Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Lobster Review of Book Revealing Very Different View of the Crisis in the Ukraine

March 6, 2019

Lobster has posted a very interesting review by their long-term contributor, Scott Newton, of Richard Sakwa’s book on the current geopolitical tensions over Ukraine, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris). Sakwa is the professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent.  In this book, he tackles and refutes the story peddled to us by the mainstream media that the current confrontation between NATO and Russia and the civil war in Ukraine are due to Russian imperialism under Putin.

Sakwa is under no illusions how brutal and corrupt Putin’s regime is, but the book argues that in this instance, Russia is the victim. He argues that at the heart of the crisis is a conflict between two forms of Ukrainian nationalism. One wants a strong, united Ukraine centred firmly on Kiev, with Ukrainian as the sole official language, looking to the EU and the West, with its economy based on free trade and private industry. This form of Ukrainian nationalism is hostile to Russia, which is particularly resents because of the Holodomor, the horrific artificial famine created by Soviet collectivisation in the 1930s. The government is roughly liberal, but includes Fascists. The second form of Ukrainian nationalism is popular in the south and east, which are predominantly Russian-speaking, whose families and businesses have links with Russia, and which is dominated by heavy industry and reliant on trade with Russia. This wants a federal Ukraine, with both Ukrainian and Russian as the official languages.

The review discusses the origins of the Maidan Revolution, directed against the corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych, who had just signed a trade agreement with Russia. The nationalist regime which replaced him, led by Petro Poroshenko, was of the first, pro-western, anti-Russian type, was strongly influence by the Far Right, whose squads massacred anti-Maidan demonstrators. This regime set about demolishing Soviet-era monuments, establishing Ukrainian as the country’s only official language, and repudiating the agreement allowing Russia to station its ships in Sebastopol until 2042. As a result, Russia seized the Crimea, which had been Russian until 1954 and the Russian-speaking areas in the south and east seceded and split into different autonomous republics. Kiev responded by sending in troops, but this has led to a stalemate so far. The West supports Kiev, seeing Putin’s support of the Ukrainian separatists as the Russian president’s attempt to undermine the political order which emerged after the collapse of Communist in 1991.

Sakwa instead views Putin as reacting purely to preserve Russia from possible NATO aggression. This is the based on the original agreement with former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand into eastern Europe. Gorby also hoped to create a new international system in which the world would not be dominated by a single superpower, but there would be a number of different leading states, whose cultures and economic and political systems would differ. These difference would be respected, and they would all work together for international peace. This has been violated by the West, which has expanded eastward into Ukraine, which has also signed the Lisbon agreement with the EU. Putin’s response, which you don’t hear about, is to call for a federal, pluralist, non-aligned Ukraine, which cooperates with both Brussels and Moscow, and whose security is guaranteed by both sides.

There is also an economic dimension to this. The West wishes to promote laissez-faire capitalism. But this didn’t work when it was introduced into Russia by Yeltsin. This type of capitalism has been rejected, and 51 per cent of the Russian economy is owned by the state. Sakwa also notes that Putin has been active building up an alternative political and economic system across the globe, in eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Syria, and Cuba and Venezuela, as well as a system of alliances with the BRICS economies, as well as a Eurasian Economic Union with the former Soviet republics of central Asia. It is also cooperating with the China on the new silk road. The result has been that Russia has created a ‘second world alliance’ system with its own financial institutions and systems of international government.

Newton says of the book that

Sakwa’s argument that the Ukrainian crisis results from the destabilization of the country by forces committed to militantly anti-Russian nationalism, egged on by former Soviet bloc countries and external interference by the United States and the European Union, propelled by a dogmatic and triumphalist liberal universalism, is highly persuasive. 

This is how it appears to me, from reading previous discussions of events in Ukraine from Lobster and other, alternative news sources. As well as the fact that if Putin really did want to conquer all of Ukraine, he surely would have been able to do so, and not stopped with Crimea and the east.

Newton also wonders why we haven’t seen Sakwa, with his impressive command of Russian and eastern European history, in the media.

There can be very few academics now operating who possess Richard Sakwa’s expertise in modern Russian (including Soviet and post-Soviet) international history. Why, then, do we not seen more of him in the mainstream media, both broadcasting and print? He has been on RT, discussing the Skripal poisonings amongst other things (no doubt leading 
some to suspect him of being an apologist for Putin, which he certainly is not). But I have never seen him on (for example) BBC or Channel 4 (this does not of course mean he has never been interviewed there but it does suggest that any appearances have been somewhat limited). Why? Is this an accidental oversight, or are his opinions deemed by news and current affairs editors to be ‘unhelpful’?

That’s a very good question. My guess, given how the anti-Putin view is just about the only one accepted and promoted by the media, including Private Eye, is that current affairs editors really do see him as ‘unhelpful’. And this amounts, as Newton discusses at the beginning of his review, to fake news and fake history. 

For more information, go to:

https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster77/lob77-frontline-ukraine.pdf

 

 

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David Rosenberg Explains Why Churchill Is Not His Hero

February 19, 2019

A few days ago I put up a piece defending John McDonnell’s characterization of Churchill as a villain because of his role in the gunning down of striking miners by the British army at Tonypandy. In fact this was only one incident amongst a series that casts a very grave shadow over Churchill as the great statesman, whom one may never, ever criticize. Such as his remarks about the Indians, who starved to death during the Bengal famine of 1943. He declared that Indians were a beastly people, who had a beastly religion, and it was all their fault for having too many children. The famine was caused by the British seizing their grain for troops in Europe. We could have deployed supplies of grain to feed them, but Churchill refused to do so. Three million people were killed.

