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Important Figures in British Socialism?


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 12:13 PM

I am going to use these thread to look at the history of socialism.

Robert Owen, the son of a saddler and ironmonger from Newtown in Wales, was born on 14th May, 1771. Robert was an intelligent boy who did very well at his local school, but at the age of ten, his father sent him to work in a large drapers in Stamford, Lincolnshire. After spending three years in Stamford, Robert moved to a drapers in London. This job lasted until 1787 and now aged sixteen, Robert found work at a large wholesale and retail drapery business in Manchester.

It was while Owen was working in Manchester that he heard about the success Richard Arkwright was having with his textile factory in Cromford. Richard was quick to see the potential of this way of manufacturing cloth and although he was only nineteen years old, borrowed £100 and set up a business as a manufacturer of spinning mules with John Jones, an engineer. In 1792 the partnership with Jones came to an end and Owen found work as a manager of Peter Drinkwater's large spinning factory in Manchester.

As manager of Drinkwater's factory, Owen met a lot of businessmen involved in the textile industry. This included David Dale, the owner of Chorton Twist Company in New Lanark, Scotland, the largest cotton-spinning business in Britain. The two men became close friends and in 1799 Robert married Dale's daughter, Caroline.

With the financial support of several businessmen from Manchester, Owen purchased Dale's four textile factories in New Lanark for £60,000. Under Owen's control, the Chorton Twist Company expanded rapidly. However, Robert Owen was not only concerned with making money, he was also interested in creating a new type of community at New Lanark. Owen believed that a person's character is formed by the effects of their environment. Owen was convinced that if he created the right environment, he could produce rational, good and humane people. Owen argued that people were naturally good but they were corrupted by the harsh way they were treated. For example, Owen was a strong opponent of physical punishment in schools and factories and immediately banned its use in New Lanark.

David Dale had originally built a large number of houses close to his factories in New Lanark. By the time Owen arrived, over 2,000 people lived in New Lanark village. One of the first decisions took when he became owner of New Lanark was to order the building of a school. Owen was convinced that education was crucially important in developing the type of person he wanted.

When Owen arrived at New Lanark children from as young as five were working for thirteen hours a day in the textile mills. He stopped employing children under ten and reduced their labour to ten hours a day. The young children went to the nursery and infant schools that Owen had built. Older children worked in the factory but also had to attend his secondary school for part of the day.

Owen's partners were concerned that these reforms would reduce profits. Unable to convince them of the wisdom of these reforms, Owen decided to borrow money from Archibald Campbell, a local banker, in order to buy their share of the business. Later, Owen sold shares in the business to men who agreed with the way he ran his factory.

Robert Owen hoped that the way he treated children at his New Lanark would encourage other factory owners to follow his example. It was therefore important for him to publicize his activities. He wrote several books including The Formation of Character (1813) and A New View of Society (1814). In 1815 Robert Owen sent detailed proposals to Parliament about his ideas on factory reform. This resulted in Owen appearing before Robert Peel and his House of Commons committee in April, 1816.

Robert Owen toured the country making speeches on his experiments at New Lanark. He also publishing his speeches as pamphlets and sent free copies to influential people in Britain. In one two month period he spent £4,000 publicizing his activities. In his speeches, Owen argued that he was creating a "new moral world, a world from which the bitterness of divisive sectarian religion would be banished". His criticisms of the Church of England upset many people, including reformers such as William Wilberforce and William Cobbett.

Disappointed with the response he received in Britain, Owen decided in 1825 to establish a new community in America based on the socialist ideas that he had developed over the years. Owen purchased an area of Indiana for £30,000 and called the community he established there, New Harmony. One of Owen's sons, Robert Dale Owen became the leader of the new community in America.

By 1827 Owen had lost interest in his New Lanark textile mills and decided to sell the business. His four sons and one of his daughters, Jane, moved to New Harmony and made it their permanent home but Owen decided to stay in England where he spent the rest of his life helping different reform groups. This included supporting organisations attempting to obtain factory reform, adult suffrage and the development of successful trade unions. He expressed his views in his journals, The Crisis and The New Moral World.

Owen also played an important role in establishing the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union in 1834 and the Association of All Classes and All Nations in 1835. Owen also attempted to form a new community at East Tytherly in Hampshire. However, like New Harmony in America, this experiment came to an end after disputes between members of the community. Although disillusioned with the failure of these communities and most of his political campaigns, Robert Owen continued to work for his "new moral order" until his death on 17th November, 1858.

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#2 John Simkin

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 12:33 PM

Frederick Denison Maurice was someone who was greatly influenced by the ideas of Robert Owen. In March 1831 Maurice became a member of the Church of England. After studying at University of Oxford, he was ordained in January, 1834 and became a curate at Bubbenhall, near Leamington. Two years later he was appointed chaplain to Guy's Hospital. His political views were expressed in the Educational Magazine, a journal he began editing in 1839. The journal ceased publication when Maurice was appointed Professor of Literature at King's College in 1840. In 1848 Maurice and a small group of tutors at King's College established Queen's College in Harley Street. The first group of students to attend this new training school for teachers included Dorothea Beale, Sophia Jex-Blake and Francis Mary Buss.

Maurice was a supporter of Chartism and after the decision by the House of Commons to reject the recent Chartist Petition in 1848, he joined with Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes to form the Christian Socialist movement. The group published two journals, Politics of the People (1848-1849) and The Christian Socialist (1850-51) and a series of pamphlets under the title Tracts on Christian Socialism.

