Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Black (and others) Nationalism and History

Hannibal was not the ruler of Carthage*

After reading Satan the next chapter of Malcolm X's autobiography is saved. It basically explains that after listening to the initial teachings of Elijah Muhammad Malcolm through himself into extensive reading of the prisons library with a particular focus on the few books covering African and "Negro" History. He also gives an explanation for why the Nation of Islam's teachings including the nutty parts were so easily accepted by so many Black Americans. By erasing the Black Americans history both his African heritage, not only were most Black names European, but there last names were either those of a slave master or the generic "Freeman" which still carried an association to slavery. And the knowledge of his experiences in the "New World", Malcolm claims, and I have no reason to doubt him, that in school a very prestigious one in Lansing Michigan had only one paragraph on the whole of Negro history. American society had created a void in the intellectual and emotional being of most Blacks which meant they were quick to embrace teachings and philosophy's like Elijah's that filled that void.
The teachings of Mr. Muhammad stressed how history had been "whitened"-when white men had written history books, the black man simply had been left out. Mr. Muhammad couldn't have said anything that would have struck me much harder. I had never forgotten how when my class, me and all of those whites, had studied seventh-grade United States history back in Mason, the history of the Negro had been covered in one paragraph, and the teacher had gotten a big laugh with his joke,"Negroes' feet are so big that when they walk, they leave a hole in the ground."This is one reason why Mr. Muhammad's teachings spread so swiftly all over the United States,among all Negroes, whether or not they became followers of Mr. Muhammad. The teachings ring true-to every Negro.
This is one area where I can totally relate. Having grown up in Britain as a mixed Celt (my parents are Welsh and Irish and my ancestors are Scottish) the concept of "Britishness" is heavily dominated by "Englishness". One of the main reasons Nationalist groups like Plaid and the SNP maintain a sizeable support base is because a lot of Celts will never feel part of a Great Britain because its just another extension of England. With the exception of Scotland I never learnt anything about Wales or Ireland that wasn't heavily linked to England until Sixth Form history. And even with Scotland it was limited to a bit a bout the Jacobite rebellions after we had looked at the Stewart's (so it was really just an addendum to the Civil War lessons) and a few brief biography's of a couple of clever Scottish inventors though they were presented as British inventors with just a brief mention that they came from Edinburgh or Glasgow.

I know from first hand experience one of the few areas were both Plaid and SNP have been very popular has been the education reforms focus on Celtic history and culture. I myself once I started to learn about Celtic history and mythology, in my own free time became something of a cultural nationalist for a brief period. Fortunately reading the work of critical historians about national myths like the Jacobite rebellions and the fact that most "English loving Traitors" in Celtic history did so purely for monetary reasons convinced me of the importance of class over nation. For example most Welsh Nationalists venerate Owain Glyndwr (Owen Glower) as a sort of Welsh Braveheart. The problem is he used to be a staunch supporter of England he was part of the Anglo-Welsh Gentry and he served in its army as a noble officer. He only led the rebellion after his lands were confiscated by a personal friend of Henry IV and English racism barred him from solving his grievances legally.

It also helped that many Blacks never received sufficient education in general, Malcolm for an example says he didn't know what the word genetic actually meant until AFTER he heard Yacub's history. And when he looked it up the discovery of the dominant and recessive gene structure seemed to support the tales of Yacub the ancient eugenicist.

Unfortunately while Malcolm came to learn enough to see absurd fables like Yacub's history and every white man is literally the devil for what they were he till his dying day believed in quite a few fictions.

I perceived, as I read, how the collective white man had been actually nothing but a piratical opportunist who used Faustian machinations to make his own Christianity his initial wedge in criminal conquests. First, always "religiously," he branded "heathen" and "pagan" labels upon ancient non-white cultures and civilizations. The stage thus set, he then turned upon his non-white victims his weapons of war.
What's the problem here? There is no such thing as a "Collective" White man, never has been and never will be. For example the English language gets the word Slave from the word Slav. The Slavs are a mixed group of people from Transcaucasia and have lived for centuries in Eastern Europe. They are a diverse bunch but two things they all have in common is their pale skin and their shared history of poor treatment and oppression at the hands of other white Europeans.

