POET BLOGGERS 2018: Hope Springs

After a lengthy period of not writing any poetry at all, I was delighted to be ambushed late last summer by several poems – or rather opening salvoes from them – more or less simultaneously. I was in Paris, sitting on an accommodating bollard facing the left portal of Notre Dame waiting for the family to emerge from Notre Dame Cathedral. Out of habit I had my notebook with me and lacking any other source of words, I was leafing through the dusty pages when the various figures, sacred and profane, crammed beneath the triangular gable above the double doors begun to speak to me. Resistant after years of firm if undogmatic unbelief (if an absence of an ideology can be said to be undogmatic), there was no sense of my being, somewhat late in the day, washed in the blood of the lamb. But it took few moments before I recognised the process as being the first few stammers of a poem in the making. So down went the hesitant utterances and, very gratifyingly, the old routine got under way again. This modest skirmish was repeated several times as, day-by-day, we made our way around the city. A Gare d’Orsay poem is still on the blocks, as is an autobiographical piece about my days and nights wandering the Boulevard St Michel as a too-cool-to-live 18-year-old dumped for summer on a posh family living in decidedly un-bohemian Neuilly.

What follows is the product of a series of unconnected health checks that took up the remainder of the summer holiday after our return from Paris. Passing over weeks through profound anxiety into a state of strangely benign indifference, I pondered the nature of hope and from these reflections the poem below emerged, its current form only taking shape hours before posting it to these pages.

HOPE SPRINGS

HOPE SPRINGS

When Pandora opened the lid of the box, hope alone
in quiet defiance hid beneath the rim. And then grown bolder
she tucked in her shabby lot with the dust and destruction
and blew out into the world.

I met her in a strip-lit corridor. She looked pale –
more patient than doctor. Strange that here between
the hand-wash stations and the drug cupboards
hope should look so hollow-eyed.
The lights too harsh? Or the expectations too high?

Hope was one before me in the supermarket queue.
So sad her choices, scattered like bewildered strangers
finding themselves unaccountably in the same place.
Quick-fix items for a moment’s solace, sugar-heavy,
full of shallow promises. And that newspaper,
the pauper’s almanac, with what and who
and where and why folded like open secrets
into its temporary sheets.

Sometimes it seems that hope is a vapour
caught inside my clothes. I catch its tang as old-time
barroom fag smoke, a miasma I trail in spite of myself.
So I stand upwind of stiff breezes, or where
the pavement airshaft lifts it inside cleansing steam
past the balconies, past the windows, past the rooftops.

But for others it’s like some weird cologne;
they turn as I pass and follow in my slipstream.
We fashion, at such times, a chain of dreamtime links,
rattling our reckless certainty through the halls and corridors,
the bedrooms and the cloisters, the wards and cells,
the arrival and departure lounges.

Hope as phantom, hope as hive-mind drone, hope as marsh-gas…
Hope is, in truth, a tumour close to the heart, inaccessible
to the stoical surgeons with their probes and spatulas.
It feeds at the fuse-point of the white and red, the coming in
and the passing out. And even when it seems as though
for you a night sky like no other folds down your light into itself
as if the stars themselves are going out, hope will metastasise.
It animates electrolytes; it floods your wilderness of roots and shoots:
it melts the filaments of heartbreak and despair.
Hope has you at your open window, watching the black smoke rising
in spite of the rain. Hope has you at the garden gate
whilst beyond they’re beating down the bracken.

Hope has you, wedged between your shrinking bones,
wrapped inside the great stiff leaves that are now your skin,
and you still vigilant for the flapping door, the ticket-of-leave
and the steady light beyond.

HOPE SPRINGS out loud:

 

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THE REVIVAL TOUR – POET BLOGGERS 2018

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I’m delighted to be supporting actively the Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer blogger poet Revival Tour. Everything’s explained by my old friend and fellow contributor Dave Bonta so I shall simply post accordingly.

