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How I fell for the USSR As a child I was my father's little Red comrade

Nostrovia! (Photo by Ramil Sitdikov - Host Photo Agency via Getty Images )

Nostrovia! (Photo by Ramil Sitdikov - Host Photo Agency via Getty Images )


May 11, 2021   5 mins

People are far more interested in what happens in their own country than in others; patriots put their birthplace first and “progressives” put theirs down. But both sides are united in the exceptionalism they display towards their homeland, either believing it to be better or worse than anywhere else.

For me, it’s always been different. The Soviet Union was hardly a wallflower at any stage in history; going from Tsarist empire to Communist superpower to an entire era of muscle-flexing under Vladimir Putin, up to and including Moscow’s Victory Day parades at the weekend. But that hardly put me off — for the simple reason that I was raised as a Soviet patriot.

When I hear friends’ horror stories about their parents, I always think how lucky I was. My dad was handsome and witty, generous and kind — even if he was a big fan of a system believed to have killed around 20 million people.

He wasn’t a big reader; it wasn’t the Communist theory he liked. Rather, he idealised the Soviet Union in a manner that reminds me of the images on the cover of The Watchtower, the Jehovah’s Witness magazine; people wandering beatifically unharmed among wild animals, the lion and the lamb making eyes at each other.

He was, for example, obsessed with the cleanliness of the Moscow underground stations; in a television film I wrote about him, Prince, a young Sean Bean tells his daughter about Russia: “It’s very cold, very clean… and everybody’s happy. Because the country belongs to them. Their subways stations are immaculate — you could eat your dinner off the floor. Because nobody drops rubbish. Because it all belongs to them — the people.” Never religious, the USSR was his Promised Land.

A clever man from an illiterate, poverty-wracked home, he refused the promotions offered him at the distillery where he worked and instead organised his trade union, in the interests of not being bought by the bourgeoisie. ­After the factory closed, and before he died of the mesothelioma that he had contracted as a teenage builder, his last job was as a ­car-park attendant. He died seeing it as a triumph that he had made no advancement up the class ladder.

Stalin, who was definitely his Top of the Pops, was the peasant son of a drunken cobbler and a washerwoman who outlived communism’s intellectuals and turned his country into a superpower to match the United States. He spoke to my father’s frustrated leadership qualities, I think now.

On the other hand, lots of bright proletarian men grow up with no opportunities and they don’t cleave to a genocidal tyrant — but because my dad was such a charming man, I didn’t mind humouring him. He’d given up on trying to interest my mum in politics early on in their courtship, so I was his little comrade, always happy to stay up late cheering for the USSR during the Olympics.

In return, though he hated “men capering about showing off” — as he referred to the likes of Lionel Blair on TV — he got us a box for the Bolshoi Ballet when they came to Bristol, even if he did refuse to look at the stage, doing his trade union summer school homework the whole way through.

Duly rewarded, I returned refreshed to my Soviet-cheerleading duties — mostly composed of urging on the Viet Cong, which was all over the news as they fought their war with Russian weapons, and taking a keen interest in the USSR’s proxy wars all over Africa. (My dad was particularly excited when a young African Communist rocked up at his local one weekend. He became a respected guest at our house until he mentioned how racist he had found the Moscovites while attending the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, after which he was promptly sent into exile by my furious father.)

Of course, it wasn’t all Red Army tanks and grim Kremlin faces. Watching the May Day parades on the evening news, it was impossible not to be bewitched by the beautiful Communist gymnasts: Nellie Kim, Ludmilla Tourischeva and Olga Korbut, “the sparrow from Minsk” who was told by President Nixon that her performance in the 1972 Munich Olympics “did more to reduce the political tension between our two countries than the embassies were able to do in five years”. I still remember when Nadia Comăneci, the most gifted Romanian girl of all, was named the youngest ever Hero Of Socialist Labor by the dictator Ceausescu. Suddenly, the popular girls at my school were taking Communist heroines as their role models; never one to knowingly embrace consensus, this left me feeling mildly miffed.

But what I most approved of about the gymnasts was the way Soviet children who showed a particular talent were snatched away from home at an early age — Korbut was in full-time training from the age of eight — and sent to work in academies of excellence; meritocracy at its rawest.

I wasn’t scared of hard work, but I was scared of going nowhere. As a smart working-class girl at a provincial Seventies sink school, the most I could hope for was teacher training college, which I didn’t fancy one little bit. Why couldn’t I be snatched away from my parents and stuck in an academy of writing excellence? At 17, I escaped through a job at the New Musical Express instead.

