Introduction

A People's History of England-by A.L.Morton- Introduction by Giles Wynne of the Pocket Version

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FROM A PEOPLES HISTORY OF ENGLAND by A.L. MORTON 
(Incorporates Wales, Ireland and Scotland)
 
Morton’s classic work sets out the main narrative and most important turning points of British history - from the point of view of the ordinary people - in a clear and jargon-free style. Fascinating for the general reader and the historian alike.
 
I commend this book to you.
 
Are you descended from Stone Age Iberians, Celts or Beaker Folk, from Gauls, Normans, Romans or Angles, or from Saxons, Danes, Northmen or Jutes?
 
We know of William, Henry, Charles, Harold or even Edward, but why not (call your children) Ethelbert, Edwin, Oswy, Oswald, Penda or even Egbert? Kings all of them, but the Great English King Alfred and his sons, Athelstan, Edmund and Edgar, deserve better recognition.
 
I could understand you not considering Wilfred or Cuthbert (Archbishops), or Danish Kings Sweyn and Canute. The Godwins were a powerful force to be reckoned with, but not Ethelred (the Redeless).
 
Did you know?
The word ‘sheriff comes from a shire – reeve.
The feudal maxim – “No man without a lord, no land without a lord.”
 
We know Edward the Confessor was a halfwit, but Harold, a son of Godwin, was a brilliant tactician even though he did take one in the eye.
 
A freeman and serf were not free, puzzling to the modern mind, since they were terms peculiar to the Feudal Age.
A man without land was neither free nor unfree, he did not count.
 
(He might of course be a slave, but then he would be a kind of property rather than a person.)
 
A free man was one who held land on condition of military service or some other service, reckoned honourable, or one who paid a money rent.
 
In 1000 AD, the writings concerning enserfment explain that the cultivator was unfree:
 
“What do you say, ploughman, how do you do your work?”
 
“Oh Sir, I work very hard. I go out at dawn to drive the oxen to the field and yoke them to the plough; however hard the winter, I dare not stay at home for fear of my master; and having made the share and coulter fast to the plough, every day I have to plough an acre or more.”
 
“And what more do you do in the day?”
 
“A great deal more. I have to fill oxen bins and give them water and carry the dung outside”
 
“Oh, its hard work.”
 
“Yes, it is hard because I am not free.”
 
 
Feudalism explained: A contract, in theory, between king and vassal, which was completely imposed in England, more so than elsewhere.
 
The Crown retained enough land in its own possession to ensure that the king was stronger than any baron or combinations of barons.
 
William (the Conqueror) claimed hundreds of manors but also all the forest lands, which created the possibility of a state organisation transcending the feudal system, which was built around the king’s power as military leader of a victorious army.
 
The power of the state in England was greater than in Europe, and the power of the nobility was less than in Europe.
 
The English regarded the power of the Crown as a protector against their immediate superiors. They supported the Crown against the barons.
 
The harshness of William’s rule was soon forgotten by the peasantry, which had been accustomed to conquest and pillage during the long Danish invasions.
 
 
DOMESDAY ENGLAND
 
20 years after conquest, William sent out commissioners to every township leader to make a survey of the economic life of the Country.
 
How much land?
Who holds it?
What is it worth?
How many ploughs?
How many tenants?
How many oxen, sheep, swine?
 
The inquisition was highly unpopular
 
1.    Shameful to tell, not shameful to do!
2.    Shows the completeness of the Conquest, even for the nobles.
Reason for the Survey?
A) Information for levy of tax.
B) Give the King detailed knowledge of the extent of the wealth of lands and revenue.
C) An accurate picture of social structure of England.
 
A unit of agricultural economy was the manor (as the country was overwhelmingly agricultural).
 
Survey Result:
 
Slaves 9%
Borders and Cottars 32%
Villeins 38%
Freemen 12%
 
Multiply these figures by five to account for the average family and, allowing for classes not included, such as lords and their descendants, manorial officials, priests, monks, nuns, merchants-craftsmen, landless wage labourers and isolated cultivators, and the total population of England at that time was estimated at 2 million, or at the very least 1.75 million.
 
Slaves
By 1200 AD, slaves were a rapidly vanishing class and were becoming house servants, shephers or ploughmen on the lords’ domains.
 
Borders and Cottars  were holders of small patches of land outside the framework of the open field system. They were still serfs, but some were free tenants, paying their crafts, cloth, smithy or woodwork as dues.
 
Villeins were bound up in the agriculture of the manor, but farmed 15 to 30 acres share of common land.
 
Day Work and Boon Work
These were the regular number of days per week required to be given to the lord, usually three, but extra Boon days might be demanded at any time. This was hated as it affected a person’s own work (shearing harvest, etc). As a result, much of the work on a person’s holdings was done by women and children.
 
