The Founder of Capitalism and
the Tale of the Invisible Hand
the Tale of the Invisible Hand
“In the neo-liberal world – i.e an autocratic world of trade and profit - today we have a new type of tyranny which, to better secure its domination, chooses to forget the past and erases completely the hope of a future alternative.”(p.15, ibid. S.C. Marcos, LA REVUELTA DE LA MEMORIA)
We left Manchester in the morning for Todmorden. The train ride took only a half hour, but I had a chance to look at the day’s paper. A headline screamed, “Who was Adam Smith, and does he deserve to be on our banknotes?” “The Governor of the Bank of England has announced that a portrait of Adam Smith will appear on the 20 pound banknote next year.” Smith (1723 – 1790) was the founding economist-theologian of Capitalism. His book, Wealth of Nations, a title taken from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, advocated free trade and belief in the ‘invisible hand.’ Smith’s ideas on free trade and non government interference in commerce are also called ‘liberalism.’ ‘Liberal’ economics advocated for freedom of merchants from government controlled mercantilism. The ideal was completely free trade.
The article gave a rationale for Smith’s new honor.
Yes he is, (a controversial figure) and association with
Thacherite economics is one of the main reasons (for his
new honor). But it is not the only one. Tony Blair’s New
Labour accepted many of the free market capitalist
principles of the Thatcher years.
Democrat President of the U.S., Bill Clinton, also went along with a ‘free trade’ program resulting in the tragic loss of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Blair and Clinton are called neo-liberals. Could we include Barack Obama – what about his trade agreement with Columbia famous for murdering union people? Contrary to Adam Smith, trade laws are accepted, but only in so far as they favor large corporations. Labor and the environment are left to the regulation of the Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ or the free market.
A notable historical example of Smith’s ‘liberal’ economics causing a disaster for the working class is the Irish potato famine. Free trade for Ireland during the potato famine years meant sending grain out of the country while the people starved. Irish poet Lady Wilde, the mother of Oscar Wilde, wrote:
Weary men what reap ye? – ‘Golden corn for the stranger.’
what sow ye?-‘Human corpses that await for the Avenger.
fainting forms, all hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing?
‘Stately ships to bear our food away amid the stranger’s
scoffing.’ (The Penguin Book of Irish Verse, ed. Brendan Kennelly, “The Famine Year,” Penguin Books, 1970, p. 232.)
Was Lady Wilde a traitor to her class? The Irish potato famine caused a massive emigration from Ireland to the U.S. and other countries.
TODMORDEN - THE HOME OF NON-CONFORMISTS
Jeremy’s Tale and a Warm Welcome on a Cold Day
We arrived at Todmorden shortly after twelve noon. It was cold and windy; Milwaukee - Chicago weather. The station seemed deserted, however, there was a man sweeping the stairs, and we asked him how to get to our hotel. We were chilled and anxious to get settled, but I couldn’t help but quiz him about Todmorden and the Fielden family. He was a former high school teacher and a treasure of information. I asked his name and he replied, “Jeremy Burgoine.”
‘Honest John’ Fielden, Member of Parliament
Jeremy provided a very gracious and warm welcome to Todmorden. He knew nothing of Sam Fielden, but did know about the Fielden family and was very knowledgeable about the most famous of the Fieldens, ‘Honest John’ Fielden, M.P. ‘Honest John’ is revered in Todmorden to this day. If I would try to be humorous and say that I would never trust anyone by the name ‘Honest John,’ the response would not be a smile or a chuckle but a glance that made me feel as if I had made another ugly American faux pas.
My point of reference for Jeremy’s discussion and for our visit to Todmorden was Sam Fielden’s death row autobiography; written in prison after he had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the killings at the Chicago Haymarket. Sam wrote that the Fielden Brothers’ cotton mill was the largest of numerous mills in Todmorden. ‘Honest John’ was one of the owner brothers. The mill contained about 2,000 looms according to Sam and other accounts. Sam, his father, brother, and sister all worked at this mill. (The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, ed. Phillip S. Foner, Monad Press, 1969)
Stoodley Pike and Dobroyd Castle
Jeremy immediately pointed out two Todmorden landmarks in the distant hills. One was an obelisk called the Stoodley Pike Peace Monument, a community project supported by the Fieldens, built in 1815. The other was the Dobroyd Castle built by mill owner John Fielden, son of ‘Honest John’ for his mill worker wife. The Castle was completed in 1869. Sam Fielden the Anarchist was born in 1847 and knew both landmarks.
