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Sunday, May 29, 2016
Congo Nationalism (1960)
Editorial from the September 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
Africa, it seems, is going to be in the news for a very long time. The latest trouble spot is the Congo, where, after the attainment of independence from Belgian rule, there were riots which apparently involved murder and rape. One news agency has described Luluabourg, in Kasai, as like a “sea of flames.”
As a complication, the province of Katanga has declared its intention of remaining separate from the rest of the independent Congo. Katanga is an area possessed of tremendous mineral wealth—uranium, diamonds, zinc, iron, cobalt and copper are all there. Prior to independence, these resources were extensively worked by the powerful Union Miniere. If Katanga succeeds in asserting its independence, Union Miniere will probably be able to continue its operations; when this possibility became apparent, the company’s shares soared. The Congo as a whole has not for a long time been a profitable source of investment for Belgian capitalists and one of the few chances of recouping some of their losses lies in dealing with a separate state of Katanga.
The wealth of Katanga is vital to the Congo: it was intended that it should make the largest contribution to easing the new State’s economic difficulties. This is the sort of situation which has thrown up many a nationalist movement. Now, M. Tshombe has used the arguments of his rival M. Lumumba to work a double trick upon him —to build nationalism within nationalism. Even so, Katanga may have a hard time if it loses the services of the port of Matadi. If westward of Katanga there is a hostile Congo, M. Tshombe’s government may be forced to seek an outlet for the province’s commodities through the east coast ports of Dar-es-Salaam or Mozambique. Perhaps this is the basis of the rumours of a proposed alliance between Katanga and Ruanda Urundi. [now Ruanda and Burundi]
The onlooking capitalist powers know that without Katanga, an independent Congo would be dangerously unstable. They also know that although this may suit some Belgian capitalists, it would not be acceptable to the other African states. Ghana is already showing a close interest in the dispute. Hence the concern of the United Nations and Mr. Hammerskjold’s warning of the danger of a war which may not he limited to the Congo.
All of this is sickeningly familiar. As the Congo struggles to establish itself among the other independent capitalist nations, so the problems of capitalism make themselves felt. The need to produce its goods as cheaply as possible and to sell them on the most favourable market —these will soon be the day-to-day concerns of the Congolese government and of any state of Katanga which may be set up. So also will the need to organise the most efficient exploitation of their workers. Already, the recent devaluation of the Congo franc is being interpreted as a measure to offset wage demands by the workers on the plantations. Doubtless, some of these workers will soon be organised into Congolese armed forces to protect the economic interests of their ruling class.
Much sympathy has been expressed for the victims of the riots and it is impossible to disagree with such sentiments. But this is not the first time that such things have been known in the Congo. It is only sixty years ago that the grisly excesses of the commissaries and agents of the Congo Free State were terrorising the natives. It is typically ironical that the victims of that savagery have not appreciated its futility and are consumed with the ambition for revenge. The Congolese, like so many others before them, have answered violence with violence.
The history of capitalism’s colonial powers is a horrifying story of brutal exploitation. Belgium has played her part in making that history. Yet the Congolese workers are wrong to believe that national independence is in their interests. As capitalism takes root in Africa, so will the social ailments of that system. The troubles in the Congo will probably be smoothed over but we know that they will be followed by others, perhaps somewhere else. For example, the Congo flared up just as the Nyasaland conference was nearing agreement in London. Where will the next eruption take place?
For this situation will last as long as the capitalist social system is in existence. The only way out is to establish Socialism, which will organise the world so that everyone, whatever their sex or colour of skin, has free access to the world's wealth and stands equally to the rest of humanity. There is no place for vicious exploitation in such a society.
That is the lesson for workers to learn, in Africa and all over the world.