Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Who Are The Forty Thousand?

There are not 10,000 people in every British Marxist organisation put together.

But there are far more than 40,000 in the broad tradition that arises out of an anti-Establishment impulse the practical effect of which can be both libertarian and collectivist without paradox.

That tradition is also fiercely internationalist, including at least de facto pacifist at least most of the time.

Nothing could be less Marxist than that latter trait; on the subject of the pacifism of the ILP and such like, Trotsky was as fierce as he was on a not unconnected subject.

For that tradition at once arises out of, and draws upon, both Christianity and Marxism, adopting an extremely ecumenical and eclectic approach to each and both, with an emphasis on popular rather than on academic readings and workings.

This expansive approach has always been thoroughly extendible.

Neither Tony Benn nor Michael Foot was in any sense a Marxist, and there is no evidence that Jeremy Corbyn is, either.

Benn found inspiration in seventeenth century Radical readings of the Bible, and in the Bible itself, read as literature.

Foot found it in the literature of the eighteenth century, much of it the product of a more or less Jacobite sensibility.

Well, of course.

The Whig Revolution of 1688 created in a variety of subcultures a sense that the new Whig State, its Empire, and that State's and Empire's bellicose capitalist ideology, were somehow less than fully legitimate.

At every point of challenge to that State and to that ideology, those subcultures have recurred. The earliest Methodists were routinely accused of Jacobitism.

More to Methodism than to Marx, indeed.


  1. Foot's 1983 suicide note pledged the abolition of the House of Lords and Benn put forth a Private Members Bill to abolish the monarchy which Corbyn wants to abolish too.

    These anti British radicals were not necessarily Marxist.

    But there was nothing traditional about them.

    1. Abolishing the House of Lords once actually happened, a very long time before Marx.

      Foot and Benn were utterly English figures, recognisable down the ages, in a way that their opponents simply weren't at all.

      Those opponents took a British caricature of America and bizarrely adopted it as their ideal. They turned Britain into everything that Tories had always feared that America was.

    2. That's a very interesting point. Foot and Benn were utterly English, and steeped in English history and literature. Thatcher, Tebbit and that lot had English accents (pretty strange ones, come to think of it) but that was all. They had never read a book in their lives and they didn't like anything about this country. They had an idea of it and wanted to conform reality to that, like Austrian pan-Germans or something.

    3. As even Edward Norman said in his Church Times obituary of Thatcher, she sounded like a bad impersonation of the Queen. It is very much a feature of the English Right: they sound like foreigners trying too hard to sound English. And not only where their accents are concerned.

  2. Ah 1688, presented even by David Starkey as the successful foreign invasion we pretend we've never had since 1066. Most of the monarchs between then and the First World War barely even spoke English.

    The Queen is old enough to remember relatives who spoke German at home and English outside with thick German accents. A monarch like that presided over the high point of the Empire.

    As of course you know, Benn probably did more than anyone else to restore the popular appreciation of those who resisted both Charles I and Cromwell by reference to the Ancient Constitution and "time out of mind": the Levellers, the Diggers and all that.

    But you are the one who has probably done more than anyone else to piece together the story of continuous opposition to Whig capitalism and imperialism on grounds of legitimacy within the Catholic, High Church, Nonconformist and Quaker subcultures. Your work is vital.

    1. You really are too kind.

      One hundred years ago, the popular banishment of foreign control over British affairs very nearly overthrew the monarchy. No wonder that the Queen is so anxious to quash any suggestion that she would wish to set off that kind of thing again.

      Her father was a product of many generations of immigrant cousin marriage, and she herself has one. Think of her as a Bradford Pakistani, or as a Tower Hamlets Bangladeshi. Except that those are of Commonwealth origin.

      Numerous of the Queen's and her husband's relatives fought for Germany in the two World Wars, including a cousin of both, Queen Victoria's youngest grandchild, who was born in Surrey, fought for his cousin (and theirs) the Kaiser, became Hitler's Ambassador to London, and ended up a convicted Nazi war criminal.

      All very Jihadi John.

    2. Now you sound like Auberon Waugh.

    3. No, you really are being far too kind.

      Waugh proposed Deutschland Über Alles as Princess Anne's wedding march. Well under a century earlier, that would not have been a joke.

    4. Like all proper toffs, Waugh, Benn and Foot thought the Royal Family were nouveau riche immigrants from the Continent, and not even the better parts of the Continent.

    5. That was the trouble with Diana. She had married down. Her dynasty had done at least as much as anyone else to secure Charles's ancestors their unexpected elevation, and had then bankrolled the indigent Hanoverians while they, the Spencers, were the richest family in the land.

      As Chesterton wrote of the old nobility's attitude to the Royal Family, "There was a hole to stuff, and they pretty much admitted that they were stuffing it with rubbish." Diana will have been brought up on that view.

      There is a reason why Private Eye calls the Royal Family by the stereotypical lower-middle-class names of the middle of the last century.

  3. The republican tradition is ancient and continuous in England. It is the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha monarchy that is recent and foreign.

    1. The organic Constitution, with the full pageantry and ceremony of the parliamentary and municipal processes, includes a very British and a very English trait of inbuilt self-criticism.

      Variously Radical and republican, populist and pacifist, Celtic and regional, proletarian and intellectual (often both at once), it is exemplified in the present age by the distinct role of Dennis Skinner at the State Opening of Parliament.

      That role is as much a part of the event as is the role of the Queen, with each of them as the latest, but far from the last, in a long, long line.

      A long, long line of monarchs, even if not necessarily of Hanoverian or Saxe-Coburg-Gotha monarchs.