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Carl Davis

Jan Christian Smuts –
the Pious Bilbo of South Africa

(25 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 47, 25 November 1946, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The hypocrisy of the imperialists is endless, and nowhere is this truth so firmly established as at the meetings of the UN. In a previous article detailing several incidents which bear out the above, we cited the case of South Africa. Under the leadership of Field Marshal Smuts, the South African government proposed that it be permitted to annex Southwest Africa, over which it held a League of Nations mandate. The demand of South Africa brought forth a torrent of criticism from the suspicious small nations, which properly understood the demand to be nothing else but the imperialist incorporation of one country by another: The uneasiness of the small nations can be easily understood: Their own independence is constantly endangered, directly by seizure and indirectly through economic and political pressure.

Native African leaders, joined by Indian delegates and others from Latin American countries were bitter in their denunciation of Smuts. The fact that South Africa is a “small power” did not deceive them because they understood that under Smuts and his ruling class supporters South Africa is a member of the British Empire and that the demand for annexation is part of the general aims of British imperialism.

Russia is the one big power to join the protest against South Africa. Is it the freedom of Southwest Africa which motivates Russian policy? Hardly. For an imperialist power which has already seized large areas inhabited by millions of people and subjected them to the rule of the NKVD, the interests of a small country with a tiny population cannot be of great moment. To tens of millions of people in Eastern and. Central Europe, Russia’s defense of the liberty of another country must be a grim joke indeed. But Russia’s role in this situation can be understood only in the light of her struggle for power against the Anglo-American bloc.

Why Does Smuts Insist?

Taking advantage of the formal provisions of the charter of the UN, Russia has demanded that a trusteeship be established over Southwest Africa. The White Russian delegate, Frol P. Shmigov, declared that a trusteeship for Southwest Africa was obligatory under the UN charter. This, of course, is denied by the British and the South Africans. Although the United States has not taken a definite position on this dispute, its inclination is to hold with Smuts on the ground that legally South Africa is free to decide for itself whether or not it wishes to have a trusteeship established.

Why does South Africa insist on annexation? It is certainly not out of love for African natives. It is not just because it holds a mandate over this former German colony. The answer is twofold: it lies in the possibilities of an extended exploitation of over 300,000 Negro workers and in a consolidation of British imperialism in Africa generally. There is no other explanation for it. If one were to judge on the basis of the political superstructure of South Africa, it would seem illogical for a nation which practices Jim Crow and race discrimination as a matter of government policy to desire the incorporation into its borders of several hundred thousand more blacks whom it despises with a race hatred possessed by Southern bigots in the United States against Negroes or Hitler against the Jews.

Thus, Field Marshal Smuts and his government, who deny to the natives any form of democratic rights, can only have the interest in Southwest Africa described above. In justification for his demand, the aged and sanctimonious Field Marshal states that it is only in response to the desires of the Southwest Africans themselves. A “poll” taken by his government has resulted in a majority of natives expressing a desire to become part of South Africa! One can well imagine what kind of a poll it was! No one knew anything about it. Obviously, this secret and sudden polling of natives, living in veritable concentration camps, was so constructed as to guarantee the result the Field Marshal desired.

South African Bilbo

In his rebuttal speech against the Indian delegates and Russia, Smuts said that thousands of Southwest Africans had flocked to his country in search of work and because of that his government was compelled to close the doors to further immigration from the mandated country. But all that Smuts revealed is that conditions in Southwest Africa under his rule are so unbearable that the Negroes were quite willing to go even to South Africa and live under the slavery of his regime as an alternative to outright starvation in their looted and decimated country.

Equally as important as the above factor is the aim of British imperialism. Fully cognizant of the fact that the Mediterranean Sea is no longer the isolated bastion it was before the advent of air power, the British have been developing a “second line of defense” for the Empire. This second line of defense is situated in Africa, across its belly and around the Cape. The British are determined to keep control of these areas and will resist to the end any system of trusteeship which will bring rival powers into Empire areas and its environs.

That is why Smuts stated, according to the New York Times, that “his country would continue to administer Southwest Africa as an integral part of the union (South Africa) even if the General Assembly of the United. Nations failed to approve the Union’s proposal to annex this mandated territory.” This is certainly clear enough. If the Assembly does not grant the demand, South Africa will keep the territory anyway!

But Smuts wasn’t through with his statement at that point. He contrasted the “peaceful, well-ordered country” of South Africa to turbulent India. And he asked: “Is there a country in the wide world where there is more social discrimination between the communities and classes than in India? Is social discrimination not the very basis and pattern of Indian society?” So the spokesman for race discrimination and Jim Crow can resort to nothing else in defense of his imperialist policy but an attack on another country’s abhorrent residue social relations which are the principal products of several hundred years of rule by British imperialism, relations which have been fostered and maintained by the British Colonial Office as a means of impeding the struggle for independence. Even the most recent riots between Hindus and Moslems which have dotted India are the direct product of British policy, which has cunningly supported Jinnah against the Congress in hope that independence would be stalled for another long period of time. The real point about India is that only complete independence and the expulsion of British imperialism can create the condition for eliminating the vestiges of religious and feudal conflicts. British imperialism only fosters them.

An Orderly Country!

Smuts is lying when he says there are not race or class conflicts in South Africa because of his “orderly government.” Such conflicts have occurred frequently in his “white man’s paradise.” But let us assume for the moment that what he says is true. How was it achieved? Listen to this South African Bilbo expound his defense of race segregation, discrimination and the ghetto. His country, he said, was trying “on fair, decent and wise lines to keep the different elements, as much as convenient and possible, apart and away from unnecessary intermixture and so to prevent clashes among them ...”

While clashes are not prevented (attacks on natives by white gangsters and hooligans and the vigorous and brutal suppression of strikes are frequent) the Field Marshal has openly espoused the cause of racism in these remarks. By “fair, wise and decent lines,” Smuts meant that South African natives live in ghettos, subject to curfew laws, and are not permitted beyond their special camps without a. pass given by police officials. By “convenient and possible” he meant insofar as the employment and exploitation of native workers compels them to have contact with whites. The interests of exploitation and profits prevents the Field Marshal from driving the black workers into the bush. But if these blacks were permitted to live in what was once their own country, it is only because they are a source of profit to the mine and plantation owners.

Southwest Africa is a tiny country with a small population. In relation to the big political and economic world problems it appears of small moment. But in the events surrounding tiny Southwest Africa is contained a big lesson in imperialist policy and an outstanding example of the imperialist character of the United Nations which is the arena in which the rivalries of the powers are expressed in diplomatic struggle. There will be no real freedom for the people of the world until imperialism is destroyed.

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