For about a decade between the mid-1930s and 40s the early Labour party in the United Kingdom was heavily influenced by a little publisher called the “Left Book Club”. This membership ‘club’, which reached about 60,000 at its peak, published a monthly book on issues that concerned Britain’s socialists, for sale only to members; as well as a newsletter which became one of the main voices of the early Labour party. This effort was funded and supported by Victor Gollancz; although there were allegations of Soviet support for the magazine and book club.
I found this particular book, “Underground Europe Calling” – written by Oscar Pollak (who sometimes went by Oscar Paul), an Austrian refugee to the UK – while reading an article on the use of subterranean imagery in the building of mystique surrounding persecuted groups. The book is a treatise on the inevitability of European socialist revolution. Like all good socialists, Pollak differentiates his views from those advanced by Stalin – although he does suffer the same delusions as most socialists in espousing the narrative that the problem was the man, not the system. Pollak’s assertion was that Europe was ripe for revolution, that this revolution required no demonization of the Germans along national/ethnic lines because European revolution had to be led also from within Germany as the greatest example of anti-fascism and the greatest industrial nation in Europe (a lot of ‘workers’, who are needed for a good revolution), and the need of all Europeans to come to terms with the certainty of a European ‘international’ socialism which would emerge naturally from the ruins of the Third Reich (EU, anybody?).
This book was in one way un-remarkable in that Pollak fell into every trap laid out by those who would use central planning to seize power. For example, the false idea that socialism is more democratic, the utopian vision that economies can be planned, the demonization of capitalism as ‘greedy’, the irrational fear of nationalism – as if who we are comes only from our ideas and status and solidarity and not the valley’s and hillocks where we rest our ideas of home. The belief that Stalin was an aberration of socialism, not its most emblematic archetype. Etc. It was however enlightening reading all this from the perspective of 70 years in between, complete with the entire rise and fall of global communism and a cold war. I wonder what Pollak would have said about today’s European Union; I think he would be pleased, appeals to the regulated nanny-state in condescending supervision of we the unpredictable brutes were present all through the book. And it did help me understand the currents that caused the EU to be; and the ‘left’s’ apoplectic response to #Brexit. They, as well as Pollak, would say the EU did not go far enough.
Lastly, it is noteworthy that as of 2015 the Left Book Club has been reborn; featuring works by authors such as – wait for it – Hugo Chavez lover ‘Red Ken’. Which answers my question ‘what would Pollak have said about the mess the communists made, and continue to make, of our world?’ He would have said ‘they didn’t do it right’. Sigh.
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