Thursday, 18 July 2019

Peterloo: "The Manchester Massacre."

St Peter's Fields Manchester August 16th, 1819

As we approach the bicentenary of Peterloo, it is surprising how relatively few people in the UK know anything about it. History is written by the victors, or perhaps as George Orwell more sinisterly put it,

He who controls the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present, controls the past.
Trafalgar, Waterloo and The Great Reform Bill are uncontroversially remembered, but Peterloo is not a part of our accepted national story.

A basic summary of the events of August 16th 1819:- A mass meeting of some 50,000 men, women and children, campaigning for universal suffrage, met in Manchester to hear the radical politician, Henry "Orator" Hunt. The local magistrates gave the order to arrest Hunt, the Manchester Yeomanry charged into the crowd, killing a child, and then the 15th Hussars were ordered to disperse them. 18 people were killed, and around 700 injured. Hunt and nine others were in 1820 tried in York on a charge of conspiracy to overthrow the Government. They were convicted on a lesser charge and imprisoned. Hunt got the longest term, serving a sentence of two and a half years.

Peterloo was followed by a period of suppression, which in the eyes of many became associated with the victor of Waterloo and later Tory Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. When the latter made his only appearance in Manchester over ten years later, to attend the opening of the Manchester Liverpool railway, he was roundly booed and soon left.

Statue of the Duke of Wellington,1856

A statue of Wellington now stands in Piccadilly Gardens, and there are many other reminders of him and Waterloo on streets throughout Greater Manchester. The memorial to Henry Hunt has long since disappeared!

The term Peterloo, an ironic reference to the “killing fields of Waterloo” was quickly adopted by radicals. Some have associated this with the betrayal and disillusion of many soldiers who faced exceptionally hard times after the war with France, and indeed among Peterloo's victims was one Waterloo veteran, John Lees. This explanation seems to ignore the climate of opinion amongst radicals and a number of Whigs in 1815 and after. Whilst the victory at Waterloo became a staple of Tory propaganda before the dust had even settled on the battlefield, the celebration was not shared by their political opponents, many of whom had publicly opposed the resumption of war against Napoleon in 1815. As one Loyalist newspaper explained to its readers, Waterloo was “a great offence in the opinion of Reformers.

Talk of Waterloo was much in the air in the months before the Manchester Massacre. It is to be found in the poems of Samuel Bamford, one of the local radical leaders imprisoned after Peterloo, and it became the focal point of a speech by the radical leader Sir Charles Wolseley who predicted that Sandy Brow in Stockport would be more famous than Waterloo. On his first visit to Manchester in January 1819, outside a theatre that had been closed to prevent his attendance, Henry Hunt somewhat prophetically urged his followers to "be peaceable, lest you should draw down upon you the BLOODY BUTCHERS OF WATERLOO." In Court a few days later Hunt said he was actually speaking ironically, "I thought them more like Lambs. "

In Manchester a number of events have been organised to commemorate the massacre. I recently attended a talk by Professor Robert Poole, whose new book has just appeared.

Peterloo, The English Uprising by Robert Poole

In his talk Professor Poole gave a fascinating insight into Regency Manchester. A town with a fiercely Loyal tradition, with some adherence to the Stuart cause lingering well into the eighteenth century, run by a close knit oligarchy centred in the magistracy, the Anglican church and the military. There had been Loyalist riots in Manchester in the 1790's, there were frequent burnings of effigies of Tom Paine, and the first Orange Lodges in England were to be found there. Manchester Pitt Club, founded in 1812 was a centre of Loyalism and had about 400 members committed to

resist the arms of France .. To check the Contagion of Opinion, To array the loyal, the sober-minded and the good in defence of the venerable Constitution of the British Monarchy." (1)
Manchester Pitt Club Medal 1813
Faced with a growing industrial population outside the reach of parson and squire the local rulers made use of a large number of spies to maintain control. In 1817 they created the Manchester Yeomanry, and by 1819 Manchester had according to Professor Poole become a "garrison town."

I also obtained a copy of a graphic novel co-authored by Professor Poole which I found surprisingly effective at putting over the basic story and allowing the reader to access the atmosphere of the period. The words are all original, the pictures obviously are not.

PETERLOO, Witnesses to a Massacre, Polyp, Schlunke, Poole

In many ways it is more effective than Mike Leigh's recent film. You can click on the image below to read what the characters were saying.

