Archive for the ‘Caribbean’ Category

Two Books Showing Bristol Has Not Kept Secret Its Involvement in the Slave Trade

June 6, 2019

The week before last, Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns was in Bristol, examining its history in the Georgian period. The show’s presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, who I believe is the Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham University. She’s had a long career in television presenting programmes on archaeology, history and human evolution, beginning in the 1980s with Time Team. She’s a medical doctor, who I believe also taught anatomy at Bristol University. She regularly appeared on Time Team to give her opinion on any human remains that were recovered during their escavations.

Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Most Historic Towns’

Time Team was finally cancelled after a very successful run several years ago, but like its presenter Tony Robinson, Roberts has continued fronting history and archaeology programmes. Each week the show visits a different British town and explores a specific period of its history. Roberts tours the town, talking to experts on its history and architecture during the period, and very often tries on the ladies’ costume at the time. Last year among the various towns the series covered was Cheltenham during its heyday as a regency spa. This year’s series started off with Dover, concentrating on it history during World War II. Last week it was looking at Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, when the city became the major centre of the global coal industry. And the week before that they were in Bristol, telling its history during the Georgian period. Roberts has a personal connection to the city, as it’s her home town and she went to school here. She also had a personal connection to Cardiff, as it was at its university that she studied medicine.

Georgian Bristol

During the Georgian period – the age of the four Georges, from the early 18th century to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 – Bristol was one of the leading cities in Britain. It’s a port, whose location on the Bristol Channel gave it an excellent position for trading with Africa and America. The programme covered other aspects of Bristol’s history during the period, like the emergence of gin, the 1827 massacre by the army in Queen’s Square in Redcliffe of a mob demanding electoral reform, and the development of the Clifton and Hotwells suburbs as genteel residential areas for the city’s new mercantile elite. But Bristol’s wealth at the time was largely produced from the immense profits from the slave trade. Ships from Bristol took trade goods down to west Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the West Indies to be sold, and the ships returned to Bristol with West Indian goods like sugar and rum in what has become known as the triangular trade. And it was on this aspect of Bristol’s Georgian history that the programme concentrated.

The show is well done and the research is very thorough. Among those Roberts talked to was Dr. Steve Poole, a lecturer at the University of the West of England; a member of Bristol’s Radical History Group, who talked about the Queen’s Square Massacre; and a couple of distillers, who showed her how 18th century gin was made. She also talked to Dr. Edson Burnett about the slave trade, going through some of the ledgers left by the slavers itemising their ships’ human cargo in the city archives. Some of these are really shocking. They simply give the number of slaves shipped aboard, and the deaths during the voyage. Those taken were simply items of merchandise, with no names. The ledgers give brief descriptions of those who died and how the body was disposed of. They were simply thrown over the side. One of the most horrendous incidents was the scandal surrounding the Zong, a slave ship, which threw its entire cargo of slaves overboard during a storm, and then tried to sue the insurance company for compensation for them as lost cargo. It’s a horrific atrocity and injustice. She also mentioned how a number of plays were written during the 18th century attacking the slave trade, many of which were set in Bristol. She then spoke to the writer and artistic director of a modern play about the trade being staged by Bristol’s historic Old Vic theatre.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

The programme’s coverage of Bristol’s history during the period was fair, although there was much obviously left out because of the constraints of the programme’s length. It’s an hour long, and it could easily take that long to discuss the city’s involvement with the slave trade and some of the architecture that was built for the merchants involved in the trade. As it was, the programme showed only one of them, the house of George Pinney, a 19th century West India planter and merchant. This is now a museum, the Georgian House, open to the public in one of the streets just off Park Street. However, Roberts opened the discussion of the city’s complicity in the slave trade with a statement that was simply wrong. She said that it was a terrible secret.

Exhibitions

Well, if Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is a secret, then it’s a very badly kept one! Bristol’s M Shed museum, which takes visitors through the city’s history and some of its industries, including aircraft and motor vehicles built here, has a display on the slave trade. This shows not only slave manacles and the manillas, bracelet-like items used for barter, but also maps of homes and other properties owned and occupied by the slave merchants and plantation owners. This follows an earlier exhibit at the City Museum in Queen Street, ‘A Respectable Trade’, which was timed to coincide with the TV series of that name on BBC 1, based on the book by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. The book and TV series were about the slave trade, and much of it was set in the Bristol of the time. The exhibition was staged by local council and showed the historical reality on which the fiction was based. Gregory also appeared in a TV programme at the time, exploring the city’s connection to the slave trade, in which she spoke to several Black anti-racist activists.

Books and Pamphlets

Since then there have been a number of books published on Bristol and the slave trade. The city library has published a catalogue of books and other materials it holds on the subject.  There has also been a book published on the City in 1807, the year in which the slave trade was officially prohibited throughout the British Empire. Dr. Madge Dresser, a historian at the University of the West of England, has also published a book, Slavery Obscured, on the persistence of the slave trade after its formal abolition, in which merchants from Bristol were involved. And back in the 1990s the local branch of the Historical Association published a booklet on Bristol’s Black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Merchant Venturers, the mercantile organisation that dominated Bristol’s trade in that period, has also published a catalogue of its holdings, which included it’s members’ plantations in the West Indies.

Origin of Belief Bristol Keeping Slave Trade Connection Secret

I’ve been told by members of the city’s Black cultural and anti-racist organisations that the idea that the city council is somehow covering up the city’s involvement in the slave trade dates from the 1970s. A member of the community rang the council up to inquire about what they knew about Bristol and the slave trade, only to be told that the city wasn’t involved in it. Which is wrong. I wonder if the person, who answered the call genuinely didn’t know about Bristol’s history of slaving. But whatever the reality, this planted the idea that the city council was deliberating hiding the truth. I think it was partly to dispel this idea that the City Museum staged the 1995 exhibition.

Two Books on Bristol from the 1950s and 1970s

But even before then, the city’s involvement in the slave trade was known and discussed. For example, the book Bristol and Its Adjoining Counties, edited by C.M. MacInnes and W.F. Whittard, and published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, has several pages on the slave trade in the chapter by MacInnes, ‘Bristol and Overseas Expansion’, pp. 219-230.

