In the twilight hours of the Soviet Union’s disastrous political and economic experiment Anthony Daniels (who now writes as Theodore Dalrymple) began a unique project. To travel to the scraggly peripheries of the USSR, to get a feel for life in the client states not part of that ill-fated union but depending upon it wholly for support. He wanted to try and understand life lived in the oxygenless totalitarian regimes that pretended to be all about ‘the masses’.
What emerges is a remarkable book, “The Wilder Shores of Marx”, in which Daniels in travel-writing style gives us Albania, North Korea, Romania, Vietnam and Cuba as they were – and some (Cuba and North Korea) as they still are, having weathered the breaths of liberty that blew for a season and found new solace in a new communist totalitarianism – this one singing songs to Mao.
In an acerbic, biting fashion Daniels identifies and highlights the inconsistencies and incongruities of socialism and communism; rarely missing an insight in a prose that drips with sarcasm and distain. Stores selling plastic fruit; monumental constructions by peasant kings – the tremendous narcissism of men who become, after forty years or more of absolute power, as whimsical as they are wicked. And the carefully crafted pantomime of the oppressed who must understand well the dance and identify the cues lest they miss one and be tortured for it.
Fear – that is the one word that comes across every page, every paragraph, every sentence even. The absolute terror of those living within these bizarre regimes. Forced to read the poetry of Enver Hoxha, the god of the atheist Albanians; to entertain the ‘musings’ of Nicolae Ceaușescu the peasant king of Romania or to listen to the tired vapid rants of Fidel Castro. To applaud when demanded, to recite when appropriate. Above all to stay silent at all times. Unlike other writers, Daniels does not contain his contempt, and rarely hides his rage. His only response to the violent propaganda, the purpose of which is not to attempt to convince – because that is not possible or even really necessary – but to humiliate. To get people to say something that they know to be abjectly untrue, thereby robbing them of their dignity.
“The Wilder Shores of Marx” is an opus written in honor of the millions upon millions of people who grew up, lived, and died – generations of them – robbed of their innate human right to live free. A right that we all take too lightly.