Black Dwarf: A discomforting creature of change
"In the interim, however, the Black Dwarf will not be idle. He intends to expose every species of vice and folly, with which this virtuous age, and enlightened metropolis abounds. To political delinquency he will give no quarter, even if royalty were to sanction it by private favors and reward it with public honors. He will shew no mercy to spiritual imposition, even though decorated with lawn. Neither the throne, nor the altar, will be sanctuary against his intrusion."
The words are dated - from the early 19th century no less - but still so relevant to the times and society we live in.
While the British ruling class was waging its war against revolutionary France in the early 19th century, it carried out a ferocious assault on the rights of working people throughout the United Kingdom itself. Although, Britain had already had had its own revolution enabling an ascendant capitalist economy, the government of the time was composed entirely of Lords who were terrified of the democratic impulse of the French revolution amongst the labouring masses in their own country.
The trial of Thomas Paine - in absentia - on the charge of seditious libel for publishing his Rights of Man formed part of a series of treason trials against UK radicals under what became known as the Gagging Acts culminating in the The Seditious Meetings Act of 1817 suppressing workers' organisations, reforming clubs and societies and outlawing any meeting of more than 50 people.
In the first capitalist recession ever, the UK economy was plunged into crisis. The post-war demobilisation of tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors swelled the ranks of a new army of unemployed.. It was a time of mass poverty and starvation for many working people. In its determination to suppress the growing agitation for political reform and social improvement Lord Liverpool's government ordered the massacre of Peterloo in 1819.
Up stepped the Black Dwarf, a radical magazine that lampooned the class system, championed the rights of working people and challenged state power and censorship. Within 3 months of its publication its editor Thomas Wooler was arrested and tried for seditious libel. He was acquitted on technical grounds but it wasn't long until he was rearrested and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for seditious conspiracy.
Black Dwarf was undoubtedly a mischievous creature of change causing considerable discomfort to the British ruling class. Insofar as general readership figures go for journals of that time, the Dwarf was hugely popular amongst working people. Where there was darkness and obscurity, it offered enlightenment and clarity. It stripped the ruling class and itinstiturions of their fatuous pomp and fake piety, revealing instead their naked greed and vicious intent. With razor sharp wit and clinical analysis it opened up a different perspective for the working class and its allies. For rebels such as the Scottish weaver James Wilson, the Dwarf educated and inspired him as he entered onto the path of social revolution.
It is this great radical tradition - starting from the Levellers through to the Chartists and the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin - which this reincarnation of the Dwarf will seek to uphold, develop and apply to our more "modern" times where the choice between socialism and barbarism is posed more acutely than ever.
This is in fact the 3rd reincarnation of the Dwarf, whose first political rebirth took place in the late 1968 under the editorship of Tariq Ali. The paper was avowedly radical and embraced all the revolutionary movements of its time most notably in Cuba, Latina America, Czechoslovakia and France.
As the Dwarf begins his new life and journeys across broader historical horizons, this jaunty fellow will hopefully be accompanied by controversy and criticism as well as song, film and literature to enliven his wintry days. I hope you will be part of this journey. If you think the Dwarf is heading in the wrong path, feel free to offer directions but always under the signpost Forwards ever, backwards never!