Posts Tagged ‘China’

Kropotkin on Globalisation

February 14, 2014

Kropotkin Conquest Bread

On Tuesday, Barclays announced that they were shedding 7,000 jobs in Britain. The mobility of capitalism around the world is now a major feature of today’s global economy following the globalisation of capitalism and industry during the 1990s. Critics of international capitalism, such as Lenin in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism noted that this was occurring in their own time, the late 19th and vey early 20th centuries. The German Marxist, Karl Kautsky, also remarked in his writing on the movement of capital from the imperial heartlands to their colonies and what would become the Developing World. The imperialist powers were attempting to develop their possessions and open up markets and sources of labour elsewhere around the world, with the result that the industries in their heartlands would inevitably suffer.

Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread also remarked on it, and denounced the way it led to factory closures, unemployment and starvation in the imperial countries of Britain, France and so on, and exploitation and the use of military force to quell discontent in the European empires’ subject nations.

‘The result of this state of things is that all our production tends in a wrong direction. Enterprise takes no thought for the needs of the community. Its only aim is to increase the gains of the speculator. Hence the constant fluctuations of trade, the periodical industrial crises, each of which throws scores of thousands of workers on the streets.

The working people cannot purchase with their wages the wealth which they have produced, and industry seeks foreign markets among the monied classes of other nations. In the East, in Africa, everywhere, in Egypt, Tonkin or the Congo, the European is thus bound to promote the growth of serfdom. And so he does. But soon he finds that everywhere there are similar competitors. All the nations evolve on the same lines, and wars, perpetual wars, break out for the right of precedence in the market. Wars for the possession of the East, wars for the empire of the sea, wars to impose duties on imports and to dictate conditions to neighbouring states; wars against those ‘blacks’ who revolt! The roar of the cannon never ceases in the world, whole races are massacred, the states of Europe spend a third of their budgets in armaments, and we know how heavily these taxes fall on the workers.’

The British Empire has formally retreated and turned into the Commonwealth, and Cameron has slashed the armed forces and their funding. In other respects, however, the analysis is pretty as true today as it was in Kropotkin’s day. In many cases, however, the massacres are now committing by the various developing nations for their elites to gain control of the sites of raw materials, so these can be sold to global multinationals. Hence the horrific bloodshed, in which over 4 million people have been killed, in Central Africa for control of diamonds and some of the precious metals used in the IT industries, including mobile phones.

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Manufacturing Compliance: The Nudge Unit and its Privatisation

February 10, 2014

Blakes 7 weapon

Federation scientist Cozer and his companion, the freed slave Rashel, await galactic freedom fighter Blake in the Blake’s 7 episode, Weapon.

Last Friday and today, the I newspaper has run articles reporting the impending privatisation of the Government’s Behaviour Insights Team, or Nudge Unit. The article describes the unit as using

‘insights from the emerging field of behavioural economics and psychology to subtly change the processes, forms and language used by government – to achieve outcomes that are in the in the “public good” and save money.’

A boxed article at the side then goes on to explain it more fully, stating that

‘Nudge articulates the idea that people can be persuaded to make the right decisions by simple changes in how choices are presented to them.’

It goes on to explain that the theory was first proposed in a book of the same name, published in 2008 by the economics professor Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein. They acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good. The two authors then argued that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges ‘people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.’

Although the two authors stated that “‘the libertarian aspect of our strategies lies in the straightforward insistence that, in general, people should be free to do what they like.” They then qualified this with the statement that it was ‘legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier and better.”

Today’s I carries an interview with one of the founders of the Nudge Unit, David Halpern. He states that the Unit was set up four years ago under Tony Blair as his Strategy Unit, at a time when ‘the Blair administration was expanding the size of the state – spending more and regulating more’, often according to Blair’s own personal inclination. It did not, however, catch on with the Labour government, and only came into its own with the arrival of the Coalition in 2010. Halpern states that ‘Their instincts were generally ‘we’ve got no money and we’re going to constrain the size of the state and deregulate’.

The Nudge Unit is now about to be part-privatised into a company partly owned by the government, partly owned by the social-enterprise charity, Nesta, and partly owned by Halpern and his fellow employees.

As it is presented in the I, the Nudge Unit sounds very jolly and entirely innocuous. The piece opens with Halpern describing the work of the American psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her work showing how well school children perform in tests can be boosted simply by telling them that they’ve made a good effort.

It then describes the way the Unit experimented with personalised text messages to encourage people, who were about to be hit by the bailiffs, to pay their bills on time.

In the concluding paragraphs, Halpern describes his goal to unlock ‘hidden entrepreneurs’ ‘who never get beyond garages’. He mentions the way the mountain bike arose simply through someone experimenting in their garage with bits of other bikes. ‘Studies’, according to Halpern, ‘suggest 6 per cent of Britons have come up with a significant adaptation in the last year. But most never diffuse.’

The only doubts raised about the Unit and its methods are whether they are effective. The boxed article states that it has its critics, who have argued, like Baroness Julia Neuberger in the House of Lords, that there is little evidence that it works on large scales. The main article, however, leaves the reader in little doubt: ‘A lot in government were nervous of Nudge but the theory did work in practice – and the services of the Nudge team were suddenly in demand’. Hence its privatisation three years down the line.

Now all this seems entirely benign. Few people would cavil at methods that get people to pay their bills on time, thus avoiding a visit from the bailiffs, or get children to do better at their exams, or, indeed, just to have ‘longer, healthier and better’ lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the 20th century, such departments like the Nudge Unit would have been the objects of considerable fear and suspicion, especially after the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century used propaganda and coercion to generate the mass obedience and approval they demanded from their captive populations. This found its expression in the various dystopian regimes portrayed in Science Fiction. One of the great Science Fiction series of the 1970s and ’80s was Blake’s 7. This was a space opera, whose heroes were a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ let loose in a strange, totalitarian far future. They were led, at least in the first two of their four TV seasons, by Roj Blake, a former dissident, who had been captured and then suffered psychiatric torture at the hands of the Federation. This was a future Fascist super-state, which governed through a mixture of military force, propaganda and advanced psychological techniques and drugs, that sapped the will to resist from its people. The Federation permitted no freedom of speech, belief or movement amongst its citizens. Dissidents were brutally murdered, and the survivors framed and re-educated. Heading its armed forces was the seductive Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and her henchman, the violent and psychotic Travis, played by Brian Croucher. Both Croucher and Pearce have appeared in Dr. Who; Pearce as a treacherous alien super-scientist, Jocini O’ the Franzine-Greeg in the Colin Baker/Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Two Doctors’, and Croucher in the early Tom Baker serial ‘The Robots of Death’. He has also appeared in Eastenders and as an East End hard man in the detective drama, New Tricks.

Blake’s 7 was influenced by Star Wars and Star Trek, though it’s characters and background were darker than either of those two SF classics. Blake’s second-in-command, Kerr Avon, was a ruthless embezzler with a cynical contempt for idealists. ‘Show me the man who believes something, and I will show you a fool’. Such attitudes were not a fictional exaggeration. Similar sentiments were expressed by the evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who once said ‘Scratch an idealist, and an egotist will bleed’. It isn’t hard to feel that the show’s creator, Terry Nation, had modelled the cool, rational, scientific Avon on Monod and other scientists like him.

And the methods used by the Federation to keep its citizens enslaved were also chillingly real. The show several times covered conditioning and similar brainwashing techniques used by the Federation to break and then manipulate its victims’ psychologies. Blake himself had been conditioned by intensive psychological therapy after he was captured leading a revolutionary group. Under the influence of the therapists he betrayed the other members, confessed to his own guilt, and was then reprogrammed to forget all about the events, his arrest, trial and the mass executions of his friends and family.

This aspect of the Federation was based on the notorious brainwashing techniques associated with the Communist dictatorships, particularly Mao’s China and the brutal regime of ‘self-criticism’ for those who challenged the Great Leader’s precepts during the Cultural Revolution. It also bore more than a little resemblance to the Soviet abuse of psychiatry revealed by Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward. Soviet psychiatrists had invented a spurious form of ‘schizophrenia’, which was curiously amorphous, taking just about any form required by the doctors diagnosing it and their superiors. It was used to incarcerate in lunatic asylums any and all opponents of regime. These ranged from religious believers to Communist idealists, such as a general and Old Bolshevik, who vociferously felt that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union had betrayed the noble principles of the Revolution. It also harks back to Skinner’s experiments in conditioning in the 1960s, and his fictional description of a utopian system in which the citizens had perfected themselves through the use of such psychological techniques.

About a decade ago Adam Curtis described the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used Freudian theory to lay the foundations of modern PR in his landmark series, The Century of the Self. Curtis was similarly unimpressed by PR, and dissected the way such techniques were used by corporations, the government, and some of the more sinister self-improvement cults that sprang up in the 1960s to control people’s minds. He was particularly unimpressed by the way the self-realised people of the Hippy counterculture then went off and, from reasons of liberated self-interest, voted for Ronald Reagan. The existence of the Nudge Unit seems to suggest that Halpern and his fellows saw the theories, and instead of looking at the dangers and fallacies accompanying it like the rest of the viewing public, immediately thought it was all rather cool.

Blake Carnell Weapon

The psycho-social strategist Carnell and Supreme Commander of Federation forces, Servalan, contemplate the success of David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’.

Apart from the use of conditioning and psycho-therapy, the Federation armed forces also included an elite corps of ‘pscho-social strategists’, nicknamed ‘puppeteers’ by the rest of the Federation’s Starship Troopers. These specialised in using advanced psychological techniques to predict and manipulate the behaviour of the regime’s opponents. For example, in the episode, ‘Weapon’, Servalan uses one such puppeteer, Carnell, played by Scott Fredericks, to predict the mental breakdown and then manipulate a scientist, Cozer, who has designed an unstoppable superweapon, IMIPAC. Her goal is to seize the weapon for herself, while at the same killing the Blake and his crew and taking over their spaceship, the Liberator. Of course it all fails, and the weapon is taken over instead by the former slave girl, Rashel, with whom Cozer had escaped, and the other weapon in Servalan’s plan, a clone of Blake. The two become guardians of the weapon, with Travis remarking wryly ‘The weapon protects itself’.

With fears of totalitarian states manipulating and abusing their victims’ minds in reality and SF, something like the Nudge Unit would have been enough to bring anyone with a distrust of authoritarian government out onto the streets, from old school Conservatives with a hatred of Communism and Fascism all the way across the political spectrum through Liberals, Socialists to members of the Hippy counterculture, who were extremely suspicious of what their own governments were doing about this through reading the reports about MKULTRA and the CIA LSD experiments in the underground press.

And there are real dangers to this. Who, for example, decides what project is going to make people happier, with longer, better lives? Cameron undoubtedly claims it’s the Tories, but with something like 38,000 people dying per year thanks to welfare cuts and benefit sanctions, we can safely discount his opinion. Mike has several times mentioned the Nudge Unit in posts on his blog over at Vox Political, pointing out that the forms and courses used by the Coalition as part of their welfare to work package have been set up by the Nudge Unit with the deliberate intention of getting the unemployed to blame themselves, rather than the government’s policies, for their inability to get a job. Like the children in Dweck’s experiment, they are being encouraged to do better in a situation that is not their fault. It tacitly reinforces the government’s values and the economic system which leaves the unemployed without a job, and frequently without hope. And this is most definitely malign.

This is quite apart from the dangers of ‘function creep’, in which an administrative technique or department gradually acquires more power and extends its scope, as more administrators see its potential for solving their problems. The Nudge Unit is perhaps only a minor part of British government at the moment, but it has the potential to become something far larger and much more sinister. If we don’t carefully monitor it and similar initiatives, it could easily expand into something every bit as totalitarian and manipulative as Blake’s 7 Federation and its psycho-strategists.

I found the opening titles to the first season of the Blake’s 7 on Youtube. They show some of the major themes of the Federation – the use of armed force, brainwashing and surveillance. I leave it to you to decide for yourself how much of this unfortunately is coming true, though there are surveillance cameras all over the streets and Boris Jonson has bought two water cannons to use on any more protesters in London. Here it is. Enjoy!

An Anthropological View of Homelessness in America – With Lessons for Britain

February 3, 2014

Anthony Marcus, Where Have All The Homeless Gone? The Making and unmaking of a Crisis (New York: Berghahn 2006)

America Homeless

We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man.
We got a kinder, gentler kind of napalm

– Neil Young, ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’.

I’ve posted a couple of piece before on some of the points this book makes about homelessness in America, and its relevance to Britain. One of the most important was the way the massive debt crisis of New York City’s municipal government in 1975 formed the template for Mrs Thatcher’s destruction of the welfare state in Britain, and the Coalition’s further attempts to end it altogether in the second decade of the 21st century.

The End of the Welfare State in New York and the Beginning of the Homeless Crisis

New York did have something like Britain’s welfare state, even a form of the dole and affordable, rent controlled housing. In 1975 it overspent to the point where it was unable to pay off its debt. In return for giving the City the right to issue bonds allowing it to finance its debt, the City was placed under the fiscal management of a consortium of businessmen and bankers to ensure its fiscal good government. These made swingeing cuts in the City’s welfare provision, to the point where millions were thrown out of their jobs. Unable to pay their rent, many were forced to move away from New York, while others were forced onto the streets. The rent controls remained, but instead of keeping housing affordable, they resulted in many landlords being unable to afford to maintain their properties. As a result, many were left without basic services like electricity or water, others were abandoned completely as landlords went bankrupt. Some landlords even firebombed their tenements to collect on the insurance. The result was a massive increase in homelessness. At the same time, the location and visibility of New York’s rough sleepers changed. Instead of being confined to certain run down districts – the traditional Skid Row of urban American geography, the homeless moved out into the more upmarket residential districts and even into the city centre.

