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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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