Now this is amusing

The Labour leader told an audience of young supporters that he would like to see the national curriculum re-written to take into account the damaging impacts of British imperialism such as the slave trade.

Imperialism is usually thought of as the exercise of state power, yes? And the impact of British or even English state power upon slavery and the slave trade was to abolish it.

The slave trade most certainly existed before that, done by Brits and English and others as well. But it wasn’t exactly the state exercising its powers to do so really.

The attempt to do that was the South Sea Company which didn’t work out all that well.

Note what I’m saying here: not that slavery was good nor even the truth that everyone at the time was doing it as just about everyone had been doing it since whenever. Rather, just taking Corbyn at his word. We want to discuss the influence of the state upon slavery. Which was pretty good.

37 thoughts on “Now this is amusing”

  1. ‘We want to discuss the influence of the state upon slavery. Which was pretty good.’

    Pretty good at the end, but stretching it somewhat to claim it was anything near ‘pretty good’ all the way through.

    But Corbyn does need to get out of the seventies.

  2. I think this stems largely from the idea that, intellectually, he wants the state (and indeed the entirety of society) to be run as a conspiracy along lines he approves of.

    And since when you’re programmed to see the world like that (for which we have Marx and others to thank), you can only presume that everything as a conspiracy run along lines you don’t approve of. Neoliberal bankers, lizards, whatever.

    The idea that stuff just *happens* is inconceivable.

  3. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    It is a shame that Corbyn still lives in the world of 1970s teacher training, because that’s just the sort of bollx we were fed at my south London comp 35 odd years ago.

    But to abswer your point, Tim, imperialism is essentially the subjugation of the weak by the strong operating outside their own area.

    It can take many forms and is often informal (eg up until Peron decided to turn Argentina into a permanent basket case the place was effectively run by British corporations).

    So the fact that slavery was not acually a state policy is irrelevant. It was economic imperialism on the back of military conquest ( ie Britain captures Jamaca, entrepreneurs want to grow sugar, Britain coerces poor African tribes to deliver slaves )

    Funnily enough, I don’t have much of a problem with this Marxian theory, I just don’t bother with the moralistish side of it. “It’s the way of the world.” But if you’re a 1970s teacher, then it’s all part of the Great Conspiracy as mentioned above.

  4. Bloke in North Dorset

    I’ve got an idea, it’s a bit radical but it might work. Let’s teach children the facts and let them make up their own minds.

  5. Funny, he’s only against British, American and Israeli imperialism.

    He supports the Argentine imperialist pretentions on the Falklands, amongst others.

  6. I finished my GCSEs 10. Years ago and I can remember studying this so I’m not sure what he’s on about.

    One thing we were miseducated about was wealth, where it comes from and how to create it. I left school thinking it was a zero sum game. Until I educated myself about economic. Thanks state school…

  7. It’d help if those accusing the British “State” of complicity in the practise of slavery understood the “State” they’re talking about. In Elizabethan times, which is the period the plantations were established, the English State wasn’t much more than the Queen’s household. The Treasury was still pretty much a chest of coins the bills were paid out of. The power of the State didn’t extend much past England’s coastline & wasn’t particularly secure within it.
    So, on a practical level, the English Crown’s opinions on slavery were irrelevant. If it had tried to intervene in the Americas, it’d more likely provoke the plantationers to seek the protection of another power, the Dutch for instance, to get it off their back. And look what happened in 1776 over taxation.
    Britain abolished slavery when it had the power to abolish slavery.

  8. Children should be taught about how people around the World suffered because of the rise of the British Empire, Jeremy Corbyn has suggested.


    But what about the people that benefited? The sugar and tobacco barons, obviously. But also the ordinary people in places like India who got railways, Western science, and the English language out of the bargain.

    And the great expansion of economic liberty and living standards in mainland China might not have happened without the benign example of Hong Kong on their doorstep.

    Milton Friedman often asked the question, when asked by someone complaining about sweat shops or whatever: well, compared to what?

    Would history have been kinder to the world had the British Empire not existed? I doubt it. Our imperial system was a damn sight more humane than anything the Spaniards, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Belgians attempted.

    And it’s not as if the fuzzy wuzzies were sitting peaceably under trees, contemplating environmentalism, human rights and intersectional feminism before the evil British arrived (though those would’ve been good reasons to invade).

    Piracy, slavery, cannibalism, head hunting, casual murder and widow-burning were everyday features of life in many parts of the world before British arms, British law, and British trade dragged them into the 19th century.

  9. The British Empire undeniably made the world a better place. Even if a lot of Americans probably curse the day that the Dutch brought the first slaves to their shores.

    Nor did the British have to coerce anyone to sell them slaves. They had to coerce the Spanish to let them sell the Spanish slaves. But Africans were always willing to sell slaves.

    An honest account would point out the British Empire was the best thing that happened to the planet apart from the rise of the United States. If nothing else, count population.

  10. BNLIA

    “Britain coerces poor African tribes to deliver slaves”

    That’s news to me. West African tribes were engaged in slave-trading long before the British and others arrived, as were the Arabs. The Africans and Arabs saw a market and seized the opportunities the Atlantic slave trade offered.

