Saturday, July 1, 2017

Colonialism (1961)

Book Review from the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Twilight of European Colonialism By Stewart C. Easton. (Methuen, 50s.)

When the Second World War started, there were about 700 million people living under colonial rule. Twenty years later there were not many more than 100 million; most notably, the number under British rule had been virtually cut in half.

It was to all intents and purposes inevitable that the colonies should have developed their nationalist organisations, to demand that a native ruling class should have the right to exploit their country's mineral wealth and human labour. In the Congo, this desire has bred nationalism within nationalism, with the Katangese wanting to be left alone with the immense riches that are under their feet.

Apart from such complications, and unless a colony has a settler population— as in Central Africa—or unless there is a military problem involved—as in Cyprus —the road to independence is usually fairly smooth. Ghana is the classic example of this; and it has had its effect all over Africa.

When independence has been agreed to, there is a lot of political work to be done. A constitution must be drafted, political parties must work out their programmes for the new state, elections mast be arranged. This, and the political events which have preceded independence, make the subject matter of Mr. Easton's book.

It is obvious that such a work will leave a lot unsaid. The author knows what the suppression of the African native has meant, and what it must lead to. The African’s dignity, he says, " . . . was constantly insulted”; he was regarded as ". . .  a menace to the most uncomely white woman . . .” And now, such is the tradition of bitterness that it is too late to make amends.

On the other hand. Mr. Easton has a trick of playing down the savage history of colonialism. He almost whitewashes Leopold II. The black story of the missionaries is summarised; “Inspired by Livingstone's exploits, thousands of missionaries entered the field, and traders followed soon after.” A simple soul would think it was all one big coincidence.

We should be able to take all this in our stride. There is need for a political reference book to supplement the economic studies of the colonies, and the blood-chilling works of men like E. D. Morel. Political developments have their place in history, and we should all be familiar with them. For this Mr. Easton, in his agreeably smooth and economical style, has produced a very adequate book.

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