The first website I looked at, after Playboy, back in 1999 was the homepage of the Afghanistan Liberation Organisation, a Maoist group dedicated to the struggle in Afghanistan. They had battled Soviets and Taliban alike, and on their roll of martyrs—they still thought like Muslims, despite their professed atheism—I found dozens of misty photos snapped sometime in the 1970s: photos of chemical engineers and medical doctors just returned from some Montana college or Soviet engineering school. They did not suspect that the maw would soon be upon them.
I had decided, aged fifteen, to become a Marxist-Leninist. Looking back, given that the USSR had only collapsed ten years before, it seems ridiculous; and yet, of course, for a teenager ten years was an eternity—literally over half my lifetime. So, for me, in an Oxfordshire village, reading a biography of Mao, it did not seem so silly; and I was very excited to find copies of panegyrics to Tito and Cuba in the local secondhand bookshop.
I became a Marxist because I moved from a school where people believed the standard progressive homilies of the BBC to a ferociously reactionary Catholic school, a place where the headmaster talked about the “baby-killing BBC” and where many teachers had served in the army—even in the Rhodesian war. I watched the sons of admirals and barristers bully the cleaners, consuming pornography while rat-tatting out hollow Catholic sermons. My teachers blithely said that there were too many Africans and we should cut foreign aid to starve down the continent’s population, while another boy, with Spanish parents, sang Falange marching songs and threw the Roman salute at me. Watching this, I felt, on reading The Communist Manifesto, that Marx was right. The world he described—a world of class struggle and the cynical use of religion to control the masses—was my world.
I have always been an authoritarian and so I was never attracted to the progressive politics of LGBT liberation and feminism. I went for Marxism-Leninism, joining a party that was, in the old days, pro-Soviet, because I admired the quasi-military aspects of Leninism. I liked the Soviet aesthetic of military parades and rockets conquering space. The Marxist story of scientific struggle against ignorance seemed more in keeping with what I had been taught about the world when young. This was the real appeal: Marxism made my life intensely meaningful—as all religion does.
In the party I joined, I found that most members were from the upper middle class or upper class: Marxism has always been an ideology for the unathletic among the upper classes—everything is an inter-elite struggle. This tiny party exercised influence over Labour through its members in trade union branches. Indeed, it was intimately connected with Jeremy Corbyn, and senior members of the party advised Corbyn as Labour leader.
I learned that for Leninists all that matters is the control of the positions of secretary and treasurer in mass organisations: do that and you control the entire organisation. The secretary can rewrite the objectives decided in meetings—rewrite history—and the treasurer can keep the money out of hostile hands; hence the minority dictates to the majority. This is how it works from trade unions to countries: control the minutes (the media) and the money (the treasury) and the president is irrelevant. I also learned that it is very important, as Joe Biden knows, for “our people” to count the election ballots.
It took me years to fully break with Marxism—though I stopped believing in it around nineteen—because I had social connections that kept me in that realm. Along the way, I became more physically and financially powerful and so my interest in the left declined: Nietzsche was correct that the left attracts the botched and resentful. Yet what remains compelling about Marxism is its mythology; it makes life meaningful: conservatives who only think about taxes will never understand this, since they are alienated from their own natural mythologies.