Socialist History - Notes

This page contains various bits of information which have been circulated around the Socialist Historians group - mostly related to the meetings.  It`s all shovelled in & a bit chaotic at the moment but I hope to knock it into shape in due course. 

 

2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the year-long Miners`Strike. This has already been a major focus of attention, and will continue to be so into 2015 and indeed beyond.

For the 10th anniversary in 1994, Richard Clarkson (late lamented member of this club) put together an exhibition of photographs, which led to publication of a book "Striking Memories".  We hope sometime to get this into a digital format which can be published online.
 


Miners` Strike - the prelude

How did the strike come about in the first place ?

First of all, it should be emphasised that Thatcher and her philosophy didn't "spring on to the world new-minted" in the 70s. As a strand of conservative thinking it can be traced back at least until 1957 when Chancellor Peter Thorneycroft, vexed about public expenditure, quit MacMillan's government along with two others. Even then there was talk of the need to control the money supply and leave things to the market. And even then there was impatience on the Tory right with MacMillan's patrician ways - and in particular with his apparent appeasement of the unions (Beckett 1997).

Roll on to the Thatcher years though. 1979 was clearly a watershed. Thatcher wanted to do away with Attlee's post war settlement. She wanted to privatise and to de-regulate.

Yet in her early days in Downing Street Thatcher had been cautious. The "Wets" still predominated in the Cabinet and one early attempt to confront the miners had backfired. Energy Minister David Howell had tried to force the hand of the relatively moderate NCB Chief Derek Ezra. The cash limits within which the NCB had to operate were cut so that even Ezra had to propose closures. It led to mass walkouts in February 1981. The Government, knowing coal stocks were low, backed down. Closure plans were withdrawn with the Government assuring the NUM that it would stick to the normal colliery review procedure.

But the Government was merely biding its time. Thatcher regrouped. She set up a secret Cabinet committee "MISC7" to prepare for any future confrontation. More money was allocated for the stockpiling of coal. There was an expansion of dual oil and coal fired power stations. Anti-strike laws were strengthened and the Scotland Yard National Reporting Centre (NRC) - which would deal with flying pickets - was also revived.

Thatcher's final ploy was to appoint Ian Macgregor, who'd butchered British Steel, as head of the NCB. The stage was set for confrontation.

On 1 March 1984 George Hayes - then South Yorkshire Coal Director - told local NUM leaders that Cortonwood would close in five weeks time on 6 April 1984. It was a bolt out of the blue for the 839 miners, 80 of whom had been transferred from Elsecar on the proviso that the pit had a rosy future. The miners were shocked and felt betrayed. Soon they were picketing the NUM offices in Barnsley where the Yorkshire Area Council was about to meet. And then on 6 March Macgregor told the NUM nationally of plans to cut 4 million tonnes of capacity and make 20,000 miners redundant. The 1984-85 Miners' Strike was about to begin.


THE IMPORTANCE OF IMAGES Orgreave
(a view from the Republican Socialist Alliance Google group)
 
I remember reading about the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 when many people were killed and injured by a cavalry charge, soldiers wielding swords that could cut a person in half.  I put it down to the primitive early nineteenth-century thinking where the forces of law thought they had the right to put down any rebellion or opposition by force.  It was therefore a shock to see that in 1984, a modern age that was proud of having greater maturity, an age that had seen the consequences of war on a world scale, and an age that knew there was a better way based of love and peace, a cavalry charge was launched against working people because they had chosen to go on strike. 
 
This was a cavalry charge that differed only in that the horsemen had batons not swords. This photo, which is quite famous, shows a policeman with baton bearing down on a protester. It is believed he missed the protester and she was ok, but the point of the image is that it is exactly like an eighteenth-century cavalry charge. A throw back to the past. One only has to imagine the baton being replaced by a sword to realise how violent this charge was and how primitive was the thinking behind it. We need rid of primitive politicians who authorise such attacks or who think hitting people is the answer to anything.
 



KINSLEY EVICTIONS
 
This is a poignant episode in local radical history.  The group organised a walk around some of the locations where these events took place.
 
In 1905 the whole of Britain became aware of the conditions faced by miners living in colliery owned housing.  In Kinsley, West Yorkshire over 100 families were evicted from their homes during a protracted pay dispute between miners and coal owners.  The Labour movement - then in its' infancy - rallied in support.  Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party in particular backed their cause.  Clarion Vans arrived.  A tented village was set up on the common to shelter those evicted.  And local children were accommodated in the ballroom of the Kinsley Hotel.
 



FEATHERSTONE MASSACRE
 
In the summer of 1893 Yorkshire mine owners - faced with a fall in the price of coal - demanded that miners accept a 25% reduction in wages.
The miners resisted and on 28th July they were locked out.
The dispute dragged on and after seven weeks money was increasingly tight.  Miners knew they needed to step up their action so they began to stop the movement of coal.
On 6th September the manager of Featherstone's Ackton Hall colliery, a Mr Holiday, arrived at the pit to find a large picket of miners demanding that the loading of smudge for sale be stopped.  Holiday eventually agreed.
But the next day miners discovered wagons with Bradford destination tickets being loaded with smudge.  The miners felt they had been conned, so they toppled the wagons over.
Holiday, fearing widespread unrest, called for help and the military - in the form of the South Staffordshire Regiment - were soon sent in.
However the troops and the magistrate Bernard Hartley JP were confronted by a large crowd in Green Lane.  The magistrate read the Riot Act but when the crowd didn't disperse live rounds were fired. 
One man, James Gibb, was shot through the right breast.  He died in a local surgery the following day.
Another man, James Duggan, also died in Clayton Hospital, Wakefield after surgeons were unable to stop bleeding in his leg.
Many more people were also wounded.
Jurors at Duggan's inquest were instructed to return a verdict of "justifiable homicide".  Jurors at Gibb's inquest refused to acquiesce in this way and expressed regret at the "extreme measures" taken on the night in question.
The Bowen Commission later set up to inquire into events was a complete whitewash.  The Home Secretary, H.H. Asquith, did agree to pay £100 to each of the deceased families but still didn't admit any culpability.  Henceforth Asquith was known as "Assassin Asquith".
 



LUDDITES  
 
I do not have any material from the event on this subject, but there is an interesting cross-reference to the Luddites in the contribution on Tolpuddle (below)



2014 marked the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1. This was essentially an imperialist war and, as expected, we are experiencing a heavy bombardment of imperialist history. However, there is an alternative story to be told from a working class point of view.
The group  devoted a meeting to this subject on 01/11/14.
The First Word War was the first truly global conflict.  Some 10 million were killed and 10 million more seriously injured in the "war to end all wars."  And all too often it was young working class conscripts who bore the brunt of these losses.

The speakers were:
 *Stephen Wood.......Stephen is a trade unionist and socialist who works in local government. He runs a socialist readers group in Leeds. He has spoken on this subject to the Alliance for Workers Liberty's "Ideas for Freedom" event.
*Dave Sherry....Dave is very active in UNITE's Scottish Federation of Housing Association's Branch. He is author of "Empire and Revolution: A Socialist History of the First World War" and "John Maclean: Red Clydesider."




POETRY ?
 
Bob Mitchell has spoken to me about the possibility of some sort of socialist poetry event? I think it's an interesting idea but want to get feedback...it does also prompt me to ask, "Where stands socialist poetry?" 
The Left in the past -including the CP- had cultural journals and events.  There have been socialist poets..Burns, Dylan Thomas, Hugh MacDiarmid.  The Morning Star still has a poetry column.  But what about the rest of the Left?
Would it be an idea to have an event inviting people either to read their own poetry, read their favourite poems or talk about their favourite radical/socialist poets?
Look forward to your comments...
 



Report to local press 07/12/14

Twenty eight people attended a Wakefield Socialist History Group meeting at the Red Shed last Saturday on "Eco-Socialism: Green Socialist Ideas Past and Present."

The first speaker was Adrian Cruden.  Adrian is an eco-socialist and blogger.  He stood for the Green Party in Dewsbury at the last election.  Adrian pointed out that 98% of scientists agree that climate change is the result of human activity.

The second speaker, Mike Davies, is National Chair of the Alliance for Green Socialism.  Mike said the environment is the biggest issue facing humanity.  He also said we need to question the need for economic growth.

