I have been collecting political pamphlets in a sporadic and very unsystematic fashion for many years. I love them. On this site, I am sharing a few of my favourites or most notable examples.
The image on the left is of an anti-slavery vignette. It bears the legend: 'AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER'. It's from the title page of an eight-page pamphlet The Happy Negro, published in York in about 1810.
The tract is sub-titled: 'A true Account of an extraordinary Negro in North America, and of an interesting Conversation he had with a very respectable Gentleman from England.' .
A Leveller Pamphlet
This is John Wildman's 'The Case of the Army Truly Stated' from 1647, published as the tensions within Cromwell's army were becoming unmanageable. The first twenty pages are in essence a petition to General Fairfax by eleven named soldiers or 'Agitators' issued in Guildford on 9th October 1647. That's followed by a letter to Fairfax of a few days later which talks of the 'poore oppressed people of the nation'.
This is from the time when Leveller influence in the army was at its height - just prior to the Putney debates.
The author. John Wildman, became identified as one of the most prominent Levellers to rise from the ranks of the New Model Army and in the 1650s he was imprisoned briefly for his opposition to Cromwell.
William Morris 'A Death Song'
This is a wonderful pamphlet from the socialist revival of the 1880s. Alfred Linnell was a law writer who was caught up in an anti-coercion protest at Trafalgar Square on Sunday, 20th November 1887, and was killed - apparently trampled upon by a police horse. The disturbances on that day became known as Bloody Sunday.
Linnell's death became a radical and socialist cause celebre - and William Morris promptly wrote A Death Song, which was put to music and sung at Linnell's funeral in December. I assume that this pamphlet was produced quickly for use at the funeral. As you can see, the proceeds were intended to help Linnell's children.
Morris's verse is not of his best, but here's the particularly powerful second verse and the chorus:
We asked them for a life of toilsome earning. They bade us bide their leisure for our bread, We craved to speak to tell our woeful learning We come back speechless, bearing back our dead
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay, But one and all if they would dusk the day.
This is a close-up of Walter Crane's design for the cover of A Death Song. The design has a clear echo of George Curikshank's powerful image of Peterloo, the 1819 massacre, which depicted a mounted member of the yeomanry, sabre in hand, moving down demonstrators. Here the mounted policeman has a truncheon in hand - and just to locate the spot, he's in the shadow of Nelson's column.
My copy of A Death Song has, bound in with it, Walter Crane's marvellous design for Xmas 1888 (below), very typical of his socialist and labour movement designs. Who bound these two items together and took the trouble to put Alfred Linnell's name and date of death on the front? That I don't yet know.
The dog days of Chartism - and the inspirational Bronterre O'Brien
The Chartist movement never quite recovered its composure after the alarums and excitements of 1848, but some of the key Chartist figures continued to hold influence. James Bronterre O'Brien was among the most considerable and accomplished of Chartist radicals - a journalist, polemicist and inspirational figure.
The pamphlet came out in 1851, addressed 'To the Chartists of England & Scotland' and looking back on the achievements and failings of Chartism - the shortcomings he blamed largely on the leadership.
O'Brien was already in poor health when this title appeared, indeed it seems to have been the second and last of these European letters (O'Brien was a convinced internationalist). A note at the end of this pamphlet recorded that he was 'suffering from an affection of the blame'. He lived on until 1864, in increasingly poor health. He's buried in Abney Park cemetery in Stoke Newington.
His name and influence was kept alive by a remarkable and exceptionally talented band of followers, most of them artisan radicals in central London. They survived as an identifiable group well into the 1880s and contributed to the early years of the socialist SDF. There was something about O'Brien which invoked a great personal and intellectual loyalty.
Champion's 'Wrongs' and their Remedies
Of all the remarkable personalities in the British socialist revival of the 1880s, Henry Hyde Champion is among the most interesting. He was from an elite background, born into a military family, and was himself commissioned as an officer in the Royal Artillery - but in the early 1880s he gave all this up to became an active socialist.