The 1975 textbook, Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey, published by Georges, also covers the slave trade in its chapter on city’s 18th century trade, pp. 31-2. All the chapters are a page or so in length, with another page suggesting projects or containing questions for students on that period of the city’s history. The paragraph on the slave trade runs

Unfortunately, Bristol was better known at this time for its links with the slave trade. The “Blackbirds” sailed to Africa with various goods, exchanged them for slaves which were then shipped to the West Indies or North America. The ships then returned home iwth sugar and tobacco, the whole “Triangular Trade” bringing enormous profits to many Bristol merchants. Before 1760, Bristol carried about one-third of all the slaves, but this number died away by the end of the century as the anti-slavery movement made progress. (p. 31).

Few Obvious Monuments to Slave Trade in City

I also think that part of this misconception may come from the fact that there are few monuments from the time that obviously have direct connections to the slave trade. When I was studying archaeology at Bristol, one of the foreign students on the archaeology course complained to one of the lecturers that her housemate believed Bristol was racist, because there were no monuments for the slaves. The housemate was another foreign student, from Guiana, where I believe the buildings for landing and sale of slaves still exist. I think the student expected similar buildings to exist in Bristol. But they don’t, as the bulk of the city’s slave trade was with the West Indies. There were slaves in Bristol, but these were brought to the city as personal servants, rather than imported en masse as they were in the Caribbean.

Historic Buildings and Later Monuments Connected to Slaves and Slave Trade

However, there are architectural hints at the city’s connection to the slave trade all around. The city’s merchants decorated the exterior of their homes with carvings symbolising their connection to Africa or the Caribbean, such as pineapples. There are also coloured statues, representing the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas in St. Nicholas Market, one of which is a Black African. And several of the city’s pubs also claim a direct connection to the trade. The Ostrich, one of the pubs on the harbourside, had a cellar, in which, it was claimed, slaves were held ready for sale. When I used to drink there in the 1990s there was a poster up about it, along with reproductions of the advertisements of the time for runaway slaves. However, it may be the reality here was more prosaic. The 1995 exhibition said that many the connection of many of parts of Bristol to the slave trade may just be urban folklore. Blackboy Hill, for example, is probably not named after a slave boy, but possibly a racehorse owned by Charles II. The city has also made other gestures to commemorating the victims of the slave trade. There’s a slave walk along Bristol’s docks, and a plaque put up to those enslaved by city on one of the former warehouses by M Shed. A remarkable bridge built across the docks in the 1990s, which features two horn-like constructions, has been called ‘Pero’s Bridge’, after one of the slaves imported into Bristol. And there is a gravestone for Scipio, an African slave brought to the city by his master in one of the city’s churchyards.

Bristol has a very rich and fascinating history, of which the slave trade is one part. It’s a history that definitely needs to be told. And it has only been within the last quarter century or so that the slave trade has been memorialised in local museums, not just in Bristol, but also elsewhere. Bristol has joined Liverpool and Nantes in France in creating exhibitions and galleries on its involvement in the trade. Before then it’s fair to say that City Museum did not display anything on the slave trade. It was a period of the city’s history that most Bristolians probably would have preferred not to commemorate, but it was never forgotten nor kept hidden.

 

Advertisements

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Gordon Dimmack Urges John Cleese to Look at and Support Independent Media

March 14, 2019

In this 17 minute long video from the left-wing vlogger Gordon Dimmack, he talks about John Cleese’s decision to move from the UK to the Caribbean. When the papers covered the story a month or so ago, they very much gave the impression that it was all about a feud between Cleese and the Beeb. Cleese was angry at the Corporation for not showing Monty Python and annoyed that it was no longer rated over here as one of the greatest comedies ever. In short, he was going because of personal bitterness.

That appears to be part of it, sure, but from this wider coverage it’s clear that there’s much more to it. Cleese is concerned about the massive corruption in British politics and the major part played in this by the press. Dimmack plays a clip from an interview Cleese gave to Emily Maitlis of Newsnight, in which he talks about how terrible and mendacious the press is. He supports his point by showing Maitlis a graph illustrating a study done by the  EU into the trust the citizens of its countries have in their press. Of 33 countries, Britain comes 33rd, with only 23 per cent of Brits saying they trust their media.

That’s damning.

Maitlis tried to get round this by pointing to a statistical outlier, Albania, which is near the top of the list, where 98 per cent of its citizens believe their press to be trustworthy. Albania under Hoxha was a Stalinist dictatorship. After the Fall of Communism it became a mass of seething corruption which destroyed several governments as the economy collapsed through pyramid schemes. So it very probably doesn’t have a remotely trustworthy press. But Maitlis’ remark ignores the greater trust other, stable countries with a history of open, democratic politics, like the Netherlands, have in their media. When Maitlis tries to object to Cleese’s point that the British press is not trusted and untrustworthy, he just laughs in her face.

The conversation then moves on to Cleese’s complaints about Python, which Dimmack supports, although he says he like Ricky Gervaise’s latest comedy, Malcolm. Dimmack then moves to another interview Cleese gave, in which talked more about his departure from these isles. He was going first to Nepal to see the tigers, then going to do another tour of America before finally settling in Nevis, which he and his wife saw and fell in love with. He states that he’s leaving because it’s nearer to his daughter in Los Angeles, and that he does most of his business in America. But he’s also moving because he’s sick of the corruption in British society. He states that he was personally involved in British politics, first for proportional representation and then in the Leveson II inquiry. But these were stifled by the British press. He’s also critical about the banks and their destruction of the economy. He’ll still be interested in British politics, but he won’t return until we get a government that is serious about changing things in Britain for the better. This is possible, but he fears he’ll be away for some time.

To show how genuinely politically engaged Cleese is, Dimmack flashes up a couple of tweets from the great man about Russiagate and sources supporting his belief in Russian involvement in Trump’s election. Dimmack fully agrees with Cleese about the corruption of the lamestream media, and says he has tried to point him in the direction of people, who do tell the truth. Like Max Blumenthal about Venezuela, and Jimmy Dore. People Cleese could more easily contact in America. Dimmack admits that there’s hardly any chance that Cleese will read his tweets, as he’s got 597 million followers. But perhaps if enough people follow Dimmack and tweet to Cleese recommending he look at the above journos of the new media, this may change and Cleese will start supporting them. Which would be great, because Cleese’s support would obviously be highly influential. Dimmack states very clearly that he is trying to change the world, and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem and should step away.

