Britain’s national myth about slavery goes something like this:
There is no myth. The truth is known to all. British people kept getting enslaved when Britain was weak and its Navy couldn't fuck up Vikings or Corsairs or Continental Armadas or what have you.
However, as its economy advanced, it got rid of slavery and serfdom and became a place where even foreign slaves who landed on these shores could gain enfranchisement by appealing to the Judicial system.
How did Britain get rid of slavery and serfdom and enable its people to enjoy greater and greater freedom? The answer is Britain raised productivity and engaged in international trade so as to pay for a Navy which eventually gained global supremacy and which put down piracy and the slave trade over a wide area.
This is actual history. Fara is a historian. But he and his ilk have been dealing in absurd myths for decades. Thus he says-
for most of history, slavery was a normal state of affairs;
No. It wasn't normal at all for most of British history. It may have been normal in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa or the Muslim world. But, even there, by the end of the nineteenth century, it has almost disappeared save in places like Mauretania, though ISIS did try to revive it recently. It was definitely not normative in Christian Europe though Barbary pirates did keep raiding European coasts and capturing European ships and so there were always some European Christians being sold in Islamic Slave Markets till the French colonized Algeria in 1830.
but in the later 18th century, enlightened Britons such as William Wilberforce led the way in fighting against it. Britain ended the slave trade in 1807, before any other nation, and thereafter campaigned zealously to eradicate it everywhere else.
That is true enough- at least from the perspective of Black Britishers who, otherwise, would have to explain why the fuck they, or their parents or grandparents, wanted to emigrate to a historically Racist country. If it was simply to make money or get a free ride on the Social Capital the Brits had built up, then, from the moral point of view, they are no better or worse than those long dead White peeps they wax wroth about.
As Michael Taylor points out in his scintillating new book, this is a farrago of nonsense. Slavery was certainly an ancient practice, but for 200 years the British developed it on an unprecedented scale.
The Spanish and the Portuguese and then the Dutch and the French developed it. Britain joined in after the Dutch but did better than them and so emerged with the biggest Merchant Navy- which also meant that there were periods when it carried the most slaves though Portugal and Brazil were the biggest slave traders overall. It is usual to speak learnedly of the Assiento at this point.
Since Britain faced hostile invasion from both Spain and France (William of Orange was welcomed), it was obvious that fucking those guys over at Sea- which meant out-trading and out-privateering them- involved entering repugnancy markets, e.g. slavery, opium etc.
Throughout the 18th century, they were the world’s foremost slavers,
the foremost slavers were African and Arab potentates. Britain, emerging as the foremost mercantile marine power was, naturally, foremost in the 'triangular trade' involving slaves, sugar and rum. Had Japan and China not taken stern action against the Portuguese and closed themselves off from this noxious trade, perhaps East Asians would have made up the majority of slaves.
In any case, it is misleading to speak of the British as 'slavers'. Few Britishers led slave raids. 'Blackbirding' was an Ozzie affair.
Fara is a Parsi. Some Parsis got rich on the opium trade with China. They neither grew the stuff nor hooked anyone onto it. They merely transported it. Similarly some Africans and Arabs got rich capturing and supplying 'black gold' to White people in the Americas or elsewhere. Those who shipped the slaves outward and who brought back sugar or other commodities on the return journey also played a part in the defense of Britain against foreign tyrants.
West Indian plantations pre-existed British rule. Plantation owners in the 'Southern' Colonies fought a war to become independent and then another war to keep Slavery.
What about the vast territories under British control? Did the Brits continue the Dutch practice of kidnapping and enslaving Tamils to work in Ceylon? No. Did they bring in 'Sidhis' to work in Fara's own ancestral 'Bombay Presidency'? No. They introduced a system of indentured labor for laborers recruited to work in overseas plantations- but not hereditary slavery.
Fara knows all this. He is himself British by birth. Yet he pretends that British people led slaving raids- i.e. did the enslaving. Buying and selling and transporting is not the same as enslaving. The fact is, a big African grievance against the Brits was that they ended the Slave Trade.
The BBC website has an article by a Nigerian journalist who says- '
My great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, was what I prefer to call a businessman, from the Igbo ethnic group of south-eastern Nigeria. He dealt in a number of goods, including tobacco and palm produce. He also sold human beings.
"He had agents who captured slaves from different places and brought them to him," my father told me.
Nwaubani Ogogo's slaves were sold through the ports of Calabar and Bonny in the south of what is today known as Nigeria.
and the plantation system they helped create devoured the lives of millions of African men, women and children.
The success of West African agriculture meant high quality population growth which in turn meant that 'state formation' could be financed by selling slaves. Those who survived the 'middle passage' had superior reproductive success. Their descendants are better off than those of the guys who enslaved and sold them. But this was also true of 'voluntary' indentured laborers who replaced the Slaves from the 1830s onward.