Martin Odoni, who is one of the great commenters on this blog, and a real friend of Mike’s, post a long piece commenting on this article. He argued that there was little real difference between Churchill and Hitler, and that it is only because we had a constitution limiting governmental power that he wasn’t able to commit the same atrocities as the Nazi leader. His comment began

Had some interesting arguments about this on social media myself recently. Put up a post on Facebook a couple of weeks back that got some furrow-browed responses from friends; –

“During the Second World War, one of the main powers had a brutal, militaristic, racist leader who was emotionally unstable, hyper-aggressive and completely intolerant of differing shades of opinion, and whose only real skill, despite a reputation for strategic genius, lay in delivering impressive speeches.

Meanwhile, the opposing power had a leader called Adolf Hitler, who was just as bad.

I have long maintained that the only major difference between Churchill and Hitler was that the Governmental system in the UK meant that Churchill was not allowed to wield the same degree of power, and so couldn’t get away with the same atrocities. Even so, he still had spine-chilling numbers of deaths on what passed for his ‘conscience’. He cheerfully turned the army on striking workers during the 1920s, he slaughtered French mariners in their hundreds during the war to prevent them surrendering ships to the Nazis, he caused famine in Bengal by diverting food away to ‘more deserving’ i.e. predominantly white countries, and he routinely bombed the developing world.

His comment, which is very well worth reading, concluded

My assertion that Hitler was merely “just as bad” received objections even from people who despise Churchill. Whether we want to quibble over their respective degrees of brutality, I don’t know, but I struggle to see exactly what was better about Churchill. He and Hitler were both mentally unstable, bad-tempered, violent, racist, and had little regard for the value of human life. Even if I had to qualify it, I would still say with confidence that the points of resemblance between Hitler and Churchill heavily outweigh the differences.

Please go to my article on Churchill, and then scroll down to find his comment. https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2019/02/16/john-mcdonnell-outrages-tories-with-comments-about-churchills-villainy/

David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group also support McDonnell’s assessment of Churchill in an article he posted on his blog, Rebel Notes, ‘Not My Hero’. He also discusses Churchill’s role in the Tonypandy massacre, and how it was repeated a year later at Llanelli, when the troops he sent in also fired on strikers. He also notes that, as colonial secretary, Churchill sent in the infamous Black and Tans to quell the Irish rebellion. He wanted to use poison gas against the Kurds when they revolted in Mesopotamia. In the 1930s he described the Palestinians as barbarians who did little but eat camel dung. He also saw Black Africans as barbarous, and called the Sudanese people he encountered ‘savages’.

He was also a White racial supremacist, who had little qualms about the dispossession of indigenous peoples and the seizure of their ancestral lands by White settlers. He justified the downgrading of the Palestinians’ rights in favour of European settlers with the comment

“I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

And while he was in favour of nationalist Jews dispossessing the indigenous Arabs of Palestine, he hated ‘internationalist’ and ‘atheistic’ Jews, who he believed were conspiring to destroy White, gentile civilization, following the poisonous conspiracy theory of the Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Rosenberg quotes his own book, Battle for the East End, on an article Churchill wrote in the Illustrated Sunday Herald, in which he praised the Jewish settlers in Palestine, and contrasted them with the Jews he believed were part of this entirely non-existent conspiracy. Churchill wrote

“… this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and the reconstruction of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality”. And added

“This movement amongst the Jews is not new… It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the 19th Century; and now at last this band of extraordinary personalities has gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire. There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution, by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews, it is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews.”

Churchill’s article credited the notorious British anti-Semite and Fascist, Nesta Webster, who had written an article in the Morning Post claiming that Jews there really was a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. The year before, the Morning Post had also published an article claiming that Jews controlled the Russian government.

Rosenberg also states that although people pleaded with Churchill to bomb the railway lines to the death camps during the War, he never did. Rosenberg concludes his article

My verdict on Churchill? I agree with the Shadow Chancellor.

See: https://rebellion602.wordpress.com/2019/02/14/not-my-hero/

Which agrees with Odoni’s comment in his piece about Churchill’s repulsive character

A hideous man, and it says something about the sickness of British culture that it chooses to acclaim him rather than to apologise to the world for his barbarism.

Churchill did help to win the War and thus prevent Nazi tyranny from claiming many more lives. But he only opposed Nazi Germany because he felt it would be an obstacle to British interests in the North Sea. He visited Mussolini’s Italy, although he privately regarded the Duce as ‘a perfect swine’, and as an authoritarian he actually quite like General Franco.

Now it’s a good question whether Germany was exceptional in the ascent of the Nazis to power. During the ’20s and ’30s very many other countries also had Fascist movements, and Oswald Mosley’s BUF in Britain certainly wasn’t the only far right British Fascist movement in the period. There was a slew of others, including the British Fascisti, English Mystery, National Worker Party, British Empire Fascist Party, the Britons, the Imperial Fascist League, as well as other groups like the Right Club and the Anglo-German Fellowship. Many of these organisations were extreme right-wing Conservative rather than Fascist, and their membership overlapped or had close connections to the Tory right.

One of the key factors in the rise of Nazism in Germany was its defeat by the Allies in the First World War. The German population were totally unprepared for it, as the press only printed news of German victories. The result was the growth of conspiracy theories which claimed that Germany had lost because of an insidious Jewish conspiracy. This is nonsense, as Jews had fought as hard and as patriotically for their country as well as their gentile comrades. Harder, in fact. Jewish servicemen formed a higher percentage of the fallen than any other German demographic group.

