Saturday, 28 March 2020

More Like Lions Than Men-Sir William Brereton and the Cheshire Army of Parliament, 1642-46-Andrew Abram -Helion & Company.


This is a superbly written, researched and beautifully illustrated book. It follows the military exploits of Sir William Brereton and the Cheshire army of Parliament 1642-46.

Sir William Brereton was a typical member of the early English bourgeoise. He was "model puritan magistrate" and active businessman. He travelled to such places as Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, France and the United States where he acquired a property in New England. He was a pioneer in estate management.

From a political standpoint, before the war, he was no rebel. He received a baronetcy from the duke of Buckingham in 1627 and did not resist Charles I's imposition of Ship money. As John Morrill points out, Brereton was "easily labelled a Puritan in the 1630s as any gentleman can be. He was a Protestant nationalist with marked anti-Catholic views".[1]

At the outbreak of hostilities between the Parliament and King Brereton felt that in order to defend his business interest and religious beliefs, it would be prescient to side with Parliament. Politically conservative he became a well-established adherent of a godly reformation in the Long Parliament.

Civil War In Cheshire

As Abram points out, Brereton's early military exploits were none too successful. He was despatched by Parliament to seize Chester but failed miserably and was forced to return to London. Again when he tried to remove Royalist forces from Cheshire, his campaigns were nothing to write home about. It was only when he was given substantially more resources did military victories start to flow. These victories prompted Royalist to pump more men into the area. In total, 12000 men were sent to oppose Brereton. His subsequent victory over the Royalist army and his courageous actions and superb military acumen earned him the praise of Thomas Fairfax leader of the Parliamentary forces and a march through the streets of London.

Radicalism

During the last eighteen months of the war, Brereton kept letter books which contained a gold mine of information on Parliament's military, administrative, and political actions during the civil war.

Five letter books survived the war containing over some 2000 letters. The letters show that like a large number of participants in the war, Brereton underwent something of a  radicalisation. According to Morrill "Brereton may also have already been linked to the radical congregationalist Samuel Eaton, just returned from exile in New England, whose sermons not only challenged the basis of all existing church government, discipline, and liturgy but also took up radical social causes".[2]

Brereton became an important member of the 'war party' in the Long Parliament. He was especially close politically to lords Saye and Wharton, and Oliver St John and Henry Vane. He became a vital army grandee, and like Oliver Cromwell, was excluded from the Self Denying Ordinance that prevented members of Parliament from holding military commissions. He was named as a judge at the regicide but got cold feet and did not appear at the trial of the King. This action almost certainly saved his life as after the Restoration of 1660; he was allowed to continue to live in Croydon Palace.

Historiography

Abram's book exhibits no real discernable historiography other than being influenced by the work of John Morrill and his book Revolt of the Provinces. Morrill's work is deeply hostile to Marxist historiography rejecting what he called the "rather triumphalist claim that you could now produce a kind of social determinist view of the long-term causes and origins of the English revolution. It was that I think, which several people quite independently reacted against".

Morrill's historiography was characterised by his theory of the civil wars being 'Wars of Religion and a "revolt of the Provinces".Abram's book appears to be a military version of that historiography.

To conclude, as I said at the beginning of this article the is well researched and uses a range of primary sources, a large number of which have never been published. The book is beautifully illustrated, and the artwork of Alan Turton and Dr Lesley Prince takes it to a different level. For any military history enthusiast, the book is a must-read.









[2] Sir William Brereton and England's Wars of Religion-John Morrill-Journal of British StudiesVol. 24, No. 3 (1985), pp. 311-332-https://www.jstor.org/stable/175522

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Poor in the English Revolution-1640-1649

"For really I think that the poorest he that is in England bath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore, truly, Sir, I think it is clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government. "

Colonel Rainborowe  New Model Army Soldier-Putney Debates

"the necessitous people [the poor] of the whole kingdom will presently rise in mighty numbers; and whosoever they pretend for at first, within a while, they will set up for themselves, to the utter ruin of all the nobility and gentry of the kingdom."

Quoted in Christopher Hill The English Revolution 1640

"thus were the agricultural people, firstly forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system."

Karl Marx [Capital]

"This Commonwealth's freedom will unite the hearts of Englishmen together in love, so that if a foreign enemy endeavour to come in, we shall all with joint consent rise to defend our inheritance, and shall be true to one another. Whereas now the poor see, if they fight and should conquer the enemy, yet either they or their children are like to be slaves still, for the gentry will have all. Property divides the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere." When the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must, then this enmity in all lands will cease."

Gerrard Winstanley, Digger Leader

Introduction

When it comes to the matter of the poor during the English Revolution, there have primarily been two trends in the English Revolution historiography. The first is either to ignore them entirely or to place them in the forefront of the leadership of the English revolution alongside radicals from previous centuries representing an unbroken thread of radicalism that goes right up to the present day.

I do not claim that there was no "revel, riot and rebellion" during the English Revolution, but the English revolution was made by the bourgeoisie, not the working class which was still in its infancy.

There was, however, a significant radicalisation of the poor during this time. As this quote shows, "Against the king, the laws and religion were a company of poor tradesmen, broken and decayed citizens, deluded and priest-ridden women, . . . there rode rabble that knew not wherefore they were got together, tailors, shoemakers, linkboys, etc. on the king's side. .all the bishops of the land, all the deans, prebends and learned men; both the universities; all the princes, dukes, marquises; all the earls and lords except two or three; all the knights and gentlemen in the three nations, except a score of sectaries and atheists. "[1]

It was these "sectaries and atheists" that conservative thinkers like Richard Baxter sought to warn the ruling elite about when he wrote "A very great part of the knights and gentlemen of England . . . adhered to the king. And most of the tenants of these gentlemen, and also most of the poorest of the people, whom the others call the rabble, did follow the gentry and were for the king. On the Parliament's side were (besides themselves) the smaller part (as some thought) of the gentry in most of the counties, and the greatest part of the tradesmen and freeholders and the middle sort of men, especially in those corporations and counties which depend on clothing and such manufactures…Freeholders and tradesmen are the strength of religion and civility in the land, and gentlemen and beggars and servile tenants are the strength of iniquity"[2]. Baxter was one of the most politically astute commentators on the English revolution. His writing expressed a general fear amongst the ruling elite of growing social unrest.

Historiography

It is not in the realm of this essay to examine every single piece of historiography connected with the poor during the English revolution. It is however hard not to disagree with the words of Lawrence Stone who described the history of the 17th century as "a battleground which has been heavily fought overbeset with mines, booby-traps and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way".

A large number of these ferocious scholars have ignored the radicalisation of the poor during the English Revolution or when they did comment on it was done so coupled with a persistent attack on Marxist historiography, with figures like Christopher Hil and Brian Manning taking the brunt of this assault.

While it is clear that up until the late 1960s, there appeared to be a consensus amongst historians studying the English revolution that a study of the poor had to be linked with socio-economic changes that were taken place in the 17th century.

The late 1970s, saw this disappear and was replaced with a consistent attack on Marxist historiography. During an interview by John Rees and Lee Humber, the left-wing Christopher Hill was asked this question "There is a marked trend to separate out various aspects of the revolution, so that cultural development is seen in isolation to, say, economic ones, a trend which is part of a much wider debate taking in the arguments around postmodernism. Would you agree that this is also a great challenge to the economic and social interpretation of history?

Hill's answer was "Yes, all this linguistic stuff of the literary historians ignores the social context. I think that's a very unfortunate phase that literary criticism seems to be going through. I had thought that one of the good things of the last few decades was the way historians and literary critics seemed to be coming together on the 17th century and producing some sort of consensus. This is now in danger with all this linguistic guff. I suppose it's quite difficult for people trained in one discipline to take on board the lessons learnt in others, but any new consensus will have to be one based on looking at society as a whole including literature and religion."[3]

As the Marxist economist, Nick Beams also points out "One of the most frequently employed caricatures of Marxism is the claim that it argues that ideology is just a cover for the real economic motivations of social actors. Accordingly, Marxism is "disproved" by the discovery that individuals act, not according to economic motives but based on powerful ideologies. Marxism does not deny that historical actors are motivated and driven into action by their ideological conceptions, and it does not claim that these ideologies are simply a rationalisation for the real economic motivations. However, it does insist that it is necessary to examine the motives behind the motivesthe real, underlying, driving forces of the historical processand to make clear the social interests served by a given ideologya relationship that may or may not be consciously grasped by the individual involved".

Leadership

While it is essential to understand what motivated the poor to "revel, riot and rebellion" it is even more critical to understand the relationship between the poor and its leaders, which on this occasion during the English Revolution were the various radical groups such as The Levellers and Diggers and to a certain extent the Ranters.

As Leon Trotsky wrote "In reality leadership is not at all a mere "reflection" of a class or the product of its own free creativeness. A leadership is shaped in the process of clashes between the different classes or the friction between the different layers within a given class."[4]

The Levellers, while being sympathetic to the poor, their perspective of bringing about deep-seated change was hampered by their class outlook that being of small producers, conditioned by their ideology. This contradiction caused some tension between their concern for the poor and their position of representatives of small property owners. They had no opposition to private property, and therefore they accepted that inequalities would always exist, they merely argued for the lot of the poor to be made more equitable. As John Cooke, a regicide and sympathetic to the Leveller cause explained 'I am no advocate for the poore further then to provide bread and necessaries for them, without which, life cannot be maintained, let rich men feast, and the poore make hard meale, but let them have bread sufficient'. [5]

In order to overcome their contradiction, knowing full well that they could not come to power through the presently constituted electorate or through the control of the army, the Levellers attempted to find not a revolutionary solution to their problem but a constitutional one.

A draft constitution produced in 1647 called the Agreement of the People declared that the state had broken down in civil war and must be reformed based on certain fundamental 'native rights' safeguarded even from a sovereign parliament: religious toleration, no tithes. The attack on Parliament as sovereign went against one of the most fundamental reasons for the war in the first place. The agreement amongst other demands, called for biennial parliaments, franchise reform, only those who contracted into the new state by accepting the agreement were to have the vote.