Finally, as a postscript, on 16th August 1821, two years after Peterloo, 9 children were christened with the name "Henry Hunt", and 3 days later at a meeting in George Leigh Street, a toast was made to the immortal memory of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon and others were toasted using non-alcoholic drinks, and had the 1819 meeting at St Peter's Field been allowed to take place it would have passed a resolution abjuring the drinking of strong liquor. Not all the radical leaders were able to live by that rule, and it has definitely not become part of the Manchester tradition!
1. Quoted in Loyalism and the Formation of the British World, 1775-1914 edited by Allan Blackstock and Frank O'Gorman (Woodbridge 2014) p 39.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Manchester: Engels at Home

Soviet-Era Statue of Friedrich Engels now resident in Manchester

Friedrich Engels has a good claim to be one of the most famous residents of Manchester. In 1842-1844, his first period in the city, Engels researched the horrific conditions under which so many lived and wrote his Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England, which greatly impressed Karl Marx whom he had not yet met. (1) During his second longer stay in the city Marx visited him a number of times.

Over a year ago in my previous post I commented that there was no memorial to either Marx or Engels in Manchester. Little did I know then that plans were underfoot to remedy this! The artist Phil Collins had retrieved a crude concrete statue of Engels from post communist Eastern Ukraine and transported it to Manchester. In the summer it was moved to Tony Wilson Place, the latter named after a more celebrated recent resident associated with the city's once highly successful popular music industry. So there it now stands, outside Home, Manchester's contemporary cultural centre, a mass produced remnant of a world whose memory has steadily been erased, artistically even more undistinguished than Manchester's statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Engels surrounded by incurious Mancunians

The transport of this statue from a place where it was associated with a failed social experiment and a repressive regime to a totally different social context fascinates Phil Collins. Whilst the object first of veneration and then of hatred in the former Soviet Union, it is now seemingly met largely with indifference. Engels is not part of the history which English people have been taught. Collins evidently hopes that at a time of austerity when as in Engels' day, poverty and deprivation sit closely alongside material wealth the statue will help to reconnect with Manchester's radical heritage.

Temporary Ice Rink beside the Engels statue

Manchester has an important place in the history of industrial capitalism, free trade, liberalism, the working class movement and Marxist socialism. In Engels' time it was at the heart of the economic developments that were transforming the world. Now, apart perhaps from its football teams, Manchester is very much on the periphery; the UK is exiting the European Union, and in any case power and focus is seemingly shifting away from Europe to the East. In a period of change and crisis in the UK, amidst talk of a "northern hub" and plans to build yet more large towers, Manchester is probably entering a period of introspection. Its political and artistic community will doubtless engage with the city's radical history as the bicentenary of Peterloo, the Manchester Massacre, approaches in 1819. It will be interesting to see whether the Engels statue in Tony Wilson Place reignites interest in that phase of Manchester's history. It seems to me that it has considerable competition from the Christmas Market, another German import, and the outdoor ice rink.
1. It was translated into English in the 1880's and published as "The Condition of the Working Class in England" in New York in 1887 and in London in 1891.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Manchester: Lincoln and Marx

The Lincoln Statue in Manchester, surrounded by the European/German Christmas Market

Close to Manchester Town Hall is a place now known as Lincoln Square, in which may be found George Grey Bernard's statue of Abraham Lincoln. This statue was given to Manchester by Mr and Mrs Charles Phelps Taft of Cincinnati in 1919.

A copy of a statue in Illinois, it was originally intended for London, but the rather bucolic depiction of Lincoln with stooped shoulders, shabby clothes and big hands and feet was apparently considered by some to be grotesque and defamatory, so it ended up in Manchester! (1) It is inscribed "in commemoration of Lancashire's friendship to the cause for which Lincoln lived and died, and of the century of peace among English-Speaking peoples."

The statue was moved from Rusholme to its present place in the 1980's, and inscribed on its base was Lincoln's famous letter thanking the Working Men of Manchester for their decision to boycott southern cotton and acknowledging his awareness of "the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis". Unfortunately the wording of the letter was changed to "working people", a reflection of the political sensibilities that governed Manchester in the 1980's!

Chethams Library Exterior, on a fine sunny day

Within walking distance of Lincoln Square is a fine medieval building that has since 1653 been the site of the oldest free library in the United Kingdom. Most Mancunians are probably unaware of its existence. It is an amazing place, dark and mysterious, it contains thousands of old books and manuscripts. On my last visit an original copy of Vol II of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755), the oldest in the English language, was displayed on the table in the reading room.

