Be There! Stand Up to Racism, National Unity Demonstration against racism and fascism, November 17, London
Friday, 16 November 2018 16:34

Be There! Stand Up to Racism, National Unity Demonstration against racism and fascism, November 17, London

Published in Poetry

Be There!

for November 17 Stand Up to Racism National Unity demonstration against fascism and racism, London

By Chris Norris

A very British sort of coup,
That's how the thing began.
No soldiers on the street, a few
More cops, no master-plan
(Or so it seemed), same TV crew
Plus smiling anchor-man,
The tabloids quiet, with no to-do
As life went down the pan.

Not like those foreign coups, you know,
The sort you read about,
Where things get rough from the word go,
And where what started out
In barracks, beer-hall, or a show
Of rabble-raising clout
By some misfit went on to sow
The seeds of civil rout.

Of course we had our mini-Trumps,
Our BoJos and Rees-Moggs,
Our own much nastier Forrest Gumps,
And home-grown demagogues
Who wait till unemployment jumps
Then set their running dogs,
The press, to see that Britain dumps
On folk in foreign togs.

But no-one had the nerve to say
'We're heading up shit creek',
Or 'Armageddon's on the way',
Because from week to week,
And latterly from day to day,
As race-hate reached a peak,
We just tuned out and chose to stay
At home while skies grew bleak.

We stayed at home when conscience told
Us plainly 'Time to fight',
Till human lives were bought and sold,
Masked gunmen stalked the night,
And all the signs said: either hold
The line against these right-
Wing thugs or wake and find they've polled
Tops in the plebiscite.

Our local monsters seemed so tame,
Compared with those we saw
On foreign stages, that we came
To say 'That's the last straw!'
Each time they made some lying claim
Or spurned the rule of law,
Yet never squarely fixed the blame,
So served as their cat's-paw.

That's why so many didn't heed
The wake-up call, or skipped
The anti-fascist demo: we'd
All seen the way they whipped
Up hatred, spread their vicious creed,
And stuck to Hitler's script,
Yet deemed them fools and saw no need
To get their feathers clipped.

But now, too late, we clearly see
How dumb we were to think
Those goons a lesser threat since we
Fine folk – Left-Liberal Inc –
Just mocked their crass buffoonery
And too long failed to link
The mounting violence with the plea
Of those on terror's brink.

If only! – twenty/twenty hind-
Sight's such a splendid thing –
If only we'd the strength of mind
To fight, and not just cling
To comfort-nostrums of the kind
That left all us left-wing
Stay-homers in the same old bind
Of helpless witnessing.

If we'd been up in London when
The anti-fascists made
That last defiant protest, then
Who knows? we might have played,
Like Daniels in the lions' den,
The role of lead brigade
In swilling out the born-again
Hate-spawn the Fuehrer laid.

This poem and the accompanying image is taken from Chris Norris's forthcoming book The Trouble With Monsters, published by Culture Matters.

Lying to the Land
Friday, 16 November 2018 16:34

Lying to the Land

Published in Cultural Commentary

In the first of a series of articles on aspects of modern culture, Paul Tims tells us about 'fauxgress' as exemplified in the film, TV and music industries as well as elsewhere – and how we can make things better.

The most pernicious and successful lie in western culture is that things are getting better. Every day, in every way, we move closer to perfect equality – or so we’re told. The general consensus is that we have more rights than ever and the bigotries and xenophobias of the last century are being pushed out of existence. The rise of the far right and the election of spray-tanned pop-up tyrant Donald Trump are supposedly aberrations: the death-throes of a sickening paradigm.

It must be nice to believe that. It’s a comforting theory that probably helps a lot of people sleep at night. I have another theory, however: one that contains markedly less horseshit. My theory is a simple one and can be summarised in a single sentence. Brace yourself. If you’ve been living in the consensus reality-tunnel for the last few years, this may blow your fragile little mind-melon into a thousand tiny pieces. Here it is: our culture is basically as awful as it’s always been, just slightly prettier. Don’t worry if your monocle popped out your eye in astonishment. That’s a perfectly ordinary reaction.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the progress we’re supposed to be experiencing is a carefully-crafted illusion. Over in the States, Trump wasn’t elected by a vocal minority of bigots, because that’s not how democracies work (no matter how dysfunctional they are). He was elected by a terrifying majority of socially alienated, systematically-ignored rust-belters who didn’t have access to the level of education needed to realise he was exploiting them, lying to them and pandering to their worst impulses. Here in the UK, racism is clearly alive and well. The British people are glibly preparing to leave the E.U. (along with the cultural and economic benefits it provides), largely because ludicrous caricatures like Nigel Farage told them it might provide a great opportunity to get rid of a few foreign johnnies.

