When the Rubber Hits the Roadway

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    When the Rubber Strikes the Road

    In a critique of West Africa’s Liberia in 1960, Black American sociologist and commentator W.E.B. Du Bois commented that “a body of regional personal capitalists, even if they are Black, can never ever complimentary Africa; they will simply offer it into brand-new slavery to old masters overseas.”

    At the time, Liberia had the 2nd highest economic development rate in the world. Liberia’s open-door policy had actually seen personal foreign capital financial investment boom in the postwar duration, as business were approved land concessions and offered tax breaks, incentivized by low salaries and low guideline. Regardless of these outstanding development rates however, “a handful of American-owned companies and about 1,000 Americans working in Liberia [made] more cash in Liberia than all Liberians put together.”

    Author Gregg Mitman’s Empire of Rubber: Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia is an interesting and enlightening page-turner that uncovers Liberia’s frequently overlooked significance in U.S. history. Without Liberia, established by U.S. inhabitants in the 19th century, the Allies would not have been able to produce adequate rubber to win World War II. In 1944, Firestone Rubber was the biggest company in all of Liberia. And without the investment of Firestone, Liberia’s independence and its status as the only Black sovereign state in Africa would have been threatened by Britain, France, and Germany. How did a Black republic and Firestone, a production company from Akron, Ohio, discover their fates so intertwined?

    In a review of West Africa’s Liberia in 1960, Black American sociologist and analyst W.E.B. Du Bois commented that “a body of regional personal capitalists, even if they are Black, can never ever totally free Africa; they will merely offer it into brand-new slavery to old masters overseas.”

    At the time, Liberia had the 2nd highest economic growth rate on the planet. Liberia’s open-door policy had seen personal foreign capital investment boom in the postwar duration, as companies were given land concessions and given tax breaks, incentivized by low wages and low policy. In spite of these impressive growth rates though, “a handful of American-owned companies and about 1,000 Americans working in Liberia [made] more money in Liberia than all Liberians put together.”


    Empire of Rubber: Firestone's Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia, Gregg Mitman, The New Press, 336 pp.,.99, November 2021


    < div id="attachment_1060479" class =" wp-caption alignnone none text_wrap_right" readability="63" >< img width =" 401" height =" 267" alt="Empire of Rubber: Firestone's Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia, Gregg Mitman, The New Press, 336 pp.,.99, November 2021

    ” data-src =” https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?w=401″ data-lazy-srcset =” https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg 2228w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=150,100 150w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=550,366 550w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=768,511 768w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=1538,1024 1538w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=1536,1022 1536w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=2048,1363 2048w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=400,266 400w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=401,267 401w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=800,532 800w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=1920,1278 1920w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=1000,666 1000w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=275,183 275w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=325,216 325w, https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?resize=600,399 600w” data-lazy-sizes =”( max-width: 401px )100vw, 401px” class =” image wp-image-1060479 size-text_wrap_right- fit jetpack-lazy-image- lazy” loading =” lazy” src =” https://foreignpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/empire-rubber-firestone-greg-mitman-book-review.jpg?w=401″ > Empire of Rubber: Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia, Gregg Mitman, The New Press, 336 pp.,$ 27.99, November 2021. Author Gregg Mitman’s Empire of Rubber: Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia is a remarkable and enlightening page-turner that reveals Liberia’s often ignored significance in U.S. history. Without Liberia, established by U.S. inhabitants in the 19th century, the Allies would not have actually been able to produce enough rubber to win The second world war. In 1944, Firestone Rubber was the biggest company in all of Liberia. And without the investment of Firestone, Liberia’s independence and its status as the only Black sovereign state in Africa would have been threatened by Britain, France, and Germany. How did a Black republic and Firestone, a production company from Akron, Ohio,

    discover their fates so linked? Sovereignty was at the heart of a problem dealt with by both the United States and Liberia. By the end of the 19th century, Britain, France, and the Netherlands had all colonized locations in tropical climates ideal for developing rubber plantations, leaving U.S. manufacturers based on foreign imports. When, at the end of World War I, the British and Dutch imposed new limitations on exports and new price minimums, business like Firestone connected to the U.S. federal government to look for support for plans to develop rubber plantations in locations friendly– or beholden to– the United States: The Philippines and different choices in Latin America were drifted, but ultimately, Liberia was picked.

