Issue 112, Winter 1989
Of course I’ve heard of the Circus Trots. In May 1940, Comrade Pinardier (for that was his nom de guerre, not his name) found himself in Brussels, cut off by the German invasion. With his militant Trotskyist past, how could he get out from under the net? As his comrades in misfortune—anti-Nazi exiles, socialist activists, communists, revolutionaries, internationalists, Jews and freemasonswere as stranded as he was, he thought of buying for a pittance a circus that had been abandoned like some shipwrecked ark on the beach at Knokke-le-Zoute. The owners had fled from the bombing on their bicycles and were never seen again. The purchase price was immediately amortized by Bahadur Shah, the circus’s sole and aged, in fact rather senile, elephant, being sentenced to death, and whose cleverly butchered carcass, tenderized by a local expert who had learned his trade in the Belgian Congo, fed the entire population through the black market and even a detachment of Wehrmacht engineers short of protein and partial to high flavors. The tusks passed to an Antwerp dealer in return for a banker’s draft bearing a string of noughts, negotiable in Caracas. And so the very first circus in the history of Trotskyism came into being. The new partners had no difficulty in allocating the various roles: teachers, doctors, engineers, journalists, artists, former Reichstag deputies quickly became first-rate circus performers. Pinardier was the tiger- tamer; Slovakian society ladies of ripe years learned to curtsey on the floor in spangled leotards; a celebrated Hamburg soprano did pirouettes on a dappled draught-horse; a goateed dentist became a human cannonball; a (beardless) psychoanalyst from Copenhagen slashed violently at Gordian knots and then showed his bewildered audience perfectly smooth and uncut ropes; a Bavarian surrealist painter performed amazing feats on giant roller-skates. The band was Pinardier's pride and joy: never was the March of the Gladiators or Colonel Bogey played by a more distinguished group of temporarily incognito celebrities. Just the names of the pianist and the violinist who were playing, respectively, trombone and triangle would have set off riots in the Metropolitan’s box-office queue. The only member of the team who caused a problem to begin with was a high-ranking Polish cavalry officer who had the awkward habit, after taking three turns round the floor, of forgetting where he was and of charging apoplectically at the front row of the stalls, almost always occupied by bewildered German soldiers in uniform. In the end, of course, they all got used to it, and the clowns would rush after him and drag him backwards. This hilarious act very quickly became the high point of the whole show.