Dr Christopher Murray Grieve, who wrote under the pen-name of Hugh Macdiarmid, was the greatest Scottish poet of the twentieth century. Best-known for what he called “Lallans”, a literary form of the Lowland Scots language that he developed, he also made use of English.
At different stages of his life he was a supporter of Scottish nationalism and communism. Famously, he stood for the Communist Party against Tory Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, in the Kinross & West Perthshire constituency in the 1964 general election, as part of an unsuccessful bid to get television time for the Party. His A Sprig of White Heather in the Future’s Lapel, written for former Communist MP Willie Gallacher on the occasion of the latter’s 80th birthday, is particularly famous among Britain’s Communists.
Here we feature Ballad of Aun, King of Sweden, one of McDiarmid’s strongly political poems.
A Sheffield teacher and activist in the National Union of Teachers, Frances Moore (1906 – 1994) was married to Bill Moore, who was a fulltime worker for the Communist Party. Although Frances’ busy life left with little time to write in her younger days, later on she produced a substantial body of poetry, some of which was published. The poem featured here is a tribute to the strength of collective action and duty of trade union struggle – and the example of the famous UCS Work In.
“The labour troubadour Joe Hill was executed by the state of Utah on November 19, 1915, accused of murdering two shopkeepers. Five years earlier, while working on the docks in California, Hill met members of the IWW and became an active Wobbly. Soon his humorous and biting political songs, like “The Preacher and the Slave,”1 were being sung on picket lines across the country. From his jail cell in Utah, Hill wrote to “Big Bill” Haywood in a telegram, “Don’t waste time mourning. Organize!”—a line that became a slogan of the U.S. labour movement. On the eve of his execution, Hill penned these words.” – From Voices of a People’s History
Born into a working-class family in Spennymoor, Co durham, Bob Dixon eventually became a school teacher, and then a lecturer in English at Stockwell College of Education, Bromley. He was involved with the left-wing cultural journal Artery in the 1970s, and he wrote three collections of poems, three books on the ways in which children’s attitudes have been shaped by the publishing and manufacturing industries, plus an autobiography, The Wrong. Bob was a life long member of the Communist Party and well-known figure on the left-wing poetry scene, reading at CND rallies and other events.
The Men by Pablo Neruda, translation by Alfred Yankauer
Pablo Neruda was a prominent Chilean Communist, as well as a Nobel prize-winning poet in both literature and peace. Neruda played key roles in two Chilean governments and experienced the outlawing of Communism in 1948 and later became a close adviser to the Socialist President Salvador Allende only to die in hospital of cancer at the time of Pinochet’s US-backed coup. Better known nowadays only for his poetry, he was a hugely popular poet in Chile at the time and remains popular throughout the world today.
Bertolt Brecht is an eternal darling of leftist lovers of poetry. As a young man, Brecht discovered Marxism in the process of looking for methods to politicise his artistic aesthetic. Brecht’s work is thus built on historicism and critique of established institutions, as well as the various myths surrounding these institutions.
This artistic methodology of Brecht is best seen in his poem A Worker Reads History. Here, Brecht recounts centuries of historical events, which he exaggerates in order to emphasise the place of the Worker. Brecht shows the historical events as impermanent and transitory, with one constant: mighty buildings and great men change, but cooks and builders remain. The poem contains little description – as most of Brecht’s work, it is intended to alienate the reader and put them outside of the described events so that the reader can adopt a critical attitude.
Conversation with Comrade Lenin by Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1929
Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was a Bolshevik revolutionary and came to be one of the most celebrated communist poets in the Soviet Union and internationally. He was also a talented playwright, artist and actor who used art as a medium to convey the politics and ideals of the new socialist state.
The Carpet Weavers of Kuyan-Bulak Honour Lenin by Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was a German Marxist poet, playwright and theatre director. Brecht lived through a turbulent era. Narrowly avoiding conscription at 16 during World War One, he worked prodigiously through throughout the period of the Weimar Republic. Brecht was forced to flee with the rise of the Nazis in 1933. He left the USA during the McCarthyite “Red Scare” returning to what was then the German Democratic Republic. He died on the 14th of August 1956.