Scottish Marxist: blending politics and the arts – guest blog by Cameron Wilson

Our guest blogger, Cameron Wilson, is a member of our Library’s Collection & Discovery team. Cam joined us for a two week project working with the Scottish Marxist. Here he gives us his personal reflections on its value as a primary source.

“The function, as it seems to me,  
O’ Poetry is to bring to be   
At lang, lang last that unity…”

  • Hugh MacDiarmid

As part of my library assistant graduate trainee program at Glasgow Caledonian University’s Sir Alex Ferguson Library, I was afforded the opportunity to intern in the library’s archive centre for two weeks. This internship has involved working with one of the most rewarding and valuable pieces of print media I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading – Scottish Marxist. For these two weeks I have worked on a comprehensive index of Scottish Marxist’s political articles, arts and culture articles, and original illustration and poetry.

This run of Scottish Marxist, the official journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB)’s Scottish Committee, encompasses 26 issues running from 1973 to 1985. Printed in Glasgow, its 26 issues are 30 to 50-page, colourful booklets with illustrated covers that blend Marxist analysis of current events, historical articles on leftism and the trade union movement in Scotland, art and culture news, and original illustration and poetry. Scottish Marxist provided a unique and sorely missed print publication to Scotland’s leftist community.

Image shows an example cover of 'Scottish Marxist' from Summer 1978. Printed on pink paper, the cover illustration is a scratchy, etching-type depiction of a man with bulging eyes and tongue out looking up at the word 'devolution'.

Front cover of ‘Scottish Marxist’ Issue no.16, 1978

From my point of view, what made Scottish Marxist special and valuable was its focus on the arts. Both political analysis and original poetry and illustration are given equal precedence on these pages, they share both a physical and intellectual space. In a time when physical space for text came at more of a premium, that is, without ample digital space, deciding to afford room to original art and poetry, as well as articles about and interviews with poets, on the pages of a noteworthy political journal is extremely significant.

All art, and revolutionary poetry in particular, has always and will always play an important role in leftist politics. According to Ernst Fischer, “under capitalism…all art above a certain level of mediocrity [is] always an art of protest, criticism and revolt.” While much of the poetry in Scottish Marxist is explicitly political – making direct reference to matters of class, poverty, and Marxism – much of it is subtler in its cultural and political criticism. These poems often describe life or brief encounters in Glasgow – but lives and encounters coloured by poverty, social inequalities, or class differences. This kind of poetry is vital to the unity that poet Hugh MacDiarmid longs for poetry to provide, and publishing it in political journals such as these is vital to the slow but essential cultural change required of Socialism, that Lenin described as requiring “the maximum of perseverance, persistence and method.”

Issue no. 10 of Scottish Marxist contains two valuable pieces that really showcase the blend of art and revolutionary politics that this journal consistently provides. The first is an in-depth interview with Hugh MacDiarmid. MacDiarmid himself stood as a parliamentary candidate for the CPGB in 1964, and is one of the most influential Scottish writers of the 20th Century. In this interview he discusses his own work, his influences, and his views on poetry and politics in Scotland at the time of publishing – 1975. MacDiarmid is asked to speak about the commonly held view that his own poetry, and poetry in general, is elitist and “too difficult.” Perhaps surprisingly, MacDiarmid responds by doubling down, stating in fact that making poetry less ‘difficult’ would be making a “concession to illiteracy,” which is “not due to any lack of inherent ability in the people, [but] due to the kind of society in which we’ve been living and are still living.” This attitude is reflected in Scottish Marxist itself, which unapologetically includes material which is still commonly seen as inaccessible and elitist in 2022 – poetry, the arts, and Marxist analysis. This journal makes no assumptions about the ability of their readers to effectively interpret their content. In fact, by consistently publishing such a wide variety of both creative and political material, I feel that Scottish Marxist actively encouraged its readers to keep an open mind and engage with pieces that were perhaps out of their comfort zone.

This is further highlighted by the subsequent article in issue 10, ‘MacDiarmid’s Language’ by Bill Sweeny – a detailed poetic and political analysis and criticism of MacDiarmid’s use of Scots in poetry. In this article, Sweeny emphasises the significance of MacDiarmid’s poetry to the wider working-class movement in Scotland, stating that “MacDiarmid is not, and never had been, only for artists, poets and the like: it’s for us all (that is, those of us interested in progress).” The final section of this article again echoes the role of Scottish Marxist in the political sphere, that being to emphasise the intrinsic and essential relationship between leftism and the arts in Scotland. Sweeny encourages us to create works that include the common speech of the working-class, and create images that reflect social reality in Scotland, knitting together working-class ideology and the working-class movement.

Example of a political cartoons by Bob Starrett discussed in the blog.

Artwork by ©Bob Starrett from Scottish Marxist’ Issue no.10, 1975

Examples of precisely this kind of poetry and art are strewn throughout these issues of Scottish Marxist, be they the political cartoons of Bob Starrett, or poems written by journal contributors. Starrett, a life-long trade union activist and artist, contributed numerous political cartoons to the pages of Scottish Marxist, with themes ranging from miners strikes, landownership, and nuclear weapons to theatre closures, North Sea oil, and unemployment – themes and images which certainly combine the working-class movement and ideology. One of the poems within these pages that carries that same ethos is found on page 48 of issue 13 – An Alki by Vincent Mills. Written entirely in colloquial Glaswegian dialect, this poem pushes the language to its limit by using non-traditional Scots spelling, effortlessly communicating to the reader the struggle of the working-class Glaswegian alcoholic in both its sound and imagery. Mills creates completely original compounded words such as “hodiniz” (haudin’ his), “izi” (as he), and “wurlda” (world of), creating sounds deeply familiar to the working-class Glaswegian. It is precisely this kind of poetry, this style of language, reflecting the social reality of the working-class, that fosters a unique environment within the pages of Scottish Marxist. An environment that was infinitely valuable to the working-class movement, and contributed to the unity that MacDiarmid longed for, that he knew poetry could provide.

