Dispatches from the GBSSR

“I know all about you…”: Noel’s New Year Presents

Before the period of Glasnost in the wake of General Secretary Benn’s death, there was a playground expression that spread from school to school, town to town. Parents and teachers tried to stop it, but as with all rumours they must burn themselves out like wildfires. If a child wanted to intimidate someone, they simply whispered the phrase, “I know all about you.” Some believed it referred to the KGB and the cultural revolution. In actual fact, it referred to something far more terrifying: Noel Edmonds’ New Year Presents.

During the British Revolution a number of cultural figures were allowed to carry on working, so long as they did not act in a manner that could unsettle the delicate transformation process being undertaken by the government. While some figures accepted early retirement or emigrated during the period of grace following the revolution when free travel was permitted, others were able to find a new place for their talents. One such man was Noel Edmonds, a successful broadcaster who was garnering a reputation for himself as cool under pressure and able to organise amazing technological feats. Many will recall the first live broadcast from an Ilyushin 62 Britair plane in 1985, when dignitaries such as Feargal Sharkey, Juri Antonov, and Wee Jimmie Krankie greeted the USSR from the sky on Christmas morning. Edmonds co-ordinated this from the GPO Tower in London, and his congenial manner instantly gained him a following.

It was around this time that interest in the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) across Siberia was piqued in the GBSSR. General Secretary Benn had promised restructuring and nationalisation, ensuring that unemployment would be abolished by 1990. However, the students of the GBSSR began to agitate against the goverment. They found an unlikely ally in the form of the Church of England, whose churches became the only uncontrolled space in the GBSSR, yet the government felt an action of solidarity with a major project might be the solution. Students were offered the chance to spend a year working on the BAM project as a condition of their tuition. In fact, they were offered a deal: if they agreed to eighteen months on BAM, the mandatory three years’ teaching service would be waived.

Welcome party for GBSSR students arriving at the BAM construction site

The sense of adventure and a desire not to end up in a school in Essex saw thousands of students sign up. When they arrived at BAM, they realised that the government had offered them a space in which they could read, write, and study freely, albeit in the extreme temperatures of Siberia and many thousands of miles away from the mainland GBSSR. Many, many, never returned. Instead, they married locals and settled along the line, gaining them the new nickname “Voluntary Decembrists”, after the 1825 exiles.

A few years later, the popularity of Noel Edmonds had led to him receiving his own primetime show on state television on New Years Eve, just before the usual musical performances and rerun of Irony of Fate. The GBSSR had decided to develop a show that rewarded families and individuals who had suffered during that year as a consequence of illness or an ailment dating back to the pre-revolutionary days. The original candidate, a former DJ on Radio 1 and popular presenter, had drowned off the coast of Scarborough in a rumoured cover-up of scandal. Yet Noel was an instant hit.

“You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry…”

One of the most frequent treats for the families was a reunion, offering the chance to be reunited with family members living in Siberia or in other areas of the USSR. By the late 1990s, these shows were a tradition and families would write long letters to LonFilm to ask to be reunited with their relatives. In 1999, Edmonds produced a special “Reunion” series in which BAM workers were brought back to the GBSSR to see their families and introduce their children and spouses. Normally the unwitting beneficiary of the State’s benevolence would be hard at work laying track when a man in an ill-fitting coat would appear with a camera crew. He would then pull out a microphone and say,

“Hello, is that Mark? Mark Johnson? Yes it is. I know all about you. About Tanya, and your boys Sasha and Misha. And your parents back in Crewe. They miss you!”

Some stayed in the GBSSR. When they arrived, often the participants would have sallow cheeks, or would have bruises from where they had fallen on the journey. They would more often than not talk of how successful BAM was, and why this was the actual reason they had settled in Siberia, before being given the chance to have their right to live in the GBSSR reinstated. In some cases, they returned to their new homeland.

