“Capitalism has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities. Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”
Karl Marx was 195 on May 5th last year, and wrote these words albeit using the word ‘bourgeoisie’ instead of capitalism. John Lanchester used this trick when quoting Marx to show how prescient he was in describing the structure of capitalism and the way in which it changes the landscape (I sometimes think that capitalists understand Marx better than Marxists).
Marx’s partner-in-alms, Engels wrote of Manchester saying, “The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person [i.e. the bourgeoisie] may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people’s quarter or even with workers.” And London of course, is one of the oldest capitalist cities and was built and continues to be built for this purpose, as this promotional video shows.
(this is not a spoof by the way, and the company went on to withdraw it)
I love London; it is a far better place to visit than when I first lived there twenty years ago. It is cleaner, friendlier, and more interesting especially in terms of culture (although this has come at a cost for the regions). But the expanse of inequality, both inside the city, and between it and the rest of the country, is very damaging. Many British citizens, soon to be voters, have very negative views on London(ites); they don’t see it as a driver of the UK economy, but one that sucks the life out of the rest of it.
In Rishi Dastidar’s poem Diagnosis: Londonism, this problem is personified in the apocryphal tone of the narrator, who claims ‘you drones, we are not sick nor quivering‘. Our protagonist is anything but a Marxist; he may well be the character John Yount, the bullish investment banker who turns poacher, in Lanchester’s satirical novel of London, Capital or our aspirant developer from the video. And I know that Rishi originally had a newspaper columnist in mind.
But I would like think this is the voice of Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor. Because I think Rishi uses such wonderfully satirical language to extend the pomposity and arrogance of such a man with ‘panjandrum in his glass and steel lair‘ believes London is where, ‘the jobs are rich, filling and bountiful/the inflation is flat and neglible‘. And how does they know these ‘facts’? ‘Because they come from the gleaming technocrats‘.
In a stretch of optimism, Rishi draws on another great satirical figure to save the day; from Voltaire’s novel Candide – he calls for the fantastically optimistic Dr Pangloss: ‘you might need to extend your rounds.’ However, our narrator is beyond optimism, beyond delusion in fact, for how do you remedy this view from London? ‘What must we know of life beyond zone 6?/It is a fine rumour, but does not exist.‘
Rishi Dastidar is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and a fellow of The Complete Works. A runner-up in the 2011 Cardiff International Poetry Competition, and the 2014 Troubadour International Poetry Competition, his work has most recently featured in 2014’s Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe). He is also currently part of The Rialto/Poetry School’s editorial development programme.
(a/k/a Paging Dr Pangloss, you might need to extend your rounds)
The panjandrum in his glass and steel lair
scans the wealth flowing across the river,
pulls up his chalkstripe pantaloons to declare:
you drones, we are not sick nor quivering.
The jobs are rich, filling and bountiful;
the inflation is flat and negligible,
the environment pleasingly perishable –
this economic model is impregnable.
I know this because the bankers tell me so;
the politicians agree, then crow –
and my shoe leather is too precious
to walk beyond the green belt that chokes us.
I cannot help that I know more than you,
that my facts will always beat your facts,
because they come from the gleaming technocrats,
the new look, new establishment crew.
Join me in celebrating this urban supremacy!
Embrace this rationalism so filigree!
What must we know of life beyond zone 6?
It is a fine rumour, but does not exist.