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Land of the Soviets: English communists

Darren
Member
#1 · Posted: 20 Jun 2009 12:21
This is only really for people in the UK I suppose, but in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets do the English communists that are shown not look horribly familiar (even down to smoking a pipe!)?
Harrock n roll
Moderator
#2 · Posted: 20 Jun 2009 13:03 · Edited by: Harrock n roll
In Michael Farr's Complete Companion he describes them as "Tony Wedgewood Benn types". To those who don't know, Tony Benn is a well known English politician (a very old-school socialist, pipe-smoking type). It should be mentioned that Tony Benn was not long born when Soviets came out, but he's very much in the mould of left-wing pipe smokers, like former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, etc. Obviously, the familiar image of the pipe-smoking socialist goes back further than recent history as Soviets proves. Mind you, as someone who is slightly further left than right I'd say it was 'familiar', rather than 'horribly familiar'. ;-)
Balthazar
Moderator
#3 · Posted: 20 Jun 2009 18:42
Harrock n roll:
In Michael Farr's Complete Companion he describes them as "Tony Wedgewood Benn types".

I think that's a not-untypically bit of rather imprecise analysis by Michael Farr. Hergé was surely satirising something very particular and something quite different from generally-left-wing "Tony Benn types".

I believe Hergé was satirising the sort of English intellectuals who joined the Soviet-run Communist Party or who were sympathetic to it ("fellow travellers"), who visited the early Soviet Union and waxed lyrical about its virtues whilst naively turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses and mass-murders committed by Lenin and Trotsky's regime and later (on an even larger scale) by Stalin's, and who failed to see the actual economic failures of the Soviet system.

Even if Tony Benn himself had been an adult in 1929, I don't think he'd have been part of this group; he was never a Communist (Stalinist or Trotskyite) as far as I know, but always a pro-democracy sort of leftist.

So it seems a bit lazy and unfair of Farr to use Benn's name as a label for this group simply because they're pipe smokers. The fact that Farr uses the "Wedgewood" part of Tony Benn's name - something that Benn himself hasn't used since renouncing his hereditary peerage in the 1960s - suggests that Farr may either be a bit out of his depth or a bit distainful of Benn. Maybe Farr worked at the Daily Telegraph for too long, a paper where traditionally anyone in the Labour party tended to be regarded as a Communist.

Harrock n roll:
Mind you, as someone who is slightly further left than right I'd say it was 'familiar', rather than 'horribly familiar'. ;-)

I'm a lefty too, but surely it's one thing to have generally socialist views and values and a completely different thing (the opposite thing, even) to be a member of the Communist Party and/or an apologist for the Soviet Union. I'm with Orwell on that one. So "horribly" seems a fair adverb to apply to the people Hergé is satirising, and to their modern-day counterparts, albeit horribly naive in most cases, rather than horrible evil.

It's the "familiar" bit of your observation that I'm not so sure about, Darren. The naivity of the Communists Hergé portrays certainly seems familiar to me, but not so much the look. Do today's Communist's really wear tweeds and flat caps and smoke pipes? Maybe they do. I haven't really known any Communists since I left college 20 years ago, so I'm out of touch with their dress sense and smoking habits! There aren't as many Communists around as there used to be anyway.
Harrock n roll
Moderator
#4 · Posted: 21 Jun 2009 08:55 · Edited by: Harrock n roll
Balthazar:
I believe Hergé was satirising the sort of English intellectuals who joined the Soviet-run Communist Party or who were sympathetic to it ("fellow travellers"), who visited the early Soviet Union and waxed lyrical about its virtues whilst naively turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses and mass-murders committed by Lenin and Trotsky's regime

I'm not sure I agree. Although they are described as "English Communists" Hergé's source book Moscou sans voile has a description on English Trade Unionists visiting Soviet factories, which is probably the inspiration for this scene. So Hergé might well have been satirizing members of the early Labour Party, which formed out the Trade Union movement and other early socialist groups. This might even account for the flat caps (and tweeds and pipes), since the flat cap was an integral part of the British 'working man' image. Perhaps they were there to formulate some socialist policies such as public ownership of industries, redistribution of wealth, increased rights for workers and trade unions, the welfare state or publicly funded healthcare and education.

Balthazar:
I'm a lefty too, but surely it's one thing to have generally socialist views and values and a completely different thing (the opposite thing, even) to be a member of the Communist Party and/or an apologist for the Soviet Union.

Well, let me make it clear, since you have taken my quote rather out of context: I'm certainly NOT an apologist for the Soviet Union! It depends on whether by 'horribly familiar' we're talking about a sort of classic pipe-smoking socialist or an apologist for the Soviet regime's crimes against humanity. I'm assuming Darren meant any sort of socialist since, as you point out, Communists aren't that familiar any more.

