Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index
Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, February 1941


Eugene Varlin


Military Methods in the Colonies


From Fourth International, Vol. II No. 2, February 1941, pp. 51–55.
Transcribed & marked up by David Walters for ETOL.


“Peacetime” Functions of the Army

Colonel Pierre Lyautey, one of the “great” French colonizers, analysed the three “stages” of colonial conquest – “Military, at first, in the course of the conquest, then administrative, so that the civil power can combine with the military authorities to give the country an organisation and at the same time a constitution, public services, legislation; economic finally, when exploitation is the dominant preoccupation.” Lyautey’s demarcation of military from civil authority in “stages” hides the truth. The military arm is always there and the two are often indistinguishable. The main function of the army in the colonies remains the suppression of the revolting natives. There is no period that does not demonstrate this.

Reynaud, in a speech delivered on May 6, 1931, waxes lyrical on the role of the military in civil affairs. “The first administrators were the admirals, the officers of our admirable colonial army. They made war only to bring peace, to make new cities surge and (did this) while respecting the (native) religions, institutions, customs.” “Civil” administration by the army has been a common form of imperialist rule in the colonies. From 1830 to 1870 (save for the years 1848 to 1851, during the brief existence of the Second French Republic) Algeria was “submitted to a military regime.” Faidherbe not only “conquered” and “pacified” Senegal; he also “organized” it. Gallieni, at Madagascar, was “invested with civil and military powers” and “had a program neatly determined, touching all branches of human activity.” At Morocco, toward the close of the nineteenth century, Lyautey “concentrated in his hands political, administrative, and military duties.” The Sahara is administered by military officers; Councils of War located at Algiers, Constantinople and Oran handle crimes committed by the natives. Nor is the military regime a French disease. Hawaii’s municipal government, administration, and public utilities are all US Army Divisional functions. The viceroy, who is the highest civil authority in India, is also the commander of the army. The fraudulence of Reynaud’s claims of “peace” brought by the military is revealed by Gordon Casserly, full of admiration for the French colonial system and ready to recommend its fine points to the British imperialists in whose army he served. “Morocco,” he said, “is normally divided into a number of regions or subdivisions, those settled and peaceful being governed by civil officers, while those which include tribes not yet subdued are ruled by military officers – generals of brigades or colonels. Each of these has had under his orders a self-contained small field force to be employed as necessary against the unsubmitted tribes in his districts or to be lent to a neighboring tribe.” In a word, the “peace” of the admirals was erected over the dead bodies of the natives.

Peace in the colonies is only a temporary truce between wars. Again and again, the natives have made use of armed force to break the military vise of their oppressors. Bouliol, a Lieutenant-Colonel of the French Colonial Artillery, stated that “military operations in the colonies have most frequently the object of pacifying revolting regions.” Bouliol was in a position to know. How continuous such wars against the natives are is exemplified by the campaigns in a typical colonial possession, the British Cape Colony. In 1852 the government sent detachments of European police consisting predominantly of young Colonial farmers, mostly English, with a sprinkling of Germans, to quell turbulent natives in the eastern frontier districts. In 1869, in the same colony, two troops and a detachment of Royal Artillery conducted a campaign against the Hottentots on the Orange River. Four years later, in November 1873, troops were ordered to Basutoland to arrest a rebel chief. In 1897, a force under Lieutenant-Colonel Balgety conducted operations in the Landberg against Behuana tribes. The close of the South African War in 1899 brought a curtailment of the armed forces. In the words of Colonel Judd, “the real raison d’être of the corps’ existence, that of keeping the turbulent natives between the Cape and Natal in order had gone. The tribes were no longer troublesome.” But this “real reason for the corps’ existence” was gone only to return again: for in February 1916, in the same Cape Colony two squadrons and a machine-gun section were sent to the northern area for service against the Ovamba tribe. How many years of “peace” were there?

