even happens that they go so far as to condemn, in private, the spectacular deeds which are declared to be hateful by the press and public opinion in the mother country. The legitimite excuse for this ultra-conservative policy is the desire to see things in an objective light; but this traditional attitude of the native intellectual and of the leaders of the nationalist parties is not, in reality, in the least objective. For in fact they are not at all convinced that this impatient violence of the masses is the most efficient means of defending their own interests. Moreover, there are some individuals who are convinced of the ineffectiveness of violent methods; for them, there is no doubt about it, every attempt to break
colonial oppression by force is a hopeless effort, an attempt at suicide, because in the innermost recesses of their brains the settler’s tanks and airplanes occupy a huge place. When they are told “Action must be taken,” they see bombs raining down on them, armored cars coming at them on every path, machine-gunning and police action … and they sit quiet. They are beaten from the start. There is no need to demonstrate their incapacity to triumph by violent methods; they take it for granted in their everyday life and in their political maneuvers. They have remained in the same childish position as Engels took up in his famous polemic with that monument of puerility, Monsieur Duhring:
In the same way that Robinson [Crusoe] was able to obtain a sword, we can just as well suppose that [Man] Friday might appear one fine morning with a loaded revolver in his hand, and from then on the whole relationship of violence is reversed: Man Friday gives the orders and Crusoe is obliged
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to work. . . . Thus, the revolver triumphs over the sword, and even the most childish believer in axioms will doubtless form the conclusion that violence is not a simple act of will, but needs for its realization certain very concrete preliminary conditions, and in particular the implements of violence; and the more highly developed of these implements will carry the day against primitive ones. Moreover, the very fact of the ability to produce such weapons signifies that the producer of highly developed weapons, in everyday speech the arms manufacturer, triumphs over the producer of primitive weapons. To put it briefly, the triumph of violence depends upon the production of armaments, and this in its turn depends on production in general, and thus … on economic strength, on the economy of the State, and in the last resort on the material means which that violence commands.*
In fact, the leaders of reform have nothing else to say than: “With what are you going to fight the settlers? With your knives? Your shotguns?”
It is true that weapons are important when violence comes into play, since all finally depends on the distribution of these implements. But it so happens that the liberation of colonial countries throws new light on the subject. For example, we have seen that during the Spanish campaign, which was a very genuine colonial war, Napoleon, in spite of an army which reached in the offensives of the spring of 1810 the huge figure of 400,000 men, was forced to retreat. Yet the French army made the whole of Europe tremble by its weapons of war, by the bravery of its soldiers, and by the military genius of its leaders. Face to face with the enormous potentials of the Napoleonic troops, the Spaniards, inspired by an unshake-able national ardor, rediscovered the famous methods of guerilla warfare which, twenty-five years before, the American militia had tried out on the English forces. But the
* Friedrich Engels: Anti-Duhring, Part II, Chapter III, “Theory of Violence,” p. 199.
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native’s guerilla warfare would be of no value as op posed to other means of violence if it did not form a new element in the worldwide process of competition between trusts and monopolies.
In the early days of colonization, a single column could occupy immense stretches of country: the Congo, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and so on. Today, however, the colonized countries’ national struggle crops up in a completely new international situation. Capitalism, in its early days, saw in the colonies a source of raw materials which, once turned into manufactured goods, could be distributed on the European market. After a phase of accumulation of capital, capitalism has today come to modify its conception of the profit-earning capacity of a commercial enterprise. The colonies have become a market. The colonial population is a customer who is ready to buy goods; consequently, if the garrison has to be perpetually reinforced, if buying and selling slackens off, that is to say if manufactured and finished goods can no longer be exported, there is clear proof that the solution of military force must be set aside. A blind domination founded on slavery is
not economically speaking worthwhile for the bourgeoisie of the mother country. The monopolistic group within this bourgeoisie does not support a government whose policy is solely that of the sword. What the factory-owners and finance magnates of the mother country expect from their government is not that it should decimate the colonial peoples, but that it should safeguard with the help of economic conventions their own “legitimate interests.”
Thus there exists a sort of detached complicity between capitalism and the violent forces which blaze up in colonial territory. What is more, the native is not alone against the oppressor, for indeed there is also the political and diplomatic support of progressive countries and peo-
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pies. But above all there is competition, that pitiless war which financial groups wage upon each other. A Berlin Conference was able to tear Africa into shreds and divide her up between three or four imperial flags. At the moment, the important thing is not whether such-and-such a region in Africa is under French or Belgian sovereignty, but rather that the economic zones are respected. Today, wars of repression are no longer waged against rebel sultans; everything is more elegant, less bloodthirsty; the liquidation of the Castro regime will be quite peaceful. They do all they can to strangle Guinea and they eliminate Mossadegh. Thus the nationalist leader who is frightened of violence is wrong if he imagines that colonialism is going to “massacre all of us.” The military will of course go on playing with tin soldiers which date from the time of the conquest, but higher finance will soon bring the truth home to them.
This is why reasonable nationalist political parties are asked to set out their claims as clearly as possible, and to seek with their colonialist opposite numbers, calmly and without passion, for a solution which will take the interests of both parties into consideration. We see that if this nationalist reformist tendency which often takes the form of a kind of caricature of trade unionism decides to take action, it will only do so in a highly peaceful fashion, through stoppages of work in the few industries which have been set up in the towns, mass demonstrations to cheer the leaders, and the boycotting of buses or of imported commodities. All these forms of action serve at one and the same time to bring pressure to bear on the forces of colonialism, and to allow the people to work off their energy. This practice of therapy by hibernation, this s’eep-cure used on the people, may sometimes be successful thns out of the conference around the green baize
table comes the political selectiveness which enables Mon-
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sieur M’ba, the president of the Republic of Gabon, to state in all seriousness on his arrival in Paris for an official visit: “Gabon is independent, but between Gabon and France nothing has changed; everything goes on as before.” In fact, the only change is that Monsieur M’ba is president of the Gabonese Republic and that he is received by the president of the French Republic.
The colonialist bourgeoisie is helped in its work of calming down the natives by the inevitable religion. All those saints who have turned the other cheek, who have forgiven trespasses against them, and who have been spat on and insulted without shrinking are studied and held up as examples. On the other hand, the elite of the colonial countries, those slaves set free, when at the head of the movement inevitably end up by producing an ersatz conflict. They use their brothers’ slavery to shame the slavedrivers or to provide an ideological policy of quaint humanitarianism for their oppressors’ financial competitors. The truth is that they never make any real appeal to the aforesaid slaves; they never mobilize them in concrete terms. On the contrary, at the decisive moment (that is to say, from their point of view the moment of indecision) they brandish the danger of a “mass mobilization” as the crucial weapon which would bring about as if by magic the “end
of the colonial regime.” Obviously there are to be found at the core of the political parties and among their leaders certain revolutionaries who deliberately turn their backs upon the farce of national independence. But very quickly their questionings, their energy, and their anger obstruct the party machine; and these elements are gradually isolated, and then quite simply brushed aside. At this moment, as if there existed a dialectic concomitance, the colonialist police will fall upon them. With no security in the towns, avoided by the militants of their former party and rejected by its
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leaders, these undesirable firebrands will be stranded in counfy dis nets. Then it is that they will realize be-wi’dered’y that the peasant masses catch on to what they have to say immediate”y, and w’thout delay ask them the question to which they have not yet prepared the answer: “When do we start?”
This meeting of revolutionaries coming from the towns and country dwellers will be dealt with later on. For the moment we must go back to the political parties, in order to show the nature of their action, which is all the same progressive. In their speeches the political leaders give a name to the nation. In this way the native’s demands are given shipe.
There is however no definite subject matter and no po- t cal or social program. There is a vague outline or ske’e on, which is neverthe^ss national in form, what we describe as “minimum requirements.” The politicians who make speeches and who write in the nationalist newspapers make the people dream dreams. They avoid the actual overthrowing of the state, but in fact they introduce into their readers’ or hearers’ consciousness the terrible ferment of subversion. The national or tribal language is often used. Here, once again, dreams are encouraged, and the imagination is let loose outside the bounds of the colonial order; and sometimes these politicians speak of “We Negroes, we Arabs,” and these terms which are so profoundly ambivalant take on during the colonial epoch a sacramental signification. The nationalist politicians are playing with fire: for, as an African leader recently warned a group of young intellectuals, “Think well before you speak to
the masses, for they flare up quickly.” This is one of the terrible tricks that destiny plays in the colonies.
When a political leader calls a mass meeting, we may say th-t mere is blood in the air. Yet the same leader very often is above all anxious to “make a show” of force, so
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that in fact he need not use it. But the agitation which ensues, the coming and going, the listening to speeches, seeing the people assembled in one place, with the police all around, the military demonstrations, arrests, and the deportation of the leaders—all this hubbub makes the people think that the moment has come for them to take action. In these times of instability the political parties multiply their appeals to the left for calm, while on their right they scan the horizon, trying to make out the liberal intentions of colonialism.
In the same way the people make use of certain episodes in the life of the community in order to hold themselves ready and to keep alive their revolutionary zeal. For example, the gangster who holds up the police set on to track him down for days on end, or who dies in single combat after having killed four or five policemen, or who commits suicide in order not to give away his accomplices —these types light the way for the people, form the blueprints for action and become heroes. Obviously, it’s a waste of breath to say that such-and-such a hero is a thief, a scoundrel, or a reprobate. If the act for which he is prosecuted by the colonial authorities is an act exclusively directed against a colonialist person or colonialist property, the demarcation line is definite and manifest. The process of identification is automatic.
We must also notice in this ripening process the role played by the history of the resistance at the time of the conquest. The great figures of the colonized people are always those who led the national resistance to invasion. Behanzin, Soundiata, Samory, Abdel Kader—all spring again to life with peculiar intensity in the period which comes directly before action. This is the proof that the people are getting ready to begin to go forward again, to put an end to the static period begun by colonization, and to make history.
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The uprising of the new nation and the breaking down of colonial structures are the result of one of two causes: either of a violent struggle of the people in their own right, or of action on the part of surrounding colonized peoples which acts as a brake on the colonial regime in question.
A colonized people is not alone. In spite of all that colonialism can do, its frontiers remain open to new ideas and echoes from the world outside. It discovers that violence is in the atmosphere, that it here and there bursts out, and here and there sweeps away the colonial regime —that same violence which fulfills for the native a role that is not simply informatory, but also operative. The great victory of the Vietnamese people at Dien Bien Phu is no longer, strictly speaking, a Vietnamese victory. Since July, 1954, the question which the colonized peoples have asked themselves has been, “What must be done to bring about another Dien Bien Phu? How can we manage it?” Not a single colonized individual could ever again doubt the possibility of a Dien Bien Phu; the only problem was how best to use the forces at their disposal, how to organize them, and when to bring them into action. This encompassing violence does not work upon the colonized people
only; it modifies the attitude of the colonialists who become aware of manifold Dien Bien Phus. This is why a veritable panic takes hold of the colonialist governments in turn. Their purpose is to capture the vanguard, to turn the movement of liberation toward the right, and to disarm the people: quick, quick, let’s decolonize. Decolonize the Congo before it turns into another Algeria. Vote the constitutional framework for all Africa, create the French Communaute, renovate that same Commun-aute, but for God’s sake let’s decolonize quick. . . . And they decolonize at such a rate that they impose independence on Houphouet-Boigny. To the strategy of Dien Bien Phu, defined by the colonized peoples, the colonialist re-
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plies by the strategy of encirclement—based on the respect of the sovereignty of states.
But let us return to that atmosphere of violence, that violence which is just under the skin. We have seen that in its process toward maturity many leads are attached to it, to control it and show it the way out. Yet in spite of the metamorphoses which the colonial regime imposes upon it in the way of tribal or regional quarrels, that violence makes its way forward, and the native identifies his enemy and recognizes all his misfortunes, throwing all the exacerbated might of his hate and anger into this new channel. But how do we pass from the atmosphere of violence to violence in action? What makes the lid blow off? There is first of all the fact that this development does not leave the settler’s blissful existence intact. The settler who “understands” the natives is made aware by several straws in the wind showing that something is afoot. “Good” natives become scarce; silence falls when the oppressor approaches; sometimes looks are black, and attitudes
and remarks openly aggressive. The nationalist parties are astir, they hold a great many meetings, the police are increased and reinforcements of soldiers are brought in. The settlers, above all the farmers isolated on their land, are the first to become alarmed. They call for energetic measures.
The authorities do in fact take some spectacular measures. They arrest one or two leaders, they organize military parades and maneuvers, and air force displays. But the demonstrations and warlike exercises, the smell of gunpowder which now fills the atmosphere, these things do not make the people draw back. Those bayonets and cannonades only serve to reinforce their aggressiveness. The atmosphere becomes dramatic, and everyone wishes to show that he is ready for anything. And it is in these circumstances that the guns go off by themselves, for nerves are jangled, fear reigns and everyone is trigger-happy. A
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single commonplace incident is enough to start the machine-gunning: S6tif in Algeria, the Central Quarries in Morocco, Moramanga in Madagascar.
The repressions, far from calling a halt to the forward rush of national consciousness, urge it on. Mass slaughter in the colonies at a certain stage of the embryonic development of consciousness increases that consciousness, for the hecatombs are an indication that between oppressors and oppressed everything can be solved by force. It must be remarked here that the political parties have not called for armed insurrection, and have made no preparations for such an insurrection. All these repressive measures, all those actions which are a result of fear are not within the leaders’ intentions: they are overtaken by events. At this moment, then, colonialism may decide to arrest the nationalist leaders. But today the governments of colonized countries know very well that it is extremely dangerous to deprive the masses of their leaders; for then the people, unbridled, fling themselves into jacqueries, mutinies, and “brutish murders.” The masses give free rein
to their “bloodthirsty instincts” and force colonialism to free their leaders, to whom falls the difficult task of bringing them back to order. The colonized people, who have spontaneously brought their violence to the colossal task of destroying the colonial system, will very soon find themselves with the barren, inert slogan “Release X or Y.”* Then colonialism will release these men, and hold discussions with them. The time for dancing in the streets has come.
In certain circumstances, the party political machine may remain intact. But as a result of the colonialist repression and of the spontaneous reaction of the people the parties find themselves out-distanced by their militants.
* It may happen that the arrested leader is in fact the authentic mouthpiece of the colonized masses. In this case colonialism will make use of his period of detention to try to launch new leaders.
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The violence of the masses is vigorously pitted against the military forces of the occupying power, and the situation deteriorates and comes to a head. Those leaders who are free remain, therefore, on the touchline. They have suddenly become useless, with their bureaucracy and their reasonable demands; yet we see them, far removed from events, attempting the crowning imposture—that of “speaking in the name of the silenced nation.” As a general rule, colonialism welcomes this godsend with open arms, tranforms these “blind mouths” into spokesmen, and in two minutes endows them with independence, on condition that they restore order.
So we see that all parties are aware of the power of such violence and that the question is not always to reply to it by a greater violence, but rather to see how to relax the tension.
What is the real nature of this violence? We have seen that it is the intuition of the colonized masses that their liberation must, and can only, be achieved by force. By what spiritual aberration do these men, without technique, starving and enfeebled, confronted with the military and economic might of the occupation, come to believe that violence alone will free them? How can they hope to triumph?
