By all honest accounts the British establishment has visited war, carnage, slavery, genocide, terrorism, imperialism, colonialism, impoverishment, starvation and concentration camps on mankind over the last four hundred years. In most cases, especially in the earlier period, such grisly adventurism was executed under the pretext of civilising the native, that is, the aboriginal peoples of the earth. This unsolicited global carnage made England and Great Britain a rich country. The wondrous booty of the establishment’s maritime entrepreneurialism trickled down to the cheering populace and they tugged their forelocks in appreciation and in reciprocation the multitude conferred legitimacy on their wise leaders. The populace migrated to the establishment’s new foreign possessions which in itself eased economic tensions on the home front – by many migrating abroad, there were less challenges to the order of things on the home front.
It is difficult to imagine Albion would have reached such stupendous levels of effortless affluence without resort to such single-minded blood-lust inflicted on the aboriginal peoples of the earth, which herein was the very foundation of its Empire. As Winston Churchill argued in a cabinet meeting in January 1914:
“we are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance. We have engrossed to ourselves, in time when other powerful nations were paralysed by barbarism or internal war, an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.”[i]
The Empire’s track record for four hundred years is impossibly gruesome and one wonders which stars conspired to allow it to pervert the course of justice. From the moment Queen Elizabeth I’s first pirate set out in the 1560’s to capture and kidnap black Africans to sell in South America to the 1960’s (and beyond) when the UK revived the notion of mercenaries (after it being absent for centuries) as a strategy to be employed in fighting anti-imperialist and nationalist forces in North Yemen, Great Britain has concealed its basest intentions by invoking noble ideals to justify self-serving, military interventionist policies.
The notion that England has a civilising mission and a responsibility towards the people it considers its inferiors is now well past its sell by date as a justification for military intervention and occupation. Ideals rooted in liberation from capitalism and imperialism, are more and more frequently invoked to justify the continuation of the UK’s military aggression and colonialism in the Global South.
One could argue the Empire’s appropriation of liberal ideals for its sordid ends began with Britain’s Zionist mission in Palestine. This imperialist project which set off now almost hundred years of conflict was justified by members of the Labour Party as a socialist project. Ramsey MacDonald, the Labour Party’s first ever Prime Minister and justified this enterprise in the 1920’s in socialistic terms. In his book “A Socialist in Palestine” he claimed that Zionism was a threat to the then Palestinian elite which ran and owned the country because the Zionist presence was encouraging the Arab worker to unionise and seek “relief from corrupt and exploiting landowners”.
Macdonald claimed that Palestinian elite “rally the Arabs in their own sectional self-defence rather than in that of the Arab people…The winds of Europe are blowing in upon them and they cannot stand the cutting blast. They see the coming shadow of a cultivator protected in his labour and property, they see the end of unjust exactions, they see their power vanishing…”
As can be seen, the coloniser is referred to as a “cultivator”, while the imperialist gangster which is protecting the coloniser’s “labour and property” is referred to as the “winds of Europe”.[ii] The new Zionist settler according to the British left leadership was unshackling the ordinary Palestinian Arab from the feudal reactionary and fascistic leadership and certainly not laying the foundations for the theft of his land.[iii]
Recently, Professor Richard Toye in his biography of Winston Churchill argues that Britain’s greatest hero helped to pave the way for African and Asian liberation movements by virtue that he drafted and signed up to the Atlantic Charter. The charter, issued by the USA and UK during World War 2, had advocated the right of all people to national sovereignty and self-government once the war was over. Churchill therefore had inadvertently helped to “unlock the forces anti-colonialism” by signing up to this charter.[iv] This is obviously palpable nonsense. Although Churchill did sign up to the charter, he is on record saying that the charter would not apply to people under the British Empire specifically mentioning Nigeria, East Africa and Palestine.[v] Furthermore, Churchill was central to the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran in 1953. Indeed, during Churchill’s final general election campaign he bemoaned that Labour had ‘scuttled’ away from its responsibility in Iran after Mosaddegh had nationalised the oil industry.[vi]
With a good dose of chutzpah, the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, has accused Argentina of possessing a colonialist attitude towards the Falkland Islands. He argues that because the British settlers on the Islands want to remain British and as Argentina wants them to be something else i.e. the return of the Islands, this was ipso facto colonialism on Argentina’s behalf. However, Cameron reassured that “all defences were in order in the British-held South Atlantic archipelago.” He may have been referring to the nuclear armed armada, that Argentina has accused the UK to the area.
