A feeling of abandon begins, and spreads. Since morning began the celebratory sap has been climbing, and now it’s the afternoon the amrita is starting to bubble up into the brains of the students, making them giddy with anticipation. It’s one of the University’s primal days: the last Friday of the last semester, and a sunny one at that. Lectures are finishing, the Easter hols are nigh, the academics’ halos are slipping, and celebrations are in order. Of the chug-a-lug variety.
Quite a lot of students decamped days ago, but there are still more than enough to fill up the student bar and spill out onto the grass area in front of it. The air outside the bar is more alive than it ever has been, as the students drink and talk with more life, animation and passion than most of them do for ninety-nine per cent of their days. Why don’t we behave like this every day, they’re all thinking. This is the way we will live every moment from now on, they think, and continue thinking, until they wake up the next morning with a faceful of carpet and the feeling that they have been speared right through the head with a javelin that has sunk into the floor below them, pinning them there until the agony dissolves their mind into a puddle of stale, tepid beer.
Ren, Miles, Lily and Douglas are walking to the student bar. The latter three have just had their last TITE class of the year, so they’re feeling like they’re justified in behaving like students on this glorious last day of term.
‘No more of Balderstone the bastard until October,’ says Douglas.
‘No more having to see Lenora, Malcom and Millicent until October,’ says Lily.
‘Hang on,’ says Ren. ‘I thought I told you all not to carry on with TITE next year. You won’t need to for probation purposes.’
‘Well, we’ll see,’ says Lily. ‘That hasn’t been decided by the powers-that-be yet. And if we’ve done a year we might as well do the second year and get the professional qualification.’
‘The TITE’s about as professional as my arse,’ says Ren.
‘Isn’t that an unfortunate comparison?’ says Miles. ‘Seeing as your arse has often worked in a professional capacity?’
‘I’ve told you before, I never got paid for all that.’
They can hear the merry chatter of the students before they can see the bar.
‘I can taste the first ale already,’ says Miles.
‘You mean you can smell it,’ says Ren. ‘Particularly nasty batch they have in at the moment, Badger’s Backside I think it is.’
‘Cougar’s Cloaca is the latest one,’ says Lily.
‘Dingo’s Dong, it’s an Australian one,’ says Douglas.
‘Miles?’ says Ren after a pause.
‘Do I have to?’
‘Nobody’s forcing you.’
‘It has to start with E,’ says Lily. Because Lily has said this Miles is not going to back out. ‘Elephant’s Egress?’ he says.
The only thing missing is the clinking of glasses, because today the bar is using disposable plastic cups.
‘Drinking lager in plastic cups is just about bearable,’ says Miles. ‘But ale? Just not right. Ale drinkers, being more responsible generally, should be allowed glasses. They’re called lager louts for a reason.’
‘I agree Miles, but propose that said ale drinker must also be chaetiferous, which rules you out.’
‘You and your prejudice against beards.’
‘On the contrary, I’m saying the bearded ale-drinkers are the more responsible members of the cervisial community, so I’m complimenting them by comparing them favourably against clean-shaven ruffians like you.’
‘But beardies who drink lager are more likely to be violent,’ says Lily.
‘See? She’s the prejudiced one.’
When the quartet walk back out of the bar with their drinks they spot some of Miles’ psychologist colleagues sitting on the grass, including Lucius Birch, so they join them. The introductions are made. Ren notes that these psychologists aren’t the nice ones that Miles has previously introduced him to; they seem to be Lucius’s people. Ren suspects he’s not going to warm to them. There are also some sociologists in the group who he recognises, including Harry Smales, a scowling, grey-haired man of about fifty who, despite the sun, wears a thick grey scarf wrapped around his neck. Lucius and Harry and some of the others have an aura of ageing, disaffected public schoolboys, still nursing their grudges.
‘Are there more of you turning up?’ Lucius says.
‘No, why?’ says Miles.
‘I notice you and your philosopher friend have two pints each.’
‘There’s a large crowd at the bar, and not enough staff,’ says Miles. ‘So getting two pints now made sense, saves going back so often.’