Racial Stereotypes of Homelessness

The Black community was particularly hard hit. Many of the homeless men interviewed by Marcus were well-educated, from reasonably affluent, middle class backgrounds. However, the Black community particularly relied upon the municipal government, either directly or indirectly for their jobs, and so were disproportionately hit when those jobs were shed. The result was that the stereotypical image of a homeless person in the period in which Marcus worked – the late 1980s and first years of the 1990s – was a poorly dressed, mentally ill Black person. Marcus takes particular care to counter this stereotype, as it formed the basis for the campaigns of several of City’s leaders, like Mayor Dinkins, to tackle homelessness. It ignored the vast numbers of homeless Whites and the homeless Blacks, who were articulate and dressed neatly. While much effort was directed at those groups that corresponded to the stereotype, these people were ignored as they simply didn’t match contemporary ideas of who the homeless were.

The book is based on the doctoral research Marcus did amongst a group of fifty homeless Black men working for one of the City’s homelessness projects from 1989 to 1993. It is his attempt to answer the question of what happened to public awareness of the issue of homelessness. He points out that from 1983 to 1993 homelessness was one of the biggest American political issues. There were rock songs about homeless people, and universities, charities, politicians, and activist groups attempted to study and tackle the issue.

This concern evaporated from 1993 onwards. The crisis continued and the availability of proper, affordable housing continued to fall, but increasingly less attention was paid to the issue. Funds for its study dried up, and the academics researching it moved away to fresher, and more lucrative areas of study. Marcus quotes one of his former research colleagues as laughing when Marcus told him he was writing up his Ph.D. research, declaring that homelessness was so last century.

Critiques of the ‘Cultures of Poverty’

Much of Marcus’ book is a critique of the narrow historiographical focus that determined that rather than tackle the root causes of the homeless crisis in lack of suitably paid jobs, affordable housing and welfare policies that would allow the unemployed to get and retain accommodation, saw the problem exclusively in terms of the supposed moral defects of the homeless themselves in a mirror-image of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view. This grew out of the previous studies of American homelessness centred around Skid Row, the decrepit section of American towns occupied by single-occupancy hotels for the homeless, and a population of homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes and other marginal, transgressive or bohemian groups. The other major influence was Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America, which examined the squalor and poverty in urban Black ghettoes. As a result, when the American welfare state, under Richard Nixon, began to tackle unemployment and homelessness, it did so with the assumption that the homeless themselves were somehow responsible for their condition. They were supported, but that support was made as unpleasant as possible in order to force them to come off welfare whenever possible. Hence the penalisation of the unemployed through demeaning forms of state support such as food stamps, rather than a welfare cheque. Seen the similarity to the attitudes of Cameron, Clegg, IDS and McVie yet?

Cultures of Deviancy and Violence in Homeless Shelters

This attitude by the authorities that there is a ‘culture of poverty’, created by and defined by the idleness, drunkenness, profligacy and other inappropriate behaviour of the poor themselves is particularly attacked by Marcus. He found that there was no difference in morals and behaviour between the homeless people he studied, and those of the wider population. This included the ‘shelterisation’ debate surrounding the perceived culture of violence in the homeless shelters. These had been set up in New York in response to the finding of a judge that the City had failed in its legal duty to provide shelter and wholesome food for a homeless man that had been turned away from one. Marcus states that for most of the residents of these shelters, their greatest problem was finding a lead long enough to reach the wall socket so that they could do their ironing. Nevertheless, the violent criminals included in the shelters’ population meant that the developed a reputation for being dominated by ex-convict bodybuilders and their transvestite shelter ‘wives’. Marcus found that rather than being a gay space, homeless gay men were subjected to the same levels of abuse and intimidation they experienced in the outside world. Their attitude to the ex-cons was that they weren’t really gay. At the same time they had their transvestite lovers in the shelter, they also had heterosexual relationship with wives and girlfriends outside. One of Marcus’ gay informants told him that if you watched the ex-cons outside, they never held hands or socialised with their transvestite shelter partners. He concluded that they were really heterosexual men, who just wanted to have sex and weren’t concerned with whom they had it in the single sex environment of the homeless shelters.

Marcus concluded that the shelters developed their reputation for violence and bizarre behaviour, as few researchers actually interacted or examined the way their residents behaved outside of its environment. The methodological problems were too difficult, making it almost impossible. So instead the academics concentrated on their behaviour inside the shelter, and unconsciously assumed that their behaviour was formed by it. Marcus gradually came to the opposite conclusion – that the men in the homeless shelters acted as they did, not because of the environment of the homeless shelter, but because that was what they did anyway. So the various types of bizarre and slovenly behaviour, which normally remained hidden in the confines of a private home, such as one resident, who never got up on a Sunday morning but simply urinated into a glass by the side of his bed, was suddenly on public display.

Homeless Not Radically Different or Separate from Rest of Population

Linked to this was a wider problem in identifying just who exactly the homeless were. Many of the individuals studied only spent part of their time sleeping in public. Other nights they slept round a friends or girlfriends, or were given room in an airing cupboard or basement by a kindly janitor in return for doing cleaning work. There was also a wider population of young people sleeping on the floors of friends while they looked for an apartment after graduating from university. These middle class, educated Americans weren’t seen as homeless.

And many of the Black homeless men Marcus interviewed didn’t see themselves as homeless either. They compared their state to that of young Whites, who had just graduated. It was a similar stage of carefree abandon until they finally hit maturity and sorted themselves out, got a proper job and apartment. Marcus also notes that for many Black homeless men, their condition meant acting out a variety of roles. He called them The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The Good was the White man’s negro, who accepted mainstream, White American culture and values when it meant impressing White academics or employers in order to get a job or a place on an educational programme. The Bad was that of the angry, violent Black man. His informants told him they had to adopt this pose, as otherwise Whites would just see them as ‘niggers’ and disparage or exploit them. They had stories of an effeminate ‘White man’s Negro’, who tried to fit in with the culture of his White colleagues and bosses, only for him to be exploited and sacked. Interestingly, the models taken for this role of violent, rebellious Black masculinity were all race-natural. They included ‘Leatherface’, from Tobe Hooper’s class bit of grue, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Sean Connery’s James Bond. Indeed, many of Marcus’ Black informants identified by Connery so much that they felt sure that Scotland’s cinematic hard man was Black, at least partly. The Ugly was a term coined by Marcus himself, and referred to those homeless, who dressed badly and had lost both their sanity and dignity. It was a role the men studied by Marcus most disliked, because of its passivity, and lack of masculinity. Nevertheless, many homeless Black men adopted it in order to get some of the benefits that were only available through this role.

Disillusionment with Regime in ‘Not-for-Profit’ Housing

Eventually the scandal surrounding the violence and criminality within the municipal shelters became so great that the City authorities were forced to act. The system was privatised, so that instead or supplementing the vast municipal shelters were a system of ‘transient’ accommodation run by not-for-profit corporations. These were supposed to be smaller, and more responsive to their residents’ needs than the City homeless provision. Marcus examines these too, and demonstrates how many of the shelter residents became increasingly disillusioned with them, even to the point where they preferred moving back to the shelters or onto the streets.

What Marcus’ informants most objected to was the intense regimentation and supervision of almost every aspect of their lives. This was supposedly to help the homeless develop the right attitudes and habits that would allow them to move out of the transient housing and into a proper apartment with a proper job. In practice, this control was absolute and degrading. Security was tight, and the inmates were rigorously searched as they entered the building. The not-for-profits, like the shelters, also broke up heterosexual couples. Many of the homeless studied by Marcus had mental health problems of varying severity. Some were particularly ill, while others were less affected. Marcus says that in some the level of mental illness was so slight, he suspected that it may have been a pretence by the sufferer to get off the streets by feigning illness. Well, you can’t blame them for that. As part of the conditions of residence, these men were forced to take medication to combat their mental problems. They complained that it left them feeling like zombies, and deprived them of their sexual functions, a sense of emasculation, which, naturally, they particularly resented.

Lack of Economic Opportunities for Moving into Paid Work in Homeless Shelters

Coupled with this was the way the system knocked back any homeless person, who tried to get a proper job and move out of the hostel. I’ve already blogged on the experience of one homeless man, who hopefully moved to a Salvation Army home in the expectation that he would be given worthwhile work. He wasn’t, and spent his time there sweeping up, for which he was paid 17c an hour. Other homeless men in not-for-profits elsewhere found themselves unable to get work, that would pay sufficiently well for them to get a proper apartment, or a place on one of the few rent-controlled tenements held by the City. The amount of welfare paid to the homeless, which came down to a take home pay of $100 a month for those in the shelter, and $540 for those on the streets, simply wasn’t enough for them to get an apartment and support themselves. As a result, many of the most ambitious and enterprising homeless men got jobs, which they soon lost and so had to move back into the shelter. The social workers and shelter staff were aware of the problem and did their level best to try to dissuade them from trying to get proper jobs so that they would retain their SSI welfare payments. In the shelter, however, the only jobs these homeless men could do were ‘make work’ jobs, sweeping, cleaning and so on. Some of the homeless thus preferred to get jobs outside, as book keepers or security guards, or working off the books as labourers unpacking trucks for local grocery stores. These were better paid, and in the case of one homeless man, gave him status and power over the ex-con hard men working underneath him. They did not, however, pay well enough for them to get a home of their own. Marcus observes that the system seemed to have been set up in the expectation they would fail.

The Crisis in the Black Family: No Different from White Family

The book goes on to tackle the issue of the Black family, and its role in the lack of Black achievement compared to that of immigrant groups such as Asians and Latin Americans. Marcus notes that the Black family is seen as weaker, and more prone to breakdown, than the family structures of other ethnic groups. This lack of family support is seen as being the cause of the lack of social and economic advance in the Black community. Politicians, religious leaders and activists have compared the fragile Black family with the supposedly more robust structures of that of their immigrant counterparts. Instead of conflict and breakdown, these families have a high degree of mutual support and integration, so that immigrants groups like Koreans and Latinos are able to use the unpaid labour of other family members to set up prosperous businesses. Marcus shows how, as a result, Black American churches, community groups and the Nation of Islam exhort their members to take Maya Angelou’s ‘Black Family Pledge’ and emulate the family structure, solidarity and work ethic of their more prosperous immigrant counterparts.

This view of the dysfunctional character of the Black family is similarly permeated by the ‘cultures of poverty’ debate. The Black family is seen as having a uniquely dysfunctional structure and lack of values, that hinders Black Americans from achieving the same success as their White and immigrant compatriots. Marcus again takes issue with this, and demonstrates that the comparison between Black and immigrant families is false. Like is not being compared with like. Marcus states that the structure of the Black family, while different from that of recent immigrant groups, is actually no different from that of White America. He states

‘It will be my argument that, indeed, African-American families living in poverty are generally less suited to certain types of mutual aid in poverty than are their immigrant counterparts. however, this is not because of a defect in the black family or some failure to live up to American kinship norms. Rather, it is because the cultural templates of the black family, even among the poorest and least integrated into “the mainstream,” are fundamentally similar to those of other American families. Nuclear and neo-local in its norms, the African-American family, like its white counterpart, is built around voluntary companionate marriage; the shared values, identity markers, and consumption patterns of its members, and the right to seek individual accomplishment and emotional self-realization. Typically supported on a foundation of legally regulated wage labor, subsidized mortgages, individual savings, public education, state entitlement programs, and socio-legal protections by police and courts, this family type, which I will refer to as the “consumption family,” appears dysfuncational in the absence of such state provisioning and when compared to certain immigrant kinship structures, which I will refer to as the “accumulation family”.’

The “Accumulation Family” of Immigrants to America

Marcus then goes on to describe the “accumulation family” as ‘built around extended kin networks, intense group sacrifice, delayed or permanently postponed gratification, and large amounts of captive low-wage or unpaid family-based labor, particularly from women, children, new arrivals, and other dependents with less recourse to external labor options and social rights’. Marcus points out that while Black families are more likely to break down or experience real difficulties, this is not because Blacks somehow have a different set of family values from their White compatriots. They don’t. It’s simply because the Black family is generally under more acute social pressure than White families, due to the poor social and economic position of Black Americans.

As for the “accumulation family” of southern European, Latin American and Asian immigrants, this depends very much on the unpaid labour of its weaker members – women, children and new arrivals. As such, members of these ethnic groups may increasingly see it as exploitative and backward as they assimilate the values and social structures of their new home, and go from being people with one feet in America and the other in their country of origin, to more or less acculturated Americans.

