Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jimmy Reid versus The Rats

Jimmy Reid, 1932-2010

A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.

This is how it starts, and, before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat pack. The price is too high.

- From his speech to the students of Glasgow University after they had elected him rector (way back in the prehistoric year of 1972, when there was still such a thing as society).


  1. You're welcome, colonel.

    I met Jimmy Reid in my last year at school, in the winter of 1976. A bunch of us asked him to come and speak to (and with) us, and he did, at short notice and at considerable length and very fascinatingly, for no fee whatsoever. He was a charismatic man, fully aware of his own charisma and very wary of it, and very drily funny about it when he noticed it working. He stood around for ages afterwards talking to us in the grey drizzly rain on the street after the talk proper. I remember him saying to us "Read Nietzsche. Read D.H. Lawrence. Read Rosa Luxemburg. Don't worship these people! But read them! Argue with them. They're still alive." (Words to that effect.) He would have made a great teacher.

    Apart from his personal looks and presence, he was effortlessly eloquent and vivid and expressive in the way innumerable unfamous people used to be quite routinely.

    A couple of weeks ago I finally saw the great documentary film Harlan County USA, at an anarchist bookshop in this city with maybe a couple of dozen other people. There was supposed to be a discussion afterwards, but everyone was kind of shattered and speechless at first. Then the guy who had presented the film (a Canadian in his mid-20s) asked if anyone had any thoughts. Eventually I said,: "Have people's faces and voices actually changed in the last 30-odd years?" There was an immediate chorus of "YES!" And soon we were all talking about TV and the effect it had had.

    PS I suppose it's worth pointing out that even rats only race when forced to do so by human bosses.