Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Legendary Yorkshire radical folk band Chumbawamba have a hilarious song satirising conspiracy theories, called ‘Everything you know is wrong’. But if we’re talking about the Luddites, textile workers from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, who in 1811-13 smashed machines which were destroying their jobs, it’s probably true.
Nowadays most people think that the Luddites were ignorant vandals opposed to progress in, but this is a myth, invented in the 1950s. It’s a history written by the victors: in fact, the Luddites opposed only ‘machines hurtful to Commonality’ ie. to the common good. When they went into mills with their massive ’Enoch hammers’, they smashed only those machines that were destroying their trade, whilst leaving other machines untouched. Unlike this summer’s rioters, they even punished those in their ranks who stole small items during the raids.
Although their uprising was repressed by massive state violence, (50 people were hanged and more transported to Australia), the Luddites’ spirit lives on, for example in the highly successful anti-GM food and anti-nuclear campaigns. 200 years later as the industrial capitalist system they were fighting has led to global warming, exhaustion of natural resources and biodiversity collapse, as well as huge exploitation and injustice, their sceptical approach to its mythology of ‘progress through technology’ looks more and more relevant. Can we discard that mythology but still go forward, not ignoring the benefits of some technologies, but creating a world in which technology development is democratically controlled?
There are more parallels. In 1812, Britain was in deep recession, caused by trade blockades that were part of the Napoleonic Wars. Bad harvests had sent the price of bread through the roof, and unemployment often meant starvation. Then, trade unions were illegal, but the workers had repeatedly petitioned Parliament to enforce existing laws banning machines that destroyed jobs, with no success. In 2011, as part of the strategy to cut public-sector jobs, librarians like Paul Walker from Bristol are being told that they are no longer needed, due to the introduction of self-service machines. Insanely, even coastguards are being replaced by communications technology. The Economist recently came as close as it ever could to admitting the so-called ‘Luddite Fallacy’ that economists like to talk about is not a fallacy after all.
Luddites200 is a group of technology politics campaigners, trade unionists, scientists, engineers, artists and others, who have come together to challenge the lies about the Luddites. We want to open a real debate about which technologies are appropriate in a transition to a sustainable and just society. Two days before the Leeds Summat we’re holding a benefit gig at TJs at which Boff and Phil of Chumbawamba, as well as Seize The Day front man Theo Simon and Yorkshire folk singer, Gary Kaye will be supporting our call to celebrate the Luddites’ 200th anniversary. We’ll also have a bunch of younger Leeds acts like Dan Audio, Raphael Attar, Docterre and Halifax punks Three Sheets t’ Wind. We hope you can join us, or come to our workshop at The Leeds Summat to learn about the real story of the Luddites and their relevance today.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones