1st Edition

Forced Labour in Colonial Africa A. T. Nzula I. I. Potekhin and A. Z. Zusmanovich

Edited By Robin Cohen Copyright 1979

    Originally published for the first time in English in 1979 this book represents one of the earliest Marxist analyses of the impact that colonialism had on Africa during the first half century that followed the Scramble. Nzula’s co-authored book, together with all his writings in the Negro Worker, are assembled here. The political experience of its African co-author resulted in a book which is alight with commitment to the liberation of the Continent, yet always tempered by an explicit theoretical understanding of capitalism in its imperialist phase. The book opens with an outline of Africa’s role in the world economic system. Successive chapters reveal how Western capitalism conjured up a brutally exploited working class and dispossessed peasantry throughout the African continent. Each major region of Black Africa is analysed. Meticulous information as to the facts of oppression and many of the early urban and rural struggles against colonialism before the Second World War is set out. Robin Cohen’s introduction is a valuable summation of Nzula’s life and of the background to this book. The appendices bring together many of Nzula’s little known writings.

    Introduction Robin Cohen. 1. Black Africa’s Role in the World Economic System 2. The Economic Oppression of the Peasantry 3. Forced Labour on Plantations, Farms and Mines 4. The Effects of the Depression on Black Africa 5. Peasant Movements and Uprisings in the Colonies 6. The Trade Union Movement in Black Africa 7. The Economic Struggle of the Working Class in Black Africa 8. Limits of National Reformism.


    Robin Cohen is Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at the University of Oxford. For the first decade of his academic career, he worked on comparative labour issues. His books included Labour and Politics in Nigeria (1974) and the co-edited collections The development of an African working class (1975), International Labour and the Third World (1987), African Labor History (1978) and the current title, Peasants and Proletarians. He subsequently wrote on the themes of migration, globalization and diasporas. His best-known work is Global diasporas: An introduction (3rd edition, 2022).

    Reviews of the original edition of Forced Labour in Colonial Africa:

    ‘A remarkable book… the editor, translator and publisher should be congratulated for their painstaking work on updating and making the book more relevant to the modern reader.’ Njoroge Dseugu, West Africa, 9 June 1980.

    'Forced Labour in Colonial Africa is worthy of attention also because of its intrinsic interest as a historical document and, thanks to Cohen's research, as a frame for the beginnings of a portrait of a neglected South African radical.' Roger G. Thomas, Journal of African History, 23 (2) 1982.

    'Robin Cohen's excellent introduction provides the reader with the information necessary to place the book in its proper historiographical and historical context. The book is especially useful for scholars interested in the evolution of radical scholarship and the development of both proletarian and nationalist struggles in South Africa.' Anthony E. Woods African Studies Review, 24 (4) 1981.

    'The appearance of Forced Labour in Colonial Africa is something of a publishing event. Although it is unusual to open a review by praising editor, translator and publisher, it is with them that the credit lies. [This] reflects a combined effort to make available to an English-speaking audience an important historical document of the anti-imperialist struggle in Africa.' Phil O'Keefe Africa: Journal of International Institute, 50 (4) 1980.