Champion was a key figure in the early years of the Social Democratic Federation, and was among the SDF leaders prosecuted and acquitted in the aftermath of what became known as the West End Riots in central London in 1886. The illustration below - from the Illustrated London News, 27 February 1886 - is of the defendants' appearance in court.
As both publisher and propagandist, Champion proved his effectiveness. The pamphlet on the right is the first of a series of four lectures Champion delivered in the summer of 1887. He has been fortunate in having an excllent biographer - John Barnes, author of Socialist Champion: portrait of the gentleman as crusader (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2006).
Barnes writes: 'The four weekly lectures which Champion gave in the fashionable St James Hall restaurant, Piccadilly ... were addressed to an educated audience, and were carefully reasoned. They were a personal venture, not under the sponsorship of the SDF, and neither Hyndman nor other SDF leaders attended. Stepniak acted as chairman, [William] Morris is reported as being present at the first lecture, and Bernard Shaw attended all four.'
An ILP Songbook
A charming cover to a songbook issued by the Independent Labour Party. It bears no date, but appears to be from the 1920s or early 1930s.
The range of songs includes four by William Morris and two by Edward Carpenter, as well as 'The International' - the song which takes pride of place - and two versions of 'The Red Flag', one to the conventional tune of "Maryland" and the other to the much more jaunty "White Cockade".
There are also songs dating from Chartism and in tribute to the Russian Red Army.
A note at the back lists three other song books in the series:
'More Rebel Songs for Sixpence: including "Wobbly" songs, Negro spirituals and Russian songs', 'Song Sheets for Labour Meetings' and 'Labour's Song Book'.
Not a pamphlet but a folding broadsheet promoting Oswald Mosley and his blackshirted British Union of Fascists. 'Help Mosley Build a Greater Britain', the sheet declares on the reverse - inviting membership of the 'British Union of Fascists and National Socialists'. It dates from the early to mid-1930s.
Mosley was a charismatic figure and a barnstorming orator, but the BUF was never more than a passing force in British politics. It had pockets of support, but never any electoral success at all.
Willim Hone and The Political House that Jack Built
William Hone was one of the most prolific and effective of the radical pamphleteers of the Regency era. The Political House that Jack Built was hugely popular and sold in the tens of thousands. It contained one of the commanding images of these pamphlets, the hypocritical, callous clerical magistrate. George Cruikshank provided the illustrations, and this marked the beginning of their very successful partnership.
... and another Hone/Cruickshank partnership
The next Hone-Cruikshank partnership was The Man in the Moon, published the following year. It imagines a speech from the throne by the Regent (soon to be George IV) who also features unflatteringly on the cover. It opens:
My Lords and Gentlemen, I grieve to say, That poor old Dad, Is just as bad As when I met you here the other day.
'Tis pity that these cursed State Affairs Should take you from your pheasants and your hares Just now: But lo! CONSPIRACY and TREASON are abroad! Those imps of darkness, gender'd in the wombs Of spinning-jennies, winding-wheels and looms, In Lunashire - Oh, Lord! My Lords and Gentlemen, we've much to fear!
Not fine verse, but effective. And it prompted quite a loyalist counterblast, of which the following pamphlet is a fine example.
A loyalist counterblast
Hone and the radicals didn't have it all their own way in the Regency. Their pamphleteering prompted a counter bast from the loyalists - supporters of the constitutional status quo. Here's a particularly fine example from 1820 - once in the Renier collection. The clours are wonderful.And it's colouyred nmot only on the front, but throughout - you can see the depiction of a radical meeting at the famous, infamous in the eyes of this pamphleteer, 'Crown and Anchor'.
An Anglo Indian collaboration
'Vicky', Victor Weisz, is best known as a cartoonist - one of the commanding political cartoonists of the mid twentieth century. This is something rather different, a set of drawings given the title 'Children of the Empire' which are witheringly anti-imperial - depictions above all of wartime famine in India. Some of the drawings are dated 1942 or 1943 - the British Library catalogue dates this A4 pamphlet to 1944.