While this was extremely radical for the time 'freeborn Englishmen' excluded servants and the poorer sections that did not constitute 'the people'. As Christopher Hill wrote: "The Leveller conception of free Englishmen, was thus restricted, even if much wider, than that embodied in the existing franchise. Their proposals would perhaps have doubled the number of men entitled to vote. However, manhood suffrage would have quadrupled it. The generals, generally horrified, pretended at Putney that the Levellers were more democratic than they were"[6].

The generals deliberately exaggerated the radicalism of the Levellers in order to label them extremists and to mobilise their own supporters against them. Oliver Cromwell correctly recognised that if the franchise was widened, it would threaten his majority in Parliament. As Hill explains 'Defending the existing franchise, Henry Ireton rejected the doctrine "that by a man being born here, he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here and of all things here". The vote was rightly restricted to those who "had a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom". Namely, the persons in whom all lands lies and those incorporation's in whom all trading lies.'[7]

Diggers

The other substantial leadership of the poor came from the Diggers. Hill, in his seminal study, The World Turned Upside Down, believed that Winstanley and his Diggers, "have something to say to twentieth-century socialists". In this, he meant that they were an anticipation of future struggles. Hill was cognizant that despite their radicalism, the social and economic conditions had not yet matured for them to carry out a "second revolution" which would have seen the overthrow of Cromwell and broader use of the popular franchise.

John Gurney, who was perhaps the foremost expert on the Diggers recognised the leader of the Diggers Gerrard Winstanley was one of the most important figures to appear during the English Revolution commenting "the past is unpredictable.' So it has proved for Gerrard Winstanley. For all but one of his 67 years, he lived in obscurity, and then he died forgotten. Generations of historians passed over him either in silence or derision. He entirely eluded the notice of the Earl of Clarendon in the 17th century and of David Hume in the 18th. Even the Jacobin William Godwin, the first champion of the Civil War radicals, judged his exploits' scarcely worthy of being recorded', and S.R. Gardiner's comprehensive history of the Commonwealth contained only two references to him, one a bare mention of his name. Then in the early 20th Century, Winstanley was rediscovered, and he has exerted a magnetic pull on left-leaning intellectuals ever since. He is variously credited as the father of English communism, socialism or environmentalism, depending on which is seeking paternity. His notice in the Victorian DNB was a scant 700 words; in the new DNB, it has ballooned to more than 8000. Now he has been canonised by the publication of an Oxford edition of his complete works, the second complete works in a century, more than have been accorded either Hobbes or Locke."[8]

While the Diggers were far more radical in their perspective for the poor, they shared the same class position as the Levellers. No matter how radical their ideas at no point could they overturn class society through revolution. The only class that could have achieved their aims was still in its infancy.

Historians such as John Gurney are a rare bread today in that his study of the poor was done so from a relatively left-wing standpoint. While Hill and Manning tended to dominate the study of the poor during the English revolution, there were a group of historians that were less incline to support a Marxist interpretation of the poor but were sufficiently influenced to carry out important work.

One of many historians that fit the above criteria was D.C. Coleman. While not being close to Marxism was undoubtedly influenced by left-wing historians such as Hill.

Coleman was a multidimensional historian according to his obituary he  "was sceptical about politics and thought religion was largely nonsense. He realised that people were subject to motivation of a variety of sorts and that economic rationality could provide only a partial explanation. He made use, therefore, of economic theory, but did not regard it as the be-all and end-all in the attempt to explain human social behaviour over time, the essence of what he thought economic history should be about.[9]

Coleman points out in one of his writings that early capitalists were conscious that profit could be made by exploiting the large and growing working class. Coleman quotes J Pollexfen who writes , 'The more are maintained by Laborious Profitable Trades, the richer the Nation will be both in People and Stock and ... Commodities the cheaper".[10]

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Coleman's research was his publishing figures on the levels of poverty which are stunning. The levels of child labour that would not look out of place in a third world country today, stating "If the economists and social pamphleteers wanted a larger body of labouring poor, there is no lack of evidence that in mere numbers the poor already formed a very substantial part of the total population. Contemporary comment upon the numbers of poor stretches back into the sixteenth century, at least, and forward into the eighteenth. To Bacon, labourers and cottagers were 'but house beggars'; to a writer of the 1640's it. Seemed reasonable to suppose that 'the fourth part of the inhabitants of most of the parishes of England are miserable, poor people, and (harvest time excepted) without any subsistence', the comprehensive and well-known investigations of Gregory King in the 168o's and 1690s tell an even grimmer tale. He classed 23 per cent of the national population as 'labouring people and out servants' and a further 24 per cent as 'cottagers and paupers', estimating that both groups had annual family expenditures greater than income."[11]

Another historian worth reading is Steve Hindle; he is especially important and essential reading. Hindle's work should be read in conjunction with that of Hill and Manning.

