In the February issue of the Socialist Standard we gave evidence of the plight of the coloured workers in the West Indies. In the April issue we drew attention to the way natives were being suppressed in the British colonies of Cyprus and Kenya.
News of brutal suppression comes now from Sierra Leone. Mr. George Padmore, General Secretary of the International African Service Bureau, tells of the state of affairs in Sierra Leone in a letter to the Manchester Guardian Weekly (June 16th, 1939).
A few extracts from his letter seem to indicate that the freedom so often boasted of in connection with the British Empire is unknown in Sierra Leone. Here are a few points from his letter : —
“During the past months a number of strikes have occurred in the Gold Coast and Sierra Leone, British colonies in West Africa. In Sierra Leone the workers’ leaders were arrested and kept in prison for one month and eight days without trial, in order to demoralise the strikers and force them back to work. All these efforts at official intimidation have, however, been without success. In order to arrest the development of free trade unionism and to curb political activities of the workers, an attempt to impose upon the natives the most repressive legislation is now being made.”
Laws are about to be passed by the Legislative Council (“a body on which the workers have no representation on account of the property qualifications, which exclude them”). The results of these laws, says Padmore, will be : —
“1. Where natives of Sierra Leone are sentenced to deportation they will be segregated in special areas in concentration camps, and if they or their family are in possession of any kind of means compelled to contribute to their maintenance there.”“2. Any British subject (Englishman, Scot, Australian, West Indian, etc.) who renders any assistance to native workers and peasants in Sierra Leone in forming trade unions or co-operative societies can be arrested and deported from the colony.”“3. The Undesirable Literature Ordinance will empower the Governor to prohibit the publication, importation, circulation and reading in the colony of any book, pamphlet, newspaper, magazine or any other kind of literature which in his opinion is undesirable. The possession of such proscribed literature will constitute a criminal offence punishable by two years’ imprisonment.”“4. The ordinance outlining penalties for incitement to disaffection is aimed at subduing agitation among the armed forces. In Sierra Leone unrest is widespread, not only among the industrial workers, but throughout the Civil Services and armed forces. The new ordinance will prevent any soldier from purchasing and reading of his own will any book even so remotely revolutionary as George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism.’ . . . All persons and premises may be searched upon suspicion of harbouring such literature or being connected with agitation, by force if necessary.”
It will be noticed that the authorities in Sierra Leone, in order to keep their coloured wage-slaves in subjection, are using methods which, we are told, are foreign to “the democratic spirit of Britain,” but peculiar to the Fascist states.
Mr. George Padmore ends his letter by asking those “British people who value their own liberties and respect those of other nationals” to send letters of protest to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
We sympathise with the natives of Sierra Leone, but we are afraid that little can be achieved on their behalf by sending letters of protest.
The British are in Sierra Leone to exploit the natives, to make profits for a parasite capitalist class, and make profits they will, even if this means untold suffering for thousands.
If the workers of Britain wish to end the suffering now forced upon natives within the Empire, they will have to end their own sufferings also. They will have to take matters into their own hands. They will have to gain control of the machinery of government with the express purpose of abolishing capitalism, for, as long as capitalism lasts, brutality in many forms will be found. This is only to be expected when to-day there is a class in society which lives on the backs of the workers, which lives by exploiting them. Profits must be produced to enable our exploiters to live in idleness and luxury—that is a law of capitalism. What the consequences are for the millions of toilers is of little importance to the capitalists. As long as the profits are forthcoming, the workers can live in poverty, dwell in slums, be blown to bits in war. If the workers acquiesce in capitalism, they must expect brutalities, every day and everywhere.
Incidentally, what hope one can place in “protests” to help the natives of Sierra Leone can be seen from a letter to the Manchester Guardian Weekly, published in the very same issue as Mr. Padmore’s. It is from “A British Resident” in Cyprus and deals with affairs there. The writer complains that the intervention attempted by the Manchester Guardian on behalf of the natives some months ago has been fruitless. He writes: —
“In December last you called, in a leading article, for action by Parliament. Some questions were asked, which were more or less unsatisfactorily answered; but since then nothing has been done, though things have tended to become more and more repressive, especially in regard to attempts to form trade unions.”
In Cyprus, he says, “newspapers have been suppressed, partially and entirely, or placed under censorship, without the offence being specified, and without the offender being given a chance to argue his case before a responsible tribunal.”
It is clear that the British capitalist class is being hypocritical when it directs the attention of their workers to the brutalities performed in Germany, China and other states.
To those workers who are growing tired of their own exploitation and would like to bring a speedy end to the brutal suppression which capitalism causes everywhere, we extend an invitation. We invite them to join with us in our struggle for Socialism—a system of society which will bring to an end their own exploitation and “will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.”
Since the above was written there comes news of still further strife within this glorious Empire of “ours.” The Evening Standard (June 17th, 1939) reports that: “Renewed strike troubles in Jamaica led to a pitched fight in one of Kingston’s main thoroughfares. The fighting lasted an hour, and I was ended when police fired warning shots over the heads of the crowd.”
And it is this “one big, happy family” (the British Empire) you are asked to lose your life in defending. Remember that, Fellow Worker !