It is because violence (and this is the disgraceful thing) may constitute, in so far as it forms part of its system, the slogan of a political party. The leaders may call on the people to enter upon an armed struggle. This problematical question has to be thought over. When militarist Germany decides to settle its frontier disputes by force, we are not in the least surprised; but when the people of Angola, for example, decide to take up arms, when the Algerian people reject all means which are not violent, these are proofs that something has happened or is happening at this very moment. The colonized races, those
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slaves of modern times, are impatient. They know that this apparent folly alone can put them out of reach of colonial oppression. A new type of relations is established in the world. The underdeveloped peoples try to break their chains, and the extraordinary thing is that they succeed. It could be argued that in these days of sputniks it is ridiculous to die of hunger; but for the colonized masses the argument is more down-to-earth. The truth is that there is no colonial power today which is capable of adopting the only form of contest which has a chance of succeeding, namely, the prolonged establishment of large forces of occupation.
As far as their internal situation is concerned, the colonialist countries find themselves faced with contradictions in the form of working-class demands which necessitate the use of their police forces. As well, in the present international situation, these countries need their troops to protect their regimes. Finally there is the well-known myth of liberating movements directed from Moscow. In the regime’s panic-stricken reasoning, this signifies “If that goes on, there is a risk that the communists will turn the troubles to account and infiltrate into these parts.”
In the native’s eagerness, the fact that he openly brandishes the threat of violence proves that he is conscious of the unusual character of the contemporary situation and that he means to profit by it. But, still on the level of immediate experience, the native, who has seen the modern world penetrate into the furthermost corners of the bush, is most acutely aware of all the things he does not possess. The masses by a sort of (if we may say so) childlike process of reasoning convince themselves that they have been robbed of all these things. That is why in certain underdeveloped countries the masses forge ahead very quickly, and realize two or three years after independ-
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ence that they have been frustrated, that “it wasn’t worth while” fighting, and that nothing could really change. In 1789, after the bourgeois revolution, the smallest French peasants benefited substantially from the upheaval. But it is a commonplace to observe and to say that in the majority of cases, for 95 per cent of the population of underdeveloped countries, independence brings no immediate change. The enlightened observer takes note of the existence of a kind of masked discontent, like the smoking ashes of a burnt-down house after the fire has been put out, which still threaten to burst into flames again.
So they say that the natives want to go too quickly. Now, let us never forget that only a very short time ago they complained of their slowness, their laziness, and their fatalism. Already we see that violence used in specific ways at the moment of the struggle for freedom does not magically disappear after the ceremony of trooping the national colors. It has all the less reason for disappearing since the reconstruction of the nation continues within the framework of cutthroat competition between capitalism and socialism.
This competition gives an almost universal dimension to even the most localized demands. Every meeting held, every act of represson committed, reverberates in the international arena. The murders of Sharpeville shook public opinion for months. In the newspapers, over the wavelengths, and in private conversations Sharpeville has become a symbol. It was through Sharpeville that men and women first became acquainted with the problem of apartheid in South Africa. Moreover, we cannot believe that demagogy alone is the explanation for the sudden interest the big powers show in the petty affairs of underdeveloped regions. Each jacquerie, each act of sedition in the Third World makes up part of a picture framed by the Cold War. Two men are beaten up in Salisbury, and at
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once the whole of a bloc goes into action, talks about those two men, and uses the beating-up incident to bring up the particular problem of Rhodesia, linking it, moreover, with the whole African question and with the whole question of colonized people. The other bloc however is equally concerned in measuring by the magnitude of the campaign the local weaknesses of its system. Thus the colonized peoples realize that neither clan remains outside local incidents. They no longer limit themselves to regional horizons, for they have caught on to the fact that they live in an atmosphere of international stress.
When every three months or so we hear that the Sixth or Seventh Fleet is moving toward such-and-such a coast; when Khrushchev threatens to come to Castro’s aid with rockets; when Kennedy decides upon some desperate solution for the Laos question, the colonized person or the newly independent native has the impression that whether he wills it or not he is being carried away in a kind of frantic cavalcade. In fact, he is marching in it already. Let us take, for example, the case of the governments of recently liberated countries. The men at the head of affairs spend two-thirds of their time in watching the approaches and trying to anticipate the dangers which threaten them, and the remaining one-third of their time in working for their country. At the same time, they search for allies. Obedient to the same dialectic, the national parties of opposition leave the paths of parliamentary behavior. They also look for allies to support them in their ruthless
ventures into sedition. The atmosphere of violence, after having colored all the colonial phase, continues to dominate national life, for as we have already said, the Third World is not cut off from the rest. Quite the contrary, it is at the middle of the whirlpool. This is why the statesmen of underdeveloped countries keep up
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indefinitely the tone of aggressiveness and exasperation in their public speeches which in the normal way ought to have disappeared. Herein, also, may be found the reasons for that lack of politeness so often spoken of in connection with newly established rulers. But what is less visible is the extreme courtesy of these same rulers in their contacts with their brothers or their comrades. Discourtesy is first and foremost a manner to be used in dealings with the others, with the former colonists who come to observe and to investigate. The “ex-native” too often gets the impression that these reports are already written. The photos which illustrate the article are simply a proof that one knows what one is talking about, and that one has visited the country. The report intends to verify the evidence: everything’s going badly out there since we left. Frequently reporters complain of being badly received, of being forced to work under bad conditions and of
being fenced round by indifference or hostility: all this is quite normal. The nationalist leaders know that international opinion is formed solely by the Western press. Now, when a journalist from the West asks us questions, it is seldom in order to help us. In the Algerian war, for example, even the most liberal of the French reporters never ceased to use ambiguous terms in describing our struggle. When we reproached them for this, they replied in all good faith that they were being objective. For the native, objectivity is always directed against him. We may in the same way come to understand the new tone which swamped international diplomacy at the United Nations General Assembly in September, 1960. The representatives of the colonial countries were aggressive and violent, and carried things to extremes, but the colonial peoples did not find that they exaggerated. The radicalism of the African spokesmen brought the abcess to a head and showed up the
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missible nature of the veto and of the dialogue between the great powers, and above all the tiny role reserved for the Third World.
Diplomacy, as inaugurated by the newly independent peoples, is no longer an affair of nuances, of implications, and of hypnotic passes. For the nation’s spokesmen are responsible at one and the same time for safeguarding the unity of the nation, the progress of the masses toward a state of well-being and the right of all peoples to bread and liberty. Thus it is a diplomacy which never stops moving, a diplomacy which leaps ahead, in strange contrast to the motionless, petrified world of colonization. And when Mr. Khrushchev brandishes his shoe at the United Nations, or thumps the table with it, there’s not a single ex-native, nor any representative of an underdeveloped country, who laughs. For what Mr. Khrushchev shows the colonized countries which are looking on is that he, the moujik, who moreover is the possessor of spacerockets, treats these miserable capitalists in the way that they deserve. In the same way, Castro sitting in military uniform in the
United Nations Organization docs not scandalize the underdeveloped countries. What Castro demonstrates is the consciousness he has of the continuing existence of the rule of violence. The astonishing thing is that he did not come into the UNO with a machine-gun; but if he had, would anyone have minded? All the jacqueries and desperate deeds, all those bands armed with cutlesses or axes find their nationality in the implacable struggle which opposes socialism and capitalism.
In 1945, the 45,000 dead at Setif could pass unnoticed; in 1947, the 90,000 dead in Madagascar could be the subject of a simple paragraph in the papers; in 1952, the 200,000 victims of the repression in Kenya could meet with relative indifference. This was because the international contradictions were not sufficiently distinct. Already the
Concerning Violence / 79
Korean and Indo-Chinese wars had begun a new phase. But it is above all Budapest and Suez which constitute the decisive moments of this confrontation.
Strengthened by the unconditional support of the socialist countries, the colonized peoples fling themselves with whatever arms they have against the impregnable citadel of colonialism. If this citadel is invulnerable to knives and naked fists, it is no longer so when we decide to take into account the context of the Cold War.
In this fresh juncture, the Americans take their role of patron of international captialism very seriously. Early on, they advise the European countries to decolonize in a friendly fashion. Later on, they do not hesitate to proclaim first the respect for and then the support of the principle of “Africa for the Africans.” The United States is not afraid today of stating officially that they are the defenders of the right of all peoples to self-determination. Mr. Men-nen Williams’ last journey is only the illustration of the consciousness which the Americans have that the Third World ought not to be sacrificed. From then on we understand why the violence of the native is only hopeless if we compare it in the abstract to the military machine of the oppressor. On the other hand, if we situate that violence in the dynamics of the international situation, we see at once that it constitutes a terrible menace for the oppressor. Persistent jacqueries and Mau-Mau
disturbance unbalance the colony’s economic life but do not endanger the mother country. What is more important in the eyes of imperialism is the opportunity for socialist propaganda to infiltrate among the masses and to contaminate them. This is already a serious danger in the cold war; but what would happen to that colony in case of real war, riddled as it is by murderous guerillas?
Thus capitalism realizes that its military strategy has everything to lose by the outbreak of nationalist wars.
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Again, within the framework of peaceful co-existence, all colonies are destined to disappear, and in the long run neutralism is destined to be respected by capitalism. What must at all costs be avoided is strategic insecurity: the breakthrough of enemy doctrine into the masses and the deeprooted hatred of millions of men. The colonized peoples are very well aware of these imperatives which rule international political life; for this reason even those who thunder denunciations of violence take their decisions and act in terms of this universal violence. Today, peaceful coexistence between the two blocs provokes and feeds violence in the colonial countries. Tomorrow, perhaps we shall see the shifting of that violence after the complete liberation of the colonial territories. Perhaps we will see the question of minorities cropping up. Already certain minority groups do not hesitate to preach violent methods for resolving their problems and it is not by
chance (so the story runs) that in consequence Negro extremists in the United States organize a militia and arm themselves. It is not by chance, either, that in the so-called free world there exist committees for the defense of Jewish minorities in the USSR, nor an accident if General de Gaulle in one of his orations sheds tears over the millions of Moslems oppressed by Communist dictatorship. Both capitalism and imperialism are convinced that the struggle against racialism and the movements toward national freedom are purely and simply directed by remote control, fomented from outside. So they decide to use that very efficacious tactic, the Radio Free Europe station, voice of the committee for the aid of overruled minorities. . . . They practice anti-colonialism, as did the French colonels in Algeria when they carried on subversive warfare with the SAS * or the psychological services. They “use the people
* Section Administrative Speciale: An officers’ corps whose task was to strengthen contact with the Algerians in non-military matters.
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against the people.” We have seen with what results.
This atmosphere of violence and menaces, these rockets brandished by both sides, do not frighten nor deflect the colonized peoples. We have seen that all their recent history has prepared them to understand and grasp the situation. Between the violence of the colonies and that peaceful violence that the world is steeped in, there is a kind of complicit agreement, a sort of homogeneity. The colonized peoples are well adapted to this atmosphere; for once, they are up to date. Sometimes people wonder that the native, rather than give his wife a dress, buys instead a transistor radio. There is no reason to be astonished. The natives are convinced that their fate is in the balance, here and now. They live in the atmosphere of doomsday, and they consider that nothing ought to be let pass unnoticed. That is why they understand very well Phouma and Phoumi, Lumumba and Tshombe, Ahidjo and Moumie, Kenyatta, and the men who are pushed forward regularly to replace
him. They understand all these figures very well, for they can unmask the forces working behind them. The native and the underdeveloped man are today political animals in the most universal sense of the word.
It is true to say that independence has brought moral compensation to colonized peoples, and has established their dignity. But they have not yet had time to elaborate a society, or to build up and affirm values. The warming, light-giving center where man and citizen develop and enrich their experience in wider and still wider fields does not yet exist. Set in a kind of irresolution, such men persuade themselves fairly easily that everything is going to be decided elsewhere, for everybody, at the same time. As for the political leaders, when faced with this situation, they first hesitate and then choose neutralism.
There is plenty to be said on the subject of neutralism. Some equate it with a sort of tainted mercantilism which
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consists of taking what it can get from both sides. In fact, neutralism, a state of affairs created by the cold war, if it allows underdeveloped countries to receive economic help from both sides, does not allow either party to aid underdeveloped areas to fee extent that is necessary. Those literally astronomical sums of money which are invested in military research, those engineers who are transformed into technicians of nuclear war, could in the space of fifteen years raise the standard of living of underdeveloped countries by 60 per cent. So we see that the true interests of underdeveloped countries do not lie in the protraction nor in the accentuation of this cold war. But it so happens that no one asks their advice. Therefore, when they can, they cut loose from it. But can they really remain outside it? At this very moment, France is trying out her atomic bombs in Africa. Apart from the passing of motions, the holding of meetings and the shattering
of diplomatic relations, we cannot say feat the peoples of Africa have had much influence, in this particular sector, on France’s attitude.
Neutralism produces in the citizen of the Third World a state of mind which is expressed in everyday life by a fearlessness and an ancestral pride strangely resembling defiance. The flagrant refusal to compromise and the tough will that sets itself against getting tied up are reminiscent of the behavior of proud, poverty-stricken adolescents, who are always ready to risk their necks in order to have the last word. All this leaves Western observers dumbfounded, for to tell the truth there is a glaring divergence between what these men claim to be and what they have behind them. These countries without tramways, without troops, and without money have no justification for the bravado that they display in broad daylight. Undoubtedly, they are impostors. The Third World often gives the impression that it rejoices in sensation and that it must have
Concerning Violence / 83
its weekly dose of crises. These men at the head of empty countries, who talk too loud, are most irritating. You’d like to shut them up. But, on the contrary, they are in great demand. They are given bouquets; they are invited to dinner. In fact, we quarrel over who shall have them. And this is neutralism. They are 98 per cent illiterate, but they are the subject of a huge body of literature. They travel a great deal: the governing classes and students of underdeveloped countries are gold mines for airline companies. African and Asian officials may in the same month follow a course on socialist planning in Moscow and one on the advantages of the liberal economy in London or at Columbia University. African trade-union leaders leap ahead at a great rate in their own field. Hardly have they been appointed to posts in managerial organizations than they decide to form themselves into autonomous bodies. They haven’t the requisite fifty years experience of
practical trade-unionism in the framework of an industrial country, but they already know that non-political trade-unionism doesn’t make sense.
They haven’t come to grips with the bourgeois machine, nor developed their consciousness in the class struggle; but perhaps this isn’t necessary. Perhaps. We shall see that this will to sum everything up, which caricatures itself often in facile internationalism, is one of the most fundamental characteristics of underdeveloped countries.
