Posts Tagged ‘Museums’

Over Ten Years Ago African Human Rights Organisations Urged Traditional Rulers to Apologise for their Role in Slave Trade

August 28, 2020

This is old news, but it is well worth repeating in the current controversy over historic transatlantic slave trade and its legacy. Although much of the blame has naturally been rightly placed on the White Europeans responsible for the purchase, transport and exploitation of enslaved Africans, human rights organisations in Africa have also recognised that its indigenous rulers were also responsible. And they have demanded they apologise for their participation in this massive crime against humanity.

On 18th November 2009, eleven years ago, the Guardian’s David Smith published a piece reporting that the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria has written to the country’s tribal chiefs, stating “We cannot continue to blame the white men, as Africans, particularly the traditional rulers, are not blameless.” It urged them to apologise to ‘put a final seal to the slave trade’ and continued

Americans and Europe have accepted the cruelty of their roles and have forcefully apologised, it would be logical, reasonable and humbling if African traditional rulers … [can] accept blame and formally apologise to the descendants of the victims of their collaborative and exploitative slave trade.”

The head of the Congress, Shehu Sani, explained to the Beeb’s World Service that the Congress was asking the chiefs to make the apology because they were seeking to be included in a constitutional amendment in Nigeria:

“We felt that for them to have the moral standing to be part of our constitutional arrangement there are some historical issues for them to address. One part of which is the involvement of their institutions in the slave trade.” He stated that the ancestors of the country’s traditional rulers “raided communities and kidnapped people, shipping them away across the Sahara or across the Atlantic” on behalf of the slaves’ purchasers.

Other Africans supported the demand for an apology. They included Henry Bonsu, a British-born Ghanaian broadcaster and co-founder of the digital radio station, Colourful Radio. Bonsu had examined the issue himself in Ghana in a radio documentary. He said that some chiefs had accepted their responsible, and had visited Liverpool and the US in acts of atonement.

“I interviewed a chief who acknowledged there was collaboration and that without that involvement we wouldn’t have seen human trafficking on an industrial scale,” said Bonsu.

“An apology in Nigeria might be helpful because the chiefs did some terrible things and abetted a major crime.”

The call was also supported by Baffour Anning, the chief executive of the non-governmental agency Africa Human Right Heritage in Accra, Ghana. He said, !I certainly agree with the Nigeria Civil Rights Congress that the traditional leaders should render an apology for their role in the inhuman slavery administration.” He also believed it would accord with the UN’s position on human rights.

The article notes that the demands for an apology mostly came from the African diaspora, and that it wasn’t really a matter of public concern in Africa itself. It also noted that many traditional chiefs prefer to remain silent on this awkward and shameful issue. However, one of the exceptions was the former president of Uganda, Yoweri Musaveni, who in 1998 told Bill Clinton “African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologise it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today.”

See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/18/africans-apologise-slave-trade

This adds a very interesting perspective on the current slavery debate, and one which very few here in the West are probably aware. It’s strange reading that Africans have come to Liverpool and the US seeking to atone for their ancestors crimes during the slave trade when so much of the debate has revolved around the responsibility of Liverpool, Bristol and others cities, and western nations as a whole, such as the US and Britain, for the abominable trade. One of my concerns about the demand for museums to slavery is that these would place the blame solely on western Whites, and so create not just a distorted view of slavery but another form of racism, in which slavery was only something that Whites inflicted on Blacks. If it is the Black diaspora that is demanding African chiefs recognise and apologise for their part in the slave trade, this may not be an issue.

Nevertheless, it needs to be remembered that slavery existed, in Africa and elsewhere, long before transatlantic slavery. Black Africans also enslaved each other, there was also a trade in slaves from east Africa to Arabia, India and Asia. At the same time the Turkish Empire also raided sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Sudan, for slaves. One of the reasons the British invaded and conquered much of Africa was to stop the slave trade and end it at its source. In many cases, I’ve no doubt that this was just a pretext to provide a spurious justification for military annexation against competition for territory by other European nations. But many of the officers and troopers involved in the suppression of the trade were sincere. This included the Royal Navy, whose officers were largely evangelical Anglican Christians, who took their duty to stamp out the trade very seriously.

In the years since then real slavery has returned to Africa. The Islamists, who have seized power in part of Libya ever since we bombed it to liberate it from Colonel Gadaffy have taken to enslaving the Black African migrants making their way there in the hope of reaching sanctuary and a better life in Europe. At the same time there have also been reports of a slave market opening in Uganda. And this is apart from the persistence of traditional slavery in countries such as Mauretania and disguised forms of servitude in Africa and elsewhere, which were described a quarter of a century ago in the book Disposable People.

While it’s natural that attention should focus on historic Black slavery in the west following the Black Lives Matter protests and western Blacks’ general underprivileged condition, it is disgusting and shameful that real slavery should continue to exist in the 21st century. It needs to be tackled as well, beyond the debates about the legacy of historic slavery.

 

 

Liverpool to Put Information Plaques on Buildings and Monuments with Connections to Slavery

