Other “Huns” and Other Louvains


The two faces of the capitalist have been exposed in these pages times out of number, and in various forms. Once again this dual personage has become clearly visible to the merest observer under another set of circumstances.

We have of late heard the squalling of the Belgian capitalists and the officials of the Belgian State. So shocked and horrified were these tender people at the way in which the “brutal Germans” trod upon their sacred soil and destroyed some of their towns, that a deputation was sent to proclaim this sacrilege to the world, with a view to persuading the neutral powers to come to their assistance.

But the Socialist remembers that these capitalists wailing over their wrecked property and pretending to be so concerned about the poor Belgian workers who are being driven from their homes, are the same capitalists who, through their agents, ransacked scores of villages and towns, shot and killed thousands of men, women, and children who had never raised even a finger against them.

Before describing these barbarities it would perhaps be as well to briefly sketch the events that led up to them. If the reader wishes them elaborated he should read “Red Rubber,” by E. D. Morel, to which book, together with White Paper, Africa, No. 1, 1904 (Cd 1933, 8½d.), the writer is indebted for the following information.

In the sixties and seventies of last century the great commercial countries saw enormous possibilities in the creation of new markets, arising out of notable discoveries by explorers in Central Africa, and each wished to acquire as large an outlet as possible for their own manufactures. The scramble commenced.

The discovery of the Congo Basin by Stanley was the most significant of all, and in this direction the late King Leopold II turned his attention. Having previously juggled successfully with Suez Canal and other shares, he had amassed a considerable fortune. He sent several investigating expeditions, consisting mostly of Englishmen and Germans (how strange !) assuring the world that his intentions were purely scientific and severely disinterested. To carry on this work Leopold formed a company styled “The International African Association.”

This bloody and astute king capitalist played his cards like an expert. He became a member of the Aborigines Protection Society, and promised to support lavishly the missionary societies of England and America. He captured the British Chambers of Commerce by declaring that if the commercial communities supported his proposals the Congo trade would be open to them and would be exempt from all fiscal restrictions.

After a time the various powers became uneasy and jealous as to who should control this vast and rich land. Certain suggestions were considered with a view to placing it under international control. Then on the suggestion of the Portuguese it was decided to recognise the sovereignty of Portugal on both banks of the river up to a certain limit inland, to declare the river open to the world, and to place it under an Anglo Portuguese Navigation Commission to which the accession of the other Great Powers would be welcome. After introducing clauses protecting traders against exaggerated tariffs, and for the protection of the natives (!), etc., the treaty was signed.

But Leopold had not been playing to the gallery for nothing, and immediately the treaty was denounced by the British Chambers of Commerce and the philanthropic societies. The British Government was accused of betraying national interests, and the Portuguese Government was accused by its bosses of a similar crime. France, encouraged by the clamour, became resolutely hostile, and Bismarck, on behalf of Germany, kicked. Belgium was now in an unique position, and received the reluctant support of the British Government, with a proviso to secure freedom of trade, etc. Bismarck’s proposal of an International Conference was asented to, and was opened “in the name of God,” on Nov. 25, 1884.

Fourteen powers were represented, and their first consideration was for the welfare of the natives ! Such was the slimy cant and hypocrisy that we are told “the delegates, figuratively speaking, fell upon each other’s necks and wept with emotion.” They placed the Congo Basin in the hands of Leopold’s company. Articles were signed to ensure the utmost freedom to all capitalists, and for the preservation of the natives, the suppression of slavery and the slave trade, and “the protection of all . . . institutions which aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilisation.” We shall see, presently, what these “blessings o£ civilisation” were.