Let us return to considering the single combat between native and settler. We have seen that it takes the form of an armed and open struggle. There is no lack of historical examples: Indo-China, Indonesia, and of course North Africa. But what we must not lose sight of is that this struggle could have broken out anywhere, in Guinea as well as Somaliland, and moreover today it could break out in every place where colonialism means to stay on, in Angola, for example. The existence of an armed struggle
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shows that the people are decided to trust to violent methods only. He of whom they have never stopped saying that the only language he understands is that of force, decides to give utterance by force. In fact, as always, the settler has shown him the way he should take if he is to become free. The argument the native chooses has been furnished by the settler, and by an ironic turning of the tables it is the native who now affirms that the colonialist understands nothing but force. The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time tries to hide this aspect of things. Every statue, whether of Faidherbe or of Lyautey, of Bugeaud or of Sergeant Blandan—all these conquistadors perched on colonial soil do not cease from proclaiming one and the same thing: “We are here by the force of bayonets. . . .”* The sentence is easily completed. During the phase of insurrection, each settler reasons on a basis of simple arithmetic. This logic does not
surprise the other settlers, but it is important to point out that it does not surprise the natives either. To begin with, the affirmation of the principle “If s them or us” does not constitute a paradox, since colonialism, as we have seen, is in fact the organization of a Manichean world, a world divided up into compartments. And when in laying down precise methods the settler asks each member of the oppressing minority to shoot down 30 or 100 or 200 natives, he sees that nobody shows any indignation and that the whole problem is to decide whether it can be done all at once or by~ stages .t This chain of reasoning which presumes very arithmeti-
* This refers to Mirabeau’s famous saying: “I am here by the will of the People; I shall leave only by the force of bayonets.”—Trans.
f It is evident that this vacuum cleaning destroys the very thing that they want to preserve. Sartre points this out when he says: “In short by the very fact of repeating them [concerning racist ideas} it is revealed that the simultaneous union of all against the natives is
Concerning Violence / 85
cally the disappearance of the colonized people does not leave the native overcome with moral indignation. He has always known that his duel with the settler would take place in the arena. The native loses no time in lamentations, and he hardly ever seeks for justice in the colonial framework. The fact is that if the settler’s logic leaves the native unshaken, it is because the latter has practically stated the problem of his liberation in identical terms: “We must form ourselves into groups of two hundred or five hundred, and each group must deal with a settler.” It is in this manner of thinking that each of the protagonists begins the struggle.
For the native, this violence represents the absolute line of action. The militant is also a man who works. The questions that the organization asks the militant bear the mark of this way of looking at things: “Where have you worked? With whom? What have you accomplished? “The group requires that each individual perform an irrevocable action. In Algeria, for example, where almost all the men who called on the people to join in the national struggle were condemned to death or searched for by the French police, confidence was proportional to the hopelessness of each case. You could be sure of a new recruit when he could no longer go back into the colonial system. This mechanism, it seems, had existed in Kenya among the Mau-Mau, who required that each member of the group should strike a blow at the victim. Each one was thus personally responsible for the death of that victim. To work means to work for the death of the settler. This assumed
unrealizable. Such union only recurs from time to time and moreover it can only come into being as an active groupment in order to massacre the natives—an absurd though perpetual temptation to the settlers, which even if it was feasible would only succeed in abolishing colonization at one blow.” {Critique de la Ration Dialectique, p. 346.)
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responsibility for violence allows both strayed and outlawed members of the group to come back again and to find their place once more, to become integrated. Violence is thus seen as comparable to a royal pardon. The colonized man finds his freedom in and through violence. This rule of conduct enlightens the agent because it indicates to him the means and the end. The poetry of Cesaire takes on in this precise aspect of violence a prophetic significance. We may recall one of the most decisive pages of his tragedy where the Rebel (indeedl) explains his conduct:
THE REBEL (harshly):
My name—an offense; my Christian name—humiliation; my status—a rebel; my age—the stone age. THE MOTHER:
My race—the human race. My religion—brotherhood. THE REBEL:
My race: that of the fallen. My religion . . . but it’s not you that will show it to me with your disarmament. . . .
’tis I myself, with my rebellion and my poor fists clenched and my woolly head. . . .
(Very calm): I remember one November day; it was hardly six months ago. . . . The master came into the cabin in a cloud of smoke like an April moon. He was flexing his short muscular arms—he was a very good master—and he was rubbing his little dimpled face with his fat fingers. His blue eyes were smiling and he couldn’t get the honeyed words out of his mouth quick enough. “T’~e kid will be a decent fellow,” he said looking at me, and he said other pleasant things too, the master—that you had to start very early, that twenty years was not too much to make a good Christian and a good slave, a steady, devoted boy. a good commander’s chaining captain, sharp-eved and st”on”-armed. And all t^at man saw of mv son’s cradle was that it was the cradle of a chaingang captain.
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We crept in knife in hand . . .
THE MOTHER: Alas, you’ll die for it.
THE REBEL: Killed. … I killed him with my own hands. . . . Yes, ’twas a fruitful death, a copious death. . . . It was night. We crept among the sugar canes. The knives sang to the stars, but we did not heed the stars. The sugar canes scaned our faces with streams of green blades.
THE MOTHER: And I had dreamed of a son to close his mother’s eyes.
THE REBEL: But I chose to open my son’s eyes upon another sun.
THE MOTHER: O my son, son of evil and unlucky death—
THE REBEL: Mother of living and splendid death,
THE MOTHER: Because he has hated too much,
THE REBEL: Because he has too much loved.
THE MOTHER: Spare me, I am choking in your bonds. I bleed from your wounds.
THE REBEL: And the world does not spare me. . . . There is not anywhere in the world a poor creature who’s been lynched or tortured in whom I am not murdered and humiliated . . .
THE MOTHER: God of Heaven, deliver him!
THE REBEL: My heart, thou wilt not deliver me from all that I remember . . .
It was an evening in November . . .

-From the Wretched of the Earth-

Colonial War and Mental Disorders

June 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Frants Fanon

But the war goes on; and we will have to bind up for years to come the many, sometimes ineffaceable, wounds that the colonialist onslaught has inflicted on our people.
That imperialism which today is fighting against a true liberation of mankind leaves in its wake here and there tinctures of decay which we must search out and mercilessly expel from our land and our spirits.

We shall deal here with the problem of mental disorders which arise from the war of national liberation which the Algerian people are carrying on.
Perhaps these notes on psychiatry will be found ill-timed and singularly out of place in such a book; but we can do nothing about that.
We cannot be held responsible that in this war psychiatric phenomena entailing disorders affecting behavior and thought have taken on importance where those who carry out the “pacification” are concerned, or that these same disorders are notable among the “pacified” population. The truth- is that colonialism in its essence was already taking on the aspect of a fertile purveyor for psychiatric hospitals. We have since 1954 in various scientific works drawn the attention of both French and international psychiatrists to the difficulties that arise when seeking to “cure” a native properly, that is to say, when seeking to make him thoroughly a part of a social background of the colonial type.
Because it is a systematic negation of the other person and a furious determination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity, colonialism forces the people it dominates to ask themselves the question constantly: “In reality, who am I?”
The defensive attitudes created by this violent bringing together of the colonized man and the colonial system form themselves into a structure which then reveals the colonized personality. This “sensitivity” is easily understood if we simplv study and are alive to the number and depth of the injuries inflicted upon a native during a single day spent amidst the colonial regime. It must in any case be remembered that a colonized people is not only simply a dominated people. Under the German occupation the French remained men; under the French occupation, the Germans remained men. In Algeria there is not simply the domination but the decision to the letter not to occupy anything more than the sum total of the land. The Algerians, the veiled women, the palm trees and the camels make up the landscape, the natural background to the human presence of the French.
Hostile nature, obstinate and fundamentally rebellious, is in fact represented in the colonies by the bush, by mosquitoes, natives, and fever, and colonization is a success when all this indocile nature has finally been tamed. Railways across the bush, the draining of swamps and a native population which is non-existent politically and economically are in fact one and the same thing.

In the period of colonization when it is not contested by armed resistance, when the sum total of harmful nervous stimuli overstep a certain threshold, the defensive atti-
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tudes of the natives give way and they then find themselves crowding the mental hospitals. There is thus during this calm period of successful colonization a regular and important mental pathology which is the direct product of oppression.
Today the war of national liberation which has been carried on by the Algerian people for the last seven years has become a favorable breeding ground for mental disorders, because so far as the Algerians are concerned it is a total war. We shall mention here some Algerian cases which have been attended by us and who seem to us to be particularly eloquent. We need hardly say that we are not concerned with producing a scientific work. We avoid all arguments over semiology, nosology, or therapeutics. The few technical terms used serve merely as references. We must, however, insist on two points. Firstly, as a general rule, clinical psychiatry classifies the different disturbances shown by our patients under the heading “reactionary psychoses.” In doing this, prominence is given to the event which has given rise to the disorder, although in some cases mention is made of the previous history of the case (the psychological, affective, and biological condition
of the patient) and of the type of background from whence he comes. It seems to us that in the cases here chosen the events giving rise to the disorder are chiefly the bloodthirsty and pitiless atmosphere, the generalization of inhuman practices, and the firm impression that people have of being caught up in a veritable Apocalypse.*

(In the unpublished introduction to the first two editions of Van V de la Revolution Algerienne, we have already pointed out that a whole generation of Algerians, steeped in wanton, generalized homicide with all the psycho-affective consequences that this entails, will be the human legacy of France in Algeria.)

Frenchmen who condemn the torture in Algeria constantly adopt a point of view which is strictly French. We do not reproach them for this; we merely point it out: they wish to protect the consciences of the actual torturers
Case No. 2 of Series A is a typical reactionary psychosis, but Case Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 5 of Series B give evidence of a much more widely spread causality although we cannot really speak of one particular event giving rise to the disorders. These are reactionary psychoses, if we want to use a ready-made label; but here we must give particular priority to the war: a war which in whole and in part is a colonial war. After the two great world wars, there is no lack of publications on the mental pathology of soldiers taking part in action and civilians who are victims of evacuations and bombardments. The hitherto unem-phasized characteristics of certain psychiatric descriptions here given confirm, if confirmation were necessary, that this colonial war is singular even in the pathology that it gives rise to.
Another idea which is strongly held needs in our opinion to be re-examined; this is the notion of the relative harm-lessness of these reactional disorders. It is true that others have described, but always as exceptional cases, certain secondary psychoses, that is to say cases where the whole of the personality is disrupted definitively. It seems to us that here the rule is rather the frequent malignancy of these pathological processes. These are disorders which persist for months on end, making a mass attack against the ego, and practically always leaving as their sequel a weakness which is almost visible to the naked eye. According to all available evidence, the future of such patients is
who today have full power to cany on their wort; they wish at the same time to try to avoid the moral contamination of the young people of France. As far as we are concerned we are totally in accord with this attitude. Certain notes here brought together, especially in Cases 4 and 5 in Series A, are sad illustrations and justifications for this obsession which haunts French believers in democracy. But oui purpose is in any case to show that torture, as might well be expected, upsets most profoundly the personality of the person who is tortured.mortgaged. An example will best illustrate our point of view.

In one of the African countries which have been independent for several years we had occasion to receive a visit from a patriot who had been in the resistance. This man in his thirties came to ask us for advice and he1 p. for around a certain date each year he suffered from prolonged insomnia, accompanied by anxiety and suic:dal obsessions. The critical date was that when on instructions from his organization he had p^ced a bomb somewhere. Ten people had been killed as a result.*
This militant, who never for a single moment tho^ht of repudiating his past action, realized very clearly the manner in which he himself had to pay ‘he price of national independence. It is border-line cases such as his which raise the question of responsibility within the revolutionary framework.
* The circumstances surrounding the appearance of these disorders are interesting for several reasons.

Some months after his country’s independence was declared, he had made the acquaintance of certain nationals of the former colonial power, and he had found them very likeable. These men and women greeted the new independent state warmly and paid tribute to the courage of the patriots who had fought in the struggle for national freedom. The former militant therefore had what might be called an attack of vertigo. He wondered with a feeling of anguish whether among the victims of the bomb there had been people like his new acquaintances. It was true that the cafe’ that it was aimed at was a meeting place for notorious racists; but there was nothing to prevent a quite ordinary passer-by from going in and having a drink. From the first day that he suffered from vertigo the man tried to avoid thinking of these former occurrences. But paradoxically, a few days
before-the crucial date, the first symptoms made their appearance. After that, they reappeared with great regularity.
In other words, we are forever pursued by our actions. Their ordering, their circumstances, and their motivation may perfectly well come to be profoundly modified a posteriori. This is merely one of the snares that history and its various influences sets for us. But can we escape becoming dizzy? And who can affirm that vertigo does not haunt the whole of existence?

The observations noted here cover the period running from 1954-59. Certain patients were examined in Algeria, either in hospital centers or as private patients. The others were cared for by the health divisions of the Army of National Liberation.
Five cases are cited here. They are cases of Algerians or Europeans who had very clear symptoms of mental disorders of the reactionary type.
Case No. 1: Impotence in an Algerian following the rape
of his wife.
B— is a man twenty-six years old. He came to see us on the advice of the Health Service of the FLN for treatment of insomnia and persistent headaches. A former taxi-driver, he had worked in the nationalist parties since he was eighteen. Since 1955 he had been a member of a branch of the FLN. He had several times used his taxi for the transport of political pamphlets and also political personnel. When the repression increased in ferocity, the FLN decided to bring the war into the urban centers. B— thus came to have the task of driving commandos to the vicinity of attacking points, and quite often waited for them at those points to bring them back.
One day however, in the middle of the European part of the town, after fairly considerable fighting a very large number of arrests forced him to abandon his taxi, and the commando unit broke up and scattered. B—, who managed to escape through the enemy lines, took refuge at a friend’s house. Some days later, without having been able to get back to his home, on the orders of his superiors he joined the nearest band of Maquis.
For several months he was without news of his wife and
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his little girl of a year and eight months. On the other hand he learned that the police spent several weeks on end searching the town. After two years spent in the Maquis he received a message from his wife in which she asked him to forget her, for she had been dishonored and he ought not to think of taking up their life together again. He was extremely anxious and asked his commander’s leave to go home secretly. This was refused him, but on the other hand measures were taken for a member of the FLN to make contact with B—’s wife and parents.
Two weeks later a detailed report reached the commander of B—’s unit
His abandoned taxi had been discovered with two machine-gun magazines in it. Immediately afterward French soldiers accompanied by policemen went to his house. Finding he was absent, they took his wife away and kept her for over a week.
She was questioned about the company her husband kept and beaten fairly brutally for two days. But the third day a French soldier (she was not able to say whether he was an officer) made the others leave the room and then raped her. Some time later a second soldier, this time with others present, raped her, saying to her, “If ever you see your filthy husband again don’t forget to tell him what we did to you.” She remained another week without undergoing any fresh questioning. After this she was escorted back to her dwelling. When she told her story to her mother, the latter persuaded her to tell B— everything. Thus as soon as contact was re-established with her husband, she confessed her dishonor to him. Once the first shock had passed, and since moreover every minute of his time was filled by activity, B— was able to overcome his feelings. For several months he had heard many stories of Algerian women who had been raped or tortured, and he had
occasion to see the husbands of these violated women;
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thus his personal misfortunes and his dignity as an injured husband remained in the background.
In 1958, he was entrusted with a mission abroad. When it was time to rejoin his unit, certain fits of absence of mind and sleeplessness made his comrades and superiors anxious about him. His departure was postponed and it was decided he should have a medical examination. This was when we saw him. He seemed at once easy to get to know; a mobile face: perhaps a bit too mobile. Smiles slightly exaggerated; surface well-being: “I’m really very well, very well indeed. I’m feeling better now. Give me a tonic or two, a few vitamins, and I’ll build myself up a bit.” A basic anxiety came up to break the surface. He was at once sent to the hospital.
