Posts Tagged ‘Abolitionists’

When You Pull Down Statues, Make Sure They’re of the Right People

June 10, 2020

Since Colston’s statue was pulled over and lobbed in the docks in Bristol on Sunday, others have called for the removal of similar statues and monuments to those connected to the slave trade. Down in Devon there have been calls for a statue of the Elizabethan explorer Francis Drake to be removed. At Oxford University demands have started up again for the removal of the university’s statue to the 19th century imperialist, Cecil Rhodes. And on Sky News’ The Pledge, Afua Hirsh managed to get LBC’s Nick Ferrari in a right tizzy for suggesting that not only should Rhodes’ statue be taken down, but also Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill.

I can’t defend Rhodes. He seems to me to be have been a thoroughly ruthless character, who was intent only on grabbing as much land for himself and Britain on any pretext whatsoever. I might be wrong, but I’ve got a horrible suspicion he was one of the people behind the Anglo-South African or Boer War during which tens or hundreds of thousands of Afrikaner women and children died in concentration camps. He was also instrumental in the creation of Rhodesia’s colour bar.

Nelson and Churchill are going to be much more controversial. Most people only know of Nelson for his victory at Trafalgar during the Napoleonic War. This was to stop the French imperial domination of Europe, and Napoleonic forces had also invaded Egypt. I think most Brits will therefore take an attack on Nelson as an attack on a key figure, who kept Britain and Europe free. Yes, he’s a symbol of British imperial strength, but I doubt many people associate him with the oppression of Blacks and Asians. It’s going to look like a spiteful attack on Britain, rather than a gesture of Black liberation.

Ditto Hirsh’s other target, Winston Churchill. I’m absolutely no fan of Churchill myself. He was an authoritarian aristocrat, whose real reason for opposing Hitler was that he saw Nazi Germany as a threat to British interests in the North Sea, not because he was an opponent of Fascism. He sent troops in to shoot striking miners in Wales, and was all for calling them in during the General Strike. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative prime minister at the time, wanted him kept well out of the way to avoid exacerbating the situation. As for Ireland, back in the 1990s there was an interesting little programme on BBC 2, The Living Dead, which was about the way Churchill’s heroic view of British history in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples had influenced subsequent politics. One of the key offenders here was one Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who had been strongly influenced by the great war leader herself, and tried to invoke his memory at nearly every opportunity. The programme interviewed a former member of the Irish republican paramilitary group, the INLA. He said that it was easier to recruit members under Thatcher than under Ted Heath because of Thatcher’s celebration of Churchill. For Irish nationalists, Churchill was the monster, who sent in the Black and Tans. His sequestration of grain from the Bengal peasants during the War resulted in an horrific famine which killed something like 2-4 million people. This is comparable to the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis, and some senior British army officers saw it as exactly that. Churchill, however, declared it was all their fault for ‘pullulating’, or having too many children.

That is not, however, why Churchill is celebrated over here. He’s lauded because he, Roosevelt and Stalin together overthrew the Nazis and their allies. The War swept away Fascist Italy, and the other Fascist or Fascist-aligned regimes in Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania. It liberated Greece and Albania. Stalin was no angel either. He killed at least 30 million Soviet citizens during the purges and deported whole nations and ethnic groups to Siberia. Instead of letting the eastern European countries decide their future for themselves, he imposed a ruthless autocratic Communist dictatorship. I think Churchill would have liked those nations to have been free to decide for themselves. Back in the ’90s there was a radio series on Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, the conference that would decide the post-War European order. It was called The Eagle and the Small Birds, from a quote from Churchill ‘The eagle should let the small birds sing, and care not wherefore they sang’. A Nazi victory would have been the stuff of nightmares, and I don’t know how many millions Hitler would have murdered had he been successful. What the Nazis did to the Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians was horrific enough as it is.

Churchill isn’t the saint or the great molten idol the Tories claim he is by any stretch of the imagination, but he is one of the reasons why Hirsh and Black activists like her are able to make their criticisms of traditional British history and its heroes. If Hitler had won, or his mate Oswald Mosley had seized power in some kind of coup over here, Hirsh and her allies would not have been tolerated. The Nazis’ eugenics programme included not only the murder of the disabled, but also the sterilisation of the mixed race children of White German women and Black American soldiers from the post-First World War army of occupation. Mosley himself would have made Britain an apartheid state, with citizenship granted only to those who conformed to aryan British culture, if not physiology. The War and the horrors of the Nazi and Fascist regimes made eugenics and racism and anti-Semitism far less acceptable than they were before. I am very much aware how institutionally racist Britain is and has been. But it’s much better than what would have existed had Churchill been defeated.

