Colonies and dependencies: Report to the International Socialist Congress

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Colonies and dependencies:

Report to the International Socialist Congress, held at Amsterdam,

August 14th-20th, 1904

A Word of Introduction[edit source]

The Report on Colonies and Dependencies, which is now issued as a pamphlet in English, was written at the request of the International Socialist Bureau for the International Socialist and Trades Union Congress of Amsterdam. It deals, almost exclusively, with the English Colonies and Dependencies, as these are by far the most important; the subject also being treated more generally in a separate report by Van Kol. The Resolutions to be submitted to the Congress condemn the whole system of modern colonisation and conquest as injurious to the workers, and a special Resolution in relation to India calls upon the workers of Great Britain to demand from their Government the re-establishment of native rule in that vast and populous territory. I have no doubt that these Resolutions will be carried unanimously by the delegates of the workers of the civilised world.

Unfortunately in England the working-classes are behindhand on this point as on others. They do not yet see that the emigration of their most vigorous members, the return of men who have enriched themselves in the Colonies to the Mother Country, and the outlets provided for capital in various ways strengthen their enemies of the landlord and capitalist class at home, and at the same time weaken their own powers of resistance. This I pointed out in my “Historical Basis of Socialism” so long ago as 1883 ; but the British workers have not understood the economic and social effects of capitalist colonisation, and many of them are – as the voting on the infamous Transvaal War showed – Imperialists in the worst sense of the word. It is to be hoped that the increasing depression now universally felt will open their eyes to the truth on these matters.

With respect to India, the situation is even more deplorable. By our shameful rule in that magnificent territory, we are not only starving millions of the most industrious and long-suffering people in the world to death; but, in this case also, by the thirty millions sterling which our dominant classes yearly take from India without commercial return to fill their own pockets, the inhabitants of these islands are permitting wealth to be piled up against them, which, if left in India, would, even under the conditions of to-day, provide them with prosperous customers. British ruin of India is at any rate the greatest crime which has ever blackened the annals of the human race. It is high time that the for the horrors of the deliberately-manufactured famines should be brought home to the apathetic and ignorant voters who allow this systematic bleeding to death to go on.


August 9th, 1904

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Colonies and Dependencies[edit source]

The establishment or conquest of Colonies and Dependencies by a nation or city has almost invariably led to the acquisition of more and more Colonies and Dependencies. The process of expansion by settlement or war has steadily continued until the final breakdown of the dominant power owing to external or internal causes, or a combination of both. This was as true of Egypt, Assyria, Athens, Carthage, or Rome, as it has been of Venice, Spain, Portugal, England, or Russia. Such expansion has appeared to be almost involuntary and inevitable. Even in cases where the ablest statesmen and generals of the conquering or colonising country have seen that a further move forward would bring with it weakness and loss rather than strength and gain, an irresistible attraction has carried the frontier line onwards, either by land or by sea. Whether the motive in the first instance has been to obtain slaves and tribute, as with Carthage and Rome, or for trade and tribute, as with Athens, Venice and Great Britain, or for the precious metals and religious domination, as with Spain and Portugal, or, in the main, for religious reasons only, as with the Moslems in their best time, this continuous and seemingly unconscious development on the part of a Power in its prime, from the Chinese or Phoenicians in the East to the Iroquois in the West, admits of scarcely an exception. The annals of Rome, under its ablest Emperors, form a record in regard to external politics of a constant but fruitless endeavour to keep within or to contract existing boundaries. The growth of the British Empire in India was accompanied by a never-ending protest on the part of the real rulers, the East India Company, against any further adventurous policy of annexations whatever. The reasons for staying the advance were excellent in both cases; they failed to produce a permanent effect in either upon the steady onward march. When, therefore, Prince Bismarck said “Une puissance qui cesse de prendre et commence a rendre est une puissance finie,” he but put in the form of an epigram the teachings of history; though in the particular instance to which he referred the surrender proved to be only a very insignificant break in a career of universal absorption.

