Monday, 30 November 2020

John Maclean: Red Clydesider (24/8/1879 - 30/11/1923)

John Maclean, Clydeside  revolutionary socialist, republican , educator and trade unionist was born in Pollokshaws, Glasgow, 24 August 1879  the sixth of seven children (three died in infancy) of Daniel and Anne Maclean. Daniel was originally from the Isle of Mull  and his future wife Anne MacPhee from the highland village of Corpach on Loch Linnie. Both Daniel and Anne (and Maclean’s grandparents) Gaelic speaking had been evicted from their highland homes as a direct result of the brutal landlordism which decided that sheep and deer were more financially rewarding tenants than human beings. The process of industrialisation forced Maclean’s parents and thousands of others south into the rapidly expanding slums and tenements of the central belt. By the time Maclean was 10 years old his father was dead from an industrial related illness. 
Stories and personal experiences of the Highland Clearances were frequent topics of conversation in the Maclean home. They were also graphically outlined by Karl Marx in Capital, Volume One. Despite wretched poverty and family loss Maclean’s mother was determined he should get an education. It is likely these two factors: a loving and determined mother and an encounter with Marx led Maclean to view the world and his future through the prism of Marxism. Certainly by the end of the decade Maclean was a teacher studying for his MA and had rejected the religion of his childhood for the embrace of Marxian economics. Of this period he would write “It was the knowledge of the sacrifices made and self-denial endured by my mother and sisters to enable me to be educated, that made me resolve to use my education in the service of the workers.”
John Maclean's political career began when he joined the Pollokshaws branch of the Progressive Union, a body which discussed philosophy, science, literature and politics.While teaching for the Govan School Board,in 1903 Maclean joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the first Marxist organisation in Britain, where he quickly made a name for himself as a talented orator and political agitator. 
During the summer holidays, when Maclean was free from his duties as a schoolteacher, he toured the industrial centres of Scotland, spreading the word of Marxism and class politcs. He did this on street corners, outside factory gates, and in parks, he spoke to miners, shipyard workers, engineers, women weavers, anyone whose struggle he considered part of his own. He encouraged membership of trade unions, wherever he lectured, and acquired a reputation as a staunch and committed socialist. During this period he also found time to marry his wife Agnes, who bore him two daughters, Jean and Nan,
In 1908 Maclean began teaching classes in Marxist economics and industrial history. These classes, held in Glasgow, were open to trade unionists, political activists and the general public alike, and proved a great success. Held weekly they at times gathered together hundreds of workers keen to soak up revolutionary theory. 
Unlike other doctrinaire socialists of the day, Maclean threw himself into working class struggles as they emerged. He was a plain-talking, no-nonsense agitator. What he lacked in poetics, he made up for in forcefulness. He epitomised the "Red Clydeside" that emerged after me First World War, and gave a concrete expression to the mass movement of that time.
During the years immediately prior to the first world war, Maclean became increasingly opposed to the pro-war stance and policies of the SDF and its leadership.In 1911 Maclean joined the newly formed British Socialist Party (BSP) and became a vigorous anti-war and anti-conscription campaigner. He wrote an article in Justice where he argued: 
" It is our business as Socialists to develop a “class patriotism,” refusing to murder one another for a sordid world capitalism. The absurdity of the present situation is surely apparent when we see British Socialists going out to murder German Socialists with the object of crushing Kaiserism and Prussian militarism. The only real enemy to Kaiserism and Prussian militarism, I assert against the world, was and is German Social-Democracy. Let the propertied class go out, old and young alike, and defend their blessed property. When they have been disposed of, we of the working class will have something to defend, and we shall do it."  
He was credited with telling workers at his rallies that if they wanted to fight a Hun, to go and fight the English king. Comments were also made to Ulster Unionists that England was defending Catholic Belgium against Protestant Germany, and using them as cannon fodder. He had a well-developed sense of irony! His denunciations of the war cost him his job, but he continued to campaign against the murder of German and British workers alike. He pointed out the war-mongering and profiteering of the munitions factory owners, and the private landlords who seized the opportunity (whilst their men were at war) to increase the rents in Glasgow. They were decisively beaten by the Rent Strikes of 1915, which led to the Rent Restriction Act of 1916. 
He had launched a newspaper, the 'Vanguard', in 1915 but only 5 issues were released before he was arrested and imprisoned for sedition under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). In February 1916 he was arrested for a second time, and on April the 11th was sentenced to three years' penal servitude. He was released 15 months later due to pressure from prominent socialists and mass demonstrations. He supported his friend, Edinburgh born James Connolly, in his struggle for an Irish Workers Republic. Connolly, in the very last issue of "The Workers' Republic," also demanded MacLean's release. A fellow Scot also had a far-reaching effect on MacLean's political thinking. This was Ruaraidh Erskine of Marr, a prominent leader of the Gaelic language revival in Scotland, who for years had advocated a Scottish Socialist Republic. Erskine had hailed both the Easter Rising and the Russian Revolution, and had taken an anti-war stance. When the Easter Rising took place in Dublin, MacLean was still in jail. Connolly was judicially murdered on the orders of the British State - shot whilst tied to a chair, as he could not stand due to his wounds.
Following the October Revolution Maclean, dubbed ‘The Scottish Lenin’, was appointed the first Bolshevik Consul in Scotland and an Honorary President of the Soviet Republic, in recognition of his revolutionary agitation and his tireless work in support of the Bolshevik revolution. Maclean opened an office for the Consulate at 12 Portland Street, Glasgow, but the Consulate was not recognised by the British authorities, and Maclean and his staff suffered constant intimidation.  Despite harassment by the Special Branch, MacLean did much work to aid Russian political refugees. But the English Government had, at this time, militarily intervened to smash the young Russian Republic. Maclean was arrested and faced charges of sedition following his vocal public opposition to the First World War and attempt to organise a workers; mutiny against it.
"I wish no harm to any human being  said Maclean, "but I, as one man, am going to exercise my freedom of speech. Np human being on the face of the earth, no government is going to take from me my right to protest against  wrong,my right 5o do everything that is for the benefit of mankindl I am not here, then, as the accused, but the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot."
 he declared in his famous ‘speech from the dock' in the Edinburgh High Court. This was a tremendous condemnation of both capitalism and war and was made in the most intimidating of surroundings and circumstances, standing before the very core of the ruling class bedecked in their wigs and stockings, and with the power over MacLean's very life at their disposal.  He proceeded to condemn the carnage and horror of war and said, 
"on that and on other grounds, I consider capitalism the most infamous, bloody and evil system that mankind has ever witnessed. My language is regarded as extravagant language, but the events of the past four years have proved my contention". 