‘So that explains why you had vodka put into the beer as well?’ says Lily.
‘Today is not the day to drink catlap,’ says Ren. ‘Go hard or go home.’
Fifty minutes later and most people have been going hard. Only a couple have gone home. There have been two additions, one – Compton – very welcome, and one – Malcom Ascaris from Politics and TITE – very unwelcome. Then someone else turns up. Obviously Lucius’s girlfriend, because she kisses him. She turns her face and… the warmth of the day is chilled a bit. The sun goes behind a metaphorical cloud. The birds stop twittering. It’s Lenora Helminth. Somehow, this isn’t a surprise. Next round then.
Twenty minutes later, in all the milling about, Ren finds, to his displeasure, that he and Compton are now sitting next to Lucius, Lenora, and Harry Smales. Ren notices that in Lucius’s presence Lenora looks happy, or, at least, she looks like human sacrifice is preying less on her mind than usual. Harry, however, is clearly not a happy man.
‘Labour should grab the initiative while it’s shitting on the Conservatives,’ Harry is saying.
‘Yes,’ says Lucius, ‘raise taxes, and re-nationalise all those industries that the evil witch set free. Who’s going to object to that, outside of a few capitalists?’
‘I’m going to object to that,’ says Ren.
‘Er… is there a joke attached to this?’ says Lucius.
‘No joke,’ says Ren. ‘Unless you’re wanting to destroy the country for a joke.’
‘Oh dear. We have a Tory on our hands. Who brought him?’ says Harry.
‘Hang on,’ says Lucius. ‘You told me you were socialist.’
‘I said no such thing, you just assumed. I simply asked you some questions to see what your views were. Only a fucking idiot would be a socialist after the century we’ve just had. And you don’t even stop there, you’re an actual Communist. You take Lenin and Trotsky to be great visionaries and leaders.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with Communism,’ says one of the grad students, a lad whose face looks like he’s tried so hard to clean it that it’s been turned red by all the rubbing. ‘It just hasn’t been tried properly yet. Every time it’s been implemented it’s been taken over by tyrants and ruined. We haven’t had real Communism yet.’
‘Oh Jesus, that old one,’ says Compton. ‘How old are you?’
‘It’s true. Lenin and Trotsky were building a better world, and then Stalin and the US wrecked it.’
‘And black is white,’ says Ren.
‘Lenin and Trotsky were evil bastards,’ says Compton. ‘Some of the worst people who ever lived. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot may have been worse, but Lenin was still a mass-murdering scumbag. As was little Leo.’
‘Lenin basically invented modern totalitarianism,’ says Ren.
‘I think you’ll find that was Stalin,’ says the boy with the red-scrubbed face, who Ren decides to call Sunburn. ‘Read a history book.’
At this point Lucius and Harry are looking a little embarrassed by their young comrade.
‘These are the historical facts,’ says Compton. ‘I’ll take you over to the library myself and introduce you to the Russian history section if you don’t believe me. Mass murder and terror were part of the package right from the start. They were totally integral to it. Lenin knew that there wasn’t a hope in hell of the Bolsheviks staying in power unless they ruthlessly suppressed all their enemies. He even deliberately started a huge civil war because he thought it was the only chance he had of succeeding. He murdered and terrorised enormous numbers of people. Aided by Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, all of them. It didn’t go bad because it drifted from its course. It was bad right from the start. It’s bad in its essence. The badness is built-in, at the core. As it has to be. The only way you can maintain a one-party state where everyone’s private property and rights are taken away is by murdering anyone who dissents, or putting them into a Siberian gulag, and ruthlessly maintaining a rule of terror. And that’s what Lenin did.’
‘Lenin didn’t kill anywhere near as many people as Stalin,’ says Sunburn.
‘That’s like saying you’re not that bad a serial killer because you didn’t kill as many people as John Wayne Gacy. Stalin just applied the same techniques that Lenin had, only on an even larger scale.