In the name of profit and racial superiority, English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish enslavers inflicted
virtually nothing. By contrast, fine upstanding African merchants- not to mention the high officials of great Kingdoms like Dahomey (about which, the Leftist shithead, Polanyi waxed lyrical) or Zanzibar- showed industrial efficiency in this matter. Incidentally, many Parsis in Zanzibar- like Freddy Mercury- had to flee after the Blacks revolted.
a holocaust of suffering on their human chattels, practising rape, torture, mutilation, and manslaughter.
Then King Leopold got his mitts on the Congo and the bar was raised- till Stalin and Hitler and Mao and various fat Kims in North Korea raised it again. Bokassos and so forth weren't lacking in vim and vigor in this department but it was ISIS which made the thing a matter of religious duty. Incidentally, Fara's ancestors fled Iran to settle in India where, despite their talent and industry, they were quite poor till British Rule gave them an opportunity to rise up by their own effort and enterprise. The grandsons of village carpenters turned shipwrights and became Baronets because of the extraordinary public spirit and munificence they showed. Dadhabhai Naoroji, Britain's first purely non-European M.P, though of the most exalted Priestly lineage, was born into poverty. His father had not scrupled to earn his bread through honest agricultural labor. The Parsis may now be an educated, aristocratic, elite, but they can claim pure working class origins. Their ancestors earned their bread by the sweat of their brow. This explains their egalitarian ethos and affinity for Britain. But, the vast majority of 'BAME' Britishers have similar antecedents- or wish they did for the sake of the children who might otherwise turn into entitled, Credentialized, 'woke', virtue signaling, parasites.
The cessation of the transatlantic trade in 1807 didn’t end this.
True enough. In Nigeria it continued into the 1940s or 50's. Oman abolished slavery in 1970. The fact is, for a hundred years, British officials repressed its more visible expression but it went on nevertheless. Indeed, it still does. There are plenty of newspaper stories about child slaves escaping from the homes in Britain of wealthy and educated African couples. But then a Marxist nutter of Tamil extraction has been jailed for enslaving people in Tooting!
It changed nothing for the 700,000 enslaved people already held captive in Britain’s West Indian colonies; soon afterwards, the British government acquired additional slave territories in South America.
But slavery was abolished there about 25 years later.
Slavery remained central to Britain’s economic and strategic interests,
No it didn't. Ending that repugnant trade strengthened Britain in every way. On the other hand it weakened the slave exporting Kingdoms in Africa which gradually became European Colonies- disastrously so in the case of Belgian Congo.
and for more than a decade and a half after 1807 almost no one campaigned to end it.
Why? Haiti. That's why. Ending slavery was all very well but why should the freed slaves not slit the throats of their former masters? Indeed, why should they not rise up as independent nations turning the terms of trade in their own favor?
This is the crux of the matter. Slavery does not matter. Independence does. Britishers press-ganged into the Navy were, in a sense, enslaved, but at least they knew that their sufferings were for the sake of the mother country. On the other hand, being press-ganged into a foreign navy was repugnant.
The fact is, slave exporting countries had used the foreign exchange earned to buy advanced weapons. No slavery may mean Colonial subjugation. However, at ground level, that last has to be negotiated. Slavery in India was not ended when it was abolished elsewhere in the Empire. The question is, has 'bonded labor' really ended everywhere? Interestingly, the only Indian legislator of African, slave, descent, is a member of the R.S.S. Nationalism, it seems, is the antidote to slavery or its more euphemistic successors.
White people at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century had no illusions as to the inferiority of Africans. Some Professors- like Kant who well knew that there had been a successful African Philosophy Professor in Germany before he got to Collidge- pretended otherwise, but then, any type of pedagogy not directly involving wiping infant bums or keeping adolescents from incessantly masturbating, is a morally debilitating, if not despicable, trade. What was the consequence of Kant's racism? Nothing bad for Black peeps. Something very very fucking bad for German peeps in his home town which is now a Russian enclave. Why? How come? If Africans can be inferior to Whites then Slavs can be inferior to Teutons. But Slavs aren't inferior to Teutons. Hitler lost as the Kaiser lost. Germany had to give up territory and was occupied by its former enemies. This turned out to be a very good thing.
Contra the German Institutional school, or Koselleth type 'Begriffsgeschichte', or Foucauldian shite, Laws and Legitimating Ideology don't matter. Who owns what doesn't matter. Mechanisms do matter. But Mechanisms aren't about 'residuary control rights'. They are about 'appropriable control rights'. Either there is a Coasian solution, or there is McKelvey Chaos because of some stupid interessement by paranoid cunts blind to the 'Revelation Principle'- i.e. the notion that human beings aren't blind to each other at all. They are 'hardwired' to 'get' each other. Defeasible, on the fly, Mechanism Design and Repair, is such Katechon as renders every Academic eschaton otiose. Life is funny enough as it is. Part of that Divine Comedy, for the British, is that immortal, or Amartya, senex iratus- the Anglican Bishop.
