Posts Tagged ‘Forced Labour’

Man Arrested Outside Conference for Placard Denouncing Priti Patel – A Sign of Real Fascism to Come?

October 6, 2021

Mike’s just put up a short piece this afternoon commenting on the fact that a protester was arrested by the rozzers for holding a placard up outside the Tory party conference calling Priti Patel and nasty name. No, it wasn’t anything racist or personally vicious. It was just a comment on her politics. The placard just said ‘Priti Fascist’. Nadia Whittome has posted this Tweet aptly summing up Patel’s policies:

To summarise her conference speech, Priti Patel wants to:

– push back boats of refugees, risking lives

– make our asylum system even harsher

– further criminalise peaceful protesters

– penalise people with drug addiction issues.

A brutal, authoritarian vision for our country.

As Mike says, the demonstrator was right. Patel is a Fascist. Quite so, but she’s not as far down the line to real goose-stepping Nazism as some would like. Yesterday mad right-wing YouTube Alex Belfield in one of his videos reported that the French cops had shot at the channel migrants with rubber bullets. He felt we should be doing the same, and mocked the lefty snowflakes who would complain if we did. Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a piece stating that the Polish army had been stationed at their border to repel unwanted migrants after 1,000 had tried to enter the country illegally. Why can’t we do the same, he opined.

I think there are a number of reasons why such highly authoritarian behaviour is more acceptable in Poland but not over here. England hasn’t been conquered since William the Conqueror and the Normans in 1066. Britain went on from the sixteenth century onwards to conquer an empire in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Even after decolonisation, we see ourselves as historically the conquerors and imperial rulers, not as the subjects. It’s because of this history that demands for action against racism and the remains of colonialist attitudes have been successful.

Poland doesn’t have that history. Following the reign of Jan Sobieski, who defeated the Turks at the siege of Vienna in the 17th century, Poland was conquered and divided between Prussia, Austria and Russia. The Russians had a policy of russification. Polish was not taught in schools. If it was, it was taught as a foreign language. The country only gained its independence following the First World War. It was conquered again by the Nazis during the Second World and its people subjected to horrific atrocities. Poles, like all Slavs, were regarded as subhuman. They were rounded up to be used as slave labourers and racist laws put in place to prevent them marrying or having sexual relations with Aryan Germans. At the same time, the SS looked for Aryan bloodlines in the Polish population. Children with blonde hair were stolen and given to German Nazis to raise because of their assumed Aryan racial heritage. Polish villages were razed ready for German occupation and settlement. After the war Hitler planned to destroy their educational system and professional and intellectual classes and reduce them, along with the other Slavonic peoples like Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians, to peasant farmers producing agricultural goods for the German settlers and overlords. After the Jews, the Poles formed the largest proportion of Nazi victims in the concentration camps.

After the War Poland was again under Russian domination as a satellite of the USSR. Stalin was brutal in his treatment of them and the other subjects of his new empire. Anyone who had been to the West was rounded up and massacred or sent to the gulags. There is also the infamous Katyn massacre. Initially blamed on the Nazis, this was the slaughter of Polish troopers by the KGB preparatory to the Soviet conquest. Stalin also deliberately held his troops back from liberating Warsaw so that the Nazis could finish putting down the uprising there.

Given this experience of foreign rule and conquest, I’m not surprised that the Polish government, which is extremely right-wing, reacted with such intolerance towards illegal immigration. Which, of course, doesn’t make it right.

My fear is that, with everything else the Tories are doing to erode and destroy British democracy, the approval of the use of such military force will lead, but by bit, to the establishment of real Fascism in Britain.

As for the arrest of someone simply for holding up a placard calling her one, I fail to see how that constitutes any kind of offence. He wasn’t violent nor did the placard incite anyone to violence. I don’t even think you can call it libellous, as people with intolerant, authoritarian personalities are called Fascists and Nazis all the time. This is shown very well in Godwin’s Law, the saying that every debate on the internet will always end with someone from one side or the other comparing their opponent to the Nazis. Unless someone made a serious claim that someone was a real member of a Nazi group, like the NF, BNP, British Movement, Column 88 or such like, I really wouldn’t have thought it qualifies as libel. And I certainly concur with Mike. In the case of Priti Patel it’s fair comment.

It seems to me that the arrest of this man for nothing more than expressing a reasonable opinion on a viciously intolerant Tory minister is itself an act of Fascism.

Starmer Insults Working Class, Makes Rachel Reeves Shadow Chancellor

May 11, 2021

In his flailing attempt to win voters back to the Labour party after the humiliation of last week’s elections, Starmer has decided on a cabinet reshuffle. He’s taking full responsibility for the debacle by placing all the blame on his underlings, like Angela Rayner, who he sacked as the party’s chair. He blamed her for the loss of Hartlepool, despite the fact that she had absolutely nothing to do with it. The choice of candidate and the selection of May 6th as the date of the by-election was that of his personal private secretary, Jenny Chapman. Rayner is due some payback for her betrayal of Corbyn, but she doesn’t deserve to be sacked from her post for something she didn’t do. Except possibly she hasn’t been sacked. Faced with a wave of criticism, Starmer said something about her being kept in the cabinet with a ‘more enhanced role’.

He was also rumoured to be bringing in a number of other members of the party’s extreme right, like the toxic Wes Streeting and the noxious Hilary Benn. And yesterday Mike put up a post reporting that Starmer had appointed as Shadow Chancellor the vile Rachel Reeves. She’s the woman, who’s so left-wing, that she and her fellow right-wing Chucklehead Jess Philips went to a party a few years ago celebrating 100 years of the Spectator. This is the increasingly Alt Right Tory rag that publishes pieces by Taki, a Greek playboy. Unlike Corbyn, who was simply critical of Israel’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians, Taki really does have some vile anti-Semitic opinions. And in one of his pieces for the magazine he praised the neo-Nazi Greek organisation, the Golden Dawn. This is the outfit that beats up illegal immigrants, hands out food to the poor and unemployed, but only if they’re Greek, and whose leader was sent to prison for the murder of a left-wing journalist. But that isn’t the only time Reeves showed her highly selective attitude to real anti-Semites. A few years ago she joined former premier Theresa May in paying tribute to Nancy Astor. Astor was the first woman MP, and obviously a feminist political pioneer. But she was also a vicious Jew-hater and fan of Hitler. So when it comes to anti-Semitism and her attitude to her former party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, she could fairly be called a hypocrite.

