Leonard Woolf.

Empire & commerce in Africa; a study in economic imperialism online

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It is true that this motive of French and German imperialism
does not belong wholly to economic imperiaUsm. ihere is a
" natural " desire among Britons, Frenchmen, and Germans to
increase the number of Britons, Frenchmen, and Germans re-
spectively in the world, and perhaps to decrease the number of
non-Britons, non-Frenchmen, and non-Germans respectively. This
desire is partly sentimental, and partly founded upon the belief of
all nations that their citizens are the salt and others the scum of
the earth. The tendency to desire a high birth-rate and a low
death-rate within one's own State, and a low birth-rate and high
death-rate in other States, is also connected with the policy of
power. For every living German is a potential soldier, and every
unborn or dead Frenchman leaves a blank space in a French regi-
ment. All these non-economic beliefs and desires had their share
in forming the policy of Empire as an outlet for surplus population.
And yet even behind this policy the economic motives show more
strongly and persistently than the sentimental and the military.
The arguments of those who urged it invariably in the end come
back from nationalism and patriotism to trade and commerce.
The " New France " and the " Greater Germany " which are at first
seen in a vision as carrying, after the manner of the colonists of
ancient Greece, into the lands of barbarians a spark from the altar
of French and German culture, or, more prosaically, as providing
a reservoir for the French and German armies, are always finally
recommended as nationally desirable, just like the colonie d' ex-
ploitation, as " outlets for our goods." For a million Frenchmen
in Africa, or a million Germans in the Pacific, would appear to
provide better customers and a surer market for their mother-
countries than a million naked savages.

As the century waned, and imperialism became more and more
economic, the " surplus population " argument and motive was
more and more rarely used. In France it was dropped almost
entirely, and even in Germany its appeal became obviously weaker.
There were several reasons for this. Even the logic of events
could not make colonies a vital necessity for absorbing a surplus
population which did not exist. The absence of a surplus popula-
tion in France became in the last years of the nineteenth century
unconcealable, and, as soon as Germany acquired an Empire outside
Europe, Germans ceased to emigrate. Thus the French authorities
estimated that New Caledonia, which had been in the possession
of France since 1851, was capable of containing and maintaining
a million French colonists. As the surplus population of France
would not go there of its free will, the French Government in its
early years made a valiant attempt to colonize it with that part of
the surplus population which was found in French jails, and which
could be sent to New Caledonia whether it Hked it or not. Even

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this experiment was not very encouraging, for the convicts after
forty years had only produced a population of 9914, while the free
civil population was 8141. Thus forty years' colonization of New
Caledonia had produced a French population of 18,055, of whom
over half were of penal origin, and the colony was still in need of
981,945 persons from the surplus population of France. And when
in 1894, we are told, M. Feillet became Governor, he saw that what
New Caledonia wanted was free emigration from France, and
instituted a system of settling colonists on the land. In five years
he succeeded in settling 400 families, or 1200 persons, a result which
the French historian calls " un debut encourageant " ; ^ but the
population was stiU only about 20,000, and New Caledonia was
still looking eagerly for 980,000 immigrants. At this rate of increase
it will take about two thousand five hundred years for France to
colonize New Caledonia.

France had already been in possession of New Caledonia for
thirty years when the new storm of imperialism broke' upon her
and she started to " carve out " her new empire. At that time, too,
she had already been in possession of Algeria for fifty years. The
area of New Caledonia is 7200 square miles, that of Algeria is
1,119,416 square miles. In Algeria the greatest efforts had been
made to attract the surplus popidation of France. In those fifty
years the French Government had succeeded in amassing in Algeria
a French population of 233,000, of whom, however, nearly 130,000
were military. Government employees, or concessionaires. In fifty
years, therefore, the surplus population of France had contributed
to Algeria 25,000 families. " If," wrote Yves Guyot in 1885, " one
desired to represent allegorically the cost in population of these
25,000 colonists settled in Algeria, each would be sitting on four
corpses and guarded by two soldiers. Such is the result of our
colonizing efforts in Algeria when simply and plainly stated and
stripped of conventional and official phraseology." ^ It is a curious
commentary upon the springs of political desires and beliefs and
the motives of political actions that, despite the fact that in 1881

