Posts Tagged ‘Incas’

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

June 13, 2020

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

Columbus and the Genocide of the Amerindians

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

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

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

Leopold of Belgium and the Congo Atrocity

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

‘Florence’ Suggests I should Compile a Book about British & American Support for Fascist Dictators

November 12, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on a video from the Aussie left-wing blogger, Democratic Socialist. This showed the Tory media’s double standard in reviling Jeremy Corbyn as a supporter of terrorism, Iran, and an anti-Semite, when he is none of those things. But the hacks of the Telegraph definitely did not make those accusations against their Tory molten idol, Maggie Thatcher, when she by association supported all of the above through her friendship with General Pinochet.

Corbyn’s support for Iran was based on an interview he made to an Iranian group, the Mossadeq Project. Mohammed Mossadeq was the last, democratically elected prime minister of that ancient and extremely cultured nation. He was no theocrat, but a secular liberal. He was also a Baha’i, a post-Islamic, syncretistic faith which embraces human equality, including that of men and women. The Shi’a Muslim establishment have hated them since the faith first emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there have been terrible pogroms against them. This hatred is not shared by all Iranian Muslims, and I have personally known Iranian Muslims, who are heartily sick of the way their Baha’i friends are treated.

Mossadeq’s crime was that he dared nationalise the Iranian oil industry, then dominated by the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which became BP. This resulted in us and the Americans organising a coup, which toppled Mossadeq, and began the long process by which the Shah gradually assumed absolute power, ruling through terror and a secret police force, SAVAK.

‘Florence’, one of the many great commenters on this blog, commented

In the early 70s I volunteered to help type up translation transcriptions of reports from torture victims of the “Shit” of Iran, as Private eye called him. (It was as evidence for Amnesty.) Its not something you can ever forget. When the revolution happened, it was simply new bosses at the same slaughter houses. This is another lesson learned; the violence required by a state to terrorise its own people seeps into the culture, and remains for generations (maybe longer, its too early to tell in most of the cases you cover in this interesting and evocative piece). The violence of the state becomes symmetrical in the revolution in many countries, Iran, Iraq, etc. that follows such repression.

(For this reason I also worry that, for example, the almost visceral hatred of the disabled (and other poor) in the UK bred by the eugenics of neoliberalism for decades will not be so easily dislodged with a change in government. )

I see that the experience of having lived through those times is no longer part of the wider political education of the younger members of the left. In Labour the excesses of the neoliberals all but wiped out that generation and the links. I talk sometimes to our younger members in the Labour party and they are fascinated – but totally clueless. I do try to point them at this blog for this very reason. They are oblivious to who Pinochet was, why it mattered to us then and now, the refuge given to that butcher by Thatcher, the entire history of the Chicago school etc. The traditional passing in of this history, personal history too, through social groups in the Labour party has all but broken down.

As a suggestion, perhaps you could edit your blogs into a book we could use in discussion groups? You would help us be that collective memory board for the newer (not just younger) activists. It would help tease out the older members stories of their personal part in the struggles at home and abroad, but more than that your pieces on the collision of religious and political also show the rich complexities of life.

I am really honoured that my blog is so highly regarded and useful. While talking to Mike earlier today, I mentioned the idea to him. He was enthusiastic and supportive, making a few suggestions on how I should go about it. I told him I have had problems finding a mainstream publisher for some of my other books I have written. He suggested I should try Lulu again, and have the cover done by a professional artist. This would be a great help to actually selling the book, and he could put me in touch with some of the great comics artists he’s worked with.

I am therefore definitely going to look into this.

Now for the other points ‘Florence’ has raised in her comment.

As for the point about how a whole generation in the Left and the Labour party having an awareness and opposition to the various Fascist leaders run riot around the world thanks to British and American support as part of their political education, I think that’s how very many people got involved in politics. Private Eye covered these issues, as it still does, and there was the series of comedy reviews put on in support of Amnesty in the 1980s called The Secret Policeman’s Ball. These featured some of the greatest comedy talents of the day, such as the Pythons and the languid, caustic wit of Peter Cook. I don’t think you had to be particularly left-wing to be a fan, only a supporter of democracy and civil liberties. Very many of the other kids in my Sixth Form were into it, including those, who could be described as working-class Tories.

But come to think about it, we haven’t seen anything like that on our screens for many, many years. The series was becoming long and drawn out towards the end, but nevertheless there’s no reason something else like it, which could be launched. And I don’t doubt that there are young, angry, talented comedians out there, who are perfectly capable of stepping up to the mike and doing it.

And some of the absence of comment and criticism of the monsters, who ran amok across the globe thanks to British and American support does come from the victory of neoliberalism. Including its adoption by New Labour. Blair was an Atlanticist, and an alumni of the Reagan-founded British-American Project for the Successor Generation, or BAP for short. This was a group that trained up future British political leaders, sending them on free jaunts to the US, so that on return to Britain they would be enthusiastic supporters of the ‘Special Relationship’. And they did a superb job on Blair. Before he went on one jaunt, he was a supporter of unilateral disarmament. When he returned, after meeting the American nuclear lobby, he was fully on board with us supporting America’s siting of nukes in Britain, as well as our own, independent nuclear deterrent.

Much of the activism against these thugs came out, it seems to me, of the campaigns against the Vietnam War. This inspired the radical young people of the time to look more closely at what America and the West were doing in the Cold War, and the people we supported as the bulwark of ‘freedom’ – which really meant ‘capitalism’ and western big business – against the Soviets. And the brutal realities of Pinochet’s regime, and that of the Shah of Iran, and very many others, were extensively reported. Clive James in one of his TV reviews written for the Observer, acidly commented on an interview on British TV with some high level thug from the Shah’s Iran. This torturer was asked about the brutal methods of interrogation employed by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. There was no problem, said the thug. They were improving all the time. Oh yes, commented James, or something similar.