But Corbyn wasn’t the only target for her vindictiveness. She also hates the unemployed and people on benefits. Back when Ed Miliband was leader, she declared that Labour would be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories. This was because Labour was the party of working people. This was when dodgy Dave Cameron was demanding that unemployment benefit should be cut even further in order to ‘make work pay’, and justified this spite by claiming that hard-working people didn’t like to look out each morning and see the closed curtains of the unemployed. It was another example of Blairite Labour looking at what the Tories were doing, and then trying to appeal to their voters by being even worse. It was very much an attempt to win over the kind of people who read the Heil and Depress and believe their wretched nonsense about benefit scroungers. It’s bound to fail because, while Murdoch was prepared to back Blair, the Mail resolutely held out against him. Which shows that the terrible rag does have some kind of twisted, political integrity amid all the lies and bigotry.

Many people were really worried about the direction New Labour’s hatred of the unemployed would take. New Labour had introduced workfare in the form of Blair’s New Deal, in which the unemployed were sent to work for charities and the big supermarket chains or else they didn’t get their benefit. It was a way of giving these organisations cheap labour and showed more than a little similarity to the use of forced, slave labour in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Stalin industrialised his country through the massive use of the unfree labour of people arrested for alleged treason and anti-Soviet activities. The heads of various industries and enterprises gave the KGB lists of the type of workers they needed, and the KGB then went out and arrested them. Nazi Germany also expanded this systems of voluntary work the Weimar Republic had started to combat unemployment into the Reichsarbeitsdienst, a compulsory period of unpaid service for all German citizens. The SS also used the slave labour of skilled Jewish artisans and craftsmen to produce a range of luxury goods, available through catalogue. One of the great commenters on this blog wondered if, under Reeves and co., Labour would also develop similar systems of forced labour. In the 1930s, for example, the party had also opened a number of labour camps which were intended to teach the unemployed the habit of working properly. I don’t think Labour would go that far in today’s political climate, but given the way Boris is dragging this country towards real Fascism, I think someone like Reeves would try to get as close as possible.

As well as showing Reeves’ vindictiveness towards the poor and out of work, it also showed how out of touch her comments were with the reality of work today. Thatcher famously declared that she was ending the old culture where someone had a job for life. Under her, it became much easier to fire someone and companies started taking on workers on short term contracts. Blair and Brown were very keen on making sure that the labour market remained fluid, and that companies could take on and sack staff as and when they wished. And Dodgy Dave, Tweezer and the rest of the Tory governments of the unspeakable have pushed this even further. We now live in the gig economy, where large numbers of workers have very precarious employment. When this process was just beginning in the 1980s, right-wing politicos, economists and hacks raved about how workers could make themselves attractive to employers through compiling ‘job portfolios’. Presumably this was lists of the various jobs they done under short-term contracts. In the 1990s the Financial Times stated it was a rubbish idea, and it mercifully seems to have vanished. But punitive policies towards the unemployed also harm the workers in the gig economy, those without proper workers’ rights, who are on zero hours contracts and the rest, who are under enough pressure already without the fear of further humiliation and punishment if their bosses sack them and they are forced to seek what help they can from the DWP.

Reeves’ appointment as Shadow Chancellor shows that Starmer is overtly moving to the extreme right. He’s promoting people who are still clinging to the lies of Thatcherite economics, unaware that it’s failed and is responsible for the real poverty and deprivation now affecting Britain’s working people. Corbyn’s policies – a strong welfare state, fully nationalised and funded NHS, proper rights for working people, strong trade unions and a mixed economy, were popular, despite the devastating effect Tory propaganda had on the image of Corbyn himself. They’re also what the country needs.

But obviously not what Starmer and Reeves want. They want to ingratiate themselves to the rich and the employers at the expense of working people, while copying the Tory attempts to brand themselves as the true defenders of the working class.

Is the End of Debtfare Forced Labour?

September 28, 2020

In his chapter ‘The Violence of the Debtfare State’ in Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, eds., The Violence of Austerity (London: Pluto Press 2017), David Ellis uses the term ‘debtfare’ to describe the dismantling of state welfare provision and its replacement by debt and credit. And I’m starting to wonder how far this can go before something like debt slavery arises. The Romans abolished debt slavery, but the punishment for debt was addictio, forced labour. People are being forced into mountains of debt through poverty created by austerity and the removal of living wages and proper unemployment and disability benefits. Students are also mired in it through tuition fees which now may amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

I am therefore left wondering at what point the various banks and other organisations offering credit will stop it and start demanding their money back or some other form of repayment. Clearly if people remain in debt, they can’t repay the money. The alternatives seem to be either that the banks keep on giving them credit in the hope that they’ll be able to repay something, or else write it off as a loss. But if the number of people in irrecoverable debt hits millions, what happens? If the levels of indebtedness actually starts to harm the banks and the other organisations, will they turn to the state to demand some kind of forced labour in order to make good their profits?

I’ve already pointed out the similarity of the workfare schemes to the forced labour systems of Stalin’s Russia. Stalin used slave labour from the gulags to industrialise the Soviet Union. Business managers would give the KGB lists of the kind of workers their enterprise needed, and the KGB would then have those with the appropriate skills and qualifications accused of anti-Soviet crimes and arrested. The workfare scheme now used to punish the unemployed doesn’t teach anybody any new skills, nor does it allow them to find employment. Indeed the stats a while ago showed that people on workfare were less likely to get a job than if they were left to their own initiative. But workfare does supply cheap, state-subsidised labour to the scheme’s backers and the parties’ business donors, like the supermarkets.

So if the number of people in grievous, irrecoverable debt, will the government simply write them off and let them starve to death, as so many disabled people have done already thanks to false assessments under the Work Capability Tests? Or will they decide they can still make some money for business by pressing them into compulsory labour in order to work their way out of it, as in the Roman system?

I’m not saying this will happen or even that it’s likely. But I do wonder if it’s a possibility.