His biographer, Bernard Reardon, has argued: "In 1850 Maurice publicly accepted the designation Christian socialist for his movement.... He disliked competition as fundamentally unchristian, and wished to see it, at the social level, replaced by co-operation, as expressive of Christian brotherhood... Maurice held Bible classes and addressed meetings attended by working men who, although his words carried less of social and political guidance than moral edification, were invariably impressed by the speaker. But the actual means by which the competitiveness of the prevailing economic system was to be mitigated was judged to be the creation of co-operative societies."

In 1853 Maurice published his book, Theological Essays. The principal of King's College was deeply shocked by the religious views expressed in the book. He brought the issue before the council of the college and on 27 October, 1853, it was announced that it had been decided that Maurice's "doctrines were dangerous" and that he been asked to resign from his post as Professor of Theology.

Maurice now concentrated on the reform of education. In February 1854 Maurice drew up a scheme for a Working Men's College. On 30th October 1854 Maurice delivered an inaugural address at St. Martin's Hall and the college started with over 130 students in a building in Red Lion Square. Maurice became principal and guest lecturers at the college included Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes.

In 1866 Maurice became Professor of Moral Philosophy at University of Cambridge. However, he continued to run the Working Men's College in London. While at Cambridge Maurice wrote two influential books, Social Morality (1869) and Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy (1871).

http://www.spartacus...k/REmaurice.htm

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#3 John Dolva

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Posted 25 October 2010 - 02:53 PM

John, do you consider the Communards of Cromwells time, even perhaps the revolution he led to success by peasantry (that then was marched off to die in large numbers in Ireland), because I think any history of socialism must consider Marx and therefore Dialectical Materialism and therefore thesis giving birth to antithesis. Will you also go on to look at the latter fragmentation into the various Internationals, for example the Healyites versus the Bolschevic factions in the Fourth (Trotsky) International, and perhaps even look at the emerging Fifth International and where it is within the UK contemporary socialism? I realise that condensed histories must necessarily be fragmented.

#4 John Simkin

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 07:32 AM

John, do you consider the Communards of Cromwells time, even perhaps the revolution he led to success by peasantry (that then was marched off to die in large numbers in Ireland), because I think any history of socialism must consider Marx and therefore Dialectical Materialism and therefore thesis giving birth to antithesis. Will you also go on to look at the latter fragmentation into the various Internationals, for example the Healyites versus the Bolschevic factions in the Fourth (Trotsky) International, and perhaps even look at the emerging Fifth International and where it is within the UK contemporary socialism? I realise that condensed histories must necessarily be fragmented.


That is a good question. Early thinkers were more concerned with "equal opportunities" rather than "equality of outcome". There is an argument that Gerald Winstanley was the first socialist. George Bernard Shaw said that the first socialist was Jesus Christ.

#5 John Dolva

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Posted 27 October 2010 - 02:34 PM

Thanks for the headsup on Gerald Winstanley.

Shaw displays many characteristics of a DaDa ist. His seemingly absurd sense of humour, much of which can be taken out of context and readily misrepresented, (deliberately or through an incapacity to comprehend it), was a characteristic form of satiric commentary that he employed and developed throughout his life along the lines of reductio ad absurdum as not just an artist but as a social commentator. He could just as well have picked other earlier persons like Buddha.

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I'm looking forward to your further installments in this topic.

#6 John Simkin

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 05:45 PM

Another important figure in British Socialism is Edward Carpenter. After being educated at the University of Cambridge he was ordained in 1870 and was appointed as curate to Frederick Denison Maurice, the leader of the Christian Socialist movement, who had a profound influence of Carpenter's political opinions.

Soon after Carptenter becoming a curate he joined the Republican Club, that led by Henry Fawcett, the husband of Millicent Fawcett, and the future leader of the NUWSS. It was later claimed that Carpenter despised the socially divisive capitalist system that allowed the ruling classes to live off the labour of the poor. During this time he became a vegetarian and a teetotaller.

By 1880 Carpenter had acknowledged his homosexuality and had moved in with Albert Fearnhough, a scythe riveter from Sheffield. When his father died in 1882 he left his son over £6,000. This enabled Carpenter to purchase a farm in Millthorpe, near Baslow in Derbyshire and to concentrate on his writing. Carpenter joined the Fellowship of the New Life, an organisation founded by Thomas Davidson. Other members included Havelock Ellis, Edith Lees, Edith Nesbit, Frank Podmore, Isabella Ford, Henry Hyde Champion, Hubert Bland, Edward Pease and Henry Stephens Salt. According to another member, Ramsay MacDonald, the group were influenced by the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Influenced by the work of John Ruskin, Carpenter began to develop ideas about a utopian future that took the form of a kind of primitive communism. By the 1880s Carpenter had established himself as a poet of democracy and socialism with books like Towards Democracy (1883). Over the next couple of years the book only sold 400 copies.

In March 1886 Carpenter established the Sheffield Socialist Society. Carpenter wrote that: "Our Sheffield Socialists organised lectures, addresses, pamphlets, with a street-corner propaganda which soon brought us in amusing and exciting incidents in the way of wrangles with the police and the town-crowds. At first an atmosphere of considerable suspicion rested upon the movement. Where there had been only jeers or taunts at first, crowds come to listen with serious and sympathetic men." According to his biographer, intellectuals such as Roger Fry, Charles Robert Ashbee and Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson attended meetings which encouraged Carpenter that it was possible to reconcile culture and labour.

