Paws for thought


THE TIMES WE LIVED IN:WE TEND to think that China didn’t figure on our cultural radar in the days before Asian fusion takeaways and the large-scale manufacture, in Chinese cities, of everything from iPads to plastic bath toys. Yet here, in February 1970, is Chairman Mao beaming benevolently from the window of Progressive Books and Periodicals on Dublin’s Essex Street, while some passers-by are clearly riveted by the display of material available for purchase.

Well, not quite. The dog – though he does have one ear cocked in the direction of the bookshop window – isn’t riveted at all. On the contrary, is there something about the squareness of his stance which is just the teeniest bit disapproving? Maybe, in 1970, even the dogs in the street could tell that the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist) was beginning to drift away from its staunch support for the chairman. Come the Sino-Albanian split of 1978, the party would side with Enver Hoxha’s Albanian brand of Communism.

Or maybe he’s just patiently waiting for his owner to get back to walking the walk. Are the man and woman in the photograph a couple, or two passing strangers? There’s no way to tell, although the fact that the woman is sporting a headscarf suggests she harks back to an older generation. Her boots, her bag, even the way the hem of her coat hangs – she could be an extra in a spy movie set in eastern Europe.

The way the books are displayed in the bookshop window, ranked in slightly dismal rows, adds to the effect. The fact that the people are both leaning slightly to the right is probably more accidental than ideological.

The CPI (Marxist-Leninist) also ran bookshops, at various times, in Limerick and Cork. Its finest hour was probably when David Vipond, a research chemist from Trinity College Dublin, stood at a byelection in Monaghan. He got just 157 first preferences – clearly the Monaghan Maoists were slacking when it came to winning hearts and minds – but he caused quite a stir which, briefly, brought the party on to the mainstream radar. It disbanded in 2003.

Arminta Wallace

Published February 20th, 1970

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