The Triumph of General Ludd (Traditional, performed by Chumbawamba)
Referring to the revolutionary impact of capitalism in the early 19th century, Karl Marx wrote “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…” Capitalism, in other words, undermined the pre-capitalist social relations and material conditions, all of the traditions and customs, and replaced them with social relations and material conditions of an urban, industrial, laissez faire economy and social order.
The working class Luddite Movement (1811-1817) was a reaction to that disruption. It is most known for destroying machinery of manufacturers who threatened not just workers’ livelihoods, but their traditional rights, and the fabric of their communities. This is highlighted in the next to last stanza of the Triumph of General Ludd, with the phrase “Till full-fashioned work at the old-fashioned price is established by custom and law.” At this point in history, the concept of wages and prices changing due to supply and demand was a novelty. It is something working people had thrust upon them, and they didn’t take it lightly, especially when applied to something critical, like wages and bread. Reduction in wages or increase in food prices beyond what was established by custom could cause significant unrest.
General Ludd, by the way, was, like Robin Hood, a semi-mythological figure. It was possibly named after a weaver in the movement, Ned Ludd. If you’d like to know more. see here, (especially the section on “Resisting Proletarianization”). Also see here on machine wrecking as a form of class struggle. If you’d like to know a lot more, see Making of the English Working Class, by E. P. Thompson.
No more chant your old rhymes about old Robin Hood
His feats I do little admire
I’ll sing the achievements of General Ludd
Now the hero of Nottinghamshire.
Brave Ludd was to measures of violence unused
’till his sufferings became so severe
That at last to defend his own interest he rose
And for the great fight did prepare.
The guilty may fear but no vengeance he aims
At the honest man’s life or estate
His wrath is entirely confined to wide frames
And to those that would prices abate.
Those engines of mischief were sentenced to die
By unanimous vote of the trade
And Ludd who can all opposition defy
Was the grand executioner made.
And when in the work he destruction employs
Himself to no method confines
By fire and by water he gets them destroyed
For the elements aid his designs.
Whether guarded by soldiers along the highway
Or closely secured in a room
He shivers them up by night and by day
And nothing can soften their doom.
Ye may censure great Ludd’s disrespect for the laws
Who ne’er for a moment reflects
That foul imposition alone was the cause
Which produced these unhappy effects.
Let the haughty the humble no longer oppress
Then shall Ludd sheath his conquering sword
His grievances instantly meet with redress
Then peace shall be quickly restored.
Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice
Nor e’er their assistance withdraw
Till full-fashioned work at the old-fashioned price
Is established by custom and law.
Then the trade when this arduous contest is o’er
Shall raise in full splendor its head
And colting and cutting and swearing no more
Shall deprive all his workers of bread.