From the second day on, the screen of optimism melted away, and what we saw in front of us was a thoughtful, depressed man, suffering from loss of appetite, who kept to his bed. He avoided political discussion and showed a marked lack of interest in everything to do with the national struggle. He avoided listening to any news which had a bearing on the war of liberation. Any approach to his difficulties was extremely long, but at the end of several days we were able to reconstruct his story.
During his stay abroad, he tried to carry through a sexual affair which was unsuccessful. Thinking that this was due to fatigue, a normal result of forced marches and periods of undernourishment, he again tried two weeks later. Fresh failure. Talked about it to a friend who advised him to try vitamin B-12. Took this in form of pills; another attempt, another failure. Moreover, a few seconds before the act, he had an irresistible impulse to tear up a photo of his little girl. Such a symbolic liaison might have caused us to think that unconscious impulsions of an incestuous nature were present. However, several interviews and a dream, in which the patient saw the rapid rotting
Colonial War and Mental Disorders / 257
away of a little cat accompanied by unbearably evil smells, led us to take quite another course. “That girl,” he said to us one day, speaking of his little daughter, “has something rotten about her.” From this period an, his insomnia became extremely marked, and in spite of fairly large doses of neuroleptics, a state of anxiety excitation was remarked which the Service found rather worrying. Then he spoke to us for the first time about his wife, laughing and saying to us: “She’s tasted the French.” It was at that moment that we reconstructed the whole story. The weaving of events to form a pattern was made explicit. He told us that before every sexual attempt, he thought of his wife. All his confidences appeared to us to be of fundamental interest
I married this girl although I loved my cousin. But my cousin’s parents had arranged a match for their daughter with somebody else. So I accepted the first wife my parents found for me. She was nice, but I didn’t love her. I used always to say to myself: “You’re young yet; wait a bit and when you’ve found the right girl, you’ll get a divorce and you’ll make a happy marriage.” So you see I wasn’t very attached to my wife. And with the troubles, I got further apart than ever. In the end, I used to come and eat my meals and sleep almost without speaking to her.
In the Maquis, when I heard that she’d been raped by the French, I first of all felt angry with the swine. Then I said “Oh, well, there’s not much harm done; she wasn’t killed. She can start her life over again.” And then a few weeks later I came to realize that they’d raped her because they were looking for me. In fact, it was to punish her for keeping silence that she’d been violated. She could have very well told them at least the name of one of the chaps in the movement, and from that they could have searched out the whole network, destroyed it, and maybe even arrested me. That wasn’t a simple rape, for want of something better to do, or for sadistic reasons like those I’ve had occasion to see in the villages; it
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was the rape of an obstinate woman, who was ready to put up with everything rather than sell her husband. And the husband in question, it was me. This woman had saved my life and had protected the organization. It was because of me that she had been dishonored. And yet she didn’t say to me: “Look at all I’ve had to bear for you.” On the contrary, she said: “Forget about me; begin your life over again, for I have been dishonored.”
It was from that moment on that I made my own decision to take back my wife after the war; for it must be said that I’ve seen peasants drying the tears of their wives after having seen them raped under their very eyes. This left me very much shaken; I must admit moreover that at the beginning I couldn’t understand their attitude. But we increasingly came to intervene in such circumstances in order to explain matters to the civilians. I’ve seen civilians willingly proposing marriage to a girl who was violated by the French soldiers, and who was with child by them. All this led me to reconsider the problem of my wife.
So I decided to take her back; but I didn’t know at all how I’d behave when I saw her. And often, while I was looking at the photo of my daughter, I used to think that she too was dishonored, like as if everything that had to do with my wife was rotten. If they’d tortured her or knocked out all her teeth or broken an arm I wouldn’t have minded. But that thing—how can you forget a thing like that? And why did she have to tell me about it all?
He then asked me if his “sexual failing” was in my opinion caused by his worries. I replied: “It is not impossible.” Then he sat up in bed.
“What would you do if all this had happened to you?” “I don’t know.”
“Would you take back your wife?” “I think I would …” “Ah, there you are, you see. You’re not quite sure … ”

He held his head in his hands and after a few seconds left the room.
From that day on, he was progressively more willing to listen to political discussions and at the same time the headaches and lack of appetite lessened considerably.
After two weeks he went back to his unit. Before he left he told me:
“When independence comes, I’ll take my wife back. If it doesn’t work out between us, I’ll come and see you in Algiers.”
Case No. 2: Undifferentiated homicidal impulsions found
in a survivor of a mass murder.
S—, thirty-seven years old, a fellah. Comes from a village in the country around Constantine. Never took any part in politics. From the outset of the war, his district was the scene of fierce battles between the Algerian forces and the French army. S— thus had occasion to see dead and wounded. But he continued to keep out of things. From time to time however, in common with the people as a whole, the peasantry of his village used to come to the aid of Algerian fighting men who were passing through. But one day, early in 1958, a deadly ambush was laid not far from the village. After this the enemy forces went into operation and besieged the village, which in fact had no soldiers in it. All the inhabitants were summoned and questioned; nobody replied. A few hours after, a French officer arrived by helicopter and said: “There’s been too much talk about this village. Destroy it.” The soldiers began to set fire to the houses while the women who were
trying to get a few clothes together or save some provisions were driven away by blows with rifle-butts. Some peasants took advantage of the general confusion to run away. The officer gave the order to bring together the men who re-
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mained and had them brought out to near a watercourse where the killing began. Twenty-nine men were shot at point-blank range. S— was wounded by two bullets which went through his right thigh and his left arm respectively; the arm injury gave rise to a fracture of the humerus.
S— fainted and came to to find himself in the midst of a group of ALN. He was treated by the Health Service and evacuated as soon as it was possible to move him. While on the way, his behavior became more and more abnormal, and worried his escort continually. He demanded a gun, although he was helpless and a civilian, and refused to walk in front of anybody, no matter who they were. He refused to have anyone behind him. One night he got hold of a soldier’s gun and awkwardly tried to fire on the sleeping soldiers. He was disarmed rather roughly. From then on they tied his hands together, and it was thus that he arrived at the Center.
He began by telling us that he wasn’t dead yet and that he had played a good trick on the others. Bit by bit, we managed to reconstruct his story of the assassination he had attempted. S— was not anxious, he was in fact rather overexcited, with violent phases of agitation, accompanied by screaming. He did not break anything much, but tired everybody out by his incessant chatter, and the whole Service was permanently on the alert on account of his declared intention of “killing everybody.” During his stay in the hospital he attacked about eight patients with makeshift weapons. Nurses and doctors were not spared either. We almost wondered whether we were not witnessing one of those masked forms of epilepsy which is characterized by a wholesale aggressivity which is nearly always present.
Deep sleep treatment was then tried. From the third day on, a daily interview made it possible for us to better understand the moving force of the pathological process.
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The patient’s intellectual confusion progressively toned down. Here are some extracts from his statements:
God is with me . . . but he certainly isn’t with those who are dead. . . . I’ve had hellish good luck. … In life you’ve got to kill so as not to be killed. . . . When I think that I knew nothing at all about all that business. . . . There are Frenchmen in our midst. They disguise themselves as Arabs. They’ve all got to be killed. Give me a machine-gun. All these so-called Algerians are really Frenchmen . . . and they won’t leave me alone. As soon as I want to go to sleep they come into my room. But now I know all about them. Everyone wants to kill me. But I’ll defend myself. I’ll kill them all, every single one of them. I’ll cut their throats one after the other, and yours with them. You all want to kill me but you should set about it differently. I’d kill you all as soon as look at you, big ones and little ones, women, children, dogs, birds, donkeys . . . everyone will be dead. And afterward I’ll be able to sleep in peace. . . .
All this was said in jerks; the patient’s attitude remained hostile, suspicious, and aloof.
After three weeks, his state of excitement had disappeared, but a certain reticence and a tendency to seek solitude gave us grounds for fearing a more serious evolution of his disorder. However after a month he asked to be let out in order to learn a trade that would be compatible with his disability. He was then entrusted to the care of the Social Service of the FLN. We saw him six months after, and he was going on well.
Case No. 3: Marked anxiety psychosis of the depersonaliza-tion type after the murder of a woman while temporarily insane.
Dj—, a former student, a soldier in the ALN, nineteen years old. His illness already dated from some months back by the time he came to the Center. His appearance was characteristic: he seemed very depressed, his hands were constantly moist and his lips were dry; his chest was lifted by continual sighs. Pernicious insomnia; two attempts at suicide since the trouble started. During the conversation, he struck hallucinatory attitudes while listening. Sometimes his glance fixed itself for a few seconds on a point in space, while his face lit up, giving the impression to observers that the patient was witnessing a play. Thoughts woolly. Certain phenomena known in psychiatry by the name of blocking: a gesture or phrase is begun and then suddenly interrupted without apparent reason. But in particular one element aroused our particular attention: the patient talked of his blood being spilt, of his arteries which were being emptied and of his heart which kept missing a beat. He implored us to stop the hemorrhage and not to let him be “sucked by a vampire” within the very precincts of the hospital. Sometimes he could not speak any more, and asked us for a pencil. Wrote: “I have lost my voice; my whole life is ebbing away.” This living depersonalization gave us reason to believe that the illness had reached a serious stage of development.
Several times during the course of our conversations, the patient spoke to us of a woman who when night fell came to persecute him. Having learnt beforehand that his mother whom he had been very fond of was dead, and that nothing had been able to console him for her loss (his voice had considerably sunk as he spoke of her, and he shed some tears), I directed the investigation toward the maternal image. When I asked him to describe the woman who obsessed him, I might even say persecuted him, he declared that she was not an unknown person, that he knew her very well and that it was he who had killed her. It was thus a matter of finding out whether we had to deal with an unconscious guilt complex following on the death of the mother, as Freud has described in Mourning and Melancholia. We asked the patient to talk to us about this woman in greater detail, since he had known her so well, and since also it was he who had killed her. Thus we were able to reconstruct the following story:
I left the town where I had been a student to join the Maquis. After some months, I had news of my people. I learnt that my mother had been killed point-blank by a French soldier and two of my sisters had been taken to the soldiers’ quarters. Up to now, I have had no news of what happened to them. I was terribly shaken by the death of my mother. Since my father had died some years before, I was the only man in the family, and my sole ambition had always been to manage to do something to make life easier for my mother and my sisters. One day we went to an estate belonging to settlers, where the agent, who was an active colonialist, had already killed two Algerian civilians. We came to his house, at night, but he wasn’t there. Only his wife was at home. When she saw us, she started to cry and implored us not to kill her: “I know you’ve come for my husband,” she said, “but he isn’t here. I’ve told him again and again not to have anything to do with
politics.” We decided to wait for her husband. But as far as I was concerned, when I looked at that woman I thought of my mother. She was sitting in an armchair and her thoughts seemed to be elsewhere. I wondered why we didn’t kill her; then all of a sudden she noticed I was looking at her. She flung herself upon me screaming “Please, please don’t kill me … I have children.” A moment after she was dead; I’d killed her with my knife. My commander disarmed me and ordered me to leave. I was questioned by the platoon commander a few days later. I thought I was going to be shot, but I didn’t give a damn.* And then I started vomiting after every meal, and I slept badly. After that this woman started coming every night and asking for my blood. But my mother’s blood—where’s that?
* After considering the medico-legal experts’ report which emphasized the pathological character of the action, the legal proceedings which had been set in motion by the General Staff were closed.
At nightfall that evening, as soon as the patient went to bed, the room was “invaded by women” in spite of every-ing. It was a manifold repetition of the same woman. Every one of them had an open wound in her stomach. They were bloodless, pale, and terribly thin. They tormented the young patient and insisted that he should give them back their spilt blood. At this moment the sound of running water filled the room and grew so loud that it seemed like a thundering waterfall, and the young patient saw the parquet of his room drenched with blood—his blood— while the women slowly got their color back, and their wounds began to close up. The patient awoke, bathed with sweat and in deep distress, and remained in a state of nervous excitement until the dawn.
The young patient was treated for several weeks, after which time the oneiroid symptoms (nightmares) had practically disappeared. However, a serious deficiency remained in his personality. When he started thinking of his mother, the disemboweled woman rose up before him in redoubled horror. Though it may appear unscientific, in our opinion time alone can bring some improvement to the disrupted personality of this young man.
Case No. 4: A European policeman in a depressed state meets while under hospital treatment one of his victims, an Algerian patriot who is suffering from stupor. A—, twenty-eight years old, no children. We learnt that for several years both he and his wife underwent treatment, unfortunately with no success, in order to have children. He was sent to us by his superiors because he had behavior disturbances.
Immediate contact seemed fairly good. The patient spoke to us spontaneously about his difficulties. Satisfactory relations with his wife and parents-in-law. His trouble was that at night he heard screams which prevented him from sleeping. In fact, he told us that for the last few weeks before going to bed he shut the shutters and stopped up all the windows (it was summer) to the complete despair of his wife, who was stifled by the heat Moreover, he stuffed his ears with cotton wool in order to make the screams seem less piercing. He sometimes even in the middle of the night turned on the wireless or put on some music in order not to hear this nocturnal uproar. He consequently explained to us at full length the whole story that was troubling him.
A few months before, he had been transferred to an anti-FLN brigade. At the beginning, he was entrusted with surveying certain shops or cafes; but after some weeks he used to work almost exclusively at the police headquarters. Here he came to deal with interrogations; and these never occurred without some “knocking about.” The thing was that they never would own up to anything.” He explained:
Sometimes we almost wanted to tell them that if they had a bit of consideration for us they’d speak out without forcing us to spend hours tearing information word by word out of them. But you might as well talk to the wall. To all the questions we asked they’d only say “I don’t know.” Even when we asked them what their name was. If we asked them where they lived, they’d say “I don’t know.” So of course, we have to go through with it. But they scream too much. At the beginning that made me laugh. But afterward I was a bit shaken. Nowadays as soon as I hear someone shouting I can tell you exactly at what stage of the questioning we’ve got to. The chap who’s had two blows of the fist and a belt of the baton behind his ear has a certain way of speaking, of shouting, and of saying he’s innocent. After he’s been left two hours strung up by his wrists he has another kind of voice. After the bath, still another. And so on. But above all it’s after the
electricity that it becomes really too much. You’d say that the chap was going to die any minute. Of course there are some that don’t scream; those are the tough ones.

But they think they’re going to be killed right away. But we’re not interested in killing them. What we want is information. When we’re dealing with those tough ones, the first thing we do is to make them squeal; and sooner or later we manage it. That’s already a victory. Afterward we go on. Mind you, we’d like to avoid that. But they don’t make things easy for us. Now I’ve come so as I hear their screams even when I’m at home. Especially the screams of the ones who died at the police headquarters. Doctor, I’m fed up with this job. And if you manage to cure me, 111 ask to be transferred to France. If they refuse, I’ll resign.