After the break Garth Frankland from Left Unity spoke.  He made clear that we can't regulate capitalism.  We need to destroy it.  Capitalism is in contradiction with the environment.

The final speaker was Brian Else.  Brian is Chair of the Wakefield Green Party.  He spoke about the history of Eco-socialist ideas including the thinker Peter Kropotkin.
 


 
GLASGOW RENT STRIKES 1915

Industrial capitalism changed the relationship of people to housing.  Workers - many of whom who'd been forced off the land anyway - were recruited from the countryside and had to rent poor quality, poorly maintained, overcrowded dwellings from rapacious private landlords.
The home then became, Renton (2012) says, the "primary place of social production where workers rested between shifts, where meals were prepared and where adults cared for the young.
There were a few Victorian and Edwardian examples of good workers' housing.  The best known were at Saltaire, Bournville and Port Sunlight.  However those schemes were run by philanthropic, liberal non-conformists who were also autocratic and hostile to trades unions.
For workers themselves to fight - on their own behalf - for decent housing was difficult.  Renton (2012) notes that factories brought thousands of workers together at the point of production.  So factories were "obvious locations of common struggle".  Housing by contrast was a battle which "had to be fought each time afresh against individual landlords".
Yet a real breakthrough came in Glasgow in 1915.  Munitions factories were desperate to recruit additional workers.  Landlords took advantage of subsequent pressures on housing, hiking rents by up to 25%.
Outraged tenants organised rent strikes with women to the fore.  Non-payers were taken to court but following a demonstration of 30,000 the sheriff adjourned the cases.
The Government also caved in, pushing through the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions Act) 1915, capping rents to 1914 levels.  Tenants were also given more security of tenure.
Other legislation soon followed.  The Housing and Town Planning Act (1919) required local authorities to assess and plan for housing needs in their areas.  The Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1924 also guaranteed central government funding for local authority housing.
Working class housing was now firmly on the political agenda.



1960s - NORMANTON RENT STRIKE

A woman in Normanton wrote a letter to the Saturday issue of the Yorkshire Evening Post complaining about the Normanton Council increasing the rent.

Protests spread and many resolved not to pay the rise.  A Tenants' Association was founded, a public meeting of a thousand plus was held and there was a mass picket outside Normanton Town Hall whilst the council was in session (Harding 2005)

Normanton was then part of a strong mining area.  Activists in the local NUM were on the Tenants' Association Committee and NUM branches prepared for industrial action to back the tenants' campaign.

The threat of strike action helped resolve the issue.  The council caved in.  The rent issues were scrapped and those that had paid got a refund.

The rent strike had proved a success!



2015 - NOTTINGHAM

On Friday 23 January a crowd of 500 gathered to stop the eviction of 63 year old Tom Crawford from his Nottingham home.

Tom - who is suffering from cancer - was due to be evicted by bailiffs acting on behalf of the Bradford and Bingley Building Society.

Tom had put a video on Youtube saying he would give a cup of tea to anyone who came to help him avoid eviction.  His plea struck a cord; hundreds turned up to offer support.
 



16/02/2015

Statement of support

We, the undersigned, join local members of the National Union of Journalists in condemning the decision by Johnston Press Yorkshire to make staff photographers on its weekly newspapers redundant and to cut up to 19 more editorial posts.

The professional photographers employed made a valuable contribution to the print and online news and sports coverage published by the Yorkshire Weekly Newspaper Group’s titles: Batley and Birstall News, Dewsbury Reporter, Hemsworth and South Elmsall Express, Mirfield Reporter, Morley Observer and Advertiser, Pontefract and Castleford Express, Spenborough Guardian, and Wakefield Express.

The four highly-skilled photographers made redundant - Jake Oakley, Diane Allen, Andrew Bellis and John Clifton - had given a total of more than 40 years’ loyal service to the company. Without them, the quality of the titles they work for and their standing in the communities they serve will be irreparably damaged.

In the past four years, the company has shut seven of its eight district offices, with the remaining Wakefield office closed to the public. An endless cycle of voluntary redundancy schemes, restructuring and non-replacement of roles has seen the number of editorial staff on the eight papers cut from 52 in November 2010 to 23 once the last of the photographers leaves.

Not only is this taking jobs directly from the communities the papers serve, but it is undermining the ability of those left to provide comprehensive, quality coverage that is vital to local democracy and which readers deserve.

We are alarmed that this pattern is set to continue with up to 19 jobs to be cut from titles across Yorkshire by the end of March, despite the continued profitability of the company.

Who will cover local elections, council meetings and the courts if this constant stripping away of resources continues? Who will be left to run campaigns like the Wakefield Express’ fight to get Kirkgate train station refurbished and staffed; the Reporter Series’ Dignity in Care campaign; the Morley Observer’s Shop Local campaign, or the Fair Share drive by the Pontefract and Castleford Express and Hemsworth and South Elmsall Express to get more investment in the areas surrounding Wakefield?

While regional managers are tasked with cutting yet more jobs, Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield could earn a bonus of up to 180 per cent of his £400,000 basic salary in 2014 and chief financial officer David King could earn up to 150 per cent of his £250,000 basic salary in 2014. This would amount to almost £1.1m - enough to pay the annual salaries of around 65 junior reporters, 52 senior reporters or 43 news editors on weekly titles like those at YWNG.

We join NUJ members at Yorkshire Weekly Newspaper Group in calling on Mr Highfield and Mr King to forgo any bonus in 2014 and instead allow that money to be invested in improving staff in struggling newsrooms.

We also urge Johnston Press Yorkshire to work with the NUJ and all editorial staff to find an alternative to yet more job cuts and to ensure that our communities continue to have papers of which they can be proud.

END
___________

Comrades
 
Don Mort, who is a NUJ "Chapel Rep" for the Yorkshire Weekly Newspaper Group, will speak at the
Wakefield Socialist History Group meeting on
DEMOCRACY AND THE MEDIA: STRUGGLES FOR MEDIA PLURALISM PAST AND PRESENT
on Saturday 18 April 2015 at the Red Shed, Vicarage Street, Wakefield.
 
Don won the "02 Media Award" in 2014 for Yorkshire's best weekly newspaper reporter.  This award was in recognition for his investigative reporting.
 
The other speaker, Granville Williams, is a member of the National Council of the CAMPAIGN FOR PRESS AND BROADCASTING FREEDOM and UK Co-ordinator of the EUROPEAN INITIATIVE FOR MEDIA PLURALISM.
He is also the editor of a new book, BIG MEDIA AND INTERNET TITANS.

 
We will also be showing Lindsay Anderson's great 1952 documentary "Wakefield Express."

Lindsay Anderson was a British feature film, theatre and documentary director.
 
He developed a philosophy of the cinema which in the late 50's became known as the "Free Cinema movement."
 
"Wakefield Express" was commissioned by the paper in 1952 to celebrate its anniversary.  It was meant to be a film showing how the paper was printed.
 
But at Anderson's behest - as director - it became a much more personal study of the communal life of a group of towns in the West Riding area as the local reporters travelled around the area in search of newsworthy events.
 

------------------------------------------------------

News release to Wakefield Express for possible inclusion in Club/Society section.

Wakefield Socialist History Group
 
Thirty three people attended a meeting on DEMOCRACY AND THE MEDIA held by the Wakefield Socialist History Group at the Red Shed on Saturday 18th April 2015.
 
Granville Williams from the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom introduced the Manifesto for Media Reform which calls for limits to the concentration of media ownership. He pointed out that four newspaper groups have a 75% market share of UK national newspapers.
 
Don Mort from the National Union of Journalists spoke about their "Local News Matters" campaign which calls for local papers to be classed as community assets.  He insisted that democracy and the media are intertwined - you cannot have one without the other!
 
Finally Pete Lazenby from the Morning Star spoke passionately about his role as Northern Correspondent with Britain's daily socialist newspaper.
 
Lindsay Anderson's fascinating 1952 documentary "Wakefield Express" was also shown.
 
 

 

Comrades,
Below is short piece I did for CARN magazine on ILP leader James Maxton.

-----------
 
It is 130 years since the birth of James Maxton. 
 
