[EVENING STANDARD - 24 MARCH 1999]
'Marx lives on with new angles by George Walden.
"Someone has to be a dissenting voice", says Fay Weldon. "The most interesting and provocative magazine I have read for many years," adds JG Ballard. Big names, generous plaudits. We are talking about LM Magazine, the monthly whose initials spell out Living Marxism.
What is this? Cold War nostalgia? Romanticism for the Old Marxist Left? Not remotely. Ballard is no Leftie, and when Weldon speaks of dissent, she means it: LM is edgy, spiky, unpredictable, and specialises in saying things that have become unsayable anywhere else. There is no heavy, brass-bound prose of the sort associated with traditional Marxist publications. LM is stylishly laid out, with good drawings and bold photo-illustrations.
So what happened to old-fashioned, authoritarian, long-in-the-beard and gone-in-the-teeth Marxism? Well, for reasons that will surprise no one, there's not much of it around. Marxism Today folded 10 years ago, though it recently published an in memoriam issue, and the Morning Star staggers on in semi-oblivion. As for LM itself, nowhere in the magazine does the word Marxism appear. When it was relaunched two years ago it was decided to keep the initials, rather in the spirit that GQ magazine (Gentleman's Quarterly) kept theirs.
With more than half its sales by subscription, LM is selling as many as 15,000 copies a month. Mick Hume, the editor, and his assistant are the only full-time staff, and all contributors are unpaid. One problem that may deter investment is that the magazine still has a dispute with ITN about Serb prison camps in Bosnia hanging over its head.
Hume, 39, says the magazine is seeking a new agenda to replace conventional Left/Right sterilities. A flip through the last few issues shows what he means. The first thing that strikes you is the tone. The word gritty comes to mind. This is no weepy Leftie mag. Hunting and grammar schools are defended, as is the right to be offensive. Gulf War Syndrome does not exist - society manufactures victims.
Sentimentalism comes under the lash in all its forms, and in the March issue the culture of counselling and of "emotional literacy" gets a drubbing. "People should expect to be treated as responsible adults, who can cope with life without counsellors, censors or churchy Prime Ministers rushing to protect them from nasty words and images," it tells readers.
LM is strong on popular culture, while avoiding celebrity gush. In a recent issue, an astute, sharply written piece by a former manager of the Yardbirds, T-Rex and Wham! Simon Napier-Bell, lays into the phoney insurrectionism of officially approved contemporary pop: "A chart full of trivia, with no rough edges·Before they can spit them angrily in our faces, young people are having their grievances removed·The rock era has come and gone."
Ideologically, it is all a little bewildering. Hume explains that LM was originally launched in 1988 at the end of the Cold War, by a generation of Marxist-influenced people unsullied by apologias for the old Soviet Union. What seems to be happening is that LM has caught on to the libertarian attitudes of the Eighties while seeking to preserve Marxism's economic radicalism. One may question the logic of this, but it is no more irrational than the position of the fogeyish Right, who are all for individual liberty provided we retain a hereditary House of Lords and bow the knee to the memory of Diana.
A London conference organised recently on "Culture Wars - Dumbing Down, Wising Up?" featured a broad slate of distinguished speakers, none Marxist. They included Ferdinand Mount, John Mortimer, Janet Daley and John Tusa.
"We have not time for either New Labour or the Tories," says Hume. "If anything, New Labour are worse than the other lot because they claim to occupy the high ground. We loathe this consensus-obsessed age in which we are governed by focus group and told what to think by career politicians."