But most of all, I’m concerned that the zeal for smashing statues and monuments may destroy those to abolitionists. Nearly 20 years ago, when I was doing voluntary work in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum here in Bristol, one of the books that found its way into the slavery archive and library was a little bit of local history by the Liverpudlian writer, Fritz Spiegel. Spiegel prides himself on being a ‘Dicky Sam’, the Liverpudlian equivalent of a ‘real Cockney sparrow’. The book was on the fascinating history of the abolition movement in that great city. If I remember rightly, it included not only White abolitionists, but also some of the Black people who also populated the city. It wasn’t just a piece of local history for its own sake, though. In his introduction, Spiegel explained that he moved to right it because, in their zeal to destroy monuments to the city’s slavers, some people had also vandalized those of innocent merchants and abolitionists.

I’m afraid there might be a danger of something similar happening in the current zeal for smashing statues commemorating Black oppression and slavery. There are good reasons for removing monuments like Colston’s. But let’s not confuse those with slavery’s opponents.

Theresa May Attacks Slavery, but Happy with Other Forms Exploitation

July 31, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up an article commenting on the hypocrisy behind Theresa May launching her anti-slavery campaign.

Slavery is indeed a terrible crime against humanity, and down the centuries slaves have been treated with more or less appalling brutality. But Mike points out that there are also exploitative employers, who force wages down and torture their workers psychologically. He has seen it, and wonders if his readers also have. But this, apparently, is perfectly fine with May.

As is student debt, which according to a report released today by the Intergenerational Foundation will wipe out any ‘graduate premiums for most professions’. In other words, getting a degree will keep you poor, and won’t do you any good. But May still keeps telling us that higher education leads to greater employability and pay.

He then discusses how the National Living Wage is no such thing, and you can’t survive on benefits, because the benefits system is biased against giving them out.

All fine by May. As is the form of slavery embodied in workfare. The government has spent four years trying to keep the names of the firms and charities involved in this absolutely secret, because they were well aware that the British public wouldn’t stand it. But that form of exploitation is fine by May.

Mike states that he fully believes slavery should be wiped out in Britain, but states that May’s campaign against it shows up the hypocrisy in the Tory party, which is quite prepared to tolerate and promote other forms of exploitation.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/heres-why-mays-campaign-against-slavery-is-a-contradiction/

This contradiction between attacking slavery and tolerating, or even participating, in ‘wage slavery’ and the exploitation of paid employees, was one of the criticisms made against many of the Abolitionists in both Britain and America, like William Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s critics made the point that it was hypocritical of him to attack Black slavery for its cruel exploitation of other human beings, when he himself exploited the ‘factory slaves’ toiling for him. The same point was made by the defenders of slavery in the southern states of the US against northern abolitionists, as they pointed out the appalling conditions for the workers in the northern factories. This isn’t an argument for tolerating slavery. It is an argument for ending the exploitation of nominally free workers. It’s why the British Anti-Slavery Society also published pamphlets attacking what it considered to be exploitative labour conditions in Britain, such as the employment of children beyond a certain maximum number of hours.

And some of the recent developments in workforce conditions worry me, as they are extremely close to real slavery. Mike mentions student debt. In America, Obama passed legislation stating that graduates cannot even declare themselves bankrupt to clear themselves of it. These debts may reach something like £30-40,000 and above. I’ve even seen it suggested that the total student debt for a medical student may reach £70,000, putting a career as a doctor or surgeon beyond most people’s ability to pay. But if they cannot clear the debt as they would others, then it becomes a particularly heavy, persistent burden. It only needs for another US president, guided no doubt by a donor in the financial sector, to declare that the debt should be made hereditary so they can recoup their investment, and you have debt slavery, exactly as it exists in India, Pakistan and other parts of the world.

Disgusting.

And then there’s the welfare to work industry. Standing in his Precariat Charter also devotes pages to attacking this form of exploitation. And this is also trembling on the edge of real slavery. Under existing legislation, a sanctioned individual may be forced to work, even though they are receiving no benefits. This is surely slavery.

The exploitative nature of workfare is tied to a very proprietorial attitude by the upper classes towards the unemployed. The Tories and other advocates of similar reforms have the attitude that because the unemployed and other recipients of benefits are being supported by the state, they have certain obligations to the state beyond ordinary citizens, a notion that has extended into a form of ownership. Thus we have the imposition of the bedroom tax, levied on a fictitious ‘spare room subsidy’ that does not exist. One of the madder peers declared that the unemployed should have to publish accounts of their expenditure, like public departments and MPs. And the whole notion of workfare is that the unemployed are getting something for nothing, and so should be forced to do something for the pittance they are receiving.

