Why bother?

Apathy is perhaps the biggest obstacle to human progress, and I find in my older years I’m guilty of it myself. I write my political blogs, but what do I actually DO nowadays? In my younger days I was always on protest marches or demonstrations, getting myself arrested, or something.

Ever since 2 million people marched thru London to protest the imminent second Iraq War in 2003, just to be completely ignored by Tony Blair who took his orders straight from the White House not from public opinion, I’ve not seen the usefulness of public protest. I have been on a few anti-nuclear bomb demonstrations, but I know they’ll never have any effect.

Yet I shouldn’t feel like this. It was public demonstrations on a mass scale across Eastern and Central Europe which brought down the deformed Socialist regimes. Had the ordinary people got actively involved much earlier of course, by joining the ruling Party en-masse and attending all Party meetings where policies were first forumulated in those countries, then things could have been very different. But not once the ruling clique had got control of the Party. The privileges awarded to Party members unfortunately backfired, and instead of attracting mass active membership, tended to attract completely the wrong people – anti-Socialists out to use the system to their own advantage.

Yet I’m not currently a member of any political party either. This seems pointless since Labour governments never took any notice of Conference Resolutions they didn’t agree with, and then Tony Blair made sure unagreeable Conference Resolutions don’t even get discussed let alone voted on. Inner party democracy has been crushed in the Labour Party, just as it was in the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe once the ruling clique were firmly entrenched.

There seems little point joining one of the smaller political parties since, with our undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system, they have no hope of getting elected, so many people who might agree with them don’t vote for them. In practical terms there are in England and Wales only three parties to vote for in local elections, and two in national elections. Voting for any others is a waste of time.

The trouble is most people only get actively involved in things when they can see an immediate advantage to themselves or their families. One reason why Party membership in the Socialist countries was instantly attractive to careerists and opportunists for whom all other routes to wealth and power were blocked. Ordinary people just went on with their regular lives.

I now believe that when we die most of us, if we’ve lived half-decent lives, move on to a sort of Socialist or Communist utopia, where there is no crime, everyone is equal, and money is not needed – everything is supplied or created by thought. This may sound fantastic, but this is what is described in most messages received thru mediums. Of course some people end up in less attractive places at least temporarily, not exactly Hell, but surrounded by selfish or cruel, mean-minded spirits much like themselves. Until, that is, they feel ready to ‘move on’ and learn new lessons.

If most of us ARE going to end up in some sort of heavenly Soviet Socialist paradise, why bother trying to create one on Earth? One reason is because as long as there is injustice and suffering caused by human greed and cruelty in this world, the stay in the utopia of the next dimension for many of us will only be temporary. We have to keep coming back to this world in various situations/lives until we learn lessons. The most important lesson for humans to learn is how to live together in a world where inequality, greed, injustice, cruelty, starvation, exploitation, etc. do not exist. So until we create a true Socialist or even Communist utopia here on Earth, many of us will not be able to move on permanently to better things in the many worlds/dimensions/planes beyond.

The lesson I have learnt in this life is that we are all here to experience things, and to learn from our mistakes. Apathy is our greatest enemy. I now feel my main tasks are closer at home, looking after my mother in her 90s for instance. But I still strive for a better world generally, and hope my blogs can at least give others some ideas how this might be achieved. One has to be careful – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had the best of intentions, but look at some of the horrors their ideas launched on the world in the 20th Century.

Keep on trying, whatever your ideals are, but the priority at the moment in this world is to make sure it survives at all, which means getting rid of nuclear weapons, pollution, waste and saving the world’s fast diminishing natural resources. Climate change and other environmental disasters loom. So Green politics at the moment are perhaps more urgent than Red ones. Save the world and preserve the planet first, before trying to build a Socialist/Communist utopia. Trouble is, of course, those in power are now painting themselves Green as they pay lip-service to environmental issues but do little about it, much the same as in the Socialist countries they painted themselves Red whilst feathering their own cozy nests at the expense of others.

Why bother? Because in the end we will be forced to. If you don’t get things right in this life, eventually you’ll have to come back again and again and again until you do. It’s as simple as that.

It would be much easier to be a traditional atheist who didn’t believe in an after-life. One life, one death, no repercussions. Unfortunately, according to overwhelming evidence accepted by those who care to study it (including many physicists, scientists, doctors, etc.), there most certainly is an after-life, and oblivion is not a luxury we can look forward to.

Where is this evidence? It is there on the Internet, in books, even on TV nowadays. Some truly remarkable things ranging from evidential messages received clairvoyantly/clairaudially thru mediums, thru Instrumental TransCommunications (ITC) to full materializations achieved by physical mediums. Plus the overwhelming evidence provided by near-death and out-of-the-body experiences that we exist separately from our physical bodies, as has been proved over and over again. Many scientists, doctors, etc. privately know this is true, and more and more are going public on the Internet and elsewhere. These new scientific facts about the nature of consciousness and its ability to survive physical death will rock the very foundations of orthodox science, which is why there is so much resistance to it, and why so many refuse to study the evidence, burying their heads in the sand like ostriches.

We are all living in a ‘virtual reality’ world. All we sense around us is an elaborate illusion. This is scientific fact. Nothing is solid, even orthodox science accepts that fact. It seems all matter is created by mind or thought. So the whole universe is a illusion created by mind in order to learn from experience. It is like some fantastic virtual reality computer game.

Time itself is an illusion. There is no beginning, there is no end, there is only eternity.

