Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Friday, February 08, 2008

8 February 1886 : "Black Monday"

Today is the anniversary of the events that became known as "Black Monday" - a riotous episode in London following the calling of a meeting of the unemployed in Trafalgar Square by the Tory-subsidized "Fair Trade Association". The Social Democratic Federation, one of the main left parties of the day, turned up intending to take the meeting over. William Morris and the Socialist League felt this was likely to be a "faction fight" and so did not attend in a formal way, though many Socialist League members were there to observe. An hour before the FTA meeting was to commence the socialists took over the square and the massed crowds of unemployed workers, largely from the East End, were addressed by the SDF leadership from the balustrade of the National Gallery. They then headed off with a crowd of around 10,000 towards Hyde Park. This took them past various clubs and aristocratic hang-outs - when they passed the Liberal Reform Club, some of the servants pelted them with shoes and nail brushes. The crowd threw stones in return. The unemployed were hooted by Tories at the Carlton Club and jeered in return. As the mass progressed up St James St they discovered metal bars and loose paving stones and many of the Club windows were shattered. In Picadilly people started looting shops.
When the SDF leaders and entourage arrived at Hyde Park another inflammatory round of speeches was given and the groups of rioters turned their attention Eastwards up North Audley St and Oxford Street, breaking windows and looting as they went.
The riot led to a public panic rather like the hysteria that followed some of the Mayday events of the 1990s, or the 1980s inner city riots. Whole areas of London saw shops putting up their shutters, rumours flew of a vast "East End Army" moving across the City towards the prosperous West.

The above shows us how there is nothing new under the sun...

An interesting viewpoint is the response of William Morris, reported in the excellent biography William Morris by Fiona MacCarthy. Morris wrote his view of the events to the Rev. John Glasse of Edinburgh, and his opinions tend to contradict the impression of fluffy green liberalism sometimes ascribed to him by latter day admirers.

As to Monday's riot, of course I look at it as a mistake to go in for a policy of riot, all the more as I feel pretty certain that the Socialists will one day have to fight seriously. Because though it is quite true, that if labour could organize itself properly the enemy could not even dream of resisting, yet that organization could not possibly keep pace with the spread of discontent which will accompany the break up of the old system, so we shall be forced to fight......
Yet I do not agree with you that Monday's affair will hurt the movement. I think it will be of service: any opposition to law and order in the streets is of use to us, if the price is not too high ......For the rest an English mob is always brutal at any rate until it rises to heroism. Altogether taken I think we must look upon this affair as an incident of the the Revolution, and so far encouraging: the shop wrecking was partly a grotesque practical joke (quite in the English manner)at the expense of the upper classes.
(p534, Faber and Faber, Paperback edition 1995)

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At 8:28 pm, Anonymous WorldbyStom said...

What a great quote from Morris. Brilliant.


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