By Rob Griffiths in Britain:
by Gwyn Griffiths
Tuesday 19 June 2012
During the rise of the British empire his principled religious pacifism drove him to oppose all wars, whether the destruction of the Ashanti civilisation of west Africa in the early 1870s or Britain’s participation in the Crimean and Balkan bloodbaths between Europe’s imperialist powers.
Nobody did more to expose the massacre of hundreds if not thousands of rebellious slaves in Jamaica in 1865 or to publicise Britain’s record of broken treaties and predatory wars in China and the Far East.
This often put him on the wrong side of ruling class and public opinion yet, as secretary of the British Peace Society, he remained fierce in his eloquent advocacy, combining passion with rational argument.
Now Gwyn Griffiths, former Morning Star radio correspondent, has added a thoroughly researched, partisan but judicious biography to those produced by Richard’s more starry-eyed admirers well over a century ago.
This new book, already due for a a reprint just three months after publication, is a feast of facts, observations and reflections, many from Richard’s own papers and diaries.
It may be too rich in detail for some. In the finest Welsh narrative tradition, Griffiths cannot resist a journey along the byways as well as the highways.
He recounts where his subject’s relatives, confederates and friends were born, to whom they were related and where they subsequently lived, worked or worshipped.
In the process he confirms that everyone in Wales shares at least one acquaintance or family member with everyone else.
It’s a Welsh thing but “foreign” readers should persevere.
They will be rewarded when coming to learn much more about the struggle against religious inequality, clerical education and landlordism.
They will also understand, like those in England who read Richard’s celebrated Letters And Essays On Wales in the original Morning Star newspaper in 1866, how and why Welsh patriotism developed in response to official scorn and neglect.
In league with former anti-Corn Law campaigners and radicals such as Richard Cobden and John Bright, Richard edited that first Morning Star for several years.
For a long time, notably while minister at the Marlborough Congregational Church on London’s Old Kent Road, Richard was a prominent figure in London Welsh and political circles and Londoners might find this aspect of the new biography of particular interest.
In the end, his and other efforts did not prevent or stop wars although their mass meetings, international conferences, publications and lobbying of politicians across Europe kept the embers of peace glowing.
He may even have helped keep Britain out of the second Crimean war between the Russian and Turkish Ottoman empires.
In 1873, Richard successfully proposed a House of Commons resolution in favour of settling international disputes through arbitration instead of war.
His victory inspired similar resolutions in legislatures in the US and across Europe.
An address to him from the International Working Men’s Association caused Richard to ponder the impact of war on the working class more deeply.
Richard resolutely opposed the armaments industry, large standing armies and imperialist conflict.
Yet he did not quite grasp that merely converting the more enlightened bourgeois politicians to peace would not eliminate capitalism’s drive to maximise profit – the driving force for expansion, domination and war.
Naively, he believed that free trade and international law would bring the European powers together in peaceful union.
Nonetheless, Griffiths makes a powerful case which, while recognising the limits of the time, secures Richard’s place as one of the pioneers of the peace movement in Britain.