The problems of resolving disputes under Socialism

Further to my last two blogs, on Trotsky’s ideas for ‘permanent revolution’ and the ‘Lost World of Communism’ BBC 2 series, both these articles highlight the very real problems of resolving disputes and disagreements under the conditions of Socialism. This is especially true when it is a one-party State, or where one party (the Marxist-Leninist party naturally) dominates any coalition or united front. These problems are magnified if there is at the same time a civil war going on, as in Russia in the years after the Bolshevik revolution, or if Socialism is being undermined and attacked by foreign intelligence agencies and by their agents/collaborators inside the country.

Take the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, where there were uprisings and revolts, and a full-scale civil war, going on aided by foreign powers determined to crush the revolution. One of the biggest uprisings was the Kronstadt Rebellion, where a series of demands were put forward, and rejected. Eventually the revolt was put down by the Red Army, then led by Trotsky, under the orders of Lenin. So much, one might think, for Trotsky’s support of ‘permanent revolution’ since he himself, along with Lenin, was one of the first to suppress any such signs of such a permanent revolution.

The problem was, of course, distinguishing between genuine concerns of the proletariat and their allies in developing Socialist democracy, and attempts by foreign powers and counter-revolutionaries to overthrow the Socialist State, often using the genuine concerns and revolts of the working masses for their own ends.

It is no doubt true that all the rebellions and revolts in the early days of Soviet power were used by counter-revolutionaries and foreign powers to undermine the revolution, and also that the rebelliions/reforms much later in the GDR (1953), the People’s Republic of Hungary (1956), the Czecho-Slovak Socialist Republic (1968) and the People’s Republic of Poland (Solidarity period in the 1980s) were all used by foreign intelligence services and by counter-revolutionaries in the countries themselves to undermine and overthrow Socialism.

The problem with Trotsky’s idea of ‘permanent revolution’, of course, is that this too would be used by counter-revolutionaries and foreign intelligence services to undermine and overthrow the Socialist state. Trotskyists would argue this is why world revolution was necessary, to eliminate the hostile capitalist States trying to crush Socialism, but even if it were possible to achieve revolution on a worldwide scale this would not resolve the problem of counter-revolutionaries trying to undermine and overthrow Socialism.

This was also the reason other political parties, including Socialist ones, were banned in the early days of Soviet power, why elections became a complete farce in all the Socialist countries, and why inner party democracy was crushed. Also why Stalin was able to achieve such personal power, institute the reign of terror, the purges and show trials. He blamed his former comrade, Trotsky, for trying to undermine the Socialist state, and there can be little doubt that the ‘permanent revolution’ advocated by Trotsky would be exactly what foreign intelligence agencies in capitalist countries and counter-revolutionaries inside the Soviet Union would want, as they could use it to their own ends.

That Dubcek’s attempts to reform Czechoslovak Socialism in 1968 were used by counter-revolutionary elements is perfectly obvious in the demands, by Czechoslovak citizens at the time, for privatization of taxi cabs and other things, by statements that countries like the UK were ‘Socialist’, and above all by the praising to the skies in the Western capitalist press of Dubcek and his reforms. Any signs of weakness were exploited by foreign intelligence services and counter-revolutionaries to overthrow Socialism.

So in trying to maintain a Dictatorship of the Proletariat in order to defeat these attempts to reverse the Socialist revolution, the end result is suppression of Socialist democracy itself, and even inner party democracy.

There has to be some flexibility and leeway to express opposing views under any political system, and certainly under Socialism if it is to truly represent the interests of the masses. It is true that any disputes can and will  be used by those opposing Socialism to overthrow it, but this cannot be avoided. Ultimately Socialism must win people over by proving it is the best system, free of the instabilities and injustices of capitalism and its predecessor, feudalism.

The first step, after achieving power democratically and trying to establish Socialism, is to get the broad masses actively involved, so they are not alienated. Socialism must be seen, in its early days, to be bringing real benefits to the people. Only then can a democratic Socialist Constitution be put to the electorate in a referendum. If they accept this in sufficient numbers, then Socialism will be protected as the basis of the State, and any political party or group will be bound to respect the Constitution, unless it is replaced by some other Constitution in another referendum, which would also need the support of a substantial majority of the electorate. In this way some stability could be maintained, and different political parties/groups would be free, under the Socialist Constitution, to try out different ideas, different forms of Socialism – anything which did not involve large-scale privatization in fact.

This is the only way forward for Socialism in the 21st Century. Without freedom to discuss and try out different forms of Socialism, and to discuss and resolve problems such as corruption and the emergence of a privileged clique of bureaucrats and State officials, only a distorted form of Socialism is possible serving people’s basic needs, but developing into a dictatorship of a ruling clique looking after their own interests first.

The Socialist Constitution allowing a multi-party State and free elections, etc. would need to be protected by a Socialist internal security force loyal to a President. This has unfortunate connotations of the KGB and Stasi, but it must be entirely democratic, and the President elected regularly by the people for the purpose of representing the country as Head of State, and preserving its Constitution. The President and the internal security force would not allow any political group to undertake privatization on a large scale, unless and until the Socialist Constitution was replaced by some other Constitution in a referendum, which usually would require support from at least two-thirds of those voting, not a simple majority as in General Elections.

By splitting the control of the Socialist State in this way between President/State Security forces and the party political government currently elected to power, it would be more difficult for forces opposed to Socialism to achieve their objectives, since there would be two power bases they would need to gain control of.