    This option came about, Mitman programs, through a combination of history, lobbying, and luck. Black American emigrants had actually settled in the region from as early as 1821, sent out by the questionable American Colonization Society. Regardless of strong opposition to the American Colonization Society’s task from a “bulk” of Black individuals, 10,000 Black Americans settled in dispersed towns along the Liberian coast by the end of the 19th century. The nation became an independent republic in 1848, though it kept a special relationship with the United States.

    Meanwhile, as Mitman explains with devastating clarity, in a world of expanding empires, Liberia looked for out monetary capital that would enable it to keep self-reliance and self-governance– but which wound up connecting it into Britain’s sphere of impact and financial obligation. “How could the nation stay sovereign in a world ruled by the power of white capital and Western imperialism?” Mitman asks. Was tactically delivering financial sovereignty to maintain political control the right option?

    As a Black republic, Liberia had not only strategic economic importance to Americans but also symbolic political significance. An independent and flourishing Black republic might show to the world that Black people were not inferior. This argument was not simply theoretically essential. Ingrained bigotry, supported by so-called race science, dominated geopolitics at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout that time, the rest of Africa was colonized, and racial codes like Jim Crow laws along with laws restricting immigration thrived in white majority nations. The dominating racial arguments rested on ideas of white superiority that indicated specific markers of “civilization” and development. Since locations that had a Black majority were deemed underdeveloped, backwards, and “uncivilized,” white individuals were deemed to have an ethical duty to improve them in methods Black leaders were considered incapable of doing. Poverty and skin color were seen to be one and the exact same.

    Liberia stuck out as a hope to people throughout the political spectrum– from the radical activist Marcus Garvey to the more moderate Du Bois and the conservative author Booker T. Washington– since it was independent and demonstrated Black individuals could be equals worldwide of sovereign states.

    But true sovereignty needed to come with proof of advancement, and advancement was just possible through investment. This search for monetary capital was the genuine goal for Liberia– one that would have been familiar to many states at the time. From the late 19th century, both Britain and France intended to take area officially claimed by Liberia (and, as Mitman frequently reminds readers, taken by Liberian settlers from individuals belonging to the Vai, Dei, Gola, Kru, Kpelle, Bassa, Loma, Kissi, Gbandi, Sapo, Mano, Mende, Mandingo, Gio, and Kuwaa). The accusations Britain and France made to validate this included that Liberia was underdeveloped and didn’t have a big enough government to efficiently occupy and improve the entire territory it declared.

    Get in Garvey, the Back-to-Africa advocate and radical activist who provided Liberia capital raised through bonds offered in his Black Star Line to clear British financial obligations. This was not as uncomplicated a proposition as it may seem however. Du Bois and other Liberian supporters raised concerns about its feasibility and likewise about Garvey’s intents. Garvey had targeted the Liberian political and economic elite as being corrupt and insular while disregarding the remainder of the Liberian population’s hardship. Du Bois stressed that questioning Liberia’s governance would offer white governments a reason to take control of the nation.

    Firestone provided another option for both the United States and Liberia. An independent source of rubber would offer security to U.S. manufacturing supply chains. Personal finance would provide Liberia more bargaining power and prevent its takeover by another government. Both Firestone and Liberia intended to outsmart the financiers who were benefiting from the status quo. After a number of years of negotiations, examinations, and federal government lobbying, an arrangement was reached in 1926. Firestone would pay an annual rent of $1 an acre to the Liberian federal government in addition to pay 2.5 percent on all rubber sales and concurred not to import inexperienced labor. However Harvey himself placed a last-minute addition of a $5 million loan– an effort to tie the U.S. government’s interests to his company’s. Mitman states that “Firestone informed members of Congress that a personal loan, supported by American diplomatic pressure, and weapons if needed, was the finest ways to make sure sufficient security” of his financial investment. Du Bois had actually hoped Firestone would “allow Liberia good and increasing earnings” and the “Liberian government satisfying profits.” He was dissatisfied when the government was ultimately strongarmed into an arrangement where it maintained judicial control however little else.

