History in the Making

Some of our opponents delight in telling us that “You can’t do without capital! ” To them the relationship between capitalist and wage-earner is an “eternal verity”—part of an imaginary, fixed order of things! Others, while admitting that the relationship has a historical origin, claim that it is the inevitable result of intelligence, thrift, and law-abiding ‘virtue on the part of the capitalist class, and corresponding stupidity, extravagance, and vice on the part of their slaves. Perhaps they may both be interested in the state of affairs here in East Africa, a region the population of which has only recently been brought within the sphere of capitalist influences.

The writer seeks to show that here, at any rate, the employing class are by no means regarded by the workers as indispensable to their happiness; nor are the means by which the would-be ruling class endeavours to establish and extend its dominion so idyllic as they are imagined to have been in the past.

Previous to the invasion of their territory by a handful, relatively, of Asiatics and Europeans, the millions of dusky natives appear to have reached a stage of development similar to that of the Britons of Caesar’s day. They still support themselves as separate tribes by independent pastoral and agricultural pursuits; and this fact is as gall to the ambitious settlers. The suppression of inter-tribal warfare by the Imperial Government has robbed the male native of one of his chief occupations, with the result that he lives in comparative luxury and ease, while his wives follow their former calling as tillers of the soil. What? Well! yes, to be sure he does have to look after flocks and herds but then that-or-that is—the Christian heart of the settler revolts at the monstrous injustice! Here is he badly in need of labour for his plantation and yonder are—”communities of useless parasites,” as a prominent pioneer of Empire in the country calls them.

These chivalrous planters of cotton, sisal, and coffee know full well that if female labour were employed in the spinning, rope-making and other factories in the home-country—well, there would be an awful row! So they puzzle their heads to find some way of compelling the male native to work! And here they fall foul of the Missions and the Government; there are other people interested in these new colonies besides the settlers on the spot, and the interests of these others do not necessarily coincide with theirs.

For the present it suits the manufacturers of “exports” in England to be the “friends” of the natives. The raw savage who sports a greased skin and knobkerries his fellow is of no interest to the Lancashire cotton magnate. Let a missionary come along and teach him the advantages of a nightgown over the aforesaid skin and let him impress upon him the strong objections of God and the Government to such artificial restrictions on population as I have just mentioned; let him further teach him how to grow cotton on his plantation as well as mealies and hey presto! the cotton magnate has, simultaneously, a new market and a source of cheap raw material!

It is hardly a coincidence that Uganda with its vast number of Christianised, white-clad natives, should be one of Lancashire’s most hopeful customers; and East Africa is the highway to Uganda! These protectorates have recently been voted three million pounds by the Imperial Government, and a cartoonist in a local rag wittily hit off the situation by depicting the Government of East Africa as a Highland piper with instructions (from Lancashire via the Premier) to play the Uganda cotton reel!

But this raising of the standard of living of the native and his development into a producer for export by no means suits the settler. Hence the missions stink in his nostrils, and he is “agin the Government” which supports them. As often as not he comes from “South” where the blacks are already “down and under,” and he chafes at the independence of the native up here. Secure in possession of their cattle, goats, and plantations, these impudent sons of Ham do not appreciate the blessings of employment under the white men’s auspices. If they do leave with the chief’s instructions to earn some money they command a wage which in a short time enables them to buy wives and retire, much to the chagrin of the settler, who wants a “regular” labour supply. These natives seem to do very easily “without capital.” The odour of a Kikuya village is not exactly savoury, but its inhabitants are the possessors of u shameless plumpness of face and body which contrasts strongly with the characteristic features of civilised workers. Mr. F. G. Aflalo, who recently travelled through the country, sums up the matter in an article in the “Morning Post” as follows: ‘”The Labour Question, acute just now all the world over, is nowhere perhaps more seriously felt than in British East Africa and Uganda. . . .  It is not, as with us in Europe, any question of Jack thinking himself better than his master, or of strikes for better wages or shorter hours. It is the far more baffling problem of Jack not wanting wages or work at all!”

So serious is the matter considered that a Native Labour Commission was appointed some time ago, and the reply of the Colonial Office to its recommendations formed the basis of a discussion at the Convention of Associations, the “Settlers’ Parliament,” held June 29th—July 1st, 1914. Lord Delamere, probably the largest and most influential landholder in the country, and one time member of the Legislative Council, gave evidence before the Commission, and expressed the opinion that if every native was to own sufficient land on which to keep himself, then the question of obtaining a satisfactory labour supply would never be settled. Another witness. Mr. Hilton, advocated an increase in the poll tax on natives, which, he averred, would provide a sufficient supply of labour; presumably by making it necessary for a native to obtain the money required. In its report the Commission suggested that no increase be made of existing native reserves, and that taxation should be considered as a means of increasing the labour supply!
The Colonial Secretary in his reply, “hesitated to accept” these views, but the following extracted comment on par. 112 of the report is significant:

