Peterloo massacre in England remembered

This video from England is called The Peterloo Massacre – History of Britain B12.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

Neither forgotten nor forgiven

Friday 26 July 2013

A friend recently took part in an archaeological dig in Manchester.

It was at the site of a military barracks used to house troops in the early 1800s.

She was surprised at what she found.

There was evidence of good sanitation and plumbing – not usually associated with the treatment of soldiers in the early 19th century.

There were indications of married quarters, ale-houses, brothels.

Yet the poor, working classes of Manchester were suffering desperately. Hunger was ever-close for the teeming masses who toiled in the city’s textile mills and tailoring factories.

The barracks had housed the troops involved in the Peterloo Massacre on August 16 1819 – one of the most infamous acts of violence inflicted on working people by the British ruling class.

Driven from the fields and agricultural work to provide the labour demanded following the industrial revolution, the workers in Britain’s expanding towns and cities endured poverty, filth and squalor.

There was growing, mainly peaceful, opposition to the appalling conditions in which the workers and their families were forced to live.

There were increasing demands for reform of Parliament, put forward by pamphleteers and at mass meetings.

On August 16 1819, 60,000 people – men, women and children – attended a rally on St Peter’s Field in Manchester to hear radical speakers. Most were dressed in their Sunday best.

Speakers stood on a cart to raise them above the crowd.

The response of the ruling elite created a defining moment in the history of the embryonic labour and trades union movement in Britain.

Magistrates on the fringe of the crowd read the Riot Act. The order to disperse went unheard by all but a few.

Then sabre-wielding Hussars were ordered to charge into the densely packed, peaceful and unarmed crowd.

The sabres flashed and slashed. At least 17 people were killed. Hundreds more were severely injured. An unknown number died later from their injuries.

The ramifications of the atrocity were vast, changing the face of politics in Britain.

It sparked the launch of the Chartist movement. It swung public opinion behind demands for the right to vote.

The elite resisted. Parliament passed legislation outlawing gatherings of more than 50 people.

But the pressure mounted. Across Britain working people rebelled, with marches, rallies and riots. It was to be more than a decade before limited emancipation was won.

Peterloo also prompted a piece of writing described by some as the most important poem ever produced by a British poet, The Masque of Anarchy by Percy Bysshe Shelley – Red Shelley.

Shelley heard of the Peterloo massacre while he was in Italy. The poem was his response.

Its 91 stanzas fester with fury and calls for rebellion, revolution even. Such was its power that it was not published until after his death three years later.

Its most famous verse, repeated twice, reads:

“Rise like Lions after slumber

“In unvanquishable number

“Shake your chains to earth like dew

“Which in sleep had fallen on you

“Ye are many – they are few.”

This video says about itself:

21 May 2013

Interview with Maxine Peake Interview at MIF13 Launch. Maxine talks about her one-women performance In The Masque Of Anarchy at MIF13.

The article by Peter Lazenby continues:

Peake makes Masque of Anarchy resonate loud and clear

Earlier this month the Masque of Anarchy was performed by actor Maxine Peake as part of the Manchester International Festival.

The venue could not have been more appropriate. It took place in the city’s Albert Hall, a former Methodist chapel recently restored and reopened as a theatre. The building is literally yards from the location of the Peterloo Massacre.

For the performance the stage was lit by 1,000 candles, shining beneath the great organ pipes which had once boomed out Methodist hymn tunes.

The audience packed the benches in the horseshoe-shaped balcony.

Below there were no seats in the stalls. The audience there was intended to represent the crowds who gathered, standing, milling, at Peterloo.

The hubbub of the audience was fed through speakers to create the atmosphere of a huge crowd gathering – the atmosphere of the rally.

Peake’s recitation of the 91 stanzas from memory was riveting.

Both performances, on July 13 and 14, were sold out – and the venue is huge.

Why such popular attention for a recitation which takes maybe 30 to 35 minutes?

Apart from Peake’s growing reputation, the answer lies in the relevance of Shelley’s epic work to today.

Once again the working class is under vicious attack, as it has been for three decades.

The protesters at Peterloo were victims of repression imposed by a ruling elite which did not hesitate to use state-organised violence to repress the masses, and similarly has no qualms in doing so today.

Think of the cavalry charge at the Battle of Orgreave during the miners’ strike against pit closures in 1984.

And today, the Tory onslaught on Britain’s worst-off, most defenceless people continues, with the help of the treacherous Liberal Democrats.

Only this month the coalition government again revealed its determination to destroy the only organisations capable of defending the working class – trades unions – equating with the determination of the elite in 1819 to legislate against any opposition to its wishes. The government’s proposed laws governing political party funding are an attack on union funding of the Labour Party – not big business financing of the Tories.

The most important relevance of Shelley’s work today is contained in the poem’s most famous verse, in particular the words: “Ye are many, they are few” – a call to united mass resistance.

Peake, a socialist whose family roots are in the working class of north-west England, voiced her own view of Shelley’s piece in the programme accompanying her performance of Shelley’s poem in Manchester.

She wrote: “What became dazzlingly obvious to me was its relevance today.

“The message of this piece has resounded loudly for the working people of England many times since it was written.

“It feels so immediate and so timely to revisit this piece, not just as a poem but as a manifesto on how we have to mobilise if we are to survive.

“The Masque of Anarchy has been an overwhelming inspiration for me.

“I hope it will inspire and convince you that we aren’t powerless: unity is strength, and together we can stop this victimisation of the majority, and claw back our rights and freedom.

“Bring on the revolution!” she concluded.

Returning to my friend’s archaeological dig at the barracks in Manchester, it became clear to her, as she considered the events at Peterloo, why she was discovering evidence of creature comforts.

The troops who were deployed to carry out the attack, and impose the more general repression needed to keep the elite safe from the masses, had to be kept on side – loyal to their masters. And they were, just as the police during the miners’ strike, waving their wads of overtime tenners at hungry pickets, did in 1984-5.

The importance of Peterloo and its aftermath cannot be overstated. Shelley’s magnificent work helps ensure its continuing influence.

Today the Peterloo Memorial Campaign is calling for the creation of a fitting memorial to the martyrs who were cut down at Peterloo.

The campaign is supported by Manchester City Council, and by Peake herself.

On Sunday August 18 an annual procession will be staged to the site of the massacre. Marchers will carry replicas of the banners carried at Peterloo. The procession will be followed by a three-hour “Design Day” at the People’s History Museum in Manchester where ideas for an appropriate memorial will be gathered. It begins at noon. Contact the museum on (0161) 838-9190.

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