August 24, 2020

The Black Lives Matter protests across the world have prompted the authorities in Liverpool to examine once again their great city’s connection to the slave trade. According to an article by Jean Selby in today’s I, for 24th August 2020, the city is going to put up information plaques around the city on areas and places connected to the slave trade. The article’s titled ‘Liverpool to acknowledge its history of slavery’. I think it’s slightly misleading, and something of a slur, as the City has already acknowledged its connection to slavery a long time ago. It has an international slavery museum, which I think may have started as a gallery in its maritime museum way back in the 1990s. This has inspired Black rights and anti-racism campaigners to approach the council here in Bristol calling for a similar museum down here. From what I gather from the local news website, The Bristolian, Asher Craig, a councilor for St. George’s in Bristol and the head of the local equalities body, told them to go away and find a private backer first. This is the same Asher Craig, who in an interview on Radio 4 showed that apparently she didn’t know about the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed, nor about the various official publications, including a 1970s school history book for local children, that discuss Bristol’s history in the slave trade, and told the Beeb she wanted a museum of slavery here in Bristol. According to The Bristolian, the campaigners are dismayed at the city’s refusal to build such a museum following the examples of Liverpool in the Britain and Nantes in France.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of London journos writing pieces about places like Bristol and Liverpool blithely claiming, or implying, that only now are they acknowledging their role in the abominable trade. I can remember getting very annoyed with the News Quiz and some of the comedians on it over a decade ago when I similar story came up about Liverpool. Jeremy Hardy, a great left-wing comedian sadly no longer with us, said something suitably sneering about the city and slavery. But the impression I have is that it’s London that has been the most sensitive and most desperate to hide its past in connection to slavery. Nearly two decades or so ago, when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I had the privilege of meeting a young Asian artist. She was working on a project commemorating the slave trade by making models of old factories and mills from the foodstuffs they produced, which had been cultivated through slavery. She told me that she’d approached a number of towns and their museums, and received very positive reactions to her work. They had all been very willing to give her whatever help they could, though some of these towns had only been in the slave trade for a very short time before being squeezed out by competition from Bristol and Liverpool. As a result, they often genuinely had little in their collections connected to slavery. But they were willing to give any help they could. But her experience with the Museum of London had been quite different. They made it plain that they didn’t have any holdings on slavery whatsoever. I’ve been told since then that things are a bit different, and that individual London boroughs are quite open and apologetic about their connection to the slave trade. But it does seem to me that it is London that is particularly defensive and secretive when it comes to commemorating its own history of slave dealing.

Back to the I’s article, which runs

Liverpool will address its ties to the slave trade with a series of plaques around the city explaining the history behind its street names, building and monuments.

The city council plans to acknowledge the role the port city played in colonialism and the vast wealth generated from the trafficking of human beings. According to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool ships carried about 1.5 million slaves, half of the three million Africans taken across the Atlantic by British slavers.

Falkner Square, named after an 18th-century merchant involved in the slave trade, is among those expected to have a plaque installed.

“We have to be led by our communities on how to do this and do it in a way that is sensitive to both our past and our present,” mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said as he announced the project yesterday. He was marking Slavery Remembrance Day – which commemorates the anniversary of a 1791 slave uprising in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He continued: “I do not believe that changing street names is the answer – it would be wrong to try and airbrush out our past. It’s important that we have a sensible and informed discussion about theses issues. We need to judge the past with a historical perspective, taking into account today’s higher ethical standards and, most importantly, how everyone, from every community in the city, feels about it.”

And advisory panel, chaired by Michelle Charters, recommended the creation of Eric Lynch slavery memorial plaques, named in honour of Eric Lynch, a Ghanaian chief who is a descendant of African slaves and spent his life drawing attention to the city’s slavery history.

His son, Andrew Lynch, said: “These plaques are a tribute to Eric’s long years of work as a black community activist and educator, teaching the people of Liverpool to acknowledge and understand their historic inheritance in an honest and open way, and uncovering the contribution made by black people throughout our great city.”

This all sounds actually quite reasonable. I think it’s fair to put the plaques up for those wanting such information. And I really don’t believe those places should be renamed, as this is a form of rewriting history. You shouldn’t try to erase the past, although I accept that some monuments, like those of Colston, are unacceptable in today’s moral and political climate for very good reasons.

However, I think this says less about Liverpool’s history and more about the present desperate state of the Black community in Britain. Back when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum all those years ago, I remember talking about some of the materials we had on slavery and its history by West Indian academic historians. I heard from some of the staff that some of this was actually quite controversial in some of the West Indian nations, but for reasons that are completely the opposite to the situation in this country. They’re controversial, or were then, among Black West Indians, who feel that they’re racist against their White fellow countrymen and co-workers. Apparently after one book was published, there was a spate of letters in the local press by Black people stating that their bosses or secretaries were White, and certainly weren’t like that. I think if the Black community in Britain shared the same general level of prosperity and opportunity as the White population, there would be precious little interest in slavery and its commemoration except among academics and historians. It would be an episode from the past, which was now mercifully over, and which the Black community and the rest of society had moved on from.

I also think that demands for its commemoration also come not just from the material disadvantages the Black community in general suffers from, but also its feelings of alienation and marginalisation. They feel that they and their history are being excluded, hence the demands for its commemoration. However, I think the reverse of this is that such demands can also look like expressions of anti-White sentiment, in which the present White population is demanded to be penitent and remorseful about something they were not responsible for, simply because they’re White.

And there are also problems with the selection of the events commemorated International Slavery Remembrance Day. This looks like Toussaint L’Louverture’s Black revolution on Haiti. L’ouverture was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. It was he and his generals that overthrew the French authorities in what is now Haiti, giving the country its present name and making it a Black republic in which power and property could only be held by Blacks. It naturally became a shining beacon for the aspirations of other Black revolutionaries right across the Caribbean and even the US. Major Moody discusses it in his 1820s report on slavery, which critically examined whether Blacks were prepared for supporting themselves as independent, self-reliant citizens after emancipation. His report included correspondence from Black Americans, who had been freed by their owners and moved to Haiti, but still kept in touch with them.

Moody was not impressed with the progress of the revolution, and concluded that Blacks weren’t ready for their freedom. This shocked many abolitionists, as Moody himself was a married to a Black woman. But if you read his report about Haiti, you understand why. After successfully gaining their freedom, the Haitians had been faced with the problem of maintaining it against European aggression on the one hand, and economic collapse on the other. The result was the imposition of virtual enslavement back on the plantation workers, who had fought so hard for their freedom. The country’s estates were divided up among the generals. The former slaves were forbidden to leave them, and quotas of the amount of sugar they were required to produce were imposed. If the poor souls did not produce the required amount, they were tortured or burned to death. It seemed to me when I read the Blue Book Moody published, kept in the Museum’s libraries, that Moody’s decision against supporting immediate emancipation for the enslaved peoples of the Caribbean was based on a genuine horror of such atrocities and fear that this would be repeated across the West Indies.