Edward Carpenter was also a member of the Fabian Society and in 1889 it published his Civilization: its Cause and Cure. In the book he argued that capitalism was a social and moral disease and condemned the industrial pollution that was taking place in Sheffield and other British towns and cities. He joined Peter Kropotkin in a study of small industries and defended anarchism in the courts. Carpenter also joined the Humanitarian League, an organisation created by Henry Salt. Carpenter took part in its campaigns against vivisection, the abolition of corporal and capital punishment, for prison reform and for the abolition of cruel sports.

In 1893 Carpenter joined with Keir Hardie, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Mann, H. H. Champion, Ben Tillett, Philip Snowden, and Ramsay Macdonald to form the Independent Labour Party. It was decided that the main objective of the party would be "to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange".

Carpenter believed that homosexuality was innate and should not be classed as a sin. A strong advocate of sexual freedom, Carpenter wrote several pamphlets on the subject including Sex Love and Its Place in a Free Society (1894), Women and her Place in a Free Society (1894), Marriage in a Free Society (1894) and Homogenic Love and Its Place in a Free Society (1895).

After the House of Commons passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act that made all homosexual acts illegal, Carpenter had to abandon his campaign for sexual tolerance. In 1908 Carpenter returned to this theme with his book Intermediate Sex. Although the book created a great deal of hostility it had a strong influence on literary figures such as Siegfried Sassoon, D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster.

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#7 John Simkin

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Posted 23 February 2011 - 04:34 PM

Robert Bontine Cunninghame, the eldest of the three sons of Major William Cunninghame Bontine (1825–1883) of the Scots Greys and Anne Elizabeth (1828–1925) was born on 24th May 1852. His mother was the daughter of Admiral Charles Elphinstone Fleming. Robert spent most of his childhood on the family estate of Finlaystone in Renfrewshire.

Robert was educated at Hill House (1863–1865) in Leamington Spa and Harrow School (1865–1867). After receiving private tuition in London and Brussels, he moved to Argentina where his family owned a cattle ranch. He also spent time in Paraguay, Mexico and Uruguay.

On 24th October 1878 he married Gabrielle de la Balmondière, who claimed to be the Chilean-born daughter of a French father and a Spanish mother. It was not until much later that it was discovered that she was really Caroline Horsfall, from Masham in Yorkshire. The couple had no children but she had a successful writing career. According to Cedric Watts "her writings include essays, poetic translations, and a substantial biography, Santa Teresa (1894)."

After the death of his father in 1883 he changed his name to Robert Cunninghame Graham. He returned to England and became interested in politics. He attended socialist meetings where he heard and met William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, H. M. Hyndman, Keir Hardie and John Burns. Graham was converted to socialism and he began to speak at public meetings. He was an impressive orator and was especially good at dealing with hecklers.

Although a socialist, in the 1886 General Election he stood as a Liberal at North-West Lanarkshire. His election programme was extremely radical and called for the abolition of the House of Lords, universal suffrage, the nationalisation of the land, mines and other industries, free school meals, disestablishment of the Church of England, Scottish Home Rule and the eight-hour-day. Supported by liberals and socialists, Graham defeated the Conservative Party candidate by 322 votes. He therefore became the first socialist elected to Parliament.

His biographer, Cedric Watts, points out: "During his time in the house (until 1892), he condemned imperialism, racial prejudice, corporal and capital punishment, profiteering landlords and industrialists, child labour, and the House of Lords; he advocated the eight-hour working day, free education, home rule for Ireland and Scotland, and the general nationalization of industry." On 6th March 1889, he was asked in the House of Commons whether he preached "pure unmitigated Socialism", he replied, "Undoubtedly."

Robert Cunninghame Graham refused to accept the conventions of the House of Commons. On 12th September 1887 was suspended from Parliament for making what was called a "disrespectful reference" to the House of Lords. He therefore became the first MP ever to be suspended from Parliament for swearing (he used the word damn).

Graham's main concerns in the House of Commons was the plight of the unemployed and the preservation of civil liberties. He complained about attempts in 1886 and 1887 by the police to prevent public meetings and free speech. The Social Democratic Federation (SDF) organised a meeting for 13th February, 1887 in Trafalgar Square to protest against the policies of the Conservative Government headed by the Marquess of Salisbury. Sir Charles Warren, the head of the Metropolitan Police wrote to Herbert Matthews, the Home Secretary: "We have in the last month been in greater danger from the disorganized attacks on property by the rough and criminal elements than we have been in London for many years past. The language used by speakers at the various meetings has been more frank and open in recommending the poorer classes to help themselves from the wealth of the affluent." As a result of this letter, the government decided to ban the meeting and the police were given the orders to stop the marchers entering Trafalgar Square.

The SDF decided to continue with their planned meeting with Robert Cunninghame Graham, Henry M. Hyndman and John Burns being the three main speakers. Edward Carpenter explained what happened next: "The three leading members of the SDF - Hyndman, Burns and Cunninghame Graham - agreed to march up arm-in-arm and force their way if possible into the charmed circle. Somehow Hyndman was lost in the crowd on the way to the battle, but Graham and Burns pushed their way through, challenged the forces of Law and Order, came to blows, and were duly mauled by the police, arrested, and locked up. I was in the Square at the time. The crowd was a most good-humoured, easy going, smiling crowd; but presently it was transformed. A regiment of mounted police came cantering up. The order had gone forth that we were to be kept moving. To keep a crowd moving is I believe a technical term for the process of riding roughshod in all directions, scattering, frightening and batoning the people."

Walter Crane was one of those who witnessed this attack: "I never saw anything more like real warfare in my life - only the attack was all on one side. The police, in spite of their numbers, apparently thought they could not cope with the crowd. They had certainly exasperated them, and could not disperse them, as after every charge - and some of these drove the people right against the shutters in the shops in the Strand - they returned again."

The Times took a different view of this event: "It was no enthusiasm for free speech, no reasoned belief in the innocence of Mr O'Brien, no serious conviction of any kind, and no honest purpose that animated these howling toughs. It was simple love of disorder, hope of plunder it may be hoped that the magistrates will not fail to pass exemplary sentences upon those now in custody who have laboured to the best of their ability to convert an English Sunday into a carnival of blood."

Both Cunninghame Graham and John Burns were put on trial for their involvement in the demonstration that became known as Bloody Sunday. One of the witnesses at the trial was EC: "I was asked to give evidence in favour of the defendants, and gladly consented - though I had not much to say, except to testify to the peaceable character of the crowd and the high-handed action of the police. In cross-examination I was asked whether I had not seen any rioting; and when I replied in a very pointed way 'Not on the part of the people!' a large smile went round the Court, and I was not plied with any more questions. Cunninghame Graham was found guilty and sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment.

When Graham was released from Pentonville Prison he continued his campaign to improve the rights of working people and to curb their economic exploitation. He was suspended from the House of Commons in December, 1888 for protesting about the working conditions of chain makers. Graham was a supporter of the eight hour day and made several attempts to introduce a bill on the subject. He made some progress with this in the summer of 1892 but he was unable to persuade the Conservative Government, headed by the Marquess of Salisbury, to allocate time for the bill to be fully debated.

Along with his great friend, James Keir Hardie, Graham was a strong supporter of Scottish Independence. In 1886 the two men formed the Scottish Home Rule Association and while in the House of Commons made several attempts to persuade fellow MPs of the desirability of a Scottish Parliament. On one occasion Graham humorously argued that he wanted a "national parliament with the pleasure of knowing that the taxes were wasted in Edinburgh instead of London".

While in the House of Commons Graham became increasingly more radical. He supported workers in their industrial disputes and was actively involved with Annie Besant and the Matchgirls Strike and the 1889 Dockers' Strike. In July 1889 he attended the Marxist Congress of the Second International in Paris with James Keir Hardie, William Morris, Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling. The following year he made a speech in Calais that was considered by the authorities to be so revolutionary that he was arrested and expelled from France.

In the 1892 General Election Graham stood as the Scottish Labour Party candidate for Glasgow Camlachie. He was defeated and this brought his parliamentary career to an end. In 1894 he prospected unsuccessfully for gold in Spain, and in 1897 he travelled into the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. On his return he published his finest travel book, Mogreb-el-Acksa (1898).

During his life Graham had a large number of books and articles published. Subject matter included history, biography, politics, travel and seventeen collections of short stories. Cedric Watts has argued: "Cunninghame Graham's own literary output was full and diverse. During his lifetime he was often praised highly for writing which was sharply realistic, ironic, and quirkily personal... But most of his volumes are collections of tales and essays, many of which had previously appeared in magazines. Their ratio of reminiscence to invention is usually high; meditative recollection of his past travels and encounters often provides the basis. The more elegiac writing may now seem dated, but his sceptical wit and his eye for the incongruous provide ample pleasures."

Despite being out of the House of Commons Graham continued to be active in politics. He retained a strong belief in Scottish Home Rule. In 1928 he joined forces with Compton Mackenzie, Hugh MacDiarmidand John MacCormick to establish the National Party of Scotland. He was elected president and was several times the Scottish Nationalist candidate for the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow University.

Robert Cunninghame Graham died from pneumonia on 20th March, 1936, in the Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His body was brought back to Scotland where he was buried with his wife, who had died in 1906, in the grounds of the ruined Inchmahome Augustinian Priory in the Lake of Menteith in April 1936.

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#8 John Simkin

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 04:50 PM

John Burns, the sixteenth child of Alexander Burns, a Scottish fitter, and Barbara Smith, was born in Lambeth on 20th October, 1858. His father deserted his mother and his mother took in washing and the family moved to a basement dwelling in Battersea. John attended St Mary's National School but left when he was ten and after a series of short-term jobs was apprenticed as an engineer at Mowlems, a major London contractor.

In 1879 Burns joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and found employment with the United Africa Company. Horrified by the way the Africans were treated, Burns became convinced that only socialism would remove the inequalities between races and classes. He returned to England in 1881 and soon afterwards formed the Battersea branch of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF). One of the first people to join was another young engineer, Tom Mann.

Burns developed a reputation as an outstanding public speaker. One member of the SDF described him as "a sort of giant gramophone". According to his biographer, Kenneth D. Brown: "The language Burns used at this time was often cited later as evidence of his revolutionary aspirations, but he was sometimes tempted into excesses because he so revelled in his ability to inspire adulation in a crowd, and many of his words were subsequently taken out of context. Fundamentally, he never wavered in his conviction that social change was the priority, the method of achieving it a secondary consideration. Even before his imprisonment he had shown signs of disenchantment with the SDF's chronic internecine bickering and its desire to engage in class warfare in the House of Commons, rather than seeking some tangible benefits for ordinary people."