I’m not sure what my father would disapprove of more; the fact that I let a boy wearing a swastika (“Before Hitler, it stood for peace!”) buy me a drink or the fact that I briefly joined the Socialist Workers Party? (To old school Communists, metropolitan offshoots like the SWP were treated with suspicion, and suspected of practising free love.)

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I remember my father for the first time failed to do that adorable thing that working-class dads have done forever: call out to their wives to come to the phone immediately and talk to their child. Instead he bent my ear for a good five minutes moaning about the imminent downfall of civilisation. By this time I’d learned more than enough about Stalin’s antics, and I gave him short shrift.

After he died at the turn of the century, I transferred my affections to Israel, and began to travel there and propagandise on its behalf. It helped that Israel was always in the news, so always needed someone to defend it. Why did I feel the need to latch on to somewhere new? I’m not entirely sure. Though if you’ve been brought up to think of an unseen land as your own, it can feel small-minded just cheering on the place where you happened to be born.

I hear of young people calling themselves Communists now; they’re not, they are simply ABEs: Anyone But England. And they’ll have their work cut out should their dreams come true — they’re always Wokers and Woke is the opposite of Communism, based on a strict class conflict theory which would judge identity politics to be bourgeoise deviation.

Certainly today’s revolutionaries share none of the Soviet stoicism that appealed to my dad, his twin pillars of philosophy being Fair Play and No Fussing. Though considering what we know now — the Terror, the massacres, the starvation and beatings which went into making Comrade Comăneci the youngest ever Hero Of Socialist Labor — perhaps there can be such a thing as too much Stoicism.

And yet I occasionally get a flicker of the old feeling; Red Army Choir songs, the image of the hammer and sickle flag being hoist over a destroyed Reichstag, Yuri Gagarin’s birthday. But of course: no image, however beautiful, means anything compared to all the sorrow and pain inflicted by my saintly father’s favourite belief system.


Julie Burchill is a journalist, playwright and author of Welcome to the Woke Trials, available now. Her latest play, Awful People, co-written with Daniel Raven, comes to Brighton Pier in September 2023.

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Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago

I come from the polar opposite (Eastern bloc) background: ex-landed/urban gentry ‘intellectual’ stock impoverished by the communists; what’s common with Julie Burchill’s father is the poverty. I hated – still hate – everything about communism and the USSR with a fiery passion. I made peace with Russia though as an adult.
It was a good read. Reminded me when i used to read Burchill 20 or so years ago in the Grun (don’t ask) i always had this queasy feeling: i love her way with words but can’t stand her politics. She still writes well, sod the politics. Good read.

Red Army Choir songs

Those are amazing. Have an old tape somewhere, brilliant stuff.

my dad, his twin pillars of philosophy being Fair Play and No Fussing.

^ Sounds like a perfect Englishman to me. A philosophy to live by.

Last edited 3 years ago by Johannes Kreisler
Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Thank you too!

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

My best friend comes from Slovakia and says exactly the same thing. She generally doesn’t like to talk politics but was seriously concerned about Corbyn’s brief rise to prominence. When she asked me what on earth these people thought they were voting for, they should come over to spend some time over here to see where that ends up – I honestly was at a loss to say.
Even if you hate the politics, socialist art can be amazing. I’m an absolute sucker for a bit of socialist sculpture which you can see all around Vienna (from the Red Vienna period in the first years of the 1st republic). The amazing wall mosaics in Dresden! The astronomical clock in Olomouc (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olomouc_astronomical_clock)! The Green Bridge in Vilnius! I could go on…

Dennis Lewis
Dennis Lewis
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yes, I see what you mean about the beauty of certain socialist art and architecture. Who could not be impressed by the grandeur of the underground stations in Moscow or the vastness of Karl-Marx Allee in East Berlin? But then the words of witnesses to the mindset that produced that art, witnesses like Czeslaw Milosz in The Captive Mind, come to mind, and I can’t help but suppress a chill.

Last edited 3 years ago by Dennis Lewis
Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Nice clock!
The 50s era soc-real style was fondly nicknamed as “stalin baroque”, bit of a misnomer as it was a mix of neoclassical elements and late 19th century realism. Lotsa doric columns topped with tympana adorned wit mosaics and frescos depicting the Working Man or Woman at Glorious Work. Those were the entrances of (typically) 4-storey apartment blocks, which were solidly built of brick, the rooms had hardwood parquette and those fantastic great ’tile stoves’ (wood + coal burners). Those houses are still robust and kept their value well. Then from the sixties onward came the “modernisation”, the good honest stalin-baroque was replaced with badly made, shoddy cheap highrise slum architecture.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

I was brought up a red so naturally I was taken to see the Red Army Choir. We were all like sleepers for the revolution that never came.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