I don’t think Marxist historians would be surprised at the brutality that arose after the Haitian revolution. Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin believed that history followed certain deterministic laws, and were acutely interested in the French Revolution. From this they believed that all revolutions followed an inevitable pattern. After the initial gains of freedom, the revolution would be overthrown and a period of reaction arise, created by a dictator. Just like Napoleon had overthrown the French Revolutionaries to create a new, imperial monarchy. In their own time, they were afraid that the new Napoleon, who would undo the Russian Revolution, would be Trotsky. And so they missed Stalin’s threat. The reintroduction of slavery by L’Ouverture’s generals is just part of this general pattern in the progress of revolutions. Nevertheless, like the destruction of personal freedoms following the Russian Revolution and then Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s, it does raise the awkward question of whether it should, like the Russian Revolution, really by celebrated or commemorated without significant caveats.

This aside, I’m sure that following Liverpool’s decision, there will also be demands for Bristol to do the same. There is already a slave walk around the docks in Bristol and a plaque commemorating the slaves exploited and traded by Bristol merchants. The M Shed has a gallery on Bristol and the slave trade, which includes a map of various streets and properties in the city and its surroundings built and owned by slavers and those with connections to the trade. And the latest monument, set up in the 1990s, is a remarkable bridge down on the docks. This has two horns either side of it, but has been named ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after one of the very few slaves traded by the city in the 18th century, who identity is known.

Radio 4 Programme Next Thursday on the Repatriation of Looted Museum Exhibits Following Black Lives Matter

August 18, 2020

The Radio Times also states that next Thursday on Radio 4 at 11.30 am there’s a documentary on the debate about the repatriation of looted African artefacts now on display in British museums. The blurb for it on page 125 of the Radio Times runs

In the wake of protesters in Bristol pulling down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, Gary Younge talks to museum curators as they review what is on display.

There’s an additional piece by Simon O’Hagan on the previous page, 124, which adds

Museums might be closed, but curators are keeping busy reassessing what they have on display – minds focused by the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June. In the words of one curator, “in Britain you’re never more than 150 miles rom a looted African object.”

Presented by Gary Younge, who discovers that when the public is re-admitted to museums after lockdown, there is a distinct possibility that some display cases may have notable absences.

The debate over the return of looted and seized objects to indigenous communities around the world has been going on for several decades. Much of it is about the display of human remains. A few years ago a series about the British Museum showed that august institution repatriating a set of indigenous Australian burials to Tasmanian people from which they were seized. It’s not just African and indigenous peoples demanding that their ancestors and their property should be returned. The Greeks have famously been demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles for decades, if not since they very moment Lord Elgin collected them in the 19th century. In very many cases, I don’t doubt that the moral argument is with those demanding their return, and that it’s the right thing to do.

The mention of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol adds a dimension that complicates the issue. The repatriation of these objects is supposed to be about modern, western museums correcting the moral injustices of an imperial past. But many of the looted objects themselves are the products of slaving societies, and were seized by British forces during wars fought to extirpate the slave trade.

The Benin Bronzes are case in point. These are superbly sculpted bronze heads, which were made as part of shrines to the chief’s oba. Literally meaning ‘right arm’, the word also denotes his spiritual power, rather like the numa of the pagan Roman emperors. However, Benin, then Dahomey, was a major centre of the African slave trade. It had a plantation economy centred on cotton production like the American Deep South, and was a major exporter. So much so that the British launched a war against them from 1850 to 1852 after their king, Guezo, refused to give it up and continued trading. The bronzes were seized by the victorious British forces.

Nobody was talking about their repatriation until the 1980s, when ‘African radical’ and the highly controversial leader of Brent council, Bernie Grant, demanded their return. I’ve no doubt that Grant was motivated by genuine indignation about the humiliation of an African nation by the British empire. But there is an irony here in that such a very outspoken opponent of anti-Black racism should have been seeking to return objects that had been taken as part of military action against an African slave state. And one that had absolutely no qualms, and grew rich, from enslaving the ancestors of Black Brits, West Indians and Americans like Grant.

Ditto with some of the objects that may have been returned to Ethiopia. A year or so ago the I reported that a particularly holy cross belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which had been seized by the British army in the 19th century, had also been repatriated to its country of origin. I wondered if the relic had also been looted in a similar campaign launched in that century to stop Abyssinian slave-raiding across the border into Sudan and what is now Kenya. If so, then it could be argued that it should not be repatriated, as it was a legitimate spoil in a war the British were justified in waging.

And let’s not be under any illusion that the African slaving nations wouldn’t also have enslaved the British servicemen they fought. One of the documents I found cataloguing the materials on slavery in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol was a parliamentary blue book on the British action against the African slavers in Lagos. One of the chiefs involved stated that if he won, he was going to shave the head of the British commander and make him carry his palanquin. Which sounds very much like a declaration that he intended to enslave him.

I think the area of the repatriation of objects looted from Africa is much more complicated morally than is being discussed and presented, and that African involvement in and culpability for the slave trade is being quietly glossed over in order to present a cosy, straightforward narrative of imperial aggression and guilt.

 

Grimes and Starkey Now Feeling Heat for Racist Comments in Slavery Video

July 3, 2020

This is a kind of update to my last post. This followed a great piece from Zelo Street reporting that Darren Grimes, another former inmate of the Paul Staines massive, and the TV historian Dr David Starkey had appeared in a video in which Starkey had definitely made a racist comment about Blacks. The video had been about Black Lives Matter supposedly aiming to delegitimise British history. Grimes and Starkey had been agreed that the British empire had been a good thing. Grimes had also asked the A.J.P. Taylor of TV programmes about the Tudors if slavery was a genocide. It’s a reasonable question, as although the enslavement of Africans by Europeans wasn’t intended to exterminate them, it led to the devastation and abandonment of whole communities due to slave raiding. Starkey denied that it was a genocide, because of the subsequent increase in the Black population, which he expressed in very racist terms. He said it wasn’t, because ‘otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn Blacks in Britain and Africa, would there?’ (my emphasis). This naturally upset many people, and had led to strong criticism of both of them. Grimes should have stopped Starkey making any such comment, but instead sat there nodding in agreement at what his hero said. So one of the peeps on Twitter put up a video of him nodding along to one of Hitler’s speeches.

