First Published: Alive Magazine No. 59, November 13, 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
“Remembrance Day must be coming soon,” Irene thought. “Yes. Less than a week.”
A man was selling plastic ’poppies’ on the spot she usually occupied on Saturdays. She, too, was a seller, distributing every issue of a popular, weekly anti-imperialist magazine.
Irene smiled at the man and took up her task ten paces away from him. She sold some copies immediately; people had been waiting near the corner, having grown accustomed to her regular pattern. After ten minutes of steady selling there was a temporary break in the flow of people walking by the corner. During this lull the poppy seller opened a conversation with Irene.
“Hi. What’s the name on the cover? Lu...”? he asked in a Scandinavian accent. He was a big man, tall and heavily built. He was sixty years old or more, though still showing signs of what must have been a vigorous, healthy and strong youth. His hands, drawn into fists against the cold, were the size of hams and the texture of iron, with the thick fingers of an old worker. His eyes were sharp and bright, his smile keen and friendly. He wore a small hat and an autumn raincoat rather than the winter coat the weather suggested.
“Lu Hsun,” Irene replied.
“Who’s he? A new Chinese leader – taking the place of Mao Tsetung?”
“No. No, he was a writer in China before it was liberated. He wrote poetry, stories and essays in support of the revolution. It was the fortieth anniversary of his death recently. He died in 1936. So there are articles by him reprinted inside,” Irene responded.
“You know,” the man said, “for thousands and thousands or years every society has had its intellectuals – professors and so on. And they’ve always come up with the idea that they should be experts. So, they wouldn’t show people how to do some things, but they’d do things for the people. They were actually with the smallest group, not the majority not the common people. Then they’d say the common people can’t do anything. They’re wrong. The common people are able to do an awful lot more than they give them credit for. Do you know who proved what the common people can do?”
“Tell me,”Irene responded.
“The Chinese!” he” exclaimed. “They put faith in the common people and the common people created all that’s there. They have a rich heritage, a great tradition and a wealth of history. They feed, cloth and house everybody. They have a strong culture and a happy life. The common people do it all tor themselves: nobody lording it over the majority.”
“China certainly is a great model for what can be done.”
“But there’s one thing wrong with the Chinese.”
“What?” asked Irene cautiously. This was usually the opening remark for all sorts of slanders against New China.
“I can’t pronounce their damn names,” he said laughing. Irene laughed too.
“I’d buy a copy of your magazine,” he continued,“ but the doctors tell me I shouldn’t read newspapers. My eyes are bad. I can read the headlines fine but I only read three or four words of the small print, then nothing. I can’t make the words out anymore. I’ve always supported the literature of the working people. When they told me I shouldn’t read I told them it’d be better if they told me I shouldn’t eat. I have to read those newspapers, without them I don’t know what’s going on in the world. The doctors tell me I can watch TV or go to the movies. What do I want to go to the movies for? I want to know what’s going on TV doesn’t tell you real news. The news I believe is in newspapers like yours and that’s what I want to read.”
“Will your eyes get better?” Irene asked.
“They say I can have an operation but not for three months. Maybe that will help, maybe not. They say no glasses will help. I know a guy who’ll make me a pair of glasses that will help me see out of one eye. The doctors say not to do that or I’ll go blind. If the operation doesn’t help I’ll get those glasses. I’d rather go blind reading newspapers than to be half-blind and not know what’s going on in the world.”
People were walking by the corner again, so the man said “Enough about eye problems, I better not stop you from selling. Good luck.”
“Good luck to you,” Irene responded.
A short time later a university law student named Robert Alexander came towards the corner. Irene knew this character because he had been employed for a couple of weeks at the factory where she worked. He had been forced to run away from the job because an old worker had challenged his favourite slogan, ’Make the Rich Pay’ as being devoid of class content and compared him to the Canadian revisionists of the late 30s. He had not been able to run away from his nickname. Razz, though. The nickname came from the initials of the tag: Robert Alexander, Salesman. which he’d been labelled because he constantly tried to sell the workers on the abstract theories of a miniscule political sect.
Razz was quite disoriented whenever Irene saw him, possibly because the magazine she supported took strong issue with the insanity promoted by the political sect to which he belonged. “Today,” Irene thought, “he’s looking old, like an old dog that’s been beaten and kicked in the head after it fell in the water.”
Although it was afternoon, Razz looked like he’d just left his bed, with dishevelled hair, a grey, drawn face and a stooped walk. He was wearing a ski jacket but it was open revealing a blue dress shirt, a pullover sweater and grey flannel trousers. His shoes were polished black. Irene tnought, “If he took that yellow stripe that runs down his back and trimmed it into two ribbons, one for the side of each trouser leg, he’d be outfitted in complete police uniform ”
When he got to the corner Razz was asked to buy a poppy. He straightened his stooped body, clenched his fists and cocked his arm, striking over all a completely unnatural pose. This was characteristic of Razz. He was always trying to look ’militant’ as though he thought the photographer for his sect’s journal might happen along at any minute looking for a suitable front-page picture. He tried to muster a deep tone in his voice before he answered, “No! I’m opposed to poppies’”
The poppy seller looked at him quizzically, but then shrugged.