James Maxton was born on 22 June 1885 in Pollokshaws.  Both his parents were schoolteachers and his father in particular was a Tory Unionist.
 
Maxton was educated at Grahamston Public School in Barrhead and at the age of 12 won a scholarship to Hutcheson's Grammar School.
 
He was "matriculated" at Glasgow University in 1903.  His stay there was protracted because of exam failures.  He passed English at the tenth attempt and never did obtain a pass in moral philosophy.  However he did eventually graduate with an MA in 1909 and the setbacks were said to be because he'd neglected his studies by throwing himself into both sport and politics.
 
Certainly Maxton was questioning his inherited unionism and, influenced by various socialist texts, he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP).
 
After University, like his parents, he went into teaching.  And together with John Maclean he taught evening classes to rank and file workers.
 
He and Maclean were firm friends and both denounced the First World War.  Indeed Maxton's dogged opposition to conscription cost him his teaching job and in May 1916 - found guilty of sedition - he was sentenced to a year in Calton jail.
 
After World War One he stood for Parliament.  At first he was unsuccessful and he returned to University between 1920 and 1922 to take classes in Political Economy, Forensic Medicine and Public International Law.  The feeling was that he intended to complete a law degree.
 
However in 1922 he won Bridgeton for Labour and went to Westminster.  There he espoused the cause of genuine Home Rule.  "We could do more in five years in a Scottish Parliament than could be produced by 25 or 30 years heartbreaking working in the British House of Commons", he said.
 
Maxton played an important role in the General Strike alongside the Miners' A.J. Cook.  And it was Labour's lack of support for the miners that in part led him to side with the ILP when it went its own way in the 1930s.
 
Maxton died on 23 July 1946.  Interestingly, Winston Churchill would describe him as the "greatest parliamentarian of his day."
 



News release to Wakefield Express.


Wakefield Socialist History Group
 
Twenty two people attended a meeting on Saturday 9th May 2015 at the Red Shed to discuss
"The Story of the Independent Labour Party - and lessons for today."
 
The first speaker was Iain Dalton from the Socialist Party.  Iain highlighted how the ILP was founded in Bradford and argued that it was the "product of struggles that took place in West Yorkshire" beforehand such as the strike at Manningham Mills.
 
The second speaker was Barry Winter from Independent Labour Publications.  Barry spoke in particular about the life and contribution of Keir Hardie.  This year sees the centenary of his death.
 
The Group's next event is a guided walk around Radical Bradford on Saturday 13th June.
 

 
Comrades

Twenty two people attended a forum on EUROPE AND THE LEFT held at on Saturday 21 November by Wakefield Socialist History Group.  The aim was to debate "How socialists should vote in the referendum?"

There were four speakers covering a range of positions.

Paul Bennett from the Socialist Party of Great Britain argued that "in and out of the EU" are "exactly the same."
It would make no difference to the life of the working class. Any differences would be "fairly marginal."
He advocated writing "socialism" or "world socialism" on the ballot paper.   The real choice we should be interested in was between capitalism or socialism.

John Westmoreland from "Counterfire" said he was for "Brexit" and for a "left campaign to get out of the EU."
The EU is a "neo-liberal dictatorship" not a democracy. The EU and NATO are wedded together.
We need to "come out and build a real internationalism."

Kevin Taylor from the Communist Workers' Organisation stated that he was against the division of workers along national and trans-national lines.  The IWO stood for a global socialist society where production is for need not profit.
Where the EU referendum was concerned his advice was "don't vote, organise instead."

The final speaker, John Tummon, a member of the Republican Socialist Alliance, said he was for critical but unambiguous support for staying in.  He backed Jeremy Corbyn's position. We need to defend the rights of migrants and the right to free movement.  (Click here to see John`s presentation in detail)
 
There then followed a lively question and discussion session which focused on various aspects of social protection and union/disability rights.
 

 
IER logoWe were circulated detail of a one day conference
"EU developments : has social Europe disintegrated ?" organised by the Institute of Employment Rights (a think tank for the labour movement) on 9th March 2016.
The notes on the day`s proceedings contain a lot of information that you will never see amongst the trivia dished up by the mass media.  This is an important contribution to the debate on the EU referendum.
 
While EU employment laws and the human rights convention offer some protection to UK workers - particularly under a government that aims to minimise workers’ rights where it can - many are concerned the dream of Social Europe has been corrupted and replaced with a neoliberal agenda.

EU economic policy emphasises austerity and incentivises governments to provide cheap labour over high-quality jobs; landmark cases such as those of Viking and Laval have found in favour of corporations’ right to search the globe for cheap labour over the right of workers to fair pay and conditions; and now TTIP threatens to give corporations enormous power over national policymaking.   Indeed, leading EU expert Michael Bowsher QC  warned that the trade deal poses a “real and serious risk” to the government’s ability to freely make decisions regarding the NHS.




On Saturday 13 February 2016, the Wakefield Socialist History Group held an event,
THE LEVELLERS AND THE DIGGERS
at the Red Shed, which attracted 41 people.

The Levellers were 17th century radicals who advocated a broader franchise, legal reforms, religious tolerance and the abolition of tithes.  They found strong support in the army (1647-9) and particularly at the Putney Debates.
 
The Diggers were radicals who established colonies in waste land at St George's Hill, Surrey and elsewhere (1649-50).
The Surrey Diggers were led by Gerrard Winstanley who advocated communal cultivation of common land and later wrote, "The Law of Freedom"( 1652).
 
Speakers :
Ian Brooke (author of "England's Forgotten Revolution; 1641-1663" and author also of a history of Huddersfield Trades Council; Ian spoke at the 2015 Wigan Diggers Festival)
Shaun Cohen (Shaun is a member of our sister organisation, the Ford Maguire Society, in Leeds; Shaun has previously spoken to us about the Chartists and about the Luddites)
Steve Freeman (Steve is a member of the Republican Socialist Alliance and stood in the general election in Bermondsey and Old Southwark)



"Freeborn John"
- one of the most prominent Levellers
 
John Lilburne was born in Sunderland, the third son of Richard Lilburne, a minor country gentleman.  His mother was daughter of Thomas Hixon, master of the King's Wardrobe at Greenwich Palace.
He was educated in Newcastle (probably at the Royal Free Grammar School) and educated also in Bishop Auckland.
In the 1630's he was apprenticed in London to Thomas Hewson, a wholesale clothier and Puritan.  Through him he got to know John Bostwick, a campaigner against Episcopacy.
Soon Lilburne was himself involved in the printing and distribution of unlicensed Puritan books and pamphlets.  It led to him being arrested in December 1637 and being taken before the Court of Star Chamber.
He was sentenced on 13 February 1638.  In addition to being fined £500 he was also to be whipped at cart-tail from Fleet Prison to New Palace Yard, Westminster.  There he was to stand in pillory.  Then he would be imprisoned until he "conformed and admitted his guilt."
Languishing in prison, he wrote the first of many pamphlets publicising the injustices against him.  And when King Charles reluctantly summoned the Long Parliament in 1640 Oliver Cromwell MP seized the opportunity to highlight Lilburne's case.  Parliament duly ordered his release.
When the first Civil War broke out Lilburne enlisted as captain in Lord Brooke's regiment of foot and fought at the battle of Edgehill.
He resigned his commission in April 1645 however and was imprisoned that summer for having denounced MPs who lived in comfort whilst common soldiers fought and died for Parliament.
In July 1646 he was in trouble again.  He was sent to the Tower for having denounced his former commander Earl of Manchester as a traitor and Royalist sympathiser.  There he continued to write pamphlets -smuggled out and published by friends and supporters- that drew attention to examples of hypocrisy, corruption and profiteering in high places.
Lilburne wanted a new form of accountable government and whilst still in prison was associated with the drafting of the "Leveller Manifesto: An Agreement of the People."
Released on bail, he hurried to support Leveller mutineers at Corkbush field and then went to London to try build up Leveller organisation.
He and other Leveller leaders were arrested however in March 1649.  He'd already attacked the new republican government in "England's New Chains Discovered."  But he was still found not guilty of high treason and of inciting mutinies.
Lilburne died in 1657.  As highlighted, Lilburne had faced along series of trials throughout his life and became known as "Freeborn John" because of his defence of rights such as that to hear the accusation, face one's accusers and not to incriminate oneself.  Indeed he is seen as having inspired the 5th Amendment to the American Constitution and is cited by many constitutional jurists and scholars.

