Cecil Rhodes played that trick when he recruited British and South African poor whites to become the lower levels of the system that made him very rich. They had a strange and threatening black class to look down on and to fear. His successors repeated it when they recruited demobilised soldiers facing unemployment in the UK to swell the Rhodesian ranks after World Wars I and II. Many didn’t get farms or mines, but they got office jobs and a lifestyle they would never have earned ‘back home’.
British workers in the 19th century fought for the vote and they got it, slowly.
Workers tried to help themselves by organising trade unions and by working within the system to improve their living standards, through self-help organisations like building societies and co-operatives. Some middle class people helped by encouraging wider access to primary schooling and by a philanthropic spirit that led many businessmen to lighten the burdens of the workers.
They were helped when the ruling class saw it paid them to make concessions. The rulers found too many overworked, underpaid and undernourished workers were not healthy enough to be soldiers in their wars, especially the Boer War and the First World War, so health services and working conditions were improved a bit.
When Hitler’s war threatened Britain’s very independence, the Labour Party was strong enough to be an equal partner in the coalition government. Even that arch-imperialist and enemy of the trade unions, Winston Churchill, had to accept them to survive. They used their position to lay the foundations of the Welfare State – giving ordinary British people hope that their children would have a better life, with free universal education, a free health service and decent support for the unemployed and disadvantaged. That reduced the social pressures that had driven earlier generations to emigrate to “the colonies”.
Of course, the existence of the Soviet Union, soon to be joined by China, as a possible alternative to capitalism and imperialism, frightened Western governments and business leaders into making concessions to their subjects, at home and abroad.
All this meant that imperialism had become a dirty word. Timetables had to be drawn up for independence for every country in the Empire.
The last successes came when Margaret Thatcher accepted that she had to abandon Smith’s Rhodesia and she could not save apartheid. But every tide turns. The Soviet Union collapsed. Thatcher and Reagan became the cheerleaders of a backlash which has shaped our world. We need to be clear where battle lines need to be drawn. Our enemy is not Britain or “the West”. It is a system of power directed by a brutal economic dogma. If that system can survive, it doesn’t matter what colour or religion its functionaries are. China could overtake America economically without changing anything in the system. That might even take us back to the more naked oppression of two centuries ago.
We have allies in the confusion of the “Arab spring”. We have allies within the West. Victims within the West are rising. We even have allies in their parliaments, just as their system has allies among us. Our best defence against becoming a Chinese colony might be to reach out to allies within China. Their present economic power is built on their ability to manufacture goods cheaper than anyone else, because they pay their workers lower wages than anyone else.
Isn’t it strange that our great defender of independence and “sovereniti” declares that he worshipsThatcher and supports China’s rise to imperial eminence, while he spits in the faces of fellow African leaders like Khama, Kikwete, the late Mwanawasa and even Zuma? Does he know which way he is going?Post published in: Opinions & Analysis