THOUGHTS OF TIME?
You may be reflecting on what has been written so far and how the masses were subjugated by warrior bands and armies, how their leaders appointed themselves as kings and gave their friends positions of favour and authority.
How many days a week do you work for the ‘state’ and how many for yourself?
 
Women folk are forced to work to make ends meet.
 
Nothing much has really changed, but why not?
 
We have a historical record of feudalism and its effects on people.
 
People are prepared to suffer almost anything for the sake of peace and quiet
 
Then, as now, rocking the boat would get you into serious trouble.
 
We are amazed how much people are prepared to accept today.

Three million unemployed, the greatest capitalist swindle in a generation, MPs milking the public pot, house price collapse, the EU making 80% of our laws and our children facing the prospect of paying for the politicians printing money for decades to come. 
 
And hardly a squeak.

Do the masses know something the protestors don’t? 
 
That parliament is not the ‘state’ will be shown in the next part…………..
BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK –
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER, SECTION BY SECTION,
I WILL TAKE YOU ON A JOURNEY THROUGH
AL MORTON’S BOOK

A People's History of England by A.L.Morton-His Note About the Book

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A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF ENGLAND by A.L.MORTON

HIS NOTE ABOUT THE BOOK

IN SPITE OF ITS TITLE, THIS BOOK IS NOT SO MUCH A HISTORY OF ENGLAND AS AN ESSAY IN HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION.

IT SETS OUT TO GIVE THE READER A GENERAL IDEA OF THE MAIN LINES OF THE MOVEMENT OF OUR HISTORY,AND TO DO THIS A MASS OF DETAIL HAS BEEN SACRIFICED AND EVENTS OF CONSIDERABLE IMPORTANCE HAVE BEEN OF NECESSITY OMITTED OR RECEIVED THE MOST CURSORY TREATMENT.

FURTHER, IT IS INTENDED FOR THE GENERAL READER RATHER THAN THE SPECIALIST, AND MAKES NO PRETENCE OF BEING THE  RESULT OF ORIGINAL RESEARCH:

IT WOULD, INDEED, BE QUITE IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY ONE WRITER TO ATTEMPT TO COVER THE WHOLE FIELD OF ENGLISH HISTORY IN SUCH A WAY.

WHATEVER VALUE THIS MAY HAVE MUST LIE RATHER IN THE INTERPRETATION THAN THE NOVELTY OF THE WORK IT PRESENTS.

A People's History of England- Foreward To Giles Wynne's abridged version by Colin Todhunter

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Foreword to Giles Wynne's abridged version of AL Morton's 'A People's History of England'

Arthur Leslie Morton's 'A People's History of England' is a classic. Morton (1903-1987) takes us back to when humans first inhabited this land and then on a forward journey that ends on the eve of the Second World War. His book shows that countless millions have inhabited this place we call England, from ancient hunter gatherer tribes and the 'Beaker People', to the Vikings, Normans and those of the industrial age.


As I was reading this abridged version by Giles Wynne, I could not help but recall the words of the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who stated that generals, kings, rulers and politicians have spilled rivers of blood just to become temporary masters of some or other part of the planet and that endless cruelties have been visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the globe upon inhabitants in another corner.

Morton accounts for the plight of the ordinary person, both here and abroad, who has borne the brunt of war, famine, exploitation and the political machinations of tyrants and unscrupulous leaders, whether Roman, medieval monarch, feudal baron or modern day capitalist.

He describes the rise of feudalism and its decline, the agrarian revolution that led to population increase, the English Revolution, where the people pushed Cromwell and others to get rid of the monarch, the rape of Ireland, colonial expansion and the Industrial Revolution.

As this land grew to be the pre-eminent world power, ordinary people struggled to find a voice within these shifting tectonic plates of history. Nevertheless, they succeeded.

Morton discusses the development of the working class movement and subsequent struggles: he notes the impact of the Peasants' Revolt, Peterloo, trade unionism and many other inspiring events that litter the historical landscape of England.


The conclusion to be drawn is that most change that has benefited ordinary people has resulted from the actions of ordinary folk themselves. Such benefits have never been handed out freely by the rich and powerful. This is true for women’s rights and political freedoms, as much as it is for workers' rights or any other number of gains.


If Morton shows us anything, it is that, when conscious of their class interests and sources of oppression, ordinary folk acting together can and do make a difference.

In the latter stages of the book, Morton highlights the driving forces of imperialism, which led to the mass slaughter of two world wars. Today, under the guise of ‘globalisation’ or outright war, western powers continue to plunder the world and wage war.

History can teach us much - but only if we listen.

‘A People’s History of England’ is a rallying call for action. The slaughter, deceptions and barbarity have gone on for too long. 