It has been said that the Constitutional Monarchy in places like the UK, where an unelected Head of State, independent of the party political system, commands the loyalty of the armed forces, is what protects such countries from revolution. In a similar way, an elected Presidential Head of State, independent of political parties, but commanding the loyalty of the State security forces can also protect the Socialist or indeed any other Constitution. At least the electorate will be able to vote for a President, and for which Constitution they want. When was the last time a monarch was elected as Head of State in the UK, or the constitutional monarchy approved by the UK electorate in a referendum?

The Lost World of Communism

Rally in Marx-Engels Platz, Berlin – Capital of the GDR, September 1968 

BBC 2 is broadcasting this series. The first was about the GDR (East Germany) and this week it was about the CSSR (Czechoslovakia), both countries which no longer exist. The GDR was absorbed into the FRG (West Germany) and Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Although both programs were negative towards Communism and Socialism, there were in each some supporters of the system who still missed things about it. But of the two programs so far broadcast, the one on Czechoslovakia was the most negative. Very depressing in fact.

I am a former hard-line Communist who admired the GDR and who supported the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in order to end the Prague Spring of Alexander Dubcek. I was in the GDR capital, East Berlin, when troops from that country and 4 others in the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia, and was a guest of honor on the visitor’s platform at a huge rally in Marx-Engels Platz (see pictures above) soon after the invasion which praised this ‘fraternal assistance’ to defeat the counter-revolutionaries in Czechoslovakia. I and my comrades in the local YCL (Young Communist League) were ecstatic when Gustav Husak replaced Alexander Dubcek as leader of the CSSR after the Warsaw Pact intervened.

I now, of course, regret my support for the invasion. Alexander Dubcek’s ‘Socialism with a human face’ scared the shit out of us hard-liners at the time, but in retrospect it could have taken Socialism in Eastern and Central Europe on a more democratic and successful course, and might have saved it from collapse in 1989/1991. Dubcek’s reforms were similar to those of Gorbachov in the Soviet Union two decades later, and these too might have succeeded had it not been for the hard-line coup in 1991 which effectively ended all attempts to reform Socialism in the Soviet Union.

What comes thru in both these programs is that there were many people in the GDR and especially in Czechoslovakia who supported the idea of Communism. Indeed the Communists were the biggest group in the Czechoslovak parliament in the last free elections after the Second World War, and the Party at one point had over 2 million members. One woman interviewed praised the collective farms and said it made her life as a farm worker much easier. Others in the program heavily criticized the brutal way collectivization was achieved.

We can only learn from the mistakes of the Socialist experiments of the last century, and if we do that we can make sure they are never repeated. Gorbachov and Dubcek were on the right lines, but circumstances prevented their ideas from coming to full fruition. They panicked the hard-liners and those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo, resulting in the coup against Gorbachov in 1991 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia back in 1968.

In the GDR capital the fears of the hard-liners and ruling cliques in the other invading Warsaw Pact countries about the Prague Spring were made very clear to us. Not only were we all convinced Dubcek was being used by the CIA and counter-revolutionaries to overthrow Socialism in that country (I still think this is true), but as our GDR hosts pointed out to us Czechoslovakia, had it fallen into the Western/NATO camp, provided a corridor for the troops of West Germany to march thru to the very borders of the Soviet Union. Having been invaded in 1941 by German troops and lost many millions of people in the resulting Great Patriotic War (as the Second World War was called in the USSR), the Soviets were not prepared to allow any of its ‘buffer’ states to go over to the Western camp, and certainly not Czechoslovakia which had borders with both West Germany and the Soviet Union. West German maps, at that time, were showing all of East Germany, parts of Poland and parts of the Soviet Union as ‘German lost territories’, and there were real fears that, given half a chance, they would one day try to reclaim them.

Dubcek’s mistake, and probably that of Gorbachov also, was to go too far too fast and panic the hard-liners. I remember reading interviews with Czechoslovaks during the Prague Spring in which, not only were they demanding privatization of all sorts of things, but they were claiming that many countries in the West were ‘Socialist’. Living in Wilson’s and then Callaghan’s Labour Britain, I knew that in no way could it be described as ‘Socialist’ by any stretch of the imagination. So if Czechoslovaks thought Britain was Socialist, then they really would be ripe for membership of NATO and being fully incorporated into the Western camp.

I don’t know that there was anything Dubcek could have done differently to prevent the invasion and maintain the reforms. The trouble was the ruling cliques which had gotten into power in all the Socialist countries. Even if Dubcek, and Gorbachov after him, had guaranteed that the Socialist Constitution would be maintained, and that there would be no large-scale privatizations, this would not have satisfied this ruling clique because more democracy would have meant loss of their power and privileges.

These were the people who destroyed the Socialist and Communist ideal. The usurpers, infiltrators and the corrupted bureaucrats and Party officials, the careerists, opportunists and hypocrites who paid lip-service to Socialism just to further their own interests, careers and become rich in the process. No system but a dictatorship which preseved their iron rule would satisfy them, this is what I failed to see in 1968, because I thought they were genuine Communists like myself wanting a better world, and who were not prepared to let it slip from our grasp. In fact they were just looking after their own selfish vested interests.

The lessons learnt from the Socialist experiments of the 20th Century are many. It has to be truly democratic, which in practice means a multi-party system with free elections and rival candidates, so corrupt or unpopular governments can be voted out. For the sake of stability (avoiding continual privatizations and deprivatizations) this can be within a Socialist Constitution, because the Constitution itself can always be replaced in a referendum. But even within a Socialist Constitution there is plenty of scope for different political parties to try different versions of Socialism. Cuba’s is quite different to the old Soviet one, and Yugoslavia’s was different again.

