2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2013
Tariq Ali's novel Redemption is a coruscating satire on the ridiculousness of late twentieth century Trotskyist sects and anyone who knows anything about the far left and its dramatis personae will find it an amusing, intriguing and revealing commentary on "the movement". It also contains some interesting asides on the state of the world at the time of the collapse of "really existing socialism" Ali is mordant in his criticism of the posturing and internecine struggles of the left but does not ignore its noble possibilities either. It works a s a satirical novel and political commentary; only the slightly flat prose style prevents it being five stars in my estimation.
This book was published a quarter of a century ago. Times were obviously different then. The Berlin Wall collapsed the previous year and it was obvious to everyone that the USSR was on the way out. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher's government had halted the rise of the Hard Left and its infiltration into politics and industry, defeating the unions at every turn. Three successive wins against Labour had forced the party to confront and repudiate its extreme left-wing element. Trade union reform and the government's willingness to allow failing businesses to go to the wall stripped extremists out of the private sector, which could carry on its prime function of creating wealth. It was clear that the game was up for the Trotskyists. No-one would take them seriously any more. Marxism in all its incarnations was history and was seen as a big joke. The Great Socialist Experiment of the 20th Century was over. Capitalism had triumphed once again.
This is when this book was written. It features caricatures of the leading figures in Trotskyism at a time of decline and fall. And that is the problem. Unless you were part of the in-crowd, Ali's satirical points lose their sharpness. Instead to the general reader, all you had were a bunch of quasi-intellectual philosophy gangs getting up to various ideologically-inspired capers while the rug is being pulled from under them. It had already been done on TV with 'Citizen Smith' and the Tooting Popular Front. Even Monty Python had had a dig in 'Life of Brian'. Ali's barbs were a bit late.
The irony is that this book's intended audience was relatively small and obscure, and yet its publication was seen as a business venture that could make a profit by some publisher, otherwise it would not have been printed. Perhaps it was required reading by the comrades. It is a kind of time capsule, but is only partially comprehensible and becomes less so as the years go by as the right-on comrades go the way of all flesh.
I got my copy in a remainders shop within a year or so of publication. I was clearly not the intended audience for the book. It perhaps stands as a literary monument to all those people who generated all that sound and fury while being guided by an ideology that is demonstrably impossible to put into practice without tyranny and deprivation being the outcome. A coda on an era rapidly coming to an end.
It is, however, prescient in one area in that it predicts that the new challenge to be faced by the West would come not from an ideology transformed into a religion, as Marxism was, but from religion itself.
If you are highly familiar with the comings and goings of the Hard Left in the UK in the 1980s, then this book really is for you. But then you probably read it when it came out. If you have an interest in hard-left politics of the era, this book is not of much help, but may be entertaining.