Housing Panic and Social Solidarity with Squatters, Homeless and Anarchist Activists

Marcus also investigates the way the housing panic over increasingly rents and the threat of eviction created a strong sense of solidarity between ordinary citizens in New York’s slum districts, and the squatters, homeless and Anarchist activists sharing the neighbourhood. The world-wide economic depression of 1982-3 resulted in New York receiving hundreds of thousands of immigrants from eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, as well as the yuppies graduating from the University. At the same time as the blue collar workers moved out, the white collar financial and IT workers moved in. Rents shot up, to the point where some of the buildings that were worth less than $2,000 in 1977 were worth half a million or more by 1990. Many landlords were, however, prevented from increasing their rents for long-standing tenants through the City’s stringent rent stabilisation laws. Some landlords attempted to circumvent these by putting in unnecessary renovations, as recently renovated premises were immune from the controls under the legislation. Other long-standing tenants, particularly the elderly, found themselves subjected to violence and intimidation, including being thrown down stairs, in order to force them to move out. The result was that slum and low-rent districts, like Hells Kitchen, Loisaida (the Lower East Side), the printing district, West Harlem, and the Bowery became gentrified, and relaunched under the names Clinton, the East Village, Tribeca, Morningside Heights and Noho.

The result of this was that ordinary working and lower middle class New Yorkers suffered increasing alarm at the prospect of being forced out onto the streets. This resulted in popular sympathy for the murderer and cannibal Daniel Rakowitz, who killed his girlfriend, a foreign dancer, after she tried to throw him out after their affair had ended. He was caught serving up her remains as soup to the local homeless. In the East Village, tensions between the municipal authorities and ordinary residents exploded into violence when the police tried to clear the homeless, who had occupied Tompkins Square Park to form a ‘tent city’. Local residents insisted that the violence was cause, not by the homeless, but by anarchists, squatters and youths looking for trouble from outside the area, as well as some local residents. Marcus was told by one waiter at a plush restaurant that ‘this is total war and we need to make the neighbourhood unlivable for yuppies’. In fact, Marcus does point that some of the homeless did fight back, but the fiercest fighting was done by the other groups identified in the riot. He also notes that when some of the yuppies renting properties in the area were questioned, many of them were in fact in the same boat as the rest of the residents, and spending more than half their income on rent.

Marcus believed that the solidarity between the anarchists, squatters, homeless and the area’s ordinary residents occurred because for nearly a decade these groups had created a local counterculture centred on homelessness. In 1990 a group of anarchists, squatters and homeless from Tent City took over the remains of Public School 105, located on Fourth Street between Avenues B and C, and turned it into an alternative community centre. They intended to turn it into permanent, semi-permanent and temporary housing for the homeless, as well as setting up remedial reading, GED-high school equivalency test preparation and plumbing, carpentry and electrical repair classes. It also became the focus for various other anti-gentrification and radical, anti-state groups. A local Communist group, the ‘Class War Tendency’, set up classes in political economy, while a radical priest, who was a housing activist, helped the homeless to set up a soup kitchen in the Community Centre. As a result, the cops moved in in force to retake the Community Centre and clear out its homeless and radical occupants. Marcus notes that the anarchists, squatters and Tent City homeless believed that they were defending everyone’s right to a home, and many people in the neighbourhood concurred.

The radicals lost the battle for Public School 105. In 1991 Mayor David Dinkins cleared them from Tent City in Tompkins Square Park. Four years later, in August 1995, his success, Giuliani, moved in to clear the squatters out from three large tenements on 13th Street between Avenues A and Avenue B. They were successful, and although some residents attacked Giuliani as ‘Mussolini on the Hudson’, this time there was a lot less sympathy for the radicals. There still was a housing problem, and many of the anarchists, squatters and homeless people from the Park remained in the area. However, the housing panic was over, and there was a sense of defeat about being able to beat the forces of authority and create an alternative community.

American Thatcherism, Clinton and the Rise and Fall of Homelessness as an Issue

The final chapter examines the political forces that shaped the housing crisis and ultimately led to it becoming a forgotten issue. Marcus states that while most writers consider that the problems were the result of the ‘Reagan Revolution’, the cuts in state expenditure and particularly welfare that eventually led to the crisis began with the Democrat, Jimmy Carter. It was Carter, who tried to overturn Nixon’s Keynsianism and Great Society/New Deal ideology. He did not, however, have any coherent ideology, and so his attempts to cut expenditure were modest. This was to change with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s PM in 1979. It was Thatcher, who took over and turned into a coherent ideology the Chicago School economic theories, tried to break the unions, privatise public services, cut welfare spending, transfer public sector housing to the private sector, and made ‘liberal use of the military at home and abroad’. He states that in her war against the Labour party, she attacked notions of social democracy, and corporatist or civic belonging. Although she was forced out by the poll tax riots, Thatcherism remained the dominant ideology.

Thatcher’s ideology was taken over and shared over the other side of the Atlantic by Ronald Reagan. Although, unlike Thatcher, Reagan could not produce a coherent ideology, nevertheless the values he espoused were so deeply embedded in American culture that ultimate his reach was deeper, and Reagan’s attack on the unions, the New Deal and the welfare state, such as it was, was far more thorough than Thatcher could achieve.

Nevertheless, Reagan’s reforms were still hotly contested in the decade from 1982 to 1992. This changed with Bill Clinton’s election. Suddenly there was much less coverage of homeless issues in the media, and public concern about homelessness vanished. Homelessness remains, and there is still a homeless crisis with rising rents and a lack of affordable housing. However, although Hilary Clinton briefly touched on the issue during her senatorial campaign against Giuliani, few Democrats or Republicans seemed to wish to return to the issue. Marcus considers that public interest in homelessness disappeared due to the economic boom of the last years of Clinton’s presidency. This revitalised formerly moribund sectors of the American economy, unemployment was at its lowest for several decades and there was a general feeling of optimism. Amidst the boom and growth, there was little appreciation that poverty was still present and needed tackling. Marcus states that despite this optimism and the boost to the financial sector of the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalisation and information technology, the economy will inevitably contract to plunge millions into poverty and misery once more. The book was published in 2006. We only had to wait four more years before this happened.

Homelessness and Poverty Caused by Structure of Society, not Individual Failings

He believed that now, when the good times were still rolling, was the time to tackle poverty, rather than wait till after the next set of riots. He makes the point that although there was much discussion at the time about Reagan’s removal of the safety net and those who were ‘disappearing through its cracks’, no one ever raised the question about why the safety net should be necessary in the first place. The homeless crisis was just part of deteriorating social conditions across America, which saw ordinary citizens having to work harder for much less rewards. He writes

‘A safety net is only as important as the height of a jump and the distance that can be fallen. In a wildly productive society that has achieved exponential increases in productive capacity through technological and work process innovations, the last twenty years have seen housing costs increase dramatically, the average workweek grow by 20 to 30 percent, job security disappear, real wages drop, and the employment market tighten. In addition to all these problems facing all working Americans, the eight years under Clinton saw the United States imprison more people than during any period in the nation’s history. Only contemporary postcommunist Russia, with its dying industrial economy, imprisons as many people per capita.

Despite eight years of America’s greatest economic boom, none of these are signs of social health for the nearly two hundred and fifty million ordinary citizens who comprise the non-Other America. But these developments have been particularly severe for the fifty-plus million Americans at the lower ranges of the wage and skill hierarchy, who remain as poor and miserable as when Michael Harrington wrote his book about them. Though the declining safety net was a problem for most of my informants, it was only one of the aspect of the bigger problem: the rising bar that they were unable to successfully jump.’

Marcus states that the various solutions to America’s homeless problem failed because of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view of the problem: that poverty was created by particular individuals, who lacked the moral values and industrious attitudes of the rest of the population, and who therefore were profoundly Other, and the creators of their own misery. He sees this view of the origins of poverty as similar to Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘there is no society, only people’. He states of this view, that began with Michael Harrington’s The Other America that

‘Harrington and those who came after allowed that social policy was ultimately the institution for fine-tuning problems in the distribution of resources. However, their unrelenting focus on problematic groups rather than the overall social concerns facing a modern citizenry represented, at best, a progressive era model of “the poor” as loss leaders for proactive social policy. In its more common pedestrian form, it represented a positivist particularism that completely failed to view the parts as a product of the whole, blaming the pinky finger for being small, rather than identifying the hand as determining the morphology and function of the pinky or blaming the Black family for being dysfunctional rather than American kinship for producing the Black family. Such functionalist and particularist logic has proven a distraction from discussions of how America is coping with the challenges of overall social life.

When social policy is based on this particularist individuated model for the obligations and entitlements of citizenship it inevitably fails. This is because it assumes exactly what needs to be demonstrated: that the challenges being faced by the individual or group of individuals are the result of individual differences of culture, history, temperament, and the like, and not the result of being an identifiable part of a social organism. Solutions, even generous ones like the McKinney Homeless Act [this was the act that voted a billion dollars to providing shelter for the homeless] that do not consider the nature of the organism that produced a sick part, but only focus on the section deemed pathological, inevitably involve a form of social excision that is at best provisional.’

As a result, rather than identifying the economic and social factors behind the housing crisis, asking what went wrong so that a prosperous city with a surplus of affordable housing suddenly experienced a massive increase in visible homelessness, scholars instead studied the homeless themselves as an ethnic group that somehow created the problem through its cultural difference. The homeless are homeless because society has become increasingly competitive. People are being forced to jump higher and higher simply to survive. And those at the bottom simply do not have the economic, social or psychological resources. He also states that in addition to the growth and optimism experienced during the Clinton boom years, when the party of the New Deal/ Great Society anti-poverty bureaucracy once again occupied the White House, another factor contributing to the massive lack of interest in homelessness is the War on Terror.

‘The optimism and complacency of the Clinton years that hid vast seas of unvocalized misery among overworked, underpaid working-class people in post-Reganite America has given way to the ultimate silencing: the endless war on terror. However, the bar remains high, the speciation of America is firmly embedded, and the extent of planning for a rainy day is massive growth in police forces and prisons throughout the United States. The crisis remains well managed, but the future is not bright.’

Marcus suggests that the poor and homeless are social barometers measuring the problems experienced in society by Americans generally

‘They measure the amount of competition, the level of functioning that is necessary to survive, the displacement of those who must labor to live, and the degree of comfort and security that we can claim for our own lives. If they are drowning from the high price of housing, declining real wages, rising costs for education, declining public health, and the revival of nineteenth century diseases, then the rest of us are probably “up to our necks in it”‘.

American Model Producing Global ‘Race to the Bottom’ for Workers and the Poor

He suggests that instead of using Durkheimian functionalism, scholars should instead adopt a Marxian approach to examine the growth of policies by nations around the world intended to make their economies more competitive by modelling them on that of America. The result is a race to the bottom for wages, standards of living, and the overall quality of life. With its advanced, massively productive economy, America could, however, become a global leader in the opposite direction and reverse this three-decade trend for worse wages and working conditions.

Conclusion: the Lessons for Britain

Although some of the issues Marcus tackles are unique to America, much of the book is immediately relevant over this side of the Atlantic as well. Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives took over Harrington’s ‘cultures of poverty’, and as The Void, Another Angry Voice, Mike over at Vox Political, and many, many other left-wing bloggers have shown, the Coalition’s unemployment policies are based on blaming the poor and jobless for their problems. Hence the pretext for workfare, the various courses the unemployed are placed on, and the sanctions system: they’re simply devices for inculcating the correct values of industriousness in the workforce, just as Victorian paternalists worried about raising the poor out of poverty through getting them to accept the same values. The same attitudes are screamed every day from right-wing rags like the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express, and TV documentaries on the unemployed like Benefits Street.

The British Black Family and Chavs

The chapter on the misinterpretation of the dysfunctional structure of the Black family in America in also relevant here. Black activists in Britain are also worried about the greater incidence of breakdowns amongst Black families on this side of the Atlantic. One explanation for the general poor performance of Black boys at school and their greater involvement in crime and gang culture is that, due to the breakdown of their families, many boys simply don’t see their fathers, and so don’t have positive role models in a caring dad.

This patterns also extends outside the Black community to the White lumpenproletariat, now demonised as ‘chavs’. There’s similarly a pattern of broken homes, poor educational attainment, violence and criminality amongst the boys here. And this is similarly ethnicised as the result of a distinct, ‘chav’ culture, rather than the result of a variety of social and economic pressures permeating society generally. And if we’re talking about cultures of recreational violence, then historically the upper classes have also enthusiastically taken their part. In 18th century France there was a group of aristocratic youths, who described themselves as ‘les Rosbifs’. They consciously modelled themselves on the boorish behaviour of the English country squires, and so swaggered around swearing a lot and sported cudgels, which they used to beat up members of the lower orders. Oh what fun! As sociologists and historians studying the history of such youth cultures have said, there really is no difference between these and the mods and rockers, who used regularly used to beat each other senseless down in Weston during Bank Holidays when I was a teenager. These days it’s all rather more genteel. They simply join the Assassin’s Club at Oxford, and wreck restaurants.

The Benefits Cap Blocking an Escape from Poverty and Homelessness

The description of the problems of the homeless in trying to get out of poverty and into accommodation, and failing due to the cap on their benefits, is also immediately recognisable over this side of the Atlantic. The Tories are capping Housing Benefit here as part of their scheme that people on benefits shouldn’t be wealthier than those in work. The result of this is similarly going to be increased homelessness and further geographical isolation, as people are forced to move away from high-rent areas, especially in London. Not that this’ll bother Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the Bullingdon thugs. As the architecture of the new apartment blocks shows, they really don’t want to have to look at the poor. These have a separate entrances for the rich Chinese at whom they’re aimed, and the rest of us plebs, who may well include working and lower middle class Chinese Brits, who’ve been here for generations but lack the massive spondoolicks of the new, global elite.

