Part I - Murder for Money: Congo, 1st Genocide of the 20th Century

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Fri Feb 9 00:25:16 MST 2001


The URL for this article is http://emperors-clothes.com/analysis/russell.htm

www.tenc.net
[Emperor's Clothes]

Murder for Money: Congo, 1st Genocide of the 20th Century
By Bertrand Russell [posted 1-24-2001]

>From Russell's book, 'Freedom and organization 1814-1914' (London:George
Allen and Unwin,1934)

Introductory Notes
by Jared Israel

"Each village was ordered by the authorities to collect and bring in a
certain amount of rubber – as much as the men could collect and bring in by
neglecting all work for their own maintenance. If they failed to bring the
required amount, their women were taken away and kept as hostages in
compounds or in the harems of government employees. If this method failed,
native troops, many of them cannibals, were sent into the village to spread
terror, if necessary by killing some of the men; but in order to prevent a
waste of cartridges, they were ordered to bring one right hand for every
cartridge used. If they missed, or used cartridges on big game, they cut off
the hands of living people to make up the necessary number." (From Bertrand
Russell's text, below.)

Bertrand Russell, the eminent philosopher who inspired the 1967 War Crimes
Tribunal which exposed the horrors of the U.S. war in Vietnam (see
http://www2.prestel.co.uk/littleton/v1tribun.htm ) wrote the following
informative report on the Belgian effort to 'civilize' the Congo and
introduce free enterprise which, as Russell notes, cost 10,000,000 Congolese
lives. The novel "Heart of Darkness" by the great Polish author Joseph Conrad
is a fictionalized account of these events.

The U.S. and Britain are continuing in Belgium's footsteps, destroying the
Congolese economy and slaughtering its population. This is done partly
through proxies (the Ugandan and Rwandan governments, which are Anglo-U.S.
creations). The Belgians worked through proxies as well. Plus ca change, plus
c'est la même chose. [ The more things change, the more they remain the
same.]

I wonder about Russell's use of 'savage' to describe the Congolese whom
Belgium profitably slaughtered at the end of the 19th century and beginning
of the 20th. Was Russell prejudiced? Or was this bitter irony?

The text follows. - JI

***

Congo

The Slave Trade having been abolished, and slaves having been emancipated,
the easiest way to exploit black labour was to occupy the countries in which
the black men live, and it conveniently happened that these countries
contained various valuable raw materials. Greed was only one, though the most
important, of the motives to African imperialism, but there was one case,
that of the Congo “Free” State, in which it appears to have been the sole
motive. Some of the Philosophical Radicals thought that pecuniary
self-interest, rightly understood, should be an adequate motive for useful
activity. The example of the Congo will enable us to test this theory.

The Congo is a vast river, draining an area about as large as Europe without
Russia, flowing through dark forests, and passing through territory almost
entirely inhabited by savages. Although the mouth had long been known, the
upper reaches were first discovered in 1871 by the virtuous Dr. Livingstone,
who combined in equal measure a love of exploration and a desire to convert
Africans to the Christian faith. Stanley, who discovered him at Ujiji on Lake
Tanganyika, was less interested in the Gospel than in some other aspects of
Christian civilization. His first journey was undertaken on behalf of the New
York Herald, his subsequent journeys (which established the whole course of
the Congo and of several tributaries) were made at the expense and in the
interests of Leopold, King of the Belgians, of whom Stanley spoke always in
terms of the highest praise.

King Leopold was the son of  Queen Victoria’s Uncle Leopold, whose advice she
valued in the early years of her reign. He was moreover, as Sir H. H.
Johnston puts it, “grandson of Louis Philippe, husband of an Austrian
Archduchess, a devoted upholder of the Roman Church, and a very rich man.” He
was a promoter of scientific research, particularly in Africa, and a patron
of missionary efforts. The Berlin Conference of 1884, convened for the
partition of Africa, decided that this high-minded monarch should be
entrusted personally with the government of a territory which extended over
about one million square miles, and contained the greater part of the Congo
basin. He was respected by diplomats, extolled by travellers, and generally
believed to be a model of philanthropy in his attitude to the negroes. In
1906, when he offered £12,000 for scientific research as to the prevention of
sleeping sickness, he declared in a manifesto:

If God gives me that satisfaction (victory over sleeping sickness) I shall be
able to present myself before His judgement-seat with the credit of having
performed one of the finest acts of the century, and a legion of rescued
beings will call down upon me His grace. [Quoted by E. D. Morel, Red Rubber,
p. 151.]

