Category Archives: History

10 Speeches Every Radical Should Know

By Tom Bailey @tombaileyblog

The power of a speech is very often overlooked. Indeed, rhetorical skill and oratorical eloquence are often seen as instruments of deception rather than sources of inspiration. And yet, there is surely something in a good speech that can motivate us like nothing else – speeches, just like any art form, can enthuse us with passion and hope and they can help us to channel those emotions towards action.

So that’s why we thought it was important to collect some of the most radical speeches ever made, so that you too can share in the powerful emotions stirred up by a great speech. We’ve put them in Chronological order, and the collection of ten speeches spans from the 14th Century to the late 20th! Of course, these men and women had flaws, but this doesn’t mean that their speeches aren’t inspirational or moving – indeed, in every speech, there is surely something we can learn.

1. All Men By Nature Were Created Alike – John Ball

In May 1381, Wycliffite priest John Ball addressed a group of rebelling labourers who would later take part in the so-called Peasant’s Revolt – a revolt that was partly caused by the introduction of the 1380 poll tax.

In his great speech, Ball argued that “all men by nature were created alike” and that the servitude of agricultural workers constituted what he called an “unjust oppression”. He believed in the equality of all people, and this conviction is clear from his address.

He urged the serfs to “cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty”. They should fight for “equality in liberty” and battle against degrees of nobility and class. It is these words that are often cited as the inspiration for the June 1381 revolt led by Wat Tyler.

Now these ideas may sound pretty normal to most of us 21st Century readers – Ball, you might think, just sounds like your average left-winger. But this speech was written over 630 years ago, when it was considered dangerous to even think this sort of thing, let alone preach it. That’s why this speech is so important.

Sadly, both Ball and Tyler were executed as traitors for their egalitarian views. They were killed because their proto-socialist and progressive beliefs were seen as a threat to the established order of society. Still, their actions and their words live on. Continue reading

7 Poems That Every Radical Should Know

This selection of poems is by no means exhaustive. There are hundreds of radical poems we could’ve included, but these are just a few of our favourites – we hope you’re inspired by them too!

  1. Dulce et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen

Though this poem has become an absolute classic over the years, its radical pacifist message shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, few poems could be more relevant in today’s world. At this very moment, people’s lives are being ravaged and devastated by violence and war. Soldiers are killed and innocent civilians are slaughtered every day.

Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” is one of the few poems that truly encapsulates the real horrors of war. He begins with a description of soldiers marching through sludge until, nine lines in, the men are gassed and fumble about looking for their gas masks.

His carefully chosen words and ingenious use of rhythm bring to life the terror experienced by the men of the First World War. For example, his image of “someone still yelling out and stumbling, / And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…” is frighteningly vivid, testament to Owen’s skill as a writer and to the realism of his verse.

But Owen, having spent time in the trenches, realised that the realities of war are all too often ignored. Rather than focusing on the fearful nature of conflict and violence (evident in Owen’s description of blood “gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs” and of “incurable sores on innocent tongues”), we tend to aestheticize and glorify the act of going to war.

We instill patriotic ardour into our people, and we present the death of young men as a sacrificial and heroic act. For Owen, though, war is not heroic, nor is it glorious. Indeed, it is precisely the opposite – a horrifying and terrible waste of young life.

So it is Owen’s own experiences of war that led him to see that Horace’s ode was wrong: it is not “Sweet and right to die for your country.” Rather, Horace’s aphorism is just an “old lie” perpetuated to accentuate the false necessity of war. That’s why this poem is so important for pacifists and radicals today.

  1. Jerusalem (And did those feet in ancient time) – William Blake

This is yet another classic poem, and you may think it an odd choice. Before I actually began to concentrate on Blake’s words, I imagined this was simply some patriotic and nationalistic call to arms. But the poem is actually far more than that. Continue reading

On The Importance of Voting

The following post is a guest post by Tom Bailey, an 18-year-old literary and political blogger. He writes on a variety of topics from music to politics on his own blog, where he also publishes his poems. His Twitter handle is @TomBaileyBlog

This Thursday, on the 23rd of June, millions of people will be going to polling stations throughout the UK in order to cast their vote. The people of the UK will be deciding whether we should remain in, or leave, the European Union, a decision that will have a drastic influence over the future of our country. It will affect every one of our lives, and it will determine the role the United Kingdom plays in the world for decades to come.