  11. He supports the Argentine imperialist pretentions on the Falklands, amongst others.

    The British Empire was by far the largest ever seen, but only in terms of land area.

    For the biggest empire in terms of world population share (at the time) you need to look at the Arabic Caliphates of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, which destroyed several cultures outright, decimated the Christian Byzantine Empire, propagated slavery (and still continues to do so), and, centuries later, is the major root cause of native unrest in its occupied territories today.

    It’s the empire that IS and Corbyn’s buddies are trying to recreate, but I bet you wont hear a word against them.

  12. I’m not exactly convinced that modern children in the UK are ignorant of the slave trade. I expect it has and is already covered extensively, if not quite accurately or fairly.

  13. It should also be mentioned that the British Empire was ultimately sacrificed to stop the fascists taking over, whereas Corbyn’s communist heroes expanded their territories at the expense of fascist defeat.

  14. Bloke no Longer in Austria


    Sorry that’s not me,that’s the theory speaking. You see the poor Africans become dependent on the evil European slaver, because he has pushed out the previous supplier of income…er… the slaver…

    I thik it was Hawkins who was the first Engisdhman who brought slaves across the Atlantic. Whatever profits he made, Liz 1 took her cut, so the “State” benfitted from this trade too. The argumrnts wend their way in ever decreasing circles.

  15. We still associate foreign enterprises with the foreign state. People think Honda cars are made by Japan. They are actually made by Honda corporation, which is in Japan. Honda is not associated with the government of Japan.

  16. Anyone who’s read the story of the British Empire will understand that time and again the Empire was extended against the wishes of the Imperial centre. Many of the British acquisitions in African occurred like that. Frere wanted Zululand and South African Federation – the government of Disraeli did not want the war. The British Empire in India was the East India Company until the Mutiny.

    So as many have pointed out, asserting that Imperialism is the state exercising power, is false because the majority of people don’t understand the term that way.

    Moreover you bury the good point – the fact that British Imperialism did more to end slavery – by quibbling about the meaning of the term.

    Third, British Education already covers the slave trade and has done since before my time in school. It has been long taught as a black mark against the British Empire and it’s hard to see how much further teachers can go in that direction. Following standard socialist practice if the idea doesn’t work, do it again only twice as hard.

  17. Let us wait for the noble and moral Jezza to issue a condemnation of the millions murdered by socialism to follow up his concern for past outrages. Just don’t hold your breath.

  18. Or indeed apologise for Soviet imperialism and colonisation.

    Just ask an Estonian who lived through the forced russification programmes just what they thought about that…

  19. @Gamecock,

    Surely the fact that a sizeable proportion of British colonialism was outsourced or otherwise privatised only makes it even more contemptible in the eyes of the left?

  20. Just ask an Estonian who lived through the forced russification programmes just what they thought about that…

    This is an excellent post on the subject. I especially like Tony Benn’s words being read back to him at the end of the post.

  21. “Whatever the merits, or demerits, of the many years thereafter during which Communism was in power in Moscow, it is a plain and indisputable fact that the very existence of the USSR encouraged working people everywhere to throw of the shackles of colonial rule.” – English Labour Party Politician Tony Benn writing in 1992.

    Of course, the Soviet empire was not imperialist because reasons, reasons like because they were anti-imperialist. Just like they were anti-fascist….

  22. So Much For Subtlety

    abacab – “Of course, the Soviet empire was not imperialist because reasons, reasons like because they were anti-imperialist. Just like they were anti-fascist….”

    Black South Africans were richer than Soviet Central Asians.

  23. I’ve got an idea, it’s a bit radical but it might work. Let’s teach children the facts and let them make up their own minds.

    That road leads to badthink. Therefore we must ensure the kids only learn the right facts the right way, to eliminate badthink from our culture.

  24. TN/RLJ

    LJ’s book on the Raj is excellent, too.

    The three volumes of Jan Morris’s Pax Britannica are balanced, though not perhaps as balanced as James.

  25. Speaking as someone with a young kid or two that’ll be learning this at school soon: thanks for the book recommendation. It’ll be a stretch for five year old’s book at bedtime, but worth the effort come GCSE coursework time.

  26. Thanks for that book recommendation – I’ve been searching for something similar for ages.

    I have amassed a huge Amazon wish list from recommendations here, or because some subject has been discussed and I’ve thought “that’s interesting, don’t know anything about that”.

  27. I’m sure that children in the UK State school system already get a surfeit of right-on historical revisionism and any more would be thoroughly superfluous. They’re all taught ad nauseam that Mary fucking Seacole was a figure of equivalent importance to Florence Nightingale and that the Atlantic slave trade was the ne plus ultra of man’s inhumanity to man.

  28. Anyone concerned about imperialism shld start with the EU.

    Anyone who deplores slavery shld be forever grateful to “‘noble and generous England’ …the principal power in Europe that took a lively interest in our fate”-Pompee Valentin de Vastey (quoted by Paul Johnson); and the classical liberal philosophy which inveighed against slavery. Unfortunately the success of socialism in 20C reversed this progress in Russian and, later, other countries.

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