Sunday, 18 September 2011

My Life As A Socialist

30 years ago to this day I became a Socialist. I woke up one morning, looked at the world and thought: ‘It’s unfair, all this money should be fairly distributed’. So I set about being a Socialist. I was reminded of this phase in my life when joking about it with someone online this morning. I told him I’d read Zola’s ‘Germinal’ in those days because it was about miners and their struggle for proper working conditions and all that. I also read ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist’, naturally. And everything by Orwell.
   Musically, there were essential artists, such as Gil Scot-Heron and The Clash (they named an album after The Sandinistas!). Others listened to Billy Bragg for their fix of political music, but he was not for me. As much as I admired the lyrical content, I couldn’t stomach the music. You could dance to GSH whilst also feeling politically righteous. And what could be finer than to embrace the lyrical content of Sun Ra’s ‘Nuclear War’ whilst also knowing that you were hip to one of the greatest underground artists of the 20th century?

Your move, comrade.

   I wore a red star on the cap I’d bought as a reference to The Struggle (star and cap) – I was stupid, but it strikes me now that you have to be stupid in some way to buy into a political belief system. A part of you has to forgo intelligence and reason in order to remain doggedly dedicated to an ism. My landlord at the time said ‘You’re young and you have a heart, but when you get older you’ll have a head’ – I’ve never forgotten it, as he stood there in his grubby vest, taking the rent money for the box I lived in. But I loved that box, it was mine, and I filled it with everything that mattered, such as records and books. Absurd as it sounded then (and still does), I now see his point. It’s the duty of the young to act according to their hearts in matters of Love or Politics. They fervently follow a course set by passion without being hampered by heads filled with doubts, wisdom, experience etc.
   So I went on demos. After all, Thatcher was the perfect Devil, she was evil incarnate with her pro-nuclear, anti-union, hardcore capitalist attitude. And if she was Evil, all things Red must therefore be Good. The logic was irresistible.
   My father was rabidly anti-Left, but then his country had been invaded by Russia and made a part of the Union. I couldn’t understand that then. I was young and stupid, which is not to say that I believe it impossible to reconcile being a Socialist and condemning Stalinist thinking. Today, that’s logical, but then it was possible to conveniently ignore the crimes of a fanatical Socialist, for me at least.
   Towards the end of the 80s I dated a girl who was a member of the SWP. I met her ‘comrades’ one night in a pub. They struck me as idiotic idealists, as well as young men who had never done a hard day’s labour in their lives, not that I thought this was a requirement to be a good Socialist; it simply reinforced my notion that they had no connection with the working classes except via misguided theory. My girlfriend told me she had been chastised by her comrades for going to see an exhibition of abstract art. I’m not kidding. It was proletarian enough. By then I was disillusioned with all that anyway, and was more interested in anarchist theory. It was free of rules, and had no easy answers. My Life As An Anarchist is another story, but it proved to be part of the process by which I would unshackle myself from all political belief systems.
   As a Socialist I probably would have defected to Russia if I’d had enough money. Whereby I would have found it extremely hard to buy the cultural products I thrived on. After all, the queues in Moscow for Art Blakey albums went ‘round the block, and even when punters got into the shops, the racks were empty (save for copies of Soviet Army marching band recordings). I know all that now, now that I’m wise, and have a head.

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