Burns was elected to the executive council of the Social Democratic Federation. Some members of the Social Democratic Federation disapproved of the dictorial style of the SDF leader, Henry M. Hyndman. In December 1884 William Morris and Eleanor Marx left to form a new group called the Socialist League. Burns remained in the SDF and in the 1885 General Election was their unsuccessful candidate in Nottingham West. However, his 598 votes dwarfed the total of 59 cast for the two SDF candidates in other constituencies.

The Social Democratic Federation organised a meeting for 13th February, 1887 in Trafalgar Square to protest against the policies of the Conservative Government headed by the Marquess of Salisbury. Sir Charles Warren, the head of the Metropolitan Police wrote to Herbert Matthews, the Home Secretary: "We have in the last month been in greater danger from the disorganized attacks on property by the rough and criminal elements than we have been in London for many years past. The language used by speakers at the various meetings has been more frank and open in recommending the poorer classes to help themselves from the wealth of the affluent." As a result of this letter, the government decided to ban the meeting and the police were given the orders to stop the marchers entering Trafalgar Square.

Henry Hamilton Fyfe was one of the special constables on duty that day: "When the unemployed dockers marched on Trafalgar Square, where meetings were then forbidden, I enrolled myself as a special constable to defend the classes against the masses. The dockers striking for their sixpence an hour were for me the great unwashed of music-hall and pantomime songs. Wearing an armlet and wielding a baton, I paraded and patrolled and felt proud of myself."

The SDF decided to continue with their planned meeting with John Burns, Henry M. Hyndman and Robert Cunninghame Graham being the three main speakers. Edward Carpenter explained what happened next: "The three leading members of the SDF - Hyndman, Burns and Cunninghame Graham - agreed to march up arm-in-arm and force their way if possible into the charmed circle. Somehow Hyndman was lost in the crowd on the way to the battle, but Graham and Burns pushed their way through, challenged the forces of Law and Order, came to blows, and were duly mauled by the police, arrested, and locked up. I was in the Square at the time. The crowd was a most good-humoured, easy going, smiling crowd; but presently it was transformed. A regiment of mounted police came cantering up. The order had gone forth that we were to be kept moving. To keep a crowd moving is I believe a technical term for the process of riding roughshod in all directions, scattering, frightening and batoning the people."

Burns and Robert Cunninghame Graham were put on trial for their involvement in the demonstration that became known as Bloody Sunday. One of the witnesses at the trial was Edward Carpenter: "I was asked to give evidence in favour of the defendants, and gladly consented - though I had not much to say, except to testify to the peaceable character of the crowd and the high-handed action of the police. In cross-examination I was asked whether I had not seen any rioting; and when I replied in a very pointed way 'Not on the part of the people!' a large smile went round the Court, and I was not plied with any more questions. Cunninghame Graham and Burns were both found guilty and sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment.

Burns was now a well-known labour leader and in the elections for the newly created London County Council, he was elected to represent Battersea. Burns worked very closely with John Benn and together they managed to get a motion passed that stated that in future all Council work should only be awarded to those contractors who agreed to observe trade union standards on wages and working conditions.

In June 1889 he left the Social Democratic Federation after a disagreement with the party's leader, H. Hyndman. Like his friend, Tom Mann, Burns was now convinced that socialism would be achieved through trade union activity rather than by parliamentary elections.

When the London Dock Strike started in August 1889, Ben Tillett asked John Burns to help win the dispute. Burns, a passionate orator, helped to rally the dockers when they were considering the possibility of returning to work. He was also involved in raising money and gaining support from other trade unionists. During the dispute Burns emerged with Ben Tillett and Tom Mann as one of the three main leaders of the strike.

The employers hoped to starve the dockers back to work but other trade union activists such as Will Thorne, Eleanor Marx, James Keir Hardie and Henry Hyde Champion, gave valuable support to the 10,000 men now out on strike. Organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Labour Church raised money for the strikers and their families. Trade Unions in Australia sent over £30,000 to help the dockers to continue the struggle. After five weeks the employers accepted defeat and granted all the dockers' main demands.

Kenneth D. Brown has argued: "While he negotiated skilfully with intractable employers and organized picket lines tirelessly, Burns's major contribution was his oratory which sustained the strikers... The long-drawn-out stoppage and its successful outcome made Burns an internationally known figure. Everywhere his support was coveted to boost the ensuing surge of trade union organization and in 1890 he was elected to the parliamentary committee of the TUC. Burns's moderation in conducting the dock strike earned it considerable sympathy from the wider public and did much to dispel the militant reputation he had acquired in 1886 and 1887."

Henry Snell pointed out: "John Burns was one of the Social Democratic Federation's best speakers. He was then about twenty-five years of age, and in the full strength of his manhood. His power as a popular street-corner orator was probably unequalled in that generation. He had a voice of unusual range, a big chest capacity; and he possessed great physical and nervous vitality. His method of attracting a crowd was, immediately he rose to speak, and for one or two minutes only, to open all the stops of his organ-like voice. The crowd once secured, his vocal energy was modified, but his vitality and masterful diction held his audience against all competitors." Tom Mann added: "He had a splendid voice and a very effective and business-like way of putting a case. He looked well on a platform. He always wore a serge suit, a white shirt, a black tie, and a bowler hat. Surprisingly fluent, with a voice that could fill every part of the largest hall or theatre, and, if the wind were favourable, could reach a twenty-thousand audience in the parks, etc."

However, Beatrice Webb was not impressed with John Burns: "Jealously and suspicion of rather a mean kind is John Burns's burning sin. A man of splendid physique, fine strong intelligence, human sympathy, practical capacity, he is unfitted for a really great position by his utter inability to be a constant for a loyal comrade. He stands absolutely alone. He is intensely jealous of other Labour men, acutely suspicious of all middle-class sympathizers, while his hatred of Keir Hardie reaches about the dimensions of mania. All said and done, it is pitiful to see this splendid man a prey to egotism of the most sordid kind."

