Month: February 2018

The Communist Manifesto: a poetic coupling by Peter Raynard

The following appeared on the brilliant Culture Matters site, edited by Mike Quille. The site is a great source and resource of working class and socialist culture.

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]

karl marx ting

image by Sam Raynard

PREFACE

A spectre is haunting Europe
innit though

— 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

  1. 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 will be published by Smokestack Books in April 2018. His poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto will be published by Culture Matters in May, 2018. He is also a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a poetry collective set up by the poet Malika Booker.

 

The Shop-Floor Gospel by Jane Commane

The Big Clear Up Begins After Glastonbury 2009At the end of the Reading Festival when all of the punters have gone home, the site is a wreckage; a teenage detritus of (un)broken tents, sick-strewn sleeping bags, cans, cardboard, and many other unmentionables. What is left is gathered up by volunteers, some of it is donated to charities (one year, tents were given to refugees in Calais), the rest recycled and landfilled. I think of this as a metaphor for how capitalism leaves places when it’s done. A factory or a pit closes and all that is left is a rusting construction and a community having to rebuild itself from nothing. For it is not only the workers, but all those who relied on their income; suppliers, local shops, local clubs and pubs.

Hope is the wrong kind of four letter word in these circumstances (I won’t list the right kind). Of course, with the demise of the Unions, negotiations to mitigate against such withdrawal, tends to be a one-sided affair, with the government having to foot the bill in welfare provision, or lack thereof. During the late 90s, I worked in the area of what is known as Corporate Social Responsibility (a somewhat oxymoronic term looking back now). ‘Ethical’ companies such as The Body Shop led the way in making businesses more accountable for their social and environmental impacts (it was termed the triple bottom line). Some good work was done in this area, and many companies paid more than a little lip service to such responsibilities. However, when times became tight, whether financially in terms of profits, or politically in terms of government influence, it was always the financial bottom line that over-rode its helpless bedfellows.

Jane Commane Assembly Lines cover imageJane Commane’s poem The Shop-floor Gospel, from her debut collection Assembly Lines, goes inside the uncertainty felt by workers both back in the day (that day being the 1980s I’m presuming) to the present; where either redundancies are in the air of shop floor gossip, or potential closure. ‘Fortune-teller, free agent,/ laughter in grubby canteens;/ Mark my words./ We’re a living museum!/ There’s no future’. This type of thing is happening across many developed countries. The feeling of being left when industries go under, is one the reasons people gave for voting Trump, or Brexit; when there was ‘only the holding out against/ believing in some kind of new/ that pacified the absences/ with retail parks.’ The extent of a ©PLP-24854-webt-044company’s responsibility goes well beyond its shareholders, its directors, even its employers. They should have responsibility for clearing up the mess they left behind, because just like the volunteers at the end of the Reading Festival, people aren’t paid to pick up their own pieces.

Jane Commane was born in Coventry and lives and works in Warwickshire. Her first full-length collection, Assembly Lines, was published by Bloodaxe in February 2018. She is editor at Nine Arches Press, co-editor of Under the Radar magazine, co-organiser of the Leicester Shindig poetry series, and is co-author (with Jo Bell) of How to Be a Poet, a creative writing handbook. In 2017 she was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship.

 

The Shop-floor Gospel

Angry –
he who trudges the grey
dog-eared estate avenues,
a rasp of
I bloody told you so
ready on their lips.

Fortune-teller, free agent,
laughter in grubby canteens;
Mark my words.
We’re a living museum!
There’s no future.
We’re sold, sold out –

Decades blowing a coarse wind
through the resistance,
where no borders were left
to cross, no other line to join,
only the holding out against
believing in some kind of new
that pacified the absences
with retail parks.

You are
the lone no
on the shop-floor –
the habitual reader
of all the wrong news,
the public library ghost,
the vote cast for some
Old School
that’s long since closed.

A vanished oddment
a piss in the wind
the autumn leaves
laughing
at a glib historian’s
reworking
of the lady’s
not for turning.
I bloody told you so.

 

peace by martin hayes

This week the BBC did an experiment. They got five young British people to work on a farm for a day picking cabbages – although not mentioned, the wrappers they were putting the cabbages in, were heading for Tesco, ironically in a bag of a non-existent farm; (as I’ve mentioned before on the site, Tesco started packaging meat and veg in bags that said Woodside Farm and the likes, which may exist somewhere but in this case are an invention to make us feel their produce is more local).

MigrantWorkREX_468x281Anyhow, these workers were doing a job previously undertaken by workers from other EU countries. You can guess what happens; they find the work really hard and although do the job required of them, say they wouldn’t do it for a living. The farmer says that he is struggling now to find workers; Polish and Lithuanian workers have gone home because of the exchange rate, and the Bulgarian and Romanian workers who remain, are too few to take up the slack. And all this, when the majority of farmers voted to leave.

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