New user? Register here:
Email Address:
Password:
Retype Password:
First Name:
Last Name:
Existing user? Login here:
 
 
News >

Time to reconsider

REWRITING HISTORY is usually thought of as the prerogative of the victors, of those who have risen to the top, and stayed there.

Last week’s TV gave us a remarkable chance to view recent history through the eyes of the losers. In the first instance, Big Ideas That Changed The World — Communism (Channel 5, Tuesday), we saw a fall from power; for the Russian legacy of Karl Marx was analysed by no less a player in the drama than Mikhail Gorbachev.

It was significant how much of this story was told in religious terms: it was his personal testimony, his personal account of how his own faith in the creed had been gradually destroyed by his realisation of the ruthless corruption of Stalin and his successors.

Mr Gorbachev then told us how his childish and blind belief was modified by contact with the West; how he tried to lead the Communist block into reform and freedom with perestroika and free elections; and about his refusal to send in tanks from Russia to prop up its ailing puppet states in the face of popular agitation.

He survived a coup by the hardline old guard, only to be rejected by the people because he still clung to a reformed version of Communism. For the past ten years, he has watched his country descend into economic chaos, as capitalism demonstrates it own ability to corrupt and to crush.

This was, of course, a highly partial account, no doubt skating over anything too awkward — it was extrordinarily moving to see once more the astonishing speed with which Communism collapsed, all the more powerful by being recounted by the ex-president.

Maoist Communism was even more decisively condemned in the clunkingly titled Jung Chang Turns On Mao (Channel 4, Saturday). The author of Wild Swans spoke of a similar loss of faith, of how her childhood fascination for Mao has turned into contempt. The programme, as plodding and uninspired as its title, was prompted by her new book on the Great Helmsman, which some think will force a total rethink of modern Chinese history.

Surprisingly, her research uncovered eyewitnesses and documents that prove that many of the carefully nurtured stories about Mao are simply propaganda lies. He didn’t lead the Long March: he was carried in a litter that he designed personally to make it more comfortable. Key battles never took place. Once in power, he quite consciously allowed millions of peasants to starve to death while massive exports of food paid for spectacular armaments.

The Cultural Revolution, with its humiliations and executions, was his revenge on former comrades who dared to question his policies. Jung Chang painted a picture of a despicable, power-hungry tyrant, responsible for even more misery and death than Hitler and Stalin.

Both programmes raised the question why sacrificial and idealistic masses can so easily be manipulated and perverted by ruthless monsters. Perhaps, though, the very making of these two programmes suggests that, in the end, after all the suffering and carnage, it is humane values that will prevail. But I wonder when they’ll be broadcast on Russian and Chinese TV.

Job of the week

Principal

West Midlands

PRINCIPAL ST ALBAN'S ACADEMY Lead an outstanding high-profile school in Birmingham St Alban's Academy serves the Highgate area of Birmingham. It is part of the ARK Schools group, a network of ...  Read More

Signup for job alerts
Top feature

It’s not all religion’s fault

It’s not all religion’s fault

In her new book, Karen Armstrong argues that violence comes from a deep-seated 'warrior ethos' rather than from religion. She talks to Cole Moreton  Subscribe to read more

Question of the week
Should the seal of the confessional be absolute?

To prevent multiple voting, we now ask readers to be logged in. This is free, quick and easy, honestly. Click here to login or register

Top comment

Clergy are ‘more like Old Labour than New’

A survey commissioned to support debates on the future of the C of E yields some interesting results, says Linda Woodhead  Read More

Fri 31 Oct 14 @ 15:11
Canon Alan Billings, Labour Party candidate, elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. http://t.co/iydy5Z0tDj

Fri 31 Oct 14 @ 14:53
'Positive action' is being taken to create a pool of women ready to be considered for the episcopate http://t.co/mDg7mlOLfo