Militant Thistles

polemical poetry to prickle the politics of "permanent austerity"

atos Poor Doors Sheriff Stars spikes

thistles stretch their prickly arms afar

Black Triangle bedroom tax Disrupt and Upset

Christopher Norris

Bertolt Brecht Offers Advice to Those

Living in the Age of Donald Trump

 

 

Events cast long shadows before.

One such event would be a war.

But how are shadows to be seen

When total darkness fills the screen?

 

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Alphabet’, from ‘Five Children's Songs’ (1934),

trans. John Willett

 

 

All the gang of those who rule us

Hope our quarrels never stop

Helping them to split and fool us

So they can remain on top.

 

Brecht, ‘Solidarity Song’, trans. Willett

 

 

OK, you asked for it so here's

The best advice I have on how to see them through,

These worst of times that you

Tell me you’re facing now after just seventy years

When things went quiet, at least for those

Who lived a good way from the trouble-spots and chose

To block their otherwise ultra-sensitive ears

To what was going on, or close

Their minds to any bit of news that might,

If mindfully attended to,

Disturb their liberal consciences or cause a sleepless night.

 

From what you've said the case strikes me

As very like ours in the early to mid-

'Thirties when (let's not kid

Ourselves) we German leftists didn't exactly see

Eye to eye and fought such a lot

Of internal feuds that we lost the larger plot,

Put tactics ahead of everything that we

Were meant to stand for, and (here's what

You chiefly need to know) afforded just the chance

Those bastards needed to get rid

Of the few last obstacles to Hitler's advance.

Not that we can afford to ignore

Questions of tactics on the left, God knows,

But what 'all history shows'

(If you’ll allow me to take the role of sermonizing bore

Just for once) is how incredibly fast things went

Downhill from the time we spent

On endless internecine squabbles and bouts of score-

Settling to that pure stage-event,

The Reichstag Fire, expertly planned for max effect

As if to signal the echt-Wagnerian close

Of tottering Weimar and herald a new age of savagery unchecked.

 

My point is, you're now stuck with this

Monster in the White House along with his gang of crooks

After an electoral fix that looks

To me like the same sort of political abyss

We were peering into back then,

In the dog-days of Kristallnacht and the big Nazi rallies when

We were in shock or denial, so that those hit-or-miss

Efforts by a few brave, isolated women and men

To end the agony all failed for lack

Of coordination and went down in the history-books

As having, if anything, set the resistance back.

 

That's my main message to you now

In this age of resurgent barbarism aiming to turn

Progress on its head: just learn

From what went wrong, and more than anything how

To manage love and hate

So that with lovers, comrades, and those close to us we create

Bonds strong as any pledge of amity or wedding-vow,

While toward enemies maintaining always a state

Of readiness to take

Actions that an ethic of rational self-concern

Would rule out but for the huge difference they could make.

Chris Norris is a philosopher at Cardiff University and lives in Swansea. He has published many books about philosophy, literary theory, and music along with several collections of poetry including For the Tempus-Fugitives (Sussex Academic Press) and The Winnowing Fan (Bloomsbury), both in 2017.