Faced with such a picture, I prescribed sick leave. As the patient in question refused to go to the hospital, I treated him privately. One day, shortly before the therapeutic treatment was due to begin, I had an urgent call from my department. When A— reached my house, my wife asked him to wait for me, but he preferred to go for a walk in the hospital grounds, and then come back to meet me. A few minutes later as I was going home I passed him on the way. He was leaning against a tree, looking overcome, trembling and drenched with sweat: in fact having an anxiety crisis. I took him into my car and drove him to my house. Once he was lying on the sofa, he told me he had met one of my patients in the hospital who had been questioned in the police barracks (he was an Algerian patriot) and who was under treatment for “disorders of a stuporous nature following on shock.” I then learnt that the policeman had taken an active part in inflicting torture on my
patient. I administered some sedatives which calmed A—’s anxiety. After he had gone, I went to the house in the hospital where the patriot was being cared for. The personnel had noticed nothing; but the patient could not be found. Finally we managed to discover him in a toilet where he was trying to commit suicide: he on his side had recognized the policeman and thought that he had come to look for him and take him back again to the barracks.
Afterward, A— came back to see me several times, and after a very definite improvement in his condition, managed to get back to France on account of his health. As for the Algerian patriot, the personnel spent a long time convincing him that the whole thing was an illusion, that policemen were not allowed inside the hospital, that he was very tired, that he was there to be looked after, etc.
Case No. 5: A European police inspector who tortured
his wife and children.
R—, thirty years old. Came of his own accord to consult us. He was a police inspector and stated that for several weeks “things weren’t working out” Married, had three children. He smoked a lot: five packets of cigarettes a day. He had lost his appetite and his sleep was frequently disturbed by nightmares. These nightmares had no special distinguishing features. What bothered him most were what he called “fits of madness.” In the first place, he disliked being contradicted:
Can you give me an explanation for this, doctor: as soon as someone goes against me I want to hit him. Even outside my job, I feel I want to settle the fellows who get in my way, even for nothing at all. Look here, for example, suppose I go to the kiosk to buy the papers. There’s a lot of people. Of course you have to wait. I hold out my hand (the chap who keeps the kiosk is a pal of mine) to take my papers. Someone in the line gives me a challenging look and says “Wait your turn.” Well, I feel I want to beat him up and I say to myself, “If I had you for a few hours my fine fellow you wouldn’t look so clever afterwards.”
The patient dislikes noise. At home he wants to hit everybody all the time. In fact, he does hit his children, even the baby of twenty months, with unaccustomed savagery.
But what really frightened him was one evening when his wife had criticized him particularly for hitting his children too much. (She had even said to him, “My word, anyone’d think you were going mad.”) He threw himself upon her, beat her, and tied her to a chair, saying to himself “I’ll teach her once and for all that I’m master in this house.”
Fortunately his children began roaring and crying. He then realized the full gravity of his behavior, untied his wife and the next day decided to consult a doctor, ” a nerve specialist.” He stated that “before, he wasn’t like that”; he said that he very rarely punished his children and at all events never fought with his wife. The present phenomena had appeared “since the troubles.” “The fact is” he said:
nowadays we have to work like troopers. Last week, for example, we operated like as if we belonged to the army. Those gentlemen in the government say there’s no war in Algeria and that the arm of the law, that’s to say the police, ought to restore order. But there is a war going on in Algeria, and when they wake up to it it’ll be too late. The thing that kills me most is the torture. You don’t know what that is, do you? Sometimes I torture people for ten hours at a stretch….
“What happens to you when you are torturing?”
You may not realize, but it’s very tiring. . . . It’s true we take it in turns, but the question is to know when to let the next chap have a go. Each one thinks he’s going to get the information at any minute and takes good care not to let the bird go to the next chap after he’s softened him up nicely, when of course the other chap would get the honor and glory of it. So sometimes we let them go; and sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes we even offer the chap money, money out of
our own pockets, to try to get him to talk. Our problem is as follows: are you able to make this fellow talk? It’s a question of personal success. You see, you’re competing with the others. In the end your fists are ruined. So you call in the Senegalese. But either they hit too hard and destroy the creature or else they don’t hit hard enough and it’s no good. In fact, you have to be intelligent to make a success of that sort of work. You have to know when to lay it on and when to lay it off. You have to have a flair for it. When the chap is softened up, it’s not worth your while going on hitting him. That’s why you have to do the work yourself; you can judge better how you’re getting on. I’m against the ones that have the chap dealt with by others and simply come to see every hour or so what state he’s in. Above all, what you mustn’t do is to give the chap the impression that he won’t get away alive from you. Because then he wonders what’s the use of
talking if that won’t save his life. In that case you’ll have no chance at all of getting anything out of him. He must go on hoping; hope’s the thing that’ll make him talk.
But the thing that worries me most is this affair with my wife. It’s certain that there’s something wrong with me. You’ve got to cure me, doctor.
His superiors refused to give him sick leave, and since moreover the patient did not wish to have a psychiatrist’s certificate, we tried to give him treatment “while working full time.” The weaknesses of such a procedure may easily be imagined. This man knew perfectly well that his disorders were directly caused by the kind of activity that went on inside the rooms where interrogations were carried out, even though he tried to throw the responsibility totally upon “present troubles.” As he could not see his way to stopping torturing people (that made nonsense to him for in that case he would have to resign) he asked me without beating about the bush to help him to go on torturing Algerian patriots without any prickings of conscience, without any behavior problems, and with complete equanimity.*
We have here brought together certain cases or groups of cases in which the event giving rise to the illness is in the first place the atmosphere of total war which reigns in Algeria.
Case No. 1: The murder by two young Algerians, thirteen and fourteen years old respectively, of their European playmate.
We had been asked to give expert medical advice in a legal matter. Two young Algerians thirteen and fourteen years old, pupils in a primary school, were accused of having killed one of their European schoolmates. They admitted having done it. The crime was reconstructed, and photos were added to the record. Here one of the children could be seen holding the victim while the other struck at him with a knife. The little defendants did not go back on their declarations. We had long conversations with them. We here reproduce the most characteristic of their remarks:
a) The boy thirteen years old:
“We weren’t a bit cross with him. Every Thursday we used to go and play with catapults together, on the hill above the village. He was a good friend of ours. He usn’t to go to school any more because he wanted to be a mason like his father. One day we decided to kill him, because
* With these observations we find ourselves in the presence of a coherent system which leaves nothing intact. The executioner who loves birds and enjoys the peace of listening to a symphony or a sonata is simply one stage in the process. Further on in it we may well find a whole existence which enters into complete and absolute sadism.
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the Europeans want to kill all the Arabs. We can’t kill big people. But we could kill ones like him, because he was the same age as us. We didn’t know how to kill him. We wanted to throw him into a ditch, but he’d only have been hurt. So we got the knife from home and we killed him.”
“But why did you pick on him?”
“Because he used to play with us. Another boy wouldn’t have gone up the hill with us.”
“And yet you were pals?”
“Well then, why do they want to kill us? His father is in the militia and he said we ought to have our throats cut.”
“But he didn’t say anything to you?”
“Him? No.”
“You know he is dead now.”
“What does being dead mean?”
“When it’s all finished, you go to heaven.”
“Was it you that killed him?”
“Does having killed somebody worry you?”
“No, since they want to kill us, so…”
“Do you mind being in prison?”
b) The boy fourteen years old:
This young defendant was in marked contrast to his schoolfellow. He was already almost a man, and an adult in his muscular control, his appearance, and the content of his replies. He did not deny having killed either. Why had he killed? He did not reply to the question but asked me had I ever seen a European in prison. Had there ever been a European arrested and sent to prison after the murder of an Algerian? I replied that in fact I had never seen any Europeans in prison.
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“And yet there are Algerians killed every day, aren’t there?”
“So why are only Algerians found in the prisons? Can you explain that to me?”
“No. But tell me why you killed this boy who was your friend.”
“Fll tell you why. You’ve heard tell of the Rivet business?” *
“Two of my family were killed then. At home, they said that the French had sworn to kill us all, one after the other. And did they arrest a single Frenchman for all those Algerians who were killed?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, nobody at all was arrested. I wanted to take to the mountains, but I was too young. So X— and I said we’d kill a European.”
“In your opinion, what should we have done?”
“I don’t know. But you are a child and what is happening concerns grown-up people.”
“But they kill children too …”
“That is no reason for killing your friend.”
“Well, kill him I did. Now you can do what you like.”
“Had your friend done anything to harm you?”
“Not a thing.”
“Well, there you are…”
Case No. 2: Accusatory delirium and suicidal conduct dis-
* Rivet is a village which since a certain day in the year 1956 has become celebrated in the region around Algiers. For on that evening the village was invaded by the militia who dragged forty men from their beds and afterward murdered them.
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guised as “terrorist activity” in a young Algerian twenty-two years old.
This patient was sent to our hospital by the French judicial authorities. This measure was taken after medical and legal advice given by French psychiatrists practicing in Algeria.
The patient was an emaciated man in a complete state of aberration. His body was covered with bruises and two fractures of the jaw made all absorption of nourishment impossible. Thus for more than two weeks the patient was fed by various injections.
After two weeks, the blank in his thoughts receded; we were able to establish contact and we managed to reconstruct the dramatic history of this young man.
During his youth he went in for scouting with unusual enthusiasm. He became one of the main leaders of the Moslem Scout Movement. But when he was nineteen years old he dropped scouting completely in order to have no preoccupation other than his profession. He was a multicopying-machine maker; he studied hard and dreamt of becoming a great specialist in his profession. The first of November, 1954, found him absorbed by strictly professional problems. At the time he showed no interest at all in the national struggle. Already he no longer frequented the company of his former companions. He defined himself at that time as “completely bent on increasing [his] technical capacity.”
However, about the middle of 1955, when spending the evening with his family, he suddenly had the impression that his parents considered him a traitor. After a few days this fleeting impression became blunted but at the back of his mind a certain misgiving persisted, a sort of uneasiness that he did not understand.
On account of this, he decided to eat his meals quickly,
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shrinking from the family circle, and shut himself into his room. He avoided all contacts. It was in these conditions that catastrophe intervened. One day, in the middle of the street at about half-past twelve, he distinctly heard a voice calling him a coward. He turned round, but saw nobody. He quickened his pace, and decided that from then on he would not go to work. He stayed in his room and did not eat any dinner. During the night the crisis came on. For three hours he heard all sorts of insults coming from out of the night and resounding in his head: “Traitor, traitor, coward … all your brothers who are dying, . . . traitor, traitor …”
He was seized with indescribable anxiety: “For eighteen hours my heart beat at the rhythm of 130 pulsations to the minute. I thought I was going to die.”
From that time on, the patient could no longer swallow a bite. He wasted away almost visibly; he shut himself up in complete darkness, and refused to open the door to his parents. Around the third day he took refuge in prayer. He stayed kneeling, he told me, from seventeen to eighteen hours on end each day. On the fourth day, acting on impulse “like a madman,” with “a beard that was also enough to make [him] be taken for a madman,” wearing neither coat nor tie, he went out into the town. Once in the street, he did not know where to go; but he started walking, and at the end of some time he found himself in the European town. His physical appearance (he looked like a European) seemed then to safeguard him against being stopped and questioned by the police patrols.
As a contrast to this, beside him Algerian men and women were arrested, maltreated, insulted, and searched. Paradoxically, he had no papers on him. This uncalled-for consideration toward him on the part of the enemy patrols confirmed his delusion that “everybody knew he was with
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the French. Even the soldiers had their orders; they left him alone.”
In addition, the glances of the arrested Algerians, who were waiting to be searched with their hands behind their necks, seemed to him to be full of contempt. The prey of overwhelming agitation, he moved away, striding rapidly. It was at this moment that he happened to walk in front of the building which was the French Staff Headquarters. In the gateway stood several soldiers armed with machine-guns. He went toward the soldiers, threw himself upon one of them and tried to snatch his machine-gun, shouting “I am an Algerian.”
He was quickly overcome and was brought to the police, where they insisted on making him confess the names of his “superiors” and the different members of the network to which he (supposedly) belonged. After some days the police and the soldiers realized that they were dealing with a sick man. An expert opinion was sought which concluded that he was suffering from mental disorders and that he should be sent to the hospital. “All I wanted to do,” he said, “was to die. Even at the police barracks I thought and hoped that after they’d tortured me they would kill me. I was glad to be struck, for that showed me that they considered that I too was their enemy. I could no longer go on hearing those accusing voices, without doing something. I am not a coward. I am not a woman. I am not a traitor.” *
Case No. 3: Neurotic attitude of a young Frenchwoman whose father, a highly placed civil servant, was killed in an ambush. This girl, twenty-one years old, a student, came to con-
* During the year 1955, cases of this type were very numerous in Algeria. Unfortunate1^ not all the patients had the good fortune to be sent to a hospital.
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suit me about certain minor symptoms of anxiety complex which interfered with her studies and with her social relationships. Her hands were constantly moist and at times presented very worrying symptoms when sweat “flowed all over her hands.” Constrictions of the chest accompanied by nocturnal headaches. Bit her nails. But the thing that was most apparent was above all the over-easy contact, obviously too rapid, while a severe anxiety could be clearly sensed underlying the facile approach. The death of her father, though judging from the date fairly recent, was mentioned by the patient with such lightheartedness that we quickly directed our investigations toward her relations with her father. The account which she gave us was clear, completely lucid, with a lucidity which touched on insensibility and later revealed, precisely by its rationalism, this girl’s uneasiness and the nature and origin of her conflict.
My father was highly placed in the civil service. He was responsible for a very large rural area. As soon as the troubles started, he threw himself into the Algerian manhunt with frenzied rage. Sometimes it happened that he would eat nothing at all, and not even sleep, he was in such a state of excitement over putting down the rebellion. I saw without being able to do anything about it the slow metamorphosis of my father. Finally, I decided not to go to see him any more and to stay in town. The fact was that every time I went home I spent entire nights awake, for screams used to rise up to my room from down below; in the cellar and in the unused rooms of the house Algerians were being tortured so as to obtain information. You have no idea how terrible it is to hear screaming all night like that. Sometimes I used to wonder how it was that a human being was able to bear hearing those screams of pain—quite apart from the actual torture. And so it went on.
Finally, I didn’t ever go home. The rare times that my father came to see me in town I wasn’t able to look him in the face without being terribly frightened
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and embarrassed. I found it increasingly difficult to force myself to kiss him.
For you must understand that I had lived a long time in the village. I knew almost all the families that lived there. The Algerian boys of my age and I had played together when we were small. Every time I went home my father told me that fresh people had been arrested. In the end I didn’t dare walk in the street any more, I was so sure of meeting hatred everywhere. In my heart I knew that those Algerians were right. If I were an Algerian girl, I’d be in the Maquis.
One day, however, she received a telegram which announced that her father was seriously injured. She went to the hospital and found her father in a coma. Shortly afterward he died. He had been wounded while on a re-connoitering expedition with a military detachment; the patrol fell into an ambush laid by the Algerian National Army. “The funeral sickened me,” she said.
