Between the Lines: Fine Cut; Life Can Be Wonderful
The early hours of Saturday evening on “The Box” are usually devoted to game shows, sitcoms and old films. Fine Cut (Saturday 21 May, 7.45pm, BBC2) was therefore something of a surprise. It charted through a sometimes confusing mixture of present-day and flash-back film, the progress of an East End family from the time that Richard Harris left Dublin in the 1930s, through five generations to the present.
Such family historians are, of course, not new and though this one ran, as it does with so many, a nostalgia for the “good old days” when there was a sense of community, people felt (however misguidedly) that they could affect the course of events, and everyone had a job (with the usual gloss regarding the grind and abysmal pay).
These programmes are social history in the flesh and as such are always interesting. What distinguished this one were the comments made near the end by the young father and mother of two of the last generation children. They live in a council flat, money is short and work is good when you can get it. When asked about what future he looks forward to, the father says “a world without war, where everyone has work and is equal. Where everyone has enough to eat and luxuries like a television set and a washing machine. There’d be no politicians, but a council of people who are good at this sort of thing would make sure there’s enough for everyone and it’s distributed properly”. His wife says, “Ah yes, that’s your dream”. He replies “it doesn’t have to be a dream”. How right he is; the more of us aim and work for it, the sooner we’ll get it!
In Life Can Be Wonderful (C4, 6 June, 11.55pm) Stanley Forman described his own dream, in his case a dream that turned sour. Forman was born into a family of Jews who had fled the Tsarist pogroms in Russia early this century and had settled in the Mile End Road, East London. Taking against the Jewish religion at an early age (partly because of its requirement that he should thank God for not having been born a woman), this East Ender took practical steps towards realising his dream by becoming involved in politics. First in the Labour League of Youth and then the Communist Party, Forman pursued his vision of the future where poverty had been banished and equality established through political action.
For much of his political life Forman actively expressed the view that his dream was becoming reality in Soviet Russia. The USSR, he contended, was building heaven on earth, and Stalin was his Pope. Forman spent forty years in the film industry and a large part of his time making propaganda films for the Kremlin’s Empire designed to counter the devious work of the CIA.
Some of the films made in defence of the misnamed “Socialist motherland” were laughable—extolling the technological leaps in tractor-making productivity or wheat-growing, all amid the smiling faces of healthy Russian youths going about their daily tasks to please Comrade Stalin. Others, about the private capitalist Western bloc rather than what was in reality the state-capitalist East, were more truthful. One film produced by Forman dealt with poverty in post-war Britain, and from the clips of it that were shown, it looked accurate enough. But the abiding impression was of a man who had spent decades of his life spreading lies.
Forman stated that if he had known what was really going on in Russia—the gulags, the repression, the misery—his life would have been very different from that of a Stalinist propagandist. He claimed that on his frequent visits to the USSR he saw nothing but showpiece collective farms and enthusiastic Communist Party officials. No political prisoners and no forced-labour camps were in evidence—claims about such horrors were the work of the CIA or bloody-minded Trotskyists.
But Forman must have been blinkered indeed to have so easily dismissed the consistent reports of totalitarianism and repression emanating from Russia and its satellites. Many saw through it and left the CP—some braved the slanders of the Communists and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain and our companion parties. Others, disillusioned, drifted out of politics altogether or merely traded one type of repressive politics for another and threw their lot in with the Trotskyist mis-leaders of the working class.
Forman soldiered on through the Hungarian invasion of 1956 and the Prague spring of 1968 like the fool he later realised he’d become. In believing the old untruths, he now states “we had too much faith in the leadership and not enough commonsense”. Quite. Forman paid the price of letting others do his thinking for him in the form of a life spent in the service of an unworthy cause. But he and thousands like him still have time yet and do something really constructive with their lives—build a real, democratic socialist revolution, carried out by the majority in the interest of the majority. That way, the lives of all those ex-Communists will not have been wasted entirely.