Posts Tagged ‘Caribs’

More on the Collapse of David Starkey’s Career after Racist Slavery Comments

July 4, 2020

Yesterday I put up two pieces on the outrage at David Starkey’s dismissive comments about Blacks and slavery in his interview on the Reasoned YouTube channel with Darren Grimes. Starkey was asked if slavery was a genocide. He replied that it wasn’t, as otherwise ‘there would be so many damn Blacks in Britain and Africa, would there?’ The outrage against this display of racism has been so strong, that many organisations are severing their connections with TV’s former favourite expert on the Tudors. Starkey resigned from the Mary Rose Museum, Dan Snow’s History Hit channel said that they hadn’t made any original films with him, and were removing one featuring him that they had acquired from a third party. And Fitzwilliam College at Cambridge University stated that they were reconsidering his honorary fellowship. This all came from Zelo Street.

But Mike also put up a piece about the controversy which added further details about the devastating effect Starkey’s comment is having on his career. His publishers, HarperCollins and Hodder & Stoughton, have condemned his comments and stated that they will not be publishing any more of his books. HarperCollins have also said that they are examining his backlist in the light of his remarks. He had signed a three-book deal with publisher. One had already been published, while two were forthcoming. One of these, the second part of a biography of Henry VIII was due to come out this September. These books have now gone.

Fitzwilliam College didn’t wait til next week before considering what to do about him. They contacted Starkey, and have announced that the Master has accepted Starkey’s resignation with immediate effect.

Canterbury Christchurch University also announced that they were terminating his position as visiting lecturer, declaring that his comments were unacceptable and went against the values of the university and its community.

Mike has put up a series of tweets attacking Starkey for his comments from some of the left-wing peeps on Twitter. This includes some of the descendants of the victims of slavery and the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the West Indies. One of those was from Kerry-Ann Mendoza, the might woman behind The Canary. She commented “I’m descended from the indigenous people of the Caribbean: the Kalinago. You’ve likely not heard of us. We were virtually annihilated during the first waves of slavery, which is when the Slavers moved on to importing Black Africans to the Caribbean. So f*** you, David.”

I think the Kalinago are the Caribs, one of the many Indian peoples of the West Indies before the Spanish conquest, along with the Arawaks and the Taino. The latter two peoples were completely wiped out, although I think some Arawaks still survive in South America. After they were conquered, the Amerindians were worked to death under the most brutal conditions mining gold for the Spanish conquerors. The Caribs put up very tough resistance, and it was a long time before they were forced off their ancestral lands. They fought both the Spanish and us, when we entered the Caribbean to conquer territory from the Spanish. We initially claimed that we were intervening on their behalf, but turned against them as soon as it proved useful.

Nevertheless the Caribs survived. Those in the West Indies are called ‘Black Caribs’ as they intermarried with escaped slaves. They have their own reservation. A few years ago there was a documentary following them as they made contact with the other Caribs in South America, rediscovering their language and ancestral skills and culture. Another documentary series on Channel 4, I believe, on the lost civilizations of the Caribbean revealed that genetic analysis of the present day population of one of the islands of the Spanish Caribbean showed that the people were also partly descended from the indigenous peoples. This was a surprise, as it was believed that the Amerindians there had been completely exterminated and had not intermarried with the European settlers. But they had, and now some of their descendants are trying to recreate the heritage, including the religion, of their indigenous ancestors.

The people’s of the ancient Caribbean had an advanced culture. Like the Maya and other peoples on the South American mainland, they played a ball game and built courts for it. One people also left behind stone balls carved with petroglyphs, designs and symbols which to my eyes look somewhat like the glyph writing of the Maya. These people and their culture, however, are now extinct, and so the meaning of these monuments is lost.

