Posts Tagged ‘‘The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire’’

Fascist Leader Oswald Mosley on the Conservative Party

September 27, 2020

On page 261 on Mosley’s book, Mosley – Right or Wrong?, Britain’s Fascist leader is asked what he thinks of the Conservatives. Mosley’s gives a full and devastating reply, which very definitely shows that he’s not impressed by them. He says

The virtue of Conservatism is that it is the party of patriotism. It means well. Unfortunately, the leaders it selects arrive at results precisely the opposite to its intentions. So the party which existed to preserve the Empire has ended by liquidating the Empire. The party which believes in Great Britain has been the main architect of Small Britain. The party which believes in stability is bringing our country to the verge of chaos. But we need not traverse again the ground I covered in another answer. It is enough to state the undeniable fact that the Conservative Party has been chiefly responsible for the policies of Britain during the last fifty years.

What is the character which has produced this lamentable conclusion to a chapter in British history? ?This is the party of the smug, the satisfied, in an age which demands dynamism; the party of privilege when survival depends on promotion by merit; the party which exploits talent but never trusts it; the party of the tired, which calls a yawn a policy; the party of snobbery about the wrong things, which rejects intellect but reveres rank; the party of the climber, without aim to climb beyond a perch on a rotten bough; the party without purpose or great design; the party of small expedients to face the need of great decisions; the party which is always late, and now exists only as an ineffective brake on socialist policies; the party which wills the end of the greatness but always rejects the means; the party which excluded Churchill in all his years as a creative spirit, and used him only for the fatal process which finally destroyed the values in which it professed to believe; the party which detests brilliance and loves dullness; the party which idealizes the small, the the grey, the mediocre, and will achieve its ideal in the state to which it is reducing Britain, if that condition be not the final lethargy of death.

Mosley’s Britain would have been a brutal Fascist dictatorship, a one-party state ruled by fear and thuggery. Despite his repeated claims not to be an anti-Semite, Mosley would have put in place a kind of apartheid in which only those Jews, who were judged culturally British, would have been allowed to remain and Blacks and Asians very definitely discriminated against if not actively persecuted. I don’t doubt that had he seized power during the War, he would have turned Britain into another Nazi satellite or ally and fully collaborated in the Holocaust.

As for the British Empire, it was not the glorious institution Mosley and the Tories claim. There were some noble aspects to it – there were British governors and military commanders, who took very seriously their duty of stamping out slavery and the slave trade, for example. But we did exploit its subject peoples. Its end was marked by ruthless warfare against the rising nationalist movements in which British forces did commit atrocities and massacres. Quite apart from more covert systems of undermining these countries’ aspirations for freedom, like election rigging. In the case of Iran, an independent nation that provoked our wrath by nationalising its oil industry, we organized a coup that toppled its last, democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeq. See John Newsinger’s book The Blood Never Dried: A people’s History of the British Empire, and Rory Cormac’s Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy.

But Mosley is absolutely right about the Tory party. They are the party of the traditional class system, and have shown themselves determined to maintain and expand the power of the immensely rich at the expense of everyone else – the poor, the disabled, working people, the unemployed. Their Brexit policies are destroying this country, their economic policies have wrecked this country’s industry and prosperity and their determination to privatise the NHS and destroy the welfare state is creating mass poverty, misery, starvation and illness. But never mind – their pet press sings their praises and spins every failure as some kind of magnificent achievement if it can, just so long as the poor are kept down, and the rich given more tax breaks and subsidies.

Mosley’s Britain would have been a murderous, totalitarian nightmare. Fascism everywhere needs to be fought and defeated. But he was right about the Tories.

FT Review from 2000 of Three History Books on the British Empire

July 19, 2020

Another clipping I’ve kept is a review by the Financial Time’s David Gilmour, ‘World in the Pink’, of three history books on the British Empire. The books reviewed were The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century, edited by Andrew Porter, The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Twentieth Century, edited by Judith M. Brown and Wm Roger Louis; and the Oxford History of the British Empire: Historiography, edited by Robin W. Winks. The review was in the FT’s weekend edition for February 19/20 2000. I’m putting it up here as some readers might find it useful, as after the Black Lives Matter protests the history of the British empire is going to come under debate once again. The review runs

Once upon a time the British Empire was an easy subject to teach. Pupils stood in front of the schoolroom map, identified two red dots in the middle, and were encouraged to gaze with wonder at the vast expanse of similarly coloured spaces stretching from Canada at the top left to New Zealand at the bottom right. If suitably awestruck, they could then learn about these places (and how they came to be red) in the novels of Henty and Rider Haggard and in the poems of Tennyson, Kipling and Newbold.