Marc Wadsworth Speaking at LAW’s ‘Justice4Marc’ Event

March 2, 2019

This is another great video from Labour Against the Witchhunt, a group formed to defend decent Labour party members, who have been suspended, expelled and smeared as anti-Semites, amongst other lies. It was filmed on 15th May 2018. Marc Wadsworth is the Black Labour party anti-racist activist, who was smeared as a Jew-hater by the vile Ruth Smeeth, because he embarrassed her by commenting on her passing information to a journo from the Torygraph at a press event. He was prevented from getting a fair hearing partly because a group of White Labour MPs and Zionist smear merchants descended on the tribunal to pressure them into giving a ‘guilty verdict’.

Hew begins by thanking the audience for turning up, and the people who organised the event, Tina Workman, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Moshe Machover, and others. He states that they have been ratcheting up the party passing reinstatement motions. This is going really well. Ealing North and Luton South have passed resolutions, as well as places he hasn’t even heard of, like Stroud in Gloucestershire. All around the country there is a great upsurge of anger, of rage, at an injustice. And it isn’t about him, as Alexei [Sayle] has said. It’s about an attack and turning back the tide of having a socialist for the first time as leader of the Labour party, and all his allies, like myself, Tony [Greenstein] and Jackie [Walker] are collateral damage because they’ve dared to defend him and, in a sense, take a bullet for him. That’s what he was doing when he spoke out at the Shami Chakrabarti report on the 30th June 2016. He says that they will remember the fraught political atmosphere that surrounded that meeting with people, who the organisation he then belonged to, Momentum Black Connections, described as ‘traitors’, the 172 who signed a motion of ‘No confidence’ in Corbyn. They included an individual he personally got into trouble for. He’s not going to big them up any more, and give them fame from his name, but his audience knows who they are. This is a battle that has been lost. But they are fighting a war, and they will win, but they will throw everything at them.

He then say what a spectacle it was when the 18,19,20 – they say 40 or 50, but he can count, and it wasn’t that many – of white MPs, led by Wes Streeting – and they have to think of a nickname for him – marching on his hearing, against one Black man, to influence the outcome of that NCC kangaroo court. He’s free to call it that now, as that’s what it was. He faced a panel of that famous left-wing from the GMB, Maggie Cousin, and the wingman, Douglas Fairbairn, from the steelworkers’ union – never says a word, just nods every time Maggie says something. And he’s says he’ll leave the name of the Unite member out of it for now, as he’s a member of Unite and a very loyal person, but he can’t help what others may find out as a result of doing due diligence. He quotes Chris Williamson, who said it was a perverse decision. The hearing took two days. People like Graham Batch put in a witness statement, Mike Kushman, David Rosenberg, Naomi Winborne-Idrissi. Fantastic Jewish support. This is not Black people versus Jewish people. This is Jewish people and Black people fighting side by side for justice on a cause. And let them never divide us, for that is what they seek to do! He says that he’s not an anti-Semite, his audience knows he’s not an anti-Semite, and the MP who accused him knows he’s not an anti-Semite. In fact when she went out of the room and put that statement out attacking Corbyn, he was just collateral damage. She didn’t have a clue who he was. He was just some Black awkward bugger, who’d called her out doing something she didn’t ought to with the Daily Telegraph, another Labour supporting paper.

It’s interesting, he says. You can judge people from the company they keep. On the one side you have Kevin Schofield, the former Sun journalist, who’s now running PoliticsHome. You’ve got Richard Angel, director of Progress, I can’t remember whether he was on the left or the right, but it doesn’t matter as he’s very much on the right, Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel. That was the little crew that was out that day to get Corbyn. And don’t forget that the Chakrabarti report was against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. So he had every right, didn’t he? – to talk about the underrepresentation of African, Caribbean and Asian people in that room, and among the staff and the journalists? All of that was lost as the journalists, who turned on him as one of their number, had no interest in the report and its issues. They were out to get Corbyn that day. They were like a pack of wolves, and he has never seen anything like it in forty years of journalism. They were rabid. He then mentions that Tina Godshaw, from the press office of the National Union of Journalists was present, and that they’ve worked very closely together at Lambeth Momentum. And so they were on a mission.

But he’s slowly rowing back. He’s got a rebuttal strategy. He’s taken on the Jewish Chronicle. It’s been settled by IPSO and 14 stories have been corrected. They had to take the word ‘abuse’ out of those stories, as he did not abuse that MP. He says he was heckled in the meeting ‘How dare you! How dare you! How absolutely dare you!’ A Black man daring to speak up at a nearly all White meeting about Black representation. ‘How dare I!’ Perhaps, he muses, that’s the slogan for a future T-shirt.

But they’ve made progress. A poll of nearly 3,000 people, ordinary members of the public, came out more than 94 per cent against his expulsion. Expulsion revulsion! There’s been an outcry. The Black community is stirring. He was on a radio station. He was supposed to be on for half an hour, they wouldn’t let him go after an hour. He identifies the station as Genesis Radio, and points out Jennifer Lee, who was the programme’s presenter that night, and who would be speaking later. Nana Asante of the Black Labour Movement has run a fantastic petition campaign, which is on Change.org. Sometimes as Black people, they’re slow to stir – a sleeping giant – but when they get on the move, you saw the Civil Rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement, the Panthers and the Black Power movement. They are mighty. Small but tallowa, as they say in Jamaica. Small but mighty. And they’re beginning to stir. The Voice newspaper carried a story supporting the campaign. Last week it was the story that had the most views. It’s beating stories about Black American celebrities, like Megan Markle in terms of hits.

How do they go forward? London is just the beginning. This is just a springboard to a national tour, where he will be able to talk directly to the public, as some people have raised questions. Like after watching a fifty-five second video clip that’s online of him talking at the Chakrabarti meeting, they ask ‘Surely he can’t have been chucked out of the party at that meeting because of what he said? There must be more.’ Well, there is no more. In the hearing over two days they played that clip about 15 times and dissected it, every bit of it. And there is no more. There were two charges of which he was found guilty. One is the incident in the video, and the second charge was that he dared defend himself in an article in The Voice and on his own website, The Latest.com, and retweeted a few of Tony Greenstein’s sage offerings online and some others. And so he is guilty in some way of exacerbating the original charge. So it’s just nonsense. He has a brilliant team of lawyers, about four of them at the last count, and they’re putting together a case, on Monday the Labour party will get a very heavy-duty letter from his lawyers, who have said that he has substantial grounds for the Labour Party having breached its own rules on contract, on human rights, and there’s a small issue of defamation. There are a few individuals he may have to go after.