On May the 9th 1918, MacLean received a sentence of five years' penal servitude for sedition.  The end of the war saw him released early from his five year sentence but not before he had endured months of force feeding after embarking on a hunger strike. His wife, Agnes, described his treatment as ‘slow murder’ by the state. While many others were imprisoned for anti-war activity during this period the treatment of Maclean stands out as particularly vindictive.
Upon his release he was out in time to contest the Gorbals seat as the official  Socialist candidate at the General election and received 7,436 votes against 14,247 votes of George Barnes, the sitting member. Despite this, MacLean remained optimistic that a revolutionary situation could be generated in Britain.
In 1920 he broke with the British Socialist Party, but did not join the new British Communist Party. He took up the emerging nationalist movement believing in the idea of a Socialist Republic and a distinctive Scottish Workers' Republican Party.
Throughout the years leading to the foundation of the Communist Party of Britain in 1921, many heated arguments ensued over the nature and character of the new revolutionary party. MacLean was by now convinced that the best way to assist the world's first worker's government was not merely to assemble communist parties of the same mould and shape, but to confront the need for socialism in every other country of the world head on. In other words, MacLean remained true to his international socialism, but saw that the best way to assist world revolution was through the revolutionary break-up of the British state and the establishment of a Scottish Worker's Republic. National Independence formed a prelude to social independence, and the two were basic halves of a democratic ideal. In August 1920, whilst the world was still experiencing the by now ebbing tides of the great international revolutionary wave of 1916-21. Maclean issues his famous call-"All Hail, the Scottish Workers' Republic!"
In 1920 MacLean relaunched "Vanguard." and began to write numerous articles supporting the Irish struggle and urging Scotsmen, as fellow Gaels, not to be used as tools for murdering their brother Gaels in Ireland. During this time he published a pamphlet 'The Irish Tragedy - Scotland' s Disgrace', which sold 200,000 copies. In this he called for a General Strike and for the withdrawal of English troops in Ireland. MacLean addressed meetings on the Irish question in Ireland, Scotland, and England, and continually urged working class support for the Irish struggle. Orange mobs broke up one meeting in Motherwell. 
In May 1921 he was again arrested and imprisoned for sedition, serving three months. In September 1921 came yet another arrest, and a sentence of one year. During this time he forced the prison authorities to concede him the status of a political prisoner, something never accorded by England, which refuses political status to obviously political prisoners. He continued to write various pamphlets, such as his famous "Open Letter to Lenin", which attacked his so-called socialist detractors.
Maclean was released in October 1922.In November 1922, MacLean reissued his call for "A Scottish Workers' Republic", alongside his address for the general election. This address began "I stand before the world as a Bolshevik, alias a Communist, alias  a Revolutionist, alias a Marxian. My symbol is the Red Flag and it shall keep on  floating high."
Revealing himself not to be a Scottish nationalist but a Scottish Internationalist, who saw the setting up of a Scottish Workers' Republic as a link  in a chain which began with the British state and ended when " all the independent workers' republics will come together into one great League of Parliament of Communist Peoples, as a stage in the future when inter-marriage will wipe out all national differences and the world will become one"
 Maclean and a few faithful comrades formed the Scottish Workers' Republican Party early in 1923, which promoted both communism and Scottish independence with the key aim of establishing a Communist Republic of Scotland. They began to prepare for an election pending on December the 30th 1923. He was standing as a candidate for his Scottish Workers' Republican Party, again in Gorbal's , which was slowly building its strength; but his own strength was, sadly, failing. 
On St Andrew's Day November 30th,  1923  he died aged only 44, at his home in Pollokshaws, of pneumenia, his health ruined by constant political struggle, five terms of imprisonment, the period of hunger strike and the subsequent force feeding by prison authorities.
Maclean's funeral march, led by the Clyde Workers' Band, was followed by between 10000 and 20000 people through the south side of Glasgow to his final resting place in Eastwood cemetery.

The Trade union and labour movement established a memorial fund that provided for John MacLean;s wife snd family for decades after his death.The Cairn built in 1973 in  Pollokshaws to commemorate John Maclean carries the inscription, "He forged the Scottish link to the golden chain of world socialism.".
After a long period of neglect, British labour history now affords John Maclean his rightful place as a leading revolutionary of the 1910-1922 period. The workers of Glasgow conferred on Maclean the title of champion of the labouring classes, and with the formation of a John Maclean Society which led to the development of an annual graveside commemoration, which endures today. Maclean remains a dominant figure in the popular account of Red Clydeside and a key source of inspiration. A Clydeside man of principle, a man who was anti-racist and anti-imperialist.
In Maclean, socialists, republicans, nationalists, and communists found a figurehead who is both Scottish and international; an anti-war martyr, uncorrupted by the totalitarianism of the 1930s and 1940s, and full of the hope and passion of the first communist heroes, like Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Lenin. In this sense, for the Scottish left, Maclean stands as a kind of missing link between international communism and Scottish nationalism. His legacy strong, who offered people a radical vision of the better world to be won, a vision of authentic socialism from the bottom up.
Maclean was later the subject of a poem written by Hugh MacDiarmid, and has also featured in a number of songs. During the Soviet era a street, Maklin Prospekt, in Leningrad was named after Maclean. The USSR also published a postage stamp to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1979.
 We can draw continuing inspiration from a famous rallying cry from Maclean: “we are out for life, and all that life can give us!” 

John Maclean (!879 - 19230 - Hugh MacDiarmid
All the buildings in Glasgow are grey
With cruelty and meanness of spirit,
But once in a while one greyer than the rest
A song shall merit
Since a miracle of true courage is seen
For a moment its walls between.

Look at it, you fools, with unseeing eyes
And deny it with lying lips!
But your craven bowels well know what it is
And hasten to eclipse
In a cell, as black as the shut boards of the Book
You lie by, the light no coward can brook.

It is not just the blue of heaven that colours
The blue jowls of your thugs of police,
And 'justice' may well do its filthy work
Behind walls as filthy as these
And congratulate itself blindly and never know
The prisoner takes the light with him as he goes

Stand close, stand close, and block out the light
As long as you can, you ministers and lawyers,
Hulking brutes of police, fat bourgeois,
Sleek derma for congested guts - its fires
Will leap through yet; already it is clear
Of all MacLean's foes not one was his peer.

As Pilate and the Roman soldiers to Christ
Were Law and Order to the finest Scot of his day,
One of the few true men in our sordid breed,
A flash of sun in a country all prison-grey.
Speak to others of Christian charity; I cry again
For vengence on the murderers of John MacLean.
Let the light of truth in on the base pretence
Of justice that sentenced him behind these grey walls.
All law is the contemptible fraud he declared it.
Like a lightning-bolt at last the workers' wrath falls
On all such castles of cowards whether they be
Uniformed in ermine, or blue, or khaki.

Royal honours for murderers and fools! The 'fount
of honour'
Is poisoned and spreads its corruption all through,
But Scotland will think yet of the broken body
And unbreakable spirit, MacLean, of you,
And know you were indeed the true tower of its
As your prison of its foul stupidity, at length.

