Walter Rodney
Original publication:

Fascism at Home and Colonialism Abroad (1972)

Small excerpt from How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Chapter V (“Africa’s Contribution to the Capitalist Development of Europe — The Colonial Period”), Part II (“The Strengthening of the Technological and Military Aspects of Capitalism”).

The title was taken from the body of the text.

It was no ordinary postwar crisis which Western Europe faced in the 1940s and 1950s. The bourgeoisie had to rebuild capitalist states at a time when socialism had already proved itself in the Soviet Union, and in a period when the Red Army of the Soviets had aided groups of socialists to come to power in Eastern Europe. This was the greatest challenge ever to be faced by the bourgeoisie because (unlike fascism) socialism threatened the basic capitalist principle of private ownership of the means of production. Furthermore, socialist principles were making their presence felt even in remote corners of the colonies, and the capitalists realized the necessity for cutting the colonies off from socialist thought, as well as using colonial resources to stave off what they termed “the threat of communism.”

In the capitalist struggle to keep off the challenge of socialism as a competing mode of production and way of life, Africa played at least two key roles — one being to provide bases for the capitalist militarists, and the other being to provide a wide range of raw materials essential for modern armament industries. The most vital of these raw materials were uranium and other radioactive substances for atomic and later nuclear weapons, including the hydrogen bomb. Almost rivaling uranium in importance were certain rare minerals (like lithium from Rhodesia) needed for the special steels that went into new aircraft rockets, tanks, guns, and bombs. […]

Apart from saving capitalism in times of crisis, the dependencies had always been prolonging the life of capitalism by taking the edge off the internal contradictions and conflicts which were a part of the capitalist system. The principal contradiction within capitalism from the outset was that between the capitalists and the workers. To keep their system going, the capitalists had constantly to step up the rate of exploitation of their workers. At the same time, European workers were gaining increasing mastery over the means of production in the factories and mines, and they were learning to work collectively in big enterprises and within their own trade union structures. If the bourgeoisie continued to deprive them of the major part of the fruits of their own labor and to oppress them socially and politically, then those two classes were set on a collision path. Ever since the mid-nineteenth century, Marx had predicted class collision would come in the form of revolution in which workers would emerge victorious. The capitalists were terribly afraid of that possibility, knowing full well that they themselves had seized power from the feudal landlord class by means of revolution. However, imperialism introduced a new factor into this situation — one that deferred the confrontation between workers and capitalists in the metropoles.

Only in Russia was there a workers’ revolution, and Russia was on the fringe of Europe rather than being one of its metropolitan capitalist centers. That very fact highlighted how much capitalism in places like Britain, France, and Germany had been stabilized by exploiting the colonies and other semi-colonies such as Latin America, where states were independent in name only.

Surplus from Africa was partly used to offer a few more benefits to European workers and served as a bribe to make the latter less revolutionary. The bribe came in the form of increased wages, better working conditions, and expanded social services. The benefits of colonialism were diffused throughout European society in many ways. Most capitalist enterprises offered consumer goods which were mass produced at low prices, and therefore the European housewife got some relief. For instance, instant coffee brought that beverage within the reach of the ordinary worker. Meanwhile, the capitalist still made his fortune by insuring that the Ivory Coast or Colombian grower got no price increase. In that way, colonialism was serving all classes and sectors of Western Europe and other capitalist metropoles.

European workers have paid a great price for the few material benefits which accrued to them as crumbs from the colonial table. The class in power controls the dissemination of information. The capitalists misinformed and miseducated workers in the metropoles to the point where they became allies in colonial exploitation. In accepting to be led like sheep, European workers were perpetuating their own enslavement to the capitalists. They ceased to seek political power and contented themselves with bargaining for small wage increases, which were usually counter-balanced by increased costs of living. They ceased to be creative and allowed bourgeois cultural decadence to overtake them all. They failed to exercise any independent judgment on the great issues of war and peace, and therefore ended up by slaughtering not only colonial peoples but also themselves.

Fascism was a monster born of capitalist parents. Fascism came as the end-product of centuries of capitalist bestiality, exploitation, domination, and racism — mainly exercised outside Europe. It is highly significant that many settlers and colonial officials displayed a leaning towards fascism. Apartheid in South Africa is nothing but fascism. It was gaining roots from the early period of white colonization in the seventeenth century, and particularly after the mining industry brought South Africa fully into the capitalist orbit in the nineteenth century. Another example of the fascist potential of colonialism was seen when France was overrun by Nazi Germany in 1940. The French fascists collaborated with Hitler to establish what was called the Vichy regime in France, and the French white settlers in Africa supported the Vichy regime. A more striking instance to the same effect was the fascist ideology developed by the white settlers in Algeria, who not only opposed independence for Algeria under Algerian rule, but they also strove to bring down the more progressive or liberal governments of metropolitan France.

Inside Europe itself, some specific and highly revealing connections can be found between colonialist behavior and the destruction of the few contributions made by capitalism to human development. For instance, when Colonel Von Lettow returned from leading the German forces in East Africa in World War I, he was promoted to a general in the German army, and Von Lettow was in command of the massacre of German communists in Hamburg in 1918. That was a decisive turning point in German history, for once the most progressive workers had been crushed, the path was clear for the fascist deformation of the future. In brutally suppressing the Maji Maji War in Tanganyika and in attempting genocide against the Herero people of Namibia (South-West Africa), the German ruling class were getting the experience which they later applied against the Jews and against German workers and progressives.

When the fascist dictatorship was inaugurated in Portugal in 1926, it drew inspiration from Portugal’s colonial past. After Salazar became the dictator in 1932, he stated that his “New State” in Portugal would be based on the labor of the “inferior peoples,” meaning of course Africans. In addition, Portuguese peasants and workers had to submit to police terror, poverty, and dehumanization, so they paid (and are still paying) a high price for fascism at home and colonialism abroad.

Colonialism strengthened the Western European ruling class and capitalism as a whole. Particularly in its later phases, it was evidently giving a new lease of life to a mode of production that was otherwise dying. From every viewpoint other than that of the minority class of capitalists, colonialism was a monstrous institution holding back the liberation of man.