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  • Africa: Slavery, King Cotton and the Industrial Revolution.

    David William Pear

    Opinion by David William Pear

    Hillary Clinton to Africa… “Get over it”.

    “For goodness sakes, this is the 21st century. We've got to get over what happened 50, 100, 200 years ago and let's make money for everybody. That's the best way to try to create some new energy and some new growth in Africa.”

    (Reuters, June 15, 2010: “Africa must reform - Hillary Clinton”)

    Barack Obama to Africa… “No excuses”.

    "I think part of what's hampered advancement in Africa is that for many years we've made excuses about corruption or poor governance, that this was somehow the consequence of neo-colonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism – I'm not a big – I'm not a believer in excuses.”

    (The Telegraph, July 9, 2009: “Barack Obama tells Africa to stop blaming colonialism for problems.”)

    Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have spoken the Washington consensus on African colonization. The London, Paris, Rome, Bonn, and the other entire colonial powers consensus is the same as well. Not just on Africa either, but on all colonialism, including empire today; and imperialism, the stealing of other peoples lands, the genocides, wars and the ethnic cleansings, and the intentional destruction of economic progress in newly independent post-colonial countries.

    The consensus is telling the rest of the impoverished world that the white man’s burden was heavy and long. Yes, they made some mistakes, but they meant well.


    They just wanted to civilize the world, teach it Christianity, save souls and take native peoples under their protective wings as the children of God: “Let us subdue savage Africa by JUSTICE, by KINDNESS, by the talisman of CHRISTIAN TRUTH” [1]. And if the colonialists made a few bucks doing it the entire better.

    The colonial powers are collectively saying that they deserve to carry no guilt or shame. They have no responsibility or obligation nor owe any reparations for the past. In fact, they greatly resent even being reminded of their ancestors’ trespasses and their continuing transgressions. It is time that the world forgets; get over it, stop making excuses and deny it ever happened.

    The empires are still protecting what they see as their turf. Colonization was the deliberate policy of extracting raw materials from colonies. The raw materials were taken by the use of force and gun-boat diplomacy. Raw materials were taken from colonies so that they could be used to feed the industrial revolution and the economic development of the more powerful countries.

    The British Empire was not the first empire of extraction but it became the most influential in developing cheap manufactured mass production during the industrial revolution. Cheap mass production depended on the ability to extract even cheaper raw materials, use exploitative cheap labor to manufacture value-added finished goods for trade.

    Gunboat diplomacy was used to open world markets for England’s mass production. In so doing they became the “Walmart” of their day, destroying competition from craftsmen and cottage industries with cheap goods. Craftsmen, peasants and their families unable to sustain themselves then flooded into cites looking for work in the factories for survival.

    Cotton, known then as White-Gold, is a good place to start the story of colonialism and the industrial revolution. Cotton was king. It was as important in world trade in the18th and 19th century as oil is in the 20th and 21st century. Empires were built, continents colonized, wars fought, people enslaved, lands stolen, genocide committed and ethnic groups cleansed for cotton.

    Today cotton is still an important export product for America, Africa and India. However, much of the manufacturing into finished cotton products is now done in China and other developing cheap-labor countries. Often the conditions of the workers in these countries is as dehumanizing to children, women and slave labor as it was during the industrial revolution in England; and later in the US.

     

    During the beginning of the industrial revolution everybody in the world wanted cheap cotton for its comfort, durability and fashion. Cotton mill towns and cities sprung up employing thousands of workers. Towns, cities and countries grew and developed thanks to King Cotton. It was the miracle fabric. It became as American as Levi’s, apple pie and slavery. It clothed the nation and the world.

    King Cotton is a good metaphor for how raw materials are still being taken from undeveloped parts of the world and transported to developed parts of the world, turned into value-added products and then sold as high-profit finished goods. King Cotton was one of the most important early raw materials that lead to the European scramble for colonies.

    Today the prized raw materials are copper, bauxite, gold, diamonds, silver, tin, oil, natural gas, uranium and strategic metals and minerals. Tropical agriculture, flowers, biofuels and biodiversity are among other highly prized natural resources. Africa is rich in raw materials. Just as in colonial times natural resources are still being extracted from poor countries.

    New technologies and capital were invested in the manufacturing process of cotton. Technology enabled highly productive yet cheap labor to operate the machines. Most of the profit went to the manufacturers, merchants and bankers; little of it went to the laborers. Capitalism runs on cheap raw materials, finance and cheap labor, then and today.

