interesting thread

interesting thread

Joined: May 13th, 2005, 7:50 am

February 8th, 2009, 6:26 am #1

Discussion on the BBC webpage: "Has capitalism been good for Eastern Europe?"

http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread. ... 0208062346
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Kim Philby
Kim Philby

February 13th, 2009, 4:50 pm #2

I couldn't get beyond the first page so maybe I missed it! But it made me think of the good old days of the "friendship societies" and the partisan attitude of those in them over which socialist country was the best. It was usually whichever country comrades had been to and the USSR was always top of the list. Not surprisingly as the BSFS was bigger than all the others put together with thousands of members and even more readers for Soviet Weekly.

The most vociferous in London was what I used to think of as the GDR fan-club -- I think partly a conscious political act because until the mid-1960s the GDR was barely recognised outside the socialist world with die-hard Cold War warriors still refering to it as the "Soviet Zone" when I was at school and also because the GDR leadership often claimed that they had the highest standard of living in eastern Europe. I can't say I noticed that myself as far as the capitals were concerned (with the obvious exceptions of Belgrade and Tirana) and I went to all of the Eastern European people's democracies in the 70s.

The only society I was in apart from the almost mandatory BSFS was the old Society for Friendship with Bulgaria which I joined when I was 16 (long before I joined the Party) after going to a social and being asked by Duke Grandjean (remember him?) to take out a card.

All the people's democracies published magazines inspired by the "Soviet Union" monthly which you could get free from the embassies and their English-language radio stations. They were also readily available from Collet's in Charing Cross Road or by subscription via Central Books.

The only exceptions were the CSSR and Poland. Poland didn't seem to have an active society in Britain (or at least I never knew of one in the 1970s) though there were a number of publications aimed at the overseas Polish community which I saw when I visited Warsaw Radio in the mid-70s. I was told that the Czechs used to support but it folded when the CPGB broke off relations with the Czechoslovak Party after the Sov intervention in 1968.

Someone should write a paper on the "friendship society" phenomena to add to the minutae of British post-war communist life. Sadly I am not qualified to do it myself. Any takers?

pip,pip,

H A R Philby
(Col.ret'd)

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Ordinary Proletarian
Ordinary Proletarian

February 13th, 2009, 11:12 pm #3

pro Chinese,pro Albanian,pro DPRK and pro Cuban friendship
societies.Philby only mentions the ones with the revisionist countries.
I believe there used to be a British Romanian Friendship Association
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Kim Philby
Kim Philby

February 13th, 2009, 11:29 pm #4

Old Prole misses the point. I wasn't attempting to list or comment all the societies but only commenting generally on whole "friendship" ethos in the CPGB in the late 60s and 70s.

In fact I went to some of the events of the Romanian and Albanian societies at the time. The Romanian one was supported by the London embassy and my impression was that it was, like the others, mainly supported by comrades who had been to Romania for holidays or did business with them. The Albanian society (and I think there were two rival ones at one time) was more overtly political (the meetings I went to were about Enver Hoxha) and there was, of course, no Albanian embassy in Britain at that time.

There were a number of Chinese friendship and academic societies including one I subscribed to and the Cuban one had an unusual name -- something like British-Cuba Resource Centre -- which held regular meetings in London with the support of the Cuban embassy (that too was more overtly political than the Sov bloc societies and more so than the current Cuba Solidarity Campaign).

pip, pip,

H A R Philby
(Col.ret'd)
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Joined: May 13th, 2005, 7:50 am

February 14th, 2009, 9:14 am #5

pro Chinese,pro Albanian,pro DPRK and pro Cuban friendship
societies.Philby only mentions the ones with the revisionist countries.
I believe there used to be a British Romanian Friendship Association
So Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria etc etc were revisionist countries in the 1970s?? At that time those who called themselves anti-revisionists in the CPGB held these countries and their pro-Soviet stance up as the epitomes of anti-revisionism! And, moreover, condemned the Chinese and Albanians for abandoning Leninism. And who today are the anti-revisionists? The North Koreans who put the army ahead of the working class? (Can't seem to find that in Marx or Lenin - and certainly not in Stalin.) The Chinese, who have a stock exchange, millionaires, a cosy relationship with the US (not to mentioning propping up the US dollar)? If OP lives so long, doubtless in 20 or 30 years we'll learn that today's anti-revisionists were really revisionists. Ho ho.
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Jack Askins
Jack Askins

February 14th, 2009, 9:23 am #6

I couldn't get beyond the first page so maybe I missed it! But it made me think of the good old days of the "friendship societies" and the partisan attitude of those in them over which socialist country was the best. It was usually whichever country comrades had been to and the USSR was always top of the list. Not surprisingly as the BSFS was bigger than all the others put together with thousands of members and even more readers for Soviet Weekly.