‘Let me,’ he says, ‘leave you with this insight into the hearing’. When his fantastic barrister Althea Brown of Doughty Street, a great Black woman, challenged the Party to give a definitive definition of what it had adopted as its version on anti-Semitism, they couldn’t answer. They had to call an adjournment. And they accused Walker of daring to say in that private JLM meeting, which she thought was a safe space to have a debate about all matters Jewish and anti-Semitism, when she asked for a good working definition of anti-Semitism. The party themselves couldn’t come up with that definition. They couldn’t. Was it the I.H.R.A.? Was it the I.H.R.A. couple of sentences? Was it the I.H.R.A. couple of sentences plus examples, seven of which are about Israel? They didn’t know. They had to call an adjournment, and they came back into the room with four lawyers, all disagreeing with each other and saying well, maybe they can take into account the examples. But that’s not party policy, is it? That’s making it up as you go along.

So we’ve got a problem. And the problem isn’t pockets of anti-Semitism in the party, it’s the fact that certain unscrupulous right-wing individuals have weaponised false accusations of anti-Semitism and that must be fought against. ‘I am totally and utterly opposed to anti-Semitism,’ he concludes, ‘and all forms of racism, bigotry and prejudice, and I’ve fought them all my life, and I will continue to fight them side by side with Jewish sisters and brothers. Thank you for coming today. Thank you very much indeed.’ 

Zelo Street Demolishes Times Anti-Corbyn Smear

February 25, 2019

It seems the media really are absolutely terrified of Corbyn getting into No.10, as they’re increasing their vilification. Not only are the accusations that he, and his supporters in the Labour party, are anti-Semites are coming thick and fast from the Independents and the Blairites with the Labour split, but the right-wing, and specifically the Murdoch press, are falling back on the old canard that he’s a Trotskyite.

This morning, the good fellow at Crewe behind the Zelo Street blog put up a piece demolishing the latest attempt by the Murdoch press to defend Tom Bower’s biography of the Labour leader. This is the hit piece on Corbyn, which has screamed that he’s a ruthless operator, who has skillfully removed all ‘centrist’ – read: Thatcherite – opponents – who stood in the way of his ruthless ascent to power.

The claim itself is nonsense. Corbyn won the first Labour election partly because the Thatcherite vote was split between three candidates. And far from being a ruthless Machiavellian intriguer, one of the complaints I’ve heard is that he isn’t ruthless enough. When he first came to power, he was expected to purge the party bureaucracy of Blairites, just as Blair and Brown had purged the apparat before them and stuffed it full of their supporters. But he didn’t. If he had, we wouldn’t be suffering this mess now.

As for the revelations in Bower’s biography that supposedly reveal what an absolute blackguard he is, they’re incredibly disappointing. One of the worst of these came from his ex-wife, who says that he ignored her emotional needs, was boring and talked about politics all the time. What a bastard! This is hardly spousal abuse, It’s just two people, who were unsuited to each other. This fortnight’s Private Eye sent it all up with a spoof of it, by Tom Boo-hoo-hooer, with the title ‘Chapter 94, How Corbyn Wet the Bed, Cried All Night and Pooed his Nappies’.

Faced with this ridicule, the Times has seen fit to try to defend Bower, with the allegation that Corbyn is an academic failure – he apparently got two ‘Es’ and a failure at ‘A’ levels – but became a Trotskyite while teaching geography in Kingston, Jamaica. Corbyn went over there as part of the VSO programme. Apparently it was his experience of the 1968 Kingston riots that turned him into a radical leftist determined to create a British Communist state.

Zelo Street remarks that there are several problems with this. Firstly, no-one in Corbyn’s family told Bower about this, and the idea that they were deliberately concealing it from the old hack is absurd. David Osland on Twitter pointed out that at the time it would have been difficult for Corbyn to have become a Trotskyite in Jamaica, as there was then no Trotskyite movement there. Another Tweeter also pointed out that the real Trotskyites had Corbyn down as a trendy leftie, like Margaret Hodge, rather than anything further and more serious. John Field then made the point that most people accusing him of being a Trotskyite don’t actually know what a Trotskyite is. The article concludes

‘Exactly. Bower has been touring the TV studios, rambling on about communism without one gram of fact to back it up. He is just smearing with the objective of delegitimising Corbyn.
Trouble is, he’s not very good at it. Bit like the press which is enabling him, then.’
See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/corbyn-biographer-trotskyism-smear.html
And that’s also my experience of talking to people, who believe he’s Trotskyite: they don’t know what a Trotskyite is, and don’t off any evidence that he is one. None whatsoever. They don’t provide any evidence that he belonged to any Marxist organisation, let alone specifically Trotskyite one, or that he believes or has said anything remotely about Trotskyite dogma. It’s just smears without any shred of supporting evidence. But it’s said by the Times, the Mail and the rest of the dying press, so their readers believe it.

YouTube Video for My Book on Slavery in the British Empire, ‘The Global Campaign’

February 18, 2019

This is the video I’ve just uploaded on YouTube about my two volume book on slavery, its abolition and the campaign against it in the British Empire, The Global Campaign, which I’ve published with Lulu.

The video explains that it grew out of my work as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, helping to catalogue the archive of government documents that they had been granted by the Commonwealth Institute. I was busy summarizing these documents for a database on materials on slavery the Museum wanted to compile. Going through them, it became clear that the long process of its abolition in the Caribbean was just part of a wider attempt by the British to suppress it right across our empire, from Canada and the Caribbean across the Cape Colony, now part of South Africa, the Gold Coast, now Ghana, Sierra Leone, founded as a colony for freed slaves, central Africa, and what are now Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda, Egypt, the Sudan and the North African parts of the Turkish Empire, to India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Java and Malaysia, and into the Pacific, in Fiji, Australia and the Pacific Island nations. Legislation in one section of the Empire, for example, the Caribbean, was also passed elsewhere, such as Cape Colony, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The British were aided in their campaign to stamp out slavery in Egypt, the Sudan and Uganda by the Egyptian ruler, the Khedive Ismail. They also signed treaties banning the slave trade from East Africa with the Imam of Muscat, now Oman, the ruler of Zanzibar and Pemba and the suzerain of some of the east African coastal states. There was also an invasion of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, in retaliation for their raiding of the neighbouring British territories for slaves.

As well as trying to suppress the enslavement of Africans, the British were also forced to attack other forms of slavery, such as the forced kidnapping and sale of indentured migrant labourers from India and China in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’, and the similar enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific for labour on the sugar plantations in Fiji and Queensland.