As an Anglican bishop explained the Bible’s teachings, there was all the difference in the world between the sinful trafficking of kidnapped Africans and the divinely sanctioned trade in existing slaves: “buying men is not the same as stealing them”. William Gladstone, in his maiden speech as an MP in 1832, put forward a similar argument.
No he didn't. Some other guy had bad mouthed his Daddy and so sonny boy justified Daddy's conduct with respect to some West Indian Estate owned by the family. Still, Gladstone was on the wrong side of this- no question.
Meanwhile, many other countries took the lead in abolishing the practice for good. By the 1820s, slavery had been banned in the free black republic of Haiti (since 1804),
France had abolished slavery in 1794 but Napoleon brought it back in 1802. Essentially, countries passing through a radical phase would abolish slavery but then the thing would be brought back one way or the other if it paid for itself. It is utterly foolish to pretend that a bunch of talkative cunts in big Western Cities did anything for poor people in faraway places.
in most of the northern states of the US, and throughout much of Latin America. Enslaved people across the Caribbean continued to protest against and resist their bondage. But in Britain, public opinion remained overwhelmingly comfortable with its continuance on a vast scale.
To be fair, many Brits seem to have thought that the Colonial Legislatures were similar to their own institutions- i.e. this was a question for them. In fact, these 'mock parliaments' were wholly dependent on Westminster. Governor Eyre destroyed any illusions in this regard- but by then the shoe was on the other foot. Kamala Harris's paternal family, which included both slave-owning freed people of colour, became radicalised at that time. But then, the post-Reconstruction South too soon slid back to its bad old ways.
After all, the West Indies were the jewel in the British colonial system:
& those jewels had legislatures lest they too rebel like the American Colonies.
the labour of their slaves produced immeasurable
immeasurable? Nonsense! The thing was frequently measured and generally overstated.
private and public wealth for Britain’s government, cities, merchants and citizens. As the nation’s greatest hero, Lord Nelson was said to have expressed it, just a few months before his death at Trafalgar, he would always be “a firm friend” to slaveholders – for “I was bred in the good old school and taught to appreciate the value of our West India possessions; and neither in the field, nor in the senate, shall their just rights be infringed, whilst I have an arm to fight in their defence, or a tongue to launch my voice against the damnable and cursed doctrine of Wilberforce, and his hypocritical allies”.
At Trafalgar, half of the British fighting force had been impressed- that was a type of slavery. Yet it secured British liberties just as wealth extracted from the Indies served the same purpose.
There is a lesson here. Liberty is expensive to protect. If Technology does not improve, Slavery of one type or another has to be resorted to. But if Productivity goes up- including productivity in inflicting death- then Liberty can increase.
Telling stupid lies, however, helps nobody.
The Interest is the story of how widespread and deeply rooted such attitudes were, how powerfully calls for abolition were resisted and why the British parliament nonetheless voted at last in 1833 to end slavery in its West Indian and African territories. In 20 brisk, gripping chapters, Taylor charts the course from the foundation of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823 to the final passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.
The thing was a side issue. What was important was the Reform Act and the Corn Laws and, of course, Ireland. The fact is, slavery under one name or another continued save where productivity went up making the thing economically unviable.
Labour is welcome to keep 'residuary control rights' over itself so long as it has no alternative to surrender them in the short to medium term. Even Marx was able to work this out for himself.
Part of what makes this a compulsively readable book is his skill in cross-cutting between three groups of protagonists. On one track, we follow the abolitionist campaigners on their lengthy, uphill battle:
Uphill? The thing was a walk in the park! The Slave Owners got generous compensation. In any case, West Indian Estates had a nasty habit of going broke every so often. Indeed, as George Bernard Shaw well knew, Estate Managers tended to be rogues of the rankest description. By comparison, after the Eighteen Forties, Managing Agencies in India tended to be more reliable- but boring. .
organising local committees, writing propaganda, lobbying unsympathetic members of Parliament.
What was the outcome? A mutually advantageous deal for the sort of people who had representation. Petitions and lobbying cost money. Success means perceived political power. This means there is an incentive to settle for merely gestural victories while keeping the 'losers' sweet so they don't give the game away. This Gandhian type of political theater may improve your next birth but, if you don't believe in reincarnation and don't think sending good vibes into the Universe helps anybody, the thing is useless or actively mischievous.