Stout histories were also available for serious pupils to study the process of conquest and dominion, the spread of civilisation and prosperity, and, in some cases, the splendid bestowal of certain freedoms. From them students would learn that “the British Empire existed for the welfare of the world”, a belief held by many but expressed in these particularly terms by Gandhi. Guided by Providence and Queen Victoria, Britain had assumed a grandmaternal role, the mother of Dominion daughters, the “mother of parliaments” and, even more stirringly, “mother of the Free”.

The uniformity of the vision – red is red whether in Canada or Ceylon – may have been useful for the schoolteacher and the recruiting officer. But the men sent out to administer different systems all over the globe understood its limitations. The appearance of theses impressive books, the last in the five volume Oxford History of the British Empire, demonstrates that historians, after a long time-lag in the first half of the 20th century, have caught up with them.

The previous attempt at a comprehensive survey, the Cambridge History of the British Empire (published in nine volumes between 1929 and 1959), retained the anglocentric approach of earlier works, as well as their assumptions of a noble imperial purpose. Without entirely demolishing those assumptions (indeed the editor-in-chief, Roger Louis, specifically endorses some of them), the Oxford History offers more cautious and rataher more sophisticated assessments of the imperial experience. As Louis points out, these volumes do not depict it as “one of purposeful progress” nor concentrate narrowly on “metropolitan authority and rule”; nor do they see its demise as “steady decline and fall”. Their emphasis is on diversity, on a “constantly changing territorial empire and ever-shifting patterns of social and economic relations”.

The chief inspiration behind this approach is the work of the late historian Jack Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, who compared the empire to an iceberg, the visible section being the red-painted colonies and the submerged bulk representing the “imperialism of free trade”, a vast “informal empire” based on naval supremacy and economic power which extended into places such as China, Latin America and the Middle East.

Many of the contributors to the Oxford volumes apply this view to their own areas. In south-east Asia, stresses A.J. Stockwell, the demarcation between Britain’s formal empire and its neighbours was indistinct: “‘British pink’ seeped over the whole region: nearly indelible in some areas, it merely tinged other parts and elsewhere faded fast.”

The scope of these books is so large that there were bound to be gaps: Malta and Gibraltar are barely mentioned, sport and the “games ethic” are ignored, and almost nothing is said about training administrators to do their job. Yet the overall achievement is undeniably impressive. Under the magisterial guidance of Louis (a distinguished American academic whose appointment as editor raised predictable insular howls in the UK), a vast array of of historians has produced a solid monument of contemporary scholarship. Some of the contributions, such as those by E.H.H. Green on political economy and David Fitzpatrick on Ireland’s ambivalence towards the empire are brilliants – subjects that would justify individual volumes distilled into concise and lucid essays.

Naturally there can be neither a common view nor a uniformity of tone among the hundred contributors to these volumes. The assembled historians are certainly not apologists for imperialism but nor, in general, are they too apologetic about it. Several remind us of its humanitarian dimension, and Louis may have confounded his fogeyish detractors with his view that Kipling was “perhaps the greatest poet of the age”. In addition, while appropriate genuflections are made to all those contemporary “studies” (area, gender, cultural and so on), the faddish preoccupation with “discourse” (in its postmodernist and post-colonial contexts) is restricted.

Yet the work has some of the defects as well as most of the merits of current historical writing: too much drab prose, too heavy a reliance on tables and statistics, a sense (especially in Historiography) of colleagues complimenting each other while disparaging their predecessors. Few contributions show real historical imagination: several leave an aroma of seminars and obscure historical quarterlies.

The great historian Richard Cobb used to say that a good deal of French history could be walked, seen and above all heard in cafes or buses or on park benches in Paris and Lyon. But most of the academics in these volumes do not seem to share his view that history is a cultural and creative subject as well as an academic one. However diligent their research may have been, they do not write as if they have ever sat in a Delhi rickshaw or a cafe in Calcutta. Robin J. Moore directs readers to all his own books, but neither he nor any of his colleagues cite a work published in an Indian language.

Yet if these volumes have little feel for the imperial setting and its personal impact, they manage to convey the sheer scope of the enterprise, the scale of the endeavour, the means by which those little dots reddened a quarter of the map. More importantly, they demonstrate the need to study the empire’s history, not in order to glorify or denigrate, but in order to understand the centuries of interaction between the dots and their formal and informal empires.

