Posts Tagged ‘Tom Paine’

Smith Snipes at Corbyn from the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

July 27, 2016

Smudger must be on the rocks, and seriously rattled. Mike today posted up a piece reporting that the Pontypridd Pratt was in the Mirror, claiming that Corbyn did not understand British, that is, Scots, Welsh and English patriotism. Instead, he claimed that he had a ‘liberal’, left-wing, ‘metropolitan’ perspective that is not part of the Labour tradition. By which Smiffy means that ‘nationhood, nationalism and patriotism aren’t really part of his makeup.’

Someone once said that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. And someone else declared that patriotism was the position of the man, who had nothing else to say. Corbyn is massively more popular than Smudger, and so Smiffy is revealed for what he is – an empty politico sniping at his rival from a last, desperate fallback position, trying to bang the nationalist drum to oust someone, who is both more popular and who has much more substance politically.

Corbyn’s Genuinely Patriotic Policies

Mike also points out that it’s not fair on Corbyn to claim that he’s unpatriotic, and includes a meme to show how patriotic he is. This is through real, substantial policies that will make a positive difference to the welfare of the country and its great peoples. It is not through empty gestures, like grovelling deference to the monarchy, or standing with your shoulders back, and your tie straight to sing the national anthem, as the departing, unlamented former occupant of No 10 told him.

Corbyn wants UK utilities to be owned by the British people through the British state. This is patriotic. Profits made in the UK, should be taxed for the benefit of the British people. Patriotic. British men and women should not be sent to fight in illegal wars. Hence his opposition to the bombing of Syria. This is, again, patriotic. It shows a concern for Britain’s children, her sons and daughters, who have to do the duty of fighting and dying. It is also patriotic in the sense that it is concerned with upholding morality and the British tradition of fair play. He believes in protecting British Steel. Patriotic. He does not want British companies to be taken over by US or other foreign firms. Patriotic. He wants to stop the privatisation of the NHS, so that it is run for the benefit of British patients, not US corporations. Very patriotic. And lastly, he feels that British trade should benefit us Brits, so he will veto the TTIP. Again, patriotic.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/on-jeremy-corbyns-patriotism-owen-smith-has-given-himself-another-shot-in-the-foot/

Tories and the Right Unpatriotic in Selling Off Britain

Jeremy Corbyn is thus, in terms of policy, far more patriotic than the Right. Thanks to Thatcherite neoliberalism and the craze for foreign investment, our utilities are in the hands of foreign countries, as is much of our industry, including the City of London, so dear to the heart of Thatcher, Cameron and the rest of the Tories, including Tony Blair and New Labour. Cameron wanted British nuclear power stations built by the Chinese, as well as new roads. The privatisation of the health service carried out by Blair and Cameron has been at the behest and benefit of American firms such as Unum and Kaiser Medical. Atos, who administered the work capability assessment, was French. Maximus, who have replaced them, are American. And the mega rich, who make their profits over here, are squirreling them all away offshore in places like the Cayman Islands or Luxemburg.

By this standard, the neoliberal administrations Smiffy admires – Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron, are definitely unpatriotic. In fact, downright treasonous. But they got away with it because, following Thatcher, the Tory party became the Patriotic Party. You couldn’t get away from her and her chorus of sycophants yakking about patriotism. She was bolstered in this through her use of the symbolism surrounding Winston Churchill, the Second World War, and indeed through her unrestrained militarism. She had to be patriotic, ’cause we won the Falklands War. Well, just about, thanks to the Americans and Chileans. See, there’s another invocation of Winston Churchill, the great war leader and iconographic figure of British patriotism and pluck under foreign aggression. And then there was all the images of Spitfires racing across the skies in the 1987 general election. This was so blatant that Alan Coren dubbed it ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’ on the News Quiz on Radio 4.

