Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

The Slave Trade and the Primitive Accumulation of Capital

Slavery, the slave trade and the compensation paid to the slave owners by the British state helped kick-start the industrial revolution. "Primitive capital accumulation" Marx called it.

Abolition of slavery came only after three centuries of the slave trade. And when it was ended, the equivalent of £13bn in today's money was given by the British government to indemnify 3,000 slave owning families. Nothing went to victims or their families. Private property - which slaves were - was sacrosanct and had to be compensated for.

Post Brexit imperialism wants to play down slavery. British politicians from Gordon Brown through to David Cameron and Jacob Rees Mogg insist politicians and historians should stop apologising for Britain's imperial past and "celebrate" its achievements.

Socialists have no interest in the future resting place of the statue of Edward Colston. Nor have we an interest, unlike Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, in the class he represented. The real interest of socialists is the issue of racism in the Twenty First century. Racism is class-divisive and has to be opposed. Our socialist opposition to racism is set out in the fourth clause of our 1904 Declaration of Principles: "...the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex".

We say that racism can only end with the rise of a socialist majority and the establishment of socialism. Our opponents deny this. They state that you can get rid of racism but retain capitalism. By retaining the cause of racism - the profit system-racism will not go away; it will fester and explode in times of economic crises and depression. Leave the statue to the curiosity of the fish.

More worrying is Boris Johnson and his vision of British capitalism. On Africa he wrote:

"Africa is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more" (THE SPECTATOR 13 July 2016).

Johnson's imperialist dream is for British capitalism is to be in charge of sections of the world again - economically and politically. On the basis of a post-Brexit Imperialism, led by entrepreneurial "Buccaneers" (BRITANNIA UNCHAINED, ch. 5, Kwarteng, Patel, Raab et al), he believes, like Cecil Rhodes, in the superiority of Anglo Saxon whites. While editor of THE SPECTATOR, then Tory MP Boris Johnson published an article that said "blacks have lower IQs". In another article he claimed Blacks "had lower IQs" Another article from around the same time said that Caribbeans were "multiplying like flies"
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/27-times-tory-party-racism-7904018

Johnson, it should be noted, is a fan of Winston Churchill. Churchill was a war-monger, racist, eugenist, anti working class and an imperialist. Their view of the dominance of "The Anglo-Saxon race" his shared with that other imperialist, Cecil Rhodes. One of Rhodes's primary motivations in politics and business was his professed belief that the Anglo-Saxon race was, to quote his will, "the first race in the world", where, "the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race" (CECIL RHODES, ed, William Thomas, 1902).

In defence of the memorials to his hero Winston Churchill, Johnson has said that "we should not censor the past". We do not want his past. We do not want his history. Our history is not the history of the ruling class. Johnson wants the imperial Past, of Waterloo and the Battle of Trafalgar, as a springboard for the future. His is a history of when Britain was "Great" and ruled the waves. It is not the history of the working class.

Throwing a statue of a slave owner into a Bristol harbour is not censoring the past. If you were not allowed to study Edward Colston the Slave trader who caused the deaths of thousands of slave then that would be censoring history. What their class did to our class should be remembered. However our history is censored. It is censored through the school curriculum by Michael Grove when he was Minister of education. His class want to impose their history on us - a story of British history taught as a series of kings and queens and passive subjects.

If Black history is to be taught in schools, as Black Lives want it to be, why not teach all aspects of capitalism’s origins, the class exploitation - the use of child labour in the factories, the enclosure of the commons and accumulation of capital through piracy, war and plunder? Why not celebrate the establishment of trade unions by workers in the face of opponents like Lord Wilberforce calling combinations - trade unions - "a general disease in our society". In 1794 Wilberforce backed the prosecution of twelve members of the London Corresponding Society for high treason. Their crime was to advocate universal suffrage. And then there is the struggle of the Chartists for the vote, now considered a "niche subject" and unknown to most school children.

In reality capitalism's history will always be partial and selective. It will only be through a growing socialist movement that our history and our struggle will be told.

As Marx said:

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force" (THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY)

We will have to wait until socialist ideas become a "material force of society" and dominate throughout society as the political class struggle intensifies, until such time socialist ideas are the ruling ideas and we have control and determination in making history.

Acknowledging the existence of slavery, its effects and its resultant racism, undermines the idea of British history’s inclusiveness. It punctures the seamless "history of our nation" from 1066 until today.

The history and politics of immigration shatters the myth of a common history and the powerful ideology surrounding the claim that the British Empire was a benign, civilizing influence on world history, something to be proud of, an example of "British exceptionalism".

And it shows who benefitted from the slave trade and to what ends. And it gives a lie to the industrial revolution being politically neutral and the workings of capitalism are for the benefit of everyone. Capitalist history is shown for what it is: a history of class struggle.

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