Odd how we never hear this same story on growing up with parents devoted to Na* ism; them being peas in a pod with Stalinist Communism in so many ways, essentially. I remember Ed Milliband speaking so fondly of his hard Communist father having Hobsbawn over for lovely family dinners, and the boys so enjoying hearing these wise men discussing their cherished philosophy. In my thinking the Hammer and Sick le could be changed for the Sw**tik a without any loss of horror. That Liberals cannot see this is a constant source of amazement to me. I remember back as a youth when Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn came out and reading it, I remember in the 1960s passing through Bulgaria and talking to some broken and desperately poor ex-Aristocratic wretches, and the horrors of the Red Army raping its way across Germany after years of each committing atrocities on each other….The genocide of the Kulaks, how one could idolize that all – may as well idolize Pol Pot.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

One is a taboo, the other has become a source of nostalgia for some bizarre reason for those who were not subjected to either.
In most of the ex-soviet-bloc countries both are regarded as the same. In my old country communist symbols / propaganda are outlawed the same as naz¡ symbols / propaganda / paraphernalia.
Currently, the biggest threat to the ex-eastern-bloc countries is the incessant meddling coming from the marxified West.

Last edited 3 years ago by Johannes Kreisler
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I think it comes down to the fact that the USSR became a bit less murderous from the 50s onwards after Stalin and Beria died. The na zi regime ended in fire and gas chambers. The USSR ended in a wall falling down. Soviet officers also played their part in avoiding conflict with the West at times (especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis), albeit for pragmatic rather than altruistic reasons. Not quite the rabid sonderkommando.
Still an evil regime (and one that out-did the Germans in savagery between 1919 and 1954- looking at you Yagoda, Yhezov, Beria, and Blokhin!), but one that had time to become that sometimes friendly-if-sinister old uncle that your parents won’t let you talk to at Christmas parties.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Well, Geoffrey, maybe it outdid the Germans in savagery between 1919 and 1954, but surely not between 1933 and 1945. The great Soviet novelist Vassily Grossman made the comparison between the Soviets and the Nazis in his masterpiece “Life and Fate”, each with their own red flag, but he preferred the regime that let a Ukrainian Jew like himself become the top Soviet war correspondent to the regime that murdered his mother.
I remember seeing the Russian ambassador to Canada give a speech in Ottawa at the time of the NATO aggression on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the so-called Kosovo war. He said that it was NATO’s illusion that it had kept Europe from descending into war. He said it looked more like the Warsaw Pact had kept Europe from descending into war for five and a half centuries. Now it was gone, it was one war after another. He had a point.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

The Soviet Communists might have tolerated some Jews who had their philosophy, but if you were part of a race, which was in Stalin‘s way, you were sent off to the gulags, shot or starved to death. (Cossacks and the peasants of Ukraine )

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

They played the Cuban Crisis well, in fact like a good Chess Master.
Final Result: US Jupiter Nuclear Missiles withdrawn from Turkey: Game over!

.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
3 years ago

Just a pity these game players forced the world to hold its breath. I’m sure a lot of common people would dearly have liked the opportunity to shove a Jupiter missile up the Soviet and American leaders’ are*h*les.

Stuart Y
Stuart Y
3 years ago

Beautifully written, searingly honest piece of writing. I come from a similar but oh so different background and still resonates so strongly with me.

Can’t you get a gig on the BBC or some such (ignore the Gruniard, the rest of us do) ,please?

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Stuart Y

Thank you!

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

I particularly liked your article ( some years ago in The Spectator) where you describe how the middle classes have colonized the entertainment industry , so they are no longer an outlet for a talented working class kid.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

Is Julie Burchill unique among UnHerd columnists – indeed, among journalists in general – in replying individually to every comment posted by ordinary readers? This is admirable courtesy!

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Thank you – I’m about to finish my book revisions so I’m in an EXTRA good mood!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

I couldn’t agree more, and given some of the ‘nutters’ ( myself included) on this forum, a very brave move indeed.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

You’re no nutter – I am though!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

“It takes one to know one”, as some Ancient Greek sage once said.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

“Ecce nux”!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

As that great Equestrian Prefect Pontius Pilate * would have said!

(* sadly we don’t know his Prenomen).

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Ecce nucem shurely?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I don’t think so – otherwise Pontius Pilate’s phrase would have been “Ecce hominem”. I believe on the basis of a bit of online research that “ecce” normally (but not always!) took the nominative in classical Latin, because it’s not understood as a verb – more an exclamation like “Lo!”. But I fear I didn’t have the benefit of a classical education so I have to defer to those who did. Perhaps Mr Stanhope can clarify the matter?

Last edited 3 years ago by Basil Chamberlain
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Surely not shurely surely?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Only in the Accusative, but this is in the nominative as in : Ecce H**o.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Isn’t nux/nucem the object of the imperative form of the verb ecce? Or is the nut being addressed, in which the vocative case would apply?
Did you know they’ve altered the order of these? It used to be Nom Voc Acc Gen Dat Abl. It’s now Nom Gen Dat Acc Abl Voc. IHNI who thought that was necessary.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I assumed Basil was using the vocative as part of the ongoing ‘nutter’ banter.

No I wasn’t aware they had altered the order.
Outrage!
I also thought Kennedy’s Latin Primer was beyond reproach in all matters.

Last edited 3 years ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

My own earlier reply seems still to be awaiting approval – one supposes because the second word used by Pilate of Christ could also conceivably be interpreted as a slur against men attracted to persons of their own gender. I rephrased it to avoid this problem, but it’s still awaiting approval for the moment, so here goes again!
“I don’t think so – otherwise Pontius Pilate’s phrase would have been “Ecce hominem”. I believe on the basis of a bit of online research that “ecce” normally (but not always!) took the nominative in classical Latin, because it’s not understood as a verb – more an exclamation like “Lo!”. But I fear I didn’t have the benefit of a classical education so I have to defer to those who did. Perhaps Mr Stanhope can clarify the matter?”
Which it seems, while my comment languished in limbo he already has!

Last edited 3 years ago by Basil Chamberlain
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

Sadly, under this present system I had no idea you had even replied.

Your are correct about the ambiguous nature of ‘ecce’, and many happy hours could have been spent in discussion!
However as ‘nux’ is the same in nominative and vocative we had better leave it there.

What we really needed was an outstanding Classicist like the late Enoch Powell to adjudicate.

K Joynes
K Joynes
3 years ago

This thread offshoot is like a section of “Down with Skool!” being transmitted from a parallel dimension in which Nigel Molesworth is a well-educated courteous gentleman, and is one of the reasons I’ll be signing up for Unherd membership (would’ve done already but no Paypal option ).

I’m also hoping people will keep replying to this so it becomes a column of single letters pressed against the right-hand side of my tablet, for that would amuse me greatly. I’m easily pleased.

Sorry, what were we talking about?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  K Joynes

I’m glad you’re enjoying it.
Mr Chamberlain & I make sporadic off- piste excursions, if only to alleviate the current state of national gloom.

Incidentally why does the text, ‘move to the right’ and then ultimately reduce to one letter per line?

Perhaps to discourage discussion?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

As you will see above (at least, as I can see, so it’s true of the way in which UnHerd is formatted on a laptop), the text only moves to the right for a while, and certainly never reduces to one letter a line. We have now reached minimum width.

Last edited 3 years ago by Basil Chamberlain
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

Thanks.
However few days ago it did reduce to one word per line, but now it seems to have corrected itself. Weird!

K Joynes
K Joynes
3 years ago

OK – slightly disappointing but “We have now reached minimum width” is a phrase to treasure, so that’s some comfort at least.

Thanks for the off-piste excursion.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago

Thank you for another heartfelt and beautifully written piece.
“I wasn’t scared of hard work, but I was scared of going nowhere”

I understand that perfectly.

I also turned down promotions in my youth for the reason your father did but eventually got over it for the sake of my family and now I’m middle class.

Last edited 3 years ago by Brendan O'Leary
Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Thank you, Brendan.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

I’ll stop commenting now as have to get back to my book revision but thank you all so much!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

“have to get back to my book revision” A history book?

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

NAUGHTY! ‘Welcome To The Woke Trials: A Love Story’

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

This was a really good piece.
The relationship Julie describes reminds of someone I knew at college, who was a pro-Soviet Communist having learnt it from his own father. He saw no reason for allowing elections in Russia because “they’ve got a system they’re happy with”; the Berlin Wall was put up to stop West Germans fleeing to East Germany; Soviet troops were invited into Afghanistan; NATO was about to invade the USSR; Operation Barbarossa was an example of the west’s treachery; shooting down that Korean airliner was self-defence; everyone in Russia was equally rich; Russians didn’t own cars because they didn’t need them; there was no cheating in the Olympics; SS20s were peaceful, unlike cruise missiles; and so on.
He was academically smart, but in all other ways profoundly, profoundly stupid. I have no idea what he made of the USSR’s collapse, but I would guess it took him completely by surprise. Even at 22, his thinking was a lot less advanced, and his mind less mature, than Ms Burchill’s already was when she was 17. If I had to guess where he is now, I’d guess exactly nowhere, the fate Julie avoided (and well done too).

