There’s sadly a large amount of ignorance concerning slavery. The Atlantic Trade was large, yes, historically concentrated as well. But there really wasn’t anything at all unique about it. Not even that it was Equatorial and sub-Saharan blacks being enslaved – the Arab slave trade utilised the same source.
What’s very much worse than this lack of historical knowledge is the perversion of the truth usually on offer:
When will Britain face up to its crimes against humanity?
After the abolition of slavery, Britain paid millions in compensation – but every penny of it went to slave owners, and nothing to those they enslaved. We must stop overlooking the brutality of British history. By Kris Manjapra
Yes, we can tell how this is going to go. Unless we today cough up lots of money for people with better melanin content than ourselves we’ll not have faced up to those historical truths. Which is to be deeply stupid of course.
For who did abolish the slave trade? Why that’s our pinkish forefathers, isn’t it? The compensation being the necessary price of getting the ownership part abolished that couple of decades later after the trade part.
And who did then spend more on the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery patrols than anyone had ever made out of slavery over the next century and a bit? Why, that’s our rather pinkish forefathers again. And guess what? The first people to note that slavery is wrong, the first people to abolish it, the first people to actively campaign against it with those gunboats and all? No, those aren’t the people you can go around insisting the’re not facing up to their crimes now, are they?
“Err, yes, that was a bad idea, we’ll stop and we’ll expend our efforts making everyone else stop too” is not a refusal to face up to anything.
Not a single shilling of reparation, nor a single word of apology, has ever been granted by the British state to the people it enslaved, or their descendants.
Guess what? The British state didn’t enslave anyone. It was a private, market, institution.
Slavery had certainly been practised in many parts of the world since ancient times. But never before had a territory’s entire economy been based on slave labour for capitalist industry.
That’s just historically ignorant. The Roman latifundia were slave driven plantations. OK, so we call them farms because they were in Europe, not plantations which is of the Americas. But there’s really nothing at all unique about this Atlantic trade nor economy.
Britain could not have become the most powerful economic force on earth by the turn of the 19th century without commanding the largest slave plantation economies on earth, with more than 800,000 people enslaved.
That’s economically illiterate to boot. Slavery existed, most certainly, but the accumulated capital from it was not what fueled the Industrial Revolution. Sure, some say it was but sadly for their argument it wasn’t.
Eric Williams, a historian of slavery who also became the first prime minister of independent Trinidad in 1962, has argued that slavery in the British empire was only abolished after it had ceased to be economically useful.
That’s actually not a bad argument. Economics is called the dismal science precisely because it was pointed out to Carlyle that paid labour was more efficient than slave. But if that is true then it does rather mean that it wasn’t making a great deal of money, doesn’t it?
Many mainstream abolitionists felt uncomfortable about the compensation of slave owners, but justified it as a pragmatic, if imperfect, way to achieve a worthy goal.
That’s probably the right attitude to have had as well. But again we get to ignorance:
It is hardly surprising, then, that the British establishment has been so resistant to hearing calls for reparations for slavery. In 1997, manacled human remains were found on a beach in Devon. It was soon determined that the bones were those of enslaved blacks who had probably been kept in the hold of The London, a vessel shipwrecked in 1796. The enslaved people, who were probably from the Caribbean, were supposed to be sold on the British slave market.
There was no British slave market. Slavery didn’t exist in Britain. The legal case which decided this – in effect insisting that slavery had never been legal in England at least – was before 1796. There just wasn’t such a market slaves could be sold into.
But then we leap off into nonsense:
He anchored his demand for reparations in the need for the British state to admit its role in forcefully extracting wealth from the Caribbean, impeding industrialisation and causing chronic poverty. The Caribbean, by the late 20th century, became one of the largest centres of predatory lending, orchestrated by the IMF and World Bank, as well as by European and American banks. Even today, the economies of Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua find themselves dangling precariously between life and debt, suspended by their historically enforced dependence on foreign finance.
What has this to do with slavery? Why should anyone who did benefit from slavery – if any such exist today – be paying for predatory lending?
And that’s where the modern reparations argument really falls down. Back with that common law argument of what compensation is for, what it’s about. It is to make you whole from the damages caused to you. To put you back into the position you would have been before the tort. The people in the Caribbean are very much richer than the descendants of the not enslaved in West Africa. There’s no compensation due even if we accept all the rest of the various arguments.
The slaves weren’t better off than the not enslaved. But their descendants are. And we don’t pay compensation, reparations, for making today’s people better off now, do we?