It’s a good question, therefore, whether Britain would similarly have fallen under the jackboot of an entirely British Fascist dictatorship if Germany and Austria had been successful and we had lost. And with Churchill’s brutal, bloodthirsty racial supremacism and ruthless willingness to use deadly force, would he have been the dictator sending British Jews to death camps? It’s fortunately an event that never happened, and so Britain has never had to confront seriously Churchill’s horrendous racism, his crimes and atrocities, but instead demand his worship as the great anti-Fascist and defender of democracy.

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:

Candace Owens Destroys Turning Point UK with Stupid Comment about Hitler

February 16, 2019

Turning Point are an American Conservative youth group founded to promote the wretched ideology to college students. In December last year, 2018, it launched a British subsidiary, Turning Point UK. This declared that it was showing that students and young people weren’t the property of the Left, and were showing that free markets and small government equals bigger freedom. This is clearly rubbish. As the experience of the last forty years of Thatcherism/Reaganomics have shown very clearly, where you have small government and free markets, the result is considerably less freedom for ordinary working people, who are exploited and denied opportunities by the rich at the top. As the New Liberals of the late 19th century realized – philosophers like T.H. Green – you need state action and interference to expand the range of freedoms for the people at the bottom. But Turning Point is a Conservative movement, so it represents the rich, privileged and powerful once again trying to deceive the hoi polloi into voting against their interests.

Unsurprising, the group’s launch over here was endorsed by a range of right-wing Tories, including Priti Patel, Bernard Jenkin, Douglas Murray, Steve Baker and the walking anachronism that is Jacob Rees-Mogg. At their launch were Republican mouthpieces Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk. Kirk caused a bit of amusement a little while ago when he exploded at a question Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks had asked him at some kind of press meeting or debate. Uygur simply asked him how much he made. At which point Kirk got up screaming that he ‘LIVED AS A CAPITALIST EVERY DAY!’ and apparently challenging Uygur to fight him before he was calmed down. Owens is a young Black woman, who subsequently showed herself completely ignorant of what the Nazis stood for. Somebody asked her about nationalism. Owens and the others in their wretched organization apparently define themselves as nationalists, but are a bit confused about its relationship with Hitler and the Nazis. She declared that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist but a globalist. He would have been fine if he’d simply wanted to make things better for Germany. She said:

I actually don’t have any problems at all with the word ‘nationalism’. I think that actually, yeah, the definition gets poisoned by leaders that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want, so when you think about whenever we say ‘nationalism’ the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. He was a National Socialist. But if Hitler wanted to make Germany great and run things well, then fine. Problems is that he has dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize, he wanted everyone to be German, he wanted everyone to be speaking German, everyone to be a different way. To me, that’s not nationalism. So, I’m thinking about how we could go back down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism, I really don’t. It’s okay, it’s important to retain your nationality’s identity and make sure that what’s happening here, which is incredibly worrisome, just the decrease in the birthrate that we’re seeing in the UK is what we want to avoid. So I have no problems with nationalism. it’s globalism I try to avoid.

The good peeps on social media were already laying into and sending up Turning Point UK before she made those idiotic comments. After she made them, they really tore her and wretched organization apart. Here’s Sam Seder and his crew at Sam Seder’s Minority Report having a few very good, well observed laughs at her expense. They rightly ridicule her for apparently suggesting that Hitler’s murder of the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals would have been already if it was just confined to Germany. They also point out that she could have made her point about nationalism without mentioning Hitler, but looking instead at the African and Indian independence movements. They also joke about the organization’s support for free market economics, saying in spoof German voices that the Nazis had to murder the Jews outside Germany because of supply-chain economics caused by the world flattening.

Please note: Seder’s Jewish, and his co-host, Michael Brooks, is also of part German Jewish heritage. They are definitely not Nazis in any way, shape or form and are only making those joke to send up Owens for her massively crass ignorance.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59Q_o2ufR1s

Owens was forced to make a clarification, in which she said, according to Zelo Street, quoting USA Today, that her comments were meant to show that Hitler was not a nationalist, he did not put the Germans first, and was putting German Jews in concentration camps and murdering them. He was a mass murderer.

Which is true. Others, like Kevin Logan, who has devoted part of a very long hang-out to Owens, Kirk and their nonsense, pointed out that Hitler killed the Jews because he was a nationalist, who didn’t see Jews as being part of the German nation. Hitler also didn’t want everyone to be German either. He wanted to create a new German empire – the Third Reich – in which Germany would rule over all the other countries and territories it had conquered. In his Table Talk he says at one point that he wants to stop the Slav peoples from speaking their languages, but he still wanted to preserve them as separate, slave peoples, who were there to provide agricultural products to their German overlords. I’ve also no doubt that Hitler would have seen himself as an anti-globalist. He identified the Jews as the secret controllers of the world through Communism and capitalism, and aimed to destroy them in order to free Germany from their supposed grip. It was absolute, poisonous nonsense which resulted in the murder of six million Jews and 5 1/2 million assorted non-Jews in the camps.

Mehdi Hassan and LBC’s James O’Brien both remarked on how these people were promoted by the Tories, like Douglas Murray and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Zelo Street concluded that the Nazis were indeed nationalists, and reinventing history using terms like globalism was not Owens’ finest hour, and predicted more Tories repenting at leisure for their endorsement of this bunch of right-wing nutters on the way.

