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New International, September 1949


Saul Berg

A Step Forward of the Third Camp

The London Congress of the Colonial Peoples


From The New International, Vol. XV No. 7, September 1949, pp. 194 & 224.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The second Congress of the Peoples Against Imperialism took place in London, October 7 through October 10. It witnessed the greatest gathering yet of delegates of all colonial movements struggling for national independence, as well as of those socialist parties that are fully anti-imperialist.

The impressive rollcall showed delegates from the following African colonies: French-ruled Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Cameroons, Madagascar; British-ruled Sudan, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Gold Coast, Ashanti, Sierra Leone. In addition, there were delegates from organizations of African workers and students living in Great Britain.

Asiatic organizations included the Socialist Party of India, the two Trotskyist parties of Ceylon (Lanka Sama Samaj and Bolshevik Samaja parties), the Indian Peasants Union and organizations of Viet-Namese workers and students in France.

Socialist and democratic organizations from the imperialist nations represented at the conference were numerous, but unlike the delegates from the powerful movements for colonial liberation, they could only voice the sentiments of the small anti-imperialist vanguard among the European workers. Conspicuous by their absence were the treacherous Social Democratic Parties that participate or have participated in the imperialist governments of Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. From France, the Rassemblement Démocratique Révolutionnaire (RDR), the Parti Communiste Internationaliste and Garry Davis’ Citoyens du Monde attended. From Great Britain came the Independent Labor Party, Commonwealth, Crusade for World Government, Peace Pledge Union and several local Labor Party branches. From the Netherlands came representatives of the left-wing socialist paper De Vlam. From its émigré office in France, the Spanish POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification) was represented. And finally, for the first time, an American organization was reported as present – the Independent Socialist League.

Unquestionably the dominant feature of the Congress was the unalterable determination of the colonial movements to fight today for complete liberation. All the old saws about education, “preparation for self-government,” etc., are dead as a doornail. The reports of repression in the African colonies showed clearly enough the ferocity of the struggle and its deep-rooted character.

In Madagascar the French government itself admitted that 100,000 of the Malgasy people were killed in the suppression of the revolt last year. Not content with this, the French government demanded the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of the Malgasy deputy, Raseta, on minor charges of complicity in the revolt. Having obtained the lifting of immunity, the government changed the charge to treason and Raseta was sentenced to death. As a result of a campaign of protest, this sentence has since been commuted to life imprisonment, and from his cell Raseta wired to the Congress his best wishes and his full support.

The reports were everywhere the same. The delegate of the Uganda Farmers Union reported the suppression of his organization and the imprisonment of hundreds of its members for terms up to fifteen years for demonstrating in favor of cooperative marketing for the native farmers to eliminate the vicious profiteering of European middlemen.

The Algerian delegates reported the police repressions that made a mockery of the last elections there and which included practically the physical destruction of some villages and the forced exile from their home villages of hundreds of independence fighters.

The delegates of the Moroccan Istiqlal (Independence Party) were able to report the censorship of their press which results in their newspaper appearing usually more than half blank.

It is no wonder that these same colonial delegates had risen to a man at the first Congress, held last year at Puteaux, France, to reject the attempt made there by Social Democrats to obtain agreement on equivocal formulas short of complete self-determination for the colonial peoples. At that time the delegates had been rightly suspicious of the elaborate preparations made for them, reservations in fancy hotels and all the rest. They rejected the bribe that was in effect offered them, and refused to vitiate their struggle.

At this Congress, accordingly, the Social Democrats were absent, but the suspicions toward all Europeans fostered by their bitter experiences created a dangerous tendency this year among some of the delegates from British West African colonies. These suspicions came out clearly in the discussion of the document, The Colonies and War, presented to the Congress by its International Committee. The conclusions of this document can be summed up as follows:

  1. Every colonial people is entitled at once to full independence.
  2. No people which is not independent is bound by any decision to enter a war which may be taken by its oppressors.
  3. The colonial peoples must be completely independent with regard to the two big power blocs in the world.

This document was attacked by some of the West Africans on the ground that the African colonial power were only to be found in one of the two blocs and they were absolutely against any mention of a struggle which did not concern them. What was behind this attitude? There was unquestionably some Stalinist influence at work here, since certain of these delegates stated that they believed Russia to be a socialist state, but what was more common was the fear that any mention of the Russian problem represented a maneuver similar to those of the Social Democrats at Puteaux last year, and also the notion, hinted at more than expressed, that “the enemies of our enemies are our friends.”

