The rest is silence

Back in the days of my youth there existed a publication called Soviet Weekly, which one could buy from old tankies on demonstrations, or pick up from big piles that were left in the foyers of certain union offices. It carried uplifting stories about grain surpluses in the Ukraine, or record tractor production in Minsk, along with pictures of heroic cosmonauts, and smiling orphans enjoying free holidays on the Black Sea, all painting a picture of the workers’ paradise that was the Soviet Union. It was always detached from reality of course, and by the late 1980’s it had become completely surreal. Not long before the USSR finally fell apart Soviet Weekly disappeared, and even a few weeks later it was hard to imagine that it had ever existed at all. (It has vanished so completely there is hardly a trace of it on the internet; all I could find were a couple of scans and some old copies for sale on eBay).

I always imagined that the end came for Soviet Weekly when the strain of reconciling what was actually happening with the Party line plunged the editors into some sort of existential crisis, but actually it seems unlikely that anyone took an active decision to kill it off, such was the ossification of the Soviet bureaucracy by that time. The final blow was probably struck by something mundane, like the embassy running out of money to pay the printers, or the old Telex machine breaking down.

Anyway, I was thinking of this when I read that Hamlet Au was throwing in the towel at New World Notes and decamping to perennial next-big-thing Blue Mars.

I don’t want to suggest that Hamlet’s essentially harmless SL-boosting was ever the equivalent of glossing over the legacy of Stalinism, but I do wonder if, like the editors of Soviet Weekly, he eventually found the continuous demand to find positive things to write about a world that was crumbling around him just to difficult to sustain.

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