Dick Gaughan - John Maclean March


Sunday, 29 November 2020

International Day of Solidarity With The Palestinian People 2020

Today is International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The United Nations chose this day, 29th November, in accordance with mandates given by the General Assembly in its resolutions 32/40 B of 2 December 1977, 34/65 D of 12 December 1979, 56/34 of 3 December 2001, and other relevant resolutions.
The date of 29 November was chosen because of its meaning and significance to the Palestinian people. Because on that shameful day in 1947, the General Assembly adopted resolution 181(II), which came to be known as the Partition Resolution. That resolution provided for the establishment in Palestine of a “Jewish State” and an “Arab State”, with Jerusalem as a corpus separatum under a special international regime. Of the two States to be created under this resolution, only one, Israel, has so far come into being.
 This United Nations decision unleashed a catastrophe whose reverberations Palestinians continue to experience until today. Three-quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs—who were the majority of the population of historic Palestine, fled for their lives after experiencing or learning of massacres by Zionist paramilitary organizations, or were expelled from their homes during the ensuing Arab-Israeli war of 1948. By the 1949 armistice, the original partition lines had shifted violently so that Israel’s footprint became much larger than envisioned by the proposed partition plan, it was accorded 55 percent by the plan, but seized an additional 25% of Palestinian territory. At present, the drastically reduced Palestinian land continues to be occupied by the Israeli military and Jerusalem is occupied and divided with Israel controlling and limiting access to religious sites. Palestinians originally displaced during the Nakba (the Arabic word for Catastrophe—what the Palestinians call the 1948 war when they lost their homeland) are still prevented from exercising the right to return to their homes in what is now Israel. And contrary to the resolution (and to the Fourth Geneva Convention )   Israel has  continued to expropriate additional vast tracts of Palestinian territory for its own use and especially for the building and transfer of its own Israeli citizens to illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
The Palestinian people, who now number more than 8 million, live primarily in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, including East Jerusalem, part of which is now administered by the Palestinian Authority; in Israel; in neighbouring Arab States; and in refugee camps in the region.
The International Day of Solidarity has traditionally provided an opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine is still unresolved and that the Palestinian people is yet to attain its inalienable rights as defined by the General Assembly, namely, the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced.
73 years on, the Palestinians continue to suffer the disastrous consequences of that imperial decision to allow the colonisation of Palestine. Today, we-affirm our solidarity with all Palestinians in historic Palestine, with Palestinian political prisoners (women, men & children) in Apartheid Israel's jails, and with the millions of refugees struggling to make their legally guaranteed Right of Return a reality by returning to their homes. And we reaffirm our support for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions - BDS - Movement until Israel complies with international law.
As the threats facing the Palestinian people intensify day by day, our only response can be to give even more, and to do even more. The Israeli government continues to press ahead with its gross violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, accelerating the ongoing colonisation of yet more Palestinian land. Israel has continued to demolish Palestinian homes and buildings in the Occupied West Bank. 2020 has seen the highest level of Palestinian home demolitions in four years, despite the covid-19 pandemic, which has left over 400 people homeless many of who are children. Earlier this month, Israel illegally destroyed the entire Palestinian village of Khirbet Hamsa al-Foqa - making 73 people, including 41 children homeless - in the largest incident of forced displacement in years. 
The Israeli government continues to press ahead with its gross violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, accelerating the ongoing colonisation of yet more Palestinian land. These include plans to proceed with formal annexation. Despite the rhetoric from some of our political leaders that the US- UAE has taken annexation off the table, Israel has made clear that its plans are merely on temporary hold. Netanyahu has stated clearly, speaking after the UAE deal that “There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States.”
 Meanwhile Israel proceeds with the de facto annexation on the ground. In October 2020 the Israeli government approved 5,400 new settlement units on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank. In tandem, Israel has continued to demolish Palestinian homes and buildings, with 389 Palestinian structures in the West Bank razed from March to August 2020, leaving over 400 Palestinians homeless. And Israel continues to subject Gaza to an ever-tightening land, air and sea blockade, making life insufferable for the nearly two million Palestinians, the majority of them refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing, trapped in the enclave. Like Palestinian refugees everywhere, they are denied the right to return to the homes from which they, their parents or grandparents were expelled.
The world has failed to implement the international consensus sought by the United Nations to find a fair and just solution to the Palestinian issue because the Superpowers in the United Nations Security Council have used their veto powers to stop important UN Resolutions aimed at actualising the broader view of the majority of the countries around the world. It is with sadness that we observe that the UN has been powerless to do the right thing for the Palestinians.
In January 1976 the United Nations, backed by a wide global consensus, passed a Resolution granting Palestine political sovereignty. This Resolution received the support of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Arab countries, the European Bloc and the Soviet Bloc. However, this UN effort was also stopped by the exercise of a veto from the United States. The 1981 initiative from Saudi Arabia called the FAHAD peace deal was also rejected by Israel.
 For decades the world has been helplessly watching the Palestinian tragedy unfold as the people of this land are being driven out of their homes that are being destroyed. They are forced to wander as they are constantly harassed and deprived of the very basic necessities such as water. They have no freedom of movement, as they are being arrested arbitrarily, even little children and women have been detained.
In October 2000, the UN Security Council resolved with a 14 to 0 vote that Israel should act according to the obligations and agreements contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention and return all Palestinian lands that have been occupied. At that time the US abstained from voting. 
In addition, in 2001 when Israeli troops clashed with Palestinians, attempts by the United Nations to send in international observers to minimise violence under the so-called Michael plan was opposed by Israel and the United States.
These actions of the US have damaged its credentials as a neutral player in resolving issues in the Middle East and has ruined its reputation as a champion of democracy and global justice. Under President Donald Trump the US Middle East policy has been very one-sided. However, under the new Democratic President it is hoped that the policy towards this region will be fairer and more progressive. If that does not happen then it will be a big blow against America’s boast of being a country that is a proponent of peace and democracy across the world.
Today and everyday  lets reiterate our solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination. We must amplify the Palestinian people’s call for freedom, justice, equality and the right of return,  building a future of peace, justice, security and dignity for  the Palestinians.
 The UK government must take action too by banning trade with illegal Israeli settlements and implementing sanctions, including a two-way arms embargo, until Israel complies with international law. Public bodies also need to take action to ensure that they are not investing funds or procuring contracts with companies complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses. 
In drawing attention to the struggle of the Palestinian people we cannot but remember the firm stand that the United Nations took against racism, against the evil of Apartheid and supported the liberation struggle of the people of South Africa. 
 At the time his people were liberated, the celebrated leader of the liberation struggle for South Africa Nelson Mandela made a profound statement, which resonates around the world to this day.
 He said: “For many years the United Nations stood firm against racism. Because of that a worldwide consensus was built against this unfair system. We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” 
Apartheid is a crime against humanity. From the rivers to the sea, Free, Free Palestine! 
 This Sunday 29 November, Join the Online Rally for Palestine: Stop Annexation and Apartheid 
 Register now and don't miss out

