Ch 12 The Triumph of Industrial Capitalism Pt

CH.12-THE TRIUMPH OF INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM

Hits: 1833

CHAPTER XII:  THE TRIUMPH OF INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISM

SECTION 2: THE WAR IN THE VILLAGES

 

THE ENGLISH ‘PEASANTS’ WERE ALONE. THEY HAD DERIVED NO BENEFITS FROM THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, CERTAINLY WHEN COMPARED WITH THE EUROPEANS. BY THE END, THEY WERE POORER THAN AT THE BEGINNING. THIS WAS PARTICULARLY TRUE OF FARM LABOURERS SUFFERING HIGHER PRICES AND LOWER WAGES.

FROM 1793 TO 1815, EVERY SCRAP OF LAND WAS PLOUGHED FOR WHEAT, HOWEVER UNSUITABLE THE SOIL, AS THERE WERE IMMENSE PROFITS TO BE MADE.

THE REAL WAGES OF LABOURERS FELL. A PROPOSAL IN 1815 TO FIX WAGES WAS RIDICULED ON THE GROUNDS THAT TO FIX A WAGE IN RELATION TO THE PRICE OF BREAD WOULD HAVE MEANT A WAGE OF £1.11.6d, WHEN THE AVERAGE WAGE WAS 9 SHILLINGS.

IN 1815, UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE CORN LAWS, WHEAT PRICES ROSE AGAIN TO 78s.6d A QUARTER DUE TO A BAD HARVEST. THIS HELPED FARMERS BUT DID NOTHING TO SAVE LABOURERS FROM UNEMPLOYMENT, LOWER WAGES AND POOR LAW RELIEF.

BY 1816, PRICES OF CORN HAD FALLEN, WAGES TOO, BUT RENTS AND FOOD PRICES REMAINED HIGH. RIOTS BROKE OUT IN EAST ANGLIA. PITCHED BATTLES OCCURRED, AND TWO LABOURERS WERE KILLED WITH 75 TAKEN PRISONER. FIVE WERE HANGED, AND NINE WERE TRANSPORTED.

IN GENERAL, WAGES TEMPORARILY INCREAED FOLLOWNG THE RIOTS. OVERALL, HOWEVER, THE STANDARD OF LIVING FELL, AND THE MASS OF THE RURAL POPULATION MOVED FROM A BEEF, BREAD AND ALE DIET TO POTATOES AND TEA.

COBBETT WAS NOT A CLEAR POLITICAL THINKER, YET HE GRASPED THAT THE COMMON PEOPLE, HIS PEOPLE, HAD BEEN ROBBED, WERE BEING ROBBED AND WOULD CONTINUE TO BE ROBBED UNTIL THEY COMBINED TO CHECK AND CONTROL THE PROPERTY OWNING CLASS.

THIS CLEAR, SIMPLE CONCEPT OF POLITICS GAVE RISE TO HIS DEMAND FOR DEMOCRACY AND PARLIAMENTARY REFORM. IT WAS A DIRECT APPEAL TO THE DESIRES OF THE MASSES, WHICH MADE HIM HATED AND FEARED BY EVERY GOVERNMENT BETWEEN 1810 AND 1830.

 HIS ‘POLITICAL REGISTER’, WRITTEN IN ENGLISH PROSE AND SO CLEAR THAT NO ONE COULD EVER MISTAKE ITS MEANING, WAS THE FIRST TO DENOUNCE EVERY ACT OF OPPRESSION AND WAS FELT BY THOUSANDS ALL OVER ENGLAND TO BE THEIR OWN VOICE. ABOVE ALL, IT FOUGHT FOR THE COUNTRY WORKER, THE MOST EXPLOITED, MOST IGNORANT AND MOST HELPLESS - BUT THE BEST LOVED BY COBBETT.

COBBETT WAS NOT AN EVEN TEMPERED MAN. HE RAGED FURIOUSLY AGAINST THE LANDLORDS, TITHE OWNERS AND BANKERS: THE WHOLE CONSPIRACY OF THE RICH AGAINST THE POOR.

