Posts Tagged ‘History Today’

A French Historian’s Examination of Medieval Slavery

June 27, 2021

Pierre Dockes, Medieval Slavery and Liberation, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (London: Methuen 1982).

I got this book through the post yesterday from the secondhand book company, World of Books. I ordered it because it seems to me that there is too little awareness of the existence of indigenous White European slavery and serfdom. It very much seems that anti-racist and Black activists are presenting a false view of slavery as something that only White Europeans and Americans did to Black Africans. Its existence in ancient and medieval Europe, as well as in Africa and Islam, is deliberately ignored or downplayed. At the same time, the Tories are also intent on presenting their terribly simplified view of British history as a kind of ‘merrie England’ when everyone was free and prosperous, and the peasants lived happily under the benign rule of the aristocracy and factory masters. Dockes, the author of the above book, was professor of political economy at the university of Lyons. He’s described as a member of the Annales school of French historians. I was taught in the historiography part of the MA history course at UWE that the Annales school is, roughly, the French equivalent of History Today. In other words, mainstream academic history. He seems to be approaching the subject from a left-wing direction, as several sections concentrate on the role of class conflict and warfare.

The blurb for the book runs:

How and why did ancient slavery come to an end in the Middle Ages? In this study, Pierre Dockes, a controversial figure in the younger generation of Annales historians, approaches the question not only from the historian’s legitimate concern to understand the transformations of ancient societies but also out of the belief that slavery is more than merely a simple moment in the past. It is rather the primary relationship of exploitation, from which serfdom and wage-labour have stemmed.

Dockes criticises the deterministic accounts of ancient slavery and medieval liberation put forward by both bourgeois and Marxist scholars. He describes the organisation of the Roman villa and its place in the slaveholding society and in the formation of the imperial state, and goes on to show how it was ultimately slave revolts that erased this form of exploitation. Imperial society was reduced to two antagonistic classes and, the author argues, it was slaveholding which undermined the social base upon which Caesar’s and Augustus’s state was constructed.

The end of slaveholding took centuries to accomplish. Each resurgence of the power of the state meant the resurgence of slavery, which did not end until the late ninth century when slave revolts contributed to the breakdown of the Carolingian political order. Dockes concludes that imperialism and slavery are inextricably intertwined, and that even today, ‘after centuries of struggle, exploitation does indeed continue to exist. Only the form has changed.’

The book contains the following chapters and constituent sections.

Introduction

Definition of slavery

The Role of the Class Struggle

The Class Struggle and the State

Appendix: Note on the Determinism of the Productive Forces in History.

  1. The Villa, Society and the State

Genesis of the Villa Slave System

“Ends” of Slavery

Forms of Exploitation in the Early Middle Ages and Challenges to Them

The Elaboration of a “New” Feudal Mode of Production

Outline of the Following Chapters

2. Questions to Historians about Economism

The Question of the Rationality of the Great Slaveholding Landowner

The Question of Productivity

The Question of the Profitability of Slavery

Reproduction of the Work Force: Razzia and Breeding

Marc Bloch’s “Economic Conditions”

The Moral and Religious Factor

3. Productive Forces and Feudal Relations

The Collapse of the Slave Empire, or the Struggle of the Lower Classes

“Build the Material Foundations of Feudalism First”

“Large” Water Mills: Where Does Technological Progress Come From?

Appendix: The Banal Mill – Advantageous to the Peasant or Not?

Dues of the Banal Mill

The Time “Wasted” in Milling by Hand

Estimation of the Average Costs

A Calculation at the Margin

4. Class Struggles in Europe (Third to Ninth Centuries)

Slaves and the Struggles of Others

Slave Struggles and the State

5. Epilogue: By Way of Conclusion.

I’m sure that in the nearly forty years since its publication parts of the book have become dated. For example, Dockes states that slavery continued in England until the 13th century, while more recent books state that slavery had died out by the end of the twelfth century as serfdom became the predominant form of unfree labour. Nevertheless, I think it’s an extremely useful examination of medieval European slavery and the role of class warfare and struggle in its removal and transformation.

