It is always a great pleasure to reread Geoffrey Ernest Maurice de Ste. Croix’s great but thus far understudied work, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (winner of the Deutscher Prize in 1982). I am working through the book again in the process of writing our Time of TroublesAnyway, Ste. Croix has a fascinating section on Marx as a European classicist, where he traces the rise of interest in Marx’s thought in the 1970s after a very long period of complete neglect.

To indicate Marx’s lifelong interest in the European classics, after his PhD thesis on Democritus and Epicurus, Ste. Croix mentions a letter to Engels in 1861. Marx writes: ‘As  relaxation in the evening, I have been reading Appian on the Roman civil wars, in the original Greek’.


In 1929, Elena Mikulina published a work called Emulation of the Masses and Stalin provided a forward. The work was written by a young, unknown writer, and caused many among the intelligentsia to mock the work. In reply, Stalin writes (with a biblical allusion or two):

We have hundreds and thousands of young and capable people who are striving with might and main to rise to the surface and contribute their mite to the common treasury of our work of construction. But their efforts are often unavailing, because they are very often kept down by the vanity of the literary “lights,” by the bureaucracy and callousness of some of our organisations, and, lastly, by the envy (which has not yet evolved into emulation) of men and women of their own generation. One of our tasks is to break down this blank wall and to give scope to the young forces, whose name is legion. My foreword to an inconsiderable pamphlet by an author unknown in the literary world is an attempt to take a step towards-accomplishing this task. I shall in the future, too, provide forewords only to simple and unassuming pamphlets by simple and unknown authors belonging to the younger forces. It is possible that this procedure may not be to the liking of some of the snobs. But what do I care? I have no fondness for snobs anyhow . . . (Works, vol. 12, p. 120)

Germany's goalkeeper

In 1920, Mao and his friends established the Cultural Book Society in Hunan. This was to be – through spreading new modes of thought – one part of a larger effort to establish an independent state of Hunan. In each of the books sold, the following notice was placed.

A Respectful Notice from the Cultural Book Society to the Gentleman Who Has Bought This Book

The fact that you, sir, have purchased this book will undoubtedly have a great influence on the progress of your thought, and on that we wish to congratulate you. If, after you have read this book, your unslakeable thirst for knowledge inclines you to buy a few more books to peruse, we invite you, sir, either to come once more to our society to purchase them, or to do so by correspondence. We are prepared to welcome you!

The items which our society has for sale have undergone a rigorous process of selection. They consist exclusively of comparatively valuable new publications (We want nothing to do with stale and outdated thought.) … Our goal is that the thought of everyone in Hunan should progress as yours has done, so as to bring about the emergence of a new culture …

We are profoundly mortified that our abilities are too meagre to shoulder the great responsibility of propagating culture, and we hope that superior men of goodwill from all walks of life will grant us their assistance. If you, sir, can help us by taking the trouble to introduce us by word of mouth, we shall be extremely grateful …

We wish you, sir, continued good health.

Colleagues of the Cultural Book Society

56 Chaozong Streetm Changsha

I am close to completing my article on the novel QNot only does it breathe the spirit of Engels, Kaustky and Bloch on the revolutionary decades of the Reformation (as well as expressing Gramsci’s longing that the Reformation had happened in Italy too), but the authors obviously enjoyed writing the thing. So a few select morsels:

On memory:

The road through memories is hazardous and bumpy: they’re always ready to betray you (105).

April just makes me scratch my scars: the geographical map of lost battles (114).

A bag full of trinkets rolling out by chance and finally amazing you, as though you weren’t the one who picked them up and turned them into precious objects (251).

On prophets:

But during these past ten years I’ve known so many of them, on every street corner, in every brothel, in the remotest churches. My peregrinations have been so studded with those encounters that I could write a treatise about them. Some of them were merely charlatans and actors, others believed in their own sincere terror, but only a very few had the stuff of prophets, the brilliance, the ardour, the courage to repaint John’s great fresco in the souls of men. They were capable of choosing the right words, seizing situations, taking the gravity of the moment and filling it with the imminent event, bringing it into the present moment (138).

A beggar among beggars, with a load of unbearable letters, memories and suspicions (119).

I haven’t done too badly as an exterminating angel (149).

On theology:

A silent fart in the divine plan (172).

They arrived in a black rage, they went home pissed as farts (208).

On travel:

You just feel that things can’t go on like this, that the walls, inside and out, are getting too close for you, and that your mind needs some fresh air, your body needs to feel the miles passing beneath you (235).

It takes quite something to beat January in these parts. It’s hot, the beach is irresistable, the days are long, the sun shines. But beyond that January has a distinct feel – the relaxed, mind-is-elsewhere, do-it-next-week feel. It matters little whether you are actually on holiday, having begun some time before Christmas, or whether you are back at ‘work’. For instance:

I walk into  main office and ask about something or other for which I’ve been waiting. The person behind the desk is reading a worn paperback, totally absorbed. She looks up at me blankly and takes quite a while to focus. ‘Oh, I think it’s on order but there’s a bit of a delay. Might be a couple of weeks’.

Someone calls me from Melbourne about a talk and radio stint at the end of the month. He is just back at work, has the dates wrong, forgets my name, has over 280 emails to deal with. ‘Why don’t you just hit mass delete?’ I suggest. ‘If anything is important, you’ll get another email’. ‘What a wonderful idea’, he says.

And then you have the ‘shutdown’. Many places simply shut everything down before Christmas and then open again around epiphany. Computers don’t work, doors are locked, no-one responds to anything. But is this counted as part of your holidays? Not at all all: four weeks holiday are on top of the two-week shutdown.

By this time of the evening I am in a comfy chair reading, looking out over the harbour, getting up to grab some second-hand binoculars acquired at the Berlin flee-markets to check out the name and structure and crew of the latest ship leaving or entering the harbour (that’s a navigation tower in the centre).

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