Alan Corkish is a highly talented and highly original writer from Liverpool. He is also a controversial, intelligent, educated, manic, street-fighting, argumentative brawler whom it has been said could start an argument in a Trappist Monastery. He has a bet with his best friend that when he dies at least as many will come to spit on his grave as to weep at it. And that thought pleases him immensely.
Dee - To most people the word ‘poet’ will conjure up the image of a speccy, weedy bloke like TS Eliot or Peter Porter, the sort of person who works in a bank or a library and probably wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Think ‘poet’ and there is the image of Richard E Grant as Gordon Comstock, in the film adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘Keep The Aspidistra Flying’. You can just imagine the ‘poet’ as a child, the sort of kid that gets picked last for team sports. In keeping with the poetic tradition, you yourself are bespectacled, but that’s about as far as the resemblance goes. You come from a background of what sounds like grinding poverty. As a youngster you were violent, involved in street-fights; you’ve been jailed and you’ve suffered that peculiar Manxian punishment, the birch. It’s not yer typical poet’s background really, is it? Could you tell me a bit more about your childhood, how you ended up on the wrong side of the law, and your journey from there to being a teacher, poet and man with more degrees than you could shake a fist at?
Alan – Well that’s a huge question, or set of questions Dee. Where to begin? Well before I start, I’m not sure I have a picture of poets as ‘speccy’ or ‘weedy’; wasn’t Wordsworth quite a powerful, ale-swigging, drug-taking, sister-molesting radical? And Bukowski? Hardly a weed… Anyway, your real question was about my background.
I was born in the Isle of Man. Talk about a dysfunctional family; no dad, two brothers, two sisters, all with different fathers whom none of us ever met or knew. Living in a back-to-back Court with one tap and two outside toilets serving the sixteen houses. No electricity, one bedroom and one largish ‘cupboard’ which had a mattress in it. Times were tough. Mum was a Saint; tried her best to keep us fed and warm by skivvying for rich bastards or doing factory work. I quickly learned to steal and to fight. Had to, in order to survive. It was fighting that got me into trouble with the Law; I mean living in the Isle of Man, with nothing to do of an evening, all we did was drink and fight. By the time I was 20 I’d been expelled from school, been before the Courts over 60 times, been sent to detention, jailed, and as you said; judicially birched. Last time I was in jail I decided to get out, so left the Island, never been back since… except, as they say, for weddings and funerals. No regrets about that at all. I had a trade to hand; served my time as a mason, but worked from then on at anything that came to hand; seaman, farm-hand, docker, coal-man, street-sweeper… you name it. Also moved around the world; Israel (Kibbutz Niram), several Iron Curtain Countries and New York City where I worked without a work-permit for fourteen months before they tracked me down and deported me. I joined the Communist Party somewhere along the line and that was where I got my real education. Formal education began aged 28 in Liverpool, I’d had an accident on the sites and was unable to work for months so I did O and A levels; similarly with my initial degree and my subsequent set of Masters Degrees; I find academia easy. Damn sight easier than writing poetry. I had always written poetry by the way. When I was about 10 Mum bought me a ‘toy’ typewriter and I announced I was going to be a writer. Still writing. Still not sure if I’m a poet. Not at all sure yet exactly what a poet actually is…
Dee - A simple definition of a poet would be someone who writes poetry, so by that definition, you qualify, especially considering your project for 2004, which was to write a poem every day. It must have taken a lot of self-discipline to do that. Tell me, why did you decide on such a project? Now that we’re three weeks into 2005, you’ll maybe have had some time to reflect on the project. How do you feel it went? Looking at the 366 poems, how many do you feel are successful? And what about those you feel don’t quite hit the mark, do you think you’ll be able to make something of them, given time and editing? And, would you attempt such a project again?
Alan - Yes, a very simple definition, but then that would mean Andrew Motion was a poet, and Pam Ayres… even Patience Strong and Carol Ann Duffer… not sure if I want to be in the company of that lot. The poem-a-day for 2004 had a twofold purpose; to defeat the myth of ‘writers’ block’ and to see if it would help assuage my own mental illness. In the first instance it worked admirably; I am now convinced that what we refer to as ‘writers’ block’ is simply bone-idleness. It also helped, along with some new ways of thinking, to alleviate bouts of mania and depression which have plagued me most of my life. Looking back it was these which were in part responsible for my constant brushes with authority which have continued right through my life; don’t know if you were aware but I was sacked twice as a teacher.
I never know which of my own poems work and which don’t… and that is odd as I consider myself to be good at spotting what is good or bad in the works of others. I’m not going to edit the poems now; the stated aim was to ‘complete’ a poem each day and by midnight of each day to have moved on to the next one, I did that… I can see some fragments which I’m tempted to alter but I won’t. From the feedback I have had with regard to the enterprise the majority ‘worked’, indeed many are already published. Now that the project is over I find it most interesting as an historical document although not many people have commented upon that. Poems written on the day events happened are often not 100% factually accurate but they capture the passion and the anger… and 2004 was quite a year what with Bush, Blair and their God intent on murdering as many Arabs as they could while thieving the black gold. But the poem-a-day project is over and done, I’ve moved on to something else now, a work of fiction, with a touch of magic-realism about it, it’s shaping into a novel, I am enjoying that.