Google assures me this is what an average Slav looks like
Furthermore the usage of the labels of heathen and pagan were not exclusively directed at "coloureds" Protestant and Catholic Europe branded each other by that terminology all the time and it lead to a lot of bloodshed. The Thirty Years war being the most blatant example involving most of Europe and decimated entire populations of several of the warring kingdoms. 
I don't see any black faces do you?

Pop quiz which nation is the following qoutation about?

They use their fields mostly for pasture. Little is cultivated and even less is sown. The problem here is not the quality of the soil but rather the lack of industry on the part of those who should cultivate it. This laziness means that the different types of minerals with which hidden veins of the earth are full are neither mined nor exploited in any way. They do not devote themselves to the manufacture of flax or wool, nor to the practice of any mechanical or mercantile act. Dedicated only to leisure and laziness, this is a truly barbarous people. They depend on their livelihood for animals and they live like animals.
The answer is Ireland, I'm sure its sentiment seems very familiar if not its target.

 I read how, entering India-half a billion deeply religious brown people-the British white man, by1759, through promises, trickery and manipulations, controlled much of India through Great Britain's East India Company. The parasitical British administration kept tentacling out to half of the subcontinent. In 1857, some of the desperate people of India finally mutinied-and, excepting the African slave trade, nowhere has history recorded any more unnecessary bestial and ruthless human carnage than the British suppression of the non-white Indian people.
Again the Indian experience does not show a collective white man but rather the opposite, in addition to a British East India Company, there was also a French and Dutch East India Company and several more. And all of them got up to the same dirty tricks the British Company did until they lost controlled and were expelled from India.

  Over 115 million African blacks-close to the 1930's population of the United States-were murdered or enslaved during the slave trade. And I read how when the slave market was glutted, the cannibalistic white powers of Europe next carved up, as their colonies, the richest areas of the black continent. And Europe's chancelleries for the next century played a chess game of naked exploitation and power from Cape Horn to Cairo.
Again both examples disprove Malcolm's assertion the slave trade was not an example of White collective action but individual competition. Portugal also exported millions of slaves to Brazil via its colony in Angola. And for a time Spain and England (and then Britain) went to war over who would dominate the North Atlantic slave trade.

And of course I'm sure we're all familiar with the White racists favourite argument for slavery. "Blacks had slaves too"! This is true but aside from academic accuracy its irrelevant. It is not an acceptable defence that someone else does it too, its the equivalence of "an older boy told me to do it".

And then we come to big one, Empire. Its undeniably true that Europe and the USA colonised vast swathes of territory and carried out brutal exploitation to fund the wealth of their rulers. But again it directly contradicts the idea of a "Collective White man" not only where these Empires in direct competition with each other, buts this competition drove them to greater heights of cruelty and expansion. Conquering foreign lands and stealing there natural wealth wasn't just an exercise in greed it was also a necessity, failure to take this territory was an open for your rivals to exploit. Oh and Ireland was also one of the earliest colonies, British immigrants were actually called Settlers and in addition to them monopolising the government and landed estates they Anglicised the culture and nearly destroyed the Irish language.

But perhaps I'm misunderstanding Malcolm's usage of the term Collective. When I hear the term collective I associate it with concious collaboration, maybe he just meant that since so many White nations acted this way they could be lumped together. I know of several Black Nationalists who clearly state that is why they hate white people. If so there's one severe problem with that analysis is its highly hypocritical.

Empires and slavery and militaristic expansion have existed on every continent. For example a lot of Black Nationalist have come to regard Hannibal of Carthage the same way Welsh Nationalists view Owain Glyndwr. Because he was a skilled General from Carthage (Tunisia, and Northern African Coastline) and defeated Rome (A symbol of White power) several times during the second Punic War. He even did so most famously using War Elephants probably the most African symbol there is.

There's just one massive problem here, Carthage was in many ways just as despotic as the wicked white Romans. They were an Oligarchic Republic similar to Rome they also shared Rome's corruption, they had conquered territories along the Mediterranean coast and in Spain. They also had slaves, in fact they probably stopped raiding for slaves because the Romans outlawed it in their treaties with Carthage. Hannibal's march on Rome was less a blow for the freedom of the Africans and more about reversing Carthage earlier defeats and becoming fully independent again which would have involved being free to launch slave raids again. But that's just one example.

