Disney legend Rolly Crump’s vintage drugs, Beatnik & Commie posters
04:20 pm


Rolly Crump

Rolland “Rolly” Crump is a Disney legend. Originally working as an assistant animator under Uncle Walt himself in the early 1950s, Crump performed “in betweener” work on Disney classics like Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations, and Sleeping Beauty.

In 1959 Crump joined Walt Disney Imagineering, becoming one of Walt Disney’s key designers for Disneyland. He worked on the Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Adventureland Bazaar. Crump served as key designer on the Disney pavilions featured at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, including “It’s A Small World.” When that attraction was given a permanent home at Disneyland, Crump added the iconic puppet children clock at the entrance. He was also one of the lead designers on a Disneyland attraction that was shelved after Disney’s death, The Museum of The Weird.

During his long and illustrious career, Crump contributed to the designs for Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World, before returning to Disney to project design “The Land” and “Wonders of Life” pavilions at EPCOT Center. Now 83 and still going strong, in 2004 Crump was given a Disney Legends Award.

Back in 1960, Rolly Crump made a series of whimsical and delightful posters depicting Beatniks and their predilection for drugs. Made for poster pioneer Howard Morseburg’s Esoteric Poster Company, Crump worked for Morseburg until 1964, also turning out posters satirizing Communism, Cuba and the Soviet Union.




Thank you Taylor Jessen!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Take your next vacation in the beautiful USSR! 1930s Soviet travel brochures
06:22 am


Soviet Propaganda

soviet poster
In one of my favorite movies of all time, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there’s a scene where the titular character has been abandoned by her lover. In order to be with him, she had gone through a brutal, crude sex-change operation, and risked her life by leaving her home in communist East Germany. To add insult to injury, the Berlin Wall has just fallen; had she waited a while longer, she could have very well avoided the hasty decision of removing her penis and leaving her home for a two-timing man.

In a brilliant moment of dark comedy, she is then shown looking at a postcard from her mother that reads something to the effect of, “Greetings, from sunny Yugoslavia”—the joke being that Hedwig’s markedly stern mom had found happiness after the collapse of an oppressive communist state by vacationing in an country notable for its political instability, ethnic and nationalist strife, and eventual relentless war.

There are some places that we just don’t think of as fun vacation spots.

But having been around enough older socialists and communists, I do know that the USSR was actually a hot destination for a while, especially for leftists. I even know a couple people whose parents took their honeymoon there! And this was certainly encouraged by Stalin, himself, who established the government-run tourism board with the express purpose of raising the profile of the USSR.

Below, you see Soviet travel brochures from the 1930s. They advertise advanced industrial development, a commitment to the arts, gorgeous cities, and a diverse array of natural beauty. Some of them touch on Socialist Realism, but what strikes me is the diversity of the art, and the visibly ambitious optimism therein.
Soviet travel poster
Soviet travel poster
Soviet travel poster
Soviet travel poster
Soviet travel poster
Soviet travel poster
Soviet travel poster
Soviet travel poster
Via The Charnel-House

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Our Lenin’: Soviet propaganda book for kids, 1934
06:07 am

Class War


Our Lenin
While the word “propaganda” has a rather nasty, manipulative connotation, it isn’t necessarily defined as “lies” per se. All that WPA art encouraging people to brush their teeth and get tested for syphilis? Excellent uses of propaganda! And whether you’re trying to organize a community garden or start your own fascist regime, I think the most effective propaganda follows that same model of simple, informative, attractive messaging, easily interpreted by children or the uneducated. Catch ‘em young, and make it pretty, I always say.

Our Lenin, a children’s biography of Vladimir Lenin, does this perfectly. Translated and adapted from a Russian book, the US version of Our Lenin was published in 1934 by the US Communist Party. Although teaching the kiddies to revere Vladimir Lenin uncritically is certainly problematic (to say the least), the book is a beautifully executed piece of messaging, and the illustrations are just exquisite.
Our Lenin
Our Lenin
World War 1
Our Lenin
Would you like a socialist utopia, or capitalist fascism? Pick carefully now, children!
Our Lenin
Ohhhh, so that’s how it works. Seems easy enough.
Via Just Seeds

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Capitalism, Communism and dishwashers: Nixon and Khrushchev argue in ‘The Kitchen Debate’

 Nixon and Khrushchev
Nice body language, Dick. Photo credit: Elliot Erwitt.
In 1959, Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev met in Moscow in a highly publicized diplomatic event. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the American National Exhibition, a sort of cultural exchange fair where the US could showcase all the amenities afforded to its citizens by capitalism. The US public relations strategy was to get the world to associate us with modern conveniences and easy living. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately for Nixon, Khrushchev decided to dispense with the formalities and staged a delightfully bitchy political debate with the then Vice President over the exhibit displaying a “typical” California kitchen. Below is the transcript and a partial video excerpt from the famous Kitchen Debate, wherein a flustered Nixon attempts to gracefully field criticism with a little slick diplomacy (it doesn’t quite work). The entire exchange is done through translators, but there’s not much a gentler tone could do to ease the tension—not that Khrushchev had any intention of doing so. Some things translate loud and clear.

