Posts Tagged ‘Serfdom’

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.

History Debunked on the White Slaves of Early Modern Scotland

June 21, 2021

This is another video from History Debunked’s Simon Webb. I’ve put up a number of his videos because they seem to contradict and refute some of the falsehoods deliberately being told about slavery and the maltreatment of Blacks in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. I’ve made it very clear that I despise Black Lives Matter, but I fully recognise the reasons behind their anger. As a community, Blacks do suffer from poor educational achievement, poverty, a lack of career opportunities, drug abuse and the violent criminality that goes with it. I know from talking to Black and Asian friends and relatives that there is real racial discrimination out there, including the threat of genuine Nazi violence. What I object to is some of the glib assertions and false history that has been added to genuine fact and the one-sided presentation of these problems. It’s simply an historical fact that slavery has existed in very many societies right across the world. It existed in Africa, and the Black slaves we acquired during the days of the transatlantic slave trade were purchased from powerful African slaving states like Dahomey, Whydah and a number of others. Black Africans were also enslaved by Muslim Arabs, Turks, as well as Indians and were exported from east Africa as far as modern Sumatra and Java. One historian of slavery has remarked that it has been so prevalent across the world, that what is remarkable is not that White Europeans practised it, but that White Europeans and Americans abolished it. But slavery is increasingly being presented as something that only White Europeans and their colonies did to Blacks.

In this video Webb talks about a form of slavery practised in Britain from the late 17th century to the end of the 18th century, which I doubt few people know about. It was the enslavement of White Scots people to work in their country’s mines and salt pans. The law, Anent Colliers and Salters, was passed in 1660 and was designed to stop shortages of labour in the coal mining and salt-making industries. The salt was produced through boiling seawater in vast pans. These were large parts of the Scots economy at the time, and the law was intended to stop workers in those industries going off and seeking gainful employment elsewhere. The law bound the miners and salters to their masters, who were given the power to beat them, whipping those who refused to work, as well as the right to sell them to other owners. They could not look for other jobs or even leave the area. In 1661 the law was extended so that the masters could forcibly conscript into their employment tramps and vagabonds. And there were harsh punishments for runaway miners. When one owner put up a mine for sale, as occasionally happened, the men were listed alongside equipment and livestock like the pit ponies. In 1701 Scotland passed what was dubbed ‘the Scots Habeas Corpus Act’, which prevented Scots from being imprisoned without cause. But it specifically excluded the workers in the above industries. In 1775 legislation was passed emancipating colliers and salters, but it applied only to new workers. It contained a ‘grandfather clause’, specifically excluding previous workers. It was only in 1799 that a law was passed freeing all miners and salt workers north of the border. He explicitly states at the end that the moral of all this was that slavery was not something that was done solely to Blacks. It was also done to Whites and continued until a few decades before the emancipation of all slaves.

As with all of his videos, I think you have to be aware of his personal bias. He seems to be a Telegraph-reading Tory, and some of what he says is incorrect. He has said that Britain never advertised for Caribbean workers, but this has been contradicted by several of the great commenters here, who remember just such appeals. In my understanding, he is wrong in what he says about the Mansfield judgement banning slavery in Britain. The judgement was issued by Lord Mansfield on a case brought before him by the Abolitionists on behalf of a slave, James Somerset. Somerset had been sold to another master, who wanted to take him abroad, which Somerset didn’t want to do. It’s like the later Dredd Scott in America. Webb claims that the judgement did not rule against slavery, only that slaves couldn’t be taken out of the country, because Mansfield had no power to pass judgement outlawing existing forms of British slavery such as that of the miners and salters.

This is wrong. In every book I read it is stated that Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery did not exist under English law. This is correct. Slavery had died out in England by the end of the 12th century as the Normans banned it. The former slaves instead became villeins, serfs. The mass of English peasants were unfree. By law they could not leave the manors on which they were settled, their property was technically that of their lords, and they had to pay a fine compensating the lord for his loss when their daughters married. In addition to working on their own plots of land, they were also required to do labour service on their lords’ demesnes. Their property reverted to their masters on their deaths, so that their widows and children had to appeal to the lord to get it back. Meanwhile, the parish priest had the rest to take the deceased peasant’s best beast, meaning his best cow, ox or bull. It’s not as severe as chattel slavery, and serfs have certain rights, which slaves don’t. But sometimes, especially in the Russia as the tsars, the distinction between serfdom and chattel slaves is a fine one. Serfdom was abolished in France during the French Revolution. Other states, like Denmark and the German states, abolished it in the decades following and during the 19th century, as did Russia under tsar Alexander II.

In school we’re taught, or given the impression, that serfdom died out because of an acute labour shortage following the death of between a third and half of the European population during the Black Death in the 14th century. In fact what happened is that the Black Death commenced a long period in which serfdom began withering away as landlords began to compete amongst each other to persuade peasants to settle on their estates and commute labour services into money rents. But the process was a long one. The last serf died in 1645, I believe. In one of her programmes in which she visits various historic towns, Dr Alice Roberts, a former female star of Time Team, medical doctor, anthropologist and Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham university visited one of the great cities of Norfolk. She learned there about a battle in the 16th century when the local peasants revolted against attempts to turn them back into bondsmen – serfs.