Feminist Classic White Ladies Tee 1050x

You can buy T-Shirts with the word ‘Feminist’ on them, but they were probably sewn in sweatshops by women who are treated little better than slaves. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, did you know that reports of rape shot up by 20% last year in London alone?

It’s also worth noting that there is a prevailing sentiment against the poor and the sick here in Britain. The Tory government has declared literally thousands of disabled people on benefits ‘fit for work’ only to have them die within six weeks, cut off from the state support that allowed them to live. If there wasn’t a nasty undercurrent of hatred for the impoverished and the disabled, there is no way the party that did that would still be in power.

Racism, right wing lunacy and misogyny are supposed to be dying out, but the most cursory glance at actual statistics (or even just electoral and referendum results) tells you that this isn’t the case. The lie of continual progress is laughably transparent. There are, however, two questions worth asking. Where is this false narrative on culture coming from, and why is it being pedalled?

The chances are that you feel confident that you’ve encountered the narrative and agree that it’s pretty pervasive… but I bet you can’t think of a single source that’s actually articulated it! That’s because the lie isn’t told explicitly on news programmes or in editorials. If it was, people would see through it in an instant. Humans are pretty dense, but they don’t actually have brains made of play-doh. They’d notice a fib that spectacularly obvious. Instead, the lie is fed to us at a sort of primal level: it’s encoded into our cultural myths, emphasised by the stories the media chooses to tell and implanted in the very language used in mainstream forums.

moonlight

The media went mad with ecstasy awhile ago, when Moonlight (a film by and about black people) won Best Picture at the Oscars. It was happy news, of course, but did you notice the way that it was framed as a watershed moment: a significant victory that marked a serious change in the way western culture regarded non-white stories? Maybe that’s even true, so long as the stories in question are on the silver screen.

The year that film came out, America arrested 111,000 people just for being in the country illegally- a 42% increase over the previous year. Sure, it’s great a film by someone other than Honky McWhitebread the Third won an Oscar, but clearly it changed diddly-squat about race-relations in the real world, where human beings actually have to live.

If the murky waters of US race relations don’t float your boat, why not take a look at the always-zany world of representational feminism? Since 2016, we’ve seen gender-flipped reboots and/or continuations of some major nerd-culture touchstones: women now fill the main protagonist roles in Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Doctor Who. This is framed as an indisputable sign of progress by the decision-makers responsible. Conversely, any criticism of these gender-swaps is framed as inherently sexist.

marvelwomen

But why are we seeing lazy gender-swaps of stuff that already exists instead of a wave of original women-lead TV shows and films? And why hasn’t this supposed triumph of vaginal representation magically empowered women to not be used as fuck-toys and free labour by rapists and sociopaths out here in the real world? It’s almost like a lot of people in the film and television industries have cynically seized on feminism as a brand, that can grab viewers for their sub-par cultural byproducts while leaving actual women to suffer the same miserable fates they always have.

It’s not just films and telly that have turned once-meaningful ideologies into cheap brands, however: it’s also the music industry! I speak, of course, of Beyoncé. She’s held up as a symbol of both racial equality and feminism in the music world… despite being a truly terrible human being who shouldn’t be considered a paragon of anything. Once again, I should stress that it’s good non-white women are having their voices heard in music. Unfortunately, Beyoncé is a non-white woman who once gave a private concert to the family of the murderous dictator Gadhafi. She also once danced around in front of the giant neon-hued word ‘Feminism’ wearing nothing but a figure-hugging leotard. As a man, I understand I’m not allowed to define what feminism involves, but I know a lot of radical feminists who would tell you that it doesn’t involve gyrating around, half-naked.

Of course, in the three previous paragraphs, those perpetuating the lie of progress aren’t actually oppressing anyone or screwing anyone over. Maybe they’re not deliberately creating a false narrative? Maybe they’re just overly optimistic morons who ate a lot of paint as children? My counter-argument is one word: Disney. Disney films have had a fairly liberal outlook lately, right? They’ve promoted tolerance and equality and… hang on a minute! This bloody company was producing its merchandise using sweatshop slave labour as recently as 2012! Weirdly, I can’t find anything more up to date than that on the subject… which is suspicious in itself. If you needed proof that the pedlars of faux-progress (fauxgress, if you like) know exactly what they’re doing: there it is.