The existence of “peace” is not necessarily an indication of apathy on the part of the natives. It may be based on experience, a knowledge of what they are up against, an understanding that the desperate efforts of individuals or small groups are helpless against the organized army of the imperialists. It may be the understanding that it is necessary to prepare for a combined effort of all their forces instead of frittering away their energies in scattered and isolated efforts. The official Report of the Committee to Consider Suggestions for the Reorganization of the Defence Forces of Kenya Colony and Protectorate (1936) makes this point clear. In proposing “some form of organization of the European community (as) necessary to protect life and property in the event of a serious or local disturbance,” it notes, as a point in favor of this proposition “that the mere knowledge that a European Defence Organization exists, cannot fail to have a steadying effect on the native population in times of unrest.”

The bourgeoisie in the colonies, as at home, compel the slave to pay for the chains that bind him. The French colonies are required to provide the costs for their own “defence.” India pays the entire cost of the army – native and British. This is like making an American Negro foot the bill for his lynching.

In 1900 the United States was still an amateur in this colonial game – but learning fast, as in the suppression of the Aguinaldo revolt in the Philippines. During the elections in Panama in June and July 1918, troops from the US Canal Zone Department entered the “independent” Districts of Panama and Colon to supervise the elections and preserve order. In July 1918, a detachment of troops was sent to Chiriqui Province to suppress lawlessness. This detachment remained on duty in the province until August 1920. As Major-General Menoher, Commander of the Hawaiian Division, put it, “Like all frontier forces our troops must always be ready for any emergency, either as a garrison of the island itself or as an expeditionary force.” We need not cite the many familiar instances of the use of United States troops in Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico.

Defending the Booty Against Others

Today, another main task of colonial militarism, the defense of the captured booty from the inroads of rival imperialisms, is most conspicuous. The conflict of Italy and England in Africa has received wide publity. The American bourgeois press hails the English troops as defenders of democracy. And the petty-bourgeois democrats who know better but are afraid for their skins add their little squeaks of delight to the booming of their masters.

All the imperialists have long been preoccupied with this problem. Bouliol in 1904 opposed the use of natives in regiments attached to coast brigades “because this regiment will be called to fight against Europeans.” The above-mentioned Kenya Report stated:

“The Explanatory Memorandum to the Defence Force Bill published in the Official Gazette of the 12th January, 1927, makes it clear that the purposes for which the Kenya Defence Force was established were twofold. In the first place for defence against External Aggression (against rival imperialists – E.V.) and secondly for the defence of life and property in the event of Internal Disturbance (against struggles for freedom of the natives – E.V.) ... Whatever differences of opinion there may be as to how the European British subjects of this country should be organized for its defence, we found no one who quarreled with this description of the twotold nature of the defence problem.”

Hitler did not exist then; who, then, was the “aggressor” against whom Britain was preparing?

The Role of White Chauvinism

Counterposing the white race “in general” to the native races is a weapon in the hands of the ruling imperialist class. It breeds in the native a hatred of all whites including his natural ally, the exploited proletarian of the imperialist countries. On the other hand, it links the white worker with his class enemy, the capitalist, against his natural ally, the colonial slave.

The British officer Gordon Casserly disclosed the intimate relation between the power of the imperialists and chauvinism. In 1925 he wrote:

“In North Africa, it is impossible not to see which is the dominant race. The French may not seem at first sight to keep natives at such a distance as we in India and our colonies; but below the surface and in all essentials they are as keen on the colour bar as we are. They regard intermarriage with the same horror as we in India ...”

In the military forces, white chauvinism sometimes assumes peculiar forms. The Dutch colonial army placed half-breeds on a position of equality with Europeans. “Coloured holders of army commissions in the French colonies” there are, and they are “members of the military clubs,” but, Casserly noted, they mix “little socially with French officers or their families.”