  “The Secretary of State deems it of the utmost importance that the Government Officers should take no action which may suggest to the native that it is desired to effect recruitment by compulsory measures, but definite instructions have already been issued by Hie Excellency to Provincial and District Officers to the effect that they are to lose no opportunity of explaining to the natives the advantages of going out to work, and are to refrain from making any observations which may lead the people under the impression that the Government is not desirous that they should do so. The Governor has himself taken every opportunity of expressing to the Chiefs of the various tribes . . . his desire that they should give their personal support to labour emigration . . .!”

This however is hardly good enough for the stalwarts of the Landholders’ Pastoralists’ and Agricultural Associations!
The Chairman of the Convention, after making the oracular announcement that every industry in the country relies directly or indirectly on labour, went on to say: “The labour is there, but we cannot get it, and we shall not get it until we show clearly that we mean to get it,” Coupled with their proposals re labour the Convention also carries on an agitation for a Constitution, and has adopted as a propagandist object, a compulsory military service scheme in view of possible native “trouble.” Thus the settlers show a decided appreciation of the fact that their hope lies in politics and armed force! As one of their number candidly put it: “Apart from fear the natives have no special reason for remaining loyal to us”!
And one does not have to be a Solomon to realise that when the poll-tax is increased and the restriction of the reserves begins, the natives would have every reason for being decidedly disloyal.
It is not for the writer to predict how long it will be before the settlers gain their ends; but neither the productive capacity of the natives nor the market they afford for articles of European manufacture are inexhaustible, and it would seem that the exploitation of the resources of the country on a larger scale will soon be necessary in the interest of capitalists at home. The acceptance of this view by the Imperial Government will spell the doom of the native’s liberty and property and the chance of the settlers to realise the object that has brought them here, i.e., more profit. Probably they will even forgive the missionaries for inculcating in the native mind the notion of “brotherhood” (!) and submission. Need it be added that the natives will hardly be spared any of the horrors of wage-slavery?
What shall we say then? Are the settlers of British East Africa an exceptionally ferocious and callous set of “investors”? By no means! Go into your public libraries and hunt up Thorold Rogers’ “Six Centuries of Work and Wages” or De Gibbins’ ‘‘Industrial History of England,” and study the record of the 15th and 16th centuries in your own land! There you will find that the progenitors of the wage-earning class were as sturdy and independent, if not more so, than the inhabitants of Africa, and that before the capitalist class rose to the position they occupy to-day, they had to use against our forefathers, men of their own colour, almost exactly the same measures as are proposed here!
Without a labour market from which to draw exploitable material, capital cannot accumulate to the extent of providing its owner with a life of idleness and ease such as the respectable owners of the land and the means of converting its products into things of use, enjoy to-day! And turn to any country you will, the actual historic fact is that the labour market is created by the forcible divorce of the workers from their means of life! East Africa, then, is no exception; but it provides a modern and vivid object lesson! Here the Convention admits in the shape of a resolution to His Excellency the Governor, that the Government’s delay in adopting their proposals resulted in “great inconvenience and financial loss’’ to them. Let the workers the world over take to heart the lesson, and further realise that, just as the possession of their means of life by the capitalist class is the cause of their subjection, so the ownership and control of such means for and by the workers themselves is the necessary and possible foundation of a free society! Let them further note the method, i.e., the political method, by which the ruling class have achieved and propose to extend their dominion! Not by passive strikes or individual acts of violence can the workers hope to achieve their emancipation. Only by meeting political action by counter political action will victory be won!
In conclusion may I offer a suggestion or two to your correspondent, “Engineer,” re the question he raises in the April issue of the “S.S.” To the extent that the coloured races are dragged into the capitalist maelstrom, they also show a tendency to adopt the standard of life and thought evolved by capitalism in Europe and America to a very large extent. There appears to be no reason why the “nigger’s” consciousness should prove an exception to the general rule that the development of ideas reflects environmental changes! Further, the very rapidity of the change from barbarism and feudalism in Africa and the East should prevent any illusory notions concerning the duration of capitalism or the methods of its establishment, gaining ground there amongst the workers. To the present writer the age long superstitions which encrust the minds of European wage-slaves who cannot remember the origin of capitalism are far greater obstacles to universal working-class emancipation than the present undeveloped condition of the intellect of “coolie labour.” Here in East Africa white wage-earners are only too ready to manifest those notions of race superiority which aid the capitalist class at the expense of working-class unity! Let the Socialist Party convince the “superior” white worker of his class position and they will not find his coloured competitor either unwilling or unable to learn.
Eric Boden