“If I must write, let it be sedition!”
Every year the narrow-minded, conservative, parochial Burns establishment ritually recite the same few poems and repeat the age-old propaganda myths about him (invented by his political opponents after his death) as an excuse to get drunk.
Yet the real Burns opposed all they stand for. Here’s how he listed their traits: “ Ignorance, superstition, bigotry, stupidity, malevolence, self-conceit, envy – all bound in a masssy frame of brazen impudence!”
A poor farm labourer and later public sector worker (today he’d be on working tax credit and housing benefit and denounced as a scrounger), he was a radical, independent minded, self confident fighter for democracy and equality who was hounded by political police spies. He died not from drink and debauchery but from the effects of poverty and hard toil in the fields in all weathers since childhood, compounded by the fear of unemployment and eviction. Hence even his poems on nature, like “To a mouse”, are really about the human condition.
Although the secretly paid government agents and propagandists assassinated the dead poet’s character and then sanitised him (burning much of his sexual and political writings), enough of his passionate hatred of injustice burns 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 was a supporter of the American and French Revolutions and an opponent of the Hannoverian monarchy and the corrupt, undemocratic “Parliament” of the bankers and landownwers. When a spy reported him for signing a French revolutionary song in Dumfries 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 that 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 4 cannon to the French revolutionaries.
This was his answer to the anti-democracy wave of repression, including martial law and the outlawing of trade unions, by the Tory dictatorship under Pitt. When Burke, the father of modern Conservatism, supported the French feudal aristocracy and opposed votes for 99% of ordinary Britons, dismissing the people as “the swinish multitude”, Burns typically 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 is, of course, the best anthem to an internationalist, classless society ever written in English – A man’s a man for a’ that.
Alternative Burns Night Supper and Ceilidh
Saturday, 25th January
Royal Scott pub, Morton, Carlisle
Starts 6,45pm prompt, haggis, neeps and tatties (or vegetarian option) served at 7pm.
Followed by the Immortal Memory address, music by “Now and Again” and guest performers from Scotland and Cumbria, plus dancing.
All this for a suggested donation of £5 !
Tickets available from David 07717 625184