Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Last Royal Rebel

Monmouth begs for mercy -- a Victorian depiction

By Ray Jones

The Last Royal Rebel, the life and death of James, Duke of Monmouth
by Anna Keay (2016)
Published by Bloomsbury, London (2016)
ISBN: 9781408846087l; RRP £21.99

This book covers an interesting period of British history, and Anna Keay does it in a very readable way and from a serious academic background.
James, Duke of Monmouth, was the illegitimate son of Charles Stuart who became Charles II when the monarchy was restored in 1660.When Charles died suddenly in 1685 Monmouth, who was in exile on the continent, returned to Britain and attempted to depose his Catholic uncle James II. It can hardly be called an invasion with one ship and a handful of men.
Well, nothing new there you might think. Feudal history is strewn with families squabbling over power. But this came at a sea change in British history when feudalism had crumbled, and the monarchy had been overthrown by Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution – only to creep back in a revised form after Cromwell’s death.
To some it may have seemed that the Revolution had changed nothing. But the fundamental shift had occurred; Charles II was invited back under conditions set by the anti-feudal and capitalist oriented forces that had been behind the Revolution. In future the struggle between the Monarchy and Parliament would continue, but now with, in the last instance, Parliament in the driving seat rather than the monarch.
Charles II fought a rather indolent war of attrition against the restrictions on him and his brother James II looked set to confront them. But the balance of power was made clear by the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. James II was deposed by the virtually unopposed invasion of the Protestant William of Orange, invited by the real power brokers.
Keay unfortunately claims that the “Civil War”, although complex, was essentially about “forms of worship”.
Outwardly at least, this book is an attempt to rescue Monmouth’s character from charges of him being a bit of a light-weight, of being inconsistent, unreliable and morally dubious. She does her best but is not altogether convincing.
History is, as we know, most often written by the victors. Monmouth had a grisly end on the scaffold so it is fair to question the judgements that followed – but the facts as far as we know them (and indeed as far as Keay presents them) do not present Monmouth in a good light.
He is obviously torn between being loyal to his father the King, to whom he owes everything and is the likely source of any future advancement, and his ambitions and principles. And so he goes in and out of royal favour.
He was presented by some radicals as the great hope of Protestantism in the face of Charles II’s ambiguousness (he almost certainly converted to Catholicism on his death bed) and James Duke of York’s (later James II) open Catholicism. But it didn’t stop Monmouth fighting for Catholic Louis XIV of France in his youth or offering to convert when pleading for his life after his defeat.
His reputation as soldier, which was very high in some quarters during his life-time, might have been secure if not for his “invasion” and his final battle of Sedgemoor. Both came apart because of a lack of accurate reconnaissance.
Monmouth badly misjudged the true level of his support in England, especially amongst the ruling classes, before he sailed for the West Country and at Sedgemoor he led his largely untrained army on a night attack over ground that he did not know enough about.
Keay fails to explain satisfactorily why Protestant forces did not rally to Monmouth’s cause in the way they did with William of Orange not many years later. Why did people like John Churchill (later first Duke of Marlborough), who had fought shoulder to shoulder with Monmouth on the continent, fight against him at Sedgemoor but then support William of Orange?
Could part of the answer be that they had serious doubts about his character?
Whatever its weaknesses however, this book is packed with interesting information and is a good read.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Italy’s referendum

A clear NO to Renzi’s arrogance and the Troika’s greed
Italian communists at Marx's tomb

by Alain Fissore and Stefano Rosatelli

On Sunday the 4th December 2016 Italians were asked to express their opinion on a controversial referendum to change or preserve the Republic’s Constitution. On the one hand the “yes” vote was in favour of constitutional changes, on the other hand the “no” vote meant the Constitution would be preserved.
            Italy’s Constitution is the outcome of a series of political agreements reached after the Second World War, amongst all the anti-fascist parties of that period, in order to give the Italian Republic (Monarchy or Republic referendum on the 2nd June 1946) a framework of rules aiming to create a parliamentary democracy within a bourgeois political system. 
            Today’s Italian Constitution is still the same one of 69 years ago, although there have been a few corrections to some of its articles, or even changes, made by different Governments since its official usage in 1946. Its role in guaranteeing a balance amongst Government, Prime Minister, Parliament, Italy’s legal system and the President of the Republic is of paramount importance in contemporary Italy, and, as in the late 1940s, it is still a valid tool for people’s participation in politics.
Social democrat premier Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reform was only the last of three recent constitutional reforms that were attempted or partially achieved in the last 20 years by three different Prime Ministers: Massimo D’Alema (2001), Silvio Berlusconi (2006) and, obviously, Matteo Renzi in 2016.
Like previous failed reforms, a YES vote would have meant changes to the composition and powers of the Italian Parliament, ending Italy’s “perfect bicameralism (bicameralismo perfetto)” [a parliament comprising two chambers/assemblies/houses, such as in Italy or the UK] by reducing the powers and size of the Senate (no more directly elected by the Italian electorate but voted by regional governments’ members), and by transferring more powers to the Government instead.
            The reformed Constitution meant that any elected Government would have had more power than the Parliament, regardless of its actual electoral consensus. Renzi’s reform was linked to the approval of a new voting system based on a large-majority “reward” (premio di maggioranza) given to any political party able to win future general elections, even with a small margin of votes from Italians or even with a low turnout of voters, which is something really common nowadays in Europe.
 During the past months, Italy’s Partito Comunista was one of the many parties opposing Renzi’s reform, a reform actually designed and requested by the Troika – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Union (EU). The Partito Comunista set up its own referendum committee for the NO vote, and started to campaign in newspapers and on national television channels. In total there were 14 committees in favour of the reform and 21 committees opposing it, in a referendum that, as many people in Britain know, saw parties from the Left, the Centre and the Right campaigning in the streets, squares, schools and workplaces all around Italy.
 The response of the Italian people, and particularly of the Italian working class, in rejecting the constitutional reform, advertised by Matteo Renzi as an improvement to Italian politics, was outstanding, with a turnout of 65.47 per cent of Italians going to vote and 59.11 per cent of Italian voters saying clearly “NO”. Such a result was particularly positive for us communists because it meant that Renzi’s political opportunism and arrogance were defeated, together with the Troika’s campaign of psychological terror based on catastrophic social and economic outcomes for the Italian people, due to the win of the NO vote. But is the NO vote enough to establish a positive future for the Italian working class?
As Communists, we know very well that the rejection of the constitutional Referendum is only the first step of a struggle that is going to involve us, Partito Comunista’s militants, and the Italian people in the next decade. A struggle that is also linked to a wider struggle belonging to the international working class and lower middle class that started in Europe with the LEAVE vote in the Brexit referendum last June. The contemporary capitalist “golden chains” can only be broken with the collapse of the EU and with the creation of Socialist nations all around Europe. Brexit and the Italian Referendum in December show us that only a social union of classes that share the same economic interests can defeat the greed of international banks, insurance companies and multinational companies (the modern private monopolies of international capitalism).
For such a reason, we hope the peoples of Europe may rise up, once and for all, against the Troika, the EU and NATO!

The authors are members of the ‘Sezione Pietro Secchia’, the British branch of Italy’s Partito Comunista