What did you mean by 'horribly familiar' Darren?
Balthazar
Moderator
#5 · Posted: 21 Jun 2009 11:22
Harrock n roll:
I'm not sure I agree. Although they are described as "English Communists" Hergé's source book Moscou sans voile has a description on English Trade Unionists visiting Soviet factories, which is probably the inspiration for this scene. So Hergé might well have been satirizing members of the early Labour Party, which formed out the Trade Union movement and other early socialist groups.

Fair point; I didn't know that. Maybe from the young Hergé's and the Petit Vingtieme's horribly right-wing perspective, English trade unionists and English Communists amounted to the same thing anyway! And to be fair to Hergé, being naively pro-Soviet was very common among many mainstream trade unionists and labour party people in this era and beyond.

Obviously, it's a pity that these quite accurate attacks on the naivity of the left were being encouraged and published by an editor who equally naively had a photo of Mussolini on his desk! But I suppose that sums up the problem of 20th Century world politics.

Anyway, whether the young Hergé had pro-Soviet intellectuals or pro-Soviet trade unionists in mind, I still think it's a bit unfair of Michael Farr to use Tony Benn's name as an example of any kind of pro-Soviet lefty.

Harrock n roll:
Well, let me make it clear, since you have taken my quote rather out of context: I'm certainly NOT an apologist for the Soviet Union! It depends on whether by 'horribly familiar' we're talking about a sort of classic pipe-smoking socialist or an apologist for the Soviet regime's crimes against humanity. I'm assuming Darren meant any sort of socialist since, as you point out, you Communists aren't that familiar any more.

Sorry for my lack of clarity and for quoting you out of context. I certainly wasn't thinking that you were an apologist for the Soviet Union, or meaning to imply that you were! I was taking our shared anti-Soviet position as understood when suggesting that the word "horribly" might after all be apt in the context of the people Hergé was satirising and their modern day counterparts. But I see what you were meaning now, and if Darren was indeed using the term "horribly familiar" to describe any sort of modern socialist, rather than pro-Soviet Communists, I'd be with you in wanting to drop the word "horribly".
cigars of the beeper
Member
#6 · Posted: 21 Jun 2009 15:24 · Edited by: cigars of the beeper
"Beautiful..." "Very Nice"

Are they referred to as being English in the original French?
mct16
Member
#7 · Posted: 21 Jun 2009 17:07
Balthazar:
Communist's really wear tweeds and flat caps and smoke pipes

Balthazar:
I still think it's a bit unfair of Michael Farr to use Tony Benn's name as an example of any kind of pro-Soviet lefty.

Given Benn's anti-everything-the-government-does-be-it-Labour-or-Tory attitude, I am not so sure - but that is just my view.

On the other hand, perhaps it would have been more to the point if Farr had compared them to other highly-educated young Brits who, in the 1930s, as grown-ups, espoused Communist ideals at a time when Benn was still at primary school. The Cambridge Five would be a good example: Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald McLean and Kim Philby were Communists who spied for the Soviets before, during and after the War. They certainly dressed in tweed and I have seen photos of Philby smoking a pipe.

cigars of the beeper:
Are they referred to as being English in the original French?

Yes
Darren
Member
#8 · Posted: 23 Jun 2009 15:03
Firstly, thanks to all those who replied. I was referring to the resemblance to the aforementioned Mr Benn by "horribly familiar" (I have not read Michael Farr's book and did search on here using the search facility). My copy of this book is a reprint from when the anniversary was celebrated a few years back, so was unsure if they are the same as in the original.
Haddocks Beard
Member
#9 · Posted: 30 Jun 2009 03:27
My biggest problem is the "horribly familiar" Right-Wing propaganda that the naive young Herge parroted in Soviets. And many people today still buy into it.

My preferred model for Socialism is Democratic. But the early Bolshevik Revolution had to contend with the immediate Right Wing counter-revolutionary invasion by Capitalist Western powers (including the USA and Britain) in 1918, followed by the invasion of the Right-Wing (Capitalist) Nazi Germany in the 1940s. And given the terror and deprivation of the peasants under Right-Wing Czarist Russia (unequaled since pre-revolutionary France) it is no surprise (though still appalling) that the most Reactionary elements of the Bolshevik Revolution came to power and brutally massacred the equally vicious Capitalist and Royalist classes.

I prefer the later Herge, who satirized authoritarianism of the Right and the Left, though I still feel that he bought into a false equivalency--as authoritarian Socialism is generally a natural response to authoritarian Capitalism. Still, his anti-authoritarian satire was brilliant and unexpected in a medium directed at children. And it helped me learn a lot about the nature of politics growing up.
gorfdota
Member
#10 · Posted: 7 Nov 2013 14:30
At the time, many socialists, even very moderate socialists, like the Webbs, visited Russia, and, most importantly, supported it

https://archive.org/details/sovietcommunismn02webb

for Beatrice and Siddney Webb's book "Sovet Communism: a new Civilization?"

In fact, in most of Europe, anyone to the left of centre in 1929 would have felt some support for the Soviet Union, and anyone to the right would have hated everything it was supposed to stand for. Actually, for the right the Soviet Union was a very useful stick to beat up with anyone one even vaguely on the left

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