I also explain how one of the first English-speaking countries to ban slavery was Canada, where enlightened governors and judges twisted the interpretation of Canadian law to show that slavery did not officially exist there.

The video’s about ten minutes long. Unfortunately, I don’t say anything about the role Black resistance to slavery, from simple acts like running away, to full scale rebellions had in ending it, or of colonial governors and legislatures. But the book does mention them.

Here’s the video:

Yay! My Book on Slavery in the British Empire Has Been Published with Lulu

January 30, 2019

On Monday I finally got the proof copies I ordered of my book, The Global Campaign, which I’ve just published with Lulu, the print on demand service. The book’s in two volumes, which have the subtitles on their first pages The British Campaign to Eradicate Slavery in its Colonies. The book’s in two volumes. Volume One has the subtitle The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean, while Volume Two is subtitled Africa and the Wider World.

My blurb for the book runs

British imperialism created an empire stretching from North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, much of whose population were slaves. Global Campaign tells how slavery in the British Empire arose, the conditions and resistance to it of the peoples they enslaved, and the steps taken to end it by the abolitionists across the Empire and the metropolitan authorities in London.

The first volume of this book, Volume 1: The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean describes the emergence of this Empire, and the attempts to end slavery within it up to end of apprenticeship in 1838.

Volume 2: Africa and the Wider World describes how the British tried to end it in their expanding Empire after 1838. It describes how abolition became part of the ideology of British imperialism, and spurred British expansion, annexation and conquest.

The two volumes also discuss the persistence of slavery after abolition into the modern world, and its continuing legacy across continents and cultures.

The contents of vol. 1 are an introduction, then the following:

Chapter 1: the British Slave Empire in 1815
Chapter 2: From Amelioration to Abolition
Chapter 3: Abolition, Apprenticeship and Limited Freedom, 1833-1838.

Vol. 2’s chapter are

1: Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Lagos
2: India, Ceylon, Java and Malaya,
3: The Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji
4: West Africa and the Gold Coast, 1874-1891
5: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Sudan
6: East and Central Africa
7: Zanzibar and Pemba
8: Legacies and Conclusion

Both volumes also have an index and bibliography. I also drew the cover art.

Volume 1 is 385 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-75207-1, price 12.00 pounds.
Volume 2 386 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-45228-5, price 12.00 pounds. Both prices exclusive of VAT.

The books are based on the notes and summaries I made for the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum of some of the official documents they’d acquired from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on slavery. I also supplemented this with a mass of secondary reading on slavery, the slave trade and the British Empire. It’s a fascinating story. I chose to write about slavery in the British Empire as a whole as I found when I was looking through the documents that slavery certainly wasn’t confined to the Caribbean. It was right across the world, though most of the published books concentrate on slavery in the US and the Caribbean. There has been a recent book on slavery and abolition in British India and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and I remember seeing a book on the British campaign against slavery in the Pacific, published, I believe, from one of the antipodean publishers. I doubt very many people in Britain are aware that it existed in India and Sri Lanka, and that attempts to outlaw it there date from c. 1798, when the British judge of the Bombay (Mumbai) presidency ruled that it was illegal. Similarly, general histories of slavery do mention the infamous ‘coolie trade’ in indentured labourers from India and China. They were imported into the Caribbean and elsewhere around the world in order to supply cheap labour after the abolition of slavery in 1838. However, they were treated so abysmally in conditions often worse than those endured by enslaved Blacks, that it was dubbed by one British politician ‘A new system of slavery’. There’s an excellent book on it, with that as its title, by Hugh Tinker, published by one of the Indian presses.

General books on slavery also discuss the enslavement of indigenous Pacific Islanders, who were kidnapped and forced to work on plantations in Fiji and Queensland in Australia. But again, I doubt if many people in the UK have really heard about it. And there are other episodes in British imperial history and the British attempts to curb and suppress slavery around the world which also isn’t really widely known. For example, abolition provided some much of the ideological impetus for the British conquest of Africa. Sierra Leone was set up in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. But the British were also forced to tackle slavery and slaving in the Gold Coast, after they acquired it in the 19th century. They then moved against and conquered the African kingdoms that refused to give up slaving, such as Ashanti, Dahomey and the chiefdoms around Lagos. It’s a similar story in east Africa, in what is now Tanganyika, Zambia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Malawi. The British initially wished to conquer the area as part of the general European ‘Scramble for Africa’, and their main rivals in the region where the Portuguese. But the British public were also aware through the missionary work of David Livingstone that the area was part of the Arabic slave trade, and that the indigenous peoples of this region were being raided and enslaved by powerful local African states, such as the Yao and the Swahili as well as Arabs, and exported to work plantations in the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off the east African coast. At the same time, Indian merchants were also buying and enslaving Africans from that area, particularly Uganda.

The British were also concerned to crush slavery in Egypt after they took control of the country with the French. They encouraged Khedive Ismail, the Egyptian ruler, to attempt to suppress it in Egypt and then the Sudan. It was as part of this anti-slavery campaign that the Khedive employed first Colonel Baker and then General Gordon, who was killed fighting the Mahdi.

At the same time, Stamford Raffles in Singapore and Raja Brooke of Sarawak justified their conquest and acquisition of these states as campaigns to end slavery in those parts of Asia. The British also took over Fiji at the request of the Fijian king, Cakabau. White Americans and Europeans had been entering the country, and Cakabau and his advisors were afraid that unless the country was taken under imperial control, the settlers would enslave the indigenous Fijians. Indeed, Cakabau had been made king of the whole of Fiji by the colonists, though he was acutely aware of how he was being used as a figurehead for effective White control of his people. At the same time, the White planters were also forming a White supremacist group. So he appealed to the British Empire to takeover his country in order to prevent his people’s enslavement.

British imperial slavery started off with the British colonies in the Caribbean and North America. I’ve ignored slavery in the US except for the period when it was part of the British Empire. The Canadians ended slavery nearly two decades before it was formally outlawed throughout the British Empire. It was done through enlightened governors, judges as well as abolitionists outside government. The country’s authorities did so by interpreting the law, often against its spirit, to show that slavery did not legally exist there. There were attempts by slaveowners to repeal the legislation, but this was halfhearted and by the 1820s slavery in Canada had officially died out.

