Friday, July 19, 2013

The Gilt Kid by James Curtis (Penguin Books 1936)




He was walking along Gerrard Street, shaking his head in solemn negation at all the prostitutes, when a man stopped him.

'Hallo, comrade.'

'Blimey, this seems to be my night for meeting people. Who the hell are you, mate?'

He looked at the other closely. He was short, pale and looked scared. Paleface! That was the key-word. Paleface. The man must have met him in prison. Good God, he thought, with a kind of mock comicality, the place is getting infested with gaol-birds.

The man was talking. The Gilt Kid listened with impatience. He hardly wanted to listen. Talking was more his line.

'Don't you remember me, comrade? I'm the man what sold you a copy of the Daily Worker on the day of the anti-war demo last week.' His voice had a kind of whine in it as though he was begging.

'That's right.' The Gilt Kid's manner was condescending. 'Come and have a drink.'

'Well,' said the communist, hopefully, 'I haven't any money.'

'I'm not asking you if you've got any money,' he said loftily. 'I'm asking you to have a drink.'

They went to Teddy Bear's at the corner of Gerrard Street.

'What are you going to have?'

'A bitter, please.'

'A bitter please, and a large Scotch and soda.'

With four fizzy bottles of beer already inside him, the Gilt Kid knew that he could not stomach any more beer. He carried the drinks across to where the communist was sitting.

'Good luck.'

'Good luck.'

They tasted their drinks. The Gilt Kid turned to his guest.

'So you're a communist, are you?'

'Yes.' The monosyllable was defiant.

'Well, I want to talk to you about joining.'

'About joining the C.P.?'

A smile of joy wreathed the Red's face. He felt that by using such initials as the E.C.C.I. and the N.U.W.M., not to mention barbarous composite words like Agitprop and Politburo, he would be certain to tie his opponent up in knots if an argument started. He drank a little more beer and cleared his husky throat.

'It's quite simple, really,' he began. 'You see, we Marxists believe first of all in the materialist conception of history, by which we mean  . . . '

This was too much. The Gilt Kid interrupted him.

'Yes I know all about that. I know all about the Materialist Conception of History, and the Class War, and the Theory of Surplus Value. And don't for God's sake try to tell me about Economic Determinism.' With a wave of his hand he dismissed all such theories as idle trifles, unworthy of the attention of two intelligent men. 'What I want to know is when are you getting on with the job.'

'We are getting on with the job.' The little communist was indignant. 'We are disseminating our propaganda among the masses.'

'Yes, Yes, Yes.' It seemed inevitable that the communist be interrupted. 'That's not what I mean. When's the revolution coming? That's your job.'

'Yes, comrade, but we got to await the revolutionary situation.'

'Why wait for the revolutionary situation? Why in the name of God don't you go out and make one.'

'Yes, comrade, but . . . '

'Don't "yes comrade but" me. Have another drink?'

The poor communist knew that he was on difficult ground. The other was paying for the drinks and, therefore, had the right to direct the conversation.

The Gilt Kid, having come back with the glasses recharged, plunged straight into the argument without any of the toasts or salutations customary among the drinking classes.

'Listen, you hold demonstrations,' he began, 'meetings, hunger-marches and all that bull. What the hell good does it do? Just a few mugs get nicked and a few more have sore heads where the slops have bashed them with their batons. You can't tell me that brings the revolution any nearer.'

'We hold those demonstrations and that for the purpose of spreading our propaganda and keeping the name of the party before the masses. And when the inevitable breakdown of capitalism occurs the workers will turn to the people who have led them in the past.'

'Not likely,' retorted the Gilt Kid, 'when that breakdown of yours happens, the blokes who're coming out on top are the strong-arm guys who can grab all they want for themselves and freeze on to it when they've got it. You can bet on that, china.'

"But you're advocating individualism. The workers are only to be saved by mass action.'

'I'm not advocating nothing. I'm just telling you what's going to happen. Look, here if you want people to follow you you got to give them something. Blokes are going to stick by someone who gets them dough, ain't they?'

'Naturally.'

'Well, instead of messing about with dopey meetings why don't you give the boys something? Start a riot. Lead a row in Bond Street and loot all the shops. Collect all the bums in London and take them into one of the flash hotels and let them demand to be fed. You hear about hunger-marchers making rows and demanding grub. Where'd they go? To the Ritz, to Lyons' Corner House, even? No! The workhouse. That's just about your mark, kicking up a shine at the spike.'

'Yes, but if we did all that the leaders of the party'd get pinched and the movement'd be all bust up. Anyhow that's not communism. It's just plain hooliganism.'

'Call it what you like, mate. It's getting something for the bloke on the floor and that's what you reckon to be out for. Communists are all against production for profit, and don't believe in creating more surplus value for the sole benefit of the bosses.'

'Sure.'

'Well, there's only two types of blokes who don't create surplus value. Crooks and bums. Crooks nick the capitalist's dough and bums just don't graft and make any. And now, good-bye, pal, I got to get along.'

The Gilt Kid had grown fed up with arguing the toss, and besides, it had struck him as a good plan to leave the argument as it was, with himself on top.

The door swung to behind him, leaving the communist speechless and with a three-parts empty beer glass in his hand.

1 comment:

Darren said...

pages 23-26.

A longer than usual excerpt but you know I had to do it . . . I just had to.