In the 1892 General Election John Burns was elected to represent Battersea in the House of Commons. Burns now joined the other socialist who won a seat in the election, James Keir Hardie. Whereas Burns was willing to work closely with the Liberal Party, Hardie argued for the formation of a new working class political party. Burns attended the meeting in 1900 that established the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party, but refused to join and continued to align himself to the Liberal Party.

Burns knew that the Liberal Party might win the next election whereas the Labour Party would take a long time before it was in a position to form a government. When the Liberal Party won the 1906 General Election, the new Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, offered John Burns the post of President of the Local Government Board.

Burns, the first member of the working-class to become a government minister, disappointed the labour movement with his period in office. Burns was responsible for only one important piece of legislation, the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909, during his time in government. Burns, who was now earning £5,000 a year, was bitterly attacked in the House of Commons by old comrades such as Fred Jowett, when he argued for no outdoor relief to be given to the poor. Burns was reminded how he had been a strong critic of the Poor Law and the workhouse system when he had been a member of the Social Democratic Federation.

Kenneth D. Brown has pointed out: "It has been generally concluded that Burns's eight years at the Local Government Board were barren. Behind this judgement lies the view, originally propagated by Beatrice Webb, that Burns's civil servants played on his personal vanity, flattering him into becoming an ineffective and reactionary minister. Burns's vanity is not in doubt: when Campbell-Bannerman offered him the Local Government Board, Burns is alleged to have replied that the prime minister had never done a more popular thing. But Mrs Webb's views were heavily influenced by the fact that Burns was the rock on which her ambitious plans for restructuring the poor law foundered. He had long believed that poverty and its related problems were the combined outcome of individual failure and an inadequate social environment. This was reinforced by a strong streak of puritanism which expressed itself in his opposition to smoking, drinking, and gambling."

Burns was retained in the cabinet when Herbert Asquith replaced Henry Campbell-Bannerman as prime minister in 1908. Supporters of Burns point out that he did have his successes. For example, he piloted through the House of Commons the 1910 Census Bill that sought to obtain more information about both family structure and urban conditions in order for the government to develop policies to tackle problems such as infant mortality and slum housing. By 1913 his administrative reforms had resulted in a more effective deployment of medical staff in the infirmaries.

Burns gradually began to question the growth in the Welfare State. He told a conference in August 1913, that the government and charity organisations should not "supersede the mother, and they should not by over-attention sterilise her initiative and capacity to do what every mother should be able to do for herself." Beatrice Webb was furious with this approach to poverty: "Burns is a monstrosity, an enormous personal vanity feeding on the deference and flattery yielded to patronage and power. He talks incessantly, and never listens to anyone except the officials to whom he must listen in order to accomplish the routine work of of his office. Hence he is completely in their hands and is becoming the most hidebound of departmental chiefs." Fred Jowett argued that he had clearly gone over to the other side.

In 1914 Burns was appointed as President of the Board of Trade. However, soon afterwards, the British government decided to declare war on Germany. Burns was opposed to Britain becoming involved in a European conflict and along with John Morley and Charles Trevelyan, resigned from the government. Burns stated: "Why four great powers should fight over Serbia no fellow can understand. This I know, there is one fellow who will have nothing to do with such a criminal folly, the effects of which will be appalling to the welter of nations who will be involved. It must be averted by all the means in our power. Apart from the merits of the case it is my especial duty to dissociate myself, and the principles I hold and the trusteeship for the working classes I carry from such a universal crime as the contemplated war will be. My duty is clear and at all costs will be done."

Kenneth D. Brown has argued: "This was the effective end of Burns's political career although he did not leave the House of Commons until 1918. There was no obvious political home for him in post-war Britain. He had forfeited the support of the Asquithian Liberals through his anti-war stance and he would not consider supporting Lloyd George, for whom he had a deep antipathy. But neither could Burns, despite a few fanciful entries in his diary, contemplate a return as a Labour candidate, for his stewardship of the Local Government Board, particularly his handling of unemployment and the Poplar poor-law inquiry, had closed that particular door."

In 1919 Andrew Carnegie left Burns an annuity of £1,000. Burns spent the rest of his life on his hobbies: the history of London, book collecting and cricket. He wrote: "Books are a real solace, friendships are good but action is better than all for the moment and for some time great events have been denied me and forward action may not come my way.

John Burns died of heart failure and senile arteriosclerosis at the Bolingbroke Hospital in Wandsworth on 24 January 1943, and was buried in St Mary's Churchyard in Battersea.

http://www.spartacus....uk/REburns.htm

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#9 John Simkin

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Posted 15 August 2011 - 02:37 PM

It has been argued that John Lilburne was one of Britain's first socialists. He was born in Thickley Puncherdon, in 1615. His father, Richard Lilburne, owned land in Durham. His mother, Margaret Lilburne, was the daughter of Thomas Hixon, the yeoman of the wardrobe to Elizabeth I. Lilburne's mother died soon after he was born. He was educated at schools in Newcastle and Auckland. At the age of fifteen he sent by his father to London where he become an apprentice in the cloth trade.