His work on the Levellers backs up my earlier assumption that while Levellers such as John Wildman were sympathetic to the poor, there was also a fear that the levels of poverty and a dearth of food could get out of hand. Wildman states 'The price of food [is] excessive', wrote the Leveller John Wildman from London in 1648, 'and Trading [is] decayed'. It would; he thought, 'rend any pitifull heart to heare andsee the cryes and teares of the poore, who professe they are almost ready to famish'. 'While our divisions continue, and there be no settlement of the principles of freedom and justice', he insisted: trading will but more decay every day: Rumours and feares of Warre, and the Army coming now into the City, makes Merchants unwilling to trust their goods in the City, and exchange beyond sea falles, and there will be no importing of goods, and then there will be no exporting and so the staple commodities of the kingdom which maintains the constant trade, will not tend to the advantage of the labourers, and then most of the poore in the kingdom which live by spinning, carding, & will be ready to perish by famine".[12]

Wildman was echoing a common fear and worry amongst sections of the lower middle class that the impact of the failed harvests of 1647-1650. According to Hindle "Wildman was accordingly convinced that 'a suddain confusion would follow if a speedie settlement were not procured'.

Hindle goes on "Wildman's vivid analysis of the relationship between harvest failure, economic slump, political crisis and popular protest is proof enough that those who lived through the distracted times of the late 1640s were well aware of the interpenetration of economic and constitutional dislocation. It is surprising, therefore, that historians have made so little attempt to take the harvest crisis of the late 1640s seriously".

Another famous exponent of regional studies of the poor is A. L. Beier. One of his studies was Poor relief in Warwickshire 1630-1660. Beier presented in this essay a view that was supported by a significant number of historins that the study of the regional poor was an important part of a wider national study of the poor.

Beier warned about trying to read too much into these local studies, but a study of such areas as Warwickshire was legitimate. He writes "It would, of course, be dangerous to generalise from the example of one county to the whole of England, but the degree of typicality of Warwickshire and Professor Jordan's findings are encouraging. To study other counties from this point of view may yield interesting comparisons and the discovery of new variables, particularly if areas are found where relief administration in fact collapsed. More generally, however, and assuming that poor relief did not collapse in England during the Interregnum, of what significance was its continued functioning? First, it is clear that the devolution towards local control which took place in this period did not mean collapse or even falling efficiency in administration whether the sort of zealous efficiency characteristic of the Puritan rule was continued after I660 is another question deserving of study.[13]




[1] Christopher Hill-The English Revolution 1640- https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/
[2] https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution
[3] John Rees and Lee Humber-The good old cause-An interview with Christopher Hill- https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj2/1992/isj2-056/hill.html
[4] The Class, the Party-and the Leadership-https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/party.htm
[5] Unum Necessarium:John Cooke, of Graies Inne, Barrester.http://famineanddearth.exeter.ac.uk/displayhtml.html?id=fp_00502_en_unum
[6]The Century of Revolution: 1603–1714 
[7]The Century of Revolution: 1603–1714
[8] Gerrard Winstanley and the Left-John Gurney-Past & Present, Volume 235, Issue 1, May 2017, Pages 179–206, https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtx017
[9] Professor D. C. Coleman-Obituary-https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-d-c-coleman-1600207.html
[10] Labour in the English Economy during the 17th Century-https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-0289.1956.tb01570.x
[11] Labour in the English Economy during the 17th Century-https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-0289.1956.tb01570.x
[12] Dearth and the English revolution:the harvest crisis of 1647–50-By Steve Hindle-https://www.huntington.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/dearth-and-the-english-revolution-echr.pdf
[13] A. L. Beier Poor relief in Warwickshire 1630-16601 – Past and Present 1966

Friday, 20 March 2020

The New York Times's 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North September 6 2019


"Despite the pretence of establishing the United States' "true" foundation, the New York Times' 1619 Project is a politically motivated falsification of History. It aims to create a historical narrative that legitimises the effort of the Democratic Party to construct an electoral coalition based on the prioritising of personal "identities"—i.e., gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and, above all, race.

The New York Times's 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North.

What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race. ... A Negro is a Negro. Only under certain conditions does he become a slave. A cotton-spinning machine is a machine for spinning cotton. Only under certain conditions does it become capital. Torn away from these conditions, it is as little capital as gold is itself money, or sugar is the price of sugar

Marx, Wage Labour and Capital (1847)

"Men make their own History, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under the circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living."

Karl Marx 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Introduction


On August 19, 2019, the New York Times published its "The 1619 Project,". If you are one the lucky ones to get a copy (you can only access the articles online for a limited time due to subscription paywall), you would see with a cursory look that the articles contained in the magazine are a revisionist interpretation of American History.

The date of 2019 is important for the New York Times(NYT) because it signalled the 400th anniversary of the arrival of 20 African slaves at Point Comfort in Virginia, a British colony in North America.

The Project, according to the Times, intends to "reframe the country's history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very centre of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."[1]

One issue arises from this blatantly false and revisionist account of American historical development. Firstly why is it that virtually the whole of American academia has ignored this reactionary piece of historiography, and this goes for academia around the world. In Britain, not a single academic institution or historian has published comment on this subject. Major magazines such as The Times Literary Supplement Literary review or History Today have not published a single article commenting on the 1619 Project.

Which brings me to the review of these two publications by Mehring books. The first pamphlet contains four articles attacking in different ways the 1619 Project. 1. David North, Tom Mackaman, Niles Niemuth-The New York Times 1619 project: A racialist falsification of the U.S. and world history.2. Book review: Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South by Keri Leigh Merritt-By Eric London-9 September 2019.3 Why are reparations for slavery being made an issue in the 2020 U.S. elections? June 21, 2019, and lastly The attacks on Green Book and the racialist infection of the affluent middle class-by David Walsh and Joanne Laurier-8 March 2019. The second part of the review will cover the pamphlet: The 1619 Project and the falsification of History: An analysis of the New York Times reply to five historians-By David North and Eric London-December 28 2019.

