Review of “Redemption”

In need of some pleasure reading, I decided upon Tariq Ali’s novel Redemption. The novel is a fabulous satire on the crisis of “existing socialism” following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the public murder of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the rise of Solidarity in Poland and the reforms of Gorbachev for various Trotskyist sects. Even if one was unawares of the characters that lead their predominantly eponymous tendencies (Ezra Einstein = Ernest Mandel, Jim Noble = Jack Barnes, Jed Burroughs = Ted Grant, Alex Mango = Alec Callenicos, Frank Hood = Gerry Healy), one could still find the book to be quite humorous.

The book’s main character is the aged Ezra Einstein who, witnessing the above political events calls a congress, seemingly against his will as he had sat down to write an article and his hands took over and out came this invitation, of the myriad international sects that claim descendancy from Trotsky as well as a few former fellow travelers. Ezra’s number two man, the Cuckoo, then begins the process of helping get the groups interested and funded in going. The Cuckoo, a conspiratorial would-be-Stalin to Ezra’s Lenin is counterposed with Ezra’s young and beautiful wife

The groups, however, are highly antagonistic to each other and Ali begins to describe their every humorous detail and a number of conspiratorial circumstances must transpire before they will agree to go. In this and the depictions of their operations they are shown to be clownish sects of little to no good for the working-people they claim to represent, and may perhaps even be bringing disrepute onto their cause. It is not just their small size which Ali pokes fun at, but their leader’s bizarre habits and sexual proclivities, the provincialism and ossification of their thought and their at times undue valorizing of the ability to mobilize violence.

When he has finally assembled as many as he could, the impetus of this meeting is finally revealed. He outlines the historic role that religion has played in the new anti-Soviet demonstrations and revolutions, states that at times they have been progressive than suggests that as good socialists: “We must move into the churches, the mosques, the synagogues, the temples, and provide leadership. Our training is impeccable. Within ten years I can predict we would have at least three or four cardinals, two ayatollahs, dozens of rabbis, and some of the smaller Churches like the Methodists in parts of Britain could be totally under our control.”

Already decided before a vote can take place is the agreement by groupings within antagonistic to Ezra’s intellectual leadership to postpone the vote to discuss the next step. Rather than follow this “trend” perhaps best illustrated by liberation theologists, PISPAW, the Burrowers and the Rockers decide to form their own syncretic religion, Chrislamasonism. Once they have decided upon this, they give a short presentation of one of the new “rituals” that they’d just invented and decide to call the vote. The resultant split between the sects, won by Einstein’s group in the congress by one vote as someone claims their first vote wasn’t counted, results in half of the groups leaving to practice Chrislamasonism while the others seek to burrow into the religions and “Trotskyize” from within them.

Ali writes about all of this as only someone who has once been involved in the Trotskyist world can. This well-crafted book had me continuously laughing, especially as so much of what he writes is not fiction but the true habits of small groups so openly marginalized. Think the idea of an encyclopedia of minor Trotsky groups, their relations to the master and their reason for splitting is absurd? Then check this out.
Besides the political commentary of the book, there is an additional fun making at the behest of Wilhem Reich‘s writings. I find this particularly amusing as the book that I just linked to is part of my FICAM reading.