Over three million Russians actually ended up attending the fair, and the crowds often echoed Khrushchev’s particularly volatile brand of interrogation. Audiences would ask personal questions of the tour guides, often berating them with leading questions about American racism, our lack of universal health care, and social security. Of course the guides were instructed to politely admit that the U.S. wasn’t perfect, but a dynamic work in progress, nonetheless. 

The entire premise of the exhibit was just a show of Cold War dick-measuring, and the Kitchen Debate was the big finish. By the end, both men believed they had “won,” and the two shook hands, agreeing to broadcast the entire conversation in their respective countries.The U.S. went off half-cocked and aired the segment on three networks, which angered the Soviets, who had assumed they would coordinate simultaneous broadcasts. The Soviets then threatened not to show it at all, but after a few days it was aired, though with Nixon’s words only partially translated.

[Both men enter kitchen in the American exhibit.]

Nixon: I want to show you this kitchen. It is like those of our houses in California.

[Nixon points to dishwasher.]

Khrushchev: We have such things.

Nixon: This is our newest model. This is the kind which is built in thousands of units for direct installations in the houses. In America, we like to make life easier for women…

Khrushchev: Your capitalistic attitude toward women does not occur under Communism.

Nixon: I think that this attitude towards women is universal. What we want to do, is make life more easy for our housewives…..
 Nixon and Khrushchev
Photo credit: Associated Press
Nixon: This house can be bought for $14,000, and most American [veterans from World War II] can buy a home in the bracket of $10,000 to $15,000. Let me give you an example that you can appreciate. Our steel workers as you know, are now on strike. But any steel worker could buy this house. They earn $3 an hour. This house costs about $100 a month to buy on a contract running 25 to 30 years.

Khrushchev: We have steel workers and peasants who can afford to spend $14,000 for a house. Your American houses are built to last only 20 years so builders could sell new houses at the end. We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren.

Nixon: American houses last for more than 20 years, but, even so, after twenty years, many Americans want a new house or a new kitchen. Their kitchen is obsolete by that time….The American system is designed to take advantage of new inventions and new techniques.

Khrushchev: This theory does not hold water. Some things never get out of date–houses,for instance, and furniture, furnishings–perhaps–but not houses. I have read much about America and American houses, and I do not think that this is exhibit and what you say is strictly accurate.

Nixon: Well, um…

Khrushchev: I hope I have not insulted you.

Nixon: I have been insulted by experts. Everything we say [on the other hand] is in good humor. Always speak frankly.

Khrushchev: The Americans have created their own image of the Soviet man. But he is not as you think. You think the Russian people will be dumbfounded to see these things, but the fact is that newly built Russian houses have all this equipment right now.

Nixon: Yes, but…

Khrushchev: In Russia, all you have to do to get a house is to be born in the Soviet Union. You are entitled to housing…In America, if you don’t have a dollar you have a right to choose between sleeping in a house or on the pavement. Yet you say we are the slave to Communism.

Nixon: I appreciate that you are very articulate and energetic…

Khrushchev: Energetic is not the same thing as wise.

Nixon: If you were in the Senate, we would call you a filibusterer! You–[Khrushchev interrupts]–do all the talking and don’t let anyone else talk. This exhibit was not designed to astound but to interest. Diversity, the right to choose, the fact that we have 1,000 builders building 1,000 different houses is the most important thing. We don’t have one decision made at the top by one government official. This is the difference.

Khrushchev: On politics, we will never agree with you. For instance, Mikoyan likes very peppery soup. I do not. But this does not mean that we do not get along.

Nixon : You can learn from us, and we can learn from you. There must be a free exchange. Let the people choose the kind of house, the kind of soup, the kind of ideas that they want.

[Translation lost as both men enter the television recording studio.]

Khrushchev: [In jest] You look very angry, as if you want to fight me. Are you still angry?

Nixon: [in jest] That’s right!

Khrushchev:…and Nixon was once a lawyer? Now he’s nervous.

Nixon: Oh yes, [Nixon chuckling] he still is [a lawyer].

Other Russian speaker: Tell us, please, what are your general impressions of the exhibit?

