Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, April 16, 2007

Chartist Songs for the Millions

The Charter

Today I had a stroke of luck while browsing in my local secondhand bookshop, which I thought I would share - I found myself a copy of Iu. V. Kovalev's edited collection, An Anthology of Chartist Literature published in Moscow in 1956 (so the Soviet Union did do one thing right that year) going for a mere £2.49. This has been described as 'An anthology of Chartist songs, poems, speeches and essays. The introduction and the notes are in Russian, but the text of the chosen pieces is in English. Ernest Jones is well-represented; Kovalev has collected many hard to find pieces, including stories and a novel. An important resource long out of print.' I intend to share some little gems from it as and when, but the page fell open on Benjamin Stott - a Manchester bookbinder by trade - and his three versions of 'Song for the Millions', the first of which was published in The Northern Star on March 12, 1842 and which I shall reprint for you below. 1842 saw the world's first General Strike - the 'Plug Riots' and Stott was part of this class movement. Chartist songs are what music should be about (imagine some sort of Iron Maiden style riffs underneath as you read the lyrics if you can) - music is for the people - not about rich idiots like Colin Greenwood betraying the anti-war ethic of Radiohead by praising Oliver Kamm's review of Nick Cohen's latest book, or Dave Rowntree from Blur betraying the anti-war activism of Damon Albarn and the musicial genius of Graham Coxon (and possibly the environmental living of Alex James) by standing as a candidate for New Labour. Anyway, check out the Chartists, y'all. Respect.

Song for the Millions

How long will the millions sweat and toil,
To pamper the lordlings' bastard brats;
How long will they till the fruitful soil,
To be starved by the base aristocrats?
How long will they bear the galling yoke,
Ere their bones shall burst, their chains be broke,
And vengeance come down like a thunderstroke?

The spirit of freedom yearns and bleeds,
And liberty lies in patriots graves;
Whilst the monster tyrant's ear unheeds
The suffering wail of weeping slaves;
But shall mankind for ever bear
The stings of woe, and grief, and care,
And live and die in dark despair?

Forbid it heaven, and all the powers
That rule the universal world;
'Twere better that this globe of ours,
'Mid lightning's flashes, swift were hurl'd,
And with it all the human race,
Into the gulf of endless space,
Further than mortal ken can trace.

Bondsmen and slaves in every clime,
Your voices raise in freedom's cause;
Despots, be wise; be wise in time,
Remember it is Nature's laws
That make men equal; and dare ye,
In hellish conclave met, agree
To alter Nature's wise decree?

Vain is your wish, your strong desire
Can never! never! be obtained;
Ye cannot quench fair freedom's fire,
Though ye of blood a deluge rain'd.
Seek in the rolls of lasting fame;
There shall ye find each honour'd name,
Whose memory feeds the sacred flame.

Oh! may that flame burn fierce and bright,
Within the breasts of all mankind;
May knowledge pour a flood of light
From out the intellectual mind;
A light, that shall illume the earth,
Whose genial rays shall soon give birth
To glorious liberty, that boon of worth.

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At 11:34 pm, Blogger paddington said...

Dave Rowntree is a candidate for New Labour?! Sweet Jesus.

And to prove his new-found political credentials, he uses the word "ghastly" in an interview with the Guardian. And claims that nuclear disarmament would make Labour unelectable, even though polls suggest the electorate is all in favour of disarming.

I guess there´s a reason why this guy was the drummer (cue : dozens of drummer jokes).

At 8:26 am, Blogger Snowball said...

I think Dave Rowntree was feeling kind of forgotten - everyone else in Blur has gone on and found success/happiness/whatever elsewhere and I think his decision to stand for New Labour is really a cry for attention - like, remember me, anyone?

At 2:53 pm, Blogger peter said...

Where do I find the tune for this beautiful song?

At 3:49 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Some of the Chartist songs seem to have been written set to existing music, but others like 'Song for the Millions' (only part 1 of 3 versions remember) I have no idea what the music was for it - feel free to write your own perhaps. Any historians of Chartism reading this blog - feel free to educate us all...

At 7:19 pm, Blogger paddington said...

Just going back to Dave for a minute, he mentions Talking Heads as being an inspiration for his conversion.

But if he wants to link this great band with Blair, surely he could have picked a more appropriate song. "Psychokiller" perhaps? Or "Road to Nowhere" to describe the invasion of Iraq? Or even, as a dedication to Fallujah, "Burning down the House"?

(Sorry - thought of those in the shower this morning, and felt I had to share them with you=

At 10:19 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

No worries Paddington, get it all out of your system.

I wonder what Blur song might be most appropriate? 'This is a Low', 'Charmless Man', 'Death of a Party' and 'Modern Life is Rubbish' come to mind...


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