A fairly elaborate presentation of the standpoint of the white-chauvinist officer was given by Lieutenant von Keller, who spoke, as he himself made clear, not only for the German Army but for the armies of her fellow-imperialisms. He wrote:

“The reason why colored non-commissioned officers, not only in Germany’s colonial army but in all European colonial armies, are not accepted in the officers’ corps is simple and clear. The responsibility of being an officer and a gentleman requires a cultural and social background on the highest plane. Not only do the blacks lack this but they lack also the energy, the vitality, the military tradition which are necessary requisites for a commissioned officer. To admit them would mean the disintegration of the Junker tradition, the destruction of the morale of the white officer. One could not expect a white lieutenant, for example, to work together wholeheartedly with a black officer whom he feels in his heart to be inferior in every way. This example can be extended even further if we imagine white officers and troops taking commands from a black.” [1]

White-chauvinism is nothing more than a rationalization of the actual behavior of the imperialists. Von Keller is simply putting his seal of approval on the specific organizational means by which imperialism maintains its control in the colonial army. The exploiter looks with loathing on those whom he exploits.

The utilization of native non-commissioned officers is, however, essential to imperialist domination. It is done with clue regard for white superiority. These native officers are ranked by whites and under their control. Their numbers are few. In the British army, “neither the junior officers nor the privates are required to show the native officers any mark of respect,” writes an authority (Herron). Casserly wrote that in the Algerian army “a few junior officers are natives but at present none command French soldiers.” And, “although native officers are now eligible for promotion to any rank – if they pass all the competitive and other examinations, a difficult proviso – France is not guilty of our latest folly of starting out to officer Indian regiments with natives only.” The British “started out” but didn’t get very far.

“German subjects,” said Herron, “are always given preference over natives whatever their grades, and German warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and privates are in no way subordinate to a native officer.” In 1936, the Commission on the Reorganization of Kenya’s Defence Forces came “to the conclusion that in any future war in East Africa the primary function of the European community in the event of External Aggression should be to supply officers, non-commissioned officers, and instructors for the expansion of the King’s African Rifles which, in our view, must follow the threat of External Aggression.” These “instructors” were not chosen because of their military ability. On this score, we have the testimony of one of them, Cleland Scott. In an article written for Blackwood’s Magazine last year, he described his experiences in Kenya. “I had jumped from private to sergeant; so it seemed promotion was going to be rapid in this new war ... In fact, privates seemed rare (among the whites, he means – E.V.), whereas sergeants, second lieutenants, and captains were common, most of them lacking even elementary knowledge of things military, much less of war.”

Conduct of the Colonial Army

Everybody knows that colonial expansion is undertaken for the most virtuous reasons in the world. The imperialists have assured us of this on countless occasions. The “white man’s burden” is a poetic tradition of imperialism. Capitaine Weber declaimed that Belgium’s Arabian campaign was conducted for a “noble cause: the repression of slavery.” Coanet wrote that especially after 1789 the idea arose “that the colonies were not only a source of profits but one of the indispensable elements in the equilibrium and grandeur of France.” He described the five functions of the colonial army as pacification, liberation, the study and understanding of the different native races, the development of local resources for the purpose of profiting therefrom, and, finally, educating and assisting the natives. Lieutenant von Keller maintained that the “occupation of industrially retarded territories is carried out mainly for the purpose of bringing these territories up to the cultural and social plane of the motherland. Armed force is only used if this mission is resisted by those reactionary forces among the natives in the colony who acquire profit by exploiting the people in illegal commerce of all kinds ...” Matsui Iwani insisted in a memorial to Geneva in 1932 that despite the Japanese “aerial bombardments of open towns, inflicting cruel sufferings on the civilian population,” that “all foreign observers ... have drawn attention ... to ... acts of kindness performed by our Army.”

One of the most complete revelations of the conduct of troops in a colony is contained in two reports issued in 1902 by the United States War Department. The title of the first is Trials or Court-martials in the Philippines in Consequence of Certain Instructions; of the second: Letter of the Secretary of War relative to the reports and charges in the public press of cruelty and oppression exercised by our soldiers toward Philippine natives.

Pages 42 to 44 of the Secretary of War’s Letter list some instances of cruelty committed and the punishments which were received. Second Lieutenant Capp, for example, was reprimanded for firing into town and looting. Lieutenant Thomas was fined 300 and reprimanded for cruelty and for assaulting prisoners. The “punishment,” commented the report, “inflicted by Lieutenant Thomas was very ‘severe and amounted almost to torture and his actions can not be too much deplored nor too emphatically denounced’.” These words were the sole punishment sustained by the culprit. Second Lieutenant Ellison looted and encouraged looting – reprimanded. Captain Brandle’s favorite way of torturing captives was hanging them by the neck for ten seconds – reprimanded. Numerous cases of rape, robbery, murder in cold blood, and the like are listed. The “water cure” which consisted in pouring water into the victim’s mouth for an hour or so was a common form of torture. Many deaths followed this treatment. A diet of salt herring and nothing else was another ingenious device of the Americanos.

No less distinguished a person than Brigadier-General Jacob H. Smith was one of those tried in Manila for “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.” Specifically, he was charged with giving “instructions in regard to the conduct of hostilities on the island of Samar, Philippine Islands, to his subordinate officer, Major L.W.T. Waller ... in language and words to wit: ‘I want no prisoners,’ (meaning thereby that giving of quarter was not desired or required) and ‘I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn, the better you will please me,’ and did give further instructions to said Major Waller that he (General Smith) wanted all persons killed who were capable of bearing arms, and did, in reply to a question by said Major Waller, asking for an age limit, designate the age limit as 10 years of age ...” Smith was found guilty and sentenced “to be admonished by the reviewing authority.” The court explained its leniency by “the undisputed evidence that the accused did not mean everything that his language implied” and other equally unconvincing reasons.

President Theodore Roosevelt commented on Smith’s trial. Roosevelt approved the lenient sentence, saying:

The very fact that warfare is of such character as to afford infinite provocation for the commission of acts of cruelty by junior officers and enlisted men, must make officers in high and responsible positions peculiarly careful in their conduct so as to keep a moral check over any acts of an improper character by their subordinates. Almost universally the higher officers have so borne themselves ... But there have been instances of the use of torture and of improper heartlessness in warfare on the part of individuals or of small detachments. In the recent campaign ordered by General Smith, the shooting of the native bearers by the order of Major Wailer was an act which sullied the American name ... Loose and violent talk by an officer of high rank are always likely to excite to wrongdoing those whose wills are weak or whose passions are strong.”

But Theodore Roosevelt’s mealy-mouthed apology cannot conceal from the reader of these reports the fact that these cruelties were an integral part of the subjugation of the Philippines. Smith was merely a scapegoat.

The Problem of Native Troops

The employment of native troops has been continuously on the increase. This phenomenon is similar to the increased military uses to which the bourgeoisie puts its class enemy at home, the proletariat. How explain this contradiction, this army composed in large part of natives whose chief purpose is to hold the natives in a state of subjugation? Why do the imperialists utilize native troops?

Captain Wissmann looked at the colonizing of East Africa in 1889 as a dollar and cents proposition. He claimed that using European troops would greatly increase the expenses of the expedition; natives came cheaper and Wissmann was all for taking them on. Moreover, he thought that they were better able than white soldiers to bear up under the hardships of warfare in tropical climate.

Captain Rhodes gave similar reasons for making use of native soldiers in the Philippines. He pointed to the high expense of training, equipping, and transporting a single American soldier. The Filipino suffered a far lower mortality from tropical disease that the American. Then, too, a native Filipino was better acquainted with the topography of the islands and with the language, nature, and habits of his people. The natives, furthermore, would be less inclined to fight the Americans if they saw that their own brothers were enlisted in America’s colonial army. Finally, Rhodes pointed out that, after all, America was only a young fry among old fish.