The most vociferous in London was what I used to think of as the GDR fan-club -- I think partly a conscious political act because until the mid-1960s the GDR was barely recognised outside the socialist world with die-hard Cold War warriors still refering to it as the "Soviet Zone" when I was at school and also because the GDR leadership often claimed that they had the highest standard of living in eastern Europe. I can't say I noticed that myself as far as the capitals were concerned (with the obvious exceptions of Belgrade and Tirana) and I went to all of the Eastern European people's democracies in the 70s.

The only society I was in apart from the almost mandatory BSFS was the old Society for Friendship with Bulgaria which I joined when I was 16 (long before I joined the Party) after going to a social and being asked by Duke Grandjean (remember him?) to take out a card.

All the people's democracies published magazines inspired by the "Soviet Union" monthly which you could get free from the embassies and their English-language radio stations. They were also readily available from Collet's in Charing Cross Road or by subscription via Central Books.

The only exceptions were the CSSR and Poland. Poland didn't seem to have an active society in Britain (or at least I never knew of one in the 1970s) though there were a number of publications aimed at the overseas Polish community which I saw when I visited Warsaw Radio in the mid-70s. I was told that the Czechs used to support but it folded when the CPGB broke off relations with the Czechoslovak Party after the Sov intervention in 1968.

Someone should write a paper on the "friendship society" phenomena to add to the minutae of British post-war communist life. Sadly I am not qualified to do it myself. Any takers?

pip,pip,

H A R Philby
(Col.ret'd)
I think you are being a little modest Kim. Why don't you have a try?
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NM
NM

February 16th, 2009, 11:58 pm #7

I couldn't get beyond the first page so maybe I missed it! But it made me think of the good old days of the "friendship societies" and the partisan attitude of those in them over which socialist country was the best. It was usually whichever country comrades had been to and the USSR was always top of the list. Not surprisingly as the BSFS was bigger than all the others put together with thousands of members and even more readers for Soviet Weekly.

The most vociferous in London was what I used to think of as the GDR fan-club -- I think partly a conscious political act because until the mid-1960s the GDR was barely recognised outside the socialist world with die-hard Cold War warriors still refering to it as the "Soviet Zone" when I was at school and also because the GDR leadership often claimed that they had the highest standard of living in eastern Europe. I can't say I noticed that myself as far as the capitals were concerned (with the obvious exceptions of Belgrade and Tirana) and I went to all of the Eastern European people's democracies in the 70s.

The only society I was in apart from the almost mandatory BSFS was the old Society for Friendship with Bulgaria which I joined when I was 16 (long before I joined the Party) after going to a social and being asked by Duke Grandjean (remember him?) to take out a card.

All the people's democracies published magazines inspired by the "Soviet Union" monthly which you could get free from the embassies and their English-language radio stations. They were also readily available from Collet's in Charing Cross Road or by subscription via Central Books.

The only exceptions were the CSSR and Poland. Poland didn't seem to have an active society in Britain (or at least I never knew of one in the 1970s) though there were a number of publications aimed at the overseas Polish community which I saw when I visited Warsaw Radio in the mid-70s. I was told that the Czechs used to support but it folded when the CPGB broke off relations with the Czechoslovak Party after the Sov intervention in 1968.