That the course of colonisation and conquest has been chiefly dictated by economic considerations is obvious both in ancient and modern times, and it is equally clear that when Rome, for example, ceased to be able to supply her slave markets one portion of her industrial system was immediately threatened. But in our own times the direct economic impetus has been more apparent than ever before, and the course pursued by the most successful colonising and conquering power of all, namely, Great Britain, has been from the first due to the direct desire for personal gain. The Imperial sentiment came in much later, and when the period of comparative decadence at home had already begun. So much has this been the case that practically all the British Colonies and Dependencies of value, excepting those acquired as incidents of wars with foreign nations, have been founded by private enterprise; the Government granting Charters in some instances, but only making its appearance on the spot with its officials and soldiers at a very late period, when the position had already been secured by individuals or companies. First the pioneer, then the trader, next the merchant and administrator, later the colonist and settler, after them a few policemen and a law court, last of all, and sometimes never, the military. Such has been the general development of the British Empire. This, of course, is a complete reversal of the methods usually employed by other States. They start out with Empire in view. With these, in the majority of cases, the soldiers come directly after the pioneer, the officials next, the lawyers thereupon, and the merchants and traders play quite a minor part towards the end. Everything is regulated and ordained from the beginning. As a rule, therefore, such Colonies and Dependencies have not been self-supporting or remunerative, though the inhabitants subjugated have scarcely been the better off.

The extraordinary growth of the British Colonies and Dependencies during the past three centuries shows, therefore, that the spread of commerce and settlement with its concomitant pecuniary gain to the capitalist class at home, is more favoured by this system than by the more rigid military and bureaucratic policy adopted by other nations.

Moreover, in the case of the British, the object even of the Government itself from the first has been to make the Colonies and Dependencies pay the Mother Country, indirectly, a tribute far greater than any expense likely to be incurred on their behalf. It has been throughout a thoroughly profit-mongering Imperialism, even before the word Imperialism, was used. Though no direct exactions might be made, the doctrines of the “Colonial System” and “Continuous Voyages” were upheld in order that Great Britain herself, as represented by her trading and capitalist class of that day, might derive all the benefit that could be obtained from her increasing and prosperous settlements. When the North American Colonies, moved thereto by the new merchants and traders, revolted against this policy and the attempt at taxation without representation which followed, refusing to allow the ancient merchant-class at home to have it all their own way in the new territories, their success gradually gave rise to fresh ideas as to the treatment of Colonies properly so-called.

Such Colonies, even when first set on foot as convict settlements, were by degrees accorded the right of self-government, after more or less sharp and sometimes bloody encounters with the official clique which represented the old idea of domination by the Mother-Country. Thus it has come about that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and the Cape are as completely free and self-governing communities as Great Britain herself. They are, indeed, the most thoroughgoing democracies existing on the planet; and those portions of the colonists, as the French in Canada, who have been brought under English control by treaty after war, are allowed to use their own laws and their own language as completely as if they had never been annexed. These democracies also whilst entitled to, or at any rate expecting, the fullest support and protection from the parent nation at its cost, without any payment from themselves, are accorded the right, which they freely exercise, of heavily taxing goods imported from the Mother Country to any extent they please, as well as of shutting out at their pleasure intending immigrants from other portions of the Empire, whether they be white or black, brown or yellow.

Such extraordinary and undue privileges have never before in history been granted to or obtained by any other peoples. It is not surprising, therefore, that the eleven millions of white colonists under the British flag, who are favoured with such conditions and are given complete control over vast territories which they neither discovered themselves, nor have one-fiftieth part developed, are loyal to the Empire which permits them to have all the advantages of independence without any of its drawbacks whatever. The return for these unprecedented concessions, on the part of the people at home who are for the most part far worse off than the colonists whom they thus pamper, is wholly indirect, benefits the capitalist class alone, and is scarcely likely to be enduring. The well-to-do, sections of society in Great Britain have found a secure and profitable outlet for their capital in loans and advances to the colonists, alike as organised communities and as individual property-owners. But the drain for interest and dividends to England on this account is heavy, and is severely felt in times of depression such as that which Australia as a whole has been suffering from during the recent seven years of almost continuous drought. It seems tolerably certain, therefore, that this comparative handful of colonists, eleven millions in all, of which only four millions in Australia, will in time to come, and as the Labour Party and Socialists gain strength, repudiate, or at any rate reduce, these onerous obligations. It is also probable that with regard to Australia, as the white population does not increase and England’s day as a colonising Power proper is practically over (having no longer any agricultural population to send out as emigrants) this huge territory will not be permanently left at the sole dog-in-the-manger control of its present handful of inhabitants. We may expect, at least, that Australia will not be permanently able to retain its position without an infusion of entirely fresh blood, and should other peoples require an outlet in that direction the present preposterous policy will have to be abandoned. Canada is in a different position, seeing that in her case there is already a set of population from the United States into her territory, and she has not yet adopted, except towards Chinese and Japanese, the wholesale restrictions, even against English trade-unionists, favoured by the Australian Labour Party.