The chance to vote is not something we should take lightly, not only because of the power each of us holds in our own hands, but also because the right to vote is something we should all treasure. When we cast our votes on Thursday, we should remember that in 1780, only 3% of the population of England and Wales could vote. That 3% was, of course, made up of wealthy white males who thought they and they alone should decide the future of their country.

We should also remember that there are still many people throughout the world who are denied the right to vote or whose votes simply don’t count. Even though universal suffrage is a key element of our democracy, we are still lucky to have it. In countries like North Korea, Zimbabwe, Syria, and China, citizens have little or no say in how their countries are run. To many people throughout the world, the idea that a government would hold a referendum seems an idealistic dream for the distant future. We, in the UK, are living that dream of democracy.

But we shouldn’t just feel fortunate that we have this right to democratically choose our governments. We should also feel grateful. Now, I’m not saying we should be thanking politicians or the establishment or the monarchy for granting us this right to vote. After all, the right of universal suffrage was not given to the citizens of the UK out of good will or kindness from benevolent bureaucrats. It was fought for.

Peterloo Massacre tea towel

The fight for democracy at Peterloo in 1819

Continue reading

8 Radical Quotations from Muhammad Ali

Almost everyone will agree that Muhammad Ali was a great boxer – “the greatest”, in his own words. But he wasn’t just a great boxer, he was a great man.

He fought not just with his fists, but also with his words. He used his fame and reputation to champion justice and the rights of the black community, making him a hero for every generation. Ali strove throughout his life for the ideals that he held dear. He may not have been the most modest of men, but he certainly was a radical, as the following eight quotations demonstrate.

1. ” See, we have been brainwashed. Everything good and of authority was made white. We look at Jesus, we see a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes. We look at all the angels, we see white with blonde hair and blue eyes. Now, I’m sure if there’s a heaven in the sky and the colored folks die and go to heaven, where are the colored angels? They must be in the kitchen preparing the milk and honey. We look at Miss America, we see white. We look at Miss World, we see white. We look at Miss Universe, we see white. Even Tarzan, the king of the jungle in black Africa, he’s white!”

This quotation comes from an excellent speech given by Ali at Howard University in 1967. He shows, here, the systemic inequalities and prejudices in societies across the West – prejudices that, whether subconscious or not, are still worryingly prevalent in the 21st Century. The speech has now become known as his ‘Black is Best’ speech because of the way he railed against these prejudiced stereotypes and fought for the recognition of black people’s achievements. “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the fruit,” he once said.

Muhammad Ali in 1966

1966 image of Ali from the Dutch National Archives

2. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over… I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality… I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

One of the things that Ali is most famous for, other than his boxing, was for his public stance against the Vietnam War in 1966. He refused to fight for moral reasons, despite knowing that his refusal could cost him his boxing titles, his money, and even his liberty. Continue reading

A Patriotic Vision For The Left

For a long time now, the words “nationalistic” and “patriotic” have seemed to me to be largely associated with xenophobia, bigotry and prejudice. Political parties like UKIP and the British Nationalist Party have long been claiming that only they are proud of their country and their people.

UKIP’s 2015 General Election manifesto was emblazoned with the slogan “Believe in Britain” as if no other political party did. The English Defence League adopted St George’s flag (ignorant to the fact that St George was Syrian) as if to suggest that they were the true guardians and lovers of our country, and that no other political party could really care for England.

A quick Google search reinforces this unusual association between bigotry and patriotism. The so-called “patriot movement” consists of various conservative movements in the United States that include organised militia members, tax protesters, conspiracy theorists, and radical Christians who believe in an impending apocalypse. ‘Patriotism’ apparently equates with ‘loony’, too.

And just as these illiberal, conservative groups often pose as patriotic, so the left has forever been accused of the opposite: of having a deep loathing for the United Kingdom and wanting to systematically dismantle all of its traditions and institutions. In his novel A Time of Gifts, Patrick Leigh Fermor describes his early perception of left-wing politicians as men and women determined to see the destruction of everything ‘British’, from country-life and religion to cricket and farming. Continue reading

Remembrance, Yeats, and the Irish Easter Rising

The following post is a guest post by Tom Bailey, an 18-year-old literary and political blogger. He writes on a variety of topics from music to politics on his own blog, where he also publishes his poems. His Twitter handle is @TomBaileyBlog

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On Easter Monday, 24th April 1916, Irish republicans rebelled against British rule in Ireland and attempted to establish an independent Irish Republic. Various republican groups, led by the likes of Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed an end to British supremacy.

