(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 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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, 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 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, 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 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 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 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, 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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. 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 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:
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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.