I have recently re-read a bunch of stories about the Cold War where the blame for the repressive nature of the Soviet state was placed firmly on the Communist regime. Fair enough you might think, and certainly for most of the 20th century, the former Russian Empire was an extremely repressive regime whilst the Communists were in charge.
Certainly the secret policemen of the Soviets were well known – the GRU, KGB, NKVD, Cheka (where the label “chekist” comes from and all Russian secret police are labelled “chekists”), and others. But the persistent use of Russian secret policemen continues after the collapse of the Communist regime – the GRU is just as strong as they ever were, and there is also the SVR, the FSB, etc. And they’re just as active as ever – including the Salisbury poisonings and similar activities.
What is less well known is that the Russian intelligence services started well before the Communists acquired power in 1917 – the Okhrana. Whilst their headquarters were burned by the revolutionaries, there are persistent left-wing rumours that Okhrana operatives were recruited by the Cheka for their expertise. It is something that is never likely to be proved – these organisations are secret after all, and it did occur over 100 years ago, but the Cheka did become effective surprisingly quickly.
It is easy to blame the communists for their repressive regime, and they certainly deserve plenty of blame but is it really communism that is to blame here? That’s an all too easy assumption to jump on – particularly given the antipathy certain parties (old school European aristocrats and capitalists) have for anything that smacks of depriving them of their ill-gotten gains.
Communism certainly isn’t to blame for the secret police before and after their regime, so wouldn’t it be more accurate to say Russia has a chekist culture that survived two regime changes? Particularly seeing as the current president is a former KGB officer.
Does it matter?
Well for a start, Russia is currently a rogue state using intelligence services in an activist way to kill off critics of their current dictator. And it isn’t communist.
And not all communists are authoritarian communists; they may very well be wrong or misguided but they are not all authoritarians.
Every so often I encounter some statement online which perpetuates some slavery myth or other. Those myths are not entirely unreasonable – they’re very often applicable to the largest group of descendents of victims of one of the most recent episodes of the slave trade.
But they’re still myths and they distort the history of slavery.
1. Slavery is History
Nope. Estimates of the number of people held as slaves today vary from 25 million to 43 million.
And whilst legal slavery has been abolished world-wide, the last country with legal slavery (Mauritania) didn’t abolish it until 1981, and it wasn’t criminalised until 2007. There are supposedly more anti-slavery activists in prison than slave owners.
2. Only Africa
Slavery has existed throughout history and in every part of the world. For example, the Domesday book (1086) documented that 10% of England’s population were slaves. Indeed the port of Bristol owes its success to the salve trade, but not the one involving African slaves, but Anglo-Saxon slaves – 1,000 years earlier.
3. Slave Traders Weren’t All White
When white dudes rocked up at African ports (yes really) and asked if there were any slaves for sale, the slave trade was already centuries old. It’s hard to ascertain just how many free people were enslaved by each group, but what we know of African history makes it plain that many if not most of the slaves shipped to the Americas were sold to slave traders by other slave traders; native slave traders.
For an example look at the history of Dahomey (and this was not an isolated example).
4. Not All Slaves Were Black
In the early modern period the overwhelming majority of slaves traded were African, but the slave trade (even during this period) did include white folk.
For example, the Barbary coast pirates enslaved up to a million Europeans by seizing ship’s crews and raiding coastal settlements (mostly Spain and Italy but England and Ireland weren’t immune). Despite punitive military expeditions from all over Europe (and the US), the slave trade wasn’t finished off until the French invaded.
And that ignores the amount of slaves captured by the Ottoman Empire in Eastern Europe.
5. It Wasn’t Just The Atlantic Slave Trade
As you can see from the previous map, the trade in African slaves doesn’t just predate the Atlantic slave trade (and predates it by a long time), but it continued even after the Atlantic slave trade. Numbers are understandably somewhat vague, but it seems likely that the Arabian slave trade was at least half of the Atlantic slave trade (~12 million) and some estimates put it at parity.
6. Britain’s Industrial Revolution was Funded By The Slave Trade
This is still open to argument, and there are serious historians on both sides of the debate. It is common to argue that the profits from the slave trade were used to fund the industrial revolution.
There are not unreasonable arguments to show that the profits from the slave trade were never enough to fully fund the industrial revolution. Some did for sure, but the aristocratic landlords would have far more money to invest.
Those making money from the slave trade would have been more interested in investing in property than a riskier industrial venture. Social advancement in England/Britain (or any European country at the time) was through agricultural land ownership and in the long term it was profitable too.
