Allies in slavery
When the present contributor had read last month’s exposure of “Other Huns and other Louvains,” he felt that it would not be complete without the testimony of yet another agent of the capitalist class in regard to the Congo atrocities with which the name of “brave Belgium” will be for many along day primarily associated. We all delight in the testimony of our opponents in such matters. Said Sir A. Conan Doyle in a letter to the “Daily News,” dated 3.3.1913:
“I read in your issue of March 1st the terrible letter of Mr. McCammond upon the Putamayo rubber trade, and I know well that no word of it is exaggerated. There is only one sentence to which I take exception, and that is “Tribes are held in a bondage that is grimmer and far more dreadful then anything which took place in the Congo. That cannot be true, for nothing which the human imagination could conceive could be more dreadful than the deeds of the Congo, and the roasting of the two small Indian boys which your correspondent cites differs only in being on a smaller scale from a great many incidents which one might narrate.”
After pointing out that in Peru the British Government had no direct responsibility, Sir Arthur continued :
“In the Congo, however, the call of duty is clear. We have sworn (in company, it is true, of the other great European powers) that we would jointly guard the natives. The result of our guardianship has been that in less than 30 years this great country has lost at a fair computation about two-thirds of its inhabitants.” (Italics mine.)
Superstitious people might indeed see the the hand of nemesis in the fate of Belgium, and as for the question of innocent and guilty, anyone further afflicted with Master Maeterlinck’s logic will be able to justify the Belgian peoples’ general and indiscriminate punishment, although the chief responsibility for the Congo horrors was brought home to King Leopold. Are we not told that “the monster they maintain at their head, stands for all that is true in their nature” ?
For anyone on this side to turn up such pages of history at this juncture, is, of course, to forsake all claim to respectability; it is like reminding Suffragettes engaged in a recruiting campaign, and in denouncing German vandalism, of their own exploits and attempts in burning “sacred places,” etc. Hence it could not be expected of the hirelings of the inkslinging brigade of Fleet-st. to insist now on the fact that “their side” has a history full of awkward incidents. The Conan Doyles, Vanocs, etc. know it, and what is more, admit it at other times in their unguarded moments, but to state such truths now would not pay and consequently would not be respectable.
The case of the administration of the Congo is one instance, the non-observance of the Anti-Slavery Acts of Berlin and Brussels is another.
Anti-Slavery treaties were renewed and signed by Great Britain, France, Portugal, and other countries at Berlin in 1885 and at Brussels in 1890. As usual, “In the Name of Almighty God,” the said Powers swore (Berlin Act, 1885, Article IX) :
“In conformity with the principles of the right of nations as recognised by the signatory Powers, the slave-trade being forbidden, and operations which on land or sea supply slaves for the trade being equally held to be forbidden, the Powers which exercise or will exercise rights of sovereignty or influence in the territories forming the basin of the Congo, declare that these territories shall serve neither for the place of sale nor the way of transit for the traffic in slaves of any race whatsoever. Each of the Powers undertakes to employ every means that it can to put an end to the trade and to punish those who engage in it.”
Art. VI says :
“All the powers exercising sovereign rights, or having influence in the said territories (Central Africa) undertake to watch over the preservation of the native races, and the amelioration of the moral and material conditions of their existence, and to co-operate in the suppression of slavery, and above all of the slave-trade . . .”
By the Brussels Act it was solemnly undertaken:
(1) To put “an end to the crimes and de-vastations engendered by the traffic in slaves . . .”
(2) To protect “effectively the aboriginal populations.”
(3) To ensure to that vast “continent the benefits of peace and civilisation.”
Art. VI provided :
“Slaves liberated in consequence of the stoppage or dispersal of a convoy in the interior of the Continent shall be sent back, if circumstances permit, to their country of origin ; if not, the local authorities shall facilitate as much as possible their means of living, and, if they desire it, help them to settle on the spot.”
Yet, not only has slave-trading and slave-owning with all its attendant unspeakable cruelties and sufferings not been abolished after more than a quarter of a century, but, as the Anti Slavery Society had to admit as recently as last July, Slavery is actually on the increase “not only in foreign territories for which we have treaty-obligations, but even in certain British territories.”