Starting with a double header. First, a straight poem.  At the conclusion of our study of ‘King Lear’, my English teacher, the poet Brian Merrikin Hill, posed to our 6th Form  English class a question. Given the extremities of suffering through which Lear had to pass in order to approach that most fundamental of understandings, what it is to be a human being, which of the two polarised existential states would you select: that of the wise but unhappy Socrates or that of the ignorant but untroubled pig

AFTER READING ‘KING LEAR’

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
SOCRATES

“What would you rather be?”
our teacher asked us.
“Socrates, wise but unhappy,
or happy but ignorant pig?”

The gum-chewing rockers
and pony club belles all opted
for pig (although ‘poodle’
was mooted by Katie).

Philosopher poet, I straddled
the moment, caught between
hope and despair. But of course
I chose Socrates – modish

as ever – and smugly I carried
the weight of my burden
into the glorious mess of
my future. Now, with a view

from the hilltop of more hills
but fewer and steeper, it’s time
to take stock. Is Socrates
wiser or simply unhappy?

Wisdom or rubies? The choice
academic so late in the game.
Back then I was clothed
in such confident motley –

the badges, the denim, the blue
shaded lenses (the silk and
the hide and the wool of
conformity). Now I am closer

to naked than ever – poor,
bare and forked and alone
on this hilltop. But in between
one breath and another,

the gap between heartbeats,
I seem to be happy, here
where the pig hunts for truffles
and Socrates dreams.

Several years ago, as an idle exercise in Larkin-esque parody, I wrote a poem called IN PARENTHESES. It rolled around in the back of an e-drawer somewhere ever after until, in search of  potential song lyrics out of rhymed poems, I dug it out and sent it to my musical oppo Steve Moorby for possible addition to the rapidly accumulating body of songs we were writing together for our acoustic/electric trio Moorby Jones…

IN PARENTHESES
(Words: Dick Jones / Music: Steve Moorby)

From the fastness of our dreams
where no clouds obscure the view,
we put aside our petty schemes
and envy deeds that others do.

Is there more to life than this?
we ask at break of every day.
The morning call, the goodnight kiss,
the foot upon the primrose way?

Safe or sorry, choice is clear:
not pig in sty but Socrates.
Or yield to ignorance and fear,
and live life in parentheses.

Continue reading

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There is much current publicity about mental health and the difficulties experienced both by those struggling with various deeply troubling conditions and those practitioners attempting with difficulty to establish parity of status for their problems alongside issues of physical health. Chronic anxiety and depression, so devastatingly real for those afflicted, are still seen as having little substance or gravity by so many unaffected by such extremity. Whilst in the first instance sympathy may be expressed and with it comfort, the obsessive persistence of both states of mind in the sufferer rapidly exhausts the patience of those closest to them. “We all feel anxious, we all feel depressed”, the kind but baffled partner, family member, friend says in exasperation, “but we get a grip and we carry on so get over it”. Which robust exhortation to the debilitated, demotivated, directionless subject only serves to drive them deeper down the dark, narrow corridor into complete isolation within the prison of the damaged self. And then where is there to go but even deeper?

Yes, we do all feel anxious and we do all feel depressed and these incidences are part of life’s rich and complex tapestry. Without movement across that wide spectrum between ecstasy and despair, no breadth of experience, acquisition of empirical knowledge and achievement of wisdom can be available to us. Anxiety can alert us to danger; it activates adrenaline and speeds up our capacity for swift intuition and accelerated thought. And depression is an inevitable consequence of the confounding of hope and the quenching of optimism. But the momentum of external events and our internal responses shift us out of decline and back into positive action.

Across the centuries writers, artists and composers have attempted to communicate through journals, letters, poems, paintings figurative and abstract and musical works simple and sophisticated something of the extremes of pain and anguish being experienced. But whilst there may be recognition by the reader, the spectator, the listener of the general quality and character of the pain, unless s/he has gone the distance him/herself the utter desolation that inspired the output will never transcend the mere aesthetic appreciation that will be the response.