Dee - You’ve brought up a lot of different things in your last answer, which I would like to ask you more about, but one thing at a time... Firstly, you’re obviously not a man to pull your punches about your literary preferences. Most poets, of course, would not want to be considered in the same breath as Pam Ayres or Patience Strong, understandably, but what have you got against Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy? A lot of poets out there would be very happy to be compared with either of these two. They are, after all, at the pinnacle of their writing careers, doing very nicely thank you! Is it just Motion and Duffy that you single out for your scorn, or is it, as I suspect, pretty much all the poetry establishment? If that is the case, are there any poets that you reckon deserve their place at the top of the tree? And who else do you reckon should be up there with them? Who do you think has been unfairly sidelined by the current establishment?
Alan – Fools rush in they say; so OK, here goes: It isn’t necessarily Motion, (appropriate name that) it’s anyone who would take on the mantel of Poet Laureate, although his stuff is particularly insipid. The Laureateship has always been for toadies and arse-lickers who soon sink into the mire of obscurity. I mean who’s ever read anything by; Thomas Warton, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Rowe, Laurence Eusden, Colley Cibber, Thomas Shadwell, William Whitehead, Henry Pye, Robert Southey? All past Laureates. Motion adds another feeble continuum to the long line of nobodies. The Poet Laureate is appointed by the PM and the Monarch for life. All have been white males, all, even Wordsworth, who ignored his initial fervour for the French Revolution and took to writing poems about daffs and Westminster Bridge, have serenaded the status quo and the establishment. Indeed royal-toadying is part of their duties and Motion continues with his forelock tugging and is rewarded with £8,000.00 a year for life for pumping out platitudes worthy of Patience Strong.
I was at University with Duffer. We used to argue about poetry in the common room although I wasn’t writing much then. She was; heavy and incestuous stuff that aped the Liverpool poets especially Henri who she followed round like a poodle, poems about butterflies and ‘clever’ poems that fitted the prejudices of the local population and made them smile. OK she evolved; some of the stuff she was writing about eight years ago was at least different. What she has done now though is to fall into a rut; she’s forgotten her working-class roots as she basks in her OBE, her inclusion on the A level syllabus and the acceptance of the establishment. She has become a money-generating, exam-orientated, comic-iconic, dyke-with-a-dog-and-a-daughter, cliché-machine, lounging in her stereotypical lesbian overalls almost totally reliant on the narrow, pseudo feminist, ‘clever’ elite who take turns at sneering at ‘prejudices’ and ‘men’ with almost no sense of the irony involved in lumping the two together. Last time I saw her perform was at a concert in Liverpool; Adrian Henri’s final appearance, she name-dropped everyone from Mark Lawson to Melvin Bragg, talked too much about herself and explained every poem in detail. She tried hard to be ‘witty’ but was about as witty as Pam Ayres with a clown’s nose and a bald-wig.
There are poets writing today that matter to me so clearly I don’t scorn the entire poetry establishment; take a poet like Robert Sheppard for example, he is accepted widely now, his poetry recently appeared in the OUP Anthology of British and Irish Poetry. Sheppard is of the clan who claim to be ‘linguistically innovative’ and although that label shelters yet another set of phonies (don’t even mention Lawrence Upton please!) when it’s good it’s very good. I don’t pretend to fully understand Sheppard but I know that he is sincere, realistic and experimental. The sounds he creates and the overt political content appeal to me. Sheppard’s recent collection; Tin Pan Arcadia, is a must for anyone who wants to read poetry that is not strangled by the constraints of conformity. Now here’s a mischievous suggestion; if you want to appreciate the chalk-and-cheese element then compare-and-contrast Sheppard’s The Collected Works of Joseph Stalin with Motion’s pretentious; Causa Belli and Duffer OBE’s allegedly witty; Mrs Midas. My old English Tutor, Alan Durband, would approve of me setting you such a fake literary compare-and-contrast task.
You ask also about poets who deserve their position at the top of the tree and my answer may well surprise you for my answer is ‘yes’ and the list would include; Milton, Blake, Dryden, Yevtushenko, Pope, Hugh McDiarmid, Burns, Dylan Thomas, Neruda, Yeats, Eliot… and among more recent poets I’d certainly include the poet and jazz pianist Roy Fisher and from across the pond Kimiko Hahn and Jack Agüeros. And as for those who have been sidelined by the literary establishment… that’s a tough one, skim through any of the thousands of poetry mags available online or being produced by small press and you’ll find dozens that should get a wider audience than they do; Sam Smith and Helen Kitson spring to mind, but the sad truth is that more people write poetry then read it and you can’t blame the ‘establishment’ for not mass producing every averagely talented poet out there. And while we’re on that theme the poets who don’t read great poetry, the classics; Paradise Lost, Dante’s Inferno, The Rape of the Lock, Absalom and Achitophel etc usually turn out doggerel and I could provide you with a list of these if you have two hours to spare?