The bourgeois and radical presses in America have been forced to admit that it is only the Marxist's from the World Socialist Website (W.S.W.S.) that have challenged this falsification of History. The World Socialist Website not only marshalled its journalists and historians but published an array of interviews from leading historians known throughout the world.

One of the more shocking claims that W.S.W. Journalists and historians sought to refute is  the an assertion by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the staff writer and New America Foundation fellow and lead journalist of the Project that "Anti-black racism runs in the very D.N.A. of this country."[2]

As the World Socialist Website pamphlet points out "this is a false and dangerous conception. D.N.A. is a chemical molecule that contains the genetic code of living organisms and determines their physical characteristics and development. The transfer of this critical biological term to the study of a country—even if meant only in a metaphorical sense—leads to bad History and reactionary politics. Countries do not have D.N.A.; they have historically formed economic structures, antagonistic classes and complex political relationships. These do not exist apart from a certain level of technological development, nor independently of a more or less developed network of global economic interconnections.

The methodology that underlies the 1619 Project is an idealist (i.e., it derives social being from thought, rather than the other way around) and, in the most fundamental sense of the word, irrationalist. All of History is to be explained from the existence of a supra-historical emotional impulse. Slavery is viewed and analysed not as a specific economically rooted form of the exploitation of labour, but, instead, as the manifestation of white racism. However, where does this racism come from? It is embedded, claims Hannah-Jones, in the historical D.N.A. of American "white people." Thus, it must persist independently of any change in political or economic conditions."[3]

As the pamphlet highlights, Nikole Hannah-Jones's dangerous conceptions have provoked other equally reactionary commentators to espouse their false comments. The pamphlet's authors quote neurologist Robert Sapolsky who writes in Foreign Affairs  that "the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism—that potentially most destructive form of in-group bias—requires grasping the biological and cognitive underpinnings that shape them."[4]

The authors of the pamphlet attack Sapolsky's "simplistic dissolution of History into biology recalls not only the reactionary invocation of "Social Darwinism" to legitimise imperialist conquest by the late nineteen and early twentieth-century imperialists but also the efforts of German geneticists to provide a pseudo-scientific justification for Nazi anti-Semitism and racism."[5]

Much of Sapolsky's ideas and for that matter, Hanah-Jones have an echo in academia and political institutions throughout the world. This would partly explain academia's hostile attitude towards the Trotskyist's exposure of the 1619 Project.

Slavery

One of the more insidious attacks on the journalists and historians who contributed articles and interviews to the World Socialist website on the 1619 project has been that they downplay the importance of slavery in the History of the world. Anyone with an ounce of historical knowledge will see this as untrue and a politically motivated attack. The fact that American slavery is a monumental subject with vast and enduring historical and political significance cannot be denied.

However, as the authors of the pamphlet point out, slavery did not begin in America. Slavery in America is but one crucial episode in the global History of slavery, which extends back into the ancient world, and of the origins and development of the world capitalist system.

The Marxist movement has not underplayed slavery's importance and have produced a vast body of literature dealing with the widespread practice of slavery throughout the world and has insisted that it cannot be understood apart from its role in the economic development of capitalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Karl Marx explained in the chapter titled "The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist" in Volume One of Das Kapital: ”The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England's Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China."

The American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln

While it comes as no surprise that the bourgeois journalists and historians from the 1619 Project are hostile to any Marxist attacks on their historiography, it does come as a significant shock that they attack the very conception of an American bourgeois revolution and one its finest by-products, Abraham Lincoln.  The 1619 Project portrays the Revolution as a sinister attempt to uphold the slave system.

As the pamphlet points out this not just a "reframing" of History, it is a falsification that ignores more than a half-century of scholarship. It is highly unlikely that Hannah-Jones (or any of her co-essayists) have even heard of, let alone read, the work on slavery carried out by Williams, Davis, or Peter Kolchin; on the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood; on the political conceptions that motivated union soldiers by James McPherson; on Reconstruction by Eric Foner; on Jim Crow segregation by C. Vann Woodward; or on the Great Migration by James N. Gregory or Joe William Trotter."[6]

As for Hannah-Jones belief that the American revolutionaries such as Thomas Jefferson were nothing more than racist Hippocrates it would be nice to think that this is just her piece of reactionary journalism, unfortunately, it appears this is a also echoed in a broader attitude amongst historians and writers.