Except for a two or three-year period in childhood, I had had no experience of the coruscating effects of acute anxiety and its corollary disabling depression. And then in my early 60s I was diagnosed first with the auto-immune condition sarcoidosis and then with prostate cancer. Apart from surgery for the cancer shortly after diagnosis, neither condition has actually impacted on my general physical well-being. But that dual confrontation with the potential for very significant degradation in my quality of life with the one and death with the other extinguished entirely in me that immortality gene that has us contemplating mortality as an issue that only others have to face. And the tsunami of anxiety that followed that extinction overwhelmed me completely. When it was at its most severe, I was entirely helpless: no amount of clear, measured, constantly repeated reasoning made the slightest difference. This stultifying impotence caught me completely unprepared and at its worse it unravelled me completely. Everything around me, immediate and removed, personal and functional – my family, my relationships, my work, my recreation – was blighted by the anxiety and during the worst of the bouts I experienced the world through a dark veil, barely able to manage the simplest of procedural tasks and falling into periods of deep depression. There were sequences of time within which the anxiety lifted, but always its shadow dogged me and I was increasingly conscious of the inevitability of its return.

I had counselling and two of my counsellors (amongst a succession of nodding-dog professional listeners whose sole contribution to each expensive session was to ask, “And how did that make you feel?”) helped me identify aspects of my early family life to which could be attributed sources for underlying neurosis and stress. But the avowedly non-participatory policy of all counselling rendered such relative progress slow at best and thus undeveloped and inconclusive in the long term. Finally I became frustrated with the resolute refusal of either of these very able, compassionate women to commit to any data evaluation or confirmation or denial of presumptions that I advanced in respect of my own self-analysis. after such a massive investment of time and emotional energy, I shan’t seek counselling again.

My situation now is somewhat more stable. I am still plagued by health anxieties, but the periods of absolute helplessness are fewer and marginally more negotiable whilst in place. I have never sought healing for what I know to be a profoundly complex and deeply-rooted condition. My intentions for the counselling were always directed at developing personal understanding and securing management so that my quality of life (and that of those most immediately affected by my times of incapacity) could be brought into some equilibrium.

So the battle is far from over and even if the war can’t be won, I’m still powerfully motivated to continue the process of winning more of the higher ground. Here’s how I see my interests, and by extension the interests of anyone else similarly afflicted, being served. There exist many anxiety/depression self-help groups across the United Kingdom and I’m sure that many of them provide for their participants very beneficially. But what I haven’t come across in my fairly extensive research is the sort of internal mutual aid structure that has been so effective in groups exploring the shared treatment of addictions, the prime example of which is Alcoholics Anonymous. Anxiety is an addiction with much of its power over the addict drawn from his/her obsessive compulsions. As with alcoholism, there is no cure for compulsive anxiety, but with the combination of one-to-one and whole group support for the sufferer at the core of the management process, the strength to resist obsession and find strategies to hold it at bay can be located. Again as with alcoholism, a degree of stigmatisation is associated with all mental health problems, particularly amongst men, whose readiness both to acknowledge and then discuss openly their difficulties can be a serious problem.

So I would be very interested in what might be offered to the anxiety obsessive by a self-help set-up that utilised the anonymity element of AA and similar organisations, ensuring that the participant could enter into and continue the process of treatment as an individual subject to no hierarchy and accountable only to the group. I’m no expert in this field; I have no medical qualifications or experience; I simply know what it feels like to be at the mercy at times of overwhelming anxiety. So I wonder if any of those for whom my experiences parallel their own might share the notion of an ‘Anxiety Unanimous’ grouping and see it as providing a forum for sharing and through it treatment towards that peace of mind that we all crave.

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LEST WE FORGET # 7.

A FIELD IN PASSCHENDAELE

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THE LIMO PARKED OUT FRONT..!

SYSIPHUS

Note alternative spelling…

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NO HOME BUT THE STRUGGLE…

NO HOME BUT THE STRUGGLE

Solomon Reményi: 1919 – 2017

You tread the edge
of this bright world
gingerly, unsteadily as if
for you it lay in shadow.