In my piece about this sordid episode, I quoted Zelo Street’s conclusion that this should effectively end both Starkey’s and Grimes’ careers. But I felt that it wouldn’t harm them at all. Starkey appeared to me to be far too established as a popular historian, while for some reason it doesn’t seem to matter what they do, Grimes and the other members and former members of Guido Fawkes are still invited on TV programmes and treated as regular journalists.

But events this morning show I was wrong. Starkey and Grimes are both feeling the public’s disapproval, and it does threaten to harm their careers. 

Zelo Street has put up another video discussing the effects of Grimes’ video. Starkey has resigned from his position at the Mary Rose Museum, which said that it was appalled at his conduct. Dan Snow, another presenter of TV history programmes, most of which have been about the two World Wars, has said that his channel, History Hit, has never made any original programmes with Starkey. He appears in one programme, which the channel has on license from a third party, and which they have now taken down. And next week Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam College will review Starkey’s honorary fellowship.

As for Grimes, he has issued a long, kind-of apology for his failure to stop or correct Starkey’s comments. He’s tweeted the following:

Hand on heart, I wasn’t engaged enough in this interview as I should’ve been. It goes without saying that Reasoned UK does not support or condone Dr David Starkey’s words … I am very new to being the interviewer rather than the interviewee and I should have robustly questioned Dr Starkey about his comments”.

However, whether it’s on the BBC, ITV, Sky News or on YouTube, no interviewer is responsible for the views expressed by their guests”.

This last remark isn’t entirely correct. Zelo Street also comments that Grimes could have cut Starkey’s offensive remark, and asked him to rephrase it. He didn’t. Grimes fouled up.

He then goes on to give a lame excuse for regarding Starkey as a hero. It was because he really appreciated Starkey’s history programmes when he was growing up, because he had gone to a ‘crap state school which did little in the way of history’. This was untrue. Others, like James Wilson pointed out that his old school had been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, and its curriculum ‘excellent’ while he was there. Michael Dunn had also gone to the same school, Tanfield, and had made a career in history. He said “I went to the same school, same teachers, I’ve made a career out of my history education, have a degree in history and work in a museum with a collection of national significance, he’s lying again”.

And Miffy Buckley added further that the episode reflected very badly on the current state of the media:  “The fact that such a frankly stupid and out-of-his-depth ninny like Darren Grimes can segue from failed trainee hairdresser to pundit on prime time Sky News programming must surely tell us something about the state of our media, and of our political & civil discourse”.

The Street concurred, and concluded:

‘Broadcasters keep inviting them on their shows, and they keep showing the world the true extent of their expertise – or lack of it. Grimes and Starkey should not be the only ones repenting at leisure this morning. Hello all you gullible media bookers.’

Absolutely. It has surprised me that they are facing criticism and censure for Starkey’s comments. I didn’t think this would happen. I’m not sure it will result in either disappearing from our screens for good. The broadcasters are desperate to find a popular voice for right-wing politics, which means that they have valued personality and opinion over informed content and the bounds of decent speech. It’s why Hatie Katie Hopkins was given a platform by so many newspapers and websites before she proved too toxic even for the Scum and the Heil. Grimes may yet escape her fate, but even if he doesn’t, it’s likely the media will just find another ignorant loudmouth from the extreme right to replace him.

And that also shows how grotty our national media really is.

See also: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/darren-grimes-repents-at-leisure.html

 

Boris Johnson Is Not the New, British FD Roosevelt

July 1, 2020

It’s the first of July, the beginning of a new month, and a new set of lies, falsehoods, spin and propaganda from our clownish and murderous government. Yesterday, BoJob announced he was going to spend his way out of the recession caused by the Coronavirus lockdown. £5 billion would be spent on public services. Michael Gove hailed this as a ‘New Deal’, like F.D. Roosevelt’s for ’30s America.

No. No, it isn’t. Mike and Zelo Street have both published articles tearing great, bloody holes in this latest piece of monstrous spin. Zelo Street’s concentrates on the failings of Roosevelt’s original New Deal. Apparently it didn’t really begin to pay off until Roosevelt’s second term, because the great president was himself too committed to the economic orthodoxy of the time. This was to reduce government spending during a recession. Mike’s article, from what I’ve seen of it, dismantles Johnson’s promises. How much can we really trust them? Remember those forty hospitals Johnson told us the Tories were going to build. They weren’t, and aren’t. It was more lies and the number that were actually going to built was much, much lower. I think about six. The rest were going to be additions to existing hospitals, that had already been planned. And the numbers that were going to be built were far lower than those which were to be closed, either wholly or partially.

Everything says that this latest announcement of Johnson’s is exactly the same. More lies, and more promises that are going to be quietly broken later on.

And then there’s the matter of the amount Boris has said he intends to spend. £5 billion is an enormous amount, but Johnson has proudly boasted of spending such sums before. Like when he announced he was going to splurge out on renovating the country’s rail network. Zelo Street then put up an analysis of the figures and how much actually building new stations would actually cost, and the amount fell far, far short of what Johnson was actually claiming. I suspect that the £5 billion Johnson is now trying to get us all to believe he intends to spend is similar. It’s an impressive amount, but in reality much, much less than what’s actually needed.

And you can also bet it’s going to be lower than what our former partners in the EU are spending to get their economies started again. Recently, Private Eye published a piece attacking the Tories’ previous claim that leaving the EU would allow us to spend more on our economy. They compared what our government was spending with what France, Germany and some others were. They’re actually spending more than we are, which also demolishes the Tories’ claim that it was EU legislation that was preventing the government from spending more on the economy. No surprise there. The Tories have consistently lied about the European Union being the source of the country’s ills when the reverse has been true, and they themselves are responsible for the disastrous policies that have decimated our country and its people.

