Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ignorance and bigotry

Seumas Milne in the Guardian, in an apologia for communism that is really quite sickening, denies any possible equation between Fascism and Communism while simultaneously describing Fascism as morally akin to colonialism. If ever an article demanded a fisking, it is this one.

"For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. "

Huge advances in social equality? That everyone was subservient and rightless except party apparatchiks? Rapid industrialisation? The Russians used to have a saying about this: "We have huge machines that can dig out coal and ore. We burn the coal to smelt the ore to make huge machines that can dig out coal and ore." Writing for a newspaper that continually excoriates the West for its pollution, Milne here manages to ignore the uncomfortable fact that the Communist countries were responsible for the most blatant and irreversible acts of pollution in history from the disappearance of the Aral sea to the explosions at Chernobyl.

"It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment, captured even by critical films and books of the post-Stalin era such as Wajda's Man of Marble and Rybakov's Children of the Arbat."

Man of Marble was so idealistic and pro-Soviet that the Polish film company was forced into liquidation as a result. In Children of the Arbat, the idealistic Communist boy is exploited and ultimately destroyed by the Party. So both of these examples of Communist freedom and idealism are actually about the stifling nature of Communism in reality. Good examples.

"Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the west, boosted the anticolonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to western global domination."

And the counterweight argument - because any power - even a malign one - is better than the United States. If Milne had experienced the delightful form that the Communist inspired 'anti-colonial movement' took he might be less gushing (although probably not). It encompassed mass killings in the rural areas of Africa, shot down passenger planes, bombs in pavement cafes and kidnap and murder on a horrific scale. Most of the violence was perpetrated against the ordinary people, not the colonists, let alone the colonial military.

It would be easier to take the Council of Europe's condemnation of communist state crimes seriously if it had also seen fit to denounce the far bloodier record of European colonialism - which only finally came to an end in the 1970s.

So European colonialism was "far bloodier" than Communist state crimes? Including Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan and Cuba? Aren't best guesses that the victims of Mao numbered between 60 and 70 million? And the victims of the Gulag numbered, conservatively, 15 million. This doesn't include those killed in the initial revolution and civil war, perhaps another 20 million. Nor does it include the 6-7 million killed in the delibreately engineered famine in the Ukraine. So European colonialism was "far bloodier" than a system which deliberately killed upwards of 100 million people in a seventy year time span? There's a word for this...

[Colonialism] was a system of racist despotism, which dominated the globe in Stalin's time. And while there is precious little connection between the ideas of fascism and communism, there is an intimate link between colonialism and Nazism. The terms lebensraum and konzentrationslager were both first used by the German colonial regime in south-west Africa (now Namibia), which committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples and bequeathed its ideas and personnel directly to the Nazi party.

So German politics was influenced by German history - imagine! It's a more reasonable point if one says that the German colonial experience, which included attempts at genocide in German South West and Tanganyika (the maji-maji rebellion) indicates a degree of continuity between pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany.

Around 10 million Congolese died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early 20th century

Hands up to this one - but a small caveat. The Congo at this point (and it was more in the late 19th than early 20th but lets not split hairs) was not Belgian. It was the personal property of one man: King Leopold. This is an important distinction. Read King Leopold's Ghost for the full story, but to describe the Congo Free State as typical or even representative of European colonialism is misleading at best.

Tens of millions perished in avoidable or enforced famines in British-ruled India

Presumably Milne is referring to the two famines that affected Bengal during British rule. The first was in 1769-73, six years after control of Bengal had been established. Culpability on behalf of the East India Company has been adduced by the increase in taxation, and the unfortunate effect of a law designed to avert famine - that of preventing hoarding. The reason for the famine was that the two previous harvests had failed. This really cannot be blamed on the British, much as Milne might try. Total number of deaths are unknown, but though to be about 10 million over four years.

The second famine happened in 1943. This was less severe and better ameliorated, but deaths were still in the region of 3 million. The dearth was largely the result of the fact that Burma, which had provided up to a third of Indian imports of rice, was at this point almost entirely overrun by the Japanese, while scarce food was concetrated on Calcutta, in an attempt to protect the city from defeat or siege.

Together, the death toll was some 13 million. Neither famine was 'enforced'. The only 'enforced' famines have occurred in Communist countries - the Ukraine, Ethiopia under Mengistu, North Korea. To talk of 'enforced famines' in British India is both ignorant and malicious. To do so in an attempt to make them seem worse than Communist countries that did enforce famines is revolting.