And even there, Thatcher’s patriotism was much less than it seemed. She sold off Westland Helicopters here in the West Country to the Americans. She made massive cuts to the armed forces. The Falklands War was partly caused by the ship defending the islands being recalled by her defence minister, John Nott. The Argentinians seized their chance, and invaded. Then there were the celebrations in the Tory right over 1992, and the closer integration with Europe that came about in that year. That was being celebrated and anticipated even under Thatcher. I can remember that in the late 1980s, a wine bar opened on the Promenade in Cheltenham with that very date as its name: 1992. Denis Skinner in his autobiography makes the point that Thatcher was far less Eurosceptic than she appeared to be. Skinner also supports us leaving the European Union, but for left-wing reasons, rather than those of the ‘turbo-charged’ Tories, Nigel Farage and the rest of UKIP. He points out that while she constantly wrangled with them over our contribution to the EU budget, she never actually threatened to leave. And it was Ted Heath, who took us in. And then in the 1990s there was all the fuss about ‘globalisation’, which meant that capital became international, and the nation state was to be gradually dissolved as more companies established themselves around the world.

So by the standards of economic policies and the practical effects of their ideologies, the Tories weren’t patriots. They advocated selling Britain and its people off to whoever would give them money. They convinced millions of impressionable voters that they were doing the opposite through manipulating the pageantry of the monarchy and the iconography of the Second World War.

Why Socialists Distrust Patriotism

But let’s examine the wider problems of Smiffy’s criticism of Corbyn’s alleged indifference to ‘patriotism’.

Firstly, a supposed ‘liberal’, ‘left-wing’ indifference to patriotism and nationalism is very much a part of the Labour tradition. Or at least, parts of it. In line with the rest of the European Socialist parties, many members of the Labour party opposed the wars between European powers in the 19th century, because it was felt – and not just by Marxists – that the working class of all nations had more in common with each other than with their rulers in the middle and upper classes. Socialists from all over Europe objected to the prospect of a war in Europe, because they felt that it would be carried out for the profit of the industrialists and the feudal aristocracy. This was shattered when the First World War broke out, and most of the Socialist parties showed themselves only too eager to vote war credits in support of the conflagration. But individual Socialists, including members of the Labour party, did protest against it, along with their counterparts in France and the German SPD.

Looking along the magazine racks in the newsagents in Bristol’s Temple Meads Station last Friday, I found among the current affairs magazines the New Internationalist. I can remember copies of that lying around my sixth form common room when I was at school. From what I remember, it’s another left-liberal magazine devoted to international social justice, particularly in the Developing Nations. Back in the 1980s, it was firmly behind the Greenham Women. I also seem to recall one of Paul Weller’s songs having the refrain, ‘Internationalists’, although I can’t remember which one.

British patriotism has also been intimately connected to imperialism. From the 19th century one of the holidays celebrated was ‘Empire Day’. David Dimbleby in one edition of his art history series, The Seven Ages of Britain, dug out a Victorian children’s book called, The ABC for Baby Patriots. Under ‘E’, the book had ‘Empire’, for wherever the British citizen went, they would be safe and free. Except for the indigenes, who were expected to work for us. While that book expressed the attitude of the imperialists, the Labour Party in the 1920s passed resolutions committing itself to giving the colonies their independence. I even found it discussed in the autobiography of another Labour politician from that period, called Benn, though I don’t know if there was a connection to Tony. This particular Benn made it very clear he stood for granting the peoples of the British Empire the right to run their own countries. And George Orwell came to Socialism through his hatred of imperialism.

Smiffy also claims that working class patriotism is often socially conservative. He’s right, which is why so many left-wingers have been intensely suspicious of it. The national symbols it embraces are those of the ruling classes, such as the monarchy, the stately homes of the rich and powerful, and so forth. In the 1960s there was considerable controversy over a history programme called The World We Have Lost. Or rather, over its title. Some historians objected to it because it expressed a nostalgic support for the good old days of aristocratic rule, when proles and tradesmen knew their place. This kind of patriotism is bound up with Michael Gove’s view of history – that it should all be very Conservative, patriotic, and reinforce Tory values.

