History of the World: Global Revolution and Australian Genocide

The History of the World Part 6 – Revolution

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Episode 6 focuses mainly on attitudinal changes occurring in the 17th and 18th century that would lead to the overthrow of royal rule in the southern half of North America, France, and Haiti.

The episode links the rise of revolutionary ideas rather simplistically to Galileo’s challenge (attributed to his invention of the telescope in the early 17th century) to official Catholic dogma placing the Earth (rather than the sun) at the center of the solar system. s revolve around the earth. They neglect to mention a Catholic cleric named Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to propose a heliocentric view of the universe 100 years earlier.

The film also oversimplifies the root causes of the US War of Independence. While they accurately depict efforts by Samuel Adams and other wealthy merchants and landowners use of the hated Stamp Tax to stir up the Boston mob, historical evidence suggests their key motivation in declaring independence was George III’s ban on settler expansion into Native American territory west of the Appalachians. As Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz reveals in The Indigenous History of the United States, the main purpose of the Stamp Tax was to finance British troops to evict settlers who were illegally squatting on Native land.

By 1789, Louis XVI had bankrupted the French royal treasury by financing the American rebels. Punitive new taxes on the middle class (the nobility, typically, refused to pay tax) would trigger a mass insurrection that removed the king from power. Yet only seven years after the revolutionaries declared France a republic, the same middle class would allow Napoleon to declare himself emperor of France.

In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, the slaves of Haiti would revolt, overthrowing their white plantations owners and declaring their independence from France.

One of the longest segments of this episode concerns the British settlement of Australia, following its “discovery” by Captain James Cook. Beginning in 1787, British judges would sentence petty criminals (many of them children) to hard labor in Australia. Thanks to the European “Enlightenment,” it was no longer politically acceptable to hang British poor who stole food to survive.

By 1900, 80% of Australia’s aboriginal population would be wiped out , thanks to colonial policies that allowed British settlers to steal their lands by hunting and massacring them.

The film ends with a bizarre segment extolling Dr Edward Jenner for his role in promoting the use of smallpox vaccine. Historic evidence reveals that inoculation for smallpox first originated in China in 1000 AD and was practiced in Turkey and Africa long before making its way to Europe.

 

 

The Inherent Right to Rebel

The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf

J A Scott

MW Books (1988)

Book Review

Babeuf’s speech available free on line at: Defense Speech

Babeuf was a whistleblower under Louis XVI, who in 1782 exposed corruption in the tax system imposed by the French aristocracy. He spent the years immediately preceding the French revolution (1789) either in hiding or in jail. On learning the Bastille had fallen, he joined the revolutionary struggle. In addition to launching a newspaper, he circulated numerous pamphlets and petitions calling for the abolition of private property and an end to the private expropriation of the commons and the division of society into exploited and exploiting classes.

In September 1792, he was elected to the revolutionary government, only to be arrested in 1795 by the counter-revolutionary forces that overthrew Robespierre. He was charged and found guilty of advocating for the re-establishment of the Constitution of 1793.

The book is the verbatim defense Babeuf presented to the court that sentenced him to death. He cites the writings of Plato, Sir Thomas Moore, Thomas Jefferson, Rousseau, Diderot and other Enlightenment thinkers to argue that human beings have a natural right to rebel against political and economic injustice and that violence, poverty and war all have their roots in the concept of private property.

He further argues that the natural function of society and social institutions is to protect the weak against the tyranny of the strong (whereas in reality they do the opposite). He contends that the 1789 revolution wasn’t complete because it allowed the wealth to continue to control all social power and government. He also (correctly) claimed that the election adopting the 1795 constitution was rigged and thus failed to represent the true will of the people.

For me the significance of Babeuf’s courtroom oration (which predated Marx by more than 60 years) was the surprising realization that Marx wasn’t the first to argue against the argue against the damage wealth inequality wreaks on society. It’s easy to forget that Karl Marx was but one of a long line of thinkers (which includes Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith) who advocated against class exploitation.