Backword Dave reminds me in a comments thread below (is it a “thread” if it only has two comments?) to say that it was splendid to eat and drink with both him and Crooked Timber’s Chris Bertram in Bristol on Monday Wednesday [can’t even remember what bloody day of the week it was].

They have the pictures, here and here, to confirm it.

Hodgskin Serial – Continued

Quite a bit to get through, and this part doesn’t really need any introducing, so let’s have another tranche of Hodgskin’s opening passages.

Labour Defended, &c. Episode Three

(Follow these links for Episode One and Episode Two.)

Combination is of itself no crime; on the contrary, it is the principle on which societies are held together. When the government supposes its existence threatened, or the country in danger, it calls on us all to combine for its protection. “Combinations of workmen,” however, it says, through Mr. Huskisson, “must be put down.” Frequently has it contracted alliances with other governments or made combinations to carry on war and shed blood; frequently has it called on the whole nation to combine when the object has been to plunder and massacre the unoffending subjects of some neighbouring state; and frequently have such combinations had heaped on them all the epithets of the vocabulary of glory. No other combination seems unjust or mischievous, in the view of government, but our combinations to obtain a proper reward for our labour. It is a heinous crime in the eyes of a legislature, composed exclusively of capitalists and landlords, and representing no other interests than their own, for us to try, by any means, to obtain for ourselves, and for the comfortable subsistence of our families, a larger share of our own produce than these our masters choose to allow us. All the moral evils that ever plagued a society have been anticipated by the Ministers from our persevering in our claims. To put down combination they have departed from principles held sacred for upwards of 200 years. They have made also a law handing us over to the magistrates like vagabonds and thieves, and we are to be condemned almost unheard, and without the privilege and formality of a public trial.

All that we are compelled to suffer, all that we have had inflicted on us, has been done for the advantage of capital. “Capital,” says Mr. Huskisson, “will be terrified out of the country, and the misguided workmen, unless they are stopped in time, will bring ruin on themselves and on us.” “Capital,” says the Marquis of Lansdown, “must be protected. If its operations be not left free, if they are to be controuled by bodies of workmen it will leave this for some more favoured country.” Capital, if we believe these politicians, has improved England, and the want of capital is the cause of the poverty and sufferings of Ireland. Under the influence of such notions, no laws for the protection of capital are thought too severe, and few or no persons, except the labourer, see either impropriety or injustice in the fashionable mode of despising his claims, and laughing at his distresses.

In fact the legislature, the public at large, and especially our employers, decide on our claims solely by a reference to the former condition of the labourer, or to his condition in other countries. We are told to be contented, because we are not quite as badly off as the ragged Irish peasants who are suffering under a more grievous system even than the one which afflicts us. By them also we are destined to suffer; for they are imported here in crowds, and beat down the wages of our labour. We can have no hope, therefore, either of convincing the public or of calling the blush of shame into the cheek of those who are opulent by our toils, and who deride the poverty and sufferings they cause, by referring to the customs of any other society, either in times past or present. To obtain better treatment the labourers must appeal from practice to principle. We must put out of view how labour has been paid in times past, and how it is now paid in other countries, and we must show how it ought to be paid. This I admit is a difficult task, but the former condition of the labourer in this country, and his condition at present in other countries, leaving us no criterion to which we can or ought to appeal, we must endeavour to perform it.

Hodgskin Serial – Continued

Who was Thomas Hodgskin? Here are the barest of bones, mostly lightly summarised from the introduction to David Reisman’s edition (mentioned in Episode One below).

Thomas Hodgskin was born 12 December 1787, left school at twelve and went to sea, serving twelve years in the Navy before retiring on half pay in 1812. He wasn’t happy with the Navy, and said so in his first published work, An Essay on Naval Discipline (1813). In this 50,000 word polemic, Hodgskin presented himself to the public “as a discontented and disappointed man” and went on to describe and denounce the entire system of discipline in the Navy, repeatedly returning to the idea that the despotic organisation and practices in the Navy stood in sharp and ultimately damaging contradiction to the politics of a free state.