Grimes and Starkey Get Racist Discussing Slavery and British Imperialism

July 3, 2020

Yesterday the ever-reliable Zelo Street put up a very revealing piece about one of the videos Darren Grimes had put up on the Reasoned YouTube channel. Reasoned is yet another Conservative astroturf organisation set up by the group Media and Activism, the same people who brought you Turning Point UK. That’s the Turning Point UK which is the British subsidiary of the American conservative youth movement, Turning Point. It was officially opened by Dave Rubin and Candace Owens, who immediately showed her lack of historical knowledge by denying that Hitler was a nationalist, even though he said he was and it’s in the Nazis’ name. Worse, she said that she thought that Hitler’s actions would have been all right, if only he had stuck to Germany. Which obviously suggests she thinks the dismantlement of democracy, the imprisonment of political prisoners, and the mass murder of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled would have been a-OK if it had been confined to Germany. I really don’t believe she meant to say that, but it illustrates how some people, especially on the right, really need to engage their brains and do some reading before their open their mouths.

Grimes should have avoided such massive historical illiteracy with his guest in the video Zelo Street discussed. This was Dr David Starkey, the expert on Queen Elizabeth I and the Tudors, who has himself presented and appeared on many history programmes. Grimes, who really looks like he should be in school studying for his ‘O’ levels rather than pumping out extreme right-wing propaganda for the Tories, had Starkey on to discuss British history. The video’s title was about BLM delegitimating (sic) British history. By which Reasoned presumably meant British imperial history. And the discussion became a car crash.

The pair debated the question of whether slavery was a genocide. This is a claim made by many Black activists, and it ultimately comes from the great American civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois had argued that it was, drawing on the descriptions of the devastation to African communities by the depredations of the slavers. Starkey denied that it was, on the grounds that the Black population had not only survived, but expanded. This is also true, and has been used by many historians and academics as an illustration of how human populations can recover quickly after they’ve been massively reduced.

You could also argue that slavery wasn’t a genocide on the grounds that, like Stalin’s purges and the deportations of whole ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, the point wasn’t to exterminate but to enslave and exploit. Back when I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol uni, I went to a seminar in the History department given by a lad on what officially counts as a genocide. There are a number of conflicting definitions. Atrocities that count as genocide under one are excluded under another. The only mass murder which fits all the definitions is the Holocaust. The speaker’s attitude was that historians and human rights campaigners should step back from trying to make precise definitions because they actually do more to obscure rather than illuminate. Instead there should be a commonsense approach, where people knew it when they saw it without worrying too much about quibbling details.

If this attitude is taken, then yes, slavery does count as genocide because of the destruction and death inflicted on African communities through slave raiding, and the very high death rate among the enslaved as they were taken across the Atlantic – 25 per cent of slaves died during the journey – and then put to work. Time Team a while ago conducted an excavation of a plantation, including the slave village, on one of the Caribbean islands. In the programme, Tony Robinson announced that the average life expectancy on the plantations was three years. This was regardless whether someone was one of the slaves or not. Life expectancy presumably improved, as it became the custom for the slaveowners to ‘season’ their slaves, letting them rest and recuperate for a year before setting them to work. But there was a debate over how hard slaves should be worked. Some planters recommending working them literally to death to get as much out of them as possible, and then simply buying more replacements. And the birthrate among slaves is always low. This has been true throughout history, from the Romans to the Caribbean and Americas. It’s why the British government started to try to ameliorate slave conditions of slaves owned by the crown in 1816, twenty years before slavery was officially abolished.

But it wasn’t so much Starkey’s denial that slavery was a genocide that was the problem, but the way he denied it. Starkey declared “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there? An awful lot of them survived”. The emphasis was Zelo Street’s, who said that here Starkey sounded like an apologist for apartheid South Africa c. 1980 but without the accent. He also said that “The honest teaching of the British Empire is to say quite simply that it is the first key stage of world globalisation. It’s probably the most important moment in human history, and it’s still with us,” adding, “Its consequences are still on … and in most ways, actually fruitful”. The Street comments “Not sure what the reaction to that would be in many of those countries that were given the benefit of this less than benign phenomenon, along with the brutal militarisation, enforced famines, and free trade that was only free if it suited the colonial power.” This is also true. The campaign for the independence of the Caribbean countries began in the 1930s with nationalists upset at the way their trade was hampered through its ties to Britain. They wished to develop their economies and sell goods to other nations, like America. And there were artificial famines across the empire produced and exacerbated by a rigid adherence to free trade. Starving populations were refused free or artificially subsidized, cheap grain because this would violate the principles of free trade. See the book Late Victorian Holocausts. And present-day globalisation is still creating misery for the world’s working people from the developing world to the west.

Starkey’s overall conclusion is wrong, but it has to be admitted that the British Empire also did some good. The expansion into Africa in the late 19th century was partly motivated from a desire to crush slavery and the slave trade, although this also led to establishment of systems of forced labour inflicted on the indigenous peoples on behalf of the European colonists. But what was offensive was obviously not so much what he said, but how he said it: ‘so many damn Blacks in Africa or in Britain’.

It’s at this point that you also wonder what Grimes and the video’s director and producers thought they were doing. If the video was being recorded rather than broadcast live, they should have stepped in and told Starkey that he couldn’t say that, then gone back and reshot the piece. But they didn’t. Nor did Grimes look uncomfortable as Starkey said it. Others would have pulled a face or shown some disapproval, but apparently Grimes cheerfully nods along. This resulted in one of the peeps on Twitter putting up a clip of him nodding in agreement to one of Adolf’s rants.

Zelo Street concludes that this should effectively terminate Grime’s and Starkey’s careers. He states

‘From here there should be no way back for either Starkey or Grimes, although Brendan O’Neill will no doubt be along soon to excuse the whole affair, blaming any criticism on “leftists”, “wokeism”, or some other excuse that allows him to pretend to understand George Orwell. Darren Grimes is fronting a racist endeavour.

Will broadcasters now think better of inviting Dazza on? Don’t hold your breath.’

It should, but it won’t. Not unless far more people see and comment on it so that any appearance by either of them is immediately greeted with strong objections and complaints. As it stands, however, I think Starkey is far too established as a TV personality and popular historian to suffer much from this, while it seems that no matter how noxious Grimes and the rest of the Paul Staines massive can be, they still seem to be feted as legitimate journalists.