Apart from the outrage Starkey’s comments about genocide and slavery produced, others were also angry at what he had said about Black Lives Matter. He had compared them to a rich entitled lady shopping at Harrods, claiming that they ‘usually have lots of money and big cars’. Aaron Bastani, who produced a short video tearing apart Starkey’s claim that slavery wasn’t genocide because Blacks survived, and his stance that the British empire was benign, commented on this remark of Starkey’s ‘These morons have been allowed to set the political agenda in this country because they have been elevated by the media. Millionaires that help billionaires.’ Absolutely.

Others were also understandable furious that while other organisations were dropping Starkey, he still seemed to be acceptable to the Beeb. One of these was Jackie Walker, the Black Jewish activist smeared as an anti-Semite. Jackie’s mother was a Black American civil rights activist, and she is an expert on slavery and Caribbean history. She commented “Just let what he’s saying sink in, then ask how come the BBC/media allow this man to comment on history.” Tom London rhetorically asked if the Beeb had done any soul-searching after Jeremy Corbyn had complained about David Starkey’s comments about the ethnicity of the rioters in 2011. Starkey had appeared on Question Time and declared that they were all Black. When it was pointed out to him that they were also White, he refused to change his views, because ‘they had become Black’ by taking over Black culture. There are White youths who imitate Black gangster culture, but you obviously can’t blame it all for the riots. Starkey’s comments could have come from the racist right, which has been blaming Black music for corrupting Whites ever since the 1920s and the invention of Jazz. Craig Murray remarked that the Beeb has known Starkey was racist for at least nine years, but it has never stopped them inviting him on to spread his poison. Simon Maginn called on the Beeb to condemn his comments about ‘so many damn Blacks’ and will refuse to give him any further airtime and remove him from iplayer. Anything less would be racist.

Meanwhile, Grimes seems to have emerged unscathed, despite the fact that he was responsible for the video. He made a kind of apology yesterday, stating that he should have questioned Starkey’s comments, but claiming that the interviewer isn’t responsible for what the interviewee says. But Lewis Parker commented “You didn’t just interview a racist. You interviewed him, nodded your head in agreement, edited the video, posted the video, and then promoted it. Also, the video is still up on your YouTube channel. What a sad sad excuse.”

Starkey’s career is thus sinking fast, thanks to his bigoted comments. It remains to be seen whether he will still be a welcome guest at the Beeb. Unfortunately, given the Corporation’s overtly Tory stance, my guess is that he will.

But odiously Grimes has so far escaped any kind of real punishment for his part in this debacle. And I’ve no doubt that he, and other ignorant and malign extreme right-wing pundits like him will still somehow be feted as real journalists with valuable, insightful opinions in the future.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/03/racist-historian-dropped-by-publisher-and-university-after-shocking-interview-remarks/

 

The Reasons for the Toppling of the Statues of Columbus and King Leopold of Belgium

June 13, 2020

It isn’t just in Bristol that people are pulling down the statues of those, who were racist, imperialist or connected to slavery. In America protesters have pulled down more statues of Confederate generals. According to the Beeb, they also pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus. Back across the Pond in Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II was also attacked.

Columbus and the Genocide of the Amerindians

Many people are no doubt surprised and shocked that Columbus should be the centre of such controversy and anger. Again, this is because most people largely don’t know much about him. All most people are taught are that he discovered America, as in the rhyme ‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue’. He was an Italian in the service of the king of Spain. Many may also believe the myth begun by Washington Irving, that until Columbus found the New World, everyone believed that the Earth was flat and you’d fall off the edge if you sailed far enough. In fact people at the time had know perfectly well that the world was round, and had done since at least late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Columbus himself was seeking a new route to the wealth, and particularly spices, of India and China. The overland trade routes had been blocked by the Turkish conquests, so Columbus was seeking a new route to these countries by sailing around the world. In doing so, he failed to realise that the world was actually larger than he believed. When he landed in the Caribbean, he thought he had landed in Asia. It was only towards the end of his career that he began to suspect that he hadn’t, and had discovered an entirely different, new continent instead.