Dr Jonathan W. Wilson points out in his review of the book Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution by Robert G. Parkinson that "typically, historians have responded by crediting the American Revolution with imperfectly realised but laudable ideals, as well as with crucial contributions to 19th-century reform. Over the last decade, however, many historians have dispensed with treating the American revolutionary era as an ideologically coherent moment. Instead, they depict it as a moment of complicated social division and civil war, part of a broader context of Atlantic and continental conflict. Their accounts suggest the violence – which neither began nor ended with the imperial crisis – helps explain subsequent decades of racial hatred and oppression in the United States.[7]

As the writers of the pamphlet point out it is not to defend or attack figures like Jefferson but to understand the context of their actions as the Marxist writer David North explains "It is undeniable that Jefferson was painfully aware that there existed conditions in which the right of property was in direct contradiction to that of life and liberty. He was, after all, a Virginian and a slave-owner. However, it is of historical and political significance that in a preliminary draft of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson included as one of the indictments against George III his perpetuation of the slave trade: "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, this opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. In the context of this discussion, Jefferson's redefinition of the concept of natural rights, substituting "the pursuit of happiness" for property, endowed the document with an enduring, world-historical significance. In using this formulation to justify the rebellion of American colonists against the Mother Country, Jefferson inspired a more revolutionary, universal and humane concept of what truly constituted the "Rights of Man."[8]

The second pamphlet in this review is The 1619 Project and the falsification of History: An analysis of the New York Times' reply to five historians by David North and Eric London.Bottom of Form
Bottom of Form

On December 20, 2019, the New York Times finally felt the need to reply to a letter signed by five leading and internationally recognised historians. In the letter, they requested that the Times correct the historical falsifications upon which the 1619 Project was based.

It took the Times over four months to reply to criticisms of its 1619 project. The historians outlined their "strong reservations about important aspects of the 1619 Project" and state they "are dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it." These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or "framing." They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds—that they are the objections of only "white historians"—has affirmed that displacement.[9]

The historians also point out that only a select few were chosen for the Project. The Times deliberately chose only those writers and historians they knew would go along with the Project's falsifications. The historians attacked this, saying "The process remains opaque. The names of only some of the historians involved have been released, and the extent of their involvement as "consultants" and fact-checkers remains vague. The selective transparency deepens our concern".

The response of the New York Times to the historians was to reject their criticisms and continue as if nothing had happened. The New York Times Magazine editor in chief Jake Silverstein said "We are familiar," with the objections of the letter writers, as four of them have been interviewed in recent months by the World Socialist Web Site. The Project was intended to address the marginalisation of African-American History in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life. We are not ourselves historians; it is true. We are journalists, trained to look at current events and situations and ask the question: Why is this the way it is?.[10]
North and London point out in the pamphlet that "Silverstein's response to questions raised by the historians about the background of the 1619 Project is evasive and disingenuous. The 1619 Project is not merely a journalistic endeavour. The Times launched it with the explicitly declared intention of changing the teaching and understanding of the History of the United States fundamentally."[11]

North and London continue "When challenged on its numerous factual errors, the paucity of its source material, and the ignoring of the scholarly literature, the Times excuses itself by arguing that its authors do not claim to be historians. But when it is pointed out that the authors have failed to present accurately, as is expected of competent journalists, the conflicting arguments in the debate over America's founding, the Times proclaims that it is writing a new history."

The political consequences of historical falsification

If the "mistakes" in the Times 1619 Project were just that then while being reprehensible, they would not do too much damage to the study of History. However, that is not the case. When the editor of one of the most prestigious history journals in America if not the world defends the 1619 Project this is not just bringing the historical falsification to a broader audience, which is bad enough as the authors point out it would have political consequences that extend beyond the ivory towers of the American Historical Review.

The editor of the A.H.R. wrote in February 2020 that he did want to be dragged into this debate stating" I did not want to devote this column to the recent dispute between the New York Times and the handful of prominent historians who have offered sharp criticism of that publication's purportedly revisionist narrative of the American story—the 1619 Project—that puts racism and the struggle for black liberation at the core of the national experience. However, of course, it was all anyone asked me about at the A.H.A.'s Annual Meeting during the first week of January, so I feel I must."[12]

The response of the A.H.R. like the New York Times is evasive and continues the historical falsification. Editor Alex Lichtenstein writes “the letter writers do not just object to errors they claim to have identified; they call for the Times to issue corrections. What, in fact, might these look like? The primary offender seems to be Nikole Hannah-Jones, in her sweeping essay that frames the entire Project. Again, one could read the critics and miss the fact that the 1619 Project includes dozens of elements beyond Hannah-Jones's opening essay. Many others may—or may not—contain errors, but Hannah-Jones's essay has been singled out as representative of the whole. Particularly objectionable, the historians insist, is her assertion that "one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery." As the letter bluntly points out, "This is not true." Admittedly, at a minimum, her formulation seriously overstates the anti-slavery bona fides of the British Empire at the time, not to mention the universality of pro-slavery views in the colonies. Fair enough. So, then, what would suffice in its stead? "One of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence"? How about "some of the Patriots fought for independence in the knowledge that it would secure their investments in slavery"? Presumably at least some of the letter writers would find the following counter-formulation no less objectionable: "there were many reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence, but the preservation of slavery was not among them." While Hannah-Jones may be guilty of an overstatement, this is more a matter of emphasis than it is of a correct or incorrect interpretation.[13]

It is not the intention of London and North to say that everyone involved in the Project is in their words “engaged in deliberate deception or is merely chasing career opportunities.

However, they continue "The falsification of History invariably serves very real, even if unstated, contemporary political interests. The racial narrative is intended to replace one that is based on the analysis of objectively existing social and class interests. The New York Times, as a corporate entity and, more importantly, a powerful voice of the ruling class and its state, has a very real political agenda, which is carefully coordinated with the Democratic Party. Silverstein never explains why the Times now adopts, as the basis of an essential change in the teaching of American History, the race-based narrative of Lerone Bennett, Jr., which it explicitly and forcefully rejected 50 years ago. Nor does he explain why the Times rejects the criticisms of Gordon Wood and James McPherson, whom it was describing less than a decade ago as the leading authorities in the fields of Revolutionary and Civil War-era studies.

Conclusion

It is clear from these two pamphlets and the many articles on the W.S.W.S that the 1619 Project is a fraud and a huge exercise in historical falsification. It is up to the many scholars, students and workers who know that the 1619 Project makes a travesty of History to do something about it. As the pamphlet states "It is their responsibility to take a stand and reject the coordinated attempt, spearheaded by the Times, to dredge up and rehabilitate a reactionary race-based falsification of American and world history”
.
Postscript

Recently the editor of the 1619 project Jake Silverstein was forced to announce that 1619 Project " would slightly amend its claim that the American Revolution was a racist endeavour undertaken to fight plans by the British Empire to end slavery”.

As Tom Mackaman points out “In his update, Silverstein does not apologise to the five eminent historians who, in a letter sent in December to the Times, specifically objected to the claim that the Revolution was undertaken in defence of slavery. Historians Victoria Bynum, James McPherson, James Oakes, Sean Wilentz, and Gordon Wood asked that this assertion be corrected, along with several other egregious errors and distortions in the Project”[14].

Both pamphlets can be purchased at https://mehring.com for US buyers and for UK - https://socialequality.org.uk/




[1] Why we Publishedt he 1619 Project-By Jake Silverstein-DEC. 20, 2019-https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html
[2] The Idea of America- by Nikole Hannah-Jones-New York Times-1619 Project
[3] The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North
6 September 2019
[4] This Is Your Brain on Nationalism-The Biology of Us and Them
By Robert Sapolsky March/April 2019-https://www.foreignaffairs.com/
[5] The New York Times’s 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North
6 September 2019
[6] The New York Times's 1619 Project: A racialist falsification of American and world history-By Niles Niemuth, Tom Mackaman and David North
6 September 2019
[7] Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution-Robert G. Parkinson-Chapel Hill, NC, University of North Carolina Press, 2016, ISBN: 9781469626635 ; 640pp.; Price: £33.52
[8] Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism-By David North 24 October 1996-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1996/10/lect-o24.html
[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html
[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html
[11] A reply to the American Historical Review's defense of the 1619 Project-By David North and Tom Mackaman-31 January 2020
[12] From the Editor’s Desk: 1619 and All That -The American Historical Review, Volume 125, Issue 1, February 2020, Pages xv–xxi, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhaa041
Published: 03 February 2020
[13] From the Editor’s Desk: 1619 and All That -The American Historical Review, Volume 125, Issue 1, February 2020, Pages xv–xxi, https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhaa041
Published: 03 February 2020
[14] New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein attempts to slither away from central 1619 Project fabrication-By Tom Mackaman-16 March 2020

Friday, 13 March 2020

Disaffection and EverydayLife in Interregnum England. By Caroline Boswell. Studies in Early Modern Cultural, Political, and Social History. Boydell Press, 2017.


“There is no locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead, there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case.”

Michel Foucault,

May the weary traveler turn from life's dusty road and in the wayside shade, out of this clear, cool fountain drink, and rest

R. E. Speer, “Robert Burns,” Nassau Literary Magazine 43 (1888): 469.

“Cultural Studies originated as part of an attack on revolutionary Marxism, directed above all against its contemporary expression, Trotskyism”.

Paul Bond

Disaffection and Everyday Life is a significant addition to our knowledge of how the English Revolution and the subsequent Interregnum impacted the daily lives of "ordinary people."

Caroline Boswell's work harnesses previous work by other social and political historians such as Christopher Hill and David Underdown. She gives us a much closer approximation of how national politics impacted the daily lives of the population. Her book shows that there was a significant radicalisation amongst the poorer sections of the population.

Through her formidable study of the mass production of pamphlets situated in a large number of urban archives, she was able to get at "the heart of popular experiences of revolution." As Carla Pestana states in her review of the book “anyone who has read the social history of seventeenth-century England produced over recent decades knows that scholars have unearthed a rich archive of confrontations in marketplaces, animated disagreements in taverns, and riots in the streets. Such moments of social and political tension come to the attention of the authorities, make their way into court documents and other sources, and await industrious modern researchers' efforts to come again to light.  Numerous works recount such tales, in order to understand attitudes toward gender, economic justice, and a host of other issues. In these sources, the voices of common men and women emerge, mediated though they are by the often fraught occasions that caused them to be recorded.[1]

Much of the material uncovered showed that rich people on both sides of the barricades still used everything in their power to retain or grab back their wealth. Boswell highlights the case of Sir Arthur Haslerige's treatment of his tenants.

The Royalist’s exploited the state of flux in society during the Interregnum in order to seek the overturn of the revolution and re-establish the monarchy. Utilising popular drinking venues Royalist balladeers and pamphleteers spread their propaganda far and wide.

