David Betteridge presents a major new long poem, a meditation on last December's setback to the socialist Left. Illustrations are by his longtime friend and collaborator, Bob Starrett, official artist at the Upper Clyde Shipyard Work-In in 1972.
In memory of Albert Marsden, Scunthorpe steelworker, trade union official, community activist, WEA committee member and decades-long student of History, Economics, Astronomy, Literature, and other subjects. He inspired many of us on the Left.
I BURNING BRIGHT
I perceive thou art one of my Subjects, for all that Country is mine; and I am the Prince and God of it...Were it not that I hope thou maiest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground...
- John Bunyan
What is that spoor, you ask,
that leads from site to site of wounding,
and of recurrent kills?
What is that pervading smell?
That disquieting sound?
Friend, what you see is the Tiger’s track;
you scent his carcase-reek;
you hear the snarl of his ego-speech.
He is cleverer than us, a certain fact;
he is brutal, and duplicitous.
Observe how he pursues his tyrant will.
Should he see a means whereby to gain his ends,
which are to keep his subalterns
and his expendables in thrall,
straight off he acts.
Nothing is too big to daunt him;
nothing too seeming-trivial or small.
Addict to greed, enough is never enough:
he craves forever more, devouring lands, homes,
assets, futures, lives -
the full contents of every store.
By threat or use of force,
deploying an arsenal that far exceeds our own,
he enters every fight to win. He crushes us, or bribes, or dupes,
or blackmails us, while we, his victims,
or dissipate our strength in faction fights.
The desperate-for-change among us
see in him a champion of their hopes;
but they are wrong, absurdly so.
This creature is a Hitler or a Mussolini
for our times, an arch-agent of the Right,
an Apollyon against whom Bunyan warned.
He is root-and-branch a lethal foe.
Populist, he studies us.
He encodes in his pronouncements
our own heart’s wish, echoing the very phrases
we might use, as if his own.
So he wins the trust of gullibles,
breaking their bonds with us,
disuniting us who would oppose.
Then he breaks the promises he has made,
an age-old ruse.
He parades himself as Patriot.
Foreigners he miscalls.
Loudly he bugles “For Britain and Saint George!”
but his Saint Capital trumps all.
The hard borders that he draws
about his State are for others, not for him;
they are cattle-pens for plebs,
to keep some out, and keep some in;
but where the money lies, or goes,
with his burning eyes and appetite,
there he freely goes.
His profit and our loss are his starting point,
and his all-consuming end.
They are his first premise, his lode star,
his main pursuit, his soul’s true friend.
Relentless, he is ever-present
in our bad dreams.
He is not alone,
He has allies everywhere,
advisers, agents, praetorians, clones.
Tiger! Tiger! burning bright,
in the jungle of the Right,
what mortal brain and hand
will drive you from our stolen land?
II FROM THE GRASSROOTS OF THE JUNGLE: ADVICES TO THE LEADER
The defenders are not demoralised, nor do they abandon their positions, even among the ruins, nor do they lose faith in their own strength or their own future...
- Antonio Gramsci
& Where Capital and Labour clash:
there you should be, Dear Leader, leading.
Where the People congregate, addressing
or enjoying things that they think matter:
there should you also be, learning.
& Party / Movement / Class:
their fruitful symbiosis - with roots
and branches interlinked - requires
a leadership more skilled and wise
than any in the past.
& If crowds sing your name and praises,
and yours alone, ask yourself,
What am I doing wrong?
Tell them: Our cause is collective.
Only as one can we fight strong.
& You need far more than policies,
no matter how good, how smoothly honed,
how numerous they are.
You need purposes, and passion, too.
To be convincing, you must be convinced,
feel what you mean, mean what you feel.
More than your rhetoric, you must consider well
how well you lead your life.
& To misspeak, mistake, miscalculate:
these are common faults.
We need a common, quick and kindly way
to cope with them, recoup, redress, re-educate,
and more wisely fight another day.
& The road ahead, out of the wasteland
of our last defeat, out of despond, out of our loss
of confidence, is long; it winds; it is hazardous.
Giants, well known to us, lurk in waiting.
We must fight with them, first
with the Giant Ignorance.
& Taking on the world - which is what
the cause of Labour is - means comprehending it.
It is no task for ignoramuses.
The Arts, Crafts and Sciences, interpreted
through Philosophy - in all of these, collectively,
we must excel, warp and weft.