And what really worries left-wingers is the racism that can lurk underneath this kind of patriotism. Alf Garnett was a parody of working class Conservatives, people with dirty, broken windows, living in poverty, for whom the Tories had done absolutely nothing, but nevertheless doggedly supported them. As well as generally reactionary and ignorant, Garnett was virulently racist. Johnny Speight, the writer, intended the character to show up and lampoon that aspect of Conservativism. But he was dismayed by the failure of many viewers to see the joke, and there were all too many ready to agree with him about non-White immigration.

London is a multicultural world city, far more so than much of the rest of the country, although many cities nevertheless may have sizable populations of ethnic minorities. I feel uneasy when Smudger attacks Corbyn for being ‘too metropolitan’, because it suggests that he thinks Labour should reflect the growing racism and xenophobia of the Brexit campaign. One of the criticisms the political scientist Guy Standing makes of New Labour in his book, A Precariat Charter, is that they did try to harness the growing resentment of immigrants by pushing policies that increasingly denied them their rights, such as to welfare benefits and employment legislation. Smudger’s a New Labour neoliberal, and it seems to me that with his attack on Corbyn for his ‘metropolitan’ attitudes to patriotism, there’s a concealed racism and determinism to inflict more precarity on refugees and asylum seekers, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Patriotism and Working Class Culture

But patriotism can also include left-wing elements, which would no doubt also horrify Smiff. If you think of Wales, for example, there’s not only Owen Glendower, and medieval Welsh kings like Hywel Dda, there’s also the images of working class radicalism – the Welsh miners, and their leaders like Nye Bevan. Scotland has Red Clydeside, Devon in England the Tolpuddle Martyrs, without forgetting the Yorkshire Miners. These are also part of British nationalism and national identity, along with heroes like Tom Paine, Thomas Spence, Keir Hardie, Feargus O’Connor and the Chartists, and other heroes and heroines of working and lower middle class history. The British folk revival of the 1950s was inspired by Black American blues music, much of which had been collected by researchers as part of F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. British musicians and musicologists began exploring their own traditional music, to find the traditional British counterparts to this American working class music. And it exists. Paine’s The Rights of Man was celebrated in song in the 18th century, and it can be found in sheet music even now. Thomas Spence and the Chartists also composed songs to put their message across. Chumbawumba did a version of at least one of these songs a little while ago. It’s on the Net, if you care to look. This is all part of our national identity and culture, but one which I suspect Smiffy isn’t easy with, and which Thatcher and the Tories positively wanted to suppress or dismiss. But these heroes and heroines did inspire Clement Atlee’s Labour party, when they one the 1945 election, and introduced the welfare state.

Conclusion

Smith’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn and patriotism are therefore both wrong, and potentially dangerous. Corbyn is patriotic in the matter that counts – doing your political duty to improve the lives of one’s fellow citizens. Thatcher and the neoliberals betrayed the British people, plunging them into poverty and selling off Britain, all while maintaining the illusion of British imperial power, and maintaining and expanding their class privileges. And Britain also has a rich, working class traditional culture, that also forms part of our national identity, in opposition to the approved culture promoted by Gove. And when Labour members and supporters were critical and uncomfortable with nationalism and patriotism, it’s because it all too often leads to imperialism and racism. A racism that it seems Smudger would like to harness once again, as part of New Labour policy.

A few years ago, Lobster published a unique and fascinating article by a southern Irish Roman Catholic Ulster Unionist. This particular contributor wanted working class radicals from both the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities to unite to do something positive for the working people of Northern Ireland as a whole, regardless of their faith or national loyalties. The piece also criticised Tony Blair for embracing the politics of culture. The author explained that this was dangerous, because in Ireland it usually meant there was a man with a gun behind it. It was a danger then, and I don’t think the danger has disappeared in the decade or so since that piece was written. And it shows how dangerous nationalism and patriotism can be at their most extreme.

