Saturday, May 28, 2011

Great Enoch - a weapon of choice


The 'Great Enoch,' was the name given to the sledge hammer that smashed the hated shearing frames. The sledge hammer was made by Enoch and James Taylor who ironically also made the shearing frames that were so effectively dismantled under the hammer's blows.

Such a weapon had its mythology which is remembered in the chants

'Enoch did make them, Enoch shall break them'


'Great Enoch still shall lead the van,
Stop him who dare! Stop him who can'

An original hammer head is held in the Matress Factory Museum in Pitts burgh PA, with the unfortunate curator's blurb:

"The vitrine in the centre of the room houses and iron sledgehammer head, specially the common type
 referred to as an Enoch Hammer. The tool sits alone ina room dark except for the spotlight on the case Rendered impotent by its treatment as a relic of tiem other than our own, the case is guarded by a security camera on each wall and a proximity-triggered alarm on the case. By rendering this former implement
of rebellion safe in plxiglass box in a quiet and guarded museum, the hammer head itself can in insured
against future inspiration and use."


Luddites - Anniversary meeting and publication

Anniversary Meeting Luddite Uprisings: Technology Politics Then and Now

Venue: Feminist Library meeting room Westminster Bridge Road London SE1 7XW.
Nearest tube Lambeth North.
Date: June 8th, 7pm
Organised by: Luddites200 Organising Forum

In 1811-12 Artisan cloth workers in the Midlands and North of England rose up against factory owners who were imposing new machines and putting them out of work. Since the 1950s the Luddites have been painted as fools opposed to all technology and progress, but in fact the Luddites were very selective in their attacks, breaking only machines they thought were 'hurtful to Commonality'.

What can the Luddites teach us about the ongoing use of technology to replace workers’ jobs, as well as issues like GM food and nuclear power? Can we escape the myth that technology always brings progress? On the anniversary of the first action against a GM crop site in Britain, come and discuss the issues with speakers from the Luddites200 Organising Forum, Stop GM, a trade union activist, and the Stop Nuclear Network.

The Land : special Issue : The Luddites
The Land magazine have published a special issue on the 200th annivesary of the Luddite uprising of 1811-13. The issue contains numerous articles on a range of themes including:
  • Mr Lud's Song - Theo Simon traces the history of Luddism through the movement's songs
  • King Ludd in the countryside - The Luddite rebellion in the industrial north was matched 19 years later by an even more widespresd uprsing in the rural south.
  • Lessons from the Luddites - Kirkpatrick Sale reflects on the contemporary relevance of King Ludd's message
  • Technology and equity - Simon Fairlie argues that new agricultural technologies are inherently inequitable
  • Gandhi on technology - a selection of observations from the world's most successful Luddite
Available from Monkton Wyld Court, Charmouth, Bridport DT6 6DQ or see The Land is Ours website

Red Sayles: Alexei, the teenage maoist

Alexei Sayle, Stalin Ate My Homework. London, Sceptre, 2010. 304pp.

“ I knew Sayle's family CP background – it's been mentioned by him many times. But Maoism? Blimey.”

As suggested by the comment quoted above, this enticingly-titled memoir of a childhood and adolescence in an atmosphere of left-wing political commitment contains a number of surprises. No doubt its author’s fame as an actor, comedian and author will attract readers not normally much concerned with what makes Reds tick. Conversely, those of us with an ingrained resistance to celebrity culture, not to mention suspicion of the Party, may be dubious about its value to radical history. It turns out to be well worth reading from several points of view.

Alexei Sayle describes in detail what having openly active Communist parents meant in practice, at the height of the Cold War, in working class Liverpool. The city itself gets a lot of attention, from the now vanished community environment where he grew up n the 1950s-60s through industrial decline to the urban devastation wrought by the planners. His father Joe was a railwayman, however, active as a shop steward in the NUR, with free rail travel for himself and his family, so that they could and did seek wider horizons. This meant not only regular attendance at the union’s AGM, but a series of holidays in Eastern Europe: Hungary in 1961 and 1963; Czechoslovakia 1959, 1960, 1962; Bulgaria 1966. Despite the family being on most of those occasions (with a few blips) treated as honoured guests in a privileged delegation, the young Alexei eventually became aware of a ‘nascent sense of unease about the Communist experiment’.

At the same time he remained at odds with the conventional values peddled by his schoolteachers and resisted pressures to conform, finding his own career path, as it turned out, in the direction of comedy early on. Politically, the chapter ‘I Was a Teenage Maoist’ is about his brief sojourn in the by-ways of Merseyside Marxist-Leninism, an episode of what he calls ‘split-brain thinking’, when he simultaneously ‘both totally believed it and totally didn’t believe it’. Tales of demonstrations, paper-selling, meetings and attempts to convert the masses will strike a chord with many who did not share his precise affiliation.

Along the way he touches on a number of points of 20th-century, from the Police Strike of 1919 and the 1926 General Strike via Hungary, Suez and the Cuban Missile Crisis to Czechoslovakia 1968. Brought up to take the party line as read with reference to the Spanish Civil War and the Russian Revolution, he was accustomed to hearing George Orwell denounced and found the reading of ‘Animal Farm’ something of a revelation. He nevertheless arrived at his own understanding of Marxist (class-struggle) historical theory, also as a result of reading, in this case Marx himself, which was bad news for his teachers.

Not all about Sayle – his concern for issues affecting ordinary people’s lives is evident – it’s not a-laugh-a-line, and punches are not pulled when, for example, repressive regimes or bureaucratic obtuseness are up for discussion. He doesn’t let himself off too lightly either. All the same, it is quite funny in a lot of places – and is a good read throughout.

What is libertarian history - Continued

Liz Willis continues her examination of libertarian history - This article is published in Black Flag issue 233 for mid 2011 with the title 'History turned on its head by class'. Part 1 is available on this blog 'What is Libertarian History - part 1'

Revolutionary Theory

For committed marxists who came into the system, the real and earnest, especially economic type of history was preferred among the growing number of options and specialisations, and it was obligatory to fit political events into the appropriate categories.

Two Trotskyist students going into a history exam: one (not a Trot swot) calls to the other, ‘Was 1848 a bourgeois revolution?’ The other indicates affirmative: sorted. Or up to a point – they may not pass but at least they can write something, more than likely involving the conclusion that what the revolutionaries needed was correct leadership.

The Communist Manifesto (K Marx and F Engels, 1848) begins with the assertion that ‘the history of all hitherto-existing society has been the history of class struggle.’ This proposition was of course more