Dee - Ha, if it was only a couple of hours to spare. The thing is, I’m going to set up hotlinks to just about everyone and everything you refer to in this interview, I suppose as a sort of cyber version of footnotes; and I’m finding out to my cost - as I prepare Rupert Loydell’s interview page - exactly how much time it takes (especially when I’ve got to google every reference and I’m still working with a clunky 56kb modem). You mentioned your manic-depression earlier and how you used your poem-a-day project to try to assuage your ‘mental illness’. How useful do you find writing-as-therapy?
Alan - Linking to others sounds cool; democracy in action, all in favour of that but I appreciate the work-load. Good luck.
I have a simmering contempt for the doctors who dosed me with drugs, blasted me with ECT, sectioned me and hospitalised me for the vast bulk of my life without ever trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with me. You see I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I was about 40 years of age and following diagnoses, psychotherapy and a drug that actually works, Lithium, I slowly began to piece my life back together and to realise that my history was peppered with manic-depressive bouts which led me to behave, to say the least, irrationally. Now I have a wonderful psychiatrist who allows me virtually open access and a lifestyle which enables me to function normally 99% of the time. The really odd thing is that now that I am controlled I find my illness can be harnessed to creativity, thus I write. I don’t think the actual process of writing is therapeutic but my illness, together with the experiences it has given me, contribute to my deep insight into the human-condition. It’s difficult to explain without sounding presumptuous or pompous… I guess that I have suffered, I mean really suffered, not just the poverty and the dysfunctional early life but I have seen the inside of prison cells, detention centres and mental hospitals, I’ve been judicially assaulted by the law and medically assaulted by lazy doctors armed with liquid coshes. I suppose it would be understandable if I was bitter but, despite my tirade against the Uptons, Motions and Duffers of this world, I’m not.
Dee - I’m glad to hear you are not bitter. Perhaps you are mellower with age? I ask in a hopeful sort of way, because, as a sprightly 42 year old I’m still occasionally intoxicated by bitterness. Like you, I came from a pretty fucked-up background. Same theme, different story. I won’t bore you with all the details, except to say whilst my contemporaries were gilded in the ivory towers of Oxbridge I was mainly unemployed and often homeless. I don’t resent the experience per-se - in fact I would recommend it to anyone (at least for a short spell) to get their compassion glands going: what I resent is that the poetry establishment is dominated by an Oxbridge elite whose view of the world is limited, to say the least. They are the arbiters of taste. They are the ones who control all the larger poetry publishing houses, the arts council grants awards committees etc etc... and when it comes down to handing out publishing contracts and awards it’s usually their Oxbridge buddies that are the beneficiaries. Even where nepotism isn’t obviously involved, one could argue that the old boy network remains intact because the Oxbridge taste is limited by experience, and these privileged, private school educated, upper middle class folk just can’t relate to the sort of poetry that issues forth from the margins.
Aside from purely personal considerations I think it’s a great shame that such a narrow spectrum of poetry makes it onto the big poetry publishers lists, because it naturally limits the sort of audience who might appreciate poetry. Of course there are a few folk who slip through the net like Joolz Denby, Attilla The Stockbroker, Benjamin Zephaniah & Linton Kwesi Johnston, but they are the exception that proves the rule... and they’ve only really made it because of their disproportionately large fan base. Were they not so talented at reading in public I doubt they’d have got so far up the tree as they have. Whether or not your a fan of their poetry, you have to salute them for breaking through the glass ceiling.
Despite the presence of this glass ceiling, there are thousands of talented, generally unrecognised poets beavering away behind the scenes regardless, getting their poems published in small press magazines and internet zines. I’ve heard folk wax lyrical about the ‘internet revolution’; that it’s going to democratise poetry publishing... but is it? Are folk really going to spend hours staring at a glaring computer screen, constantly assaulted by the noise of the computer’s chip-cooling fan? Personally, I will always prefer books. You can’t really lounge on a sofa with a desktop computer, can you? Even a laptop’s a bit awkward, eh?
Alan - Attilla The Stockbroker? Zephaniah? Poets? Highly debatable. I respect the latter’s politics but he writes rap, coarse rhyme, he’s an entertaining performer as is Attilla but I’d not burden them with the label ‘poet’. Either would be at home doing a giggly double-bill with Pam Ayres. Linton Kwesi Johnston is a better poet than Zephaniah and I agree that Joolz Denby knows her craft too but all the four people you choose are into poetry as a political vehicle, which is fair enough… I have an odd thought surfacing; Voltaire was asked how you judge if a book is anti-Semitic, he replied; ‘If every Jew in the book is a thief and every thief in the book is a Jew, then the book is anti-Semitic.’ I wonder how this applies to purely political poetry? What does a surfeit of ‘political messages’ do to poetry? Does it make it into something other than poetry? Maybe even something anti-poetry? I dunno; I am rambling…
You ask about the ‘internet revolution’. Well it’s there and it’s functioning. But only 2% of the world population have a computer and a mere fragment of these have internet connection. You and I live in a very privileged corner of the world and can partake of the fruits of this ‘revolution’, but it’s a very small and very select revolution. But the broader question (I guess) is what constitutes ‘success’? I mean if Faber and Faber offered to publish my work or your work tomorrow I suspect we’d leap at the opportunity; we’d have it made… wouldn’t we? Again, I dunno; if ‘success’ is measured in filthy-lucre then I don’t really need it, nor do I necessarily want the acclaim of my peers or the adoration of countless ‘fans’. All of these are fleeting and false, maybe that’s why I admire poets like Robert Sheppard and Roy Fisher, they just get on with the job and I doubt if either ever dream of ‘fame and fortune’. I certainly don’t.
