Thursday, January 17, 2019

Victor Wallis - Red-Green Revolution: The Politics & Technology of Ecosocialism

The scale of environmental crisis is absolutely terrifying. So I was very pleased to read Victor Wallis' new book Red-Green Revolution which aims to both explain capitalism and environmental destruction and offer a clear strategy for building a movement to challenge both. Wallis takes up this point early on:
To puncture the resulting sense of helplessness, we need an approach that is at once immediate (short-term) and comprehensive (long-term). A comprehensive approach is a radical one. It embraces every aspect of reality. Without such a panoramic sweep, we cannot even begin to counter the multifold scale on which the threats to life present themselves - whether in the form of war, hunger, pollution, illness, repression, insecurity or insanity.

Wallis uses the term ecosocialism to argue for a "synthesis of ecology with socialism". But, and its an important but, he doesn't argue that socialism (or indeed Marxism) has never had an ecological component. He notes the work of writers like John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett who have drawn out an ecological core to Karl Marx's work and shows how other revolutionary thinkers and activists have also understood the destructive dynamic at the heart of capitalism; and the potential for socialism to resolve the contradiction of a society dependent on the natural world that simultaneously destroys it.

Wallis argues then, that there must be a multi fold strategy. The first stage is exposing the limitations of capitalism. Too many proffered solutions to environmental crisis are based on making capitalism better, or greener. But simultaneously Wallis argues we must put forward alternative models:
Token green measures may bring some relief, but they fail to challenge the power that keeps the toxic practices going. How can people be persuaded to target that power and build a political force capable of supplanting it?.. It entails on the one hand exploring the sometimes indirect arguments whereby the green-capitalist... approach is upheld. On the other hand, it requires attention to positive models, both actual and potential, of societies, movements, institutions, or even individuals that embody a cooperative rather than an aggressive/competitive approach to work and life.
Returning to this theme, Wallis notes that Marx understood that a future, sustainable socialist world, would be one based on democratically organising and controlling the means of production. He notes though that we should not ignore the reality that not all socialist approaches (or societies that described themselves as socialist) have behaved like this. Wallis emphases the limitations of what he calls "first-epoch" socialism, the Soviet Union and Chinese society for instance, and argues that "the notion of workers' control offers, from within socialist thought, the basis for a thoroughgoing ecologically-oriented critique of the legacy of first-epoch socialist regimes."

With this in mind I was enormously pleased to see Wallis defend and promote the concept of "planning" as part of his solution. Wallis makes it clear that he doesn't mean the top-down planning of the Soviet variety, but a bottom up approach that involves mass involvement. If we, as socialists, are to offer concrete solutions and strategies one of the most powerful tools we have is a vision of how a sustainable world can work - and the idea of democratically planning production is one that is unique to the revolutionary tradition. Simultaneously it allows us to show how the great wealth we are capable of producing can be used in a sustainable and equitable way. Too few socialists (eco or otherwise) put this forward and I think it an essential argument for our alternative.

Wallis also discusses technology with this same approach. Technology he argues, is not neutral within society, but is determined by the dominant political and class dynamics. Thus technological solutions to environmental destruction serve the interests of those whose wealth and power implements them - which can in turn exacerbate the wider problem. Socialist technology must be marked by a "commitment to social equality and to ecological health" - it should also be democratically controlled, and the result of democratic decision making in contrast to the way that capitalists simply deploy new technologies to make profits.

I do have two slight linked disagreements with the book. The first is about context, and doesn't really undermine Wallis' wider argument. Among his criticisms of first-period socialism lies an argument that the ecological limitations of those societies arose because they favoured taking and maintaining state power, over the "transforming production relations". I am not sure I entirely agree with this. In the case of Russia in the aftermath of 1917 I think the problem was far more that the devastation of the working class core to the revolution in Civil War and famine destroyed the basis for real workers control. The failure of the German Revolution in turn left Russia isolated and encouraged an inward turn; the development of a bureaucratic class and finally the rise of Stalin's counter-revolutionary interests.