Solidarity between Squatters, the Radical Left and Ordinary Citizens in NYC and Bristol

As for the politics of squatting, and the need for anarchists and radical activists tackling this issue, there are also lessons for Britain here as well from the experience of New York in the 1980s and 1990s. Johnny Void over at his blog strongly supports squatting amongst other forms of anarchist activism. He has pointed out on his blog that despite the scare stories run by the press about ordinary people coming back from holiday to find their house or garden shed has been taken over by squatters, this in fact has been relatively rare. Most of the squatting has been the occupation of abandoned buildings. I’ve put up on this blog a video from Youtube of homeless activists in Bristol, including a group of homeless squatters, who’ve taken over a disused building in Stokes Croft. They too were facing eviction, despite the fact that the place has been abandoned for forty years.

The issue of gentrification and the eviction of poorer, particularly Black residents, in favour of far more affluent tenants is a very hot issue here as well. A few years ago there were riots in Stokes Croft against Tescos, which had just opened another branch in that ward. The people there feared that it would force out of business local shops, and so reacted to defend their community businesses from the commercial giant. The New York experience shows that it is possible to get ordinary residents to support squatters, anarchists and other left-wing radical groups simply through a common concern for the same issues – in this case homelessness – and by being good neighbours.

Poverty and Homelessness a Problem for Society Generally Across the Globe Thanks to the ‘American Model’

Like America also, many of the poor in Britain are actually those in work, who have also seen their wages decline in real terms, despite recent lies by the Coalition, and are finding themselves having to work longer hours. The European Round Table of Industrialists, at the heart of EU’s campaign for integration, is behind much of this on this side of the Atlantic. Regardless of our different political cultures, we Europeans, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, from the North Sea to the shores of the Baltic, have to work ourselves to death to compete with the Developing World. And as Greg Palast has shown in his book, Armed Madhouse, the result of this in the Developing World is that they have lowered their wages and raised working hours to truly horrific levels in response. Well, if nothing else, it shows that Marx was right in his view that working people across the globe have to unite to combat the problems of capitalism. ‘It was the bourgeoisie who shot down the Great Wall of China’, he says in the Communist Manifesto. Hence the slogan, ‘Workingmen of all countries, Unite!’ Globalisation had meant the increased exploitation of ordinary people across the world. It’s a global problem that needs to be stopped now. We can start by throwing out three decades of Thatcherism and the culture of Neo-Liberalism.

The Increasingly Authoritarian Character of Democratic Governments Across Europe

January 15, 2014

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve been attending a course at the M Shed here in Bristol intended to better equip we unemployed to find and hold down a job. It’s an interesting mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, and it’s fascinating talking to them about their experiences and hearing their perspectives on the government and the current situation. One of the ladies on the course is Polish, and its interesting talking to hear about her country and the situation over there after the fall of Communism. Alarmingly, it seems that in both Britain and supposedly democratic Poland, the political elites are becoming increasingly suspicious and distrustful of their citizens.

We’ve seen this most recently in Britain in Ian Duncan Smith’s militaristic conduct before the Work and Pensions Committee. Smith appeared before the Committee accompanied by bodyguards and armed policemen, who pointed their weapons at the public gallery, including a party of disabled people and their carers. Quite what Smith feared a group of respectable members of the British public, who had already been checked by security, would do is a mystery. Presumably he now simply thinks that anyone disabled constitutes some form of threat, regardless of their ability or even basic willingness to assault him. This disgusting incident, the Coalition’s attempt to suppress democratic debate by third parties in their Transparency and Lobbying Bill and the threat to the right to peaceful demonstration posed by the latest anti-nuisance legislation, are merely a part of a long process that has been going on since Thatcher.

One of the other people attending the course jokes about wanting a job as an assassin so he can kill David Cameron. When he did so this week, I replied that he might have a problem with that, as I think there’d be a queue. Someone else added that you’d have a problem getting anywhere near him with the security he’s got round him. I told the Polish lady that this was a real issue. I described how Downing Street had originally been open to the public, who were quite able to go up and down the street as they wished. It was now closed off, and there were similar restrictions around the Houses of Parliament.

She replied that it was like that in Poland. One of her relatives had worked at the Ministry of Information during the Communist dictatorship. At the time it was quite open to the public, so that anyone could walk in off the street and talk to an official there. There was someone sat at a desk watching them, but that was all the security there was. Now it’s completely different. To get into the building now, a visitor has to pass through several layers of security. She said it was one ironic that the place was now so heavily guarded under democracy, when it had been free of this during the Communist dictatorship.

Listening to this, it seems to me that there is a common process at work across the globe. The Guardian’s John Kampfner wrote a book a few years ago discussing how the world’s governments, from Blair’s Britain to Singapore, Putin’s Russia and China, were increasingly suppressing democracy. He believed that at the time the world’s governments were doing this, they were also trying to provide for economic growth. This is almost certainly true in the case of the three other nations I’ve mentioned here, but I see absolutely no evidence of George Osborne being interested in making anyone wealthy, except those who are colossally rich already. The governing elites, whether in the nominally democratic West or in the authoritarian states of Putin’s Russia, Singapore or China, increasingly fear and distrust the people, on whose behalf they claim to govern. In Britain some of this increased security was a result of the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign, which in the 1980s saw a bomb attack on hotel venue for the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, and a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. More recently there have been fears of Islamist terrorists following the 7/7 London suicide bombers, and other attempts, like that during the G8 conference in Glasgow, which have mercifully been foiled.

The increased level of security, and the restrictions on the individual’s right of access to parliament, or passage through Downing Street, is far out of proportion to the actual level of threat. When Blair placed further restrictions on how close public demonstrations could come to parliament, the Conservative press strongly criticised him, pointing out that such measures weren’t imposed by previous governments, even during the IRA’s terror campaign. It seems very much to me that there now exists across Europe and the rest of the world, a transnational governing elite that, in the West at least, loudly and ostensibly declares its support for democracy while harbouring a deep suspicion of the masses whose interests they claim to represent, but with whom socially and educationally they have nothing in common.

And that’s every bit as grave a threat to democracy as any group of murderous extremists. The problem is particularly obvious and acute in eastern Europe. After the fall of Communism in the former East Germany, some of its citizens experienced ‘Ostalgie’, a nostalgia for their old, Communist country. Despite the federal government’s attempts to prop up the old, Communist industries, many of the firms simply could not compete in the new, free Germany and went under. The result was a wave of unemployment. Faced with a democracy that seemed unable to provide for them, some turned instead to the Far Right. There have been similar problems elsewhere in eastern Europe, and other countries have also seen the emergence of extreme Nationalist parties. If democratic governments cannot provide their citizens with a better standard of living than they had under the dictatorships, and actively seem more dictatorial and authoritarian in their way, there is a real danger that their citizens will turn to anti-democratic, authoritarian movements, whether of the Right or Left.

That’s one of the dangers in the East, quite apart from the present danger that, across the globe, Neo-Liberal elites, mouthing reassuring slogans about democracy and pluralism, are gradually suppressing democracy where it conflicts with their policies.

Gove on Blackadder and the First World War: Part Two – The British Went to War against German Social Darwinism

January 7, 2014

I’ve already posted a piece supplementing Mike’s excellent pieces over on Vox Political about Michael Gove’s comments in the Daily Mail attacking Blackadder, Oh, What A Lovely War, and ‘Left-wing academics’ for undermining the patriotism, honour and courage of the troops, who served in that conflict. In that piece I pointed out that the bitterness and rejection of patriotism for which Gove reproaches Blackadder was itself a product of the First World War, and that rather than a creation of ‘left-wing academics’, it was based very firmly in the experiences and testimony of the men who fought instead.

There is, however, something far more pernicious Gove’s comments about the First World War than simply the knee-jerk resort to patriotism of a True-Blue Thatcherite Tory. This is Gove’s statement that Britain went to war with Germany because of their ‘Social Darwinism’. This simply is not true. Social Darwinist theories were held by people right across the West from the late 19th century onwards, and certainly not just in Germany. There have been a numbers of studies, which have shown that the belief in the ‘economic survival of the fittest’ underpinned much Liberal economic and social theorising, and was used by wealthy magnates, like the Carnegies in America, to justify their opposition to state intervention, welfare, and health and safety legislation. The chattering classes all across Europe and the West also discussed legislation to limit and sterilise the indigent poor and congenitally disabled, in order to prevent them overrunning society and outbreeding their physical, mental and social superiors. These ideas formed the core of Nazi ideology, but they actually predate them. Modern eugenics, by which the unfit were to be bred out through carefully controlled selective breeding, was founded by Francis Galton in England, Darwin’s cousin. In the 1920s 45 American states passed legislation providing for the sterilisation of the congenitally disabled and particularly the mentally retarded. There was a scandal nearly two and a half decades ago at the precise week of Lady Diana’s death, when it was revealed that Sweden had still continued its campaign of sterilisation right in the 1970s. This legislation also predated the Nazis. The Swedish programme’s definition of who was congenitally unfit included sexually promiscuous girls, and members of the Tartare, Travellers rather like the Gypsies. Unlike the Gypsies, they were not considered to constitute a separate ethnic group, who were exempt from the eugenics legislation, and so they, like non-Traveller Swedes, were taken and sterilised. It was only very recently that the Tartare won recognition as an ethnic group in their own right, and so qualified for compensation for their members’ forcible sterilisation.

The same eugenicist and Social Darwinist attitudes pervaded British society. Ernest Beveridge, before he accepted the recommendations of the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb and Socialist Medical Society on which the Beveridge Report was based, also shared these views. He believed that unemployment and disability benefits should only be given to men, on the condition that they were sterilised as ‘dysgenic’ due to their inability to support themselves. It was also espoused by sections of the British military. H.W. Koch, in his paper ‘Social Darwinism as a Factor in Imperialism’ in the book The Origins of the First World, edited by Koch himself and published by MacMillan in 1972, demonstrated, with numerous quotations, how Social Darwinism formed part of the expansionist ideology of the British military in the First World War. Leading British generals and admirals advocated war with Germany as it was believed that it was through violent conflict that the unfit were weeded out and organisms and nations evolved further. Gove’s comment that Britain went to war with Germany not only ignores this, but actually falsifies the true situation in that Social Darwinism was found on the British as well as the German side.

German historians believe that the First World War was not the fault of their country, but was due to a general move to war across Europe as a whole. This view is generally rejected by historians outside Germany, who believe that the War was caused by Germany’s desire to punish the Slavs for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand the Second by Gavrilo Princip in Serbia. Nevertheless, the web of alliances that the various powers had constructed across Europe in order to prevent war acted to pull all the various nations, their colonial possessions, and extra-European allies into the conflict. Britain had become increasingly alarmed by growing German economic and military power from the late 19th century onwards. There were a series of early science fiction stories and novels, such as the Battle of Dorking, which foresaw a future German invasion of and conquest of Britain. As a result, Britain engaged in an arms race with Germany to the extent that there were already arms limitation treaties signed in 1905 between the two nations.

There were also a number of other factors involved, and I urge those interested to read ‘Sean’s’ comments to Mike’s first article on Gove and his comments about Blackadder. He knows rather more about the war and its causes than I do. He points out that the Italian Prime Minister had a few years before the War prevented it from breaking out, from example. The point here is that Britain certainly did not go to war with Wilhelmine Germany to combat the latter’s Social Darwinism, as it was shared by this country’s own chattering and military classes, but was instead due solely to geo-political questions relating to the balance of power in Europe and freedom and autonomy of Serbia and the other Slavonic nations. To state that it was is to misrepresent the origins of the War, and produce a false, pernicious picture that ignores and covers up the prevalence of Social Darwinist views in Britain and the rest of the world. It presents a nasty, black-and-white image of righteous, enlightened Allies versus proto-Nazi Germans, quite at variance with the reality.

Beyond Gove’s ignorance of the causes and spiritual, social and cultural effects of the First World War, there is the wider issue of his attitude to education and particularly the teaching of history. Gove has specifically targeted ‘left-wing academics’ for being, as he appears to see it, unpatriotic. This has been a common complaint of the Tories ever since the days of Thatcher and before, when the Express and Mail regularly carried stories of the ‘loony left’ indoctrinating vulnerable minds with subversive subjects like Peace Studies, and attacking British identity in the guise of anti-racism. I can remember Maggie sneering at one Tory conference about ‘Fabians’ and ‘anti-racist mathematics’. Now there may have been a minority of leftist radicals like that, but most weren’t, and in any case, most teachers are teachers because they want to stand in front of a chalkboard and teach, not indoctrinate their pupils one way or the other. One of the most precious, fundamental qualities in British academia is the freedom to think, debate and argue without having to bow to the dictates of the state. By attacking teachers and the academics, who hold views on the First World War and its origins at variance to his own, Gove has attacked this principle.