Although it opened up a whole new world for Europeans, and especially the Spanish, it was a catastrophe for the indigenous peoples. Columbus described the Caribbean peoples he met as ‘gentle and mild’, and they welcomed their strange, new visitor. After Columbus returned to Spain, the situation changed with the Spanish conquest. The indigenous peoples – the Taino, Arawak and Caribs were enslaved and worked to death mining the gold that the Spanish and Europeans craved. If they failed to produce enough gold for their European masters, they were killed and mutilated. One of the contemporary sources for the conquest of the New World states that one of the punishments was to amputate their hands, and then hang them around the victim’s neck. Indigenous women were raped and sexually exploited. Indigenous populations were also devastated by the diseases Europeans brought with them, such as smallpox. The population of the Americas had reached several million before Columbus’ arrival. I forget the estimated number – it might be something like 8 million. That number had dropped considerably after the European conquests. The Spanish pushed further, overthrowing the Aztec and Inca empires and conquering the Mayan city states. And across the continent the indigenous peoples were devastated by disease and war, and enslaved on the vast estates carved out by the conquistadors. Other Europeans followed them, who were equally brutal – Portuguese, French, Dutch and ourselves.

The carnage of the European conquests means that Columbus is very definitely not a hero to the New World’s indigenous peoples, nor to the Black populations who succeeded them. Transatlantic slavery emerged because Europeans replaced the Indian workers they’d exterminated with African slaves. Nearly thirty years ago, in 1992 there were demonstrations and denunciations by indigenous Americans and Blacks at the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. For the Amerindian peoples, the festivities were a celebration of their genocide and enslavement. Black Americans also condemned them as a celebration of slavery, an accusation that was repeated by Black Britons three years later when this country celebrated John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland.

Leopold of Belgium and the Congo Atrocity

Centuries later, at the end of the 19th century, Leopold was also responsible for genocide on a scale comparable to the Nazis in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo. He’d acquired the area as his own personal property, and decided to exploit his new territory through rubber production. He set up his own, private police force, the Force Publique, and forced the indigenous peoples to cultivate and produce it. The indigenous Congolese were given quotas, and if they failed to produce the set amount of rubber, they were beaten, mutilated and killed by the thugs of his private police. Tony Greenstein in an article he has published on his blog a few days ago estimates the number of killed at 10 million. I don’t know if that’s the generally accepted number, as it seems he prefers the upper end of the estimates of European genocide. But it wouldn’t have been far off. There’s a very good popular book on slavery produced by Buffalo Books. I think it’s called just Slavery, and covers all of its forms, including the infamous Coolie Trade in Indian indentured migrants and the enslavement of Pacific Islanders to serve on the plantations of Fiji and Queensland. This also covers the Congo atrocity. It’s profusely illustrated with contemporary pictures, cartoons and photographs. I came across the book when a copy was given to the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, where I was doing voluntary work cataloguing the Museum’s holdings on slavery. One of the photographs was of a Congolese man forlornly looking at his severed feet. Slavery is an horrific subject, and there were a number of very graphic illustrations. But that was one that definitely made me feel ill.

The horror stopped because of the public outcry created by its exposure by several brilliant, crusading European and American journos. The Belgian government took it out of Leopold’s hands and turned it into a state colony. For many years the whole subject was something most Belgians wished to forget. However, in the late 1990s or early part of this century, Belgium began reexamining its relationship with its colonial past. There was an exhibition at the country’s national museum around the exhibits from the Congo. This included new works from contemporary artists and performers about the exhibits and the issues they raised.

Conclusion

For most ordinary people, at least in Britain, the attacks on these statues are astonishing. They’re yet another example of the violent iconoclasm and assault on history and White identity of the BLM movement. I doubt many people in Britain know enough about Leopold and his personal crimes against humanity to care what happens to his statue. But there are good reasons why Blacks, the American First Nations and their sympathisers should hate these statues and want their removal. Columbus and Leopold were monsters, and like Colston brought suffering to unimaginable millions. The attacks are shocking because we aren’t taught about the consequences of the European conquests in school history, although it is certainly not hidden or covered up. You can read about the Spanish conquests and the genocide of the Amerindians in books on South American history, as well as the classic treatment of the dispossession and genocide of the North American peoples, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

It’s why the BLM and Black and Asian activists are justified in calls for the dark side of British and European imperialism to be taught in history.

