Wednesday, 2 November 2016


All these mumblings about Russians fiddling with American democracy  had me searching for my winter hat. It's a beret  with  two red and gold enamel  badges - one of Vladimir Lenin and the other of the Soviet hammer and sickle. They were given to me by a  Russian naval officer in France. He had sailed into Cannes on a battleship - the first Russian ship to sail into a French port since Lenin and the Russian Revolution. It was the time of Peristroika. Everyone welcomed the sailors, who were spotty, pale, malnourished and looked twelve. When they came on land they had no money, so the prostitutes gave them free fucks (all the nice girls love a sailor), and shopkeepers gave them food and souvenirs in exchange for their badges and hats. 
 The officer  was the son of an astronaut whose father had been shot as a traitor by the Bolsheviks. He invited me up onto the bridge. As it was the latest addition to the Russian fleet, I was expecting something hi-tech, instead it was kitted out in bakelite and formica like a retro Fifties kitchen. We have something to learn from the Soviet era - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 
With a nip of the Cold War in the air, I happily cycled around in  my beret. While shopping  locally, an elderly man stopped me and  asked, "Where did you get those badges from? Russia?" 
I recounted my story and he told me he had been a fully paid up member of the Communist Party for most of his life and that Lenin had been his hero as a boy. "You don't see many Lenins these days," he said. 
I told him how my father  had flirted with communism on and off throughout his life, and had joined  the Communist Party of Great Britain, shortly after the Depression because it was spearheading the fightback against fascism. The old man eyed me with approval, as if I was a member by proxy, and  invited me for coffee. We had an interesting discussion. Revelations of Stalin's pogroms were testing times and he missed the heady days of working class militancy in the early 1970s. He didn't like all that cosying up to Mao-Tse-Tung and had hung on through the quashing of the Czech and Hungarian uprisings and latter-day dissensions. Being in a  long term relationship with the Communist Party, I thought,  was like being blindly in love with an abusive boyfriend.
I recalled how my father had stayed loyal to  the comrades  until the party  newspaper, the Daily Worker,   suppressed correspondent reports favourable to the Hungarian revolution in 1956. When the paper   was replaced by the Morning Star, my father settled back with Lenin and the newspaper was his bedtime read. How he reconciled reading it alongside such a reactionary rag as the Daily Express, I shall never know. My mother was nervous  of his dalliances with Marxism, and my brother and I were strictly instructed never to tell anyone. 
"We are in a Cold War," she huffed,  mindful of Helen and Leonard Kroger, who in 1961,  had been arrested only a few miles away in Ruislip, for spying for the Soviet Union. KGB spies, their suburban bungalow had been kitted out as a Soviet spy station.  For my mother, the Cold War was getting a bit too close to home. 
"I dont mind Reds under the bed," she said,  "But I dont want one in it.
 My dad switched allegiance to the Labour Party before he died. He felt it could do more for  the British working class than communism.  The Morning Star sank in his firmament and the Daily Mirror rose. 
After coffee,  I popped into the local off-licence. "I love you," cried the man behind the counter, opening his arms to me. Surely he was mistaking me for someone else? 
 "Come here darling," he said dragging me over the counter to give me a bear hug.
 "My sister," he said with a huge grin.
 He was Turkish and thought that what his country needed was a good dose of the hammer and sickle to put it on the straight and narrow. In any case it was heading for a fate worse than death, he said. We put the world to rights and I cycled off.
Several days later I treated myself to a cute black dress. A young woman wrapped it with approval, glancing several times at the communist revolutionary on my head. 
"I used to wear a hat like that to school," she said. 
"With a badge of Lenin?" I half-joked. 
"Yes," she said. "I'm Latvian. My birth certificate says I was born in the USSR, which it was at the time."
She laughed when I asked if she had been a communist.
"We all were under the Russians." 
I asked her if she liked Lenin.
"He's been dead a  long time," was all she would say.   
Unlike my mother, she seemed to like Russia. "All the reports on the Ukraine here, are not what I see on my media. It's a lot of lies here. The Russians wouldn't do bad things. The Latvians are their people. " 
I could feel another Ukraine coming on. I don't suppose she was around in 1944 when the Red Army marched into Latvia and repressed all opposition to sovietisation and deported hundreds of Latvians. She asked if I had been to Russia. I shook my head as my dress disappeared into a bag. 
"You should go. It's very beautiful," she said. 
"I will" i said, "but I'm bringng Lenin."

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