When King Leopold took over the Congo, he announced that his purpose was
purely philanthropic. Stanley, who conducted propaganda for him in England,
explained how much he loved the black man, and feared that English people
could not “appreciate rightly, because there are no dividends attached to it,
this restless, ardent, vivifying, and expansive sentiment which seeks to
extend civilizing influence among the dark places of sad-browed Africa.” The
Prince of Wales (Edward VII), whose help was invoked by King Leopold as early
as 1876 in calling a conference to discuss “the settlement by Europeans of
unexplored Africa and the encouragement of exploration with a view to
spreading civilization,” became dubious when assured that the sole motive was
philanthropy. He wrote to Sir Bartle Frere:

"The question is whether the public who represent money will take the same
interest that he does. Philanthropy is all very well, but unless it is
practical and gives a practical result it will not find that favour in the
eyes of the English public that it deserves." [Sidney Lee, King Edward VII,
I, p. 629.]

However, Leopold’s emphasis on philanthropy served his purpose. The other
Powers showed little enthusiasm for an enterprise that was represented as
involving expenditure without hope of pecuniary recompense, and when he
offered to bear all the expense himself, they allowed him to assume the
burden (as they supposed it) on condition of his preserving freedom of
religion, freedom of trade, freedom of the Press, and so on.

After winning the approval of the world by suppressing Arab slave-raiders,
the royal philanthropist set to work to introduce orderly government into his
dominions. Being thoroughly up-to-date, he established a system of State
Socialism, the most thoroughgoing that has ever existed; and in agreement
with much modern opinion, he seems to have held that Socialism should involve
no nonsense about democracy. He issued decrees by which all the land, all the
rubber, and all the ivory was to be the property of the State – which was
himself. It was made illegal for natives to sell rubber or ivory to
Europeans, and for Europeans to buy either from natives. He next sent a
secret circular to his officials, explaining that they “must neglect no means
of exploiting the produce of the forests,” and that they would receive a
bonus on all rubber and ivory, which would be great when the cost of
collection was small, and small when it was great. For example, if the cost
of collection was thirty centimes or less per kilo, the official received
fifteen centimes per kilo; while if the cost was over seventy centimes per
kilo, the official received only four centimes. The financial results were
all that could have been hoped. Parts of the Congo were worked directly for
the King, parts for companies in which he was a large shareholder. Take, for
example, the Anversoise Trust, which exploited a region to the north of the
river. The paid-up capital, of which the State had half, was £10,000, and the
net profits in six years were £370,000. Another company, in four years, made
a profit of £731,680 on a paid-up capital of £40,200. The original value of
the shares – of which the King held half – was 250 francs, but in 1906 their
value had risen to 16,000 francs. It is more difficult to discover what were
the profits of the vast areas which were reserved as the King’s private
domain, but it is estimated by Professor Cattier that they amounted to
£300,000 a year. [Morel, op. cit., p. 145.]

The methods by which these vast profits were accumulated were very simple.
Each village was ordered by the authorities to collect and bring in a certain
amount of rubber – as much as the men could collect and bring in by
neglecting all work for their own maintenance. If they failed to bring the
required amount, their women were taken away and kept as hostages in
compounds or in the harems of government employees. If this method failed,
native troops, many of them cannibals, were sent into the village to spread
terror, if necessary by killing some of the men; but in order to prevent a
waste of cartridges, they were ordered to bring one right hand for every
cartridge used. If they missed, or used cartridges on big game, they cut off
the hands of living people to make up the necessary number. The result was,
according to the estimate of  Sir H. H. Johnston, which is confirmed from all
other impartial sources, that in fifteen years the native population was
reduced from about twenty million to scarcely nine million. [Sir H. H.
Johnston, The Colonization of Africa (Cambridge Historical Series), p. 352.]
It is true that the sleeping sickness contributed something to this
reduction, but the spread of this disease was greatly accelerated by King
Leopold’s practice of moving hostages from one end of his dominions to the
other.

CONTINUED, See Part II





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