THERE WERE MANY BANKRUPTCIES IN 1815, AND IN THE YEARS THAT FOLLOWED, THE EUROPEAN WARS OCCURRED AND MUCH LAND WENT OUT OF CULTIVATION. UNDER-FARMED LAND, LESS STOCK AND FEWER REPAIRS MEANT VILLAGE CRAFTSMEN, BLACKSMITHS, CARPENTERS AND WHEELWRIGHTS SUFFERED. THESE WERE THE MEN WHO WERE TAKING AN ACTIVE PART IN THE MOVEMENT OF REVOLT WHICH SWEPT SOUTHERN ENGLAND IN 1830.

SPORADIC RICK BURNING FOLLOWED, BUT THE REVOLT AND STRUGGLE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE TOOK A PECULIAR FORM: ORGANISED POACHING. FOR THE NEXT 60 YEARS, A RELENTESS GUERRILLA WAR WENT ON ALL OVER ENGLAND BETWEEN GANGS OF ARMED POACHERS AND RIVAL GANGS AND THE GAMEKEEPERS.

FROM 1770, A SERIES OF LAWS INCREASING THE SEVERITY OF SENTENCES WERE PASSED. IN 1800, POACHERS BECAME LIABLE TO HARD LABOUR AND TWO YEARS IMPRISONMENT FOR A SECOND OFFENCE. IN 1803, ANY POACHER WHO POINTED A GUN OR CUT OR STABBED WHILE RESISTING ARREST SHOULD BE HANGED AS A FELON. IN 1817, TO BE FOUND IN A PARK OR WOOD WITH A GUN OR OTHER VIOLENT WEAPON BECAME LIABLE TO TRANSPORTATION. IN PRACTICE, THIS MEANT FOR LIFE, SINCE NO PASSAGES HOME WERE PAID.

THE LAWS DID NOT CHECK POACHING. THEY ONLY INCREASED THE SIZE OF THE GANGS AND MADE POACHING MORE RECKLESS IN ORDER TO AVOID ARREST. TO BE ARRESTED WAS TO BE TRIED BY A MAGISTRATE, WHO REGARDED THE POACHER AS A NATURAL ENEMY. SPRING GUNS AND MAN TRAPS WERE EVEN ADDED TO PROTECT GAME AND WERE ALLOWED BY THEIR LAWS.

IN 1810, FIVE WERE CONVICTED AND 75 IN 1822. IN 1827, 8,500 WERE ARRESTED - MOST WERE TRANSPORTED.

POACHING WAS THE OBVIOUS WAY TO SUPPLEMENT A FAMILY’S STARVATION WAGE, SINCE GAME WAS EASILY SOLD, BUT IT WAS ALSO A DELIBERATE DEFIANCE. IT WAS AN RESPONSE TO THE WAR THAT THE RICH WAGED ON THE POOR AND A REFLECTION OF THE SULLEN ANGER OF HUNGER.

THE POACHERS WERE RARELY CONSIDERED CRIMINALS IN THE ORDINARY SENSE. HE WAS MORE LIKELY TO BE A MAN OF OUTSTANDING INTELLIGENCE AND DARING.

IN 1830, WHAT HAS BEEN CALLED THE ‘LAST LABOURERS REVOLT’ FLARED UP, CAUSED BY THE THRESHING MACHINE.

THRESHING WAS A RURAL ACTIVITY AT WHICH A LIVING WAGE COULD BE EARNED. THE THRESHING FLOOR AND HAND FLAIL COULD NOT COMPETE WITH CHEAPER AND QUICKER MACHINERY THAT EXTRACTED THE GRAIN MORE THOROUGHLY.

IN ADDITION TO THIS, THERE WAS AN INCREASE IN DISTRESS IN 1830 BECAUSE TWO MILLION SHEEP DIED THROUGH DISEASE.