The one-party state or one-party dominated coalition is bound to lead to a dictatorship by a new ruling clique unless the broad mass of the population are very politically mature and active. Even two million Party members were not sufficient to prevent corruption in Czechoslovakia – I wonder how many of these two million regularly attended Party meetings, and how easy it was for careerists and those with selfish interests to dominate these meetings and dictate their own agenda, which was ultimately a dictatorship which, whilst serving some of the basic needs of the masses, also preserved the privleges of this ruling clique.

Despite their many faults, the Socialist countries achieved much. A woman from the former GDR spoke of how many women’s rights were lost when the country was annexed by West Germany. There was security in old age, and guaranteed full employment. Good health and education services. A camaraderie that has been lost, and hope for a better future – they were, after all, trying to build a Communist utopia. They didn’t create exactly a ‘hell on Earth’ as claimed in the first program, but they didn’t create anything like utopia either. The violations of Socialist legality or criminal excesses of the Stalinist period and the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary excepted, the Socialist states for the majority of their citizens provided their basic needs and looked after them from cradle to grave, with few of the financial insecurities which plague those of us in capitalist countries.

I look forward to the rest of this series, but wish it were more balanced so that the positive aspects of the Socialist era were stressed as well as the negative ones. If there is a program on Yugoslavia that should be very interesting, as in my view they achieved a form of Market Socialism without introducing privatization on any large scale thru their unique system of competing cooperatives and public enterprises. However they never achieved pluralism in the political arena, only Tito’s brand of Socialism dictated by the Yugoslav League of Communists was ever allowed to be put to the electorate.

The next program in the series is about the People’s/Socialist Republic of Romania. This is bound to be depressing. Feted at the time by the West as a ‘liberal’ Communist state because Ceaucescu refused to join in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, it was in fact a family dictatorship by Nicolae and his wife Elena, and it didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the dawn of a new era of democracy when they were unceremoniously shot without trial on Christmas Day by those overthrowing Socialism in that country.

Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ not the answer

An advocate of Trotskyism on the quiz progam ‘Mastermind’ predictably insisted that it was democratic, whereas what existed in the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries after Lenin died and Stalin took over wasn’t.

The problem with this statement, of course, is that both Trotskyism and so-called ‘Stalinism’ have their basis in the very same Marxist-Leninist theories. Since these theories are seriously flawed, the end result of any version of Marxism-Leninism is likely to be the same, i.e. an imperfect Socialism, corruption, a new bureaucratic ruling class and dictatorship by them over the masses.

Leon Trotsky differed from Joseph Stalin in two main areas: Trotsky advocated world revolution, whilst Stalin after Lenin’s death claimed it was possible to build Socialism in one country, and Trotsky also advocated ‘permanent revolution’ so no new bourgeoisie or ruling class could emerge.

In actual fact, of course, Soviet-style Socialism eventually spread to encompass a third of the world’s population, and even the early period of Stalin’s attempt to build ‘Socialism in one country’ was really international since the Soviet Union was a federation of many countries itself. Even today, though the former Soviet republics have become independent, the Russian Federation itself contains many countries and nationalities. So spreading Socialism to more than one country did not help to democratize it or make it more successful in the long-term.

As to ‘permanent revolution’ in order to achieve this it is necessary to get the masses actively interested and involved in political activity. Since this didn’t happen in most Socialist states, it was remarkably easy for careerists, opportunists and even criminal elements to infiltrate the ruling political party and other organs of State power and impose a bureaucratic dictatorship which was then almost impossible to overthrow. When it was finally overthrown at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s in many countries, the Socialist base of the economy was overthrown as well, but the former bureaucratic ruling class largely clung on to power. So the upheavels of 1989/1991 were largely a failure since they jettisoned the Socialist baby and just kept the dirty bathwater, the worst of possible scenarios. This just shows how politically immature the masses were, even after decades of Socialism, imperfect as it was.

Surely they should have learnt that keeping the corrupt leaders who deformed and distorted Socialism was not the answer, and that keeping Socialism but making it more democratic was what was needed.

Marxism-Leninism (both Trotskyist and ‘Stalinist’ varieties) preaches the democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which in practice means the leading role (i.e. dictatorship) of the Marxist-Leninist Party. Now the only way to make this democratic is for the masses to join in their millions and actively participate in inner-party democracy, thus insuring that no careerists or opportunists can take over. If this had happened in any of the Socialist countries they would be well on the way to the stateless society of Communism proper, where the State itself withers away and the masses govern themselves as a classless society with no artificial regulators. This theory failed because of the apathy and political immaturity of the masses, and this is one of the main flaws in Marxist-Leninist theory. Trotsky would never have gotten his ‘permanent revolution’. Instead careerists, opportunists and criminal elements would have taken over just as in the post-Lenin Soviet Union and other Socialist states, and a bureaucratic dictatorship would have been the result.

The only Socialist country to try anything like Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ was Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution, when ironically enough, Stalin was praised alongside Mao, Lenin, Marx and Engels as one of the 5 Marxist-Leninist giants. Poor old Trotsky was a non-person there, as in all the other Socialist countries.  Yet Mao launched the Red Guards as a sort of ‘permanent revolution’ against bureaucracy. All it amounted to was brutal bullying, murders and a strengthening of the dictatorship of the Communist Party which, after Mao’s death, soon dropped most pretenses of being even Socialist let alone building Communism, and which has now re-introduced capitalism on a large scale, opened the economy to Western multi-nationals, but still retains the bureaucratic dictatorship exercised thru the Communist Party and the State organs. ‘Permanent Revolution’, like China’s ‘Cultural Revolution’, would similarly just result in bullying, murders, and ultimately chaos and failure and eventually a new clique of bureaucratic dictators out to further their own interests.