Ultimately, all these attitudes derive from the sense of feudal superiority instilled in the Tories as members of the upper classes, and which causes them to persist in seeing the rest of us as their serfs, who owe deference and toil to them as our social superiors. Workfare can even be seen as a contemporary form of corvee, the system of labour obligations to a serf’s lord that existed in feudalism. The feudal landlord in this case, is Sainsbury’s or whichever of the various firms and charities have chosen to participate in the scheme.

May’s right to attack slavery. But it’s long past high time that these other forms of exploitation, and the attitude of class snobbery and entitlement behind them, were removed as well.

Vox Political: Priti Patel Confirms ‘Leave’ Campaign Wants to Take Away Workers’ Rights

May 23, 2016

Mike on Saturday also posted up another piece commenting on the anti-working class policies of the ‘Brexit’ crowd. Priti Patel, one of its leaders, and the author of the notorious Britannia Unchained, gave a speech to the Institute of Directors claiming that leaving the EU would give Britain an opportunity to abandon its legal obligations to protect workers under current EU legislation. She claimed this would produce another 60,000 jobs.

Frances O’Grady, the head of the TUC, has denounced this attack on workers’ rights by the ‘Leave’ campaign. The TUC has also commissioned a report into which rights would be vulnerable to repeal from Michael Ford, QC. Some of these are listed in this piece reblogged by Mike.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/21/priti-patel-admits-leave-campaign-agenda-to-reduce-workers-rights-tuc/

This latest sputtering from the Brexit crowd doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve said all along that what really annoys the Tories about the EU is the Social Charter, as was shown back in the 1990s when Terry Wogan had on his show a Tory politico, who fully endorsed the Common Market but hated the protection it gave European workers. Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained argued in that vile little screed that British workers should accept poor conditions and work harder, so that the country can compete with the sweatshops of the Developing World. The same views were articulated here in the West Country by an ‘Orange’ Book Lib Dem from Taunton Dean. Of course, neither Patel nor the rest of that crew believe in cutting managers’ salaries and shareholder dividends in order to make the companies more competitive by allowing them to free more capital to invest in new machinery and research and development.

As for those 60,000 or so jobs, they wouldn’t appear either if Britain left the EU. The money saved from the EU contributions would be frittered away giving yet more massive tax cuts to the rich. Or else it would be eaten up in the extra expenses that would be incurred by Britain going it alone outside Europe, and having to hammer out trade agreements with each individual EU nation, as Mike has repeatedly pointed out.

As for Patel herself, I have nothing but contempt for her. She first appeared in the 1990s, and was hailed and applauded by the Daily Mail, who produced her as a sign that the Tories were embracing ethnic minorities. She was featured in an article headlined, ‘As Priti as a Picture’. The article naturally claimed that Tory ethnic minorities were better than the Blacks or Asians in Labour, who were, of course, all riddled with post-colonial racial resentment against the Whites.

It struck me the other day that the arguments the Tories and big business use to justify unpaid internships would be wonderful for the apologists for slavery if somehow that vile trade had not been made illegal by Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano, John Wedderburn and the rest of the Abolitionists. When Wilberforce and the others were launching their campaign to send the trade and free its victims, the West Indian planters and slavers complained that it was a ‘visonary’ and ‘philanthropic’ attack on private enterprise and private property, and as a result the economy would suffer. You can imagine the same slavers telling the slaves in Africa, and the indentured Indian labourers, who were exploited in the infamous ‘Coolie’ Trade, that they were going to enjoy a wonderful employment opportunity abroad. No, the planters couldn’t afford to pay them, but this would be good experience. Actually, the latter was the argument during the period of unpaid apprenticeship. After slavery itself was formally ended, the slaves were supposed to work unpaid for their masters in order to learn how to be upright, independent, self-reliant citizens. I’ve posted articles before comparing it to workfare.

And just as there was a slave trade from Africa across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the New World, so there was also a slave trade across the Indian Ocean, from Africa, to Arabia, India and Asia. Indeed, the British authorities in the Bengal presidency banned slavery there as early as the 1820s, and in the 1870s the Raj stepped into ban the African slave trade carried out by British Indians, and confiscated their slaves. It struck me that the Indian slave trade was probably carried out by someone very like Priti Patel, just as someone like Gove and Johnson were probably out defending the slave trade in the Atlantic. I am certainly not accusing any of the above of personally supporting the slave trade, or having any connection to it. Just that they’ve got the same nasty exploitative attitudes of those who did.