Secondly, I thought that while Wallis was excellent on showing how building a revolutionary ecologically aware socialist movement required strategies for the here and now, as well as a longer term goal, I felt that he missed out having a serious discussion on the nature of the capitalist state and the way it would organise to protect and defend its own interests. Here I think we still have much to learn from Lenin and his understanding of how revolutionary movements can simultaneously smash the capitalist state and create the basis for a new, workers' state.

But these are not points of departure they are places to begin a debate. All in all I found Red-Green Revolution a deeply stimulating read, that tackled important issues without simply regurgitating tired old formulae - the chapter on intersectionality and class was particularly good in this respect. I'd recommend Victor Wallis' book both to environmental activists who want to better understand revolutionary socialist ideas and other, longer standing socialists who want to think through how to engage with the growing ecological movements.

Related Reviews

Angus - Facing the Anthropocene
Angus - A Redder Shade of Green
Foster - Marx's Ecology
Saito - Karl Marx's Eco-socialism

Choonara & Kimber - Arguments for Revolution
Luxemburg - Reform or Revolution

Sue Burke - Semiosis

Novels of first contact are extremely common - it's been a standard subject for science fiction since almost the beginning. A slightly smaller subset of first contact novels deal with the arrival on and exploration of alien planets. But Sue Burke's new book Semiosis is probably unique in its depiction of the intelligence that the arrivals from Earth encounter.

Fleeing an Earth ruined by war, ecological crisis and inequality, a small group of settlers arrive on Pax to try and create an egalitarian, peaceful society. Early accidents leave their numbers depleted, but enough humans survive to begin to carve out an existence from their surroundings. Imported seeds from Earth take root and the local flora and fauna appears, at least in some cases, to be edible. Until its not. Suddenly the food turns poisonous, and it quickly becomes clear that Pax's new arrivals have to deal with an extremely complex local ecology where the plants themselves are sentient.

What follows is a fascinating story that examines the way that ecology is always a system of interlocked relationships between plants and animals. Intervening from outside can disturb an equilibrium and the system will react to try and fix that. The humans face a choice - repeatedly in fact - as to how to best relate to the rest of the world. Should they react with the strategies that they fled earth to avoid - with destruction and combat? Or should they come to a mutual arrangement with their fellow sentient beings, and risk losing their own identity?

It's a very readable, interesting and extremely unusual novel that I recommend to science fiction fans. Semiosis' tale of an idealistic group of people arriving in an alien world and being thwarted by the local ecology reminded me a little of John Wyndham's novel Web, but Sue Burke brings a very different and excellently written twist to an age old science fiction plot.

Related Reviews

Wyndham - Web

Newman - Before Mars
Pohl & Kornbluth - Wolfbane
Aldiss - Non-Stop
Christopher - The Death of Grass

Monday, January 14, 2019

Joyce D'Silva & Carol McKenna (eds) - Farming, Food and Nature: Respecting Animals, People and the Environment

This is a serious attempt to find an alternative to the industrialised farming that is so destructive to the environment, animals and humans. However any radicalism is blunted by the failure of any of the authors to address how to challenge the way that capitalism shapes agriculture through its quest for profits.

I am preparing a detailed review of this book for another journal, when that is published I shall link it here.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Chanie Rosenberg - 1919: Britain on the Brink of Revolution

The events to mark the end of World War One almost universally ignored the mass revolutionary movements that helped end the conflict. The Russian Revolution's centenary received hardly a mention, despite its role in ending the slaughter on the Eastern Front. The mass rebellions of German soldiers, sailors and workers that made sure the Kaiser could no longer fight in the west received event less acknowledgement.

Also ignored were radical events in Britain. In late 1918 and early 1919 a mass rebellion took place which, as Chanie Rosenberg argues in this 1987 book brought the country to the brink of revolution. The mood was certainly high. In November 1918, 300,000 Clydesiders applauded the German Revolution at a mass protest and there were around 34 million days of strike action. Eric Geddes, First Lord of the Admiralty, said on the 5th of February, "there was no doubt that we were up against a Bolshevist movement in London, Glasgow and elsewhere."