Someone should write a paper on the "friendship society" phenomena to add to the minutae of British post-war communist life. Sadly I am not qualified to do it myself. Any takers?

pip,pip,

H A R Philby
(Col.ret'd)
The thing about all the friendship societies is that they were actually about friendship with the governments of those countries whilst purporting to be about friendship with the people. There were two main reasons why there was no Polish equivalent to the BSFS etc. Firstly, the Polish authorities were under no illusions about their level of popular support and legitimacy - the sleight of hand in conflating government and people just wasn't going to work in relation to Poland. It was not so easy to assemble tame delegations of Poles who would dutifully parrot the official line. Secondly, Poland had a considerably more relaxed foreign travel policy than many other East European countries. It was quite possible to meet real live Polish citizens in Britain, visiting family, even working and so on. This meant that the "cultural exchange" side of the friendship societies' activities would have been largely superfluous in relation to Poland and Poles.
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Kim Philby
Kim Philby

February 17th, 2009, 12:34 am #8

NM's quite right about the more relaxed attitude towards contacts and overseas travel by the government of People's Poland though I'm not sure that was the reason why King Street didn't bother to keep a Polish friendship society going.

People's Poland classified Poles as "citizens" or "nationals". "Citizens" were those who held PR Poland passports -- "nationals" were overseas Poles who had opted to live or stay abroad after 1945 but had been born in Poland or were descendants of those who had. They had the right to visit Poland and claim citizenship if they so wished. Likewise Polish citizens were allowed to travel abroad to visit relatives though they could only obtain hard currency from what was officially called the "free market" but was dubbed the "black market" by the bourgeois media.

Some Poles from Britain and America returned to retire in Poland to live on their hard-currency pensions that were worth three-times their value in their own countries. Others, like one young Pole I met from Chicago, came for marraige (arranged between parents and relatives on both sides of the Atlantic).

As you may know, Poland had three exchange rates for the zloty -- the "official" rate which was artificially high and was only used for barter trade and compulsory exchange if you entered Poland as a private visitor and did not stay at a state-owned hotel. (In my day you had to exchange $15 a day at the bank unless you had the hotel residency exemption stamped on your visa). The second rate was the "business" rate which was used for trade with Western companies and contractors and the third was the "free rate" which you got on the street from the unofficial money-changers or from your "relatives" -- which in my case was usually the Polish guide or the local waiters ring saving up to buy cars (even those Polski Fiats) or imported Western luxury goods at the hard-currency stores which were not aimed at the general tourist. At these stores you would be given "Polish dollars" in change (like the north Korean "blue" money or the Chinese "hard" dollar which went in 1992). Unlike the "black market" in the Soviet Union the Polish "free market" was legal. I was told that even the banks sometimes sent runners onto the street to get dollars when they were short.

Of course the "free market" was like the "black market" that operated in London in the immediate post-war period in so far as small traders (or spivs if you like) would be on the look-out for trade from any visitor. One of them told me that he would buy vodka and watches from the Russians and hard-currency, pocket calculators, bike and "porno" mags from Western visitors which he paid for with wads of zlotys which you needed to spend in the bars and restaurants (they never directly took sterling or dollars) or for just getting around the country.

I went to Poland several times in the 70s during the Gierek boom and saw what was clearly a "mixed" economy though heavily tilted towards the state and co-op sector apart from agriculture. Farmers were doing well and so were industrial workers but the middle strata lost out. I personally met doctors who moaned that they earned less than miners (because their wages were fixed by the state). Poland was certainly different from the norm in eastern Europe and I think this is why at least one senior Party member told me that "visiting Poland was only suitable for "experienced" comrades".

pip,pip,

H A R Philby
(Col.ret'd)




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DN Pritt
DN Pritt

February 25th, 2009, 12:43 pm #9

'experience comrades' I love that ...ha

I notice that the shipyard workers at Gydinia who were amongst the most militant in attempting to overthrow the socialist system have developed a new tactic when faced by closure due to the capitalist slump, praying the rosary....a far cry from the militant occupations they seemed so fond of when it was against the socialist system they were pitting themselves....Good luck with that lads.. ha bloody ha as they say don't always wish for something you want...you may actually get it.

http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/1233851527.94/

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DN Pritt
DN Pritt

February 25th, 2009, 12:44 pm #10

Workers at Poland's Gdynia shipyard -- deep in debt and earmarked for privatisation -- are literally praying for divine intervention to save their jobs.

"We're praying for a miracle -- it seems only that could save us now," Marek Lewandowski, spokesman for the Solidarity trade union at the Gdynia yard, said Thursday.

"We fear the financial crisis will make it impossible to find an investor who can get the kind of credit required to buy us out," he told AFP by telephone.

"The situation is essentially hopeless and this is why we're encouraging workers to pray the rosary."
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