For Jeremy, England, and Saint George!
To celebrate Saint George’s Day, we have a guest post from Mark Anthony France who publishes at Another England is Possible. As France notes “Saint Georges Day 2017 is also the 40th Anniversary of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ – The first big defeat of the National Front in April 1977 will be celebrated by a Diversity Festival organised by Harringey TUC.
The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry “God for Jeremy, England, and Saint George!”
THE 23rd of April is the Birthday of William Shakespeare and also Saint George’s Day, the patron Saint of England. It is never a big day.
There was a push by Boris Johnson when he became Mayor of London to popularise public celebrations of the ‘Feast of St. George’. Petitions were circulated calling for the Day to become a ‘National Holiday’ for England. By April 2010 hundreds of Local Councils followed Mayor Boris’s lead, organising and funding St George’s Day Events in Town Centres across the land. Within 5 years the impact of ‘Austerity’ reduced many of these events to the sorry spectacle of a Cheap B&Q Gazebo outside Poundland, bedecked in plastic flag Bunting, where reluctant toddlers are forcibly ‘face painted’ with a Red Cross and offered a ‘Werthers Original’ by a Morris Dancer wearing ‘Black Face’.
Basically, St George’s Day in most towns in England has all the pageantry of a Tumbril wagon full of plague corpses clunking down the High Street as the driver shouts ‘Bring Out Yer Dead!” at nervous shoppers.
This problem with St George’s Day is symbolic of the problem of England. Many of those promoting St. Georges Day have peculiar notions of this land and the people who live here. Their imagined community of ‘England’ remains a fiction of White, Anglo Saxon, Christian, and Crusader Culture. Eton educated Boris was calling upon Saint George in London to rally the white guards to fight off Red Ken Livingstone’s multi-cultural hoard. The context of the Mayoral Election of 2012, was the shadow cast by widespread Rioting in the Capital triggered by the murder of Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police. Boris’s strategy worked and in 2012 he narrowly beat Ken Livingstone for a second time. [several hundred of potential Ken voters were still rotting in goal for Looting a 6 pack of Evian Water] Meanwhile, in the Shires, it was always the Tories and Kippers pushing for St. George to be properly celebrated with public money , hot on their heels were the middle class, right wing English Democrats. The English Defence League happily co-opted St George into their battle against Islam, supporters often using imagery from the Crusades on social media, as if they were still at the Siege of Antioch in 1098 awaiting divine intervention.
Unfinished Business always has a tendency to reappear on the agenda: this holds true in our personal lives; in politics and in the development of national identity. The English Revolution of the 1640’s was a cathartic explosion which saw the emergence of a radical plebeian wing in the form of The Levellers agitation in the New Model Army, Utopian Religious Sects and the infamous agrarian communist experiment carried out by the Diggers on St. Georges Hill in Surrey. One impulse for the Revolution was the actions of the Covenanters in Scotland just as Scotland’s #IndyRef Rebellion became the starting gun for Corbynism in England.
The outcome of the great social upheaval that radical elements of the Revolution fought for never materialised, a nascent Republic ‘The Commonwealth of England” was short lived. Instead, Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland led England soaking with blood into the imperialist construct of the Union.
The ‘British State’ emerged, with a restored Monarchy, a Glorious Dutch Invasion, more slaughter of the Irish and Acts of Union in 1707 & 1800. This ‘United Kingdom’ shackled all the peoples of these islands to the project of Empire building nearly as firmly as it shackled the bodies of millions of African Slaves below decks on the Atlantic crossing. An Evil Empire, based on brutality and super – exploitation gathered the resources allowing space for innovation and experimentation that powered the Industrial Revolution. The first modern Working Class emerged in England, brutalised by the new machine age.
Unfinished business soon reared its head – English Radicalism in the shape of the Luddite Revolt in the Midlands and North of England expressed the continuity of a Republican and Revolutionary tradition. The Jacobin influence of the French Revolution and the ill-fated United Irishmen Rebellion continued to inspire proletarian autodidacts who passed on their cherished copies of Tom Paine’s ‘The Rights of Man’ and Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ to their sons and daughters who still hungered for justice.
We are fast approaching the Bicentennial of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, where hundreds of people protesting for basic democratic rights were hacked down by the swords of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry on 16th August 1819. The 200th Anniversary of this cataclysmic event in the history of England should become a focus for all of us who still hunger for justice in England today.
Radical Republicanism in England
This Radical Republican tradition in England was to experience its most prolonged and heroic expression during the decade of Chartism in the 1840’s.
