Despite a growing feeling of alignment between colonial peoples and the communist movement in Russia and Europe, Ho’s report to the Fifth Communist International betrays the beginning of a change of political strategy, one centered more on the anti-imperial struggle and less on the ideals of proletarian revolution against industrial capitalism. Ho no longer describes the situation in the colonial world as primarily an issue of the communist/capitalist divide.
When the Ministry of Colonies worked out a plan for transforming many African regions into large private plantations, and turning the people of these regions into veritable slaves attached to the new employers’ land, our newspapers still remained silent. In the French West African colonies, forcible measures for enlistment unknown for centuries were carried out, and yet our newspapers maintained a close silence. The colonialist authorities in Indo-China turned themselves into slave traders, and sold the inhabitants of north Viet Nam to planters in the Pacific islands; they lengthened the natives’ military service from two to four years; they sold the greater part of the colonial land to financier sharks; they increased taxes by a further 30 per cent in spite of the natives’ inability to pay the old ones. And all this was done while the natives were being driven to bankruptcy and dying of hunger through flood. However, our newspapers still maintained silence.
And what about his homeland? Ho continues:
I shall begin with my country, Indo-China, which naturally I know better than the other colonies. When France occupied this colony, the war drove the peasants away from their villages. Later, on their return they found their lands occupied by the colonists who had followed in the wake of the victorious army. They had shared among themselves the land the native peasants had cultivated for generations. In consequence the Annamese peasants were turned into serfs and forced to cultivate their own lands for foreign masters.
Ho then makes the case for solidarity with other parts of the French colonial empire in a long passage.
The peasants’ life in West Africa and French Equatorial Africa is still more frightful. These colonies are in the hands of about 40 companies. They occupy everything: land and fields, natural resources and even the natives’ lives; the latter lack even the right to work for themselves. They are compelled to work for the companies, all the time, and only for the companies. To force them to work for nothing, incredible means of coercion are used by the companies. All lands and fields are confiscated. Only those who agree to do the farming required by the companies are allowed to have some tiny plots of land. People are affected with all kinds of diseases through malnutrition, and the death rate especially among the children is very high. Another method is to make old people, women and children work as servants. They are lodged in small huts, ill-treated, beaten, ill-fed and sometimes murdered. In some localities the number of permanent servants is kept about equal to the number of workers in order to discourage the latter from running away. So that work in the plantations shall not suffer, the natives are forbidden to work their own land in good time. Therefore, famine and epidemics occur very often, wreaking havoc in the colonies…In the Belgian Congo, the population in 1891 was 25 million, but it had fallen to eight and a half million by 1911. The Hereros and Nama tribes in the former German colonies in Africa were completely exterminated. 80,000 were killed under German rule and 15,000 were killed during the “pacification” period in 1914. The population of the French Congo was 20,000 in 1894. It was only 9,700 in 1911. In one province there were 10,000 inhabitants in 1910. Eight years later there remained only 1,080. In another province with 40,000 black inhabitants, in only two years, 20,000 people were killed, and in the following six- months 6,000 more were killed or disabled…In all the French colonies, famine is on the increase and so is the people’s hatred. The native peasants are ripe for insurrection. In many colonies, they have risen many times but their uprisings have all been drowned in blood. If at present the peasants still have a passive attitude, the reason is that they still lack organization and leaders. The Communist International must help them to revolution and liberation.