In one short piercing piece in The Guardian 24/4/12, George Monbiot has all but KO'd Niall Ferguson, Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Marr and all the other legions of self-satisfied, over-paid, pro-establishment apologists for British Imperialism that swan around the corridors of the BBC imagining they are presenting a fair, objective, balanced view of the British Empire. What all these learned gentlemen have in common is their inability to come to terms with the systematic and institutionalised brutality of the recently departed but little mourned planet-wide British Raj. All these gentlemen, while constructing elaborate, sophisticated veneers of impartiality and so-called vigorous historical examination, fail to grasp the blindingly obvious that the British empire, like all the empires before and the ones that have followed, come dripping with blood and human misery. It's not for nothing that those countless millions of citizens at the receiving end of Britain's civilising mission refer to the Union Jack as the butchers apron.

 

First Niall Ferguson and more recently Jeremy Paxman were drafted in by the BBC to give a balanced but sympathetic overview of Britain's imperial past. You instinctively knew that what was being served up by both these eminent scholars was a load of hogwash, but it was only when the smoking gun was discovered by way of newly released evidence of how the British Government systematically destroyed bucket loads of documents detailing the mistreatment of Britain's colonial subjects that the real horrors of empire start to come into the public domain. Monbiot, ever the tireless and courageous investigative journalist, unlike the legions of tame cat, time serving, Murdoch hacks, was onto it in a flash. Predictably he has been something of a lone warrior. This evidence of colonial fascism is not the sort of background noise our Old Etonian masters want to have to countenance in Britain's Olympic and Jubilee year. Monbiot, undeterred by Tory power and conservative custom, drags the whole sordid colonial history into the open. Here is a sample, if you have the stomach for it. Citing Harvard history professor, Caroline Elkins research entitled, Britain's Gulag: The Brutal end of Empire in Kenya we have this to consider:

 

 The story of benign imperialism, whose overriding purpose was not to seize land, labour and commodities but to teach the natives English, table manners and double-entry book-keeping, is a myth that has been carefully propagated by the rightwing press. But it draws its power from a remarkable national ability to airbrush and disregard our past. Last week's revelations, that the British government systematically destroyed the documents detailing mistreatment of its colonial subjects, and that the Foreign Office then lied about a secret cache of files containing lesser revelations, is by any standards, a big story. But it was either ignored or consigned to a footnote by most of the British press.

 

Monbiot, warming to his subject, now gets to the gruesome heart of the matter:

 

Elkins reveals that the British detained not 80,000 Kikuyu, as the official histories maintain, but almost the entire population of one and a half million people, in camps and fortified villages. There, thousands were beaten to death or died from malnutrition, typhoid, tuberculosis and dysentery. In some camps almost all the children died. The inmates were used as slave labour. Above the gates were edifying slogans, such as Labour and Freedom and He who helps himself will also be helped. People deemed to have disobeyed the rules were killed in front of the others. The survivors were forced to dig mass graves, which were quickly filled.

 

All this just a few years after Britain's much heralded victory over German fascism! Some things never seem to change.

Monbiot now gets to the real essence of any empire brutal repression of any and all opponents.

 

Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle butts, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used first for crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.

 

Any comment Mr Paxman. True or false? Come on, come on, we need an answer now.

 

Elkins, says Monbiot, provides a wealth of evidence to show that the horrors of the camps were endorsed at the highest levels.

 

If Monbiot's piece has one tiny fault it is that he fails to specifically mention Ireland  Britain's first and probably last colony. (though the Falklands may well compete for that accolade) For if the British were barbaric in their African colonies they were equally barbaric throughout the entire empire; across the Indian sub-continent, throughout Australasia and of course, closer to home, in Ireland. For a graphic account of the British mindset in Ireland there is no better place to look than Ken Loach's award winning film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. And still a full reckoning of the imperial policies of interment, shoot to kill, and concentration camps in the British controlled six counties in the north of Ireland has yet to be made. As for Australia, an entire policy of virtual genocide towards the indigenous Australians remains to be fully and publicly documented despite John Pilger's heroic efforts on that front.

 

Of course, to fully dismantle Ferguson's and Paxman's rose tinted account of empire, and to reveal its true nature, we need not just an exposure of the empirical evidence, but a thorough theoretical framework of capitalism's imperialist essence. Luckily we have a ready made one in Lenin's, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Now this may be a very unfashionable little text, but whatever ones conclusions of Lenin's other tenets of revolution, there is really nothing in this thesis that has not stood the test of time. Give it a fresh read in the light of our current trajectory of globalised capitalism and you find it has a contemporary edge and a power to explain that is lacking in so much of the political verbiage that passes for political analysis today. Take note Mr Milliband, Mr Hutton, Mr Cameron and Mr Cable, there is no mention in this pamphlet of ethical and responsible capitalism, just a description of a rapacious economic system that is forced to plunder the world in order to compensate for a declining rate of profit and to stave off revolution at home. I may well have used this passage elsewhere in my increasingly eclectic blog, but just in case it slipped by, here are a few lines that really could have been written this week, let alone nearly a hundred years ago.