After the British acquired Cape Colony at the southern tip of Africa, the very beginning of the modern state of South Africa, they were also faced with the problem of ending the enslavement of its indigenous population. This included the indigenous Khoisan ‘Bushmen’, who were being forced into slavery when they took employment with White farmers. At the same time, the British were trying to do the same in Mauritius and the Seychelles after they conquered them from the French.

The British initially started with a programme of gradual abolition. There was much debate at the time whether the enslaved peoples could support themselves as independent subjects if slavery was abolished. And so the abolitionists urged parliament to pass a series of legislation slowly improving their conditions. These regulated the foods they were given by the planters, the punishments that could be inflicted on them, as well as giving them medical care and support for the aged and disabled. They also tried to improve their legal status by giving them property rights and the right to be tried in ordinary courts. Special officials were set up, the Guardians and Protectors of Slaves, to examine complaints of cruelty.

This gradualist approach was challenged by the female abolitionists, who grew impatient with the cautious approach of the Anti-Slavery Society’s male leadership. They demanded immediate abolition. I’ve also tried to pay tribute to the struggle by the enslaved people themselves to cast off their shackless. In the Caribbean, this took the form of countless slave revolts and rebellions, like Maroons in Jamaica, who were never defeated by us. At the same time a series of slaves came forward to accuse their masters of cruelty, and to demand their freedom. After the Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery did not exist in English law in the late 18th century, slaves taken to Britain from the Caribbean by their masters presented themselves to the Protectors on their return demanding their freedom. They had been on British soil, and so had become free according to English law. They therefore claimed that they were illegally kept in slavery. As you can imagine, this produced outrage, with planters and slaveowners attacking both the anti-slavery legislation and official attempts to free the slaves as interference with the right of private property.

This legislation was introduced across the Empire. The same legislation that regulated and outlawed slavery in the Caribbean was also adopted in the Cape, Mauritius and the Seychelles. And the legislation introduced to ensure that indentured Indian and Chinese labourers were treated decently was also adopted for Pacific Islanders.

Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833, but a form of servitude persisted in the form of apprenticeship until 1838. This compelled the slaves to work unpaid for their masters for a certain number of hours each week. It was supposed to prepare them for true freedom, but was attacked and abandoned as just another form of slavery.

Unfortunately slavery continued to exist through the British Empire in various forms despite official abolition. The British were reluctant to act against it in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Java and Perak in what is now Malaysia because they were afraid of antagonizing the indigenous princes and so causing a rebellion. In Egypt they attempted to solve the problem by encouraging the slaveowners as pious Muslims to manumit their slaves freely as an act of piety, as the Prophet Mohammed urges them in the Qu’ran. In the Caribbean, the freedom the former slaves enjoyed was limited. The British were afraid of the plantation economy collapsing, and so passed legislation designed to make it difficult for the freed people to leave their former masters, often tying them to highly exploitative contracts. The result was that Black West Indians continued to fear re-enslavement long after abolition, and there were further riots and rebellions later in the 19th century. In British Africa, the indigenous African peoples became second class citizens, and were increasingly forced out of governmental and administrative roles in favour of Whites. Some colonies also conscripted African labourers into systems of forced labour, so that many came to believe that they had simply swapped one form of slavery for another. The result has been that slavery has continued to persist. And it’s expanded through people trafficking and other forms of servitude and exploitation.

The book took me on off several years to write. It’s a fascinating subject, and you can’t but be impressed with the moral and physical courage of everyone, Black and White, who struggled to end it. I chose to write about it in the British Empire as while there are many books on slavery across the world, there didn’t seem to be any specifically on the British Empire. Studying it also explains why there is so much bitterness about it by some people of West Indian heritage and how it has shaped modern politics. For example, before South Sudan was given its independence, Sudan under the British was effectively divided into two countries. In the southern part of the country, the British attempted to protect the indigenous peoples from enslavement by banning Arabs. They were also opened up to Christian evangelization. In the Arab north, the British attempted to preserve good relations by prohibiting Christian evangelism.

I also attempt to explain how it is that under the transatlantic slave trade, slavery became associated with Blackness. In the ancient world and during the Middle Ages, Whites were also enslaved. But Europeans started turning to Black Africans in the 14th and 15th centuries when it became impossible for them to buy Slavs from eastern Europe. So common had the trade in Slavs been that the modern English word, slave, and related terms in other languages, like the German Sklave, actually derive from Slav.

It’s been fascinating and horrifying writing the book. And what is also horrifying is that it persists today, and that new legislation has had to be passed against it in the 21st century.

Raheem Kassam Knows Zilch about Fascism, Imperialism, Nationalism or Socialism. And Definitely not History

January 21, 2019

In my last piece, I discussed a twitter argument between Raheem Kassam, one of the most vehement leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, and James Melville on Twitter. The row had erupted when Kassam started moaning about how left-wingers were reporting his comments to Twitter in the hope of getting him thrown off social media. Melville had no sympathy for him, telling Kassam that he was reaping what he sowed after Kassam had put up a piece himself telling his supporters to pile onto Melville’s own account and hound him off the Net. And when Kassam put up a picture of Churchill in a yellow vest, Melville rhetorically asked him if he knew that Winnie had been an opponent of far right extremism. Which brought forth the following tirade from Kassam:

Lol now this guy who had a meltdown yesterday is going through my feed picking out tweets he thinks he can argue with. Churchill defeated imperialistic (opposite of nationalist) National Socialism (opposite of right wing) which wanted a united Europe under Germany (EU)”.

Which was followed by

“Fascism is an ideology. Conservatism is a philosophy. There’s your first problem in attempting to link the two. Fascism concerned itself with a corporate-state nexus (like socialism, and indeed our current pro-EU system does). Your understanding of philosophy is poor”.

Zelo Street commented on the relationship between Nazism and imperialism by pointing out that the Nazis were nationalists, far right and had zero relationship to the EU. Melville himself pointed out that Hitler and the Nazis were Fascists and right-wing extremists.

Kassam’s views on Nazism, the EU, Fascism and socialism are bonkers, but they’re a staple part of much Libertarian and ‘Leave’ campaign ideology. They follow Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism, in believing that the Nazis were socialists because, er, the Nazis said they were. Despite the fact that Hitler staunchly supported capitalism, did not want to nationalize any firms except in emergencies, smashed the trade unions and put their leaders and activists in the concentration camps along with leaders and members of the mainstream German socialist party, the SDP, the Communist KPD, and anarchists, as well as other political opponents. Kassam also doesn’t seem to realize, or doesn’t want to admit, that the Nazis and Italian Fascists were very much nationalists. The full name of the Nazi party was the National Socialist German Workers Party. And unlike the ‘socialist’ part of their name and programme, they took nationalism very seriously. Only ethnic Germans could legally be citizens. German industry, values and identity, or rather the Nazi version of them, were aggressively promoted.

