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Preaching to the unconverted

  July 2004

Preaching to the unconverted  


Extracts from a long-running argumentative joust between two septuagenarian friends who enjoy goading one another about the state of things generally. David was a communist in his youth but is now right over to the Right. Harry is a lifelong supporter of causes like old Labour, CND and Friends of the Earth.

Dear David,


Re recent events, I have had a fairly negative opinion of human nature for some years and sometimes think that our friend Alf is right preferring dogs. Ironically, it seems that people were OK during and directly after the second WW; co-operative and considerate. Is this just imagination? While we had the Germans to hate we didn't have the capacity to hate each other?

I am also rather depressed by the apparent inability of the younger generation to think about serious issues like the future of the planet. Of course there are exceptions but most young workers today seem obsessed with getting richer. Tony Blair is so much an animal of our time. Never trust a man who ceaselessly grins. Such a lot of teeth.

Yours, Harry

Dear Harry,

Well, for a leftie, you seem extraordinarily misanthropic. For my part, I am rather depressed about our Evening With Tony Benn last night. Until then, I had admired him as a brilliant parliamentarian and debater, even if I seldom agreed with him. My better half, who does not share my politics, was equally disappointed, and disillusioned. We certainly did not expect the baloney we got. To compensate, I bought a copy of his diaries and a video of his best speeches. But last night the man couldn’t even bring himself to mention socialism in a whole hour’s exposition of his political credo, and then completely waffled away from my question as to what socialism was and where it had ever worked.

Bestest, David

Dear David,

You seem to have judged Benn entirely on his failure to answer your question. Perhaps he thought the answer so obvious that it was not worth repeating. Why did you go and listen to him when you had decided in advance that everything he said would be rubbish suitable for the music hall?

With comradely greetings, Harry

Dear Harry,

Your closed mind misleads you into assuming that mine is closed too. In fact, I went because I expected eloquence and cogency; instead I got waffle: Benn’s profound answer to my question was that socialism is a journey, not a destination. If the answer to my question is so obvious to you, what is it?

Salutations, David

Dear David,

There are very good examples of the success of socialism. The reason you have not noticed is that information is invariably manipulated by the fat cats who run the media. With regard to your constantly repeated remarks about socialism always failing economically, I would point out the clearly remarkable economic growth of China. In the Observer, Jonathan Fenby, former editor of the South China Morning Post, writes: “ China is growing with bewildering speed and is on the way to becoming an economic superpower... nowhere on earth is changing so fast and on such a scale.... China's gleaming airports put Heathrow to shame...Car production is rising by millions of vehicles a year. There are about 300 million mobile phone users. Shopping malls are crammed with designer clothes.... Despite a dip last spring because of the Sars epidemic, China's economic growth should still hit the 7 per cent target for the year, with industrial production up by 16 per cent in the first six months..and even higher in the special economic development zones... The Three Gorges dam, with its enormous hydro-electric potential, has gone into operation, and there are plans for a mammoth waterway across the country to check the recurrent pattern of droughts and floods... It is breakneck momentum of socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

Best regards, Harry

Dear Harry,

I thought information is invariably manipulated by media fat cats? Yet the whole of your last letter relies on it. Anyway, thank you for Fenby’s interesting piece, but your comment that it shows socialism does not fail economically is bizarre because, in his very first paragraph, Fenby says “market economics (my emphasis) and rampant consumerism (my emphasis) meet the remnants (my emphasis) of Maoism” - this is socialism? He also says: “It is not clear if even the leadership in its heavily guarded Beijing compound knows exactly what is going on” .  Is a heavily guarded leadership a hallmark of the kind of socialism that you think is so wonderful? - a system like that which produced the shameless massacre of young people in Tiannamen Square? Fenby says China “remains stunted under the authoritarian hand of a Communist party for which the retention of power has become an end in itself”. What is so wonderful about that? Fenby refers to China’s “tycoon class” - how can that be socialism? Fenby says “income inequalities are enormous” - what kind of socialism is that? “There are periodic demonstrations by workers who have not been paid”, says Fenby: that is socialism? Harry - you have lost the plot completely.

Salaams, David

Dear David

Are you saying that China is a fine example of free market capitalism?  You must be off your trolley. You are amazingly prejudiced once you get a crackpot idea in your nut. I see no reason why a socialist system should not produce financially successful individuals. I am not talking about China being wonderful in every way, only showing that yet again you are wrong in saying socialism is always failing economically. The economic growth of China is clearly remarkable. I am glad you are going off to France on holiday. Perhaps it will concentrate your poor old brainbox a bit.

Cheers, Harry

Dear Harry

Yes, China’s economic progress has been remarkable - thanks, as Fenby says in his very first paragraph, to market economics and rampant consumerism. You think that's socialism? You extol the wonders of China’s economic miracle as if non-socialist Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea had never existed and despite the huge economic advance of India in the ten years since it abandoned socialism. Are China's millionaires, to whom Fenby refers, a demonstration of “from each according to his ability, to each according to their needs”, the classic definition of socialism (as distinct from T. Benn’s drivel)? Come off it! It is right always to kick against the pricks. Hence this missive.

Yours biblically, David



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