The Chartists’ Shops to Punish Opposing Shopkeepers

April 25, 2016

I spent this weekend reading up on the Chartists. This was the early 19th century movement, which roughly ran for the decade between 1837 and 1848, which campaigned for the vote for every working man. There were also female Chartist organisations, and some Chartists were so radical as to wish to extend the franchise to women. It had a very mixed membership ideologically. Some were Socialists, others supporters of Free Trade. Some wanted the repeal of the Corn Law, while some were for keeping them. Many were against the New Poor Law and the Workhouses, but some, like Francis Place, supported it. There were Christian Chartists and atheist Chartists. Some, like Richard Oastler, were Tories, others Liberal. It has been regarded as a kind of early Labour party. This view has since been challenged, but certainly the Labour party politicians, who won the 1945 General Election saw themselves very much as part of the same tradition of working class political radicalism, and the contemporary heirs of the Chartists, as well as Tom Paine, the author of the Rights of Man.

Some Chartists believed, like Marx, that ‘the emancipation of the working class should be the task of the working class’, and wished to avoid contaminating the movement with contacts with the middle classes, who they felt would betray them. Nevertheless, the movement did have many middle class supporters, including Anglican priests, Nonconformist ministers, factory masters, and so on. One of the tactics the Chartists used, which I found particularly interesting, was that they opened shops to compete with and punish those shopkeepers that opposed the extension of the franchise to the hoi polloi.

The British working and lower middle classes are again becoming disenfranchised in the 21st century. And some of this is through the tactics used by the rich supermarkets to drive the small shopkeeper out of business, screw their suppliers, and drive down wages for employees. Quite apart from the various businesses that exploit unpaid workers under the ‘workfare’ system.

I think it would be superb if someone could come up with a similar system of shops to compete and punish these businesses, but I’m not sure how it could be done at a time of depression, when 4.7 million of us are in ‘food poverty’, and the trade unions are fighting for survival. The anarchists have tried similarly tactics, and these generally have failed. But perhaps there is a way. If there is, then it’s one I’d like to see pursued.

Tunes for Toilers: A Political Christmas Carol, Part 2

May 26, 2014

Peterloo Massacre

George Cruikshank’s Cartoon, Manchester Heroes, attacking the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

Yesterday I put up the sheet music to the 19th century ballad, A Political Christmas Carol, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noted the words when copying down the tune, so I had little idea of what it was actually about. Jess has kindly filled me in on this, pointing out that it’s by the radical journalist, William Hone. It attacks Lord Castlereagh, the prime minister responsible for the Peterloo Massacre, in which a crowd gathered to listen to the radical politician, ‘Orator’ Hunt, were charged by the a group of Hussars as a seditious mob. It also prompted Shelley to write his bitter attack on Castlereagh and the Conservative social order, The Mask of Anarchy. She states

You are almost certainly referring to this piece by William Hone, published, with an illustration by George Cruikshank, in 1820

“God rest you, merry Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember we were left alive,
Upon last Christmas day,
With both our lips at liberty
To praise Lord C———h
With his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!

He ‘turn’d his back upon himself’
And straight to ‘Lunnun’ came,
To two two-sided Lawyers
With tidings of the same,
That our own land must ‘prostrate stand’
Unless we praise his name –
For his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!
‘Go fear not’ said his L——p
‘Let nothing you affright
‘Go draw your quills, and draw five Bills,
‘Put out yon blaze of light;
‘I’m able to advance you,
‘Go stamp it out then quite –
‘And give me some “features” of joy!’

The Lawyers at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their friends a staring
To go and raise the wind,
And straight went to the Taxing-men
And said ‘the Bills come find –
‘For “fundamental” comfort and joy!’

The Lawyers found majorities
To do as they did say,
They found them at their mangers
Like oxens at their hay,
Some lying, and some kneeling down,
All to L—d C———h
For his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!

