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Behind bars: Moving from red to Brown

13 July 2007

There is a terrific section in Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook about old lefties and Stalin. Written in the ‘50s, it is a relentlessly brilliant novel about feminism, politics and madness. One of the central characters, Anna, is a writer who earns her keep on a communist newspaper. Her readers are a literary bunch. They keep sending her short stories accompanied by neat letters asking if they might be suitable for publication. They tend not to be – but she identifies a deep unspoken angst which is their determining theme.

Story after story is about meeting Stalin: the authors’ fantasy is that while a delegate on a worthy political trip to Moscow they are asked to meet Uncle Joe, who has heard of their visit, and wants to discuss workers’ conditions in somewhere like Hartlepool. Honoured and nervy, the lucky delegate is ushered into a simple room where the great leader, working tirelessly for the good of all, greets them as a brother. They discuss Hartlepool...

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