Dee - Personally I have no objections to ‘filthy lucre’. Anyone out there who’s got problems with it, just send it to me, and I’ll clean it and spend it lovingly! I won’t even measure my success by it, I promise! But seriously though, wouldn’t you love it if it were possible to earn a living by doing what you love? Imagine if poetry books sold in the same sort of numbers as novels? Theoretically it’s possible, ain’t it? Why shouldn’t people dig reading poetry if they dig reading novels? These two art forms are branches of the same tree. So, why is one withered and the other relatively healthy?
Alan - I’ve never seen anyone, ever, reading a poetry collection on a train, plane or bus, I keep looking but no luck to date; if I ever do I will talk to them, ask them about poetry. But on the other hand I have never seen hundreds of people go to a novel-reading. Tonight, in my City of Liverpool, there are three poetry readings listed in the Press, there are probably a dozen others unlisted, yesterday was Burn’s Night and throughout the world literally millions of people would have gathered to celebrate his excellent poetry, tomorrow there are another two readings listed in Liverpool, on Friday there are eight listed… and that doesn’t allow for all the people who’ll be sitting right now in groups or just with their partner reading poetry to one another. When you say one is ‘withered’ (poetry?) and the other ‘relatively healthy’ (the novel?) I think you are talking about things that are as different as music and say for example; food. They appeal in different ways. Roger McGough read his poetry at the local Theatres in Liverpool a few months back; every gig at every venue was sold out. Even Ms Duffer can fill the Albert Hall… The world sings with poetry… Doesn’t sound like anything ‘withered’ to me Dee.
But I think your real point focuses on the word ‘read’, you ask; ‘Why shouldn’t people dig reading poetry…’ and there, as the Baird may well have said, is the rub. I go to loads of poetry readings, in the main I enjoy them, but I never get up and read and one reason is because I know that there is something counterproductive in the whole sorry process. If someone, like Attilla the Stockbroker for example, gets up and ‘entertains’ an audience (which he does very well), then everyone troops home cathartically purged and as a way of saying ‘thank you’ they may even buy one of his poetry collections and they may even read one or two of the poems… but it wont cause them to read Paradise Lost or The Dunciad or even to try to come to terms with The Waste Land. Sadly and ironically poetry-readings are turning us into a nation of poetry-illiterates who want ‘entertaining’ by light and frothy nonsense and don’t want to be bothered with anything which might place a faint strain on their intellect. And that is a real tragedy; the modern poetry audiences are poetry-thickos and the blame lies with the whole concept of poetry-readings. This, by the way, seems a peculiarly British tragedy, poets like Yevtushenko can attract intelligent audiences numbering thousands, but not in the UK. I must also mention here the ultimate phoney; Felix Dennis, whose UK Poetry Tour did play to packed audiences. And why? Because this pompous millionaire with an ego the size of the Universe pays the audience to attend. He supplies an endless supply of very fine wine as payment to anyone who cares to listen to his drivel and it’s all free. There you go Dee; if you want a huge audience for your poetry; pay them to attend.
Dee - I’m not surprised Yevtushenko managed to attract large audiences. The Soviet Union wasn’t exactly entertainment capital of the universe, was it? I’m pretty sure that if Russians had had the Goon Show and The Beatles, old Yevgeny would have been reduced to giving readings in half-filled coffee bars and pubs like the rest of us. I personally don’t buy the idea that dumbed-down culture is a peculiarly British phenomenon. Wherever you have relative freedom and affluence, coupled with a free-market economy, you get cultural infantilism. Give Russia 25 years, and you won’t be able to move for Big Macs, Coca Cola and Jerry Springer. And by then Yevtushenko will be dead, buried and forgotten, and poets will perform to audiences of less than fifty, in a backroom of the local Waterstones-Borders-Amazon conglomerate. Given the choice though, I’m sure any poet would prefer to read to an audience of thirty and be able to say exactly what they like rather than perform to an audience of thousands and only be able to read poems that toe the party line.
You mentioned earlier that you joined the Communist Party in your early twenties. I imagine you’d have had no illusions about the totalitarian governments that masqueraded as Communists back then, but did you still harbour dreams of the possibility of a true Communist state? And, given the severe change in the political climate over the last 25 years, do you still believe it is achievable? Or are you resigned to the fact that the socialist experiment has failed?
