When Jeremy The Wicked Ruled His World
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

When Jeremy The Wicked Ruled His World

Published in Fiction

When Jeremy The Wicked Ruled His World

‘Stick your hands up. This is a fucking robbery!’
Two animal-masked men bounced up the steps of the tour bus with tiny pistols in their hands. Horse Mask whooshed himself down the central aisle and all the way to the very back seat. He swivelled around and poked his pistol at everyone while screaming blue murder on very jumpy tippy-toes. Polar Bear Mask stopped short and pushed his pistol right into the driver's dripping nose-hair.
‘Get the fuck up out of there! No heroes on this bus, mate. Right? No fucking heroes anymore!’
The driver fumbled up out of his seat and down the central aisle where he found a space directly across from Jeremy. But Polar Bear Mask was up his arse immediately.
‘Keep your hands in the fucking air! Keep them up!’
Horse Mask at the back was corralling people up to the middle portion of the bus around Jeremy and the driver. For the job in hand they required everyone in their seats clumped together. There wasn’t that many on the bus though. Twelve to fifteen max. If they were lucky. The task wasn't exactly Herculean.
‘Look, do this quick and no one gets hurt. Throw your wallets and any money you may have onto the floor of the central aisle and then we’re out of here and no one's brain gets splattered into a million pieces onto those nice clean side windows. Ok? Does that sound good?'
Horse from the back and Polar Bear from the front worked quickly person by person through the bus planning to meet in the middle where the job would finish and everything collected up off the floor and slammed into bags. People were co-operating for the most part. No troublemakers. Then Polar Bear reached the old man with the grey beard in the middle of the bus. A flash of recognition burst through his head like the jagged path of a buff-tailed bumble bee across a field in summer but he couldn’t quite put his finger on who it was. It was years since he followed the news.
‘All right old bean, just empty your pockets and I’m gone man and you’ll live to see and spend your old age pension.’
‘If the Tories haven’t abolished pensions by then, that is.’
Polar Bear guffawed.
‘You’re right there, dude.’
The old man took his wallet out and gave it to Polar Bear. As he moved on to the next person, the old man said, ‘Your surname wouldn’t be Browne would it?’
‘Bloody hell – he knows me Howie! He knows me!’
‘Fuck sake Pedro – now he knows my name too. You just said it. You’re a complete cockwomble.’
The old man ran his fingers through his hair and breathed through his nose.
‘Hold on, I just recognised your voice – even a generation down the line it’s still so distinctive. It's utterly uncanny. You must be William Browne’s son. I knew him quite well. We spent a lot of time together on the picket lines during the miners’ strike. I got bussed up regularly. We were good friends.’
Polar Bear lifted his pistol and pointed it into the forehead of the old man.’
‘Who are you old man? And how do you know so much about my life and times?’
‘I’m Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. Back then I was just an activist. I was trying to help your father. I’m sorry for what happened to him later, so sorry. Is that why you're here today on our bus? The generational effects of Thatcherism?’
Horse moved up from the back and pushed the Polar Bear’s pistol off Jeremy’s face.
‘Did you hear that Pedro, he sounds like you after a few pints of a Saturday night down the club.’
Horse turned to Jeremy.
‘Hey mate, Jeremy, sorry, Jeremy your name is Jeremy, you should have a few pints with him on a Saturday evening in our local, the two of you could sort out the world by half nine before the band comes on. You’d get on famously.’
‘I’d love to do that sometime, I would. If Pedro wants me to, it’s no problem. Pedro, are you a member of your local branch of the Labour Party?’
‘A bunch of middle-class twats.’
‘Not any more Pedro. Not any more. You should take another look and here’s a copy of our manifesto. I think you’ll like it. Your Da would have loved it.’
Pedro brought the pistol back up to Jeremy’s forehead.’
‘What the fuck are you doing old bean? It’s now your job to shut the fuck up and let us do what we have to do. Capeesh?’
By now Howie Horse Mask had gathered up all the wallets into a bag and was staring at Pedro Polar Bear Mask to get the fuck out of there before anything nasty kicked at their karma.
‘Come on Pedro, let’s move man.’
‘But Jeremy knows who I am.’
‘He doesn’t know who I am, except my name, so I’m alright Jack. Let’s skedaddle.’
‘I’m not moving.’
‘He stood with your father during the miners’ strike, that’s all Pedro, he doesn’t know where the next two generations of his family live now. How could he? It’s not like before when people stayed in the same house for decades. Those days are gone forever. He won't be able to track us down in a million years. Come on, let’s move. It won't take long before the filth come blaring around the corner. I bet you one of the middle-class wankers on this bus has already pulled the emergency cord. Fucking red Tories the lot of them. Come on Pedro let's get the fuck!’
Pedro button-holed Howie up off the bus’s floor.
‘Don’t be so pessimistic. Those days can and will come back,’ said Pedro.
Jeremy stood up too. Pedro dropped Howie back onto the floor. Jeremy spoke.
‘Howie, Pedro’s right. Those days can and fucking will return. Excuse my French. The majority of the people in this country will have secure council houses for life once again. I believe in that totally. Is that the reason why you’re doing this robbery? To make the rent?’
Pedro flopped his pistol-holding hand down to his waist and slumped into the seat next to the driver, who bunched over tighter to the window to give him more room.
‘That's right Jeremy. How did you know? The landlord keeps putting up the rent.’
‘It stands to reason in this economy, son. How much do you need to clear it?’
‘Two grand.’
‘Take what money you need, no probs, from the cash you’ve collected here Pedro. Just give my activists back their wallets, bank and credit cards etc, and everything will be hunky-dory with us.’