Yet that phrase, “I know all about you” began to mean more than just the research that Noel Edmonds had undertaken. It became a sinister term that made a whole system of preventitive custody, designed to ensure the success of the revolution, seem somehow unjustified. When children began to sing it as a playground chant, the government knew they had to intervene. Edmonds was seconded to a film unit in the Georgian SSR, where he began to return to his broadcasting roots: a series about encouraging citizens to share and communicate with each other in order to swap goods they might need. Red-coloured Swap Concern is still compulsive Saturday morning viewing in all other republics other than the GBSSR, where a similar show featuring People’s Artist of Britain Keith Chegwin is broadcast.

Edmonds’ reputation was all but tarnished by the way his words spread through the playgrounds, and began to influence public opinion and convince people that the “third way” that Benn had touted initially was all but a pipe dream. The writers’ colonies on the Isle of Skye and Alderney were not enough for many intellectuals, and the State Union of Writers President Carol Ann Duffy tried in vain to prevent writers from leaving for BAM, citing that their works would never be printed in the Manchester Guardian ever again. In these years, there was an exodus of young writers and artists for Siberia.

It has only been in the last couple of years that a number of GBSSR scandals  have been explained, including the lost honour of Noel Edmonds. In fact, there have been rumours of Edmonds returning to the GBSSR at a later date, convincing enough to make a number of people in London and Moscow nervous. Current Minister for Cultural Affairs and former revolutionary Russell Brand famously stated that a comedian would make a poor politician, though his own background makes this a poor excuse. Perhaps, one day, there might be a General Secretary Edmonds?

UPDATE: The last two lines of the above text was redacted after a polite legal request from the Ministry for Cultural Affairs. I would like to apologise to readers of these dispaches and confirm that life here is – to use the Minister’s own phrase – “fan-tacky-wastic”.

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Sparrowhawk and the Scottish Autonomous Oblast

In 1997, film fans of the USSR gathered in Moscow for the premiere of a film from the GBSSR. Lining the streets were Georgians, Armenians, Ukrainians, Welsh, Uzbeks, all manner of nationalities represented within the USSR, an apt tribute to a film produced to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of another classic. People’s Artist of Britain Ken Loach had approached Moscow some years ago about the possibility of a remake of Mimino, the story of a young Georgian helicopter pilot who wanted the chance to fly with Aeroflot. Only this time, Mimino would be “Sparrowhawk”, and he would come from the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland.

“Mimino” (1977) was a major critical and commercial success in the USSR

With Ewan McGregor in the title role it was guaranteed to be another blockbuster hit for LonFilm, the production company based in Elstree, Hertfordshire. Audiences across the Soviet Union delighted as the young man travelled to Moscow to seek his fortune at Aeroflot head office, and befriends a friendly Welshman on the way, played by Rob Brydon, who becomes his comic foil. Of course there is a happy ending, as the pilot realises after a short time flying Tupolevs that there is no place like home and therefore returns to his small Shetland community. The film was praised in Pravda and The Manchester Guardian as a triumph of Socialist Realism, a comedy of manners, and a wonderful reflection of how far the Scottish Autonomous Oblast had come since its inception.

For this was a double celebration: the Scottish Autonomous Oblast had been founded ten years earlier, offering unprecedented powers of self determination to an oblast of a Republic. However, given the huge contribution that the Scottish people had made to the cause of revolution, as well as their brutal suppression by the pre-revolutionary imperialist government in Westminster, it was agreed that autonomy was the least the USSR could bestow on the people of that noble country.

As far back as 1918 and the first blossomings of revolution in Europe there were attempts by dockworkers in Glasgow to gain power from the capitalist oppressors with the “Red Clydeside” era of attempted revolution. The brutal suppression of strikers in 1919 campaigning for a 40 hour working week was an indication of the cowardliness of the imperialist government, by then in its lingering death throes. Scotland was a land culturally and politically ahead of its time, and by the early 1980s it had suffered enough. The Scottish Nationalist Party and the Scottish Labour Party peacefully merged with the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1983 to form the Scottish Unity Party, committed to a fair and social Scotland. Scottish revolutionaries led the way just as they had done in the 1920s, and men such as John Smith and Gordon Brown became household names throughout the entire United Kingdom (sic).

