Posts Tagged ‘Coolie Trade’

Democratic Socialist on the Von Mises Institute’s Lies About the Pinochet Coup

November 5, 2017

I’ve blogged several times about the Von Mises Institute. They take their name from Ludwig Von Mises, one of the founders, along with Von Hayek, of modern libertarianism.

And they’re a deeply, deeply unpleasant lot. They hate the welfare state, demand the complete privatisation of every state enterprise or service, and are thoroughly racist. Von Mises’ himself was a member of Dollfuss’ austrofascist government, before fleeing to America when the Nazis invaded. He was instrumental in setting up the Chicago School, which included Milton Friedman, the father of Monetarism, and which provided the economic doctrines for Pinochet’s disgusting regime in Chile. Von Mises, like Friedman, used to go down there to see how their doctrines were working out under the old dictator.

During the Cold War they used to publish pseudo-scientific racist and eugenicist literature, arguing that Blacks were mentally inferior to Whites, and that there was no point in setting up a welfare state, as you’d just be wasting your money keeping alive the biologically unfit. Which means Blacks, as well as poor Whites. Or indeed, anyone who isn’t rich and White. More recently they’ve been pushing the lie that the American Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about tariff control and states’ rights. Which is rubbish, because the leaders of the Confederacy said they were going to war to defend slavery.

In this video, Democratic Socialist, who sounds Antipodean to my ears, tears apart the lies in an article about the Pinochet coup by George Reisman in the Institute’s wretched journal.

Reisman claims that Pinochet was absolutely correct to overthrow the government of the Marxist president, Salvador Allende, because Allende was planning to overturn democracy and incarcerate and kill millions in concentration. Pinochet did not do any of this himself. If he had lived in Germany, he would have stopped Hitler coming to power, and would similarly have overthrown the Russian Revolutionaries under Lenin.

This is all hogwash.

Democratic Socialist uses the Pinochet Coup to demonstrate that it seems to bear out Trotsky’s comments that Fascism is the highest stage of capitalism, when it is challenged by the workers. He begins by stating that capitalism is the system under which the means of production are owned privately by a group, which then forms the working class. It needs a state apparatus to defend itself from being attacked and taken over by the exploited workers. This is followed by footage of Hitler’s ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’, Nick Robins-, sorry, Josef Goebbels, ranting about how Hitler had saved Germany from the threat of Bolshevism. Just as Pinochet claimed he had saved Chile from Communism.

In fact, Allende had been democratically elected and his government had been in power for three years when Pinochet overthrew him. Allende himself never imprisoned anyone, did not shut down any opposition radio stations or newspapers, nor set up a single concentration camp.

But Pinochet certainly did. He imprisoned thousands of Chilean left-wingers. If you read the text shown in the video, it gives the number of people imprisoned by the b*stard as 3,000. Reisman claims that these victims were not innocents. They were. One of them was Victor Jara, a popular singer and musician. Apart from imprisoning and torturing members of the Chilean left, he also used football stadiums as the venues for their execution.

As for preventing Hitler from coming to power, Democratic Socialist points out that both Hitler and Pinochet had the backing of the capitalist class, and both claimed they were saving their countries from Marxism. This is accompanied with footage showing troops in coal-scuttle helmets doing a kind of goose-step. They could be Nazi storm-troopers, but they’re not. Democratic Socialist doesn’t point this out, but they’re actually Chilean soldiers. Pinochet was a fan of Adolf Hitler, and deliberately modelled the uniforms of the Chilean army on those of Nazi Germany. And to anyone from the Right, who wants to dismiss this as coming from a tainted left-wing source, I didn’t get it from a left-wing newspaper. It came from an article in the Daily Mail years ago. So definitely not from a left-wing source!

Democratic Socialist also puts Reisman right about the possibility that Pinochet would have saved Russia from Communism. Well, that was what the Russian Civil War was about, when the Whites tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks. They had thousands of little Pinochets, but were defeated as they faced an army of armed revolutionaries, not unarmed, innocent civilians.

He then goes on to demolish the claim that Pinochet stepped down voluntarily in 1988. He didn’t. He was forced out by the other members of his vile junta after he lost a referendum. Pinochet himself was planning to overturn it.

And unsurprisingly, Reisman claims that Pinochet’s economic reforms benefitted ordinary Chileans. They didn’t. They simply plunged them into even worse poverty.

Democratic Socialist also compares Pinochet’s regime with Castro’s revolution in Cuba. Pinochet overthrew a democratically elected government, and imprisoned and tortured innocents. Castro, by contrast, overthrew the Bautista dictatorship, which was also supported by the capitalists, and which had killed thousands of political opponents.

He also takes issue with the claim that capitalism has not killed anyone, or is not responsible for the same number of deaths as global communism. He shows this to be untrue by citing the figures for the famines in China and India created by capitalism, and of the horrific punishments inflicted by capitalist regimes when their workers aren’t productive enough.