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Your friend sounds rather like Keir Starmer, based on what we have read of his youth.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Thank you, Jon.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

Cracking piece in the Telegraph this week on punk.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

she criticized them from the comfort of the West, too.

Johnny Rottenborough
Johnny Rottenborough
3 years ago

For a link between ‘the Terror, the massacres, the starvation’ and your new love, Israel, see Sever Plocker’s article, ‘Stalin’s Jews’:

And us, the Jews? An Israeli student finishes high school without ever hearing the name ‘Genrikh Yagoda’, the greatest Jewish murderer of the 20th Century, the GPU’s deputy commander and the founder and commander of the NKVD. Yagoda diligently implemented Stalin’s collectivization orders and is responsible for the deaths of at least 10 million people. His Jewish deputies established and managed the Gulag system.

Even if we deny it, we cannot escape the Jewishness of ‘our hangmen’, who served the Red Terror with loyalty and dedication from its establishment.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Thank you, but I’ve admired Israel since I was very young – I wrote a book, Unchosen, about it. I think it’s 5p on Amazon!

Johnny Rottenborough
Johnny Rottenborough
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

Julie Burchill—Thank you for replying. This Philip Giraldi article, ‘Israel’s Story: Lies from top to bottom’, will leave your admiration undented but others may find it useful.
I disliked the Soviet Union but I very much admire the resurrected Russia, which surely has one of the world’s most stirring national anthems, played here at this year’s Victory Parade in Moscow.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

The ‘goose stepping’ was also impressive!

mrbarrymarshall
mrbarrymarshall
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

It’s listed at £873.79 in paperback,but £3.49 in hardback. Ordered the cheaper one!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

Genrikh Yagoda, may not be as well known as Adolph Eichman, but he is not completely unknown, unlike Moa’s killers, who make both seem like rank amateurs.

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago

Orwell wrote about a similar thing in the Lion and Unicorn – describing how English middle class intellectuals despised England and worshipped the USSR – and continued to do so even after evidence of genocide began to emerge – so many parallels with middle class Remainiacs and their love of the EU

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baggley

I said so many parallels – the irrational love of a political entity over your own country and an inability to see fault due to your hate induced blindness

daniel Earley
daniel Earley
3 years ago

What a great article, and by that I mean something I enjoyed reading regardless of whether I agree with the subject matter or not. It does remind me of my own college years when many fellow students followed the USSR or Che Guevara but the difference being, they could not explain why. Also good to see that you were able to come to your won conclusions and debate your father. I completely understand the feelings aroused by the Soviet propaganda, it brings up memories of a trip to Spain where I met a Catholic convert who, when asked to explain why she had converted from protestantism, said she loved the glory of the Catholic church and had a particularly charismatic priest who I got on with very well with over a shared love of ancient Greek history. Thank you, I might have to look up some of your other stuff now.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  daniel Earley

Thank you, Daniel – I write every Sunday in the Telegraph.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
3 years ago

Wokers and Woke is the opposite of Communism, based on a strict class conflict theory which would judge identity politics to be bourgeoise deviation.
Really important point which I hope you will develop in your book!

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Yes, WELCOME TO THE WOKE TRIALS is very much a Left wing critique of Woke.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

Really looking forward to it! I love your writing.

cjhartnett1
cjhartnett1
3 years ago

Always admired Julie, especially in her love of Israel and support for the Jewish people.
Her love for her dad is unconditional and deep, his politics only being an associated benefit alongside days out “spreading the word”as it were.
An admirable contrarian in the very best of British tradition.
And, because she has seen where good intentions inevitably end up? She’s one of our cultural canaries that we need. Thankfully, we’ve still got a few left, so treasure them while you can.
The good guys DO win, Julie is one of them. Even in the Godawful days of NME Foucault Bollox ( Du Noyer and the appalling Morley), she was genuine, honest and a great writer

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
2 years ago
Reply to  cjhartnett1

Thank you, C!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Funnily enough I yearn for the days of Julie at the NME in the same way that her father yearned for the USSR. ‘Whatever happened to Barney Hoskyns, Paul du Noyer, Ian Penman , Comrade Morley…whatever happened to good recorrds?’ as the song goes.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I was determined to leave while still a teenager, and I did, at 19. I’m so pleased you liked my juvenilia!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

Speaking of your juvenilia, just last year I read Damaged Goods, an entertaining collection of various of your pieces from the early to mid-80s.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Thank you! I think Girls On Film is my favourite book from my youth – so funny to think it was before the internet and I used to go to the library to take out books about Hollywood, too poor to buy them.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

I read Girls On Film a long time ago and still have it somewhere. That should, of course, have been Damaged Gods, not Damaged Goods in my post above.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

As a phrasemaker you remind me of Clive James at times.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I LOVED HIM – thank you!