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Revolutionary Friedrich Engels at 200


Friedrich Engels, Philosopher, Political economist, activist and Revolutionary Socialist, was born in Barmen, Rhenish Prussia, 200 years ago today on the 28th November 1820. He was the oldest of the six children of Friedrich and Elisabeth Franziska Mauritia Engels. The senior Engels, a successful industrialist, was a Christian Pietist and religious fanatic. After attending elementary school at Barmen, young Friedrich entered the gymnasium in nearby Elberfeld at the age of 14, but he left it 3 years later. Although he became one of the most learned men of his time, he had no further formal schooling.
Under pressure from his tyrannical father, Friedrich was sent to the city of Bremen to be inducted into the family business by learning about the industry as a clerk to a firm of linen exporters.To assuage the deadly boredom, Engels wrote articles in newspapers that were critiques of the conditions of workers and the social costs of industrialisation. He had naturally not yet formulated any critique of capitalism per se, His ire was directed at the stultifying effects of Calvinism and the social costs of the Protestant work ethic with the misery it imposed on factory workers.
In 1841, bored with being deskbound in Bremen, Engels returned home to a life that he found equally tedious. To escape he, later that year, volunteered for one year’s service with the Royal Prussian Guards Artillery, based in the capital Berlin.
In Berlin, he came into contact with the radical  Young Hegelian movement who were inspired by the revolutionary essence of the  German idealist philosopher George Hegel, and attracted by his dialectical method which espoused constant development and change through contradiction. Engel's embraced these ideas.
Engels said of the Young Hegelians that some, including himself, ‘contended for the insufficiency of political change and declared their opinion to be that a social revolution based upon common property, was the only state of mankind agreeing with their abstract principles.’
After some free-lance journalism, part of it under the pseudonym of F. Oswald, in November 1842 Engels moved to Manchester, England, to help manage his father's cotton-factory in Manchester. Several months prior to Engels’ arrival, the Chartist movement reached its peak. With 70,000 members, it was the first mass political movement of the working class anywhere in the world. The Chartists collected 3.3 million signatures on a petition presented to the House of Commons calling for universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21 and a series of social reforms. The rejection of the petition by the House of Commons triggered a series of strikes that were brutally suppressed. Engels supported the cause and became friends with the left-wing Chartist leader Julian Harney and wrote for his newspaper, the Northern Star. He also had contact with the followers of Robert Owen’s utopian socialism.
Manchester in the 1840s was a crucible of the industrial revolution and Engels found himself working and living in a community dominated by the cotton manufacturers.
Here he came face to face with unbridled capitalist exploitation and the degradation of the working class.
He wrote later: ‘A few days in my old man’s factory have sufficed to bring me face to face with its beastliness, which I had rather overlooked.’
Although forced to work alongside the bourgeoisie, he made a point of not socialising with them. He wrote: ‘I forsook the company and the dinner parties, the port wine and champagne of the middle classes, and devoted my leisure hours almost exclusively to the intercourse with plain working men.’
Aged just 24, Engels, guided by Mary Burns a radical young working class Irishwoman who became his lifelong companion, witnessed capitalist industrialisation more extensive, repressive and exploitative than any he had seen in Germany.
In his first major book, ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844’, Engels reports in excruciating detail the miseries of child labour, starvation wages and appalling working conditions, resulting in crippling injuries or deformities even among the youngest workers.
He called living conditions in English industrial towns ‘the highest and most unconcealed pinnacle of social misery existing in our day’.
Accompanied by Mary, he witnessed and heard from their own mouths the conditions endured by workers and their families.
Engels wrote: ‘It is utterly indifferent to the English bourgeois whether his working-men starve or not, if only he makes money. All the conditions of life are measured by money, and what brings no money is nonsense, unpractical, idealistic bosh.’
Engels observed the rapid rise of illegal trade unionism.
He wrote: ‘The incredible frequency of these strikes proves best of all to what extent the social war has broken out all over England.
No week passes, scarcely a day, indeed, when there is not a strike in some direction.’
Many liberals had bemoaned the wretched inhuman conditions of the working class but they saw it as a helpless class that deserved the ‘help’ of their liberal superiors.
But ‘Condition of the Working Class in England’ was much more than just an exposé of the inhumanity of capitalism.
Engels was the first to understand that this oppressed mass was not just an exploited working class but the only class that could liberate mankind from capitalism – capitalism for Engels had created in the working class its own ‘gravedigger’.
The book created an immediate sensation in German radical circles (it was at first only published in Germany). Karl Marx was particularly enthusiastic about it.
In 1844 Engels began contributing to a radical journal called Franco-German Annals that was being edited by Karl Marx in Paris. In the same year1844, Engels contributed an article, ‘Outline of a Critique of Political Economy’. In this, Engels laid the foundational principles for the critique of bourgeois political economy. Engels demonstrated that all important phenomena in the bourgeois economic system arise inevitably from the rules of private  ownership of the means of production and a society without poverty could only be a society without this private ownership. This immensely fascinated Marx. He came to the conclusion that through a critique of bourgeois political economy, another thinker had come, independently, to the same conclusion that he had come to with his critique of Hegelian philosophy. The pioneering work by Engels, ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, also greatly influenced Marx’s line of thinking on the beginnings of the industrial revolution that was taking place in England. During ten days of exchanges in August 1844, Marx’s admiration for Engels grew enormously. He admired Engels’ courage, dedication, single-mindedness and noted that both were in agreement on all theoretical questions of the day. Later that year Engels met Marx and the two men became close friends. A lifelong intellectual rapport and camararderie  was established between them. Finding they were of the same opinion about nearly everything, Marx and Engels decided to collaborate on their writing. It was a good partnership. Whereas Marx was at his best when dealing with difficult abstract concepts, Engels had the ability to write for a mass audience.
While working on their first article together, The Holy Family, the Prussian authorities put pressure on the French government to expel Karl Marx from the country. On 25th January 1845, Marx received an order deporting him from France. Marx and Engels decided to move to Belgium, a country that permitted greater freedom of expression than any other European state. Friedrich Engels helped to financially support Marx and his family. Engels gave Marx the royalties of his book, The Condition of the Working Class in England and arranged for other sympathizers to make donations. This enabled Marx to study and develop his economic and political theories.
In July 1845 Engels took Karl Marx to England. They spent most of the time consulting books in Manchester Library. Engels and Marx returned to Brussels and in January 1846 they set up a Communist Correspondence Committee. Engels returned to England in December 1847 where he attended a meeting of the Communist League's Central Committee in London. At the meeting it was decided that the aims of the organisation was "the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the domination of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society based on class antagonisms, and the establishment of a new society without classes and without private property".
Engels and Marx began writing a pamphlet together. Based on a first draft produced by Engels called the Principles of Communism, Marx finished the 12,000 word pamphlet in six weeks. Unlike most of Marx's work, it was an accessible account of communist ideology. Written for a mass audience, The Communist Manifesto summarised the forthcoming revolution and the nature of the communist society that would be established by the proletariat. The Communist Manifesto was published in February, t opens with the words: ‘A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism’ and then it declares proudly: ‘Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.
It goes on: ‘What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.’
The Manifesto concludes: ‘Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!’
Three days later, a revolutionary uprising in France overthrew the monarchy. The revolution spread to Germany in March and rapidly expanded across Europe. The feudal rulers of the German states were forced to abdicate in droves or accept parliaments and constitutions. In May, the National Assembly began meeting in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, where it was to draft a constitution for a united Germany.
Marx and Engels did not hesitate for a moment to participate in the revolution. Drawing on the tradition of the Rheinische Zeitung, which was banned in 1843, Marx and Engels founded the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (NRZ) in Cologne.The men hoped to use the newspaper to encourage the revolutionary atmosphere that they had witnessed in Paris. Three hundred and one editions of the paper appeared between June 1, 1848 and May 19, 1849, and the publication reached a circulation of 6,000, a considerable number at the time. The newspaper saw itself as the left wing of the democratic camp and its task as pushing forward the bourgeois revolution, which, as the Communist Manifesto had declared, “will be but the prelude of an immediately following proletarian revolution.
Engels helped form an organisation called the Rhineland Democrats. On 25th September, 1848, several of the leaders of the group were arrested. Engels managed to escape but was forced to leave the country. Karl Marx continued to publish the New Rhenish Gazette until he was expelled in May, 1849. Engels and Marx then moved to London.
In November 1850, unable to make a living as a writer in London and anxious to help support the penniless Marx, Engels returned to his father’s business in Manchester. All the time, the two men kept an almost  daily correspondence, exchanging ideas and opinions and collaborating in developing the theory of scientific socialism. Friedrich Engels sent postal orders or £1 or £5 notes, cut in half and sent in separate envelopes. In this way the Marx family was able to survive.
At the same time, they took a leading role in the struggle of workers in Britain and across the world.
In 1864, Marx and Engels founded the International Working Men’s Association which, in accordance with their idea of uniting workers of all countries, was to have a tremendous significance in the development of the international working class movement.
In September 1870 Engels moved to London, settling near the home of Marx, whom he saw daily. A generous friend and gay host, the fun-loving Engels spent the remaining 25 years of his life in London, enjoying good food, good wine, and good company. He also worked hard, doing the things he loved: writing, maintaining contact and a voluminous correspondence with radicals everywhere. 
After Marx’s death, Engels continued alone as the counsellor and leader of the European socialist movement, which had become a mass force. His advice was eagerly sought after, and he drew on his vast knowledge and experience in his old age.
Like Marx, Engels knew many foreign languages, he could converse freely in English, French, Italian, and could read Spanish and almost all Slavic and Scandanavian languages. He and Marx conducted a massive correspondence on a host of questions. Incredibly, this covers 13 volumes of the Collected Works, amounting to 3,957 letters. These reveal the fascinating close bond between them and their joint work.
Marx died before he could put the final touches to his vast work on political economy. Using the drafts left by Marx, Engels put his own research aside and took on the colossal task of completing Marx’s work, editing and publishing volumes two and three of Capital. Only he could decipher Marx’s unintelligible handwriting.
Engels continued to write prefaces to the ‘Communist Manifesto’ and other newer editions of their works on the basis of contemporary developments enriching the international working class struggles and urging its forward movement. As Lenin said, “Engels taught the working class to know itself and be conscious of itself and he substituted science for dreams.” 
On Aug. 14, 1889, the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, the Second International was founded in Paris at Engels’ initiative. Around 300 parties and organisations from 20 countries were represented. Engels was in particularly close contact with the leaders of the German Social Democracy, who regularly sought his advice. He attended the Third Congress of the International in Zurich. In the closing session, he addressed the delegates first in English, then in French, then in German.
 Engels died of cancer in London on Aug. 5, 1895 a revolutionary communist to the very core. His ashes were cast into the sea off Beachy Head in Eastbourne.
 Engels’ masterful command of language, his ability to present complex material in an understandable way, his encyclopedic knowledge, and his humour, which shone through even in connection with the most serious topics, make the reading of his works a pleasure to this day.Without him, Marx's work would gave been impossible and would not have been preserved. Marxism was originally an Engels-Marx-ism Whoever speaks of socialism today must not forget Engels for the vital contribution that he made to developing the ideas of Marxism, for which we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.
I will acknowledge we should not forget those that twisted communism into tyranny's that Marx and Engel's  could not have anticipated. In none of his writings did Engel's  condone, mass murder, torture or show trials.
Today I remember a man who dedicated his life to the revolutionary struggle  of the proletariat to free itself from the chains of capitalism and usher in a new era of history. On the bicentenary of his birth, without doubt his  towering revolutionary spirit lives on in the Marxist tendency, which defends his legacy, and the struggle for world socialism. 200 years after Engel's birth Britain is still, sadly a country that murders it's poor, if we really want to remember him we should continue to fight against poverty and  austerity that creates it.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Anarchy in the UK - Sex Pistols : 44 Years Later