On a similar note, Nike (purveyors of the world’s most pretentious trainers) recently launched a massive ad campaign designed to combat racism… by including non-white people (especially Muslims) on the posters. We’ll leave aside the fact that simply including non-white people isn’t especially radical: it’s basically just the bare minimum demanded by human decency. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that Nike was using sweatshops and child labour in non-western countries as recently as August 2017.

nike

Just like Disney, Nike is a systemically racist company with a history of exploiting non-white workers. Despite this, they are hypocritically cultivating a progressive, anti-racist image for themselves in order to promote their brand. As with Disney, trying to figure out if Nike still uses sweatshops has proven rather difficult, as there’s a troubling dearth of post-2017 online resources regarding their corporate practices. However, I’d invite my readers to apply inductive reasoning to the problem and take a wild stab in the dark.

Nike and Disney don’t have the monopoly on exploitation however. The tech giant Apple has a nasty habit of filling its phones and computers with conflict minerals. If you’re not familiar with the term, I should explain that conflict minerals are metals and other materials mined in territories controlled by local warlords who use the profits to fund obscenely violent conflicts with other warlords. It’s interesting that Apple has managed to position itself as a trendy, alternative, ‘progressive’ brand without actually having a specific progressive message. It’s even more interesting that it’s managed to do it while indirectly funding wars that kill innocent women and children on a daily basis.

I’ve told you where the cultural narrative (or lie) of progress is coming from – cultural pundits, media outlets and half-arsed content creators. Given this information, it’s not that hard to figure out why it started. Money. Tell people everything’s getting better, frame yourself as a champion of the new paradigm and watch millions of good, kind, politically-aware people queue up to buy your DVDs and T-shirts, read your magazines and newspapers, retweet your sponsored fucking content.

The world is not getting better. Not in the ways that matter. But it can get better. You might be feeling a bit bleak and alienated after reading twelve paragraphs of proof that progress is a lie and that the world is as bad as it’s always been. But I’ll tell you a secret. You have the power to change things for the better.

Progress in mainstream culture may be a write-off, but we are living in an age where we have unprecedented access to music, books, TV shows and opinions that exist outside the mainstream. If you’re feeling dissatisfied with the way you or others are represented in your favourite genre of TV show or film, go on the internet and find cinematic works created by artists with genuinely different voices, or visit an online bookstore and find literary examples of your preferred genre that would never make it into Waterstones or Barnes and Noble.

If you’re sick of the pandering, half-witted fauxgress to be found in modern music, it’s easy to find lists of alternative songs in any style on music websites, then listen to them immediately on Youtube. It’s even easier to simply not buy products from corrupt, fauxgress-spouting compaies.

You’re already sat at your computer, reading this article. You’ve already taken the first step towards seeking out counter-cultural content. Thanks to technology, you have the ability to ‘vote with your feet’ and only engage with content that meets a high standard. If you want to kill fauxgress and replace it with something better, the simplest way to do so is to ignore it to death.

'The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter': Dashiell Hammett vs. Joe McCarthy
Friday, 16 November 2018 16:34

'The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter': Dashiell Hammett vs. Joe McCarthy

Published in Fiction

Phil Brett tells the story of when Dashiell Hammett faced Senator Joseph McCarthy.                              

Sixty five years ago, on March 26th 1953, Dashiell Hammett, the famous novelist who was responsible for popularising the hard-boiled private eye novel, faced Senator Joseph McCarthy. For a brief moment in the confrontation, there took place an exchange concerning the possibility of communism in the United States. What led to that frankly surreal moment shows both what the American state will do to protect its rule, and the power which it fears.

 PB 2 Maltese Falcon                      

By 1953, Hammett was internationally known for his novels such as The Maltese Falcon, which had set the template of the cynical hard-drinking detective (See Murder, Mavericks and Marxism for my socialist look at the growth of crime fiction). His writing inspired legions of others, including such luminaries as Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Many of his stories had been made into Hollywood movies. The 1941 film of the Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, usually appears in best movie lists, and the book figures in literary equivalents. But it wasn't because McCarthy disliked film noir that Hammett was having to defend himself. To find the reason, we perhaps should travel back to the start of the twentieth century.