Argentina is not the only country with colonialist or imperialist ambitions that need to confronted by Her Majesty’s Government. Russia is in the crosshairs as well. And we have no lesser authority on this than someone who supported the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and the British led intervention in Libya. The Financial Times contributing editor and former New Statesman writer John Lloyd claims that the situation in Ukraine is a struggle between Russian imperialism and globalisation. In a sentence which bears all the hallmarks of blinkered imperialist he claimed that the west have been reminded that “imperialism is alive and well, even rampant, and threatens the vision for a more global world economy.” Note that Russia is portrayed as imperialist for its supposed role in Ukraine, while this person will never portray the British invasions of Iraq, Libya and the urge to intervene in Syria as imperialist.
A former Member of Parliament and author calls attention to the inevitable fate facing Chinese imperialism in Africa.
Obviously, the foundations of this new packaging of British imperialism as anti-imperialism will partly be laid by the leg soldiers, domestic neo-colonial officers or “activists” who live and work amongst the populace. The most ridiculous manifestation of the idea that Britain is an anti-imperialist country occurred in late 2011. An activist and graduate of Aberystwyth University, Daniel Renwick, argued that the UK is already a culturally anti-imperialist country:
“the great thing about British culture is that it is anti-imperialist, really. It’s not British anymore or English anything from food to football. It sounds atrocious to me, I don’t know about you…what good English meal is there? Fish and Chips?.. Yorkshire pudding?…I mean Kenny Dalglish has tried to build the whitest football team in the Premier league in ten years but I don’t know if that’s the best, its definitely not, Manchester City are and they’re globalising….There is a point here that I’m making right. Culturally, we are anti-imperialists already.”[vii]
This grotesque nonsense was spewed on an anti-imperialist platform of all places! The idea that a nation’s food consumption shall inevitably define its geo-political orientation is flawed in the extreme. If this was the case, the United States is on the verge of being the most anti-imperialist in the world. The notion that the sportsman in one of the main football teams in the UK is a rejection of a parochial and imperial British identity and an embrace of some kind of ‘globalisation’ is easily undermined by pointing again to the United States. In other words, no one would argue that American society exemplifies racial and social equality by virtue that its American football, basketball and other sports teams have a racially diverse makeup. Furthermore, Manchester City football club has been available to purchase expensive players from around the world due to the fact that its owners are also the rulers of a British neo-colonial entity, United Arab Emirates. It is because of British imperialism, which literally drew the lines in the sand for the entity known collectively as UAE, that Manchester City football club is “global”. Renwick gleefully turns this particular situation on its head in order to depict Great Britain as anti-imperialist.
Renwick’s deviousness and trickery is, as we have seen, nothing new to British politics. It is inevitable that a dubious character will drape British culture in an anti-imperialism cloak. Unfortunately for charlatans, there are those who have, in the words of Jay Z, “been inoculated from the snakes and the fakes, the corny handshakes.”
In conclusion, the appropriation of anti-imperialist terminology and discourse by the agents and minions of British imperialism on the one hand will continue unabated but on the other nothing will be said in areas of the world where British imperialism has a strong presence such as the Persian Gulf. Would British Aerospace be the successful company it is, if it were not for the purchases of arms from Britain’s despots in the region? The Empire drew lines in the sand and named these lines, “Qatar”, “Kuwait”, “Dubai”, “Abu Dubai”, etc. and as such has been rewarded handsomely for such artistry. One day, who knows, there may be a threat to the “stability” of these imperial concoctions from Iranian “imperialism.”
Furthermore, it is important to not mistake a Britisher’s sometimes well warranted criticisms of American, French or any other western government’s foreign policy as anti-imperialist. Far from it. Great Britain, like any other country, will always be looking to defend and further its imperial interests. If those interests can be deceptively defended by tarnishing its adversaries with anti-imperialist sounding rhetoric, so be it; if not, other arguments will be utilised.
[i] Clive Ponting, “Churchill”, Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1995, pg. 132.
[ii] Ramsay MacDonald, “A Socialist in Palestine”, Jewish Socialist Labour Confederation – Poale Zion, 1922, pg.19-20
[iii] Joseph Gorney, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, Frank Cass and Company Limited, London, 1983, chapter 7 and pg. 151.
[iv] Richard Toye,”Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made”, Pan Books, London 2011, pg 316
[v] Ponting, op, cit., pg. 535 and John Callaghan, “The Labour Party and Foreign Policy: A History”, Routledge, London, 2007 pg, 144
[vi] Toye, op. cit., pg.281-282
[vii] Daniel Renwick, “What is anti-imperialism”, London, 28.11.2011. (http://vimeo.com/35192059) accessed 16th August 2014. Kenny Dalglish was the former manager of Liverpool City Football Club. Renwick is referring to his second spell as manager between 2011-12.