On 27th November in 1976. The Sex Pistols released their incendiary ' Anarchy In The UK' single, with iconic cover art by Jamie Reid. shocking society and inspiring rebellious young people. Under the influence of their manager, Malcolm McLaren, who was himself influenced by Situationst  thinking and reasoning, at the  that time, the band consisted of John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) on vocals, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious in early 1977.
Although the Damned's `New Rose' is hailed as the first punk single to be released, it could be argued that  the Pistols song was the one  that best epitomised this emerging subculture.The lyrics portray a particularly sensational, violent concept of anarchy that reflected the pervasive sense of embittered anger, confusion, restlessness, economic frustration and social alienation which was being felt by a generation of disenfranchised youth amidst the declining economic situation and bland music scene of the mid-1970s.
From the sneering `I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist', to the final lingering `destroy', the track was, as  Jon Savage noted, `a call to arms, delivered in language that was as explosive as the implications of the group's name'. " The track is immediately confrontational, and begins with a contemptuous, laughing John Lydon - lead vocalist - delivering a drawn-out declamation of the words `right, now'. The tone is almost one of mocking the audience, celebrating the emergence of punk against the stale musical environment of the time, as well as the increasing economic and social breakdown that was gripping Britain. 
As the track continues, themes such as the Antichrist, the destroying of passersby, the IRA and Council Estates are juxtaposed, almost laboured so as to produce clashing half rhymes. Whilst UK, UDA and IRA are fused together, the line `I use the NME, I use anarchy' highlights the ambiguity of syllabic pronunciation: the question as to Lydon actually meaning `enemy' - rather than a reference to the established popular music press and the New Music Express - could be asked. Moreover, the track pulls upon a notion that will become more evident in the latter single `God Save the Queen': the idea that those listening lack a sense of future. It could be argued that the Pistols do indeed sum up the unemployment figures of July 1975, of the seemingly apocalyptic atmosphere of the time. `Anarchy in the UK' seems to sum up this sense of helplessness, this supposed lack of future in 1970s Britain. Yet this track also moves towards establishing the idea of a punk rock aesthetic. 
Less than two months later the Pistols record label EMI would  drop them after appearing as late replacements for EMI labelmates  Queen on Today, a live London regional TV show. When presenter Bill Grundy, contemptuously encouraged them to swear, they duly obliged, damaging his career while catapulting themselves to notoriety, and sparking a moral panic. A&M  would then sign the band, only to drop them after only six days. Turning up drunk , then trashing A&M' offices probably helped to further  fuel their anti-establishment image. 
It was compounded, in the summer of 1977, by ' God Save The Queen;  the group's  dissection of Britain's fading imperial process, release to coincide with the ' mad parade'  of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, with the Sex Pistols being seen to embody a thriving awakening politically charged youth culture.
The subsequent national newspaper headlines and ensuing moral panic led venues, under pressure from councils, to cancel gigs by the Sex Pistols, fearing violence, vandalism and who knows what else, It would see a rise in extreme hairdos, an increased rejection of social and consensus acceptability, that was condemned by the press at the times. But to be vilified for your stance at the time was a badge of honour, not a condemnation. 
And, although, the Pistol's were by no means the world's first punk band, they were the band which took punk mainstream. After them, the floodgates opened and the pop charts would be dominated by bands full of angry young men ( and the occasional angry young woman)  'Anarchy In The UK'  wasn't even a big hit at the time of it's release.but In the years since, the importance of it  to popular music has been fully recognised. Rolling Stone magazine had it as number 56 in their Greatest Songs of All Time listing. It is also one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll list.
Although the Pistols  played together for fewer than three years, their cultural and musical influence remains. 
Alongside bands like The Clash, ( who I much prefer incidentally) the Ramones, the Stranglers, the Buzzcocks, X Ray Spex and the anarcho punk movement that would emerge, epitomised by bands like the seminal Crass, who formed in November 1977  the Mob, Zounds and the Subhumans, the Pistols helped create and shape punk rock, an aesthetic and political revolution that has since swept the world. 
During 1977,the burgeoning punk scene began  featuring punk and reggae bands playing together throughout the country. This close association appeared to be cemented in April 1978 when RAR jointly organised a national concert in London, with the newly-formed Anti-Nazi League The  Pistols, who had broken up by 1978, did not play at the RAR concerts (and bassist Sid Vicious drew criticism early in the group’s run for wearing a swastika as a fashion statement), but Rotten said that he supported the movement. “I despise them,”  he said of the hate spreaders of the time, the likes of Enoch Powell nnd the National Front " No one should have the right to tell anyone they can't live here because of the color of their skin or their religion … How could anyone vote for something so ridiculously inhumane?  This  is quite a contrast to Lydon’s comments recently about his fondness for the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage , leading one to wonder if he was ever sincere in his commitment to anti-racism. Perhaps he was always more interested in positioning himself as a contrarian.
The Carnival Against the Nazis featured punk groups such as the Clash and X-Ray Spex. For many, the highlight of the day was the sight of the Clash singing “White Riot” along with Jimmy Pursey of the punk band Sham 69. A symbol of a close, harmonious relationship between music and politics in the late 1970s—a homogeneous punk movement  that was prepared to make a stand against racism out of political conviction and to collaborate actively with anti-racist activists. This I guess should be further reflected upon in a future blog post.…
Punk's far from dead, neither is the true spirit of anarchy, more than a fashion statement to be commodified and sold, and hijacked by the mainstream,  it's early instigators being accused of selling out, it's influence on arts and culture is undeniable. Remember anger is an energy, that will never die. 
Whilst many take the meaning of ' Anarchy In The UK'  to be a real call to arms, and the epitome of what anarchism is, other believe the song “is a sarcastic parody of anarchism as a code of ethics and philosophy from the most sarcastic and front man in history
Nonetheless, the song is still interpreted today as the epitome of rebellion and not giving a damn. The lyrics speak for themselves. Lets continue to question everything, turn conformity on it's head. In our politically and culturally conflicted times , 'Anarchy in the UK' still resonates, strikes a chord, and  despite Rotten's recent descent  into vacuousness we can at least still enjoy his song. We can still play our part in acts of cultural subversion, changing the world through art and ideas, that are no less  needed than in the present times we live.