Lloyd George's government had reason to be fearful on several fronts. Firstly they could no longer trust the army or navy. Anger at conditions among soldiers had led to mass mutiny, protest and strikes, including a march on the cabinet offices. The anger was driven by frustration at the time taken to demobilise after the end of the war, appalling food, low pay and terrible living conditions. In the navy similar conditions led to discontent and even mutiny on HMS Kilbride. The army could not be relied on to put down strikes or take on roles needed to keep industry going and units that fraternised with striking workers often became unreliable.

Secondly the police themselves were enormously discontented and were taking strike action and even rioting. This began in 1918 and went through into 1919 before the government was able to undermine their union building through a combination of carrot and stick. This, however, led to the government understanding that the police had to be treated far better than other workers to ensure their future loyalty.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the powerful workers movement was flexing its muscles. Through 1919 millions of workers took strike action that, on occasion, reached insurrectionary levels. Battleships and tanks were deployed to key centres of militancy like Glasgow and Liverpool. The government was petrified and there was division about how to proceed. Lloyd George preferred the strategy of acceding to some of the demands while drawing out the process of satisfying them over Winston Churchill who wanted to use force to smash the strike. The Prime Minister prevailed, and his strategy had one great weapon - the trade union leaders. Rosenberg shows how the trade union leaders made their interests clear - they were certainly not for Bolshevik revolution and in fact, they all - both left and right - did not want mass militancy. This would get out of control and so they worked hard to undermine the strikes, limit further action and dampen militancy. Also effective in this was the fledgling Labour Party whose MPs wanted to prove themselves loyal servents of the Crown, not radicals unfit for parliament. There's a famous scene that Rosenberg reproduces an account of a meeting between the Prime Minister and the leaders of the Triple Alliance:
Gentlemen, you have fashioned, in the Triple Alliance of the unions represented by you, a most powerful instrument. I feel bound to tell you, that in our opinion we are at your mercy. The Army is disaffected and cannot be relied upon. Trouble has occurred already in a number of camps. We have just emerged from a great war and the people are eager for the reward of their sacrifices, and we are in no position to satisfy them. In these circumstances, if you carry out your threat and strike, then you will defeat us. But if you do so, have you weighed the consequences? The strike will be in defiance of the Government of the country and by its very success will precipitate a constitutional crisis of the first importance. For, if a force arises in the State which is stronger than the State itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the State, or withdraw and accept the authority of the State. Gentlemen, have you considered, and if you have, are you ready?
 Robert Smillie, the left leaning leader of the powerful Coal Miners' union of around one million men, said "From that moment on we were beaten, and we knew we were." It was an extraordinary admission - going to the heart of the limitations of the trade union bureaucracy.

Mass strike in Glasgow 1919
Rosenberg argues that Britain was on the brink of Revolution, but there was a factor missing. No revolutionary socialist organisation existed that could push the movement forward, encouraging militancy and rank and file self-organisation - exposing the sell-outs of the trade union leaders and offering alternative strategies. The result was that while many workers won short term gains, almost nothing fundamentally changed, and workers militancy declined dramatically.

One hundred years later the British union movement is very different. Nothing like the Triple Alliance exists, and workers struggle is at an all time low. Nonetheless the potential for radical upsurges always exists - and discontent is certainly high. The left must learn from history. 1919 is a forgotten, but enormously inspiring moment of our history that Chanie Rosenberg's short book rescues for us. I recommend it to trade unionists and socialists today.

Related Reviews

There's an excellent piece in Socialist Worker about 1919 to mark the anniversary.