Colin Todhunter

People in History Home Page

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A POCKET VERSION OF "A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND"
BY A. L MORTON

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF ENGLAND

 

DIVIDED INTO 17 CHAPTERS,

 A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF ENGLAND by A.L.MORTON.

"IN SPITE OF ITS TITLE, THIS BOOK IS NOT SO MUCH A HISTORY OF ENGLAND AS AN ESSAY IN HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION.

 IT SETS OUT TO GIVE THE READER A GENERAL IDEA OF THE MAIN LINES OF THE MOVEMENT OF OUR HISTORY,AND TO DO THIS A MASS OF DETAIL HAS BEEN SACRIFICED AND EVENTS OF CONSIDERABLE IMPORTANCE HAVE BEEN OF NECESSITY OMITTED OR RECEIVED THE MOST CURSORY TREATMENT.

FURTHER, IT IS INTENDED FOR THE GENERAL READER RATHER THAN THE SPECIALIST, AND MAKES NO PRETENCE OF BEING THE RESULT OF ORIGINAL RESEARCH: IT WOULD, INDEED, BE QUITE IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY ONE WRITER TO ATTEMPT TO COVER THE WHOLE FIELD OF ENGLISH HISTORY IN SUCH A WAY".

 

March For The Alternative 26th March 2011
Cuts are not the Cure
March for the Alternative, Hyde Park Protest 
 

COMMUNISTS OR FASCISTS - YOU CHOOSE

THE RED ARMY or the GERMAN NAZI ARMY  ? - You Choose 
Thank Russians for the Alternative -Life in Britain Under Adolf Hitler ? - You Choose

Category: History
 

John Green,author of Britain’s Communists:

The Untold Story (Artery Publications) writes in the Morning Star, that Britain’s communists were fighting the rising threat of fascism – even while appeasement was still in vogue.


COMMUNISTS in Britain, as in other European countries, were clear very early on that the rise of fascism in Europe and particularly the refusal of the Western powers to assist the Spanish Republican government fuelled the prospect of a new conflagration in Europe.


They did everything in their power to warn of the danger, but the ruling elites preferred to appease fascism and viewed their enemy as the Soviet Union.


Already as early as 1935, when Italy invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), the Communist Party immediately campaigned for sanctions against the aggressor.


When the government refused to respond and the Labour Party declined taking any action, it initiated direct action by workers involved in making or supplying war materials to Italy.


Before the outbreak of the second world war, fascist Japan mounted an all-out offensive against China.


While governments looked on, workers in several parts of the world, including Britain, decided to take action.


British communists successfully initiated industrial action to block exports to Japan. In December 1937, a Canadian liner, the Duchess of Richmond, arrived in Southampton carrying 200 tons of Japanese goods.


At the docks there was a very active Communist Party branch and when one of its members, Trevor Stallard, discovered where the cargo had originated, he called a meeting of the men and they agreed not to unload the Japanese cargo.

The event made headlines.


The London Communist Party then distributed leaflets to London dockers, calling on them to emulate their colleagues in Southampton.

In January 1938 stevedores in Middlesbrough refused to load a Japanese ship, the Haruna Maru, with a cargo of pig iron destined for Japan.


In 1938, when Hitler threatened Austria and Britain’s government was still appeasing the dictator, British communists called for prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s removal.


The London Communist Party called for a mass demonstration and the setting up of a Council of Action to bring down the government. Its call met with a huge response, and 40,000 joined a protest march.


In March 1938, the Soviet Union proposed discussions between the French, British and US governments in order to plan joint action against Hitler and ensure European security.


At the time the communist Daily Worker was the only daily paper which consistently demanded that we stand by the Czechs in the face of Hitler’s aggression.


The party organised around 3,000 Stand by the Czechs meetings up and down the country and it distributed 500,000 leaflets entitled Stop the Betrayal.


Only one MP in Parliament attacked the prime minister for appeasing Hitler and that was the communist Willie Gallacher, who was barracked by his fellow MPs.

His speech was barely mentioned in the press.


In April 1940 the “phoney war” was overtaken by the real war. In May Chamberlain was forced to resign and Winston Churchill took over as prime minister.


Nevertheless, behind the scenes, the government was still discussing whether or not to ban communist propaganda.

At this time the party had adopted a controversial anti-war position, because of the failure of Britain and France to cement an alliance with the Soviet Union.

It characterised the war as an inter-imperialist one, and demanded a war directed seriously against fascism.


The government banned the Communist Party leaflet The People Must Act, which called on the government to pursue the war seriously by working with all anti-fascist forces.

It also banned the publication of the Daily Worker.


In September 1940, the German blitz on London began, but the government had totally neglected to build air raid shelters to protect the population.


They had been constructed for ministers and government officials, and installed in luxury apartments for the rich, but not for the poor.

The Communist Party called for a system of tunnel shelters for London and other big towns.


