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Tuesday, October 20, 1998 Published at 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK


Well red? Marxism Today is back

Marxism Today: A lot to say after seven years

The magazine world, unlike that of pop music or US presidential politics, is not noted for its comebacks.

But cast a glance along the "current affairs" mastheads lined up in your local newsagent this month and one vaguely familiar title may jump out.

Marxism Today, the slick and stylish organ of progressive left-wing discussion that came of age among the Hampstead chattering classes in the 1980s, is back.

Seven years after editor Martin Jacques threw in the towel and closed the journal because there was "nothing left to say", it's back for a special one-off issue.

Famed writers

The advent of Blairism has proved irresistible to Jacques, who has rounded up a team of distinguished writers - including many of the old alumni such as Eric Hobsbawm and Stuart Hall - for a collective comment on the "Blair project".

Predictably, for a title that always wallowed in its radicalism, Downing Street is unlikely to be best pleased with the result.

[ image: Blair's premiership is the major theme of the magazine]
Blair's premiership is the major theme of the magazine
The new issue pulls no punches. Plastered across a front page picture of the prime minister (in characteristic bold sans serif typeface) is, what most people will interpret as Marxism Today's verdict on Blair: "Wrong".

Jacques, however, is more a touch more cautious with his opinions. He admits to a cynical motive behind the headline - that it is aimed at grabbing attention.

The ploy is reassuringly reminiscent of the revered Marxism Today philosophy, when rules only existed to be broken.

"Marxism Today had a lot of courage. It was daring and you never quite knew what it was going to say," says Jacques, thinking back over his 14 "wonderful" years in the editor's chair.

It was a time dominated by Thatcherism - a term first coined by the magazine, in January 1979 - and, for the most part, a period in which the mainstream left was bereft of a populist path.

Ironically for a title which bore the name of one of communism's foremost thinkers, Marxism Today admired Margaret Thatcher, says Jacques.

[ image: Looking to the millennium]
Looking to the millennium
"She was a Bolshevik from the right in some senses, because she was a revolutionary. We were the first to realise that [Thatcherism] was not the same old Toryism, but in '79 no one believed us."

The doctrine became an "incessant theme of the magazine," says Jacques. "We were intrigued and impressed by her and people did not expect that."

But the relationship went further than a grudging respect for Margaret Thatcher and the fact that the magazine shared her initials.

Jacques says both shared a "modernist" outlook and both legacies are still apparent.

"We wrote about soaps, pop music and fashion which was just unheard of in newspapers or political magazines. Now all the papers do it.

"We constantly belied our title. We had a very good design. Marxism Today took design seriously. We were easily the most influential political magazine of the '80s."

[ image: Plenty of criticism of the prime minister]
Plenty of criticism of the prime minister
Such a modernist outlook is plain to see in Tony Blair's refashioning of the Labour Party. But Jacques sees it as hollow reverence.

"The problem with Blair is that he got one side of the argument without the other, because he thinks modernity is neutral."

It's a point which goes to the heart of arguments forwarded by Blair's critics on the left and right - that he lacks ideology.

"His basic position is that 'we are not like politicians. We are like the management of a company. We are technocrats, not blinded by prejudice'."

Straight-forward success?

Jacques admits that Blair's pragmatism strikes a chord with a public weary of political rhetoric. "We all live our lives like this up to a point," he says.

But he insists that vision must underpin a lasting and successful government. "It's how Thatcher lasted for so long."

"If you are governing a country you have to look at where you want to be; which groups in society you favour and which you do not, all the time."

The time since the 1997 general election has led to one of the most extraordinary 18-months in politics, he says.

Much room for manoeuvre

"The Tories have imploded giving the government extraordinary room for manoeuvre. And the strong economy has also given them extraordinary room for manoeuvre."

But with an economic downturn now inevitable, the honeymoon will soon be over he says.

The old left is again finding a voice and Jacques says the government must plot a careful course through the rise of potentially destructive issues of recession, rising nationalism in Scotland, and the row over Ken Livingstone's ambitions to run for Mayor of London.

Whatever the outcome though, Jacques will not be around to witness the full impact. He is off to Hong Kong for three years to write a book.

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