Monday, January 15, 2024

A man of his times

by Ben Soton

Yours For the Revolution – The Evolution of Tom Mann’s Political Thought: Phil Katz, Manifesto Press, 2023, £20.00

Yours For the Revolution” was how the legendary trade union leader Tom Mann would sign his letters; his life is the subject of Phil Katz’s latest book. Katz is also the author of works such as Freedom From Tyranny: The Fight Against Fascism and the Falsification of History; a study into how the, EU-backed far-right is attempting to falsify history and equate communism with fascism. With this in mind any book by Katz is certainly worth reading.

    The book, by its name covers the ideological development of Tom Mann (1856-1941) from Christian Socialist, through syndicalism to eventually arrive at Marxism-Leninism and the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is divided into seven sections covering key periods in Mann’s life. Subsequently the book is useful for anyone interested in the history of the labour movement from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.
    Mann is best known for his involvement in the 1889 London Dock strike and the development of New Unionism. New Unionism saw the emergence of Trade Unions representing unskilled workers; a move away from unions representing primarily skilled, and to that matter male workers. The 1889 Dock Strike saw gains for many workers including an eight-hour day and the establishment of a Royal Commission of Labour. The Royal Commission eventually saw some union leaders bought off by the establishment; most notably John Burns, who later became a Liberal Peer. This was far from the case with Tom Mann. He remained active in the Labour Movement in Britain and abroad; with his activism taking him to Australia, South Africa, America, Russia and eventually China. His support for workers across the globe drove him in the direction of internationalism and his understanding of the state eventually lead him from the limited ideology of Syndicalism to Marxism-Leninism.
    Katz criticises revisionist historians who wish to keep Mann in his early Christian (Utopian) socialist phase; thus, hiding the syndicalist and especially communist phase in his development. To achieve this, they often make little reference to his life after the 1880s; subsequently ignoring the remaining sixty years of his life. The author points out that there have been attempts to dilute the work of William Morris in a similar war; portraying him as a romantic artist and a designer of wall-paper rather than a Marxist revolutionary.
    In this, highly detailed book Katz performs an outstanding role in debunking this reactionary myth; making the book a fitting tribute to one of the British labour movement’s most outstanding figures. Tom Mann was after all a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which he remained a member of until his death in 1941.

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