Engels wrote The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 beginning his lifelong admiration and fascination for the most despised and demonised section of this working class the Irish Migrants many of whom played such a leading role in both Chartism in England and the rebuilding of an Irish National Liberation struggle against the backdrop of Famine in their homeland. Of course, however, heroic or prolonged the resistance to the Imperialist British State was, all these struggles ended in failure. Nevertheless, this thread of radicalism which always included elements of collectivism, internationalism, support for the liberation of women and support for religious freedom, did represent a form of continuity. Many individuals involved in the continuing struggle for a better, fairer world today can trace that continuity back through the generations of their own family history. As the fascination with TV programmes like ‘Who do you think you are?’ grows so does the numbers of people who are discovering the hidden history of their own families
In the past decade there has been a remarkable process of truth recovery. Episodes of Working Class History in England that are not taught in schools. or are little known, have been brought back to life through the work of socialists and trade unionists. The Huddersfield Luddite Bicentenary Events in 2012; The success of the Wigan Diggers Festival; The growing popularity of the Levellers Day in Burford and Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in Dorset. Events in living memory are also a focus for commemorations.
The 30th Anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave events exposed the true nature of the South Yorkshire Police, reinforcing demands for JusticeForThe96 football fans killed at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989. The 40th Anniversary of the Grunwick Strike brought memories of the historic struggle for Trade Union Rights lead by Asian women back to life.
Saint Georges Day 2017 is also the 40th Anniversary of ‘The Battle of Wood Green’ – The first big defeat of the National Front in April 1977 will be celebrated by a Diversity Festival organised by Harringey TUC
Are we witnessing the emergence of a pride in the history of the struggles of the working class in England? Is this phenomena a contributory factor in the spectacular support gathered behind Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016? The scale and resilience of Corbyn’s support surprised and horrified all political pundits – they still don’t get it. This interest in the past is NOT a retreat into wistful nostalgia to compensate for a retirement from active struggle? Quite the reverse, these commemoration events have helped to educate a new generation about the hidden history of the Working Class in England and revitalised the spirits of old comrades. They are the glue of shared understanding that hold together a significant portion of Jeremy Corbyn’s political base in England.
As well as preserving the memory and lessons of past struggles we need a new theoretical approach to update our understanding of the Working Class in England. We need to pick up the thread left by Edward Thompson, Tom Nairn, Perry Anderson in the 1960’s. We urgently need an innovative and eminently practical approach to political struggle in the new battlefield that is emerging. This new battlefield will be the Nation State and the issue of which class will exercise hegemony in its territory.
England [55 million], Ireland [6.7 million], Scotland [5.9 million] & Wales [3million] are NOT Nation States. The ‘State’ is the British State – the so called ‘United Kingdom’ [and the partitioned 26 County Irish State] face a growing crisis of Legitimacy.
The dynamic toward the break up of this British State is clear and the leadership of both Leftist Sinn Fein and Social Democratic Scottish National Party understand this very well and are pushing home their advantage. The working class voters of Belfast and Derry have been joined by their counterparts in Glasgow and Dundee – together they have opened up a breach in the fortifications of the British State, they are waiting for the working class of London and Birmingham to act in solidarity.
Many folk in England are a bit slow on the uptake. ‘Unionism’ is still a very powerful and insidious ideology. There is an ugly strand of ‘British Nationalism’ in England that also co-exists inside the minds of people who see themselves as radical democrats or socialists. The peculiar, worrying and frankly disturbing truth is that this ‘British Nationalism’ is so ingrained in people that they remain unconscious of or in denial about the logic of their ‘Unionism’. They extol the ‘unity’ of the ‘working class’ within a Kingdom while actively opposing the breakup of the biggest barrier to progress in the class struggle which is the ‘Kingdom’ itself.
An example of how this works out in practice came in the 2015 General Election where the Tories launched a #ProjectFear campaign with Advertising Bill Boards featuring a Giant Alex Samond with a Tiny Ed Miliband in his Pocket. Tory spin doctors suggested that Labour would enter a Coalition with the SNP and this would be a threat to Britain. Ed Miliband responded by essentially mirroring Tory Unionism by stating “If the price of a Labour Government is a deal with the SNP, I am not going to have one”. Ed was absolutely correct he was not going to have a Labour Government, because rather than challenging Tory fear mongering he pandered to it.
The lesson for Corbyn in General Election 2017 is clear – Labour must acknowledge that SNP Hegemony in Scotland is a legitimate expression of the democratic will of the people of Scotland. Labour must not pander to Tory/Unionist #ProjectFear. Corbyn can state clearly that an Agreement with SNP focused on resolving the UK’s constitutional crisis democratically is a perfectly acceptable basis to form a Labour Government in 2017
We need to talk about England
To talk about ‘England’ is considered ‘just not cricket’ by most of the ‘Left’ who actually live in England. Reluctantly, when the penny drops, people, express support for Irish Unity and Scottish Independence as justified Democratic demands although the idea of organising solidarity with these demands in England is rarely seen as necessary. The strange thing is the lack of any serious consideration of the implications of Democratic demands in and for England itself. In a peculiar twist of the dialectic to speak of “England” is considered by many politically active socialists to be ‘beyond the pale’.
