Monday, February 6, 2017

The Passing Show: Another Colonial Plot (1959)

The Passing Show column from the April 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Colonial Plot
In Nyasaland the Governor proclaims a state of emergency because, he says, a plot by. the Africans to massacre the whites has been discovered. Southern Rhodesian security forces have been drafted into the country. There are three million Africans in Nyasaland, a sea of Negroes in which are scattered a handful of whites, no more than eight thousand all told. Despite this enormous disparity of numbers, the number of whiles so far killed as a result of the “massacre plot” is—none. But more than forty Africans have up to now been slain by the security forces.

The disturbances in Nyasaland originated in the desire of the Southern Rhodesian ruling class for aggrandisement. In Southern Rhodesia, the situation is much like that in South Africa. The white farmers and planters insist on "apartheid’’--although they don’t call it that. Hotels, restaurants, schools, are run strictly on racial lines. Political power lies in the hands of the whites. Theoretically anyone can vote, but the great majority of Africans are barred because they must pass a means test before they can exercise the franchise. If too many Africans apply for enfranchisement, then the means test can be stiffened—this, says a writer to the Manchester Guardian (March 11th, 1959) has been done twice in the past.

The devil they know
But the parallel with South Africa goes further than this. Successive governments of the Union, while pressing the desirability of keeping whites and blacks apart, nevertheless regularly, demand the handing over of Bechuanaland. Basutoland, and Swaziland—although these three territories together would add nearly a million Negroes to the population of South Africa. What the white South Africans want is not separation, but white domination: and so it is in Southern Rhodesia. Fcderation—which is in fact rule by Southern Rhodesia—was imposed on Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland against the wishes of the great majority of the Africans living in those countries. Many Nyasas travel far afield to find work: they have seen the subjection of the Africans of Southern. Rhodesia to the whites, and they don’t like it.

Not British
These developments have aroused much uneasiness in Britain. Modern capitalism demands educated workers; at school the worker learns enough arithmetic and English to labour at his employer’s bench or keep his employer’s books. Capitalism also demands enfranchised workers; the worker who votes from time to time —whether in Britain. America or Russia believes he is ruling himself, and this encourages him to think that the prevailing economic system is fashioned in his interests, fhc Southern Rhodesian ruling class, whose power is based not on industry but land, has shown itself hostile to both of these requirements. Hence the divergence of views between Britain and Southern Rhodesia. Sir Robert Armitage, the British-appointed Governor of Nyasalund, has been markedly less active in the latest developments than Sir Roy Welensky, the Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister of the Federation, and Sir Edgar Whitehead, the Premier of Southern Rhodesia itself. In Southern Rhodesia, where there had been hardly any civil disorder reported except some stone-throwing by strikers, a state of emergency was declared on February 26th. On the same day in Nyasaland, where the trouble was, a spokesman of the Government "said, “there was no question of a situation requiring a state of emergency in the protectorate" (Manchester Guardian, February 27th, 1959): the Nyasaland state of emergency was not in fact declared until March 3rd.

As in South Africa, the inevitable industrialisation of the country will settle these problems as capitalism wants them to be settled.. Socialists can leave capitalism to get over its own difficulties, and concentrate on the spread of Socialist ideas.

In 1954 Mr. Henry Hopkinson, then a Conservative Minister, stood up in the House of Commons and said that there were some British colonies which could never hope to achieve independence: as an example he cited Cyprus. For the next four years the island was torn with violence: hundreds of human beings—British, Greek, Turkish—died: repeatedly British Governors announced that they could not bargain with violence, and that law and order must be restored before any constitutional advance could be made. Last month, with the terrorist groups still at large in the hills, Cyprus was granted its virtual independence. But do not expect the Ministers of the Crown to be at all abashed at having done what they said could never be done. To make a meal of their own words is no new experience for our present political leaders. They seem to thrive on the diet.

And Mr. Henry Hopkinson, whose use of the word “never” started it all? Like many another unsuccessful politician before him, he has been rewarded with a peerage. The costly struggle of the British ruling class to keep Cyprus has, at least for Mr. Hopkinson, not been entirely fruitless.
Freedom from the oppressor
The Cypriot workers, who have now exchanged their British musters for a home-grown variety, and the Nyasa people, who arc trying to do the same, might ponder an item of news from Pakistan. The long light against the British with its killings on both sides, its violence, its long jail sentences, its executions — which is only now ending in Cyprus, and seems to be getting under way in Nyasaland, has long been over in Pakistan. A decade and more ago, the British handed over authority to the new Pakistani rulers, and withdrew. The Pakistani workers expected their long struggle to result in a new and better era. How disappointed they must be now..

A letter to the Editor of the Manchester Guardian (March 12th, 1959) runs in part as follows
   "A little less than a month ago you briefly reported a large strike at the largest jute mill centre in the world at Narayanganj, East Pakistan. This involved some twenty thousand workers, and the dispute resulted worn a demand for the continuance of Sunday as a day of rest, instead of staggering holidays throughout the week as ordered by the managements on alleged technical grounds.
   "On the following day there was a partial return to work, and a large cavalcade of officers descended on the mills, led by Major-General Umrao Khan, the East Pakistan Martial Law Administrator.
    "Addressing the workers, he proclaimed that 'the strike being illegal, everyone who had absented himself from work had committed an offence, and was liable to punishment under the Martial Law Regulations. He made it clear that the ringleaders who had been arrested, would not in any circumstances be released and those who continued to play into their hands would not escape punishment.'
    "That this was intelligent anticipation has since become clear by an announcement that Lieutenant-Colonel S. A. Zaman Khan, President of the Special Military Court trying the ten employees of the Adamjee Jute Mills under the Martial Law Regulations, had sentenced them to between five and six years' rigorous imprisonment and flogging for resorting to an illegal strike.
Five years’ jail, and a flogging, for going on strike to keep Sunday as a day off! The British themselves could hardly have been worse than the new rulers of Pakistan. What a lesson this is on the futility of those who mislead the workers into fighting for the removal of one ruling class, and its replacement by another. If only the Nyasa workers could learn this lesson now, instead of when they have firmly saddled a new Nyasa ruling class on their own backs, what years of useless strife could they save themselves. Even if the fight for “independence” is won quickly, the real battle will still have to be faced: the struggle for an end to all ruling classes, the struggle for Socialism.
Alwyn Edgar

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