There are few more intrinsically brutal facts than slavery’s role in the building of European, and then subsequently, its various settler empires. As a system, it became the peculiar institution, as it was euphemistically termed, in the American south. It signified a demographic theft that the African continent has struggled to overcome, a shock of exponential proportion.
Slavery was always lucrative, not merely because it filled the pockets of owners and investors, but because it was literally a state-building enterprise. The development of the southern US states, be it in terms of infrastructure, would have been inconceivable without slave labour. In 1776, it was estimated that 40 members of the British parliament were deriving earnings from enslaved entities of the Caribbean.
This historical burden has been handled in an assortment of ways. Caribbean voices were particularly angered at the end of September when Prime Minister David Cameron ducked and weaved around the issue about how to deal with slavery’s legacy. He was not coming empty-handed – but an apology for Britain’s slaver past was not on the cards.
A certain hierarchy of interest was noted by the former Jamaican Prime Minister, P J Patterson, who suggested that it was time to acknowledge “the black experience” in addition to such commemorations offered for past injustices against the Jewish people.
“The refusal to apologise is a refusal to take responsibility for the crime. In a law-abiding world, this is not acceptable.” Patterson also had a side swipe at Cameron, noting that the overall “package he offered had discretely omitted any mention of a £25-million contribution to the building of a prison.”
Cameron’s DNA was doing much of the talking on that score. In 1833, when the Abolition Act was passed, mechanisms of compensation were instituted – for former slave owners. The shock to the economy with this sudden disruption saw claims made by individuals such as Cameron’s own ancestors, including a certain Gen. Sir James Duff, MP for Banffshire in Scotland. Chattels had suddenly become human subjects. It was a hard economic reality to swallow.
Cameron’s entire trip to Jamaica was beset by a self-imposed historical vacuum. Coming out with a direct apology was never going to figure, despite the 15 member states of Caricom (Caribbean Community Secretariat) having agreed to establish working committees investigating the prospects of reparations by European powers for genocide, trafficking and chattel enslavement based on racial principles.
The reparations argument goes back a good way, with compensation taking such forms as “40 acres and a mule”. In 1964, Trinidad’s representative on a UN committee on colonialism, Sir Ellis Clarke, argued that reparations should be made to former colonies as an inseparable part of gaining independence. “An administering power is not entitled to extract for centuries all that can be got out of a colony and, when that has been done, to relieve of its obligations by the conferment of a formal but meaningless – meaningless because it cannot possibly be supported – political independence.”
For Clarke, the reparations issue was inextricably linked to that of viable political independence. The former imperial power had to do its bit in forking out some form of compensation, an acknowledgment both financial and psychic, for the newly released colony to thrive.
“Justice requires that reparation be made to the country that has suffered the ravages of colonialism before that country is expected to face up to the problem and difficulties that will inevitably beset it upon independence.”
A distinction should be drawn from the principle of reparation itself, an economically and legally sound argument, to the form such modern reparation might take. The handing over of raw cash in contrition has already been pooh-poohed in various circles. Glenn C. Loury, writing in 2000, felt it a mistake to take the route of pure monetary compensation, claiming that it would let conservatives off the hook.
Such packages become unduly reductionist, placing no onus on the former colonial power to truly atone. One falls into the old trap of assuming that money solves all. Loury, writing specifically about African-American efforts to seek reparations, suggested the need for lingering reminders.
“The heirs to this atrocity – long established Americans and newly naturalized citizens alike – should be confronted continually with the horrors of what their country wrought.”
This is not to say that various theatrical precedents have not taken place, though they suggest that compensation is all too easily politicised. Those two thespians of international politics, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and Muammar el-Qaddafi, certainly gave the historical precedent a go. In that case, Italy’s colonial spectre became a matter of a $5 billion compensation package, comprising construction projects, student grants and pensions for Libyan soldiers who served with Italy during the Second World War.
The process, rather, should be a systematic network of alleviating fair trade – a point made by that long time student of brutality in Africa, Adam Hochschild. While various countries find themselves marching to the wrenching tune of free trade and undemocratic finance, a restructured system of fair trade can act as a form of tangible, and constructive contrition. Caricom’s 10 point plan, created last March, points to a variant of this, focusing on technology transfer and debt cancellation in addition to the sought after apology.
For all that, the human tendency to resort to forms of enslavement, and the monetising of human beings for profit, remain. The echoes of slavery find shape in debt bondage, indentured labour, and the modern phenomenon of disposable labour. Life may well be cheap, but human labour remains highly, and irresistibly valuable.
About the author:
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The conditionality of the Soviet Union’s agreement to allow East Germany to be taken by West Germany and for the Cold War to end, was that NATO would not expand «one inch to the east». This was the agreement that was approved by the Russian President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, a great man and a subsequent hero to democrats around the world.