1 E. Fallot, L'Avenir colonial, pp. 248-251.

^ Lettres sur la politique coloniale, p. 38. Guyot reckoned that the gross total
of troops employed by France during fifty-four years of occupation had been
2,160,000 men, and the mortality had been 100,000 men. The efforts to colonize
Algeria were hardly more successful after Guyot's book was written. By 1901
the European population was 6.55,637, but of this only 364,000 were French by
birth : in 1911 the European population was 752,043. Even M. Fallot, who takes
a very different view of this question from Guyot's, has to admit : " Certes I'Algerie
a coiite cher k la France. On n'estime pas k moins de 3 miUiards et demi ou 4
milliards les sommes qui y ont et6 depensees." It should be added that other
authorities estimate the cost of acquisition of Algeria by France at a very much
higher figure than M. Fallot, e.g. J. Scott Keltic in The Partition of Africa (1893),
p. 96, writes : " Algeria has, no doubt, prospered greatly under French rule, though
it will be long ere France is able to recoup herself for the outlay of the £150,000,000
sterling which its conquest has cost her."

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the French State was vainly trying to:^colonize these two posses-
sions, the belief that new territory was necessary tor tne surplus
population of France, and the desire for lands in Africa and Asia
to be filled with French emigrants, were certainly powerful enough
to provide some stimulus to the new imperialism. But, eventually,
facts make some impression even upon nations, and the fact that
France was unable to populate the colonies which she possessed did
eventually cause a waning and languishing in the national desire
for new colonies as an outlet for population.

It was natural that in Germany, where the population was
towards the end of the century increasing faster than in France,
the motive of creating a Greater, and still German, Germany did
not lose its appeal quite so completely. In 1885 when 171,000
Germans emigrated, it was at least reasonable for Germans to
desire some territory where these emigrants might go and still
remain citizens of the German State. But by 1898 the stream of
emigration had fallen to 22,921, and it never subsequently in any
year has exceeded 32,000. Thus this non-economic motive for
imperiaUsm lost its hold even in Germany. And in Germany as
well as in France another cause was operating to make the end of
colonial policy not colonization, but economic exploitation. There
is no doubt that the " colonial parties " in those two countries,
whose policy led in the '80'8 to the scramble for African and Asiatic
territories, had vague and erroneous ideas of the nature of the
empire which they were conquering. This was particularly true
of Africa, the mystery of whose forests and lakes and rivers was
only just being revealed to Europeans. Undoubtedly a vision of
" many goodly states and kingdoms " swam before the eyes of
patriots, who dreamed dreams of German or French Australias and
Canadas rising by the side of great rivers, or in the tropical forests
of Asia and Africa. No one is more liable than the stern realist to
be carried away by his own visions, and these followers of the logic
of facts forgot or overlooked one of the few facts whose logic is
inexorable, malaria and climate. The French acquired hundreds
of thousands of square miles of land in Africa, only to find that
they could provide little but graves for the Frenchmen that went
there, and that in the matter of graves " 'tis all one to he in St.
Innocent's Church- Yard, as in the Sands of Egypt." " Les partisans
de la ' politique coloniale,' " wrote the anti-imperialist, " parlent •
pompeusement de notre ' empire africain.' II n'y manque qu'une
chose, c'est de pouvoir y vivre." And the German, too, found that
the one thing that he could not do with his African Empire was to
live in it, in the waterless deserts of South-West Africa, the sun and
fever of Togoland, and the Cameroons, and East Africa. Thus,
although by 1913 Germany had acquired a colonial empire of
1,134,239 square miles, it only contained a population of 18,500

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living Germans. In view of these facts it is not surprising that the
force of the " surplus population " motive lost its hold in Germany
as it had done in France.