The Red Flag was raised in 1919 on George Square

After Tony Benn became General Secretary of the Party, there was some consultation with Moscow regarding the precise future relationship of the Scottish region to the new Soviet Socialist Republic. Would it not have been fair to create a Scottish Republic, given the hundreds of years of brutal suppression by the imperialist English? There are a number of reasons given as to why this didn’t happen. One theory is that it would have created a precedent for separation in other SSRs, particularly in the ethnically diverse Caucasus region. Another has it that General Secretary Benn pleaded with the Scottish revolutionaries not to ‘forsake’ the English, given how docile they had previously been in the face of imperialist power. Intense negotiations followed and in 1986 the Gleneagles Agreement established what we now call the Scottish Autonomous Oblast, based on the precedent laid down decades before by the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the RSFSR. Although the Oblast officially came into being in 1987, its final borders were only confirmed in 1992 after intense discussions surrounding the exact position of the town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Technically still a part of the GBSSR, the region exercised greater autonomy in areas such as education and social welfare.

The first leader of the Oblast was Gordon McLennan. He had previously been General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, though he resigned this position after the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party officially merged with the CPGB and Tony Benn headed the new organisation. He remains a popular figure to this day, even if some say he was not able to deal with the numerous fractions within the Scottish Unity Party. His successor Alex Salmond, who took over from McLennan in 2004, has continued to fight for the region’s continued autonomy, though his insistence on a timetable for finding a new home for the ageing Trident nuclear deterrent has strained Edinburgh-Moscow relations as of late.

Today, Scotland prospers with the investment and funding that the region has long deserved, particularly in the wake of the discovery of North Sea Oil in the early 1980s. While some parts of the country are no longer open to the public – Aberdeen and Oban are officially off limits to foreigners and citizens without express permission to enter – most agree that membership of the USSR has been a positive step. Official figures put employment at 100% and queues for goods are lower than in most regions of the mainland USSR due to the Clyde shipping industry. Since the advent of German Chancellor Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg’s Annäherungspolitik plan in 2007, Scotland has become one of many beneficiaries of the limited trade of consumer goods with non-Socialist European countries such as France and Germany, and in Glasgow some restaurants are even open after 9pm.

In 2013 the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Scottish Autonomous Oblast was celebrated with gusto by the entire country, and celebrations were concluded with the opening of Salmondogorsk on the outskirts of Paisley, where it is hoped some of the USSR’s finest shipping experts will come to help develop the freight and shipping technology of tomorrow. There were complaints from the rest of the GBSSR that Scotland was receiving far too much funding and focus, while the economically troubled South East of England received little support, though this was rightly dismissed by current General Secretary Tony Blair as “sour grapes, pure and simple.”

The festivities concluded with the reading of a poem by the longtime advocate of Scottish Independence, Hugh MacDiarmid, which many felt captured the mood of affluence, progress and optimism felt by those in the Scottish Autonomous Oblast. A few fascist critics in the Far West pointed out that it would be hard to find anything gleaming and glowing in the GBSSR, let alone “countesses’ coque feathers”, though perhaps it is best to judge the poem on its own terms:

 

Cattle Market

I shall go among red faces and virile voices,
See stylish sheep, with fine heads and well-wooled,
And great bulls mellow to the touch,
Brood mares of marvellous approach, and geldings
With sharp and flinty bones and silken hair.
 
And through th’ enclosure draped in red and gold
I shall pass on to spheres more vivid yet
Where countesses’ coque feathers gleam and glow
And, swathed in silks, the painted ladies are
Whose laughter plays like summer lightning there.