Once upon a time Starkey bridled if someone accused him of racism. Now on this video, he seems to have shown that he is. And Grimes and his backers are too. And worse, they’re unashamed. If this isn’t checked, the racism will only get more overt and worse.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/darren-grimes-fronts-racist-endeavour.html

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

Shaw on Imperialism: Exploitation Abroad, Poverty and Unemployment at Home

May 13, 2020

As I may have already said, I’ve been reading George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. It’s a brilliant book, in which the great Fabian playwright attacks and exposes the contradictions, flaws, poverty and inequality in capitalism and argues for a gradual, socialist transformation of society through nationalisation and the equalisation of incomes. Although it was written between 1924 and 1928 some of the topics Shaw covers are still acutely relevant. He argues for the nationalisation of the banks because private bankers have caused massive financial problems and concentrate so much on big business that small businessmen and women suffer through lack of funds. He also shows how the extremely wealthy should have their incomes reduced, because instead of doing anything genuinely productive with their money they simply hoard it. And that means sending it overseas. This is an acute problem now, with the super-rich hoarding their money unspent in offshore tax havens, instead of properly paying their fair share to build up the country’s health service and infrastructure.

Shaw is also acutely critical of imperialism for the same reason. He is not against imperialism per se. Indeed, he states that it would be admirable if we really had taken over the different lands of the empire for the benefit of the indigenous peoples. But we hadn’t. We’d taken them over purely for the enrichment of the capitalists through the exploitation of their non-White inhabitants.

The process, according to Shaw, began with the arrival of a single British trading ship. This was fine on its own, but others also arrived. Soon a trading post was set up, and then the merchants behind the trade demanded the entire country’s annexation. Capitalism preferred to fund socially destructive enterprises, like gin, rather than the socially useful, like lighthouses, which had to be set up and managed by the government. The market for gin had been saturated, and so the capitalists had proceeded to look abroad for more profits for the gin trade. And once a country was conquered and incorporated into the empire, its Black inhabitants were forced into commercial labour unprotected by legislation, like the Factory Acts, that protected British workers.

These overworked, underpaid, exploited colonial workers were able to produce goods that undercut those of domestic, British manufacturers. As a result, British businesses were going bankrupt and British workers laid off, except for those in the service industries for the extremely wealthy. The great mill and factory towns of the north and midlands were declining in favour of places for the genteel rich, like Bournemouth.

Ordinary working people couldn’t starve, as the capitalist class had grudgingly allowed the establishment of the dole following the mass unemployment that followed the First World War. But there weren’t any jobs for them. This was why the British government was encouraging them to emigrate, promising to pay £12 of the £15 fare to Australia if the worker would provide £3 him- or herself.

Now Shaw’s description of the foundation and expansion of the empire is obviously over-simplified, but nevertheless contains more than a grain of truth. Both Fiji and New Zealand were annexed because they had suffered an influx of White settlers through trading ships. The people arguing for their annexation, however, did so because they were opposed to the indigenous peoples’ exploitation. The White settlers in Fiji were aiming to set up a government for Whites with an indigenous king, Cakobau, as puppet ruler to give it a spurious legitimacy. More enlightened colonists therefore persuaded Cadobau and his government to approach Britain and ask for annexation in order to prevent the dispossession and enslavement of indigenous Fijians. In New Zealand the request for annexation was made by Christian ministers, who were afraid that the country would be conquered for Roman Catholicism by France on the one hand, and that the whalers and other traders who had already settled there would destroy and exploit the Maoris through alcohol, prostitution and guns.

And the enslavement and exploitation of the indigenous peoples certainly occurred. Apart from enslavement and dispossession of the Amerindians and then Black Africans in the first phase of British imperialism from the 17th century to the end of the 18th, when the British empire expanded again from the early 19th century onward, it frequently did so under the pretext of destroying the slave trade. However, once we were in possession of those territories, indigenous slavery was frequently tolerated. Moreover, British colonists often used forced labour to build up their plantations and businesses. This occurred around about the time Shaw was writing in Malawi. When slavery was outlawed in the British empire in 1837, the planters replaced it with nominally free indentured Indian labourers, who were worked in conditions so atrocious in the notorious ‘coolie trade’ that it was denounced as ‘a new system of slavery’.

The British government had also been encouraging its poor and unemployed to emigrate to its colonies as well as the US in what historians call social imperialism from about the 1870s onwards.

Reading this passage, however, it struck me that the situation has changed somewhat in the last 90 or so years. Britain is no longer exporting its surplus labour. All the countries around the world now have strict policies regarding emigration, and the developed, White majority countries of Canada, New Zealand and Australia are busy taking in migrants from the developing world, like Britain and the rest of the West.

But the super rich have found a way to surreptitiously go back on their early policy of providing welfare benefits for the unemployed. Through the wretched welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and other Tory scumbags, they’ve torn holes in the welfare safety net with benefit sanctions, fitness to work tests and a five week waiting period. The result is that the unemployed and disabled are starving to death. And those that aren’t are frequently prevented from doing so only through food banks and private charity. This has been changed somewhat with the expansion of welfare payments for workers on furlough and food packages for the vulnerable during the lockdown, but this is intended only to be a temporary measure.

I can remember when globalisation first began in the 1990s. It was supposed to lead to a new era of peace and prosperity as capital moved from country to country to invest in businesses across the globe. But the result for Britain has been mass unemployment. And while developing nations like India have massively profited, it has been at the expense of their own working people, who are now labouring for lower pay and in worse conditions than ever.

The empire has gone to be replaced by the commonwealth. But what Shaw said about it and the exploitation and poverty it caused is true of today’s neoliberal global economy.

Except instead of encouraging emigration, the Tories and the rich have found ways to starve to death Britain’s surplus workers.

Keir Starmer Now Leader of the Labour Party and the Omens Are Not Good

April 6, 2020

Saturday was Jeremy Corbyn’s last day as the leader of the Labour Party. He stepped down with good grace, sending Labour members a letter thanking them for their support and looking back on his achievements. Although he never won an election, they were considerable. In 2017 he came within a cat’s whisker of achieving power. Decades of Thatcherite neoliberal dogma were vociferously challenged by a leader who believed in its ordinary members, and in actually doing something for the working class. He put renationalisation back on the table, as well as restoring union power, better working conditions and employment rights, and a properly funded NHS. And he gave people hope. Hundreds of thousands of people, who had left or perhaps never been members, flocked to join Labour under his leadership so that it became the biggest socialist party in Europe. And the situation with the Tories was reversed. Previously the Tories had been easily the biggest political party in terms of membership. But they’ve been hemorrhaging members due to their leadership’s absolute refusal to listen to them, rather than the corporate donors that are actually keeping the party afloat. Tory membership dwindled as Labour expanded.