Furthermore, even if slavery was formally abolished in England and serfdom had withered away, it was still customary to purchase certain types of human being. Time Team’s Tony Robinson, also known as Blackadder’s Baldrick, described the appalling conditions suffered by 18th and 19th century mill workers in his series, The Worst Jobs in History. He trembled with raw, justified outrage when he told how millowners would to workhouses and orphanages to buy the children left there to use as their workers. Wives were also seen as the property of their husbands, and the traditional form of divorce amongst British peasant and working class communities was to take them to market to sell. It happened up and down the country, including Bristol, where you could get a reproduction of an advertisement for such a sale down at the Central Library. The transportation of certain criminals also acted as a form of slavery. The Monmouth rebels in the West Country, who supported the illegitimate Duke of Monmouth against James II, if they escaped hanging by Judge Jefferies were transported to Barbados, where they were sold to the planters for sacks of sugar. Irish rebels were also treated the same way. A friend of mine at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, who was a staunch anti-slavery activist with a mixed-race African wife, told me how you could still see the former cabins occupied by the White Irish amongst those of the Black plantation labourers in Barbados and the Caribbean. The Irish cabins were patriotically decorated with shamrocks.

I think the Mansfield judgement only applied to English law. Scots law is different, because until the Act of Union in the early 18th century England and Scotland were different countries with separate parliaments and different legal systems. Since the 12th century, English law includes custom and precedent. A judgement passed on one case acts as the model for others in similar cases. Scots law is based on Roman law. As I understand, a judgement passed in one case is not automatically binding for similar cases. It can be used as the basis for a similar decision, but the judge is also free to disregard it and make his own judgement. Lord Mansfield’s judgement probably only affected English, and not Scots law. Nevertheless, it was highly influential in that during the 1820s and ’30s before the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, Black slaves in the Caribbean used it as the basis for their own efforts to gain their freedom. There were a series of slaves, like Grace James of Antigua, who had been brought to Britain, or English overseas territories like Gibraltar, by their masters. On their return home, they presented themselves to the Guardian and Protector of Slaves, the official charged with protecting the slaves from brutality and maltreatment, as free people of colour illegally held in slavery. Their owners naturally objected, claiming they were being robbed of their property. The colonial authorities appealed to the home government for guidance, and the diplomatic correspondence, as printed in the government’s blue books, included copies of the Mansfield judgement.

I also believe that the conditions for miners in the north of England was similar to those in Scotland. I think it may have been on Bargain Hunt, one of the Beeb’s early evening antique shows, or perhaps Great Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo, that they were in County Durham. The presenter was shown around the miner’s hall, the grand headquarters of the local trade union. He was told about the horrendous, oppressive conditions contained in the contract that traditionally had to be signed by every miner binding him to his master. These were only successfully fought and finally overturned thanks to union opposition in the 19th century. Which is another demonstration why we need strong, effective unions.

There was considerable sympathy for enslaved Blacks amongst working people, and particularly in Scotland. It’s been claimed that one reason for this was because of the enslavement of White, Scottish mineworkers. Thus the authorities and slave masters complained that there was too much sympathy for runaways among ordinary Scots, who were hiding and protesting them.

I think that possibly too little is known about serfdom and the traditional enslavement of Whites in Britain and Europe. Some of this might simply be due to the fact that most history is ‘history from above’, the actions of monarchs and great statesmen and politicians, rather than social history, or ‘history from below’. Another factor may well be the myth most Brits have grown up with – that Britain is the country from which freedom and good government flows. What isn’t appreciated is that every one of the freedoms we enjoy, and which are being stripped from us by the Tories, were hard won through the blood, sweat, toil and tears of ordinary folk and their champions.

It has led to a distorted view of history, the myth of ‘merrie England’ in which everything was somehow better in the old days, when lords ruled and the hoi polloi knew their place. It’s a view that the right do want to bring back. But a lack of understanding of traditional forms of British forced labour, that applied to Whites, has also contributed to the equally distorted view that slavery and forced labour is very much something that Whites inflicted on Blacks or other people of colour.

Both are wrong, and need to be fought.

Attack of the Clowns: Widdecombe Compares Brexit to Slaves’ and Serfs’ Revolts

July 6, 2019

How stupid, moronic and just plain offensive can the Brexit party get before the British public wake up and realise that they’re a bunch of Fascist buffoons turning Britain into a laughing stock. A few days we had Nigel Farage himself going full Nuremberg at a rally, which began with the sound of air raid sirens. You know, to evoke the spirit of the Blitz, because Britain leaving Europe is exactly like that time in the Second World War when Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany. Except that, er, we didn’t. We had the resources of the entire British Empire, as well as the members of the free forces of occupied Europe to help us. Like the Poles, who served in the RAF, and who shot down more Nazi planes than the bryl-creem public school boys. Zelo Street was particularly offended, posting up an article about the real horror of the Blitz, and the carnage Britain suffered, especially in area vital to the war effort, like Liverpool. Of course Brexit isn’t remotely like the horrendous death and destruction Britons suffered during the War, and to make the comparison trivialises it.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/nigel-farage-back-to-nuremberg.html

The at the opening of the European parliament, they all turned their backs as the EU’s anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ play. Despite their bluster and protestations, this is exactly what the Nazis did in the Reichstag, and similar shows the Brexit party’s Fascistic psychology. Especially as Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ looks forward to peace and harmony amongst the world’s peoples.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/brexit-partys-ode-to-nazism.html

And now the woman one gay Christian I know refers to as ‘the Widdy bigot’ position of her attitude to gays has also joint the ultra-patriotic orgy of crass stupidity, and compared Brexit to slaves’ and serfs’ uprisings and colonial revolts.

After first stating her objects to what she considered the unelected status of particular EU officials, Widdecombe declared

“There is a pattern throughout history of oppressed people turning against their oppressors. Slaves against their owners, the peasantry against the feudal barons”. 

To which she added her comment about ‘colonies rising against their empires’.

She’s wrong about the various officials and leaders of the European Union being unelected, as Zelo Street has pointed out in this article here:

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/eu-leaders-unelected-my-arse.html

As Mike reported yesterday, EU leader Guy Verhofstadt’s response to her nonsense was to call her a ‘clown’.