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I read Julie’s stuff back then cos it was compulsive even when it annoyed me. I was excited by punk from a distance but thought I was too old at 22. Later I realised many of them were lying about their age!

Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
3 years ago

Burchill’s dad’s loyalty to the Soviet Union reminds me of the novels of the 20th century French novelist Roger Vailland. His theme was that the workers were involved in a permanent war with capitalists which it was important never to win because the nobility and legitimacy of their class was about struggling but not triumphing. Vailland supported the PCF along with 25% of the French electorate at its postwar peak but never joined. His contempt for the bourgeoisie and working class people who had higher ambitions than perpetual, voluntary dependence on the boss class was monumental, as was his typically French misogyny.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago
Reply to  Pierre Pendre

struggling but not triumphing

Yes, once I realised that history was not destiny I lost my working class cred with the socialists.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 years ago

In the 1960s, as a teen in sunny Perth, Western Australia, I used to buy Sputnik (a kind of Soviet Reader’s Digest), which was very cheery. I think it must have been after 1968 that one of the Marist Brothers at school told me to think again about reading such tripe.

msgarrood
msgarrood
3 years ago

Glad that the author has it within her to take a long, hard look at what it took for the Soviet régime to become a superpower, the list of high crimes is indeed a long one.
Perhaps her father may have been in some sense “impoverished” by not having networked much with those who had brutal experience of that system, but I would say that how he viewed the “20 million” who paid with their lives to build this so-called “great power”, in other words as a Russian liberal once told me “a price worth paying”, is a failure of humanity that lives longer than the person himself.
Nice read, a very nice article.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Just one day in East Berlin in 1985 was enough to put me off any form of communism or socialism for life.

joelmellinger
joelmellinger
3 years ago

The detail about your father refusing to look at the stage during the Bolshoi performance is such a fantastic image. I can see it in my mind like I’m watching a film.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  joelmellinger

Thank you! It was very funny.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  joelmellinger

That was very funny – it’s ballet so it’s bourgeois, but it’s Soviet, so it’s necessarily good. How to reconcile these conflicting views! Bingo: you go to the ballet, but you then don’t watch. Classic!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

‘All those gulags and ballet in the evenings’ as the character played by Peter Sellers didn’t quite say.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

Great piece, Julie.
I especially liked this passage:
“But what I most approved of about the gymnasts was the way Soviet children who showed a particular talent were snatched away from home at an early age — Korbut was in full-time training from the age of eight — and sent to work in academies of excellence; meritocracy at its rawest.”
I completely agree. The gymnasts stand out in the collective memory, but Soviet ice skaters were also superb. Technically flawless, making everything look effortless. As a six year old, I watched the skating pair Sergey Grinkov and Ekaterina Gordeeva skate to gold in Calgary with the perfect routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B0tSnQKzwo. I was captivated and I’ve never seen anything like that since. And the tragic love story! It was like a fairytale.
When I read about what they were put through as children to achieve that, things look rather less rosy. What price for excellence? Good question.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Thank you, Katharine!

Jon Urwin
Jon Urwin
3 years ago

Another excellent article from Ms Burchill. Some very close parallels with my own upbringing too!

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

Thankyou Julie, that was an entertaining read, and a little window into an unfamiliar outlook.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Thank you, Dave!

eugene power
eugene power
3 years ago

Sounds a lot like my dad too. Fair play, fair shares ,wait your turn, do your bit.
Good morale for winning a war, but what about the Costas on credit ?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

Good article. I heartily recommend a book called ‘Second-Hand Time’ by Svetlana Alexievich. This was written in 2013 and is basically a series of taped conversations with people in Russia, who comment on their reactions to the end of the Iron Curtain in 1991. It is a long book but a very easy read.
Basically, the interviewees split into two groups – those who see the new Russia as an improvement and those who only want to go back to the old Russia.
In a way, it is similar to the conversations every day on UnHerd. The ones who want the change are the wokes and the ones who want history and pride are the UnHerders. Interestingly, the polarities of the politics are reversed. (Right = woke, Left = UnHerd).

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago

My uncle was a communist. I was quite scared of him as a child. Serious, never saw him smile or laugh. A hard guy and I think now mentally very damaged. His kids were the complete opposite of him.

Jake Jackson
Jake Jackson
3 years ago

Very fun and interesting story. Took real guts to write it, too. I raise a toast from 5,000 miles away.