Waterloo opened up the continent again, and Hodgskin travelled extensively in Europe, marrying a German woman in Hanover, returning to Britain in 1818, and publishing in 1820 his two volume Travels in the north of Germany, describing the present state of the social and political institutions, the agriculture, manufactures, commerce, education, arts and manners in that country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hanover. As some of my students sometimes say to me these days, this does just what it says on the tin, but — sadly — does not appear to be anywhere online. In particular, the Travels defended the laissez-faire (lack of?) organisation of modern society, and attacked the over-regulation of German society by government, as well as setting forth his view that “capital is the product of labour, and profit is nothing but a portion of that produce, uncharitably extracted…”

Based in Britain from 1818, Hodgskin studied Ricardo’s economics, set out in his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817), had a not particularly happy spell in Edinburgh, 1819-1822, and returned to London in 1822 in order to work as Parliamentary correspondent for the Morning Chronicle. There he became involved in a significant working-class education initiative, the Mechanics’ Institute, and its associated magazine, and it was during his association with these institutions that he published in 1825 his most celebrated work, Labour Defended….

More by way of background, perhaps, later. Let’s have a bit more of the text now, the opening three paragraphs, following on from the previously-posted “Notice”…

Labour Defended, &c., Episode Two

[Episode One was posted here]

Throughout this country at present, there exists a serious contest between capital and labour. The journeymen of almost every trade have combined to obtain higher wages; and their employers have appealed to the legislature for protection. The contest is not only one of physical endurance, or who can stand out longest, but of argument and reason. It is possible for the workmen to force their masters into compliance, but they must convince the public of the justice of their demands. The Press has, at present a great influence over public questions; and by far the greater and more influential part of it is engaged on the side of the capitalist. Through it, however, and through public opinion, must the journeymen find their way to the legislature. They may possibly terrify their masters, but they can only obtain the support of any influential persons by an appeal to reason. To suggest some arguments in favour of labour, and against capital, is my chief motive for publishing the present pamphlet.

The labourers are very unfortunate, I conceive, in being surrounded by nations in a worse political condition than we are; and in some of which labour is still worse paid than here. Labourers are still more unfortunate in being descended from bondsmen and cerfs [sic]. Personal slavery or villanage formerly existed in Britain, and all the living labourers still suffer from the bondage of their ancestors. Our claims are consequently never tried by the principles of justice. The lawgiver and the capitalist always compare our wages with the wages of other labourers; and without adverting to what we produce, which seems the only criterion by which we ought to be paid, we are instantly condemned as insolent and ungrateful if we ask for more than was enjoyed by the slave of former times, and is now enjoyed by the half-starved slave of other countries.

By our increased skill and knowledge, labour is now probably ten times more productive than it was two hundred years ago; and we are forsooth, to be contended with the same rewards which the bondsmen then received. All the advantages of our improvements go to the capitalist and the landlord. When, denied any share in our increased produce, we combine to obtain it, we are instantly threatened with summary punishment. New laws are fulminated against us, and if these are found insufficient, we are threatened with laws still more severe.

Minimum Utopia

Yesterday I said that I thought that SIAW made a good point against Norm’s claim that the left cannot die “so long as there’s brutality and injustice, desperate poverty and inequality, to be fought”. (Follow the links to read both the claim and the point.)

Norm has questioned that judgment in late-night email, pointing out that he wasn’t trying to offer any kind of complete account of what the left is and why or whether it’s dead in that post, and reminding me that he has a far more developed account of related matters over at his essay on “Minimum Utopia: Ten Theses“, first published in the Socialist Register volume for 2000.

Since it’s a splendid essay, I’m going to urge all of you to trot over and have a read. It’s not long, and it’s conveniently divided into bite-sized chunks (or “theses”) for easy digestion. And it really is very, very good indeed.