Sunday, March 21, 2010

Defend the English - cherish dissent

With apologies to regular readers Sid and Doris Blogger for wandering into an uncharacteristically personal post, I have just spent my Christmas book tokens.

I have bought John Keane's biography of Tom Paine - which I very much hope I shall enjoy. In the foreword he wrote for last year's reissue of the book Keane rightly observes that "condescension of the dead is dangerous."

This echoes to me what EP Thompson had to say in introducing "The Making of the English Working Class" (a book which has influenced my life as much as any other). Thompson set himself a mission (in which he succeeded) to rescue his subjects from "the enormous condescension of posterity."

It was from Thompson that I learnt of the London Corresponding Society and that our labour movement has its origins in the courage and determination of those with neither wealth or power who were prepared to speak up.

All that we have of value in our lives we owe to the struggles of those before us, some of whom (Tom Paine, William Morris, Sylvia Pankhurst) are remembered but most of whom are as anonymous as we shall be a century hence.

This is the England which needs to be defended. These are the English heroes whom we should venerate. Wat Tyler, the Diggers, the Chartists and the Match Girls, the Grunwick strikers and the Hillingdon hospital strikers represent the England in which I live.

We English can also be proud that we beheaded a King more than three centuries ago (even if we've been daft enough to put up with monarchy since the restoration!)

And yet islamophobic racist vermin can wave the flag of St George and claim to speak for my country with their incoherent intolerance. The "English Defence League" are as English as the Freikorps and those who would drive them back into the sewer deserve our full support.

I am also angry at those who want to cleanse our labour movement of dissent. All that is best in our movement is born of the courage of those who will speak truth to power. Those who prioritise maintenance of a facade of unity above tolerance and debate weaken us.

It is a sad truth that some of the dissenting voices whom we must defend subject themselves freely to the disciplines of "democratic centralism" (and an irony that those in our official structures who lead the charge against them stand in the same - bankrupt - Leninist tradition).

Nevertheless it is the duty of trade unionists to defend dangerous radicals, to speak up for those who speak out and to put ourselves between those who are victimised and castigated and those who attack them.

I have seen the Crown Jewels and they are very pretty, but the precious jewels of the English are the traditions of radicalism, tolerance and dissent with which we can build a better stronger labour movement and a better, fairer England.

Rant over.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


Anonymous said...

"I am also angry at those who want to cleanse our labour movement of dissent."

Does that include yourself?

Uncle Joe said...

surely the logical conclusion of your argument is that the people you rightly call "scum" such as the EDL should also be given the right to dissent?

nick venedi said...

Interesting comments Jon of the Rogers but I am hoping that you are not turning into a nationalist? Nationalism is the cause of most evil and it is irrational. And I know yoou are not but I was a bit confused with your 'outburst'?

I don't know who you feel can define themselvs as English? Is someone born in England English, or does someone need to prove long ancecteral links going back to a few centuries to be English? This is a very difficult concept to deal with.

There is no such thing as 'pure race' and you will find most of the English, like most of other Europeans and others, are a genetic mixture consisting of many different genes and this is of course not a new phenomenon. There were, for example, 130 different languages spoken in Rome and Constatinople and of course you will no doubt be aware that the Romans were in England for 300 years. Rumour has it that the Roman garrisons did not stay in their barracks at night watching Tricia or Jeremy Kyle? Not to mention the Normans, the Celts and the Judes. It just concerns me when I see those of us who are on the 'progressive side of politics' make statements that can be misunderstood? Can you clarify please? The most succesful societies, over the centuries, have been those that were culturaly and genetically enriched by diversity.

Nick Venedi

Anonymous said...

If you love E.P Thompsons book on the English working class, why did you, about a year ago I think, describe the concept of the 'British Working Class' as an anachronism?

Anonymous said...

Nic said " I am hoping that you are not turning into a nationalist? Nationalism is the cause of most evil and it is irrational."

Yeah cos Jon needs a lecture on this?? How long have you known him again.

its ridiculous to suggest there was any ambiguity in this or that there is any need for "concern"

nick venedi said...

Well anon at 8.38 at least I bother to put my name on any comments I make? Why don't you tell us who you are? I made the comment because I know Jon is not a nationalist (not in the negative meaning of the word) but knowing fully well that others may misinterpret what he says (as they often do..) this shows how long you have known him (that is if you exist)am still amazed on how many idiotic comments are placed on blogs by those who do not wish to be known. Anon means you don't really exist. For all I know you could be Chairman Maos chef or his widow perhaps?
Nick Venedi (not anon)

Anonymous said...

"On balance though I feel that several members of management teams within UNISON would be unfairly gagged if we did not"


Uncle Joe said...


I am no blood relation to you and never said that I am but you have not answered my question. Should the EDL also be given the Cherished English right to dissent?