“... The more an American travels in the Orient, the more he realizes that our country is indeed an amateur in the colonizing business. And setting aside all questions of national expediency, we would do well to set about organizing native forces, if for no other reason than that the veteran colonizers of the old world have found them absolutely necessary to permanent success.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Mangin was the French “apostle” of the idea of black troops. The blacks had been utilized in the French colonial army long before Mangin. The uniqueness of Mangin’s proposals lay in the fact that he wanted to use the black troops in Europe in the eventuality of a war with Germany. He pointed to the more rapid growth of the German population as compared with that of France. In a prolonged war, he contended, given equal mechanization, numbers would be decisive. Mangin was successful in convincing the Minister of War in 1908. In 1912, a period of military training was made compulsory for native Algerians. In the course of the World War I, France increased its black troops to a hitherto unprecedented degree. One of Clemenceau’s first big jobs was working out, together with Mangin, a general plan of recruitment from the colonies. 268,000 native soldiers were furnished by Tunis, Algeria, and Morocco alone during the World War. A few years after the Armistice was signed, Commandante Guignard envisaged a native army of 500,000 in the war to come.

When the French Revolution introduced the levée en masse, the arming of the entire adult male population of France, its opponent, Prussia, was compelled to resort to similar measures in order to meet France’s revolutionary armies. The employment of native troops by France on an enormous scale compelled England to do likewise. England, even when it was allied with France, regarded her as a rival empire-builder. The Report on the Reorganization of Kenya’s Defence Forces published in 1936 makes the following statement:

It is impossible to ignore the tendency of Powers possessing Colonial Empires (only France could be meant here – E.V.) to recruit the indigenous man power of the territories under their control for purposes of war. The native armies thus established form an offensive force very different in character to those encountered in the past, when large primitive and undisciplined hordes were customarily dispersed by small, but highly trained, European forces.”

In 1938, the entire native population of Kenya was made subject to conscription.

The imperialists are well aware that they are playing with fire. But they are driven to the increased employment of the natives by the contradictory necessities of their system. They know that they are building up an army of enemies and they repeat this thought constantly. Nevertheless, they cannot help themselves.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bouliol, in 1904, opposed the employment of native troops in coast brigades because they would be compelled to fight against Europeans. The natives, he said, “would be influenced by the prestige that the white race exerts on them and would not have a confidence sufficient to support the shock of the enemy; in the case, on the other hand, where they would have the audacity to pit themselves against the Europeans, it is quite credible that these qualities would some day return against us.” Despite Bouliol, the Negroes were pitted against whites during the World War. When the war was over, and the need for manpower was no longer so pressing, the horrorstricken imperialists raised their voices against this “anomaly” of black troops on European soil.

“... In view of the international disturbances (that is, of the complaints of the international bourgeoisie – E.V.) the French government withdrew the last blacks from the Rhine on June 1, 1920. The withdrawal was likewise due to the influence of the Rue Oudinot which believed the blacks’ psychology toward whites in general would be seriously altered by being garrisoned as conquerors in a white country.” [2]

At the Versailles Conference, Lloyd George, on January 24, 1919, urged the seizure of Germany’s colonies on the grounds that the Germans “had raised native troops and encouraged these troops to behave in a manner that would have disgraced the Bolsheviks.” Lloyd George went on to say that the French and British, doubtless, had also raised native troops, but they had controlled them better.” No idle chatter about the “self-determination of nations.” On the contrary: “The Germans are bunglers in this game of oppression. Now, we’ll do the job right!”

But five years ago the Committee for the Reorganization of Kenya’s Defence Forces opposed the indiscriminate issue of rifles to European subjects because they might be stolen by the natives. Two years later, however, the same people who presented this Report authorized the conscription of Kenya’s natives in preparation for a “major war.” These people are in a blind alley and, what is more, they know it, too.

