Monday, 7 May 2018

Marx at 200

As for everyone else on the Left, the bicentenary of Karl Marx’s birthday means a lot to me.  But ‘Marx at 200’ has been emotionally overshadowed by what I might term ‘Nigel North at 60’, the death on April 16 of my close childhood friend as his multiple health problems took him away from us three months short of his sixty-first birthday.  I mentioned in a previous post that the white working-class neighbourhood in which I grew up from the late 1950s now barely exists in its old form, and Nigel’s death gives that observation traumatic concrete force; he still lived just around the corner from my parents’ home in Southend-on-sea, so had remained quite literally part of that neighbourhood all his life.  His death therefore feels to me not just a great personal loss but an historical end-point, as if not just a deep part of my own being, but a certain precious idea of England, has gone with him.  “I love my country as it used to be,” he once said to me, and I can feel that immense pull of a shared working-class past too.  I shall have to be careful that my mourning does not turn into melancholia.

How move forward, then, emotionally and politically?   Perhaps by going one generation further back, paradoxically – to my paternal grandfather Henry Smith Pinkney, who was a lifelong Communist.  That was a political identity which itself took rise from a particular experience of class and locality – the mining villages of the North-East and then Kent, in Grandad’s case; but which also generated a universal idea of emancipation which, a generation further back still, could pull even a wealthy middle-class Victorian like William Morris across to its new utopian dreams and practice.   So the ‘idea of Communism’ still persists – and Marx at 200 is part of that – even if a particular historical embodiment of it, i.e. the Leninist party, is now definitively past.  So I here rededicate myself to that project of liberation, true in that to the working-class neighbourhood and upbringing that Nigel North and I shared – even if, his own father having been a Conservative Party activist, his political identity was more conflicted than mine.  I don’t ever want to stop remembering and mourning my dear friend, lost to us as he has been far too early, but the idea of Communism is a project open and utopian enough to point also to Miltonic fresh fields and pastures new.


Kotick said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Tony, and your post reminded me of Richard Hoggart's lament for the lost Leeds working-class community of his childhood in 'The Uses of Literacy' (1957). But politically speaking, as you imply here, the necessary counterweight has to be Bertholt Brecht's statement that we need to start from the "bad new things", not the "good old ones".

Tony Pinkney said...

Dear Kotick, Thanks for kind thoughts. In the spirit of moving forwards, I was planning to go down to the Morris Society AGM today, but a serious knee injury means I couldn't make it (and I need to save what mobility I've currently got for Nigel's funeral on Tuesday). But yes, the "bad new things" - that has to be right, however strong the pull of a loved past.