Right now ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
I am an anti-Christ
I am an anarchist
Don't know what I want
But I know how to get it
I want to destroy the passerby

'Cause I want to be anarchy
No dogs body

Anarchy for the U.K.
It's coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time, stop a traffic line
Your future dream has sure been seen through

'Cause I want to be anarchy
In the city

How many ways to get what you want
I use the best, I use the rest
I use the N.M.E.
I use anarchy

'Cause I want to be anarchy
Its the only way to be

Is this the MPLA
Or is this the UDA
Or is this the IRA
I thought it was the U.K.
Or just another country
Another council tenancy

I want to be anarchy
And I want to be anarchy
(Oh what a name)
And I want to be an anarchist
(I get pissed, destroy!)

Sex Pistols - Anarchy in  the UK

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Violence against women is a human rights violation and a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, as well as of persisting inequalities between men and women. This violence impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security. However, violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential.
Women’s activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. This date came from the brutal assassination in 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).
On 20 December 1993 the General Assembly, by resolution 48/104, adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
In this context, in 1999 the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and invited governments, international organizations and NGOs to organize on that day activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women also launches the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, which runs through to 10 December, Human Rights Day.A time to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
According to the United Nations, violence against women means “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.
 The term “gender-based violence” is often used interchangeably with “violence against women,” reflecting the fact that a disproportionate number of gender-based crimes are committed against women. It is a global pandemic, deeply rooted in gender inequality, and is fundamentally a human rights violation. Gender-based violence has no social or economic boundaries. It is present in all countries, rich and poor, and affects all socio-economic groups.
Globally, 1 woman out of 3 has experienced some form of physical, psychological or sexual violence. In some countries, this dramatic figure increases, involving 7 women out of 10. Violence against women is one of the most spread human rights violations, and affects women of any age, ethnic group, culture, and social class. An estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation, whilst more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15.603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime.Women  and girls make up 80% of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across national borders annually, with 79% of  them trafficked for sexual exploitation.
It's also worth noting that political imprisonment is  also a key aspect of the institutional violence against Palestinian women enacted by Israeli occupation and colonization and enabled by U.S., Canadian and European support for Israel’s ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity targeting the Palestinian people. There are currently 40 Palestinian women prisoners, including student activists like Ruba Assi, Mays Abu Ghosh, Layan Kayed and Elia Abu Hijleh; parliamentarians and advocates like Khalida Jarrar; journalists like Bushra Tawil; and dozens of others.
Fiinally bcause of the COVID- 19 pandemic, stuck in a hostile environment, women this year battled patriarchy and toxicity due to the outbreak. Not only this, for years, women have been at the centre of abuse and gender-based violence. From battling societal norms to quashing stereotypes, women all over the world have been fighting for equality, peace and harmony. International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women is a day that emphasises the importance of creating an uplifting environment for women across the world. Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls and  raising  awareness is particularly important at this time due to the devastating impact of Coronavirus lockdown measures on survivors of gender-based violence. It’s essential that those impacted  know that their is help is available and they are not alone. Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. 25 November and the ensuing 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence which follow are a chance to mobilize and call attention to the urgent need to end violence against women and girls. 
Some more resources to help teach about this issue:
Amnesty International: Women’s Rights resources 
Women’s Aid: Expect Respect education toolkit (PDF) (quality assured by the PSHE Association)
The United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) has a page with background information and teaching activities for this Day.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Beunaventarra Durruti laid to rest (14/7/1889 - 20/11/1936)