The rebellion was swiftly stifled, but sadly not before hundreds had been killed and thousands wounded. After Pearse and his followers agreed to a surrender on the 29th of April, republican leaders were rounded up and executed.

As the anniversary of the Easter Rising approaches, it is right that we should commemorate those who lost their lives during the rebellion. But, as we must always ask ourselves, how ought we remember them? How can we best do justice to those who did?

Easter Rising Tea Towel

A tea towel commemorating the Easter Rising, by The Radical Tea Towel Company

Well, perhaps we can find some guidance in the poetry of Irish Republican W.B. Yeats. In his poem “Easter, 1916” Yeats captures the conflict (mental and physical) of the Irish nation like no other writer ever has. The text is here:

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. Continue reading

Buying Gifts for Left-wingers, Radicals & Liberals

Everyone knows that the best birthday and Christmas presents are ones that speak to a person’s interests and values, because they show you’ve at least put some thought into the matter instead of just plumping for the latest Top Cat shot-glass.

It’s easy with kids, where you can simply pinpoint their latest craze (Lego, Manchester United, tiddlywinks) and buy them virtually anything to do with those categories. Things are a little tougher for us grown-ups whose core ‘interests’, as measured by amount of time spent, often seem to revolve around the commute to work and unblocking the storage room toilet.

When people do have obvious hobbies, the likelihood is that they know a lot more about it than you, and therefore your attempts to impress with a copy of the ‘Titchmarsh Annual 2013’ risk shooting wider than an England quarter-final penalty kick.

A person’s politics, on the face of things, offers a golden opportunity to get someone a gift that is both useful and fits their values. Yet before the Radical Tea Towel Company came along, the choice was surprisingly limited. Books were by far the most common solution – but there’s only so many times one can read a biography of Jeffrey Archer.

It’s Christmas, so here’s a list of potential political gifts for leftwingers and liberals: Continue reading

Top Ten Oscar Wilde Quotations

Famous for the witty dialogue of his plays, Oscar Wilde’s epigrams often serve as vehicles for his somewhat scathing satire and pointed social commentary. He was, undoubtedly, a man of words, and it is his skill with language that makes the plays so incredibly enticing. 115 years after his tragic death from meningitis, we look at some of the playwright’s most inspiring and radical aphorisms, taken from both his plays and his essays.

1. “To recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.”

This quotation, taken from Wilde’s essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism (of which we at Radical Tea Towel are huge fans!) and featured on our Wilde tea towel, is one of our favourites. Its sentiment is frighteningly apt today, when public services are suffering huge cuts, benefits are being slashed and over a million people are using food banks every day, just to survive.Oscar Wilde tea towel

2. “With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols of things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Continue reading

Informative & inspiring: a review of Suffragette

Ninety-seven years after women were given the vote in England, Focus Features released Suffragette, a British historical drama commemorating the achievements of the Women’s Suffrage movement. Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff, Suffragette skilfully captures the bravery and fortitude of these noble women.

The film focuses on the experiences of Maud Watts (played by Mulligan), a fictional composite of many working class women fighting for equality. Maud works in the Bethnal Green Laundry and, like many working women of the time, is treated terribly by her boss, who sexually abuses women who work for him.

Throughout the film Maud comes to realise the inherent injustices of society as she grows more and more involved with the suffrage movement, to the anger and distaste of her family and community.

The film demonstrates the incredible struggle that suffragettes experienced, from hunger strikes and police violence to arrests and complete ostracization. It also reveals the stigma that was, for a long time, bizarrely attached to the belief that women should have equality with their male counterparts. Continue reading

Women Who Made a Difference

The history of the women’s suffrage movement is a perfect match for our radical and historical interests here at the Radical Tea Towel Company. No wonder we have several designs inspired by the movement on our products – here we explain the background.

Our suffragette ‘Women’s March’ design was inspired by Margaret Morris’s cover for the song sheet of ‘The March of the Women’, the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. It was composed in 1910 by Ethel Smyth with words by Cicely Hamilton. Smyth dedicated the song to the Women’s Social and Political Union. In January 1911, the WSPU’s newspaper, ‘Votes for Women’, described the song as “at once a hymn and a call to battle.”  Like most things in life, you can listen to a recording on YouTube!

Suffragette Tea Towel Continue reading