Faith, Socialism and the Left

One thing I notice whilst trawling through the blogs of what I generally term as the ‘left’ is the high incidence of disdain that a number have for faith. This disdain ranges from a ‘bah, humbug’ attitude to a more confrontational approach, even through to what I see as an aggressive, almost childish attitude.

So why is this? What causes people to take this attitude?

Actually, I’ve just asked a question that has as many answers as there are people!

So perhaps a detour is in order, one which has a quick shufty at the history of the radical left of faith and how their faith exhibits itself in action and in the wider labour movement. Being English I’ll (mainly) limit it to the radical English Christian tradition. And seeing as this is a blog post and not a small book we’ll just run over some of the key characters and organisations, their footprint and influence. I’m also not an encyclopaedia or an expert in history, so a lot of what I have posted is only my knowledge and experience. Mind you, this could end up as rambling rubbish!

Going back a few centuries we come across John Ball, having something of a part to play in the Peasant’s Revolt. Excommunicated by the church and finally executed when the establishment extracted revenge upon those involved. Famous for his sermon to the revolters at Blackheath, the famous section was

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the Gentleman?” From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

Rolling forward a few years to the time of the English Civil War we have the emergence of a plethora of radical traditions and maybe the first mass movement of people out from he control of the established church. We can label these under the title of ‘English Dissenters‘.

Perhaps the most famous figure in this era is Gerrard Winstanley. Winstanley argued that all land belonged to the community rather than to separate individuals. In January, 1649, he published the The New Law of Righteousness. In the pamphlet he wrote:

“In the beginning of time God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another.”

Compare that with what John Ball had written and you see the continuation of a tradition formed from a radical understanding of scripture. Winstanley also established a group called the Diggers. In April 1649 Winstanley, William Everard, a former soldier in the New Model Army and about thirty followers took over some common land on St George’s Hill in Surrey and “sowed the ground with parsnips, carrots and beans.”

Winstanley was looking for a redistribution of land from those who had to those who had none. In 1652 he published the Law of Freedom. In this he expounded a view that officals should be in office for no more than a year and also for a society without money or wage,

“The earth is to be planted and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go into the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money.”

A good review is here. Two books I can recommend reading which cover this period are The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution by Christopher Hill and The Law of Freedom’ and Other Writings by Gerrard Winstanley, compiled by Christopher Hill.

Moving on a bit we come to the 19th Century and some people of faith who had a great deal of input into fledgeling labour movements.

Keir Hardie, evangelist, trade union leader, first secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, member of the Independent Labour Party, member of the Labour Representation Committee and ultimately the leader of the Labour Party.

Tom Mann, socialist, communist, trade unionist, founder of the Eight Hour League and Anglican. His writings regarding the church and social justice at the Marxist Internet Archive are worth a look. If anyone has any more information on Mann’s Anglicanism throughout his life I’d be very interested!

Slightly off track to the USA with The Reverend Friar Thomas J. Hagerty, a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World. Suspended by his Archbishop because of his agitation in encouraging strike action, he never let that get in the way of his consideration of himself as a priest. Famous words:

“The Ballot Box is simply a capitalist concession. Dropping pieces of paper into a hole in a box never did achieve emancipation of the working class, and in my opinion it never will.”

Hewlett Johnson. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read about the activities of Hewlett Johnson. Radical but of limited effect, but interesting nonetheless. He is also known by the title of the ‘Red Dean of Canterbury’. Best known for his unwavering support of the Russian Revolution and of the resultant Soviet Union itself. More info at the Marxist Internet Archive.

I think that’ll do for now but the question still remains. Given the outworkings of radical faith in socialism and communism in centuries past, given the commitment of recent christians to furthering the lot of the working man, given the workings of the church through concepts such as liberation theology, why do many on the left have such issues with faith? Or is it that so many of faith have issues with the left? Or perhaps the answer is found in the works of Marx and Engels?


Anglo rejects Xstrata merger move

Seems that mining giant Anglo-American has rejected an approach from Swiss-based rival Xstrata about a possible merger as “totally unacceptable”. BBC News.

I wouldn’t normally give a monkeys about all this financial shenanigans except that I heard this on the radio the other day, LBC it was, and the financial commentator was saying he’d like to see it go through. Fair enough. Until he said that there would be about 19,000 jobs lost and that he thought it would be worth it as it would represent an excellent opportunity.

If I was the presenter I would have smacked him in the mouth. I was one of those who once paid what Lamont said was “price that is well worth paying”.

RBS boss set for £9.6m pay deal

The Royal Bank of Scotland Group Public Limite...Image via Wikipedia

Oink Oink!

