I wrote to the Huddersfield Daily Examiner following their story in the 12th April 2012 edition which adapts the press release put out by Richard Jones, a research student at Cambridge University. He appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme yesterday to promote the findings of his research into the Luddites. The letter was also endorsed by Richard Holland of Luddite Bicentenary and David King of the Luddites 200 Organising Forum.
For History Today, supported by the BBC, to release an ill-informed and badly-argued attack on the Luddites masquerading as ‘new research’ is bad enough (Examiner 12 April). To do this on the occasion of the bicentenary commemoration of the fight at Rawfold’s Mill in which two, possibly four, men were killed and a further five hung as a consequence, is totally insensitive. For those of us to whom the Luddites are a treasured part of our heritage, and who have continued their struggle, do so not on the basis of mythologising, but as a result of a reasoned and detailed understanding of the Luddites and the time in which they lived.
The arguments put forward by Richard Jones are not new, but are part of a long tradition of denigrating working class struggle, particularly when it has involved direct action against the State. Anyone hearing his BBC interview would realise how tenuous and contradictory his arguments are. For him to jump on the Luddite bicentenary bandwagon to promote his career, by putting the academic boot into the Luddites, cannot be justified as an expression of academic freedom. It is clearly a politically motivated attack against working class and radical history.
Those of us who belong to this school of history are open about our sympathies and political beliefs. We are trying to give the poor and oppressed a voice they were denied at the time. What is Richard Jones trying to do and who his he speaking for?