Alan – Ah; you are trying to goad me! Good! I enjoy that. I don’t think ‘entertainment’ is what it’s about is it? From a factual point of view, the Soviet Union was the ‘cultural’ capital of the world at the time, culture is more important than entertainment. I remember that tickets for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow at the time were the equivalent of about 50p; the place where Pavlova, Nijinsky, Nureyev, and Makarova honed their art, I remember a magnificent Bolshoi Theatre with ordinary working people queing around the block to get in. And the Moscow State Circus was ground-breaking and it didn’t exploit animals, it was also packed-out every night… Idiots at this point will be sneering cliches about bread-and-circuses but the bread-and-circus mentality is what we in the UK have now! You only get cultural enthusiasm in our free country for talentless, arse-licking goons like Sir Bob or Sir Macca… that may, or may not, be due to Capitalism as you imply, I think it’s more to do with values, I mean you yourself talk up relatively talentless ‘entertainers’ like Attilla the Stockbroker and tell me that in in 25 years Yevtushenko will ‘be dead, buried and forgotten.’ How you can even mention the two of them in the same breath is astounding. To be blunt I think that is ‘cultural infantilism’. And how the hell you can imply that Yevtushenko toed the party line is again, quite mind-boggling, Where’s your evidence for this? You weren’t a cynical middle-class Trot in a previous life were you Dee? I don’t see a ‘party’ man. I see a passionate poet speaking with extraordinary power about horrors like Babiy Yar or giving some advice that all the milksop poets in the UK could learn from:
Lack of content is when a person’s too cowardly
To bend his back under the weight of the age,
As for me, I prefer awkwardness, heaviness,
Even overloadedness at least with something!
Most of the middle-class sneering UK poets are overloaded with nothing!
And my experience is that ‘dumbed-down culture’, as far as poetry is concerned, is a peculiarly British phenomenon, on my last visit to New York City the ‘ordinary’ poets were involved at the forfront of ideas; poets like Jack Agüeros, Hayan Charara, Kimiko Hahn, Nurkse, Hettie Jones… where are our equivalents? Motion and Duffer? Ugh! I despair! Get up and read an anti-war poem in the UK and you’ll garner a ripple of applause, get up and recite some doggerel about farting-competitions and big-breasts and you’ll bring the house down. That’s UK culture! It’s traditional, goes back to Donald McGill’s seaside postcards. Live with it.
As for my past life as a Communist… it astounds me that allegedly intelligent people still trot out clichés about totalitarian governments masquerading as Communists. It displays a complete lack of understanding with regard to what the Socialist Countries were up against. (And note that please; only Cuba has ever claimed to be Communist and that as an act of bravado I think, these were Socialist states) All attempts to set up true democratic Socialist states resulted in their being forced immediately to enter into siege mentality as Capitalist Oil Corporates (I mean these are the people who really run the alleged free-world) set about destroying them economically. The USSR collapsed because of the constant threat of war which forced them to plough wealth which should have gone into making life better for the individual citizens into weapons. And this was a deliberate ploy; the USA and UK and some European countries had a deliberate policy of bankrupting Democratic states with their constant threat of war. The USSR was presented with a choice; world nuclear war or the dissolution of their State, and we should be thankful that because the people in charge were, in the main, ordinary working people, they reluctantly chose not to sacrifice their youth to war. The Capitalist Oil Corporates, you know, the ones who rig the voting system to allow Bush into power, had no such qualms, they’d have sacrificed all of us to destroy democracy. And while we are on the subject; I have yet to see a better form of democracy than democratic-centralism; it makes the voter think, makes the voter enter into debate, gets ordinary people into power. Ken Livingstone said; ‘If voting changed anything it would be illegal…’ and he borrowed that phrase from elsewhere probably, but it’s a simple truth in this alleged free-world. You know what really annoys me? It’s that ordinary, intelligent, otherwise decent people know that voting in this Capitalist world is a joke, they know the elections are frequently rigged, they know that the CIA not only trained Bin-Laden but got his family out of the USA following 9/11, they know that Bush’s cabinet is comprised of money-grubbing oil-men, they know we invaded Iraq for oil, they know that Iran is the next target and that Russia (another country relatively rich in oil) is on the list, they know that we in the UK are the 51st State of the USA and that we are increasingly becoming a totalitarian, racist, war-mongering extension of the USA but nobody gives a fuck. And that includes most of the word-wanking wimps who pose as poets and are either afraid to speak out or too thick to understand; gutless as well as talentless. Maybe the truth is that we get the poets we deserve. Maybe the truth is that we get everything we deserve.
And just to finish off this rant; of course I still believe in Communism; I believe because I believe in ordinary decent people, Communism is as inevitable as the eventual decay and decline of the USA. You know where Capitalism fails always? It’s in their misguided belief that someone can make a profit without someone else making a loss; if you want a pseudo scientific axiom to nourish think of this; Wealth can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be distributed. Who said that? I did. We have to distribute our wealth fairly in the end, or wars, greed, envy, racism, intolerance and Capitalism will continue; we can’t afford that.