This terrified the Tories, and the Blairites in the Labour party, who could feel their hold in power slipping away. So they began a campaign of vicious personal vilification and smearing. Corbyn, a man of peace and fervent anti-racist, was misrepresented as an anti-Semite and friend of terrorists. Corbyn’s own programme was pretty much the Old Labour centre ground, but he was presented as an extremist, a Trotskyite, or Stalinist Commie. He frightened the corrupt Jewish establishment through his support for the Palestinians, and so they fell back on their old tactic of smearing any and all critics of Israel as anti-Semites. He was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism and his supporters purged from the party on charges that would not stand up in a formal court of law. The Blairites fully participated in this. Whenever the Beeb or the rest of the Tory media needed someone to attack Corbyn, a Blairite could be found to scream and shout baseless accusations. They tried to split the party, overthrow him in coups, but the mass walkout they tried to engineer never happened. One of their coup attempts was so shambolic it was derisively called ‘the chicken coup’. The new, centrist party they tried to set up was a joke from the start. It gathered little more than a few members, before fizzling out.

But these campaigns had their effect. Labour lost heavily at the last election. The key issue was Brexit, with people in the north and midlands voting for the Tories because of Boris’ promise to get Brexit done. Labour’s policies of welfare improvement and renationalisation were still immensely popular,  but the abuse, lies and personal attacks had done their work. The public hated Corbyn, but if you asked them why, they couldn’t tell you. Which shows the malignant power of a mendacious, corrupt and despicable mass media.

Corbyn and his deputy, John McDonnell, have stepped down, and the party has instead replaced him with Keir Starmer as leader and Angela Rayner as deputy. It’s a lurch to the right, back to the Blairite status quo ante. Starmer has many admirable qualities. He is known for his pro bono work as a human rights lawyer, in which he took on cases for nothing. One of his clients was Doreen Lawrence, who gave him her support for his efforts on her and her former husband’s behalf trying to get their son’s killer to face justice. Starmer’s victory was almost a foregone conclusion. The press made much of the fact that he was the favourite from the first round of voting, with the support of many of the trade unions and local constituency parties.

But Starmer is a Blairite. He has promised to keep to the manifesto promises drawn up by Corbyn’s team, but it’s doubtful whether this can be trusted. As a Blairite, his instinct will be to pull the party further right – to what is mistakenly called ‘the centre ground’. He will probably jettison the promises about nationalisation, workers’ rights, a welfare state that actually gives people enough to live on, and a properly funded NHS in order to return to Blair’s tactics of triangulation. That meant finding out what the Tories were doing, then copy it. He will most likely purge the party of left-wingers, leaving it the much smaller, Tory-lite party created by Blair. And like Blair he will grovel to Murdoch and the rest of the press. Mike put up an article voicing these predictions a few days ago, and I’m very much afraid that it does look as if that’s what he’s going to do. And he won’t win back the voters Labour lost in the midlands and north. They wanted Brexit, and they turned against Labour when Starmer and his supporters insisted that it should be Labour’s policy to hold another referendum about Brexit.

There are already indications that this is the way he will go. He’s appointed to a cabinet place the odious Rachel Reeves, who has declared that Labour shouldn’t be a party for the unemployed. She announced that Labour was founded by working people, for working people, and so in power would be harder on the unemployed than the Conservatives. Well, when Labour had that attitude before the War, back in the last century, it set up what were basically forced Labour camps for the unemployed. Does she want a return to that? Or just have more people starve, as they are under the Tories.

He has also made the disastrous decision to kowtow to the Zionist organisations promoting the anti-Semitism smears. All of the candidates signed up to the demands by the Board of Deputies of British Jews for the immediate mass expulsion, with no right to any proper defence or representation, and excommunication from current members for those accused of anti-Semitism. Starmer has announced he’s determined to root out anti-Semitism in party, and has gone to meet organisations like the Board, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement. This meeting pointedly does not include the Jewish groups, that genuinely stand for socialism and which have supported Labour and Corbyn throughout – Jewdas, Jewish Voice for Labour, the Jewish Socialist Group. Starmer no doubt feels that he is clearing up the issue of anti-Semitism once and for all, but he’s just played into their hands. The loathsome Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has welcomed the move, but demanded that he now censure or expel Corbyn for anti-Semitism. Which shows you just how mean-spirited and vengeful Falter and his ghastly crew are. Starmer is now placed in the unenviable position of either attacking the party’s former leader, which will anger his supporters and lead to mass resignations, or else the CAA, Board and the rest of the scumbuckets will accuse him of being soft on anti-Semitism and kick up another round of abuse and accusations.

And this is not to mention his decision to take up Johnson’s offer and work with him and the Tories in a constructive relationship to combat the Coronavirus. I understand the logic on which it’s based. He wants to be seen as the good guy, putting the needs of the country above party in a show of national unity during the emergency. He’s not the only one who wanted to do this. So did Lisa Nandy. But what will probably happen is that he will share the blame for Boris’ failings, while Boris will take any credit for any positive actions suggested by Labour. That is how the SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour Party – lost when they went into coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Merkel and her party moved left. They took credit for improvements to Germany’s welfare system, like greater benefit payments, which were actually the work of the SPD. But they let the SPD take the blame for their failings. And people will be discouraged to see him and Johnson working together. They will feel that Labour has once again let them down to become another Tory party.