By: Alan Stewart


William Morris - his road to socialism


William Morris was born on 24 March 1834 at Clay Hill, Walthamstow - a place he described as then being a "pleasant suburban village on the edge of Epping Forest."  Six years later the family moved to Woodford Hall, a Palladian mansion stood in 50 acres of parkland with adjacent farmland.  Only a fence separated it from Epping Forest and it was - Henderson (1967) reflects - "very much the squire's house" with the garden gate opening on to the local churchyard.
The move to Woodford Hall had been made possible by a precipitate rise in the price of copper shares.  William Morris's father was a businessman in the city and had 272 shares in a Devonshire copper mine.  They were originally valued at one pound but were now changing hands for £800.  His holding therefore was now worth about £200,000.

At the age of nine Morris was sent to prep school in Walthamstow. He got there each day - 2 miles - by pony.
Then in the autumn of 1847 - his father having passed away - Morris was sent off to Marlborough, one of the public schools founded for sons of the middle classes.  It was described as a "new and very rough school."  Life there wasn't very regimented.  Indeed he would later say he learned next to nothing "for indeed next to nothing was taught."  But it suited Morris.  He was able to go to Savernake forest, the stone circles of Avebury and the pre-Celtic long barrows on the ridges above Pewsey Vale.  Plus he was able to peruse literature in the school library - it was well stocked with books on archaeology and medieval architecture. 
Marlborough was in ferment however.  It culminated in a "rebellion of the whole school" in November 1851.  Morris's family brought him home and got him a private tutor to prepare him for Oxford. 
In June 1852 he sat for the matriculation exam in the hall of Exeter College, Oxford.  Sat next to him was Edward Burne-Jones.  They would become lifelong friends.   He went up to Oxford the following year.  There he fell under the influence of the HIgh Church or Puseyite School.  He and Burne-Jones both seemed destined for ecclesiastical careers.
 
Yet Morris was also exposed to, and inspired by, the arguments of those critical of the prevalent materialism of the age.  He heard Carlyle's denunciations of the "dehumanising effects of the cash nexus."  And he read Ruskin`s postulate that art is a "public concern."  It is a "measure of a nation's wellbeing rather than a hobby for the elite."
Morris himself was now writing poetry and whilst still a student he set up a literary publication, "The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine."  When he finished studies he was briefly articled to G.E. Street, the architect, but soon embarked - Leopold (2003) says - on a career combining "decorative art and creative writing."  His firm - Morris and Co. - would go on to do pivotal work with stained glass, embroidery and painted furniture.  Plus the first of his distinctive wallpaper designs were registered in 1864. 

His active involvement in politics dates from 1876.  Disraeli had sanctioned an alliance with the Turks to wage war on Russia despite Turkish atrocities committed on the Balkan people.  Morris became Treasurer of the Eastern Question Association and in April 1877 addressed his pamphlet, "Unjust War" to "the working men of England."
By 1880 he saw that the Liberals were just as bad. Gladstone had reneged on promises of radical reform at home.  Plus abroad his coercion of the Irish was appalling too.  Morris, who'd read Marx's CAPITAL, in French, was being increasingly drawn to socialist ideas instead.
 



Comrades
Twenty three people attended a discussion -
WILLIAM MORRIS: REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST OR UTOPIAN DREAMER ? -
at the Red Shed, Wakefield on Saturday 27 February.

The speakers were Colin Waugh (Independent Working Class Education Network), Brian Else (Wakefield Green Party) and Bill Martin (Socialist Party of Great Britain).  The chair was Yvonne Sibbald.

After the speeches there was a lively discussion about Morris's attitude towards anarchism and about whether he was in fact a Marxist.  One contributor from the floor emphasised the need not to "pigeon hole" Morris but rather to concentrate on and appreciate his contribution to art and to political thought.
 





Comrades
The Yorkshire Rebellion of 1820 was planned by working class radicals.  It occurred just as those arrested during the Peterloo Massacre and at other reform demonstrations in 1819 were coming to trial.
The desire for universal suffrage, annual elections and an end to the Corn Laws were the main motivation.
Come along and hear Shaun Cohen from the Ford Maguire Society speak about this important event.
The chair will be Adrian Cruden from the Green Party.

The meeting organised by Wakefield Socialist History Group is on Saturday 25 June, 1pm at the Red Shed (Wakefield Labour Club)


 
Tolpuddle and the GNCTU
David Brandon (2008) looks at the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs very much in terms of the rise (and subsequent fall) of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union.
 
The GNCTU (1834) was founded a decade after the Combination Act (1824) which apparently established the legality of workers organising in unions.  Part of the GNCTU's programme was to push for a "great national holiday" - effectively a general strike - after which a "co-operative commonwealth" would be inaugurated.
It is in this context that we should look at the Tolpuddle Martyrs.  They were agricultural labourers who, faced with wage cuts, decided to form a branch of the GNCTU.  And at the time - given the readiness of the state to use spies/informers - it was customary for GNCTU branches to initiate members using ceremonially uttered oaths.
And it was under 1797 legislation - passed in the aftermath of naval mutinies - that the Tolpuddle Men were charged with "administering illegal oaths."
They first appeared in Dorchester before magistrates who were their "sworn enemies" - i.e. labourers and farmers.  But the magistrates had been in touch with London and it was decided that a High Court judge be dispatched to try the men.  The jury was handpicked - one man found to be a Methodist and potentially sympathetic to the workers was quickly discharged.  The judge himself made clear that he thought the purpose of unions was to "destroy property" and that the defendants must be "made an example of."
Tolpuddle was about therefore "bashing" the nascent trade union movement and in particular the GNCTU.  The punishment they got - seven years in an Australian penal colony - was the maximum available.  In due course, following a massive campaign, the men were pardoned.  In the meantime however the GNCTU had buckled and faded away.
....................................................................................................................
 

Unfortunately we had to cancel the meeting on Saturday 16 July 2016 but this is the text of one of the contributions from Adam Buick of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
 
TOLPUDDLE..AND THE FIGHT FOR TRADE UNION RIGHTS TODAY,
 
I am not going to say too much about the Tolpuddle Martyrs – their story is well enough known – but want to concentrate on the situation of trade unionism in the early 1830s. Of course we are talking about a period nearly 200 years ago. Things have changed a lot since then but the strategic choice facing trade unions as to what to struggle for has not – except perhaps that trade unions today don’t realise that they do have a strategic choice.

Trade unions – as organisations of workers in the same (apprenticed) trade – first appeared in Britain in the 18th century. However, in the panic sparked by the continuing war with revolutionary France, laws known as the Combination Acts were passed in 1799 and 1800 which outlawed workers joining together to discuss and take action about their pay and conditions of work. Ironically, bourgeois-revolutionary France had already had such a law since 1791.

The law proved unenforceable and, though illegal, unions continued to exist. It is perhaps significant that the trade union movement celebrates no martyrs from this period which ended in 1824 when the Combination Laws were repealed. In 1825 a further Act legalised trade unions and strikes, but came down hard on widely defined “intimidation” and there was no protection for trade union funds.

This is what made the prosecution in 1834 of the six Dorsetshire agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle exceptional. They were not radical revolutionaries (one of them was a Methodist lay preacher) but non-political workers who had formed a ‘Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers’ to resist cuts in their wages. It was not for this (which was legal) that they were prosecuted nor for “intimidation” but for administering an “unlawful oath” under a law passed to deal with mutinies in the Royal Navy. They were convicted and sentenced to the maximum sentence of 7 years transportation to Australia.

There was an immediate outcry as the prosecution and conviction was generally seen as vindictive and unfair with the Grand Jury which indicted them including relatives and associates of the local landlord who was imposing the wage cuts. Even the Times declared:

“The crimes which called for punishment were not proved – the crime brought to the prisoners did not justify the sentence.”

The trade unions and pro-working class pressure groups organised a huge protest demonstration in London and in 1835 they were granted a conditional pardon and in 1836 a full pardon. They returned to England but all but one of them eventually moved to Canada where they became farmers and where they died.

