Far from benevolent, the British Empire was based on the exploitation, murder and the devastation of people across the globe
|Many slaves after being freed were forced into bonded labour|
Mrs May and Boris Johnson tour the world kowtowing to unsavoury politicians and regimes in the hope of picking up a few trinkets from their tables. Back home they look backwards to a so called golden age which never existed for the majority of the population. They and their media gophers hyperventilate over the British Empire as if it were this nation's finest period in history.
For whom, they never say. And few ever question this nonsensical claim. The great tragedy of the United Kingdom and it's people is there has never been a reckoning with the Empire Years. Britain is one of the few nations in the world which have never been held to account for the death and misery it's empire inflicted in many parts of the world.
Why is this important? It means the average British citizen has never come to terms with how god awful the British empire was. This in turn allows reactionary politicians like Boris Johnson, Mrs May and Nigel Farage to deceive the population about a significant part of their nation's history.
If the empire was so wonderful and Britain's finest period in history why did the overwhelming majority of the British population live in slum housing back then, have no health care, nor an education system worthy of the name? Schooling was not made compulsory until 1880 and then only to age 10. Why, because employers demanded of parliament the right to exploit children at home and abroad. It really was as brutal as that, and continued to be until the Education Act of 1944 was introduced when the Empire was on its last legs.
As to the conditions the working classes faced in the workplace and home, they can only be described as horrific. Throughout the nineteenth century, and early 20th the British worker's existence remained largely miserable, nasty, brutish and short. The only labour laws on the statute book where those which allowed employers to circumvent them in the name of profit.
In cities such as Glasgow, Manchester, Belfast and Liverpool, death from diseases such as smallpox, polio, measles, scarlet fever and whooping cough were endemic and four times that in the surrounding countryside before the industrial revolution and the Empire which spurred it. Mass exploitation was the order of the day, yet today when TV or film looks back to those days as they do in programs like Downton Abbey, all is harmony, no questions are ever asked where the wealth came from which allowed the ruling classes to build the likes of Highclere Castle where the programme is filmed.
The money to build these so called great country houses came from three main sources. The slave trade, the exploitations of British workers, and the rape, murder, and theft which took place in the British Empire. To put in bluntly I would like to see these temples of people's misery nationalised by the state without compensation and demolished, as today they are held up as something virtuous which is to turn reality on its head.
Kehinde Andrews writing about the colonial nostalgia which exists today had this to say about the misty-eyed reminiscences of a past era, and how it's one reason why the British empire’s legacy is still so poorly understood:
The academic Paul Gilroy diagnosed such ideas as “postcolonial melancholia,” the yearning for a time when Britain was great and a leader in the world. Britain’s place on the world stage was built off the back of the empire, and when former colonies gained their freedom, it dented not only the power of the nation, but also its psyche. The loss of the empire heralded the decline of Britain’s prowess and has left British nationalism looking for a symbolic pick-me-up ever since.
Colonial nostalgia is not just confined to the Brexiters though. It has become a common feature in TV, films and even restaurant chains. Gourmet Burger Kitchen sparked outrage with the launch of a burger called the Old Colonial, sanitising empire by superimposing palm trees in the advertisement. And while hosting a debate on reparations for slavery, the Oxford Union advertised a cocktail called the Colonial Comeback, alongside a less-than-subtle image of African hands in chains. A London bar recently had to change its name after protests that calling a place The Plantation was offensive. It speaks to the appalling collective ignorance of the horrors committed in British history that the owner, The Breakfast Group, was unaware that a bar specialising in Caribbean rum should try as hard as possible to avoid any connotations of slavery.
Britain may have been one of the first nations to abolish slavery but, and it is a big but! Instead of compensation for the former slaves parliament compensated the slave owners for their loss. Many of the families of the richest people in the UK today were the beneficiaries of this blood soaked money, including the former PM David Cameron. Only the English ruling class could have acted in such a wicked and despicable way. Of course there was a method behind this heartless savagery having been shipped halfway across the world in chains, former slaves on gaining their freedom were left penniless in a place they had no wish to be, but without any means to return home or for their daily subsistence they were all but forced to become bonded labour for the same tyrants who had held them in slavery.
As Kehinde reminds us:
As Kehinde reminds us:
Lest we forget: far from being a benevolent saviour, the British empire was based on the exploitation, murder and devastation of people across the globe. Some notable atrocities include, but are by no means limited to: transatlantic slavery, famines in the British Raj, and brutal settler colonial regimes in Zimbabwe and Kenya. Hundreds of millions of people died as a result of Britain’s vicious regime. The empire collapsed after campaigns, rebellions and revolutions from the people who were oppressed by Britain. The natives did not happily accept colonial rule; they resisted at every turn because they understood the cost of the system to their nations.
I will let Kehinde have the last word:
It is essential that the legacy of the British empire is understood because it still plays a key role in the world today. Reminiscing about the days of empire and pining for Britain to be great again is a device to avoid any reckoning with Britain’s terrible colonial legacy and debt. Perhaps a recognition of the brutality, violence and horror at the dark heart of empire would shake the nation out of its post colonial melancholia. Some of the most brutal crimes committed during the years of the British Empire took place in Ireland, however they are not included in this article as it would take a book to do them justice. It's enough to point out when millions starved in Ireland's great famine the English ruling class rather than organising and sending aid to its nearest neighbour continued to export corn and barley from Ireland to England, along with large quantities of dairy produce. English based landlords also used this tragedy to evict the victims of the famine from their homes.
Five of the worst atrocities carried out in the rest of the British Empire are in the video at bottom of this page.