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!