I am not sure why their memory lived on. In fact I am not sure that it did. The trade union movement adopted it later, probably as a result of the events being described by the Webbs in their History of Trade Unionism that came out in 1894. In any event, they were worthy martyrs to the cause of basic trade unionism – workers organising to try to protect and improve their wages and working conditions.

One Big Union

One of the organisations behind the big London demonstration was the Grand National Consolidation Trades Union of Great Britain and Ireland, “instituted”, in its own words, “for the purpose of the more effectually enabling the working classes to secure, protect, and establish the rights of industry.” This was the latest in a series of attempts to form not just a trade union – a union of workers in a particular trade – but a trades union – a union of workers in different trades. A union of trade unions, if you like. It had been formed in January 1834, with the support in particular of artisans and Lancashire cotton spinners, and had hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the country. Its basic aim was to coordinate trade union action by solidarity action as well as authorising its sections to strike. But it also had a wider implication, Rule XLVI (46), the penultimate one, declaring:

“Although the design of the Union is, in the first instance, to raise the wages of the workmen, or prevent any further reduction therein, and to diminish the hours of labour, the great and ultimate object of it must be to establish the paramount rights of Industry and Humanity, by instituting such measures as shall effectively prevent the ignorant, idle and useless part of Society from having that undue control of the fruits of our toil, which, through the agency of a vicious money system, they at present possess; and that, consequently, the Unionists should lose no opportunity of mutually encouraging and assisting each other in bringing about A DIFFERENT ORDER OF THINGS, in which the really useful and intelligent part of society only shall have the direction of affairs, and in which well-directed industry and virtue shall meet their just distinction and reward, and vicious idleness its merited contempt and destitution.“

This wording was influenced by Robert Owen who presided over the demonstration in London against the conviction of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Labour historians have called the founders of the GNCTU “Owenites” for what of a better term. But they were more than this. They were active trade unionists who held that trade unions played an essential role in protecting workers in the day-to-day struggle over wages and working conditions (while Owen did not). It is true that the “different order of things” envisaged in Rule 46 was that of Owen – the replacement of working for wages for an employer by cooperative production. EP Thompson, in Making of the English Working Class, quotes a member of the Builders Union writing in the Poor Man’s Guardian in December 1833:

“The trade unions will not only strike for less work and more wages but they will ultimately ABOLISH WAGES, become their own masters, and work for each other, labour and capital will no longer be separate but they will be indissolubly joined together in the hands of the work men and work-women.”

This was an explicit call to abolish the wages system. It would have found an echo amongst many workers at the time as this – working for an employer for wages on the employer’s premises – was new and unwelcome to them. There had of course been wage-workers before but these were domestic servants and day- labourers. Working for wages was seen as a lowly social situation. In fact, the Levellers in the middle of the 17th century had excluded servants and wage workers from the extended franchise they were demanding. This, on the grounds that people in this position were not free individuals and were not capable, because of their dependent position, of making a free decision.

'Wage slavery'

The two sections of the producing – or “industrious” – classes who were most affected were spinners, weavers and others who owned their own machines and worked from their homes, and artisans who owned their own tools and worked as independent producers (or, as we would say today, were “self-employed”). Both sold the product of their labour rather than their ability to work (their labour power). But they reacted differently to the threat of being reduced to working for an employer for wages.

The home workers reacted to the threat that factory production presented to their way of working by smashing machines and burning factories, so-called Luddism. The Tory Richard Oastler, who was prominent in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the campaign for Factory Laws to limit the working day, referred to factory work as “wage slavery”. This seems to have been the origin of the term and was coined to liken working for wages in a factory to chattel slavery which several factory owners were campaigning to abolish. In 1833 in fact both the first (weak) Factory Act and the abolition of chattel slavery in the British colonies were passed. The term was later taken up at the end of the 1830s and popularised by the Chartist writer and agitator, Bronterre O’Brien, who consistently referred to the working class as “wage slaves”. During the period we’re talking about O’Brien was the editor of the Poor Man’s Guardian(1831-35).

The reaction of the skilled artisans to the threat of being reduced to life-time wage workers was different. They thought in terms of forming cooperatives to produce and sell or exchange their products and were open to Robert Owen’s views on the subject. In 1832 a National Equitable Labour Exchange had been set up on London at which goods produced by artisans were to be exchanged at their “labour value”. The experiment failed and skilled artisans became prominent in calling for and setting up the GNCTU.

They looked to replacing the wages system by what was later called “the Cooperative Commonwealth” and, later still, “Socialism”. The word “socialism” was coined in this period but as the name of a doctrine (as opposed to that of “individualism”) rather than one for the GNCTU’s “different order of things”. A decade later, in the 1840s, the Owenites were calling themselves “Socialists”.

The same building worker who had looked forward to wages being abolished went on to suggest that a parliament of the industrious classes should be formed by delegates directly elected from workshops and mills to local assemblies, who in turn would elect delegates to district and a national assembly. The idea was elaborated on in an article in Pioneer, the GNCTU’s official organ, in May 1834 which proposed that the country should be run “according to the will of the trades which composed associations of the industry” – a House of Trades instead of by the House of Commons.

Combined with the old Radical and future Chartist William Benbow’s call in a pamphlet published in 1832, under the title Grand National Holiday and Congress of the Productive Classes,for this to be achieved by a “national holiday”, i.e. in effect a general strike, we have all the elements of what was later called “syndicalism”, when the spread of the wages system to artisans in France 60 years later led to the same reaction.

The GNCTU collapsed after a year or so as it was overwhelmed by the demands on its support in strikes against wage reductions. But its ideas lived on and were reflected in the views of some of those involved in the British section of the IWMA in 1864 and in the Democratic Federation in 1881 which in 1884 became the Social Democratic Federation.

'A Fair Day's Wage'

In the meantime, and in the decades that followed, the trade unions continued to organise workers locally and, where possible, nationally, to protect wages and working conditions. Calls for the “abolition of the wages system” or to end “wage slavery” disappeared in favour of the more prosaic and immediately practicable demand for “A fair day’s a fair day’s work”. In fact, this very slogan was invoked by Thomas Attwood, an MP who supported the Chartists, when he presented the petition for the People's Charter to the House of Commons in June 1839.

Historically, in the competition between the two slogans “Abolish the Wages System” and “A Fair Day's Wage for a Fair Day's Work” the latter won hands down. This was due in large part to the fact that from the 1850s on the trade unions were composed of workers who had never known what it was not to have been a wage worker and so couldn’t easily conceive of what the abolition of the wage system might involve or mean. This is still the case today of course.

Marx and Engels were among those who tried to keep the idea alive. There is the conclusion of Marx’s now well-known lecture to the General Council of the IWMA in London in June 1865 at which most of those attending were prominent London trade unionists. This was not published till 1898 by his daughter Eleanor, 15 years after he had died under the title Value, Price and Profit. Marx ended his talk by urging the working class:

“Instead of the conservativemotto: 'A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!' they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: 'Abolition of the wages system!'“

And proposing a resolution which stated that trade unions

“work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organised forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system. “

In 1881 Engels wrote a series of unsigned articles for the Labour Standard, the paper of the London Trades Council. In these articles he criticised the slogan of “A Fair Day’s Wages for a Fair Day’s Work”; set out what the wages system was and how it meant that workers had been reduced to wage slaves; described the role of trade unions, their limitations as well as their usefulness; and urged workers to aim at the abolition of the wages system.

In one article he wrote, showing his knowledge of working class history in Britain:

“The working class remains what it was, and what our Chartist forefathers were not afraid to call it, a class of wages slaves. Is this to be the final result of all this labour, self-sacrifice, and suffering? Is this to remain for ever the highest aim of British workmen? Or is the working class of this country at last to attempt breaking through this vicious circle, and to find an issue out of it in a movement for the ABOLITION OF THE WAGES SYSTEM ALTOGETHER?”

Engels went into more detail than Marx had done in his talk as to how the wages system could be abolished and what it involved, writing that the old motto of a “Fair Day’s Wage” should be buried and replaced by another:

“Possession of the means of work – raw material, factories, machinery – by the working people themselves.”