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
3 years ago

My parents were Communists too and I remember the day Stalin died was a day of mourning in our house. My father committed identity theft and perjury in the 1930s to hide Soviet spies in the US, presumably on the instruction of his Party. He had a short wave radio in our basement on which he listened to Moscow Radio. He eventually tired of the Sovijets and became a Maoist.
My teenage years were mostly spent trying to conceal their activities in support of the Communists from my peers. My father died in 1968, still a Maoist. My mother drifted away from it and even in the end voted for some Republicans. Gasp!
I remained a leftist until I was in my 40s and after a “mugging by reality” have drifted further to the right.
Communism, like other cults, has a powerful draw. You cannot reach a leftist with reason – either he will see the fraud within or he won’t.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
3 years ago

Woke: the Dishonest Abes.

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago

A virtuoso perforamnce from La Burchill. Luvvit xx
He is in the vanguard of the emerging zeitgeist: “anti-tribe”. In this, people reject any form of bubble-membership and call a spade a spade. It might boringly be called objectivity. Will it flourish ? From this evidence it should do. Far more interesting than greenery and wokery IMHO.

ben sheldrake
ben sheldrake
3 years ago

Enjoyed the article. Approximately 12 years ago I was working abroad with some fellas from Eastern Europe. By and large good guys, no issues though a couple did have vague flirtations with the Far Right, or some romanced version of it. After a while I had a chance to have conversation with one, an Estonian, articulate guy and very decent. He said the reason for the interest in the far right was after growing up behind the curtain (and all that involved) anything that challenged directly communism was attractive. And the one easily visible thing in history that challenged the Communists was the Nazis.
Mother of God. When people convince themselves the Nazis weren’t so bad in comparison to communism then you know reds must’ve been bad!

John Shea
John Shea
3 years ago

Just love reading the comments section. I am American, my father was American and my mother is English. 90 years and still sharp. We never here these stories on the USA. It’s great knowing how people can adjust to the world even when it turns their life upside down. Well done, mates!

Rob Nock
Rob Nock
3 years ago

Emjoyed the article. Sounds as if JB may yet decide she is a libertarian. That people should be able to live their life as they want but not have any demand on other people to treat them in any special way, that we are all just people and have the rights to think differently and not get offended when others do.

steve horsley
steve horsley
3 years ago

my dad was always a labour man and manual worker but he had no interest in soviet politics.the only connection with ms burchill is that my dad also died of mesothelioma.i ve always had a thing about many things russian soviet-the wonderful posters,the flamboyant uniforms and the mayday shows of weaponry.the ussr football team who,though they ve had some great players,always seem to come up short.thanks,julie,for another great read but imagine the things you d have missed out on if you d been born in soviet russia.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
2 years ago
Reply to  steve horsley

Thank you, Steve.

paulowen126
paulowen126
3 years ago

I remember seeing Prince on TV years ago. Loved it. Funny, clever and heartfelt.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  paulowen126
Karen Jemmett
Karen Jemmett
3 years ago

Was this the same Dad who wouldn’t go on holiday without his alsation dog? Funny what you remember, isn’t it? I’d always assumed he was some kind of a d**k… but don’t get me started, lol

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago

Is this a first?
You post a comment and the author of the article actually reads it and responds ! Scary…
After ‘Shuggie Bain’ wins the Booker its difficult to see how anyonw can succeed these days unless they come from extreme deprivation, alcoholic parent and sexual assault. Judy puts in a strong performance on these measures

Last edited 3 years ago by Lee Johnson
Stuart MacDiarmid
Stuart MacDiarmid
3 years ago

I really enjoyed Ms Burchill’s article. There are some interesting parallels with my own political evolution and eventual awareness. However, I was a Trotskyite in my youth so the politically-correct attitude towards the Soviet Union was rather different to hers. I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now …

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

Presumably your father was too young to have fought in the War?
Additionally how is your support for a Israel holding up?

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Yes, he was. Yes, my support for Israel (*a* Israel – is there another?) is holding up very well, thank you.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

Thank you, ‘a’ = slovenly mistake! There seems to some uncontrollable gremlin inside my I-pad, and sadly I have no grandchild within range to deal with it.

Did your father ever express any views about that great ‘Bristolian’ Ernest Bevin?

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Not that I recall – but Tony Benn (a great Brexiteer!) was our MP. My dad often saw him at meetings and once overheard him say in his cut glass accent to a working man ‘Please don’t call me sir, my good fellow!’

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

Only in England could such an eccentric as Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, 2nd Viscount Stansgate, have existed.
His diaries were very amusing.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

To be fair to Benn, I completely agreed with his analysis of why the EU was a bad thing democratically.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

He & his contemporary Enoch were at one on the matter of the Common Market as it was then known.

Peadar Laighléis
Peadar Laighléis
3 years ago

I heard him speak too – whatever one might have thought of his ideas, he could certainly entertain.