Widdecombe says Brexit is like the emancipation of slaves. No wonder Verhofstadt called her a clown

Black politico and activist David Lammy was particularly offended by her comparison to slavery. He tweeted

Anne Widdecombe just compared Britain leaving the EU to “slaves” rising up “against their owners”.

It is impossible to explain how offensive and ahistorical it is for you to equate my ancestors tearing off their chains with your small-minded nationalist project. Shame on you.

Exactly. To show how grossly offensive Widdecombe’s statement is, let’s consider the status of Black chattel slavery in the British Empire.

There have been different types of slavery throughout history, some types milder than others. But Black chattel slavery – which is the closest in history, and whose effects are still being felt – was particularly horrific. In this form slavery, which Mr Lammy’s ancestors suffered along with millions of others, slaves have zero rights. None. Nada. Zilch. They are property.

  • They have no political rights. They cannot vote in elections, nor stand for election to parliament or some other representative assembly. They cannot act in any official capacity whatsoever.
  • They have no legal protection under the law. They cannot serve on juries, nor can crimes committed by slaves be decided in a court of law. They have absolutely no right to due process or legal protection.
  • They may not claim equality or associate themselves with Whites.
  • As property, they have no property rights. Any property they hold is that of their master.
  • They have no right to family life. Families can be split up at their master’s pleasure. Slave women may be separated and sold apart from their men. Slave children may be separated from their parents and sold.
  • Their masters may feed, clothe and work them how they wish. Some colonies passed legislation providing that their masters had to provide some clothing for them. This was a shift – petticoat – for women, and drawers – underpants – for men. That’s it, provided once a year. Visitors to the West Indies described slaves frequently working naked in the fields.
  • They are absolutely and completely at their master’s mercy. Their owners may treat them how they wish, as they are property, not legal persons. Punishments for slaves include gagging in horrific iron masks, flogging, castration, amputation and being dissected alive. Along with other punishment too disgusting to be described here.

The status of European serfs during the Middle Ages is similar, but less severe. Serfs differ from slaves in that they are bound to the soil, while slaves are the property of individuals. European serfs also had some property and legal rights. However, they were still considered property themselves.

  • Serfs are not free but the property of the lord of the manor. Crimes between serfs are decided in the manor court.
  • They have families, but these are referred to in law as sequelae – broods.
  • They have their own land to work, but must work several days a week for their lord. They are subject to a beadle, an overseer, who presides over them with a whip as a mark of his authority. Like the slave drivers in later chattel slavery.
  • Women are not free to marry as they wish. Apart from being under their father’s authority, they are also considered property of the lord. Thus, if a serf’s daughter wishes to marry, then her father has to pay the lord compensation, called a merchet.
  • At a serf’s death, any property he holds from the lord immediately escheats back to him, and the parish priest may take his ‘best beast’. Widows have to plead in the courts, and follow various ceremonies in order to be granted their former husbands’ land and property.

Widdecombe’s stupid speech recalls the reasons why the great Black anti-slavery activist, Frederick Douglas, once attacked White American patriotic celebrations of independence in his speech ‘What To The Slave Is The Fourth of July?’ Douglas pointed out the complete irony of White Americans claiming to have thrown off the yoke of British slavery, when their Black brothers and sisters were still very much in chains.

American independence did not free all Americans from slavery. And Brexit isn’t remotely like any slave revolt or uprising. And it’s massively offensive and ahistorical, as Lammy says, for Widdecombe to claim it is.

American Tsarism

December 15, 2017

Going though YouTube the other day, I found a clip, whose title quoted a political analyst, radical or politicians, as saying that the American political elite now regards its own, ordinary citizens as a foreign country. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but I will have to check the video out. But looking at the title of what the leader of the Conservative branch of the Polish nationalist movement said about the Russian Empire. He described how the tsars and the autocracy exploited and oppressed ordinary Russians, stating baldly that ‘they treat their people as a foreign, conquered nation’. Which just about describes tsarist rule, with its secret police, anti-union, anti-socialist legislation, the way it ground the peasants and the nascent working class into the ground for the benefit of big business and the country’s industrialisation. The system of internal passports, which were introduced to keep the peasants on the land, and paying compensation to their masters for the freedom they had gained under Tsar Alexander, and to continue working for them for free, doing feudal labour service: the robot, as it was known in Czech. It’s no accident that this is the word, meaning ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, that Karel Capek introduced into the English and other languages as the term for an artificial human in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots.

We’re back to Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ – the rich, and everyone else, who don’t live near each other, don’t have anything in common and who may as well be foreign countries. It’s in the Tory intellectual’s Coningsby, I understand. Disraeli didn’t really have an answer to the problem, except to preach class reconciliation and argue that the two could cooperate in building an empire. Well, imperialism’s technically out of favour, except for right-wing pundits like Niall Ferguson, so it has to be cloaked in terms of ‘humanitarian aid’. Alexander the Great was doing the same thing 2,500 years ago. When he imposed tribute on the conquered nations, like the Egyptians and Persians, it wasn’t called ‘tribute’. It was called ‘contributions to the army of liberation’. Because he’d liberated them from their tyrannical overlords, y’see. The Mongols did the same. Before taking a town or territory, they’d send out propaganda, posing as a force of liberators come to save the populace from the tyrants and despots, who were ruling them.

What a joke. Someone asked Genghis Khan what he though ‘happiness’ was. He’s supposed to have replied that it was massacring the enemy, plundering his property, burning his land, and outraging his women. If you’ve ever seen the 1980s film version of Conan the Barbarian, it’s the speech given by Conan when he’s shown in a cage growing up. I think the film was written by John Milius, who was responsible for Dirty Harry ‘and other acts of testosterone’ as Starburst put it.