Rosenberg - Fighting Fit: A Memoir
Branson - Poplarism 1919 - 1925
Cliff & Gluckstein - Marxism and Trade Union Struggle

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Roger Crowley - Conquerors

This remarkably readable book tells the story of how Portugal, an impoverished nation on the western fringe of the European mainland became an "Asiatic Power" as early as 1512. It is a fascinating tale of bravery and violence, that demonstrates how there was no inherent European supremacy over the rest of the world, but rather that colonial power arose out of the systematic suppression and destruction of the people and economies of the African coast, the Middle East and, most importantly for this history, the people of India.

I read this book immediately after finishing Hans Koning's excellent Columbus: His Enterprise which looked at the impact of Columbus' voyages on the Americas. Roger Crowley's book begins in a similar place, but with the Portuguese king deciding to support the continued voyages down the African coast in search of an eastward route to the riches of India. Foremost in the King's mind was the wealth that might be obtained by getting spices and other goods that could avoid the expensive middle-men and merchants that all took their cut as goods travelled over the Indian ocean, and through the Middle East to the trading centres of Italy.

As Portuguese voyagers made the perilous journeys along the African coast, then eventually around the Cape of Good Hope, they laid down markers measuring their success and claiming the lands for their king. The era of African colonialism had begun, and very quickly the indigenous peoples became victims of the Portuguese. Rape, murder, pillage and mass destruction were weapons used to pacify the locals and seize needed resources, but this was nothing to what was to come when the Portuguese made a foothold in India.

The Portuguese discovered a thriving, and highly developed economy around the Indian ocean. They met sailors and navigators who had an astounding knowledge of the tides, currents and seasonal winds. Once the Europeans had mastered these they were able to seize the advantage, but initially they were actually only a minor power. Local kings in India were distinctly unimpressed by the gifts brought by the Portuguese who seemed to think that everyone they met would be from small undeveloped tribes. The ignorance of the Europeans was quite stunning and they tended to see the place through their own prejudices. When Vasco da Gama arrived in India in 1498 the Portuguese had no knowledge of Hinduism, so they assumed that they had simply found Christians who had strayed from the true path - so they brought a group of priests on their second voyage to correct the mistaken worshippers.

Faced with the highly developed economy of India the Portugeues had to use two strategies to break into the markets. Their primary aim was to smash the Muslim trade network. Their Christian bias against the Muslims meant that quickly they resorted to extreme violence. The one technological advantage the Europeans had, the large cannon on their ships, were deployed with deadly accuracy. Secondly the colonialists quickly learnt to divide and rule, turning local rulers against each other with offers of wealth and military support, combined with deceit. One local ruler, the Samudri, noted about Gama's ships "The Christians took more delight in theft and acts of aggression at sea than in trade... his port had always been open.. and that's why the admiral mustn't hinder or chase away the Mecca Muslims."

But Gama was not prepared to listen. After hanging 34 of Sumudri's messengers and Hindu fishermen they had captured, in full view of the cities population, they subjected the gathered crowds to enormous artillery bombardment. Later Gama ordered the 34 bodies cut down, dismembered and thrown in the sea so they would terrify the population when they washed ashore. He then wrote to the people:
I have come to this port to buy and sell and pay for your produce. And here is the produce of this country. I am sending you this present now. It is also for your king. If you want our friendship you must pay for everything that you have taken in this port under your guarantee. Furthermore you will pay for the powder and the cannon balls that you had made us spend.

Students of Indian history will recognise the methods adopted by other colonial powers later. Commanders who came after Gama repeated his tactics and came up with other ones - for instance encouraging marriage between the Portuguese and local people to create Christian communities. But it was through violence that Portugal's toehold became permanent in India, and the wealth poured into the colonial power, transforming its economy. That's not to say that this invasion was not contested. Peoples across the Indian ocean fought back, and on occasion were remarkably successful - not least because the Portuguese were often so riven with competition that they ignored sound military tactics in favour of personal glory. The few victories against the Portuguese elicited cheers from me, but they were few and far apart.

