|Miner's living conditions in S. Africa today|
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
In his op ed piece in January 25th’s Wall Street Journal, headed, Rhodes Must Not Fall, L Gordon Crovitz opposes attempts to remove the statue of Rhodes from Oxford University grounds and what he call’s demands to “expunge its history” with him. Rhodes was an Oxford graduate.
Crovitz compares the approach of Oxford University Chancellor, Chris Patten (former last British governor of Hong Kong) to those at US institutions that are bowing to pressure to create “safe spaces” that, the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement wants to eliminate memories of a man the students say offends them.
Crovitz defends the present positive portrayal of Rhodes and what he stood for and quotes Patten, who claims that opponents are opposed to discussing and tolerating different ideas which is, “One of the points of a university, which is not to tolerate intolerance—to engage in free inquiry and debate—is being denied. People have to face up to facts in history which they don’t like and talk about them and debate them.”.
Rhodes haters are confused it seems. A “true understanding” of the man reveals a totally different Rhodes, surely once black South Africans, socialists, communists, class conscious workers and anyone else who has taken a serious look at Rhodes understand the truth all will be well and we will see that, “….his ideals, including on racial issues, put him ahead of his times.”, and he should be “celebrated not vilified.”
Crovitz gives us examples of Rhodes’ liberal humanistic values. “Gentlemen, the object of which I intend to devote my life is the defense and extension of the British Empire.”, Rhodes told a group of wealthy guests involved in the mining industry soon after arriving in South Africa. He said the empire stood for “the protection of all the inhabitants of a country in life, liberty, property, fair play and happiness and is the greatest platform the world has ever seen for these purposes and for human enjoyment.”
It wasn’t long before Rhodes became a mining magnate Crovitz tells us which made it all the easier to become prime minister of what was then the Cape Colony. Now the next quote from Rhodes explains why the labor power that made Rhodes a wealthy man was encased in black skin and not white, was African and not English: “We are the finest race in the world,” he said, “and the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race.”
I thought Adolph Hitler said that. Perhaps Chris Patten and Oxford University, a stone’s throw from Coventry, a city heavily bombed by the Nazi’s in WW2, would appreciate a prominent statue of the Fuhrer on the grounds at Baliol and an Adolph Hitler department as well. After all, it’s important to tolerate different ideas.
Crovitz whines on about how the Cape Colony under Rhodes allowed Africans to vote “if they met the same property holding or income requirements as whites.” I have to stop and take a breath here. Is it possible that a columnist for the Wall Street Journal is that stupid? Or is it that his readers are that stupid? How could the colonized equal the colonizers in that way? Not possible? That Crovitz can write this and expect anyone to take it seriously is incredible. Here in the US in the latter half of the 19th century if workers “combined” to discuss raising wages or thinking about organizing, they could be thrown in jail under conspiracy laws. There were juries, but you had to be a property holder to be on one. Irish under English occupation, Indians under British rule, Blacks in the Apartheid and Jim Crow South had the same restrictions, at times restrictions by law and at others by direct violence.
Look at the image included. These are the living conditions of miners in South Africa today, and only two years ago, the mining bosses, in cahoots with the state and top union officials, murdered 44 striking platinum miners.* It would have been a lot worse in Rhodes’ time. He accumulated his wealth through the brutal and violent exploitation of human beings. Not only did he do that, by his own proud admission, he also led a war of violent suppression of their culture, imposing his racist, nationalist and class ideology on them. They do this to their own working class of course. I went down an abandoned coal mine in England where entire families including children labored for mining bosses. Children as young as 8 or 9 worked processing cotton in Lancashire factories, cotton picked by African children in the US
This is not about being intolerant. Rhodes ideas should be openly discussed among workers. He would have had similar views of the Irish, a colony of the English ruling class long before British capitalism went in to Africa. Common attacks on the Irish were that they were stupid, dirty, bred like rabbits etc. A ruling class of an occupying nation, that relies on its own working class to be its cannon fodder has to demonize those it aims to colonize. It demonizes its own working class as well but the foreigner must be placed a level lower.
Workers do not need heroes like Rhodes. I commented on the British genocidal figure, Jeffery Amherst who has various towns and a university named after him. He is not our hero, he sold typhoid infected blankets to the Native Americans. The history of the colonized, of the specially oppressed nationalities and religions is hidden. But so is the history of the working class of the oppressing nation or the colonizing nation.
I met a young worker yesterday from Seattle. He had never heard of the Seattle General Strike. Yet the workers controlled that city for 5 days in 1919. I never knew of the Peterloo massacre until I was in my thirties and living in America. The 44-day Flint sit-down strike should be labor’s 4th of July. They don’t teach the history of the oppressed classes and nationalities.
I long ago abandoned the worship or admiration of the leading figures of capitalism, or billionaires like Gates or. I want a Eugene Debs airport, or a Mother Jones institute. I raised my son to appreciate Debs and Malcolm X, perhaps the greatest American revolutionary of the 20th century. I was once criticized for the latter by one person and I asked who I should I raise him to admire, Ronald Reagan, Lane Kirkland.
Crovitz is dishonest. It is not about refusing to discuss the ideas of Rhodes or others like him, it’s about not portraying him as a hero, as a man of the people. He was a man of the people alright; the ruling class. We don’t celebrate kings and royalty here in the US. Not many statues of King George here. I am a socialist and a worker, Rhodes is not my hero and he was an enemy of the British working class, read Dickens see how they lived as Rhodes was busy ruthlessly exploiting Africans.
Crovitz pulls Nelson Mandela out of the hat to win us over. Mandela posed next to a photo of Rhodes in 2002 Crovitz tells us, “Mandela wagged a finger at him and said: ‘Cecil, now you and I are going to work together.’” The Mandela-Rhodes Foundation funds education for Africans Crovitz says but this means nothing. Bill Gates is claiming he will save the world, health wise and in he field of education. Every member of the ruling class has said this from the early English monarchs to Carnegie and the present day hedge fund managers.
Mandela was a courageous man and we should respect that. But he made mistakes and praising Rhodes was one of them.