And that

“there is no real redemption for the working class until it becomes owner of all the means of work -- land, raw material, machinery, etc. -- and thereby also the owner of THE WHOLE OF THE PRODUCE OF ITS OWN LABOUR. “

In short, by what was also at this time coming to be called “Socialism” – the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production – which would result in the disappearance of the wages system.

So, this is the heritage of the 1830s – the time of the Tolpuddle Martyrs – and which I suggest is still relevant today. By all means, the unions should fight against anti-union laws which hamper their effectiveness to protect and improve the wages and working conditions of their members, but they also ought to realise that this running to stand still is not enough and that (in the words of Engels) “it is not the lowness of wages which forms the fundamental evil, but the wages system itself.”

I’ll finish on a more general, perhaps polemical point. I suggest that the ferment of ideas amongst sections of the working class in Britain in the early 1830s shows that Kautsky was wrong when he said that socialist ideas had had to be brought to workers by “bourgeois intellectuals” and that Lenin was wrong to argue that left to themselves workers can develop only a trade union consciousness.

In the 1830s some workers did develop beyond the mere trade union consciousness of “a fair day’s wage” and did call for the abolition of the wages system through the establishment of “a different order of things” to be achieved by the action of the workers themselves. In fact, this is where the “bourgeois intellectuals” Marx and Engels got the idea from as well as from similar ideas they encountered in Paris in the mid-1840s.



James Connolly : his early life

James Connolly was born on 5 June 1868 at 107 Cowgate, Edinburgh.  He was the third son of John Connolly, a manure carter and Mary McGinn, a domestic servant.  Both his parents came from Ireland and Cowgate and the surrounding area, housing many other Irish migrants in cramped conditions, was widely known as "Little Ireland" (Armstrong 2015).
By the age of 10 James was employed as a "printer's devil" at the Edinburgh Evening News on Fleshmarket Close.  Part of the job entailed clambering under the printing machines to clean the rollers.
Factory inspectors visited however and Connolly was dismissed on account of him being underage.  He then worked first in a bakery, then at W.Hawley & Son's mosaic tile shop at 27 Frederick Street.
Then in 1882 - despite again being underage - he went to England and enlisted with the King's Liverpool Regiment.  He saw service in Ireland but discharged himself early in 1889 when he heard his father was ill.  He returned to Scotland, first to Perth, then to Dundee and then to Edinburgh itself.
He and his new wife Lillie Reynolds lived at five addresses in the capital over the course of the next six years.
Connolly subsequently lost his council job as a carter after standing as a socialist in the St Giles ward.  He then tried his hand as a cobbler.  The shop, at 73 Buccleugh Street, didn't pay.  Now at his wit's end he even contemplated emigrating to Chile.  But in 1896 he got offered a job as a socialist organiser in Dublin instead.  He jumped at the chance!!!
 

JAMES CONNOLLY IN AMERICA
 
In 1902 James Connolly had toured the United States.  There he had lectured on political philosophy and on a range of trade union topics.  In 1903 he returned to Dublin.  However he had a wife and six children to support.  His income was simply not sufficient to make ends meet. So he decided to seek work in America.  He duly set off travelling ahead of his family.  His wife Lillie stayed behind for a time to prepare their children for the voyage.  it was around this time, tragically, that their eldest daughter died in an accident.

On his arrival Connolly moved to Troy, New York (where there is now a statue of him).  He worked for the Metropolitan Insurance Company as a salesman until the recession caused the firm to falter.  He then went to Newark, New Jersey where he got a job with the Singer Sewing Machine Company. 

By this time Connolly's family had joined him and he was heavily involved politically both as a member of the Socialist Labour Party and as an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  The IWW - or the "Wobblies" as they were known - had originally appeared in the Western States, winning recruits amongst "unorganised, semi nomadic lumbermen and miners."  They were, Diggin (1973) says, "tough, boisterous and defiant."  And what they stood for was syndicalism - the belief that completely autonomous unions could lead the masses to socialism.  Connolly did go through a syndicalist phase. Certainly syndicalist sentiments are to the fore in two of his pamphlets, "The Axe to the Root" and "Socialism Made Easy."

His time with the Socialist Labour Party was coming to an end however.  He would in fact leave the SLP after clashing with its leader, the gifted but volatile Marxist Daniel De Leon.  Instead Connolly joined the Socialist Party of America.  It was led by Eugene Debs who would go on to win 900,000 votes as Presidential candidate in 1912.  The Socialist Party was certainly a growing force.  Between 1902 and 1912 its membership jumped from 10,000 to 118,000.  It would, in due course, boast a congressman, 56 mayors, 160 councilmen and 145 aldermen.  These were indeed the "golden years" for socialism in the US.

Connolly was still keeping in touch with events in Ireland however.  The Socialist Party of Ireland had been formed and activists told Connolly they wanted him to come back and be their full time organiser.



*Connolly spoke with an Edinburgh accent to the end of his life.
*He was also a staunch Hibs fan; as a boy he used to ferry the player's kit down to the old Hibernian park in Bothwell Street for sixpence.
 

The Wakefield Socialist History Group is holding an event, JAMES CONNOLLY AND THE EASTER RISING, on Saturday 3 September, 1-4pm at the Red Shed, Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1.
Allan Armstrong is one of the speakers along with Bernie McAdam (Red Flag) and Robin Stocks (author of "The Hidden Heroes of Easter Week").



Remembering women who took part in the Easter Rising

 
Dr Kathleen Lynn
was born in Mullafarry near Killala in Co. Mayo in 1874, the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergyman.
As a young woman she decided on a medical career and - despite many obstacles - managed eventually to set up in General Practice in Dublin in 1904. Kathleen Lynn was radicalised however by the struggle for womens' suffrage and by the 1913 Dublin Lock Out.
Her radicalism was inspired in particular by the likes of Helena Moloney, Constance Markievicz and by James Connolly. It was Connolly himself who, early in 1916, promoted her to the rank of Captain and to be Chief Medical Officer of the Citizen Army.
Connolly, in "The Reconquest of Ireland" (1915), had spoken out on womens' rights asking what use "the re-establishment of any form of Irish state" would be if "it does not embody the emancipation of womanhood." On Easter Monday Kathleen Lynn tended to the first republican casualty Sean Connolly.
Her involvement led to imprisonment but after being released she resumed political activity. In October 1917 Sinn Fein had adopted a republican constitution and Kathleen Lynn was one of four women elected to the executive -
the others were Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke and Grace Gifford Plunkett. She was present at the first meeting of the First Dail Eireann and part of the underground civil government of the republic. She opposed the Treaty and when she was elected republican TD in the 1923 General Election for the Dublin County Constituency she refused to take her seat in the partitionist Free State parliament.
She did serve however on Rathmines Urban Council until 1930. Kathleen Lynn - who died in 1955 - continued with pioneering work at St Ultan's Hospital with infants and with promoting health provision for the poor.
Her partner, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, was also an Irish revolutionary and labour activist.



Was Antonio Gramsci a Socialist ?

Gramsci (1891-1937) was an Italian political activist who was imprisoned by Mussolini’s Fascist regime in 1926 and died while still a captive 10 years later from a combination of illnesses.  He was an undoubtedly courageous figure who fought difficult family circumstances when young to educate himself and became a prolific writer and editor for the emerging left-wing press in Italy in the second and third decade of the 20th century.  He wrote intensively of the need for both workers’ rights and workers’ revolution and actively involved himself in the political action he advocated.  He was a leading member of the foremost left-wing movement, the Italian Socialist Party, until, after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, his disenchantment with what he saw as their over-timid approach led him to become, in 1921, one of the co-founders of the Italian Communist Party, which pledged allegiance to Lenin and the Bolshevik regime.  Then, in 1922-23, he spent a significant period in Russia as delegate to the Communist International (Comintern) and, on his return to Italy, was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and served until his arrest and imprisonment.  Sentenced to 20 years for subversion, he was however able to continue writing in prison, where access to books and the extensive knowledge of history and politics he had accumulated during his years of political activity led him to produce a mass of notes, observations and essays on an astonishingly broad spread of topics, later ordered into what were called the Prison Notebooks. It is largely on these and on the collection of letters he wrote from prison – mainly to family members – that his reputation as a social and political theorist lies.