Khrushchev: It’s clear to me that the construction workers didn’t manage to finish their work and the exhibit still is not put in order…This is what America is capable of, and how long has she existed? 300 years? 150 years of independence and this is her level. We haven’t quite reached 42 years, and in another 7 years, we’ll be at the level of America, and after that we’ll go farther. As we pass you by, we’ll wave “hi” to you, and then if you want, we’ll stop and say, “please come along behind us.” …If you want to live under capitalism, go ahead, that’s your question, an internal matter, it doesn’t concern us. We can feel sorry for you, but really, you wouldn’t understand. We’ve already seen how you understand things.

Other U.S speaker: Mr. Vice President, from what you have seen of our exhibition, how do you think it’s going to impress the people of the Soviet Union?

Nixon: It’s a very effective exhibit, and it’s one that will cause a great deal of interest. I might say that this morning I, very early in the morning, went down to visit a market, where the farmers from various outskirts of the city bring in their items to sell. I can only say that there was a great deal of interest among these people, who were workers and farmers, etc… I would imagine that the exhibition from that standpoint would, therefore, be a considerable success. As far as Mr Khrushchev’s comments just now, they are in the tradition we learned to expect from him of speaking extemporaneously and frankly whenever he has an opportunity. I can only say that if this competition which you have described so effectively, in which you plan to outstrip us, particularly in the production of consumer goods…If this competition is to do the best for both of our peoples and for people everywhere, there must be a free exchange of ideas. There are some instances where you may be ahead of us–for example in the development of the thrust of your rockets for the investigation of outer space. There may be some instances, for example, color television, where we’re ahead of you. But in order for both of us benefit…

Khrushchev: [interrupting] No, in rockets we’ve passed you by, and in the technology…

Nixon: [continuing to talk] You see, you never concede anything.

Khrushchev: We always knew that Americans were smart people. Stupid people could not have risen to the economic level that they’ve reached. But as you know, “we don’t beat flies with our nostrils!” In 42 years we’ve made progress.

Nixon: You must not be afraid of ideas.

Khrushchev: We’re saying it is you who must not be afraid of ideas. We’re not afraid of anything….

Nixon: Well, then, let’s have more exchange of them. We all agree on that, right?

Khrushchev: Good. [Khrushchev turns to translator and asks:] Now, what did I agree on?

Nixon: [interrupts] Now, let’s go look at our pictures.

Khrushchev: Yes, I agree. But first I want to clarify what I’m agreeing on. Don’t I have that right? I know that I’m dealing with a very good lawyer. Therefore, I want to be unwavering in my miner’s girth, so our miners will say, “He’s ours and he doesn’t give in!”

Nixon: No question about that.

Khrushchev: You’re a lawyer of Capitalism, I’m a lawyer for Communism. Let’s kiss.

Nixon: All that I can say, from the way you talk and the way you dominate the conversation, you would have made a good lawyer yourself. What I mean is this: Here you can see the type of tape which will transmit this very conversation immediately, and this indicates the possibilities of increasing communication. And this increase in communication, will teach us some things, and you some things, too. Because, after all, you don’t know everything.

Khrushchev: If I don’t know everything, then you know absolutely nothing about Communism, except for fear! But now the dispute will be on an unequal basis. The apparatus is yours, and you speak English, while I speak Russian. Your words are taped and will be shown and heard. What I say to you about science won’t be translated, and so your people won’t hear it. These aren’t equal conditions.

Nixon: There isn’t a day that goes by in the United States when we can’t read everything that you say in the Soviet Union…And, I can assure you, never make a statement here that you don’t think we read in the United States.

Khrushchev: If that’s the way it is, I’m holding you to it. Give me your word…I want you, the Vice President, to give me your word that my speech will also be taped in English. Will it be?

Nixon: Certainly it will be. And by the same token, everything that I say will be recorded and translated and will be carried all over the Soviet Union. That’s a fair bargain.

The Kitchen Debate. One of the first uses of color videotape, which was provided by the Ampex corporation. The impromptu international game of Soviet vs. Yank one-upmanship was shot at the Ampex booth at the fair.

Via Teaching American History

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Get some culture, you bourgeois ingrates! (With some revolutionary Chinese communist ballet, 1971)

Red Detachment of Women
Efforts to create a new, post-capitalist artistic culture are fraught with peril. First of all, the tendency to dismiss pre-socialist traditions (artistic or otherwise) as “bourgeois” inevitably leads to a backlash. The impulse to preserve the past and retain one’s history will always prevail (science fiction Christmas cards in state atheist Soviet Russia immediately come to mind). Secondly, the artistic genres of “communist” states can sway overwhelmingly nationalistic, often at the expense of the art itself; propaganda can be art, but when you live in a totalitarian state, stuff can get stale real quick (then again, certain American gaffs remind me totalitarianism isn’t a prerequisite for banal propaganda). And then there’s that rare example of artistic achievement that falls victim to both of the aforementioned pitfalls—fails at relinquishing ties to capitalist culture and politically problematic in its nationalism—but still reaches the height of brilliance and beauty.