He stood up and announced to the bus that all the money going to Pedro and Howie would be covered by his own wallet when he got back to the office and had a chance to go to the bank. He also promised he'd throw in an extra large cherry on top of all monies returned fresh from his allotment. There wasn’t much disagreement on the bus. Howie couldn’t believe his eyes or his ears. This had been their first attempt at a robbery, so they weren’t deep into any shit as of yet. They weren't being chased by any authorities. Thank God. Just in the nick of time. It turns out they might have chosen the perfect place to start and finish their crime careers. Pedro lifted his pistol again to Jeremy’s head.
‘If it wasn’t for you my Da would never have been interested in art and would never had walked over to Vincent Cough in Tesco’s when he burst in with a gun.’
‘But I couldn't be with your father, William, 24-7. That would have been impossible.’
‘Not you. I'm not blaming you exactly. I’m using a metaphor. The labour movement. You are the current embodiment of the labour movement. Because my Da was involved in the labour movement he got interested in art and literature and philosophy too. Without it he wouldn’t have developed an interest in Vermeer and he wouldn't have ran over to Vincent Cough when he was at the lowest ebb of his entire life. Vincent's job had left him. His wife had left him. His house had left him too – he got evicted. He was living in a hostel. Then in a tent. Then in a hole. Vincent Cough used to run an arts club in the local library with other union members of the pit, they worked their whole lives until Thatcher came along. If they weren’t union members they would never have dreamed about art. That’s what got him killed. Art. His love of art. When Vincent ran into Tesco’s with a gun my Da ran over to him with the Vermeer postcard he kept in his wallet at all times: The Little Street. To save him. Vincent Cough had given it to my Da the day he’d joined the arts club in the library many moons previously. Vincent was a founding member.
‘We’ve got this art so nothing can stop us now, lad, nothing,’ said Vincent to my Da, William, on his first day at the club, using a Picasso print glued to the back of a long rectangular piece of plywood as an ironing board.’
'My Da wanted to remind Vincent of his own advice. Because he’d written it down word for word on the back of the Vermeer postcard he'd always kept in his wallet. He was convinced that Vincent would listen to his own advice written on the back of a postcard. They’d known each other all their art and working lives. Surely that had to count for something, he thought.’
Jeremy reached out as best he could with a pistol on his forehead. His hand actually reached Pedro’s and attempted to hold it. Nevertheless, the force of the pistol on his forehead did not relent.
‘I’ve still got that postcard in my pocket, The Little Street, to this day, Jeremy.’
Howie moved to the back of the bus with his pistol cocked, waiting for someone to even think about moving. Pedro was fucking everything up. A few minutes ago they could have got out. But now? He didn’t let his mind go there. Quicksand everywhere.
Pedro kept it going.
‘Vincent was too far gone at that stage. He’d already shot a customer. My Da couldn’t persuade him down from the edge even with a Vermeer postcard and Vincent’s own words on the back, Jeremy. Vincent looked at it, the two of them did, in silence for a few seconds, the longest two seconds ever. He gave it back to my Da with tears streaming his face. The police rushed in. Vincent shot my Da’s face with two bullets, a security guard with one bullet, and then shot himself. You were at all the funerals Jeremy. It's coming back to me now. I remember your face. You were very kind to everyone. My Da couldn’t get a job for seven years after his pit closed. Eventually, he ended up working at Tesco’s. Family and art sustained him. Why wasn’t that enough for Vincent Cough? Why?’
Pedro dropped the gun and sat down next to the driver. He let the tears take him and took out his Da's Vermeer postcard with Vincent's quote on the back splattered with blood. No one said anything for at least three minutes.
‘Come on Pedro. We’re going to let you keep the money. We don't want it back. Howie come up here and start counting the cash. Two grand, that’s great. Take it. No one in this bus is going to report anything about what happened here today. It was just a misunderstanding between old friends. Eh Pedro? Eh Howie?’
‘Thanks Jeremy. Thanks. You’ve saved our lives,' said the Horse.
They sat in silence for another three minutes on the bus.
‘Fancy a few craft beers lads? I know a great place just around the corner. Eh?’ said Jeremy.
‘That sounds okay, doesn't it?’ Howie said to Pedro.
‘I suppose it does. But does it have to be craft fucking beer?’
He put the Vermeer away.
‘No Pedro, they sell everything in this place. No worries.’
‘Great Jeremy. I could do with a pint alright. It's thirsty work nearly fucking up your entire life but not going there right at the last minute, Penelope Pitstop style.’
‘Jeremy, did you know that the bloke who re-discovered Vermeer and brought his work to a new audience of the kings and queens of the current bourgeoisie was a bloke called Bob Burger - and he was a screaming revolutionary socialist?’
‘No, Pedro, I didn't know that at all.’
‘It's a glorious fact, isn't it? It makes me smile.’
‘Me too, Pedro. Glorious indeed,’ said Jeremy.
Everyone stood around smiling to themselves, considering this new fact of their lives aprés conceptual robbery.
The money was sorted quickly enough. They had more than adequate cash among themselves for the lads' due rent. Pedro was able to wind himself up gregarious once again, it usually never took him long though, to be honest. Just like his Da.
‘I’ll be down to my local Labour branch first thing, Jeremy. My Da would have wanted it. It's seems like the right time to start reading the news again. It's certainly been a while. I might see if I can nab a few heads for my new arts club as well. We’ll meet every two weeks at the library, if we still have one.’
‘Vote for me and it’ll be there forever Pedro. Forever. I'd never close a library. It's not in my nature and you know it.’
Pedro and Howie thus lifted Jeremy off the bus on their shoulders chanting, ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn. Oh Jeremy Corbyn,’ and thinking about actually having a few goes at those craft beers Jeremy was talking about earlier, seeing as though he was paying for it through the nose 'till bubbles came out his nostrils like.