Dee - I’m pleased to hear you still believe in Communism, I’m not necessarily sure I share your optimism that it is ‘inevitable’. The Communist (or Socialist, or whatever you want to call them) governments that sprang up in the wake of various revolutions have failed simply because they were repressive and coercive. For Communism to succeed, you have to have the will and the understanding of the people... they have to be educated (not subjected to propaganda and lies) and they have to willingly embrace a new way of thinking (not be executed or sent to forced labour camps for daring to deviate from the party line). The only hope I see for Communism is through evolution, not revolution. People need to see that sharing is best. Hell, we can teach that to three year olds in kindergarten. A pity we can’t remember what we learned there. Have you read any Robert Fulghum? His ‘All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” (http://www.peace.ca/kindergarten.htm ) makes more sense to me than Lenin or Mao. I want someone like him in the forefront of the oncoming Communist Evolution. But it has to be an Evolution; first time someone fires a shot, all is lost. As soon as you bring violence into the equation, you can bet your bottom dollar the walls will come tumbling down seventy years hence and everyone will be rushing across the border, stocking up on as many Big Macs and porno magazines as they can carry. I don’t know if my vision of a functioning, feasible, non-repressive Communism is inevitable (certainly not in my lifetime), but I hope one day everyone (rich and poor alike) will realise the system we have in place now is crap, and everyone will work together towards a more equitable distribution of wealth. Or d’you think I’m talking bollocks? If you think Communism is inevitable, how do you think it is going to come about?
Alan - You know I like you Dee; your charming naiveté is as refreshing as a red rose jutting out from the barrel of a Kalashnikov. Do you really think that they, the real rulers, will ever simply allow us to have Communism? Just like that? Sort of; ‘Oh dear we made a mistake in accumulating this unimaginable wealth and power, we hadn’t realised that people die every day because we are greedy, callous bastards; time to repent and hand it all back.’? I don’t see it somehow.
And no I haven’t read Fulghum but I have read Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the latter is correct; ‘political power comes from the barrel of a gun’, And when you imply that all ‘Communist (or Socialist…)’ regimes have been repressive and that deviants from the party line are marched off to Labour Camps I think you are suffering from an overdose of Solzhenitsyn. Such yarns may, or may not, be true… you forget that the victors write the history and up til now, Capitalism is the victor. But hang on, I have just realised that you may actually be quite right about these repressive socialist regimes; just today this ‘socialist’ government of ours (all hail the Führer Blair) have announced that not only ‘foreigners’ but British Nationals, can be detained indefinitely under house arrest or in custody on suspicion of being terrorists! Ah well, I was never much for going out anyway.
Perhaps though there is a serious reason why Communism will inevitably arrive; it is because it is a rung above us on the evolutionary ladder; we are, thankfully, moving towards becoming better people, we are evolving, eventually we will rise up… but we will have to fight for it. May I make mention at this point of the words written on the tomb of Robert Tressell which is a mere two hundred yards from my home, the words always move me as I grow impatient for The Revolution:
Why then, and for what are we waiting?
There are but three words to speak;
‘We will it!’ and what is the foeman
But the dream strong wakened and weak
That dream drives my green-fuse if you like… the dream that once formulated and made real by the will of the people will cease to be a mere dream… and it might actually be easier than we think. One final quote, Shelley this time, from The Mask of Anarchy:
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few
Yes, we, the decent people, outnumber them, but they do have a slight advantage, like the tiny fact that they control all the armed forces in the world. Now there stand the real enemies of the people; all those dumb thugs who agree to kill anyone they’re told to in exchange for a wage. Every time I see a soldier in a mercenary army (and all the British Forces now are mercenaries) I shudder.
But bugger; I am digressing, rambling, get me back on line Dee please.
Dee - I would disagree about my ‘charming naivete’, but then again, I would, wouldn’t I? My arguement, Alan, is that the rich and powerful do not live splendid, joyful lives, but exist in gilded cages in pampered ennui and, ultimately, their lives are dissatisfying. Eventually they will come to the realisation that their acquisitiveness is not just damaging to others, but to themselves. This process will probably take centuries. If the planet isn’t destroyed first, we may one day evolve to a place where we naturally choose to share out the goodies. Is this a naive hope? Perhaps. But then again, perhaps not!
Whenever I despair about the state of the world, I remind myself that only a few hundred years ago Western ‘civilisation’ was in thrall to the monarchy and the church. It was considered okay for one person to have ultimate power. It was considered okay to burn people at the stake if they were dissidents or, lord help us, if they used herbs to heal others. It was considered ok to use other human beings as slaves. It was considered okay that a man's wife was his ‘property’. Wouldn’t you agree - despite your reservations about Blair - we’ve made a lot of progress in only a few hundred years?
Project that sort of progress a few hundred years hence, and we might be closer to a Communist utopia than you imagine. I believe in evolution, not revolution. I believe that this evolution will come about through the interchange of ideas and the sharing of knowledge.
You think the multinational global corporations won’t relinquish their power without a fight? Well, I say, if you fight them with violence, you will fail! Either they will win (through superior might) or the people who lead the revolutions will become corrupted by their power. Name me ONE revolution that has achieved its aims! I challenge you. George Orwell got it entirely right with ‘Animal Farm’. Look at ‘Communist’ China. The party leaders live lives of splendid opulence, whilst the common workers sweat in factories for a pound a day, producing the goodies that we consume in the west. Two legs are indeed good, and four legs are getting paid fuck all!