I hope this is not the case, and that Starmer keeps his promises to Labour’s members. And I hope that enough of the left remains in the party to hold him to these promises, and make matters extremely difficult for him if he tries to reject them. But the evidence so far is not good.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/04/new-labour-leader-is-keir-starmer-the-party-is-doomed/

Starmer’s first decision as Labour leader: agreement to work WITH the Tories

Starmer’s first purge: anybody in Labour tainted with accusations of anti-Semitism

Outcry as Starmer promotes anti-Semite supporter Rachel Reeves into Shadow Cabinet

 

Systems of Forced Labour: Workfare and the Nazi Concentration Camps

December 31, 2019

I had yet another book catalogue come through the post the other day, this time from PostScript. One of the books listed is a historical study of the informers, who snitched on Jews in Nazi Germany, Who Betrayed the Jews? The Realities of Nazi Persecution in the Holocaust, by Agnes Grunwald-Spier (Amberley 2017). The catalogue’s description of this book runs

In The Other Schindlers Agnes Grunwald-Spier wrote of the many unsung individuals who helped the Jews during the Nazi persecution; in this study she uncovers the individuals and groups who betrayed them. Quoting extensively from survivors’ accounts, and in sometimes shocking detail, she examines betrayals made for ideology or greed, but also the ‘commercial betrayals’ by the railway companies, who transported Jews and the industries that used forced labour, and the betrayals made in fear and desperation.

The SS in particular exploited skilled Jewish labour for commercial profit. They used Jewish artisans and craftsmen to manufacture a range of goods available for purchase, even bringing out a catalogue of such items. At the same time, during Stalin’s purges Soviet industries also encouraged the arrest of workers and technicians for their use, even sending the KGB lists of the type of workers they needed.

I’ve blogged before about the similarity between these systems of totalitarian slave labour and the Tories’ workfare, in which the long term unemployed are forced to do voluntary work in order to prepare them for getting a real job. This actually doesn’t work, and it’s been found that you’re actually more likely to get a job through your own efforts than from workfare. And it has been used to prevent skilled individuals doing the voluntary work they want, as a geography graduate found. She had arranged to work in a museum, but the workfare providers decided she had to stack shelves in a supermarket. So she took them to court, and won.

Others haven’t been so lucky. The Violence of Austerity by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte contains a chapter, ‘The Violence of Workfare’, by Jon Burnett and David Whyte, which describes how exploitative workfare is, using figures and testimony supplied by Boycott Workfare. Benefit claimants were frequently humiliated, forced to work in unsafe conditions with inadequate equipment to safeguard their health. Many were forced to do work that was medically unsuitable for them. One worker said

[I[ [w} to work as a volunteer. Made to feel like a slave. Unsafe working conditions i.e. H and S [health and safety] and Fire regulations breached. Told to leave because I complained and took pictures of the unsafe conditions. (p. 63).

Another said

I can’t stand or walk for more than 10 minutes and have severe stomach illness that means when I eat I’m in agony half an hour until 4 hrs after. They may as well have sent me a death sentence. (p. 64).

One man provided a particularly full description of his experience.

They made me work without safety boots for the first week and without a protective jacket. All day was hard labour 9 -5 pm. ~All day I either had to move wood or clean their place. Or they would send me with other people to places to clean houses and back gardens which they would get money for. They claim to be a community place but didn’t see them help anyone. I told them of my back pain and they just ignored it; they didn’t care. Also another business these people had was to charge local people money to pick up their rubbish and then sell it at their place. We were the ones who had to go to pick up the rubbish and there were many hazards. The truck we went on had not seat belts – just disgusting practice. (Same page).

Now let’s not exaggerate. There are obviously profound differences between the Nazi and Stalinist systems of forced labour and workfare. No-one in this country is forcing the unemployed into camps and gas chambers. But workfare nevertheless is part of a system of austerity that has killed over 130,000 people, despite the Tories’ denials.

It is exploitative, doesn’t work, but it supplies cheap labour to their corporate donors and allows them to claim falsely that their doing something about unemployment.

All the while humiliating the unemployed and the sick, and further endangering their health and wellbeing.

Which is how the Tories want it.

Polish Right-Wing Paper’s Anti-Gay Stickers

July 23, 2019

Last Saturday’s edition of the I also carried a story reporting that a Polish paper was planning to print stickers attacking gay rights. The article, ‘Paper prints anti-LGBT stickers’, by Samuel Osborne, on page 31, ran

A Polish newspaper plans to hand out “LGBT-free zone” stickers in its next issue. Gazeta Polska tweeted a preview of the stickers, which show a rainbow flag with a black cross over it.

The weekly publication, which has a circulation of about 11,000, openly supports the conservative governing Law and Justice Party (PiS). The stickers are due to be distributed on Wednesday with next week’s issue.

Georgette Mosbacher, the US ambassador to Poland, criticised the move.

She tweeted: “I am disappointed and concerned that some groups use stickers to promote hatred and intolerance.

“We respect freedom of speech, but we must stand together on the side of values such as diversity and tolerance.”

Earlier this year, another right-wing newspaper in Poland published an article on its front page on “how to recognise a Jew.”

This is chilling stuff, showing how quickly the Law and Justice Party, and similar governments in the rest of eastern Europe, are quickly dragging their nations into very real Fascism and anti-Semitism. This is the same government, remember, which against the express wishes of the mayor of Warsaw, allowed far right, Fascist organisations to march alongside ordinary, patriotic Poles on their national holiday celebrating Poland’s liberation from German, Austrian and Russian imperialism. The Law and Justice Party is strongly anti-gay, nationalistic and with a strong current of anti-Semitism. There was an international outcry a few years ago when they introduced a law criminalising the mention or discussion of Polish collaboration in the Holocaust. I gather, however, from a Polish commenter to this blog that the law doesn’t, however, prevent all discussion of Polish collaboration in this most horrendous of war crimes.

However, as with Viktor Orban’s similarly intolerant and Fascistic Fidesz government in Hungary, there’s been precious little denunciation of the Polish government’s increasing turn to Fascism from the official Jewish bodies in this country, like the Board of Deputies, or papers like the Jewish Chronicle. Why? Poland, Hungary and other eastern European countries are purchasing arms from the Israelis. And so readers of the Groaniad a few years ago were treated to a nauseating piece by Stephen Pollard, the Jewish Chronicle’s non-Jewish editor, informing them that Poland’s government wasn’t anti-Semitic. They were ‘good friends of Israel’.

Yes, they are ‘good friends of Israel’. And that’s a major cause of offence to many Israelis. Jewish bloggers and commenters like Tony Greenstein and David Rosenberg over here have reblogged stories from Israeli papers about Israeli human rights activists, who are outraged by the way any number of very real Fascists from right across the globe have been welcomed by the Israeli state. All they have had to do is pay an official visit to the Holocaust monument at Yad Vashem, and their own mass murders, assassinations, torture and mass imprisonments are discreetly overlooked.