 

The New Jerusalem
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

The New Jerusalem

Published in Poetry

The New Jerusalem

by Martin Rowson

The tattered flag snaps in the gale.
The old man pouts; looks out to sea
To where, without the Tide's betrayal,
The New Jerusalem should be.

The election: Statement by 117 poets in support of the Labour Party
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

The election: Statement by 117 poets in support of the Labour Party

Published in Cultural Commentary

Statement By 115 Poets in Support of the Labour Party

We, the undersigned, representing a section of the poetry community, pledge our support to the Labour Party in the upcoming general election because we want to see its radically transformative and compassionate manifesto come into effect. The manifesto shows a commitment to social justice and equality not only in its comprehensive policies of state support for consumers and producers of the arts and culture generally, but also in its social and economic policies to support working people, including:

An end to austerity and the ideological attack on our welfare state
An end to the malicious work capability assessments of the sick and disabled and PIP
An end to the political scapegoating of the unemployed
An end to the two child benefit cap
An end to discriminatory rhetoric at the dispatch box
An end to the "hostile environment" for immigrants and refugees
An end to rough sleeping
An end to zero-hour contracts
An end to unpaid internships
An end to tuition fees
An end to creeping privatisation of the NHS

We want to see these Labour policies implemented:

A National Education Service
A National Care Service
A Universal Basic Income Pilot
A reintroduction of private rent controls and greater rights for renters
A restitution of Legal Aid
Free prescriptions in line with Scotland and Wales
A green industrial revolution
A culturally transformative Charter for the Arts
A Race and Faith manifesto

Signatories:

Keith Armstrong
Anne Babson
Bruce Barnes
Christopher Barnes
Amy Evans Bauer
Bob Beagrie
Brian Beamish
Peter Branson
Jane Burn
Gale Burns
Lesley Burt
David Cain
Ushiku Crisafulli
Andy Croft
Alan Dent
Matt Duggan
Steve Ely
Dr Naomi Foyle
Harry Gallagher
Owen Gallagher
Raine Geoghegan
Harry Gilonis
Prof John Goodby
Maria Gornell
Chris Gutkind
John G. Hall
Colin Hambrook
Chip Hamer
Emma Hammond
Robert Hampson
Oz Hardwick
Bruce Harris
Martyn Hayes
Kevin Higgins
Clare Hill
Luke Hoggarth
Bernadette Horton
Keith Howden
Zekria Ibrahimi
Andy Jackson
Kevin N. Jelf
Nicholas Johnson
Fred Johnston
Strider Marcus Jones
Tom Kelly
David Kessel
Mark Kirkbride
S.J. Litherland
Fran Lock
Marilyn Longstaff
Hannah Lowe
Rupert Loydell
Chris McCabe
Niall McDevitt
Rachel McGladdery
John McKeown
James Mainland
Caroline Maldonado
Char March
Dez Mendoza
Rob Miles
Christopher Moncrieff
Stephen Mooney
Alan Morrison
Graham Mort
John Muckle
Pete Mullineaux
Mark Murphy
Nicholas Murray
Chris Nash
Christopher Norris
Dr John O'Donoghue
Clive Oseman
Antony Owen
Ben Parker-Jones
Ian Parks
Tom Pickard
Steph Pike
Mair De-Gare Pitt
Winston Plowes
Dr David Pollard
Steve Pottinger
Alan Price
Prof John Quicke
Mike Quille
Frank Rafferty
Peter Raynard
Sally Richards
Karl Riordan
Lisa Rossetti
Anne Rouse
Dave Russell
Bernard Saint
Stephen Sawyer
John Scott
John Seed
John Short
Ken W. Simpson
Fiona Sinclair
Richard Skinner
Linus Slug
Barry Smith
Geoff Smith
Theresa Sowerby
Steve Spence
David Stoker
Peter Street
Paul Summers
Dr Andrew Taylor FRSA
Laura Taylor
Angela Topping
Ruth Valentine
Jo Walton
Rob Walton
Stephen Watts
Merryn Williams
Gareth Writer-Davies
Wendy Young

Co-ordinated by Alan Morrison (The Recusant) and Mike Quille (Culture Matters Co-operative Ltd), December 2019.