And, even if you are emotionally attached to ‘Communism’, please don’t try to pretend that the gulags didn’t exist. History may well be written by the victors, but there is too much documentary evidence to support the fact that Stalin was an evil, despotic bastard, responsible for destroying the lives of countless millions. The ‘terror years’ did happen Alan. Let’s not pretend otherwise, or we’re in danger of going down the same road as Nazi apologists who claim that ‘the final solution’ was merely Jewish propaganda. It is estimated that twenty milion died during Stalin’s reign. Even if that is a gross exaggeration and only a few million died, that’s still a lot of bodies. Even if the body count was only a few thousand, that’s still too much.
People say, ‘you can’t make an omlette if you don’t break a few eggs’. But I don’t want a bloody omlette, I want a Utopia. Guns, violence, terror and misery ain’t a good foundation for a Utopia. But maybe you can see no other way to oppose the might of global capital?
Well, I can... and this is what I suggest. If you don’t like what these corporations are doing, stop supporting them. And how do you and I and every other living soul on this planet support them? With money. We buy their goodies. We buy their Coca Cola, their Big Macs, their DVDs, their CDs, their stereos, their televisions, their clothes, their cars, their alcohol, their tobacco, their fashion accessories, their computers, their gameboys, their mobile phones, their insurance policies, their mortgages, their credit, their cars, their petrol.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Look around your house right now, Alan, look at all your stuff. How much of it do you really need? Imagine, if people began to wake up to the fact that they don’t need half the stuff they imagine they do. Imagine what would happen to the multinational corporations if folk stopped buying the shit they sell that we don’t actually need. Not only would these evil, rich fuckers no longer have an income, the planet would actually have a chance to recover from the ongoing rape she’s been enduring since humankind first learned how to dig a hole and light a fire.
I’m sorry to rave on too Alan, I’m just sick to death of sitting in pubs with would-be ‘socialists’ while they talk about revolutions and make voluntary contributions to the capitalist cause by drinking their beer and smoking their cigarettes, with no sense of irony, and then they smirk at me for coming out with ‘new age platitudes’. Fuck man, the amount of ‘socialists’ I know that buy lottery tickets would astound you.
Well, I’m all out of questions now, seeing as I’ve been standing on my soapbox this last half hour. This has been more like a debate than an interview. I feel like apologising for that, as I promised you an interview, but hey, what the hell, the labour party promised me socialism. Promises are always too easily broken. It’s been a pleasure talking to you Alan. It’s been interesting. I just hope to hell it’s as interesting to read as it is to write. But hey, fuck em if they can’t take a joke! In the time honoured tradition of interviews, the last word is yours.
Alan - I used to lean fervently forward in pubs when confronted by such arguments Dee, used to roll my sleeves up and stick out my chin, probably jabbed my finger a lot too, enjoyed the debate, got stuck in, felt better for the cathartic experience, probably went home and had really brilliant sex afterwards. Nowadays I tend to finish my drink and move on to the next pub. The debate is tiresome, especially when you utter absurdities such as; ‘Eventually (capitalist-exploiters) will come to the realisation that their acquisitiveness is not just damaging to others, but to themselves.’ I just feel profoundly sad that you and others who argue in a similar vein fail to see the urgency. You and I my friend live a highly privileged life; we are, as you say, surrounded by the crumbs from the rich-man’s table, we can eat when we want, drink when we want, choose our entertainment, feel relatively safe in our brick and slate homes. But every day, including today… think about that for a minute please Dee, think about today… today Capitalism will murder thousands and condemn others to utter degredation and poverty. Buying or not buying playthings or T shirts and jeans made in sweat shops is the type of choice you place before me; not buying their beer, their cigs or their Coca Cola, their Big Macs, their DVDs, their CDs, their stereos, their televisions, their clothes, their cars, their alcohol, their tobacco, their fashion accessories, their computers, their gameboys, their mobile phones, their insurance policies, their mortgages, their credit, their cars, their petrol, you suggest, will solve the problem. ‘That’ll learn em!’ you say as you choose not to buy the latest CD! What utter drivel! I repeat; people are dying today, can you get your head round that? Do Tressell’s words sink in now? I’ll repeat them:
Why then, and for what are we waiting?
There are but three words to speak;
‘We will it!’
Hear that? ‘We will it’! You, me, all of the smug, well fed, ‘socialist’ pub-debaters can end it when we will it. When we choose to get off our lard asses and DO something. And meanwhile you luxuriously pontificate about not buying a lottery ticket or stopping paying your mortgage… go on then; do that, salve your conscience with silly namby-pamby intellectual ‘solutions’… Don’t you realise we actually live in Animal Farm now?!
Sometimes I think that all debates about world-poverty stem from three groups in society:
1) people who wish to salve their own conscience with hippy/new-age ‘lets be nice’ crap that the Capitalist Bosses encourage,
2) the Geldoff’s of this world who make a tidy packet by raising their own, personal profiles and get ‘titles’ for so-doing or
3) those who really don’t give a fuck but because they label themselves ‘Christians’ or ‘Muslims’ or ‘Buddists’ feel that they are expected to make nice sounds to cover their own smug greed and hypocrisy.