Bribing Native Troops – and Its Limits

Faidherbe, who became governor of Senegal in 1854, advised that native troops be given a “sufficient wage.” Herron wrote that “the warlike propensities of the North African Kabyle and Berber tribes, their craving for adventure, love of uniform and loot, have heretofore proved sufficient incentive to provide an ample supply of recruits.” It might be necessary, he continued, to increase their pay and to make service obligatory. Casserly wrote in 1925 that many Arabs enlisted voluntarily in spite of the fact that obligatory service was then in force. They were “allured by the pay, the possession of a horse, and the showy uniform.” He said of the Kabyles that they enlisted freely before the introduction of conscription, serving for their pensions and then returning to the mountains where they were born. Herron showed that in the English colonial army, too, pensions served as an incentive for recruitment.

The native troops, it is clear, are privileged characters compared to the natives as a whole. That is how the imperialists seek to gain their support against their own people. Yet one of the reasons the native has been employed is that he costs less. Herron wrote, “The pay of the native troops is very meager but a native soldier in India is almost rich by the side of a native farm-laborer, who makes hardly half as much.” Rhodes, in his pamphlet urging native troops in the Philippines, said that “the pay of a native soldier, small though it appears to us, means much to the peasantry of the native islands and will mean more, when they become more or less dependent on it for support.”

As far as possible, then, the imperialists at home and in the colonies attempt to place their armies in a privileged position, thereby ensuring their loyalty. The employment of mass conscript armies, however, makes this an impossibility. Producing the necessary armaments strains the bourgeois economy to its limits. The soldiery cannot be pampered, too. At this point the bribery of the bourgeoisie assumes intangible forms – not money, not pensions, but promises which it never intends to realize. Here is one example. During the World War, a policy of reforms was “announced” in Algeria to stimulate native recruitment. “The enthusiasm that followed the announcement of reforms ... was immense ... About 70,000 men were recruited ... immediately,” writes Grugnard. But “the end of the war came before the plan of reforms ... could be put into practice completely ... The political conflict arose again.”

The physical defects of the natives, a by-product of the reign of imperialism, form a major obstacle to recruiting. In 1926, a census in the French colonies to determine how many young blacks were physically able to serve in the army, showed 45% to be suitable in the Upper Volta, 32.8% in Dahomey, 31% in Niger, 28.6% on the Ivory Coast, 23.5% in Senegal, 22.5% in the Soudan, and 14% in Guiana.

The most significant obstacle to recruiting natives is their refusal to become agents of their enemies. Native betrayers, those who voluntarily fight in the armies of imperialism against their brothers, are objects of particular hatred. Treacherous native chiefs have often facilitated the recruitment of their unwilling subjects. In February and December 1885, “the beginning of a French recruiting policy based upon the active cooperation of the native chiefs was laid down.” These found “tyrannical methods (necessary) to impress their young subjects into French service ... It was ... difficult to bring recalcitrant subjects from the interior to the coast.” Twenty-eight years later, in 1913, the problem was far from settled. Although Ponty stated that “the problem (of recruiting) is today happily solved,” the Revue Politique et Parlementaire, “certainly no sensational periodical, noted ... numerous cases of resistance in French West Africa and wholesale emigrations to the neighboring English colony of Gambie.”

“Divide and Rule”

Native troops are shifted around frequently so that they will not maintain close contact with their brothers in the fields and mines and factories.

Within the army, the imperialists utilize the differences among the native tribes. Members of rival tribes are placed in the same regiments. Those coming from the same tribe are kept separate. In the Philippine Islands, the Tagalogs and the Macabebes had been traditional enemies. Rhodes concluded that “it would seem that the ultimate composition of such (native military) organizations should be onehalf Tagalog, and the remaining half, one of the friendly tribes ... Probably there would be much friction at first but this very fact would insure few conspiracies being hatched, without coming to the ear of the company commander.”

Long before this, the French colonial army resorted to a similar stratagem. Guignard wrote that the great losses of the French expeditionary force in North Africa “made everyone think soon of profiting from the existing dissension among the natives, for the purpose of utilizing one against the other. Of this idea was born in 1831 the Zouaves corps, recruited among the Zouaves, a tribe neighboring on Algeria.”

Captain Rhodes attributed “the unbroken period of fidelity to the crown which has followed the Sepoy Rebellion ... to that ingenious system of organization, which combines natives of different tribes and religions in the same regiment.”

