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"Captain Swing" By E. J. Hobsbawm And George Rude.

852 words - 3 pages

"Captain Swing" is an enjoyable collaboration between E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rude that depicts the social history of the English agricultural wage-laborers' uprising of 1830. According to Hobsbawm and Rude, historiography of the laborers' rising of 1830 is negligible. Most of what is known by the general public comes from J. L. And Barbara Hammond's The Village Laborer published in 1911. They consider this an exceedingly valuable work, but state that the Hammonds oversimplified events in order to dramatize them. They placed too much emphasis on enclosure, oversimplified both the nature and prevalence of the "Speenhamland System" of poor relief, and neglected the range and scope of the uprising. Hobsbawm and Rude do not claim to present any new data, and believe that the Hammonds will still be read for enjoyment, but believe that by asking different questions, they can shed new light on the social history of the movement. Therefore, this book tries to "describe and analyze the most impressive episode in the English farm-labourers' long and doomed struggle against poverty and degradation."In the nineteenth century, England had no peasantry to speak of in the sense that other nations did. Where families who owned or occupied their own small plot of land and cultivated it themselves, apart from work on their lord's farms, farmed most of Europe, England's "peasants" were agricultural wage-laborers. As such, both tithes and taxes hit them hard. Lords and farmers were also against tithes and taxes and tolerated or even welcomed some outcry against them. Most county leaders in 1830 agreed with the laborers, but the government in London did not.Further, enclosure eliminated the common lands whose use had helped the very poor to live. As a result, the relationship between farmers and laborers changed to a "purely market relationship between employer and proletarian." At the same time, work once done by annual servants was given over to wage labor. Farmers were driven by income rather than social concerns and it was cheaper to pay a small wage for all positions and let laborers pay their own living out of it than to provide them room and board, however minimal.The laborers were not revolutionary, however. They did not wish to overturn the traditional social order. They merely demanded the restoration of their meager rights within it. Unfortunately, they only had five forms of protest or self-defense available to them. They occasionally protested against wage cuts or demanded higher wages, grasped ever tighter to parish poor relief, resorted to crimes such as stealing food or poaching game, performed acts of terrorism such as...

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