Sunday, March 21, 2004

Voices from the English Underground, 1961-1971 (2)

Just one of those voices today, but it’s a powerful one that isn’t listened to nearly as much as it should be.
David Widgery (1947-92), whose adventures shuttling between (as he put it) “psychedelia and the left” are only hinted at here, moved on from the SLL (which itself ended up as the Workers Revolutionary Party) to become one of the more open and creative minds in the International Socialists - which is what the “Socialist” “Workers” “Party” called itself before it took, first, a “workerist” turn (1976) and then, more recently, a nosedive into its current state of being so cynical and opportunistic that it might as well be Stalinist, and so totally repulsive as an advertisement for the “left” that it might as well be funded by the CIA. Widgery, however, who was also a GP in the East End of London, became an expert on Surrealism and popular music (including, for instance, Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith), and, crucially, retained his lively sense of humour, deserves better than to be appropriated by such scum. His books, which are well worth searching out, include (in addition to those mentioned here) his anthology The Left in Britain, 1956-68 (Penguin, 1976), already mentioned on this blog, and a collection of essays and articles, Preserving Disorder (Pluto Press, 1989).
Take it away, Dave ...

David Widgery: “... I had joined the wrong Communist Party branch. It had actually been heavily infiltrated by Trotskyists and I was expelled almost immediately in a mass purge: ‘You, you and you - out!’ They included me by mistake, but I became an honorary Trotskyist simply by being expelled, and I went through this rapid Trotskyfication in the SLL [Socialist Labour League], which was a very tough, quite proletarian, doctrinaire group. I had about a year of that: lots of meetings - you had to learn off by heart the five reasons why James Burnham betrayed the Fourth International - lots of paper-selling, things like that. Quite educational, and it inoculated me against that sort of fanaticism ever since. You had to learn what Marx said and what Lenin said and what dialectical materialism is, and so on. Something that everyone should go through - but only once, and not for very long.”

David Widgery again: “... So I hooked up with [Allen] Ginsberg and was rather taken over by that and thought it was all rather good. At that time he was going through a very intense mystical thing, but we were all moving rather more politically, because of the influence of Vietnam. He was very much: ‘Everyone must make love tonight, everyone must meditate, the Viet Cong must join with the Americans and suck each other’s cocks’ - and that really wasn’t what we were saying. We were saying that the Vietnamese must beat the Americans, so there was this - discrepancy.”

[More to follow, including more from Dave W.]

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