Friday, August 17, 2012

Bent Fender Chapter 4

Chapter 4

I didn’t cross paths with Siobhan for some months after Roberto had run out on her.  I heard what had happened and decided she was best left to her own devices, as my shoulder had never been a comfortable place to cry, and my sympathy was best left for the most deserving cases, notably my own miserable plight.

It was therefore in the most unexpected of circumstances that she reentered my life.  At that time in the early 70’s I didn’t attend many ‘Party’ meetings.  The ‘Workers Struggle’ Party had mostly gone the way of the catholic church, flirtations with Buddhism and the Canadian army exercise regime, into that capacious bag that I labeled ‘tried and found wanting’.  I had all but given up politics as a bad job.

 My ‘Kronstadt’ moment had been on a mass lobby of Parliament when a group of young Geordie miners had pushed me against a police line and the stark reality of direct action’ had hit me via a police baton. After months of bathing in the romantic history of the overthrow of Tsarism or the tragic heroism of the Spanish civil war I was suddenly and alarmingly confronted by the reality of personal danger that the books had failed to engender. This terror slowly percolated in my bowels and later that year, at a party summer camp, in a moment of sublime illumination, I had risen to declare in a trembling voice to the thousand or so comrades that I couldn’t be part of any organization which advocated the violent overthrow of capitalism. 

I had drifted in a political vacuum for a couple of years, but as with the Jesuits and young catholic minds, the Party still had a grip on my imagination.  So events, like the worsening situation in Ulster, or more improbably, the struggles of Bolivian tin miners would inevitably draw me to the Party paper ‘The Flame’ self styled ‘organ’ of the central committee of Workers Struggle to see what the party ‘line’ was.

I had seen a flyer advertising a meeting with speaker Joe Hagan, Political secretary to the central committee, at the Fighting Cocks pub in Moseley.  The title of the meeting was the ‘coming revolutionary period’ ….. How could I resist? 

As I fought my way through the immense line of  embittered proletarians in the corridor of the Fighting Cocks, (two students and a drunk) I wandered into the upstairs parlor.
There in the middle row sat Siobhan sitting alongside a young black woman.  Her long hairstyle had been replaced with a cropped bob that gave her a sweet gamin air.  This impression was somewhat undermined by the navy denim canvas dungarees and ‘bovver’ boots.  As I sat down at the back she turned recognized me and gave a clench-fisted salute.

Joe Hagan rose slowly from his seat at the top table.  Joe was the latter-day Lenin of the British left. His formative education had been at the hands of the Christian Brothers in Co Wicklow, and it had left an indelible mark.  I had once heard the Party described as the Plymouth Brethren of the political spectrum, and if so Joe was its high priest with his own brand of hellfire and damnation.  One of his proudest claims was that as a young man having ‘broke’ with Stalinism he had been taken to Mexico to meet the ‘old man’ Leon Trotsky.  This rite of passage had been Joe’s damascene conversion and he had returned to Britain with the unbroken tablets of stone handed down from Karl Marx himself, to proclaim imminent revolution to all and any who stopped to listen.  I harboured a soft spot for Joe as in my judgment he was nearly alone on the left to have had a working class upbringing, the rest being middle class academics and assorted luvvies of the chattering classes.

Hagan was a short set, heavy jowelled, pug of a man.  Thick black glasses sat improbably on his squat nose and his face was set to a permanent scowl.  He began to speak.  Almost inaudible at first, he slowly sucked his audience in with small bits of theatre, making a minute adjustment to his glass of water or shuffling his notes to give a slight emphasis to his opening comments.  He built up his cadences very slowly but after 5 or so minutes he was ranting.

‘ Comrades’ he shouted in his inimitable London Irish brogue ‘ the biggest obstacle to revolution in this country is not the capitalist class, not the bankers or the army, not the establishment or the royal family.  It’s not the Television with its ceaseless propaganda, nor the press with it’s lies’ he paused and wiped his sweating brow with a large white handkerchief  ‘The biggest obstacle to revolution in this country is not the timidity of the working class, our history is littered with heroic working class struggle, neither is it religion with it’s pie in the sky when you die crap, nor is it the education system which sucks young workers in with the promise of glittering careers if they obey the rules’ he paused again now he was screaming.

‘Comrades the biggest obstacle to revolution in this country,    
…………… are the reformists in the trade unions and Labour Party and their Stalinist lackeys in the Communist Party with their Parliamentary Road to Socialism.   Our historic mission is to replace these traitors with a genuwinelee Revolutionary party, the British section of the Fourth International……. The Workers Struggle.

He stopped to drink a sip of water and as the audience of thirty or so people burst into applause Siobhan jumped to her feet cheering the loudest.  As she did there was no hiding the fact that Roberto had not left her alone, the swell of unborn life was plain to see under her faded dungarees.

Later as we sat in the downstairs lounge with her friend Carmel I took her hand and asked ‘what happened to all the hippy peace and love?

She smiled like an angel

‘Roberto took all that when he packed his Fender Stratocaster’

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