Social Housing, social living: 30 years of the Derek Hatton Estate

A few years ago, the Guardian ran a piece celebrating the 5,000th flat to be distributed on the Derek Hatton Estate, situated about 10 miles from Liverpool city centre. These pieces run quite regularly in the Guardian, though normally they are tucked away in the middle of the paper with the committee meeting declarations and production targets. Thirty years since the first stone was laid, the place is still going strong and has become a symbol of the prosperity that accession to the USSR has brought us as a nation.

The estate’s history actually predates our country’s conversion to socialism, and originates from the late-imperial regime under the Conservative party. As anyone who watches Boys from the Black Stuff every Christmas will know, Liverpool was badly affected by imperialist cuts. Some areas of Merseyside reported peaks of eighty percent unemployment in some areas. Something had to be done, and one of the Conservative party’s most radical politicians, Michael Heseltine, came to Liverpool and promised to do all he could to help the city. He gave them a garden festival, before laying the foundations for a large, modern estate to be built on the outskirts.

“Thank You Michael Heseltine for my glorious childhood!” (Original caption in the Manchester Guardian)

When the UK was dissolved and joined the Warsaw Pact, Heseltine was one of the few politicians of the old regime to keep his job and work under General Secretary Benn. He was even mooted for a seat on the leading council, but it was felt that after the scandalous rumours involving the removal of another high-ranking albeit popular official from his place in the party (who coincidentally was also known for bushy eyebrows and the ability to rub people up the wrong way), Heseltine would best serve the party as head of the Central Committe for Social Housing. It was in this position that Heseltine proposed two revolutionary ideas, both based on similar projects in Marzahn in East Berlin. A Garden Festival attended by USSR foreign secretary Eduard Schevarnadze brought international attention to the city, while in the background a small slice of utopia was being constructed.

The Derek Hatton Estate gets its name from the eponymous Hero of the Soviet Union, one of many who helped to lay the groundwork for the workers’s uprising at the beginning of the British Revolution. For many, the Anfield Massacre in May 1984 was the moment many realised that there was no alternative to Socialism. While then-MP Tony Benn rallied support for the workers in the South, Derek Hatton was instrumental in co-ordinating pickets across the industrial North of the country, as well as being an eyewitness to the murder of some seven protesters during police suppression in the Anfield district of Liverpool. The Anfield Martyrs are still commemorated every 17th May, and were recently added to the list of British Heroes of the Revolution, along with Wat Tyler, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and Charles Dickens.

Ted Grant Square, taken shortly after completion in 1988. East German architects and city planners assisted the Liverpool Council in an act of solidarity, using their expertise from the ongoing Marzahn-Hellersdorf project.

Hatton himself was asked to officially hand over the keys to the first residents of the estate, which included among them Geoffrey Braithwaite, a miner who managed to exceed the coal quota for a month in a single week (workers who exceed their quotas are still referred to as “Braithwaites” to this day!). Heseltine was keen for there to be represented in the estate all kinds of families, including single mothers, newlywed and retired couples, as well as nuclear families. There was a minor scandal in 1989 when it turned out the Merseyside Oblast had been encouraging resident couples over the age of 60 to accept visas to Canada and Australia provided by the Geriatric Migration Scheme, so as to free up housing for younger couples, though as General Secretary Benn said at the time, “It would be heartless to prevent these hard working citizens from enjoying their retirement in the sun.”

Today, a statue of the workers who built the Derek Hatton Estate stands proudly in the middle of Ted Grant Square, alongside a bust of Derek Hatton. Although the estate retains his name despite protests – a campaign to rename the estate after Ringo Starr failed in 2003 – the statue has fallen into disrepair after his emigration to Cyprus and investment in property there. While some of the tenements have recently been renovated to remove the asbestos used in their construction, the estate is no longer the symbol of positive investment in working people it once was. For many viewers of the 1980s sitcom Bread, the place is synonymous with the Boswell family leaving their dockyard home for the new estate in Series 6, shortly after the famous episode in which Nelly Boswell renounced her bourgeois Catholicism. In any case, the “Heroes of Hatton” will continue to be remembered for some time to come.

