A Poetic Coupling of the Communist Manifesto by Peter Raynard (with Karl Marx)
Counting in at around 12,000 words, can there be a more influential book with so relatively few words, than the Communist Manifesto? Today (21st February, 2018) is said to be the 170th anniversary of its publication. Written in a six-week rush, after the Communist League imposed a deadline on Marx, its take up has been phenomenal and its relevance remains today, if not more so.
Much is planned to mark the occasion, especially as it is also the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth on May 5th. I have read the Manifesto a number of times over the years. However, as a poet, I hadn’t given it much thought in my writing until I was introduced to a poetic form ‘coupling’, devised by the poet Karen McCarthy Woolf. Coupling is a line by line poetic response (that includes rhyme, repetition, and assonance) to an existing text; it can be applied to any text but I think works very well with political writing, either as a way of making it relevant to today’s readers, or as a (satirical) polemic against it. In writing a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto I took the former approach but with a critical eye. The book will be published in May in time for the 200th anniversary. Below is my coupling of the infamous ‘preface’ of the book, as well as Marx’s ten ‘commandments’ of communism.
“In accordance with my state of mind at the time lyrical poetry was bound to be my first subject, at least the most pleasant and immediate one….Poetry however, could be and had to be only an accompaniment; I had to study law and above all felt the urge to wrestle with philosophy.” [Marx’s letter to his Father, November 1837]
A spectre is haunting Europe
— the spectre of communism
that loose blanket in need of tucking in
All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre
this unholy spectre come to remove the opium and Xanax flow from the ennui of its existents
Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Pope and President, Merkel Macron, autoimmune free radicals of capitalism, each playing I spy with my belittling eye
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power?
Karl saw a gap in the market before the market had been fully formed
Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism
no-one likes us, no-one likes us, no-one likes us, we don’t care, we are commies, new-born commies, we are commies from over there
against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
we are coming with sickles and fists, hammers and molotovs, balaclavas and masks, & pen and paper (just in case)
Two things result from this fact:
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power
albeit a power with a crackly track record of misuse, one dictatored by substance abuse
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world
come out and tell it how it is FFS, it has been 170 years but it’s never too late!
publish their views, their aims, their tendencies,
they tend to hang to the left, last I heard, but added ingredients can make it absurd
and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself
ring a ring a roses you pocketful of posers, atishoo, atishoo, we will knock off your crown
To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London
to mark the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, to honour his will, to update his worth
and sketched the following manifesto
give him a deadline and he’ll give you a tract, the theory, the practice, revolutionary acts
to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages
& Bakunin translated it into Russian, and we all know how that turned out
Marx’s Ten Commandments of Communism
…………..in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable
behold, the secular ten commandments, scribed in the original Manifest der kommunistischen Partei
- Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purpose
I suggest we begin with cutting the hedge funds, the casino capitalism, the prospecting close your eyes and pick a card path to prosperity
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax
in the heated climate of today’s reprobates, they’ll not be much need for public debate
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance
can I keep my granddad’s watch, it’s broken, it’s worthless, it means a lot?
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels
there’ll be no more capital flight, those runways closed at midnight
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly
credit where credit is due, an economy not founded on a global debt of $233 trillion, phew!
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State
yes traveller I’m just putting you through, can you believe it, no trains overdue
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State
of factories, mere metal filings remain, big data now is the name of the game
the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan
I sat upon the shore/ Fishing, with the arid plain behind me/ Shall I at least set my lands in order (TSE)
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture
you might need a little marketing advice, industrial armies doesn’t sound nice
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country
the green with the grey, cosmopolitan hue, no borders, no hoarders, no get in the queue
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.
with child labour/girls denied education/born into sex work we mustn’t forget this is not done-and-dusted, those wheels have not come off yet, though they may be a little rusted
Marx’s Final Words
The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains
With links made of debt, disease, war, racism, sexism, capitalism, and more
They have a world to win
and win it they will, for as Prometheus was Bound to say, ‘defy power which seems omnipotent’
Working Men of All Countries, Unite
and women as well, and all those between
Peter Raynard is the editor of Proletarian Poetry: poems of working class lives (www.proletarianpoetry.com), which has featured over 130 poems. He has been widely published and his debut collection Precarious was published by Smokestack Books in April 2018. His poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto was published by Culture Matters in May, 2018. His third book of poetry, Manland will be published by Nine Arches Press in July 2022.