 

Chagos Islanders Next for Deportation?

April 29, 2018

Following the exposure this week of the Tories’ policy of expelling British citizens of the Windrush generation as illegal immigrants, there’s been speculation which group of British citizens of lawful immigrant origins will be next. Mike mentioned in one of his piece that in 2019-20 it may be the Ugandan Asians. These were the Asian population of Uganda, who were expelled in the 1970s by the dictator, torturer and mass-murderer Idi Amin. Their plea for asylum was turned down by a number of countries, including India. But they were taken in by Britain under Ted Heath. it’s to Heath’s credit, just as the clandestine removal of the citizenship laws protecting the Windrush people and their forcible removal from this country shows how vile and racist David Cameron, Theresa May and the rest of the Tories are. I’ve already posted up a piece making it very clear how despicable it would be if Tweezer’s government then turns on the Ugandan Asians.

But there was a piece in the I last week suggesting that she may also be about to target the Chagos Islanders. The Chagos Islands are in the Indian Ocean, and have been a continuing imperial scandal since the mid-70s. The Islanders were forcibly removed from their homes after Britain gave the islands to America to build a massive military base. Because Cold War, need to stop global Communism and all the rest of the horrific reasons Britain and America have given for treating ordinary people in the Developing World as dirt.

Of course, the British Empire has been taking over indigenous peoples’ land and removing them since it first started to appear in the 16th century. When the British and other European nations arrived in the Caribbean to challenge Spain’s possession of the New World, they embarked on a campaign to cleanse their newly conquered territories of the indigenous Caribs.

In the early 20th century, in a close parallel to this, the British also removed a South Sea island people from their home to Fiji, so that it could be mined. This trashed the island, making it uninhabitable. The islanders have been trying to sue the British government since in order to get compensation and a recognition of wrongdoing, but they’ve had no success.

The Chagos Islanders have also been trying to sue the British government, and they also have received zero justice. There have been a series of articles about the British government’s maltreatment of them in Private Eye. The minister responsible for the decision to grant the island to the Americans was Denis Healey. The Eye contacted him to question him about it, but as far as I can recall they received the usual ministerial non-answers. I’ve got a feeling that they might also have been a bit tetchy as well.

According to the I, after the decision was made, the Islanders were deported to Mauritius and other countries, from whence some of them migrated to Britain. And so they’re now left vulnerable to being deported from this country, which owes them justice, under the same squalid and racist policies that have seen the expulsion of over 7,000 children of Windrush immigrants. This is despite the fact that, as David Lammy showed in his tweet, the Windrush migrants were British citizens under the terms of the 1948 British Citizenship Act.

It’s not hard to see the ministerial logic which came down in favour of their removal from their homeland. There are only a few thousand Chagos Islanders, and so under the utilitarian logic of the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’ the government clearly decided it could easily sacrifice them to keep the Americans happy, preserve the Special Relationship, and keep global communism at bay.

It’s still a global injustice, and one that will be compounded if Tweezer and his minions decided to deport them from Britain.

May, Rudd and the rest of the Tories have shown themselves to be utterly racist in passing and supporting this legislation. Get rid of them, before they attack anyone else.

Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

September 2, 2017

This clip from Telesur reports that Los Angeles has decided to drop Columbus Day from the holiday calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The clip states that the city was a centre of indigenous American culture when it was inhabitant by the Tongva tribe. The Tongva were, however, subjected to the Spanish mission system, in which they were forcibly attached to Roman Catholic missions in order to convert them to Christianity. This was part of the wave of dispossession, enslavement, forced conversion and genocide that overtook the indigenous peoples following Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1495.