RIOTS BEGAN IN KENT, WHERE THRESHING MACHINES WERE DESTROYED AND RICKS WERE BURNED. A LETTER CIRCULATED BY A ‘CAPTAIN SWING’ STATED THAT “WE WILL DESTROY THE CORN STACKS AND THRESHING MACHINES THIS YEAR. NEXT YEAR, WE WILL TURN ON THE PARSONS, AND THE THIRD WE WILL MAKE WAR UPON THE STATESMEN.”

THE DEMAND WAS A LIVING WAGE. 2s 6d A DAY IN KENT AND SUSSEX AND 2 SHILLINGS IN WILTSHIRE AND DORSET, WHERE CONDITIONS WERE WORSE.

FARMERS WERE READY TO ACCEPT THESE DEMANDS, AND SOME TOOK PART IN ACTION BECAUSE THE MAIN DEMANDS WERE ALSO SET AGAINST LANDLORDS AND PARSONS TO CUT RENTS.

RIOTING SPREAD, AND DEMANDS FOR MONEY GREW. HAMPSHIRE WORKHOUSES WERE DESTROYED, AND ARMED SKIRMISHES WITH YEOMANRY FOLLOWED, BUT STARVATION AND PAUPERISATION HAD SAPPED THE STRENGTH AND DESTROYED THE SOLIDARITY OF THE VILLAGES. THE GAME LAWS HAD TAKEN THOUSANDS OF MEN AWAY, ESPECIALLY NATURAL LEADERS, SO VILLAGERS WERE CAPABLE OF ONLY A WILD OUTBURST BUT NOT ANY SUSTAINED EFFORT.

 WITH PATHETIC EASE THE REVOLT COLLAPSED, ONCE THE AUTHORITIES BROUGHT IN THEIR FORCES. DESPITE ALARM AMONG THE RULING CLASSES, BRUTALITY FOLLOWED.

BARING OF BARINGS BANK DISTINQUISHED HIMSELF BY FLOGGING, WITH A STICK, A HANDCUFFED PRISONER AWAITING TRIAL.

THIS WAS TORY PITT’S FINEST HOUR. NINE WERE HANGED AND 457 TRANSPORTED IN THE SOUTH OF ENGLAND. (THE NORTH WAS NOT AFFECTED AS THERE WAS ALTERNATE EMPLOYMENT IN THE MINES AND FACTORIES).

IT IS NO COINCIDENCE THAT WAGES IN 1830 ROSE BY 1 SHILLING PER WEEK.

THE GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTED TO ROUND OFF ITS VICTORY BY PUTTING COBBETT ON TRIAL, BUT THE CROWN LAWYERS WENT ON THE DEFENSIVE WHEN COBBETT REVEALED HOW ONE OF THE RIOTERS HAD BEEN THREATENED WITH DEATH AND THEN A PARDON IF HE WOULD SAY COBBETT HAD INCITED HIM TO VIOLENCE. AFTER HIS ACQUITTAL, COBBETT’S RELEASE WAS RECEIVED WITH IMMENSE ENTHUSIASM.

THIS VICTORY DID NOTHING FOR THE HUNDREDS TRANSPORTED OR THE THOUSANDS WHO REMAINED IN THE VILLAGES.

THE MAIN IMPORTANCE OF THE RISING LIES IN IT BEING THE LAST GREAT POLITICAL MOVEMENT IN THE COUNTRY DISTRICTS.

AGRICULTURE HAD ITS UPS AND DOWNS BUT WAS ALWAYS THE POOR RELATION OF INDUSTRY, AND THE FARM WORKERS, THE HEROES OF SO MANY STRUGGLES SANK INTO TORPOR, ONLY PARTLY BROKEN BY THE TRADE UNION AGITATION OF JOSEPH ARCH IN 1872.

WHATEVER MAY HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE, AN INDEPENDENT MOVEMENT IS HARDLY TO BE EXPECTED AMONG THE RURAL PROLETARIAT.

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