And this is very serious indeed. Academic freedom is under assault across the world. In Russia last year, Putin passed a law partially rehabilitating Stalin. This piece of legislation makes it illegal to denigrate Stalin as the saviour of Russia during the Great Patriotic War, the old Soviet name for World War Two. Now Stalin did indeed save the Soviet Union, but only after he signed a non-aggression pact with Ribbentrop and was totally unprepared for the Nazi invasion to the point where in the first days of the German assault Russian troops were forbidden to fire back. Far worse than that, the old brute was responsible for the deaths of 30 million Soviet citizens during the Purge. This may be an underestimate, as the true figure is unknown. It could be as high as for 45 million or more. A few years ago the BBC screened a programme on modern Russia, in which the presenter travelled to one of Stalin’s gulags. The place was dilapidated and decaying, but there were still the remains of the barracks, guardhouses and other buildings. Most chillingly, however, there were lying scattered on the ground the bare bones of the inmates, who had been starved, tortured and finally worked to death in that terrible place.

Historians and archaeologists are extremely wary about allowing nationalist bias into their work. Every nation has, of course, its own view of history, including its own. The ideal, however, is to produce an objective account free of nationalist bias. It was one of the first things I can remember being taught in history as an undergraduate. And one of the most compelling reasons for avoiding it was the way history was used and distorted by the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, like Stalin’s Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, to justify their brutal, murderous tyrannies. It has also been used to justify the invasion, colonisation and expropriation of the subject nations of the European empires around the world and the racist policies that legitimised the rule of their White masters. Hence the emergence of Historical Archaeology. The name is somewhat misleading, as it does not deal with the archaeology of the broader period for which historical records survive, such as from the ancient world onwards, but rather more narrowly of the period c.1500 to the present day. It’s called Historical Archaeology as it was founded by American researchers, for whom the written history of their country really only dates from the fifteenth century. As a discipline, Historical Archaeology tries to recover the voices and experiences of the subordinate social groups oppressed and subjected by the forces of colonialism and capitalism, who are rarely heard in the written historical accounts – the indigenous peoples, slaves, immigrants and other ethnic minorities, the working class masses and women. It’s an attempt to challenge the official histories produced by the colonial elites, which largely ignored and excluded these groups.

Gove wishes to ignore all this, to turn the clock back to what the historian Butterfield called ‘the Whig interpretation of history’, in which British history is one long process of gradual improvement, culminating in democracy and the British Empire. Gove is probably keen on the latter, but I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that the current administration pays anything but lip service to the notion of democracy. History is richer, and far more complicated than this, with frequent shameful episodes and periods when genuine oppression and brutality were all too common, and where it was never clear that the forces of humanity and justice would win. You can look, for example, at the period of vicious political repression that occurred in Britain after the Napoleonic Wars, when the government tried to crack down on anything resembling subversion against aristocratic rule. It was a period characterised by the notorious Peterloo Massacre, when the British army and a squadron of Hussars charged a peaceful demonstration gathered to hear the radical politician, ‘Orator’ Hunt. Or the slave trade and the long campaign against it, which succeeded in outlawing it in the British Empire only in 1840. Real history gives the lie to the Whig Interpretation, and casts very grave doubts over the supposed justice of British imperialism. Gove, however, would prefer that the last fifty years and more of historical scholarship, in which the Victorian view of the correctness and justice of Britain, her society, and her imperial rule, was swept away, to be replaced with a cosily reassuring Conservative version justifying the traditional British class structure, capitalism and its militaristic expansion and invasion of the wider world. He wants to return to a history guided by the old adage, ‘My country, right or wrong’.

The best comment I’ve heard on that old saying was by the fictional space detective Nathan Spring in an episode of the BBC SF series, Star Cops, back in the 1980s. In a conversation with the very shifty, patriotic commander of an American space station, the conversation moves on to patriotism and conservatism.
‘My country, right or wrong, eh?’ remarks Spring.
‘There are worse philosophies’, replies the commander.
‘Yes,’ retorts Spring. ‘Most of them begin with that one.’

Gove’s attack on teachers and ‘left-wing academics’ is also part of a general, anti-intellectual trend in Conservative politics that’s been around since Reagan and Thatcher. Back in the 1980s, the great American comedian, Bill Hicks in one of his routines used to remark, ‘Do I detect a little anti-intellectualism here. Must date from the time Reagan was elected.’ This attempts to appeal to populist sentiment by presenting a left-wing view of history as a distortion forced upon vulnerable young minds in schools, colleges and universities by subversive left-wing teachers and college and university lecturers. It attempts to present the existing order as so obviously correct, that only out-of-touch, elite liberals, who themselves sneer and patronise the working class, wish to question and challenge.

Now, you can certainly find ‘loony-left’ teachers and lecturers of whom this is true. Most teachers and lecturers, in my experience, actually don’t want to indoctrinate young minds with dangerous and subversive doctrines so much as stand in front of a class and teach. Yes, they have their biases, but the goal is to teach an objective history as supported by the facts, although how history is interpreted naturally depends very much on the individual historian and how they see the past. Gove wishes to jettison all this, and replace academic freedom, in which the accepted view of events can be freely examined and questioned, with a Conservative, patriotic view dictated by the state. It’s an attack on the very core of academic freedom. Its the mark of an insecure political elite, who fear any questioning of their authority and their view of history. And if left unchallenged, will end with Britain becoming like Russia and so many other nations around the world, where children are taught only the official history, and the nation’s shameful actions and periods are ignored. In many of these nations, those that challenge the official view of history can be subject to intimidation and imprisonment. The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, for example, has been imprisoned for insulting Turkish nationhood, because he said the country ought to admit to its culpability for the Armenian massacres. Gove’s view of history and his attack on academic freedom threaten to bring Britain close to that state.

Unfortunately, the Tories do have form for trying to use the law to purge the educational system of those, whose political views they do not share. A friend of mine, who was very much involved with his student union at Uni, informed me that in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher passed legislation intended to bar Marxists from holding posts at university. In the end, the law proved an unworkable dead letter, at the Marxists at whom it was aimed simply declared themselves to be ‘Marxian’, instead. They weren’t Marxists, but had a culture based on Marx. Hence they were exempt from such legislation. It was a very fine legal point, and some would say that it was a difference without distinction. Nevertheless, it did what it was intended to do and they kept their jobs.

Now I am aware of the reasons why Thatcher attempted to stop Marxists teaching at university, and the arguments that have been used to support it. Communist regimes around the world, from the Soviet bloc to China, have murdered millions. The argument therefore runs that if the extreme, racist right cannot be tolerated in academia because of their guilt for the murder of millions, and the murderously illiberal and intolerant nature of their doctrines, then neither should the extreme Left, who are equally guilty of such crimes. Nevertheless, there is a danger that when states start introducing legislation to regulate, who teaches in their schools and universities, based on their personal religious or political beliefs, then a step is taken towards further state control of what their citizens are allowed to think and believe, and freedom suffers. There is, rightly, legislation in place to prevent teachers and university lecturers indoctrinating their students with their personal religious or personal beliefs. Nevertheless, schools and universities are also places where students are encouraged to think for themselves, to explore different views and perspectives on particular issues, and make their own decisions. And given the immense contribution certain elements of Marxism have made to various academic disciplines, regardless of the merits or otherwise of Marxism itself as a political creed, it is only right and natural that Marxists should be allowed to teach and publish at universities, provided they too abide by the rules of open debate.

Baroness Thatcher attempted to use the law to close this down.

And Gove with this rant about Blackadder and ‘left-wing academics’ has attempted to go some way towards following her. If you value academic freedom, and right of everyone in academia to be able to teach and research, regardless of their political views, so long as they can support their views with fact and logical argument, then Gove’s latest rant, and his desire to indoctrinate young minds with his narrow view of history, must be resisted to the utmost.

Sources

Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald, Exploding the Gene Myth: How Genetic Information is Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians, Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators and Law Enforcers (Boston: Beacon Press 1997)

Philip Rahtz, Invitation to Archaeology: 2nd Edition (Oxford: Blackwell 1991)

D.G. Williamson, The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982)

Was Wissen Sie von England, Die Nur England Kennen?

November 21, 2013

This is my schoolboy German for ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’

One of the major problems facing this country is the British refusal and apparently inability to learn other people’s languages. Having a second language can be immensely personally enriching, as it gives you a greater access to nations and cultures beyond your own. British visitors to the Continent, for example, can be pleasantly surprised and delighted by the way their stumbling attempts to speak the language of the country they’re visiting is appreciated by its people. Even if what you’re trying to say is halting and stumbling, the people you’re saying it to generally appreciate you’re making the effort, rather than arrogantly assuming that everyone speaks English. There have also been concerns for a long time that British industry is being held back by our collective reluctance to learn other tongues. Industrialists have long pointed out that if we want to sell our products to other nations, we have to persuade them to buy British in their own languages. And unfortunately, too few of us are studying another tongue.

This problem was being earnestly debated on breakfast television Tuesday or Wednesday morning. The Beeb were talking about the personal and professional advantages of speaking foreign tongues. One of their guests in this matter was a gentleman, one of those veritable ‘Briareus of tongues’, who could speak very many of them. In this case, the man could speak about eleven fluently. This is rather less than the eighteenth century Italian cardinal, who had mastered fifty, and who was therefore given the above nickname. Unfortunately, despite such multi-lingual experts as the Beeb’s guest a day or so ago, few people are following their example.

And it does shows, especially in some of the ideologues of the Right, who argue we should be following the employment practices of other nations, like the authors of Britannia Unchained. This bunch denounced British workers as lazy, and urged that the nation’s workforce copy those of the powerhouses of the developing world like China and India in working 19th century hours for miserable pay in the kind of conditions described and denounced by Charles Dickens and the other 19th century reformers. They are also doing the workers of the Developing World no service with their book either. Just as Britain and the rest of the Developed World has increased hours, so the working hours in India, China and the other developing nations have been massively extended. It’s a vicious circle, which seems to profit no-one except the multinational business elite now exploiting workers across the globe.

Of course, the author’s of Britannia Unchained seem unaware of this. If they are aware, they certainly don’t want you to be. And they also appear to be stunningly ignorant of business cultures much nearer home, like Germany.

In recent years the Germans have been doing their level best to challenge their image around the world. There has been a flow of steady articles and pieces in the German and foreign press challenging their image as the staunch incarnation of the Prussian virtues of hard-work and efficiency that created the Wirtschaftwunder. Rather than the dour, humourless drones slaving away all hours in the name of ruthless efficiency, the Germans are keen to point out that they do, in fact, enjoy a good joke. A few years ago there were adverts for Berlin, which boasted that it was the place where the art of living was practiced 24 hours a day, complete with a photo of a German rock star strumming out a mighty power chord on his electric guitar. The new Germany, the adverts said, stands for fun.

The punishing labour regimes of the Nazi and Communist dictatorships are similarly an image from the past that the Germans are increasingly challenging. Rather than spending their entire time grafting away at the workplace, German writers and commenters have pointed out that Germany has one of the shortest working weeks, and gives its workers longer holidays than many other countries. I can remember reading a piece by one German journalist in one of the British newspapers, which said that nothing contradicted the image of the hard-working German that the typical modern office in the Bundesrepublik. There, the staff quietly worked in comfort, with the coffee machine bubbling away to itself in a corner. And in such a relaxed, comfortable employment environment, it’s almost inevitable that someone would be going on about how lazy they all were. A few years ago, one of the German magazines ran a feature entitled ‘The German National Hobby: Krankfeiern‘, which I assume means ‘throwing a sickie’. The piece was accompanied by a photo showing an office worker crouched on a desk, surrounded by water, presumably to indicate the way German industry was being drowned by a flood of lazy workers, all skiving off work.

To Anglo-Saxon audiences, the idea that the Germans are all fun-loving with a relaxed attitude to work is almost comically bizarre. It runs directly counter to everything we know, or think we know, about the German character. After all, northern European nations are expected to be sober and hard-working, while it’s the Mediterranean south that’s all about fun and relaxation. It’s like the comment Badvoc made about the difference the Romans and ancient British in the 1980s Channel 4 comedy, Chelmsford 123: ‘We’re not like these hardworking Romans with their roads and efficiency. We have a more relaxed attitude to life. We say ‘manana!’ Yet, believe it or not, this was the German national image before the Prussian kings – one of whom had such a foul temper he was called ‘Die Bose Wetter von Hohenzollern’ took over the country. I was taught at school that in the 17th century the Germans were considered to be the most easy-going people in Europe. That was shattered by the rise of Prussia, the Napoleonic, Franco-Prussian Wars, and World Wars I and II. This has passed, on the Germans are going back to their national image in the 17th century, despite the horrors of the Gradgrinds of German industry.

So how does this new generation of relaxed funsters regard us across the North Sea? Well, as far as the work ethic is concerned, the attitude is now very much reversed, or so it seems. A few years ago a group of German financial workers and banking whizzkids from ‘Manhattan am Main’ were sent off to work in the company’s London branch. They were reported as making jokes about how, in England nothing worked properly. This seems to be pretty much a constant since Britain’s disastrous industrial performance in the 1970s. Unlike the 1970s, when we were the strike-ridden ‘sick man of Europe’, other jokes were about how hard we worked. We had, at least in the opinion of these employees, swapped places with their country as the nation, whose workers slave away driving themselves into the ground at work. Only without the efficiency and product quality.

All this appears to have been excluded from Britannia Unchained. After all, it would undermine their case if they compared us to the Germans, who now know how to combine a strong economy with a reputation for quality products and have a good time. After all, you can’t tell a country of miserable wage-slaves that they’re all skivers and malingers compared to their fun-loving EU counterparts across the Nordsee, regularly clocking with ruthless efficiency at a reasonable hour every day.