And when a right-wing British politico starts shouting about a ‘New Deal’, it’s always bad news.

Tony Blair similarly announced his new deal to tackle unemployment at the beginning of his government. He was going to introduce new reforms to encourage firms to take on workers. In fact, this was the wretched ‘welfare to work’ or ‘workfare’ policy, in which the unemployed would be sent to work for corporate giants like the supermarkets in return for the Jobseeker’s Allowance. If they didn’t go, no unemployment relief. As was documented by Private Eye, inter alia, the scheme does not help anyone get jobs. In fact, in the case of a geography graduate it actually stopped her getting the job she wanted. She was looking for work in a museum and had something in that line arranged as voluntary work. But the DWP insisted she work stacking shelves for Tesco or Sainsbury’s or whoever instead. It’s actually been found that if you’re unemployed, you are far more likely to get a job through your own efforts rather than through workfare.

And there’s another huge difference between the Tories and F.D. Roosevelt:

Roosevelt laid the foundations of an American welfare state. The Tories are destroying ours.

Roosevelt introduced some basic welfare reforms, like state unemployment relief. It wasn’t extensive, but it was something. The Republicans in America and the Tories over here hate the welfare state with a passion. It’s supposed to be subsidizing idleness and responsible for cross-generational pockets in which whole communities haven’t worked. The libertarianism which entered the American Republican party with the victory of Ronald Reagan was at heart concerned with reversing Roosevelt’s welfare reforms. Although it’s very carefully obscured now, it’s why the Libertarian’s magazine, Reason, in the mid-70s devoted an entire issue to denying the Holocaust. This featured articles by genuine neo-Nazis. This was vile in itself, but it was motivated by an underlying desire to undo Roosevelt’s legacy. FDR had been the president, who took America into the Second World War. This is seen as a good war, because of Nazis’ horrific genocide of the Jewish people, as well as others, though they rarely get a mention these days. If the Libertarians and their Nazi allies could prove that the Holocaust didn’t happen, it would discredit America’s entry into the War and make further attacks on Roosevelt and the New Deal plausible.

One of the reasons why he introduced unemployment benefit, such as it was, was because if you give money to workers during a recession, their spending will stimulate the economy.

But the Tories hate the idea of unemployment benefit and the workers actually having any money. They are the party of low wages, conditionality and benefit sanctions. Thatcher viewed the Victorians’ attitude that conditions should be made as hard as possible for the poor to encourage them not to rely on state assistance and agree to take work no matter how poor the wages and conditions as a ‘virtue’. It was one of her wretched ‘Victorian values’. During her reign, you couldn’t get away from her and the rest of her scummy party prating on about rolling back the frontiers of the state and the need to abolish the welfare state. The rhetoric has since quietened down and been modified, so that instead of abolishing the welfare state they talk about reforming it to target those who are genuinely in need. But the ideology hasn’t changed.

As a result, the British welfare state is in tatters. One organisation dealing with poverty and hunger in this country has stated that they’ve torn such great holes in it that it no longer functions. You can see this by the way unemployment has shot up so that one in four people is now claiming Universal Credit.

This isn’t just due to the Coronavirus. It’s due to the forty-year long Tory assault on the welfare state.

Johnson isn’t the new FDR. He’s the exact opposite – the destroyer of unemployment benefit and killer of those who need it.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/bozo-is-not-franklin-roosevelt.html

New deal? No deal! We can’t accept a plan for the future from the failed PM who deliberately wrecked it

Racial Politics and the Toppling of the Statue of Slaver Edward Colston

June 9, 2020

On Sunday Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of Edward Colston from its plinth in the city’s centre, and threw it in the Floating Harbour. It’s been both local and national news. The local news interviewed a White woman, who had been part of the protest. She was married to a Black man, and as the mother of a half-Black child thoroughly approved of the statue’s maltreatment. In fact, she felt a bit teary and overcome with emotion.

Colston, Slavery and Charity

It’s not hard to see why. Colston was a 17th-18th century slaver and president of the Royal African Society. He made a colossal fortune from the enslavement of Black Africans. As historians and Black activists have pointed out, millions of the enslaved died en route to America and the Caribbean due to the appalling conditions on board the slave ships. Slavers like Colston also responded brutally to slave mutinies aboard ship by throwing their cargo overboard, chains and all, to drown. They also did this if a storm threatened to sink the ship, and they needed to lighten it. That’s shown in the classic 19th century painting of a ship at sea facing an oncoming storm. It was based on a real incident, that of the Zong, and the painting shows the struggling Blacks drowning as a detail.

Anti-racism activists have been campaigning for the statue’s removal for over forty years, ever since the St. Paul’s race riots of the 1980s. Mike wrote a long piece about it yesterday. He, and the peeps, whose tweets he cited, viewed the statue’s fall as good riddance to bad rubbish. He wondered why it hadn’t been done years ago. Some of those commenting were Blacks, like the awesome Kerry-Ann Mendoza of The Canary. They compared the statue to those of Hitler, and described how it had tore them up to go past it. If Colston had only been a slaver, the statue’s removal wouldn’t have been an issue. What complicated the matter is that Colston, who actually spent most of his life in Mortlake in London, gave very generously to charity. He endowed several schools in Bristol, one of which was Colston Girls School. As Mike explains in his excellent article, we also had Colston Day at school. This was a one-day holiday. Some pupils were also called upon to attend a special service at St. Mary Redcliffe church, and received a Colston bun. Mike had that experience. So did I.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

I should also point out here that, like Mike, I also grew up believing that one branch of our ancestral family tree, the Haberfields, had been slavers. That was dispelled last week by the historian David Olasuga on the Beeb’s programme, A House Through Time. Olasuga stated instead that the Haberfield’s made their money as wine merchants. There may have been other branches of the family that were slavers, however. I don’t know. I’ve heard stories that one ancestor was the captain of a slave ship, and that the City Museum has his log. But when I talked to people from the City’s museums, they denied they had any such thing. Bristol did benefit immensely from the slave trade, but, contrary to popular belief, most of the slaves were taken to the Caribbean. Those few that came back to the City were trusted personal servants. As a result, there is precious little in Bristol, apart from the luxurious homes the slavers built for themselves, that is directly connected to the slave trade. When the City Museum held an exhibition on Bristol and the slave trade there were so few objects left over from Bristol’s slave trade, that they had to borrow some from elsewhere. There are written documents, like contracts and ledgers, but museums don’t like putting them on display. Not because they’re trying to hide anything, as some people have alleged, but simply because visitors don’t find them interesting.