By then, the United States had grown to a position where it could rival Britain and Germany. Huge corporations were now creating huge wealth, but only for those at the top. With the ever greater demands of profit, came ever greater exploitation. Workers fought back and unionisation grew, but the American federation of trade unions, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was ill-equipped to lead it, being virtually all male, all white and all skilled. Howard Zinn in A People's History of the United States writes that "Racism was practical for the AFL. The exclusion of women and foreigners was also practical." Theirs was a business unionism, set up to help big business whilst earning fantastic salaries for the officials; divide and rule worked for them. But not for the movement. Mass strikes, such as the 1907 general strike of over ten thousand black and white workers on the New Orleans levees, terrified the bosses. Socialists and anarchists found their ideas gaining an audience. A new union, The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the Wobblies) was created to cross racial, gender and sectional lines. It grew massively. The ruling class responded as they always had, and would continue to do, by unleashing terrible violence. Strikers were regularly fired on, such as in 1916 Everett, Washington, when two hundred armed thugs opened fire, leaving five Wobblies dead. It was far from being a one off.

   PB 3 IWW                               

A year later, IWW organiser Frank Little, was kidnapped by vigilantes, tortured and hanged. Strong evidence suggests that the vigilantes were in fact members of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. A member of the Pinkertons at the time was one Samuel Dashiell Hammett. Lillian Hellman, playwright and writer, comrade and partner of his for thirty years, later claimed that Hammett himself had been personally approached to be part of the gang. Her claim has been questioned, but whatever the truth of it, there is no doubt that Little's murder appalled him, and as a Pinkerton he would have witnessed the strike-breaking, infiltration, blackmail and murder which, despite their name, was pretty much the main work of the agency. Seeing at first hand how the state would subcontract out terror made Hammett begin to question the values which he had been brought up with.

 PB 4 newspaper on IWW                                

By the twenties, the IWW had been destroyed, with many activists dead or in prison, and the Socialist Party was falling apart. In 1924, the Ku Klux Klan had grown to 4.5 million. It looked as if the American ruling class had won, and reaction was on the march. Racism and terror had long been popular mechanisms of oppression, but now there was something new in their tool box of terror - anti-communism. The first Red Scare was launched as a reaction of to the 1917 Russian Revolution, with the state mobilising against the threat. The press joined in, howling against anyone who even vaguely threatened the 'American way of life'.  President Woodrow Wilson forced Congress to pass the 1918 Sedition Act, primarily aimed against anarchists. Similar to what we see today, with Donald Trump calling anyone he perceives to be an opponent a snow flake, back then, there was little concern to differentiate between communists, socialists, anarchists, liberals or merely decent human beings. They all were 'reds'.

However, the struggle continued, with mass strikes. Marcus Garvey's message of black pride reached large audiences and the NAACP bravely battled for justice. In 1919, the American Communist Party (CP) was formed. The 1930s depression saw times get even harder, with more workers growing disillusioned with capitalism. The CP had grown to 55,000 by the end of the decade.

Hammett might have left the Pinkertons, but he was using the experience of detection in his writing. His first story was published in the magazine The Smart Set in 1929. The first of his five novels was Red Harvest (1929), which was followed by The Dain Curse (1929), the Maltese Falcon (1930), The Glass Key (1931) and the Thin Man (1934). They brought fame and wealth. However, the effect wasn't to draw him towards capitalism, but quite the opposite.

The 1930s saw him involved in civil rights and anti-fascist activity, joining the American Labor Party and in 1937, the Communist Party. In the main, his support was financial, and lending his name to campaigns. Not that his politics can especially be seen in his writing - there is a constant theme of a corrupt society in them, with many of the cops on the take, but little more than that.

But neither the lack of overt literary socialism, nor the fact that he had served in both world wars, was going to save him from the watchful eye of the red scaremongers. Over time, legislation had been steadily passed against the left. In March 1947 president Truman signed Executive Order 9835 to check the "Americanism" of public employees. It was the legislation which the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) would use. Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, says, ""The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter." And the crook was certainly cheap here, with Senator McCarthy achieving his moment in history, by conducting several HUAC investigations.

Again, as with today's resident of the White House and purveyor of gaudy Twitter patter, stars in the movie industry were useful targets (see also Peter Frost's article I am Spartacus on blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo). This was partly because there was anxiety that any liberalism in the arts might help raise awkward questions about society (see my If We Stop Fighting The World Will Die for an example of how political messages appear in the most mainstream of films). But it was also because the stars' fame could be used to spread the fear - if the state was willing and able to go for the great and good, then the local activist was an easy target. In wielding such power, the ruling class showed their fear, by trying to instil it in others.

    PB 5 HB and LB              

Some fought back, including in 1947, a high profile, (and in the history of lobbying, possibly the best-dressed ever) delegation, led by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In the same year, Hammett was elected the president of the Civil Rights Congress (CVC) whose role was to fund defences for those arrested for political offences.                                      

Four years later, he was brought before the United Sates attorney for the southern district of New York to disclose who had been aided. Hammett refused. As a result, he was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt. The magazine Hollywood Life caught the OTT hysteria, calling Hammett, "one of the most dangerous (if not THE) influential communists in America".