Perhaps this history, the first to be written since the territorial dismantlement, will mark a new stage not just of reassessment but of acceptance of the empire’s importance, for good and for bad, in the history of our planet. The topic is unfashionable in Britain today – Bristol’s excellent British Empire and Commonwealth Museum has not received a penny of public money – but it might now, thanks to Louis and his collaborators, emerge as something more than a sterile debate between those who regard it as a cause for sniggering and those who see it as a reason to swagger.

Bristol’s Empire and Commonwealth Museum is no more, unfortunately. It packed up and left Bristol for new premises at the Commonwealth Institute in London, where it died the death. I believe its former collection is now housed in the Bristol’s M Shed museum. The Empire is going to be acutely relevant now with the debate over racism, social justice and what history should be taught in schools. There are parts of British imperial history that are indefensible – the conquest of the Caribbean, slavery, the extermination of indigenous Australians, the concentration camps of the Boer War, the Bengal Famine and the massacres in Kenya. Niall Ferguson in a discussion about the British empire on a programme on Radio 4 a few years ago admitted its dark side, but said that it was a benevolent institution, although he qualified this. I think he said something to the effect of ‘just about’. For a short history of the negative side of the British empire – its domination, exploitation and massacre, see John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried. But it was also responsible for bring modern, western science, education and medicine to distant parts of the globe.

And it did try to stamp out slavery worldwide, not only where it had established and exploited it, but also indigenous slavery and forms of servitude around the world. That shouldn’t be forgotten either.

John Newsinger on the Zionists’ Collaboration with Anti-Semites and the Nazis

February 10, 2020

John Newsinger, whose book The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire I blogged about yesterday, is one of the many anti-Zionist and Israel-critical Jews, whose voices the Tory and Jewish establishments are both keen to marginalise and silence. Decent, self-regarding Jewish anti-racists, who also oppose Zionism, like Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker, have been smeared as ‘self-hating’ and anti-Semitic because they expose the racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing at the heart of the Israeli state. They have been purged from the Labour Party along with committed non-Jewish anti-racists like Ken Livingstone and the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, who have also criticised and denounced Israel. ‘Red’ Ken was particularly smeared, partly because he stated quite correctly that Hitler initially supported Zionism. This is factually correct, however unpalatable it is to modern supporters of Israel. Before the Nazis decided on their horrific ‘Final Solution’, they weren’t particularly concerned what happened to the Jews as long as they were cleansed from Germany. They therefore made a short-lived pact, the Ha’avah Agreement, with the Zionists to smuggle German Jews into Palestine, then under the British mandate. Tony Greenstein blogged about the Ha’avah agreement in support of Leninspart, showing that it is established, respectable documented history, and even posting photos of the extremely rare medal the Nazis struck to celebrate the visit of one of their storm troopers to the Jewish community in Palestine. He also quoted extensively from the memoirs of Theodor Herzl, Zionism’s founder, to show how he regarded the anti-Semites as the Zionists’ most valuable allies.

Newsinger is a long-time contributor to the conspiracies/parapolitics journal Lobster. He is the senior lecturer in History and Cultural Studies at Bath Spa University College. Although he also has his differences with the Trotskyite newt-fancier, he published a piece in that magazine showing very clearly, again with copious documentation, that Livingstone was right. He also describes Herzl’s positive attitude towards European anti-Semites as a source of support for the Zionists, and the Zionists’ initial collaboration with the Nazis in the Jewish settlement of Palestine in The Blood Never Dried. He writes

While the settlers on the ground inevitably looked to the Turkish government for support and protection, the international Zionist movement was concerned to persuade European governments to pressure the Turks into being more sympathetic. This involved developing a relationship not only with the rival European empires, but also with openly anti-Semitic governments and politicians. Indeed, according to one historian, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism

regarded the anti-Semites as his most dependable friends and allies. Rather than attack and denounce anti-Semitism, Herzl declared that ‘the anti-Semites will be our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.’

The Zionists, at this time, argued that there was no place for Jews in countries like Russia, Germany, France, Britain or the United States, and this sentiment was reciprocated by anti-Semites in those countries. They could cooperate on the basis of this shared understanding. (p. 123).

