The economic prosperity of the US, the sole superpower of our time, could only be possible due to labour exploitation. Four million African slaves were thrown overboard while being transported from...
The economic prosperity of the US, the sole superpower of our time, could only be possible due to labour exploitation. Four million African slaves were thrown overboard while being transported from Africa to the Americas.
The lives of another 46 million were turned into a living hell; they were shackled and condemned to overwork, sometimes dying while toiling under appalling working conditions.
Millions of indentured labourers were brought from Europe to work more or less like African slaves. So, if the US is the most prosperous nation on earth today, this has occurred against the backdrop of these bitter facts.
Similarly, if the UK is one of the richest nations of our time, it is due to its brutal imperial history. Its tyrannical rule in India brought countless deaths and large-scale destruction. Its ruthless economic and administrative policies wreaked havoc with the lives of millions. Around 35 million perished in the sporadic famines of Bihar, Orissa, Bengal and other parts of the Subcontinent. The famine in Ireland claimed around one million lives, dealing a severe blow to the demography of the Irish nation.
According to research by Columbia University, the UK has plundered or looted more than $45 trillion from India only. During the time when Western nations arrived in India, the giant country used to contribute more than 25 per cent to the global GDP; this was reduced to only 5 per cent by 1947.
Similarly, the French, American, British and other European nations directly or indirectly forced the Chinese to open up their markets and ports for Western powers to carry out the opium trade. The country that used to contribute around 30 per cent to the global GDP before the century of humiliation was thrown into extreme poverty, with millions facing hunger and starvation.
According to some historians, more than 30 per cent of the total British trade in the early 19th century consisted of opium sales, a significant portion of this was sold in China. Also, before celebrating the free market economy, one must not ignore the massacre of innocent people in Kenya, the brutal killings of hundreds of people, including women and children, at the Jallianwala Bagh and other such incidents occurred in places that were under British rule.
Today, France is also one of the richest countries on earth. It is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, but its prosperity is largely a result of the loot and plunder it carried out in North Africa, Indo-China and other parts of the world. It was the second biggest colonial power after the UK. Its tyrannical rule was more naked at some places than that of the UK. Not only did France ruthlessly exploit the African continent, but it also tried to impose its culture and language on blacks and people of colour.
While France’s genocidal policy in Algeria and other parts of the world can be erased from French textbooks. the people of French colonies can never forget such horror stories or forgive the forces responsible for it . France under Napoleon not only tried to subjugate European states but also played havoc with the lives of millions in other regions. His successors, despite tall claims of giving up Napoleonic legacy, continued the conquests and plunder of other regions.
Italy and Germany also tried to establish their own colonies. Although they could only manage to capture a few states in the Global South, both had a strong desire to dominate not only the European continent but the world as well. Besides the UK, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the US, other capitalist countries were also involved in the ruthless exploitation and oppression of millions of people.
One can argue that Australia, New Zealand and Canada did not colonize other states and that they developed on their own. Again, this is incorrect. The bitter truth is that these three states came into existence after wiping out the indigenous population from their countries. They could be described as settler states, which thrived on the naked exploitation of native people.
Even the king of Belgium, Leopold II, who ruled the European country between 1865 and 1909, managed to capture the free Congo state also known as Belgium Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The tyrant king got around a million people amputated and is said to be responsible for the killing of ten million Africans.
Leopold II never apologized for the atrocities that were committed while he held sway in that African country. Belgium is believed to have greatly benefited from the rubber plantation and forced labour that was instrumental in increasing the wealth of its ruling classes. Today the prosperity of this tiny state should not be seen without its brutal history of loot, plunder and massacre.
It was not only the people of the colonies who were ruthlessly exploited by the Western ruling elites; these imperialist countries also made life difficult for their citizens by condemning them to a life of poverty and misery for decades. London, Paris and many European cities saw a mushroom growth of slums and low-income areas where people led a life of extreme poverty with no basic amenities.
These countries ruthlessly crushed several movements led by working-class people, who revolted against their rulers. Whether it was the Chartist Movement in the UK or the struggle of workers in the US, the working class all over the capitalist world was treated brutally by the ruling classes of the advanced capitalist countries.
For decades, these people generated wealth for their rulers but remained deprived of all material wealth. The record of debates in the British parliament clearly indicates how capitalist leaders turned a blind eye towards the plight of working people. These people had to revolt against this tyrannical system of money-making.
It is also important to note that when the wealth of the entire world was being brought to London, Paris and other Western capitals, these hapless people were living in dire circumstances.
Besides Western capitalist states, other champions of the free market also touched the heights of prosperity after taking over other nations and people. Japan, one of the members of G7, captured three north-eastern Chinese provinces (together, forming the region known as Manchuria). Tokyo would call the region its Australia. Japan also ruthlessly exploited North Korea, South Korea and other parts of Asia. The expansionist policy of this industrial power is said to be responsible for claiming more than three million lives. Some estimates suggest a much higher number.
American political scientist RJ Rummel claims that from the invasion of China in 1937 to the end of World War II, the Japanese military regime murdered near 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people, most probably almost 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese, among others, including prisoners of war from Western countries.
Mentioning these killings and ruthless exploitation is important because economic debates never talk about the outright plunder and loot that was committed by the advanced capitalist world. Almost all economic pundits and followers of the free market economy turn a blind eye to these atrocities.
To be continued
The writer is a freelance journalist.