Thursday, 15 September 2011

Anti-Americanism has even infected our local poetry-reading group!

At a local poetry reading group last night I read a work by a well-known gay English fascist sympathiser, written in 1935. Titled “ Let England Be England Again”, it poo-poos the idea that England was ever a truly free or democratic country.

Only when the people rise up and grab what they want for themselves will it become what we fondly imagine it to be. Two years after writing it,  the poet signed a petition supporting Hitler’s treatment of German Jews and spoke out against Britain’s involvement in World War Two on the grounds that the real fight was against the oppression of the man in street by capitalists, aristocrats and communists. In the 1950s, the poet recanted – in part – some of his views, and was viciously attacked by other poets for doing so. 

When I’d finished the poem, I was applauded enthusiastically. 

If the above account doesn’t ring quite true, that’s because it isn’t. Another reader – a very nice middle-aged lady – read a poem entitled “Let America Be America Again”. Written in 1935 by the gay black Communist sympathiser Langston Hughes, it comprehensively rubbishes the idea that the USA is all it’s cracked up to be, as will be obvious from the following extract:
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
Like most political poetry, it’s tedious! and clichéd! and bereft of proper thinking! and riddled with exclamation marks!

Hughes went on to sign a petition supporting Stalin’s purges (despite having travelled extensively within the Soviet Union in 1932) and was against America’s participation in WWII as long as the racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws were in place. He later softened his stance against participation on the basis that it would help the cause of black equality.

Hughes was investigated by HUAC in the 1950s, denied being a communist, and recanted some of his former views, which earned him criticism from fellow liberals.

I have no beef with Hughes as a poet – what I’ve read by him doesn’t impress me, but he wrote in an era awash with unimpressive poetry. I also applaud his work to improve the status of American blacks and to get rid of some truly horrible racist laws. I can also understand why he and many black artists and writers initially saw Communism as a political system that would benefit racial minorities (although acting as a public apologist for Stalin’s purges does strike me as a step too far). I’m pretty sure that, had I been a talented, intelligent, sensitive, homosexual black man in 1930s America, I’d have been casting about for a more agreeable political system to live under (although FDR had already steered the country sharply leftwards).

But given that his poetry isn’t much cop, and given that we now know how hugely and massively and cosmically wrong Langston Hughes and his ilk were about just about everything, and now that we have a huge amount of proof as to the limitless horrors visited upon its people by Soviet Communism, and now that America has actually elected a black president, and now that the only discriminatory laws on its statute books are those which favour blacks against whites – why (apart from a deeply-ingrained habit of politeness) would a group of politically mixed, white, charming, sensitive and cultured middle class English people feel that reading out such a poem was anything but an insult to the most truly democratic and decent country on the face of the planet? 

Without America, Hitler might very well have won – at the very least, many more Britons would have died in the fight to defeat him. Without America, the Soviet Union might very well still exist. Tens of millions of eager, desperate immigrants have benefitted by being allowed to live in America. Is anti-American prejudice now so ingrained that we seriously view the USA as a force for evil in the world? 

If I’d been an American, I’d have been insulted by the extraordinarily favourable reaction to Hughes’s poem last night.

What is it about lefties that makes them so determined to  cling to the evils - real or imagined - of the past (as long as they’re not the evils of Communism, of course)? Here, there’s Tony Benn and his bloody Tolpuddle Martyrs, and endless programmes featuring the Jarrow Marchers (which all forget to tell us that the 1930s were a period of economic success for Britain) and banging on about the racism faced by the first wave of black immigrants in 1950s, and from the way she’s treated you’d think Margaret Thatcher had personally nailed every member of the NUM to a cross in the early ‘80s. In the United States, from the obsession with  slavery and the early 1960s Civil Rights Protest Movement, the evils of Nixon, and from the plethora of films and documentaries and books about the House Un-American Activities Committee, you’d think the USA had been responsible for the slaughter of millions of cuddly liberals (those that hadn’t already been driven to suicide, of course).

Maybe next time I should read one of Ezra Pound’s less acceptable Cantos  – perhaps “With Usura”, which is a blistering attack on money-lending, and therefore, a thinly-veiled blast against Jews in general. Unlike Hughes’s poem, it’s technically accomplished, full of arresting images, lots of thinking (albeit wrong) - and there isn’t an exclamation mark in sight! Perhaps if I were to tell the group that Pound was an American who hated his own country,  opposed its participation in WWII, and was a keen supporter of an almost inconceivably brutal form of totalitarianism, which, like Communism, eschewed the rule of law and believed in the imprisonment or excution of all opponents, I’d end up being carried by a cheering mob shoulder-high around our local Oxfam bookshop.

They’re a funny lot, the liberal left.

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