Nowhere, in fact, is the economic nature of modern imperialism
shown more clearly than in the history of Germany. The German
has a brutal habit of saying what he thinks, and of calling spades
spades. In German trade is not a synonym for Christianity, nor
finance for civilization. Alre_ady in the '70's German writers
were insisting upon the necessity of colonies for the protection and
fostering of German trade. Innumerable schemes were put forward
in newspapers and books and pamphlets for founding colonies in
every part of the world. This was part of the same current of
beliefs and desires which was also gathering strength in France and
Britain, and which finally burst out into the economic imperialism
of the '80's in all three countries. It was only the passion of
Germans for dotting their i's and crossing their t's which made the
nature of their beliefs and desires plain in those early years. This
kind of propaganda culminated in Fabri's well-known book, Bedarf
Beutschland der Kolonien ? which was published in 1879. Fabri
answered his question in the affirmative for economic reasons, and pro-
posed the foundation of " Handelskolonien " in Samoa, New Guinea,
North Borneo, Formosa, Madagascar, and Central Africa. A strong
and definite German policy of economic imperialism sprang directly
from Fabri and his book. The important thing to notice is that
this poHcy was not only pressed upon the Government for economic
reasons, but, as in the case of French and British imperialism, its
chief support came from certain strong financial and commercial

The close connection between colonial policy and commercial
interests began in Germany even before Fabri. In 1871 a proposal
was put about that Samoa should be taken as a naval station and
colony. The proposal was certainly not unconnected with the
large Hamburg firm of Godefiroy which " was aU-powerful in
Samoa." At that time the Government was indisposed to im-
perialist adventure, and nothing came of the idea beyond the visit
of German warships and the signing of treaties with the natives in
1876, 1877, and 1879. But in 1878 there was a development most
significant of the future. The Godeffroy firm was in difficulties, and
proposed or threatened to sell its interests to the London firm of
Baring. The firm of Godefiroy was one of the earliest to realize
that financial difficulties can be made the first stepping-stone
towards Empire. The method of converting bankruptcy irito
lucrative imperialism has since become a commonplace of colonial
policy,^ but this early example, though unsuccessful, is illuminating.

1 For an example, drawn from France, see p. 210. In that case the French
financial and commercial interests behind the Compagnie Imp6riale des Chemins

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Godefeoy appealed to German patriotism not to allow him to sell
patriotically his interests in Samoa to a British firm. He looked to
German patriots to invest five milHon marks in a German Trading
and Plantation Company which would relieve him of his South Sea
interests. But the security ofEered by Herr Godefeoy was in-
sufficient to induce German patriotism to invest more than one
million marks ; and one million marks was insufficient to induce
Herr Godefeoy's patriotism to part with his interests. He then
conceived the idea of appealing to the patriotism of the German
Government by floating a new Company to take over his interests,
and of inducing the Government to guarantee a 4^ per cent dividend
for twenty years. In this way the interests of Herr Godefeoy, of
German trade and finance, and of imperialism, would be all pro-
moted, and the financial difficulties of Herr Godefeoy would become
the first stepping-stone to a German colony in Samoa. At that
time the German Government was Bismarck, and Bismarck was
by no means favourable to " colonial pohcies " and economic
imperiaHsm. But no man can be more resourceful than a patriotic
financier in financial difficulties. Herr Godefeoy went to a well-
known financier, von Hansemann, Director of the DiskontogeseU-
schaft, who was a friend of Geheimrat von Kusserow of the German
Foreign Office, and of the banker von Bleichroder,^ who was Bis-
marck's financial adviser. Herr Godefeoy talked von Hansemann
over to his scheme ; von Hansemann talked over the Geheimrat
and the banker ; the Geheimrat and the banker talked over Bismarck.
And Bismarck was talked over because Herr Godefeoy could, as it

de Fer 6thiopien3 pursued precisely the same policy as the Godeflfroy firm. Being
in financial difiiculties, they used the threat of selling their interests to British
financiers as a lever whereby they forced the French Government to subsidize or
guarantee the French financiers, the first step towards the superimposition of
political control upon financial exploitation, as the Negus Menelik of Abyssinia
was quick to perceive. A similar example from British history is the attempt of
the British East Africa Company to use the threat of impending bankruptcy, and
the resignation of its interests to German traders and fanciers as the lever for
getting a subsidy from the British Government, see p. 294.