Chetham's Library will always be associated with the two German exiles and political radicals, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Engels spent may years working for the family firm in Manchester, and wrote his Condition of the Working Class in England during his first stay in the city. On many occasions Marx came to see Engels in Manchester, and was a frequent visitor to the library.

Marx and Lincoln

Marx greatly admired Lincoln, whom he called "a unique figure in the annals of history" and he regarded the proclamation abolishing slavery as the most important since the establishment of the Union. Marx appeared to think that the US pointed the way for the rest of the world: there "ordinary people of goodwill can accomplish feats which only heroes could accomplish in the old world". (2)

Chethams Library, A Light shining from the window where Marx and Engels used to sit

Marx was devastated by Lincoln's assassination, and wrote an uncharacteristically emotional letter on behalf of the International Working Men's association to the new President, Andrew Johnson, describing Lincoln as "one of the rare men who succeed in becoming great, without ceasing to be good." (3)

Chethams Library Interior, looking towards the Reading Room

Marx's admiration of the first US President from a Republican Party which was to become synonymous with global capitalism might seem surprising. But in the aftermath of the failure of the 1848 Revolutions many radicals, from Germany in particular, fled to the United States and were active in the circles in which Lincoln moved in Illinois. Lincoln himself was also an avid reader of the radical New York Tribune to which Marx contributed a number of articles. (4) Curiously enough though, Marx's own brother in law, Edgar von Westphalen, himself an early follower of Marx, actually fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War!

The table in the Reading Room where Marx and Engels used to work

In 1864 the International Working Men's association sent Lincoln a letter, drafted by Karl Marx. The letter congratulated Lincoln on his re-election, and indicated Marx's own view of the place of the Civil War and the struggle against slavery, in world history:

From the commencement of the Titanic-American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class .. The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.(5)

There is of course no statue of Marx or Engels in Manchester. In the Town Hall though may be found a bust of Oliver Cromwell, a regicide, admired by radical Liberals in the nineteenth century. Its presence horrified Queen Victoria when she visited the city.

1. Apparently the Manchester Guardian first raised the possibility of Manchester acquiring it in November 1918, and after the visit of Woodrow Wilson a formal request was made, and it duly arrived in 1919.
2. Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital, Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution. (New York, Boston & London, 2011) p. 302
3. Gabriel pp 325-6
4. Reading Karl Marx with Abraham Lincoln
5. Marx's Letter to Lincoln, 1864

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Life Is Not a Journey

Alan Watts Life is not a Journey.

Worth listening to I think. Journeys have become a modern cliché. It is even in the title of my main blog! I can't recall hearing so much about journeys in my youth, perhaps because most of us travelled far less, or maybe my memory is playing tricks on me! Alan Watts died in the early 1970's, so that would tend to prove me wrong, except that he spent much of his life in California, which many believed gave us a foretaste of the future!

Friday, 27 May 2016

Forever England? Britain, Germany and the European Union

Cambridge in early Spring

I recently received a magazine from my old College. On its front is an idyllic picture of the Cam. Inside, amongst reports on fund-raising and on improving access to what was always a rather stuffy, public school dominated place, and a piece improbably entitled "I Was Hitler's Neighbour", is an excellent article "European Integration - Realistic or Idealistic", by Mathias Haeussler.

I am old enough to remember Britain's first somewhat hesitant efforts to join what we used to call the "Common Market." We had a debate about it at my school, not many miles from the coast of what before statehood used to be called "The German Ocean". The local M.P. attended, speaking in favour of entry. He lost, and said he would report the result back to the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan no less!

I remember making a nervous contribution to the debate, saying that everybody on both sides seemed to think that the British/English were a special people, superior of course to continentals and to former subjects of the Empire, and I begged to differ. That went down like a lead balloon.

Around the same time we had been treated to film shot at the school, its sound track featuring some patriotic Shakespeare, selected and read by a pompous boy who now sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords.

I have never been comfortable with that kind of patriotism, always wondering what place Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had in that scheme of things, and sympathising with that great Tory Dr Johnson's acerbic comment that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. So I have not bought the T-Shirt.