Let’s also make it very clear that while anti-Semitism and racism is rising in eastern Europe, just as it is over here, not all Poles or eastern Europeans are racists or sympathetic to the far right. Way back in April, David Rosenberg put up an article describing a ceremony the previous day held at the Ghetto Fighters’ monument in Warsaw, celebrating the heroic uprising against the Nazis during World War II. The folks assembled for the event flew the red flags of the Jewish Bund, the Jewish socialist group, along with one for the International Brigade from the Spanish Civil War. This celebrated the Poles who left their country, to fight against Franco and the Fascists. One side of this flag was in Yiddish, commemorating the Jews, who fought in the Naftali Botwin company in the Dombrowski battalion. There was also a choir from one of the Warsaw schools, which has a multicultural curriculum. These were mostly, if not almost all non-Jewish, but they proudly sang the Yiddish songs of the Jewish resistance, like “We will Outlive Them!’

https://rebellion602.wordpress.com/2019/04/20/hope-for-a-different-future-on-warsaws-streets/

There were Poles, who courageously defied the Nazis and aided and rescued Jews, and are commemorated with their own memorial in Poland. And the Polish nation itself, along with the other Slav peoples, suffered their own horrific persecution under the Nazis. Hitler considered the Slavs, like the Jews and Gypsies, to be subhuman. An area of land extending deep into Ukraine was to be cleared of its traditional inhabitants and colonised by Germans. If the Nazis had won, the Slavs would have been reduced to an agricultural peasantry, whose only function was to provide food for their Nazi masters. Non-Jewish Poles were massacred, pressed into force labour, and had their villages destroyed. And Hitler had worse planned. He said that the war against the Poles would be a war of extermination.

But the re-emergence of real, vicious racism and intolerance in eastern Europe, which extends not just to gays and Jews, but also to Muslims and other non-Whites, is being ignored by the British Jewish establishment and the Israeli state. David Rosenberg has blogged about his concern for these nations’ Jewish minorities, as have other Jewish commenters, including senior academics. But the very real threat these communities face is ignored, because the Israeli state and the British Jewish establishment that supports it, is more determined to destroy genuinely anti-racist critics of Israel through false charges of anti-Semitism.

Which shows just how hypocritical organisations like Jewish Chronicle, the Board of Deputies and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism really are.

Yay! My Book on Slavery in the British Empire Has Been Published with Lulu

January 30, 2019

On Monday I finally got the proof copies I ordered of my book, The Global Campaign, which I’ve just published with Lulu, the print on demand service. The book’s in two volumes, which have the subtitles on their first pages The British Campaign to Eradicate Slavery in its Colonies. The book’s in two volumes. Volume One has the subtitle The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean, while Volume Two is subtitled Africa and the Wider World.

My blurb for the book runs

British imperialism created an empire stretching from North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, much of whose population were slaves. Global Campaign tells how slavery in the British Empire arose, the conditions and resistance to it of the peoples they enslaved, and the steps taken to end it by the abolitionists across the Empire and the metropolitan authorities in London.

The first volume of this book, Volume 1: The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean describes the emergence of this Empire, and the attempts to end slavery within it up to end of apprenticeship in 1838.

Volume 2: Africa and the Wider World describes how the British tried to end it in their expanding Empire after 1838. It describes how abolition became part of the ideology of British imperialism, and spurred British expansion, annexation and conquest.

The two volumes also discuss the persistence of slavery after abolition into the modern world, and its continuing legacy across continents and cultures.

The contents of vol. 1 are an introduction, then the following:

Chapter 1: the British Slave Empire in 1815
Chapter 2: From Amelioration to Abolition
Chapter 3: Abolition, Apprenticeship and Limited Freedom, 1833-1838.

Vol. 2’s chapter are

1: Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Lagos
2: India, Ceylon, Java and Malaya,
3: The Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji
4: West Africa and the Gold Coast, 1874-1891
5: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Sudan
6: East and Central Africa
7: Zanzibar and Pemba
8: Legacies and Conclusion

Both volumes also have an index and bibliography. I also drew the cover art.

Volume 1 is 385 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-75207-1, price 12.00 pounds.
Volume 2 386 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-45228-5, price 12.00 pounds. Both prices exclusive of VAT.

The books are based on the notes and summaries I made for the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum of some of the official documents they’d acquired from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on slavery. I also supplemented this with a mass of secondary reading on slavery, the slave trade and the British Empire. It’s a fascinating story. I chose to write about slavery in the British Empire as a whole as I found when I was looking through the documents that slavery certainly wasn’t confined to the Caribbean. It was right across the world, though most of the published books concentrate on slavery in the US and the Caribbean. There has been a recent book on slavery and abolition in British India and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and I remember seeing a book on the British campaign against slavery in the Pacific, published, I believe, from one of the antipodean publishers. I doubt very many people in Britain are aware that it existed in India and Sri Lanka, and that attempts to outlaw it there date from c. 1798, when the British judge of the Bombay (Mumbai) presidency ruled that it was illegal. Similarly, general histories of slavery do mention the infamous ‘coolie trade’ in indentured labourers from India and China. They were imported into the Caribbean and elsewhere around the world in order to supply cheap labour after the abolition of slavery in 1838. However, they were treated so abysmally in conditions often worse than those endured by enslaved Blacks, that it was dubbed by one British politician ‘A new system of slavery’. There’s an excellent book on it, with that as its title, by Hugh Tinker, published by one of the Indian presses.

General books on slavery also discuss the enslavement of indigenous Pacific Islanders, who were kidnapped and forced to work on plantations in Fiji and Queensland in Australia. But again, I doubt if many people in the UK have really heard about it. And there are other episodes in British imperial history and the British attempts to curb and suppress slavery around the world which also isn’t really widely known. For example, abolition provided some much of the ideological impetus for the British conquest of Africa. Sierra Leone was set up in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. But the British were also forced to tackle slavery and slaving in the Gold Coast, after they acquired it in the 19th century. They then moved against and conquered the African kingdoms that refused to give up slaving, such as Ashanti, Dahomey and the chiefdoms around Lagos. It’s a similar story in east Africa, in what is now Tanganyika, Zambia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Malawi. The British initially wished to conquer the area as part of the general European ‘Scramble for Africa’, and their main rivals in the region where the Portuguese. But the British public were also aware through the missionary work of David Livingstone that the area was part of the Arabic slave trade, and that the indigenous peoples of this region were being raided and enslaved by powerful local African states, such as the Yao and the Swahili as well as Arabs, and exported to work plantations in the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off the east African coast. At the same time, Indian merchants were also buying and enslaving Africans from that area, particularly Uganda.

