Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

"Exterminate All the Brutes"

EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES by Sven Lindqvist is an important book about European Expansion in the last quarter of the Nineteenth century but makes for uncomfortable reading. Published in 1992 it has now been turned into a four part documentary by Paoul Peck (HB0/Sky).

The title of the book comes from Joseph Conrad's 1899 novel HEART OF DARKNESS - Kurtz's injunction to "Exterminate all the brutes". The book was later used with cinematic effect by Ford Coppolla as the basis for his Vietnam War film APOCALYPSE NOW! (1979).

Conrad was seen by Lindqvist as a suitable conduit for describing the genocide of late 19th colonialism. In the words of the book’s narrator, Marlow:

"It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale...the conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much" (p7).

Lindqvist shows the genocidal force of Europe's imperial powers on the continent of Africa over two centuries. He shows how racism was "scientifically" justified and helped European capitalism build its wealth and global dominance.

"Scientific racism" legitimised 'white superiority'. It unified the ruling class and the working class together into a common superiority over the African. The working class might be exploited, lived in poverty and squalor but they could look down on others "less than themselves". And "scientific racism" gave them the excuse.

In British circles, the pioneer of scientific racism was Robert Knox. His book THE RACES OF MAN: A FRAGMENT’ (1850) moves racism from popular prejudice to "scientific" conviction (p. 124).

Knox tried to "prove" the inferiority of Africans and their inevitable destruction by European culture.

Darwin does not come out of the book well. Darwin uncritically absorbed early "scientific racism" in some of his works, notably THE DESCENT OF MAN. Darwin talked of "the savage races" (p. 126). As a young student, Darwin heard Knox's controversial lectures.

Darwin was not an explicit racist and he opposed slavery. In the DESCENT OF MAN (1871) Darwin reflects the thinking of the time of a human hierarchy, descending from Europeans through to the various "barbarous, "savage" and "lower races" to humankind's closest living relatives amongst the "anthropomorphous apes".

In one passage in DESCENT OF MAN, Darwin ranks the native inhabitants of Africa and Australia as just above the gorilla in the natural scale. At the same time, he echoes Robert Knox by stating that "At some future period...the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world" (p 105).

A. R. Wallace, another evolutionist, wrote about "the lower" or even "the lower and more depraved races" (p. 126). In a lecture of 1864 he equated the extermination of 'non-Europeans' with natural selection.

In 1863, Knox's followers formed the Anthropological Society which was overtly racist. It emphasized the African's close relationship to the ape; a negative image still used in racist iconography today when emojis of apes and monkeys were recently sent to Black footballers for failing to score in a penalty shoot-out.

At one point, even the Irish were considered to be "non-white" with the author Charles Kingsley, friend and correspondent of Charles Darwin, calling them "chimpanzees". The Irish were often depicted in cartoons of the time as "ape-like".

This poison has been transmitted down from the past. It remains in political discourse. In this respect we should not forget Boris Johnson's racism to justify the superiorly and exceptionalism of British capitalism. In one SPECTATOR column he remarked: that black Africans were "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles". Later he would opine that colonialism in Africa should never have ended. He said:

"The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more" (INDEPENDENT 13 June 2020).

About the time Marx was writing CAPITAL, racism, legitimised by science, became a central feature of European imperial ideology (p. 130). As Lindqvist makes clear:

"No one mentions the German extermination of the Herero people in southwest Africa...No one mentions the corresponding genocide by the French, the British, or the Americans, or that at the end of the 19th century a major element of the European view of Mankind was the conviction that 'inferior races' were by nature condemned to extinction: the true compassion of the superior races consisted in helping them on the way".

Winwood Reade, a member both of the Geographical Society and the Anthropological Society in London ends his book SAVAGE AFRICA (1864) by prophesying that Africa will be shared between England and France leading to the extinction of the indigenous African (p131).

On January 19, 1864, the Anthropological Society in London arranged a debate on the extinction of the "lower races". Wallace believed that contact between white races and African races led to the inevitable destruction of the latter due to the former's superior physical, moral and intellectual qualities (p. 132).