Anyway back to the article. Haeussler talks about the wide conceptual gulf between Germany and the U.K. He speaks about Germany's "unique historical burden and its central geostrategic position." For post-war Germans the European Union was the framework in which it sought rehabilitation in order to "mitigate fears of a potential revival of German power."

Britain by contrast, on the periphery of Europe, with a more global history, initially opposed the creation of the European Community. The British observer at the Messina Conference in 1955 made clear his view that the policy of creating a union would not work, and if it did the UK would do all in its power to obstruct it. So, as Haeussler explains, Britain only applied to join "to preserve its political and economic influence in light of the European Community's unexpected successes." The French leader General De Gaulle earned ridicule and opprobrium for daring to veto Britain's application for membership not once but twice. Eventually De Gaulle departed, and in 1973 the United Kingdom joined, the enduring legacy of an almost forgotten Conservative Prime Minister, Ted Heath, who within a year was out of office.

The 1975 referendum, the first ever held in the United Kingdom, was the result of an existential split in the Labour Party. The remain campaign was supported by the leaders of all the main political parties, and also the rising Tory star, Margaret Thatcher. No mention that I can recall was made in the campaign of the aims of "ever closer union" mentioned in the Treaty of Rome. Britain's governing elite well knew of the aspiration for deeper union, but believed it would never come to fruition, and in any case had a devilish plan to stop it by pushing for an expansion of membership of the community.

In the event those arguing to remain secured a convincing victory, and in subsequent years those on the left of British politics became more reconciled to what was once reviled as a "capitalist club", whilst opposition grew on the right. So here we are again, being asked to make a decision because a Prime Minister leads a party that is totally disunited over our membership.

Now as in 1975 I am turned off by both campaigns. It is hard to believe the economic scare stories of a Prime Minister who only a few months ago was claiming that if he didn't get the (minor) changes he wanted he would support a campaign to leave. It is similarly hard to take seriously an ambitious Churchillian poseur linking the idea of a European union to the aims of Hitler when a few months ago he professed to be agonising as to which side he should support. I also recoil at scaremongering about millions of Turkish citizens coming to live in Britain.

George Bush: a strong supporter of Turkey joining the EU!

It is extremely unlikely that Turkey will join the EU in the foreseeable future, but of course it is an inconvenient fact that successive British Governments have been strong supporters of Turkey's membership, and none more so than former Foreign Secretary William Hague . The reason for British support was part NATO/United States inspired, but it has to be seen in the context of the Foreign Office's 40 year long machiavellian policy of promoting expansion to make a deepening of European Union impossible.

My own feeling is that De Gaulle was right and Britain should never have been allowed into the Union. It would though be incomparably harder to leave than in 1975, because our economy is now far more integrated into that of the continent, and the world we inhabit is far more uncertain and unstable than that of 40 years ago. I am also certain that in or out, Britain has a very real interest in the future political and economic arrangements on the continent. For over 300 years, from the reign of Louis XIV in France, a constant of British Foreign Policy was the prevention of the continent's dominance by a single power, and much money was spent and blood spilled in pursuing that policy. Clearly the European Union is in a state of flux, engulfed by multiple global crises that have afflicted the world since 9/11, the post-Iraq war destabilisation of the Arab world, and the beginnings of the Great Recession in 2008. I doubt whether it would be wise for Britain to surrender all influence over this process and join Norway and Switzerland on the sidelines.

My gut feeling is that Britain will vote to remain, and I suspect that as in 1975 it will not even be close. I do not expect the referendum to settle the issue. Germany has a clear idea of its place in the heartland of Europe. It cannot seriously entertain isolationist or go it alone policies. Britain, said Dean Acheson in 1962, "has lost an Empire and not yet found a role." Over 50 years later that still remains true. Dr Haeussler concludes his article with the comment that "Whichever way the vote will go on 23 June .. it certainly won't solve Britain's problem with European integration."

40 years ago I went into the polling booth intending to vote to remain, and at the very last minute changed my mind. My young daughter saw my vote and said "I will tell Harold Wilson [the Prime Minister] about you." Her comment convinced me that I had voted the right way! Who knows what I shall do this time?

Postscript Since writing this I have come across this article by Patrick Stewart which has brought me to my senses. This time I have a postal vote, so there will be no last moment changes!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Norvège Nul Points : Corruption the Nobel Way

Corruption the Nobel Way, Dirty Fuels and the Sunshine Revolution by Harald N. Røstvik

Norway regularly comes top or near the top of every index that tries to measure the quality of life across developed countries. According to Harald Røstvik, a Norwegian Professor of Architecture, educated at Manchester University, with a passion for sustainability, we have all got it wrong. Far from being a peace loving country, Norway, perhaps the richest country on the planet, is steeped in corruption and its whole economy based on the export of fossil fuels and armaments.