The basic flaw in Marxism-Leninism is its blind faith in the ability of the masses, or of the proletariat, to take control of the Party and other organs of State power, to hold on to it and develop a people’s democracy which nobody can overthrow. This could only work if the vast majority of the proletariat were politically aware and mature enough to become actively involved on a day to day basis, thus preventing corrupt elements from taking over. Whether you call this ‘participating in inner Party democracy’ or ‘permanent revolution’ makes no difference whatsoever, if it ain’t gonna happen it ain’t gonna happen. And when it does, like with China’s Red Guards, all you are likely to get is a band of thugs out to bully and humiliate others but not actually achieving anything but an even more brutal dictatorship and ultimately corruption on an even greater scale.

Why did China’s Red Guards fail to weed Socialism of corrupt elements and make it more democratic? Partly because they were organized from the top, by Mao himself, and took his ‘little red book’ of quotations as their bible. But also because they never amounted to a majority of the population, did not represent the proletariat or the masses as a whole, and because, sanctioned by Chairman Mao himself, they became drunk and corrupted by power and the opportunity to bully and humiliate whoever they chose to see as ‘enemies of the people’. This is clearly not the way to democratize society, nor to further Socialism, and Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ is so similiar in theory it is unlikely to be any more successful.

The only answer, as I see it, given the political apathy (immaturity if you like) of the masses, is to preserve genuine multi-party democracy and free elections with rival candidates/parties within the confines of a Socialist State governed by a Socialist Constitution. This would enable a government which became too bureaucratic or corrupt to be voted out in a General Election and replaced by another Socialist party, who might well wish to try a different brand of Socialism. In this way, as with bourgeois democracies, although the masses aren’t actively involved in political activity on a day-to-day basis, at least they have the ability to throw out a corrupt government and vote in an alternative.

Should they decide to become politically active, of course, they can join any of the political parties existing, or start one themselves. There is nothing in theory to stop a multi-party Socialist State eventually developing into a politically mature classless society, in which the broad masses are actively involved in the political organizations, nor in them forming a coalition and governing society as one united, democratic front. Once this level of political commitment was achieved and sustained, then it should be possible to prevent a new bureaucratic ruling class emerging. However theory is one thing, actually getting such a high level of political activity and commitment from the broad mass of people in society is another matter entirely, and in my view unlikely to happen for at least the foreseeable future.

It can all be summed up in one simple phrase – ‘evolution not revolution’. Things have to happen gradually and democratically. Violent revolutions rarely, if ever, achieve and sustain their original aims. The very process of one group or class rising up and overthrowing another violently sets the pattern for brutality and dictatorship, and ultimately the new ruling group or class becomes just as corrupt as the old one.  Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ will never change this, it would just continue the pattern.

In politics the ballot box is always preferable to the bullet, and evolution to revolution. The great advances in living standards and conditions in the Western world came about, not thru violent revolution, but thru parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity. Not least the class struggle exercised non-violently (for the most part) thru the trade union movements in various countries. Ultimately this is where proletarian power lies – the ability to withhold their labor. Without labor, nothing can be produced, and without labor even money and gold would eventually lose their value since there would be no goods, property development or services to purchase. This is perhaps the nearest thing to Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ which has worked over and over again – workers’ solidarity and the willingness to withdraw their labor to achieve albeit limited objectives. Again, a case of ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’.

Brief history of UK gay scene and my breaking into it

I was a complete virgin till I was 22. This was 1967, and the only reason I lost my virginity then was because that was the year the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed supposedly making male homosexuality legal. It actually did nothing of the sort, as will be seen from the following article. All it did was allow certain gay clubs/pubs to obtain legal status, and allow established gay male couples to live together on their own, provided nobody else was on the premises.

Before the 1967 Act all the above were also illegal. Male homosexuals were outside the law completely, and therefore liable to arrest and easy targets for blackmailers. Gay bars and clubs were likely to be raided by the police, and everyone inside arrested. Gay men were frequently made homeless, since landlords would not tolerate gay tenants. So bringing home a man to spend the night, if reported to the landlord, would lead to certain eviction, and of course living together with a gay life-partner was completely out of the question. It would lead to certain eviction and arrest for breaking the law of the land. Is it any wonder gay men became promiscuous, seeking quick, anonymous, casual gay sex in public toilets and cruising grounds? Society left them with no alternative. And old habits are hard to break.

Since I reached puberty in 1958, and my teenage ended in 1965, it is hardly surprising that I remained a virgin till the ripe old age of 22. How could I possibly meet another gay teenager or any other gay man when every way I could possibly meet was not only illegal, but so underground it would be very difficult for an outsider to stumble upon it?

In fact, before 1967, the most likely way a gay teenager like myself could discover the secret gay world would be to come across some gay activity, some gay graffiti or possibly a ‘glory hole’ in a public toilet. This never happened to me mainly because I’d been brainwashed by my mother a) never to talk to strange men and b) never, under any circumstances, to enter a public toilet. So thus any possibility of my losing my virginity was prevented, unless I broke these rules.