The use of red on the cover gives this title a very striking appearance. Political pamphlets, at least my interest in them, is as much about design and iconography as about argument.
The introduction is provided by India's most renowned progressive novelist, Mulk Raj Anand. 'Like a sensitive needle', Anand writes, '[Vicky] records not only the sad songs of my country but the voice of an epoch. ... Above all Vicky translates his indignation into a very intelligent energy. ... he gathers the weakness, the ignorance, the filth, the squalor and the triviality of life into an aura of sympathy which creates beauty out of insufferable putrescent ugliness. And thus he transforms the spectator's emotions into a peculiar strength of thought.'
... signed by Mulk Raj Anand
Association copies add a lot to the value - not simply the monetary value, but the intrinsic worth and emotive power - of pamphlets. This copy of 9 Drawings by Vicky has an inscription by Mulk Raj Anand, who lived in London for much of the middle years of his life.
I have asked an Anand scholar whether he has any idea who the Shiva may have been who was the recipient of this copy. He doesn't - but wonders whether it might have been an associate of Anand's at the BBC.
Macmillan and the 'wind of change'
A very pedestrian cover to a quite remarkable pamphlet - a selection of the speeches made by Britain's Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, as he toured Africa in 1960.
On February 3rd, Macmillan addressed both houses of the South African Parliament at Cape Town. 'We reject the idea of any inherent superiority of one race over another', he declared.
'The wind of change is blowing through this continent', he told South Africa's Parliamentarians, 'and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.'
It was not a message his audience wanted to hear or was willing to heed, but the speech has properly been remembered as one of the milestones in Britain's relinquishment of Empire and of international opprobrium for white supremacy in apartheid South Africa.
... and the epitome of Tory paternalism
This remarkable statement of progressive 'one nation' Toryism dates from the 1935 general election. Harold Macmillan represented a seat in the industrial north-east which had been hit sideways by the depression. Nevertheless the language used was distinctly progressive.
'Our policy is to make war on poverty', Macmillan declared. He advocated 'healthy pressure upon employers to pay the highest wages industry can afford'.
'The age of compulsory education should be raised', he stated in block capitals. And he argued that 'the burden of depression must not be allowed to continue to rest upon those areas that are no longer able to bear it.'
A New Left Manifesto
This 1967 manifesto is one of the most important political statements of the New Left: 'edited for a group of socialist workers, writers and teachers by Stuart Hall Raymond Williams Edward Thompson'.
'It is our basic case, in this manifesto, that the separate campaigns in which we have all been active, and the separate issues with which we have all been concerned, run back, in their essence, to a single political system and its alternatives.'
The list of signatories was eclectic: Charlie Gillett, Iris Murdoch, Raphael Samuel and Arnold Wesker among others. The striking op art cover was designed by A.R. Hunnybun. This copy once belong to the distinctly old left Ralph Russell.
A Socialist League Manifesto
This single sheet manifesto, which folds into eight pages, was issued by the council of William Morris's Socialist League in November 1885. The League was then a very young organisation, having split from H.M. Hyndman's Social Democratic Federation in part over the issue of attitudes towards Parliamentary and local elections.
The pamphlet is entitled: 'For Whom Shall We Vote? addressed to the working-men electors of Great Britain'. It declares: 'it is your business not to vote, but to prepare yourself to bring about the social revolution'.
The League never had a membership of more than a few hundred, though its influence was disproprtionate to its numbers. The pamphlet captures something of the millenarian aspect to socialism in the mid-1880s. The League became increasingly aligned to anarchism, and William Morris eventually parted ways,
I was given this copy by Bill Fishman. The paper is very brittle and prone to flaking but has been treated and repaired.