    The finished manufactured products not sold in the domestic markets are exported to other consuming countries. The profits are then used to acquire more raw materials and additional capital is invested in more machinery. New technologies make labor even more productive. More people are hired to operate the machines and the cycle repeats itself.

    An economist might end the King Cotton metaphor at this point. He might even wax eloquent about capitalism, free-markets, and free-trade and how the magical “Invisible Hand” promotes industry, technology, trade and economic growth. But sometimes not everybody plays by the rules of Invisible Hand.

     

    In the real world there is something called the “Fist”. The Fist is the tool of the powerful. It uses power, violence and coercion to gets its way. It sends gunboats and military might into harbors to open markets and persuades resistant buyers and sellers to play the game by its rules.

    The Fist invades countries to acquire cheap raw materials and even cheaper labor. The Fist is the enforcer of colonial rule. It ferments wars, coup d’états, revolutions and backs brutal and corrupt despots. The Fist protects the private interests, the landed gentry, the privileged and the powerful.

    The Fist abducts people from their homelands and sells them as human property to work on slave plantations. The Fist renditions orphans and chains them to factory machines to work 14 hour days. The Fist exploits young women, children and immigrant workers for what was once called wage-slavery. The Fist creates workers’ slums, pollutes the air, dirties the water, spreads disease and spoils the commons.

    The Fist conquers other people’s lands, cheats its people and robs them of their natural resources. It hauls off their wealth and sells it in the export markets. It purposely keeps people in poverty in order to keep human labor cheap.

     

    In the 18th century the British imported much of their finished cotton cloth from India. The Fist decided that it might be a good thing for the British to just invade India and civilize the “oily wogs and teach them table manners as well”. So in 1757 the Fist sent in the East India Company to “squash those infernal Asians like bugs” [2].

    Once India had become the crown jewel of the British Empire, all manufacturing of finished cotton cloth was outlawed there. Indian weavers that disobeyed the Fist had their thumbs chopped off. If that was not enough to persuade the interlopers then the index fingers were chopped off too. The loss of thumbs and fingers put India’s weavers at a disadvantage in competing with modern English manufacturing methods.

    India was then reduced to growing cotton at which it had a comparative advantage of land, climate and cheap labor. The raw cotton was then shipped off to England and turned into finished cloth with the help of plentiful cheap female and child labor.

    Technological advances in spinning and weaving made mass production of cotton cloth possible. The finished cloth was then sold back to India and elsewhere at a nice profit for manufacturers, traders, bankers and shipbuilders.

     

    The cotton gin was an early invention of the industrial revolution. A slave could then separate the oily seeds from the cotton fiber and bag it quickly. Eli Whitney received his patent in 1793. The US Patent office failed to notice that similar machines had been used in India and China for over 1,000 years.

    Whitney died a bitter person. Having stolen his machine he was incensed that others would steal the simple device from him without paying him a licensing fee. He spent the rest of his life fighting in unsympathetic Southern courts for patent infringement. He mostly lost his lawsuits.

    The cotton gin revolutionized the production of cotton, making it economically feasible to bail and ship large quantities. In the 19th century, cotton fiber became the USA’s greatest export to England where it was turned into finished cloth. As the demand for cotton boomed, both England and the manufacturing Northern States of America competed for Southern grown cotton.

    America became a major source of world cotton. One problem was that growing and picking cotton is a labor intensive process. The US southern states had plenty of land, the perfect climate for growing cotton and American cotton was superior to India’s cotton because of its longer fiber.

     

    America had a real shortage of people to work the cotton fields. Native Americans were not suitable for slaves because they kept running off. It was found that imported African slaves were much more suitable. The Africans that survived the long journey from Africa were too exhausted, sick, demoralized and depressed to run away. Besides they had nowhere to run.

    The demand for slave labor boomed. Rich English merchants such as George Hibbert, owner of the West India Dock Company, hired ship builders to construct specialized ships for transporting human cargo from West Africa. Africans could be efficiently stacked up like cordwood in the holds of slave ships. Cloth, sugar, rice and rum were traded in Africa for human property that was then auctioned in the slave markets in the Americas.

    Rivalry and resentments between the manufacturing North and the cotton producing South became a problem. The South was rich in land, cotton and slaves but poor in money. The South had to borrow heavily from English and Northern bankers at high interest rates to keep the cotton plantations going.