Book Setting British Empire and the Debate in Its Historical Context

May 31, 2021

Jeremy Black, The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015)

This is another book I got through the post the other day after ordering it from a catalogue. Jeremy Black is, according to the book’s potted biography, Professor of History at Exeter University, and the author of over 100 books. He’s also written for the Journal of Military History, RUSI, which is the journal of the Royal United Services Institute and History Today. The list of other publications about the British Empire lists another book edited by him, The Tory World: Deep History and the Tory Theme in British Foreign Policy, 1679-2014. From this, it might be fair to conclude that Black’s a man of the right.

I read his book, Slavery: A Global History a few years ago when I was writing my own book on the British Empire and slavery a few years ago, and really enjoyed it. Instead of dealing with the British transatlantic slave trade in isolation, it showed how slavery was widespread right across the world and described how the British imperialists tried to end it in their subject territories. I bought this because, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, British imperialism has once again become a matter for heated debate and violent denunciation. The motives of the people behind some of these denunciations and demands for justice seem more than a little suspect to me. For example, a month or so ago one of the speakers in an Arise Festival online meeting was the head of the Black Liberation Movement, the British branch of Black Lives Matter. In her speech she declared that Britain should take asylum seekers ‘because you oppressed us under colonialism’. The short answer to that is that this was supposed to be corrected when the former colonies were granted their independence. Instead, many of them very swiftly degenerated in horrific, murderous dictatorships, like Idi Amin’s Uganda and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. There was a very deliberate decision in her speech to ignore and gloss over post-colonial misgovernment and oppression, no doubt because it doesn’t fit the narrative she wants to present of Britain being responsible for all her former colonies’ woes.

I am also not impressed by the very loud demands for Oxford University to remove Cecil Rhode’s statue. Don’t get me wrong, he was a blackguard. He’s supposed to have said that the people he liked to employ were greedy sycophants, or something like that. Some critics have also said that his imposition of the colour bar in Rhodesia was particularly hypocritical, as he didn’t personally believe in it. But pre-colonial east Africa was hardly some idyllic Wakanda. Many of the indigenous peoples practised slavery themselves, and were preyed on by Arab, Swahili, Marganja and Yao slavers. And you can argue that, as horrendous as White rule was, it was far better than Mugabe’s genocidal dictatorship. The people calling for the statue’s removal seem to me to be Black African nationalists, butthurt over what they see as a slight to their racial and national dignity. But I also wonder if some of its also motivated by a consciousness of their nations’ failures post-independence.

I bought the book as it promised to discuss the debate surrounding the British Empire as telling its history. Black states that it needs to be seen in its historical context and not judged by the standards of the present day. This is actually what I was taught in my first year of studying history at College. You’re not supposed to create ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ of history, because if things had turned out differently, our standards and culture would have been different.

The blurb for the book runs

What was the course and consequence of the British Empire? The rights and wrongs, strengths and weaknesses of empire are a major topic in global history, and deservedly so. Focusing on the most prominent and wide-ranging empire in world history, the British Empire, Jeremy Black provides not only a history of that empire, but also a perspective from which to consider the issues of its strengths and weaknesses, and right and wrongs. In short, this is a history both of the past, and of the present-day discussion of the past, that recognises that discussion over historical empires is in part a reflection of the consideration of contemporary states.

In this book Professor Black weaves together an overview of the British Empire across the centuries, with a considered commentary on both the public historiography of empire and the politically-charged character of much discussion of it. There is a coverage here of social as well as political and economic dimensions of empire, and both the British perspective and that of the colonies is considered. The chronological dimension is set by the need to consider not only imperial expansion by the British state, but also the history of Britain within an imperial context. As such, this is a story of empires within the British Isles, Europe, and, later, world-wide. The book addresses global decline, decolonisation, and the complex nature of post-colonialism and different imperial activity in modern and contemporary history. Taking a revisionist approach, there is no automatic assumption that imperialism, empire, and colonialism were ‘bad’ things. Instead, there is a dispassionate and evidence-based evaluation of the British Empire as a form of government, an economic system, and a method of engagement with the world, one with both faults and benefits for the metropole and the colony.