He ilustrates the last with pictures of Black Africans with missing limbs. These are from the poor indigenous people of Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, when it was the personal possession of King Leopold in the late 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. These people were forced to cultivate and produce rubber for the king. If they were unable to meet their quotas, they were flogged or had their hands and feet hacked off. If you want to see the photos for yourself, along with some of the other grim depictions of slavery and the slave trade through the ages, try Susan Everett’s Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. It’s a big coffee table book, rather than academic text, but it does cover slavery throughout history, including the ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian and Chinese migrant workers.

This is very much the type of pernicious lies which the Republicans and the Libertarian wing of the Tory party over here have been trying to spread about Pinochet’s regime in Chile. Thatcher was very much part of the Libertarian wing of the Tory party, and she was very much a friend and admirer of the old b*stard, when he came over here for medical treatment. Or to evade arrest after a left-wing government took charge of the country.

And far from Allende destroying democracy and setting up concentration camps, part of what made him so dangerous to the Americans was that he was democratically elected and was not destroying democracy in Chile. This undermined the right-wing attempts to present Communism as a threat.

The Communist regimes have been responsible for massive repression and famine across much of the world, from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Mao’s China. I wouldn’t like to say that capitalism has killed more people than Communism, but it has certainly produced millions of deaths. For example, capitalist ideas about the sanctity of free trade were partly responsible for a horrific famine in India, which carried off millions. See the book Late Victorian Holocausts, which is shown in one of the pictures in the video above.


Protesters Chant ‘Tories Out’ at Jacob Rees-Mogg Meeting

October 4, 2017

This is a very short video from the Groaniad. It’s just over half a minute long, but it shows the protesters at the Tory Conference in Manchester disrupt a meeting held by Jacob Rees-Mogg. The crowd hold up placards and chant ‘Tories Out!’

I think this is just one of a number of protests that have taken place in Manchester against the Tories. I put up a brief video of one that was held outside their conference hall the other day. And I can’t say that I’m not happy that they held this protest in an event held by the Young Master. Rees-Mogg is being touted by some Tories as the next leader of the party, presumably after they dump May. The editor of Conservative Woman was writing in the I the other day, praising Mogg as ‘personable’ and ‘popular’. Well, she’s welcome to her opinions.

I have to say that Mogg in his coat reminds me of a figure from Andean folklore. This is the Pishtaco, described as a White or mestizo (person of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage) man in a long dark coat, underneath which he carries a pair of long knives. This man kills indigenous children for the grease their bodies contain, which is used to lubricate the machines of European industry.

On the other side of the world, the Asian Indians had a similar story back in the days of the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’. This was the trade in indentured migrants from Indian and China to South America, the Caribbean and Fiji, to work on the sugar plantations to replace the enslaved Black workers, who had just been freed. Pay and conditions were appalling, and the immigrants were treated as slaves. There were also instances of kidnapping, and the British several times organised raids in India, where kidnapped Indian labourers had been forcibly imprisoned prior to their transportation half-way around the world. Furthermore, no provision was initially made for the migrant labourers to keep in touch with their families or send part of their earnings back home. Families were thus torn apart, with no word from their relatives, for years at a time. The imperial authorities responded to the trade by passing legislation regulating the trade, stipulating minimum living and working conditions and demanding that systems should be set up to allow the families of labourers to come with them, and migrant workers to send part of the wages back home to support their wives and families.

However, the kidnapping and complete absence of any news about some of the men, who had gone abroad to work had resulted in the rumour that rather than being taken to work on the plantations, the labourers were being taken to secret factory or workshop, where they were killed and their skulls drained of the cerebrospinal fluid. As with the Andean Amerindian stories about the grease from the bodies of murdered children, the fluid from their skulls was exported to Europe for use in industry there.

These stories are just folklore. However, they were a metaphorical response to conditions of colonial oppression and exploitation. Mogg, with his tall, lanky frame certainly reminds me of the Amerindian figure. And as metaphors they also fit the Britain under the Tories. We are seeing people exploited, with capped wages, zero hours and short-term contracts, welfare to work legislation designed to get the unemployed working for the benefit – but not real wages – for the big supermarkets, and benefit sanctions to make the jobless and those threatened with unemployment feel as threatened and as powerless as possible. And people are starving. There’s about 100,000 forced to use foodbanks as they cannot afford to buy food. Something like seven million live in food insecure homes. And three million British children this summer went without having enough to eat.

Meanwhile, the Tories have given massive tax cuts to immensely rich, cuts which Rees-Mogg has fully supported, while at the same time voting to increase the tax burden for the poor, and cut benefits. And people are dying. I’ve mentioned the long lists and articles on those, who have died in starvation and misery due to benefit cuts by Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, DPAC and so many others.

So the legends of South America’s indigenous peoples and its Indian counterpart also metaphorically apply to today’s Britain. Our people are being exploited and killed by the Tories and their austerity campaign for the benefit of the big corporations. Rees-Mogg himself has always been perfectly polite when he’s appeared on TV, and I dare say that personally he’s probably entirely decent the way he treats others. But his party is responsible for starvation, exploitation and death through a set of policies he firmly supports and wishes to expand.

The protesters are quite right to demonstrate against him and his wretched, murderous party.

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

May 23, 2016

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.