    The South became similar to a colony of the North. The South exported raw materials and imported finished products from the North and England. The North was able to put high tariffs on imported English goods in order to collect revenues and to make its own manufactured products more competitive.

     

    The North developed manufacturing with the use of labor from the influx of European immigrants. Cities boomed and slums swelled. People were making money. The country was getting rich and a little bit trickled down. Newly arrived immigrants kept labor cheap.

    Shipbuilders made money, factory owners made money, bankers made money, merchants made money, and traders in slaves and cotton made money. Southern landed gentlemen became fantastically wealthy and lived like nobility on their estates. African-American slaves were portrayed as having a happy life pickin’ and singin’ and strumming on the old banjo. Cotton was King and everybody wanted it. They did not care how they got it.

    The metaphor of King Cotton is the capitalist success story. It helped to develop the Western World by the magic of international trade, ingenuity, self-reliance, determination, hard work, banking and unfettered capitalism. Freedom, private property and hard work make it possible for those that try to make it. As President Obama repeats ad nauseam to cheering African American students in gymnasiums: “Everybody in America can make it if they really try”.

    Of course not everybody can be a winner in our story about King Cotton. India unable to compete in the free-market lost its manufacturing base. Native Americans lost their land. African slaves lost their freedom. Children lost an arm or two operating dangerous machinery 14 hours a day. And a few troublemakers had to be disciplined by the Fist. Some people learn slower than others how the free-market and capitalism works.

    Yesterday it was King Cotton. George Washington himself declared in 1776 that in order for the United States of America to be independent it had to become self-sufficient in its ability to cloth itself without being dependent on imported foreign cotton fabric. At his Mount Vernon, Virginia plantation Washington made home spun cotton clothes with the help of 28 slaves. America was literally built on native lands, slavery, immigrant labor and cheap raw resources.

    Regardless of what Hillary and Barack say and no matter what the Washington consensus is; Europe and America developed on the back of Africa. The story of King Cotton has been repeated over and over again from the tremendous wealth of Africa’s raw materials and its exploited people. Just as America developed thanks to the South and slavery; Britain and Europe developed from the raw materials and sorrow of the people of Africa too.

    The independence of Africa from colonial rule in the mid-20th century did not put an end to the exploitation of Africa for its tremendous wealth of raw resources, land and people. The world is still exploiting these natural resources with little benefit going to the African people whom are the real owners.

    Part of the secret of economic development is to take natural resources, turn them into value-added goods and sell them in the international markets. Few if any countries that depend solely on exporting their raw natural resources have ever had sustained economic growth trickle-down to the people. Instead the wealth has gone to colonial powers, the wealthy, corporations and despots.

    Just as with King Cotton, the trade in other raw materials is capital intensive. Capital intensive raw material industries provide few good-paying jobs for unskilled workers. Instead, capital intensive raw material industries need cheap labor or better yet child and slave labor.

    High-paying skilled manufacturing jobs are what drive economic development from the bottom-up instead of trickling-down. Well-paid workers are what create demand for goods and services that stimulates economic growth. That is why Henry Ford paid his autoworkers the outrageous wage of $5 per day in 1914, which was double the wages of that day.

    Ford did not pay his workers well and shorten the workday to 8 hours out of the generosity of his heart. He had vision and he also had excess automobile production. He wanted his workers to be able to afford to buy his mass-produced cars. As a result, Detroit became a boom-town and it was the beginning of the working middle class in America. Those that decry providing workers a living wage today should take notice of what Henry Ford discovered about economics.

    The industrial revolution depended on high tariffs. No country has developed manufacturing without high protective tariffs for infant industries. That includes the United States and Great Britain. The US maintained import tariffs as high as 50% up until World War 2. Tariffs were a hot political issue in the early 20th century and the few times that the US experimented with low tariffs it turned out to be a disaster and was blamed for economic depressions.

    After WW2 the US felt that it could safely lower tariffs because there were no industrial competitors left in the world. All the industrialized countries had been destroyed by the war except the USA. The US then became a fierce promoter of anti-tariff free-trade.

     

    Yet in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary the US today keeps preaching free-trade and low tariffs to developing countries such as those in Africa.

    For over 50 years the US has dominated World financial organization, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. They have enforced economic policies on developing countries that are exactly the opposite of what the people of those countries need.

    The IMF and World Bank make loans to countries at times of their desperate need. These loans come with strict conditionality’s. The bankers say the conditionality’s are for the good of the recipient. More likely the bankers are more concerned about being repaid their loans with interest.