Black states that criticism of British imperialism is also a criticism of capitalism, which in many cases is very definitely and obviously true. However, he also criticises Kwesi Kwarteng’s history of the British empire for its denunciations of British colonial oppression in some of the colonies, like Nigeria. And while British imperialism may well have brought some benefits, much of it is still indefensible by modern standards. Like the plantations in Ireland, the genocide and dispossession of indigenous peoples, like aboriginal Australians and the American Indians, the seizure of native land in Africa and so on. He notes that the most successful colonies are White settler nations like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but this hardly outweighs the disastrous consequences of the White invasion for the indigenous peoples.

I haven’t read it yet – I’m still making my way through a number of other books – but I hope to do so, and will probably blog about it in the future to give my views and conclusions about what looks like a timely and provocative book.

History Today on the UN, the Holocaust, and Post-1945 Genocides

October 12, 2016

I found the definition of Genocide according to the UN’s Genocide Convention, and a list of genocides that have occurred since 1945 in an article by Ronnie Landau, ‘Never Again?’ in the March 1994 issue of History Today, pp. 6-8. Landau was the head of Humanities at the City Literary Institute, and the author of The Nazi Holocaust, published by I.B. Tauris in 1992. Her article traces the origins of the word and the concept of genocide, coined by the international jurist Raphael Lemkin in 1943, examining and criticising the repeated failure of the international community to stop genocides recurring and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The article is worth discussing here, as it deals with many of the issues involved in the latest anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker.

Landau notes in the article that Lemkin was concerned not just with the punishment of existing crimes against humanity, but also with prevent further atrocities. The UN responded three year later, in 1946, by setting up a committee to consider drafting a convention on such crimes. The committee’s provisional definition of genocide declared it to be ‘deliberate acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, racial, religious or political group on grounds of the national or racial origin, religious belief or political opinion of its members.’ This led to the final Convention, which left out the references to economic and political groups. (p. 6).

The UN Convention on genocides states that

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical racial or religious group, as such:

A) Killing members of the group;
B) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
C) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
D) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
E) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Landau goes on to describe how various nations attempted to eviscerate this convention. The Soviets did so by stating that genocide, like the Holocaust, was the result of decaying imperialism and implied that the convention would be inapplicable in the future. In the Soviet bloc, the Holocaust was considered part of the wider crimes by the Nazis against the peoples of eastern Europe. Furthermore, the UN caused massive popular outrage around the world by failing to invoke the Convention against Pol Pot and the vile Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. This has resulted in many believing that the UN has lost its right to be regarded as a serious preventative force against such mass murders.

The article goes on to list the post-1945 atrocities, which may be defined as genocide according to the UN Convention as follows:

The Bengalis, 1971;
the Hutu of Burundi, 1972;
Ache Indians of Paraguay, 1968-72;
Kampucheans, 1975-79;
East Timor Islanders, 1975-present;
The French against the Algerians, 1945-62;
Governing Sudanese against Black Christians in South Sudan, 1955-present;
Post-Sukarno regime against Indonesian Communists, 1965-70;
General Pinochet in Chile against political opposition 1965-67;
Nigerian army against Ibo people in Biafra, 1966-70;
Guatemalan army against Mayan Indians, 1980-present;
Ethiopian regime against Tigre and Eritreans, 1980-present;
Iraqi government against Kurds, 1988 and 1991;
Pakistan, later Bangladesh, against Chittagong Hill Tract tribes, late 1940s-present;
Brazilian and Paraguayan governments against Ache and other Amerindians, 1960s-present.
Communist China against Tibet, 1959-present;
Indonesia against West Papua, 1969-present.
Stalin’s regime against the Communist party and selected elements of the population, up to 1953;
Macias government of Equatorial Guinea, 1968-79;
Idi Amin against the Ugandans, and particularly the Ugandan Asians, 1972-85;
the Argentinian junta against the ‘Left’, 1978-79. (p. 7).