‘And also against his fellow Communists,’ says Ren. ‘Lenin needed them on-side, so he didn’t murder any Party members. And he considered them his people. But by the time Stalin had an iron grip that no longer applied, so he tortured and slaughtered Party members as well. In their thousands.’
‘Anyone see that new series on TV last night?’ says Miles desperately. ‘What’s it called… the one with the guy from that other show from last month…?’
‘You can bad-mouth Stalin, that’s fair enough,’ says Harry, ignoring Miles. Ren estimates that Harry was about the same age as Malcom McDowell’s character in If… when it came out. Harry probably still has the poster up in his room. ‘He went a bit too far. But Lenin had to do what he did. If he didn’t, the monarchists would have restored Nicholas as Tsar, and things would have been back to the bad old days.’
‘The Tsar wasn’t ever coming back,’ says Compton. ‘The February revolution was leading towards democracy, before Lenin launched his coup d’etat in October.’
‘And even if the Tsar had come back,’ says Ren, ‘which he wasn’t, but even if he had, it would have been better than having the Bolsheviks in charge. The Tsar’s regime was mild compared to Lenin’s. And he would have had had so much less power if he’d come back.’
‘Those were different times,’ says Lucius, with a face like thunder. ‘The Imperial War was happening, killing millions, and destroying Russia. There were a lot of hard-line rebel groups of different political stripes all jostling for power. If a new government didn’t assert its authority then the result would have been anarchy. And Russia’s always been a violent country. Strongman tactics were the norm. If Lenin hadn’t been tough then the Whites would have come back and killed all of the Reds. A few hundred thousand dead in a civil war was a good result compared to how things could have gone.’
‘Okay, take the way the Bolsheviks treated the Church,’ says Compton, oblivious to, or maybe just ignoring, the fury that Lucius and Harry are directing at him. ‘The Orthodox Church wasn’t presenting much in the way of opposition to the Bolsheviks. But they might do. And the Bolsheviks wanted to destroy religion anyway. So they smashed the Church. The Orthodox Church. And the Catholics. And the Jews. Put thousands of bishops and priests and nuns on trial on trumped-up charges, and then had them tortured and killed, on Lenin’s orders. They were the original show trials. Stalin just copied Lenin later on when he had his own show trials.’
‘The Church burned heretics,’ says Lenora. ‘So it placed itself into the middle of the struggle for freedom. It should have been helping the Bolsheviks, not opposing them.’
‘Yes, the Church was reaping what it sowed,’ says Harry, who is giving Compton the death stare. ‘Look at how many people it’s tortured and killed. Lenin may have been rough, but the Church had to be taken down when the chance presented itself.’
‘Glad you’re not denying it,’ says Compton, looking pointedly at Sunburn, who has decided to keep quiet for now. ‘It had been hundreds of years since the Russian Orthodox Church had burned any heretics. And the Church was offering little resistance to the Bolsheviks. What Lenin really couldn’t stand was the idea that there might be an area of mental life that he didn’t control. Something you modern Leninists also hate. As Ren said, Lenin really set the template for modern totalitarianism. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Tito, Hoxha, Ceausescu, they were all just copying his methods. As you lot would, given half the chance.’
‘Fuck you, you Tory cunt,’ says Harry.
‘Not exactly a denial,’ says Ren.
‘You wouldn’t be an academic if I was in charge. You’d be clerking in the shittiest office in the land.’
‘That’s your euphemism for you’d have me killed, I presume. You just don’t want to say it in front of the ladies.’
Mind you, thinks Ren, the way some of the females, like Lenora, are glaring at Compton he’s not sure they aren’t thinking the same thing. He wonders what Lenora would be saying if she was recklessly drunk like the others.
Suddenly all the psychologists and sociologists, except for Miles, stand up, as though a signal has been pre-arranged. Then they stalk off to another part of the grassed area.
‘Brave Sir Robin ran away, he ran away,’ sings Ren at them as they leave. Then he turns to shouting at them in a Russian accent. ‘Comrades, never forget role of false consciousness in counter-hegemony. Way to crush bourgeoisie is grind between millstones of taxation and inflation.’