Posts Tagged ‘‘1848: Year of Revolution’’

Minister’s Mock Funeral in 1848 – Time for a Revival for Iain Duncan Smith?

June 12, 2014

1848 Book

I’ve been reading Mike Rapport’s book, 1848 – Year of Revolution (London: Little, Brown & Co 2008). This is about the ‘year of revolutions’, which saw uprisings against the old, Conservative orders and empires break out across Europe, in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Frankfurt, Milan, Venice, Prague, Krakow, Budapest and Galicia. Liberals and Democrats rose up in the hope of establishing more representative electoral systems, a wider franchise, or the abolition of the monarchies altogether. German and Italian Nationalists attempted to create a united Germany and Italy out of the various independent states in which their nations were separated, while Polish, Czech, Slovak, Magyar, Romanian, Serb and Croat nationalists attempted to forge their own states with a greater or lesser degree of autonomy and independence. This was also the year of the publication of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, when Europe was indeed haunted by workers’ protests and uprisings against the grinding poverty and squalor of the new, industrial age. These revolutions ultimately failed because of the contradictory demands and aspirations of the various groups involved, which then clashed with each other, allowing the conservatives to reassert themselves. It’s a gripping book, and I intend to give it a fuller review when I’ve read it.

I found an interesting piece of political theatre in the description of the workers’ protests against the return of the Emperor Ferdinand to Vienna on the 21st August 1848. The city, like many of the other revolutionary centres elsewhere, was suffering from economic depression, and a programme of public works had been put into practice to provide jobs for the unemployed. There was, however, pressure on the government to close them down in order to save money. The government chose instead to cut wages for those employed on them. The result was a workers’ demonstration through the suburbs on the 21st. The next day, the workers built an effigy of the minister for public works, and held a mock funeral for it. They declared that he had choked to death on the money he had taken from the unemployed. This unrest finally culminated in armed conflict between the workers and the National Guard on the 23rd, which saw the protest quashed.

The bitterly ironic declaration that the minister had choked to death on the money extracted from the unemployed could equally be applied to Iain Duncan Smith and the rest of the Tory and Tory Democrat coalition. After all, IDS and his fellows, Mike Penning and Esther McVey, have similarly provided over a system of public works, though one intended to give the illusion only of providing work. The wages for those on workfare is similarly smaller than that for ordinary work: it’s simply the claimant’s jobseekers’ allowance. And all this has been inflicted on the unemployed partly under the rationale that it is sound fiscal policy and balancing the budget.

So I think that the next time there’s a demonstration against IDS, Osbo, Cameron and the rest of them, it would be more than fitting for a mock funeral to be held for them. There is, however, one difference: IDS may not have choked to death on the money he’s extracted from the unemployed, the poor, and disabled, but too many of them have been killed for the governments’ savings. About 220 per week, or three every four hours. This should be more than enough to bury him politically.

Mazzini’s Reply to the Today’s Cynicism about Democracy’s Founders

May 31, 2014

Giuseppe Mazzini

There’s considerable cynicism today about politics and the effectiveness of voting. Some of this is justifiable to a certain extent, coming from the fact that all three of the main political parties – Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives – have embraced Thatcherite neoliberalism to a greater or lesser extent. So much so, that many people cannot see any real difference between them, and so despair of there being any effective change in policy. As a result, they either don’t vote, or else vote for UKIP. The Kippers present themselves as being qualitatively different from the Liblabcons as they put it, but are in fact merely the extreme Eurosceptic Tory Right which has somehow managed to find a largely Left-leaning working class constituency.

Apart from this, there is a facile cynicism about democratic politics, expressed in sneers at the motives of the people who fought and died for modern citizens – Britain, Europe and indeed across the globe – to have the vote. They are seen as acting purely in their own interest, not that of succeeding generations. You sometimes see the comment posted up on the web and made elsewhere at elections that ‘They fought for themselves to get the vote, not for me’.

T’ain’t true, as the great Italian patriot, revolutionary and democrat Giuseppe Mazzini made clear. Mazzini was an early 19th century Italian nationalist, who wanted to see the Austrian Empire expelled from the peninsula, and its multitude of states united into a liberal, democratic Italian nation. Although a patriot, he also believed firmly in the brotherhood of humanity, and from the middle of the 1830s used ‘nationalist’ as a term of abuse. He ultimately wanted a federation of peaceful, free, sovereign states. He declared although it was necessary to struggle for national freedom against foreign oppression, patriotism should be no obstacle to ‘the brotherhood of peoples which is our one overriding aim’.

He was also very much aware that democratic revolutions and uprisings could and did fail before their ideals would be victorious. Nevertheless, the ideas that motivated the revolutionaries would continue to develop and spread even when the revolutionaries themselves had been cut down. He believed that the next revolution would see the triumph of freedom and democracy in Italy and Europe, and looked to future generations for their fulfilment. In 1839 he wrote that modern revolutionaries ‘labour less for the generation that lives around them than for the generation to come; the triumph of the ideas that they cast on the world is slow, but assured and decisive.’ (Mike Rapport, 1848: Year of Revolution (Little, Brown 2008) 18).

So you have it from the mouth, or the pen, of one of the great architects of modern European democracy itself: the revolutionaries did not fight and die merely for themselves, but for us.

Cynicism about the increasingly identikit nature of the parties will only change when they do, and that will mean long, hard work by activists or the victory of genuinely alternative parties, like the Greens, Socialist Party or TUSC. The facile cynicism about the motives of the 19th century founders of democracy can be combatted by showing the words of the revolutionaries themselves, people like Mazzini, who looked to future generations to fulfil their dream of a world of peace, democracy and international brotherhood. Let’s do our best to honour their vision and sacrifice.