In 1637 Lilburne met John Bastwick, a Puritan preacher who had just had his ears cut off for writing a pamphlet attacking the religious views of the William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Lilburne was shocked that someone could be so severely punished for expressing their religious beliefs. Lilburne offered to help Bastwick in his struggle with the Anglican Church. Eventually it was agreed that Lilburne should go to Holland to organise the printing of a book that Bastwick had written.

In December 1637 Lilburne was arrested and charged with printing and circulating unlicensed books. On 13th February, 1638, he was found guilty and sentenced to be fined £500, whipped, pilloried and imprisoned. The following month he was whipped from Fleet Prison to Palace Yard. When he was placed in the pillory he tried to make a speech praising John Bastwick and was gagged.

While in prison Lilburne wrote about his punishments, The Work of the Beast (1638) and an attack on the Anglican Church, Come Out of Her, My People (1639). In November 1640, Charles I was forced to recall Parliament for the first time in eleven years. Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan member of the House of Commons, made a speech about Lilburne's case. After a debate on the issue. Parliament voted to release him from prison.

When the Civil War broke out in 1642, Lilburne immediately joined the Parliamentary army. Lilburne fought at Edgehill but was captured at Brentford on 12th November, 1642. Charged with "bearing arms against the king" he was put on trial at Oxford. Lilburne was in danger of losing his life until Parliament announced on 17th December, 1642, that it would carry out immediate reprisals if he was executed.

In 1643 Lilburne was released during an exchange of prisoners. He now joined the army led by the Edward Montagu and took part in the siege of Lincoln. He was a good soldier and in May 1644 was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. However, in April 1645 he left the army after being told he could not join the New Model Army without taking the covenant.

On 7th January, 1645, Lilburne wrote a letter to William Prynne complaining about the intolerance of the Presbyterians and arguing for freedom of speech for the Independents. Prynne was furious with Lilburne for making this comments and he was reported to the House of Commons. As a result, he was brought before the Committee of Examinations on 17th May, 1645, and warned about his future behaviour.

Lilburne was once again called to appear before the Committee of Examinations on 18th June, 1645. For the second time he was let off with a caution. William Prynne was unhappy with this verdict and arranged for the publication of two pamphlets about Lilburne, A Fresh Discovery of Prodigious Wandering Stars and Firebrands and The Liar Confounded. Lilburne replied with Innocency and Truth Justified.

In July 1645 Lilburne's old friend, John Bastwick, reported Lilburne to the House of Commons, claiming he had made critical comments about the Speaker, William Lenthall. Lilburne was arrested and sent to Newgate Prison. While in captivity wrote a pamphlet where he repeated the charges against Lenthall and other members of Parliament. Lilburne was released without charge on 14th October, 1645.

John Bradshaw now brought Lilburne's case before the Star Chamber. He pointed out that Lilburne was still waiting for most of the pay he should have received while serving in the Parliamentary army. Lilburne was awarded £2,000 in compensation for his sufferings. However, Parliament refused to pay this money and Lilburne was once again arrested. Brought before the House of Lords Lilburne was sentenced to seven years and fined £4,000.

While in prison Lilburne wrote several pamphlets. This included Anatomy of the Lords' Tyranny (1646), Regal Tyranny Discovered (1647), The Oppressed Man's Opinions Declared (1647) and London's Liberty in Chains Discovered (1648). He also wrote A Remonstrance of Many Thousands Citizens with his friend Richard Overton.

On 1st August, 1648, the House of Commons voted for Lilburne's release. The next day the House of Lords agreed and also remitted the fine imposed two years earlier. On his release Lilburne became involved in writing and distributing pamphlets on soldiers' rights. He pointed out that even though soldiers were fighting for Parliament, very few of them were allowed to vote for it. Lilburne argued that all adult males should have the vote and that these elections should take place every year. Lilburne, who believed that people were corrupted by power, argued that no members of the House of Commons should be allowed to serve for more than one year at a time.

Lilburne and his friends, including John Wildman, Richard Overton and William Walwyn, formed a new political party called the Levellers. The Levellers' political programme included: voting rights for all adult males, annual elections, complete religious freedom, an end to the censorship of books and newspapers, the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, trial by jury, an end to taxation of people earning less than £30 a year and a maximum interest rate of 6%.

The Levellers started publishing their own newspaper, The Moderate. They also organised meetings where they persuaded people to sign a Petition supporting their policies. His wife, Elizabeth Lilburne, was also active in this campaign.

When these reforms were opposed by officers in the New Model Army, the Levellers called for the soldiers to revolt. In March 1649, Lilburne, John Wildman, Richard Overton and William Walwyn were arrested and charged with advocating communism. After being brought before the Council of State they were sent to the Tower of London.

Lilburne was tried first and after a jury refused to convict him Lilburne and the other Levellers were released on 8th November. Lilburne was granted £3,000 in compensation for his sufferings and was granted estates in Durham.

Oliver Cromwell agreed with some of the Leveller's policies, including the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords. However, he refused to increase the number of people who could vote in elections. Lilburne now began writing pamphlets attacking Cromwell's government. Cromwell responded by having Lilburne arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Over 10,000 people signed a petition calling for Lilburne's release but Cromwell refused to let him go.

Lilburne was eventually charged with treason. It was claimed that the pamphlets that he had written had encouraged people to rebel against Cromwell's government. However, the jury at Lilburne's trial found him not guilty. As soon as he was released Lilburne returned to writing pamphlets. He attacked Cromwell's suppression of Roman Catholics in Ireland, Parliament's persecution of Royalists in England and the decision to execute Charles I.