Old red heat grown dull
in the world still glows
in you: a bust of Uncle Joe
watches you dine

(cold commons in the kitchen
with the morning news) watched
by that photograph in passe-partout –
the comrades in the trenches

outside Burgos, 1936, all fags
and grins and black and white
bandannas. The flat’s upstairs –
steeper every month – above

an Asian minimart. Great confusion
yesterday when you asked
in early morning stupor
(stunned by a dream of Ronnie Gold

drunk in an alley after Cable Street)
for the long-gone Daily Worker.
Consternation too when leaning
on stick and counter you recalled

out loud young Harry Patchett who,
in September ’39, sung the Internationale
to his passengers as he clipped
their tickets on the 131

to Dalston Junction. Poor Salim –
too polite to interrupt – smiling
towards the shelves of catfood
planning reorientation round

a centralised display. Competition’s fierce
with Tesco Express by the roundabout.
Belts to be tightened, profits trimmed
this fiscal year. Family first, family first.

For you too, once, it was
family first: both grandparents
left the ghetto in a lorry –
Lodz had become too crowded

and they needed workers
somewhere east of the city.
Three years on you learned
the truth. You stood outside

The Greyhound by Whitechapel
Underground, the letter in your hand,
and wept without a sound;
wept not just for a photograph

of Papi and Baba, stiff and grim
in some Carpathian valley,
but for a sea that parted
once again, but a different sea

a red, unfathomable tide in flood,
now and forever. You wept without
a sound, even as Whitechapel fell
about your ears in 1944.

And you’re weeping now
with a squeezy bottle of
Domestos in your hand,
weeping for another world

that never really wobbled out
of night and into dawn: Uncle Joe,
your Catalonian comrades,
Harry Patchett, Ronnie Gold,

the red blood of the Party
beating deep and strong,
all gone, all gone to ashes.
Salim looks around for his mother.

What to do? He seems always
so sad, this solitary pensioner
who drops his coins, forgets
to pay his bills. “And where”,

his angry mother whispers,
“are his sons? Do they
not care that he’s shaving
in cold water? What

of his church? Can they not
take him in?” They help him
to the door. He smells of piss.
They shake their heads

and carry out the fruit and veg.
Such times with fortune hostage
to the flagship enterprises. What
a world, such changes, revolution

turning on a dollar dropped.
Solly under the dawn street light,
sodium shadows falling long
and ragged over the paving stones,

the unbending curb. What
a world, implacable, unchanging.
Solly treads the edge
of this dark world unsteadily.

Cable Street: An East London street in which in 1936 an epic battle was fought by Jews, Socialists, Communists & anti-fascists against Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts – the British Union of Fascists – who were attempting to march through the Jewish quarter of the East End.

The Daily Worker: The old Communist Party of Great Britain newspaper. Morphed into the Morning Star, which still publishes weekly. 

Whitechapel Underground: A subway station in the heart of the East End, in an area subject to massive bomb damage.

***

LEAVING THE LEFT
For the nascent rebel between the wars, it was so much easier: mass unemployment, a shooting war against fascism, a Soviet Union, which, when caught by the light at a certain angle, might still be seen as a brave experiment, and a fully fledged class struggle complete with a noble proletariat and an effete ruling class. Anyone with half a mind and half a heart followed la bandiera rossa.

But for the noble prole, the reality was closer to the bone. The practical manifestation of class division and capitalism red in tooth and claw was starkly evident in the slums that scarred every major city.  Avenues upon which to escape from poverty and servitude were few and sparsely populated. Aspirations to social or financial betterment were dream scenarios fostered by the burgeoning film and advertising industries.
For the second time in one century the universal trauma of a global conflict wrought profound social, political and cultural change. Following the revelations of the Moscow Trials and the further excesses of Stalinism and of the Holocaust the nihilistic cynicism at the heart of the two great doctrinaire ideologies, Communism and Fascism, was exposed and their popular powerbase dissolved. The immediate post war years saw a reorientation on the Left with increased factionalism within its revolutionary wing and a broadening of belief and function within social democracy. In Britain the Labour Party absorbed over time a substantial number of previously zealous Marxists whose allegiance was now to a more evolutionary, consensus view of Socialism. The ideological journey for some of these erstwhile activists was, however, significantly more extreme, involving not only a complete recantation of previous belief but an enthusiastic embracing of its polar opposite.