    The conflict between Garvey and Du Bois is agent of one of the most appealing elements of Mitman’s writing. The variety of characters he introduces are all drawn as full and remarkable individuals with intricate politics. The book makes an engaging case that representation alone is rarely enough– either at the national or individual level– in that it has not necessarily advanced the conditions of the financially oppressed. Lots of Black politicians, diplomats, and teachers who were bought Liberia’s promise were informed at Harvard University, Columbia University, Howard University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and other elite institutions. They were newspaper reporters, entrepreneurs, sociologists, historians, agricultural experts, anthropologists, diplomats, politicians, and financiers. Liberia’s extremely existence furnished the United States with the opportunity to send its finest and brightest Black skill into “resolving” this intractable worldwide relations and advancement puzzle.

    For example, there was William Francis, the U.S. consul to Liberia at the end of the 1920s, who began the U.S. State Department’s secret examination into the country’s usage of required labor. And Lester Walton, who had “little perseverance for critiques of capitalism calling for freedom of Black labor from white injustice through working-class revolution.” An active member of New York’s Democratic Party and the person accountable for encouraging U.S. papers to “print the word Negro with a capital N,” Walton was included with Firestone’s quote to “conserve Liberia” from exploitation by Liberia’s ruling elite. The allegations divided viewpoints. Should the United States step in on humanitarian premises in assistance of made use of workers, undermining Liberia’s sovereignty? Or was it better, as Du Bois found himself reluctantly arguing, to neglect the exploitation and support the country’s broader claim to sovereignty?

    The Liberian administration was not without guilt. Labor was among the few forms of “capital” it might access freely without creating international dependence. Likewise, like other federal governments of the time– including the United States– the Liberian federal government used forced and conscripted labor for construction tasks like building roadways and clearing land. The ruling elite passed laws that preferred their own class and looked the other way at their outright corruption. The country’s advancement unquestionably showed plain conditions of inequality. However as Liberia’s advocates regularly pointed out, these statements were likewise real of Africa’s European empires– and were equally true of the United States itself.

    The perpetual question of either race or class interest’s supremacy capped throughout the Cold War. The group of Liberian capitalists who developed their own rubber plantations alongside Firestone– and who were therefore economically aligned with Firestone’s objectives in the nation– discovered themselves facing down labor discontent from economically made use of employees. Liberian President William Tubman, who had the largest rubber plantation beyond Firestone control, used martial law to put down a strike at Firestone in 1950. But at the exact same time, the Firestone premises were segregated, with even Black diplomats and Liberian authorities denied access to some white-only areas. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, that alliance moved as Pan-African movements, the development of global arguments for the Black Power movement, and anticolonial belief combined with labor advocacy to push Tubman’s successor, William Tolbert Jr., to lastly renegotiate the terms of concessionary plans like Firestone’s. But it was too little, too late.

    Mitman’s story shows a pattern in the fight in between federal government and personal capital. Initially, Britain offered the capital to permit Liberia to be really independent. Firestone would then be the rescuer due to the fact that it would eliminate Liberia’s dependence on foreign government loans. The Liberia Company, a joint-venture mining operation that ran from completion of The second world war up until 1962, was proposed to save the nation from dependence on Firestone. The business was part of a more comprehensive set of interventions supported by U.S. President Harry Truman’s post-World War II Point Four Program, which looked for to rescue Liberia through a “principle of partnership and social responsibility.” And then Tubman’s open-door policy would free Liberia from any prospective neocolonial dependence on the United States during the Cold War.

    The book explains the stark options dealt with by all type of places where capital is in brief supply. There are apparent modern-day parallels to campaigns by cities and states to hire Amazon warehouses through tax rewards or various nations to contend over tax or regulative regimes in a quote to draw in international corporations. Throughout the brilliantly informed narrative, Mitman highlights a few of the possible exit strategies Liberia has actually had along the method. Garvey’s Black Star Line was one. A farming specialist named Frank Pinder sent by the Truman administration after The second world war provided another. He proposed a shift far from monoculture and concessions and toward Liberian-led business farming following standard farming practices.

    The passage of the 2018 Land Rights Act, championed by rural females, is the current source of hope. And in it, Mitman sees the guarantee of a Liberian economic and political future concentrated on sustainable development and development. The enduring tension in between worldwide capital and sovereignty, he proposes, can be overcome by a focus on community sovereignty and regional financial investment instead.

    Published at Sat, 06 Nov 2021 11:00:29 +0000

    When the Rubber Hits the Road

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