Way back in the 1980s Channel 4 briefly held won the rights to broadcast the cricket from the BBC, before they, in turn, were trumped by Murdoch and Sky. Their trailer for the test match season against the West Indies was, in its own small way, a work of art. It opened with pictures of sun-drenched beaches and tropic rainforests, while a female Caribbean face lilted the Kiplingesque lines ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Hence the title of my piece. One of their innovations, I believe, was a female commentator, who had a West Indian accent. They take cricket extremely seriously over that side of the Atlantic. The University of the West Indies in Kingston has a department of Cricket Studies. One of the course’s professors appeared on TV over here a little while ago talking about how the West Indies team’s sporting excellence had boosted the region’s self-image and pride. And the quote used by the advert is still a very, very good question. Kipling himself held some extremely Right-wing views. In the 1920s he formed a group to fight the General Strike. This collapsed when their treasurer ran off with their funds. He wrote the poem with the lines ‘What should they know of England, who only England know?’ in response to riots in the north of England against working conditions there. Nevertheless, the question is a good one, and can be asked of the Right as well as the Left. ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Going by the authors of Britannia Unchained, very little.

A New System of an Old Slavery: George Osborne’s Workfare and 19th Century Negro ‘Apprenticeship’

November 9, 2013

Slave Pic

Illustration of slave in the mask and shackles used by Europeans to imprison them.

Earlier this week I reblogged a piece from The Void, reporting @refuted’s uncovering of George Osborne’s proposals to expand workfare. Under this new scheme, compulsory workfare, directed by the Jobcentre, would include those in part-time work and the disabled. Those already doing voluntary work would also be forced to go on workfare, and work elsewhere, if their supervisors decided that their current unpaid employment was not appropriate. This is all alarming enough, but what is particularly abhorrent is the plan force even those, who receive no benefits at all, into workfare.

I’ve blogged before about the similarity between workfare and slavery. At the moment although workfare is degrading and exploitative, it is not yet actual, literal slavery. Osborne’s proposal to make those without benefits do it tips it over into the real thing.

Cameron Pic

Osborne Pic

Ian Duncan Smith pic

Esther McVey picture

From Top: David Cameron, George Osborne, Ian Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. Their workfare schemes mark the reintroduction of slavery to Britain after 173 years.

Slavery comes in a variety of different forms, some less malign than others. Most people know about Western chattel slavery, but there are other forms, such as serfdom, and various types of bonded, indentured or customary labour. The villeins of medieval Europe were serfs, who were tied to their land. In return for their holdings, they were expected to perform a certain numbers of days’ labour on their masters demein. When so working, they were supervised by the beadle, the lord’s steward, who held a cudgel or whip as a symbol of his authority and his right to beat them. They could not marry without asking the permission of their lord, and were required to pay a fee – the merchet – when they did. As the law considered them subhuman, the legal terminology for their families did not dignify them with the human term. Instead they were called ‘sequelae’ – ‘broods’. When they died, the lord of the manor took their ‘best beast’ – their best cow. These were the conditions that led to the Peasants’ Revolt in England in the 14th century, and similar peasant rebellions in the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. Serfdom in England eventually withered away as customary work was commuted into cash payments. Despite this, the last English serf died in the mid-seventeenth century.

Serfdom Pic

Serfdom continued to survive in the rest of Europe into the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was finally abolished in France during the French Revolution. It survived in parts of Germany until the 1820s, and in Russia until 1865, when they were liberated by Tsar Alexander II.

Bonded Labour in Scots Mining

Although serfdom and slavery did not exist in English law, other forms of servitude certainly did exist in Britain in eighteenth and nineteenth century. The coal miners in Scotland were bonded labourers, not quite slaves, but still considered the property of the mine owners. Needless to say, the British and particularly the Scots aristocracy and business elite viewed with alarm the solidarity these White slaves showed towards their Black counterparts in the West Indies and elsewhere. There was also little racism amongst White miners towards their Black colleagues, as they were all, regardless of their colour, exploited slaves working in dangerous and horrific conditions.

Global Slavery in Late 20th and 21st Centuries

Horrifically, slavery has survived into the 21st century. The book Disposable People, published in the 1990s, describes the various forms of slavery that existed in the closing decade of the 20th century, and which still blights humanity today. Traditional, chattel slavery exists in Mauretania. Bonded labour is used Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the labourers are low-cast Muslims – the Sheiks – and Christians in the brick industry. Then there is the horrific conditions for the workers and women forced into prostitution in the industrial towns and logging camps in south-east Asia, such as Thailand. It also exists in Brazil, where recent documentaries have shown government organisations and police units raiding and freeing slaves held captive in compounds. In this country, several farmers have been prosecuted for enslaving illegal immigrants to the UK, holding them virtual prisoners in horrific conditions and paying them 20p per week. Migrant workers from Pakistan, India, the Phillipines and Africa are also treated as slaves in the Gulf Arab states. The law in these countries states that foreigners entering the country must have a personal sponsor responsible for them. When these labourers enter the Gulf Arab states to work, their employers immediately seize their passports. They are then housed in appalling workers’ barracks, and forced to work extremely long hours in the blazing heat with little protection or medical care. Many of the personal staff rich Arabs take to serve them when they go to live in the West are also treated as slaves. Again, their employers take their passports and other documents, and force them to work extremely long hours, and are beaten as a punishment for any kind of unsatisfactory behaviour. One of the case histories in the book is of a maid for an Arab woman in London, who was forced to stand at the door, waiting for her mistress’ return when she went out, no matter how long the mistress was absent. On her return, the maid was expected to massage her hands, and struck and abused if this was not done properly.

Enslavement of African Children by Foster Parents

Slavery also exists through the custom of some African peoples of sending their children to be fostered by wealthier relatives. The motive for this is clearly the expectation that the child will have better opportunities through living and growing up in the household of a family member, who is wealthier and better educated. Unfortunately, the opposite is frequently true. African children, who have been sent to stay with their richer relations in Africa and in Europe, have found themselves enslaved and abused by the very people their parents trusted to look after them. The Victoria Climbie case, in which a young African girl sent to live with a relative in London was eventually abused and killed by the woman and her partner was national news, shocking and disgusting the British public. Unfortunately, it is one instance of a wider pattern of abuse amongst some African immigrants.

The book estimated that there were about 20 million slaves around the world. My guess is that this number has massively expanded in the past two decades. The Independent newspaper a week or so ago stated that there were 25 million prostitutes, who were practically enslaved by ruthless recruiters and pimps, across Europe today. Furthermore, while the elites in the Developing World have become, like their counterparts in the West, massively rich, the poor has become much poorer. They are now working longer hours, for less pay, and in worse conditions. In countries like China industry also uses cheap labour from prisoners and the political inmates in forced labour camps. There are 60 million people kept in these political gulags across China. Disposable People stated that there are difficulties estimating the true number of slaves across the world, and freeing them because slavery is frequently disguised under a number of covers, such as long term labour contracts.

Similarity Between Workfare and 19th Century ‘Negro Apprenticeship’

George Osborne’s proposals for the expansion of workfare is, I believe, similarly disguised system of slavery. Especially, and blatantly when the proposed scheme does not allow those placed on it to be given welfare benefit.

I’ve also blogged before now on the close similarity between Cameron, Osborne and IDS’ workfare, and similar schemes used in Nazi Germany to solve unemployment and provide cheap labour for industry. It is also extremely similar to ‘Negro Apprenticeship’, a form of servitude that effectively extended the enslavement of Blacks in some of the British colonies beyond the formal abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1837.

The authorities in Britain and some of the larger Caribbean colonies, which were sparsely populated with abundant uncultivated land, such as Jamaica, feared that the liberation of their slave populations would result in economic and social collapsed. They believed that unless suitable steps were taken, the former slaves would abandon their former masters’ estates and withdraw to occupy the unused land. It was believed that the slaves were idle. The land in Jamaica was extremely fertile, so it would be possible for a man to support himself and his family by only working three days a week. They were therefore afraid that the freed slaves would simply return to subsistence agriculture, which would support only themselves and their families. The commercial economy of these colonies, based on the export of sugar, would therefore collapse, and a prosperous, civilised nation would fall into poverty and barbarism. The authorities attempted to prevent this by instituting a period of ‘apprenticeship’ following the formal abolition of slavery in 1837. Under its provisions, the former slaves would continue to work on their masters’ plantations over a period of four to seven years. During this period the amount of time they spent working for their masters would be gradually reduced, until they were finally free, independent men and women. In practice, however, this staggering did not occur, and they continued effectively work as slaves until 1840.

The Apprenticeship system was greeted with outrage by the slaves themselves, and White and free Coloured abolitionists in the Caribbean and Europe. The government was particularly alarmed when placards denouncing Negro Apprenticeship were put up on the walls in Birmingham. Public pressure forced the government to act, and Negro Apprenticeship was eventually ended.

There are several points of similarity between 19th century post-slavery Negro Apprenticeship, and Osborne’s workfare.

1. Both systems assume that those subject to them are idle and socially irresponsible. The point of such schemes is ostensibly to prepare those on them – former slaves in the 19th century, unemployed workers in the 21st, to become independent, self-reliant, responsible members of society.

2. In both systems, the worker’s personal freedom is removed, and they are expected to work for others for no or little pay. The fact that at the moment, most people on workfare receive some kind of benefit does not necessarily disqualify it as a system of slavery. As the plantation system became firmly established in the Caribbean in the 18th century, so skilled slave artisans were frequently hired out by their masters to work for others in return for wages. Moreover, medieval serfs and slaves in the British Caribbean possessed their own plots of land, on which they could work for themselves. Medieval law termed this land, which the serf cultivated for himself, his peculium. This is paralleled in 21st century by those in voluntary or part-time work elsewhere, whom Osborne now wishes to force into workfare. You could also make out a case for the agencies, like Ingeneus, that administer the workfare schemes, as forming the 21st century equivalent of those slave masters, who hired out their skilled slaves.

3. Both systems are based on providing cheap labour to support the countries’ national economy and big business. In the 19th century this consisted of forcing the former slaves to work for their plantation masters. In early 21st century Britain this means sending the unemployed to stack shelves in Sainsbury’s, or any of the other major firms that sign up to his scheme.

Finally, there is a further parallel between 19th century slavery and the Tories’ campaign to drive down working conditions and raise working hours. Both were partly based on the argument that this must be done in order to maintain the British industrial competitiveness. One of the arguments used by the opponents of abolition in the 19th century was that the abolition of slavery would make British sugar too expensive to compete globally with foreign, slave produced sugar. Similarly, the authors of Britannia Unchained declared that British workers were too lazy and pampered to compete with countries like India and China, where labour is cheaper and works much longer hours.

Priti Patel

Priti Patel, Britannia Unchained, Workfare and the ‘Coolie Trade

If one wished to bring race into this, one could argue that Priti Patel, one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, is an ‘Uncle Tom’. Patel is Asian, and her arrival and rise in the Conservative Party was greeted by the Daily Mail as showing that the Conservative Party were embracing the Black and Asian community. On their part, the British Blacks and Asians were also putting aside their racial resentments, to play a role in wider British society. It was hinted that the policy of racial resentment was exclusively the province of the Left, which was simply interested in picking over past grievances for its own, purely sectional gain.

I’ve described Osborne’s expanded workfare scheme as ‘a new system of slavery’ in this post’s title. This was quite deliberate. From 1817 onwards the British government attempted to find labourers elsewhere to replace the Black plantation slaves. Black slaves resented their enslavement, and were perceived as recalcitrant workers. They were also inclined to rebel. Hence the title of one of Dr. Richard Hill’s books, The Blacks Who Defeated Slavery, if I remember the title correctly. After Abolition, they attempted to find other peoples, who would supply cheap labour to the plantations in place of the former slaves. The result was the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured immigrants to the Caribbean from China, and what is now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. These were in theory free. In return for their years’ of work on the plantations, they would receive wages and a grant of land. In practice they were ruthlessly exploited, working extremely long hours in poor conditions. The death rate could be extremely high, and contact with their families and loved ones in their homelands was frequently non-existent. Wives and children of indentured labourers often could not hear from their husbands and fathers for 20 years or so. Many were the victims of kidnappers, and forced into slavery across the kala pani – the Black Waters surrounding India. Leading British politicians denounced the Coolie Trade as ‘a new system of slavery’, which forms the title of the history of the trade by Hugh Tinker. I urge anyone with an interest in this black chapter of British imperial history to read it. I am certainly not suggesting that Patel and her colleagues are advocating replacing British workers with those from China, the Indian sub-continent, or elsewhere in the Developing World. What I am saying is that Patel and the other authors of Britannia Unchained wish to import the systems of exploitation in these countries to British workers. And that includes Asian and Black Brits, whose parents and grandparents came to this country in the hope of finding work that was better paid and in better conditions, than those in their countries of origin. Patel is destroying the aspirations of her parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and in that sense surely well deserves to be called an Uncle Tom.