The frackers are fracking off
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

The frackers are fracking off

Published in Visual Arts

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom has admitted the fracking suspension imposed by the government is a “disappointment”, as the Conservatives face escalating pressure to introduce a permanent ban. Her remarks came as environmental campaigners hailed the announcement of a moratorium on fracking in England, declaring it a victory for communities and the climate. 

She said it was clear the government “must impose this moratorium until the science changes”, but added shale gas is something the UK “will need for the next several decades”. When pressed on why a permanent ban is not being implemented by No 10, she replied: “Because this is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom”.

However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday dismissed the move as an election stunt. “I think it’s what’s called euphemistically a bit of greenwash,” he said. “I think it sounds like fracking would come back on the 13th of December, if they [the Conservatives] were elected back into office. “We’re quite clear, we will end fracking. We think it’s unnecessary, we think it’s pollutive of ground water systems, and is actually dangerous and has caused serious earth tremors.”

Reports taken from the Independent and The Guardian.

arise! filmpoem
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

arise! filmpoem

Published in Films

Culture Matters has produced a short film, made by Carl Joyce, of the poem arise! by Paul Summers, which was sponsored by the Durham Miners' Association. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo here or on Youtube here.

The film invokes the collective and co-operative spirit of past generations of men and women who worked and struggled so hard to survive, to build their union, and to arise, organise, and fight for a better world by forming the Labour Party. It also celebrates the new spirit that has arisen in Corbyn’s Labour Party, and the rise of support for socialist solutions to the country’s growing problems of low wages, poverty, homelessness, and other signs of an unfair and corrupt system designed to benefit the many, not the few. 

Jeremy Corbyn said this about the poem:

It's wonderful to see the proud history of the Durham Miners' Gala represented in this powerful poem. Paul Summers has managed to capture the spirit of the Miners' Gala and its central place in our movement's mission to achieve 'victory for the many, and not the few’.

The film is not just a celebration of the tremendous working-class cultural heritage around mining, as expressed in the banners and the music at the Gala, but also the socialist, co-operative spirit of the women and men from mining communities that is alive and struggling today.

Martyrs of Coal

by Chris Norris

 You martyrs of coal, yours the glory
While there's still a miner alive,
Or singer to bring us the story
In which your proud legends survive.

You masters of coal, hear them calling,
Those martyrs you sent down to die,
Crushed lifeless by pit-rafters falling,
Or drowned as the waters ran high.

You martyrs, cry loud to remind us
That justice can never be done
If class-laws shall fetter and bind us
As long as the waggoners run.

You masters, you bled, starved and beat us,
You worked us to death for your gain,
You called out the troops to defeat us
And told us our strikes were in vain.

You martyrs of coal, stand beside us
As we stand today in your name
To win back the rights long denied us
And put our exploiters to shame.

And you modern masters, now hear us,
You tribe of dot-com millionaires,
Think now of their courage and fear us
When we raise the cry that was theirs.

For it's the same passion that fires us,
The zeal that gave courage its role,
And still their example inspires us,
Those martyrs of conscience and coal.

That martyr spirit has arisen recently in other current trade union struggles like the industrial action at McDonald’s, British Airways, and other employers, and in the outraged reaction to other injustices against the working class like the Grenfell tragedy. So there is footage from other campaigns in the film, showing how they are all part of our struggle for economic and political justice, for socialism in Britain and in the whole world.

And most of all the spirit of the miners has arisen in the modern Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. Arise, resist, vote Labour, and struggle for a better world!

You can also buy a DVD of the film, which is licensed to be played anywhere. It is available here at £5 plus £1.50 p. and p., and 10% of sales proceeds will go to the Redhills Development Fund. The same applies to the poem, which is available here.

arise! filmpoem
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

arise! filmpoem

Published in Books

Culture Matters has produced a short film, made by Carl Joyce, of the poem arise! by Paul Summers, sponsored by the Durham Miners' Association. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo here or on Youtube here

The film invokes the collective and co-operative spirit of past generations of men and women who worked and struggled so hard to survive, to build their union, and to arise, organise, and fight for a better world by forming the Labour Party. It also celebrates the new spirit that has arisen in Corbyn’s Labour Party, and the rise of support for socialist solutions to the country’s growing problems of low wages, poverty, homelessness, and other signs of an unfair and corrupt system designed to benefit the many, not the few.

Jeremy Corbyn said this about the poem:

It's wonderful to see the proud history of the Durham Miners' Gala represented in this powerful poem. Paul Summers has managed to capture the spirit of the Miners' Gala and its central place in our movement's mission to achieve 'victory for the many, and not the few’.

The film is not just a celebration of the tremendous working-class cultural heritage around mining, as expressed in the banners and the music at the Gala, but also the socialist, co-operative spirit of the women and men from mining communities that is alive and struggling today.