But England’s free Colonies depend to-day upon other nations and other races for their growth of population, and the economic decline of the Empire in this respect is everywhere apparent. So long, however, as capitalism rules, the indirect tribute will, of course, be carefully exacted.

These free Colonies, however, though of enormous extent, count for little in the matter of population. Their wealth is out of all proportion to their numbers, as their pretensions are out of all proportion to their power. That they will play any very great part in the future of the world, either federated to the Mother Country or in any other way, seems exceedingly improbable. So far, they have taken from the United Kingdom a considerable part of its most vigorous and intelligent inhabitants, and have strengthened the domination of the capitalist class over their fellow subjects at home. But in this respect, also, they seem likely in the near future to play a different role.

The total of the British Colonies and Dependencies, however, comprises one-fifth of the entire habitable surface of the earth and fully one-fourth of its population. Nearly all these countries are governed either despotically or semi-despotically. It is true, in many cases, as in the West Indies, where the negroes are still, of course, economically at the mercy of the whites, the pretence of self-government is kept up by Legislative Councils under the Governor, and a similar hybrid system is to be found in the Straits Settlements, Hongkong, West and East Africa, & c.; but, in reality, the populations of these districts are as much at the mercy of a soi-disant benevolent despotism as the ryots of India, or the fellaheen of Egypt; and in all cases, of course, the power of the home capitalist is both directly and indirectly exercised in his own favour. The war against the Transvaal and the Orange Free State proved, indeed, conclusively how, under the pretence of obtaining equal rights with the Boers for men of European birth, an international gang of swindlers of the worst type was able to partly bribe and partly force the British Government, its aristocracy and their hangers-on, into hostilities for the advantage of the mine-owners as was supposed, but certainly to the injury of the entire nation. The result has strengthened capitalism temporarily, but the ultimate outcome of this shameful policy has yet to be seen. In every direction, however, the same unscrupulous tactics are being relentlessly pursued avowedly now in the interest of new markets, and to obtain further outlets for English capital, shaken in its self-confidence at home by German and American competition.

Undoubtedly, this conscious expansion helps to retard the ultimate breakdown of the capitalist system and the hypocritical contention that we are conquering and annexing peoples for their own good, which has been adopted from England by other nations, now likewise engaged in appropriating territory in Asia and Africa which does not belong to them for the benefit of the dominant class, is almost abandoned by the advocates of Imperialism in Great Britain itself.

The change which has taken place of late years in this respect is most marked. Nobody declares nowadays that the campaigns in the Soudan, in East Africa, on the West Coast, and Thibet are carried on for the sake of Christianity, and civilisation. That miserable pretence has been dropped. The British flag, as the buccaneer Cecil Rhodes averred, is “a commercial asset,” to be exploited by its masters and owners, the capitalists of Great Britain, native and foreign. It is extremely doubtful, indeed, whether either slavery or the slave-trade would be abandoned in the British Empire if they still existed to-day, and their abrogation and suppression depended upon the English House of Commons. The hideous corruption in that assembly, and the utter indifference of the majority of its plutocratic members and their retainers to the welfare of any people, at home or abroad, where money is to be made by neglecting the commonest rules of ethics, have never been so clearly manifested as they are to-day. By their treatment of Kaffirs, Indians, Chinese, and Negroes, English politicians have proved to the world that forced labour and indentured slavery now form a recognised portion of the machinery of capitalist exploitation abroad, as sweating and swindling of the propertyless wage-earners are their habitual methods of industrial organisation at home. No one, as yet, has been bold enough to advocate a return to chattel slavery in British possessions in so many words; but already the thing itself exists, and is rapidly extending almost without protest.

It is in relation to India, however, that the greatest colonising power in the world has displayed the natural results of relentless exploitation. For just 150 years, counting from the battle of Plassey, the luckless inhabitants of Hindostan have been brought in an increasing degree under the control of the greedy European exploiter. From the very beginning robbery of the natives was made into a science. The savings and the wealth of India for generations were laid hands upon by ignorant freebooters who rivalled even Albuquerque in their wholesale depredations. The vast wealth thus acquired was used as capital for the rising cotton and other machine industries in Great Britain, and helped to give us as a nation that lead in the markets of the world which stood our governing classes in good stead during the contest for universal dominion against Napoleon. Millions upon millions sterling were thus robbed from India by violence and chicane, and the rich nabob, returned from the East, was as familiar a figure in English society at the end of the eighteenth century as his congener, the American trust magnate or the South African millionaire, is to-day. The influence of this ill-gotten gain was felt in many directions; but the scandal became too great for those times. The East India Company was compelled in its own interest to put down this unlicensed conveyance on individual account, and to substitute more legal and more effective means of exploitation. Instead of waiting till treasure accumulated before removing it, instead of resorting to unpleasant physical methods of extorting hidden riches, the new rulers of the Great Peninsula went straight to the fountain head of wealth-production. They carefully appointed Englishmen at high salaries to all important posts held by natives; they put the whole cost of maintaining the army of occupation upon the shoulders of the subject people; they raised taxation in every department; they secured monopolies of the most costly luxury as well as of a prime necessary of life for men and cattle. Thus, mitigated to some extent by their success in putting down Thuggee and certain disagreeable old customs, the rule of the East India. Company began that systematic process of draining India of its resources for the benefit of the well-to-do English at home which has gone on steadily and in an ever increasing ratio from that time to this.