With sudden joy and gladness
Rat G-ff—d was beguiled,
They each sat at his L——p’s side,
He patted them and smiled;
Yet C-pl-y on his nether end,
Sat like a new born Child, ­-
But without either comfort or joy!

He thought upon his Father,
His virtues, and his fame,
And how that father hoped from him
From glory to his name,
And, as his chin dropp’d on his breast,
His pale cheeks burn’d with shame: –
He’ll never more know comfort or joy!

Lord C———h doth rule yon House,
And all who there do reign;
They’ve let us live this Christmas time –
D’ye think they will again?
They say they are our masters –
That’s neither here, nor there:
God send us all a happy new year!”

Also cited here
http://ruthmather.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/a-political-christmas-carol/
From Roy’s book

It is directed against Castlereagh, the target of Shelley’s ‘I ‘Mask of Anarchy’, and the butt of countless contemporary radical poets.

“The Mask of Anarchy
(Written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester.)
“As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

I met Murder on the way—
He had a mask like Castlereagh—
Very smooth he looked, yet grim ;
Seven blood-hounds followed him :

All were fat ; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Lord Eldon, an ermined gown ;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.”
……..
http://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/Classic%20Poems/Shelley/the_mask_of_anarchy.htm

Castlereagh’s part in Lord Liverpool’s administration, along with Sidmouth, made him universally loathed.

Twenty years later Chartists would denounce the regime that gave the country Peterloo and Oliver the Spy. So hated was the government of the time that several armed insurrections were attempted, Spa Fields in 1817, Scotland’s Radical Rising of 1820 (and associated attempts in Lancashire and Yorkshire) along with Cato Street the same year

Shelley, incidentally, was an occasional customer of Clio Rickman, bookseller, printer, radical and close friend of Paine mentioned elsewhere.

Hone and Rickman frequented similar circles, though Rickman was also closer to the various Spenceans in his neighbourhood, forming business partnerships with them occasionally to publish radical ditties.

I might also add that Rickman printed and edited the second, expanded edition, of the first identifiably radical songbook.in 1798.

So, this is another ballad to remember and hum the next time an innocent person is killed or injured by the police, heavy-handedly trying to control a crowd of protesters. Especially as Boris Johnson is now trying to purchase those three water cannon from the Germans. They also suffered massive radical demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s after a left-wing demonstrator was killed by one.

Cato Street is, from what I can remember, also quite significant from the point of view of Black history. One of the conspirators caught drilling on Spital Fields and prosecuted for preparing to take in an uprising against the government was the mixed-raced son of a West Indian planter and one of his slaves. I’m afraid I really can’t remember the man’s name, but apart from his involvement with the radical Spenceans he had launched a huge debate in the press about the morality of slavery as he denounced the system, which had allowed his father to exploit his mother. I believe he’s one of the Black lives covered in Gretchen Herzen’s book on the history and lives of Black Brits before the abolition slavery, Black England: Life Before Emancipation.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator

May 22, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Over the past few days I’ve been posting the sheet music to various radical folk tunes and songs as examples of the long tradition of working class radical popular music and poetry. On Tuesday I posted the music from Robin Williamson’s collection of British fiddle tunes for ‘The Rights of Man’ hornpipe, celebrating the work of the 18th century American revolutionary, Tom Paine, who was born in Thetford. Yesterday I put up ‘The New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England, which I assume attacked the establishment of the workhouses in 1832 by the new Liberal government. Today it’s the turn of ‘The Agitator’, again from Palmer’s book. As with yesterday’s tune, I’m afraid I didn’t note the words at the time. The title suggests it comes from the early 19th century during the period of intense Chartist agitation, when working men campaigned for the extension of the franchise to all men over 21 and the reform of parliament so that working men could enter it. There were two aspects to the campaign. One consisted of peaceful meetings and the compilation of petitions to parliament. Much less peaceful were the ‘physical force’ Chartists, who saw revolution as the only solution to the problem of creating democracy in England. Here’s the tune.