The Italian Fascists were exactly the same, although they retained the trade unions, but incorporated them into the machinery of state government and control and made them subservient to the state and private industry. At the same time, private industry was aggressively promoted. The Fascists also aggressively pursued a policy of italianita – Italian national identity. Ethnic minorities within Italian borders, such as those communities which spoke German or one of the Yugoslavian languages were to be forced to become Italian and made to speak Italian. At the same time the party absorbed much of the ideology and finally the party of the Italian Nationalists, which was merged with the Fascists in 1922.

Kassam is right about Hitler wanting a united Europe under Germany. However, he did not want anything like the EU. The EU supposedly is a union of democratic states with equal status. It is not an empire nor an occupying power, although fanatics like UKIP have claimed it is. The claim that the Nazis were the founders of the EU is based on a piece of Nazi ideology devised later during the War when they were losing to Stalin and the Soviet Union. They weren’t enough blonde, ethnic Germans to fight the Russians, who were showing very clearly that they definitely weren’t the ‘subhumans’ of Nazi racial doctrine. So they tried to gain support from the occupied countries by spuriously claiming that Nazism stood for a united, capitalist Europe against the Communist threat. It was a piece of propaganda, nothing more. The real origins of EU lay in the 1950s with trade agreements between France and Germany and the establishment of the customs union between Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg – the ‘Benelux’ countries.

Then there’s Kassam’s claptrap about corporativism equals socialism. By corporativism they mean state control or regulation of capitalism. The hardcore Libertarians believe that only an economy absolutely run by private enterprise without any state regulation is really capitalist. But this situation has never existed. Governments since the Middle Ages have regulated industry to a greater or lesser degree, and industrialists, merchants and entrepreneurs have always sought state aid. For example, before Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations promoting laissez faire free trade, the dominant commercial ideology in Britain was mercantilism. This was a system of regulations governing British international trade. This included tying the colonies in North America and the Caribbean into a very constraining relationship with Britain and each other in which their exports were rigidly controlled in order to keep them serving the commercial interests of Britain.

From the ’50s to the end of the ’70s there was also a form of corporativism in Britain, in which the economy was subject to state planning in which the government consulted with both the industrialists and the trade unions. It was somewhat like the Fascist version, but within a democratic framework and pursued by both Labour and Tory governments. The current form of corporativism, in which private industry dominates and controls Congress and elected politicians through political donations and sponsorship, in return receiving government posts and determining government policy, is very much in the sole interests of private industry and capitalism.

But I’m not surprised Kassam doesn’t know anything about this. He is, after all, a hack with the extreme right-wing news organization, Breitbart, and has appeared several times in articles by the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization Hope Not Hate because of his vicious islamophobia. As for his distinction between Conservatism and Fascism, this also doesn’t work. Fascism is notoriously fluid ideologically, and is therefore extremely difficult to define. In many ways, it was whatever line Mussolini thought was a good idea at the time. The Duce wrote a book defining it, The Doctrine of Fascism, but contradicted himself the next year by declaring that Fascism had no doctrine. It was a movement, not an ideology. As for Conservatism, while the Tory philosopher Roger Scruton in his 1980s book on it stated that it was largely ‘mute’, it is also ideological. As it stands now, it promotes private enterprise and attacks state involvement in industry and welfare provision. And a recent academic study quoted in the new edition of Lobster, issue 77, states that Conservative parties in the West are becoming more ideological and are increasingly resembling the authoritarian parties of the former Communist bloc.

Kassam is therefore utterly wrong. Socialism is not corporativism, and the modern form of corporativism is very definitely capitalist. The Nazis weren’t socialists, they were nationalists and imperialists, and were in no way the founders of the EU. But such distinctions clearly don’t matter to the extreme right-wing propagandists of Breitbart. And especially those, whose own islamophobia is shared by real, overt Fascists in the Alt Right.

For further information, go to the Zelo Street article at http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/01/raheem-kassam-fails-history-101.html

Post-Slavery Exploitation and the Beeb’s ‘Long Song’

December 19, 2018

Okay, I haven’t been watching The Long Song, the Beeb’s historical drama set in the Caribbean during the dying days of slavery, which has been running on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm this week. It’s in three parts, the final of which is tonight. The series is based on Andrea Levy’s book of the same name, as is about a young slave girl, Kitty, who is taken away from her mother to become the personal servant of Caroline Mortimer, the sister of the plantation owner. It’s not something I would usually watch, and the description by the I’s TV critic, Sean O’Grady, that it’s ‘like Downton Abbey with added racism and sadism’ seems about accurate.

But I did catch a brief glimpse of a clip from the show on breakfast TV this morning. This showed the planter telling the slaves that they could be evicted if they didn’t work hard enough, and that they would be paid wages, but there would be a little deduction for rent.

This seems to me to be entirely accurate historically. After the final abolition of slavery in 1838, the planters and the colonial and British governments became concerned that the slaves weren’t working hard enough, and that they would leave the plantations to occupy unused land in the interior. This would leave the plantations without the labour needed to work them and harvest their crops, the country would return to subsistence agriculture and the entire colony would be ruined. they therefore set about devising methods to force the former slaves to remain on the plantations and to work hard.

Now there was some truth to their fears. Some colonies – I think one of them was Jamaica – reported that the slaves stopped working for the two months after abolition. When they returned to work, they demanded wages which the plantation masters considered too high. They also made a point of working less hard than previously. It was reported that they considered working as hard as before to be selling their ‘free’, and that if they did so, they were unworthy of their newly gained liberty.

Some of the planters did threaten their slaves with eviction, and one female slave was thrown out of her plantation home with all her belongings. They also introduced the truck system from Britain, in which employees were paid in tokens, which could only be spent in the company shops. They also used a payment system called ‘tenancy-at-will’ to keep the slaves where they were. This combined the slaves’ wages with deductions for rent. But the rents were always higher than the wages. For examples, if they were paid 5 shillings per week in wages, then the rent would be eight shillings. It was an evil system that has rightly been compared to debt peonage in Latin America.

To stop the former slaves buying vacant crown land in British Guiana, now Guyana, the government raised the price of the plots for sale so that they were far above their ability to afford them.