Stoodley Pike was described by Jeremy as a monument to peace constructed after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 recognized by the Treaty of Ghent. The Treaty of Ghent also ended hostilities with the United States, namely the War of 1812. The dispute was about U.S. expansionism and trade, but the War of 1812 is not remembered at Stoodley Pike. Ironically the monument collapsed in 1854 at the outbreak of the Crimean War. It was rebuilt a year later. It is curious that, unlike other monuments in Britain celebrating the end of a war which emphasizes the glory of the British military, the Stoodley Pike is simply described as a peace monument built on hallowed ground. Its inscription reads, “STOODLY PIKE A PEACE MONUMENT Erected by Public Subscription.” Jeremy commented that the Fieldens had originally been Quakers who are peace advocates.
As for the other landmark mentioned by Jeremy, Sam Fielden remembered the draining of the land for the Dobroyd Castle in his death row autobiography. The mill in Todmorden had been shut down because cotton shipments from the southern U.S. were stopped during the American Civil War by the Union blockade of Confederate ports. Sam was hired to prepare the ground for the Castle promised by John Fielden, ‘Honest John’ Fielden’s son, to his mill worker fiancée.
“I went to work assisting to drain some land on which one
of my employers has since built a magnificent castle, which
is called the Dobroyd castle. …it was in the winter time, and
I had to pick the tiles up out of the ice and water. One day
I became chilled to the marrow: I began to grow dizzy, and
then it grew dark and I fell to the ground insensible. I was
carried home and thawed out, and the next day I had to go
out to the same work again.” (Ibid. p. 144)
Who should be credited with building the Dobroyd Castle, John Fielden the Rich or Sam Fielden the Anarchist and his fellow workers? We would go up to visit the castle the next day.
‘Honest John’ Fielden and the Todmorden Cotton Mill
Jeremy recounted that ‘Honest John’ and his brothers founded the Fielden Brothers Cotton Mill where Sam, his father, brothers and sister worked. In Sam’s time the mill was run by the sons of ‘Honest John:’ John, Samuel, and Joshua.
As a member of parliament ‘Honest John’ Fielden, M.P. advocated for the ten hour act which passed in l847, the year Sam was born. The ten hour act became known as the Fielden Act. A comment in a town history brochure stated, “He (‘Honest John’ Fielden, M.P.) was an employer arguing, as some people saw it, against the people of his own class.” Sam wrote that ‘Honest John’ Fielden, M.P. “fought so valiantly for the ten hour act.” Sam also noted in his death row autobiography that his father Abraham, a mill worker, was also a ten hour a day activist and a Chartist.
When the ten hour movement was being agitated in England
my father was on the committee of agitation of my native
town, and I have heard him tell of sitting on the platform
with the Earl of Shaftesbury, John Fielden, Richard Otler,
and other advocates of that cause. I always thought he
put a little sarcasm into the word Earl, at any rate he had
but little respect for aristocracy and royalty. He was also
a Chartist. (P. 132)
The Chartist movement had the goal of universal sovereignty and began with the Great Charter – Magna Carta (Runnymede, 1215) when King John was forced to recognize basic rights of the aristocracy. The movement had a great influence on the U.S. struggle for independence.
Jeremy told us the story of ‘Honest John’s’ encounter with the ‘Plug Pullers.’ The ‘Plug Pullers’ were activist mill workers in the area who demanded higher wages for all mill laborers. Refusal led to the workers pulling the plug on boiler tanks that produced the steam operating the mill machinery. When the ‘Plug Pullers’ discovered that the Fielden Brothers were already paying the wages that they demanded, the activists decided to leave town without doing any damage. ‘Honest John’ objected and told them to pull the plugs at his mill as well because all the mills had to be shut down to get an increase in wages. The ‘Plug Pullers’ were eventually arrested and convicted. ‘Honest John’ as a member of Parliament and the most important mill owner in the area, was able to get a reduced sentence for the offenders.