Then in 1953, he was dragged in front of the HUAC. This time it was to face the charge that 'pro-communist' books had made their way into overseas libraries run by the State Department. Three hundred copies of his books had been found on the shelves of seventy three of its libraries. Fearing that American capital would collapse from Sam Spade's sardonic wit, Dashiell Hammett faced Senator Joe McCarthy.

For most of the hearing, Hammett, like so many others who appeared before the HUAC, pleaded the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer questions in case they might incriminate him. There is a tradition of socialists using political trials as a platform to argue their cause. Why Hammett and others didn't do this is not clear. Perhaps, the reason is hinted at when one of the Committee questions him as to why he is appearing "before the bar of public opinion". He replies that it was not the 'bar of public opinion' which had sent him to prison for six months - the implication being that it was the state, doing so for political reasons. By the fifties, the left had suffered a series of defeats and confidence was low: taking the Fifth was seen as the only viable tactic. Certainly, Hammett didn't lack moral courage. He'd shown that in the 1947 trial and the fact that he had publicly supported campaigns associated with the CP throughout the Red Scare.

But then McCarthy asked, "Do you believe that the communist system is better than the system in use in this country?" Hammett didn't this time take the Fifth but instead answered, "Well, regardless of what I thought of communism in Russia today, it is doubtful if, you know, any one sort of thing - one is better for one country, and one is better for the other country."

McCarthy, then asked, "You seem to distinguish between Russian communism and American communism. While I cannot see any distinction, I will assume there is for the purpose of the questioning. Would you think that American communism would be a good system to adopt in this country?" Hammett took the Fifth, but then to perhaps McCarthy's surprise, he added that it was a question which could not be answered by a yes or no. McCarthy asked why. "You see," Hammett answered, "I don't understand. Theoretical communism is no form of government. You know, there is no government. And I actually don't know, and I couldn't without - even in the end, I doubt it if I can give a definite answer."

Sensing a chance to trap him, the senator asked if he favoured the adoption of communism in the United States. Hammett didn't take the Fifth but answered no. It wasn't the answer that McCarthy had expected. Hammett explained, "For one thing, it would seem to me impractical, if most people didn't want it."

Maybe McCarthy should have read some of the books he was so intent on banning. If he had, then he might have understood that to achieve communism, Marxists believe that a transitional socialist state is required, you did not jump straight to a communist state. So Hammett was, strictly speaking, not denying his politics. McCarthy just simply did not understand them. In any case, the agent of change was the mass of the working class. The masses in 1953 USA were not in a pre-revolutionary state, so Hammett was being practical. Hammett's testimony couldn't be said to have been a stirring defence of socialism, but he hadn't implicated anybody else, nor fundamentally denied his politics.

The session ended with McCarthy returning to the ostensible reason for his appearance, the stocking of 'communist literature' in state libraries. He asked the author, "If you were in charge of that programme to fight communism, would you purchase the works of some 75 communist authors?" Hammett, replied with a putdown which Sam Spade would have been proud of, "If I were fighting communism, I don't think I would do it by giving people any books at all."

Despite his careful replies, he had done enough to provoke further action against him. He was blacklisted and the FBI spent a lot of time and effort in trying to charge him for tax fraud. Perhaps nothing more was done because Hammett was a sick man, who would not publish anything major again. He become a virtual recluse, living with Hellman until his death in 1961. Even then, he had beaten McCarthy, outliving the senator by four years.

There is no doubt that the American ruling class faced a serious threat to its power in the first half of the twentieth century. It defended itself with brutal violence, intimidation and blacklisting - nothing less than state-sponsored terrorism. The left was smashed.  Sixty five years later, with Trump as president, it could be easy to think that McCarthy had won. However, within a decade, the sixties would see a re-emergence of radicalism, with women's, black, gay and anti-Vietnam movements changing American society forever. Even today, with the Uncut, Black Lives Matter and Me Too campaigns, not to mention campaigns against Trump, people still fight for radical ideas in the States. McCarthy would have been apoplectic at the sight of hundreds of thousands of Americans flocking to support Bernie Sanders, a politician proud to call himself a socialist.

The root of Senator Joe McCarthy's fear is still here. And let us also remember that McCarthy's name is now despised, synonymous with witch hunts, whilst Hammett is famous for the creation of a literary genre. Perhaps the words of Sam Spade, his most famous creation, also spoke for him: "I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble."

