An 80’s kid at school
When I was around 14-15, I became convinced that the country in which I lived was deeply unfair. It was the mid 80’s, the height of the Cold War when Frankie sang about `Two Tribes’ and we all feared a nuclear holocaust (as many of us do now also!). Popular culture was soaked in socialism, with many popular bands having overtly socialist names (e.g. Simply Red, The Communards etc.) and artists like Paul Weller sang about Walls coming Tumbling Down to reveal the corruption and unfairness of the capitalist system.
I freely admit that I had wanted to go and live in the USSR, and a friend of mine at school and myself were the resident red flag-waving revolutionaries who just didn’t believe all the negative press that was heaped on the world’s first workers’ state. Instead of being into insipid trendy stuff and having posters of New Romantic fops on our walls, we’d traded all those in for Lenin and other socialist luminaries, and became firm fangirls of the various heroes and heroines of the socialist world.
I don’t think we ever read any theory seriously, we were just hyped on basic ideas and ‘vibes’ in the typical manner of enthusiastic youth. Due to that fact perhaps, I was not in a position to really understand what was going on when we heard a few years later that our ‘great eastern hope’, the huge land of the red star that had given so many nightmares to officials in the capitalist west had fallen.
As for many of us, it was like the bottom had dropped out of our political world! Sadly I began to believe all those people who said “well socialism just doesn’t work!” “capitalism isn’t perfect but it’s the best system we have” etc. I also began to believe some of the propaganda about how awful the USSR had been. I didn’t realise that the very accusations such as ‘controlling the public mind through newspapers and TV’ that were levelled against the Soviets, were actually true of western media, academia and even the arts too. I also didn’t realise how brutal and corrupt western powers could be in the pursuit of their interests, how often they’d “wagged the dog” and used the most evil terror groups in existence to achieve their aims.
So for many years I bumbled along in a sort of centrist fog, with a varying level of interest in politics, trying to keep a roof over my head and all the other stuff that working class people have to cope with on a day-to-day basis. I had a vague sense that you just couldn’t trust politicians and they promised all kinds of stuff just to get you to vote for them, but then once in power, they say things like “sorry, computer says no!” None of their promises ever materialised (or worse they’d try and sell the idea that they did in fact do it a bit but you just hadn’t noticed because you’re too thick!)
A theme through all these years was also the notion that we should be grateful for all we have because we could be living in a totalitarian nightmare run by self-serving bureaucrats. In that scenario, we wouldn’t speak our minds and could be locked up for… oh, I don’t know, just doing journalism and stuff. I mean there’s no way that someone like Julian Assange could ever be locked up and tortured in a western democracy is there? (oh wait!…) As the years rolled by I began to see and understand that all the criticisms levelled at socialist countries were in actual fact becoming increasingly apparent (or were becoming less well hidden) in the west. It was like we were already living in the nightmare we’d been taught to fear all those years.
Trump and propaganda
This really hit a high point of intensity in 2016 when Trump was elected and the media machine went into overdrive about how awful he was, rather unevenly omitting to comment on the dubiousness of the person running opposite him. I got to see in real-time how biased and corrupt the media is, and how lawfare is used to try and get rid of a rich bloke who had slogans like “drain the swamp”, “expose the deep state” etc. and who had quite a large, devoted working class following in many parts of the USA.
I acknowledge that Trump made many mistakes, he did some stupid stuff which deserves criticism, not least of which was his habit of surrounding himself with the very worst sort of people (e.g. Pompeo and Bolton). He could indeed be rather coarse and unthinking at times with his words too (I still maintain however that, of all the USA’s presidents, he did the best funnies – the amusement level went up exponentially during his tenure, and when his jokes landed as he intended, they could land hard!)
However, even though many of Trump’s policy positions didn’t really match up with my own, what I did glean from the movement surrounding him was that same sense I had as a teen: that of distrust in a system that just wasn’t serving the masses of the people (and possibly never actually had.) I dug into the issues he was talking about re the “swamp” and “deep state” etc. and found my way to stuff which explained that we have our own equivalents of these right here in the UK.
New media opens new horizons
I began to draw back the curtain and see how the western imperial “sausage” is made! When Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine in February 2022, I was primed to dig right into that and discover what the background to the whole thing was. Certain journalistic outlets proved to be a godsend in this quest, e.g. The Grayzone, Mint Press News, Redacted, Declassified UK, and of course, beloved of many Workers’ Party members I’m sure, The Mother of All Talk Shows! I discovered the very shameful history of NATO, its apparent love of fascist movements and why the characterisation of itself as a “defensive” organisation is just laughable. I personally now believe it to be simply the vicious military wing of a corrupt western empire.
Since my own government had seen fit to deprive me of the ability to hear the other side of the story from the Russians themselves, I took to Telegram channels to fill that gap. I found a channel which gave thorough and horrifying descriptions of the various Ukrainian fascist battalions, battalions which were not only connected to an international neo-nazi movement which plans and carries out terror attack all over the globe, but also that my own government had been both directly and indirectly assisting for a very long time.
Having once cared for, in my job as an elderly care nurse, a man who had survived the Normandy landings on D-Day, and another who had survived an imperial Japanese prisoner of war camp, this made me want to just cry with shame. I’ve cared for many others who survived the war over the years, as many of us nurses and carers have, but these two stuck out in my mind the most. How could anyone who had knowingly, cynically aided fascist scumbags, monsters who thought nothing of murdering children just because of their ethnic origin and the language they spoke, look these people in the eye.
This is, without a doubt, one of the worst things the UK government has ever done within my lifetime, and I for one will never, ever forgive them for it. I realise that the majority of Ukrainian people had hoped for peace when they voted for Zelensky, who had run on that platform, and that the fascists are a very powerful minority in that country, who due to their extremely violent nature are able to pull a lot of strings. Further to this point, we need a drastic changing of the guard in this country, and I am determined to take part in a movement that wants to see such a change through.
Rejecting the narrative on Ukraine
Finally, I want to mention the moment at which I really ‘came home’ to socialism again, because I can remember exactly when that happened. I was on the Telegram channel I mentioned previously, and they had posted a video clip of two Donbass resistance fighters who were proudly hanging the Soviet victory flag back up on a local building, and one young man in his fatigues, petting his dog, started to sing a Soviet song. In that moment all the years fell away and I was my radical teenage self again, all those feelings came flooding back and I realised “I was right back then, and what’s more, the wrong side won the Cold War!”
Here was the genuine ‘old-left’ that I had loved so much, that was grounded in the realities of defending working class people and standing up to the forces of fascistic imperialism and capitalist exploitation. Here was the old left that was not obsessed with speech codes and trying to force people to believe in 100 genders, but rather wanted to empower the masses of ordinary working people, i.e. the majority, no matter what their origin, colour or sex, fighting to give them a voice and pride in their contributions to a more just society.
Here were people who were probably a lot like my own forebears here in County Durham, who had worked down mines, who had cared for the sick, who were good at fixing things and were willing to aid family, friends and strangers alike in their hours of need. Donbass will always have a place in my heart for this reason, and if I ever get to go there, I will tell them what I’ve just told you, that their suffering was not lost on many of us here in the west – we heard them, and their struggle spoke to our hearts. I’ll finish this piece here with that thought – thank you dear reader for persisting this far, and may we meet our own struggle here in the imperialist core with that same courage and determination!
Members Voice is a series by Workers GB activists telling their side of the story, their thoughts on the past, present and future. If you’d like to contribute – get in touch!