The article then discusses the issue of whether aging Nazis should be tried for their complicity in the Holocaust, especially as those responsible for other horrors, such as Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein et al have never been hunted down or punished. It also notes that the Nuremberg Trials were remarkable in that they were ever held at all. When Landau was writing, there had been no further international trials either of Nazis or other genocides. She also states that there is a clear difference between the treatment of homicide and genocide. Those responsible for individual murders know that this is a crime, and that the police and other authorities will attempt to arrest and punish them. This is in contrast to genocides, who, as people in authority, rarely feel remorse, or are found guilty and punished.

She also discusses the difficulties in treating each genocide as equally serious, and not privileging the extermination of one group over others. She states

How can the international community show even-handedness i9n their investigation of such monstrous crimes, and thus avoid the construction of a hierarchy of suffering which condemns some genocides and atrocities to virtual oblivion, while others remain at the forefront of our consciousness? While preserving the distinctiveness and unique character of each genocide, are we prepared to make ‘connections’ between different genocides- identify common features – which may enable us to establish early warning systems to prevent the continuing abuse, persecution and destruction of groups, and the possible obliteration of cultures? (p. 8).

She goes on to discuss some of the features common to genocides, which may allow for its effective prosecution and prevention.

She also raises the question of whether it is possible to formulate a new code, based on previous conventions and what has been learned from the Nazi Holocaust, to set up systems for the international monitoring of potential genocides, with, if necessary, the deployment of UN forces. She then goes on to criticise current international inactivity over the war crimes in Bosnia, and compares it to the dilatory stance the international community took to the Holocaust, which led to the deaths of 6 million Jews and 5 1/2 million other innocents before the Nazi regime was wiped from the Earth.

The Holocaust, Jackie Walker and the Anti-Semitism Allegations

This article is acutely relevant to the latest smear against Jackie Walker, the former vice-chair of Momentum. Walker was accused and dismissed from her post because she had behaved ‘insensitively’ at a Labour party training day on Holocaust Memorial Day, because she had raised the issue of why it should not include other Holocausts. The organisers have claimed that it does, but this is refuted by the fact that it does not cover genocides committed before 1945. The definition of anti-Semitism they used also considers as anti-Semitic criticism of Israel, because of which it is not generally accepted. Furthermore, her Jewish supporters in Momentum have pointed out that the Israeli authorities and academics consider the Holocaust to be an experience unique to Jews. This list shows that this is clearly not the case, and that Walker was quite right to question the unique focus on the Jewish Holocaust.

This sole focus of the Israelis on the Jewish Holocaust also raises the issue of whether Israel can be considered an enabler of genocide. Israel is certainly guilty of the mass murder of Palestinians, and has followed a policy of ethnic cleansing of its indigenous Arab population since its foundation. In that sense, it would be guilty of genocide. But as Landau notes, the formulation of the whole concept of genocide by Lemkin was intended to prevent it from recurring. In this, the Jewish experience of the Holocaust was seen not just as unique in itself, but also an example of the horrors perpetrated against multitudes of others. By stressing the uniqueness of the Shoah, the Israeli authorities are undercutting part of the historical framework for the prosecution of other, similar crimes.

Finally, the initial smear against Jackie Walker as an anti-Semite came from a very selectively argued complaint about a conversation she was having on Facebook several months previously with two others. There she discussed Jewish complicity – but crucially, not complete responsibility – in the slave trade. But her point was to do exactly what Landau also raised in her article – make the point that there should be no ‘hierarchy of suffering’ which privileges some groups over others.