Once again Lilburne was arrested. This time Oliver Cromwell banished him from England. For four months Lilburne lived in Holland, but in June 1653 he was caught trying to get back into England. Once again Lilburne was imprisoned and charged with treason. This result was also the same; the jury found him not guilty. However, this time Cromwell was unwilling to release him.

On 16th March, 1654, Lilburne was transferred to Elizabeth Castle, Guernsey. Colonel Robert Gibbon, the governor of the island, later complained that Lilburne gave him more trouble than "ten cavaliers". In October, 1655, he was moved to Dover Castle. While he was in prison Lilburne continued writing pamphlets including one that explained why he had joined the Quakers.

In 1656 Oliver Cromwell agreed to release Lilburne. John Lilburne's years of struggle with the government had worn him out and on 29th August, 1657, at the age of 43, he died at his home at Eltham.

http://www.spartacus...STUlilburne.htm

http://www.spartacus...TUlevellers.htm

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#10 John Simkin

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 06:30 PM

Although he never used the term "socialism" (he preferred the term "leveller", Thomas Rainsborough, played an important role in the development of the movement. Rainsborough was born in 1610. A strong opponent of Charles I and after the outbreak of the Civil War he served in the parliamentary fleet. In 1643 he was given command of the Swallow, a 34 gun ship. Soon afterwards he helped General Thomas Fairfax in the defence of Hull.

Rainsborough joined the army and took part in the capture of Crowland in December, 1644. When the New Model Army was formed he was given command of a regiment. He fought at Naseby and participated in the sieges of Bridgwater, Sherborne and Bristol.

A radical in politics and religion he was elected to represent Droitwich in the House of Commons in 1646. In October 1647 Rainsborough took part in the Putney Debates. The debate was based on An Agreement of the People, a constitutional proposal drafted by the Levellers. Senior officers in the New Model Army such as Henry Ireton argued against the idea of universal suffrage. Rainsborough, was the highest ranking officer who supported the Levellers. In the debate Rainsborough argued: "that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent be put himself under that government." A compromise was eventually agreed that the vote would be granted to all men except alms-takers and servants.

The House of Commons was angry with Rainsborough for taking this point of view and General Thomas Fairfax was called before Parliament to answer for his behaviour. For a time Rainsborough was denied the right to take up his post as Vice Admiral. Eventually, after support from Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, Parliament voted 88 to 66 in favour of him going to sea.

As a supporter of the Levellers, Rainsborough was unpopular with his officers and he was refused permission to board his ship. Parliament now appointed the Earl of Warwick as Lord High Admiral and Rainsborough returned to the army. In October 1646 General Thomas Fairfax sent him to take command of the siege of Pontefract Castle.

On 29th October, 1648, a party of Cavaliers attempted to kidnap Rainsborough while he was in Doncaster. During the struggle to capture him he was mortally wounded. At his funeral in London the crowd wore ribbons colored sea-green, which became the emblem for the Leveller movement.


http://www.spartacus...ainsborough.htm

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#11 John Simkin

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 08:24 AM

Another 17th century figure that needs to be considered is Gerrard Winstanley. Influenced by the ideas of the John Lilburne and the Levellers, Winstanley published four pamphlets in 1648. He argued that all land belonged to the community rather than to separate individuals. In January, 1649, he published the "The New Law of Righteousness". In the pamphlet he wrote: "In the beginning of time God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another." Soon afterwards he established a group called the Diggers. In April 1649 Winstanley, William Everard, a former soldier in the New Model Army and about thirty followers took over some common land on St George's Hill in Surrey and "sowed the ground with parsnips, carrots and beans."

Digger groups also took over land in Kent (Cox Hill), Surrey (Cobham), Buckinghamshire (Iver) and Northamptonshire (Wellingborough). Local landowners were very disturbed by these developments. In July 1649 the government gave instructions for Winstanley to be arrested and for General Thomas Fairfax to "disperse the people by force" in case this is the "beginning to whence things of a greater and more dangerous consequence may grow".

Oliver Cromwell is reported to have said: "What is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces." Instructions were given for the Diggers to be beaten up and for their houses, crops and tools to be destroyed. These tactics were successful and within a year all the Digger communities in England had been wiped out.

Winstanley continued to argue for the redistribution of land and in 1652 published "The Law of Freedom". In the pamphlet he criticised the government of Oliver Cromwell: "And now you have the power of the land in your hand, you must do one of these two things. First, either set the land free to the oppressed commoners, who assisted you, and paid the Army their wages; and then you will fulfil the Scriptures and your own engagements, and so take possession of your deserved honour. Or secondly, you must only remove the Conqueror's power out of the King's hand into other men's".

In "The Law of Freedom" Winstanley takes the view held by the Anabaptists that all institutions were by their nature corrupt: "nature tells us that if water stands long it corrupts; whereas running water keeps sweet and is fit for common use". To prevent power corrupting individuals he advocated that all officials should be elected every year. "When public officers remain long in place of judicature they will degenerate from the bounds of humility, honesty and tender care of brethren, in regard the heart of man is so subject to be overspread with the clouds of covetousness, pride, vain glory."

Winstanley goes on to argue for a society without money or wages: "The earth is to be planted and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go into the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money."

The Law of Freedom sold well and for a while Winstanley's ideas appeared popular with the English people. However, the Restoration brought an end to the discussion about the way society should be organized.

In 1660 Winstanley moved to Cobham and later became a Quaker and worked as a merchant in London. Gerrard Winstanley died on 10th September, 1676.

http://www.spartacus...Uwinstanley.htm



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