On March 27 1866 Frederick Farrar gave a lecture on "Aptitude of the Races". He divided the races into three groups: "savage, semi-civilised and civilised". He also agreed with the disappearance of the African on the spurious grounds that:

"Because darkness, sloth, and brutal ignorance cannot co-exist with the advance of knowledge, industry, and light" p. 136

And then the "scientists" turned their attention from race to class

William Greg took up the problem of class in FRAZER'S Magazine (September 1868) which Darwin read and commented upon.

What concerned Greg was the bourgeoisie:

"...who from the energetic, reliable, improving element of the population" have far fewer children than the ruling class and lower classes, as both, though for different reasons, lack any grounds for restraint'.

He went on to say with regret:

"The righteous and salutary law of natural selection" has been eliminated. The working class are allowed to flourish to the detriment of society (p. 137).

At the end of the decade Francis Galton, Darwin's cousin, publishes HEREDITARY GENIUS (1869). And with Galton scientific Racism becomes eugenics. Race science was now about an improvement of hereditary factors. Swathes of the working class were seen as degenerate as were immigrants like Jews fleeing from programs in Tsarist Russia.

When the eugenicist Benjamin Kidd wrote SOCIAL EVOLUTION in 1894, social Darwinism had become scientifically respectable.

So, when the Socialist Party of Great Britain was established in 1904 it was in a climate where the scientific basis of eugenics was largely unquestioned. More remarkable that the SPGB would hold in the fourth principle:

"That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex"

Social Darwinism was imported into Germany in the writings of the German anthropologist Friedrich Ratzel

He published POLITISCHE GEOGRAPHIE (1897). He paired Jews and Gypsies with Africans the "stunted hunting people in the African interior" and "innumerable similar existences" into the class of "scattered people with no land" (p 145)

Lindqvist notes that Hitler was given Ratzel's book in 1924, when he was in Landsberg prison writing MEIN KAMPF.

Germany joined the rest of European capitalism in colonising Africa - "elbow room" as it was caused or in German 'Lebensraum'. The word was coined by Ratzel.

Social darwinianism - a struggle for existence for the Imperialists was to become a struggle for space. That space was Africa, while later; under Hitler the Soviet Union was to provide that space for oil and grain.

Genocide, a word invented as late as 1944 by the Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, was a logical description of Empire and, Social Darwinism justified this extermination, where the actions of the powerful were legitimised over the weak.

Marx said capitalism came into being drenched in blood; during the late 19th century blood coursed its way through the rivers of the continent of Africa. It still does.

Today, most scientists concur that 'race' is socially, and not biologically, constructed, and so there has been no "progress" in the genetic identification of race. This does not deter "scientific racism" living an underground existence in universities, conferences and journals. In her book SUPERIOR: the science journalist Angela Saini wrote:

"...mainstream scientists, geneticists and medical researchers still invoke race and use these categories in their work, even though we have been told for 70 years that they have no biological meaning, that they have only social meaning".

Even though concepts of race are social constructs and have no basis in science they remain divisive - ruling class ideas - and remain dangerous and split the working class. Take, for example, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's racist tract THE BELL CURVE (1994).

The real problem with the book THE BELL CURVE is that despite being shown to be scientifically illiterate and racist it is still high on the book list under "popular science" and is still influential in racist circles. The ideology of the book; going all the way back to the early "scientific racists" is that nothing can or should be done to ameliorate racial and economic inequality. As George Orwell wrote, "There are certain things one has to be an intellectual to believe, since no ordinary man could be so stupid".

THE BELL CURVE enjoys a high circulation and would no doubt be found on the book shelf of any Ukip supporter. It should not be forgotten that when Secretary of State, Jack Straw shared a platform with Charles's Murray sponsored by the SUNDAY TIMES on "The Growing Threat of the Under Class". There was no dissent or criticism of Murray by Straw. Once out of Pandora's Box "scientific racism" has been a very hard set of anti-working class ideas and beliefs to get rid of.

We live in a society where racism is a major source of division and is ever present, but it is contested and can be fought against. Class unity leads to socialist unity necessary for the establishment of socialism. It should be remembered that the last out of Pandora's Box was hope.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: enquiries@socialiststudies.org.uk | www.socialiststudies.org.uk