Orwell’s Review of Mein Kampf

 
 
Reading George Orwell’s Review of Mein Kampf 
at Liverpool Lime Street Station 
25th January 2013
 
1.
A day in biting January, the Liver Birds are frozen solid 
On top of their high perches launched on neoclassical 
Trunks scraping the mackerel sky, far above the wintry 
Mersey and its chilled docks huddled nearby, 
Where, so my father said he’d traced, an ancestor of mine 
Worked as a shipping clerk in the early twentieth century, 
Spending what little spare time he had craning by his 
Desk-lamp translating the Bible back into Greek… 
I’m marching through the icy rains of Liverpool en route 
To Lime Street Station and the snowbound journey back 
To the frostier South I’m not missing for a moment, 
Charmed as I am by the classless Scouse hospitality, 
The infectious accent that’s a Lancashire stew sprinkled 
With Irish spice and a pinch of Welshness that, since
The oral diaspora of the Fifties slum clearances, 
Now ricochets as far as Runcorn and Skelmersdale, 
A kind of damp warmth clasped in from English iciness, 
And cushioned by the elbows-out Flintshire hills… 
 
After only one night in this inimitable city 
Sharing poetry at The Bluecoat – its icing-windowed court 
From the reign of obscure Queen Anne, last gasp 
Of the Stuart clan before the Hanoverian dynasty – 
And a tub-thumping speech against this torch-wielding Tory 
Government to an audience of passionate Lancastrians 
In an atmosphere of rare poetic commonality, I pass 
A news-stand reading FOUR YOUTHS BEAT HOMELESS MAN 
TO DEATH, while a street jazz band – as if in unconscious 
Filmic percussion – strikes up ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, 
And the lurid images from Stanley Kubrick’s post-
Industrial treatment of Anthony Burgess’s apocalyptic 
A Clockwork Orange (something like a psychopathic 
Comic strip) intrude disturbingly in my mind; 
The bowler-hatted, cod-pieced Droogs sticking their canes 
And boots into the stomach of a wheezy old soused 
Irish tramp in a litterless unreal subway – I’m reminded 
Of the darker adumbrations of this austere time, 
Where, as the cascade of left-field literature reminds 
On its innumerable chewed spines in the tattered enlightenment 
Of the News from Nowhere bookshop, social scapegoats, 
Folk devils, and other malicious mythologies spun 
By chalk-striped pigeon-men cooing in Whitehall 
Now abound, spread and germinate through the trolling 
Red-tops and out along forked true-blue tongues… 
 
2.
Freezing over a cappuccino in icy Lime Street Station
Waiting for the train back to the snootier South, I thumb 
My way through a cheap Prussian-grey stapled pamphlet 
That might as well be contemporary: old tobaccoy 
Equine-faced Eric Blair, thin-trim-moustached 
George Orwell – hobo in cognito for Mass Observation – 
Waging his war against gerunds and other rogue forms 
Of prose-offenders, policing pretensions – and otherwise 
The moral conscience of his politicised times in spite of his 
Faintly Hitlerish hairstyle (Forties pudding-basin crop top 
With razor-short back and sides) – and snuck in at the back 
Of the 99p dreadful I chance on his review 
Of the unabridged Mein Kampf, from the New English Weekly, 
21 March Nineteen-Forty… Such choicest snippets 
Strike me as I read: ‘Both Left and Right concurred in 
The very shallow notion that National Socialism 
Was merely a version of Conservatism’; and on wolfish Adolf: 
‘A thing which strikes one is the rigidity of his mind’; 
‘Monomaniac’; Orwell’s recommended photo: ‘Hitler in 
His early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, doglike face, 
The face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. …’. 
 
At this point I hollow out tubercular Orwell’s long-drawn 
Physiognomy, ashy skin, his lipless mouth permanently
Clenched as if champing at a bit, a horse-like face, I think, 
Groping for some composure between politically 
Antagonistic tongs; then slip back to his Hitler depiction: 
‘The expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified… 
Grievance against the universe…’ (how Manichaean!) 
 ‘The martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock… 
One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, 
That he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to.
The attraction of such a pose is quite enormous…’ and so 
On Orwell goes in his succinct and unimpeachable prose… 
 
And then the polemical uprooting of the phoney principle – 
Or simply pragmatism? – of democracy (that is, rule by 
The people, at least, in principle, never yet in practice, 
And in that sense, little different to the long-projected 
Hopes of still-unachieved Socialism, that -ism they always 
Say could never work – how convenient for them) 
By comparison to the honest elemental self-harm, 
General mayhem and bloodletting of Fascism ‘psychologically 
Far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life’ –
I might agree with him on the matter of capitalism, 
But would depart as to any ‘soundness’ to the jackboot 
Going in, and on his flimsy shoeing-in of socialism 
As a politics which also states, as capitalism, ‘‘I will offer 
You a good time’’ (that sounds more like the contra-talk 
Of parrot-faced Peter Hitchins…). Did even lugubrious 
George occasionally lapse into idle politicisation 
Of language to keep his straw men upright in the ‘pure wind’? 
 
3.
I look out on the snow-flurried Liverpudlian night
At the vast scale of the classical theatre opposite Lime 
Street Station, statically arced, petrol-patched, like 
A baroquely camouflaged army tank, or a colossal stone 
Armadillo about to pounce, and wonder just how long 
It will be until another aggrieved and scowling upstart 
Grown out from a damp pram in a type of poverty 
Deemed impossible by contemporary focus group surveys, 
Humiliated and terminally unemployed, perhaps unemployable, 
Nursing grudges like three-day’s-growth, pacing the grey 
Streets tucked up in an army surplus trench-coat, 
Too rigid and fired to fit in with those louche bohemians 
And college drop-outs who flail their hands and scarves in 
The cluttering cafés of the Knowledge District, but who 
Finds a platform or soapbox somewhere to tub-thump, 
Ignite dishevelled audiences with his ferocious oratory,
Mimetic, conductor-like gesticulations and choreography,
Turning attention to scapegoats in his local vicinity,
Local, so more touchable, close at hand, observable, 
Visible, tangible, easier to grasp in the long-armed phalange,
To tag with fiery tongue and storming glare, scapegoats 
Who in time are sculpted out from shadow-projected 
Resentments, isolated through gallowglass looks, 
Stigmatised then hounded to the four corners of the city, 
And then, and there, this resurgent Bulldog Breed finally 
Finds its lead, its 1930s moment, the rise of an incursion 
Towards a newer, grubbier reality, in which everyone 
But the ranting street apostle is an enemy, but none 
More so than the scurrying rats infesting every rusty-
Railinged basement squat, boarded-up digs, shut-curtained 
Bed-sit, tipped out from their slumming burrows and 
Poured out with their shadows into the pounding precincts, 
Rounded up, culled, pinned with little black triangles, 
Paraded up and down the pavements to the fascist 
Laughter of mercilessly innocent children; a time 
Of spit-and-polishing, boot-tramping platitudes, 
Ghetto-rhetoric, doughnut-dialectic, and social 
Cleansing sugared as “gentrification”, a tramping of hope 
And protections, the clinching of a pincer-movement 
On the poor, unemployed, preoccupied and stupefied, 
Mushrooming spontaneously, for only that way 
Can this aggrieved pariah, this scowling wolfish froth-
Mouthed natural victim fulfil his twisted motto: 
‘Better an end with horror than a horror without end’ –
And only neurotics and poets to stop us turning that bend…
 
Alan Morrison

www.alanmorrison.co.uk
www.therecusant.org.uk

 


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