Another application of this imperialist principle is sending natives from one region to fight against natives of a different region, far from their own home. Consequently, a unit of blacks was not formed in Senegal itself until thirty years after the first black Senegalese company had been sent abroad. The natives used by Captain Wissmann in German East Africa came from the Anglo-Egyptian army or were enrolled at Mozambique. Duchesne’s expedition to Madagascar in 1895 was composed in great part of Senegalese tirailleurs. The British colonial army employs native regiments frequently for expeditions in other countries; the China expedition of 1900 consisted almost entirely of such native regiments. In 1934 Davis wrote that “since 1908 two black battalions had been stationed in Morocco, and had been judged successful.”

Von Wissmann remarked with smug satisfaction that “in quelling the mutiny of the 15th native Landwehr (on April 10, 1903, in the Kamerun) the Military Commandant showed great wisdom and discretion in utilizing the method used by the French in a similar instance. In the situation referred to, Colonel Halke, not wishing to give the natives cause for revenging themselves on white communities, picked firing-squads at random from other native regiments in order to execute the mutineers. Thus, dissension was created among, the natives with no serious disturbances to the German white troops or settlers.”

The Contradictions Multiply

Thus we see the complex and contradictory process: the imperialists driven to create larger and larger armed forces of natives in the colonies; seeking ever more efficacious means of bribing or terrorizing these natives; but the imperialist methods of domination breaking down as the armed native’ forces grow larger and larger.

The imperialist powers were able to conquer the backward countries not because they had more manpower or more courageous troops but because they possessed superior arms. One of the preoccupations of the colonial army to this day in preventing the natives from acquiring modern military equipment. Rhodes described the endeavor “of our forces in the. Philippines ... to obtain possession of the insurgent arms and ammunition. The capture of these was usually more important than the capture of prisoners for the reason that the insurgents had three or four soldiers for every rifle.” In opposing the issuance of rifles to all white individuals, the Report on the Reorganization of Kenya’s Defences pointed out that when this had been done in the past, large numbers had been stolen. It advocated the use of central armories but said that these must be placed in some secure place – behind police lines, for example – since these armories would be tempting targets for the natives.

Within the colonial armies themselves, the most effective weapons are concentrated in the hands of the whites. The British in India had about 73,000 men at the turn of the century; the native army, 143,000 or almost twice as many. Yet the British army had ten times the artillery of the native army. This was and is true of the French army also.

“When in Algeria and Morocco,” said Gordon Casserly in 1925, “I first saw colored men in officers’ uniforms and Frenchmen, serving as private soldiers and even in Negro ... regiments, I thought it an unwise policy of lowering the status of the white races or of raising natives to an equality with them. I soon realized that, as regards the latter, it was merely a case of, employing Frenchmen to do special work as ... machine-gunners, etc., that natives ... might not be wisely entrusted with ... just as we in India keep the artillery in English hands.”

However, even on this question of arming the native troops, the imperialists are in difficulties. If it were up to them, sling shots would be good enough. Unfortunately, rival imperialists, must be taken into consideration. Moreover, native insurgents seize more advanced arms whenever they can. Thus Captain Rhodes could write, “Prudence would dictate the issue of an inferior arm – either rifle or shotgun. But with the latter, and perhaps the former, scouts would be at a great disadvantage when operating against an enemy armed with Mauser rifles and using smokeless ammunition.” Rhodes concluded finally – hesitatingly and “all things considered” that the regulation US magazine carbine should be given to the natives but that the use of ammunition should be carefully accounted for.

Despite similar fears, the imperialists have trained native armies greater in size today than ever before. And if past experience and the openly expressed fears of the imperialists are any guide, these troops will be a reservoir of revolution ir the very near future.


1. Über Kolonialtruppen, Jahrbücher für die deutsche Armee and Marine, 1901.

2. Davis, S.C., Reservoirs of Men, 1934, p. 165.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 27 February 2016