Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Beware of isms, ists, simple solutions and censors

There was a nice little programme on BBC4 TV last night called "My Dad Was a Communist". In it people such as Alexei Sayle, Arnold Wesker and David Aaronovitch recalled being brought up in a British Communist family. It also gave a brief history of the British communist party.

The idealism and naivety were striking. We learnt how the party had flourished during the rise of fascism in the thirties and that many idealists had gone to fight in the Spanish civil war and had urged Britain to intervene (the contrast between those brave souls and the present-day trendy-lefty anti-war stance wasn't made).

Most of it was about the 1950s and 60s. The participants described going to Russia and East European countries to summer camps and to be shown the 'success' of collective farms and factories. Alexi Sayle spoke about getting on a bus in Liverpool as an ordinary family and then being lauded at their destination and driven around in limousines.

The idealism started to wane in 1956 with the Russian invasion of Hungary but really went stale in 1968 when they invaded Prague to restore 'proper' government after the velvet revolution. Of course by then television was in every British home more or less and many of the realities of life behind the iron curtain were becoming obvious. But we still went on believing that the Chinese / Asian communism was the pure version....

It's easy now to mock the naivety but harder to remember how difficult it was to get anything approaching unbiased reporting in those pre-TV days. It's interesting that oppressive regimes always attempt to keep control of TV and, nowadays, the Internet. South Africa refused to have TV for years but once it arrived the fall of apartheid was hastened.

David Aaronovitch's closing remarks about the dangers of simplistic solutions in our complex world and Alexei Sayle thanking heaven that he and the rest of them never got near the levers of power were the most telling parts of the programme. If you missed it it will probably be on again. BBC4 can't afford many new programmes......

2 Comments:

At 11:41, Anonymous Vanky said...

Ah, you've missed out the Stalin denouncement & revelations made by Khrushchev. Once many British Communists had found out about the realities of Stalin's regime, they lost heart. The only example I can think of, off the top of my head, is E.P. Thompson...

I haven't gone off to fight any wars thus far, as mother would kill me. I say it's easier to be idealistic if one is wealthy...

 
At 13:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(i wouldn't be best pleased either..)
Jess x

 

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