With forty years of  fighting, of exile, of jailings, of living underground, of strikes, and of insurrection, Beunaventura Durutti, the  legendary Spanish revolutionary and Anarchist lived many lives. Uncompromising, intransigent revolutionary, he travelled a long road from rebellious young worker to the man who refused all bureacratic positions, honours, awards, and who at death was mourned by millions of women and men. Durutti believed and lived his belief that revolution and freedom were inseperable. 
He was born the son of a railway worker on July 14th 1896 in Leon, a city in central Spain. Aged 14 he leaves school to become a trainee mechanic in the railway yard. Like his father, he joins the socialist UGT union. He takes an active part in the strike of August 1917 when the government overturned an agreement between the union and the employers. This soon became a general strike throughout the area. The government brought in the army and within three days the strikers had been crushed. The troops behaved with extreme brutality, killing 70 and wounding 500 workers. 2,000 strikers were jailed. 
Durruti managed to escape to France, where he came into contact with exiled anarchists, whose influence led to him joining the anarchist CNT union upon his return in January 1919. He joins the fight against dictatorial employers in the Asturian mines and is arrested for the first time in March 1919; he escapes and over the next decade and a half he throws himself into activity for the CNT and for the anarchist movement. 
These years see him involved in several strikes and being forced into exile. Unwittingly the Spanish government ‘exported’ rebellion, as Durruti and his close friend Francisco Ascaso happily joined the struggle for freedom wherever they ended up, in both Europe and Latin America. 
The Spanish monarchy fell in 1931 and Durruti moved to Barcelona; accompanied by his French companion Emilienne, pregnant with their daughter Colette. He joined the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), a specifically anarchist organization, and together with other militants they form the ‘Nosotros’ group. These were members within the CNT of a radical tendency that harboured no illusions with respect to the recently proclaimed Republic, maintaining that the moment was ripe for continued progress towards a social revolution. 
With the electoral victory by the liberal/reformist Popular Front in February 1936, Left and Right were on a collision course, initiated very rapidly by Franco’s military rebellion on July 19th 1936. The CNT and the FAI confronted the army with courage, organization and mass mobilizations. 
They triumphed in much of Spain despite the fascist superiority in weapons and resources. The anarchist contribution was decisive in resisting the fascists throughout the country and in Catalonia defeated the rebels singlehandedly, Durruti being one of the boldest fighters in this battle.
 Jose Buenaventura Durruti, always fought for the poor and downtrodden, and against the State, whether of the social democratic, fascist or marxist varieties When Spanish fascists attempted to overthrow  the  Republican government on July 19th 1936, Durruti and other comrades helped put down the uprising in Barclenoa. He became a member of  the Anti fascist Militia Committee and led the "Durruti" Column an almost  mythical  group of CNT militants to the  Zaragoza front. The Durruti column was able to liberate  much of Aragon. He  was an inspiration to many as a partisan of the Spanish people with an internationalist vision, who for him personally revolutionary thought and action went hand in hand. 
In 1936, after the liberation of Aragon from Franco's forces, Durruti was interviewed by Pierre van Paasen of the Toronto Star. In this interview he gives his views on Fascism, government and social revolution despite the fact that his remarks have only been reported in English - and were never actually written down by him in his native Spanish, well worth reading and can be found here 
 On 14th November Durutti arrived in Madrid at the height of the  civil war from Aragon,by air with 5,000 men( numbers vary according to different accounts). The column had to go by train as all the railway tracks had been bombed. He went  to the frontline on the 16th.
Tragically Durruti on the 19th November  1936, he was shot dead  by a sniper, receiving a bullet to his chest, as he rallied his militia  to continue their resistance after days of fighting without respite. he died the following day, at the age of 40.  His death was a tragedy for all free thinkers, in the fight against fascist tyranny. His death was also a turning point in the Spanish Revolution and one of the events that lead to the defeat of the revolution. 
When his body was returned to Barcelona  over 500,000  people took to the streets on this day November 22 1936  to follow his funeral procession, the  biggest funeral in Spanish history, a tribute to the place he played in peoples hearts, his coffin draped with the familiar diagonal red and black flag. A hero to the Spanish working class ,and today  Durruti remains a lasting icon of anarchism, both in Spain and around the world, a man who.was determined to leave this world a better place than when he entered it. With the rise again of the far right, no better  time than to remember this inspirational man who died fighting against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Rare footage of Beunaventura Durutti's funeral.

This book is his definite biography :

 Further reading:-

Daniel Guerin - No Gods, no masters; 2006

Durruti - The people Armed - Abel Paz

   "  We  have always  loved in slums and holes in the wall. We will  know how to accommodate ourselves for  time. For you must not forget we can also build. It is we who built the palaces and cities here in Spain and America and everywhere. We the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the  least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth. There is  not the slightest  doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world, here in our hearts. That world is growing every minute."-  Beunaventarra Durruti