Stand up and be counted mate! Stop muttering platitudes from behind your mounds of comparitively luxurious possessions, stop telling the degraded masses of the world to ‘wait a few hundred years until the nice Capitalists come to their senses’, put up, or shut up, you are not helping solve their problem with words. Remember always, remember every day as you rise from your warm bed and drink your fair-trade coffee, remember those who die today.
It is another impotent debate as to whether or not the Gulags existed or whether Stalin murdered two million or twenty million. You and I know who writes history and if you think this Capitalist State works in any way differently to the way Stalin did then perhaps you should not reject my ‘charming naivete’ label so readily. I repeat to you; this is Animal Farm, this place we live in now. The Pigs are changing History and laughing at the ‘democracy’ they have handed us even as you and I pointlessly debate. Two things I know from history that relate to Stalin and this knowledge does not stem from the history books; firstly my only Uncle to survive the war, (the other five died) Uncle Alan, used to tell me with tears in his eyes that none of us would be here now if it wasn’t for the heroic Russian people and Joe Stalin. The second was an image I can see in my mind today; I was 9yrs old, I walked into the downstairs room of the one-up, one-down where six of us lived and saw my Mother and my Aunt Cissy, weeping in front of the Crystal-set Radio as Joe Stalin’s death was announced. There’s a fragment in my autobiographical poem ‘Glimpses of Notes’ that states this truth simply and without comment:
…but Aunt Cissie and my mother
sat and cried
when they heard on the wire\
that Uncle Jo’ died
I know it’s hard for a mere slip of a lad like you to believe this image of Stalin, especially when you are faced with the Capitalist re-writing of history (‘Saving Private Ryan’ et al)… but the Russians, led by Stalin, lost more people than all the Yanks, Brits and Germans put together in their heroic fight against the Nazis. Without Stalin you really would not be here now. Do the Capitalist Bosses allow that slice of history into schools? Did the Capitalist Bosses allow that to be taught during the Cold War while they were busily destabilising ordinary people involved in the Socialist experiment with threats of Star Wars and Nuclear conflict? History? What I know from a personal point of view is history; all else, as Ford said, is bunk.
Your own point of view is summarised succinctly in your last statement, you state that ‘I want a Utopia. Guns, violence, terror and misery ain’t a good foundation for a Utopia.’ Well you can ‘want’ all you like, lots of very good people ‘want’ a better world, want a Utopia, but most find ‘solutions’ which wont cause any ripples in their own, or anyone elses, lives; that’s why their Capitalist rulers allow them to say it. Go ahead; talk about ending the horrors and degradation that will happen today in the name of Capitalism today by not buying the latest DVD or by withholding your mortgage payments, I’m sure that the kids who inhale poisonous fumes and whose live-expectancy is 12 yrs while they cure leather to make footballs for Manchester United will be really appreciative of that! But I guess it makes you feel better at least…
And now you will be seething and muttering; ‘What are you doing then?’ Well I will answer that for you clearly; I am stating, unequivically, that unless you take up arms, unless you are prepared to soil your spotless desire for a Utopia to be handed to you on a plate, until you realise that The Revolution is not for you or for me, or for other complacent Western spongers, until you state quite clearly and uniquivacably that the expolitation has to stop now and if it doesn’t stop then you will stand up and be counted with a gun in hand, until you get real… it will continue… all the ‘terror and misery’ you refer to, which conveniently prevents you becoming a real Revolutionary, is happening here and now, today, and it will continue until we stop it. Jack London used to sign all his letters; ‘Yours for The Revolution’, that’s what I am saying; I am for The Revolution, the Capitalist bosses know that and have tapped my phone in the past and may well be tapping it still, they’ll certainly be accessing my emails, but they don’t give a fuck about me either. Why? Because they have got most of the people who care, and who have a brain, involved in spurious ‘solutions’ about boycotting CD sales and sterile arguments about Stalin. They will laugh like fuck when they read this rant of mine; not because it doesn’t scare them but because they hear people like you, people who are good at heart and who see the problems, churning out ‘solutions’ that have them weeping with laughter.
I feel exhausted now. Not cathartically spent but deeply exhausted. Can I end by stating a few simple facts? OK; this rant is not directed against you personally, on the contrary it is good to have such a provocative debate with someone who at least, thinks; I speak what I feel, always have done always will. Let me be clear as crystal about where I stand; I, as an individual, make it quite clear, that I believe Capitalism murders my brothers and sisters throughout the world each and every day. It’s doing it now. Today. I am signing up if you like; offering my name forward to be chalked on the list; I will willingly give up what is left of my life with a gun in my hand to end it.
Just one other point; I have never bought a lottery ticket. Never. My arguments may sound strange but I have never been that stupid. But I do drink fine wine and I do wear jeans that were probably made in a sweat shop by under-nourished kids with no hope of anything better; no hope that is unless others put their names forward to be added to the list of real Revolutionaries.
Oh eh; and just one thing more, a word for the Special Branch or MI6 or whichever branch of our free state is reading this now and making notes for their Capitalist Bosses; you will get yours in the end, we will deal with you lot when The Revolution is won, as inevitably it wil be. And you know why it will be won? Because inevitably we will it.