Book Review,  History,  Trots

From the Vaults: Socialist Worker Review, November 1990

In 1990 Alex Callinicos wrote a review of Tariq Ali’s novel Redemption for Socialist Worker Review. Below I copy an extract.

Political Suicide Note

Alex Callinicos

Socialist Worker Review, November 1990, p.33.

Redemption, Tariq Ali, Chatto & Windus £13.99

…. Redemption is supposed to be a comic novel, but it’s as unfunny as its basic idea: Ali has always been a rather poor writer, wooden and pompous, and his style isn’t much improved by this essay in fiction….

Ali heaps on his characters … the most malicious slanders and innuendo.

There isn’t a male character, with [one] exception… who doesn’t have the most vile, usually sexual, motives ascribed to him.

It is hard to convey the sheer nastiness and pettiness of Ali’s malice….

What is especially odious about the book is the way in which Ali seeks to offer political justification for his scurrilous gossip….

The political reality behind this grubby little novel is Ali’s experience…

Why the vitriol? What sort of novel could have had someone such as Alex Callinicos spitting blood? The answer is that Tariq Ali knows the character traits and an awful lot of anecdotes about various people on the Trotskyist left.  The leading fictionalised characters in Redemption are from the Trotskyist left and anyone with some knowledge of these organisations can easily work out who Ali based his characters upon. For example Ezra Einstein is obviously based upon Ernest Mandel; Frank Hood, the leader of the Hoodlums, is obviously based on Gerry Healy; Jimmy Rock (real name Chaim Bernstein) is Tony Cliff (real name Yigael Gluckstein), and so on. Particularly amusing is the name Ali gives to his fictional representation of the American SWP: the Proletarian International Socialist Party of American Workers, known by its acronym, PISPAW.

In the novel, Jimmy Rock’s party is known as the Rockers Workers Party (RWP), obviously based upon the British Socialist Workers Party, and their weekly newspaper, known as the Rocker’s Gazette, is edited by Nutty Shardman, a character based upon Chris Harman. The former editor of the Gazette had been Alex Mango, the public school educated, party intellectual, who still writes a weekly column for the Gazette and is viewed by Nutty to be “Soft as shit.” Far be it from me to guess who Ali based Alex Mango upon, but I do wonder if this character could explain Alex Callinicos’s particularly hostile review.

Below I copy an extract from page 189 of Redemption where Ali writes about Alex Mango:

Mango, an extremely talented polemicist, made sure that he preserved his best material for the national press and the literary journals. He was the leading representative of Rockism with a human face, and his own features were extremely pleasing, even thought the hair which covered his forehead and came down to his shoulders was by now completely grey. This only enhanced his attractiveness to the young middle-class housewives in the north-western districts of the capital. His appetite was legendary. It was said that Alex used to disguise himself as a milkman and service most of North London in a day; but this was probably a vile slander spread with somebody less well endowed with bottle. Someone like Nutty, who needed Alex but also loathed him.

A sophisticated and cultured public speaker, Mango was responsible for winning over many young people to the Rocker ranks. Few stayed long, but that was hardly Mango’s fault. Like a smartly dressed doorman outside the façade of an imposing looking mansion, Mango bowed slightly and opened the door with a smile. It was only after the unwitting new recruit had passed through the revolving door that he or she realized that inside it there was no roof, no walls, no building, nothing but a cellarful of second-hand furniture, and beneath it the abyss.

Acknowledgement

It was a blog post by Marko Attila Hoare that brought Callinicos’s review to my attention. Marko also kindly provided me with a copy of the review in order to save me a trip to the vaults.

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