And it also describes exactly how the elite here regard our working and lower-middle classes. We’re crushed with taxes, more of us are working in jobs that don’t pay, or forced into something close to serfdom through massive debt and workfare contracts. The last oblige people to give their labour free to immensely profitable firms like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. And at the same time, the elite have been active in social cleansing – pricing the traditional inhabitants of working class, and often multicultural areas, out of their homes. These are now gentrified, and become the exclusive enclaves of the rich. Homes that should have people in them are bought up by foreigners as an investment and left empty in ‘land-banking’. And you remember the scandal of the ‘poor doors’ in London, right? This was when an apartment block was designed with two doors, one of the rich, and one for us hoi polloi, so the rich didn’t have to mix with horned handed sons and daughters of toil.

I got the impression that for all his Toryism, Disraeli was a genuine reformer. He did extend the vote to the upper working class – the aristocracy of Labour, as it was described by Marx, creating the ‘villa Toryism’ that was to continue into the Twentieth Century and our own. But all the Tories have done since is mouth platitudes and banalities about how ‘one nation’ they are. Ever since John Major. David Cameron, a true-blue blooded toff, who was invited by the Palace to take a job there, claimed to be a ‘one nation Tory’. Yup, this was when he was introducing all the vile, wretched reforms that have reduced this country’s great, proud people, Black, brown, White and all shades in-between – to grinding poverty, with a fury specially reserved for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled. These last have been killed by his welfare reforms. Look at the posts I’ve put up about it, reblogging material from Stilloaks, Another Angry Voice, the Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper, Johnny Void, et al.

But that’s how the super-rich seem to see us: as moochers, taxing them to indulge ourselves. It was Ayn Rand’s attitude, shown in Atlas Shrugs. And it’s how the upper classes see us, especially the Libertarians infecting the Republican and Conservative parties, whose eyes were aglow with the joys of the unrestrained free market and the delights of South American death squads and the monsters that governed them. Walking atrocities against the human condition like General Pinochet, the Contras, Noriega. All the thugs, monsters and torturers, who raped and butchered their people, while Reagan slavered over them as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And you know what? An increasing number of progressives are taking a hard look at the Fathers of the American nation. Patricians to a man, who definitely had no intention of the freeing the slaves, or giving the vote to the ladies. and who explicitly wrote that they were concerned to protect property from the indigent masses. Outright imperialists, who took land from Mexico, and explicitly wrote that they looked forward to the whole of South America falling into the hands of ‘our people’. If you need a reason why many South Americans hate America with a passion, start with that one. It’s the reason behind the creation of ‘Arielismo’. This is the literary and political movement, which started in Argentina in the 19th century, which uses the figure of Caliban in Shakespeare’s the Tempest to criticise and attack European and North American colonialism, with the peoples of the South as the Caliban-esque colonised. It was formed by Argentinian literary intellectuals as a reaction to America’s wars against Mexico and annexation of Mexican territory, and their attempts to conquer Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

That’s how South America responded to colonisation from the North and West. And colonialism – as troublesome ‘natives’ to be kept under control, is very much how the elite see ordinary Brits and Americans, regardless of whether they’re White, Black, Asian or members of the First Nations.

But you can only fool people for so long, before the truth becomes blindingly obvious. You can only print so many lies, broadcast so many news reports telling lies and twisted half-truths, before conditions become so terrible ordinary people start questioning what a corrupt, mendacious media are telling them. The constant scare stories about Muslims, foreign immigration, Black crime and violence; the demonization of the poor and people on benefit. The constant claim that if working people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’ to use Gordon Brown’s phrase. Because they don’t work hard enough, have too many children, or spend all their money on luxuries like computers – actually in the information age a necessity – or computer games, X-Boxes and the like.

You can only do that before the workers you’ve legislated against joining unions start setting up workers’ and peasants’ councils – soviets. Before the peasants rise up and start burning down all those manor houses, whose denizens we are expected to follow lovingly in shows like Downton Abbey. Which was written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory speechwriter.

Before ordinary people say, in the words of ’80s Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister, ‘We ain’t goin’ to take it’.

Before decent, respectable middle class people of conscience and integrity decide that the establish is irremediably corrupt, and there’s absolutely no point defending it any longer.

A month or so ago, BBC 4 broadcast a great series on Russian history, Empire of the Tsars, present by Lucy Worsley. In the third and last edition, she described the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. She described how Vera Zasulich, one of the 19th century revolutionaries, tried to blow away the governor of St. Petersburg. She was caught and tried. And the jury acquitted her. Not because they didn’t believe she hadn’t tried to murder the governor of St. Petersburg, but because in their view it wasn’t a crime. Zasulich was one of the early Russian Marxists, who turned from peasant anarchism to the new, industrial working classes identified by Marx as the agents of radical social and economic change.

And so before the Revolution finally broke out, the social contract between ruler and ruled, tsarist autocracy and parts of the middle class, had broken down.

I’m not preaching revolution. It tends to lead to nothing but senseless bloodshed and the rise of tyrannies that can be even worse than the regimes they overthrow. Like Stalin, who was as brutal as any of the tsars, and in many cases much more so. But the elites are preparing for civil unrest in the next couple of decades. Policing in America is due to become more militarised, and you can see the same attitude here. After all, Boris Johnson had to have his three water cannons, which are actually illegal in Britain and so a colossal waste of public money.

Don’t let Britain get to that point. Vote Corbyn, and kick May and her gang of profiteers, aristos and exploiters out. Before they kill any more people.