M.P. Fielden also proposed an eight hour day, and opposed the ‘poor laws.’ The ‘Poor Laws’ were similar to U.S. President Clinton’s welfare reform in establishing pools of cheap labor.
There were strong protests in Todmorden against the ‘Poor Laws.’ Some of M.P. John Fielden’s views on social justice are expressed in his book, The Curse of the Factory System. ‘Honest John’ Fielden received a complimentary footnote in Engels’, The Condition of the Working Classes in England.
There is a statue of ‘Honest John’ Fielden M.P. in the Centre Vale Park of Todmorden, but nothing to honor the ‘Plug Pullers,’ who courageously fought the greedy mill owners. By their protests, the ‘Plug Pullers’ also challenged the “Iron Law of Wages” theory of ‘liberal’ economist David Ricardo (1722 – 1823) who tried to give a scientific reason to explain why paying starvation wages is not evil. Ricardo was a follower of Adam Smith. To this day defenders of Capitalism cite the Iron Law of Wages as dogma. George Will, syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, wrote in opposing an increase of the minimum wage, “The minimum wage should be the same everywhere: Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities prices.” Capitalist dogma decrees that supply and demand set prices for all commodities including labor which is considered a commodity not as fellow human beings – creators of the ‘wealth of nations.’
Fergus O’Connor, a supporter of the ‘Plug Pullers,’ is mentioned in Sam’s autobiography. Sam writes that his father was “an earnest champion and admirer” of O’Connor. Besides being a Chartist and one time M.P. from Cork Ireland, O’Connor published a radical newspaper called the Northern Star and, according to Sam, his father claimed the paper was very popular in Todmorden. (ibid. p. 132) Marx collaborator Fredrick Engles wrote for the Northern Star. After serving time in prison for ‘seditious libels,’ O’Connor was tried and sentenced for his part in the ‘Plug Riots’ of 1842.
Fergus O’Connor and Violence
Was Sam Fielden of the Chicago Haymarket not only influenced by his Todmorden Quaker background on the use of violence but also by Fergus O’Connor’s views? O’Connor at Peep Green in 1839 said,
“Do the magistrates think of putting down our meeting
by acts of violence? I for one think they do, and should
we be attacked today, come what will, life, death, or
victory, I am determined no house will cover my head
tonight. I am quite ready to stand by the law, and not give
our tyrants the slightest advantage in attacking us in
sections; but should they employ force against us. I am
repelling attack by attack.”
In his Haymarket court testimony Sam Fielden stated that in his opinion, the existing economic system would be overthrown either peaceably or by force. Sam testified that he did not own a gun or ever use one.
The Haymarket Martyrs were convicted because the court insisted they advocated violence as a means of social change, therefore even though they may have had nothing to do with the bomb that killed policemen, the Haymarket Martyrs were judged as guilty. In context, the Haymarket Riot took place in the poisoned atmosphere of the hanging of the Pennsylvania Irish coal miners, the ‘Molly Maguires,’ in 1873; Federal troops in fourteen states suppressing with force the railroad strike of 1877; the killing of two striking stone workers in the Chicago suburb of Lamont in 1885 and the killing of two strikers at the McCormick tractor works the day before the Haymarket event.
Jeremy pointed out the tall spire of the Unitarian Church and explained that it was built by the three sons of ‘Honest John,’ John, Samuel, and Joshua. Samuel Fielden, in his death row autobiography, wrote that the “rich Fielden Brothers … were the main support of the unitarian church in the town.” (ibid. p. 142)
In Jeremy’s opinion the Fieldens may have originated in a lowland weaving center such as Flanders and emigrated to England in the 12th or 13th century.
The statistical arguments showing that comprehensive immigration reform would improve the nation’s economy are impressive and effective, but what about – it’s just the right thing to do? Our dear friend Anne Channel, who passed away last week and will be sorely missed by her many friends and her Union A.F.T. Local 212, would say, “it’s just human decency.”