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.
Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!
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