This well-known story is reanimated by some brilliant pen-portraits. Alongside Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Zachary Macaulay, we meet such activists as the dashing abolitionist MP and barrister Stephen Lushington, fellow of All Souls and first-class cricketer, with his aquiline nose and mane of thick, black hair; and the energetic Quaker reformer Elizabeth Heyrick, who in 1824, “incandescently angry with the apparent timidity of the abolitionist leadership”, published her bestselling pamphlet Immediate, Not Gradual Emancipation, and launched an all-out “holy war” against slavery through a boycott of West Indian sugar.
Slavery was replaced by 'Apprenticeship' and 'Apprenticeship' was replaced by bringing in indentured laborers. But Technology stagnated and so this part of the world became less and less important.
A second strand illuminates the fears and bigotries of white British West Indians. The slightest prospect of ameliorating the condition of black people inevitably roused them to violence and resentment. When the British government, trying to derail abolition, made some toothless recommendations for the improved treatment of slaves, the planters were furious. “WE CANNOT BE GOVERNED BY TYRANNY”, screamed the front page of the Barbadian newspaper; across the region there was intermittent talk of proclaiming independence from Britain, or even of joining the United States.
So the bad guys were paying for lobbyists too. They got a pay off. But, because Technology stagnated, they would cease to matter soon enough.
The main focus of the book, however, is on the colonists’ powerful domestic allies, the so-called West India Interest – the countless merchants, civil servants, judges, writers, publicists, landowners, clergymen and politicians who believed that even the gradual abolition of slavery was extremist, treasonous folly, and fought tooth and nail to preserve it. Taylor paints a vivid picture of their outlook, organisation and superior political connections.
Developing and maintaining such political connections yields a payoff for the intermediary but, if Technology stagnates, they seek an interessement mechanism in greener pastures.
In other words righteous indignation for this or that cause is a way to make a little money. Why display it if you aren't getting paid?
One of the book’s antiheroes is George Canning, the Tory foreign secretary and prime minister, whose commonplace racism and contempt for anti-slavery arguments were evident even when he tried to embody government evenhandedness. “I am sure you do not doubt my sincerity as to the good of the blacks,” he told Wilberforce, “but I confess I am not prepared to sacrifice all my white fellow countrymen to that object.” In another speech, he referred to Frankenstein’s monster (that “splendid fiction of a recent romance”) in warning of the dangers of emancipation: “In dealing with the negro, we must remember that we are dealing with a being possessing the form and strength of a man, but the intellect only of a child.”
and a massive dick which Capt. Richard Burton would spend a lot of time measuring.
Despite increasing political and economic crises, the Interest held firm for almost a decade. Then, in the space of a few months, the fortunes of abolition were transformed by two completely different forces. The first was the heroic efforts of enslaved people themselves. White fears of their unceasing resistance had already helped bring about the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Now a new uprising in Jamaica in the winter of 1831-32 (motivated, ironically enough, by slaves’ belief that parliament had already legislated abolition) bolstered the view that, without a transition to free labour, the colonies might be lost altogether. At the same time, the political earthquake of the Great Reform Act in 1832 returned, for the first time, a parliament full of avowed abolitionists. Even then, the pro-slavery King William IV only signed the 1833 Abolition Bill into law because he was assured that, in practice, emancipation was bound to fail.
So, the cost of slavery went up just as the virtue signalling value of abolition increased. Since the Great Reform Act wasn't going to deliver much, it made sense to tack it on to other gestures which would deliver even less.
If even Chartism could deliver nothing, how could lobbying by a few virtue signallers deliver something for people far away?
The Interest never gave up. Under the terms of the act, West Indian slaves were not immediately freed, but forced to labour on for years as unpaid “apprentices”. Meanwhile, the British government compensated slaveholders generously for the loss of their human property. As a proportion of government spending, Taylor estimates they received the equivalent in today’s money of about £340bn – more than five times the combined GDPs of the modern nations of the Caribbean.
Which shows that Taylor was talking bollocks. Two billion would be closer to the mark. A nice enough chunk of change.
He ends, appropriately, with a plea for reparatory justice and a proper reckoning by our national institutions with the enduring legacies of centuries of slavery. As this timely, sobering book reminds us, British abolition cannot be celebrated as an inevitable or precocious national triumph. It was not the end, but only the beginning.
It was neither. The thing was a sideshow. Britain had a great Navy which paid for itself at a time when Britain was a great trading and manufacturing nation, but imposing Westminster's values on any colony was simply not an economic proposition.
Britain's economic role is much diminished. Far from being able to impose its values, it is a 'price taker' on global markets.
What about 'reparation'? Suppose a Political Party declares it will compensate the descendants of slaves. It will become unelectable. Corbyn vowed to increase teaching of black history in schools. Now, after the collapse of the Red Wall, he has been suspended from his own Party for Anti-Semitism. Cries of racism are a double edged sword.
History books may be well written and can help us while away the weary hours. But only if they are shit.
The one lesson History teaches us is that its teachers can't learn from it. If they did, they'd be Economists.