Friday, 11 March 2011

China Mieville: Politics in the most unlikely of places

Some of you may be familiar with the work of China Mieville, that rarest of beasts, a Marxist fantasy and science fiction author (he is a long time member of the SWP and was even an election candidate). I'm a big fan myself and his work has attracted a wide audience alongside copious amounts of critical praise. However, Mieville has not shied away from producing novels and short stories that reflect his Marxist politics. Iron Council in particular doesn't hesitate in marrying revolutionary Marxism to fantasy literature, a genre usually better known for its creative and political conservatism, while his most famous creation, the city of 'New Crubazon', is a not especially subtle allegory for humanity under capitalism. However, alongside these deeper explorations of revolutionary change and so forth, Mieville also clearly has a sense of humour (a necessity for survival in the British far-left) and experienced socialists ought to get a kick from stories like this one. If you don't want to read the whole thing then just have a look at this quotation:

'I moved on. A man stepped into my path. He was part of a group of sharp-dressed types at the edges of the crowd. He sneered and gave me a leaflet.


'Why We Are Not Marching.

'We view with disdain the pathetic attempts of the old Left to revive this Christian ceremony. The notion that the government has 'stolen' 'our' Christmas is just part of the prevailing Fear Culture that we reject. It is time for a re-evaluation beyond left and right, and for dynamic forces to reinvigorate society. Only last month, we at the ILMI organised a conference at the ICA on why strikes are boring and hunting is the new black...'

I really couldn't make head or tail of it. I threw it away'
The more astute leftist trainspotters among you will have recognised the reference to the notorious 'Why the Socialist Labour League is not Marching' leaflet produced by Gerry Healy's followers in a now infamous display of paranoia and sillyness. These references are not why I like his work, but I do like that Mieville does occasionally wink at socialist activists through his fiction.

Anyway, I have to say that when I started reading Un Lun Dun, Mieville's first novel aimed at the young adult market, that I really wasn't expecting one one of these 'winks' to show up, given the target audience. I was pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong a mere 55 pages in:

'Obaday took them past a house-sized fist, carved out of stone with windows in its knuckles....'

Bottom right hand corner of the page, third building from the right. Yep, that symbol should be more than familiar to socialist activists:

which is itself based on the old logo of the Militant tendency:

So, that most potent symbol of revolutionary socialism, the clenched fist of insurrection raised defiantly in the air has been re-imagined as a dwelling in an alternative fantasy London. Thanks for the wink China.

1 comment:

  1. I knew nothing about Mr. Miéville's political preferences BK. Interesting, and not surprising, now I come to think of it.

    I do know I was sucked into The City & The City in a way I haven't experienced for a while with a piece of fantasy fiction. What I enjoyed about it was that it seemed to partake a stream of (Eastern) European writing that pays attention to the structures of power, that I guess started with Kafka and is utterly un-English.