All those officials who came to weep over the death of my father whose “high moral qualities conquered the native population” disgusted me. Everyone knew that it was false. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t know that my father had the whip hand of all the interrogation centers in the whole region. Everyone knew that the number of deaths under torture reached ten a day, and there they came to tell their lies about my father’s devotion, his self-sacrifice, his love for his country, and so on. I ought to say that now such words have no meaning for me, or at any rate hardly any. I went back to the town directly afterward, and I avoided all the authorities. They offered me an allowance but I refused it. I don’t want their money. It is the price of the blood spilt by my father. I don’t want any of it. I am going to work.
Case No. 4: Behavior disturbances in young Algerians
under ten.
These children were refugees, the children of fighting men or of civilians killed by the French. They were sent to various different centers in Tunisia and Morocco. These children were sent to school, and games and outings were
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organized for them. They were examined regularly by doctors; that is how we came to have occasion to see some of them.
a) In each of these different children there exists a very marked love for parental images. Everything which resembles a father or a mother is sought out with the greatest tenacity and jealously guarded.
b) Generally speaking, they all have a noise phobia which is very noticeable. These children are very much affected when they are scolded. They have a great thirst for peace and for affection.
c) Many of them suffer from sleeplessness and also from sleepwalking.
d) Periodical enuresis.
e) Sadistic tendencies. A game that is often played is to stretch a sheet of paper and feverishly poke holes in it. All their pencils are chewed and their nails bitten with distressing regularity. They quarrel frequently among themselves despite a deep fundamental affection.
Case No. 5: Puerperal psychoses among the refugees.
The name puerperal psychoses is given to mental disorders which occur in women around childbirth. Such disorders may appear immediately before or some weeks after giving birth. The determimsm of such illnesses is very complex; but it is considered that the principal causes are the upsetting of the functioning of the endocrine glands and the existence of an “affective shock.” The latter heading, though vague, covers what most people refer to as “violent emotion.”
On the Moroccan and Tunisian frontiers there are to be found something like 300,000 refugees since the decision of the French government to practice their burnt earth policy over hundreds of kilometers. The destitution in which they exist is well known. International Red Cross committees have repeatedly paid visits to these places and
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after having observed the extreme poverty and precarious-ness of living conditions they have recommended increased aid to these refugees from international organizations. It was thus only to be expected, considering the undernourishment which is rife in these camps, that pregnant women there should show particular propensities for the development of puerperal psychoses.
The atmosphere of permanent insecurity in which the refugees exist is kept up by frequent invasions of French troops, applying “the right of following and pursuit,” bombardments from the air, machine-gunnings—it is well known that no further attention is now paid to bombardments of Moroccan and Tunisian territories by the French army, of which Sakiet-Sidi-Youssef, the martyred village in Tunisia, was the most appalling—together with the break-up of homes which is a consequence of the conditions of the evacuation. To tell the truth there are very few Algerian women who give birth in such conditions who do not suffer from mental disorders.
These disorders take various forms. Sometimes they are visible as states of agitation which sometimes turn into rages; sometimes deep depression and tonic immobility with many attempted suicides; or sometimes finally anxiety states with tears, lamentations, and appeals for mercy. In the same way the form which the delusions take are many and divers. We may find a delusion of persecution against the French who want to kill the new-born infant or the child not yet born; or else the mother may have the impression of imminent death, in which the mothers implore invisible executioners to spare their child.
Here once more we must point out that the fundamental nature of these problems is not cleared up by the regression and soothing of the disorders. The circumstances of the cured patients maintains and feeds these pathological kinks.
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Affective-intellectual modifications and mental disorders after torture.
In this series we will group together patients in a fairly serious condition whose disorders appeared immediately after or during the tortures. We shall describe various different groups in this category, because we realize that the characteristic morbidity groups correspond to different methods of torture employed, quite independently of its evil effects, whether glaring or hidden, upon the personality.
Category No. 1:’ After so-called preventive tortures of an
indiscriminate nature.
We here refer to brutal methods which are directed toward getting prisoners to speak, rather than to actual torture. The principle that over and above a certain threshold pain becomes intolerable here takes on singular importance. The aim is to arrive as quickly as possible at that threshold. There is no finicking about There is a mass attack taking several forms: several policemen striking the prisoner at the same time; four policemen standing around the prisoner and hitting him backward and forward to each other, while another bums his chest with a cigarette and still another hits the soles of his feet with a stick. Certain methods of torture used in Algeria seemed to us to be particularly atrocious; the confidences of those who had been tortured are our reference.
a) Injection of water by the mouth accompanied by an enema of soapy water given at high pressure.*
“This type of torture is the cause of a very large number of deaths. After these enemas given at high pressure, the mucous membrane of the intestine becomes in fact the seat of numerous lesions which provoke minute perforations of the intestine. Gaseous embolisms and cases of peritonitis are thus very frequently caused.
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b) Introduction of a bottle into the anus.
Two forms of torture called “motionless torture”:
c) The prisoner is placed on his knees, with his arms parallel to the ground, the palms of his hands turned upward, his torso and head straight. No movement is allowed. Behind the prisoner a policeman sitting on a chair keeps him motionless by blows of his truncheon.
d) The prisoner is placed standing with his face to the wall, his arms lifted and his hands against the wall. Here too if he makes the slightest movement or shows the slightest sign of relaxing the blows rain down.
We must now point out that there are two categories of people who undergo torture:
1) Those who know something.
2) Those who know nothing.
1) Those who know something are very rarely seen in hospital centers. Evidently, it may be common knowledge that such-and-such a patriot has been tortured in the French prisons, but you never meet him as a patient.*
2) On the contrary, those who know nothing come very frequently to consult us. We are not here speaking of Algerians taken prisoner during a general arresting or a round-up: they do not come to see us as patients either. We are speaking expressly of those Algerians who do not belong to any organization, who are arrested and brought to police quarters or to farms used as centers of interrogation in order to be tortured there.
Symptoms of psychiatric cases encountered: a) Agitated nervous depressions: four cases. These are patients who are sad, without really being
anxious. They are depressed and spend most of their time
* We are here speaking of course of those Algerians who, knowing something, have not confessed under torture; for it is well known that an Algerian who confesses is killed immediately afterward.
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in bed; they shun contact, and are liable to suddenly show signs of very violent agitation the significance of which is always difficult to grasp.
b) Loss of appetite arising from mental causes: five cases.
These patients present serious problems, for every mental anorexia is accompanied by a phobia against all physical contact with another. The nurse who comes near the patient and tries to touch him, to take his hand, for example, is at once pushed stiffly away. It is not possible to carry out artificial feeding or to administer medicine.*
c) Motor instability: eleven cases.
Here we have to deal with patients who will not keep still. They insist on being alone and it is difficult to get them to allow themselves to be shut up with the doctor in his consulting room.
Two feelings seemed to us to be frequent in the first category of tortured people:
First that of suffering injustice. Being tortured night and day for nothing seemed to have broken something in these men. One of these sufferers had a particularly painful experience. After some days of useless torturing, the police came to realize that they were dealing with a peaceable man who knew nothing whatever about anybody in an FLN network. In spite of being convinced of this, a police inspector had said: “Don’t let him go like that. Give him a bit more, so that when he gets out he’ll keep quiet.t
* The medical attendants are obliged to sit by the patient night and day working to explain matters to him. We can understand that the formula of “treating him a bit rough” is of no possible value here.
f This preventive torture becomes in certain districts “preventive repression.” Thus at Rivet, though peace reigned, the settlers did not want to be taken unawares (the neighboring districts were beginning to stir) and decided purely and simply to do away with all eventual members of the FLN. Over forty Algerians were killed in a single day.
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Secondly, there was indifference to all moral arguments. For these patients, there is no just cause. A cause which entrains torture is a weak cause. Therefore the fighting strength of the cause must at all costs be increased; its justness must not be questioned. Force is the only thing that counts.
Category No. 2: After tortures by electricity.
In this category we have placed the Algerian patriots who were mainly tortured by electricity. In fact, although previously electricity was used as one of the general methods of torture, from September, 1956, on certain questionings were carried on exclusively by electricity.
Descriptions of psychiatric cases encountered:
a) Localized or generalized coenesthopathies: three cases.
These patients felt “pins and needles” throughout their bodies; their hands seemed to be torn off, their heads seemed to be bursting, and their tongues felt as if they were being swallowed.
b) Apathy, aboulia, and lack of interest: seven cases. These are patients who are inert, who cannot make
plans, who have no resources, who live from day to day.
c) Electricity phobia.
Fear of touching a switch, of turning on the radio, fear of the telephone. Completely impossible for the doctor to even mention the eventual possibility of electric shock treatment.
Category No. 3: After the “truth serum.”
The basic principles of this treatment are well known. When dealing with a patient who seems to suffer from an unconscious inner conflict which consultations do not manage to externalize, the doctor has recourse to chemical methods of exploration. Pentothal, given by intravenous injections, is the most common serum used to liberate the
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patient from a conflict which seems to go beyond his powers of adaptation. The doctor intervenes in order to liberate the patient from this “foreign body.”*
It has been generally observed that it is difficult to control the progressive disintegration of psychical processes when using this method. Very often a spectacular worsening of the illness was observed, or new and quite inexplicable symptoms appeared. Thus, generally speaking, this technique has been more or less abandoned.
In Algeria, military doctors and psychiatrists have found a wide field for experiment in police quarters. For if in cases of neurosis pentothal sweeps away the barriers which bar the way to bringing to light an interior conflict, it ought equally in the case of Algerian patriots to serve to break down the political barrier and make confession easier for the prisoner without having recourse to electricity; medical tradition lays down that suffering should be avoided. This is the medical form that “subversive war” takes.
The scenario is as follows. First, “I am a doctor, I am not a policeman. I am here to help you.” In this way after a few days the confidence of the prisoner is won.t
After that, “I’m going to give you a few injections, for you’re badly shaken.” For a few days, treatment of any
* In fact, it is not “foreign” at all. A conflict is only the result of the dynamic evolution of the personality, and here there can be no “foreign body.” We ought rather to say that the problem is one of a “badly integrated body.”
t We can cite in the same way the case of psychiatrists who were prime movers in “Presence frangaise,” who when they were called in to give an expert opinion on a prisoner had the habit from the very first of proclaiming their great friendship with the defending lawyer, and of assuring the prisoner that the two of them (the barrister and the psychiatrist) would get him out of there. All the prisoners who had the benefit of expert opinions were guillotined. These psychiatrists boasted in front of us of their elegant method of overcoming “resistance.”
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kind at all is given—vitamins, treatment for heart disease, sugar serums. On the fourth or fifth day the intravenous injection of pentothal is given. The interrogation begins.
Psychiatric symptoms.
a) Verbal stereotypy:
The patient continually repeats sentences of the type of “I didn’t tell them anything. You must believe me; I didn’t talk.” Such stereotypies are accompanied by a permanent anxiety state. In fact the patient does not even know whether he has given any information away. The sense of culpability toward the cause he was fighting for and his brothers in arms whose names and addresses he may have given here weighs so heavily as to be dramatic. No assurance can bring peace to these broken consciences.
b) Intellectual or sensory perception clouded.
The patient cannot affirm the existence of a given visible object Reasoning is assimilated but in undifferentiated fashion. There is a fundamental inability to distinguish between true and false. Everything is true and everything is false at the same time.
c) Fear, amounting to phobia, of all private conversations.
This fear is derived from the acute impression that at any moment a fresh interrogation may take place.
d) Inhibition.
The patient is on his guard; he registers each word of the question that is put to him and elaborates every word of his projected reply. From this comes the impression of a quasi-inhibition, with psychical slowing down, interrupted sentences, repetition, and faltering, etc.
It is obvious that these patients obstinately refuse all intravenous injections.
Category No. 4: After brainwashing. Recently much has been said about “psychological
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action” in Algeria. We do not wish to proceed to a critical study of these methods. We are content to bring to mind here their psychiatric consequences. There are two categories of centers where torture by brainwashing is carried on in Algeria.
1. For intellectuals.
The principle here is to lead the prisoner on to play a part. We can see that this is a throwback to a particular school of psycho-sociology.*
a) Playing the game of collaboration.
The intellectual is invited to collaborate and at the same time reasons for collaboration are brought forward. He is thus obliged to lead a double life: he is a man well known for his patriotism who is imprisoned for preventive reasons. The task undertaken is to attack from the inside those elements which constitute national consciousness. Not only is the intellectual in question expected to collaborate, but he is given orders to discuss matters “freely” with those opposed to his viewpoint or those who hold back, and to convince them. This is an elegant way of bringing him to focus attention on other patriots, and thus to serve as informer. If by chance he says that he cannot find any opponents, these latter are pointed out to him,
* We know that in the United States of America a trend toward psycho-sociology has developed. Supporters of this school think that the tragedy of the contemporary individual is contained in the fact that he has no longer any part to play, and that present-day social conditions force him to exist only as a cog in the machine. From this comes the proposal of a therapeutic which will allow a man to take various roles in a veritable game of activity. Anyone can play any role; it even happens that in a single day a person’s role may be changed; symbolically you may put yourself in the place of anyone you please. The factory psychiatrists in the United States are, it seems, making huge strides in group psychotherapy among workers. The latter are in fact able to identify themselves with heroes. Strained relations between employers and workers are considerably diminished.
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or else he is told to behave as if he was dealing with such.
b) Making public statements on the value of the French heritage and on the merits of colonization.
In order to carry out this task as well as possible, the intellectual is surrounded by “political advisers”: officers for Native Affairs, or, better still, psychologists, social psychiatrists, sociologists, etc.
c) Taking the arguments for the Algerian revolution and overthrowing them one by one.
Algeria is not a nation; it has never been a nation; it will never be a nation.
There is no such thing as the “Algerian people.”
Algerian patriotism is nonsense.
The fellaghas are ambitious peasants, criminals, and poor mistaken creatures.
Taking each theme in turn, the intellectual is expected to make a reasoned statement on it, and the statement must be convincing. Marks (the well-known “rewards”) are given and counted up at the end of every month. They serve as a means of deciding whether or not the intellectual will be allowed out.
d) Leading a totally pathological communal life.
To be alone is an act of rebellion: so the intellectual is always with somebody. Silence is also forbidden; thinking must be done aloud.
Evidence of brainwashing.
The case was that of a person with a university education who was interned and subjected to brainwashing which lasted for months on end. One day the camp officials congratulated him on the progress he had made and announced that he would soon be set free.
He knew about the enemy’s maneuvers, and took care not to take this news too seriously. Their technique was in fact to announce to the prisoners that they were going to be freed, and then a few days before the date fixed to
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organize a meeting at which collective criticisms are made. At the end of the meeting the decision is often taken to postpone setting the prisoner free, since he does not seem to present all the signs of a definitive cure. The meeting, say those psychologists who were present at it, has served to draw attention to the nationalistic virus.
However this time there was no subterfuge. The prisoner was freed for good and all. Once outside, in his own town and with his own family, the former prisoner congratulated himself on having played his part so well. He rejoiced that he was able to take his place once again in the national conflict and began to establish contact with his leaders. It was at that moment that a terrible, burning doubt flashed through his mind. Perhaps he had never deceived anybody—neither his jailors, nor his fellow-prisoners, nor even himself.
Where would the game end?
Here once again we had to reassure the patient, and to free him from the burden of guilt.
