“The Fijians live in Polynesia on islands in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The whole group, Professor Yánzhul tells us, consists of small islands covering about 8,000 square miles. Only half of them are inhabited, by a population of 150,000 natives and 1,500 whites. The native inhabitants, who emerged from savagery long ago, are distinguished among the natives of Polynesia by their ability, and are capable of work and of development, as they have proved by rapidly becoming good farmers and cattle-breeders. They were thriving, but in 1859 the kingdom found itself in a desperate position. The Fijians and their King Thakombau needed money. They needed $45,000 for
contributions or indemnities demanded by the United States of America
for violence said to have been inflicted by Fijians on some citizens of
the American republic.

“To collect this sum the Americans sent a squadron,
which suddenly seized some of the best islands as security and even
threatened to bombard and destroy the settlements unless the
contribution was paid to the American representatives by a given date.
The Americans had been among the first white men to settle in Fiji with
missionaries. Selecting or seizing under one pretext or another the
best plots of land on the islands and laying out cotton and coffee
plantations they hired whole crowds of natives, whom they bound by
contracts the savages did not understand, or obtained through
contractors who dealt in live chattels. Conflicts between such planters
and the natives, whom they regarded as slaves, were inevitable, and a
conflict of that kind served as pretext for the American demand for
compensation. Despite its prosperity Fiji till then had been in the
habit of making payments in kind, as was customary in Europe till the
Middle Ages. The natives did not use money, and their trade was
entirely done by barter; goods were exchanged for goods, and the few
public or government levies were collected in country produce. What
were the Fijians and their King Thakombau to do when the Americans
categorically demanded $45,000 under threat of dire consequences in
case of non-payment? For the Fijians the figure itself was
incomprehensible, not to speak of the money, which they had never seen
in such quantities. Thakombau consulted with the other chiefs, and
decided to turn to the Queen of England. At first he asked her to take
the islands under her protection, and later on asked her simply to
annex them. But the English treated this petition cautiously and were
in no hurry to rescue the semi-savage monarch from his difficulties.
Instead of a direct reply they fitted out a special expedition, in
1860, to investigate the Fiji Islands, in order to decide whether it
was worth spending money on satisfying the American creditors and
annexing the islands to the British dominions.

“Meanwhile the American government continued to
insist on payment, took possession, as security, of some of the best
positions, and having observed the prosperity of the people, raised its
demand from $45,000 to $90,000, and threatened to raise it still
further if Thakombau did not pay promptly. So, pressed on all sides,
poor Thakombau, who was ignorant of European methods of arranging
credit transactions, began, on the advice of European settlers, to seek
money from Melbourne merchants on any terms, even if he had to yield
his whole kingdom to private persons. And so in Melbourne, in response
to Thakombau’s appeal, a trading Company was formed. This Company,
which took the name of the Polynesian Company, concluded an agreement
with the Fiji rulers on terms very favourable to itself. Undertaking to
meet the debt to the American government, and engaging to pay it by
certain fixed dates, the Company under its first agreement obtained
100,000 and later 200,000 acres of the best land at its own selection,
with freedom for all time from all taxes and duties for its factories,
operations and colonies, and for a prolonged period the exclusive right
to establish banks in Fiji with the privilege of unlimited issue of
bank-notes. Since the signing of that contract, finally concluded in
1868, the Fijians were confronted, side by side with their own
government under Thakombau, by another power—the influential trading
Company with great landed possessions on all the islands and a decisive
influence in the government. Till then Thakombau’s government for the
satisfaction of its needs had contented itself with what it obtained by
various tributes in kind and by a small customs duty on imported goods.
With the conclusion of this agreement, and the establishment of the
powerful Polynesian Company, its financial position changed. An
important part of the best land in its dominions passed over to the
Company, and so the taxes diminished; on the other hand, as we know,
the Company had a right to the free import and export of goods, as a
result; of which revenue from the customs was also reduced. The
natives, that is to say 99 per cent. of the population, had always been
but poor contributors to the customs revenue, for they hardly used any
European goods except a little cotton stuff and some metal ware; and
now, when through the Polynesian Company the wealthier European
inhabitants escaped the payment of customs dues, King Thakombau’s
revenue became quite insignificant and he had to bestir himself to
increase it. And so Thakombau consulted his white friends as to how to
escape from his difficulties, and they advised him to introduce for the
first time in the country direct taxation, and, no doubt to facilitate
matters for him, it was to be in the form of a money-tax. The levy was
instituted in the form of a general poll-tax of £1 on each male and
four shillings on each woman in the islands.