See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/tory-mps-endorse-hitler-gaffe.html

Novara Media’s redoubtable chief, Ash Sarkar, had a few very interesting things to say about Turning Point UK in her video on ‘Why Are Young Conservatives So Weird?’ She pointed out that it didn’t take long before the organization turned into a mass of parody accounts, mutual recriminations and Hitler apologia. She reminded everyone how, 18 months ago, another Tory youth group, Activate, collapsed after two weeks when they were caught talking about gassing and experimenting on chavs on social media. This started her wondering about why young Conservatives were so weird. She described how, in the 1990s the very right-wing Union of Conservative Students considered themselves the bulwark against socialism in universities. The union, whose past heads included David Davies and John Bercow, was a vocal supporter of right-wing guerillas in Nicaragua and Latin America, and printed the notorious posters demanding that Nelson Mandela should be hanged. Norman Tebbit banned them in 1987 as their antics saw them branded as the right-wing equivalent of Labour’s Militant Tendency.

Sarkar states that it is tempting to see Turning Point UK as just another incident in a long line of right-wing youth movements taking things a bit too far, but there’s a difference. The Federation of Conservative Students had little overlap with their counterparts in America. But Turning Point UK are very tightly connected to the American Alt Right. Their meetings are swanky transatlantic affairs, like the one in which Owens made her fantastically stupid comments. They’re also supported by Trump donor, John Mappin, who has remained resolutely silent about Turning Point UK’s sources of funding.

She also notes that while the organization claims to be energizing Conservative students across the UK, their advertising is very much skewed towards the States. A single Facebook for their launch wasn’t seen by anyone in the UK, but instead was targeted at people in Texas, Ohio and ‘the London borough of California’. And Turning Point USA don’t seem to be interested in recruiting students either. None of their adverts on Facebook are directed at anyone under 24 years of age, but aimed at people 45+. All that stuff about ‘cultural Marxism’ isn’t for a millennial audience. They’re not trying to be the new Momentum. They’re trying to rile up economically secure but ‘culturally anxious’ baby-boomers, to normalize reactionary attitudes. They’re establishment astroturfers dressed up as a youth movement. And most of them graduated ages ago anyway. She makes the point that they aren’t a counterculture, but classic counterrevolutionary strategy. Only now, with memes.

This is a very effective demolition job, and tells you exactly why they aren’t to be taken seriously. As for Owens, Logan in his hangout pointed out that the Alt Right is quite content to use people from minorities and disadvantaged groups – people of colour, women, gays – but they will turn their back on them and discard them the moment they have served their purpose. They’re there to provide the Alt Right with a bit of camouflage for their reactionary views and intolerance. And they’ll treat Owens exactly the same way once they’re done with her.

John McDonnell Outrages Tories with Comments about Churchill’s Villainy

February 16, 2019

John McDonnell kicked up a storm of controversy this week when, in an interview with the Politico website on Wednesday, he described Winston Churchill as a villain. McDonnell was answering a series of quick-fire questions, and the one about Churchill was ‘Winston Churchill. Hero or villain?’ McDonnell replied ‘Tonypandy – villain’. This referred to the Tonypandy riots of 1910, when striking miners were shot down by the army after clashing with the police. According to the I’s article on the controversy on page 23 of Wednesday’s edition, Churchill initially refused requests to send in the troops, instead sending a squad of metropolitan police. Troops were also sent in to stand in reserve in Cardiff and Swindon. Following further rioting, Churchill sent in the 18th Hussars. He later denied it, but it was widely believed that he had given orders to use live rounds. There’s still very strong bitterness amongst Welsh working people about the massacre. The I quoted Louise Miskell, a historian at Swansea University, who said that ‘He is seen as an enemy of the miners’.

Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of Churchill, was naturally outraged, declaring ‘Winston Churchill saved this country and the whole of Europe from a barbaric fascist and racist tyranny, and our debt to him is incalculable’. He also said that McDonnell should be ashamed of his remarks and withdraw them forthwith.

McDonnell, speaking on ITV news, said that although he didn’t want to upset people, he’d give the same answer again to that question if he was honest, and said that he welcomed it if it has prompted a more rounded debate about Churchill’s role. He said that Churchill was undoubtedly a hero during the Second World War, but that this was not necessarily the case in other areas of his life. He said ‘Tonypandy was a disgrace.: sending the troops in, killing a miner, tryinig to break a strike and other incidents in his history as well.’

The I then gave a brief list of various heroic and villainous incidents. These were

* Saving Britain from the Nazis during and helping to lead the Allies to victory during the Second World War.

* Introducing the Trade Boards Bill of 1909, which established the first minimum wages system for various trades across the UK.

* Making the famous speech about an Iron Curtain coming down across Europe in 1946.

* According to his biographer, John Charmley, Churchill believed in a racial hierarchy and eugenics, and that at the top of this were White Protestant Christians.

* Saying that it was ‘alarming and nauseating’ seeing Gandhi ‘striding half-naked up the steps of the vice-regal palace.’ He also said ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’.

* Three million people died in the Bengal famine of 1943, in which Churchill refused to deploy food supplies.

It’s in the context of the Bengal famine that Churchill made his vile remarks about Indians. The Bengalis starved because their grain had been sequestered as back up supplies to fee British troops. In the end they weren’t needed, according to one video I’ve seen on YouTube. Churchill also said that the famine was their fault for having too many children.