Nothing that is part of humankind is alien to us -
Marx’s motto, paraphrased - that
should be also ours, collectively;
else History will pass us by, and piss on us,
leaving us outmanoeuvred on the Left.
& For every hour you spend with like minds
in a coterie, spend at least a score with those
who labour in dubiety.
Listen to them before you speak;
then question them,
and let them also question you.
Compare your answers, and the best ones
for our shared futures keep.
Speak and work with us, please,
if you would lead; but never at.
Common praxis is our proper habitat.
& Do not collude, Dear Leader,
nor emulate, nor vie with the enemy
in his fortressing of our land.
You have no use, surely, for long-range bombs,
no wish to blast or burn or sicken
half (or more) of the world’s others?
We need allies everywhere,
to advance with them across the globe,
in step with all of those whom we can call
our sisters and our brothers.
& Do not give credence or assent
to any measure that, under the waving flag
of Nation, advances Capital at our expense.
That would be to lapse into false consciousness.
Capital, willing us to this folly, banks on it.
& It is not sufficient that we remove the Tiger
from his jungle: we must remove
that very eco-system that he tops.
We need, not a changing of the Guard,
but a different polity,
where the rule of inequality and injustice stops.
& To hell with metaphors!
The enemy we call a “tiger” is a flawed
and mortal man.
We will find his Achilles’ heel,
and bring him down by strategy,
as History confirms we can.
& To win (or waste) the highest power:
that is the question.
Gramsci, thou shouldst be living at this hour!
Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.
- Alisdair Gray (after Dennis Lee)
Our future way of life we prefigure now,
and make it real,
enacting it in everything we say and do,
and embedding it in how we feel.
Without prefiguring, our project stalls.
Without hope’s pull, our present standing falls.
Our present vision of a commonweal-to-come
emboldens us, and sets a course for us.
It constitutes a refuge, and a power-house,
an emporium of means, a second home,
perhaps a first; it makes us never lost,
nor ill-equipped; it gives both shape and life
to lives; it ensures that every one of us
feels not alone.
Consider the chrysalis of the Hornet-fly:
so Coleridge, the old Mariner, advised.
It leaves sufficient space in its involucrum
for its antennae, not yet grown,
in potential there to lie; so in the building
of our institutions of the Left,
we too will make provision of the widest scope,
ready for the spreading of our future wings
in future flight.
We need all the gifts that we can lay
our hands and minds on, all the raw material,
the sustenance, the freshets of inspiration
that come our way; especially, we need
the world’s plurality, in its broadest flood,
to flow from past and future, and so to fill
our reservoirs of readiness today.
Hubs, clubs, unions, co-ops, guilds,
workshops, schools, networks of them:
these we need urgently, essentially.
Where are they, and how numerous?
They are staging posts to our seizing power.
There we can practise skills of fellowship;
establish synapses of new-found thought;
create a culture equal to the task of government;
and educate desire.
Maps drawn in the mind
range beyond the scope of maps
drawn on the ground.
They show a way, out from want,
out from suffering today,
to happier settlements
The world never stagnates. It’s always stirring, new forms of life always appearing...I love to look back at the past, or forward to the beautiful future that humanity will inhabit.
- Alexandra Kollontai
The storm’s wind dies.
The sea, that threatened
to engulf and drown,
We know where golden landfall
The sun also rises.
salvaged from experience,
it yields insights,
depths, directions, plans.
Our alliances extend.
they grow strong;
they engender trust, hope,
courage, annulling wrongs.
The sun also rises.
Sickle and sword
The sickle wins,
its green force so hard, so long,
it makes the bloody weapon
its cash-nexus breaks;
we, the People, organised,
every common need and want,
awakes; new virtues spread,
and further spread, and flower.
The sun also rises.
Love for love is given,
and gift for gift,
as mutual aid and commonweal,
To old earth,
we give a fresh covenant,
root, bole, and branch,
entire; and to ourselves,
a fresh start.
our knowledge and alliances
with our hearts conspire.
The sun also rises.
David Betteridge is the author of a collection of poems celebrating Glasgow and its radical traditions, 'Granny Albyn's Complaint', published by Smokestack Books in 2008. He is also the editor of a compilation of poems, songs, prose memoirs, photographs and cartoons celebrating the 1971-2 UCS work-in on Clydeside. This book, called 'A Rose Loupt Oot', was published by Smokestack Books in 2011.