On August 1st, 1885, Leopold notified the signatory Powers that the International African Association would henceforth be known as the Congo Free State, with himself as sovereign of that “State.” Almost immediately followed a decree claiming all vacant lands as the property of the State. Another decree limited the rights of the native to the area upon which his hut was built, whilst another prohibited the hunting of the elephant “throughout the whole of the State’s territory” (three-fourths of which had never been trodden by a white man). Then they commenced recruiting an army of the most savage tribes. These natives could either volunteer or were taken in raids. For every recruit of the latter order the State officer obtained a bonus according to the physical fitness of his captive. Male children were also taken and drafted to military instruction camps to be made soldiers in due course. Having secured and trained sufficient recruits they set out with a mandate from Christendom to exterminate the Arabs, who had up to then been trading with the natives. Their object was to obtain the vast stores of ivory and rubber in the Arabs’ possession and to capture their markets. This accomplished, everything was clear for Leopold and his thieves’ gang to commence business.

On Sept. 21st 1891 a secret decree was issued to the State officials in Africa, stating that it was the paramount duty of the Congo Free State to raise revenue, and “to take urgent and necessary measures to secure for the State the dominal fruits, notably ivory and rubber.” Other regulations followed, which forbade the natives selling rubber or ivory to European merchants, and threatened the latter with prosecution if they bought these articles from the natives.

The merchants protested, and Leopold defined the position. Everything, he told them, belonged to the State—the land and the produce thereof. The natives were tenants upon State property. If they interfered with that property they were poachers ; and whoever abetted them were poachers, receivers of stolen goods, and violators of the law. How simple and concise !

Other secret documents were dispatched to the Governor-General baiting him to do his utmost to obtain the produce from the natives, “sparing no means.” A sliding scale was fixed by which officials were paid. The less it cost to obtain the goods the greater the bonus ; the more it cost to get the goods the less for the official. In other words, the less the native got for his ivory and rubber the larger the official’s commission and the more for the thieves on top !

One can pretty well guess the nature of the orders of tha Governor to his subordinates, and of the subordinates to their subordinates. Here is a typical one from Commandant Verstracten to the officials in charge of stations in the Rubi Welle district :

“I have the honour to inform you that from Jan. 1st 1899, you must succeed in furnishing 4,000 Kilos of rubber every month. To this effect I give you carte blanche. You have, therefore, two months in which to work your people. Employ gentleness at first, and if they persist in not accepting the imposition of the State, employ force of arms.”

Here is an extract from another :

“Decidedly these people of Inoryo are a bad lot. They have just cut some rubber vines at Huli. We must fight them until their absolute submission is obtained, or their complete extermination.

Under this system £13,715,664 worth of raw produce was forced out of the Congo natives during the seven years preceding 1906 by the hirelings of this royal member of the Aborigines Protection Society and his confederates.

Let us now see how the rubber was acquired under the stimulus of bonuses and force. The information is furnished by Belgian and French, traders (who, no doubt, felt sore at being outdone by the State monopoly), and travellers and missionaries. The most brutal act of the “German Huns” sinks into insignificance compared with some of them.

The procedure was by levying a tax on the villages and towns payable in kind, and State soldiers would be sent to demand payment—so much ivory or rubber as well as food stuffs—every week or month as the case might be. But let the eye witness describe. The following is au extract from a letter written as early as 1892 by a resident of Likini.

“The frequent wars upon the natives undertaken without any cause by the State soldiers sent, out to get rubber and ivory, are depopulating the country. The soldiers find that the quickest and cheapest method is to raid villages, seize prisoners, and have them redeemed against ivory, etc. . . . Each agent of the State receives 1,000 fr. commission per] ton of ivory, and 175 fr. per ton of rubber.”

This, the reader will notice, was about a year after the decree urging the officials to secure the “dominal fruits.” The bloody events that followed have never been surpassed. The following is from the diary of E. J. Glave, an “independent English traveller” who crossed the Congo in 1891-5. It appeared in the “Century Magazine” in 1896.

“Up the Ikelemba away to Lake Mantumba the State is perpetrating its fiendish policy in order to obtain profit. War has been waged all through the district of the Equator, and thousands of people have been killed. Many women and children were taken, and twenty-one heads were brought to Stanley Falls, and have been used by Captain Rom as a decoration round a flower bed in front of his house.”