Of the collaboration between the Zionists and the Nazis, Newsinger writes, pp. 129-30,

One other point worth making here is the extent to which the Zionist movement actually collaborate with the Nazis in the 1930s, in particular with the SS. To be blunt, they found they had a shared interest in the eviction of Jews from Germany. Reinhard heydrich no less, later to be the architect of the Holocaust, in September 1935 protclaimed his solidarity with Zionism in the SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps. The Nazis, he made clear, were “in complete agreement with the great spiritual movement within Jewry itself, the so-called Zionism, with its recognition of the solidarity of Jewry throughout the world, and the rejection of all assimilationist ideas”. Adolf Eichmann, a key figure in the destruction of Europe’s Jews, actually visited Palestine in 1937 at the invitation of the Zionists. The Gestapo worked closely with Mossad, the Zionist agency handling illegal immigration. In 1939 Heydrich was demanding that Mossad should be sending off “400 Jews per week … from Berlin alone”. This cooperation extended to the SS providing the Haganah with smuggled arms.” The moral bankruptcy of the Zionist movement is nowhere better demonstrated than in Ben Gurion’s response to the possibility of thousands of Jewish children being admitted into Britain after the Kristallnacht progrom in Germany. On 7 December 1938 he told a meeting of Zionist leaders

If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of those children, but also the history of the people of Israel.

With the Nazis, of course, there was to be no such choice.

Mike was also suspended, expelled from the Party and then smeared as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier – things that he is most definitely not – because he wrote a pamphlet, The Livingstone Delusion, defending Leninspart and showing that he was not an anti-Semite, and also actually right about the initial relationship between the Zionists and the Nazis.

But Newsinger’s book, well-documented and written by a proper, academic Jewish historian, shows that Mike, Tony Greenstein, Livingstone, and all the others were factually correct. It is the Zionists who are peddling anti-Semitic lies in order to cover up Zionism’s shameful record.

Mike’s expulsion, along with those of the other victims of the witch hunt, like Tony, Jackie, Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth, Martin Odoni, Cyril Chilson and so many, many other decent, innocent people, is a glaring injustice that needs to be reversed. Now.

Book on the Bloody Reality of the British Empire

February 9, 2020

John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (London: Bookmarks Publications 2006).

John Newsinger is the senior lecturer in Bath Spa University College’s school of History and Cultural Studies. He’s also a long-time contributor to the conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine Lobster. The book was written nearly a decade and a half ago as a rejoinder to the type of history the Tories would like taught in schools again, and which you see endless recited by the right-wing voices on the web, like ‘the Britisher’, that the British Empire was fundamentally a force for good, spreading peace, prosperity and sound government around the world. The book’s blurb runs

George Bush’s “war on terror” has inspired a forest of books about US imperialism. But what about Britain’s role in the world? The Blood Never Dried challenges the chorus of claims that British Empire was a kinder, gentler force in the world.

George Orwell once wrote that imperialism consists of the policeman and soldier holding the “native” down while the businessman goes through his pockets. But the violence of the empire has also been met by the struggle for freedom, from slaves in Jamaica to the war for independence in Kenya.

John Newsinger sets out to uncover this neglected history of repression and resistance at the heart of the British Empire. He also looks at why the declining British Empire has looked to an alliance with US imperialism. To the boast that “the sun never set on the British Empire”, the Chartist Ernest Jones replied, “And the blood never dried”. 

One of the new imperialists to whom Newsinger takes particular exception is the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson. Newsinger begins the book’s introduction by criticising Ferguson’s 2003 book, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, and its successor, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Newsinger views these books as a celebration of imperialism as a duty that the powerful nations owe to their weaker brethren. One of the problem with these apologists for imperialism, he states, is their reluctance to acknowledge the extent that the empires they laud rested on the use of force and the perpetration of atrocities. Ferguson part an idyllic childhood, or part of it, in newly independent Kenya. But nowhere does he mention that the peace and security he enjoyed were created through the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau. He states that imperialism has two dimensions – one with the other, competing imperial powers, which have driven imperial expansion, two World Wars and a Cold War, and cost countless lives. And another with the peoples who are conquered and subjugated. It is this second relationship he is determined to explore. He sums up that relationship in the quote from Orwell’s Burmese Days.

Newsinger goes on to state that

It is the contention here that imperial occupation inevitably involved the use of violence and that, far from this being a glorious affair, it involved considerable brutality against people who were often virtually defenceless.

The 1964 film Zulu is a particular example of the type of imperial history that has been taught for too long. It celebrates the victory of a small group of British soldiers at Rourke’s Drift, but does not mention the mass slaughter of hundreds of Zulus afterwards. This was the reality of imperial warfare, of which Bush’s doctrine of ‘shock and awe’ is just a continuation. He makes the point that during the 19th and 20th centuries the British attacked, shelled and bombed city after city, leaving hundreds of casualties. These bombardments are no longer remembered, a fate exemplified by the Indonesian city of Surabaya, which we shelled in 1945. He contrasts this amnesia with what would have happened instead if it had been British cities attacked and destroyed.