With the Indian Mutiny in 1857, the centenary of the battle of Plassey in 1757, the rule of the great East-India Company – which had developed from a clique of merchants, clerks, and supercargoes to a great military and commercial establishment, owning and controlling a territory more extensive and more populous than any European State – came to an end. Its Charter was rescinded, and India came under the direct rule of the British Crown and the British people. This was supposed at the time to be a wholly beneficial transfer. The East India Company had done its work. While constantly expressing its desire to obtain no extension of territory its frontiers had marched steadily on, and the nation at large had been obliged, on more than one occasion, to come forward in order to save the company from the consequences of the adventurous policy of its own Proconsuls – one of whom, Lord Dalhousie, a narrow, bitter; incompetent, and bombastic bureaucrat, undoubtedly provoked the Mutiny – and it was felt that it was high time that England should assume the full responsibility for its greatest Dependency. The change was, therefore welcomed on every side.

At first all went well. Queen Victoria issued a manifesto to the Princes and Peoples of India, assuring them in the name of God of her intense solicitude for their welfare, and of her determination that the Indians should have their full share in the management of their own country. The Indians were delighted. But it was soon discovered that, in spite of all pledges and promises, the British Government’s little finger was heavier than the East India Company’s loins. So far from giving the Indians a greater control over Hindostan, the official circle was expanded more than ever, and scarcely a single post worth having was given to an Indian. The European military establishment was trebled and made far more costly. Enormous sums were borrowed and expended without the slightest reference to the wishes or the welfare of the people. Educational endowments were seized upon and sequestrated. Taxation was steadily raised in every department. All means of revision by Parliament even were taken away. Ancient and beautiful arts and crafts, instead of being fostered and developed, were ruthlessly crushed. Home charges and pensions were increased wholesale. From one end of Hindostan to the other the great idea of English rule, from 1858 to 1904, has been to squeeze the utmost possible out of the unfortunate Indians, without the slightest regard to the consequences. Thus the wealth of India is drained away from her without any compensating advantage, and the creation of poverty is reduced to a science, all hope of being trained for the useful service of their country is brought to naught, and the real higher education which political action and administration affords is wholly unattainable.

The result of this truly infamous policy is now before the world. I rejoice, as an Englishman, that I have done my share for nearly thirty years to expose in Europe, America, and Asia, the systematic rascality of my aristocratic and plutocratic countrymen. India is the greatest and most populous Empire that ever came under the control of any nation. Even reasonably governed, it would be one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world to-day. Its people are industrious, patient, temperate, thrifty and contented. Great arts, great literature, great buildings, great industrial works, great military prowess, great laws, great financiers, and great lawgivers, illustrate its long annals side by side with terrible events similar to those which were frequent in Europe at the same periods. That the agricultural population was well-to-do as a whole when we commenced our long reign of wrong and robbery is borne witness to by many travellers of capacity. It has been our mission to destroy all this greatness and prosperity, and to reduce the inhabitants of British territory proper to absolute indigence.

India is the greatest and most awful instance of the cruelty, greed and short-sightedness of the capitalist class of which history gives any record. Even the horrors of Spanish rule in South America are dwarfed into insignificance in comparison with the cold, calculating, economic infamy which has starved, and is still deliberately starving, millions of people to death in British India.

The population of Hindustan amounts to 300,000,000 in round figures. Of these, 230,000,000 are under direct British rule, and about 70,000,000 are in the Native States controlled by the British. The population under direct British rule is now universally recognised as being the poorest in the whole world, and the inhabitants of the Native States, where, unfortunately, the British system is being partially adopted, are now also beginning to undergo impoverishment.