Its not just incoherent, bigots of the English Defence League that talk about England anymore. Its Cameron and the Tories with their EVEL response to the #IndyRef. Former Chancellor of the Exchqeuer, George Osbourne, before his lucrative recruitment by Blackrock Investments and the London Evening Standard was fond of babbling about Regional Devolution, ‘Northern Powerhouses’ and ‘Midlands Engines’. The English Democrats try to hide their white downwardly mobile petit-bourgeois fears behind hopes of an “English” Parliament. Some Kippers are thinking of exchanging the ‘UK’ bit of their party name and replacing it with the word ‘England’ – but the implications makes their brains hurt. In the Stoke Central By Election Labour distributed 10,000’s of leaflets displaying the Flag of St George The brains behind the leaflet were Anti Corbyn Coup plotter Ruth Smeeth MP and MP for Erdington, Birmingham, Jack Dromey. ‘Progress’, the right wing entryist organisation in the Labour Party, recently published a piece by the Scottish Unionist George Foulkes [now Lord so and so of somewhere or other] entitled ‘Power to the People of England!
The Tories are very worried about political developments in Scotland and Ireland but they still have reasons to be cheerful. The hubris of the Theresa May knows no bounds that is why she has leapt at the opportunity to call a General Election for 8th June 2017. The Tories were secure in the knowledge that the Boundary Commission Review would have made their position more advantageous in 2020 but they feel they can win a landslide victory in England by jumping the gun. They know that Labour is Toast in Scotland and they don’t care what happens in Wales. The Tory Party strategy is entirely based upon maintaining their dominance in England and using this power base to suppress rebellions in the rest of their ‘Kingdom’.
It seems that everyone is talking about England accept the biggest most radical layer of politically engaged people living in England. The new mass membership of half a million in the Labour Party in England are too busy trying to survive the relentless attacks of the Labour Apparatus Clique or are hypnotised by the breath-taking betrayals of the majority of the PLP. Some are even scared witless that they, themselves, might be the ‘baddies’ after a year of bizarre stuff about Ken and Hitler.
“Most Promising Organisation”
One of the most promising organisations to grow out of the Corbyn Leadership Campaign – Momentum seems to have been slowed down by the Machiavellian inertia of a London dominated Leadership. Momentum’s recent conference in Birmingham was predominantly middle aged, white, relatively small and controversial words like Ireland, Scotland or Palestine were avoided. England was never mentioned once. It is as if we are being told to ‘Lie back and think of Federalism’.
The newly ‘autonomous’ rump of the Scottish Labour Party led by Anti-Corbyn Kamikaze Kezia Dugdale, gains extra seats on the ‘National’ Executive Committee of the Labour Party so they can vote down the wishes of 500,000 Corbynistas in England. This is one example of the anti -democratic ‘Unionist Veto’ operating in the LP to prevent discussion on the impending breakup of the the British State. This Unionist Veto disarms Labour in England from developing any policy on constitutional change other than a half hearted ‘federalism’.
Mentioning ‘England’ is just a scam to be rolled out by cynical ‘Progress’ supporters in By Election Campaigns, a sort of EDL lite challenge to UKIP. @UKLabour cannot see the clarity and political benefits that separation into Independent ‘National’ LP’s in Scotland England and Wales could bring. This stubborn lack of vision is not just because they don’t want the hassle of changing their Twitter handle.
When Teresa May gravely pronounces ‘I shall fight to sustain this precious, precious Union’ – Labour is hamstrung and has no reply. The opportunistic decision of Theresa May to call a General Election for 8th June is the result of Tory hubris. Their excessive pride and self confidence is based upon Polls that show them over 20points ahead of Labour. If Corbyn can refocus Labour on England’s future it will still be possible to End May in June.
To give Jeremy Corbyn his due, as soon as he won the leadership, he proposed the establishment of ‘Citizen’s Assemblies’ to discuss the constitutional future of the UK and appointed John Trickett MP to head up the initiative. However, two years on and the Citizens’ have yet to Assemble anywhere but this eminently democratic proposal needs to be revisited and acted upon. Corbyn’s Achilles Heel is his half hearted ‘Unionism’ the Tories are merciless and will attempt to repeat the political ambush over Scotland that they carried out against Ed Miliband in 2015. The only way to escape the ambush is to ditch the Union.
