Those tears remained unshed. Many intellectuals left the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1956, in protest at the suppression of the Hungarian uprising. Hobsbawm knew how bad things looked. He wrote a letter at this time in which he said of the CPGB's line: "We tell [the public] that we do not give the USSR ‘uncritical support', but when they ask us where we disagree with its policy all we can point to is Nina Ponomareva's hats."
Ponomareva was the Soviet discus thrower who was arrested for allegedly stealing five hats from C & A in Oxford Street in 1956. The Soviet athletics team withdrew in protest from a meeting at White City: a decision the Daily Worker, organ of the CPGB, had the temerity to describe as "regrettable".
Why the atrocious double standard? Why are most people so much more tolerant of support for Stalin than they would be of support for Hitler? I do not except myself from this stricture. Somehow Auschwitz strikes me as worse than the Russian camps, whose names are in any case not as familiar to me. Is it that we judge the Germans by a higher standard than the Russians — that we expect the former to be correct, albeit humourless, while incorrectness comes as no surprise in Russia? Martin Amis observes in his book about Stalin, Koba the Dread, that "it has always been possible to joke about the Soviet Union, just as it has never been possible to joke about Nazi Germany". Amis reminds us of some of the most horrifying evidence amassed by Conquest about Stalin's crimes, yet still black comedy keeps breaking through.
Perhaps we attribute higher and therefore more admirable ideals to the Communists than we do to the Nazis. In his essay "Why Lucky Jim Turned Right", Kingsley Amis, who joined the Communist Party in 1941 and left it in 1956 because of Hungary, wrote: "The ideal of the brotherhood of man, the building of the Just City, is one that cannot be discarded without lifelong feelings of disappointment and loss."
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