That spirit has arisen recently in other current trade union struggles like the industrial action at McDonald’s, British Airways, and other employers, and in the outraged reaction to other injustices against the working class like the Grenfell tragedy. So there is footage from other campaigns in the film, showing how they are all part of our struggle for economic and political justice, for socialism in Britain and in the whole world.

And most of all the spirit of the miners has arisen in the modern Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. Arise, resist, vote Labour, and struggle for a better world!

The DVD is £5 plus £2 p. and p., and 10% of sales proceeds will go to the Redhills Development Fund. The same applies to the poem, which is available here.

Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for bulk orders or if you'd prefer to pay another way.

Angels and Demons: one must subdue the other
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

Angels and Demons: one must subdue the other

Published in Cultural Commentary

Sean Ledwith reviews Angels and Demons, by Tony McKenna, a collection of essays on artists, writers and politicians written from a historical materialist perspective.

The role of the individual in history has been one of the perennial debates throughout the development of Marxist theory. Marx and Engels in the nineteenth century were keen to dissociate themselves from the ‘great man view of history’ that had characterised much of bourgeois scholarship up to that point. The defining feature of historical materialism as an analytical tool in their hands was to transfer the focus of attention away from the actions and intentions of individuals, and onto the structural forces and relations of production that have combined to create a succession of modes of production across the millennia of human history.

At the same time, as revolutionary activists and not simply disinterested scholars, the founders stressed the ongoing importance of human agency and the capacity of individuals to operate with a degree of choice, albeit within the constraints of these subterranean processes. This fine balance between structure and agency is neatly encapsulated in a celebrated passage from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

Of course, subsequent generations of thinkers, seeking to follow the founders’ example, have not always succeeded in reproducing both elements of this conceptual tension; oscillating at times between the voluntarism associated with Sartre and others, and the subject-less paradigm constructed most intricately by Althusser.

Anyone looking for a modern attempt to recreate the dialectical balance between the individual and wider social forces in the spirit of Marx and Engels should refer to this highly readable collection of essays by Tony McKenna. The author impressively surveys the lives of a number of individuals across the fields of politics, philosophy and the arts who have had a major impact – for good or ill – on human affairs.

SL 1

Nicholas II

McKenna takes his theoretical cue from a passage in Trotsky’s seminal History of the Russian Revolution in which the character of Nicholas II is portrayed as an amalgam of the subjective and objective:

In Trotsky’s account, the personal and the political achieve a harmonious but terrible synthesis, for in the person of the last Tsar is embodied all the decadence, fatality, pettiness, self-deception, brass ignorance, denial and hopelessness of a historical tendency which has entered into an inevitable, mortal freefall. (3)

Developing the template provided by Trotsky for a distinctively Marxist approach to biography, the author persuasively argues that a nuanced version of historical materialism, eschewing both crude determinism and naïve individualism, can creatively identify the strands that link the lives of the one with the many. The personalities he discusses are not reducible to mere abstract cyphers, the personal representatives of mechanical, anonymous historical forces, but rather their art and activity, their interests and individuality, only resonates its full uniqueness and meaning in the context of the historical epoch, and the underlying social and political contradictions which set the basis for it. (6)

As a formulation of the Marxist conception of the role of the individual in history, McKenna here provides a valuable new iteration of the analyses of Marx, Trotsky and others in previous eras.

The author divides his ten subjects into the two categories alluded to in the title. This classification follows a method that in more familiar terms consists of radicals and reactionaries. In the former camp, we find Victor Hugo, Hugo Chavez, Rembrandt, Andrea Dworkin, William Blake and Jeremy Corbyn. The ‘Demons’ team is made up of Christopher Hitchens, Schopenhauer, Hillary Clinton and Trump.

It would be difficult to think of more diverse and anomalous assortment of case studies for McKenna’s thesis that historical materialism can usefully contextualise the personal with the political! However, he deploys with virtuosity a remarkable grasp of the breadth of cultural, economic and political forces at work in the lives of these personalities. Anyone interested in any of the above figures will find their understanding enhanced by McKenna‘s sophisticated delineation of how the respective subject’s ideology was shaped by the dynamics of the age.

The only slight drawback of the author’s selection is that the personalities are not analysed in chronological order. The reader for example can find herself rewinding from Hitchens in the twentieth century to Rembrandt in the seventeenth, and similarly from Dworkin in the twentieth to Blake in the eighteenth. McKenna perceptively suggests the key to explications of individual psychology from a Marxist perceptive should comprehend how major figures mediate most profoundly the most significant contradictions within the capitalist order at different stages in its development. (15)

It might have been preferable, therefore, if each study more evidently reflected a step-change in the operations of the rule of capital from the dawn of the bourgeois revolutions to today’s seemingly remorseless neoliberal hegemony. However, this consideration does not detract from the elegance and power of McKenna’s expositions.

The emphasis on contradictions in an individual personality is the fundamental insight that lies at the heart of McKenna’s methodology. Again, in this aspect he follows in the tradition of some of the best thinkers in the Marxist tradition. Gramsci, in his Prison Notebooks of the 1930s, drew attention to ‘contradictory consciousness’ as one of the symptoms of alienation in the mental framework of every subject living under the role of capital.