Hollywood Ten

Come in number 45, your time is up
Friday, 16 November 2018 16:34

Come in number 45, your time is up

Published in Poetry

In Which No. 45 Once Again Seeks Validation To Dispel
The Existential Fear That Gnaws At His Very Soul

 by Steve Pottinger

Thursday, 4am. The president wakes
Reaches, half-conscious, for his phone
Unwilling, untutored, unable to fight.
Must! Have! Attention! Now!
Punches the keypad over and over

In a desperate, infantile frenzy. Then:
Send.

America! The best! My big red button!

Falls back against the pillow, spent,
Useless, lost. Needing some kind of
Consolation, he mutters that he’s bigly
King, in his own mind at least. But
We see the emperor naked, unmanned,
Impeachment barrelling relentless down the line.
The end will be fast.

A Disillusionment
Friday, 16 November 2018 16:34

A Disillusionment

Published in Poetry

A Disillusionment

by Chris Norris

 It sounds counter-intuitive. How can the ‘Jewish State’ or the Zionist movement be anti-Semitic? But several of US President Donald Trump’s appointments have made it clearer than ever. He leads the most pro-Israel US administration in history, even while appointing key figures with anti-Semitic ties as his most important advisers.

- Asa Winstanley, Memo: Middle-East Monitor

The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devalue words and reasons . . . . How futile and frivolous discussions about the rights of the Jew [cf. Palestinian] appear to him . . . . If out of courtesy he consents for a moment to defend his point of view, he lends himself but does not give himself. He tries simply to project his intuitive certainty onto the plane of discourse.

But some will object: what if he is like that only with regard to the Jews [cf. Palestinians]? What if he otherwise conducts himself with good sense? I reply that that is impossible . . . . A man who finds it entirely natural to denounce other men cannot have our conception of humanity; he does not see even those whom he aids in the same light as we do. His generosity, his kindness, are not like our kindness, our generosity. You cannot confine passion to one sphere.

- Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Anti-Semite and Jew’

 (Note: ‘Bibi’ is the nickname, affectionate or otherwise, of Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel.)

My parents spoke of Israel
As of a Promised Land,
A place on which our dreams might dwell,
Though not (we'd understand)
A dwelling-place since its far spell
Could not be known first-hand
And some folk there had been through hell
En route for Haifa’s strand.

Still it remained my soul's ideal,
My youthful hope and dream,
That magic place-name that would steal
Upon me as the theme
Of reverie, though a country real
Enough for it to seem,
In bad times, the one name to heal
My wounded self-esteem.

For that, to me, was what it meant,
Aside from all the fuss
(As then I thought) about those sent
Away to clear for us,
Or ours, more Lebensraum that lent
A God-sent chance to bus
Or fly folk in and circumvent
Land-claims we'd not discuss.

But then the doubts began to crowd
Back in and wake a sense
Of what injustices allowed
My joy at their expense,
Those Palestinians, once a proud
And free-born people; whence
Their courage to endure unbowed
In rightful self-defence.

These five decades, since Israel fought
Its war for 'living-space',
I've watched the dream go sour and thought
Their talk of 'by God's grace'
The sort of thing routinely taught
When people make a case 
For causes desperately short
Of any moral base.

And now we've evidence, if more
Was needed, in the way
That Bibi's happy to ignore
The bulging dossier
With Trump's additions to the store
Of handy ways to play
The fascist card and give his core
Supporters a field-day.

For now I have to count the name
Of 'Israel' one we lump,
To its and my eternal shame,
With that of Donald Trump,
An anti-semite who would blame
'The Jews' as soon as plump
For Moslems or whoever came
In next for the high jump.

And then I think: was Sartre right
To say that what we mean
By 'Jew', or ought to mean in light
Of history, is seen
Most clearly in the victim-plight
Of everyone who's been
Killed, dispossessed, or put to flight
By hatred's lie-machine.

So 'anti-semite' would extend
Beyond its usual scope
To take in haters who depend
On 'Jews' to let them cope
With categories of foe and friend
So stark that they must grope
Around for scapegoats fit to lend
Their hate-crusade new hope.

For who, I ask you, wants or dares
To come straight out and state
The chosen-people case: that there's
Some type-specific trait,
Of grace or shame, that no-one shares
Who's not a candidate
For marking down as one of theirs
Or one they're bound to hate?

So I’m among the dispossessed,
An inner exile, though
I've only lost the dream that blessed
My early years, and so
Am now resolved to do my best
For those who undergo
Such pains as only the oppressed
In soul and body know.

