Still looking for Reasons To Be Fearful? I’m guessing not, huh?

As @mrkocnnll writes, that

is the most “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” thing I have ever fucking seen

[If you haven’t checked out the Apoplexy Tiny Letter, maybe this is your last chance…?]

Though, writer, journalist, historian, filmmaker, political activist, and public intellectual Tariq Ali might disagree. I saw the author of Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope on the first morning of the Edinburgh International Book Festival this past weekend.

"That'll be $70MM, please."
In a world of laissez-faire capitalism, Johnny Depp IS Hugo Chávez

He was talking with critic Stuart Kelly about his latest book, The Dilemmas of Lenin, and making the point that, from the present, it always looks as if history has been heading towards one, inevitable, conclusion – the world as it is seen today.

Being a public intellectual and polymath, Tariq Ali didn’t use my metaphor, but it’s a bit like looking down the wrong end of a telescope – a whole universe of possibilities may have existed when ancient light started making its way towards us, but it all looks quite tiny and constrained when that light is funnelled towards the little point where we are standing.

Wait, is this the right end?
Of *course* mice have always ruled the world

As the Book Festival kicks off, I can’t imagine wanting to do anything other than write. It’s the only possibility. Of course, in the days leading up to my stroke five years ago I was scrabbling around trying to find a new job in financial law. But, staying in the world of macro-history…

I only took History as far as ‘O’-grade – which I kind of regret now, although I can’t think which of my Highers I would have dropped – but we did cover the Communist Revolution. I recall feeling like an even-handed approach was being encouraged. Nevertheless, I learned/was reminded of some interesting things during the course of the morning’s discussion.

Firstly, did you know that the Bolsheviks moved quickly to decriminalise homosexuality? And men and women were granted legal equality? And church marriage – seen as inherently unequal – was illegal?

It's already been, for a that
And reciting Burns at civil ceremonies was mandatory

As a devotee of modern design and architecture – and former resident of smallish, pricey apartments in  NYC – I was also interested to hear of the communal apartment living Lenin conceived. The account of these living spaces offered by Ian Wiki sounds pretty grim to the modern ear, but Tariq Ali made them sound ahead of their time. And Wiki notes that

examples still exist in the most fashionable central districts of large Russian cities

A long view of fashionable central London
Long-suffering readers may know of my love for the show The Americans, in which Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Soviet sleeper agents in the US in the 80s. One of Elizabeth and Philip’s operatives in the show is a young South African lad living in the US. Tariq Ali noted that Cuba – bolstered by Soviet hardware – sent troops to fight in Southern Africa against apartheid-era South African interventions backed by the U.S.

Closer to home, I learned that the Scottish revolutionary socialist John Maclean was appointed the Boshevik consul in Scotland and established a Consulate at 12 South Portland Street in Glasgow that was never recognised by the British government.

12 S Portland St, that is – Celtic Park's the *other* Paradise
They paved it, and put up a parking lot

So, my necessarily abbreviated Festival experience 2017 got off to an interesting start. It’s the 70th anniversary of the first Edinburgh Festival. It’s also the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India, which is necessarily of interest to the Pakistan-born Tariq Ali. In his discussion of The Dilemmas of Lenin, he mentions Trotsky’s thought that Communism could have been bolstered by sending just over 30,000 troops to India to outnumber the 30,000 British-led troops on the ground.

As I say, my history education is ‘O’-grade shallow and I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to Partition. But I know that never happened. As Yasmin Khan wrote in The Observer at the beginning of this month

[t[he British government had repeatedly delayed granting freedom in the 1930s, when it might have been more amicably achieved [and] 1947 became a perfect storm as many contingencies collided.

She goes on to write of how, on the British side, the planning was shoddy and the date was rushed forward by a whole year.


Maybe history does funnel towards one single, shoddy point, after all.

Till next week…

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