The parallels between 19th century slavery and Osborne’s plans for workfare are now so close, that I believe it may be worthwhile contacting human rights organisations like Anti-Slavery International about them, and campaigning against them as literal slavery. Anti-Slavery International is a charity dedicated to combatting slavery throughout the world. In 1995 the exhibition ‘A Respectable Trade’ held by City Museum and Art Gallery in Bristol on the city’s past as a major slave port included pamphlets by Anti-Slavery International, and donation and membership forms for those wishing to continue the fight of great liberators like Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce. Amongst their pamphlets on slavery were those on exploitative working conditions in the UK, including child labour. Osborne’s workfare should surely be of concern to anyone opposed to seeing slavery revived in any form whatsoever.

1842 Punch

‘Capital and Labour’: a bitter cartoon from Punch from 1842, showing the luxury enjoyed by the rich contrasted with the poverty and squalor endured by the labouring poor which support them. This is kind of system Cameron and co. wish to restore.

Say No to Slavery Pic
Sources

I’ve mentioned a number of excellent books on slavery and the ‘Coolie Trade’ in this post. Other excellent books include Hugh Thomas’ Slavery, Dr Richard Hill’s Blacks in Bondage and Blacks in Freedom, written by a former member of the Jamaican independence movement, and Bill Yenne’s illustrated book, Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. This last contains some truly horrific photographs from the 19th century of slaves, who were abused and mutilated

Shock! Horror! Cadaverous Author of Macabre Novels Calls Slumlords What They Are! Channel 4 Newsreaders Amazed!

October 5, 2013

It’s been an interesting week for the Coalition and their supporters receiving a drubbing by journalists. Mike, over at Vox Political, has put up a good piece about the way Mehdi Hassan demolished Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail on Question Time. Hassan had rebutted Letts’ arguments by asking who the person, who really hated Britain was: Miliband senior, a Jewish immigrant, who fought for his country, or the Daily Mail. This is the newspaper, he reminded us, that insinuated that Stephen Gately’s death was somehow due to his homosexuality, attacked Danny Boyle for including a mixed race couple in the Olympic Games opening spectacle, called Olympic champion Mo Farah a ‘plastic Brit’, despises immigrants and Muslims, and seeks to undermine the NHS.

Last night, Have I Got News For You also laid into the Daily Heil. They covered the Mail’s slander of Ralph Milliband. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye naturally showed the Mail’s hypocrisy by pointing out its pro-Nazi past, complete with its headlines screaming ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ and opinion piece praising Nazi Germany and dismissing the allegations of Nazi atrocities. Hislop also pointed out that Paul Dacre, the Mail’s editor, also showed a signal lack of patriotism, as he did not pay any tax to his country, avoiding it through a complex network of offshore companies based in the Bahamas. He also said that it was a bit rich for Dacre to accuse others of totalitarian sympathies, considering that Dacre’s own staff call him ‘Mugabe’ because he’s ancient, won’t retire and despises the opposition.

The day before this, on Thursday, Channel 4 covered the brilliant state of the housing market under the Coalition in an investigatory feature entitled ‘Generation Rent’. It showed that the present, younger generation have little chance of getting on the housing ladder due to the lack of properties being built. This was due to the recession. Mortgages on the properties that were available were exorbitantly high, so that most young people simply cannot afford them. They were thus forced to rent. This also was difficult and expensive, due to a lack of affordable properties. Many of the homes and flats were aimed at the affluent, not ordinary peeps wanting a roof over their head. The programme talked to a number of landlords, as well as tenants forced to rent due to property prices. Among the landlords interviewed was one, who bought properties simply to rent out to other landlords.

The programme’s guest commentator for this section of the programme was Will Self, the cadaverous novelist, whose grisly works include Great Apes and How The Dead Live, as well as other tales of mayhem, mutilation, perversion and horror. Self’s own private life has supplied much newspaper copy in its time. He was for years a drug addict, whose finals in philosophy while a student at Oxford were interrupted by his arrest for the chemicals. One newspaper also printed a long, spurious story in which it was alleged that the master of the modern macabre had found the company of John Major so insufferably dull while sat next to him on a plane trip, that he resorted to heroin to liven the journey up. Self’s clean of drugs now, and like that other master of the extreme and transgressive, his friend, J.G. Ballard, Self lives in bourgeois domesticity with his wife and child.

He’s probably not the best person to provide a sympathetic view of the housing market and industry. A year or so back the roof of Self’s own house collapsed, and he duly appeared on the News talking about the incident. When Snow asked him what he thought about the issue, Self described the landlord, who rents to other landlords as a ‘rackman’. Snow blanched at this. No doubt with the spectre of Outraged of Tunbridge Wells writing in to denounce yet more Channel 4 left-wing bias, he said that Self could say it, but they couldn’t. Self’s reply was short, ‘I don’t know – I don’t think it’s actionable.’

But Self’s description is accurate. It precisely describes the situation many young people now face, in which they cannot afford to buy, and the rents on those properties they can afford are raised so that they eat up a progressively larger proportion of their income.

What also was not remarked on the programme was that this situation had created a further potential for racial/ nationalist friction. One of the developers interviewed was Francis Liu, a Chinese businessman, who specialises in the construction of one-room apartments. These combine bathroom, living room and bedroom in the same space in a kind of even smaller bedsit. They look horrendous, like Bruce Willis’ cramped home in the Fifth Element, but without Moebius’ and Besson’s visual flair and style. Channel 4’s reporters interviewed some British people, who were forced to live in them now, because that’s all they could afford. Liu’s apartments weren’t particularly cheap at £70 a week. They were also aimed at foreign investors from the Far East. This looks to me like a recipe for danger.

Globalisation and Neo-Liberal economics has succeeded in creating a trans-national elite that have more in common with each other, than with the citizens of their countries of origin. Hence all over the world there’s a growing indifference to the plight of the poor by the super-rich. Mass immigration, as populations from the Developing World move to the developed West and North in search of jobs and better opportunities, is already a major political issue. It has led to the rise of far-Right movements across Europe, like the Golden Dawn in Greece, and increasingly harsh anti-immigrant measures in Italy and elsewhere. It is also not only Western culture that has racist elements. There is also racism in Chinese culture. I can remember finding in Waterstone’s in Bath nearly two decades ago a large, hardback academic book on Chinese Racism. One of the Chinese students I knew at university told me a few years ago that he was horrified at the level of anti-Western prejudice and hatred in his country. Some of this hatred is due to the immense feeling of humiliation felt by the Chinese at their defeat in the Opium Wars, and the division and virtual colonisation of their great nation by the European powers.

The racist and nationalist Right in Britain and the rest of the world is motivated by resentment at the way foreigners are, or are perceived to be, given preferential treatment to the indigenous, host population. The Daily Mail and other right-wing tabloids have frequently attacked the government’s immigration service for accommodating asylum-seekers in luxury housing. With Liu and developers like him building properties mainly or exclusively for rich foreigners from the Far East, then it’s easy to see how this might enrage the existing, poorer local population, excluded from this luxury market. Liu was building his properties in Leeds, which I think may also have suffered from the effects of poverty and unemployment resulting from Thatcher’s decimation of British industry. The local population likely to be priced out of properties like Liu’s is not only White, but also Black and Asian, including families of Chinese descent, who’ve been British since coming here in the 19th century. Years ago I read a book on Japan by a Times journalist. He noted the resentment and controversy that had erupted in Australia when Japanese developers began building luxury beach complexes, which were to be owned solely by the Japanese. The construction of luxury rented properties, aimed at the Far Eastern rich, threatens to create similar tension and conflict over here.

Regardless of their ethnic origins, the landlords taking advantage of the current housing market to raise rents to ludicrous levels are Rackmans, has Self described them. It’s another example of how the Coalition’s policies are increasing the gap between rich and poor in the name of liberalisation.

From Kittysjones’ blog: Amnesty International has Condemned the Erosion of Human Rights of Disabled People in the UK

August 3, 2013

Kittysjones has another, very interesting piece reporting Amnesty International’s attack on the government’s assault on disabled people’s human rights. It begins

Dr Simon Duffy recently wrote an outstanding briefing: How the cuts target disabled people which shows very clearly how the poorest and most vulnerable are paying for an economic problem that they did not cause.

Austerity has never had any moral legitimacy, or indeed any other kind of validity. Osborne’s careful selection of “leading economists” to endorse his damaging austerity program meant that he carefully excluded those who presented valid criticisms of the centrepiece of Osborne’s strategy: accelerated austerity for purely ideological ends, (see also Minarchism: the Nightwatchman State), and it halted the recovery that happened under the previous Labour Government. Much of the case for austerity also rests on The great debt lie and the myth of the structural deficit.

The widespread and relentless use of Tory propaganda in the media has undermined public support and sympathy for the sick and disabled people of the UK. Examples of such propaganda include the ad nauseum use of value-laden terms in political narratives and the media, such as “benefit cheat”, “dependency”, “entrenched”, “fraud”, “worklessness”, “addiction”, and more opprobrious examples such as “scrounger”, “skiver”, “workshy” (see Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich and the origins of this word, it’s now being used very frequently in the media to describe unemployed and disabled people.) Several studies show that compared with the end of the Labour Government, such pejorative language use has risen dramatically, and Duncan Smith is the most frequent Parliamentary user of value-laden terminology.

At the AGM on 14th April this year, Amnesty International UK passed a resolution on the Human Rights of sick and disabled people in the UK. The resolution was proposed by Rick Burgess and Nancy Farrell of the WOW petition.

Kittysjones notes that the government will find this criticism difficult to ignore, as it comes from a well-respected, apolitical organisation. That should be the case, but Conservative administrations on both sides of the Atlantic have a way of deflecting such criticism. Any criticisms by organisations such as Amnesty International or civil liberties’ organisations are rejected as disproportionate or excessive, compared with more blatant and vicious violations of human rights by other countries. The argument runs that Amnesty International and similar watchdogs cannot legitimately compare legislation passed against the disabled or poor by Western democracies, while Communist China, for example, has 60 million people in forced labour camps, and many Islamic nations are increasingly and brutally persecuting their non-Muslim populations. The position is that one cannot compare the abolition of state benefits, or lengthening of hours in Britain and America, with the forcible imprisonment and execution of political opponents by these regimes. In fact Amnesty and other organisations are not claiming that the two are of the same order. They are merely stating that the attacks on the disabled in the West are nevertheless violations of their rights and dignity.

Kittysjones’ article is nevertheless well worth reading, and Amnesty International’s attack on government policy is a strong indictment of the callous attitude of this administration. It’s at

http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/amnesty-international-has-condemned-the-erosion-of-human-rights-of-disabled-people-in-uk/

The British American Empire

July 17, 2009

Murray 66, one of the great commentators on this blog, asked the following question, wondering what the British Empire would have looked like if America had never separated and remained a part of it:

‘With your knowledge of history and skill for writing books on it, have you ever done historical fiction? I thought it would be interesting to do a book based on the British colonies not gaining independence. You would still have us and India and Hong Kong, etc. How different would that world be? I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.’

I’m afraid I’ve never written a historical novel, though I do know a number of people who’ve found the fictional treatment of various past events and periods actually far better history than many factual accounts. A good novelist can bring a period to life, and explain the way the people involved acted and events progressed, and the results of the actions of various historical figures, indeed, what it was like to live in the time depicted, in a more immediate way than some, more academic accounts. Generally, however, historians tend to avoid counterfactual history – speculating on what may have happened if events had turned out differently, because there are so many different factors working in history that it’s impossible to know how things would have turned out if things had been different, for example, if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo, or the Nazis the Second World War. Probably for this reason, such alternative histories have been generally left to Science Fiction. Nevertheless, some historians have speculated on what history would have been like if events had been slightly different. I’ve got a feeling that the British historian and Times columnist Niall Ferguson published just such a book of alternative history, discussing what would have happened if particular events had ended differently, a few years ago.
In the case of America, the British Empire would have been very different. Depending on how Britain managed to retain the colonies in the New World, the political and economic centre of the Empire may have been not London, but America.

Fifty years before the Revolution occurred, some British politicians considered that the immense size and growing wealth of the American colonies would mean that eventually the American colonies would become dissatisfied with their subjection to the imperial government in Britain, and would demand greater freedom and autonomy. I’ve got a feeling they were also aware that the more democratic forms of government that had developed in the British colonies in the New World meant that Americans would also increasing resent the aristocratic nature of British politics and government. Some British politicians did attempt to produce plans for constitutional change, which they hoped would satisfy the American colonists by granting them increasing participation in imperial government. Edmund Burke proposed that as the American economy and society developed and progressed, so parliament and the court should be moved gradually across the Atlantic and relocated in America. If this had occurred, then the centre of British imperial power would not be in Britain, but in America, and Britain itself would have been merely an imperial province. It’s hard to see how this plan would have been accepted by the majority of British people to be practicable. Nevertheless, it was made.

