Blessings of British Imperialism
Two interesting letters appeared in the Manchester Guardian Weekly (January 20th, 1939). Both of them dealt with the same subject: the suppression of native political rights in the British Empire, but while one referred to Cyprus, the other was concerned with Kenya.
In his letter, “Cypriot” wrote: “No one acquainted with Cyprus affairs is unaware that the present autocratic rule favours a small number of people. I remember when in the summer of 1936 there was a strike by the Skouriotissa miners everything was done by the police and other officials to suppress the strike. The committee of the strikers were arrested, and after considerable time in gaol they were charged with organising a meeting without the permission of the district commissioner. . . . An official committee set not long ago to investigate the living conditions of the villagers, recommended that the heavy municipal taxes on rural products should be reduced. Up to the present nothing has been done to this effect, and the Press can make no comment on the delay.”
“Cypriot” makes the further charge that in the past two years censorship has existed from time to time in various forms. The Press has been censored; also “two years ago there was the postal censorship. Even invitations to a wedding, a funeral or any other social event had to be censored. No meetings of any nature (even athletic) are allowed without the previous permission of the District Commissioners. The police in Cyprus can obtain an order from the Court for the banishment to a remote village of any individual whose activities are suspected not to be in favour of the Government. Nearly all the provisions of the Defence Order (which amounts to martial law) have been incorporated into statutes similar to those in force in the totalitarian states.”
The letter on the subject of “Native Rights in Kenya” tells the same tale of suppression. The writer, after quoting laws in force in Kenya, sums up the effect they have in these words:—
“These, in practice, mean that meetings may not be held without the permission of the district commissioner or headman.”
He refers to a case when several natives, returning home from church, were arrested and punished, on the ground that, being more than five in number, they constituted a meeting. “In his summing-up, the judge concluded that a meeting had been held because more than five persons were present, and though he expressly stated that the objects of the meeting did not appear to be dangerous, the meeting itself constituted an offence.”
Believers in the British Empire and the liberty it bestows on natives need not, however, despair entirely; Africans are not discouraged from attending either football matches or Salvation Army meetings.
The snag is, unfortunately, that the natives are not altogether satisfied with those concessions, because, the writer states, “they are not regarded as acceptable substitutes for the right to form trade unions, co-operative societies, and other organisations to protect African political, economic and cultural rights.”
Since it is chiefly to the British worker that we address our message, we would urge him to ask himself why such suppression is necessary. Is it because the British worker, himself, wishes it? Or is it because capitalism requires such suppression, so that the exploitation of natives can go on uninterrupted?
If he decides for the second reason, it is his duty to join with us in the work of abolishing a system of society which causes such brutality, and of establishing Socialism which will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or colour.