“Even to the present day in the Fiji Islands, as we
have already mentioned, the cultivation of the soil and direct barter
prevails. Very few natives have any money. Their wealth consists
entirely of various raw produce and of cattle, but not of money. Yet
the new tax demanded, at fixed dates and at all costs, a sum of money
which for a native with a family came to a very considerable total.
Till then a native had not been accustomed to pay any personal dues to
the government except in the form of labour, while the taxes had all
been paid by the villages or communes to which he belonged, from the
common fields out of which he, too, drew his chief income. He had only
one way out of the difficulty: to obtain the money from the white
colonists, that is, to go either to a trader or a planter who had what
he needed—money. To the first he had to sell his produce at any price,
since the tax-collector demanded it by a given date, or he was even
obliged to borrow money against future produce, a circumstance of which
the trader naturally took advantage to secure an unscrupulous profit;
or else he had to turn to a planter and sell him his labour, that is to
become a labourer. But it turned out that wages on the Fiji Islands, in
consequence probably of much labour being offered simultaneously, were
very low, not exceeding, according to the report of the present
administration, a shilling a week for an adult male, or £2 12s a year;
and consequently merely to obtain the money to pay his own tax, not to
mention his family’s, a Fijian had to abandon his home, his family, his
own land and cultivation, and often to move far off to another island
and bind himself to a planter for half a year, in order to earn the £1
needed for the payment of the new tax; while for the payment of the tax
for a whole family he had to seek other means. The result of such an
arrangement can easily be imagined. From his 150,000 subjects Thakombau
only collected £6,000; and then an intensive demand, previously
unknown, began for taxes, and a series of compulsory measures. The
local administration, previously honest, soon came to an understanding
with the white planters who had begun to manage the country. The
Fijians were taken to court for nonpayment and sentenced, besides the
payment of the costs, to imprisonment for not less than half a year.
The rô1e of prison was played by the plantation of the first white man
willing to pay the tax and legal costs for the prisoner. In this way
the whites obtained cheap labour to any desired extent. At first this
handing over to compulsory labour was permitted for a period of six
months only, but later on the venal judges found it possible to
sentence men to even eighteen months’ labour, and then to renew the
sentence. Very soon, in a few years, the picture completely changed.
Whole flourishing districts had become half-depopulated and were
extremely impoverished. The whole male population, except the old and
the feeble, were working away from home for the white planters to
obtain money needed for the payment of the tax, or to satisfy sentences
of the court. Women in Fiji do hardly any agricultural labour, and so,
in the absence of the men, the land was neglected or totally abandoned.
In a few years half the population of Fiji had become slaves to the
white colonists.”

* * *

“This tragic episode in the life of the Fijians is
the clearest and best indication of what money is and of its
significance. Here all is expressed: the first basis of slavery—cannon,
threats, murder, the seizure of land and also the chief
instrument—money, which replaces all other means. What has to be
followed through the course of centuries in an historic sketch of the
economic development of nations is here, when the various forms of
monetary coercion have been fully developed, concentrated into a single
decade. The drama begins with the American government sending ships
with loaded cannon to the shores of the islands whose inhabitants it
wishes to enslave. The pretext for the threat is monetary, but the
drama begins with cannon directed against all the inhabitants: women,
children, the aged and the innocent; an occurrence now being repeated
in Africa, China and Central Asia. That was the beginning of the drama:
‘Your money or your life’ repeated in the history of all the conquests
of all nations; 45,000 dollars and then 90,000 dollars or a massacre.
But there were no 90,000 dollars available. The Americans had them. And
then the second act of the drama begins: brief, bloody, terrible and
concentrated slaughter has to be postponed and changed to less
noticeable, but more prolonged, sufferings. And the tribe with its
ruler seeks means to substitute monetary enslavement—slavery, for the
massacre. It borrows money, and then the monetary forms of the
enslavement of men are organised.

“These forms at once begin to act like a disciplined
army, and within five years the whole work is done; the people are not
only deprived of the right to use the land, and of their property, but
also of their liberty; they are slaves.

“The third act begins: the situation is too hard and
the unfortunate people hear rumours that it is possible to exchange
masters and go into slavery to someone else. (Of emancipation from the
slavery imposed by money there is no longer any thought.) And the tribe
calls in another master, to whom it submits with a request to mitigate
its condition. The English come, see that the possession of these
islands will make it possible for them to feed the drones of whom they
have bred too many, and the English government annexes these islands
with their inhabitants, but does not take them as chattel slaves and
does not even take the land and distribute it to its own supporters.
Those old methods are now unnecessary. All that is necessary is that a
tribute should be exacted; one large enough on the one hand to keep the
slaves in slavery, and sufficient on the other to feed the multitude of
drones.

“The inhabitants had to pay £70,000 sterling. That is
the fundamental condition on which England agreed to rescue the Fijians
from their American slavery, and at the same time this was all that was
necessary for the complete enslavement of the natives. But it turned
out that under the conditions they were in the Fijians could not
possibly pay £70,000. The demand was too great. The English modify the
demand for a time, and take part of the claim in produce, in order, in
due course, when money should be in circulation, to raise their
exaction to its full amount. England did not act like the former
Company, whose procedure may he compared to the first arrival of savage
conquerors among a savage people, when all they want is to seize what
they can get and to go away again, but England acts as a far-seeing
enslaver; it does not at once kill the hen that lays the golden egg,
but will even feed it, knowing the hen to be a good layer. At first,
she slackens the reins for her own advantage, in order later to pull
them in and reduce the Fijians to the state of monetary enslavement in
which the European and civilised world finds itself, and from which no
emanicipation is in sight.”

By the time Tolstoy’s work was first published, chattel slavery had been abolished in the North America and Europe. The word genocide
had not been invented, but the practice of genocide, as now defined, by
direct, unapologetic, forceful military conquest as Europeans and
independent Euro-Americans practiced on indigenous Americans was in
decline. The more subtle conquest by debt was coming into vogue as
outlined by Tolstoy above. Debt collection was becoming the raison d’etre for forceful conquest when all else failed.

Debt slavery is usually denied because the typical
debtor entered into the contract voluntarily. The “Catch-22” is that
there is almost no other possibility for the farmer, entrepreneur,
consumer, or developing country

For a good thumbnail exposition of the genocidal practices of the the present-day, supra-national debt mongers, IMF, etc., read The Globalisation of Poverty by Michel Chossudovsky.


From What Then Must We Do?
written by Leo Tolstoy and first published in 1886. Translation by
Aylmer Maude and published in 1925. Reissued in 1991 by Green Books