For purely medical reasons I hardly ever listen to Radio 4 – their usual vulgar, pea-brained, heavily biased twaddle is contraindicated for hypertensives.
There are aesthetic reasons as well, for it’s my conviction that serious issues ought to be discussed at depth or not at all. Discussed the BBC way, they are at best vulgarised and at worst falsified.
But the title of their programme Lenin in Letchworth caught my eye and I did listen to it. I must say I was pleasantly surprised.
It’s not that the programme wasn’t shallow, biased and vulgar – it was all those things, for the BBC can do no other. But at least they did mention, albeit at the very end, that Lenin mustn’t be confused with Dr Schweitzer or Mother Theresa. They even went so far as to quote Lenin’s order to hang kulaks (industrious peasants) publicly, pour encourager les autres.
Such quotes run the risk of undermining the dominant conviction among our ‘liberals’, emphatically including the BBC staff, that nastiness in the Soviet Union only started with Stalin. Lenin, on the other hand, was a sincere, if possibly misguided and slightly too energetic, champion of the poor, a bit like Jesus.
Apart from that one quotation, it was business as usual. The programme mulled over the hypothetical possibility that Lenin might have visited Letchworth during the 1907 Fifth Congress of the Russian Socialist Party held in London.
The implication was that Lenin was acutely interested in the same bien-pensant agenda that drove Edwardian socialists like Ebenezer Howard or GB Shaw. The former was largely responsible for creating eyesore abominations called ‘garden cities’, of which Letchworth was the first and the truly hideous Milton Keynes the last, or at least one hopes so.
The programme’s general attitude towards socialism, either Christian or Edwardian, was typically sympathetic, and it was at pains to contrast Lenin’s ‘shaft of steel’ approach to ‘the transformation of the human spirit’ with GBS’s ‘soft, gentle’ idea of ‘creating a new world’.
This demarcation is both essential and comforting to BBC socialists, which is to say the BBC staff. The trouble is, it’s utterly false.
The difference between Soviet Leninists and British socialists is that the former managed to grab total power and the latter so far haven’t, although, as their current attack on free press shows, they appear to be well on the way. This explains what the programme referred to as ‘the difference in means’.
Had Shaw and his friends seized power in Britain, they would have perpetrated all the same monstrosities and possibly worse. Lenin, after all, didn’t suggest that all old people should be culled because they outlived their usefulness, and Shaw did: ‘Undesirables should be killed for the good of the whole’.
(It’s comforting to see how euthanasia is steadily moving towards the forefront of our ideas on improving the NHS – one can’t open the papers these days without reading laments about all those wrinklies undermining the otherwise unimpeachable socialised medicine.)
Along with the whole Bloomsbury set, Shaw admired not only Lenin and Stalin, but also their fellow socialists Mussolini and Hitler. But he reserved his warmest feelings for the Soviets. This is what he declared upon visiting Stalin’s Russia in the middle of the artificially caused 1931 famine that killed 15 million recalcitrant peasants:
‘It is a real comfort to me, an old man, to be able to step into my grave with the knowledge that the civilisation of the world will be saved. It is here in Russia that I’ve actually been convinced that the new Communist system is capable of leading mankind out of its present crisis, and saving it from anarchy and ruin.’
Radio 4 doesn’t quote such pronouncements by Shaw and other British socialists for this would make it harder to preach its belief in what the programme called ‘a different understanding of socialism.’ The understanding is the same, chaps, it’s the country that’s still slightly different.
Nor did the programme find anything wrong with Christian socialism, an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. Christianity is in fact the exact opposite of socialism, not its religious expression.
Socialism is by definition materialistic and therefore atheist. The likes of Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the ‘garden city’ movement, and Rev. J Bruce Wallace, the driving force behind the creation of Letchworth, were engaged in social engineering, pure and simple. Their garden cities sprang from the same ideology as today’s council estates; they reflected the collectivist, socialist idea of how people ought to live.
What Radio 4 called a ‘new way of living’ is in fact the old idea of changing human nature in line with a set of preconceived ideas. Such attempts will always fail not because the execution is inept but because the underlying idea is evil. Unfortunately though, wherever such attempts are made in earnest they only fail after millions have had to die.
Other than drawing our attention to the commendable ideology behind ‘garden cities’, one wonders what exactly was the point of Lenin in Letchworth. Vitali Vitaliev, the Russo-English writer who is himself a resident of Letchworth sums it up neatly: ‘One thing I can say is that I don’t care a damn if Lenin, Hitler or another murderer and tyrant had visited Letchworth. If he indeed did and liked it, it is disturbing!’ Hear, hear.