The real Sir William Wallace

Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland / en.wikipedia.org

Statue of William Wallace in Aberdeen, Scotland / en.wikipedia.org

Some years ago the anglophobe film star and director Gibson made a Hollywood-backed movie called Braveheart. This tasteful work of art purports to be the story of a Scot called Wallace who led his (kilted) warriors to victory against a dastardly English king and won a major battle at Stirling in the cause of independence for Scotland from domineering, untrustworthy England. The film is so full of historical errors as to make it extremely funny, and therefore worth watching on your video machine at least once a year.

The real William Wallace was born around 1294. His was a knightly family, not a collection of crofters. Still young, he began the impossible task of gathering the Picts and Scots together – not the clans, they came later. Most northern Scots spoke Gaelic and nothing else, except some relics of their Norse ancestry. All lowland Scots spoke what went for English in the 13th century, a heady mixture of French and Saxon tongues. One thing bound these fighters together, their joint hatred of the English, and of each other. William Wallace, who was born a knight, did indeed manage this tricky task, and the English were trounced at the battle of Stirling in 1297 when William was only twenty-three. Continue reading

The American Federation of Labor

Samuel Gompers / britannica.com

Samuel Gompers / britannica.com

‘Socialism’ or ‘Socialist’ are unclean words in the United States. This is why the other part of their two-party political system is called ‘The Democratic Party’ as opposed to ‘The American Labour (labor) Party’ or the ‘US Social Democratic Party’. Socialism has always been regarded by loyal Americans as ‘un-American’. And yet the divisive word ‘labor’ crept into mainstream language when the craft unions got together in 1881 to found the AFL, and then re-organized it in 1886. Continue reading

Action Française (1899)

Charles Maurras / lactionfrancaise. net

Charles Maurras / lactionfrancaise. net

In one of our recent posts we described the case of Alfred Dreyfus, and discussed how much the prevalent anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century influenced it. When the case was apparently over, observers noticed the appearance of a new movement, almost a Jacobin club, calling itself Action Française. It was an extreme right-wing and nationalist movement, dedicated to promote anti-Jewish feelings in France. Anyone who had spoken out against Dreyfus – advocates, journalists, politicians etc. – was encouraged to join. Many adherents were of middle or upper class origin, but by far the largest percentage came from what is known as the petite bourgeoisie, translatable (though it is better not) as the lower-middle classes. Continue reading

Mensheviks

Julius Martov, a leader of the Mensheviks / en.wikipedia.org

Julius Martov, a leader of the Mensheviks / en.wikipedia.org

The word means ‘members of the minority'; Mensheviks were another revolutionary party in Russia, similar in their aims, but not as radical as the Bolsheviks. The Russian Social Democratic Party broke up in 1903, and a minority group involved in the split failed in its attempt to control the party’s newspaper Iskra (meaning ‘the spark’). Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries sarcastically called them members of the minority as a result.

Mensheviks differed from Bolsheviks at least four ways: (a) how the party should behave, (b) the role it should take in the coming revolution, (c) how the peasants should be employed to provide manpower for the revolution, and (d) how a middle class revolution could be changed into a socialist one. Continue reading

What was ‘The March on Rome’?

Mussolini thinking / people.opposingviews.com

Mussolini thinking / people.opposingviews.com

(a) The end of Rome as an empire.

(b) An asssault by angry unelected popes.

(c) An attempt to seize power by the fascists of Mussolini.

Those of our readers who choose letter ‘c’ are right. Musso planned to occupy public buildings in towns in northern and central Italy, after which there would be ‘a march on Rome’ by at least three columns of his squadristi or Blackshirts. He was certainly aware that in 1919 Fiume had been successfully occupied with the use of armed force by Gabriele D’Annunzio and his men. He did not see why he should not follow this example. Continue reading

The travails of Manuel Godoy

Godoy seen by a French artist in 1790 / es.wikipedia.org

Godoy seen by a French artist in 1790 / es.wikipedia.org

This astute man was born in 1767, in Extremadura, a well-named rocky wilderness bordering Portugal, with the vastness of Andalucía to the south. As a very young man he became a guardsman accompanying the Spanish royal family, and is said to have had an affair with Queen María Luisa. This may seem unlikely, given the almost god-like position royal persons had in Spain in the eighteenth century, and their total separation from ordinary people. Nevertheless, young Godoy got on well enough with the King, Carlos IV to become his trusted confidant. Stranger things have happened. Continue reading

Stalin’s Five Year Plans

/ historiasyvidas.com

/ historiasyvidas.com

By the year 1928 Josep Stalin was firmly in the saddle in the Sovietized Russia. The dictator was determined to add Russia to the list of world powers – the USA, Great Britain, her dominions and colonies, and France. Germany was still staggering from the cost of the Great War. Japan was rising fast. Stalin knew that massive industrialization was essential. There was also the threat of an attack from any or all of the great powers, as they all feared the largest country in the world, especially under a cruel and despotic dictatorship that had materialized during and after a genuine attempt by agricultural workers and the armed forces to better their lot across the board by revolution. But how was Stalin to do it? Continue reading

The case of Alfred Dreyfus

Dreyfus / biografíasyvidas.com

Dreyfus / biografíasyvidas.com

Dreyfus was born into a Jewish family in France in 1859. The fact of his Jewishness was to prove a main factor in his future. He chose the army as a career, and became an officer. In 1894 he was accused of passing military information to Germany, a traditional enemy of France for centuries. The accusers claimed they found writings in Dreyfus’ own hand revealing important military secrets. A court martial found Dreyfus guilty; he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the jail on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. This notorious internment camp was used by the French to get rid of her worst criminals, and was almost impossible to escape because the island was (and is) circled by maneating sharks.

Later a new army chief was apppointed, one Colonel Picquart, who discovered in 1896 that the court martial had been a farce, and that the real spy had been Major Esterhazy, who moved in illustrious circles. Picquart was promptly sent to serve in Tunisia and in effect instructed to keep his discoveries to himself. Thus began the ‘Dreyfus Case’ – one of the most intriguing in the history of France. Continue reading

What was Laissez-faire?

/ words on images.com

/ words on images.com

Some writers have incorrectly translated this French phrase as Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, and attributed it (among others) to Prime Minister Walpole. But this doctrine means much more: it maintains that free trade is preferable to ‘protected’ trade, and that the state should not, without reason, interfere in economic affairs. It is a great pity that it is merely an eighteenth century doctrine, hardly thought of today. Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations in 1776, that constitutional date for the United States; Smith wrote that tariffs prevented or slowed down world trade, and therefore good living standards in all countries. Free trade, he insisted, provided competition and thus made certain cheaper goods of high quality. This equation would benefit both consumers and manufacturers, the latter becoming more efficient. Workers would be trained to do fewer jobs, to better effect. This could only happen, Smith claimed, in a free market. Continue reading

The Austro-Prussian War (1866)

Otto von Bismarck / en.wikipedia.org

Otto von Bismarck / en.wikipedia.org

Though it has been put into the shadow by the Franco-Prussian War, this was one of the most important conflicts in the 19th century, because it overturned the balance of power, at least in Central Europe. The gains achieved by Prussia made her richer and better-populated than all the other Germanic states combined. It became obvious to interested observers that an eventual unification of Germany, under the leadership of Prussia, was a certain bet for the future. Continue reading