Razz approached Irene and still trying to posture as a militant said, “Hello Irene. What do you think about poppy day.”
Razz firmly upheld his sect’s peculiar line on ’winning people over.’ He talked to every ordinary person using obscure rhetoric, but to any politically-conscious person he talked about the most meaningless details of some trumped-up issue. Razz called this ’dialectics.’
Irene knew Razz’ style from experience. “Remembrance Day? I haven’t actually taken a position on it one way or the other.”
“Well, I used to be a sea-cadet selling poppies and I’m opposes to it,” Razz repeated. “It isn’t really an anti-fascist holiday.”
Irene’s temper flared up. Razz was truly a clown. He supposed that his individual childhood experience as a sea-cadet should be the basis for conjuring up some false matter of principle. Had anyone ever claimed that Remembrance Day was an anti-fascist holiday? In fact, it wasn’t a holiday at all. It was a serious time for respectful consideration of the sacrifice made by those who laid down their lives in the two world wars. Did Razz not think this sacrifice of millions of sons and daughters of the working masses from all over the world bore remembrance? Even if those lives were used as cannon-fodder in imperialist war, the spilled blood of working people deserves remembrance. Further, there is definite anti-fascist content to such remembrance. What could be more anti-fascist than to give one’s life fighting the forces of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and the rest of the fascist axis?
Irene disciplined her emotion, simply responding “If you’re asking what I’m opposed to, it isn’t Remembrance Day. I’m opposed to imperialism and I don’t think holidays are a significant issue at this stage of history.”
Razz always went blank in the face when confronted with principle. After a moment of silence he said, “I’ll take three copies.”
Irene sold him the copies and watched him walk away. As soon as he was a little way down the street he dropped the pseudo-militant posture and took up his real hang-dog stoop.
As Razz walked away the poppy seller approached the magazine seller again. He said in a puzzled voice, “Is he a friend of yours? I could make no sense of him at all.”
“No! He’s no friend!” Irene said emphatically and went on to explain her experience with the illogical politics and the irrational style of work upheld by Razz. She finished by reporting the nonsense he’d spewed on the topic of ’poppies’
“He has no actual facts,” the man observed. “He knows nothing of me nor my experience and he obviously has no experience of his own as an anti-fascist fighter. How can he expound such a full-blown opinion? I know that method of forming ideas. It is worthless. It is simply stumbling through life with your eyes closed, reacting aggressively whenever you smash into a wall.”
“Yes, a reactionary,” agreed Irene, “formulating his line on the basis of reaction to the line of others. That’s a good description of Razz. His reaction is based on personalities too. If he likes you, he reacts positively. If he doesn’t like you he reacts negatively.”
“Actually one should determine one’s likes and dislikes according to the ideas and activities the personalities are carrying forward,” said the man.
“Exactly.” Irene agreed again. “He does the opposite and then has the arrogance to call the whole mess communist.”
The poppy seller was visibly astounded and unset “No? Does he really say that? It’s too much. I know real communists. I fought side by side with them in Spain beginning the same year you said that writer died – 1936. That was an anti-fascist fight and we knew it. We were there consciously. The Canadian government then was as bad as it is now and wouldn’t organise those with the sentiment to fight fascism. So, we paid our own way, and we raised the funds to outfit ourselves. I may be old but I’m no fool. When that man Razz says that my dead friends didn’t die in an anti-fascist fight, he is the old fool...”
“Actually, he’s relatively young,” Irene noted, remembering her own feeling about Razz looking old.
The man continued, “If he was a real communist he’d remember Stalin. Stalin helped us in Spain. We were there from all over the world. From Canada, the U.S, Britain, all over Europe, and everywhere else. And Stalin was the only world leader to stand by us. The other leaders even worked against us. When Stalin was going to give us tanks and other arms they held back on the necessary spare parts.
“When I remember all the communists I knew from then right through to the end of the war in 1946, all those comrades who laid down their lives in the dearest, firmest commitment to the anti-fascist fight, and I hear the stupidity of that man, I know he’s not a communist.
“The communists were always there. Everywhere people fought the nazis and the fascists you could find communists, but they never made a big deal of themselves. There were other people – ordinary people – dying too. The communists knew that best of all and they never separated themselves from the others. We were all anti-fascist and every single person that died was an anti-fascist martyr, millions and millions of them. Then this idiot comes along stamping on their memories and pronouncing that we shouldn’t hold the dead close to our hearts because ”they weren’t anti-fascist”. Well, they were anti-fascist and I am anti-fascist and anyone who doesn’t memorialise those millions is definitely not anti-fascist!”
Irene saw the mirror of the anger she had felt while facing Razz. She knew the man’s words were not even coming close to doing justice to his thoughts. “You’re absolutely correct,” she said. Then, knowing she couldn’t say anything more than the poppy seller had, on the fighting spirit of anti-fascism, she added, simply, “He’s a complete buffoon!”