I’m sure that city council’s decision to replace Columbus Day with a holiday celebrating the Amerindians will be criticized by the Republicans, and the Alt-Right and overt Nazis that have come out of the woodwork under Trump as another ‘loony left’ conspiracy to destroy America and White culture. I can just hear right-wing blowhards and ignorami like Rush Limbaugh even now spouting it over the airwaves, from political platforms and on the Net. But Columbus and his legacy have been immensely controversial for a long time.

Over 20 years ago, back in 1995 there was a storm of controversy surrounding the 500 anniversary of his discovery of America. Indigenous Americans argued that the celebration of his voyage amounted to celebrating their genocide at the hands of the conquistadors and the other European colonisers that followed. From what I remember, the Italian-American community got extremely upset at these remarks, as Columbus was Italian and therefore a great hero to them.

But the American First Nations have history on their side. Columbus’ discovery of the New World – actually the West Indies. He believed he’d actually gone all the way around the world and landed in Asia, and only dimly became aware that the place on which he’d landed might be an entirely new continent at the end of his life. It’s been estimated that the West Indies had a population of 3 million before Columbus’ arrival. The peoples of theses islands included the Arawaks, Caribs – from whom the word ‘cannibal’ is derived, because they were believed to eat people – and the Taino. The rock art produced by these ancient cultures still survives, and has been studied by archaeologists.

These people were then enslaved and decimated as the New World was claimed by the Spanish. They were forcibly converted to Christianity. Those that weren’t were executed. A year after Columbus’ arrival, most of the indigenous chiefs or caciques, who had welcomed him on his arrival, had been burned to death for their continued adherence to their traditional religious beliefs. Those that survived this, were enslaved and worked to death mining and producing gold for the Spanish. Those who tried to resist, or simply didn’t work hard enough, were tortured and mutilated in horrific ways. There are descriptions of Indians having their hands cut off and hung round their necks as a punishment, for example.

The Spanish mission system is also immensely controversial for the very same reasons. There’s been a long campaign by indigenous Californians against the conservation of the mission complexes as part of the state’s culture, because of the suffering they inflicted on the peoples forced into their care. Peoples like the Tongva were enslaved, their members isolated from each other, subjected to a system of cruel punishments. Many of them died from disease and hunger.

We British were also a part of this system of genocide and enslavement. The British popularized the Spanish persecution and extermination of the Caribbean peoples as part of a propaganda campaign to create hostility against them. The Spanish were resented as the Roman Catholic superpower that had threatened Protestant England, and the other Protestant European states. European Protestants drew parallels between their persecution of Amerindians their persecution of Protestants. This created the ‘Black Legend’ of the Spanish in America. However, when we expanded in the West Indies, we also persecuted and sought to exterminate and clear the islands we claimed of the remaining Caribs. Quite apart from the wars and genocide committed by us on the North American continent itself.

However, enslavement and genocide is not the whole of the history of the relationship between Christianity and indigenous people in America. In the 19th century many of the Protestant missionaries working amongst the American First Nations were staunch supporters of indigenous rights, and were profoundly concerned about the threat to them from White settlement. They were in contact, and often close friends, with British missionaries, who had worked with indigenous Australians and Polynesians, who were also members of the British Anti-Slavery Society. These missionaries, American and British, strongly believed that, while Native Americans would benefit immensely from conversion to Christianity, they also needed proper legal protection, and should be left firmly in possession of their ancestral lands. These missionaries formed the Aborigines’ Protection Society in order to defend the indigenous peoples of the British empire from exploitation and dispossession. Several of the 19th century missionaries were also firm in their view that Christianity should not be forced on to indigenous peoples in European cultural forms, but that it should be adapted to their culture. They thus looked forward to these nations developing their own distinctive Christian culture, and so contributing to Christianity as a world religion composed of many different and distinctive peoples and cultures.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project

Click to access A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.