Tony Greenstein, one of the others, who was suspended from the Labour party by the Blairites for unspecified thoughtcrimes, has written an excellent article in the Weekly Worker demanding that Walker should be reinstalled as Momentum’s vice-chair and criticising Lansman, Momentum’s leader, for caving in to the Zionists. Mike over at Vox Political has reblogged Mr Greenstein’s article, with his own comments. He notes that Mrs Walker has a case for prosecuting those involved in the smears for libel and invasion of privacy under the data protection act. And as I’ve mentioned in a previous piece, far from being anti-Semitic, Mrs Walker’s discussion of the involvement of some Jews in the slave trade is certain not unique. Other historians have also, including several mentioned by Mrs Walker herself in her statement clarifying her comments.

The Israel lobby, as I have said before, are smearing decent people as anti-Semites, simply because they dare to criticise Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. In doing so, and insisting on the Holocaust as an experience unique to Jews, they are obstructing its application as a template of what constitutes genocides to other cases, and are therefore weakening the ability of the international community to protect other groups. This is to be resisted, as is the smearing of individuals.

The Origins of Saudi Arabia and Modern Islamo-Nazism

January 10, 2016

I’ve posted several pieces discussing the role of the Saudis and their form of Islam, Wahhabism, in promoting the terrorism and vicious religious intolerance and warfare that has now overwhelmed the Middle East. Many of these pieces come from Michelle Thomasson, one of the commenters on this blog, who had done extensive research on these issues. Here’s another piece she posted in response to my previous article on modern terrorism and the role of covert American espionage actions in destabilising Assad’s Syria.

I am also very cautious when posting information and prefer to rely on original data / sources, so when reading up on Zionism I tried to scan a variety of referenced sources (second hand bookshops are a treasure trove for old document finds). Here is a précis of my notes on Wahhabism which leads into the quote:

Roots of ISIS fundamentalism

Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (born 1702/3) in Nejd, central Arabia founded Wahhabism. He was a zealous reformer; he looked at the intentions behind actions and advocated the most scrupulous, most inflexible interpretation of Islam, he also called for believers to engage with the Quran directly.

Muslims who did not share his strict interpretations, including his application of Sharia law were to be gently persuaded; if this did not succeed then arms were called against them to bring them back in to the fold (trying not to kill them). This tactic was also applied to Shi’ites. Adult males who fought against Islam and who were polytheists, that refused to convert were executed.

The Al Saud family backed by zealous Wahhabi’s (who considered it their task to purify Islam) have dominated central Arabia since the mid eighteenth century. Endorsement by leading Wahhabi scholars, legitimised the Saudi monarchy.

Rasid Rida (1865 – 1935, Syria) was a pupil of the great Egyptian reformer Muhammad Abdul; he urged Muslims to find unity and focus in Islam with a dynamism in their own traditions as an essence of Jihad. As Rida grew older he condemned the abolition of strict Sharia practices such as cutting off the hand, but he also began to praise Wahhabism and was a passionate supporter of the new Saudi kingdom. Rida’s endorsement enabled the spread of Wahhabism beyond the kingdom’s borders.

Conflicts increase – until 1914 Rida advocated coming to a mutual arrangement with Zionism, then after WW1 the Arabs wanted to collaborate with Israel directly, however, Zionist leaders such as Chaim Weizmann decided it best to cooperate with Imperial Britain instead. “For Rida, this put them on the other side of the great divide, and like many other Arabs he came to see Zionism as a British tool to split and dominate the Arab world. From the late 1920s onwards, he mined the most hostile traditions to Jews in Islam and combined such material with the conspiracy theories of European anti-Semitism to attack the Zionist project and Jews in general.

Thus, he focused on the hadith (italicised) ‘The Jews will fight you and you will be led to dominate them until the rock cries out; “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, kill him!”’ He claimed that the Torah exhorted Jews to exterminate people that they conquered, and that the Jews rebelled against God by killing the prophets he sent after Moses. They invented Freemasonry and the Western banking system, and in recent years had created capitalism in Western Europe and Communism in Eastern Europe with which to plot against the European nations. He also saw Jewry as contributing to Germany’s defeat in First World War in exchange for Britain’s promise to grant them Palestine.