“Bread” charted the effects of the Revolution on a Liverpool family, from their struggles with the pre-Revolutionary DHSS to their move to the Derek Hatton Estate and acceptance of new jobs within the local collective.

PESNYA 1986: Unity in Song

We in the GBSSR are great fans of music. In fact, when we first acceeded to the Union in 1985, there were some uncharitable comments made by observers in Western Europe about the USSR gaining only two things from us: nuclear weapons and Beatles LPs. So it is with great joy that every year around the New Year holiday we look forward to the greatest variety performance of the year, PESNYA!

PESNYA, which means Song in Russian, was one of the first major cultural exchanges our little community benefited from after 1985. The then-General Secretary of the Politburo, Viktor Grishin, was keen to demonstrate our integration into the wider USSR by hosting a cultural event for all. It was suggested that, as a reward for our accession, we therefore have the honour of hosting the 1986 telecast, the first to be broadcast across Europe. The BBC were in charge of extending their broadcasting capabilities to the mainland Soviet Union, and there was much uncertainty over whether it would be possible to broadcast from London to Magadan. Thankfully, skilled engineers at both Cambridge and Akademgorodok worked together to find a joint solution, and it was confirmed that the telecast would go out across the Soviet Union.

And what a show it was! 28 million Britons tuned in on New Years Eve 1986 to watch the show live from the London Palladium, presented by Bruce Forsyth, beating the previous record for the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special in 1976. Brucie did his best to read the Cyrillic script from the autocue, but luckily he had some help from his co-presenter Tatiana Zhenstakovna, who translated and helped him along with his lines. To this day, many social historians still credit Forsyth with a watershed moment in Anglo-Soviet integration when he bent down on one knee, curled his fist in front of his face and went “Priviet, nice to Strastwichye, to strastwichye nice!” My mother still says that was the first word she ever heard in Russian.

 

When I chat to my parents about that night, they don’t remember much of what happened, only that it was “a little different from that which we were used to, and it was the only thing on the telly that night.” They do remember a lot of language swapping, English into Russian and the other way round. Alla Pugacheva sang “A Million Scarlet Roses” and Juri Antonov his classic “About You and Me”. In turn, quite a few British singers who had yet to defect across the Atlantic sang their songs. Bob Geldof, who had led a Komsomol solidarity campaign for the people of Ethiopia earlier in the year, sang the classic “Ja nie lyublyu poniedzielniki”, though this didn’t stop an excited public singing back “tell me why!” in all the right places. Sting first sang “Anglichanin v Nyo Yorke”, a timeless song about the alienation felt by people at the heart of western Capitalism, before a moving song called “Americans”. Even I, born a few years later, can sing those horrible lines “What might save us, me and you, is if the Americans love their children too.”

There had been rumours that the remaining Beatles would reform for one night and cement their own integration into Soviet estrada, but unfortunately Paul McCartney had yet to return from his Los Angeles apartment and had his GBSSR citizenship revoked by the General Secretary himself. In a famous speech given in October 1986, Tony Benn made his thoughts on such cultural defectors clear:

“It absolutely horrifies me to think of these people, all of them beneficiaries of our welfare state, nursed and tended to by the NHS, educated by our world-class comprehensive schools, whose first thought once they get some money is “how much can I keep for myself.” Well, I want them to know there is no such thing as being too famous to pay back or too popular to be held to basic standards of fairness and justice. If they wish to live in havens of neoliberalism where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, then so be it. But if they try to enter our little country, with its old-fashioned ideas of justice and fairness for workers of all levels, then they will find themselves not welcome.”