Theresa May Attacks Slavery, but Happy with Other Forms Exploitation

July 31, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up an article commenting on the hypocrisy behind Theresa May launching her anti-slavery campaign.

Slavery is indeed a terrible crime against humanity, and down the centuries slaves have been treated with more or less appalling brutality. But Mike points out that there are also exploitative employers, who force wages down and torture their workers psychologically. He has seen it, and wonders if his readers also have. But this, apparently, is perfectly fine with May.

As is student debt, which according to a report released today by the Intergenerational Foundation will wipe out any ‘graduate premiums for most professions’. In other words, getting a degree will keep you poor, and won’t do you any good. But May still keeps telling us that higher education leads to greater employability and pay.

He then discusses how the National Living Wage is no such thing, and you can’t survive on benefits, because the benefits system is biased against giving them out.

All fine by May. As is the form of slavery embodied in workfare. The government has spent four years trying to keep the names of the firms and charities involved in this absolutely secret, because they were well aware that the British public wouldn’t stand it. But that form of exploitation is fine by May.

Mike states that he fully believes slavery should be wiped out in Britain, but states that May’s campaign against it shows up the hypocrisy in the Tory party, which is quite prepared to tolerate and promote other forms of exploitation.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/31/heres-why-mays-campaign-against-slavery-is-a-contradiction/

This contradiction between attacking slavery and tolerating, or even participating, in ‘wage slavery’ and the exploitation of paid employees, was one of the criticisms made against many of the Abolitionists in both Britain and America, like William Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s critics made the point that it was hypocritical of him to attack Black slavery for its cruel exploitation of other human beings, when he himself exploited the ‘factory slaves’ toiling for him. The same point was made by the defenders of slavery in the southern states of the US against northern abolitionists, as they pointed out the appalling conditions for the workers in the northern factories. This isn’t an argument for tolerating slavery. It is an argument for ending the exploitation of nominally free workers. It’s why the British Anti-Slavery Society also published pamphlets attacking what it considered to be exploitative labour conditions in Britain, such as the employment of children beyond a certain maximum number of hours.

And some of the recent developments in workforce conditions worry me, as they are extremely close to real slavery. Mike mentions student debt. In America, Obama passed legislation stating that graduates cannot even declare themselves bankrupt to clear themselves of it. These debts may reach something like £30-40,000 and above. I’ve even seen it suggested that the total student debt for a medical student may reach £70,000, putting a career as a doctor or surgeon beyond most people’s ability to pay. But if they cannot clear the debt as they would others, then it becomes a particularly heavy, persistent burden. It only needs for another US president, guided no doubt by a donor in the financial sector, to declare that the debt should be made hereditary so they can recoup their investment, and you have debt slavery, exactly as it exists in India, Pakistan and other parts of the world.

Disgusting.

And then there’s the welfare to work industry. Standing in his Precariat Charter also devotes pages to attacking this form of exploitation. And this is also trembling on the edge of real slavery. Under existing legislation, a sanctioned individual may be forced to work, even though they are receiving no benefits. This is surely slavery.

The exploitative nature of workfare is tied to a very proprietorial attitude by the upper classes towards the unemployed. The Tories and other advocates of similar reforms have the attitude that because the unemployed and other recipients of benefits are being supported by the state, they have certain obligations to the state beyond ordinary citizens, a notion that has extended into a form of ownership. Thus we have the imposition of the bedroom tax, levied on a fictitious ‘spare room subsidy’ that does not exist. One of the madder peers declared that the unemployed should have to publish accounts of their expenditure, like public departments and MPs. And the whole notion of workfare is that the unemployed are getting something for nothing, and so should be forced to do something for the pittance they are receiving.

Ultimately, all these attitudes derive from the sense of feudal superiority instilled in the Tories as members of the upper classes, and which causes them to persist in seeing the rest of us as their serfs, who owe deference and toil to them as our social superiors. Workfare can even be seen as a contemporary form of corvee, the system of labour obligations to a serf’s lord that existed in feudalism. The feudal landlord in this case, is Sainsbury’s or whichever of the various firms and charities have chosen to participate in the scheme.

May’s right to attack slavery. But it’s long past high time that these other forms of exploitation, and the attitude of class snobbery and entitlement behind them, were removed as well.

Vox Political on BoJo, Gove and Somebody Else Demanding Public Clean Up Britain for Free for the Queen

February 29, 2016

This is a very bizarre story. The government has, in what it thinks is its infinite wisdom, that we should all get off our backsides this summer and celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday by cleaning up the country for free. Mike over at Vox Political asks the obvious question why the poor should be expected to work free of charge for a multi-millionaire monarch. The scheme was launched today by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and someone called Rory Stewart, wearing hi-vis jackets matching T-shirts with the slogan ‘Clean for the Queen’, and posing next to a giant banner of the slogan. Mike points out that this is particularly hypocritical, given that BoJo, Gove and presumably Stewart would never, ever, absolutely do anything themselves unless they were being very generously paid for it.

Go see Mike’s blog for his comments, piccies of the three Tories and the poster, and further information on the way this has been greeted on Twitter. Even one of the hacks on the Graun has had a dig at this.

Tories line up to demand free labour for our multi-millionaire monarch

It’s a bizarre idea. The Tories have clearly decided that something should be done to celebrate Brenda’s longevity. My guess is that in previous ages this would probably have resulted in pageants, fetes and parties up and down the country. Roughly the same kind of jollification that was de rigueur under the Victorians when the Queen (Gawd bless ‘er!) reached a particularly venerable age. They have, however, clearly decided that this is not acceptable in today’s economic climate, because it would cost money.