'Chants for Socialists'
A wonderful William Morris pamphlet - published by the Socialist League in their first year of existence. It features the splendid masthead designed (I think) by Walter Crane.
It contains seven socialist poems by Morris which capture something of the millenarianism of the socialist movement ('The Day is Coming', 'All for the Cause') and its fierce egalitarianism. Here's the final verse of 'No Master':
It grows and grows - are we the same, The feeble band, the few? Or what are these with eyes aflame, And hands to deal and do? This is the host that bears the word, "NO MASTER HIGH OR LOW" - A lightning flame, a shearing sword, A storm to overthrow.
For each verse a musical air is proposed, in the case of 'No Master' it's 'The Hardy Norseman'. Altogether now!
'The Tables Turned: or, Nupkins awakened'
Another choice William Morris pamphlet. This was his venture into agitprop theatre - 'a socialist interlude' as it is described here. He was a great populariser as well as a fine writer.
The play was first performed at the Socialist League Hall in Clerkenwell on 15th October 1887. The inside cover contains the original cast list. William Morris himself played the Archbishop of Canterbury while his daughter, May - the only woman in the cast - played Mary Pinch, a labourer's wife accused of theft. Other characters include Mr La-di-da, Justice Nupkins and the socialist Jack Freeman. So you can get a sense of the knockabout nature of the piece.
I saw this performed many years ago by a troupe headed by Jeff Cloves. The venue was, as I recall, Walthamstow library, which has connections to Morris. You can see the full text of 'The Tables Turned' on the web. Perhaps another revival is due?
A Speedway rider in Spain
Clem Beckett was a Speedway star - he's still remembered within the motorcycling fraternity. He was also a Communist and volunteered to fight against Franco's forces in Spain. He was killed during the battle of the Arganda Bridge near Madrid in February 1937.
This pamphlet was published by the Manchester Dependents' Aid Committee shortly after Clem's death in action. He had fought with the International Brigade.
'Clem along with Christopher Sprigg, a young poet and novelist' - the pamphlet records - 'had been holding a position on a hillcrest with their machine guns. ... When the Moors, throwing hand grenades, attacked in large numbers, the Company Commander gave the order that the section should retire. Clem and his comrade Sprigg held their positions in order to cover the retreat of the rest of the section. They sacrificed their lives so that their comrades could escape.'
His widow, Leda, wrote: 'He was so fine, and seemed so - alive. It did not seem possible that when, five months ago, he said, "So long, kid, don't worry", that those would be the last words he would say to me'.
'Tyrannicide: is it justifiable?'
One of the most renowned political pamphlets of the nineteenth century. In it, the Chartist and radical W.E. Adams argued that there could be occasions when the killing of a tyrant or dictator is justifiable. The text is available on the web.
It was published in 1858 in response to the Orsini affair, an attempt by an Italian nationalist on the life of France's Napoleon III. 'When public justice is enchained by [a tyrant] ... then the "assassin" is the patriot', Adams argued. His tract bears echoes of some of the great political polemics of the Commonewalth and English Civil War 200 years earlier.
The publisher, Edward Truelove - a remarkable figure in Victorian radicalism - was prosecuted under legislation that the government introduced in response to French pressure. A campaign arose to defend Truelove in which Charles Braldaugh, later an ardent atheist and republican MP, took part. In the end the government dropped the prosecution in what was widely seen as a vindication of a free press.
The high tide of Republicanism
A radical pamphlet from 1872 - one of the high water marks of British republicanism. The author was George Odger, a renowned ultra radical and by trade a shoemaker. He lived in St Giles, the area adjoining Soho just east of Centre Point - and there's a blue plaque to him, moved from a now demolished house in the area, in the lobby of the wonderful St Giles's church.
St Giles was one of the centres of artisan radicalism in the mid-Victorian era - the followers of the Chartist Bronterre O'Brien met on Denmark Street (yes, the street which has the nickname Tin Pan Alley), and the area was home to many skilled trades. George Odger, a celebrated figure and something of an ogre to the propertied classes, was a radical and reformer, a trade unionist, and for a while a colleague of Karl Marx in the International Working Men's Association (they eventually fell out). He died in 1877 - and the novelist Henry James has left a very evocative account of his funeral procession.