He also supported the brief British invasion of Russia to overthrow the Communist Revolution, and the use of gas on Russian troops. Just as he also wanted to use gas to knock out, but not kill, Iraqi troops in Mesopotamia when they revolted in the 1920s against British rule.

He also said that ‘Keep Britain White’ was a good slogan for the Tories to go into the 1951 general election.

It’s clearly true that Churchill’s determined opposition to the Nazis did help lead to a free Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany. But according to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, he did not do so out of opposition to Fascism per se. He was afraid that Nazi Germany posed a threat to British interests in the North Sea. The Conservative journo, Peter Hitchens, is very critical of Churchill and Britain’s entry into the Second World War. He rightly points out that Churchill wasn’t interested in saving the Jews, but that we went in because of the treaties we had signed with Poland and France. As for defeating Nazism, historians have for a long time credited the Soviet Red Army with breaking the back of the Wehrmacht. In one of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs, he jokes that if Churchill hadn’t sent the troops in, then the Iron Curtain would begin about Bexhill in Kent. Churchill also went on a diplomatic visit to Mussolini’s Italy after the Duce seized power, though privately he remarked that the man was ‘a perfect swine’ after the Italian dictator declared that his Blackshirts were ‘the equivalent of your Black and Tans’. For many people, that’s an accurate comparison, given how brutal and barbaric the Black and Tans were. And as an authoritarian, Churchill also got on very well and liked General Franco. And George Orwell also didn’t take Churchill seriously as the defender of democracy. In the run-up to the outbreak of war, he remarked that strange things were occurring, one of which was ‘Winston Churchill running around pretending to be a democrat’.

Now I don’t share Hitchen’s view that we shouldn’t have gone into the Second World War. The Nazis were determined to exterminate not just Jews, Gypsies and the disabled, but also a large part of the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe. One Roman Catholic site I found had an article on Roman Catholic and Christian martyrs under the Nazis. This began with the Nazis’ attempts to destroy the Polish people, and particularly its intellectuals, including the Polish Roman Catholic Church. It quoted Hitler as saying that war with Poland would a be a war of extermination. Hitler in his Table Talk as also talks about exterminating the Czechs, saying that ‘It’s them or us.’ Churchill may have gone into the War entirely for reasons of British imperial security, but his action nevertheless saved millions of lives right across Europe. It overthrew a regime that, in Churchill’s words, threatened to send the continent back into a new Dark Age, lit only by the fire of perverted science’.

Having said that does not mean he was not a monster in other areas. The General Strike was a terrible defeat for the British working class, but if Churchill had been involved it would almost certainly have been met with further butchery on his part. Again, according to Pugh, Churchill was all set to send the army in, saying that they were ready to do their duty if called on by the civil authority. The Tory prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, was all too aware of what would happen, and when another minister of civil servant suggested finding him a position in the Post Office or the department looking after the radio, he enthusiastically agreed, because it would keep Churchill out of trouble.

As for the Bengal famine, I think that still haunts Indian nationalists today. I was looking at the comments on Al-Jazeera’s video on YouTube about the UN finding severe poverty in Britain a few months ago. There was a comment left by someone with an Indian name, who was entirely unsympathetic and said he looked forward to our country being decimated by starvation. My guess is that this vicious racist was partly inspired in his hatred of Britain by the famine, as well as other aspects of our rule of his country.

I think McDonnell’s remarks, taken as a whole, are quite right. McDonnell credited him with his inspiring leadership during the War, but justifiably called him a villain because of the Tonypandy massacre. And eyewitnesses to the rioting said that the miners really were desperate. They were starving and in rags. And Churchill should not be above criticism and his other crimes and vile statements and attitudes disregarded in order to create a sanitized idol of Tory perfection, as Johnson and the other Tories would like.

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.

Hitler on the Labour Party Wrecking British Economy

December 21, 2018

Hitler was very definitely not a socialist, although he did advocate kind of nationalization for joint-stock companies and the power industries. However, the Nazis favoured big business and private industry. They despised traditional organized labour, smashing the unions and sending their members to concentration camps. Hitler himself was firmly against profit-sharing and worker’s control. Under Nazism, industry was rigidly hierarchal and governed by the Fuhrerprinzip, the ‘Leader Principle’. The company director or factory owner was the leader, and the workers were his retinue, whose duty was to obey. He had nothing but contempt for the genuine socialist parties, which he reviled as Marxist and believed were part of a mythical international Jewish conspiracy to destroy Germany and the Aryan race. And his table talk also revealed his absolute contempt for the British Labour party and especially one of its leading figures at the time, Stafford Cripps. He conceded that Cripps was a statesman who was ‘not negligible’, but said

To establish himself against the Conservatives, it would take a Cromwell at the head of the Labour party, for the Conservatives will not yield without a fight. Now, although Cripps (who has Stalin’s confidence) has succeeded in sowing Socialist ideas in England, I don’t think he carries enough guns for this role. From our point of view, a Red (and therefore fallen) England would be much less favourable than an England of Conservatives. In fact a Socialist Engalnd, and therefore an England tainted with Sovietism, would be a permanent danger in the European space, for she would founder in such poverty that the territory of the British Isles would prove too small for thirty million inhabitants to be able to keep alive there. I hope, therefore, that Cripps will be sunk by the fiasco of his mission to India-the most difficult mission with which an Englishman can now be charged. If he isn’t, it would become more and more difficult to avoid civil war on British soil. But the mobilization of the masses, on which the Labour party’s propaganda is working, and which would be the result of the execution of the trade unions’ new programme, should be regarded as a very serious threat. (Hitler’s Table Talk, (Oxford: OUP)pp. 369).

