From slavery to the rule of capital - a criminal trail that Blair will not disown

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
28 November 2006

Blair's "expression of deep sorrow" for Britain's past slave trade should put him straight into the Guinness book of records - as hypocrite of the year, if not of the century!

But it was no surprise that Blair stopped short of a full "apology" for the centuries of slavery in which Britain was one of the main players. Who would expect this accomplice to the slaughter of the Iraqi population to admit that, yes, the Union Jack is also covered in the blood of millions of slaves!

Of course, even a full "apology", let alone the token "compensation" mentioned by Blair in his speech, could never make up for the suffering of generations of slaves. Nor would it make up for Africa's present endemic poverty - which originates in its depopulation due to the slave trade and in the systematic looting by the slave traders and the Western imperialists who followed in their footsteps.

More importantly, nor would such an "apology" bring to account those who were responsible for these crimes nor prevent the system that generated slavery from claiming more victims.

The crimes of british capital

Because slavery did not come out of the blue. At a time when slavery had long disappeared in Europe, it was "re-invented" by the ruling classes of the rich European countries, in order to squeeze more wealth out of their colonies and their populations.

The unmentionable truth for Blair is that British capital would never have developed without slavery and the plundering of its colonial empire. Not one of today's largest British companies would even exist if it was not for this. Neither would the big banks, like Barclay's, HSBC or HBOS, which built their wealth on lending money to the slave traders and colonial looters. Nor would companies like P&O, Tate & Lyle, Unilever, and so many others, which were directly involved in these criminal activities.

These are the true criminals - Britain's wealthy capitalists, who used the British state and its army to enslave Africans, transport them to America and the Caribbean, forcing them to work in their plantations. But it was not only in Africa, but in India as well, that such crimes were committed. Hundreds of thousands were deported as indentured labour to Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the British colonies in South and East Africa, while poor Indian farmers were forced into slavery on their own land.

Far from bringing progress to these continents, British colonialism turned the clock back for their populations, destroyed their economies and the fabric of their societies and reduced them to what has become known as "under-development" - for centuries to come.

No apology for today's waged slavery

Today, the same big companies are still looting the world. The rich descendants of the slave trade criminals are using the wealth accumulated by their ancestors to live off the sweat of the working classes of the entire planet.

They may have the more "respectable" title of "employers", rather than "slave owners", and we may be called "waged workers" instead of "slaves", but how much of a change does this really make? What real choice do we have to shape our own lives in this system - except the choice of going from job to job, always dependent on the goodwill of the same capitalists?

What has really changed in the parasitism of British capital? Or in its propensity to shed the blood of the populations in order to boost its profits? What has changed in the exploitative nature of its system?

What social justice is there for the overwhelming majority of the world's population, when thousands of workers can have their wages, conditions or jobs cut at the stroke of a pen, in Britain or anywhere else in the world - just because a handful of directors have so decided in the cosy comfort of a City boardroom? In fact, what does the phrase "social justice" mean in a society where the working class, which produces all wealth, has no control whatsoever over the product of its labour? What does it mean in a world in which nearly one billion people live on the starvation line?

Slavery was abolished in Britain almost 200 years ago - which is what Blair was supposed to be celebrating in his speech. But capitalist exploitation went on. Bringing it to an end, once and for all, remains the only way forward today. Marx's words in the Communist Manifesto have never been more relevant: workers "have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win."