Gramsci is said, in the Prison Notebooks, to have developed a new and original kind of Marxist sociology, which, over the last half century or so, has engendered a vast range of debate, interpretation and controversy by academics and others - the so-called ‘Gramsci industry’.  One of the key matters debated has been his concept of ‘hegemony’ (‘egemonia’).  This was the term Gramsci used to describe what he saw as the prerequisite for a successful revolution: the building of an ideological consensus throughout all the institutions of society spread by intellectuals who saw the need for revolution and used their ability to persuade and proselytise workers to carry through that revolution.  Only when that process was sufficiently widespread, would successful revolutionary action be possible.  So hegemony was what might be called the social penetration of revolutionary ideas.

This outlook is very different from the fervour with which in earlier years Gramsci had greeted the Russian revolution and advocated similar uprisings in other countries.  By the second half of the 1920s, with Italy ruled by a Fascist dictatorship and opposition leaders exiled or imprisoned, Gramsci came to see revolution as a longer-term prospect which would depend on the conditions existing in individual countries.

And it is this ‘long-term’ idea of revolutionary change that has been interpreted in very many different ways according to the standpoint or political position of the individual commentator.  One way it could be read would seem to tie in closely with the Socialist Party’s view that only through widespread political consciousness on the part of workers and majority consent for social revolution can a society based on the satisfaction of human needs rather than on the profit imperative be established.  In this light Gramsci’s hegemony could be seen to have the profoundly democratic implications of insisting on a widespread and well informed desire among the majority of workers for socialist revolution before such a revolution can come about.  Indeed it is clear that Gramsci was not unaware of Marx’s ‘majoritarian’ view of socialism (or communism – they were interchangeable for Marx) as a stateless, leaderless world where the wages system is abolished and a system of ‘from each according to ability to each according to need’ operates.  In an article written in 1920, for example, Gramsci refers to ‘communist society’ as ‘the International of nations without states’, and later from prison he writes about ‘the disappearance of the state, the absorption of political society into civil society’.  However, though he referred to himself as using ‘the Marxist method’, such reflections on the nature of the society he wished to see established are few and far between and cannot reasonably be said to characterise the mainstream of his thought.

When looked at closely in fact, Gramsci’s thought is overwhelmingly marked by what may be called the coercive element of his Leninist political background.  So, while undoubtedly in his later writings he came to see the Soviet model as inapplicable to other Western societies, he nevertheless continued to conceive of revolution as the taking of power via the leadership of a minority group, even if in different circumstances from those experienced by Lenin in Russia.  The most important pointer to this lies in Gramsci’s view of the state.  Hardly ever does he view socialism other than as a form of state.  The overwhelming thrust of his analysis and his recommendations for political action point not to doing away with states and the class divisions that go with them but to establishing new kinds of states.  In 1919, enthused by the Bolshevik takeover in Russia, Gramsci wrote: ‘Society cannot live without a state: the state is the concrete act of will which guards against the will of the individual, faction, disorder and individual indiscipline ....communism is not against the state, in fact it is implacably opposed to the enemies of the state.’  Later too, in his prison writings, arguing now for a ‘long-term strategy’, he continued to declare the need for states and state organisation, for leaders and led, for governors and governed in the conduct of human affairs – underlined by his frequent use of three terms in particular: ‘direzione’ (leadership), ‘disciplina’ (discipline) and ‘coercizione’ (coercion).

So, despite what Gramsci himself recognised as changed times and circumstances compared with Russia in 1917, he continued to be profoundly influenced by Lenin’s view that ‘if socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least 500 years’ – inother words that genuine majority social consciousness was unachieavable.  And in line with this, when looked at closely his ‘hegemony’, far from eschewing the idea of a revolutionary vanguard, sees an intellectual leadership taking the masses with them.  In other words the ‘consent’ that his hegemony, his long-term penetration of ideas, proposes is not the informed consent of a convinced socialist majority but an awakening of what, at one point he refers to as ‘popular passions’, a spontaneous spilling over of revolutionary enthusiasm which enables the leadership to take the masses with them and then govern in the way they think best.

Underpinning this lack of confidence by Gramsci in the ability of a majority to self-organise is a factor little commented on but particularly significant – and that is his view of what may be called ‘human nature’.  In writing explicitly about human nature, which Gramsci does on a number of occasions, he expresses agreement with Marx’s view that human nature is not something innate, fixed and unchanging, not something homogeneous for all people in all times but something that changes historically and is inseparable from ideas in society at a given time.  This view of humanity is in fact described by Gramsci as ‘the great innovation of Marxism’ and he contrasts it favourably with other widely held early 20th century views such as the Catholic dogma of original sin and the ‘idealist’ position that human nature was identical at all times and undeveloping.  But despite Gramsci’s stated ‘theoretical’ view on this topic, scrutiny of his writings in places where ‘human nature’ is not raised explicitly but is rather present in an implicit way points his thought in a different more pessimistic direction.  When he writes about education, for example, his pronouncements about the need for ‘coercion’ indicate little confidence in the ability of human beings to behave fundamentally differently or adaptably change their ‘nature’ in a different social environment.  In corresponding with his wife about the education of their children, in response to her view that, if children are left to interact with the environment and the environment is non-oppressive, they will develop co-operative forms of behaviour, he states ‘I think that man is a historical formation but one obtained through coercion’ and implies that without coercion undesirable behaviour will result.  Then, in the Prison Notebooks, on a similar topic he writes: ‘Education is a struggle against the instincts which are tied to our elementary biological functions, it is a struggle against nature itself.’  What surfaces here as in other places, even if not stated explicitly, is a view of human nature not as the exclusive product of history but as characterised by some kind of inherent propensity towards anti-social forms of behaviour which needs to be coerced, to be tamed.

Viewed in this light, Gramsci’s vision of post-revolutionary society as a place where human beings will continue to need leadership and coercion should not be seen either as being in contradiction with his theory of ideological penetration (‘hegemony’) or as inconsistent with the views that emerge about human nature when his writings do not explicitly focus on that subject.  So we should not be surprised that Gramsci’s vision for the future is not a society of free access and democratic control where people organise themselves freely and collectively as a majority but rather a change from one form of minority authority to another – a change from a system of the few manifestly governing in their own interests to the few claiming to govern in the interests of the majority.

The evidence of Gramsci’s writings therefore suggests that the revolution he envisages is not one in which democracy in the sense of each participating with equal understanding and equal authority prevails.  Crucially, the leadership function is not abolished.  The hegemonisers will essentially be in charge, since they will be the ones with the necessary understanding to run the society they have conceived.  What this society might be like he does not go on to say in any detail.  But it would clearly not be a socialist world of free access and democratic control that rejects authority from above together with its political expression, the state.  For Gramsci any such considerations were at best peripheral to the thrust of his thought and his social vision.  And though he did have a revolutionary project, it is not a socialist one in the terms that socialism is correctly understood.