The Champion of the Unemployed
One of the key pamphlets of the early socialist movement. The author gave his initials at the end of this article as 'HHC'. He was Henry Hyde Champion, a former artillery officer who became one of the key figures in the Social Democratic Federation and later played an important role in the foundation of the Independent Labour Party .
The pamphlet argues powerfully for a shorter working day. It chronicles the extent of unemployment and the very limited measures taken by London's local authorities - the vestries and the boards of guardians - to provide work or relief for the unemployed.
'Not the least significant fact', Champion asserts, 'about the recent agitation on the subject of the Unemployed is that it has been allowed to remain entirely in the hands of a body of men who form the Social-Democratic Federation, the oldest and best known of the English socialist organisations'. The SDF had at this time been around for fully two years!
Champion emigrated to Australia in the mid-1890s. He is one of the most interesting figures in the early socialist movement, and his life story has been wonderfully told in John Barnes's Socialist Champion: portrait of the gentleman as crusader.
David Ben-Gurion and Zionist Labour
Just bought from 'Ripping Yarns' in Highgate, a pamphlet by the pioneer both of the creation of Israel and of Zionist Labour, David Ben-Gurion. It appears to date from the mid-1930s, and was translated from Hebrew. Curiously, the pamphlet does not appear to be in the British Library. It was published by the 'Hechalutz Organisation of England', a Zionist organisation based in east London. The bulk of the pamphlet appears to date from 1932, but also included is an address by H. Frumkin first published in April 1935.
'Several millions of Jews from Eastern Europe are finding their economic ground being washed away from under their feet', Eliahu Werbner wrote in the introduction, 'while in Central Europe, hundreds of thousands of Jews are being socially and economically eliminated, for the sole reason that they are Jews. Once again they are being forced into a Ghetto of social slavery and economic starvation. There is one way out: emigration - only one country with an absorption capacity for Jewish immigration: Eretz Israel.'
'Save South Wales'
I've just bought this for a fiver from Bob Jones of Northern Herald Books. It's the iconography that inetrests me. The pamphlet was published by the CPGB in, I'd guess, 1937. The cover design is striking - using the motif of the pit winding gear which was (and I still remember them) the defining image of the coal fields. There was a brief period at the end of the 1930s when the Communists had some wonderfully designed pamphlets - as opposed to the dreary stuff earlier and later.
The author of the pamphlet, Idris Cox, was a CP full time official in Wales for many years. The designer of the cover isn't named beyond the initials S.H. Anyone know who that might be? The design is much better than the content. The pamphlet ends:
'We Communists of South Wales, sons and daughters of working people, make this call to preserve the glorious traditions of our forefathers who fought for liberty and freedom. We are confident that this spirit lives today and that it will express itself in a mighty People's Movement to SAVE SOUTH WALES FROM DESTRUCTION.'
The foreword is written by Arthur Horner, the iconic leader of the South Wales Miners' Federation, and then perhaps Britain's foremost communist trade unionist.
Richard Carlile - Guy Aldred - Michael Foot
A pamphlet which brings together three admirable mavericks in the history of British radicalism. This tract is about the early nineteenth century radical, rationalist and republican Richard Carlile. He bequeathed his body for dissection. This title is about the surgeons whose lives and careers intersected with Carlile's - a curious topic.
The publisher was the Strickland Press in Glasgow, for many years the imprint of the remarkable anarchist Guy Aldred. An indefatigable pamphleteer and propagandist, Aldred was keenly interested in Carlile, and indeed wrote a brief biography of him.
The particular copy was owned by Michael Foot - you can see his ownership signature at the top of the title page. It's a really nice association item, linking three of the more noteworthy figures in the long march of the British left.