The flag of the Benin Empire, clearly a Peaceful land
As I've said the continent of Africa was full of Empires, and since White people were in Europe who do you think they fought,conquered and exploited? The above is the Benin Empire it lasted from 1440-1897 it wasn't very big, the modern day nation of Benin is of similar size. But it was still a despotic regime that saw the rise of Edo people over neighbouring tribes. Culturally the Empire was quite tolerant but other ethnic groups leaders were appointed by the Edo dynasty and ultimate authority lay with the Edo clans. And the Edo Kings power as their flag demonstrates was martial.
"The King of Benin can in a single day make 20,000 men ready for war, and, if need be, 180,000, and because of this he has great influence among all the surrounding peoples. . . . His authority stretches over many cities, towns and villages. There is no King thereabouts who, in the possession of so many beautiful cities and towns, is his equal."
 Another snag is that in addition to local Empires Muslim and Arab encroachment caused great pain and suffering to the African peoples conquered by them. In the Congo the main opposition to total Belgian control was the presence of Arab slave traders, and the Slave trade in Eastern Africa served to enrich Arabic lands. Unsurprisingly Malcolm a fervent Muslim was silent on this issue(though its possible he didn't know), and Arabs also being of colour tend to get a free pass by current Black Nationalists since acknowledging this chapter of history conflicts with their simplistic black and white (pun half intended) views. In fact Islamic slavery of indigenous Africans gave European Imperialism moral cover as conquest of Muslim controlled territories like the Sudan was seen as a moral crusade.

It was Africa's history of repressive governments even after independence that kept the Black Panther Party from embracing Black Nationalism and an uncritical Pan Africanism. Black Nationalism they argued would only lead to a Black Bourgeoisie and a Black oppressor class.  

But lets leave Africa for now and lets move onto Asia or as Malcolm called them the "Yellow men".

 I listen today to the radio, and watch television, and read the headlines about the collective white man's fear and tension concerning China. When the white man professes ignorance about why the Chinese hate him so, my mind can't help flashing back to what I read, there in prison,about how the blood forebears of this same white man raped China at a time when China was trusting and helpless. Those original white "Christian traders" sent into China millions of pounds of opium. By1839, so many of the Chinese were addicts that China's desperate government destroyed twenty thousand chests of opium. The first Opium War was promptly declared by the white man. Imagine!
  Declaring war upon someone who objects to being narcotized! The Chinese were severely beaten,with Chinese-invented gunpowder.
  The Treaty of Nanking made China pay the British white man for the destroyed opium; forced open China's major ports to British trade; forced China to abandon Hong Kong; fixed China's import tariffs so low that cheap British articles soon flooded in, maiming China's industrial development.
  After a second Opium War, the Tientsin Treaties legalized the ravaging opium trade, legalized a British-French-American control of China's customs. China tried delaying that Treaty's ratification;Peking was looted and burned.
  "Kill the foreign white devils!" was the 1901 Chinese war cry in the Boxer Rebellion. Losing again, this time the Chinese were driven from Peking's choicest areas. The vicious, arrogant white man put upthe famous signs, "Chinese and dogs not allowed."Red China after World War II closed its doors to the Western white world. Massive Chinese agricultural, scientific, and industrial efforts are described in a book that Life magazine recently published. Some observers inside Red China have reported that the world never has known such a hate-white campaign as is now going on in this non-white country where, present birth-rates continuing, in fifty more years Chinese will be half the earth's population. And it seems that some Chinese chickens will soon come home to roost, with China's recent successful nuclear tests.

I'm sure those Zen meditation types have a land of peace and equality right?

Oh, I guess not
To be fair to Malcolm he is right China suffered horribly at the hands of Europe and America, I mean you can't get more disgusting then the Opium Wars. Chinese refer to this period as the century  of humiliation to this day, and frequent policy announcements in the People's Republic claim to have ended that century by building a new China. But he forgets that Japan was also involved, not only did it go on to carve up China it also helped put down the Boxer Rebellion.In fact they were the largest military component of the alliance.