Of course with retrospect I wonder why I kept to these rules. I did break them occasionally I guess. I know my brother and I were on a short train journey in one of those old-fashioned compartments with no corridor, and a man kept talking to us and calling us ‘blessed’. I said to my brother afterwards: ‘I think he was one of those funny men mum told us about’. Another time whilst playing in the bushes as a teenager in Alexandra Park, behind our flats, my brother, myself and some other boys were approached by a man wanting to take photos of us ‘for a magazine’ so he said. He offered us a small amount of money, and I was so proud to be able to negotiate a better fee to be shared among us, I told mum when I got home. Of course I was scolded for talking to a strange man, allowing him to take photos of us (fully clothed it must be said), and especially for taking money off him. Definitely a downward slide to male prostitution in my mother’s eyes.

The only other incident I can recall is when I was older, in my late teens or early 20s, on my way home from my grandmother’s. We then lived in Welwyn Garden City. A handsome young man in a red sports car saw me walking down the road and stopped to ask if I’d like a lift. I so much wanted to say ‘yes’, but my conditioning stopped me and what came out was ‘No thank you’, so he sped off. All this conditioning may well have saved my life or it may just have stopped me losing my virginity much earlier than I did, who knows? All I do know is that I had a miserable teenage, full of sexual frustration, and since we moved the year I left college when I was 16, no friends at all of my own age.

My life-partner and his friends, on the other hand, discovered gay sex at a very early age, in their early teens or even earlier. Once ‘in the know’ the whole secret underground world was open to them. To naive outsiders like myself it remained firmly closed even in the first few years after the 1967 Act.

As far as I knew I was the only gay male living in London, or the world. Of course I’d heard about homosexuals, but how did you recognize them? Where did you meet them? I had not a clue.

It didn’t help that I’d had an operation forced upon me at the tender age of 13 to bring on puberty, this left both mental and physical scars which meant I completely retreated into my shell thruout the rest of my teens, and at college wouldn’t join in Games because it would mean showering with the other boys and I didn’t want them to see the operation scars in my genital area.

At this tender age I also became aware of my attraction to other males, and felt guilty about it. I was therefore also wrestling with my conscience. There was a certain amount of horseplay at college (which was largely made up of girls in the Commercial Course I was in), but I never joined in, far too shy, guilty and afraid they would see my scars and laugh. I already had to contend with a strange surname (Papadopoulos) which followed me to college despite shortening it to Papard in 1958, the scars from a hare lip/cleft palate and one leg shorter than the other due to a club foot and breaking my leg at age 6.

During my first job in a printers’ office in Welwyn Garden City from 1961-1962, my workmates were talking one day about an article in the local paper headlined ‘Queers in the Woods’. I pricked my ears up, and a day or so later cycled off to the woods in question the other side of town. In broad daylight I walked briskly thru these woods wheeling my bike, saw nobody at all, certainly no gay activity or men loitering about, and dismissed the newspaper article from my mind as pure fiction. It never once occurred to me to visit the woods at dusk or after dark, nor to walk thru slowly, hanging about.

So when, as a result of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and publicity surrounding it, the London Evening Standard newspaper published a series of articles about the rampant underground gay scene in London in early 1967, I learnt for the first time of the existence of the gay scene all around me. The frustrating thing was that the articles described woods, cinemas and other places where gay men met each other, but didn’t locate them. So now I was in the position of knowing the scene existed, but not knowing where it was or how to enter it.

There was no gay press in those days, no gay guides, and certainly no Internet. Eventually I happened to pass a magazine stall in a side road between Euston and St Pancras stations. Hardcore gay and straight pornography was on open display there (don’t ask me how the stall-holder got away with it) and after walking by the stall a number of times, I got up the courage to purchase a fairly respectable gay magazine, American of course since there were no British ones at that time. All we had were male physique magazines supposedly for the health conscious and bodybuilders.

This American magazine was not pornographic, but it did feature partly clothed male models, and had an address in California to which you could write for gay guides. I wrote off and eventually got one. It was full of errors – such as listing places in Kings Cross, London which were in fact located in Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia.

I visited some gay clubs thanks to this guide, but could not gain entry. I remember going down some dingy staircase in Soho, and being faced with a shutter. I rang the bell and the shutter slid open to reveal a camp looking face. He told me it was a private club, and I needed to be introduced by somebody who was already a member.

Pre-1967 this was the case, and it lingered on after the 1967 Act was passed. You had to know other gays before you could gain entry to the gay clubs, as you had to be introduced by another member. This was fine for my gay life-partner who I met 3 years later, and for his friends, but for outsiders like myself it was a brick wall preventing us from entering that secret underground gay world.

Eventually, thanks to the American gay guide, I stumbled across a cinema in Victoria, the one described but not located in the Evening Standard articles, and that was where I first met other gay men, including my first live-in gay partner, and my life-partner (we were together 21 years till his death).

But it was not easy. I’ve never been able to meet other men in gay bars, to read their body language or make eye contact. A work colleague once took me to such a gay bar, and said that I was absolutely clueless and that I’d never ever meet another gay man in that situation because I looked like a straight guy who’d wandered in by mistake. No other gay man would ever approach me because of my hairstyle, the way I dressed, etc. I feel this is still much the case today, as I never follow gay fashions and never intend to. And I still can’t make eye contact or read body language. If a stranger looks me in the eye I immediately look away, a reflex action I can’t control but which gives out the signal I’m not interested.

Apart from all this, the 1967 Act was so restrictive that most gay activity was still outside the law. The best way to describe it is to imagine these restrictions applied to heterosexuals. This is the kind of world they would have lived in between 1967 and the early 21st Century when, largely due to membership of the EU, Britain was forced to give gay men and women equality with heterosexuals.