A Labour Party of England campaigning for Radical Democratic Change could revive the idea of ‘Citizens Assemblies’ with the aim of establishing new institutions of civic society in England as embryonic alternatives to the institutions of the British State. This bold approach is not a call for the creation of Dual Power via an Insurrection – although the moment Labour declares it’s abandonment of support for the ‘United Kingdom’ it will be branded as ‘Treasonous’. The British State already treats Corbyn and All his supporters as the ‘Enemy Within’ – we might as well get hung for a sheep as well as a lamb and openly declare our objectives:
1. An Independent Democratic Republic of England with PR Elected National Assembly in Birmingham based on written constitution
2. The Palace of Westminster to be re-purposed as home for “The Imperial War Crimes Museum” and linked “De-colonisation, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission”
3. Decommissioning Of: The Monarchy, Crown Powers, The House of Lords, The City of London, British Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, MI5, MI6, GCHQ and if necessary the RSPCA
Corbynistas championing new visions of a genuinely democratic England could find their ranks in the party swelled with fresh recruits and renewed purpose.
Imagi-nation and Inter-nationalism from below
We need to break the ‘Unionist’ log jam that blocks our imagination. All Nations are, in the phrase of Benedict Anderson, ‘imagined communities’. We need to seek inspiration from the experience and learn the lessons of the Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland that became the driver of the #indyRef campaign of 2014. As Paul Mason noted in the last weeks of the campaign ‘Something incredible is happening in Scotland’ –
Then the SNP became an all-consuming leviathan hoovering up everyone in the aftermath of the defeat of YES. If the SNP was a Party in England it would have a membership of 1.5Million, over Twice the size of the Labour Party in England.
The SNP probably has a greater social weight in Scotland today than Labour had in England at the end of the Attlee Government.
We need a Radical Independence Campaign for England that seeks to forge an alliance with a Corbyn led Labour Party of England that can finally break the last bonds of the British Empire. A campaign for Independence and genuine democracy that draws its inspiration from the radical republican democratic traditions of the Levellers, Diggers, Chartists & Sufferagettes. The goal of this campaign is a Democratic Revolution that empowers and includes all of the oppressed living in England.
It’s not rocket science: Ireland will become United – Scotland will become Independent. The people of Wales and England need to decide. Do we want to remain part of a British State or leave the so called ‘United Kingdom’ to become Independent Nations?
In Wales there is a long tradition of struggle for ‘Independence’ in England the concept, itself, is barely understood, so overwhelming is the amalgamation of ‘British’ and ‘English’ identity. Unraveling, the complexity of England’s role in establishing the British State, unraveling threads that have be woven for over 350 years will be a messy business.
The struggle launched at Easter 1916 in Dublin, the first modern Rebellion against the British Empire continues. Recent electoral advances by Sinn Fein both North and South mean that the victory of this struggle is now all but inevitable. Republicans and Socialists living in England need to recognise that we can that help bring that historic victory closer by launching our own campaign against the British State.
Another England is Possible
Building such a campaign from scratch will not be easy – but we have neighbours who have been addressing these sort of issues for a very longtime – In Ireland, Scotland and Wales – we need to ask questions and listen to the answers. Within England the working class contains the combined wisdom and collective memory of anti-colonial and national democratic struggles from Europe, Asia, Africa, & The America’s, especially The Caribbean. Millions of people who’s heritage is shaped by the way the British Empire dominated the homelands of their parents and grandparents constitute a significant and growing component of the Working Class in England.
Perhaps more than anywhere else on the planet the Working Class in England is an ‘International Class’ – If this Class unifies around a project to finish off the British State it won’t be around some blood and soil ‘English Nationalism’. It will be a struggle for political power on a peculiar hybrid ‘national’ territory which has no ‘national’ political institutions and where the majority of the population both inside and outside of the metropolis feel dominated by an out of touch elite in Westmonster and Whitehall. The watchwords of this struggle will be Democracy, Democracy, Democracy!
Another England is Possible it will take imagination and guts to see it take form and substance. But already the ugly England, the England of the EDL, has suffered a fatal blow. That blow was struck by an 18 year old outside the Hall of Memory in the centre of middle England her name is Saffiyah Khan (photo right)
Saffiyah smiled at the leader of the EDL in Birmingham and he was turned to stone.
Imagine what we could achieve if we followed her lead.
So, on St George’s Day, lets celebrate a Martyr with a military background who fought Imperial oppression and intolerance. A man who in local Palestinian tradition, is also known as Al Khader [The Green], associated with fertility, growth & hope.
Saint George has become a political hostage of the political right, who monopolise all discussion of England. This St Georges Day we can begin the conversations we need with each other about liberating Saint George. Could he help us slay the dragon of Unionism? Will the Kingdom Fall? Can we build a new Nation out of the wreckage? We have unfinished business to complete… we can begin by showing some solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Working Class of Ireland and Scotland who have opened up an expanding gap in the fortifications of the last citadel of the British Empire. The General Election Campaign of 2017 can become a way for Labour in England to open up the gap further. To WIN in England Labour must champion the Self-Determination of the people of England.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”.