1 These three men are continually cropping up in the story of German colonial and
imperialist poUcy ; see, for instance, Zimmermann, QeschichU der deuli^ch en Kolonial-
poUtik, pp. 14, 18 ff., 20, 21, 39, 55 if., 62, 64, 81, 95 flf., 98, 100, 116, 120, 125,
135, 173, 190, 222, 208. See, too, 35 infra. Geheimrat von Kusserow was a
very highly-placed diplomatic and Foreign Office official. In 1874, after serving in
the London embassy, he was appointed to a post in the German Foreign Office
where questions of overseas commercial relations were entrusted to him. He
prepared in 1884 the official memorandum which went fully into the whole question
of Germany acquiring colonies and was laid before Bismarck. It was Bismarck's
orders on this memorandum which finally inaugurated Germany's entrance into
Africa as a colonial power. Bleiohroder is often referred to in the pa^es of Dr.
Busch, whose diary shows the kind of influence which he might be expected to
exercise over the Chancellor. It may be recalled that Bleichroder once gave
Bismarck a birthday present oonsistmg of " a pipe-rack in carved oak and seven
long cherrywood pipes with painted porcelain bowls representinc' game toeether
with two large vases containing azaleas in blossom." o e. > e

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happened, offer a quid pro quo. At that moment Bismarck was
anxious to get his protection proposals accepted, among the trading
interests, particularly in the Hanse towns. The firm of Godeffroy
strenuously supported these proposals, and did very much to obtain
for them the support of the Hanse traders and financiers. In return,
the Government proposed in the Eeichstag to guarantee the dividend
of 4| per cent to the new company for twenty years. Unfortunately
for Herr Godefiroy he had forgotten to talk over the Reichstag, and
the proposal was rejected.^ So, for the moment, the German
Government failed to step into Samoa over the financial corpse of
J. C. Godeffroy & Son by the process through which that Govern-
ment between 1880 and 1890 stepped into East Africa over the
financial corpse of the Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft, or
through which the British Government stepped into East Africa
and Uganda over the financial corpse of the British East Africa
Company, or through which, in 1902, the French Government all
but succeeded in stepping into Abyssinia over the financial corpse
of the Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de Fer ethiopiens. It
should, however, be remarked that the firm of J. C. Godefeoy was
not as moribund as it appeared to be in 1878. It continued through
its Bismarckian manager, Theodor Weber, to be " all-powerful " in
Samoa, and its influence and machinations led finally to the treaties
and annexations of 1899 and 1900.^

The close connection between the colonial policy and commercial
interests is very clear in this case of Samoa. It is no less clear in
the developments which followed upon the publication of Fabri's
book. A few facts wiU prove this. Fabri immediately became
one of the leading exponents of imperialist policy. He was joined
in his propaganda and schemes by the Hamburg wholesale merchant
and shipper, C. Woermann. The firm of Woermann and the Woer-
mann Line were in process of becoming a dominating German
commercial and financial interest in Africa. In 1880 Woermann
joined Fabri in'founding the Westdeutsche Verein fiir Kolonisation
und Export, which started a plantation enterprise in the Cameroons,
where a Woermann had already in 1868 made a commercial settle-
ment. Fabri himself was in the early '80's working with von
Maltzan, the founder of the Kolonialverein, which was a powerful
influence in spreading imperialist and colonial ideas. The methods
of this Association are admirably explained in the advice given to
■ von Maltzan by two prominent imperiahsts. " Make yourself," wrote

^ For an account of these transactions see A. Zimmermann, Geschichte der
deutschen KoUmialpoUtik, 1914, pp. 17-21.

' For an account of the activities of Weber and Godeffroy & Son, from the
British and anti-German point of view, see The New Pacific, by C. B. Fletcher
(1917). Reference may also be made to A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War,
by Miss Gordon-Gumming (1882), Stevenson's A Footnote to History (1892), and
Dr. George Brown'' s Autobiography.