Incidentally, an Iranian friend of mine told me had some experience of the activities of the Shah’s secret police himself. Back in Iran, he’d been a footie fan. But he noticed that several of his mates kept disappearing. He then found out that one of his friends was a snitch for the secret police, and had been informing on them. It’s when you hear these experiences from the people, who observed what was happening, that really begin to understand why so much of the world is less than enthusiastic about western imperialism. And why so many Iranians were taken in by that other thug, Khomeini. When he returned to Iran, he promised freedom to all Iranians. That didn’t last long, as it was back to normal with the rapists and torturers in Evin prison under his regime.

I was also part of a British medieval re-enactment group. One of the great peeps I met in that was an American chap, whose ancestry was South American. He was proud of his Incan heritage, and in America he’d been part of a similar group, that recreated the warrior traditions of this Andean people. He’d also been a translator for one of the human rights organisations, translating documents on abuses from Spanish.

There is indeed a whole generation out there, with personal experience of the dictatorship supported by the West, people whose wealth of knowledge and experience should be passed on.

But part of the problem is the supposed break with dictatorship and the entry of neoliberalism into the Labour party. The Fall of Communism was meant to be the End of History, as heralded by Francis Fukuyama. From now on, Western liberal democracy and capitalism would reign unchallenged. And with the threat of Communism gone, the Americans decided to cut their losses and move against the Fascist dictators they’d been propping up. Hence their ouster of General Noriega.

This gave the impression that the world was going to be nicely democratic, with the unspoken assumption that western, Euro-American culture would remain dominant and unchallenged.

But the old culture of lies, coups and regime change when the dominated countries in the developing world get too uppity is still there. As are the Cold Warriors. We didn’t invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to free its peoples. We invaded because the Neocons wanted their state industries for American multinationals, and the Saudi-American oil industry wanted their oil fields. And Israel wanted to stop Hussein from aiding the Palestinians. Human rights was just a convenient pretext. And it’s been like this for the last 14 years.

Just like we’re also being told lies about the situation in Ukraine. The Maidan Revolution was not spontaneous. It was staged by the CIA, National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros, and Victoria Nuland in Obama’s state department. It was to stop Ukraine becoming too close to Putin’s Russia. Ukraine has always had strong links to its eastern neighbour. Indeed, Kiev was one of the earliest and most powerful of the Russian states to emerge in the Middle Ages. Trying to sever the links between the two is similar, as someone put it, to Canada moving away from America to side with the Communist bloc.

But we aren’t being told any of that. Nor are we told that real, unreconstructed Nazis from the Pravy Sektor are in the ruling coalition, and that there is credible evidence that human rights abuses have been visited on the Russian minority and Russian speaking Ukrainians.

We are just being told that Putin is a thug – which is true – and that he’s ready to invade the former Soviet satellites. Which probably isn’t.

There is also a further problem, in that some of the countries, whose Fascist leaders Britain and America supported, are very remote. I’d guess that many people really wouldn’t be able to find them on a map, let alone know much about their history. And so we face the same problem the Czechs faced, when Chamberlain sacrificed their country to Hitler at Munich. They are faraway countries, of which we know nothing.

And this is a problem with British imperial history generally. Salman Rushdie once said that the British don’t know their own history, because so much of it happened abroad. This is true. British capitalism was stimulated through the colonisation of the West Indies, the slave trade and the sugar industry. How much is a matter of debate. Black and West Indian scholars have suggested that it was the prime stimulus behind the emergence of capitalism and the industrial revolution in Britain. Others have argued instead that it added only 5 per cent to the economy. But that it did have an effect is undeniable, especially on its colonised peoples. In the West Indies, this meant the virtual extermination of the indigenous Amerindian peoples and their replacement with enslaved Africans.

Well, the Empire has gone, and been replaced by the Commonwealth. But western domination of these countries’ economies still remains through the various tariff barriers that the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal called Neocolonialism. As well as the domination of their industries by western multinationals.

There are book available on the British Empire, some of them critical. Like John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried, and a recent book about the internment, torture and mutilation of the indigenous Kenyans during the Mao Mao crisis, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But the people, who appear on TV to talk about imperialism tend to be those on the right, like Niall Ferguson, who will admit that the British Empire was seriously flawed, but on balance did more good. Which might be true, but still glosses over some of the horrors we perpetrated.

And many of these are still kept from us. The public documents supporting the allegations of the victims of British torture in Kenya only came to light because they fought a long and hard battle in the British courts to get them released. I honestly don’t know what other nasty little secrets are being kept from us, in case it embarrasses senior ministers or industrialists.

So if you want to see the brutal reality behinds the West’s foreign policy, you have to read specialist magazines, many of them small press. Like Robin Ramsay’s Lobster, which has been going since the 1980s, and which is now online, and Counterpunch, an American radical magazine and website, which has been digging the sordid truth up about the American Empire and the rapacity of capitalism and the global elite. I also recommend William Blum’s The Anti-Empire Report, and his books, as well as Greg Palast’s dissection of the real reasons we invaded Iraq, Armed Madhouse.

More material on the rapacity of western imperialism is coming to light through the internet, and especially the emergence of alternative news sites. And there is a growing audience for it, as young and older people from across the world are brought together through international links. This isn’t just business, but also through the foreign students coming to Britain, as well as Brits living, working and studying elsewhere in the world.

The problem is getting it out there, and moving it from the sidelines so that it becomes a major topic that can be used to challenge our leaders and hold them to account, without being written off as ‘loony radical lefties’ spouting about things no-one else wants to know about or even hear. About other ‘faraway places, of which we know nothing’.