This was the beginning of a cultural renaissance for the GBSSR. For one thing, many saw PESNYA as the first positive step for equal treatment for women and a welcome scaling back of the sexualisation of women in society. While her music never attained the same huge popularity in Britain that it enjoyed in the mainland USSR, Alla Pugacheva’s theatrical style and her realistic bodyshape gained widespread approval and made her into something of a role model for young women. A few continued to buy black market copies of Madonna records, but her manipulation by a corporate patriarchy meant she was never really taken seriously as an artist in the way Pugacheva was. Images of Victoria’s Secret models starving themselves to perfection were famously exposed in a 1992 edition of the Manchester Guardian and compared with Socialist ‘real women’, a revelation that coincided with the then-Commissar for Employment Tony Blair’s own comments on the possible relaxation on US content laws.

The “Alla” perm became the most requested style in hair salons for the first three months of 1987.

 

Also, the event inspired a deeper collaboration between British and Russian producers. Working alongside Eduard Artemyev, whose soundtrack to the film “The Courier” became the bestselling album of 1986, three British record producers were invited to Moscow to learn new production techniques and share their unique musical style. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman would later revolutionise Soviet music, writing songs for many popular Vocal Instrumental Ensembles (VIAs). Possibly the most famous of them all was VIA Kangaru, with founder members Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan.

VIA Kangaru performing in Tblisi in 1990

 

To this day, the Christmas highlight in the USSR remains PESNYA, with the Intervision contest in the summer the only rival for popularity. Bruce Forsyth, who recently became People’s Artist of Britain, still presents the show when it is held in the UK, normally every five or six years or so, and has become a minor celebrity in the Ukrainian SSR thanks to his role presenting Tanzii za zvyozdami (Dancing with the Stars) on Soviet television, based at his summer home in Sevastopol. If you want to impress a GBSSR citizen, mention how much you are looking forward to this year’s PESNYA and you will have made a friend!

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the GBSSR!

Hello!

This is all rather exciting, isn’t it! After eight years of waiting, I finally have my very own Bristol X23 Deluxe and can use the Internet at home. Some people think it is silly waiting so long for a computer, but at least in the meantime I could save up what I had left to pay for my very own Web Log Licence the moment I unwrapped the Bristol and installed it. Most of my friends stupidly bought Waverleys because they were cheaper, thinking that the internet would not catch on here, but more the fool them, eh?

So this is my first attempt to write something about our homeland. I have been thinking of setting up a web log like this for some time, ever since Bristol started taking downpayments for the X23 model. I work as an official translator for British Linguistics, and so have had the privilege of meeting many people from lots of countries, including a few Americans, and they all have a lot of misconceptions about our country and what it stands for. Our revolution may not have been as glorious, and we may have only acceded to the Soviet Union in 1985, but we still have our place in the brotherhood of socialist nations and I still think there is a lingering suspicion of British people in the wider USSR given the fascists who preceded the great General Secretary Benn.

I plan to write about life in the Great British Soviet Socialist Republic in 2014 and what it means to be a Socialist on an island, sandwiched between the fascist Americans and the neo-imperialist west Europeans. Some of our brightest Commissars complain about the internet and think that using it is merely cowtowing to the Swiss imperialists who invented it, but if the technology can be used to further the cause of Socialism, then I see nothing wrong in using it. In fact, it serves the imperialists right for giving us the tools to carry on the revolution!

Life in the GBSSR is not easy, but we are a community and we preserve the values of tolerance, diversity and understanding in our everyday lives. Just last year the Scargill Centre for the Treatment of Respiratory Diseases saw its grand opening in Barnsley, Huddersfield Oblast, along with a huge laboratory and residence complex for 2,000 scientists and their families. Our little country may not be particularly wealthy, and we may bear the yoke of an imperialist past, but we are marching forwards in the cause of permanent revolution in our own small way.

I hope you enjoy this small collection of reflections and thoughts for what it is: a light-hearted look in the funhouse mirror at what we are.