Close Encounter: Come on, you Reds

Joanna Briscoe joins the giants of the Left at the Marxism Today Party, the Photographers' Gallery, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Since Reds under the Bed have now taken to lounging on bateaux lits, the image of the barnstorming Marxist is somewhat mildewed, a feebly raging dinosaur lumbering through the choppy waters of capitalism. Remember those aching Eighties benefits beloved of unpleasant Trots? Remember the class struggle? Remember, er, the revolution? Remember anger?

Probably not.

This is, after all, the Age of Consent. We've had 18 months of cosy let- down lubricated by crates of perfectly licensed champagne socialism. But finally, in the face of imminent global recession, comes the voice of dissent. In the spirit of the pamphlet, in a glossy counterblast, back trundles a one-off issue of Marxism Today, that notorious lefty organ which closed in 1991. An unfortunate cover photo of Tony Blair resembling the offspring of a Tory and a rat bears the legend "Wrong".

To launch this bold critique, Marxism Today hosted a party at the Photographers' Gallery, a classy venue bearing no relation to the embittered self-righteousness of the crumbling town hall one might have expected in the name of cliche.

I felt somewhat self-conscious. What exactly is one supposed to wear to a Bolshevik debate? Red is conveniently the colour of the season, but red and its variants only suits San Yassins, blazer wearing matrons and television presenters. I settled for black, the old black. Of course, even in its heyday, Marxism Today was hardly a threat to national security, but the possibility of dreary Apparatchik discourse is guaranteed to inspire panic, guilt, and the odd Tsarist sentiment. I was uneasy.

When I arrived, the joint was already jumping with the giants of the Left. The historian, Eric Hobsbawm, who has declared Tony Blair's Government "Thatcherism in trousers", explained: "We figured it was just about coming to the time when what's called the market fundamentalism was coming to an end. We figured that now it's possible to say, right, you can't go on following the old economical orthodoxy: it's changing, it's time for a rethink."

I ran around speaking to the people who think. Susie Orbach, a psychotherapist, on New Labour: "It's in danger of missing engagement with the largest mass of people who are very much on its side and who very much want to be players." Martin Jacques, the editor of Marxism Today: "No-one does a one-off gig. There's a perverse pleasure in doing the unusual ... It's not that the Blair Government isn't doing some good things, and it's a lot better than the Major administration, but that's only part of the point."

All right, enough of the politics. These were the dialectics of sensibleness, not of extremely unlikely revolution. Just as this issue of Marxism Today is no samizdat rant printed on loo paper, but a polished, intelligent and even humorous critique, the celebration itself was far from the We Hate Tony party. Professor Stuart Hall: "It's not that the Labour Government hasn't done important things that we'd want to support, but it hasn't fundamentally broken with the kind of underlying assumptions that governed the Thatcher period, and that's what I think people really hoped for."

As the giants receded, it gradually became apparent that the party was stuffed with my friends, half of London's publishing scene, careerist freeloaders, and the odd, old-style pinko with a dodgy haircut and pallid "I work in an office till 3am furthering the cause of Marxism" skin.

Common ownership of the means of production was not much in evidence: collective grape treading had given way to proletariat wine serving. Champagne socialists mixed with Meths socialists. A handful of Tory MP's had come to laugh at Labour. In fact, Bruce Anderson, a writer at The Spectator, unwisely shouted "Free Pinochet!" to the assembled company.

Time, then, for my favourite party game in whispered asides: Would you rather wear a dun-brown Maoist collarless shirt or go on one date with the man who shouted "Free Pinochet"? Would you rather shag one of the ancient theorists with walking sticks, inventive glasses and "I'm mad, it's windy" haircuts, or make a pass at the man in ill-cut polyester pants, kagoul and Alexei Sayle hat? And so on.

The menu at the Photographers' Gallery features mozzarella ciabatta, salmon mousse and brie croissants - how New Labour is that? It's hardly corned beef sandwiches with the miners on the picket line.

But after all, a party is a party: the eminent economist, Will Hutton: "I'm here to join the throng - it's a party. I'm leaving in a minute's time - I've been here for precisely half an hour. I promised my 12-year- old I would watch Titanic with her." Lola Bubbosh, features editor of Vogue: "Even Voguettes have politics." Trevor Phillips, broadcaster: "The thing about Marxism Today is that it's politics as party, isn't it?"

I'd had a fun night out with some of my friends - I mean my comrades - and a few brilliant thinkers of the Left. Time to leave. And then suddenly, the most revolutionary act of the evening occurred. Polly Toynbee, a liberal columnist, threw a glass of wine over Bruce Anderson. Red wine. Long live the revolution.