Portuguese colonialism in India brought nothing for the vast majority of the population. The new rulers were viewed with distrust and anger. Eventually this would lead to resistance. As Albuquerque, one of Portugal's most able, and violent, commanders in the area would conclude:

But if good faith and humanity cease to be observed in these lands, then pride will overthrow the strongest walls we have. Portugal is very poor and when the poor are covetous they become oppressors. The fumes of India are powerful - I fear the time will come when instead of our present fame as warriors we may only be known as grasping tyrants.

Portugal and the countries that followed them into India were indeed seen as tyrants, and were eventually driven out. That's another story, but this brilliantly written history is a great introduction to how India's first colonial oppressors arrived in tiny ships from across the oceans and brutally transformed the region in a few years.

Related Reviews

Koning - Columbus: His Enterprise - Exploding the Myth
Ward - Our Bones Are Scattered: The Cawnpore Massacres & the Indian Mutiny of 1857
Newsinger - The Blood Never Dried
Dalrymple - Return of a King
Davies - Late Victorian Holocausts

Friday, January 04, 2019

Stuart Turton - The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

*** Spoilers ***

Combining a complex time-traveling plot with elements of Gothic horror and a classic whodunnit set in an English stately home, this is an intriguing novel that deserves the praise its been getting from reviewers. While not entirely as novel an idea as some suggest - it reminded me a great deal of Claire North's The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - it is original enough to suck the reader into the frightening world of Aiden Bishop.

Every evening, during a plush party at her family's country home, the crumbling Blackheath, Evelyn Hardcastle dies at 11pm. For a small number of individuals this has happened thousands of times the day repeating when they wake up. Aiden Bishop experiences it slightly differently - when he wakes up he inhabits a different person, retaining his memories of the previous day, until they are also reset after a week; when the whole cycle restarts. Bishop quickly learns that if he is to escape he needs to find out what is happening and that will require him solving the mystery within the limitations of the bodies he inhabits - he carries with him their health issues, and their characteristics - and avoiding the wild card in the house - the Footman who seems bent on killing the people Bishop inhabits.

In the afterword Stuart Turton tells of the long gestation period for the book. After finishing it I hoped that I would find an online map that showed the various interactions taken by the key characters, but perhaps no one has managed to complete this complex task. It's a task that is made difficult by the way that characters in the story, including Bishop, can change events depending on their actions. It's also worth noting that Blackheath itself, the house and gardens, are a major part of the book - their crumbling decor, faded gradeur and long hidden mysteries, forming a perfect backdrop to the story.

Like all good murder-mysteries almost everyone has secrets that affect the story, and nothing (or nobody) is quite what they seem. Turton's book is tightly written, and I was surprised to find no obvious plot holes - the story is so complex, the characters so interweaving, that I kept thinking it wouldn't hold together. I did find that my enjoyment was reduced slightly by my desire from early on to know what was actually happening, and perhaps this is why I felt that the book (at around 500 pages) was slightly too long. But Turton keeps the tension up all the way until the last pages and the ending was, for me at least, extremely satisfying.

Related Reviews

North - The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
North - Touch

North - The End of the Day
Mandel - Station Eleven

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Hannah Holleman - Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Politics & the Injustice of 'Green' Capitalism

The "Dust Bowl" of the 1930s was an iconic moment in American history. As a result of what one historian called "the inevitable outcome of a culture that deliberately, self-consciously, set itself [the] task of dominating and exploiting the land for all it was worth" tens of thousands of people fled their homes, usually losing their entire livelihoods in the process. Images of dried out landscapes, dead crops and enormous dust storms that blanket the area in a fine dirt are memorials to the greatest environmental disaster in United States history.

Today scientists are revisiting the 1930s Dust Bowl to try and understand its causes and what events might teach us about 21st century environmental crisis. Hannah Holleman writes that there are "clear parallels between the social and ecological crises of the 1930s and those we confront today".