Anti-racist Politics in Bristol

There have been petitions over the years to remove the statue. It’s remained, because these campaigns did not achieve a majority. At the last poll, Bristolian opinion was divided half and half. Roughly the same proportion of people wanted the statue to stay as those, who wanted it gone. And not all Black anti-racism activists wanted it removed. Paul Stephenson was one of the leaders of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s and 1970s. This was against the colour bar operated by the local bus company, which refused to employ Blacks. When he was interviewed about racism and the slave trade in the city a few years ago, he felt the statue should be kept, but with a plaque pointing out that he was responsible for enslavement and genocide. As it is, the statue is going to be fished out of the harbour, and put on display in the M Shed. One of the arguments for keeping it up is that it serves to educate people about this aspect of Bristol’s history, but as one of the tweeters Mike quotes also says, this comes from people, who really don’t want schoolchildren talk about the dark side of the British empire.

I’ve also no doubt that some of the resistance to tearing the statue down and to some of the initiatives by the local authorities to commemorate Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade and its millions of victims comes from the highly emotive and divisive racial politics in the city. Although Britain has had a Black presence since the Roman Empire, and Bristol has had a Black population from at least the 16th-17th centuries, there has only been a large Black community in Bristol since the mass immigration of the post-War years. The Black community in the inner city has, like those elsewhere, a reputation for drug dealing, prostitution and violent crime. St. Paul’s was a district Whites from outside the area drove through with their windows up and doors locked. Furthermore, some of the demands and accusations made by the community’s representatives were less than tactful.

It’s often asserted that Bristol was built on the slave trade. That’s true, but only up to a point. Bristol did profit very well from the trade, as did many other ports. But Bristol was great trading city before the slave trade took off in the 17th century. We traded with France, Spain and Portugal, as well as Ireland and across the Channel to Wales. And the first slaves sold by Bristol were White Anglo-Saxons bought by Irish merchants. The Anglo-Saxon cleric St. Wulstan visited the city to condemn the trade in the 11th century.

There’s also the problem that some anti-racist activists make unwarranted assumptions about racism and Whites. There’s an automatic assumption by some that if you’re White, you must be racist. That naturally gets peoples’ backs up. One of the Conservative blogs I read years ago quoted an American study that found that police officers tended to become more racist after anti-racist training than previously. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. The automatic reaction of anyone accused of racism, whatever their colour, is going to be resentment and defensiveness. And in the 1980s the Tory papers explicitly claimed that the riots were caused by Black racism. Some Black leaders didn’t help their cause either. I remember an article in the Absurder c. 1984/5 attacking one Black politician – it might have been Paul Boateng – for suggesting that Blacks should have their own autonomous areas. The writer correctly pointed out that this was a demand for segregation and apartheid. Fortunately, the call for separate Black communities went unheeded.

There has also been the problem that the city has devoted funds and resources in combating the poverty, unemployment and crime in the racially mixed inner city areas of Bristol, at the expense of the White majority areas further out. South Bristol was promised a local hospital back in the 1970s, but it was only built a few years ago. Positive discrimination schemes also give more funding to those areas with a large ethnic minority population. This has caused some resentment.

As a result it has seemed at times that the demands for Colston’s statue to be pulled down, and for the slave trade to be commemorated in Bristol, has come from a position of anti-White racism, rather than a desire for racial justice in itself.

Black Separatism and the Name of the Malcolm X Centre

And if you’re talking about the official commemoration of racists, there is the whole issue of the name of the community centre in St. Paul’s. It is, or was called the Malcolm X Centre, after the American civil rights leader. The problem is that Malcolm X’s organisation, the Nation of Islam, is racially separatist. They want a separate Black state, to be formed from a group of Black majority states in the US. In the 1960s they used to hold joint rallies with the American Nazi party. There was an article on this in the Sunday colour supplement for the Independent back in the 1990s. It contained an article written by a White American female photographer, who followed, interviewed and photographed Malcolm X at the time. The article reproduced some of the photos shed’ taken of these rallies. Now Malcolm X didn’t remain a separatist. He later converted to orthodox Islam, and supported integration after he went on the Hajj to Mecca, during which he found that people of all races were fundamentally the same. I think he also took an orthodox Muslim name. There is therefore the problem that if it is wrong to commemorate a slaver like Colston, then why should a Black activist, who also stood for racism and separation, be commemorated?

Conclusion

Colston’s statue had its time long ago. It’s removal, one way or another, was pretty much inevitable. It won’t be missed. The argument for its retention was weakened when the Americans began pulling down the statues of Confederate generals. At the same time, it’s right that Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade and the slaves transported should be commemorated. There’s a whole gallery devoted to this at M Shed on Bristol’s docks. There’s also a slave walk, and a commemorative plaque. Black Lives Matter still has an urgent point. Racism still exists in this country, and Black communities as a rule are underprivileged, poorer with higher rates of unemployment and underrepresented in large parts of industry, society and the arts.

But anti-racist campaigns also need tact and sensitivity. Accusations that Whites in general are racist, or that Bristol must somehow be intrinsically racist because of slavery, just cause more division and resentment.

It leads to embittered Whites giving their votes to the Tories, who will just use them to justify their own racism and destruction of state aid for the disadvantaged regardless of their colour.

 

 

 

Cartoon: Up Pompous

April 13, 2020

As I said, I’m glad Boris Johnson has recovered enough from the Coronavirus to be sent home. I really don’t want anyone to die from this disease, including BoJob. But his recovery also means that I can at last put up the cartoon below. I was drawing just when it was announced that Johnson had been taken into hospital, and to lampoon the man when he was fighting for his life would have been unacceptable. But Johnson’s illness doesn’t change what he is, or what he and his party stand for. And so they’re still suitable subjects for ridicule and satire.