Will Podmore
Will Podmore
3 years ago

Sorry Julie, completely disagree with your assessment of the USSR. Please read The Soviet experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the successor states, Ronald Suny, Oxford UP, 1998, for a well-researched account, which refutes all the lies about genocide, the numbers killed, etc, etc. Anti-communists like Hitler killed far more people than communists ever did. Similarly, read Mao Zedong: a political & intellectual portrait, Maurice Meisner, Polity 2007, for a more objective view of China after the revolution.
You’re quite right about the EU and I did enjoy your Brighton meeting about your play!

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
3 years ago

Socialists are banned from your far right channel, yet a discredited pea-brained bigot and homophobe is given a space. Nice.

Anne-Marie Mazur
Anne-Marie Mazur
3 years ago

How many people did European/English imperialism kill across the globe and then each other during two world wars and after that attacking communist states in “police actions”. You should have paid better attention in math class. European imperialism almost completely wiped out Native Americans in a multi-century genocide alone. Then there is the Belgian Congo….China….India… Such willful ignorance or patent lying has a name: PROPAGANDA.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

You tell us. Come up with a number that can be verified. People have been killing each other quite effectively without imperialist involvement since we evolved. In fact suggesting that the people in the rest of the world aren’t capable of a bit of mass murder seems vaguely patronising.

Jake Jackson
Jake Jackson
3 years ago

You remind me of a line from an old comedy album: “Two wrongs never make a right, but three do.”

marcusaurellias
marcusaurellias
3 years ago

The Hammer and Sickle is every bit as abhorrent as the Swastika and actually killed one hundred million human being last century, not twenty. This article appears to suggest that we could also gush a little over fascism, after all it did run the trains on time…
Enjoy your little thrill at watching a flag, that is synonymous with misery, suffering and despair being raised. You disgrace the memory of those whose lives it snuffed out. Shame on you.

Last edited 3 years ago by marcusaurellias
Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago

Did you actually READ it?

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 years ago
Reply to  Julie Burchill

Clearly not. And worth pointing out that 20 million Russians died winning WWII for the rest of us

Andrew McCoull
Andrew McCoull
3 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Why did we bother I wonder, if the Soviets did it all by themselves? How many Soviet convoys brought tanks, planes and other material to Britain? What was the Soviet contribution to the war in North Africa, and then Italy and France? What was the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Japan?
It wasn’t called a world war out of fancy.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew McCoull

FDR gave East Europe to USSR to break Europe, same as he required all Europe to de-Colonize right after the war, to break Europe financially. (Truman continued his plan)

This is obvious on how the (2nd Europe) invasion went into Marseilles and accomplished NOTHING wile Churchill pleaded for it to go into Greece, and thus the Balkans, towards Crimea, and so take German oil – but also would have kept East Europe liberated – BUT NO, FDR refused the only logical thing, the invasion of Greece, because he wanted Stalin to Crush East Europe. (Like he gave Patton’s war material to Monty, who squandered it, thus allowing Stalin to take Berlin.
Stalin was given East Europe by USA in one of the most despicable acts. I almost agree with Patton, that USSR should have been next – like MacArthur wanted to take China in 1950 – free the world of the scourge of Communism –

Rick Sharona
Rick Sharona
3 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Nonsense. Countries don’t win wars by having the most casualties.

Jake Jackson
Jake Jackson
3 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Yeah, and that was about 19 million more than had to die.

Will Podmore
Will Podmore
3 years ago

Rubbish. Read any good history – The Soviet experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the successor states, Ronald Suny, Oxford UP, 1998 – for the facts. Your nonsense is based on zero research,

Mark Preston
Mark Preston
3 years ago

And next week in Unherd we’ll have an article from Julie Bindel extolling her father who was a big fan of German fascism.

Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Preston

It’s extraordinary that you call *extolling* a piece which repeatedly mentions the tyranny and evil of the Soviet regime!

Last edited 3 years ago by Julie Burchill
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Preston

We need some Belgian writer talking of his lovable father who was entirely obsessed with how wonderful the Colony of the Belgian Congo was. Maybe say how Mobutu was misunderstood, and was really a vegetarian, and not a cannibal at all.

robboschester
robboschester
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

What are you talking about?

J D
J D
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Preston

I’m loathe to sound like yet another commenter gushing over Julie (never been a fan of her misandry) but she doesn’t extol her father’s support for communism, she practically ridicules it. Read the bit about the fall of the Berlin Wall, for example.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
3 years ago
Reply to  J D

Dead right. I rarely agree with Ms Burchill’s views but always enjoy reading them. Always entertaining and well written. Thanks for this one too.