If the 1967 Sexual Offences Act restrictions on gay men had applied to heterosexuals it would have meant that husbands and wives with children or elderly relatives living with them would have been breaking the law (gay men could not sleep together if another person was present anywhere in the domicile).

Men, or women, out ‘on the pull’ would also have been breaking the law, and liable to police entrapment. One of the reasons it was so difficult to enter a gay club, or to pick up in a gay bar, was fear of plainclothes police trying to entrap gay men. Just to approach another man in a gay club or bar was deemed ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’ even AFTER the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed. So heterosexuals trying to ‘pull’ members of the opposite sex would also have been ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’ and liable to police entrapment and arrest had the 1967 Act applied to them.

The restriction on any gay sex taking place when another person was present on the premises also put any gay clubs where sex took place on the premises, as existed most other places in the Western world,  strictly outside the law. Any which opened in London were soon raided and closed by the police, the owners prosecuted as was anyone caught inside. London became the laughing stock of the gay world between 1967 and the early 21st Century because, despite the 1967 Act, gays here were still living in the Victorian age. Even East Germany had more liberal gay laws, homosexuality being legalized there in 1968, the year I first visited it. There were gay clubs and bars, one of which was quite outrageous, and gays walked down one of the main streets of East Berlin hand-in-hand, which would have been an arrestable offense in London at the time, namely ‘outraging public decency’.

If gay men put contact ads in the gay press, when it emerged soon after the 1967 Act, these too were scrutinized by the authorities to insure they were not ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’. So had it applied to heterosexuals, dating agencies or contact ads to meet a partner would have also been deemed ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’. As with prostitutution, the act itself was not illegal, but every possible way of gay men meeting each other (or prostitutes linking up with prospective clients) was outside the law and an arrestable offense, and a target for police entrapment.

So thruout the 1960s, 70s and 80s the London gay scene still consisted largely of innocuous gay bars and clubs where even approaching other men could be deemed ‘importuning for an immoral purpose’ if the other guy turned out to be a plainclothes policeman or a straight guy who’d wandered in accidentally, or else cruising grounds and public toilets, also strictly illegal of course.

This made gay men especially vulnerable to queer bashers and murderers. There were several gay murders in cruising grounds like Hampstead Heath after dark. It was largely due to these dangers, and after visits to more liberated countries like USA, Australia and the Netherlands, that in 1991 I wrote an article which was published in the gay ‘Him’ magazine arguing for ‘safe space’ for gay men to cruise and even have sex as existed in other Western countries. Not all gay men were in a position to take others home, and even this was a great risk, since you might be going home with a homophobic serial killer. Gay men especially, because of the promiscuous lifestyle forced on them for centuries by restrictive laws which prevented them settling down with a steady life-partner, needed safe spaces where queerbashers, murderers and homophobic serial killers could not get at them.

In the 1990s illegal gay backrooms started springing up all over London and other big cities in the UK. This time they were largely tolerated by the police, since it tended to get gay men out of the public toilets and cruising grounds, and reduced the risk of queerbashing and gay murders.

Eventually in the early 21st Century, various laws were passed which finally removed the discriminatory laws for gay men and women. We now have almost complete liberation and equality in the eyes of the law, with the opportunity to even enter a ‘civil partnership’ which amounts to gay marriage in all but name.

Prejudice and homophobia still exist of course, especially in certain trades, professions and among certain interest groups. If you’re a teenager growing up in a rural community, you will still have great problems meeting other gays and gaining acceptance. But with the current laws and the possibility of civil partnerships for the first time gays are not only allowed, but encouraged to live together and settle down with one steady partner. This does not mean we have to ape heterosexual marriage, but whatever lifestyle we choose, be it casual relationships, an ‘open relationship’ or monogamy, the choice is ours for the first time, provided we can find a suitable partner or suitable partners.

In the long-term this may lead to a change in the gay lifestyle. Already it seems, while heterosexual marriage is becoming increasingly unfashionable, with more and more straight couples choosing to live together and raise families without getting married, gay ‘civil partnerships’ are becoming ever more popular. What straight couples should realize is, like gay men living together without a civil partnership, unmarried couples have very few rights. If one gets ill and ends up in intensive care, the unmarried partner can be denied visiting rights. If one partner dies, the other can be excluded from the funeral, lose their home, and (unless there is a Will, which could be contested by relatives) lose most or all of their shared wealth and property.

Gay men and women, being very well aware of these dangers thru centuries of experience, therefore tend to jump at the chance of civil partnerships, thus for the first time giving them recognition for their partnership both in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of their relatives and the public at large.

Gay ‘widowers’, i.e. people like myself whose partners died before civil partnerships came into being or before they had a chance to conduct one, remain totally unrecognized. My life-partner and I would most certainly have had a civil partnership for all the legal reasons explained above, and so our union would be recognized by friends and relatives alike. Luckily his nieces and nephews still regard me as their ‘uncle’, but in law I am nothing, our relationship never existed. This hurts me so much, that I always tick the box describing myself as ‘widowed’ when filling in forms. To do otherwise would be to deny 21 wonderful years shared with my life-partner, George, and this I refuse to do.

They don’t make ’em like they used to!

