The age of Shakespeare was also the age of Machiavelli. That brilliant Italian philosopher was the man who first explained that the conquest and maintenance of political power has nothing to do with morality. The state itself is organised violence, and the seizure of state power can only be brought about by violent means. Moralists have given the Italian philosopher a very hard time, but history has shown that his analysis was basically sound.
The England of Shakespeare, like the Spain of Cervantes, was in the throes of a great social and economic revolution. This was a very turbulent and painful change, which thrust a large number of people into poverty and created in the towns a large class of dispossessed lumpenproletarian elements: beggars, thieves, whores, deserters and the like, who rubbed shoulders with the sons of impoverished aristocrats and defrocked priests to create an endless reserve of characters for Shakespeare's plays.
With Jeremy Corbyn on course to win another landslide victory in the contest for the Labour leadership, the Party Establishment are preparing the ground for a split. Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, looks back at the Labour split of 1931 to analyse the important lessons of Labour's history for today's tumultuous events.
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