Hitler then goes on to rant about how he far prefers Churchill, sneers at Cripps as ‘a drawing-room Bolshevik … a man without roots, a demogogue and a liar’ and declared that ‘With his hypocritical social programmes, he’d be sure to dig a pit between the mother-country and the Dominions, especially the Catholic Canadians, Australia and South Africa’. (p.369).

This is very much the view of many Tories. Thatcher despised Socialism because it was a relation of Communism, and for many Tories Socialism and Communism are identical. Hence the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, who represent a return to proper socialism in the Labour party, as Communists, Trotskyites and Stalinists by the media and Blairite right. And like the Tories he believed that the Labour party and its programmes create mass poverty, with a particular contempt for its concern for popular welfare. Robert A. Brady in his book, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, stated that similar views to those of the Nazis can be found in American businessmen. They’re also shared by British big business and the Conservatives. The right-wing press continually declares that the Labour party’s programme will wreck the country economically, and despises welfare spending. Thatcher wanted to destroy the welfare state altogether. She wasn’t able to, but the Tories and the Blairites in Labour are still pursuing her goal, justifying it with false claims that those on welfare support are scroungers and malingerers.

Karl Kautsky, the Austrian Marxist intellectual stated that at the heart of socialism was a concern for equality. The working class was championed as the best way of creating a classless, more equal society. If this could be achieved best without socialism, then the latter would have to be abandoned. Since then there have been programmes to create more equality for certain groups that have crossed the boundaries of political ideology. These are anti-racism, feminism and gay rights, although these are most strongly supported by the Left. Marx in the Communist Manifesto also makes a point of distinguishing Communism from other ideologies that may have some similarity, such as the pre-Columbian Amerindian states of South America. Marx also stated that at the heart of Communism was a concern for the working class.

Hitler was bitterly anti-egalitarian, especially in the anti-feminism and genocidal racism. He stated that the included ‘socialist’ in the Nazi party’s name and made red one of the colours in the Nazi flag in order to take members from the real socialist parties. While his ideas on the nationalization of the power industry and joint-stock companies sound socialist, he was fiercely on the side of the capitalists. And his views on the destructiveness of socialism and contempt for welfare programmes are those of the Conservatives.

Book on Early Islamic Palestine in Oxbow Bargain Catalogue

December 2, 2018

Another book I found in the Oxbow Book Catalogue, which might be of interest to some readers of this blog, is Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine. The blurb for this runs

Archaeological evidence is frequently cited by scholars as proof that Palestine declined after the Muslim conquest, and especially after the rise of the Abbasids in the mid-eighth century. Instead, Magness argues that the archaeological evidence supports the idea that Palestine and Syria experienced a tremendous growth in population and prosperity between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries.

The book’s published by Eisenbrauns. It’s normal price is 42.95 pounds, but it’s being offered by Oxbow at 14.95.

I’ve no doubt that the area did receive a boost after the Islamic conquest. The Muslims were helped to seize the region by its indigenous peoples, including Christians. Many of them belonged to sects which were judged heretical by the Byzantine Empire, and so were terribly persecuted. Quite apart from the fact that Byzantine Empire was declining economically and demographically, so that many Byzantine towns dwindled to villages or vanished during the centuries of the Empire’s fall before the conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century by the Ottomans. The Muslims were aided in their conquest of Palestine and Egypt by indigenous peoples of those countries because they offered them tolerance and peace. And materially, inclusion in the new Arab Empire made them part of state that stretched right across north Africa, Arabia and the former Persian Empire to the borders of India, and into Spain, which obviously gave a massive boost to long distance trade.

The book also adds more evidence against the Israeli assertion, completely disproven but still being repeated, that Palestine was empty before the Israelis arrived, and that the Palestinians who occupied it only arrived comparatively recently.

Book on Ancient Philosophy in Gaza

Similarly, the catalogue also includes book on ancient Greek philosophy in the Palestinian city of Gaza. This is Explaining the Cosmos, by Michael W. Champion. The blurb for this reads

This volume analyses the writings of three thinkers associated with Gaza, Aeneas, Zacharias and Procopius. Together, they offer a case study for the appropriation, adaptation and transformation of classical philosophy in late antiquity, and for cultural transitions more generally in Gaza.

That’s by the Oxford University Press. It was 62.00 pounds, but is now 14.95

The philosophers studied in the book seem to be Christian Greeks, rather than Jews or Syriac Christians. Nevertheless, this shows that Gaza, now a beleaguered ghetto under the Israelis, was a centre for intellectual enquiry and learning when it was part of the Byzantine Empire, the Greek Roman Empire of the East.

Jai Singh’s Observatory in India: A Great Location for Dr. Who

November 18, 2018

Maharaja Jai Singh’s observatory in Jaipur, as photographed by the Archaeological Survey of India

Last week on Dr. Who, the Doctor and her friends traveled back seventy years to the partition of India to uncover the secret of Yas’ grandmother’s marriage. Yas is surprised to find that the man her gran, a Muslim married, was a Hindu. And as nationalism and ethnic tensions surged on both sides, her groom was murdered by his own brother as a traitor. Yas’ gran survived, and held on to the watch her husband of only a few hours had given her as a treasured token of their doomed love.