And as the government’s policy is based on cutting services, and getting the rest of the population to perform them for free, let getting old age pensioners to run libraries under ‘localism’, they’ve clearly settled on this policy instead. So, no street parties like we had a few years ago when it was the anniversary of D-Day. Instead, we’re all being told to get to work, and like it, because it’s celebratory.

It all reminds me of the corvee, the system of forced labour that was part of the serfs’ feudal duties to the lord of the manor during the Middle Ages, and which survived in France and elsewhere until the French Revolution. The Queen is a feudal monarch, and once again, her loyal subjects are being asked to toil for her for free on public works. No doubt Cameron will be making notes, wondering how he can fit it into some kind of universal, neo-feudal system. How about placing each citizen of this glorious nation under the personal authority of a leading businessman, who can use them anyway they like, putting them to work for free, on the pretext that this is somehow promoting public spirit and teaching them how to be good employees and submit obediently to the authority of the upper classes. Or is this too much like workfare?

It also reminds me of one of the more bizarre Communist rituals that used to go on in the former Soviet Union. Every year in February, in the depths of the Russian winter, there was a national cleaning day, when good Soviet citizens had to clean the streets and spring clean their places of work. That included cleaning the windows, and opening them to the bitter Russian cold. You were also expected to bring out of storage – or hiding – all the old statues of Lenin and the tat celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution, putting them proudly on display. The busts of Lenin came in a variety of materials, to suit the pockets of the Soviet purchaser. The really expensive busts were in stone. The cheaper alternative was papier mache. I can remember reading a description of the kerfuffle that broke out during one of the spring-cleans in a travel book on the Soviet Union in one office, wear they discovered that their papier mache bust of the great Soviet leader had got damp and sprouted mushrooms.

This was the Soviet Union, one of the archetypal monolithic totalitarian states. For all that Cameron, BoJo, Gove and their odious cohorts represent the direct economic polar opposite in capitalism, they share the Soviet state’s authoritarianism, its need to control absolutely and its rigidly hierarchical social order. This was a society where the party elite had access to a range of goods and services, including special, curtained shops, from which the ordinary Soviet citizens were barred. This was a state built on slave labour, where the leaders of the various industries had actually put in orders to the KGB for the numbers of new people they wanted arrested to work for them. Workfare has been organised very much on the same lines, where the unemployed are effectively rented out to the ‘work providers’ as unfree workers, who are paid only their jobseekers allowance. And not even that, if they’ve been sanctioned. Mike and the other bloggers have shown that, by law, you are still liable to perform workfare, even if you’ve been sanctioned and are not being given your Jobseeker’s Allowance. This is true slave labour, of which Stalin would be envious.

And it seems this initiative, to get us all cleaning the country up for the Queen, is pretty much more of the same. Now I’ve no objection whatsoever to campaigns to Keep Britain Tidy, like there were in the 1970s. I wish more people had respect for their environment, and there was less littering and fly-tipping. But I don’t see why we should be expected to do it for nothing. And I am very suspicious in case the government suddenly announces that it is very impressed with how well this has worked, and now wants to roll it out as a national scheme.
I can see that coming all too easily.

Medieval Slave’s Oath: Now Applicable to Workfare

August 22, 2015

Looking through the books and materials I’ve got on slavery the other day, I found the oath slaves took when they formally renounced their freedom and became the property of a feudal lord in 7th century France.

‘Everyone knows that great poverty and very bad harvests oppress me, and I have nothing with which to feed or clothe myself. At my request you have given me some money and some clothes. As I cannot repay you, I cede to you my liberty: you may dispose of me as your other slaves.’

Well, it’s now fifteen centuries later, and we’re in the 21st century not the seventh. The attitude still seems to be the same at the DWP. It’s certainly the idea behind workfare, where in exchange for receiving the pittance to relieve hardship and allow the claimant something to eat, they are put on the work programme to labour for one of the governments’ donor companies for free.

And the parallels are even closer than that. What is given, if the claimant has been sanctioned, isn’t money: it’s food, exactly as described in the oath. And they can still be placed on the work programme and forced to work for the subscribing companies for free, even if they’re sanctioned and not receiving any money.

Which looks very, very much like the type of slavery described in the above oath. The only difference is that in theory workfare slavery ends when you manage to get a job, or if you don’t come into the jobcentre to sell yourself to the DWP in the first place.

Sasson commented on the last post about how deeply ironic it was that Cameron and co. are shouting about ending slavery, when their welfare reforms are bringing it back in this country. This is absolutely right. Cameron, Osborne and their ilk are old Etonian aristos, who very much see themselves as our feudal overlords and us as their serfs.

And so British welfare slavery in the 21st century looks very similar to that of the seventh.

What UKIP Won’t Tell the Voters: The Fascistic Illiberalism at the Heart of the Party

April 27, 2014

NigelFarage

Nigel Farage, Fuhrer of UKIP, whose policies allegedly include the removal of the vote from the unemployed and the sterilisation of the disabled.

I’ve reblogged another of Mike’s pieces from over at Vox Political, Does UKIP’s Euro election poll lead really reflect the People’s view? In it, Mike analyses some of the comments about UKIP posted on the Vox Political Facebook page. He concludes that UKIP’s electoral lead in the Euro elections is driven by disillusionment with the existing parties, rather than an outright endorsement of UKIP in itself. It’s a protest vote, caused by fears over mass immigration from eastern Europe. The article’s well worth reading for a glimpse into how people really feel about UKIP in their own words, rather than what UKIP’s own publicists and mainstream media commentators tell you.