Voloshinov, in the previous decade, explored the phenomenon of ‘multi-voicedness’ and the manner in which the consciousness of an individual can simultaneously contain ideological input from a range of sources, some of which may be conflicting. Likewise, the author here contends that the key to unlocking human personality is the way in which the contradictions of the age are manifested in the unique experience of every person. The result of this methodology is a sequence of portraits that fulfils Gramsci’s guidance on how biography in the tradition of historical materialism can produce insights that are superior to its bourgeois counterpart:

They never let you have an immediate, direct, animated sense of the lives of Tom, Dick and Harry. If you are not able to understand real individuals, you are not able to understand what is universal and general.

SL2

Rembrandt, Self-portrait at the age of 63

In the moving chapter on Rembrandt, McKenna elucidates how the painter’s sublime genius lay in his ability to tune into the contradictions of the world’s first bourgeois revolution as the newly born Dutch capitalist state threw off the yoke of the Spanish Empire at the turn of the seventeenth century:

For he channelled this dualism in an art which attains a new depth of individuality and interority, illuminating the flickering shadows of the soul, while at the same time possessing the kind of aesthetic integrity which was able to express the suffering of an age, allowing it to bleed into the backdrop of his paintings. (96)

450px Rembrandt Rembrandt and Saskia in the Scene of the Prodigal Son Google Art Project

McKenna recounts how many of Rembrandt’s portraits of the 1630s, such as ‘The Prodigal Son in the Brothel’, are of the moneyed bourgeoisie whose ‘exuberant political freedoms' (89) are expressed in the lavish and salubrious scenes depicted around the characters. The optimism and self-confidence of an embryonic ruling class that is taking a torch to the decaying carcass of feudalism is almost palpable.

1024px Rembrandt The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp

The greatness of Rembrandt, however, is that the artist notes, amid the surging power of the Dutch bourgeoisie, a sense that its hegemony will be built not on the abolition of exploitation but only a new type of exploitation. Describing the iconic ‘Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholas Tulp’, McKenna draws our attention to the attitude of the scientists looking down on the corpse in front of them: They see him only in terms of an object like any other, to be appropriated, to be carved up; as a means to enhance their own material and intellectual powers. (93)

This picture is conventionally interpreted as representing the humanism and idealism of the scientific revolution of the early modern age. With an appropriate lightness of touch, however, McKenna deploys a Marxist lens to re-imagine it as a portent of the calculated disinterest the capitalist class retains for the millions of subjects who labour in its name.

At no point does the author’s analysis relapse into a crude materialism that might see Rembrandt as the artist of the Dutch bourgeois revolution and little else. McKenna does not lose sight of the fact that the reason the artist remains phenomenally popular is that he addresses anxieties and concerns that continue to exercise the human imagination, and that probably always will.

Rembrandt bue squartato 1655 01

For example, ‘The Slaughtered Ox’ from 1643 contains an enigmatic power that seemingly defies rational explanation. The image of a butchered bovine cadaver in a basement at first would appear to be an unlikely source of fascination. For McKenna, however, the painting brutally reminds us of the material reality of our existence as transient beings in a universe ultimately beyond our comprehension:

Rembrandt is making us aware that, ultimately, this is our destiny – that, each day, life crucifies us that little bit more and that little more slowly, through the sense of loss and suffering we must inevitably accumulate. (102)

If Rembrandt is rightly one of the eponymous angels of the collection, Christopher Hitchens as one of the most famous critics and polemicist of our age falls into the less desirable category. His championing of the calamitous Bush-Blair inspired invasion of Iraq in 2003 is probably the main reason Hitchens was suitably dubbed as a fallen angel in the eyes of many on the radical left. McKenna ultimately concurs with this damning verdict but does not elide over Hitchens’ undoubted qualities as a writer and is generous in acknowledging his subject’s stoical battle against cancer in the twilight of his life:

Hitchens had a wonderful facility with words. His literary flair surpasses that of his idol Orwell, in my view, in terms of its fluidity and grace…even in his later years, the increasingly rotund figure of this patrician journalist was in possession of a certain stoutly courage. (71-72)

Hitchens’ espousal of Western imperialism in his last decade can appear bizarrely incongruous in the light of his previous association with the revolutionary left. As McKenna observes, the most obvious explanation would be that ‘the allure of money and privilege no doubt played its part’. (70) But the author contends that a more productive line of thought is to trace the conflict that raged within Hitchens’ persona throughout his life between two contradictory impulses. On the one hand, the desire to shock the establishment, and on the other, the need to be part of it. In McKenna’s words:

The need to have it both ways, so to say-to be able to indulge the exhilarating frisson and enjoy the moral vitality which are the remits of the freedom-fighter, while simultaneously partaking in the silky confidences of the most famous and powerful; this was the central, elemental contradiction which fissured across Hitchens’ existence. (82)

Perhaps the moral of this particular life is that although contradictions are the essence of the human condition, they do not always play out without resolution. The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks forced Hitchens to decide whether he would decisively take the side of the oppressed or the oppressor. His total failure to comprehend Islamism as a distorted form of resistance to imperial hegemony led him into the welcoming arms of Cheney, Wolfowitz and the rest of the neocon cabal in Washington.

