Apology Not Accepted


(African Media Group, Glasgow) December 7th 2006

2007 marks the 200th Anniversary of the British empire's abolition in 1807 of the slave trade – though not of slavery itself. Glasgow's Museums from the Kelvingrove to St Mungo's are commemorating the anniversary with a series of cultural events and exhibitions aimed at paying triubute to the victims, recognising Scotland's abolitionists; and aiding multicultural understanding and diversity.

Tony Blair didn't quite apologise for the legacy of slavery last week but he expressed his deep regret at the injustice caused. It was particularly fitting that Blair offered his semi-apology on behalf of the nation in his capacity as Prime Minister. Never mind the irony that he'd given no such apology for lying to the world to justify the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Blair is marked by Iraq as Cain was marked by his murder of Abel, as Anthony Eden was by Suez in 1956.

Though the debate has been broadly welcomed by Black people generally, left commentators in particular noted how Blair's remarks on slavery expressed regret but lacked any direct apology. 'Black petty booshwah' careerists like government minister David Lammy MP and Oona King (Blairite apologist ex-MP) were duly dispatched on a television studio tour to front the 'black-face-for-white-power' justification of this empty gesture as a big deal. White middle class led groups from the Royal African Society to the pressure group Anti-Slavery International were also duly dispatched to say 'apologising is meaningless' since it supposedly takes away from the fight against slavery of women and child sex trafficking or modern capitalist forms of enslavement in Mauritania or China.

Their common purpose was really to discourage African community calls for Reparations – compensation for the descendants of slaves and for the nations which suffered from slavery. Over a course of 200 years, this 'trade' in bringing kidnapped Africans involved being taken by force in Africa and being sold into slavery by their African tribal enemies in exchange for European guns and booze. These kidnap victims are then chained tortured, raped and then trafficked in their 15 millions after 3 months of starvation at sea in evil slave ships. On arrival they were sold like cattle in markets to new owners who took them for 'seasoning' on their so-called 'plantations'. These were the original concentration camps where they undertook the process of brutalisation, dehumanising and torturing that conditioned captured Africans into acceptance of slavery.

That the London black newspaper New Nation gave space to help the soon departing Prime Minister in order to offset negative news from Iraq and Afghanistan should be no surprise. Its Ghanaian publisher, Tetteh Kofi is a pro-New Labour son of a wealthy businessman who supported the CIA-backed military coup that overthrew the Pan-african socialist regime of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966.

But why are right-wing Blacks and the white British New Labour establishment really doing all this? In the climate of constant attack on 'political correctness gone mad' i.e. on progressive anti-racist politics and of ever-deepening state-sponsored islamophobia, Blair's actions must be understood not as an original conception.

Blair may recognise what a morally abhorrant and politically unjust system slavery was, but he will never agree that Britain today is rich and the African and Asian continents poor today because of Britain's slave past. The reason is simple. Without this slavery legacy there would have been no money for those Victorian-era hospitals, museums, churches, schools, universities, libraries, roads and transport networks to be found in British and Irish cities today.

Blair owes his position - not to the vagueries and whimsies of plotting and backstabbers nor to ambitious Brownite party backbenchers. He is just the latest continuator of a long tradition of British imperial enterprise. The very role of PM didn't exist 300 years ago. Only in 1720 After rescuing Britain from an economic catastrophe brought on by the so-called South Sea bubble, did Sir Robert Walpole become Britain's inaugural First Lord of the Treasury (the original title of the PM to this day to be found on the gold plaque on the famous black door to No 10 Downing Street). Controlling the governments money is just one of the duties of the Prime Minister which Walpole carved out with the new Hanoverian monarch George I.

The South Sea Bubble was a speculative capital boom and bust where the great and the good of late 17th and early 18th Century capitalist society invested their entire fortunes in a pyramid investment scam. Famous names included London's Scotsman Daniel Defoe and losers such as royal architect John Vanburgh and the greatest British scientist ever Sir Isaac Newton who lost £20,000 (worth £40 million today) and apparently cursed at the mere mention of South Sea for the rest of his life. They were investors in a scheme to benefit from the products of the slave trade in South America. Scots played a significant part in helping slavery to create the wealth of Britain. But it was the ruling elite's hankering after that wealth by investing in slavery in the South Sea Bubble, that led to this get-rich-quick-out-of-slavery scheme creating an economic crisis which required a saviour. There would be no PM and no modern British government in the form we know without the slavery legacy.

Much has been written about the Tobacco Lords and the work of Tom Devine in this respect is seminal in Scottish history circles in acknowledging Glasgow's indirect legacy from slavery's commodities while not actually trafficking slaves. Yet Scotland's real legacy is that Edinburgh and Glasgow merchants invested heavily in Liverpool and Bristol slave-shipping opeations – in particular the Argyll Campbells, Dewars, Grants and Macdonalds owned copious plantations throughout the Americas. A full one-third of all British doctors, lawyers, plantation overseers, missionaries and professionals involved directly in slave-holding economies were Scottish.

Glasgow's Paisley Road West has a Plantation Park - a reminder that the word 'plantation' is not seen for what it actually represents. The plantation is not some harmless idyllic scene of tropical tranquility, though you'd be forgiven for wondering why so many Caribbean tourist haunts and golf courses are called “Plantation... this or that”.

The plantation was the torture factory - the concentration camp - of British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and Southern United States imperialism. The slave plantation owners told their victims 'labour saves your heathen souls'.

To those who say black people complaining about slavery now have a chip on their shoulders wouldn't dare say that to Jews. The genocide that was the Nazi Holocaust of 1938-1945 has rightly made names like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, by-words for torture and murder - synonyms for man's cruelty and inhumanity to man. The German Nazis told their victims Arbeit Macht Frei. For an African the word Plantation should have the same connotation as Auschwitz does for Jews.

Slavery wasn't merely is bad personal situation for a few individual Africans, years and years ago. It was an entire economic, political and social system of exploitation which provided the primitive accumulation of wealth is the basis of modern European and American societies today.

Slavery is not merely old history. It is a legacy that has never been owned up to by its perpetrators – the crime has remained unpunished and its ill-gotten proceeds untouched. And just as Jewish victims are rightly compensated by the German taxpayer 60 years after Nazism's defeat, it is time that Scotland and Britain paid reparations. An apology is only the first step. Slavery is Black people's Holocaust. Our Auschwitz.