I’ve remarked on how it is extremely suspicious and highly sinister that UKIP does not mention its domestic policies, preferring to concentrate instead exclusively on the issue of the EU and immigration. When you do find out about them, they’re horrifying. They have been described as ‘Tories on steroids’ because they advocate the complete destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS. One of their policies, for example, is the removal of the worker’s right to paid annual leave.

But if one of the commenters on Mike’s Facebook page is to be believed, that’s the very least of it. The party has other policies that verge dangerously close to the Far Right. Bette Rogerson posted the following about them:

“Why would you vote for a party that says it hates Europe, but at the same time takes lots and lots of money from the European parliament? Why vote for a party whose members advocate policies like less tax for the wealthiest, cutting of maternity leave and forcible sterilisation of the disabled? Why vote for a party who wants to take the vote away from the unemployed? Is your job really that secure? Lastly but not least, why vote for a party which claims it wants British jobs for the British and then hires an Irish actor to model as a poor Briton whose job has been taken away by a foreigner?”

Various Conservative politicians and mouthpieces, like the Daily Mail, have also attacked maternity leave on the grounds that its an expensive burden for business. At times this has verged into attacks on women working, as the requirement to supply paid leave for women to have children and raise a family, according to the Tory Right, makes employing women prohibitively expensive. Thus it sometimes forms part of an attack on feminism and just about every attempt to give women access to jobs outside the home since the Equal Opportunities campaigns of the 1970s.

The really frightening stuff, however, if Bette Rogerson is correct, are the demands to sterilise the disabled and deny the vote to the unemployed. The sterilisation of the disabled was a major part of the eugenics campaign in Britain and America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was based on fears that the ‘dysgenic’ – the mentally and physically handicapped – would outbreed the sane, intelligent and able-bodied, and place an unbearable burden on the rest of society. By the 1920s, about 22 American states had passed legislation providing for the sterilisation of the ‘unfit’. It became a central part of the Nazi programme when they took power, with the Nazis themselves boasting that they had introduced nothing new in this regard. In propaganda films like I Don’t Want To Be Born the Nazis promoted the abortion of disabled children. Their eugenics programme finally culminated in the organised murder by the SS of mentally handicapped individuals taken from Reich mental asylums under the direction of Hitler’s doctor.

As for the removal of the vote from the unemployed, this seems to be another throwback to the 19th century. The extension of the franchise enacted by Disraeli in the 1870s gave most working men the vote. But not all. The franchise was still connected to property and the payment of rates. Martin Pugh in his book, British Fascism between the Wars, points out that the idea of universal suffrage based on the rights of the individual, was rejected as ‘too abstract’ and French in origin. He makes the point that the undemocratic nature of the franchise, which also excluded women until 1918, was partly one of the factors that turned the Conservative Right towards Fascism. Large sections of the establishment were afraid and disliked the extension of the vote to all of the great unwashed, particularly groups connected with the Raj and the colonial bureaucracy. That makes sense. The British government of India was a European elite of official and bureaucrats ruling a vast sub-continent without any kind of democratic accountability to the millions they governed. They clearly took the same attitude towards their Indian subjects back with them to their fellow countrymen in the British working class.

More recently, Right-wing politicians and polemicists have also criticised the extension of the liability for jury duty beyond the traditional restrictions based on property qualifications. According to them, Roy Jenkins’ removal of the property qualification in the 1960s was one of the causes of the rising crime rate in the 1970s. Those with a proper investment in bricks and mortar were more socially responsible, according to these Right-wingers, and more aware of criminals as a threat to society than those without such property, who were consequently much more irresponsible regarding the proper punishment crims deserved. This was the point made by one such Tory writer, whose book was reviewed in the Financial Times in the 1990s. UKIP’s supposed policy to exclude the unemployed from the franchise does sound similar to this complaint.

Workfare: It’s almost Nazi forced labour under the Tories. Under UKIP, it would be the real thing.

And lastly, apart from the threat to democracy posed by the denial of the vote to the unemployed, simply for being without a job, it also turns the unemployed themselves into helots – state slaves – under the Work programme. I’ve criticised the government’s welfare to work programme, along with Johnny Void and many others, for constituting a form of slavery. At the moment one of the major factors stopping it from being real slavery is that those on the Work Programme still possess the franchise. They are, in theory, still electorally free. This would deny them that freedom, and so make them virtual serfs of the government and the private industries, to whom they would be rented out under the Welfare to Work rules. And needless to say, it would also provide a strong incentive for government and big business to shed more paid jobs, in order to create an army of state serfs denied the franchise and forced to work for a pittance in Jobseekers’ Allowance, rather than a living wage.

This is how the free citizens of the Roman Empire became the feudal serfs, labouring on the estates of the nobility in the Middle Ages, folks. See the relevant chapter on the decline of the Roman empire in R.H.C. Davies, Europe in the Middle Ages.

If this is all correct, and these are UKIP’s domestic policies, then Farage and his stormtroopers are dragging us back to the worst and most exploitative aspects of 19th century capitalism. It’s not quite Fascism, but very close. Oswald Mosley, the Fuhrer of the British Union of Fascists, in his autobiography, My Life, sneered at the concept of freedom under liberal democracy. For him, such freedom meant only the freedom for the poor and unemployed to sleep on a park bench. Mosley himself was a terrible man – a vicious racist and anti-Semite, who fancied himself as the British Mussolini or Hitler. But If this is correct about UKIP, then under Farage you wouldn’t even have the freedom to do that.

Private Eye on Fraud and Corruption on Workfare Schemes

February 7, 2014

gogol-dead-souls-en

Gogol’s book, ‘Dead Souls’, about a man who mortgages dead serfs.

Last fortnight’s issue also carried this story about allegations of fraud on its workfare programmes.