McKenna’s reflective adoption of a Marxist approach to psychology here highlights the advantage of not focusing on our interiority alone; but also perceiving how by events in the external world can force us to confront the contradictions within ourselves. The fiery fiasco of the ‘War on Terror’ forced Hitchens to face the paradoxes of his own existence – and he was found wanting.

Jeremy Corbyn Leader of the Labour Party UK

McKenna’s closing chapter is a timely assessment of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. As the Tory government stumbles through the Brexit morass, the prospect of the Labour Leader walking through the black door of Number 10 is tantalisingly real. In the neatly titled ‘Chronicle of a Coup Foretold’ McKenna predicts that such a scenario would trigger a major crisis of the British state, in which the aspirations of millions of working-class people, long neglected by a venal elite, would be pitched against the centuries-old conservatism of the ruling class. Unlike the previous profiles in the book, McKenna does not detect any deep contradictions in Corbyn’s personality, and the author’s focus is more on a looming rupture in the wider body politic. In fact, it is fair to say that the Labour leader’s apparent lack of hidden agendas – conscious or otherwise – is the root of his remarkable appeal. Corbyn’s lack of complexity and personal ambition is a refreshing change from his recent predecessors in the post:

Jeremy Corbyn is a kind, decent, reasonable man who evinces a sense of faint distaste and aloofness to the more savage and Machiavellian manoeuvrings, which are so much a part of modern politics. (238)

Nevertheless, McKenna shrewdly cautions us that these qualities are eerily reminiscent of Salvador Allende, Chile’s doomed socialist Prime Minister of the early 1970s. Allende believed decency and reason would be enough to restrain the dark forces of military intervention that stood at his side in the last weeks of his administration. By the time he realised they were actually his deadliest enemies, it was too late. If Corbyn is not to suffer a similar fate in the future, the whole labour movement in the UK will need to realise there can be no common ground in the event of a clash between the ‘Angels and Demons’ – one must subdue the other.

Angels and Demons is available here.

Le Maillot Gallois: Tour de France 2018
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

Le Maillot Gallois: Tour de France 2018

Published in Sport

C’est magnifique, Geraint! declares cycling fan Mark Perryman, and calls on Labour to develop a socialist culture policy to encourage popular, grassroots cycling.

Britain took 109 years to achieve its very first Tour de France winner in 2012. And now we can hardly stop winning it, with the single exception of Italy’s Nibali in 2014 (when Chris Froome crashed and was unable to continue) every year since. The French aren’t best pleased mind: ‘Boring, Boring Team Sky’ is one of their less impolite responses.

Each of our winners has been different. Wiggins in 2012 was impeccably English, complete with RAF roundels mod-style on his helmet and a fondness for The Jam (the band, not what we spread on our toast). His victory was immediately followed by the London 2012 Olympics where he also triumphed in the Time Trial, to win a Gold Medal to add to his Yellow Jersey.

Pictured astride a throne at Hampton Court, where the race ended, Bradley with Wiggomania in tow was rampant with the Union Jack enjoying a late Cool Britannia renaissance. It was a moment when most of us thought Wiggo could do no wrong, until we found out via a jiffy bag that maybe he could.    

Then along came Chris Froome, Wiggins’ number two in 2012 who didn’t much fancy playing second fiddle to anyone, least of all Wiggo. Born in Kenya, educated in South Africa, Froome pays (or rather doesn’t pay) his taxes in Monaco. Never mind, he could climb a mountain on a bike like nobody else, never out of his saddle, twig-like arms outstretched with hands ‘on the hoods’ staring into the distance as if the gradient barely existed.

Four wins in five years 2013- 2017, a legend in the making. The idea that in order to be a world-beating sports superstar an athlete needs the ‘personality’ to go with it is an unwelcome product of our celebritified era, but there’s not much doubt it helps. Froome’s achievements dwarf Wiggins but he was never a hit with the great British sporting public in the same way, most of whom don’t have much more than a passing interest in watching cycling. And so his near downfall via the over use of an asthma inhaler didn’t have quite the big hit of Wiggo and his dodgy jiffy bag full of we know not what. All it did was confirm those deep seated suspicions that the superhuman qualities of Grand Tour cyclists aren’t as naturally-produced as they might appear.

And now we have Geraint Thomas. Previously a super-domestique, always happy and willing to help his leader, as the cliché goes – road cycling is an individual sport played by teams. His emergence first to lead Le Tour and finally win it shocked just about everyone, not least himself.

Yes undoubtedly the suspicions linger, cycling will never entirely be rid of these, but Geraint’s is a homespun story of a Cardiff kid who joined his local cycling club, went to a secondary school with superlative sports facilities, and was talent-spotted at an early age. His is a rare ability, that took him first to Olympic glory and then on to the road, grinding out the hundreds of kilometres mainly in the cause of more-celebrated others. He is in this regard the perfect combination of Wiggins’ personality and Froome’s athleticism on a bike.