Before Jeremy Corbyn blew a little heat back into the embers, one of our leading playwrights, David Edgar, wrote a fascinating account in The Guardian of this and subsequent schisms within the far Left. Seeking to account for the recurring phenomenon of political poachers turning into gamekeepers almost overnight (which he describes as the politics of defection), he makes particular reference to the post-1968 era. It was, he relates, a disorientating time during which, as the ‘70s progressed through ideological disillusionment and despair, many key figures of ‘the revolution’ on both sides of the Atlantic crossed the intervening territory between left and right in a few mighty strides. He cites in the United States Jerry Rubin, Eldridge Cleaver, David Horowitz and P.J. O’Rourke and in Britain Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and erstwhile Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

He attributes to many of them what he calls Kronstadt moments (‘Kronstadt’ referring to the brutal Bolshevik suppression of a post-revolutionary sailors’ revolt in the St Petersburg port of the same name.) These ‘moments’ have two principle causes, he believes. In the first instance individuals were motivated by their experience of far-left organisations: their authoritarianism and manipulation, their contempt for allies as “useful idiots”, their insistence that the end justifies the means and that deceit is a class duty, their refusal to take anything anyone else says at face value (dismissing disagreement as cowardice or class treachery) and, most of all, their dismissal as “bourgeois” of the very ideals that draw people to the left in the first place. He quotes poet and socialist activist of the ‘30s and ‘40s Stephen Spender: (T)he communist, having joined the party, has to castrate himself of the reasons which made him one.

But a Kronstadt moment may well arise from another source, a species of purblind naivety. Hard enough to be fooled by the party, he writes; even harder to accept that you deluded yourself into believing that the poor are, by virtue of their poverty, uniquely saintly or strong. No surprise that this realisation turns into a sense of personal betrayal, which turns outwards into blame. (And for ‘poor’, of course, read ‘black’ or ‘female’.) This appalled realisation, this sense of betrayal compounding an antithetical reaction to the Left’s authoritarianism and manipulation might well help to account for the magnitude of spectrum shift managed by some of the renegades. Emancipatory ideals were what drew them to Socialism in the first place – a vision of a just world within a new social structure – and the stifling of the ideals by the Left’s suffocating orthodoxy and the evaporation of the romantic vision in the face of banal reality unravelled dreams and broke hearts.

David Edgar quotes Robert Frost: I never dared to be radical when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old. Somehow I seem to have avoided a Kronstadt moment in those turbulent decades since 1968.  My Left always eschewed dogma and the dead hand of prescriptive orthodoxy. Whilst on the demos of the ‘60s others were marching grim faced and shoulder-to-shoulder beneath the hammer-and-sickle with the Trots, I was running wild beneath the black flags of the anarchists. Too middle class to do much more than bellow surreal slogans at sceptical onlookers, we proclaimed D.H. Lawrence’s ethic of making a revolution for fun. For us the notion of revolutionary process and product were indissoluble. And since we wanted a world in which love was the law, the cynical adherence to the contradictory principle of ends justifying means was incomprehensible. As for being driven forward by a touching faith in a noble proletariat waiting for the watch fires to go up before seizing the means of production, we knew all along that anarchism was a bottom-to-top hearts and mind job.

So whilst I might have woken up one morning to the realisation that love and fellowship were not immediately at hand and the bad capitalists were still kings of the castle, no Kronstadt moment laid me low. Wishy-washy, unstructured, unscientific, naïve and millennial, yes. But I’ve always favoured Emma Goldman – If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution – over Lenin – It is true that liberty is precious: so precious that it must be rationed. So I’m staying put over here.

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NO HOME BUT THE STRUGGLE

Solomon Reményi: 1919 – 2017

You tread the edge
of this bright world
gingerly, unsteadily as if
for you it lay in shadow.