‘Fraud Popular

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP0 has been trying to bury bad news about allegations of fraud on its various welfare-to-work schemes even though some were so serious it referred them to the police for investigation.

According to the department’s Report on Contracted Employment Provision, which was slipped out on the DWP website nearly a year late and under cover of darkness, in 2012-13 the government received more allegations of fraud by workfare contractors than in previous years. Though the report named no names, it blamed the “substantial media and parliamentary scrutiny” of bad behaviour by firms like A4E and Working Links on the Work Programme and other jobs schemes.

The DWP believed there was a “case to answer” in five cases, three of which were referred to police. Prosecutions did not follow because “proceedings were considered by the police to be unlikely to result in a conviction or were not considered to be in the public interest”.

The alleged frauds followed the familiar pattern of false claims for fees and falsified documents about what service had (or had not) been provided; and the contractors were simply allowed to pay back the cash. The DWP said none of the dodgy cases related to the Work Programme, but did not say which employment scheme was involved.

According to the report, DWP inspectors also found scant concern among contractors for properly protecting public money from misuse. Of 49 contractors inspected, 29 had “weak” or “limited” assurance levels for handling government cash. Only 20 offered “reasonable” or “strong” protection.

Not surprisingly, the DWP seemed reluctant to trumpet these findings from the rooftop. Though permanent secretary Robert Devereux promised MPs he would produce the report in December 2012, it was actually slipped out on the DWP website with no press announcement last October.

The Eye submitted a freedom in information request last July asking where it was. We finally received an answer this January – and an apology “for not responding earlier; no discourtesy was intended”. Of course, if a benefits claimant took so long responding to the DWP, an apology might not suffice.’

A few months ago Serco and a number of other firms were revealed to have engaged in massive fraud to gain government contracts. These included putting in claims for guarding criminals, who had long ago been released. The whole affair has more than a little of Gogol’s class work, Dead Souls, about it. Gogol was another 19th century Russian radical from the Ukraine. The book follows Chichikov, a Russian middle-ranking nobleman, as he attempts to get rich by buying up dead serfs from the surrounding gentry in order to relieve them of their tax burden. Once enough of these have been acquired, Chichikov plans to take out a loan against them, and then retire with the money and status as a true man of property to a country estate. It’s a grotesque satire on Russian society at the time. It was written in 1841, about twenty years before Alexander II emancipated the serfs in the 1860s. Serfdom is, however, coming back under the guise of workfare, with companies like A4E and Atos aiming to supply them, and a number of charities and big businesses all too willing to bid for contracts to employ them. And with A4E, Working Links, Serco and other companies committing fraud to get these government contracts, Dead Souls is now extremely relevant to 21st century Britain. Gogol’s novel essentially describes the same scam used by these companies to get rich by deceiving the government bureaucracy. It may not be called serfdom, but Chichikov is alive and well and the managing director of A4E, Serco and Atos.

Private Eye on Workfare Exploitation: Nice Little Earner

February 7, 2014

Serf Work

Russian serfs at work – a system Cameron and the Coalition wish to bring to Britain with workfare.

I found this article on how the government is using Welfare to Work to supply cheap labour to big business, rather than get people into work, in last fortnight’s issue of Private Eye.

Nice Little Earner

Welfare to work companies could end up earning more taxpayer cash by placing people into unpaid community workfare than into work, under the government’s latest scheme for the unemployed. The companies could even profit from recruiting the unpaid workers themselves.

From April, through the new Community Work Placements (CWPP, thousands of benefit claimants will have to do six-moths’ workfare for charities and community organisations or lose benefit. They will be expected to do 30 hours of unpaid work a week up to a total of 780 hours – which is more than double the 300-hour maximum offenders serve on community pay-back.

It is all part of the controversial £300m “Help To Work” package, which is aimed at the hundreds of thousands of people who leave the government’s dismal Work Programme without a job.

Favourites to run 18 schemes across the country include the scandal hit A4E and Atos, the least favourite outsourcing giant among disabled people, as well as charities such as the Conservation Volunteers, Groundwork UK, the Salvation Army and YMCA. Tender documents, however, reveal payment conflicts in the scheme that may make it as wasteful a way of getting people into work as the Work Programme itself. And with CWP, workfare companies could potential sign unpaid workers to their own businesses and be paid by taxpayers for doing so if they can show that the unpaid role has “community benefit”.

Payment will also be incremental: work companies will get 20 per cent of an agreed fee at the start of any placement, a further 20 percent when someone has been on placement or in paid work for over 12 weeks, and a further 30 percent after 22 weeks on workfare, work or a combination of the two. They only receive the final 30 percent if the claimant finds a permanent job lasting at least six months. This creates a built-in disincentive to find people temporary work before completion of at least 22 weeks on CWP – companies will earn on 40 percent of the fee otherwise. They not only lose the final 30 percent of the fee for failing to secure a permanent job, but miss out on 30 percent of the fee if a temporary job ends before 22 weeks and the company is unable to move the claimant straight into other short-term work or a work placement.

As previous studies have shown, the voluntary sector has no real need for hundreds of thousands of unpaid workers. Most charities do not have the capacity or skills to employ chaotic individuals dubbed the “hardest to help” – and many are opposed to what they see as the exploitative nature of forced unpaid work, which puts others out of employment.

Many major UK charities, including Oxfam, Scope, Marie Curie and Shelter, have said they will have nothing to do with workfare. The tender documents themselves make it clear that the Department for Work and Pensions itself does not expect to pay the full 100 percent in the vast majority of cases – it does not expect more than a fifth of participants to find a permanent job. Community work placements seem more designed to force people to worki unpaid than they do to help people find real jobs.’

Which is exactly what Johnny Void and others, including myself, are also saying.