But, as Hannah Holleman explains in this excellent new book, the traditional view of the Dust Bowl as America's greatest ecological crisis is only part of the story. In this telling, the Dust Bowl came out of nowhere, and was eventually fixed by benevolent government investment. Attractive though this might seem, what is missing is the context - the colonial expansion of white Europeans into the American West and the displacement and massacre of the indigenous peoples and capitalist agriculture that, in its drive for profits, destroyed the very basis of farming - the soil, and its workers. Sadly too many people, scientists and radicals included, believe the myth.

Holleman emphasises that the Dust Bowl did not come from nowhere. For decades before scientists, farmers, governments and politicians understood desertification as a global problem. The "new imperialism" of the 1800s and early 1900s, was "violently transform[ing] societies and the land, entrenching the ecological rift of capitalism on a global scale and the related patterns of unequal ecological exchange that persist to this day."

The British Empire was the best, but far from the only example of this. In 1914, a British government committee on South Africa noted a "general consciousness of the gravity of the problems presented by soil erosion in almost every country where recent settlement or the growth of the population had led to an intensification of agriculture." [my emphasis]. Writing about Ceylon, another official pointed out that the removal of the forest to create space for tea, meant "little or no provision was made at the time to retain in situ the fine soil of the original forest... the loss of soil has been enormous". The capitalist agriculture imposed on the world (and the American West) stripped nutrients from the soil, removed natural barriers against erosion and destroyed farming practises that replenished the earth.

The transformation of global agriculture in the interests of capitalism in Europe (and later in the US) created the first global ecological crisis. Holleman quotes Fred Magdoff who writes, "more and more of the world was drawn upon as primary producers for the industrialised nations." Traditional agriculture, industry and society was destroyed in the pursuit of food and resources for the capitalist world; and the populations were displaced, impoverished and when they resisted, killed. Holleman continues:
International commentators wrote of North America's wasteful exploitation of the land and compared it to similar problematic practises in Europe, Britain, their colonies, and elsewhere. Westward expansion of the erosion problem in North America was made possible by government policy, financing from the imperial urban centres, technological change and military conquest.
Underpinning this was a racist ideology that saw those of white European descent as having a historic civilising mission. Theodore Roosevelt, US President from 1901 to 1909 and a man who would go on to play a significant role in early conservationism, wrote in 1869, "The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman. The rude, fierce settler who drove the savage from the land lays all civilised mankind under a debt."

Picture from Monthly Review article by Hannah Holleman
"No Empires, No Dustbowls"
This "'white man's burden' version of environmentalism" dominated the response to the Dust Bowl. As Holleman points out, it prevented "the possibility of change of the kind and on the scale necessary". In echoes of contemporary neo-liberal politicians, emergency relief was condemned. President Hoover argued that the "federal government should not be required to provide anything or intervene to ease the people's suffering". President Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932 offering assistance to the distressed regions, but the New Deal was based on protecting the status quo - it discriminated against black people, protected the profits of big business and did nothing to challenge agricultural practices that had caused the Dust Bowl in the first place.

In 2013 a UN FAO study on the state of global soils concluded that "the over-whelming conclusion... is that the majority of the world's soils are in only fair, poor, or very poor condition." Today's solutions are much the same as the US government offered in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl - technology, neo-liberal loans and an intensification of agriculture. In this context, Holleman argues, simply arguing for a new New Deal, is not enough. US radicals who do so ignore the wider context to ecological crisis - a racialised capitalism that destroys people and land in the interests of profit. Instead, what we need is a new, radical social environmentalism that breaks from the interests of the one percent. As Holleman writes:
The Dust Bowl did not arise because there was a lack of awareness of the issue or the technical means to address it. Like dust-bowlification today, the ultimate source of the crisis was social, not technological, thus requiring massive social change to address.
Healing the metabolic rift in the 21st century requires a new, revolutionary environmentalism. This must be informed by a clear knowledge of what took place in the past, and Hannah Holleman's wonderful new book is exactly the sort of historical analysis we need. Everyone who cares about the agriculture, the environment and social-injustice should read it.