 

 

Example of poetry from 'Scottish Marxist', this one titled 'An Alki' by Vincent Mills.

Poem by ©Vincent Mills from ‘Scottish Marxist’ Issue no.13, 1977

I implore you to read and enjoy this archival material. Scottish Marxist has widened my view of Scottish leftism in the late 20th century, and highlighted a powerful ethos that holds deep value for the working-class movement, 50 years on in 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the heid and read! – Library wellbeing event

Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness week 9-15 May 2022 the Sir Alex Ferguson Library is supporting Keep the heid and read!: Scotland’s Reading moment 2022.

Reading just 6 minutes a day can improve your mental health.
To find out more and how to join in and visit Keep the heid and read! 

If you are on campus why not visit our new wellbeing space Relax and Renew at 3pm on Wednesday 11th May 2022 and join staff and students from the GCU community to pledge your 6 minutes and read.

You can select a book to read from our wellbeing collection or just relax and read in the space (near the Library desk on Level 0).

 

 

 

 

 

Relax and Renew – the Library’s new wellbeing space

A new wellbeing space will be opening in the Sir Alex Ferguson Library on Wednesday 27th April at 2pm.
Located near the Library Desk on Level 0, the ‘Relax and Renew’ area will provide our staff and students with a relaxing, contemplative space where they can take a break from their work and studies and engage with others from the University community.
You can also browse and engage with a selection of resources related to wellbeing and mental health, including self-care resources and literature on hobbies and on non-academic based fiction and non-fiction topics.   You can browse our print collection here.
We are delighted to kick off our book of the month series with a recommendation from GCU student Rachel S. Tying in nicely with Stress Awareness Month, Rachel has recommended Be Well, Learn Well by Gareth Hughes

Be Well, Learn Well by Gareth Hughes: I really enjoyed Gareth Hughes book; Be Well, Learn Well! It’s packed with information on how to learn and improve our wellbeing, including staying motivated and different ways we can study for exams while looking after ourselves. I’d thoroughly recommend it, especially now with exam season coming up!You can check out our April book of the month online here.

Those who are not on campus can access wellbeing resources via the Library’s webpages.

If you have any ideas for events or would like to suggest an item to add to our wellbeing collection, please contact us at: library@gcu.ac.uk

24 hour opening during exam period

The Sir Alex Ferguson Library will be open 24 hours a day from Monday 25 April to Tuesday 17 May to accommodate student’s study requirements over the assessment period.

As of Wednesday 18 May, the Library will return to normal operational hours.

The computer lab on level 0 of the Students Association building will also reopen as of Thursday 21 April (Monday – Friday) 9am – 9pm. You will need your Student ID Card activated by the GCU Security Office for swipe door access to the computer lab after 5pm.

Workers Education Association Scotland archive – guest blog by Ray McCowan

 

On the 24th January 2022 – International Day of Education – GCU Archive Centre are delighted to announce that the Workers Education Association Scotland story will be preserved, catalogued and made available for the use of current and future generations. WEA Scotland have played an important role in education for the common good over almost 120 years to date and now their historical records will begin a new life as a research resource, available to all. First discussed in early 2020 it was not until September 2021 that the full collection arrived here. This was, of course, mainly due to restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Our guest blogger Ray McCowan is the Director of the WEA Scotland. Here he tells the story of bringing their archives together and creating a national heritage collection. 

Continue reading

British Standards Online – FileOpen plug in

We’re aware of an issue downloading standards from the BSI website. This is due to new digital security requirements put in place by the publisher.

For Academic Staff:

To download standards on a GCU computer you’ll now need to install a special plugin called FileOpen. You’ll find the plugin by searching for the Software Centre app on your computer and downloading Install BSOL plugin for Adobe Reader. You need to be signed into the Cisco AnyConnect VPN if you’re off campus. Please restart your machine before attempting to download any files. Files can only be opened in PDF readers such as Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader, they can’t be opened in-browser.

You will also need an internet connection to open the documents for the first time. Once your documents have been authenticated, you will be able to access the documents offline.

Please let us know if you have any problems installing the plugin by contacting the team at ertenq@gcu.ac.uk

For students:

If you are using your own device, you will be able to download the FileOpen plug in directly from the BSI platform. You may not need to restart your machine before downloading.

If you are using a machine on campus, the FileOpen plug in will already be installed on your machine. If you have having any problems opening documents, please contact the team at ertenq@gcu.ac.uk

Apologies for any inconvenience.

New study spaces on Level 2 and 3

We are installing new study spaces on Level 2 and 3 of the Library on Saturday 2nd October and Sunday 3rd October. There will be some noise associated with this work. If you feel that this noise may affect your use of the Library, please feel free to use another area in the building. Level 0 has space for both individual and group study, and Level 4 is available for silent individual study.

We look forward to seeing you this weekend, and if there is anything we can assist with please contact us using the chat function on the Library homepage or by email at library@gcu.ac.uk.