“Posh ladies came in to dust the bust of Lenin in the basement.” Photo: Getty
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When I worked at Marxism Today, my desire to earn a living proved to be somewhat déclassé

The left has a strange relationship with its workers. Love, not money, counts.

I had never had a job interview like it – rather, two interviews of two hours each for working part-time on a small magazine. There were four of them and just one of me and by the end of the first interview I was talking nonsense about post-structuralism, as they hadn’t even given me a cup of tea.

The magazine was Marxism Today, which never considered itself small. I wanted to work there as it was the locus of ideas that interested me. Its influence was huge not because it represented the left but because the right thought that it did.

The sticking point when it came to giving me a job seemed to be that I wasn’t in the Communist Party. “We are worried about your commitment to the project,” the interviewers said sternly. It was the first time I’d heard that word – “project” – used in this way, though it was taken up later by the ex-Communist Party people who moved straight into Tony Blair’s No 10.

“What project is that, then?” I asked. They seemed nervous.

“Revolution,” someone said, quietly.

“Oh, that. Yeah! I’m really into that.”

My not being in the party had repercussions, such as what happened when the phones were cut off after the managing editor forgot to pay the bill. Everyone was sent home and they weren’t paid, as they were “in the party” – but I was. My attitude to being paid was problematic. It was seen
as a betrayal.

Elderly trade unionists grumpily manned the reception. Posh ladies came in to dust the bust of Lenin in the basement. The actual workings of the party remained mysterious. Mostly, people shouted at me. I’d phone up someone to write a piece and they would start yelling at me about Czechoslovakia.

“Tankies?” said everyone, nodding.

We were – and I write “we” loosely – Eurocommunists. This, to me, was embodied by a stylish Italian woman who floated around smoking vigorously and who would talk about hegemony with a cashmere cardigan perched just so on her shoulders.

We never paid writers. You did it for the glory. I persuaded the likes of Angela Carter, David Hockney, Linford Christie and even Jean Baudrillard to give their time for free. When someone ordered thousands of pounds’ worth of the wrong paper for a print run, I imagined that this would close it all down – but no. Apparently lots of people had left money to the party in their wills.

My preoccupation with earning a living was somewhat déclassé. The left has a strange relationship with its workers. Love, not money, counts. They paid me £50 a week and were indeed right about my commitment to the project. Bizarrely, my personal project involved a living wage. Years later the story about Moscow gold financing the party came out. If only I had some of it!

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 22 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn

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Keep the Burkini, ban the beach

Beaches are dreadful places. Maybe it would just be easier to ban them.

To hell with political correctness, I'm just going to say it. I think women who wear burkinis to the beach are silly. I also, for that matter, think women who wear bikinis to the beach are silly. Not because of what they're wearing – women, quite obviously, should be able to wear whatever the hell they want without interference from eyebrow-furrowing douchecanoes and neighborhood bigots whose opinions are neither relevant nor requested. No, my problem is with the beach. 

Beaches are dreadful places. I question the judgement of anyone who chooses to go, of their own free will, to a strip of boiling sand that gets in all your squishy bits, just to lie down. I associate beaches with skin cancer and sunstroke and stickiness and sharks. As a neurotic, anxious goth who struggles with the entire concept of organised fun, even the idea of the beach distresses me. I won't go and you can't make me. Especially given that if I did go, whatever I chose to wear, some fragile man somewhere whose entire identity depends on controlling how the women around him behave would probably get outraged and frightened and try to ban me.

Men love to have opinions on what women should wear on their holidays. Nipples are not to be tolerated, and burkinis are now an invitation to Islamophobia, so I can only imagine how my grumpy summer goth robes would go down. The annual summer storm over women's beach attire has a xenophobic twist this year after burkinis – the swimsuit alternative for women who want to conform to a “modest” Islamic dress code – were banned on many beaches in France (although one specific one, in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, has been overturned by a test ruling in the country’s highest court).

Not to be outdone, Nicholas Sarkozy has promised to institute nationwide legislation against the “provocative” garment if he's re-elected as president, jumping gleefully on the bandwagon brought to global attention by race riots in Corsica. Photos have emerged of Nice police officers apparently forcing a sunbathing Muslim woman to strip down and issuing her with a penalty slip. I can only imagine what that poor woman must have felt as the state swooped down on her swimsuit, but hey, Sarkozy says that public humiliation of Muslim women is a vital part of French values, and women's symbolic experience is always more important than our actual, lived experience. There are many words for this sort of bullying, but Liberty does not come into it, and nor does Equality. Fraternity, of course, is doing just fine.

Whatever women wear, it's always provocative to someone, and it's always our fault – particularly if we're also seen to be shamelessly enjoying ourselves without prior permission from the patriarchy and the state. If we wear too little, that's a provocation, and we deserve to be raped or assaulted. If we wear too much, that's a provocation, and we deserve racist abuse and police harassment. If we walk too tall, speak to loud or venture down the wrong street at night, whatever we're wearing, that's a provocation and we deserve whatever we get. The point of all this is control – the policing of women's bodies in public, sometimes figuratively, and sometimes literally. It's never about women's choices – it's about how women's choices make men feel, and men's feelings are routinely placed before women's freedom, even the simple freedom to wear things that make us feel comfortable as we queue up for overpriced ice cream. It's not about banning the Burkinis, or banning the bikini. It's about stopping women from occupying public space, curtailing our freedom of expression, and letting us know that whoever we are, we are always watched, and we can never win.

If you ask me, the simplest thing would just be to ban the beach. I consider people on the beach a personal provocation. Yes, I grew up in a seaside town, but some of the beach people come from far away, and they aren't like me, and therefore I fear them. The very sight of them, laying around all damp and happy, is an active identity threat to me as an angry goth, and that means it must be personal. As far as I'm concerned the beach is for smoking joints in the dark in winter, snogging under the pier and swigging cheap cider from the two-litre bottle you've hidden up your jumper. That's all the beach is good for. Ban it, I say. 

I do, however, accept – albeit grudgingly – that other people have different experiences. Some people actually like the seaside. And given that I am neither a screaming overgrown toddler with affectless political ambitions nor a brittle, bellowing xenophobe convinced that anything that makes me uncomfortable ought to be illegal, I have learned to tolerate beach people. I may never understand them. That's ok. The beach isn't for me. Not everything has to be for me. That's what it means to live in a community with other human beings. As performative Islamophobia and popular misogyny bake on the blasted sand-flats of public discourse, more and and more conservatives are failing to get that memo. I'd suggest they calm down with an ice lolly and a go on the Ferris wheel – but maybe it'd be easier just to ban them. 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.