It was a story of family history, doomed romance set against the bloodshed of the Partition, which resulted in 4 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs being slaughtered in bloody massacres. And its central theme was the inevitability of history, as Yas could do nothing to save her gran’s first husband. It was similar in this respect to the Classic Star Trek episode, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’. Written by Harlan Ellison, this had Spock, Kirk and McCoy travel back to Depression-era America. There Kirk falls in love with a woman running a soup kitchen. But she’s an opponent of America entering the war in Europe, who dies in car accident. If she lives, America will not enter World War II, and humanity will never go to the stars. Kirk is thus faced with the terrible necessity of letting the woman he loves die in order to preserve history.

It’s a good story, though I would have preferred one with a bit more science in it. The two aliens that appear, who the Doctor first believes are assassins and responsible for the murder of the Hindu holy man, who was to marry the happy couple, turn out instead to have reformed. Returning to find their homeworld had been destroyed, the two now travel through the universe to witness the deaths of those who pass unnoticed. They reminded me of the Soul Hunters in Babylon 5, an alien race, who travel through the universe to extract and preserve the souls of the dying at the moment of death. They are interested in ‘dreamers, poets, thinkers, blessed lunatics’, creative visionaries whose genius they want to preserve against dissolution.

Dr. Who has a tradition of the Doctor going back in time to meet important figures of the past. One such influential figure in India was Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, who constructed great observatories in Jaipur and Delhi. As you can see from the piccy at the top, the measuring instruments used in astronomy at the time were built out of stone there. To my eyes, the observatories thus have the shape of the weird, alien architecture portrayed by SF artists like Chris Foss, as if they were monuments left by some strange future extraterrestrial civilization.

B.V. Subbarayappa, in his ‘Indian Astronomy: an historical perspective’, in S.K. Biswas, D.C.V. Mallik and C.V. Viveshwara, eds., Cosmic Perspectives: Essays dedicated to the memory of M.K.V. Bappu pp.41-50, writes of the Maharaja

In this respect, special mention needs to be made of Majaraja Sawai Jai Sing II (1688-1743) of Jaipur, who was not only an able king but also a skilled astronomer and patron of learning. He built five observatories in different locations in Northern India. The observatories now standing majestic and serene in Jaipur and Delhi bear testimony to his abiding interest in astronomy and to his efforts for augmenting the astronomical tradition with an open-mindedness. The observatory at Jaipur has a large number of instruments – huge sun-dials, hemispherical dial, meridian circle, a graduated meridianal arc, sextants, zodiacal complex, a circular protractor (which are masonry instruments), as well as huge astrolabes. Sawai Jai Singh II meticulously studied the Hindu, Arabic and the European systems of astronomy. He was well aware of Ptolemy’s Almagest (in its Arabic version), as also the works of Central Asian astronomers – Nasir al-Din at-Tusi, Al-Gurgani, Jamshid Kashi and, more importantly, of Ulugh Bek – the builder of the Samarqand observatory. In fact, it was the Samarqand school of astronomy that appears to have been a great source of inspiration to Jai Singh in his astronomical endeavours.

No less was his interest in European astronomy. In his court was a French Jesuit missionary who was an able astronomer and whom Jai Singh sent to Europe to procure for him some of the important contemporary European works on astronomy. He studied Flansteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica, La Hire’s Tabula Astronomicae and other works. He was well aware ot he use of telescope in Europe and he spared no efforts in having small telescopes constructed in his own city. In the introduction to his manum opus, Zij Muhammad Shahi, which is preserved both in Persian and Sanskrit, he has recorded that telescopes were being constructed during his lifetime and that he did make use of a telescope for observing the sun-spots, the four moons of Jupiter, phases of Mercury and Venus, etc. However, in the absence of a critical evaluation of his treatise, it is rather difficult to opine whether Jai Singh was able to determine the planetary positions or movements with the help of a telescope and whether he recorded them. No positive evidence has yet been unearthed.

The principal court astronomer of Jai Singh II was Jagganatha who was not only well versed in Arabic and Persian but also a profound scholar of Hindu astronomy. He translated Ptolemy’s Almagest and Euclid’s Elements from their Arabic versions into Sanskrit. The Samrat Siddhanta, the Sanskrit title of the Almagest, is indeed a glorious example of the open-mindedness and generous scientific attitude of Indian astronomers. (pp. 36-8).

It would be brilliant if there was a Dr. Who story using this fascinating, historic location, but as it’s almost certainly a prized national monument, I doubt very much the Beeb would be allowed to film there. Still, perhaps something could be done using CGI and a lot of imagination.

An Argument for Industrial Democracy from the Mars of SF

November 5, 2018

I’m currently reading Blue Mars, the last of a trilogy of books about the future colonization of the Red Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson. Written in the 1990s, this book and the other two in the series, Red Mars and Green Mars, chronicle the history of humans on Mars from the landing of the First 100 c. 2020, through full-scale colonization and the development of Martian society to the new Martians’ struggle for independence from Earth. In this future, Earth is run by the metanats, a contraction of ‘metanational’. These are the ultimate development of multinational corporations, firms so powerful that they dominate and control whole nations, and are the real power behind the United Nations, which in theory rules Mars.

