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, and there used to be a statue in the city centre, now located at Wythenshawe Hall, over 6 miles outside the city. 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!