 

As banking develops and becomes concentrated in a small number of establishments, the banks grow from modest middlemen into powerful monopolies having at their command almost the whole of the money capital of all the capitalists and small businessmen and also the larger part of the of production and sources of raw materials in any one country and in a number of countries. The transformation of numerous modest middlemen into a handful of monopolists is one of the fundamental processes in the growth of capitalism into capitalist imperialism.

 

How's that for a summation of the power of Goldman Sachs and the rest of the casino capitalist globalised banks. They think of themselves as masters of the universe, doing god's work, but they may very well bring the entire capitalist edifice crashing to its knees. Not a bad thing I hear you say but the implications in terms of world wide human suffering will be enormous. Already in the so called developed European sector there are approaching 40 million people out of work. And the numbers just keep on growing.

 

The next passage is equally pertinent to our current global predicament:

 

the development of capitalism has arrived at a stage when, although commodity production still reigns and continues to be regarded as the basis of economic life, it has in reality been undermined and the bulk of the profits go to the geniuses of financial manipulation. 

 

Did someone mention Lehman Brothers? The passage continues,

 

At the basis of these manipulations and swindles lies socialised production; but the immense progress of mankind, which achieved this socialisation, goes to benefit the speculators.

 

And then in a line seemingly directed directly at Ed Milliband and Co, Lenin adds,

 

We shall see later how. petty bourgeois critics of capitalist imperialism dream of going back to free, peaceful and honest capitalism.

 

Or, in the words of Will Hutton and Ed Milliband, ethical capitalism. Who is kidding who?

 

Let us return to the apologists of the British Empire. Long before Britain and the other leading capitalist countries embarked on the monopolisation and export of capital, they were engaged in the most barbaric of practises, each of which still leaves its blood stained mark on our enlightened times. First, was the initial seizure of foreign land. Resistance was brutally repressed. Second was the wholesale extermination of the indigenous peoples who of course, put up whatever resistance they could muster. In the America's alone it is estimated that some ninety million indigenous people were either slaughtered or perished at the hands of the European invaders. Thirdly was the replacement of indigenous people with African slave labour thus issuing forward perhaps the most single barbaric episode in the whole sordid history of human history.

 

Arising from the era of slavery came a deep-seated European racism that still blights European society today. A grotesque reminder being that England's former national football captain is shortly due to face criminal charges for racially abusing another professional footballer yet still the Chelsea terraces chant his name. And if you think this might be an English problem, just watch for the blatant and widespread racist chanting that is sure to be part and parcel of the forthcoming European Championships. It won't be a pretty spectacle. And the World Cup in Russia in 2018 won't be any better. Having seized, occupied and enslaved most of the world, the European powers then proceeded to cream off their natural resources. We should not forget that our kind and beloved queen sits on a nest of crown jewels stolen exclusively from other lands. It has been said many times but it is worth repeating here; Africa, South America and Asia are poor not because of some act of god or some innate failing on their part, but simply because Europe raped and pillaged their wealth for the best part of three centuries. When resistance threatened the British Empire, as in the case of the nation wide Indian mutiny, it was put down by the British army with savage ferocity. All this is well documented, yet still our very learned Mr Paxman chooses to gloss over this bleak reality.

 

Is it necessary to keep reminding ourselves about the real nature of our imperial past? Should we not just let the past rest, after all, we cannot be held responsible for the brutalities of our forefathers. If it were simply a matter of the past then maybe we could slowly let these dark chapters sink into historical antiquity. But in reality Europe's colonial past is very much a part of our global present. The gunboats may have been replaced by nuclear submarines, the East India Company may have been replaced by the IMF and the world Bank, and the European armies may have been replaced by NATO drones, but the result is the same. Oil, cheap labour and a massive return on capital investment for the developed nations; misery, war and destitution for the rest. The fact that two billion citizens on our planet still have no guaranteed supply of clean drinking water, basic health care or even the most rudimentary education is testimony enough that the system does not work. Any explanations Mr Paxman? Britain's colonial past is the stuff of modern day politics and Monbiot is absolutely correct in dragging our sordid past into the current light of day. And as European capitalism falls further into the mire, don't be surprised if the concentration camps and torture start springing up all over again. Did someone mention Gauntanamo Bay?

 

End JPK Copyright 30/4/12

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 May 2018 13:13 )