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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 January 2014

Robert Burns, insurrectionary poet

Brent Kennedy

Every year the narrow-minded, conservative Robert Burns establishment ritually recite the same few poems and repeat ancient propaganda myths about him (invented by his political opponents after his death) and get drunk.

Yet the real Burns opposed all they stand for. He listed their traits: "Ignorance, superstition, bigotry, stupidity, malevolence, self-conceit, envy - all bound in a massy frame of brazen impudence!"

A poor farm labourer and later public sector worker (today he'd be on working tax credit and denounced as a scrounger), he was a radical, independent minded, fighter for democracy and equality who was hounded by political police spies.

He died not from drink and debauchery but from poverty and hard toil in the fields in all weathers since childhood, compounded by the fear of unemployment and eviction.

Although government agents and propagandists assassinated the dead poet's character and then sanitised him (burning much of his writings), enough of his passionate hatred of injustice shines through to make him a voice for working class folk today.

Anyone feeling exploited by long hours, or zero hours, today will readily understand "Man was made to mourn".

If you want to know about racism, read "The slave's lament"; on republicanism, "The Washington Ode" or "A dream".

Burns supported the American and French Revolutions and opposed the Hanoverian monarchy and the corrupt, undemocratic "Parliament" of bankers and landowners.

When a spy reported him for singing a French revolutionary song he was threatened with the sack from his exciseman's job and told to be "silent and obedient".

But recent books by Patrick Scott Hogg (The Lost Poems, The Cannongate Burns and The Patriot Poet) prove he then went underground, building a secret network to get his "seditious", anonymous poems and articles published in radical papers in Edinburgh and London.

He was a member of the "Friends of the People" in Dumfries and personally sent four cannon to the French revolutionaries.

This was his answer to Pitt's Tory dictatorship and its wave of repression, including martial law and the outlawing of trade unions. When Burke, the father of modern Conservatism, supported France's feudal aristocracy and opposed votes for 99% of ordinary Britons, dismissing the people as "the swinish multitude", Burns wrote:

"Burke, both passionate and rude, Calls us a "Swinish Multitude", Which some think defamation, But I his meaning thus define - That, if the People are all swine, Hog-drivers rule the nation."

And then there's the best anthem to an internationalist, classless society ever written in English - A man's a man for a' that.

Carlisle Socialist Party Alternative Burns Night Supper and Ceilidh

Saturday, 25 January, Royal Scott pub, Morton, Carlisle.

Starts 6.45pm prompt - haggis, neeps and tatties (or vegetarian option) served at 7pm.

Suggested donation of 5.

Tickets from David 07717 625184

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In The Socialist 22 January 2014:


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Benefits Street: A caricature of poverty

Leeds' forgotten dispute: The 1913-14 Corporation Strike

Robert Burns, insurrectionary poet


 

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