The reason for this is not far to seek. Not content with filling every well-paid office whatever, as already said, with Englishmen; not content with keeping up a huge native and European army, the latter exceptionally well-paid, all at India’s expense; not content with charging upon Indian revenues, wars with which India has little or nothing to do; not content with raising loan after loan to waste on costly and oft-times unnecessary expenditure and public works; these shameless injustices not being sufficient, we drain away year after year from the two hundred millions of starvelings we ourselves have created the sum of £30,000,000 (600,000,000 marks or 750,000,000 francs) without any commercial return. We thus deliberately manufacture famine in order to feed fat the greed of our prosperous classes in England. This frightful drain alone, taken from India yearly in order to pay home charges, pensions, interest, dividends, and private remittances, is, with the cost of European officials and the army in India, the real cause of all the Indian famines. Against drought it would be easy in the present and in the future, as in the past, to make provision by storage of grain from previous harvests. Against this awful economic drain of wealth in good years and bad years alike there can be no protection. We have taken out of India in the last 25 years alone, certainly £600,000,000, some of which we have lent back to depleted India at interest. Yet when the famines which we have thus, as I say, deliberately manufactured, come as the consequences of this terrible drain, our governing class think they have done a wonderful act of charity when they remit back to perishing India £500,000, out of the £30,000,000 they appropriated in that very year.

In order to keep up these heavy expenditures and to cover this constant bleeding, India is taxed literally to death. A ryot to-day can afford to eat only one-third of the food his grandfather ate even in good years. He is forced to pay his land tax to the Government before the crop is grown, thus being compelled to resort to the money-lenders so as to be able to sow his crop and till his land. Not long since the Indian Government, which is as completely despotic as that of Russia, enacted that the rupee, which is intrinsically worth about 11d. (one penny less than a mark, two pennies more than a franc) should be held to be worth 1s. 4d., and that the people of India should pay their taxes on this basis. The taxation of the starving cultivators was thus increased from 40 to 50 per cent. by a stroke of the pen. No wonder that millions die of starvation, and that India is being completely ruined.

Previous rulers of India lived in India, and employed the Indians in the highest posts. The wealth raised by their taxation was spent in the country. The Moguls, with all their faults, were infinitely better rulers for India than the English on this account alone. Akber, the Mohammedan, the greatest monarch that ever held sway in the East, employed the famous Hindoo Rajah Toder Mull as his Finance Minister, and the Hindoos have always been great in finance. He also had Hindoo generals at the head of his armies, and so had others of the Mogul Emperors. We know better. No native of India, under British rule, is good enough to help to govern the glorious country which his ancestors made celebrated for thousands of years.

All this, I repeat, shows that capitalism in its latest manifestation is as short-sighted as it is greedy and brutal. Even from the trade point of view, a well-to-do India, with its 300,000,000 inhabitants, would afford the greatest market for goods in the world. It is a civilised, not a barbarous, population as a whole. But enlightened Christian English capitalists prefer to bleed this enormous population to death rather than to benefit by its prosperity!

It is a hideous crime. Socialism itself for Western Europe is less important than the prevention of this wholesale atrocity. I appeal to this International Congress to denounce the statesmen and the nation guilty of this infamy before the entire civilised world, and to convey to the natives of India the heartfelt wish of the delegates of the workers of all nations here assembled that they may shortly, no matter in what manner, free themselves finally from the horrors of the most criminal misrule that has ever afflicted humanity.

But India only gives the most striking instance of the infamy of modern capitalism in Colonies. I do not say that the English are worse than others. Not a bit of it. They had only the first opportunities, and carry on the same system on a greater scale than rival nations. The petty larceny thief differs from the monumental scoundrel, not in kind, but in degree. Given the same chance, he would do as big a steal. The French in Algeria and Tonquin; the Russians alike in Europe and in Asia; the Germans in Africa and China; the Dutch in Java and Sumatra; the Americans in the Sandwich Islands, the Philippines, and Porto Rico; the Belgians on the Congo; each and all carry on the same methods, and only fall short of the English in the scale of their depredations, because they have not as yet so wide a field for robbery, extortion, swindling and murder. Modern colonisation and conquest necessarily lead to all these crimes and others. Moreover, such extensions help to prolong capitalist domination, and to enrich and strengthen the exploiting classes in every country, both nationally and internationally, against the real producers of wealth.

Therefore it is the duty of International Socialists, the only international non-capitalist party, to denounce, and wherever possible, to prevent the extension of colonisation and conquest, leaving to each race, and creed, and colour, the full opportunity to develop itself until complete economic and social emancipation is secured by all