He agreed then to end the Soviet Union and abandon communism and thus to end the entire Cold War; he agreed to this because he had been promised that NATO would expand not «one inch to the east,» or «one inch eastward,» depending upon how the promise was translated and understood — but it has the same meaning, no matter how it was translated. He trusted American President George Herbert Walker Bush, whose friend and Secretary of State James Baker made this promise to Gorbachev. With this ...
The Arctic has in recent weeks become a focal point of geopolitical tensions between Russia and the United States. Given the present rate of global warming, scientists anticipate that the region will be ice-free by the summer of 2030. It is believed to contain a large portion of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. It is also an important maritime route, one that is increasingly accessible due to the thawing of its ice cover.
The Arctic is one of the most resource-rich regions of the world. According to a study commissioned by the US government, some 30 percent of unexplored natural gas reserves and 13 percent of undiscovered oil and gas condensate are located there. Only Russia has a greater supply of raw materials.
The Northeast Passage, which extends beyond the Arctic, is regarded as an alternate sea route from Europe to Asia to the southern route, which runs via the ...
Imagine – the European Union were to collapse tomorrow – or any day soon for that matter. Europeans would dance in the streets. The EU has become a sheer pothole of fear and terror: Economic sanctions – punishment, mounting militarization, the abolition of civil rights for most Europeans. A group of unelected technocrats, representing 28 countries, many of them unfit to serve in their own countries’ political system, but connected well enough to get a plum job in Brussels – are deciding the future of Europe. In small groups and often in secret chambers they decide the future of Europe.
Take the TTIP – under pressure from their masters in Washington, behind closed doors under utmost secrecy – and most likely against their own personal good – a small group of European Commission (EC) delegates without scruples, without any respect for their co-citizens, without consideration for their children, grand-children and their ...
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States of America has systematically violated the prohibition against the threat or use of force contained in the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact. It has carved out a regime of impunity for its crimes based on its UN Security Council veto, non-recognition of international courts and sophisticated "information warfare" that undermines the rule of law with political justifications for otherwise illegal threats and uses of force.
Former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz has compared current U.S. policy to the illegal German "preemptive first strike" policy for which senior German officials were convicted of aggression at Nuremberg and sentenced to death by hanging.
In 2002, the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy described post-September 11th U.S. doctrine as "a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept." And yet the U.S. government has succeeded in assembling alliances ...
Dear Readers and Friends:
The distinguished and knowledgeable international commentator William Engdahl, in a superb statement, has expressed the view I gave you that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on September 28 at the 70th anniversary of the United Nations changed the balance of power in the world. Until Putin’s speech the world was intimidated by the Washington Bully. Resistance to Washington brought swift retribution. In the Middle East and Africa it brought economic sanctions and military invasions that destroyed entire countries. In France and other US vassal states it brought multi-billion dollar confiscations of bank net worth as the price of not following Washington’s policies toward other countries.
Other countries felt powerless in the face of the arrogant hegemonic Unipower, which from time to time replied to noncompliance with threats, such as US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage delivered to Pakistan, to bomb noncompliant countries “back to the stone age.” ...
Britain’s lavish state reception for Chinese President Xi Jinping is a dash-for-cash that shows how desperate the crumbling former empire is for foreign investment.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is laying on the finest trappings of the state to impress his Asian visitor – even as it causes misgivings within British society and tensions in Britain’s “special relationship” with Washington. But Cameron has no choice. Britain is broke and badly needs capital investment.
Even the normally supportive rightwing British media appears to be taken aback by the Conservative government’s hypocritical fawning.
The Daily Express reported how premier David Cameron and his Tory government are “rolling out the red carpet to beg for cash” during the Chinese leader’s first state visit to Britain. Meanwhile, the Financial Times gave prominence to critics accusing Britain of “kowtowing” to China.
President Xi and his wife were this week treated to a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, where the couple stayed as special guests of Queen Elizabeth. Throughout the visit, Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne are to accompany the ...
Historically and intuitively, Russia has fought for the survival of humanity. Of course, things are not always pronounced or defined in such terms. However, already on several occasions, this enormous country has stood up against the most mighty and evil forces that have threatened the very survival of our Planet.
During the Second World War, the Soviet people, mainly Russians, sacrificed at least 25 million men, women and children, in the end defeating Nazism. No other country in modern history has undergone more.
Right after that victory, Russia, alongside China and later Cuba, embarked on the most awesome and noble project of all times: the systematic dismantling of Western colonialism. All over the world oppressed masses stood up against European and North American imperialist barbarity, and it was the Soviet Union that was ready to give them a beacon of hope, as well as substantial financial, ideological and military support.
As one oppressed ...
How America Double-Crossed Russia and Shamed West
US Imperialism And The New Race To The Arctic
The Collapse of the European Union: Return to National Sovereignty and to Happy Europeans?
Appeal from U.S. to World: Help Us Resist U.S. Crimes
Best Of British Values… Hypocrisy
Why The West Can Never Defeat Or “Forgive” Russia