Psychiatric symptoms encountered.
a) Phobia of all collective discussion. As soon as three or four people came together, the inhibition made its appearance again, and mistrust and reticence weighed heavily upon those present.
h) The impossibility of explaining and defending any given position. Thought proceeds by antithetic couplings. Everything that is affirmed can, at the same instant, be denied with the same force. This is certainly the most painful sequel that we encountered in this war. An obsessional personality is the fruit of the “psychological action” used in the service of colonialism in Algeria.
2. For non-intellectuals. In centers such as that at Berrouaghia, subjectivity is
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not taken as the starting point for modifying the attitude of the individual. On the contrary, the body is dealt with: it is broken in the hope that national consciousness will thus be demolished. It is a thorough breaking-in. “Rewards” are taken to mean the absence of torture or the possibility of getting food to eat.
a) You must declare that you do not belong to the FLN. You must shout this out in groups. You must repeat it for hours on end.
b) After that, you must recognize that you were once in the FLN and that you have come to realize that it was a bad thing. Thus, down with the FLN.
After this stage, we come to another: the future of Algeria is French; it can be nothing other than French.
Without France, Algeria will go back to the Middle Ages.
Finally, you are French. Long live France.
Here, the disorders met with are not serious. It is the painful, suffering body that calls for rest and peace.
Psychosomatic disorders.
A marked increase in mental disorders and the creation of conditions favorable to the development of specific morbid phenomena are not the only consequences of the colonial war in Algeria. Quite apart from the pathology of torture there flourishes in Algeria a pathology of atmosphere, a state which leads medical practitioners to say when confronted with a case which they cannot understand: “This’ll all be cleared up when this damned war is over.”
We propose to group together in this fourth series the illnesses met with among Algerians, some of whom were
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interned in concentration camps. The main characteristic of these illnesses is that they are of the psychosomatic type.
The name “psychosomatic pathology” is given to the general body of organic disorders the development of which is favored by a conflicting situation.*
The name psychosomatic is used because the determinism is psychic in origin. This pathology is considered as a means whereby the organism responds to, in other words adapts itself to, the conflict it is faced with, the disorder being at the same time a symptom and a cure. More precisely, it is generally conceded that the organism (once again we are speaking of the cortico-visceral unity, the psychosomatic unity of former times) resolves the conflict by unsatisfactory, but on the whole economical, means. The organism in fact chooses the lesser evil in order to avoid catastrophe.
On the whole, this pathology is very well known today, although the different therapeutic methods proposed (relaxation and suggestion, for example) seem to us very uncertain. In the Second World War in England during the air raids and in the Soviet Union among the besieged populations of towns, notably in Stalingrad, there was a great increase in reports of the occurrence of such disorders. Today, we know very well that it is not necessary to be wounded by a bullet in order to suffer from the fact of war in body as well as in mind. Like all other wars, the Algerian war has created its contingent of cortico-visceral illnesses. With the exception of Group G described below, all the disorders met with in Algeria have already
* This nomenclature which expresses an idealist conception is less and less frequently used. In fact the terminology “cortico-visceral” inherited from Soviet research work—especially that of Pavlov—has at least the advantage that it puts the brain back in its place, that is to say it considers the brain as the matrix where, precisely, the psychism is elaborated.
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been described during the course of “traditional” wars. Group G seems to us to be specific to the colonial war in Algeria. This particular form of pathology (a generalized muscular contraction) had already called forth attention before the revolution began. But the doctors described it by portraying it as a congenital stigma of the native, an “original” part of his nervous system where, it was stated, it was possible to find the proof of a predominance of the extra-pyramidal system in the native.* This contracture is in fact simply the postural accompaniment to the native’s reticence, the expression in muscular form of his rigidity and his refusal with regard to colonial authority.
Psychiatric symptoms encountered.
a) Stomach ulcers.
Very numerous. The pains are felt predominantly at night, with considerable vomiting, loss of weight, sadness and moroseness, and irritability in exceptional cases. It should be noted that the majority of these patients are very young: from eighteen to twenty-five years old. As a general rule, we never advise surgical intervention. A gas-trectomy was performed on two occasions, and in these two same cases a second intervention was necessary in the same year as the first.
b) Nephritic colic.
Here again we find pains which came on intensely at night. Obviously, stones are hardly ever present. These colics may occur, though rarely, in patients from fourteen to sixteen years old.
c) Menstruation trouble in women.
This pathology is very well known, and we shall not spend much time on it. Either the women affected remain three or four months without menstruation, or else con-
* The higher a person is on the neurological plane, the less he is extra-pyramidal. As we see, everything tallies.
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siderable pain accompanies it, which has repercussions on character and conduct.
d) Intense sleeplessness caused by idiopathic tremors.
The patients are young adults, to whom all rest is denied because of a generalized slight shaking, reminiscent of a total case of Parkinson’s disease. Here too, “scientific thinkers” could invoke an extra-pyramidal determinism.
d) Hair turning white early.
Among the survivors of the interrogation centers, the hair often turns white suddenly, either in patches, in certain areas, or totally. Very often this is accompanied by serious debility and sexual impotence.
/) Paroxysmal tachycardias.
The cardiac rhythm accelerates abruptly: 120, 130, or 140 per minute. These tachycardias are accompanied by anxiety, and by an impression of imminent death: the end of the crisis is marked by a heavy sweating fit.
g) Generalized contraction with muscular stiffness.
These symptoms are found in patients of the masculine sex who find it increasingly difficult (in two cases the appearance of the symptoms was abrupt) to execute certain movements: going upstairs, walking quickly, or running. The cause of this difficulty lies in a characteristic rigidity which inevitably reminds us of the impairing of certain regions of the brain (central gray nuclei). It is an extended rigidity and walking is performed with small steps. The passive flexion of the lower limbs is almost impossible. No relaxation can be achieved. The patient seems to be made all of a piece, subjected as he is to a sudden contraction and incapable of the slightest voluntary relaxation. The face is rigid but expresses a marked degree of bewilderment.
The patient does not seem able to “release his nervous tension.” He is constantly tense, waiting between life
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and death. Thus one of these patients said to us; “You see, I’m already stiff like a dead man.”*
Criminal impulses found in North Africans which have their origin in the national war of liberation.
It is not only necessary to fight for the liberty of your people. You must also teach that people once again, and first learn once again yourself, what is the full stature of a man; and this you must do for as long as the fight lasts. You must go back into history, that history of men damned by other men; and you must bring about and render possible the meeting of your people and other men.
In reality, the soldier who is engaged in armed combat in a national war deliberately measures from day to day the sum of all the degradation inflicted upon man by colonial oppression. The man of action has sometimes the exhausting impression that he must restore the whole of his people, that he must bring every one of them up out of the pit and out of the shadows. He very often sees that his task is not only to hunt down the enemy forces but also to overcome the kernel of despair which has hardened in the native’s being. The period of oppression is painful; but the conflict, by reinstating the downtrodden, sets on foot a process of reintegration which is fertile and decisive in the extreme. A people’s victorious fight not only consecrates the triumph of its rights; it also gives to that people consistence, coherence, and homogeneity. For colonialism has not simply depersonalized the individual it has colonized; this depersonalization is equally felt in
the collective sphere, on the level of social structures. The colonized people find that they are reduced to a body of individuals
* It is hardly necessary to add that there is no question here of hysterical contraction.
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who only find cohesion when in the presence of the colonizing nation.
The fight carried on by a people for its liberation leads it, according to circumstances, either to refuse or else to explode the so-called truths which have been established in its consciousness by the colonial civil administration, by the military occupation, and by economic exploitation. Armed conflict alone can really drive out these falsehoods created in man which force into inferiority the most lively minds among us and which, literally, mutilate us.
How many times—in Paris, in Aix, in Algiers, or in Basse-Terre—have we not heard men from the colonized countries violently protesting against the pretended laziness of the black man, of the Algerian, and of the Viet-Namese? And yet is it not the simple truth that under the colonial regime a fellah who is keen on his work or a Negro who refuses to rest are nothing but pathological cases? The native’s laziness is the conscious sabotage of the colonial machine; on the biological plane it is a remarkable system of auto-protection; and in any case it is a sure brake upon the seizure of the whole country by the occupying power.
The resistance that forests and swamps present to foreign penetration is the natural ally of the native. His point of view must be understood; it is time to stop remonstrating and declaring that the nigger is a great worker and that the Arab is first-rate at clearing ground. Under the colonial regime, what is true for the Arab and for the Negro is that they should not lift their little fingers nor in the slightest degree help the oppressor to sink his claws deeper into his prey. The duty of the native who has not yet reached maturity in political consciousness and decided to hurl back oppression is literally to make it so that the slightest gesture has to be torn out of him. This is a
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very concrete manifestation of non-cooperation, or at least of minimum cooperation.
These observations, which concern the relations between the native and his work, could equally be applied to the respect the native has for the oppressor’s laws, to the regular payment of rates and taxes, and to the relations which the native has with the colonial system. Under the colonial regime, gratitude, sincerity, and honor are empty words. During the last few years I have had occasion to verify a very classic fundamental idea: that honor, dignity, and respect for the given word can only manifest themselves in the framework of national and international homogeneity. From the moment that you and your like are liquidated like so many dogs, you have no other resource but to use all and every means to regain your importance as a man. You must therefore weigh as heavily as you can upon the body of your torturer in order that his soul, lost in some byway, may finally find once more its universal dimension. During these last years I have had occasion to
see that in wartime Algeria honor, self-sacrifice, love of life, and scorn of death have taken on no ordinary forms. There is no question of singing the praises of those who are fighting. We are concerned here with a very ordinary statement which even the most rabid colonialists have not failed to make: the fighting Algerian has an unusual manner of fighting and dying, and no reference to Islam or to Paradise can explain that generous dedication of self when there is question of defending his people or shielding his brothers. And then there is that overwhelming silence—but of course the body cries out—that silence that overwhelms the torturer. Let us admit there here we find again that very ancient law which forbids any element whatsoever to remain unmoved when the nation has begun to march, when man affirms and
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claims at the same time his limitless humanity.
Among the characteristics of the Algerian people as observed by colonialism we will particularly notice their appalling criminality. Before 1954 magistrates, policemen, barristers, journalists, and legal doctors agreed unanimously that criminality in Algeria was a problem. It was affirmed that the Algerian was a born criminal. A theory was elaborated and scientific proofs were found to support it. This theory was taught in the universities for over twenty years. Algerian medical students received this education and imperceptibly, after accommodating themselves to colonialism, the elite came also to accommodate themselves to the inherent stigma of the Algerian people: they were born slackers, born liars, born robbers, and born criminals.
We propose here to repeat this official theory, and to recall to mind the concrete bases and the scientific arguments used to create it. Later on we shall go over the facts and try to reinterpret them.
The Algerian frequently kills other men. It is a fact, the magistrates will tell you, that four-fifths of cases brought to court deal with blows and woundings. The proportion of criminality in Algeria is one of the heaviest and largest in the world, or so they affirm. There are no minor delinquencies. When the Algerian, and this applies equally to all North Africans, puts himself outside the law, it is always outside to the maximum.
The Algerian kills savagely. First, the favorite weapon is the knife. The magistrates “who know the country” have created a minor philosophy on this subject. The Kabyles for example prefer a pistol or a gun. The Arabs of the plain have a preference for the knife. Certain magistrates wonder if the Algerian has not an inner need for the sight of blood. The Algerian, you are told, needs to feel warm blood, and to bathe in the blood of his victim.
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These magistrates, policemen, and doctors hold serious dissertations on the relationship between the Moslem soul and blood.*
A certain number of magistrates go so far as to say that the reason why an Algerian kills a man is primarily and above all in order to slit his throat The savagery of the Algerian shows itself especially in the number of wounds he inflicts, some of these being unnecessary once the victim has been killed. Autopsies establish one fact incon-testably: the murderer gives the impression, by inflicting many wounds of equal deadliness, that he wished to kill an incalculable number of times.
The Algerian kills for no reason. Very frequently magistrates and policemen are nonplused by the motives of a murder; it may arise out of a gesture, an allusion, an ambiguous statement, a quarrel over an olive tree which is possessed in common, or an animal which has strayed by an eighth of an acre. Confronted by such a murder, sometimes by a double or triple murder, the looked-for cause and the expected motive which would justify or give grounds for these murders in finally found to be of disappointing triviality. From thence springs the frequent impression that the social group is hiding the real motives.
Finally, robbery as practiced by an Algerian is always coupled with housebreaking whether accompanied or not by manslaughter, and in any case with aggression against the owner.
All these elements which cluster around Algerian criminality have appeared to specify its nature sufficiently clearly to enable a tentative systematization to be built up.
Similar though somewhat less weighty observations were made in Tunisia and Morocco; and thus the question
* In fact we know that Islam forbids its followers to eat meat unless they are sure that the animal has been drained of its blood. This is why the animals’ throats are cut.
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shifted more and more onto the ground of North African criminality. For over thirty years, under the constant direction of Professor Porot, professor of psychiatry on the faculty of Algiers, several teams worked with the aim of specifying the forms of expression of this criminality and of establishing a sociological, functional, and anatomical interpretation for them.
We shall here quote the main works on this subject by the psychiatric school of the faculty of Algiers. The conclusions of the researches carried on for over twenty years were, let us recall to mind, the subject of authoritative lectures from the Chair of Psychiatry.
It is thus that Algerian doctors who are graduates of the faculty of Algiers are obliged to hear and learn that the Algerian is a born criminal. Moreover, I remember certain among us who in all sincerity upheld and developed these theories that we had learned. We even add “It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s been scientifically established.”
The North African is a criminal; his predatory instinct is well known; his intense aggressivity is visible to the naked eye. The North African likes extremes, so we can never entirely trust him. Today he is the best of friends, tomorrow the worst of enemies. He is insensible to shades of meaning, and Cartesianism is fundamentally foreign to him; the sense of balance, the weighing and pondering of an opinion or action clashes with his most intimate nature. The North African is a violent person, of a hereditary violence. We find him incapable of self-discipline, or of canalizing his impulses. Yes, the Algerian is a congenital impulsive.
But we must be precise. This impulsiveness is largely aggressive and generally homicidal. It is in this fashion that we come to explain the unorthodox behavior of the Algerian who is a prey to melancholia. The French psy-
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chiatrists in Algeria found themselves faced with a difficult problem. They were accustomed when dealing with a patient subject to melancholia to fear that he would commit suicide. Now the melancholic Algerian takes to killing. This illness of the moral consciousness, which is always accompanied by auto-accusation and auto-destructive tendencies, took on in the case of Algerians hetero-destructive forms. The melancholic Algerian does not commit suicide. He kills. This is the homocidal melancholia which has been thoroughly studied by Professor Porot in the thesis of his pupil Monserrat.
How did the Algerian school deal with such an anomaly? First, said the school of Algiers, killing oneself is a turning into and against oneself; it implies looking at oneself; it means practicing introspection. Now the Algerian is not given to an inner life. There is no inner life where the North African is concerned. On the contrary, the North African gets rid of his worries by throwing himself on the people who surround him. He does not analyze. Since by definition melancholia is an illness of the moral conscience it is clear that the Algerian can only develop pseudo-melancholia, since the precariousness of his conscience and the feebleness of his moral sense are well known. This incapacity on the part of the Algerian to analyze a situation and to organize a mental panorama is perfectly understandable if we refer to the two classes of causality set forth by French writers.
