Most people would consider an evening in which “besides the Claret, we drank 16 bottles of Champagne and ate twelve dozen oysters”, extravagant. But for a 70-year old Friederich Engels, the co-founder of Marxism, it was a typical evening of profligacy and excess. For him, Marx and a bazaar of other international socialists that congregated at Engels’ home in Primrose Hill, evenings were spent drinking the best wines, smoking cigars and eating excessively.
Many, on both the left and right, consider such revelry gross hypocrisy. How, when attacking the wealthy and privileged whilst also lamenting poverty in all its forms, can you justify such carousing? Yet, such criticisms fail to recognize what Socialism stands for and the required nature of its adherents.
Indeed, from its conception, the Socialist society was an idealized, utopian world of equality, freedom and happiness. It is fundamentally a romantic concept, a quixotic dream based on idealism which is best embodied and articulated in the raffish, reckless man, who cares little for the bonds of capitalist society that keep him in place. Spending your fickle income on the pleasures of champagne, rather than patronizing oppressive industry, is one of the earliest – and easiest – forms of Revolution.
And yet, the left of today has forgotten this legacy. All the romanticism, the energy, has been sapped out of socialism by dry, tedious, stoical discussions about policy, political correctness and women’s rights. From Ed Milliband – who can only recollect getting drunk once at university – to Diane Abbott – who would be more likely to join the BNP than compare the nuances of Claret and capitalism – the left wing of today simply has none of the revolutionary charm of its forebears. No one gets excited about wine tasting with Noam Chomsky.
Of course, there are exceptions. The late, great, Christopher Hitchens was renowned for consuming at least a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label a day, alongside his preference for glamorous soirees and long-lunches. Equally, Dominique Strauss-Kahn had many of the carousing qualities of early Socialists, although a night-out with him might get you more than you bargained for.
Ultimately though, the left must rediscover its champagne legacy, by re-embracing the utopian, rose-tinted romanticism of Socialism's founding fathers. Not only will this make being on the left more fun, it will help reconnect with lost voters. As Engels lamented in a letter to Marx, “I have not had a single opportunity to make use of my acknowledged gift for mixing a Lobster salad – quelle horreur!”
N.B. The views expressed in this article do not reflect those of the publication as a whole, they are merely the personal opinions of the writer.