BULL IN A COMMUNIST SHOP
Other View, Winter 2001 (Under title ‘Film Critic Attacks Red Indians’)
The response by the Indian Left to Alexander Sokurov’s film on Lenin - Taurus - resonates heavily of the Free Presbyterians in Belfast when Martin Scorsese ‘s work the Last Temptation of Christ hit the city’s big screens. In prison at the time and unable to attend the film, I was greatly amused by Mairtin O Muilleoir, then a Sinn Fein councillor, ridiculing and mocking the ‘no swings on Sunday’ ranters before informing his audience - to the delight of republicans - that he was on his way to see the film. Control freaks, as Frank Millar once observed, don't like mockery at the best of times and so the Wailing Willies responded by threatening to picket and obstruct would-be viewers.
Like their censorial counterparts in India the Free Presbyterian bigots claimed that the subject of their wrath - Scorsese’s film - was ‘a perversion'. They, as self-appointed moral guardians, would protect the rest of us from our own intellectual filtering mechanisms. And then from the puritanical sanctity of their Old Testament godly little hearts would sweetly permit us to rely on their own morally righteous interpretive frameworks.
Despite being reviewed favourably at the Cannes film festival Taurus was subject to attack with Taliban type fervour by Indian Communist leaders Jyoti Basu and Biman Bose who objected to the film being considered for viewing at the Calcutta Film Festival. Bose said: 'the film is not based on historic facts. It is highly improper to distort such personalities without ascertaining the facts.' As if the Communists have a laudable track record in matters of providing the facts.
In the main what the Indian Left object to is Sokurov’s depiction of Lenin as anti-Semitic. It also takes umbrage at the dictator’s personal character being subject to a less than fulsome interpretation. While such objections may be solidly based this must not become the justification for censorship. What would then happen to humour and caricature premised as they are on distortion?
The Indian Left, just like the Free Presbyterians of Belfast now plan to disrupt any future attempt to screen the film. These authoritarian censors are set, in the manner of their predecessors, to continue threatening the only creativity out of which a genuine socialist project can emerge. In large part the suppression of intellectual and political life under Marxist dictatorships has helped make a lame duck of the Left and ensure the prevalence of those types of conditions in which capitalism has a greater appeal than it otherwise might. For those of us who continue to subscribe in one form or another to a Marxist perspective - even if restricted to the descriptive - and who share Chomsky's belief that the crimes of Marxism in its Stalinist form clearly had their origins in Leninist authoritarianism, charges against Lenin of anti-Semitic ranting or dallying with prostitutes appear mild by comparison. We require more rather than less interpretations of Lenin.
Is there really a great deal of difference between the Indian communists seeking to suppress the work of Sokurov and those Iranian fundamentalists who issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, their Bangladeshi fellow travellers who persecuted Taslima Nasreen, and the Pakistani judiciary who under pressure from the mullahs sentenced Professor Muhammad Yunus to death? Theocratic, communist or any other form of authoritarianism is anti-emancipatory. Any liberation under such auspices will be illusory. If this is left unsaid now the chance to say it outside of a prison cell once the authoritarians are in power will, like socialism, have passed.
If the film hits Belfast, like O Muilleoir, I shall attend and make up my own mind. The Jumping Josefs can howl outside all they want - I shall hardly hear them.