The following piece of information was given to the British Consul, Roger Casement, and is quoted in his report (p. 43.)

“Each time the corporal goes out to get rubber, cartridges are given to him. He must bring back all not used ; and for every one used he must bring back a right hand. . . . Sometimes they shot a cartridge at an animal in hunting ; they then cut off a hand from a living man. … In six months, on the Momboyo River they had used 6,000 cartridges, which means that 6,000 people are killed or mutilated. It means more than 6,000, for the soldiers kill children with the butt of their guns.”

If a soldier returned to his station without a sufficient number of hands to make up for the rubber he had not brought, he was shot by his superiors. A native corporal described how in one day he had brought 160 hands home to his officer and they were thrown into the river. Another individual testifies to a village (Katoro) being attacked. Many were killed, including women and children. The heads were cut off and taken to the officer in charge, who sent men back for the hands also, and these were pierced and strung and dried over the camp fire. On another occasion a large town was attacked ; hands and heads cut off and taken to the officer. The witness said : “I shall never forget the sickening sight of deep baskets of human heads.”

According to Roger Casement many had their ears cut off ; also the native soldier, after being told “You kill only women ; you cannot kill men,” would mutilate the bodies and carry the sexual organs to the officer. In fact, in the Mongalla massacre of 1899 the agents confessed to ordering sexual mutilation. Consul Casement says that “this was not a native practice, but the deliberate act of soldiers of an European administration . . . and that in committing these acts they were but obeying the positive orders of their superiors.”

In some cases when protests were made to the Congo Courts a mock trial ensued. Lacroix, one of the agents in the Mongalla region was thus held up, and he confessed to having been instructed by his superiors to attack a certain village for shortage of rubber, and to having killed in his raid many women and children. He said:

“I am going to appear before the judge for having killed 160 men, cut off 60 hands ; for having crucified women and children, for having mutilated many men and hung their sexual remains on the village fence.”

Terms of imprisonment were inflicted, but were never served. Why ? Because “they had acted on instruction.”

The Congo Free State is split up into several “Companies” or “Trusts,” each occupying a specific area. One named “The King” was worked in the interest of Leopold’s private purse. Other portions were handed over for stewardship to financiers, “personal friends and officials of his European Court,” etc. In the “Companies” the King or the State usually held half the shares. One is named the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company. In six years this company, with the aid of the State soldiers, made a nett profit of £720,000 out of the rubber slave trade on a paid-up capital of £9,280 ! Thus each share of a paid up value of £4 6s. 6d. has received £335 in the same time. King Leopold held 1,000 of these shares.

However, it seems quite clear that, although the Belgian capitalists, backed by the arms of the State, had a big hand in this dirty business, there was along with them the international gang of plunderers. If this were not so, why was it that, although the evidence of these devilish horrors was before the Governments of America, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, and the rest of them for years, they did not move to stop them ? Why was it that for six years the British Government was continually having reports of atrocious maladministration on the Congo and yet refused to move ? Why, indeed, did it absolutely suppress these reports—which it has never yet made public? Sir Henry Johnston, who has travelled a good deal in that direction, is evidently in the know. He says : “If there have been bad Belgians on the Congo, there have been bad Englishmen, ruthless Frenchmen, pitiless Swedes, cruel Danes, unscrupulous Italians.” (See preface to Morell’s “Red Rubber,”)

At any rate, how do these brutalities practised by Belgian bullies upon a defenceless people whose country they had invaded compare with the German atrocities of to-day ?

I am not attempting to defend German autocrats, but merely to make it plain that it is nothing but sheer hypocrisy for the Allies to point an accusing finger at Germany, for there is not one of them but has been guilty of deeds of brutality every whit as appalling as has been charged, not to say proved, against the German butchers. With the Belgian workers the sympathy of all Socialists must lie, but suffering is no new thing to them, any more than it is to the workers of other countries. And if their pains and travail contribute to their political enlightenment, then they will not have suffered in vain.


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