Johnson prides himself on his classic learning. He presented a series a few years ago on ancient Rome, and had a column in the Spectator when he was its editor, in which he discussed what lessons the classics had for us today. I remember one piece he did in his series about Rome, in which he contrasted the early empire, which was governed by just 12 men, with the army of MEPs and bureaucrats that administer the EU. The obvious lesson there was that smaller government equals good government. Of course the argument falls apart when you consider the vast distance in time, morals and social and technological sophistication, as well as the simple fact that the EU and its constituent nations are meant to be democracies. Ancient Rome wasn’t. It was an oligarchy, in which only a narrow section of the population had the vote, and the only real political power was that of the emperor and the army. The senate continued to meet under the empire, but their debates were so meaningless that I think they more or less stopped having them. One emperor was forced to send them a message requesting them to debate something. With his background in the classics and admiration for ancient Rome, it therefore made sense to lampoon Boris as a Roman politician.

But readers of this blog of a certain age will also remember the late, great Frankie Howerd and the comedy, Up Pompeii. This was set in the famous Roman city, and starred Howerd as the slave, Lurcio. It would start with Lurcio leaving the house, sitting down on a convenient seat, and saying ‘Salute, citizens. And now, the prologue -‘ at which point he would be interrupted by some commotion. And thus would begin that week’s episode. It was a ’70s BBC TV show, but in the winter of 1990-1, it was revived by ITV. Howerd was once again Lurcio. But the show had moved with the times and changed one character. In the original series, I think the son of the family that owned him was supposed to be gay, and the butt of various jokes about effeminacy by Lurcio. This was before the gay rights movement had had quite the impact it has now, when jokes about gays were still acceptable. By the 1990s they weren’t, and so the gay son was replaced by a eunuch, so they could still carry on making the same jokes about lack of masculinity. Sadly, it only lasted one episode, as Howerd died after the first episode was shown.

His material, like the ‘Carry On’ films, is dated now, but Howerd was a great comedian and genuinely funny man. He lived in the village of Mark in Somerset, and after his death his home was turned into a museum. He was very popular and respected there, because whenever they had a village fete, he’d turn up to do a turn and give them his support. He also, I heard, used to rehearse in the church hall. A friend of mine told me he’d actually been in a church service while Howerd was rehearsing, and his lines could be heard coming through the hall. Let’s hope they weren’t the monologue where he pretended to be a vicar, and joked about how last Sunday he held a three-hour service for the incontinent. ‘There wasn’t a dry aisle in the house’, is the punchline to that one.

So I’ve drawn Johnson as a Roman patrician politician, being jeered and pelted with mud, cabbages and buckets of water by the mob. Behind him is Howerd’s Lurcio, looking at once shocked and puzzled, and underneath is one of Howerd’s catchphrases ‘Titter ye not’.

As Johnson and his party are authoritarian and extremely right-wing, I’ve tried to show their Fascistic tendencies in the decoration at the top. The pattern around the panel is based on a Roman design, although I’ve taken a few liberties. If you look at it, it’s composed of repeating swastikas. It also has the fasces, the bundle of rods with an axe attached. This was the ancient Roman symbol of the lictor, a Roman official. The rods symbolised his right to beat, and the axe to behead, Roman citizens. It was also adopted by Mussolini’s Fascists and their counterparts in other nations, like Oswald Mosley’s disgusting BUF.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it, and it helps cheer you up in these dreadful times.

 

Book on Vanished Jewish Communities of the Holocaust

March 31, 2020

Shmuel Spector, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, 3 vols. (New York University Press, 2001). 

I found this book in the latest Postscript catalogue for April 2020. The blurb for it goes

Profiling more than 6,500 Jewish communities, with over 600 photographs, 17 pages of maps, a chronology and glossary, these volumes are the product of three decades of work at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Authority of Israel. The alphabetically arranged entries provide details of the history, people and customs of communities, large and small, that thrived throughout much of Europe, north Africa and the Middle East during the early part of the 20th century, but were changed irrevocably by the Holocaust.

The price is beyond most people’s pockets. It was £173.00, but Postscript are offering it at £75. It might, however, be available from an academic library.

I’ve absolutely no problem with this book whatsoever. The college where I did my undergraduate degree, the College of St. Paul and St. Mary, which became part of the University of Gloucestershire, hosted an exhibitions of photos of the shtetl Jewish communities of eastern Europe. There is, however, a moral problem with Yad Vashem. While it’s entirely correct to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, critics of the museum have complained that it acts to sanitise some of the world’s worst political leaders when they turn up on an official visit to make a deal. These have included real Nazis and anti-Semites, people responsible for horrific crimes against humanity, authoritarians with absolutely no regard for the value of human life. But these people suddenly become worthy friends of Israel and its people by the simple act of making a visit to Yad Vashem as part of their itinerary and laying a wreath or making some other gesture of mourning.

The activity of Yad Vashem in researching and documenting the Jewish communities destroyed by the Holocaust in Europe also has a counterpart among the Palestinians. They are also active doing the same for the Palestinian communities destroyed during the Nakba, the term they use for their violent ethnic cleansing at the foundation of Israel. In contrast to the victims of the Jewish genocide, I very much doubt that any western publisher will bring out a book on these lost communities.

Because if they did, the Israel lobby and someone like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Board of Deputies of British Jews would almost certainly accuse them of anti-Semitism.

Radio 4 Programme on Welsh 20th Century Decline

March 11, 2020

This might be of interest to Welsh readers of this blog, particularly as Mike’s a long-time resident of mid-Wales. Next Monday, 16th March 2020, Radio 4 are also broadcasting a programme on how Wales declined during the last century. The programme, Wales: A 20th-Century Tragedy?, is described thus in the blurb on page 131 of the Radio Times:

Simon Jenkins looks at the fortunes of Wales over the past century, asking how it might be possible to restore some glory to its valleys and mountains.