The other thing that is overlooked is that considerable profits were made by African slave traders; that money didn’t go towards investment in Britain’s Industrial Revolution.
7. Britain Only Opposed The Slave Trade When It Become Economically Redundant
So Britain only started combatting the slave trade when slavery was no longer profitable for the British? Any number of slave traders (including African slave traders) would have begged to disagree – slavery (or at least the slave trade) remains profitable today or it wouldn’t exist.
And Britain didn’t just oppose the slave trade with words; it put its money where its mouth was and funded the West Africa Squadron. Some say it was the most expensive international moral crusade in modern history.
Slavery is repugnant to every decent human being well deserved of its status as a crime against humanity. And there is plenty of blame to go around – Britain should have banned the Atlantic slave trade when it began not several centuries later; so should the Portuguese (who shipped twice as many slaves). Hell, why were African kingdoms fighting wars just to capture slaves not also condemned?
This is not supposed to be a political narrative – specifically this isn’t supposed to support “white supremacy”. The only statement I would say on that kind of subject is that evil-doers can be found amongst all ethnic groups.
Of course this is from the perspective of the whole-world, and more geographically localised slavery may well be different in nature.
Now I will freely admit that I’m no fan of Trump … nor the right-wing in general; neither the “moderates” (although one could question just how moderate the “moderates” are) nor the extremists. But with the latest shindig at CPAC, the Republicans have made themselves laughing stocks.
To deviate into the cesspool of christianity, the Trumpists are doing exactly what pissed off Moses so much – worshipping an idol :-
You shall not make for yourselves idols
Source: Leviticus 26:1
But if you insist of worshipping an idol at least have some aesthetic sense about it. A shiny gold statue? Tacky. Shorts made out of the flag? Not just tacky, but a breach of the US Flag Code. It’s laughable that a foreigner with dislike for rampant nationalism knows more about respect for the US flag than those ultra-nationalists.
So the US tried to confirm the election of their next president yesterday and were somewhat delayed by a bunch of Trumpist terrorists who seized the Capitol building whilst the politicians ran for cover (perfectly reasonably).
There are several remarkable things about this incident – firstly, how on earth did they manage it? Anyone would think that the Capitol building in the middle of a contentious election process with known extremists planning a “protest”, would have more than enough law enforcement to stop the trashing of the building.
There are those claiming that there was collusion between the insurrectionists and law enforcement; perhaps and it is certainly worth investigating that possibility. But what I’m curious about is who is in charge of law enforcement at the Capitol building and whether they are guilty of collusion.
But the other category of people who should be worried are the instigators of this incident. The Republican extremists who have doubted the results of this election even after over 60 court cases have taken place and found nothing that would justify overturning any results.
Doubted to the extent of openly questioning a legitimate democratic result up to and including inciting this very incident.
They are guilty of incitement to riot at the very least, and they should face consequences too.
Lastly the radicalisation of the right-wing brought about by media pushing lies, conspiracy theories, and downright garbage in the name of “news” should also be blamed for this.
If you ever talk with US citizens on the problems with their country, there is all too often someone who comes up with this old chestnut – “At least I’m not a subject”.
Which is false and even if it were true, it wouldn’t be quite what it appears.
For a start we haven’t been “subjects” since the Nationality Act of 1948, except for a tiny number of special category subjects because for special circumstances they don’t qualify for citizenship – mostly pre-1949 immigrants from the Republic of Ireland, or India.
And if we were subjects, we would be subjects of parliament not an inherited monarchy. Yes we have a monarchy, but the power of the monarch is wielded by parliament under a doctrine known as the “Queen-in-parliament“.
Which is a weird kind of solution to the problem of letting a monarch keep their crown, but keeping real power in the hands of parliament. Once you’ve ‘demoted’ a monarch with an axe and the world hasn’t come to a standstill, you’re no longer “subjects” in the sense of being the property of an absolute monarch.
Let us emphasise that last bit – we let the monarchs keep their throne, and they serve at our pleasure. To give a real world example of how that works is the story of Edward VIII who was the present queen’s uncle. To sum up, he wanted to marry a previously married woman and “the establishment” (various prime ministers and the archbishop of Canterbury) was opposed; in the end it was Edward who abdicated and “the establishment” got their way.
Now the reasons were ridiculous (although the outcome may have been unintentionally fortuitous given Edwards VIII and Mrs Simpson’s sympathy for the Nazis), but the balance of power is clear to see.
I dare say those who loudly proclaim “At least I’m not a subject” will ignore this.