Comrades Up in Arms: Stalin Still Exerts a Strange Hold over Some, Not Least Arthur Scargill. Johann Hari Attends a Stalin Society Meeting. (Features)
Hari, Johann, New Statesman (1996)
Comrade Chairman is very angry. His body is old, but hatred smoulders in his eyes. He bangs his fist on the table and begins: "We must put our own house in order! To read lies about Comrade Stalin in the capitalist bourgeois press is to be expected -- but to read them in our own papers? It misleads good comrades and damages the socialist cause! It cannot be accepted! The Trotskyites are doing massive damage!"
The scene seems strangely familiar. But it isn't from some old newsreel, or a documentary recreation of a distant tyranny: its a meeting of the British Stalin Society on a sunny Sunday morning.
Some might see Stalinism's journey in just half a century, from the ruling ideology of a world superpower to barely filling a grotty community centre in King's Cross, as a humbling one. Not the Stalin Society. Founded in the 1930s, it ain't dead yet. One pale old man tells me he remains confident because "we still have Cuba and [North] Korea". Nobody in a two-hour meeting utters a word of regret about Stalin's time in power.
We are assembled to discuss "misrepresentations of the Soviet and Maoist periods in the media", and the first speaker, Harry Powell, a former college lecturer, talks confidently of the Soviet Union as simply "the first wave of socialism in the world".
Nobody blinks at this. Powell takes particular exception to Jung Chang's bestselling autobiography, Wild Swans, which he condemns as "a pernicious and dishonest book" that "does nothing but paint a negative picture of the socialist period in China ... How are people meant to know about all the great achievements of Chairman Mao if they only hear this kind of grumbling?" he asks.
But that is not his only gripe. "Every time a Russian composer from the socialist period is played on Radio 3, some smug presenter refers to the supposed 'tyranny' or 'totalitarianism' of that time." Powell says that, "in fact, the arts flourished under Stalin". George Orwell's novel Animal Farm is, he believes, "crude anti-Stalinist propaganda, written by a man who worked in a propaganda unit". And when he refers derisively to a scene in Enemy at the Gates, the recent Hollywood movie about Stalingrad, which suggests that Stalin persecuted the Jews, the audience joins him in sniggering. …
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Publication information: Article title: Comrades Up in Arms: Stalin Still Exerts a Strange Hold over Some, Not Least Arthur Scargill. Johann Hari Attends a Stalin Society Meeting. (Features). Contributors: Hari, Johann - Author. Magazine title: New Statesman (1996). Volume: 131. Issue: 4591 Publication date: June 10, 2002. Page number: 28. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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