Old red heat grown dull
in the world still glows
in you: a bust of Uncle Joe
watches you dine

(cold commons in the kitchen
with the morning news) watched
by that photograph in passe-partout –
the comrades in the trenches

outside Burgos, 1936, all fags
and grins and black and white
bandannas. The flat’s upstairs –
steeper every month – above

an Asian minimart. Great confusion
yesterday when you asked
in early morning stupor
(stunned by a dream of Ronnie Gold

drunk in an alley after Cable Street)
for the long-gone Daily Worker.
Consternation too when leaning
on stick and counter you recalled

out loud young Harry Patchett who,
in September ’39, sung the Internationale
to his passengers as he clipped
their tickets on the 131

to Dalston Junction. Poor Salim –
too polite to interrupt – smiling
towards the shelves of catfood
planning reorientation round

a centralised display. Competition’s fierce
with Tesco Express by the roundabout.
Belts to be tightened, profits trimmed
this fiscal year. Family first, family first.

For you too, once, it was
family first: both grandparents
left the ghetto in a lorry –
Lodz had become too crowded

and they needed workers
somewhere east of the city.
Three years on you learned
the truth. You stood outside

The Greyhound by Whitechapel
Underground, the letter in your hand,
and wept without a sound;
wept not just for a photograph

of Papi and Baba, stiff and grim
in some Carpathian valley,
but for a sea that parted
once again, but a different sea

a red, unfathomable tide in flood,
now and forever. You wept without
a sound, even as Whitechapel fell
about your ears in 1944.

And you’re weeping now
with a squeezy bottle of
Domestos in your hand,
weeping for another world

that never really wobbled out
of night and into dawn: Uncle Joe,
your Catalonian comrades,
Harry Patchett, Ronnie Gold,

the red blood of the Party
beating deep and strong,
all gone, all gone to ashes.
Salim looks around for his mother.

What to do? He seems always
so sad, this solitary pensioner
who drops his coins, forgets
to pay his bills. “And where”,

his angry mother whispers,
“are his sons? Do they
not care that he’s shaving
in cold water? What

of his church? Can they not
take him in?” They help him
to the door. He smells of piss.
They shake their heads

and carry out the fruit and veg.
Such times with fortune hostage
to the flagship enterprises. What
a world, such changes, revolution

turning on a dollar dropped.
Solly under the dawn street light,
sodium shadows falling long
and ragged over the paving stones,

the unbending curb. What
a world, implacable, unchanging.
Solly treads the edge
of this dark world unsteadily.

Cable Street: An East London street in which in 1936 an epic battle was fought by Jews, Socialists, Communists & anti-fascists against Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts – the British Union of Fascists – who were attempting to march through the Jewish quarter of the East End.

The Daily Worker: The old Communist Party of Great Britain daily, long ago morphed into the Morning Star, which now publishes weekly.

Whitechapel Underground: A subway station in the heart of the East End, in an area subject to massive bomb damage.

:: :: ::

LEAVING THE LEFT

For the nascent rebel between the wars, it was so much easier: mass unemployment, a shooting war against fascism, a Soviet Union, which, when caught by the light at a certain angle, might still be seen as a brave experiment, and a fully fledged class struggle complete with a noble proletariat and an effete ruling class. Anyone with half a mind and half a heart followed la bandiera rossa.

But for the noble prole, the reality was closer to the bone. The practical manifestation of class division and capitalism red in tooth and claw was starkly evident in the slums that scarred every major city.  Avenues upon which to escape from poverty and servitude were few and sparsely populated. Aspirations to social or financial betterment were dream scenarios fostered by the burgeoning film and advertising industries.