Related Reviews

Clutterbuck - Bittersweet Brexit

James C. Scott - Against the Grain
Holt-Giménez - A Foodie's Guide to Capitalism
GRAIN - The Great Climate Robbery
Magdoff & Tokar - Agriculture and Food in Crisis
Angus - Facing the Anthropocene
Beckert - Empire of Cotton

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Hans Koning - Columbus: His Enterprise - Exploding the Myth

Every American child in second or third grade learns about the brave sailor, son of a Genoese weaver, who convinced the King and Queen of Spain to let him sail west. Fighting the elements and a crew who thought the earth was flat, he persisted, and with his three little ships discovered America.
Thus Hans Koning neatly summarises the Columbus myth in his opening paragraph. It's a summary that fits pretty much with what I, on the other side of the Atlantic, learnt about the explorer in my own school days. Koning then spends the rest of this short book explaining why this summary is deliberately wrong. He draws on Columbus' own writings, other contemporaries and those of various historians to show that Columbus' "Enterprise" was far from a benevolent voyage of discovery - instead it was a violent quest for plunder.

Koning begins, not with Columbus, but with the geo-political context of the competing Europe states of the 15th century. Portugal, a poor nation in the far west, was desperate to find wealth to allow it to compete on an equal footing with its neighbour Castile (modern Spain). Wealth was known to exist in vast quantities in the far-East - India and China in particular. It made its way to Europe via the Italian middle-men from the Middle East. The King of Portugal was beginning to send out exploratory quests down the coast of Africa to find a sea route to India. Columbus' big idea was to head West and when the Portuguese monarch failed to support him, he asked the Spaniards.

Promising them extreme wealth he eventually kitted out the tiny fleet that made it to the Caribbean. There they were universally welcomed by the indigenous people who showered them with gifts and friendship. But Columbus saw them very differently:
All the men looked young... They were well built, with good boides and hansome features. Their hair is coarse, like horse's hair, and short... They have the same color as the Canary Islanders, as they are at the same latitude. They do not bear arms, and do not known them , for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... They would make fine servants... I believe they could easily be made Christians.
But as Koning explains, they were destined to "not even live as slaves; they were to die". In their desire for gold the indigenous people that Columbus were to find were forced to provide vast quantities of gold, despite the land barely containing any. Those who dissented were killed, and those who failed to deliver lost their limbs as a warning to others. Mass rebellion failed and so mass suicide followed. In Hispaniola, Koning writes:
In 1515 there were not more than ten thousand Indians left alive; twenty-five years later, the entire nation had vanished from the earth. Not one Indian on the island had ever been converted to what Columbus called 'our Holy Faith.'
In all of this, Columbus is far from the pious leader he is supposed to have been. He is happy to use violence to achieve his aim; he sees the native population of the lands he finds as little more than slaves who will find him the supposed wealth of the Indies. He does not object to the rape of the women by his sailors - in fact he tries to aid this by taking on board female slaves for his men to use on their voyage. Nor is he particularly nice to his own men - he cheats the first man to spy land out of a massive reward by pulling rank, and he lies to them about their location so they don't turn against the trip. Despite this, he ends up amply rewarded by the Spanish, though few of his predictions have come true. The wealth of the Americas does begin to pour into Spain - in terms of gold, slaves and natural resources - but it comes from other voyagers and admirals.

Today many countries celebrate Columbus Day on the anniversary of his arrival in America. Hans Koning's short, but excellent book, is an excellent explanation of why this day is actually a celebration of genocide, rape and the violent appropriation of natural resources. The myth of Columbus exists to justify the colonial conquest and ongoing imperialism. The legacy of this, the underdevelopment of countries, poverty and lack of resources, is still felt today.

Related Reviews

Fernández-Armesto - 1492: The Year Our World Began
Mann - 1493: How Europe's Discovery of the Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology and Life on Earth
Cronon - Changes in the Land
Galeano - Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History
Galeano - Open Veins of Latin America