Why then should I, deprived of all
I once believed in, keep
Faith with a state whose actions call
For me to take the leap
And say I’ve now crossed Bibi’s wall
With soul-wounds that go deep
Because such late-life Paul-to-Saul
Conversions don't come cheap.

Yes, I'm still 'Jewish', but the word
Now signifies, for me,
Whatever voices can't be heard,
Whoever lives unfree,
And those whose minds and hearts are stirred
By acts we daily see
When history’s victims, undeterred
By force, seek liberty.

So when they couple 'Zionist'
With (what seems quite insane)
'Anti-semitic' I insist
That first we ascertain
Just what they mean in case we've missed
Their point and it's the strain
Induced by that mind-wrenching twist
Of thought that's most germane.

All praise to those Israelis brave
Enough to stay around,
Confront the threats, and fight to save
The name in which they found,
Like me, a source of pride that gave
Fresh hope yet runs aground
More jarringly with each new wave
Of war-planes Gaza-bound.

For now the hate-name 'Arab' rings,
On every settler's tongue,
With a harsh resonance that brings
Back memories fresh sprung,
Like 'Jew', said brusquely, which still stings
Me now as once it stung
Years back, and other hurtful things
They'd say when I was young.

And, worse, we have to quell our rage
When Trump and Bibi use
Our history of victimage
As a means to excuse
Their choice of some new war to wage,
Which makes it seem us Jews
Are cast forever as front-page
And soul-destroying news.

Yet most of all it's this that drives
Me nearly to despair:
The thought that Palestinian lives
Should be the ones that bear
The lethal cost of what arrives
Like karma when we dare
To reenact a scene that thrives
On sufferings elsewhere.

Yet that's the hideous double-bind
They'd wish on us, those two
Gut-populists who’ve now combined
Their forces with a view
To ‘common interests’ redefined
So as to let them do
Whatever gets the mob behind
Their demagogic coup.

So if we’re so keen to appease
Our ‘ally' Trump, then how
Come he and his own allies seize
Each chance to re-avow
Those sentiments that show that he's,
Like them, one who'd allow
A pogrom-blitz if that would please
His followers right now.

So – pray forgive me if I rub
The lesson in too hard – 
What price our entry to the club
Of players with Trump card
If, from now on, we have to grub
Around for such ill-starred
Alliances as earn a snub
Even in our backyard?

Why then rebuke me when I stake
My faith on it that we've
A duty now, as Jews, to take
Our conscientious leave
Of any creed that, for the sake
Of striving to achieve
The New Jerusalem, would make
Us prone to self-deceive.

For there's no telling just how far
This grim charade might run
Before it hits a credence-bar
When we'll at last have done
With any rule that says we are
Required to honour none
But tales of faith that may now jar
No matter how they're spun.

You find me now, I must confess,
A man of darker mood
And one perhaps too keen to stress
These things on which I brood
Incessantly, though hoping less
For some new certitude
Than for some way to dispossess
Myself of hopes renewed.

It's when I think again of that
Embrace so warmly shared
Between the fascist plutocrat
And Bibi, aptly paired
As they may be, that I feel flat-
Out thankful to be spared
All last pretence of aiming at
The moral circle squared.

For who could make-believe the dream
Lives on now Israel's made
Its Faustian pact with Trump's regime
And bolstered the parade
Of those whose latest master-scheme,
Once all the plans are laid,
Leaves no place on the winning team
For their back-up brigade?

The Trouble with Monsters
Friday, 16 November 2018 16:34

The Trouble with Monsters

Published in Poetry

The Trouble with Monsters

by Chris Norris

Quick way with monsters: send a hero out
For mortal combat: sometimes he'll prevail
And kill the beast, while other times he'll fail
And it will be his death that ends the bout.

The point is, those old poets had it right,
Those Greeks, and Romans, and the guy (or guys)
Of Anglo-Saxon stock whose epic vies
With theirs as Beowulf goes forth to fight

First Grendel, then his mother, she whose sheer
Brute strength and monstrous bulk he hacks to death
But only to yield up his dying breath
In the last act of his renowned career.

cn beowulf

We have our modern monsters, but they tend
More often to emerge from some bad place
Within our home-domain, not some wild space
Beyond it where all codes and kinships end.

From every source these modern monsters spring:
From corporate culture, from the daily trade
In weapons of mass-murder, from the made-
To-measure ranks of lying hacks who bring

Our daily news, from the assorted fools
And rogues lined up for a safe Tory seat
Post-Oxbridge, or from teachers keen to beat
The kids just like in their old public schools.