Agitator Tune

As with the ‘New Poor Law and the Farmer’s Glory’, this issue is still very relevant today. There is still a problem with the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in parliament. Despite the introduction of equal suffrage and the payment of MPs, parliament is still dominated by the upper and middle classes, who have increasingly turned away from working class and very much legislate in their own interests. The aristocratic background of Cameron and Clegg, and the cabinet they lead is very much an example of this. Parliament needs to be reformed and made more representative of the working class. Now.

Thomas Spence and the Call for State Medicine

March 3, 2014

Spence Book Cover

I’ve posted a series of articles recently on the late 18th- early 19th century radical reformer, Thomas Spence. In his books, pamphlets and correspondence, Spence argued that Britain should be transformed into a federation of autonomous parish communes. These would each take into their ownership the land surrounding them, which would then be rented out to various companies and industrialists. The money thus raised would be spent on a series of public works, such as roads and canals, as well as schools, relief for the infirm and unemployed, and medical care for the sick. Any remaining money would be paid out every quarter day to every single one of the communes’ inhabitants, including women and children.

Although the NHS was set up in 1948 after the victory of the Labour party in the post-War election, there had been demands for a system of state-supported hospitals going back to the Levellers in the 17th century. Tom Paine also demanded the state provision of medical care in the late 18th century. Thomas Spence too demanded the establishment of a system of state hospitals to serve the poor in a letter of October 24th, 1800. The 18th century saw the emergence of a number of public hospitals, beginning with the Bristol Royal Infirmary. These were funded by a group of individual subscribers, and patients were only admitted after they had gained the approval of the subscribers and satisfied them that of their good character. Spence was highly critical of this system, because of the way it turned away sick people, who could not provide the subscribers with the required guarantees that they were worth admitting. Spence wrote:

Citizen,

The management of hospitals for the sick being of the greatest importance to the public, nobody can be blamed for endeavouring to improve their state. And though they are of very great public utility, as at present conducted, yet I think they may be of much greater, by allowing an unbounded latitude and ease of admittance.

Is it not wonderful that subscribers or governors, as they call themselves to such institutions, should so far stand on punctilious, as to require application from the poor weak patients for letters of recommendation, before they can be admitted.

The difficulties attending the procurement of these recommendatory papers, and the time and strength wasted about them, are often of the most hurtful tendency to poor creatures labouring under the accumulated burdens of disease and poverty and are certainly the cause of many a death. The grievance and anxieties suffered on such occasions are incomprehensible to such as have not tasted of the bitter cup. As to out-patients, their usage is shameful to an extreme, by the uncertain time of medical gentlemen’s attendance, and makes it more to a patient’s advantage if his time be of any value, at all, to pay for his medicine elsewhere, than to fret so many hours away in waiting.

Why then in the name of humanity, should all these disagreeable repugnances be thrown in people’s way? It is doubtless to deter as many as possible from applying to such places for relief, and induce them to apply to the faculty elsewhere, rather than dance such distressing attendance.

So much then for the medical gentlemen working together for the benefit of their craft. They should therefore be looked strictly after and made to attend more punctual to their appointed time, at all such places of medical relief, for surely the time of one individual cannot be more precious than that of the many unhappy, and useful sick, who are waiting for them.

But what is the strangest of all in this melancholy business, is that the very subscribers should wish to come in for a share of this pitiable attendance, and at the most critical time too. Good God! Can it be to squeeze a little homage from such suffering creatures, or is it to take such a sure opportunity as this to mortify, and let them know their dependent condition? They will not dare to avow such mean motives.

Well then Citizen to remedy all these evils I would have the hospitals open for the admission of the sick of every description, every day of the week, without previous application. For as in cases of sickness there can be the least chance of imposture, we may safely trust the detection of cheats to the sagacity of the faculty who should admit all applicants immediately without making them wait for a particular day of the week as for the moving of the waters. I say, let all immediately be admitted either as in or out-patients, as the cases should require. No questions should be asked about circumstances or security for funerals, neither should maladies of any description be rejected, but only for want of room in which case, if the patient require to be taken in, he should be told to apply to such other hospital as they knew to have vacancies, that no time might be lost.

