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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 81 - Syntactic hero of the red dawn proletariat


TO look at me, you might not believe that, once, in a moment of covert daring, I pencilled in shorthand on a wall in the old North Bridge headquarters of The Scotsman, the inflammatory phrase, "Workers of the world, unite."

I was only 17, had hardly one adverbial clause to my name, and, as a syntactic starveling, believed I was a communist, supporting the interests of the proletariat, undoubtedly grammar-deprived, against a repressive and reactionary, capitalist textbook tyranny.

It was said that if you were not a communist before you were 17, you had no heart, and if you were one afterwards, you had no head. I ceased to believe in the message of the Communist Manifesto of 1848, which proclaimed the case for "the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions" - my elderly aunt tried to set the first five paragraphs to the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel with spectacular lack of success - and am now politically to the right of Vlad the Impaler.

My interest in the proletariat was revived when, as a young reporter, I covered the fulminations of the Edinburgh Tradesí Council, then a body of cloth-capped, perpetually-smoking fuglemen of the red dawn, who moved motions, addenums and suspension of standing orders with a vehemence fit to dissipate the dandruff off Lenin and Trotsky.

Among mainly Labour Party- supporting union representatives there were born-again bolsheviks, disillusioned anarchists and self-confessed communists who believed that the USSR, so dear to every toiler, was a paradise against whose proletarian precepts the decadent democracies would dash themselves in vain.

IN THAT fag fug, which came, it seemed, from the smoke of one hundred smouldering mattresses, I became friendly with a communist, really a closet anarchist, a small, clipped-toned chap, who had fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish civil war and whose fierce, blue-eyed glare could pierce a Conservative ego at 20 paces.

After "any further business" was over and the comrades had dispersed to their hovels, I and my anarchic chum would walk the streets and talk the sun out of the sky about topics that were on everybodyís lips - the class struggle, the theory of capitalist appropriation and accumulation of surplus value, the material evolution of society and, of course, Saturdayís prospects for Hibs of Midlothian.

My friend was unlike the stereotypical image of the early anarchist - a black-hatted-and-cloaked figure carrying a smoking bomb; only his words were incendiary and they crackled and sparked like a forest fire as he explained that anarchism asserted that human society would function best without any organised government. A man of peace, except in his domestic life, his hero was the Tsarist Russian Prince Kropotkin who, for lack of anything better to do, was keen on permanent revolt at any time, anywhere and by any means to achieve a true state of anarchism.

AS HE spoke about the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual - as one often did at that time - his Willsí Wild Woodbine fag glowed like a small beacon of unquenchable faith, illuminating a darkening and disbelieving world.

I cannot say that I followed anarchismís unsettling philosophy in its entirety but, as we waited for our stately municipal galleons grinding on tram-lines for far-away destinations like Stenhouse and Newington, I was able to exchange quips with him about historical materialism, material determinism and determined material historicism that caused appreciative chuckles among other tram queuers.

I shall never forget my friendís burning polemical passion. Anarchism, for long out-of-favour, has been revived for action against globalisation and other causes but has that fire, that visionary gleam, been maintained?

Perhaps not. Anarchists have abandoned this yearís May Day rally in London because of growing apathy and loss of protest appetite caused by being "herded about" by police.

"Oh withered is the garland of protest," as Shakespeare nearly said. A good thing, too; there is too much demonstrational mayhem in the metropolis and elsewhere in this fearful, fagged-out realm.

As a former fiery shorthand-writer, I say that anarchists and their violent allies could help to tidy-up the world by crawling straight into historyís gaping dustbin.


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