William Morris. Commonweal 1888

A Speech from the Dock

Source: “A Speech from the Dock” Commonweal, Vol 4, No. 115, 24 March 1888, p.93;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Our comrade John Burn’s speech before Mr Justice Charles has been printed in full. It is one of those documents which will one day be eagerly sought after as illustrating a remarkable period in the Social Revolution in which we are now all of us taking a part. It is called a speech in defence of the defendant but in point of fact, considering the nature of the evidence brought forward in support of the ridiculous charges made against our friends Burns and Graham, no defence was needed, except against the legal quibble by which the defendants were found guilty of illegal assembly and sent to jail for having committed this crime. Under these circumstances Burns’ speech really took the form of an indictment against the society which had been terrified by the meeting of a few of its victims under the name of the unemployed; and which in its terror, egged on by the bourgeois press, eager to make a sensation of anything that came handy, and the tradesmen of London who pretended to think their trade was in danger, got the meeting of the 13th November proclaimed and manufactured the riots of Bloody Sunday.

Socialists may well be glad this speech has been printed, in which Burns has clearly shown that this fear of the unemployed was the genuine cause of the closing of Trafalgar Square, since it has been the fashion of the half-hearted Radical, and no-hearted Liberal MP’s who have been driven to take up the matter, to dwell on the point that the meeting on the 13th was a genuine political meeting and was on a different footing to those that had been held there before during last autumn. Whatever significance there was about that meeting was given to it by the previous meetings and the treatment they had met with; and I repeat that a meeting merely to protest against Irish wrongs would not have been proclaimed. Burns and Graham went to jail on behalf of the unemployed, and for the matter of that for the employed also; those who are employed to produce wealth which their employers and not themselves enjoy. Our comrade did well then to keep their case so stoutly before the court, and to take coolly whatever might befall him from the partisan judge who tried him. All Socialists should be well acquainted with their comrade’s defence, not of himself but of them.