While Parliament also used the printing presses to counter the Royalist propaganda, they were not averse to using military force to suppress discontent. Boswell relates how Colonel Hewson ordered his troops to fire at London apprentices playing football in 1659, killing at least four of them.

While Boswell is careful not to exaggerate the hostility to the Cromwellian regime, the significant amount of discontent amongst the population was an indication of the narrow social base that Cromwell rested on. The army played a pivotal role in keeping things under control. There seemed a general hostility towards the soldiers, who were  "despised" for their heavy-handed action[2]

While Boswell has collected a formidable array of information, her reading of the numerous pamphlets is at times uncritical as this example from a previous essay shows “In January 1650, the royalist pamphleteer John Crouch described a scuffle between a group of Londoners and a troop of soldiers in his scurrilous newsbook The Man in the Moon.  Though Charles I’s execution had been carried out a year before, Crouch continued to employ tropes long drawn out by royalist pens in an attempt to undermine the nascent Commonwealth. Themes of subversion, sexual slander and humiliation pervade this anti-Puritan narrative. Crouch related how ‘two or three Companies’ of ‘Rebell’ soldiers had seized a group of stage players on St John’s Street. Having deprived the players of their garb, the troopers marched them to Westminster for breaking Parliament’s ordinance against stage-plays. One soldier stayed behind the crowd with design of gaining ‘some plunder’, at which time he happened across a ‘skimmington’ riding near Smithfield Market. This popular shaming ritual involved a man imitating the army’s Lord General Thomas Fairfax on horseback. The ‘General’ held a skimming ladle while ‘Baskets’ of Colonel Thomas Pride’s ‘Graines’ were held out in front of him. Fairfax’s ‘Doxie’ sat behind him, her face to the horse’s tail.”[3]

Her account of the shooting at the football match relies heavily on Royalist news pamphlets as does much of the book. While there was undoubted dissatisfaction amongst the poorer section of the population, it is hard to figure how much Royalist publications fabricated this.

Historiography

Boswell’s book is part of a veritable cottage industry of works that examine the social and cultural history of the Seventeenth Century. Even a cursory look at her footnotes and bibliography, it is clear as Carla Pestana points out Boswell “plumbs the rich records of English localities to uncover arresting stories. The book includes many vignettes. Altercations in streets, taverns, doorways of private homes, and elsewhere all came to the attention of authorities who recorded them for Boswell's perusal. She offers a thoughtful and sensible analysis of these altercations and their meanings, by and large.”

Her use of an eclectic mixture of historians ranging from Steve Hindle, Michael Braddick, Andy Wood, while a delight for the reader shows a historian who has yet to establish her take on the debate. The book also has shades of John Morrill' s(1976) Revolt of the Provinces about it.

As John Reeks points out, “Morrill's argument that national politics "took on local colours and [was] articulated within local contexts" has become Boswell's "intersection" of "quotidian politics" with the "politics of revolution". Nevertheless, the fundamentals are very similar, and the disaffection of Boswell's 1650s bears more than a passing resemblance to what Morrill uncovered for the 1630s and 1640s.”[4]

While acknowledging a debt to the past left-leaning historians such as Christopher Hill, Boswell’s historiography is also heavily influenced by modern-day genres of Linguistic Cultural and Spatial turns. All these genres emanate from the Post Modernist school of historical study, and all three are hostile to a Marxist understanding of historical events.

John Reeks writes he “was left with no clearer understanding of the difference between a "site" and a "space" at the end of the book than at the beginning, or the historical significance of such distinctions. At times this tendency reads like amusing idiosyncrasy, but it can also give rise to mind-bending tautology: "to understand the politics of disaffection, we must consider how disaffection transformed – and was transformed by – the politics of everyday life".

The application of Cultural Studies in British universities is now very pervasive. It would seem that every new book that comes out has a dash of Cultural Studies about it. Many of the conceptions contained within the genre are borrowed from the Italian left-wing figure Antonio Gramsci, particularly the latter’s notion of cultural hegemony in addressing popular culture as a preferred sphere of political activity.

As Paul Bond points out in his obituary of Stuart Hall “Cultural Studies originated as part of an attack on revolutionary Marxism, directed above all against its contemporary expression, Trotskyism. The academic field sought to shift the focus of social criticism away from class and onto other social formations, thus promoting the development of identity politics. Its establishment, in the final analysis, was a hostile response to the gains made by the Trotskyist movement in Britain from the 1950s onwards.”[5]

Conclusion

The book is exceptionally well-researched and contains valuable material for future study but I agree with John Reeks that Boswell needs to cut out the Spatial Turn language and just present her readership with “ a straightforward piece of political history”.











[1] Reviewed by Carla Pestana (University of California, Los Angeles) Published on H-War (January, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College) http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53344
[2] Page 145
[3] Popular Grievances and Royalist Propaganda in Interregnum England-Caroline Boswell- The Seventeenth Century -Volume 27, 2012 - Issue 3
[4] John Reeks (2019) Disaffection and everyday life in Interregnum England, The Seventeenth Century, 34:1, 129-130
[5] Cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014): A political career dedicated to opposing Marxism
By Paul Bond-5 March 2014- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/03/05/hall-m05.html