First we must notice intellectual aptitudes. The Algerian is strongly marked by mental debility. If we are to really understand this datum we must go back to the semiology established by the Algerian school of psychiatry. The native, it is stated by them, presents the following characteristics:
Complete or almost complete lack of emotivity.
Credulous and susceptible to the extreme.
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Persistent obstinacy.
Mental puerility, without the spirit of curiosity found in the Western child.
Tendency to accidents and pithiatic reactions.*
The Algerian does not see the whole of a question. The questions he asks himself always concern the details and exclude all synthesis. He is a pointillist, clinging to objects, lost in details, insensible to ideas, and impervious to concepts. Verbal expression is reduced to a minimum. His actions are always impulsive and aggressive. He is incapable of grasping detail when looking at the whole, and he absolutizes the element and takes the part for the whole. Thus, he will have total reactions when confronted with particular incitements and with insignificant causes such as a fig tree, a gesture, or a sheep on his land. His congenital aggressivity finds ways of expressing itself on the slightest pretext. It is a state of aggressivity in its purest form.t
Leaving the descriptive stage, the Algiers school begins on that of explanation. It was in 1935 at the Congress of Mental Specialists and Neurologists that Professor Porot defined the scientific bases of his theory. In the discussion that followed the report by Baruk on hysteria, he pointed out that “the native of North Africa, whose superior and cortical activities are only slightly developed, is a primitive creature whose life, essentially vegetative and instinctive, is above all regulated by his diencephalon.”
* Professor A. Porot, Medico-psychological Annals.
■f In the mouth of the doyen of the judges of a court in Algeria, this aggressivity on the part of the Algerian is expressed by his love of the “fantastic.” “We are wrong,” he stated in 1955, “in believing this whole revolt to be political. From time to time that love of a scrimmage that they have has to come out!” For the ethnologist, the establishment of a series of tests and projective games which would have canalized the global aggressive instincts of the native would have had in 1955-56 the power to bring the revolution in Aures to an end.
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In order to estimate the importance of this discovery of Professor Porofs, we should remember that the characteristic of the human species when compared to other vertebrates is that it is corticalized. The diencephalon is one of the most primitive parts of the brain and man is above all the vertebrate in which the cortex dominates.
For Professor Porot, the life of the native of North Africa is dominated by diencephalic urges. It is as much as to say that in a way the native North African is deprived of a cortex. Professor Porot does not shrink from this contradiction and in April, 1939, in the Southern Medical and Surgical Gazette he states precisely, in collaboration with his pupil Sutter who is at present professor of psychiatry in Algiers: “Primitivism is not a lack of maturity or a marked stoppage in the development of the intellectual psychism. It is a social condition which has reached the limit of its evolution; it is logically adopted to a life different from ours.” Finally, the professors come to the very basis of the doctrine:
This primitivism is not merely a way of living which is the result of a special upbringing; it has much deeper roots. We even consider that it must have its substratum in a particular predisposition of the architectonic structure, or at least in the dynamic hierarchization of the nervous centers. We are in the presence of a coherent body of comportment and of a coherent life which can be explained scientifically. The Algerian has no cortex: or, more precisely, he is dominated, like the inferior vertebrates, by the diencephalon. The cortical functions, if they exist at all, are very feeble, and are practically unintegrated into the dynamic of existence.
There is thus neither mystery nor paradox. The hesitation of the colonist in giving responsibility to the native is not racism nor paternalism, but quite simply a scientific appreciation of the biologically limited possibilities of the native.
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Let us end this review by seeking a summing-up which takes the whole of Africa for its field from Dr. A. Carothers, an expert from the World Health Organisation. This international expert brought together the essentials of his observations in a book which was published in 1954.*
Dr. Carothers’ work was carried on in Central and East Africa, but his conclusions form a group with those of the North African school. For in fact the international expert states: “The African makes very little use of his frontal lobes. All the particularities of African psychiatry can be put down to frontal laziness.” t
In order to make his point clearer, Dr. Carothers establishes a lively comparison. He puts forward the idea that the normal African is a ‘lobotomized European.” We know that the Anglo-Saxon school believed that they had found a radical cure for certain serious forms of mental illness by practicing the section of an important part of the brain. Since then, however, the esablishment of the fact that this method seriously impaired the personality has led to its being abandoned. According to Dr. Carothers, the likeness existing between the normal African native and the lobotomized European is striking.
Dr. Carothers, having studied the works of different authors working in Africa, offers us a conclusion which is the basis of a uniform conception of the African. He writes:
Such are the given facts of the case which do not concern European categories. They have been gathered in different regions of East, West, and South Africa, and on the whole each author had little or no knowledge of the work of the
* A. Carothers, “Normal and Pathological Psychology of the African,” Ethno-psychiatric Studies (Ei Masson). t Op. cit., p. 176.
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others. The essential similarity of these researches is therefore quite remarkable.*
We should point out before concluding that Dr. Carothers defined the Mau-Mau revolt as the expression of an unconscious frustration complex whose reoccurrence could be scientifically avoided by spectacular psychological adaptations.
So it was that unusual behavior—the African’s frequent criminality, the triviality of his motives, the murderous and always very bloody nature of his brawls—raised a problem in observers’ minds. The proposed explanation, which has come to be taught as a subject in the universities, seems in the last analysis to be the following: the layout of the cerebral structures of the North African are responsible both for the native’s laziness, for his intellectual and social inaptitude and for his almost animal impul-sivity. The criminal impulses of the North African are the transcription into the nature of his behavior of a given arrangement of the nervous system. It is a reaction which is neurologically understandable and written into the nature of things, of the thing which is biologically organized. The lack of integration of the frontal lobes in the cerebral dynamic is the explanation of the African’s laziness, of his crimes, his robberies, his rapes, and
his lies. It was a sub-prefect who has now become a prefect who voiced the conclusion to me: “We must counter these natural creatures,” he said, “who obey the laws of their nature blindly, with a strict, relentless ruling class. We must tame nature, not convince it.” Discipline, training, mastering, and today pacifying are the words most frequently used by the colonialists in occupied territories.
If we have spent a long time in going over the theories
* Op. tit., p. 178.
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held by colonialist scientists, it was less with the intention of showing their poverty and absurdity than of raising a very important theoretical and practical problem. In fact, Algerian criminality only represented a sub-section of the questions which were raised by the revolution, which could be reasoned out on the level of political discussion and de-mystification. But it so happens that the talks which formed the subject of this theme were so fruitful that they allowed us to understand and discern more deeply the idea of social and individual liberation. When in revolutionary practice the question of Algerian criminality is raised in the presence of leaders and militants, when the average figures of crimes, misdemeanors, and robberies are cited for the period before the revolution, when it is explained that the nature of a crime or the frequency of offenses depends on the relations which exist between men and women and between persons and the state,
and when everybody understands this; when we see before us the breaking-up of the idea of the Algerian or the North African who is a criminal by vocation, an idea which was equally implanted into the consciousness of the Algerian because after all “we’re a quick-tempered, rowdy, bad lot; that’s the way it is”: then it can be said for sure that the revolution is making progress.
The important theoretical problem is that it is necessary at all times and in all places to make explicit, to de-mystify, and to harry the insult to mankind that exists in oneself. There must be no waiting until the nation has produced new men; there must be no waiting until men are imperceptibly transformed by revolutionary processes in perpetual renewal. It is quite true that these two processes are essential, but consciousness must be helped. The application of revolutionary theory, if it is to be completely liberating and particularly fruitful, exacts that nothing unusual should exist. One feels with particu-
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lar force the necessity to totalize the event, to draw everything after one, to settle everything, to be responsible for everything. Now conscience no longer boggles at going back into the past, or at marking time if it is necessary. This is why in the progress made by a fighting unit over a piece of ground the end of an ambush does not mean rest, but rather is the signal for consciousness to take another step forward, for everything ought to keep pace together.
Yes, the Algerian of his own accord accepts the verdict of the magistrates and the policemen.* So we had to take this Algerian criminality which was experienced on the narcissistic level as a manifestation of authentic virility, and place the problem on the level of colonial history. For example, we had to show that the criminal tendencies of Algerians in France differed fundamentally from those of the Algerians who were submitted to exploitation which was directly colonial.
A second thing ought to be noticed: in Algeria, Algerian criminality takes place in practice inside a closed circle. The Algerians rob each other, cut each other up, and kill each other. In Algeria, the Algerian rarely attacks Frenchmen, and avoids brawls with the French. In France, on the other hand, the emigrant creates an intersocial and intergroup criminality.
In France, Algerian criminality is diminishing. It is directed especially at the French, and its motives are
* It is moreover clear that this identification with the image picture produced by the European was very ambivalent. In fact the European seemed to be paying homage—an equally ambivalent homage—to the violent, passionate, brutal, jealous, proud, arrogant Algerian who stakes his life on a detail or on a word. We should point out in passing that in their dealings with the French of France, the Europeans of Algeria tend to identify themselves more and more with this image of the Algerian in opposition to the French.
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radically new. A certain paradox has helped us considerably in de-mystifying the militants: it has been established that since 1954 there has almost been a disappearance of crimes in common law. There are no more disputes and no longer any insignificant details which entail the death of a man. There are no longer explosive outbursts of rage because my wife’s forehead or her left shoulder were seen by my neighbor. The national conflict seems to have canalized all anger, and nationalized all affective or emotional movements. The French judges and barristers had already observed this; but the militant had to be made conscious of it; he had to be brought to understand the reasons for it,
It remains for us to give the explanation.
Should it be said that war, that privileged expression of an aggressivity which is at last made social, canalizes in the direction of the occupying power all congenitally murderous acts? It is a commonplace that great social upheavals lessen the frequency of delinquency and mental disorders. This regression of Algerian criminality can thus be perfectly explained by the existence of a war which broke Algeria in two, and threw onto the side of the enemy the judicial and administrative machine.
But in the countries of the Magrab which have already been liberated this same phenomenon which was noticed during the conflicts for liberation continues to exist and even becomes more marked once independence is proclaimed. It would therefore seem that the colonial context is sufficiently original to give grounds for a reinterpretation of the causes of criminality. This is what we did for those on active service. Today every one of us knows that criminality is not the consequence of the hereditary character of the Algerian, nor of the organization of his nervous system. The Algerian war, like all wars of national liberation, brings to the fore the true protagonists. In the
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colonial context, as we have already pointed out, the natives fight among themselves. They tend to use each other as a screen, and each hides from his neighbor the national enemy. When, tired out after a hard sixteen-hour day, the native sinks down to rest on his mat, and a child on the other side of the canvas partition starts crying and prevents him from sleeping, it so happens that it is a little Algerian. When he goes to beg for a little semolina or a drop of oil from the grocer, to whom he already owes some hundreds of francs, and when he sees that he is refused, an immense feeling of hatred and an overpowering desire to kill rises within him: and the grocer is an Algerian. When, after having kept out of his way for weeks he finds himself one day cornered by the caid who demands that he should pay “his taxes,” he cannot even enjoy the luxury of hating a European administrator; there before him is the caid who is the object of his hatred—and the
caid is an Algerian.
The Algerian, exposed to temptations to commit murder every day—famine, eviction from his room because he has not paid the rent, the mother’s dried-up breasts, children like skeletons, the building-yard which has closed down, the unemployed that hang about the foreman like crows—the native comes to see his neighbor as a relentless enemy. If he strikes his bare foot against a big stone in the middle of the path, it is a native who has placed it there; and the few olives that he was going to pick, X—’s children have gone and eaten in the night. For during the colonial period in Algeria and elsewhere many things may be done for a couple of pounds of semolina. Several people may be killed over it. You need to use your imagination to understand that: your imagination, or your memory. In the concentration camps men killed each other for a bit of bread. I remember one horrible scene. It was in Oran in 1944. From the camp where we
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were waiting to embark, soldiers were throwing bits of bread to little Algerian children who fought for them among themselves with anger and hate. Veterinary doctors can throw light on such problems by reminding us of the well-known “peck order” which has been observed in farmyards. The com which is thrown to the hens is in fact the object of relentless competition. Certain birds, the strongest, gobble up all the grains while others who are less aggressive grow visibly thinner. Every colony tends to turn into a huge farmyard, where the only law is that of the knife.
In Algeria since the beginning of the war of national liberation, everything has changed. The whole foodstocks of a family or a mechta* may in a single evening be given to a passing company. The family’s only donkey may be lent to transport a wounded fighter; and when a few days later the owner learns of the death of his animal which has been machine-gunned by an airplane, he will not begin threatening and swearing. He will not question the death of his donkey, but he will ask anxiously if the wounded man is safe and sound.
Under the colonial regime, anything may be done for a loaf of bread or a miserable sheep. The relations of man with matter, with the world outside, and with history are in the colonial period simply relations with food. For a colonized man, in a context of oppression like that of Algeria, living does not mean embodying moral values or taking his place in the coherent and fruitful development of the world. To live means to keep on existing. Every date is a victory: not the result of work, but a victory felt as a triumph for life. Thus to steal dates or to allow one’s sheep to eat the neighbor’s grass is not a question of the negation of the property of others, nor the transgres-
Mountain village in Algeria.—Trans.
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sion of a law, nor lack of respect. These are attempts at murder. In order to understand that a robbery is not an illegal or an unfriendly action, but an attempt at murder, one must have seen in Kabylia men and women for weeks at a time going to get earth at the bottom of the valley and bringing it up in little baskets. The fact is that the only perspective is that belly which is more and more sunken, which is certainly less and less demanding, but which must be contented all the same. Who is going to take the punishment? The French are down in the plain with the police, the army, and the tanks. On the mountain there are only Algerians. Up above there is Heaven with the promise of a world beyond the grave; down below there are the French with their very concrete promises of prison, beatings-up, and executions. You are forced to come up against yourself. Here we discover the kernel of that hatred of self which is characteristic of racial conflicts in
segregated societies.
The Algerian’s criminality, his impulsivity, and the violence of his murders are therefore not the consequence of the organization of his nervous system or of char-acterial originality, but the direct product of the colonial situation. The fact that the soldiers of Algeria have discussed this problem; that they are not afraid of questioning the beliefs fostered among themselves by colonialism; that they understand that each man formed the screen for his neighbor and that in reality each man committed suicide when he went for his neighbor: all these things should have primordial importance in the revolutionary conscience. Once again, the objective of the native who fights against himself is to bring about the end of domination. But he ought equally to pay attention to the liquidation of all untruths implanted in his being by oppression. Under a colonial regime such as existed in Algeria, the ideas put forward by colonialism not only influenced the
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European minority, but also the Algerians. Total liberation is that which concerns all sectors of the personality. The ambush or the attack, the torture or the massacre of his brothers plants more deeply the determination to win, wakes up the unwary and feeds the imagination. When the nation stirs as a whole, the new man is not an a posteriori product of that nation; rather, he co-exists with it and triumphs with it. This dialectic requirement explains the reticence with which adaptations of colonization and reforms of the facade are met. Independence is not a word which can be used as an exorcism, but an indispensable condition for the existence of men and women who are truly liberated, in other words who are truly masters of all the material means which make possible the radical transformation of society.

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