By such speedy relief and encouraging invitation the most happy effects would accrue to the public. Every disease would be taken in such due time, as to render the cure almost certain, and those of an infectious nature would likewise be prevented from spreading…

But now Citizen, methinks I hear you say, what will become of such of the faculty as have not places in the hospitals for they would be ruined if such free and easy access were permitted to such institutions?

I answer that I was not studying for the interest of any particular set of men, but for the public good. But supposing there were hospitals sufficient for all the people when sick, and that there were no other medical men employed than were placed in them, I cannot apprehend that the state of mankind would be worse. And suppose further that hospitals were all supported by county rates, instead of private subscriptions that we might get rid of paying such distressing homage to subscribers and governors, it would certainly be a great improvement.

H.T. Dickinson, The Political Works of Thomas Spence (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Avero 1982) pp. 89-91.

The NHS has certainly been far more effective in the prevention and treatment of disease that the private medical care that preceded it. It is also far more efficient than America’s private medical care, no matter what the Republicans say about the supposed evils and inefficiencies of socialised medicine or Obamacare. Unfortunately, this is now being undermined and privatised by the Coalition. If this goes ahead, then it will result in the lack of medical care for the poor that was prevalent in Spence’s day, and which is still true of the American system. Spence in his demands for state medicine anticipated and helped contribute to the foundation of the NHS in 20th century. With their privatisation of the NHS, the Coalition are doing their best to drag us back to the 18th.

Thomas Spence on the Working Class as the Creators of Prosperity

March 1, 2014

Spence Book Cover

Back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher and the New Right declared that the entrepreneurs, businessmen and the financiers were the ‘Creators of Wealth’. This is another appropriation by the right of the claims and slogans of the left. Previously, the term ‘Creators of Wealth’ was used by the Left, chiefly Marxists, to refer to the working class. There was, for example, the Communist slogan, ‘All wealth to the creators of wealth!’ promising the people the true value of their products, if not exactly power. That was to be held exclusively by the Communist party as the ‘vanguard of the proletariat’.

The attitude that the working class are the creators of wealth ultimately goes back to the idea of classical economist, like David Ricardo, that the value of a product was determined by the amount of labour taken to produce it. The classical economists themselves followed Adam Smith in advocating free trade. The early radicals built on this demand more political rights and economic reforms for the working classes – the ‘labouring poor’.

The late 18th and very early 19th century radical, Thomas Spence, strongly argued that all of Britain’s prosperity ultimately rested, not with the landlords and aristocracy, but with the labourers and working people, who physically worked the soil and made industrial products. He urged that Britain should be transformed into a federation of autonomous communes, in which all the inhabitants, including women and children, should govern, and parish lands taken into the collective ownership of the parish. In his pamphlet, The Rights of Infants, he defended this system of the communal ownership of land against the view of the great contemporary revolutionary, Tom Paine, that the people, who worked the land really only had only a claim to a tenth of it. Spence rebutted this in the following passage

BUT stop, don’t let us reckon without our host; for Mr Paine will object to such an equal distribution of the rents. For says he, in his Agrarian Justice, the public can claim but a Tenth Part of the value of the landed property as it now exists, with its vast improvements of cultivation and building. But why are we put off now with a Tenth Share? Because, says Mr. Paine, it has so improved in the hands of private proprietors as to be of ten times the value it was of in its natural state. but may we not ask who improved the land? Did the proprietors alone work and toil at this improvement? And did we labourers and our forefathers stand, like Indians and Hottentots, idle spectators of so much public-spirited industry? I suppose not. Nay, on the contrary, it is evident to the most superficial enquirer that the labouring classes ought principally to be thanked for every improvement.