Obviously the freed people of the Caribbean didn’t take this lightly, and there were Strikes, riots and protests against these and other forms of official oppression and exploitation for decades afterwards. There was also the continual fear that the colonial governments or the British would reintroduce slavery. One former slave said that the Queen, Victoria, had abolished slavery with a charter, and so could just as easily put it back again. And there were a series of rebellions by the former slaves, such as that at Morant Bay in Jamaica as a result. Given this, it is no surprise that there is a continuing resentment at their treatment by some people of West Indian heritage.

Lenny Henry, who plays one of the slaves in the series, has said in an interview that children need to be taught more about slavery. He’s right. Salman Rushdie once remarked that the British didn’t know much about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. Which is also true. This country is affected by events that occurred outside in the colonies, episodes which are known to the people of those countries but not to us, and so some of the post-imperial resentments left over are a surprise.

We do need to know more, and not the sanitized, patriotic version that Tories like Michael Gove want our kids indoctrinated with. It’s only then that we can understand some of the stresses in our multicultural society, and hopefully move beyond them.

Facebook Censors George Monbiot Movie on Western Imperialism and Genocide

October 27, 2018

Facebook has been accused recently of censorship and pulling down masses of left-wing and alternative sites. In this video, RT America reports on Facebook’s censorship of a film by Groaniad columnist, George Monbiot for Double Down Media, on the crimes of the British Empire and Columbus’ genocide of the Amerindians. RT’s reporter states that it disproved the claim that the West’s conquests were less barbaric than others.

This is then followed by a piece from movie, in which Monbiot explains that before Columbus landed in the New World, there were 100 million native Americans. By the 19th century, there were less than one million. It was a policy deliberately endorsed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote of the necessity of wiping out Native American peoples.

There then follows a Tweet from Double Down News reporting how Facebook had taken down the movie for ‘violating community standards’. The company states that it was a work of serious journalism which had gather 1 million views. The company was given no right of appeal or any reason for censorship. Why, they ask, is Facebook censoring history?

This came after Facebook took 800 pages they claimed were posting spam. They also used that excuse to pull down other alternative sites, like police watchdog groups and a fan page for RT correspondent Rachel Blevins. Monbiot himself tweeted that he thought the company’s banning of the Columbus film was a one-off, but now it appears to be part of a purge of dissenting posts.

The piece’s host then turns to interview George Galloway in London, asking him if this latest act of censorship by Facebook will lead to more people paying attention to the story.

Galloway replies that it sounds like a great video, and that he’ll try and see if he can go and see it somewhere, observing that the book they try to ban always goes to the top of the bestseller lists. Hopefully this will backfire on Facebook. He goes on to say that he himself has about a million and a half followers on social media, and because he is so well-known, he always thought he’d be invulnerable to this kind of thing. But George Monbiot is a very famous journalist and something of an insider in the British establishment, and now it’s happened to him. He states that it is quite intolerable that Facebook, a private company, can take an anti-commercial decision – which it is, if the movie had a million views – based on the political view of censoring history. And he states that he’s always known that British imperial history is censored from schooldays onward. We’re taught all about the crimes of Hitler and Stalin, but never about the crimes of imperialism.

The programme’s presenter states that there is an irony there, as Monbiot’s film touched on the way that history has been censored, and then Facebook does it all over again. Galloway replies that some of this censorship will be accidents, performed by some machine or factotum somewhere striking down something that casts an unfortunate light on the proprietors. It may be reinstated. But the general pattern seems to be that Facebook has become an adjunct of the Deep State in Britain, the United States and elsewhere, and that Deep State is bent on suppressing dissident views. This should open up a space for capitalism to work, of it works as it’s claimed to, for new Facebooks to come online, because after all it’s just a noticeboard. He hopes that the laws of commercial reality will reassert themselves. And people will know that if there’s a million views for Monbiot’s video, that’s a market not just an audience, and we’ll have to wait and see what emerges.

The host then goes on to ask him to talk about the crimes of western civilization and the British Empire which he thinks are overlooked. Galloway responds by saying the one she’s just discussed, about the massacre of nearly 100 million native Americans, is fairly hard to beat. ‘That is a Holocaust with a double capital ‘H”. But, he continues, the British Empire was committing crimes well into his own lifetime. We were shooting down Yemenis in Aden in the Crater(?) district when the Beatles were No. 1; we were shooting down Irish people on the streets of the Six Counties in the North of Ireland when the Beatles had been gone for several years. British imperial crimes are almost without number. He quotes his Irish grandfather as saying that the sun never set on the British Empire as God would never trust them in the dark. He goes on to say that the crimes of the British Empire continue to this day, in Yemen and Syria. Galloway describes the Kenyan examples, which Monbiot discusses in his film, as ‘quite extraordinary’. In Kenya and Malaya we were paying British servicemen a bounty for coming in with the heads of rebels, who were fighting for their own countries’ freedom from the British Empire. ‘And they talk about savages’.

It’s astonishing that Facebook should censor Monbiot’s video. I haven’t seen it, and don’t know anything about it except what is said here. But it seems to be well-established, uncontroversial fact. Columbus’ landing in the Americas did lead to the genocide of the Native American peoples. This was through exposure to European diseases, to which they had no immunity, enslavement and being worked to death. And what Columbus and the Spanish did the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean is truly horrific. They were worked to death producing gold. If they didn’t produce enough, they were mutilated. Their hands were cut off and hung round their necks. Indigenous women were raped by the conquistadors, and beaten if they didn’t show themselves to be sufficiently enthusiastic about pleasing their masters. Quite apart from the murder of their priests and aristocracy as pagans.

As for what the British did in Kenya, that can be read about in books like Africa’s Secret Gulags, amongst other books. I’ve posted reviews here from Lobster of more recent books discussing more recent British covert actions aimed at subverting nationalist movements and the democratic process in the former British colonies.

Facebook’s censorship of dissident and oppositional pages is a threat to the new freedoms of information that the internet has brought. Alternative news shows like Sam Seder’s Majority Report are discussing the possibility that the Net should be brought into government ownership in order to preserve it from interference and censorship by private corporations. I’m not sure this would do much good, as it would leave the American government able to censor it, in the same way that Blair, Sarkozy and Berlusconi used their power to censor and control information and news on state television. But I don’t think there can be much doubt now that Facebook and other big internet corporations are censoring news very much in concert with the demands of the Conservative elite and Deep State.