CN bj 20145 Boris Johnson wins seat MP

But now we have new monsters of a kind
Unknown in earlier times because their lair
Is deep within a psychic space they share
With fifty million others of a mind

To have their worldview, politics, and sense
Of right and wrong conditioned daily by
The sorts of TV show that amplify
Bad vibes long quelled in reason's self-defence.

It's monstrous emanations such as these,
Rough beasts that slouch from all our TV screens,
Whose aspect takes us closest to those scenes
Of epic strife and somehow holds the keys

To all our deep-commingled dreads and fears,
As well as savage impulses that drive
The moguls and press-barons to connive
At each assault on decency's frontiers.

CN adolf hitler reichskanzler 1933

Our last real monster turned up nine decades
Back and did all the usual monster-stuff -
Killed millions out of some long-rankling huff,
Laid countries waste, recruited his brigades

Of street-thugs early on from folk bereft
Of money, life-hopes, pride, or self-respect,
And so, like Grendel, carried on unchecked
Till desperate remedies alone were left.

Now we've another monster on the loose,
One just as bad in many ways and worse
In some, since we've now further cause to curse
The advent of a president obtuse

And infantile enough to blow us all
To kingdom come if goaded by some stray
Remark, or say 'Just weather!’ come what may
Of hurricanes by way of wake-up call.

CN dt

We think 'if only', and routinely hold
Them in the highest honour, those who tried
But failed to stem the rising fascist tide
By monster-slaying, some of them extolled,

Like Bonhoeffer, as heroes with a claim
To sainthood while so many others, known
Or unknown to us, left their safety-zone
To venture on a last and lethal game.

Our current monster preys on all the ills
Of ignorance, stupidity, and greed
That fed his viewing-figures and his need
To see that every whim directly spills

Into the Twitter-sphere no matter if
It's sub-moronic, apt to spark a war,
Designed to show a hapless aide the door,
Or his last shot in some crass ‘fake news’ tiff.

Yet it's a case borne out by monsters down
From Roman times that they're no less a threat
To humankind for being apt to get
Their kicks in imbecilic ways, or clown

It up at just those times when all depends,
If not on their appearing wise or shrewd,
Then on their not indulging some wild mood-
Swing prone to make new enemies of old friends.

That Mark One monster might have been dispatched
At any time from nineteen-thirty-three
To forty-four, a fine thing – you'll agree –
Since who’d blame plotters for a game-plan hatched

To rid the world of one who, as things went
In brutal truth, survived to leave his mark,
As will this monster if left to embark
On half the crimes that seem his fixed intent?

That's why they got it right, those epic bards,
About what's best to do when monsters strike
And why perhaps, in special cases like
The present, it's the role of bodyguards,

Not some resurgent Beowulf, to show
The highest civic virtue and the sort
Of courage that inspired those long-ago
Folk-heroes to cut monster-stories short.

CN Karl Theodor von Piloty Murder of Caesar 1865

 

Sure
Friday, 16 November 2018 16:34

Sure

Published in Poetry

Sure

by Fred Voss


It is the morning after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States and I
am at my machine and I grip my machine’s handle
with my palm
the steel handle is still solid and hard
against my soft flesh
a racist hate-filled egomaniac dictatorial sexual predator swindler infant elected to lead
310 million people
and I turn the handle to my machine and my machine table moves exactly 100 thousandths
of an inch
I want to believe that a thousandth of an inch is still a thousandth of an inch
rivers flow downhill
a dinosaur bone
is 65 million years old he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword but Donald Trump
will soon have his finger on the nuclear trigger and Nero fiddled
while Rome burned and I put on my leather gloves and grab
a 50-pound block of 4130 steel and drop it
into my vise bolted to my milling machine table and send the carbide teeth of a shell mill
plowing through the raw steel
I want to believe when ice melts it still turns into water
Lady Macbeth
still can’t wash those drops of blood off her hand
I want to believe Christ and Buddha
knew something
Beethoven’s
Moonlight Sonata is still beautiful roses
still open train wheels
still can’t roll without the hands of men like me
who make them
I plant my feet on this concrete machine shop floor
surely the mockingbird has not forgotten how to sing
surely a human being still knows
right from wrong surely
the sun still rises steel is still hard and men like Trump fall
in the end
sure as my hammerhead ringing out when I strike it
against steel
sure as Victor Hugo’s statue
Nelson Mandela’s heart
the cat sitting in the sun on your windowsill
the sweat on the back of every workingman on earth
and the stars still there shining
in the sky.

Fred Voss's latest collection, The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand, is published by Culture Matters and is available from http://manifestopress.org.uk/