Indeed, if there had never been any slaves, any vassals, or any day-labourers employed in building and tillage, then the proprietors might have boasted of having themselves created all this gay scene of things. But the case alters amazingly, when we consider that the earth has been cultivated either by slaves, compelled, like beasts, to labour, or by the indigent objects whom they first exclude from a share in the soil, that want may compel them to see their labour for daily bread. In short, the great may as well boast of fighting their battles as of cultivating the earth.

The toil of the labouring classes first produces provisions, and then the demand of their families creates a market for them. Therefore it will be found that it is the markets made by the labouring and mechanical tribes that have improved the earth. And once take away these markets or let all the labouring people, like the Israelites, leave the country in a body and you would immediately see from what cause the country had been cultivated and so many goodly towns and villages built.

You may suppose that after the emigration of all these beggarly people, every thing would go on as well as before: that the farmer would continue to plough, and the town landlord to build as formerly. I tell you nay; for the farmer could neither proceed without labourers nor find purchasers for his corn and cattle. It would be just the same with the building landlord, for he could neither procure workmen to build nor tenants to pay him rent.

Behold then your grand, voluptuous nobility and gentry, the arch cultivators of the earth; obliged, for lack of servants, again to turn Gothic hunters like their savage forefathers. Behold their palaces, temples, and towns, smouldering into dust, and affording shelter only to wild beasts; and their boasted, cultivated fields and garden, degenerated into a howling wilderness.

Thus we see that the consumption created by the mouths and the backs of the poor despised multitude contributes to the cultivation of the earth, as well as their hands. And it is also the rents that they pay that builds the towns and not the racking building landlord. Therefore, let us not in weak comm9iseration be biased by the pretended philanthropy of the great, to the resignation of our dearest rights. And if our estates have improved in their hands, during their officious guardianship, the D-v-l than them; for it was done for their own sakes not four ours, and can be no just bar against us recovering our rights.

Rights of Infants

Now clearly you do need talented businessmen and entrepreneurs, who can set up and manage businesses. But Spence is right about the vital importance of the working classes and how they do the physical works that creates civilisation and prosperity. And this is still a vitally contested point. Obama in many ways isn’t noticeably different from many other American presidents. Despite his introduction of more state medical assistance, he still has the same very strong ties to Wall Street. This has not, however, stopped the American Conservatives viciously attacking him as a Communist. A year or so ago there was a lot of Republican American carping centred around the slogan ‘You didn’t build this!’. Reading between the lines, I got the impression that Obama had dared to state the obvious: that all the American people built their country, including those who physically laid the bricks and mortar, and not just big businessmen like Donald Trump. And that clearly touched a nerve.

The power of organised labour is still feared by the Tories over here. After all, the miners managed to beat Ted Heath, and so, when Thatcher got the chance, she destroyed the British mining industry, and organised the mass transfer of jobs from Britain to less truculent workers in the Developing World, thus devastating the British industrial base. However, even in this era of globalised markets, big business still needs the markets provided by the mass of the working and lower middle classes. There’s an interesting piece over at Another Angry Voice about this, where the Angry Yorkshireman proves that the Tories’ policy of paying low wages actually makes no sense. He points out that Henry Ford, the ferociously anti-Semitic and anti-socialist industrialist deliberately paid his workers very good wages, so that they could afford to buy more, and so stimulate business. It’s also why FDR in his New Deal introduced a limited form of state unemployment assistance. He felt that if the unemployed were able to continue buying goods, this would continue putting money into the economy and so help end recessions. This, however, isn’t good enough for the Conservatives, who would rather keep the poor in abject poverty, even if this does harm the economy, simply out of viciousness, spite and a desire to hang on to their privilege and status.

It’s about time this was challenged, and the poor started getting back their share of the nation’s wealth.

Iain-Duncan-Smith415

Ian Duncan Smith: Along with Cameron and Osborne, has a policy of spite and vindictiveness towards the poor, just preserve the government’s own social position no matter what the economic and social costs.