1922 - Some Considerations on the Colonial Question
Since the French Party has accepted Moscow’s ‘twenty-one conditions’ and joined the Third International, among the problems which it has set itself is a particularly ticklish one - colonial policy. Unlike the First and Second Internationals, it cannot be satisfied with purely sentimental expressions of position leading to nothing at all, but must have a well defined working programme, an effective and practical policy.
On this point, more than on others, the Party faces many difficulties, the greatest of which are the following :
1. The great size of the colonies
Not counting the new ‘trusteeships’ acquired after the war, France possesses:
In Asia, 450,000 square kilometres, in Africa 3,541,000 square kilometres, in America, 108,000 square kilometres and in Oceania 21,600 square kilometres, or a total area of 4,120,000 square kilometres (eight times its own territory), with a population of 48,000,000 souls. These people speak over twenty different languages. This diversity of tongues does not make propaganda easy, for, except in a few old colonies, a French propagandist can make himself understood only through an interpreter. However, translations are of limited value, and in these countries of administrative despotism, it is rather difficult to find an interpreter to translate revolutionary speeches.
There are other drawbacks: though the natives of all the colonies are equally oppressed and exploited, their intellectual, economic and political development differs greatly from one region to another. Between Annam and the Congo, Martinique and New Caledonia, there is absolutely nothing in common, except poverty.
2. The indifference of the proletariat of the mother country towards the colonies
In his theses on the colonial question, Lenin clearly stated that ‘the workers of colonizing countries are bound to give the most active assistance to the liberation movements in subject countries’. To this end, the workers of the mother country must know what a colony really is, they must be acquainted with what is going on there, and with the suffering - a thousand times more acute than theirs - endured by their brothers, the proletarians in the colonies. In a word, they must take an interest in this question.
Unfortunately, there are many militants who still think that a colony is nothing but a country with plenty of sand underfoot and of sun overhead; a few green coconut palms and coloured folk, that is all. And they take not the slightest interest in the matter.
3. The ignorance of the natives
In colonized countries - in old Indo-China as well as in new Dahomey - the class struggle, and proletarian strength, are unknown factors for the simple reason that there are neither big commercial and industrial enterprises, nor workers’ organizations. In the eyes of the natives, Bolshevism - a word which is the more vivid and expressive because frequently used by the bourgeoisie - means either the destruction of everything or emancipation from the foreign yoke. The first sense given to the word drives the ignorant and timorous masses away from us; the second leads them to nationalism. Both senses are equally dangerous. Only a tiny section of the intelligentsia knows what is meant by communism. But these gentry, belonging to the native bourgeoisie and supporting the bourgeois colonialists, have no interest in the communist doctrine being understood and propagated. On the contrary, like the dog in the fable, they prefer to bear the mark of the collar and to have their piece of bone. Generally speaking, the masses are thoroughly rebellious, but completely ignorant. They want to free themselves, but do not know how to go about doing so.
The mutual ignorance of the two proletariats gives rise to prejudices. The French workers look upon the native as an inferior and negligible human being, incapable of understanding and still less of taking action. The natives regard all the French as wicked exploiters. Imperialism and capitalism do not fail to take advantage of this mutual suspicion and this artificial racial hierarchy to frustrate propaganda and divide forces which ought to unite.
5. Fierceness of repression
If the French colonialists are unskillful in developing colonial resources, they are masters in the art of savage repression and the manufacture of loyalty made to measure. The Gandhis and the de Valeras would have long since entered heaven had they been born in one of the French colonies. Surrounded by all the refinements of courts martial and special courts, a native militant cannot educate his oppressed and ignorant brothers without the risk of falling into the clutches of his civilizers.
Faced with these difficulties, what must the Party do?
Intensify propaganda to overcome them.