He makes it clear that he is also concerned to celebrate and ‘glorify’ resistance to empire, from the slaves in the Caribbean, Indian rebels in the 1850s, the Irish republicans of the First World War, the Palestinian peasants fighting the British and the Zionist settlers in the 1930s, the Mau Mau in the 1950s and the Iraqi resistance today. He also describes how radicals and socialists in Britain protested in solidarity with these resistance movements. The Stop the War Coalition stands in this honourable tradition, and points to the comment, quoted in the above blurb, by the Chartist and Socialist Ernest Jones in the 1850s. Newsinger states ‘Anti-imperialists today stand in the tradition of Ernest Jones and William Morris, another socialist and fierce critic of the empire – a tradition to be proud of.’

As for the supporters of imperialism, they have to be asked how they would react if other countries had done to us what we did to them, such as Britain’s conduct during the Opium War? He writes

The British Empire, it is argued here, is indefensible, except on the premise that the conquered peoples were somehow lesser being than the British. What British people would regard as crimes if done to them, are somehow justified by supporters of the empire when done to others, indeed were actually done for their own good. This attitude is at the very best implicitly racist, and, of course, often explicitly so.

He also attacks the Labour party for its complicity in imperialism. There have been many individual anti-imperialist members of the Labour party, and although Blair dumped just about everything the Labour party stood for domestically, they were very much in the party’s tradition in their support for imperialism and the Iraq invasion. The Labour party’s supposed anti-imperialist tradition is, he states, a myth invented for the consumption of its members.

He also makes it clear that the book is also concerned with exploring Britain’s subordination to American imperialism. While he has very harsh words for Blair, describing his style as a combination of sincerity and dishonesty, the cabinet as ‘supine’ and Labour MPs as the most contemptible in the party’s history, this subordination isn’t actually his. It is institutional and systemic, and has been practised by both Tory and Labour governments despite early concerns by the British to maintain some kind of parity with the Americans. He then goes on to say that by opposing our own government, we are participating in the global fight against American imperialism. And the struggle against imperialism will go on as long as it and capitalism are with us.

This is controversial stuff. When Labour announced that they wanted to include the British empire in the school history curriculum, Sargon of Gasbag, the man who wrecked UKIP, produced a video attacking it. He claimed that Labour wanted to teach British children to hate themselves. The photo used as the book’s cover is also somewhat controversial, because it’s of a group of demonstrators surrounding the shot where Bernard McGuigan died. McGuigan was one of the 14 peaceful protesters shot dead by British soldiers in Derry/London Derry in Bloody Sunday in 1972. But no matter how controversial some might find it, it is a necessary corrective to the glorification of empire most Brits have been subjected to since childhood, and which the Tories and their corporate backers would like us to return.

The book has the following contents:

The Jamaican Rebellion and the Overthrow of Slavery, with individual sections on the sugar empire, years of revolution, overthrow of slavery, abolition and the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.

The Irish Famine, the great hunger, evictions, John Mitchel and the famine, 1848 in Ireland, and Irish republicanism.

The Opium Wars, the trade in opium, the First Opium War, the Taiping rebellion and its suppression, the Second Opium War, and the Third Opium War.

The Great Indian Rebellion, 1857-58, the conquest of India, company rule, the rebellion, war and repression. The war at home, and the rebellion’s aftermath.

The Invasion of Egypt, 1882, Khedive Ismail and the bankers, demand for Egyptian self-rule, the Liberal response, the vast numbers of Egyptians killed, the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, and the reconquest of Egypt.

The Post-War Crisis, 1916-26, the Irish rebellion, 1919 Egyptian revolt, military rule in India, War in Iraq, and the 1925 Chinese revolution.

The Palestine Revolt, Zionism and imperialism, the British Mandate, the road to revolt, the great revolt, and the defeat and aftermath.

Quit India, India and the Labour Party, towards ‘Quit India’, the demand for the British to leave, the final judgement on British rule in India and the end of British rule.

The Suez Invasion: Losing the Middle East, Iranian oil, Egypt and the canal zone, Nasser and the road to war, collusion and invasion, aftermath, the Iraqi endgame.

Crushing the Mau Mau in Kenya, pacification, the Mau Mau revolt, war, repression, independence, the other rebellion: Southern Rhodesia.

Malaya and the Far East, the First Vietnam War, Indonesia 1945-6 – a forgotten intervention, the reoccupation of Malaya, the emergency and confrontation.

Britain and the American Empire, Labour and the American alliance, from Suez to Vietnam, British Gaullism, New Labour, and the Iraq invasion.