As the Martians fight off Terran rule, they also fight among themselves. The two main factions are the Reds and the Greens. The Reds are those, who wish to preserve Mars in as close to its pristine, un-terraformed condition as possible. The Greens are those on the other side, who wish to terraform and bring life to the planet. The Martians are also faced with the question about what type of society and economy they wish to create themselves. This question is a part of the other books in the series. One of the characters, Arkady Bogdanov, a Russian radical, is named after a real Russian revolutionary. As it develops, the economy of the free Martians is partly based on gift exchange, rather like the economies of some indigenous societies on Earth. And at a meeting held in the underground chamber of one of the Martian societies – there are a variety of different cultures and societies, reflecting the culture of various ethnic immigrant to Mars and the political orientation of different factions – the free Martians in the second book draw up their tentative plans for the new society they want to create. This includes the socialization of industry.

Near the beginning of Blue Mars, the Martians have chased the Terran forces off the planet, but they remain in control of the asteroid Clarke, the terminus for the space elevator allowing easier space transport between Earth and Mars. The Martians themselves are dangerously divided, and so to begin the unification of their forces against possible invasion, they hold a constitutional congress. In one of the numerous discussions and meetings, the issue of the socialization of industry is revisited. One member, Antar, is firmly against government interference in the economy. He is opposed by Vlad Taneev, a biologist and economist, who argues not just for socialization but for worker’s control.

‘Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?’
‘Yes!’ Antar repeated, looking more and more annoyed.
‘Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their work place? In politics we fight like tigers for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. And then we wake up in the morning and go to work, and all those rights disappear. We no longer insist on them. And so for most of the day we return to feudalism. That is what capitalism is – a version of feudalism in which capital replaces land, and business leaders replace kings. But the hierarchy remains. And so we still hand over our lives’ labour, under duress, to fee rulers who do no real work.’
‘Business leaders work,’ Antar said sharply. ‘And they take the financial risks-‘
‘The so-called risk of the capitalist is merely one of the
privileges of capital.’
‘Management -‘
‘Yes, yes. Don’t interrupt me. Management is a real thing, a technical matter. But it can be controlled by labour just as well by capital. Capital itself is simply the useful residue of the work of past labourers, and it could belong to everyone as well as to a few. There is no reason why a tiny nobility should own the capital, and everyone else therefore be in service to them. There is no reason they should give us a living wage and take all the rest that we produce. No! The system called capitalist democracy was not really democratic at all. That’s why it was able to turn so quickly into the metanational system, in which democracy grew ever weaker and capitalism every stronger. In which one per cent of the population owned half of the wealth, and five per cent of the population owned ninety-five per cent of the wealth. History has shown which values were real in that system. And the sad thing is that the injustice and suffering caused by it were not at all necessary, in that the technical means have existed since the eighteenth century to provide the basics of life to all.
‘So. We must change. It is time. If self-rule is a fundamental value. If simple justice is a value, then they are values everywhere, including in the work place where we spend so much of our lives. That was what was said in point four of the Dorsa Brevia agreement. It says everyone’s work is their own, and the worth of it cannot be taken away. It says that the various modes of production belong to those who created them, and to the common good of the future generations. It says that the world is something we steward together. That is what it says. And in our years on Mars, we have developed an economic system that can keep all those promises. That has been our work these last fifty years. In the system we have developed, all economic enterprises are to be small co-operatives, owned by their workers and by no one else. They hire their management, or manage themselves. Industry guilds and co-op associations will form the larger structures necessary to regulate trade and the market, share capital, and create credit.’
Antar said scornfully, ‘These are nothing but ideas. It is utopianism and nothing more.’
‘Not at all.’ Again Vlad waved him away. ‘The system is based on models from Terran history, and its various parts have all been tested on both worlds, and have succeeded very well. You don’t know about this partly because you are ignorant, and partly because metanationalism itself steadfastly ignored and denied all alternatives to it. But most of our micro-economy has been in successful operation for centuries in the Mondragon region of Spain. the different parts of the macro-economy have been used in the pseudo-metanat Praxis, in Switzerland, in India’s state of Kerala, in Bhutan, in Bologna, Italy, and in many other places, including the Martian underground itself. These organization were the precursors to our economy, which will be democratic in a way capitalism never even tried to be.
(pp. 146-8).

It’s refreshing to see a Science Fiction character advocate a left-wing economics. Many SF writers, like Robert A. Heinlein, were right-wing. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, about a rebellion on the Moon, contains several discussion in which Heinlein talks about TANSTAAFL – his acronym for There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.

Praxis is the fictional metanational corporation, which supplies aid to the colonists against the rest of the terrestrial super-corporations. I don’t know about the references to Switzerland, Kerala, Bhutan or Bologna, but the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain certainly exist, and are a significant part of the country’s economy. They were set up by a Spanish priest during Franco’s dictatorship, but managed to escape being closed down as he didn’t recognize such enterprises as socialist.

I don’t know how practical it would be to make all businesses co-operatives, as there are problems of scale. Roughly, the bigger an enterprise is, the more difficult proper industrial democracy becomes. But co-operatives can take over and transform ailing firms, as was shown in Argentina during the last depression there a few years ago, when many factories that were about to be closed were handed over to their workers instead. They managed to turn many of them around so that they started making a profit once again. Since then, most of them have been handed back to their management, however.

But the arguments the Vlad character makes about democracy being a fundamental value that needs to be incorporated into industry is one of that the advocates of industrial democracy and workers’ control, like the Guild Socialists, made. And we do need to give workers far more power in the work place. Jeremy Corbyn has promised this with his pledge to restore workers’ and union rights, and make a third of the directors on corporate boards over a certain size elected by the workers.

If Corbyn’s plans for industrial democracy in Britain become a reality, perhaps Britain really will have a proper economic system for the 21st century, rather than the Tories and Libertarians trying to drag us back to the unfettered capitalism of the 19th.