How asked Harald Røstvik can a nation "so beautiful and rich, seemingly based on consensus, breed famous dark fiction writers like Jo Nesboø as well as breeding a person able to be staging a death and defiance massacre at Utøya?" The author seeks to explain by unearthing Norway's "many dirty little secrets" here are the main points of the indictment:

1. A climate damaging nation - with very high and unsustainable emissions of Carbon dioxide
2. An imperialistic colonial power - through its oil companies it has ties in the most corrupt regimes in the world, and Norwegian companies have regularly engaged in corrupt practices to gain advantage in those countries; Norway has spent billions lobbying the US Government, and a Norwegian Company for some time held the contract to maintain the notorious Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba, used to hold terror suspects; Norway also owns land on Antarctica: Queen Maud's land is apparently 7 times larger than mainland Norway;
3. A considerable exporter of arms, ammunition and napalm; Norway has 120 weapons and manufacturing companies,is the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, and it doubled its exports between 2005 and 2012.
4. Norways prisons are full to the brim, and the Government is looking to rent space in Sweden, whose prison cells are half empty;
5. A Class society, with Norwegian households owing more than the Italians; the high cost of living has led to increases in poverty, with 75,000 children living below the poverty line; the most unequal of the Nordic nations;
6. High divorce rates; big mental health problems;
7. A dependence on oil wealth which has stifled development in other areas, particularly alternative energy. Even its large hydro electric power industry could produce far more energy than it does.
8. Monopoly in the food industry, with consequent higher prices than in neighbouring countries, despite the high subsidies to farmers

Perhaps the most alarming point Røstvik raises is the Norwegian intolerance of whistle blowing and any criticism of the country. As a result Norway is the least transparent of the Nordic nations. The author describes what he calls a "loyalty culture" in which many top jobs routinely go to people with political affiliations, mostly to the Norwegian Labour Party, and"nepotism is practised in a big way."

"Norwegian wood is very good but according to the author many of its wood burning stoves are damaging to the nation's health
Undoubtedly the author speaks from personal experience as a critic of Norway, and an advocate of sustainable models when he describes Norway as a difficult place to live and operate:
The alternative truths are difficult to present to a broad audience. Inconvenient truths are not popular, especially not if they question the beauty of our oil, natural gas, hydropower and arms exporting industries that feed us. We have turned into a shrewd nation where climate change discussions are marginalised .. Instead of fierce debate people go home into their cosy homes and read about - everyday tiny nothingness .. In 2013 another Norwegian bestseller was a book on firewood .. NRK the state broadcaster sent a 12-hour TV 'national firewood evening, night and morning on prime time became a hit .. The New York Times had a full-page coverage. .. It was hard to figure out whether the world was laughing at us .. or praising our down to earth attitude. The NYT article started as follows:'The program consisted mostly of people in parkas chatting and chopping in the woods and then eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace."

The author presents an interesting follow up to this. Certain older wood burning stoves are apparently polluting the air and the author argued that they should be banned. He claims that the state TV channel argued against him in a 12 hour TV programme without calling him to put his case!

It is impossible for me to evaluate this book, but the author certainly presents a great deal of information that was unknown to me, a frequent visitor to the country over 25 years. I was particularly surprised to read about the Norwegian Armaments industry, and the tangled web of intrigues that Norwegian Companies have been involved in, especially in Iraq soon after the American invasion in 2003. One Norwegian I know who like the author has strong Mancunian connections, is very pleased with the book: it corroborates many of the points that he has made to this rather sceptical listener over the past 10 years or so, particularly about the unwelcomeness of criticism in Norway, and the somewhat nauseating attempts to suck up tho the United States, which culminated in the ridiculous award of the Nobel peace Prize to President Obama only a few months after he had become President..

I doubt though whether Corruption the Nobel Way will get the attention it deserves in Norway. Even Amazon does not stock it, except in Kindle form, and I bought my copy from the Architectural Association Bookshop in London. It is though a good read for anyone interested in Norway or the inter-connectedness of the modern world. "No Country is an island", as John Donne might have said.