I kid thee not dear reader. That was the question posed to me on the M30 bus, heading home from Mosman; through Neutral Bay on Friday afternoon.
At first glance it makes no sense as to why this lady would even ask such a question. I was dressed in a white shirt and tie, with black trousers and I'm just not sure how that in particular suggests any predilection for being a communist. I suppose that I could be working as an undercover agent for the Stasi but that's surely got to be drawing a very long bow indeed.
Maybe if I'd been in my big black scary coat and maybe if I'd then chosen to wear badges of Mao, Trotsky and Lenin and maybe if it was 1968, then there might be a case to be made but otherwise, it's just a little bit weird.
Except if you take a look at the cover of the book I was reading:
The lady who asked me this was probably in her late 50s and after showing her the cover in more detail, she said that she quite liked Leigh Sales and that she watches 7.30 on ABC1 every night.
Proving yet again that symbols are important, if you hadn't figured it out yet, the reason that this lady asked if I was a communist is because I was reading a "little red book". From far away, I guess that I can understand the concern.
Truth be told, I've never even seen an actual "little red book". The book "Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung" is published in English but I suspect that it went out of favour with university students, firstly after the fall of communism in Europe in the 1990s and secondly after everyone started getting things like iDevices. It's probably really hard to rise up against those capitalist pig dogs and start chanting slogans for the Revolution to come whilst at the same time, tapping away at a tablet computer and wearing the latest designer sneakers.
Mind you, if we did want to start a revolution with Leigh Sales as the figurehead, would one of the central tenants of that revolution be to start asking investigative questions of people? If such a revolution were started though, apart from asking questions about government policy, it would have a soundtrack of Broadway show tunes.
Although, if Ms Sales' co-conspirator on the podcast "Chat 10 Looks 3"¹, Annabel Crabb were involved, then we could all start chanting "Little Red Cook Book, Little Red Cook Book" and taking delicious desserts round to politician's houses. I'd be up for that sort of revolution - Key Lime Pie with Malcolm Turnbull, Caramel Slice with Julie Bishop, Black Forest Cake with Ed Husic and Chocolate Coronets with Tanya Plibersek. It would be the tastiest revolution the world has ever seen.
One of the ironies about having the question asked "Are you a communist?" on the lower North Shore of Sydney is that although people who live in the area are more likely to have things like private health care and send their children to private schools, they're better serviced by public transport and are more likely to be listeners and viewers of the ABC.
"I suppose that I am a communist of sorts" I think to myself as we ride along in a publicly owned bus, across the publicly built Sydney Harbour Bridge which cost £6¼m more than 80 years ago. The bridge even got the nickname of "The Iron Lung" as it kept many workers employed as the depression began. Then as I get off the bus and get onto a publicly owned train, I also consider that had this been left to private enterprise to build, it would have never have been done.
More generally, I don't think that there are that many "self-made" people beyond those in small business and even they, they exist within a community. Society chooses to arrange itself in groups, cities, companies, families and nations because we all want to build and benefit from something which is bigger than ourselves. Immediately I think of Thomas Hobbes and that life in the 'state of nature' which he imagined is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short"².
"Are you a communist?" To a degree. I think we all are; I think we always have been.
¹ Chat 10 Looks 3. Link: http://www.chat10looks3.com/
²In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
- Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, Thomas Hobbes (1651)