So much then for the observance of sacred treaty engagements, for “national honour,” and for our own “scraps of paper” ; and although the most flagrant and persistent violation of the said treaties has probably been committed by Portugal, the responsibility is nevertheless as much on Great Britain’s side, since Britain is by treaty bound “to defend and protect all conquests or Colonies belonging to the Crown of Portugal.” This was in fact admitted in the “Daily Chronicle” a little while ago, when it was pointed out that :
“Portugal’s alliance with Great Britain has undoubtedly permitted her to violate with impunity both the Brussels and Berlin Anti-Slavery Acts by conniving for 50 years in widespread slave-traffic.”
At a time when Portugal is repeatedly assuring the British Government of its readiness to support the latter in its fight for “the vindication of treaty obligations” and “national honour” ; at a time when atrocities are said to be the monopoly of certain Continental Powers ; at a time when the British mailed fist (in accordance with the terms of the alliance) may at any moment be called upon to defend Portugal’s slave-ridden possessions in West Africa ; it will be useful to draw attention to some facts and details regarding the conditions in these particular “conquests” of Britain’s ally— useful be¬cause the knowkedge of these things will enable the uninitiated to realize the cold-blooded effron¬tery of capitalist governments pretending to be concerned about upholding national or international obligations, the rights of email nations, etc. For the evidence which it is proposed to bring forward, we are chiefly indebted to two most authoritative publications, namely : Memorandum addressed in May, 1914, by the Anti-Slavery Society to Sir Edward Grey, and Mr. John Harris’ book published in 1913, both on “Portuguese Slavery”; Britain’s Responsibility.
The Colonies in question are Angola, and the two islands of San Thome and Principe. Of the latter, Mr. Harris says :
“Whilst both islands are bountifully blessed by Providence with fertility of soil, luxuriant vegetation and crystal fountains, a curse seems to have come down upon them since the Portuguese began an effective occupation, for man not only refuses to multiply and replenish, but dies out so rapidly that if no importation, took place San Thome would be without a labouring population at all in ten years, and Principe in half that time. To meet this situation an annual importation of at least 4,000 labourers is necessary”—a deficiency which the Portuguese have for years filled up with slaves.
And as to the way in which the labourers were, and are being, obtained, we cannot do better than quote the evidence as summarised by Counsel in the famous libel action brought by Messrs. Cadbury against The Standard Newspapers, Ltd., in the High Court of Justice in Birmingham in 1909. Sir Rufus Isaacs, representing Cadbury, said:
“. . . labour which certainly I think can only be properly described as forced labour, and constituting a condition of slavery. There is no issue in this ease about that, and never has been. The plaintiffs themselves have come to the conclusion . . . that there was a condition which amounted to slavery in these islands.
“One of the great difficulties in connection with these plantations is the same kind of difficulty which has faced us in our Colonies,—that is, the difficulty of getting labour ; and it becomes more serious when you have got to look and find your natives from the centre of Africa, bring them down by forced marches right through what appears to be a very terrible part of the country which is known as the ‘Hungry Country,’ and in which every attempt is made, and it may be it is necessary to be made, for ought I know, to prevent them from running away, but they are marched down in that way to the coast, and then they are shipped—that is to say, after being selected. The richest people, I suppose, in the province of Angola select the best of the slaves from the natives who are brought in (really, it is nothing else but a system of slavery) for the purpose of domestic service in their own houses. Then with regard to the next lot, apparently there is another process of selection for the purpose of finding out who are the best for industrial and agricultural purposes in the Colony, and then, so far ad one can see from the reports here, the residue is what is shipped to those two small islands. . . .”
Sir Edwatd Carson, representing the defendants, summarising the evidence, said :
“Slavery ! Have you ever heard at any time of the world’s history (and this is a broad statement) of worse conditions of slavery, have you ever heard of conditions more revolting, more cruel, more tyrannous, and more horrible than what has been deposed to as regards the slavery in San Thome ? Men recruited in Angola, women recruited in Angola, children recruited in Angola, torn away against their will from their homes in the interior, marched like droves of beasts through the Hungry Country, and when they are unable to walk along for a thousand miles to the coast, shot down like useless dogs or useless animals, and the others brought down to be labelled like cattle and brought over to San Thome and Principe, never again to return to their homes. Three and a half years’ life at the start until they are acclimatised is an average life of these people, and when their children are born, just as the calves of a cow or the lambs of the sheep, they become the property, not of their parents, but of the owners.”
And the author of the book added:
“It cannot be argued that the forgoing description is purely that of an advocate, for the facts were never called in question. The description given by Sir Edward Carson was never challenged by anyone, and finally all those who have a personal acquaintance with Angola, San Thome, and Principe know that the words uttered by this eminent Counsel only too correctly described the actual state of affairs.”