The British were also concerned to crush slavery in Egypt after they took control of the country with the French. They encouraged Khedive Ismail, the Egyptian ruler, to attempt to suppress it in Egypt and then the Sudan. It was as part of this anti-slavery campaign that the Khedive employed first Colonel Baker and then General Gordon, who was killed fighting the Mahdi.

At the same time, Stamford Raffles in Singapore and Raja Brooke of Sarawak justified their conquest and acquisition of these states as campaigns to end slavery in those parts of Asia. The British also took over Fiji at the request of the Fijian king, Cakabau. White Americans and Europeans had been entering the country, and Cakabau and his advisors were afraid that unless the country was taken under imperial control, the settlers would enslave the indigenous Fijians. Indeed, Cakabau had been made king of the whole of Fiji by the colonists, though he was acutely aware of how he was being used as a figurehead for effective White control of his people. At the same time, the White planters were also forming a White supremacist group. So he appealed to the British Empire to takeover his country in order to prevent his people’s enslavement.

British imperial slavery started off with the British colonies in the Caribbean and North America. I’ve ignored slavery in the US except for the period when it was part of the British Empire. The Canadians ended slavery nearly two decades before it was formally outlawed throughout the British Empire. It was done through enlightened governors, judges as well as abolitionists outside government. The country’s authorities did so by interpreting the law, often against its spirit, to show that slavery did not legally exist there. There were attempts by slaveowners to repeal the legislation, but this was halfhearted and by the 1820s slavery in Canada had officially died out.

After the British acquired Cape Colony at the southern tip of Africa, the very beginning of the modern state of South Africa, they were also faced with the problem of ending the enslavement of its indigenous population. This included the indigenous Khoisan ‘Bushmen’, who were being forced into slavery when they took employment with White farmers. At the same time, the British were trying to do the same in Mauritius and the Seychelles after they conquered them from the French.

The British initially started with a programme of gradual abolition. There was much debate at the time whether the enslaved peoples could support themselves as independent subjects if slavery was abolished. And so the abolitionists urged parliament to pass a series of legislation slowly improving their conditions. These regulated the foods they were given by the planters, the punishments that could be inflicted on them, as well as giving them medical care and support for the aged and disabled. They also tried to improve their legal status by giving them property rights and the right to be tried in ordinary courts. Special officials were set up, the Guardians and Protectors of Slaves, to examine complaints of cruelty.

This gradualist approach was challenged by the female abolitionists, who grew impatient with the cautious approach of the Anti-Slavery Society’s male leadership. They demanded immediate abolition. I’ve also tried to pay tribute to the struggle by the enslaved people themselves to cast off their shackless. In the Caribbean, this took the form of countless slave revolts and rebellions, like Maroons in Jamaica, who were never defeated by us. At the same time a series of slaves came forward to accuse their masters of cruelty, and to demand their freedom. After the Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery did not exist in English law in the late 18th century, slaves taken to Britain from the Caribbean by their masters presented themselves to the Protectors on their return demanding their freedom. They had been on British soil, and so had become free according to English law. They therefore claimed that they were illegally kept in slavery. As you can imagine, this produced outrage, with planters and slaveowners attacking both the anti-slavery legislation and official attempts to free the slaves as interference with the right of private property.

This legislation was introduced across the Empire. The same legislation that regulated and outlawed slavery in the Caribbean was also adopted in the Cape, Mauritius and the Seychelles. And the legislation introduced to ensure that indentured Indian and Chinese labourers were treated decently was also adopted for Pacific Islanders.

Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833, but a form of servitude persisted in the form of apprenticeship until 1838. This compelled the slaves to work unpaid for their masters for a certain number of hours each week. It was supposed to prepare them for true freedom, but was attacked and abandoned as just another form of slavery.

Unfortunately slavery continued to exist through the British Empire in various forms despite official abolition. The British were reluctant to act against it in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Java and Perak in what is now Malaysia because they were afraid of antagonizing the indigenous princes and so causing a rebellion. In Egypt they attempted to solve the problem by encouraging the slaveowners as pious Muslims to manumit their slaves freely as an act of piety, as the Prophet Mohammed urges them in the Qu’ran. In the Caribbean, the freedom the former slaves enjoyed was limited. The British were afraid of the plantation economy collapsing, and so passed legislation designed to make it difficult for the freed people to leave their former masters, often tying them to highly exploitative contracts. The result was that Black West Indians continued to fear re-enslavement long after abolition, and there were further riots and rebellions later in the 19th century. In British Africa, the indigenous African peoples became second class citizens, and were increasingly forced out of governmental and administrative roles in favour of Whites. Some colonies also conscripted African labourers into systems of forced labour, so that many came to believe that they had simply swapped one form of slavery for another. The result has been that slavery has continued to persist. And it’s expanded through people trafficking and other forms of servitude and exploitation.

The book took me on off several years to write. It’s a fascinating subject, and you can’t but be impressed with the moral and physical courage of everyone, Black and White, who struggled to end it. I chose to write about it in the British Empire as while there are many books on slavery across the world, there didn’t seem to be any specifically on the British Empire. Studying it also explains why there is so much bitterness about it by some people of West Indian heritage and how it has shaped modern politics. For example, before South Sudan was given its independence, Sudan under the British was effectively divided into two countries. In the southern part of the country, the British attempted to protect the indigenous peoples from enslavement by banning Arabs. They were also opened up to Christian evangelization. In the Arab north, the British attempted to preserve good relations by prohibiting Christian evangelism.

I also attempt to explain how it is that under the transatlantic slave trade, slavery became associated with Blackness. In the ancient world and during the Middle Ages, Whites were also enslaved. But Europeans started turning to Black Africans in the 14th and 15th centuries when it became impossible for them to buy Slavs from eastern Europe. So common had the trade in Slavs been that the modern English word, slave, and related terms in other languages, like the German Sklave, actually derive from Slav.

It’s been fascinating and horrifying writing the book. And what is also horrifying is that it persists today, and that new legislation has had to be passed against it in the 21st century.