German Nazis, Italian Fascists, British, French, Belgian democracies – all are the same, imperialist exploiters .
“The IASB located the causes of the coming conflict in the European contest over the colonized world.”
In 1938, on the eve of global war, the International African Service Bureau (IASB) issued a remarkable and far-sighted call for peace. The IASB was founded in 1937 with the motto, “for the defense of the Africans and for people of African descent.” It was organized by a small group of Black subjects from the British colonies in the Caribbean and Africa living in London. Members included George Padmoreand C.L.R. James of Trinidad, Amy Ashwood Garvey of Jamaica, T. Ras Makonnnen of British Guiana, Jomo Kenyatta of British Kenya, and I.TA. Wallace-Johnson of Sierra Leone. Together, they were united in common cause under a broad-based Pan-Africanism that advocated against colonialism and for African self-determination. Through the short-lived organization, International African Friends of Abyssinia, many of the members of the IASB had agitated against Mussolini’s imperialist incursions into East Africa. After World War II they reconvened as the Pan-African Federation and organized the legendary 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress and pushed for African decolonization.
“Members were united in common cause under a broad-based Pan-Africanism.”
But in the years before World War II, the IASB was among the few organizations working to publicize the horrific treatment of Blacks in the colonies and raising the call for African independence. They published a journal, International African Opinion, organized anti-colonial demonstrations in London’s Hyde Park, and sent speakers to Labor Party rallies. They also published their remarkable “Manifesto Against War.” Echoing W.E.B. Du Bois’ important, earlier statement “The African Roots of War,” the IASB manifesto located the causes of the coming conflict not in Europe’s internecine battle, or in the struggle between “democracy” and “fascism,” but in the European contest over the colonized world. The manifesto called for Black disaffiliation with European power and for colonized Black people to avoid participation in a coming white war. However, if war was to come, the IASB argued that African independence should be the goal of all Black people worldwide.
Today, with the claxon of war sounding in ever-more strident tones, with Africa serving once again as the root of the European-led fight for resources, Black people should remember IAFB’s stance. In this era of African and Caribbean “independence,” Black neo-colonies remain proxies for imperialism and white war.
International African Service Bureau
Manifesto Against War, 25 September 1938
To Africans, people of African descent, and colonial peoples all over the world:
You, the most oppressed and exploited, will soon be called upon to take part in a war which threatens to slaughter millions of men, women and children and bring ruin, misery and devastation on a scale undreamt of before.
Our rulers will have us believe that this war is to be fought to save CZECHOSLOVAKIA, a small country, about which most of you have never heard, from Hitler. THIS IS A LIE. If Britain and France go to the aid of Czechoslovakia, it is not to defend international law and order, as they say, but to prevent Hitler from over-running Europe and stealing their colonies. Czechoslovakia in 1938 is being used as a pawn by the Imperialists in the same way as Belgium was in 1914 – to win our sympathy and pity. THIS IS THE TRUTH which they dare not tell us.
If these democratic countries are so interested in saving small nations and preserving law and order, why did they stand aside and allow Mussolini to attack our defenseless brothers in Abyssinia and murder men, women and children with poison gas? It is to mislead you that our Imperialist masters and their black agents are trying to deceive you by calling you to join up and fight for Democracy against Fascism.
DEMOCRACY! Black brothers, what do we know of democracy? This is just a bait to catch us. In 1914 they also talked to us about fighting for Democracy and self-determination. Millions of us died on Flanders field, in Palestine, in East, West and South Africa. But what did we get? More slavery, more oppression, more exploitation.
Brothers of Africa and of African descent, what democracy, what liberties, what rights have we got in these ‘glorious’ Empires of Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, etc., that call upon us to shed our blood in their defence? Our greedy and merciless oppressors have robbed you of your land, broken up your civilisation and substituted instead a regime worse that slavery. They segregate you in your own country, pen you in reserves and locations like cattle, make you carry passes like common criminals, and then pay you starvation wages of 4d. a day.
You in the West Indies, after a hundred years of so-called emancipation, are still denied the most elementary right of human beings. When you ask for bread they give you hot lead! The conditions under which you live are those of Colonial Fascism.
We denounce the whole gang of European robbers and enslavers of the Colonial peoples. German Nazis, Italian Fascists, British, French, Belgian democracies – all are the same, IMPERIALIST EXPLOITERS.
While we deplore a war and the ruin it will cause, Europe’s difficulty is Africa’s opportunity. The blacks everywhere, under whatever flag, in war as in peace, know but one goal: INDEPENDENCE, and we summon our brothers everywhere not to be caught by the lying promises the Imperialists will make. We call upon you to organize yourselves and be ready to seize the opportunity when it comes.
To the Indians, Ceylonese, Burmese, Arabs, and all colonial peoples who fight for the same end we offer a firm alliance and we brand as traitors all colonials who try to drag us into this bloody butchery. Be vigilant, comrades, watch the traitors in your ranks.
A WORD TO THE WHITE WORKERS:
Workers of Britain: Though you have neglected us in the past, today in this hour of common crisis, we want you to know that we Blacks bear you no ill-will. The Imperialists are our common enemy, and the present crisis offers us a common opportunity to throw them off our backs. Let us be united against the warmongers and all misleaders of the workers who would send us to be slaughtered under the slogan: ‘Defend Democracy.’ Remember 1914.
White brothers, do not be mislead. Our freedom is a step towards your freedom. In the common effort for the independence of the colonial peoples and the emancipation of the European workers, the black and white workers will rid humanity of the scourge of Imperialism and open a new future for humanity.
“Manifesto Against War,” International African Opinion, 1, No. 4, (October 1938). Transcribed and published via Marxists.org.
Editors, The Black Agenda Review
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