This latter dangerous notion could have been answered to some extent by extricating the Russian question from the status merely of quarrels among the big powers, and by pointing out that it involves as well the struggle for national liberation by the Ukrainians and the other peoples directly under Russian rule, by the peoples of Eastern Europe under the rule of Russian puppets, and by the peoples of Germany, Austria and Trieste, subjected to Four-Power occupation.

No such presentation was made in concrete terms during the discussion of the committee’s document, but excellent speeches in general support of the committee’s Third Camp position were made by Jef Last of De Vlam and Leon Szur of the South African Socialist Group. Lahia, international secretary of the Socialist Party of India, made an exceptionally powerful speech for the same position, criticizing it only from the standpoint of possible ambiguity. What he wanted was not passive neutrality à la Sweden or Switzerland, but an “active neutrality” uniting colonial peoples and the workers of the imperialist countries in revolutionary struggle to end war. He stated that this must be adopted not only as a pre-war but as a mid-war policy!

It remained for the “orthodox” Trotskyists to muddy the waters by presenting their stand on the Russian question in its crassest form. The SWP and The Militant may have directly shoved unconditional defense of the USSR into the background, but this was far from the case with the Trotskyist delegates at London. Their ignoble document, presented by the delegates of the two Ceylon parties, needs no comment here. But what cannot be emphasized too much is its effect in vitiating any attempt to clarify the Nigerian delegation. One after another, the Trotskyist delegates presented their position in such a fashion as to appeal demagogically to the Nigerians, placing all their emphasis on attacking American imperialism and slurring quickly over their differences with the Stalinist bureaucracy.

In any case, as the Moroccan and Algerian delegates pointed out, even though they themselves were absolutely opposed to both power blocs, it was apparent that the Congress could not achieve unity on the committee’s document. Since they felt that the main purpose of the Congress was not to adopt comprehensive theses but to mobilize maximum support behind the struggles of the national organizations, a declaration should be drafted that could achieve unanimity. The Congress agreed unanimously to such a procedure; and such a declaration, dealing specifically with the struggle for full independence in the African and Asiatic colonies, was adopted the following day.

During the last day of the Congress, the many resolutions dealing with the struggles of each colony were adopted with few modifications. However, the declaration of the European delegation on the tasks of the European workers in the fight against imperialism, reported out by Healy, British “orthodox” Trotskyist, gave rise to considerable discussion. Jef Last, followed by Saul Berg of the Independent Socialist League, argued for the inclusion in the declaration of a paragraph that would deal with the national independence in the Ukraine, in Eastern Europe, and in Germany.

The discussion was of purely educational value, since the declaration of the European Commission was merely up for acceptance into the Congress minutes and was not subject to adoption, amendment or rejection. Its value was demonstrated by the hysterical, abusive attack then launched at Last and Berg by Healy. Berg had deliberately limited himself to formulas with which the Trotskyists are supposed to agree – the notion of an independent Ukraine, advanced by Trotsky as early as 1938, the notion of withdrawal of all occupation troops from Germany, etc. There was no mention of “Russian imperialism.” Only the question of national independence was raised.

Healy’s summation, in which he “answered” the criticisms, began with an oration on the history of the Russian Revolution that managed to be dull, vicious and semi-Stalinist simultaneously, thus accurately reflecting both the personality and the politics of the speaker. The delegates began to mutter, then to object, and finally to start yelling at Healy to stop – to the point where Chairman Fenner Brockway finally put a stop to Healy’s presentation on this subject. The reaction of the French-speaking delegation, when they heard the translation, was more sophisticated. They actually burst into laughter.

In any case, the lucubrations of Healy and Co. were not the main theme of the Congress. Despite the acrimonious and suspicious tone of many of the debates, the Congress emerged with a new International Committee that unites far stronger colonial forces than the preceding one. The new committee has fourteen representatives from Africa, five from Asia, six from Europe, one from the United States. In the case of Africa and Asia, every affiliated organization that is nationwide in scope is represented. The new committee will have the task of organizing activities that will bring to the attention of world opinion the principles of the Congress and the struggles of its national organizations.

Saul Berg


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