The London district of the party issued 100,000 leaflets and 5,000 posters demanding the immediate construction of bomb shelters and the opening of Tube stations as night shelters.


The following week police raided party offices and bookshops and seized all the leaflets and posters they could find, often using violent methods of entry, as if they were dealing with criminals.


These raids were also accompanied by police action to close the Tube stations whenever an air-raid warning sounded, to prevent citizens using them as shelters.


By the end of September, however, 79 Underground stations in Greater London were already being used for around 177,000 people.


Undaunted by police raids, the party published and distributed another 20,000 leaflets, demanding the construction of bomb-proof shelters and the setting up of shelter committees. Many party members were involved in these committees.


In January 1941 on the party’s initiative a People’s Convention was convened.


The aim was to press the government to institute changes in the country to isolate the “men of Munich” and the powerful and wealthy friends of fascism — those whose policies had helped build up Hitler’s power.


It demanded a government truly representative of the people, a protection of living standards, for democratic trade union rights, adequate air-raid protection and friendship with the Soviet Union.


There were 665 delegates representing trade unions, 471 were from shop stewards committees and the remainder from broad organisations.


The convention received wide coverage in the mainstream press, since there were clearly strong feelings among the population at large about the issues discussed.


Soon after nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Churchill announced that Britain would co-operate with the Soviet Union.


On the basis of that historic decision, the party then reversed its policy of not supporting an “imperialist war” and now threw its weight behind the government.


The new allied coalition with the Soviet Union in the war against fascism brought about a big change in the party’s fortunes.


Its membership grew massively, from 22,000 at the end of 1941 to 53,000 only four months later.


It was also a young membership: of the 1,323 delegates at its May 1942 conference, over 500 were in their twenties and another 500 in their thirties.


Thousands around the country began attending Anglo-Soviet solidarity meetings and when Churchill’s wife herself launched the Aid to Russia appeal it met with an unprecedented response.


Inevitably communist speakers were much in demand at such events.


Meetings were often chaired by local lord mayors and the platforms draped with the Union Jack alongside the Soviet flag.


God Save the King was sung along with the Internationale!


In October 1942, a 50,000-strong rally organised by the Communist Party was held in Trafalgar Square calling for the opening of a second front in Europe.


The Party itself was still growing fast, and now had one member for every four individual members of the Labour Party.


With the more propitious environment in the country, communists were also now beginning to be elected to leading positions in many trade unions, particularly in the mining and engineering unions.


Although the armed forces were ostensibly fighting for democracy against fascist totalitarianism, the field of education became a controversial one.


The War Office felt that educational activities for the forces would help boost morale and relieve boredom.


On the other hand, some in the higher echelons of the army were perturbed at the idea of too much education and democracy, as potentially undermining their power.


For a time the communist philosopher Dr John Lewis was employed by the Army Education Corps as a full-time lecturer until those in charge got wind of him and he was promptly sacked.


Churchill himself said: “I do not approve of this system of encouraging political discussions in the army among soldiers.”


So obsessed were the authorities about communist influence in the armed forces that they tried to prevent some from getting into the services at all.


One of the party’s chief theoreticians and later editor of its journal Marxism Today, James Klugmann, ran classes on fascism, the causes of war, dialectics and socialism on the troopship he was on and was given the sobriquet “the prof” by the lads.


He was later parachuted into Yugoslavia as a liaison officer with Tito’s partisans and eventually rose to the rank of major.


One of the high points of political activity in the forces was the so-called “forces parliaments.”


In Cairo the Army Education Corps had set up a cultural centre for leisure activities for the men stationed nearby.


Those communists stationed out in the Middle East managed to contact each other and set up “mock” parliaments, run on party lines, to debate the issues of the day and discuss what form a post-war Britain should take.


Similar forces parliaments were set up in the Far East too. They organised mock elections but, with the aim of Labour-Communist unity, communists did not stand on a separate platform.


Labour won overwhelmingly.

These parliaments attracted around 500 participants, but in April 1944 the army top brass closed them down.


The landslide victory for the Labour Party in 1945 was in no small measure due to the votes of those in the armed services, and a small amount of credit for that should go to communists and others who organised such discussion groups and mock parliaments, encouraging their fellow soldiers to vote Labour.


By the summer of 1944, the party had begun circulating its new draft programme for a post-war Britain.
In doing so it was responding to the mood in the country for a fresh start and a widespread determination not to return to the hunger, poverty and unemployment of the ’30s.


It also produced a discussion document, Guiding Lines on Questions of Post-war Reconstruction, and set up a number of committees to look at specific areas of society, such as education, housing, agriculture and transport.


All this culminated in a document titled Britain for the People: Proposals for Post-war Policy.

It emphasised the need to build on what had been achieved during the war

 

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