Rather more information is given in the short piece about the programme on the opposite page, 130, by Chris Gardner. This says

Simon Jenkins is passionate about Wales, the land of his father. His 2008 book Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles showcased the beauty and majesty of Welsh architecture, but the author and journalist is now worried for the nation’s future, citing among other factors the rise in the poverty index, while counties just over the border, such as Cheshire, have become richer. Examining Wale’s illustrious cultural, political, industrial and intellectual heritage over the last century, Jenkins uncovers historical reasons for this comparatively recent decline.

I think the major reason for this decline has been decline of the major Welsh industries during the last century – coal mining and iron working. There have been various history programmes on the Beeb that have shown that Swansea and Cardiff were major centres of the copper and iron industries from the 19th century onwards. I think Swansea was the world centre of copper production at one point, so that it was nicknamed ‘Copperopolis’. But this all gradually vanished due to competition from cheaper, foreign products. And this has continued into this century under the Tories, as we saw a few years ago with the proposed closure of one of the last surviving steelworks in the principality.

The country also hasn’t been helped by the fact that we haven’t had a Welsh prime minister, or one whose constituency was in Wales, for a long time. I seem to recall that Cardiff became the great city it is, housing Wales’ national museum, partly because Lloyd George wanted to turn it into a great national centre for Wales, like England and Scotland had London and Edinburgh respectively. The Labour PM, Jim Callaghan, attempted to do something for Wales, from what I recall, by diverting money that was earmarked to go to Bristol’s Portbury Docks to Cardiff. But his tenure of 10 Downing Street ended with Thatcher’s victory in 1979. And the Tories made it very plain that they weren’t going to help ailing industries, so that coal pits, and iron and steelworks up and down Britain were closed. This was partly because she wanted to destroy the coal industry so that a Tory government could no longer be overthrown by the miners, as Ted Heath’s had in the early ’70s.

I don’t know why Cheshire should have become more prosperous, unless it’s connected to the success of Liverpool FC. A friend of mine from that way told me that there’s a district in the county, which has become the country home of rich Liverpudlians, including footballers. Perhaps that’s part of the explanation.

If you want to listen to it, the programme’s on at 8.00 pm in the evening.

 

Russian Rocket Engine Street Art in Cheltenham

January 18, 2020

One of the shops in Cheltenham has a very unusual piece of street art decorating its door. It’s of the rocket motor designed to power the Russian N1 spaceship to the Moon. The N1 was the Russian counterpart of the massive American Saturn V, and was similarly intended for a manned mission. Unlike the Americans, the Russian rocket would have a small crew of two, only one of whom would make the descent to the lunar surface in a module very much like the American. Unfortunately the project was a complete failure. Korolyov, the Soviet rocket designer, had died by the time it was being designed, and the head of the design bureau was his second-in-command, Mishin. Mishin was an excellent lieutenant, but this project was far beyond him. The N1 space vehicles kept exploding on the launch pad. These were powerful spacecraft, and the explosions destroyed everything within a radius of five miles. After three such explosions, one of which, I think, killed Mishin himself, the project was cancelled. The Russians never did send a man to the Moon, and instead had to satisfy themselves with the Lunakhod lunar rover.

I’d been meaning to take a photograph of the painting for sometime and finally got around to it yesterday. The full painting isn’t visible during the day, as much of it is on the cover that gets put over the door at night. This is the part of the painting shown in the top photograph. During the day only the bottom part of the engine, painted on the door itself, is visible.

The shop-owner himself was really helpful. He saw me crouching trying to photograph the bottom part of the engine, and asked if I knew what it was. When I told him it was a rocket motor, he proudly replied that it was TsK-33 for the N-1, and asked if I wanted to photograph the whole thing. I did, so he got down the door cover. Talking to him about the painting both then, and later on with a friend, who also has an interest in space, he told us a bit more about the rocket engine and his painting of it. Although the N-1 was scrapped, the Russians still retained the rocket engines. Someone from the American Pratt and Whitney rocket engine manufacturers met one of the engineers, designers or managers on the N-1 motors, who showed him 33 of the engines, which had been mothballed after the project’s cancellation. The Pratt and Whitney guy was impressed, as it turns out that these Russian motors are still the most efficient rocket engines yet created. He made a deal with the Russians to take them back to America, where they are now used on the Atlas rockets launching American military satellites. Or that’s the story.

My friend asked if the shopkeeper had painted it himself. He hadn’t. It had been done by a street artist. The shopkeeper had seen him coming along painting, and asked him if he would do an unusual request. And so the artist came to paint the Russian rocket engine.

There’s much great street art in Cheltenham, though as it’s an ephemeral genre you have to catch it while it’s there. Just before Christmas there was a great mural of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour logo in one of the town’s underpasses. I wanted to photograph that too. But when I tried yesterday, it had gone, replaced with another mural simply wishing everyone a happy Christmas.

But I hope the rocket engine, as it was done specifically for the shop, will be up for some time to come.

It also seems to me to bear out the impression I’ve had for a long time, that the real innovative art is being done outside of the official artistic establishment. The painting would have delighted the Futurists, who were into the aesthetics of the new machine age. And also the French avant-garde artist, Marcel Duchamps. Duchamps anticipated the Futurists concern with the depiction of movement in his painting, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’. He also painted a picture of ‘The Star Dancer’, which isn’t of a human figure, but a ship’s engine, which also anticipates the Futurists’ machine aesthetic. Unfortunately, what he is best known for is nailing that urinal to a canvas and calling it ‘The Advance of the Broken Arm’ as a protest against the artistic establishment. This went on to inspire Dada, and other anti-art movements. It’s now in Tate Modern, although it no longer has the same urinal. As a work of art, I really don’t rate it at all. Neither do most people. But for some reason, the artistic establishment love it and still seem to think it’s a great joke.

The real artistic innovations and explorations are being done outside the academy, by artists exploring the new world opened up by science and the literature of Science Fiction. And it’s to that world that this mural belongs.