Friday, 20 February 2015

George Julian Harney: Radical Chartist

Hegel vs Wittgenstein's approach 

DAVID Goodway gave a talk on Saturday the 7th, February 2014, at the Peoples' History Museum on George Julian Harney, one of the leading Chartists.  He was introducing the book that he edited and published in 2014, and was entitled 'The Chartists Were Right' on Mr. Harney's contributions to the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, which is the first selection of Harney's journalism to be published.  Mr. Goodway taught sociology, history and Victorian studies to mainly adult students at the University of Leeds.  His first book had been London Chartism, 1838-1848 (1982).  Elsewhere Mr. Goodway has written mostly on anarchism and libertarian socialism.

David Goodway gave a brief history of Chartism and the general background of the times mentioning the Newport uprising, as well as other attempted uprisings in Dewsbury and Sheffield, and later in Manchester and Birmingham; the 1832 strike in Stalybridge; the murder of a policeman in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1848.  He insisted that there had been no link or continuity with the labour movement and that ultimately Chartism had been replaced by trade unionism.  He posed the question as to why Chartism failed after some 50 years of agitation.  He didn't seem to answer this precisely, but pointed out that the demand for the Charter was for more specific reasons to do with the New Poor Law, and also concerns about the factory system and it had been confronted by an alliance of the propertied classes. 

The main intellectual influence on Harney was the Irishman Bronterre O'Brien, the editor the Poor Man's Guardian, who was an enthusiast for the French Revolution identifying with Robespierre.  Harney was more drawn to Marat and often signed himself 'L'Ami du Peuple' (Friend of the People).  In April 1839, he wrote for the London Democrat, but during his travels in the north of England he was seen as one of the foremost spokesmen of physical-force Chartism, and in May 1839, soon after the Convention moved to Birmingham, a warrant was issued for his arrest for a seditious speech he was reputed to have made there.  He was arrested at Bedlington in July, and held for a time at Warwick Gaol, but in April 1840 the case was dropped, because his speech had not been properly witnessed.    

He was appointed Northern Star correspondent for Sheffield and later became its sub-editor in July 1843 when O'Connor,  its proprietor, dismissed the Rev. William Hill and replaced him with Joshua Hobson.  Hobson started to give Harney a free hand.  By the time he was formally appointed editor in October 1845 Harney had already taken-over as editor in practice.  From then on through the 1850s his influence was at its height as although O'Conner was the proprietor of the Northern Star, to begin with he gave Harney editorial independence.   

In the 1840s, the Northern Star was based in Leeds, and Friedrich Engels had visited there in 1843 when he met Harney and they became lifelong friends,  Engels was to write:
'We kept in touch with the revolutionary section of the English Chartists through Julian Harney, the editor of the movement's central organ, the Northern Star, to which I was a contributor.'

Engels thought Harney should push himself into the Chartist leadership over O'Connor but Harney disagreed responding:
'A popular leader should be possessed of magnificent bodily appearance, an iron frame, eloquence, or at least a ready fluency of tongue.  I have none of these.  O'C. has them all – at least in degree. ...'

Then very perceptively Harney argued that the qualities that Engels claimed for Harney were, in fact, in English terms defects:
'...the very qualities you (Engels) give me the credit of possessing, and which you emphatically sum up in the sentence “You are the only Englishman who is really free of all prejudices that distinguish the Englishman from the Continental man” are sufficient of themselves to prevent my being a leader.' 

Goodway writes that 'Harney, a Londoner and indeed a proletarian, was then insufficiently English in outlook, whereas O'Connor, who belonged to the Irish gentry, exerted a mesmeric appeal on the English working class, many whom were, of course, either Irish-born or of Irish origin.' 

Harney fell out with Marx and Engels over the issue of social inclusiveness which Harney proclaimed:  'I stay not to enquire whether they were of the aristocratic [sic], bourgeoisie, or the proletariat.  Enough for me that they were men of earnest convictions, which they maintained through every kind of adversity, including bonds, exile, and to death.' 

Essentially Marx and Engels were Hegelians or some may say 'monomaniacs', while Harney's writings in his publications were as Mr. Goodway says: 'vigorously polymathic, ranging across literature, contemporary politics and world history of all periods.'   

Wittgenstein wrote:
'Hegel seems to me to be always wanting to say that things which look different are really the same...  Whereas my interest is in showing that things which look the same are really different.' 

George Julian Harney in his editorship of the Northern Star was not engaged in producing a mono-maniac tract for Marxists, hence David Goodway was able to say that  the Northern Star sold well and was 'not boring' and was definitely 'not a sectarian paper'.  Basically Harney, according to Mr. Goodway, was all for inclusiveness while 'Marx and Engels couldn't stomach that'.  Mr. Goodway also insisted that the Chartists were in no way 'Socialists' and that no direct line could be drawn between the Chartist movement and the formation of the Labour Party at the end of the 19th Century.  O'Connor believed in peasant proprietors, according to Goodway; and when I asked if this meant he was more in the tradition of the Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mr Goodway agreed with me on this. 

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