Call that a Jubilee???

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Jun 6 21:59:14 BST 2012

This came from Past-Tense, a Radical History Group in London...


The torn bunting still flutters in the trees outside my window...

Flag-waving, street parties, forelock-tugging and nostalgic pictures 
of the happy smiling 1950s, appeal to tradition, a lost past where we 
all knew our place - respect, royalty, religion... RUBBISH! 
Grovelling to the wasters who perch on the pinnacle of an out-dated 
class system... THAT'S NOT A JUBILEE!

In ancient Jewish and early Christian tradition, the Jubilee, 
celebrated every 49 or 50 years, was a time when debts would be 
cancelled, and prisoners, slaves and bonded servants freed. Now 
THAT'S the kind of festival we need in these times!

All this patriotic coming together, what a cunch of bunting. 
Officially sponsored merry-making, streets closed by council order, 
plastic union-jack bowler hats? behind your rose-tinted glasses, we 
can read the emptiness of your souls. Now WE have organised street 
parties ? but we asked no bureaucrat's permission, we took over the 
space we felt was ours, or should be; we turned highway into dance 
floor and planted trees on the motorway, built a kids? playground in 
the fast lane and got pissed where cabs jostle. We honoured no 
made-up countries, or their self-appointed heads of hate? to 
celebrate only ourselves, each other, the people we love, who have 
only our bodies to sell, but dream of life as a big party that never ends.

Now while the current world-wide mass onslaught on our living 
conditions continues, a wild free existence without work, money, 
hierarchies, war, exploitation and the rest may seem distant? further 
off than ever. There IS a definite upturn in people fighting back, 
refusing to accept the wage cutting, the benefit slashing, rent 
rises? Maybe that's why we get the royalist pageantry; since they're 
slicing our bread thinner, the circuses need to whirl faster and 
fancier. And it's handy if they can suck us consenting to the 
sacrifice, co-opt us into their dream of classes happily bowing down 
in harmony, all stepping down one rung of the ladder while kissing 
the arse above. Top-down unity and togetherness, spirit of the blitz, 
god bless yer Ma?am, we all need to tighten our belts.


There was a time when a queen sailing down the Thames wasn't greeted 
with cheering crowds thronging the bridges. In June 1263, rebellious 
Londoners pelted queen Eleanor, wife of the unpopular king Henry II, 
with filth and stones, as she sailed under London Bridge from the 
Tower. Henry was quarrelling with barons demanding reform, and 
Londoners, as usual in the middle ages, took sides against the 
monarch. Even Queen Victoria, role model for aspiring queens, and 
focus for the invention of most of the supposedly ancient traditions 
her descendants invoke at us, might have shied away from the Thames 
crossing points; the imposing statue of auntie Vicky at the north end 
could well represent her booing by a republican crowd while opening 
Blackfriars bridge in 1869?


OK? so if you look closer at the way Jubilee was administered in the 
Judaic or Catholic world-view, the details don't look so inspiring. 
For instance, prisoners might only be let out on the confession of 
their sin or crime, doing penance or going on a pilgrimage was 
compulsory? But we don?t have to play it by their rules? We can take 
from the past what we like, what is useful, and stir it up into our 
own whirlwind?

The idea of the Jubilee has been taken up throughout history, and 
given a liberating twist: especially in the heady years of the 
English Revolution: Diggers, early Quakers, including Bristol?s 
favourite messiah James Nayler, Milton, Bunyan and Utopian writer 
James Harrington all saw the Jubilee as chiming in with their own 
dreams of radical new societies. Later, nineteenth century communist 
Thomas Spence put Jubilee at the heart of his Plan for the poor to 
seize back the land?

But it was in the Caribbean that the Jubilee became most resonant. 
The kidnapped African slaves and their children evolved a dream of 
Jubilee, through their subversive readings of the Bible imposed on 
them by their slavemasters, which expressed their desires for freedom 
from bondage.

Jubilee was at the heart of the slave rebellions that increased in 
number and ferocity in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, 
which formed a powerful part of the pressure that led to slavery's abolition.

Probably the most vocal advocate of Jubilee as liberation was Robert 
Wedderburn: a most inspiring and intriguing personality. Born into 
slavery in the West Indies, a veteran of the British navy, he became 
a preacher and later a radical and a disciple of Spence. Mixing 
insurrectionist ideas in post-Napoleonic War London with agitation 
against slavery and the plantations owners in the Caribbean, 
Wedderburn developed a theory of Jubilee as revolution, the abolition 
of all bondage and control of the land by those who worked it, living 
in common and sharing labour and produce, as the early Christians 
were said to have done.

It'll take a huge collective leap for us to bring anything like 
Wedderburn's vision about. Which may not seem likely, in the light of 
the current mass brown-nosing jamboree. But who knows??

As austerity tightens, it's really hard to predict how attitudes 
could change. The ancient Jewish Jubilee probably arose not so much 
from idealism but from practical ways to deal with economic 
inequality? Lets get practical, and dance up the impossible?


Arts and Media Group.

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