Posts Tagged ‘Lyons’

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.

Ken Livingstone on the Rehabilitation of Fascists to Protect Capitalism

May 29, 2016

Ken Livingstone has always been a fierce opponent of racism in all its forms. He makes this very clear in the chapter ‘Labour Should Have Listened to Black People’ in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour. He states clearly that all forms of racism, whether against Blacks, the Irish, or anti-Semitism, are the worst form of reaction and should be fought against. His anti-racism and anti-Fascism are made even clearer in the chapter, ‘Made in the USA’, which is about how the US gained economic and political hegemony over Europe from the end of World War I as part of its campaign to halt the advance Communism. Leninspart is justifiably outraged out how, at the end of World War II, America and the Western powers began to rehabilitate Fascists and Nazis as part of this global power struggle. He writes

The policy of reviving capitalism in Germany, as well as the attitude taken towards Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal, by the United States and Britain required the rehabilitation of Fascists. This was made simpler by the fact that most Allied leaders, contrary to their claims, had not objected to Fascism as such. What was unacceptable was fascism which threatened Britain and US interests. The US banker Morgan had financed Mussolini’s Italy and Churchill had summarised his attitude towards Mussolini in his History of the Second World War:

He was, as I had addressed him at the time of the fall of France, the ‘Italian lawgiver’. The alternative to his rule might well have been a communist Italy, which would have brought perils and misfortunes of a different character both upon the Italian people and Europe … Even when the issue of the war had become certain, Mussolini would have been welcomed by the Allies.

In line with this attitude, Adenauer, the United States choice to lead West Germany, was perfectly prepared to consort with Nazis. As Walter Laquer Smith admits in his pro-cold War Europe Since Hitler:

While Adenauer’s anti-Nazi record was above reproach, he was less than scrupulous in the choice of his closest collaborators: there could be but one opinion about the career of men like Oberlander and Globke in the Nazi era, but the former was dropped only after protests from all sides and Globke, a lawyer who had provided the official interpretation to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws of 1935, remained for years the Chancellor’s close associate and confidant, despite heavy pressure.

Similar policies of rehabilitating ex-Fascists were pursued in the other ex-Axis states. In Italy, out of 800,000 pre-liberation civil servants, many of whom had been members of the Fascist Party, no more than a few hundred were removed from their posts. An amnesty was granted in October 1946 after which only 3-4,000 Fascists and war criminals remained in prison. The surviving Fascist dictatorships of Franco and Salazar were propped up by the United States. The support later given by the United States and Britain, to regimes such as that of South Africa, Pinochet in Chile, and Stroessner in Paraguay had its direct forerunner in the support given to rehabilitating European Fascists.

He goes on to describe how Britain and the US were deeply implicated in this odious policy.

The problem for the USA and Britain in this policy was that the war had been fought under an anti-Fascist banner and the majority of the population of Europe was strongly anti-Fascist. For that reason much work of rehabilitating Fascists and war criminals had to be done under cover and its truth is coming out only today. Ed Harriman has been prominent in exposing this and it is wroth quoting at length from his article in the New Statesman and Society of 5 August 1988:

The first to champion this dubious cause [of protecting war criminals] was Hector McNeil, the Labour government’s man at the United Nations. At the UN General Assembly’s second session in 1947, Soviet, Byelorussian, Ukrainian and Yugoslav delegates taxed McNeil to explain why Britain was sheltering war criminals in displaced persons camps in Germany … ‘In the town of Hoxter in the UK zone of occupation lives the butcher of the Byelorussian people, … Rodoslav Ostroski’, charged a Russian delegate … Ostroski … the Nazi-groomed ‘Fuhrer’ who press-ganged 60 battalions of his countrymen into fighting, and killing, for the Nazi cause. The liquidation of Jews in Byelorussia … was by then well known. Yet McNeil was unmoved. In 1961, Soviet authorities charged three Estonians with organising the mass murder of some 120,000 Jews, prisoners of war and other ‘untermenschen’ … in Estonia. Two pleaded guilty and were shot. The third, Ain Mere, was then living in Leicester. The Soviets said Mere was the Estonian police boss under the Nazis who personally ordered prisoners to be exterminated in the Jagala concentration camp, and joined the local SS. The Soviet request for his extradition was refused. ‘My record was checked when I came to England over 10 years ago,’ Mere told The Times. The Foreign Office reply was to inform the Soviet government that Britain did not recognise Estonia as part of the Soviet Union.

Harriman notes:

In 1945 the Joint Intelligence Committee declared that the Soviet Union, not Nazi Germany, was Britain’s prime intelligence target … In the perverse logic of the spying world, there were few better sources for this than the Gestapo, which had devoted enormous resources and considerable vigour to liquidating communist suspects. The united States government now admits that Gestapo agents and their files were avidly sought be American intelligence. In 1983 the US Justice Department published a hefty report spelling out exactly how the Americans recruited one such agent – Klaus Barbie [the Butcher of Lyons] – and then gave him a free ride to South America. The appendix of the US report explains that before the Americans bagged him, Barbie was being recruited, in 1945, by a pair of ex-Nazis working as agents for Britain’s SIS, a Dr Hoffman and his superior, a man called Markus. Markus had been aide-de-camp to SS Intelligence General Walter Schellenberg, who set up a network of spies and saboteurs amongst Soviet collaborators… Shortly after the war Markus became the mayor of a small town in the British zone in Germany and, according to US documents, ‘was given the task of forming for the British a network of agents in Germany’… Prosecutions of war criminals quickly became an embarrassment to [the Labour] Government. They impeded the cold war… Churchill was one of the first to call for an end to war crimes investigations … Shortly afterwards Churchill made a much publicised donation to the support fund for Nazi Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, who was being 5ried in Hamburg for murdering prisoners of war on the eastern front. Proceedings against Manstein’s fellow officers had already been dropped by British prosecutors on grounds of the defendants’ ‘poor health’. In 1941, in the Crimea and short of food, von Manstein had ordered: ‘The Jewish-Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all… especially in the occupied cities, a large part of the population will have to starve.’ By 1952 Manstein was a free man serving in the West German army. The UN War Crimes Commission was quickly wrapped up. Prosecutors such as Gerald Draper found their efforts thwarted. the British and American authorities were not cooperative. General Lucius Clay declared that as of the end of 1947, no more suspected war criminals would be handed over for prosecution from the American zone in Germany. The British followed suit. (Pp. 170-2).

These are clearly not the words of someone who denies the existence of the Holocaust, let alone an anti-Semite. Rather they show that Leninspart was acutely aware of the horrific reality of the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews, and was rightly revolted by the way his country’s leaders and the US, including the Labour, had protected Nazi war criminals as part of the Cold War against the USSR. And just as some members of the Labour party were involved in this, so was that great Conservative hero, Winston Churchill.