For the second time in one century the universal trauma of a global conflict wrought profound social, political and cultural change. Following the revelations of the Moscow Trials and the further excesses of Stalinism and of the Holocaust the nihilistic cynicism at the heart of the two great doctrinaire ideologies, Communism and Fascism, was exposed and their popular powerbase dissolved. The immediate post war years saw a reorientation on the Left with increased factionalism within its revolutionary wing and a broadening of belief and function within social democracy. In Britain the Labour Party absorbed over time a substantial number of previously zealous Marxists whose allegiance was now to a more evolutionary, consensus view of Socialism. The ideological journey for some of these erstwhile activists was, however, significantly more extreme, involving not only a complete recantation of previous belief but an enthusiastic embracing of its polar opposite.

Before Jeremy Corbyn blew a little heat back into the embers, one of our leading playwrights, David Edgar, wrote a fascinating account in The Guardian of this and subsequent schisms within the far Left. Seeking to account for the recurring phenomenon of political poachers turning into gamekeepers almost overnight (which he describes as the politics of defection), he makes particular reference to the post-1968 era. It was, he relates, a disorientating time during which, as the ‘70s progressed through ideological disillusionment and despair, many key figures of ‘the revolution’ on both sides of the Atlantic crossed the intervening territory between left and right in a few mighty strides. He cites in the United States Jerry Rubin, Eldridge Cleaver, David Horowitz and P.J. O’Rourke and in Britain Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and erstwhile Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. ny of them what he calls Kronstadt moments (‘Kronstadt’ referring to the brutal Bolshevik suppression of a post-revolutionary sailors’ revolt in the St Petersburg port of the same name.) These ‘moments’ have two principle causes, he believes. In the first instance individuals were motivated by their experience of far-left organisations: their authoritarianism and manipulation, their contempt for allies as “useful idiots”, their insistence that the end justifies the means and that deceit is a class duty, their refusal to take anything anyone else says at face value (dismissing disagreement as cowardice or class treachery) and, most of all, their dismissal as “bourgeois” of the very ideals that draw people to the left in the first place. He quotes poet and socialist activist of the ‘30s and ‘40s Stephen Spender: (T)he communist, having joined the party, has to castrate himself of the reasons which made him one.

But a Kronstadt moment may well arise from another source, a species of purblind naivety. Hard enough to be fooled by the party, he writes; even harder to accept that you deluded yourself into believing that the poor are, by virtue of their poverty, uniquely saintly or strong. No surprise that this realisation turns into a sense of personal betrayal, which turns outwards into blame. (And for ‘poor’, of course, read ‘black’ or ‘female’.) This appalled realisation, this sense of betrayal compounding an antithetical reaction to the Left’s authoritarianism and manipulation might well help to account for the magnitude of spectrum shift managed by some of the renegades. Emancipatory ideals were what drew them to Socialism in the first place – a vision of a just world within a new social structure – and the stifling of the ideals by the Left’s suffocating orthodoxy and the evaporation of the romantic vision in the face of banal reality unravelled dreams and broke hearts.

David Edgar quotes Robert Frost: I never dared to be radical when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old. Somehow I seem to have avoided a Kronstadt moment in those turbulent decades since 1968.  My Left always eschewed dogma and the dead hand of prescriptive orthodoxy. Whilst on the demos of the ‘60s others were marching grim faced and shoulder-to-shoulder beneath the hammer-and-sickle with the Trots, I was running wild beneath the black flags of the anarchists. Too middle class to do much more than bellow surreal slogans at sceptical onlookers, we proclaimed D.H. Lawrence’s ethic of making a revolution for fun. For us the notion of revolutionary process and product were indissoluble. And since we wanted a world in which love was the law, the cynical adherence to the contradictory principle of ends justifying means was incomprehensible. As for being driven forward by a touching faith in a noble proletariat waiting for the watch fires to go up before seizing the means of production, we knew all along that anarchism was a bottom-to-top hearts and mind job.

So whilst I might have woken up one morning to the realisation that love and fellowship were not immediately at hand and the bad capitalists were still kings of the castle, no Kronstadt moment laid me low. Wishy-washy, unstructured, unscientific, naïve and millennial, yes. But I’ve always favoured Emma Goldman – If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution – over Lenin – It is true that liberty is precious: so precious that it must be rationed. So I’m staying put over here.

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