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Gustav Freytag, " a focus for the wishes and interests of our traders
on unappropriated coast lands (of Africa) . . • undismayed by
occasional failure of endeavour, . . . and I am convinced that
the day will come when suddenly and unawares a German warship
will produce sifait accompli there, where the Association shall have
prepared the ground." And Prince Hohenlohe in advising tie
establishment by the Association of " Handelsstationen " with State
guarantee, wrote : " Naturally the Association must work in close
harmony with the large Hamburg and Bremen firms." ^ It would
take too long to unravel and explain the complicated relations
between the various propagandist Associations and commercial
companies, between the literary and political imperialist agitators
like Fabri, von Maltzan, and Prince Hohenlohe, the traders and
financiers like Woermann of Hamburg and Liideritz of Bremen,
and the explorers like Peters and the Demhardts. But these
three groups in Germany, just as in Britain and France, were
working closely together.^ Their poHcy was that described in the
quotation from Frejd;ag, and their motives were almost entirely
economic. They aimed at starting commercial and financial
enterprises in " unappropriated countries," and then at the appro-
priate moment, through the pressure of a public opinion which
they themselves had created at home, to force the hand of the
Government to send a " German warship " and thus present the
world with the fait accompli of economic imperialism.

In 1880 Bismarck was the German equivalent of a Little Eng-
lander.^ By 1885 the imperialists, explorers, and traders had forced
his hand and converted him ostensibly to a policy of imperiaUsm.
His policy and his imperialism were purely economic. The causes
of this conversion and the facts connected with it throw great
light upon the general motives of modern imperialism. First of
all, let us examine the immediate influences witiiin Germany which
were brought to bear upon Bismarck. They were commercial and
financial. Bismarck's change of policy was actually shown by his
extending the power and rule of the German State to four
places in Africa, South- West Africa, the Cameroons, Togoland,
and Bast Africa. Now in South- West Africa the immediate
impulse came from Liideritz, the Bremen merchant, who after a

1 See A. Zimmermann, op. cit. pp. 28-33.

" The kind of interconnection is shown by the foundation in 1884 by Dr. Peters
of the Gesellsohaft fur deutsohe Kolonisation, which was at one time intended to'
work m co-operation with the Kolonialverein. Peters was also the agent of the
Commercial Company, the Deutsoh-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft

'Bismarck's attitude up to 1880 can best be given in his own words in 1871 :
"I do not want colonies at aU. Their only use is to provide sinecures. That is
all England at present gets out of her colonies, and Spain too. And as for us
Germans, colonies would be exactly hke the silks and sables of the PoUsh noblemaii
who had no shirt to wear under them" (Busch, Bismarck, translation

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year's hard work at last in 1883 obtained official backing from the
Chancellor for his enterprise. And it is significant that the financial
backing of the German West African Company, which took over
Ltideritz's newly acquired interests in 1885, came from the financiers
Hansemann and Bleichroder, to whose connection with German
colonial policy we have previously had to refer. In the Cameroons
the impulse came from Woermann, the Hamburg trader and ally
of Fabri, who, in 1884, laid before Bismarck, at the Chancellor's
request, a memorandum suggesting steps to be taken for protecting
German commercial interests in the Cameroons. This memorandum
formed the basis of Bismarck's instructions to the Nachtigal ex-
pedition which acquired the Cameroons for Germany. In Togoland
Woermann again was chiefly responsible, for, as soon as Bismarck's
consent to the occupation of South-West Africa became known,
Woermann despatched an agent to prepare the way for similar
action in Togoland, and in 1885 similar action followed. In East
Africa the course of events was even more illuminating. In 1884
Dr. Peters the explorer arrived in Zanzibar with the intention of
obtaining certain " concessions " on the coast. The German
consul, acting on direct orders from Bismarck, refused him all
Government protection or encouragement. He then turned to
the business firms, and from them, e.g. Hansing & Co., he obtained
every assistance. Owing to their help he succeeded in making
various treaties with the natives for concessions of land. He then
returned to Berlin and, now heavily backed by the commercial
interests, betook himself to that same Geheimrat von Kusserow
of the Foreign Office who had proved so useful to Herr GodefEroy
in his financial difficulties. Peters and the German traders in
East Africa found no more difficulty in talking over von Kusserow
than had Herr Godeiiroy in the case of Samoa. And von Kusserow
once more talked over Bismarck, this time, it is said, by his glow-
ing account of East Africa. The result was a charter for Peters'
Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft.

Thus the immediate impulse which caused the German State
to lay its hand upon islands in the Pacific, upon Togoland and the
Cameroons, and South-West and East Africa, came from trade and

Online LibraryLeonard WoolfEmpire & commerce in Africa; a study in economic imperialism → online text (page 4 of 44)