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Letter From America: Marx, Lenin, And The Underclass

...The underclass part of this story relates to the time I was living in Southampton and heard that the branch of our Church in Portsmouth was holding a Tramps Ball. Dave Butt, two young ladies, and me dressed up in make belief tramp togs and drove to enjoy the dance. Unfortunately, my muse of mistaken dates and places that has accompanied me through life was on top form and on arriving at the venue we discovered that he had struck again and that we were either a week early or a week too late...

Working class lad Ronnie Bray gives his reasons for being a socialist.

The reason I am a socialist and not a communist is because in the late sixties I read almost every book, pamphlet, and newspaper obtainable from the headquarters of the British Communist Party. I found dialectical materialist a difficult subject to grasp, but grasped a sufficiency from which, in addition to an historical survey of Twentieth Century Communism to formulate the opinion that whereas its aims and intentions seemed laudable, its realisation required too great a sacrifice of individuality and independence to be appealing, and its historical application in central Asia, Eastern Europe and China revealed no distinction between the activities of Communist leaders, the actions of European fascist leaders and their effects in the lives of those they subjugated.

I had eschewed British Conservatism because I was a working class lad from a working class background and was sufficiently well versed in British Industrial history during and since the Industrial Revolution ever to believe that Conservatism held out any fairness for those disadvantaged by accidents of birth, social standing, education, wealth, or individual intelligence. "The weakest to the wall" was not a battle cry that I could stomach, nor is it one that I tolerate.

I had natural sympathy for the downtrodden, the vulnerable, and for those whose duty in life was apportioned as mill fodder or some other similar self-fulfilling prophecy heaped on the uneducated and unrefined by the circumstances of their birth and families by middle class school teachers.

I was too opinionated to become a British Liberal and so gravitated towards the politics of the left, but not the far left, and became a socialist because its tenets most nearly accorded to my inner sense of political propriety and societal model. This view was to a large extent informed by my Christian faith, and I have never regretted taking that position early and adhering to it throughout my life.

My main complaint about Marx is that although he saw social evolution as the road to a more just and equitable society in which the masses of people at the bottom of the social heaps, its practitioners could not wait for the process to develop itself naturally, and so they became bloodthirsty revolutionaries.

Their revolutionary activities were cruel, their victims chosen indiscriminately, and revenge taken against the innocent by the newly powerful that would unjustly charge someone with crimes against ‘The people’ and act as judge, jury, and executioner. These injustices vexed me to the extent that I could not look upon the activities of the world’s Communist nations with any degree of favour.

I almost became a member of the British Labour Party, but the one meeting I attended, that was to be addressed by famous politician, Barbara Castle, did not begin on time, my impatience did not permit me to wait, and so I departed never to return. I have, therefore, never joined any political party, and so enjoy my independence, although I favour most socialist programmes for obvious reasons.

However, none of that has anything to do with this story, except that Tom told me that he and Lynda went to a fancy dress party as Marx and Lenin and that got me thinking about those two political giants and their contributions to the political scenarios of much of the twentieth century.

I expressed my surprise at this intelligence because neither he nor Lynda seemed particularly Left Wing in their political make-ups. My surprise collapsed when he said they went as John ‘Beatle’ Lenin and Groucho Marx! That was more like them.

It reminded me of Tommy Cooper appearing onstage with an oil painting and a violin, saying, "I have a Stradivarius and a Rembrandt. Unfortunately, Rembrandt made lousy violins, and Stradivarius was an awful painter!"

The underclass part of this story relates to the time I was living in Southampton and heard that the branch of our Church in Portsmouth was holding a Tramps Ball. Dave Butt, two young ladies, and me dressed up in make belief tramp togs and drove to enjoy the dance. Unfortunately, my muse of mistaken dates and places that has accompanied me through life was on top form and on arriving at the venue we discovered that he had struck again and that we were either a week early or a week too late.

Not wishing to waste the occasion, we went into a restaurant and ate a meal. Fortunately we were not thrown out for our dress and general appearance, but treated as celebrities and mildly feted, receiving approving looks and appreciative noises from our fellow diners.

I hate to think how a genuine lady or gentleman of the road would have been treated had they gone in the restaurant and sat down to dine. And that reminds me of a brilliant guitarist that exults in the name Bonar Coleano. I first met him when we were both booked to play the same venue, a miner’s welfare club in the heart of the Yorkshire coalfields. I arrived looking like the aspiring Country Music star that I was, and he arrived looking like an escapee from a 1900s New York bound immigrant ship.

He wore a long dark overcoat that almost reached his ankles, a black slouch hat that resembled a Chico Marx reject, an oversized pair of work boots, and odd socks that were visible below his half-mast trousers.

But, when he came on stage, he looked like a million dollars. His stage outfits were tremendous, and his mastery of the guitar was spectacular to the point of being breathtaking. Added to that, he had a multi-phase stage background lighting system operated by his roadie that was staggering. Talk about Las Vegas comes to Barnsley!

During the bingo I asked him why he dressed the way he did when arriving at the club. He said that it was a protest against the hypocrisy he marked in working men’s clubs on account of, he explained, that if a working man arrived at one dressed as he was, he would be refused admission. He was poking them in the eye for rampant dissimulation and class snobbery!

As a socialist, I understood well the point he made, and I agreed with him although it has never occurred to me to imitate his apparel to make a similar point. Yet, nothing is more tragic than when a person’s social class turns on him because he looks like the class he was born into and of which he is an integral part. That form of pretentiousness, often called inverse snobbery, is as much a social evil as right-way-up snobbery, because it is divisive and fails to value the intrinsic worth of individuals regardless of their position in the social heap.

Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin knew about class, and so did John Lenin or Lennon and Groucho Marx, as the latter’s constant personification of a bubble buster of the socially elevated demonstrates.

Bonar Coleano’s class class-conscious appearance was his contribution to the class struggle that takes place within a particular class, and my appearance in Portsmouth’s restaurant quarter in those far off days, whilst not a deliberate attempt to make a social statement, nonetheless illustrated attitudes that accepted tramps and those down on their luck just as long as they were divorced from the realities of those down at the bottom of the pile, the disposed, the wounded, the vulnerable, and those for whom life has been little more than a constant series of rejections and hopelessness, cruelly confirmed even by their own kind.


Perhaps we can remember the message sung by the heavenly choir at the first Christmas of, ‘Peace on earth, and goodwill to all men,’ with the emphasis on ‘all men’ regardless of their station in life, their possessions, their faith, their politics, and above all, their ability to reciprocate whatever kindness they receive as evidence that we have received the angelic message and that it is meaningful to us.

Copyright © 2010 Ronnie Bray

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