So are we about to witness ‘Geraintmania’? If back, and in most cases front, pages are anything to go by on the Monday morning after the Champs Élysées triumph the afternoon before, we might like to think so. Handily sandwiched after World Cup 2018, Wimbledon and the British Open, before England’s test series against India and the start of the football season, a British Tour de France win now receives the kind of blanket media coverage that before Wiggins barely existed. But somehow I doubt the scale of any ‘mania’.

Thomas’s backstory, and particularly his Welshness, adds something to the mix, however. He’s more understated than Wiggins, but someone to warm to in a way Froome never quite manages. Yet short of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, it is hard to imagine Thomas will be much in the news in the interim. Despite that, as he revelled in his victory all the media-talk was of how he would inspire others to follow him in the same way he’d been inspired to get on a bike by Le Tour as a kid. 

 This is the cruel myth-making of any sporting triumph. It’s not being a killjoy to point to the social construction of sport, rather it is the only means of understanding how to change participation from sofa-watching to getting off that sofa. 

Cycling in this regard has a lot going for it. It is a means of transport and freedom for children, a way to spend time together as a family, a means to get to work or to do the shopping for adults. And all the while we can dream we are Geraint Thomas.  

Yet each of these opportunities are shaped by the socio-economic circumstances of the world we live in. Fewer children cycle to school than ever before. Safe cycling routes to enjoy for parents and children ambling together on two wheels remain few and far between. Towns and cities are ill-equipped to cope with expanding demand to cycle to work, and we have a rail system that actively deters the carriage of cycles.

Don’t believe me? Visit any other European country and both the much better participation statistics and vastly more positive lived experience of cycling put Britain to shame. Yes there’s been a post-Wiggins increase in cycling but mostly it has been those who have given up one sport, anecdotally marathon-running and golf are often cited, for another.

There’s been next to no overall reversal in ever-declining physical activity participation rates. So well done Geraint, but I’m afraid to change all this its going to be down to another cyclist. Over to you, Jeremy Corbyn!

Thomas Tour Win 2018 s s rev1

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy FootballTheir Maillot Gallois T-shirt is available from here. 

Durham Miners' Gala 2018
Thursday, 28 January 2021 14:19

Durham Miners' Gala 2018

Published in Poetry

Gala Day, Durham Miners

by Jane Burn

At eight-fifteen, the band stands up in regimented lines.
July, before the schools break – the morning lull broken
by the stray parp of tuning notes, loud and sudden
through nets ghosting open windows. It’s a signal
to get up, throw cardigans over nighties, join the exodus
of neighbours slopping feet in slippers, scratching bed hair.
Slovenliness forgiven, this once – right now it means more
to be outside, listening to them play.

CJ1 5206   CJ1 5214

CJ1 5253  CJ1 5260

Dorothy – bitched about me once, with them at thirty-one,
but if I cannot forgive her that, what use as a person am I?
Her Arthur, taken by cancer in less than a year. Marie, last
of three sisters; a street full of women outliving their men.
Sleepy-eyed kids, hurried out of their beds to hear the opening
bars of Abide With Me, see The Banner, tassels of gold and red;
For The People By The People. Your history, I tell my sons.
Your village, see? This is why we don’t forget.

CJ1 5268   CJ1 5333

 

CJ1 5565   CJ1 5589

We were children when we lived through the last of the mines.
Thatcher – strikes, scabs, picket lines; Arthur Scargill
in Barnsley. The Dearne Valley villages – always the backdrop
of pit-heads, men in donkey jackets, orange panels bright among
allotment leeks. The scent of sparking fires – the sharp, oily smell;
powder, staining everything it touched – grimy on the coal man’s
hessian skin, sooting the sacks on his flat-bed truck. Dad, quitting
before it got too late, did not want the blackness settling on his lungs.

CJ1 5801   CJ1 5808

CJ1 5946   CJ1 5947

Wath Main, Wombwell, Hickleton, Manvers – given to nature now,
flat under birds. Nineteen eighty-four. The corridors of our local comp
overrun with cameras from the BBC – kids sticking two fingers up
for the telly. Tracy, from my year at school is missing and so are
her brothers; Darren and Paul have been killed, while scavenging
for slack on Goldthorpe coal-tips. The funeral – playing the schools
dented brass, my tongue dried up on the mouthpiece, metallic
with tears and tin. Brothers don’t die – they do not die beneath

embankments of smother and soot before they are sixteen, bursting
their lungs under slag; their fathers fingers digging through the scree,
nails split, skin torn. Blood and choke. The drummer strikes the skin
of the bass drum. A sonic boom, as if Gabriel himself is smiting
the roofs of our estate. The troop moves down the hill – people,
magnetised like iron filings follow the flag; dwindling to a last
earful of airborne notes, clear as crystal tears. Left behind,
we swallow the thick in our throats; faces lit by zealot’s blaze.

There is nothing left. Stranded here and there a winding mechanism;
giant upturned bogie wheels framed against the sky. Beamish tunnel
to gawp at – to remind us of kiddies pulling up half-ton coal tubs
in the dark; their lives lit by the whim of a candle's flame.   

Gala Day, Durham Miners was previously published by Proletarian Poetry and is part of Jane's pamphlet, Fat Around The Middle.

All photos of Gala Day 2018 by Carl Joyce, www.carljoyce.com

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