Kill your empire
A good thing?
Here in the UK we’ve been sold the idea that the Empire that this country used to have was a force for good in the world, and the bad things done in its name are only a few aberrations that mar an otherwise blameless, more innocent time. This feeling of edgy superiority, and the time your grandparents talk of where (most of the map was coloured pink)[http://manchesterhistorian.com/2013/painting-the-world-pink/], is utterly bogus. They also used to say that it was an empire where the sun never set because it spread right across the world.
A remnant of this could be seen at the recent royal wedding, where thousands of people who should have known better queued up to wave union jacks at some very rich, privileged people they had no connection with. We also perpetuate the myth that Churchill was somehow a good man, while ignoring his antisemitism and hatred of people with brown skins. He even suggested campaigning under the slogan keep Englad white in the 1950s. His role in various famines in India that cost millions of lives is also never mentioned.
The story of slavery, the foundation of Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa, the invention of the concentration camp. All of these things are part of our proud heritage and we shouldn’t deny them. Neither should we forget that when Britain abolished slavery compensation wasn’t paid to the slaves but to their former owners.
This is one of the reasons decedents of former slaves are still at an economic disadvantage after hundreds of years. As Martin Luther King pointed out it’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.
Then there is the problem of Northern Ireland. Towards the end of the 1960s the Nationalist community wanted a fair deal over access to jobs and housing. You could only vote if you were a householder, and the loyalists who controlled the local councils made sure that their community got what housing was available first. There were also some better paid workplaces that were effectively barred to the nationalist community, in that taking a job there could put you in danger of physical harm or death.
So a movement around fair access to housing and jobs grew up and did some marching. They were not asking for anything particularly out of line. This was just after the Summer of Love. They got shot for their pains by the British army and loyalist paramilitaries started spreading fear and intimidation driving through republican estates shooting off weapons. Republicans started fighting back and the whole multi decade mess of the Irish war started.
This is also why one of the abiding images of that period is houses burning. Loyalists left certain streets and then burned them to make sure that nationalists wouldn’t have the housing. Charming people.
In other parts of the UK the Republicans are portrayed as something fearful and evil, which goes with the useful hatred of catholics that goes back many centuries and is used to keep people loyal to the interests of the British ruling class. Don’t forget, catholics weren’t included in the white populations until fairly late in the 20th century. Initially all they were doing was shooting back at the loyalist paramilitaries and the army. There’s an old republican song from the original partitioning of Ireland in the 1920’s mocking the British army and the Black and Tan paramilitaries who did a lot of murder and intimidation. The song says they weren’t very good fighting colonial wars against people who were also armed, but very good at murdering folks armed with bows and arrows. This is also referenced in Blackadder goes Forth, where he rescues a general from a native armed with a particularly sharp piece of guava.
All joking and cynicism aside, the situation in Northern Ireland was dire. Nationalist estates had watch towers built around them where the British army could see where people were at all times and spy on them. An entire community was effectively put into a prison camp. The threat of people in part of the actual UK rejecting the way they were governed and attempting to remove the unwanted colonial boot from their necks was terrifying for our lords and masters.
So we have violent repression of dissent on one side, and a propaganda machine pretending all was well on the other. This is why the actions of the IRA seemed so shocking to people in the rest of the UK. They simply didn’t know that their government was waging a war on its own citizens and those citizens were doing their best to fight back and defend their families. The arbitrary shootings and raids on houses, plus abuse of human rights was never dealt with, and no-one ever faced a criminal court over it. It simply wasn’t reported in the UK media outside of the six counties, and the story was recast as one of good and evil. The role of evil was, as usual, placed onto the people who didn’t want to be ruled in the same discriminatory way. It wasn’t about an independent Ireland or any of those other republican wants initially. People were tired of discrimination and poor housing, the British state’s inability to remedy those things made it escalate into a war.
Make no mistake, it was a war. A war waged against people just like you by an armed military power for the most selfish of reasons. The loyalists were armed and encouraged to keep down the dissent. Also make no mistake, when the chips are down the British state defends the interests of the people who want to treat us like cattle. You can’t appeal to a murder machine to stop murdering, that’s what it’s for. It defends the interests of the ruling class, it defends the creation of profit, and it will back people who make it easier to keep us divided.
We have all these laws and concessions that our militant ancestors forced out of the state to keep us quiet. Putting aside them funding these concessions by ripping off brown people in far away lands, they are still worth defending. If they choose these laws are meaningless. It’s only fear of us that keeps them in line. If you look at what’s happened since the Thatcher period you can see this very clearly. Once the consensus was broken and the selfish ideology took hold it was only a matter of time before we ended up in our present, privatised mess.
I was politically active during this period and the number of people who called themselves socialists and revolutionaries who bought the British state’s propaganda was truly amazing. Of course, it meant they didn’t have to stick their heads up and say things that were difficult to say, or defend the rights of the nationalist population. It also meant they could advocate for impossible pipe dreams like all of the working class in Northern Ireland must unite, which meant they didn’t have to do anything to oppose the British state’s warring in the rest of the country. There is an embarrassing thread in the British left who are happy to have benefits and rights in the UK and are very poor at noticing those things are being paid for by diverting a small amount from the rape of the planet somewhere conveniently far away and populated by brown-skinned people. For example, it’s been said that the NHS was paid for by deep exploitation of the remains of the empire, but no-one is willing to look into this because it tarnishes the reputation of the people who founded it.
The bitter harvest
So what legacy has at least two hundred and fifty years of hypocrisy and double think about Empire given us? It’s wrecked our minds.