Howard Moss




BURNS EVENT
 
Contemporary radical poetry is alive and well – and it is great to have Neil Fulwood here today.
And there is a great tradition of radical poetry and Bob Mitchell is going to talk in particular about Irish poets.
In terms of radical poets who have inspired myself I think of T.E. Nicholas, the people’s poet.  Brought up on a Pembrokeshire Hill Farm.  He was a Minister.  He was in the ILP (he spoke at Hardie’s funeral). The he joined the CP.  And he said he saw no clash between the teachings of the Gospel and those of Marx.
I think of R.S. Thomas,  a vicar in rural Wales…a Welsh republican who upset Fleet Street by defending the Sons of Glendwr and saying what is the burning of a few holiday cottages against the destruction of the welsh language, culture and nation….His poem “Eighteenth Birthday” is perhaps my favourite poem.
 I think of the pugnacious Hugh MacDiarmid…someone who could start a fight in an empty Glasgow phone box……a socialist who backed Scottish independence..and about the only person to join rather than leave the CP in 1956 …read his epic poem A DRUNK MAN LOOKS AT THE THISTLE.
Of Langston Hughes in the U.S. Part of the Harlem Renissance.  Poems that portrayed the lives of working class black people in a deeply racist America.
And of Adrian Mitchell, the poet of the anti-nuclear movement, here in England.  Made shadow poet laureate by Red Pepper magazine.
And today in Scotland we have a Scots Makar – our own poet laureate - Liz Lockhead.
But of course Wednesday was Burns Night….it goes without saying that Burns is a key inspiration for myself as a republican socialist.  And what I want to do is talk about and seek to reclaim the real Burns..the radical Burns.. the republican Burns.
But first a little – the bare essentials - about the life of Robert Burns himself in a sort of chronological order…
Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 in a cottage built by his father William Burness, a gardener turned farmer, in the village of Alloway, a couple miles from Ayr.
Robert’s first schooling was at Alloway Mill.  Later his father combined with a few neighbours to have a tutor, a Mr Murdoch, teach Robert and a few other children.
Bear in mind that compulsory school education was not introduced until 1876.  Schooling wasn’t free until 1891, so it could be said that Burns had a much better education than most lads.  And certainly Burns appreciated this…early on he developed a keen interest in reading.
…….
In 1776 the family moved from Alloway to a farm at Mount Oliphant..a few miles south east.  There they faced years of unending toil and enduring poverty.
This got worse when the landlord died.
As Geddes put it in his book, the family now found themselves “under the tyranny of a scoundrel factor.”
Eventually in 1777 they broke free of his clutches and moved onto a larger farm.  It was at Lochlea near Tarbolton.  It had 130 acres and it appeared more promising.  However Geddes says the farm itself was bleak and bare.
…….
Robert Burns was at least able – at this juncture - to enjoy himself at the Batchelors Club.  He and his brother Gilbert helped found it in Tarbolton in 1870.
There members met, Geddes says, to forget their cares in “myth and diversion.”  The chief diversion appears to have been debate, something Burns particularly enjoyed.
Now Burns did move to Irvine for a while in 1781.  He intended to be a “flax-dresser.”  However the premises he was going to be based in caught fire.
Burns returned to Lochlea to find his father on his death bed.
(His father was subsequently buried back in Alloway Kirk)
Robert, Gilbert and their widowed mother moved to a farm at Mossgiel near Mauchline.  The rent was £90 a year.  Less than Lochlea.  The first year however Burns bought bad seed.  The second year there was a late harvest.  Geddes says he lost half his crops.
Burns was now at a low ebb.  Really low.  He even contemplated emigrating to the West Indies!
Why didn’t he go in the end?  What changed his mind?
What changed his mind was the publication of his first collection of poems..POEMS CHIEFLY IN THE SCOTTISH DIALECT.
It appeared in 1786.  It was known as the Kilmarnock Edition.
It included poems such as “To A Mouse” and “The Cottar’s Saturday Night.”
It was an immediate success and Burns spent some time in Edinburgh enjoying the acclaim.
On his return from the capital he married Jean Armour and took on the tenancy of Ellisland Farm, 6 miles north of Dumfries.
He hoped to use the latest agricultural methods to make a better living.  And he hoped to provide for his growing family.
During his stay at Ellisland he wrote over a hundred poems and songs…including “Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon and “Auld Lang Syne.”  He also trained as an exciseman as a back up if the farm failed.
He described is a “a poet’s choice of farm.”  He found inspiration there. 
But again it was stony, infertile and badly drained. 
He switched from arable to dairy farming.
But when he secured an exciseman’s post he decided to dispose of the farm altogether and move to Dumfries.
His first home there, until 1793, was in Wee Vennell.  They then relocated to a house in Mill Vennell, now known as Burns Street, at the south end of the High Street.
His literary output remained prodigious.
Tam O’Shanter/My Nannie’s Awa/Ae Fond Kiss…
But there were troubles also.
*Rumours abounded about his drinking –he was said to frequent places like the Globe Tavern and the delightfully named Hole in the Wall
*And he was in trouble also for his political views.  It led to an official enquiry by the Board of Excise and for a time it looked like he might lose his job ---more of that in a minute.
*And then there was his declining health.  Years of toil and poor conditions had taken their toll.  He even tried sea bathing as a recommended cure for his poor health.  But he tragically died in 1796 from endocartis, the effects of rheumatism on the heart.
*He is buried in Dumfries..in St Michael’s Churchyard.
….
These then are the essentials of Burns’ life.
But I want to talk for a few minutes about the economic context.  The social context.  And I want to talk above all about the political Burns, the radical Burns, the republican Burns about which we hear so little.
First there is the economic context. And I am aware that Bob is going to speak of this in an Irish context – with regard to radical Irish poets.
The point here is that Burns and his family tried unsuccessfully to make a living out of a series of unprofitable holdings.  But in his article – in the AWL paper Solidarity - Burton notes that this was an age of rural change.  Peasants were finding themselves unable to maintain their debt bondage to landowners.  Many farms were failing and peasants were being squeezed out.
So there was an Agricultural Revolution.  But Burton notes that the poetry of Burns was the product of Scottish Enlightenment in an age of political revolutions.  Those two main political revolutions were first the American  and then the French revolution.
The American Revolution of 1776-83 had been closely followed by the Scottish public. It read coverage in a booming popular press.  And when Britain was eventually defeated in 1783 the Scots came to see the newly emerging United States – for all its faults - as an example of how a more socially progressive society could be built.
And Burns’ A Man’s a Man for a’ that’ would encapsulated in verse the ideas that one English born American Revolutionary Thomas Paine had articulated in his Rights of Man.
….And see his “Ode to George Washington’s Birthday” with its call to Caledonia to emulate Columbia!  Burns apparently sought to toast Washington at an event saying he was a “greater and better man than Pitt.”
*Then of course there was the French Revolution of 1789.  It demonstrated that the status quo could be challenged and changed.  More people could share in power.  And Constitutions – in France as in America - could be drawn up by men rather than, as was previously claimed, handed down by God.
Radicals in Scotland were again inspired by all this.  Liberty Trees, a French revolutionary symbol, were planted across Scotland on market crosses.
The Friends of the People – radical reformers - called a Conference in Edinburgh.  Burns sympathised with their aims and he published “Scots Wha Hae” anonymously to coincide with the subsequent trial of the Friends of the People leader Thomas Muir.
“Scots Wha Hae” was also full of references to the French Revolution.  The last line “let us do or die” comes for instance from the famous Tennis Court Oath made during the Revolution itself.
SO TO CONCLUDE..
There can be little doubt that Burns was a radical republican.
Interestingly Professor Robert Crawford of St Andrews University produced a new biography of Burns.  He had unearthed a private journal of a certain James McDonald….a friend and contemporary of Burns in Dumfries.  McDonald wrote in the journal of both Burns and himself being “staunch republicans.”
There is other evidence.
*Burns was accused of having joined in a rendition of a French Revolutionary song Ca Ira in a Dumfries Theatre.
*He wrote approvingly of the “deserved fate” of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
*He tried to send four carronades to the French Assembly.  He’d bought them at a sale of the smugglers ship, the Rosamond, that he’d helped seize in his role as an exciseman.  He nearly got the sack for all this, but he was let off and told to be “silent and obedient in future.”
What Burns did instead was link up with underground publishing networks and get his poems and articles published anonymously in Edinburgh and London.
Poems like..
SCOTS WHA HAE…full of radical codewords.
A SCOTIAN MUSE..a poem about the injustice of the sentences handed out to Thomas Muir and Thomas Palmer
A MAN’S A MAN FOR A’ THAT…a poem that had sentiments the state could see as seditious.
Its coming yet for a’ that
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that
…..Lines from the poem..
Also the last words said by Karl Liebknecht, the German revolutionary before he was shot…

And of course there are other political poems.
HOLY WILLIE’S PRAYER attacks Calvinist ideas and religious cant.
IN ADDRESS TO BEELZEBUB deals with the Highland Clearances.
WHY SHOULDNA POOR FOLK Mo was written against the background of a national seamen’s strike.
……
After Burns died  the ruling class, the state, the establishment, the church..continued to demonise him.
When that failed they tried to sanitise his work.
Then they tried to distort his ideas and to put them to the service of the Empire.
I will finish by saying..
Today let’s reclaim and remember the true Burns..
Burns the radical, Burns the revolutionary, Burns the republican!
 
Alan Stewart



Links to other working class history websites

Ford-Maguire Society  - A sister organisation in Leeds.  Some of their members have spoken at our events in Wakefield.
 
Independent Working Class Education Network



This page last updated : 26th Feb. 2017

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