The Japanese were noted for their skill in beheading Boxers or people suspected of being Boxers. General Chaffee commented, "It is safe to say that where one real Boxer has been killed... fifty harmless coolies or laborers on the farms, including not a few women and children, have been slain."
 So again this Collective label doesn't really stick. Also China itself before being brought so low by its rivals was itself  quite an expansionist power. Though to be even fairer to Malcolm this belief in China as a peaceful neighbour isn't just a few I've heard peddled by Nationalists, I've heard some liberal historians say similar things. I can only assume Orientalism to be at work since only a brief glance at Chinese history proves this to be nonsense.

The closest I've heard to an elaboration of China being a land of peace was to either chance the subject to discuss China's many contributions in philosophy, or scapegoat the Mongolians who had seized control of China in the 13th century. Its true that being incorporated into the Mongolian Empire led to Chinese forces being led into foreign fields but it doesn't cover everything. For just one example China has a very long history of invading and occupying Vietnam.

But even if we accepted this explanation we also have to concede that all the territories of Modern China to be inherently Chinese, which would be a unique concession indeed and something the Uighurs and Tibetans would probably query.

But even if this weren't the case, there's still plenty of domination in Chinese history. The Chinese Emperors were not particularly benevolent, women could be treated viciously, foot binding comes to mind but so does the concubine system. Then there were inter ethnic rivalries, the last Imperial Dynasty of China the Qing were Manchu's from Manchuria. There corruption and impotence against foreign powers inflamed ethnic Han Nationalism so much so that if it wasn't for the leaders of the Kuoming Tang (KMT) like Dr Sun being so outspokenly republican and inclusive of China's ethnic groups the 1911 Revolution may well have resulted in the replacing of the Manchu Court with a Han one.

Ancient China also practised slavery and that did include the rare African (Chinese explorers and merchants made it to East Africa and the middle East).

And furthermore to hammer home the Class>ethnicity theme I'm getting at those very same rulers of China Malcolm rightly points out got a raw deal from the white powers had no problem relying on the support of those white powers when their own privilege was threatened. For example remember Gordon? the man who died in Khartoum well he had an unusual nickname "Chinese" Gordon. He got helping the Chinese Empire to victory in Taiping rebellion which was after the Opium Wars.

And during the Boxer rebellion the Imperial Court favoured siding with the foreign Legations over the Boxers but only changed their minds due to the popularity of Boxers amongst the population.

"Perhaps their magic is not to be relied upon; but can we not rely on the hearts and minds of the people? Today China is extremely weak. We have only the people's hearts and minds to depend upon. If we cast them aside and lose the people's hearts, what can we use to sustain the country?"
And even then Imperial forces were more likely then not to fire on and detain boxers rather then unite to drive out the foreign armies. Naturally this uncertainty had a disastrous effect on the conduct of the
 rebellion and it was inevitably defeated.

And of course we have the last Emperor of China, Puyi  deposed in 1912 at the ripe old age of 6. Not only did Puyi and his predecessors employ outright slaves (the Eunuchs) but after being fired he eventually found a new job administrating the lovely land of Manchukuo. Japanese annexed Manchuria giving legitamacy to the Empire of the Sun's vile exploitation and crimes.

An example of the leisure activities of Puyi's benefactors

No account of my childhood would be complete without mentioning the eunuchs. They waited on me when I ate, dressed and slept; they accompanied me on my walks and to my lessons; they told me stories; and had rewards and beatings from me, but they never left my presence. They were my slaves; and they were my earliest teachers.

In conclusion none white nations were just as prone to violence and domination as anywhere else. The only difference was that whitey was more successful at the Empire game, which effectively boils none White Nationalist arguments down to a case of jealousy. As much as I admire and respect Malcolm X's intelligence and opinions his theses on world history needs more work. A shame he'll never get the chance to revise his work thanks the "Honourable" Elijah Muhammad.

*He became Carthage's Suffete (similar to Rome's Pro Consul) but his policies were unpopular and the Carthaginian Aristocracy the real rulers of Carthage force him into exile.

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