Spain, Aragon , 1936

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Still Dreaming of Joe Hill

I've written about Joe Hill here many times here previously. He remains a huge inspiration, politically and artistically, for people across the world over the last century, and I’m glad to be one of them. He was murdered 110  years ago today, by government firing squad for a crime he didn’t commit.
Joel Emmanuel Hägglund  was born in Sweden in  October 7th 1879. Joe aged 22 left for the United States in 1902 with his brother Paul and travelled the country extensively in search of work and that golden opportunity of the American dream, but he soon found that dream was a nightmare for many working men and women there. Joe joined the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) in 1910, at  the time workers across the country were being betrayed wholesale by the American Federation of Labor, a so-called union that collaborated to suppress the struggle for vital workers’ rights. While the AFL would exclude immigrants, non-whites, women and poorer laborers, the IWW was open to all, struggling for all together. In the early years of the 20th Century, the IWW was crucial in winning many of the rights Americans take for granted today,  and spread across the world, too.
Hill as a wobbly was incredibly active, whether it was organising strikes with dockworkers in San Pedro California, helping rebels in Baja California to overthrow the Diaz dictatorship or aiding workers with the Fraser River strike in British Columbia. Even fighting in the Mexican revolution His activities ensured he was blacklisted wherever he went so Joe just kept on moving around the States. 
Hill taught  himself piano violin and guitar and roused workers with songs he wrote such as Casey Jones and The Preacher and the Slave, the Slave, The Tramp, There is Power in a Union,  the Union Scab, and a hundred more. Many are still being sung today. Hill’s songs, because they were so easy to learn, so fun to sing, and condensed vital messages so skillfully, spread across the country, sung by crowds of workers regularly at strikes and protests. They became important for the movement: a way of keeping spirits high, of reminding everybody where they stood and with whom, and of spreading the word. His last song, The Rebel Girl, celebrated his comrade and friend, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, hero of the Bread and Roses strike and long time chair of the Communist Party USA. It was first sung at Joe Hill’s funeral. He was also a prolific cartoonist for  his union. 
Hill made his way to Utah in 1914 and settled in Park City where he got a job at a local silver mine. He wasn’t long in Park City when he was arrested and framed for the murder of a local grocery store owner and his son. Masked robbers had broken into the store and after a brief gun battle they left the store owner and his son dead. That same night Joe turned up to a doctors clinic with a bullet wound. The doctor grew suspicious of Joe’s gunshot wound and informed the police who promptly arrested him.
On the night in question Joe  had been with a married woman that night, 20 year old Hilda Erickson and in a pith of jealosy was shot by her husband,  but Joe  refused to disclose this in order not to disgrace them, even though it might mean his death.
The real culprit of the grocery store murders was an out of state career criminal  Even though the police had strong evidence to pin point the crime on this particular character they instead chose to frame Joe. Hill stayed in jail for well over a year..Despite the flim­sy nature of the evi­dence, Hill was con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to death, with the pros­e­cu­tor urg­ing con­vic­tion as much on the basis of Hill’s IWW mem­ber­ship as any puta­tive evi­dence of his involve­ment in the crime. In an article for a radical socialist newspaper Hill gave his own opinion. He wrote: “There had to be a scapegoat and the undersigned being, as they thought, a friendless tramp, a Swede, and worst of all, an IWW, had no right to live.
 An inter­na­tion­al amnesty move­ment pressed for a new tri­al,  including Helen Keller and president Woodrow Wilson, of all people demanded his release. There were vigils everywhere, and often where the people gathered they would sing Joe Hill songs.
Shortly before facing the firing squad, Joe Hill wrote his last will and testament in the style he’d always written:
My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan;
“Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.”
My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you,
Joe Hill
On November 19th 1915 Joe Hill was taken out into the yard, blindfolded, with a paper heart pinned to his chest. His last spoken word on this world was “Fire!”
His body was sent to Chicago, he’d  previously written to Bill Haywood another IWW leader, who himself would later be victim to another trumped-up murder charge. Hill’s letter said “Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organise… Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”
Up to 30,000 people attended his funeral. Joe was cremated and his ashes divided into 600 envelopes that were sent to IWW branches across the globe.
Since then  his songs have  continued to be sung, and the struggles he took part in continued, and the victories he helped win still inspires countless numbers of people people. His life and work continued to be an inspiration to political songwriters from Woody Guthrie to Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs to Billy Bragg and Utah Phillips. Hill has been immor­tal­ized in a wide vari­ety of cul­tur­al expres­sion, includ­ing poet­ry by Ken­neth Patchen, fic­tion by Wal­lace Steg­n­er, and a song by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robin­son, pop­u­lar­ized by Paul Robe­son, promis­ing where work­ing­men are out on strike, Joe Hill is at their side.”
The ballad of Joe Hill was written  by Alfred Hayes  in the summer of 1936, whilst at a left wing retreat called Camp Unity. By that September the song had been  published in the Daily Worker and became a popular song with  members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fighting Franco's fascists in Spain.
Haye’s song had been a popular one with the folk revivalists of the 1940s and 50s but it wasn’t until Joan Baez sang it at Woodstock did the song enter the mainstream. Luke Kelly sang it on The Dubliners 1970 album Revolution thus bringing it to the fore of the ballad scene in this part of the world. The song has to this day helped keep the memory of Joe Hill alive. 
The Ballad of Joe Hill 
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night 
Alive as you and me 
Says I ‘but Joe you’re ten years dead’ 
‘I never died’ says he ‘I never died’ says he. 
‘In Salt Lake City, Joe’ says I 
Him standing by my side 
‘They framed you on a murder charge’ 
Says Joe ‘But I ain’t dead’ says Joe ‘but I ain’t dead’ 
‘The copper bosses shot you Joe, 
They filled you full of lead’ 
‘Takes more than guns to kill a man’ 
Says Joe ’and I ain’t dead’ says Joe ’I ain’t dead’ 
And standing there as big as life 
And smiling with his eyes 
Says Joe ‘What they forgot to kill 
Went on to organize, went on to organize’ 
‘Joe Hill ain’t dead’ he says to me 
‘Joe Hill ain’t never died, 
Where working men are out on strike 
Joe Hill is at their side, Joe Hill is at their side.’ 
From San Diego up to Maine 
In every mine and mill 
Where working men defend their rights 
Its there you’ll find Joe
In 1988 it was discovered that an envelope had been seized by the United States Postal Service in 1917 because of its “subversive potential”. The envelope, with a photo affixed, was captioned, “Joe Hill murdered by the capitalist class, Nov. 19, 1915”. The Chicago IWW laid claim to the envelope, scattered some at sites of struggle, but also followed up a suggestion by Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman: portions were given  modern day Joe Hills, like Billy Bragg and Michelle Shocked to be eaten. Billy Bragg did indeed eat his, and still carries Michelle Shocked’s packet wherever he plays. So Joe Hill is metaphorically here among us , as we still daily struggle on, keeping his memory alive in all our dreams and aspirations.
I will end with an old poem of mine  that I hope releases my sincerity, and affection for Joe Hill, that recognises the courageousness of his actions. This rebel songwriter that many of us can't forget. His legacy still resonating widely across the world.
Still Dreaming of Joe Hill 
Through the dusty ages
the earth creaks and moans,
dark shadows try to break people bones
the air is still , thick with mire,
daily each border, delivers human shame
parasites still create walls of oppression,
build bloodstained monuments that can't thwart hope
because the mighty human spirit, carries resilience,
within us all, lay rivers of resistance.

Standing together we are strong
in our palms, another world glows,
with unity's strength 
we set people free,
no tyrant's grip 
can ever stop us,
we serve the weak and defenceless
protecting with dignity and defiance.
Today we still remember
when Joe Hill was shot down,
his enduring dream survives 
gives us strength,
shoulder to shoulder 
solidarity lives,
an injury to one
is an injury to all.