Up to a million Algerians died in their war for independence, while controversy now rages in France about a new law requiring teachers to put a positive spin on colonial history

The war in Algeria is a tricky one. Can the deaths of French teenagers in milk bar in Algiers by a terrorist bomb really be a European atrocity? Can the deaths of thousands of farmers and labourers at the hands of Islamic nationalists? It was a war, and to ascribe all the deaths as the fault of the French is absurd.

Comparable atrocities were carried out by all European colonialists, but not a word of condemnation from the Council of Europe - nor over the impact of European intervention in the third world since decolonisation. Presumably, European lives count for more.

So the Council of Europe should now apologise to the people of Bangladesh for a famine in 1770? And what European intervention in the Third World has there been since decolonisation? Massive amounts of foreign aid, and that' about it. If there's one thing that the Council of Europe really should apologise for it's the CAP, but there's even less chance of that than there is of Milne throwing away his bust of Lenin and little red book.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too right - Milne is a four letter man.

As is Prescott.

As are Goats.

Superb blog!

6:16 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

Incidentally, Scott at the Daily Ablution goes harder at the first half of this article

6:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have studied British Colonial History and I think I can safely say that practically all the disasters which occurred in South Asia during British rule would have occurred anyway and would have been worse if Brit had not been there. Britain has nothing to apologise for.

4:02 am  
Blogger The Pedant-General said...

Floreat Aula, eh? Now there is an educated man.

Tim J,

shamelessly nicked this fisking of Suaemes in order to give some meagre justification for a P-G fatwa over at my place.

Excellent stuff.

Toodle Pip!

9:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the 1943 Bengal Famine "was largely the result of the fact that Burma, which had provided up to a third of Indian imports of rice, was at this point almost entirely overrun by the Japanese, while scarce food was concetrated on Calcutta, in an attempt to protect the city from defeat or siege."

Really? Why then did the famine affect Bengal only rather than the whole of India, as you might expect since a third of Indian imports of rice were curtailed as you "explained"?

So it was a wartime emergency according to you, reduced supplies and "protecting" Calcutta from a siege (which, incidentally, never materialised)? But WHOSE war? Were the subject peoples of India ever consulted about whether they wanted to join Britain's war, or whether they wanted Calcutta "protected" at the cost of millions of lives? Or was it simply assumed that they should make all necessary sacrifices, however many millions it ran into, in providing Britain with all the reserves of manpower and resources?

You will have to do a little better to justfy your attempt to apologetically revise the last five centuries of imperial history (which includes, incidentally, BOTH the world wars which were down not only to fascism but essentially to the rivalry between the imperialist powers of which fascism was only a symptom).

1:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bruce blabbered:

"I have studied British Colonial History and I think I can safely say that practically all the disasters which occurred in South Asia during British rule would have occurred anyway and would have been worse if Brit had not been there. Britain has nothing to apologise for."

Horsesh*t. Droughts and other natural conditions contribute to famines, but it was British practices that actually *made* the famines. India had had plenty of droughts before, but by and large, the region's rulers-- including the Mughals, who were often incompetent-- managed to use stored up foodstocks and avoid market manipulation to get food where it was needed. Somehow, in two millennia of well-documented history in India prior to the British, there were at most 10 famines. In barely 50 years of British rule (after the First War of Indian Independence in the mid-1800s), there were almost 30 famines.

Why? Easy-- the Brits took control of the arable land in India and sent off precious surplus harvests back to Britain, or to British troops elsewhere in the Empire (who were generally busy having their asses kicked in Central Asia). The Brits also engaged in some of the most egregious price manipulation ever seen-- the East India Company and then the Raj officials always had to get a cut of the profits from a sale at the markets, and in any case commerce within India was blocked to boost up the prices and make Britain richer, even as the Brits taxed India's farmers and workers to death while gutting the textile industry that had been flourishing in India. Britain also had some awful labor camps for Indians on the outlying islands and in South India. At a bare *minimum*, over 20 million people in India were killed by the British during that period. So you're right, the British weren't Nazis or Stalinists in India-- they were much worse than that. Your country deserves to go crazy en masse with mad cow disease and then be turned into a toxic waste dump. Good riddance.

2:48 am  

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