From this final period in his life, we can see the origins of the anti-Semitism which has infected some parts of the Arab and Muslim struggle against Zionism and is now reflected, for instance, in the Hamas charter and the propagation of Holocaust denial in sections of the Arabic media.” (A Concise History of the Arabs, 2014, page 163, by John McHugo.)

I chose a Hugo quote because it is a summation of the information I found and his writing is not the stuff of alternative media fright nights, quite the opposite! He is ‘an Arabist, an international lawyer and former academic researcher. His writing has been published on the BBC, History Today and Chatham House’s The World Today.. He is the director of the Council for Arab British Understanding and of the British Egyptian Society.” (From the introduction page to the above quoted book.)

Please note tribal rivalry and local conflicts continued during the nineteenth century in Saudi, the charismatic Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud disposed of most local rivals in the first 2 decades and he conquered the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as Hejaz in 1924/5. The new Saudi Arabia was eventually proclaimed as such in 1932. The British then supported the Saudi’s because they saw them as a counterforce to the Ottoman Empire i.e. divide and conquer.

Re the role of academic legitimisation in the last decade, there have been calls for an Islamic front by Sheikh Essa an Egyptian ideologue who wanted to forge an Islamic front from 2003 and also Dr. Israr Ahmed an academic who called for the revival of the Islamic Caliphate.

Unless one has been made a target by groups that operate clandestinely, it is difficult to believe, but here is an academic unafraid to point out one of the elephants in the room, I posted this last year: https://theconversation.com/europes-elites-are-more-like-berlusconi-than-you-think-25769

Interestingly, the link to Berlusconi’s masonic lodge in above link has ‘disappeared’ since the article was published!

This is very much what I’ve found out, simply through looking through standard reference works like Carl Brockmann’s History of the Islamic Peoples and the Oxford Encyclopaedia of World Religions, as well as Alfred Kopel’s study of the modern religious revival, The Revenge of God. Berman, in his book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, also puts the origin of the vicious anti-Semitism now poisoning the Islamic world to the influence of Nazi propaganda following the establishment of Israel. The Nazis were hoping to manipulate Muslim public opinion to mobilise them against their British overlords in support of Nazi Germany. Before then he notes that there was little anti-Semitism in Islam, and that 19th century Jewish scholars generally saw Islam as being far more hospitable and welcoming towards Jews than the Christian West.

I’ve also found second-hand bookshops to be invaluable treasure troves for good books. I did see in one of them in Cheltenham a few months ago a documentary history of Israel and the Arabs, so books on this complicated and highly emotive subject are about.

As for the Masonic lodge, Propaganda Due, or P2, their role in modern Italian politics is extremely murky. There are articles in Lobster linking them to some of the Fascist antics in Italy in the 1970s, such as the Bologna railway bombings, where the Neo-Fascists blew up a train station killing and injuring something like 127 people. They also seem to have some involvement in the death of ‘God’s Banker’, Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging under London Bridge, between the low tide and high water mark, with his pockets full of stones. This is supposedly one of the punishments in the Masonic oath that’s meted out to people who betray the brotherhood’s secrets. Calvi was also a senior figure in the Vatican bank, the Banco Ambrosiano, which was then in the middle of a corruption scandal.

Forget stupid, murderous lies like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Conspiracies really do exist, and real politics is riddle with them. Fox Mulder didn’t know the half of it.

Channel 4 broadcast a programme about a decade ago now also examining the roots of modern Islamic terrorism. This also showed pupils in Saudis schools dutifully learning that hadith, and being explicitly taught that it was their religious duty as Muslims to fight and kill Jews. The allies might be our allies in the War and Terror, but they’re extremely untrustworthy. It’s been partly through Saudi influence that the ideology behind modern Islamic terrorism has been spread, and terror groups funded.