    The IMF, World Bank and the World Trade Organization are a strong cabal backed by US military might. The Cabal’s loan-making powers usurp the recipient’s economic and political sovereignty and they lose the control of their own destinies. The Cabal is the loan-shark to the world. NATO is the muscleman.

    The Cabal forces the target country to swallow severe austerity; cutting public services, civil servants and subsidized food and fuel to their own poor people. The Cabal forces devaluation of the country’s currency to make raw material exports cheaper. The Cabal forces privatization of state enterprises and removal of trade tariffs on imported finished goods. The Cabal forces open the country’s doors to foreign investors who want to buy up state assets for pennies on the dollar.

    It cannot possibly be that the Cabal does not understand the devastating impact their policies will have on the people of poor countries. The Cabal must be more interested in protecting and serving their own sponsors. Their sponsors are very powerful forces that make tremendous profits from the damage done by the Cabal.

    Ha-Joon Chang makes an irrefutable argument and documents how South Korea developed its “miracle economy of capitalism” in his book Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Chang writes that it was not because capitalism and democracy worked that South Korea developed. South Korea developed under a military dictatorship and anything but free-trade, free-markets and private capital.

    According to Chang, South Korea developed the same way Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan did; and China is doing now. They did it through a strong central government, subsidies to manufacturing, high import tariffs and policies that restricted imports of finished consumer products. For example, smoking foreign cigarettes and using other imported consumer products was shunned as unpatriotic.

    South Korea controlled foreign investment for their own benefit; they developed infant industries of cheap consumer export products to accumulate foreign currency. Foreign currency was invested to import heavy manufacturing equipment and technology. South Korea also used currency manipulation to their advantage. And they pirated foreign intellectual property just as America did.

    All of the industrialization policies of South Korea were frowned upon heavily by the Cabal; just as it frowns upon China’s industrialization policies today. Yet South Korea and now China are just following the exact same example set by the USA, Great Britain and the rest of Western Europe when they developed their economies during their industrial revolution. This is also now how the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are trying to develop their economies against the intense pressure and wishes of the Cabal.

    One has to question if the Cabal really wants the rest of the world to develop. Or is it more interested in keeping the supply of natural resources available and cheap for itself? The answer may seem more obvious when one realizes that the US alone, while having only 5% of the world’s population, uses 20% of the world’s oil.

    Then there is the world competition for other natural resources such as coal, uranium, wood, agricultural products, fish, meat, aluminum, copper, iron, tin, and all strategic materials, metals and minerals. Even fresh water is a serious problem for many parts of the world and the situation is going to get much worse.

    The US and the rest of the developed world are in a scramble to compete for all natural resources. The US corporations and global corporations, many of whom are the same, are also in a scramble for foreign markets and profits. That requires extracting natural resources and turning them into value-added products to sell to world markets. Too much competition from too many players will hurt their profits.

    Historically capitalism, globalization and wealth-creation required plenty of cheap labor. Britain and America build the wealth of their nations on plentiful raw materials, cheap labor and African slaves.

    Economic development and democracy depends on a large middle-class. A strong middle-class requires manufacturing, adding value to raw materials, an educated and healthy workforce and good paying jobs. That is called trickle-up economics and it is what builds the wealth of nations.

    Video Presentations:

    Britain and the Legacies of Slavery” , London Sugar and Slave Gallery at the Museum of London presentation by Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=igr3ybicGP4

    PBS Documentary: Morgan Freeman in “Slavery and The Making Of America”, directed by William R. Grant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=24U156LHXYM

    Background and reference sources:

    [1] The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, by Mary Prince.

    [2] Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber by Stephen Yafa.

    Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism: by Ha-Joon Chang (2007).

    Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup.

    Images, Google: https://www.google.com

    Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.cfr.org/africa-sub-saharan/us-africa-command-africom/p13255

    Heritage Foundation: “Congress Should Pave the Way for a U.S.–Africa Free Trade Agreement”, August 19, 2013: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/08/congress-should-pave-the-way-for-a-usafrica-free-trade-agreement

    “Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes”, The Guardian, April 17, 2012: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes?newsfeed=true&guni=Article:in%20body%20link

    “Deny the British empire's crimes? No, we ignore them”, The Guardian April 23, 2012: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/23/british-empire-crimes-ignore-atrocities

    “Follow the money: investigators trace forgotten story of Britain's slave trade”, The Guardian, August 27, 2013: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/27/britain-slave-trade


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