What will it take for the government and the financial industry to start acting with common sense and decency? We now have another snout deep in the trough courtesy of the tax payer and with the connivance of the government.

In 2008 the Royal Bank of Scotland made a loss of £24.1bn – the largest loss in UK corporate history. You and I, the taxpayers of this country then coughed up 20 billion quid to save the bank.

In gratitude the board then paid off Fred Goodwin with a massive pension, the likes of which a working man or woman in this land will never, ever see, a payoff for failure which sums up the corrupt, amoral and sleazy financial world.

The icing on the cake is the realisation that the new masters at RBS will be making 9000 of their staff redundant and obviously holding down wages. I spent 3 years unemployed in the 80s and I really don’t know how someone can condemn loyal workers and their families to that and still have the neck to pick up a huge pay packet. Vermin, that’s the politest word I can come up with, vermin, the fucking lot of them.

And the glittering decoration to the layer cake is the news that Simon Hester is to be paid a package worth up to 9.6 million quid to run the show.

Dear God, I truly believe the only hope for this forsaken country is all out revolution and a change of system. The political masters and financial string pullers are incapable of changing. They truly believe that they are so important and so far up their own arses that they really do justify the obscene salaries.

Until they can be made to share the pain, one way or the other then nothing will change.


BBC News

George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob of The Respect Party

It’s always good when political parties set out their stall and the message from MP George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob is especially welcome at this time. A good text and very little I could disagree with and something I could give whole-hearted support to.

I liked it so much I’ve reposted it in full from the Respect website.

Westminster in crisis – it’s time for change
George Galloway MP and Salma Yaqoob

Monday 22nd June 2009

Many who once voted Labour in the hope of a fairer society now feel betrayed. The European elections saw Labour’s vote collapse to just 15%. And there was a shocking breakthrough made by the BNP in the North of England.

Labour is to blame for its own crisis. And it has to take a large share of the responsibility for creating the conditions in which the far right is growing.

Labour loosened the rules that gave licence to greedy bankers to gamble away our jobs and homes.

* Labour failed to protect our public services from wasteful and costly privatisation.
* Labour has overseen growing inequality and a chronic shortage of affordable housing.
* And Labour failed to tackle the scandal of MP’s expenses.

Labour’s failure has helped the BNP win votes in deprived white working class communities. Labour’s determination not to be outflanked by the Tories on questions of race and immigration has created fertile ground for racist arguments to win support.

When mainstream parties treat asylum seekers and immigrants as a criminal threat, it gives credibility to BNP arguments.

When national newspapers treat Muslims as the ‘enemy within’, the BNP feeds off this to spread hatred and division.

There is an alternative that is both practical and popular:

* The state must intervene in the economy to save and create jobs in the same way it saved the banks;
* Investment must be piled into a massive programme of house building;
* Corporate tax loopholes must be closed and the richest 1% taxed more to support the majority of the population through this recession.

Also, we need:

* Sustainability and human need, not greed at the heart of economic policy to tackle climate change;
* A genuinely ethical foreign policy;
* Protection of civil liberties;
* A clean-up of Westminster and Proportional Representation introduced.

There is a common agenda for progressive change in tune with the views of millions of people. Individually we are weak, but united we are strong.

We have strong RESPECT candidates ready for the General Election battle. But where there good Labour MPs who deserve our support we will back them. And where there are good Green Party challengers we will work with them – as we did in the European elections in the North-West and West Midlands. More people need to come forward to ensure there is a real alternative at the ballot box in many more areas.

As we approach the next General Election, all of us who support the values of peace, civil liberties and social justice must work together to deliver the strongest possible message of hope and change.

Link to the post here.

My Inspiration #3 John Ball

John Ball (priest)Image via Wikipedia

There’s something peculiar to the evolution of socialist thought and practice in England that separates it from the continental version, and that is the influence of faith. Concepts of socialism, communalism and communism have all been touched upon in the emergence and history of the radical in English thought and politics.

John Ball was a man of faith, a priest who had some pretty radical ideas about faith and community in the 14th century, which led to him being excommunicated, imprisoned and finally executed for his support of the Peasant’s Revolt.

Little is known about his early life but he was known to have fame as a ‘hedge priest’, a priest without a parish and not linked to any priestly order. Froissart referred to him as ‘the mad priest of Kent’. He was likely to have been influenced by the teachings of John Wycliffe and would have been seen to hold Lollard views. His sermon at Blackheath to the insurgents of the Peasants’ Revolt show his understanding of social equality, a radical concept at the time.

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

For his part in the Peasants’ Revolt he was hung, drawn and quartered in the presence of Richard II on July 15, 1381, his head subsequently stuck on a pike on London Bridge.

Were it that more like John Ball would stand in the church!