Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 24, June 27, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Bank of England's Attempt to Whitewash its History and its Present Role

The Bank of England and Slavery

Nineteenth century estate workers in Jamaica

On June 19, in the wake of the global upsurge following the killing of African American George Floyd, and protests in Britain about the glorification of slavery and empire, the Bank of England issued a statement "about its historical links to the slave trade".

According to the Bank of England: "There can be no doubt that the eighteenth and nineteenth century slave trade was an unacceptable part of English history. As an institution, the Bank of England was never itself directly involved in the slave trade, but is aware of some inexcusable connections involving former Governors and Directors and apologises for them. The Bank has commenced a thorough review of its collection of images of former Governors and Directors to ensure none with any such involvement in the slave trade remain on display anywhere in the Bank. The Bank is committed to improving diversity and is actively engaging with staff, particularly with our BAME colleagues, to help us identify and shape concrete steps that can be taken now to progress the Bank's efforts to be as inclusive as possible."

It would be difficult to compose a statement that more blatantly falsifies history, nor one that is more at variance with the demands now being made by the people of Britain.

The Bank of England was incorporated in 1694 alongside the National Debt, originally a loan of £1.2m, both of which were necessary for the government of the day to pursue two major wars - the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713). In return for the loan, at a rate of 8% interest, the money lenders were allowed a monopoly on the issue of banknotes and effectively became the state bank. The creation of the Bank of England and the National Debt led to a tremendous growth of banking, credit, the City of London, the Stock Exchange, and all the main financial institutions of the capital-centred economic system that still exist today. In addition, they contributed to the modern system of taxation, in order to transfer wealth from the working people to the moneylenders and speculators who greatly profited from the wars.

The War of the Spanish Succession ended with the Treaty of Utrecht by which, amongst other things, the British government gained the asiento - the right to supply Spanish colonies in the American continent with enslaved Africans. Although Britain already possessed colonies in North America and the Caribbean in which thousands of enslaved Africans were exploited but acquiring the asiento led to Britain becoming the world's leading trafficker of enslaved African men, women and children throughout the 18th century.

No doubt the present Bank of England wants to distance itself from the most notorious criminals amongst its former governors such as Humphrey Morice, who has been referred to as "the prince of London slave traders" during the 1720s. However, the Bank of England's entire history is inseparable from Britain's involvement in human trafficking and slavery, wars and empire, just as it is inseparable from the exploitation of the working people in Britain and the entire capital-centred system. The capital-centre system and all its financial institutions can therefore be held responsible for profiting from the trafficking of enslaved Africans, colonial conquests and empire.

In 1833, when the government of the day was compelled to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire, the major slaveowners were compensated with the award of £20m. As is well-known, neither those who were enslaved, nor the societies where they were enslaved or from where they were kidnapped, have ever been compensated, nor granted any reparatory justice. In 1833, £20m was equivalent to 40% of total annual government expenditure, and was added to the National Debt in the form of a government bond or gilt, which pays interest to the holder, normally the major financial institutions or their investors. The gilts in question were not redeemed until 2015, meaning that it was a burden on the taxpayer until that time, as well as a means of speculation and profit.

Slavery and empire were indispensable in and integral to the emergence of the capital-centred system in Britain and throughout the world. Racism was and is the world view of the slave traders, financial oligarchs and all those who defend the capital-centred system. It is not just the statues of the criminals of the past that must be torn down in order to end racism and empower the people but the entire capital-centred system. The old authority must fall.


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