Probably a much more acceptable plan would have been for parliament to have been reformed to include MPs from the colonies, though this would have meant a massive expansion of the number of MPs, or the alteration of electoral districts to keep the number at a manageable size. Before the Great Reform Act of 1832, each British county sent two MPs to parliament, while the various British towns that had been granted a charter also sent two MPs. However, not all British towns had been granted a charter, so that by the time of the Great Reform Act in 1832 there were a number of towns sending MPs that were little more than villages, and whose MPs were nominated by the local landlord, while large, industrial centres such as Birmingham, weren’t represented at all. Moreover, very few British people themselves had the vote, though this varied considerably from borough to borough. There were boroughs that had an extremely restricted franchise, with hardly anyone possessing the necessary property qualifications to vote. There were others, however, where most of the male population had the vote. The unrepresentative nature of the British constitution was recognised, and there were a number of radical MPs during the 18th century who demanded constitutional reform in order to make it more democratic. These radical strongly sympathised with the American colonists and their demands for constitutional reform and representation. The followers of the British radical politician, Wilkes, deliberately called themselves ‘Patriots’ after the American Revolutionaries. If the British constitution and parliament had been reformed to give greater representation to the American colonies, and so succeeded in regaining their loyalty, it would probably have made Britain more democratic, and the process of reform that began in 1832 that eventually ended with most of the male population possessing the vote by 1872 would probably have begun earlier. American politics, on the other hand, may have become rather more aristocratic, as the British House of Lords would still have retained its power despite the considerable reforms to the House of Commons.

However, one of the objections of the colonists to British rule was the established position of the Anglican Church, when the majority of the people in the colonies were members of other churches. It was because of this that the American Constitution established the separation of church and state. It’s therefore possible that, if the American colonies had remained part of the British Empire through constitutional change, the privileged position of the Anglican Church would have been reduced, at least in America.

If, however, the colonies had been retained through military force – if the British had won the War of Independence, then the situation would have been very different. Parliament in London would have been the centre of government, though some constitutional reforms may have been granted to the colonies to retain their loyalties. The immediate result, however, would have been repression. Dangerously independent or subversive members of the state legislatures would have been removed and prosecuted for treason, and local government altered to govern according to the demands of British imperial rule. If this had occurred, then I suspect that American history would have been more like that of Ireland before the creation of the Irish Free State in 1920. America would have been part of the British Empire, but there would have been widespread disaffection and demands for self-government. As time progressed, this may well have resulted in local rebellions and assassination attempts of British governors, imperial administrators and soldiers. It may also have been similar to South Africa in the 19th century, when a number of Afrikaaners, dissatisfied by British government and control, migrated inland to establish the independent Afrikaaner republics of the Orange Free State and Natal. The British then seized control of these colonies on the grounds that their inhabitants were already British citizens, resulting in conflict between the British and Afrikaaners in the Anglo-South African, or Boer War. Something similar may have happened in America, if the British had succeeded in suppressing the Revolution. It’s possible that those Americans who were resolved not to submit to British rule would have, like the Afrikaaners, trekked into the interior – in this case the Mid-West, and the British government would probably have attempted to follow them and force the new states they founded into the British Empire.

On the other hand, it’s possible that if the British had retained the American colonies, then the US would be confined to the original 13 colonies. Another of the major causes of resentment was British refusal to allow the colonies to expand into the Ohio River valley, as they wished to honour the treated they had made with the Iroquois in return for their aid against the French. Many of the senior British officers and governors in America had married into the families of Native American chiefs. If the British had managed to suppress the American Revolution, then America would probably have been confined to the eastern coast. On the other hand, if the America had remained part of the British Empire through constitutional reform, then it’s possible some expansion into Native American land would have occurred through a parliament which contained American MPs, or which represented their interests.

I also suspect that the abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself in the British Empire would have occurred much later. It has been argued that Britain was able to abolish the slave trade in 1807 and then slavery in 1838, despite opposition from supporters of the slave trade and slavery in the British colonies in the Caribbean, as Britain had lost the American states whose economy depended on slavery. American abolitionists were certainly encouraged in their views that slavery could be abolished without damaging the country or the economy through the success of the British in abolishing slavery in the British Empire. It’s possible that if Britain had retained America, slavery would have been abolished much later. On the other hand, the Founding Fathers had assumed that as the American economy developed, slavery itself would gradually decline without the disruption of government intervention. Furthermore, a number of southern states had also petitioned parliament before the outbreak of the Revolution against the importation of more slaves. I believe that Georgia did so three times, but was overturned by George III. However, many of the leading anti-slavery activists during the 18th century were American, or had personal links to America and the Caribbean, and in the 19th century anti-slavery activists in Britain and America also had strong links.

Before the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, parliament, under pressure from Granville Sharpe, William Wilberforce and others, had passed legislation regulating the trade and improving conditions for the slaves transported on British ships, and it did appear that parliament was prepared to abolish the slave trade itself. However, this was rejected with the outbreak of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, when the British authorities feared radical change to society and the possible disruption to the imperial economy through the loss of the slave labour on which the extremely profitable sugar industry depended. In this case, the major obstacle to the abolition of the slave trade was not the American slave states, but concern for the safety of the British imperial economy during the Napoleonic Wars. In this case, it’s possible that even if America had remained part of the British Empire, the abolition of the slave trade and then slavery itself would still have occurred when they did, or not much later. With the development of the cotton economy in the American South, however, it’s still possible that the southern states would still have been dependent on slavery and so would have rebelled against attempts to abolish it by the British. In this case, the Civil War would have been experienced not just as an American conflict, but as a war in an integral part of the British Empire, a conflict which would have caused conflict and controversy in Britain itself as politicians, industrialists, abolitionists and ordinary people debated it and the methods by which it could be brought to an end.

It’s also possible that the abolitionists would have urged the consumption of Indian cotton, rather than cotton from the American south, as a way of attacking slavery. In the early 19th century British abolitionists launched an ‘anti-saccharist campaign’ attacking the Caribbean sugar industry based on slavery. Rather than purchasing slave produced Caribbean sugar, they instead urged people to buy Indian sugar, which they believed had been grown and produced through free labour. India was one of the major sources for the British cotton industry in the 19th century. It’s therefore possible that if Britain had retained the American colonies, British abolitionists would have recommended that people should stop using southern American cotton, as well as Caribbean sugar, in order to encourage its cultivation by free workers, or damage the corrupt economy that kept people in chains.

After the abolition of slavery in 1838, the British turned instead to using indentured labourers from Asia for work on the plantations. This was the infamous ‘coolie trade’, as the labourers were transported and employed on the plantations in appalling conditions little different from those of the Black African slaves. The British government acted to reform the trade, and passed legislation intended to improve travelling and employment and living conditions for the immigrant workers, providing for them to send money home, and bring along their wives and families, rather than break them up. The British were also concerned about the kidnapping of Asian labourers for use as indentured labourers. To prevent this, it passed a series of acts and engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the imperial Chinese authorities and Portuguese authorities in Macao to gain their co-operation in suppressing the trade, while raiding and prosecuting suspected kidnappers in India and China. The British also negotiated with America and were in contact with American anti-slavery groups to gain their co-operation in suppressing the kidnapping of Chinese labours for work in California. If America had remained part of the British Empire, then, if America had not expanded beyond the eastern coast, California would have remained a Spanish and then a Mexican territory. In this case, Britain would have negotiated with the Spanish and Mexican authorities. If, however, America had expanded across the continent to the west coast, then the British government would have negotiated with the American authorities for California as a British colonial government, rather than as the government of an independent nation. It’s doubtful whether that would have been any easier, as the legislatures of many of the British colonies firmly refused to pass legislation abolishing slavery until forced to do so by the imperial authorities themselves through the promulgation of orders in council.

With the development of coolie trade in the 19th century, it’s possible that America would have had more citizens of Indian descent. During the 19th century many Indians attempted to find work by emigrating to Canada, and it was partly resentment at the treatment of Indian labourers in the coolie trade and attempts to restrict Indian and Asian immigration to Canada in favour of White Europeans that stimulated the development of Indian nationalism. They considered that only if India itself was an independent nation would Indians be able to insist on their better treatment across the world as labourers, and as immigrants to British territories such as Canada. If America had remained part of the British Empire, then it’s possible that Indians would also have emigrated there, as they did to Canada, in search of work and that this would also have resulted in racial friction and been a factor in the rise of the Indian independence movement.

Britain’s continuing possession of the American colonies may also have affected the French Revolution. Although radical resentment of the monarchy and feudalism had been steadily increasing throughout the 18th century, along with demands for constitutional reform, some of the generals and politicians involved in the French Revolution had served aiding the Americans during the American Revolution, and been inspired by its ideals. It could be argued that if the American Revolution had not occurred, or had been suppressed, then the French Revolution would not have broken out. On the other hand, as there were radical and revolutionary movements in France, which had developed from resentment at the French monarchy and influenced by the general Enlightenment philosophical ideas of which the American Revolution was a part, the French Revolution may have occurred anyway. Furthermore, while the French Revolutionaries respected the leaders of the American Revolution, such as Thomas Jefferson, they found their ideas too moderate. The French Revolution would have developed as it did regardless of the American Revolution. It is possible, however, that the French Revolution may have resulted in the further development and encouragement of revolutionary ideas and activity in America. In this case, the American Revolution may have broken out after the French Revolution in the 19th century, and may have taken a more extreme form.

It’s also possible that without the American Revolution, American society may have been much less religious. Historians have noted the vast increase in church membership and attendance in America during the American Revolution, a situation that undoubtedly contributed to the very religious nature of American society compared to European. If the Revolution had been prevented from occurring through constitutional change, then possibly America would have been less religious. On the other hand, if the Americans had lost the War of Independence, then Americans would have remained very religious, and religion would have formed a major part of American national identity. In this respect it may have been similar to the links between the various movements for Irish independence based in Roman Catholicism, and the Catholic democracy that developed in Irish Roman Catholic society. Unlike the Roman Catholic movements for Irish independence, it would not have been based in any single denomination.

Finally, depending on how America remained part of the British Empire, American attitudes towards the rest of the world may have been very different. Although America became active globally after World War II attempting to prevent the spread of Communism, fighting wars in Korea and Vietnam, throughout much of its history America was opposed to interfering in other nations’ internal politics and to imperialist attempts to conquer and subject other, sovereign nations. F.D. Roosevelt, for example, wished that Britain would gradually loosen its control of its colonies, so that they could also benefit from trade with America and eventually gain their independence. He believed that Indo-China should be granted its independence from the French. If America had remained part of the British Empire, and especially if it became the centre of British imperial government, then America would have become much less opposed to imperialism, or involvement in international affairs. On the other hand, if Britain had retained America through force, then the anti-imperial attitude in American politics would have remained, and possibly strengthened, as Americans, resenting their subjection to an imperial power, would object in turn to participating in the conquest and subjection of other peoples and countries.

Thus, it’s impossible to know how history would have progressed if Britain had managed to retain the American colonies. It is possible, however, that there were two, alternative ways in which history would have been different, according to the methods used by the British to deal with American demands for independence and representation in imperial government. If Britain had retained the colonies through constitutional reform, then America would have been a fully integral part of the British Empire. American industry and agriculture would eventually develop to become the dominant, or one of the major economic forces in the Empire. If Americans had succeeded in attacking the mercantilist system, which regulated imperial trade by limiting the goods exported by the colonies in favour of the British economy, then America would have had full access to British ports and markets across the world. American troops, along with English, Irish, Scots and West Indian soldiers would have served in India and Africa, and American politicians and soldiers served along with their British counterparts as governors and administrators of the British colonies across the globe. If Burke’s plan had been adopted, and court and parliament moved across the Atlantic to America, then the British Empire would effectively have become an American Empire, though one in which Americans still considered themselves British citizens. American expansion beyond the initial British colonies would have been limited, however, though its possible that this would have occurred through the British authorities responding to popular demand and in competition with French and Spanish attempts to colonise the continent.

If Britain had, however, succeeded in retaining the American colonies through military force, rather than reform, and had won the War of Independence, many of the constitutional freedoms Americans had developed before Independence would have been abolished or reduced. America would then have been more like Ireland or South Africa in that it formed a part of the British Empire, but there would have been widespread discontent, occasionally erupting into violence. As in South Africa, there may have been independent American republics established in the interior, outside of British rule. It’s possible that Texas would have been founded as one of these.

However, in both of these situations, the British and American political traditions would either not have diverged, or not have diverged quite so much. If America had remained part of the Empire through constitutional reform, then the debate over the American constitution and the development of American politics would have been part of general British politics and constitutional developments. If the British had defeated the Americans during the War of Independence, then America would have been very much a subordinate part of the British Empire with far more limited powers of self-government. However, there would still have been links between American and British radicals demanding constitutional reform and more representative, democratic government.

As for how the world would be today, I suspect that if Britain had retained America simply by military force, then growing pressure for independence from Britain would eventually have resulted in America, like Ireland, eventually rebelling and gaining its independence some time in the 1920s, after the First World War. If America had remained part of the Empire through constitutional reform, then I suspect that America, like Britain, would have suffered economically after the Second World War. The result would have been that many former British colonies across the world would be granted their independence, and America would probably, like Britain, have been forced to fight various nationalist movements. With the expansion of the Communist bloc after the Second World War, it’s possible that as part of the British Empire America would have attempted to prevent its further spread. The Vietnam War may still have happened. However, American politicians may have found such global engagements increasingly difficult to justify to a population that had suffered much more during the Second World War, and who may have wished to see a concentration on domestic economic growth, rather than in maintenance of America’s position as a global superpower. On the other hand, it may be that as Britain became exhausted after World War II, so America would have become the dominant force in British imperial politics through its immense economic and military resources. Eventually, the British Empire would have ended and been replaced by the modern Commonwealth, in which America would have been a major part. The world would have been different, but probably America would eventually have gained self-government and been a major force in global politics, though possibly as a member of the Commonwealth, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, rather than a separate state outside British imperial politics.