Luddite Bicentenary and Luddite Song

Alerted today that this year – and the next two – is the bicentenary of the great Luddite movement. Still much maligned as backwards-looking, anti-progressive, and if I may be permitted an anarchronism, ‘technophobic’, it is important to remember these workers in their full richness – their bravery, intelligence, despair and suffering –  against such easy dismissals. So many thanks to the Luddite Bicentenary Blog for bringing this anniversary to my attention, and for continuing the never-ending task of rescuing them “from the enormous condescension of posterity”, as E.P. Thompson put it.

Through that blog I found that Birkbeck are holding a free one-day conference in London, to discuss not only the Luddites, but also other opponents of capitalist modernization across the world. Speakers include Peter Linebaugh of London Hanged fame, T.J. Clark once of King Mob, Iain Boal (whose history of enclosure I’m eagerly awaiting), and Amita Baviskar, critic of Indian environmentalism.

Songs are an important historical source, yet without music can read rather drily. Even where a tune is referenced – which may be unfamiliar, or worse lost – to read is not to sing nor to hear. The Luddites had some fine songs in their repertoire, and in remembering them it would be good to give them full voice. So embedded below, the first part of Chumbawamba’s English Rebel Songs, including the Luddite song ‘General Ludd’s Triumph’, which starts at the 6.52 mark. You Tube also hosts part two; a full track listing can be found on Wikipedia. I don’t know if the music is accurate; the Luddites sung it to the tune ‘Poor Jack’, appropriating the work of the patriot and composer of war songs Charles Dibdin. The lyrics below – so you can sing along – were found here. For some background on Luddite song, and annotated lyrics, see the fine article by Kevin Binfield, who has compiled an anthology of Luddite writings, selections of which are available via Google Books.

Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood,
His feats I but little admire
I will sing the Achievements of General Ludd
Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire
Brave Ludd was to measures of violence unused
Till his sufferings became so severe
That at last to defend his own Interest he rous’d
And for the great work did prepare

Now by force unsubdued, and by threats undismay’d
Death itself can’t his ardour repress
The presence of Armies can’t make him afraid
Nor impede his career of success
Whilst the news of his conquests is spread far and near
How his Enemies take the alarm
His courage, his fortitude, strikes them with fear
For they dread his Omnipotent Arm!

The guilty may fear, but no vengeance he aims
At [the] honest man’s life or Estate
His wrath is entirely confined to wide frames
And to those that old prices abate
These Engines of mischief were sentenced to die
By unanimous vote of the Trade
And Ludd who can all opposition defy
Was the grand Executioner made

And when in the work of destruction employed
He himself to no method confines
By fire and by water he gets them destroyed
For the Elements aid his designs
Whether guarded by Soldiers along the Highway
Or closely secured in the room
He shivers them up both by night and by day
And nothing can soften their doom

He may censure great Ludd’s disrespect for the Laws
Who ne’er for a moment reflects
That foul Imposition alone was the cause
Which produced these unhappy effects
Let the haughty no longer the humble oppress
Then shall Ludd sheath his conquering Sword
His grievances instantly meet with redress
Then peace will be quickly restored

Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice
Nor e’er their assistance withdraw
Till full fashioned work at the old fashioned price
Is established by Custom and Law
Then the Trade when this arduous contest is o’er
Shall raise in full splendour its head
And colting and cutting and squaring no more
Shall deprive honest workmen of bread.

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