In this case, it’s TV adverts. Most of the old ones had jolly little jingles. I can remember so many of them:

You’ll wonder where the yellow went

When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent

There was even a children’s toothpaste which came in five different flavors and colors:

Five luvverly flavors in Punch & Judy toothpaste

A comedian builds part of his stage act round these old adverts, as he plays mainly to older audiences. He only has to say: Boom boom boom boom

And the audience shouts back: Esso Blue

Which was a paraffin of course, or kerosene as they call it in America. There were jingles for Murraymints the too good to hurry mint, for Hoover which beats as it sweeps as it cleans, and for new cleaning products like Windolene and Handy Andy (strong as a gentle man). For Germolene, Double Diamond, Cherry B, Mazda light bulbs, Omo detergent – its name meant ‘same’ as in ‘same as all the others’, most were made by Lever Brothers anyway. Just the names of these sometimes obsolete products conjures up their advertising jingle of the 1950s or 1960s. Not forgetting ‘Oxo brings you colour’ in those far off days of black and white TV in Britain. Of course it didn’t bring you color at all, the advert just jiggled about and made your eyes go funny, so some people thought they saw colors.

The thing about all these early adverts, apart from the jingles, you knew what the products were, what they were trying to sell – toothpaste, detergent, soap – I’ll be a little lovier every day with fabulous pink Camay or milder with olive oil, smoother with olive oil, mildest soap of all – Palmolive.

Nowadays some adverts are so obscure you don’t know what they are about. Especially the older generation. How can my mother, aged 94, be expected to know what www.comparethemarket.com is all about let alone www.comparethemeerkat.com ? Go on, click on the last one, it’s quite fun. One of the few current TV adverts which is really entertaining. The meerkat site keeps trying to refer you to the car insurance site, but I much prefer the meerkats. I love Aleksandr, who can fix me up with a date? These meerkats even have a Facebook site, bless ’em.

Click on image to enlarge

My mother looks at all these meerkats and confused.com ads and is more confused than ever. How can you explain to someone who’s never even used a computer what .com means? And in 94 years she’s never felt a burning need to compare meerkats.

Back in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s adverts were for sensible things. The first advert shown on commercial TV in 1955 was for SR toothpaste. Everyone uses toothpase (except my late grandmother, who thought it was a fiendish plot by dentists to rot your teeth and drum up trade. She swore by salt and water!) Not everyone wants to compare meerkats, or even car insurance. Not everyone, believe it or not, has a car, some don’t even have a computer. Let alone a mobile phone, so all those adverts for Orange, Nokia, etc. are wasted on them.

And how often do you see detergents advertised nowadays? In the 1950s and 1960s, whilst those in the East were busy building Communism, we in the West seemed fixated on getting our shirts, sheets, tablecloths, etc. whiter and brighter than those on the clothes line in next door’s garden. Oh the shame of the mother who didn’t use Persil, and how it showed when her kids turned up at school in gray shirts/blouses instead of the uniform Persil white. Ah, but Omo added brightness to cleanness and whiteness, and Daz had blue in it – sorry, I must be dyslexic, the ‘e’ should be at the end and the ‘b’ should be a capital letter – Daz had Bluinite – one of the first washing powders to turn blue in order to get your whites dazzling white.

Meanwhile all toothpaste turned green as chlorophyl was supposed to beat bad breath, till some bright spark ruined a multi-million pound business by pointing out, in their own little jingle, that:

Stinking goat on yonder hill

Feeds all day on chlorophyl

Chlorophyl being present in grass and other green vegetation. So toothpaste either went white again, or acquired red stripes.

Of course there were no restrictions on advertising cigarets and tobacco products, so you were reminded that you were never alone with a Strand, but probably died a lot sooner leaving others on their own. Though my mother’s still puffing thru 20-30 ciggies a day at 94 totally unworried that she may be knocking 10, 20 or 30 years off her life, fool that she is.

Oh yes, those good old adverts, when you actually knew and could see what they were advertising. Of course we never bought the wretched products, never have, and never will. I go in a supermarket and buy the cheapest brand  (the supermarkets budget line usually) or the one I happen to prefer. I never take any notice of TV adverts, I don’t even watch them nowadays (unless it’s dear old Aleksandr and the meerkats).

In the old days you had the jolly jingles to listen to, but now you just use the remote to mute the sound since there are rarely any jingles to listen to, go and make a coffee or tea, or if you’re watching on DVD or videotape, fast forward. You wonder anybody pays for adverts since people like me never take any notice of them, just remember the old jingles and the meerkats. What were those meerkats selling – car insurance? No, a website comparing car insurance, well I can do without that. I haven’t got a car. No, I’d much rather compare meerkats.

Aleksandr and his friends really should make a record or whatever they call it nowadays – CD single. Based on that one-line jingle: ‘Compare the meerkat dot com’ – I bet it’d be a Top Ten hit.

Because that’s all TV adverts ever did for me – provide snappy little tunes that I remembered the rest of my life.

A cut or a graze, a burn or a bruise

Germolene is the ointment to use

Prevents infection and keeps wounds clean

You know you’re safe with Germolene

Remember the song, don’t remember ever buying the stuff. Not to be confused with Windolene of course:

Wipe it on, Windolene,

Wipe it on, Windolene,

That’s how to get your windows clean

Wipe it off, straight away

Wipe it off, no delay

So easy with new Windolene


And finally, just to remind us of inflation and the old £sd coinage, for 12.5 new pence (they don’t even have half a penny now) you could buy a bottle of 1001 carpet cleaner:

One thousand and one, one thousand and one,

Get rid of that work-a-day frown

One thousand and one cleans a big, big carpet

For less than half-a-crown