Enter Maoist ballet. As an avid ballet fan and former dancer, I’m slightly offended at the notion that I must reassure readers, “this is no ordinary ballet,” but it is an exceptional interpretation, and those who might otherwise be averse to ballet can take heart that this the style is uniquely dynamic and athletic. China’s Cultural Revolution dictated that the bourgeois culture of capitalism just be replaced with a new proletarian culture- hence the radical choreography and patriotic imagery. Of course, it’s still recognizable as ballet, and while a few Chinese instruments pepper the score, it’s primarily performed by a European-style orchestra.

Below is my favorite, “The Red Detachment of Women,” one of the so-called “Eight Model Operas,” (which were actually five operas, two ballets, and a symphony) all designed and organized by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, intended as the ambitious forefront of China’s new revolutionary culture. Though I tend to watch it in pieces, isolating different acts and numbers for their stand-alone value, the libretto is epic and elaborate. The ballet is actually based on a famous novel that pulled true stories from the all-women Special Company of the 2nd Independent Division of Chinese Red Army, who had over 100 members. When Nixon visited China in 1972 to repair diplomatic relations, this is the ballet they took him to see—there’s no way that wasn’t a backhanded gesture.

In many ways, “The Red Detachment of Women” was a total failure. Even if we ignore the fact that the terrible politics of Communist China were being extolled en pointe, it’s intellectually difficult to argue that anything engineered by Mao’s wife could even be populist. And of course it’s a failure as all cultural revolutions are a failure; art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and no amount of communist shellac could purge the fingerprints of the Western progenitors of ballet. Still, the beauty and the innovation of the project are undeniable, and while “The Red Detachment of Women” wasn’t the dawn of a proletarian artistic movement, it was most certainly, well… revolutionary.


Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Whoever Says The Truth Shall Die’: A film about Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini said his first films were inspired by Antonio Gramsci, the founder and one-time leader of the Italian Communist Party.

To Pasolini, Gramsci was the ‘greatest Marxist theoretician in all Italy,’ who wanted popular art to be aimed at an “ideal people.”

But by the 1960s, this “ideal people” had been turned by capitalism into consumers—a culture of mass consumption, where works of art and politics had little or no value.

It was then that Pasolini instinctively rejected the idea of making films for mass consumption, and instead opted for a more personal and political film-making.

Based on Montaigne’s idea that ‘one does not really know a person until he has died,’ Philo Bregstein’s documentary Whoever Says The Truth Shall Die—A Film About Pier Paolo Pasolini offers a fascinating look at the life, artistic ambitions and political vision of the poet, writer and controversial film director.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Pier Paolo Pasolini: A rare interview on the set of ‘Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom’


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Communism’s Mightiest Super-Heroes: What if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had been Russian?

The Freedom Collective is a one-shot comic that pays homage to the story-telling and artistry of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and asks:

What if…those two giants had lived and worked in Russia and shared its hopes and fears of the time?

It’s a neat idea and shows ‘Communism’s mightiest super-heroes, striking at the heart of evil Capitalism for the workers of the world!

Can the Krimson Kommisar, MIG-4, Mastodon, Ajys and Homeland defeat the power of the evil Chief? It is a crime against the State not to buy the comic and find out. And crimes against the State are taken VERY seriously.

Written by Igor Sloano and Comrade Barr, with Art by Domski Regan and Comrade Barr, The Freedom Collective is produced by Rough Cut Comics, and has already received high praise from The Jack Kirby Collector, Grant Morrison and Alex Ross. It is a must-have for all Comrades of Great Comic Art.

Order your copy here, before its too late!
Bonus pictures of the Communist Super-heroes in action, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Whaur Extremes Meet’: A Portrait of the poet Hugh MacDiarmid

When Hugh MacDiarmid died in 1978, his fellow poet Norman MacCaig suggested Scotland commemorate the great man’s passing by holding 3 minute’s pandemonium. It was typical of MacCaig’s caustic wit, but his suggestion did capture something of the unquantifiable enormity of MacDiarmid’s importance on Scottish culture, politics, literature and life during the twentieth century.

Hugh MacDiarmid is perhaps best described by a line from his greatest poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), in which he wrote:

‘I’ll ha’e nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur
Extremes meet - it’s the only way I ken
To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt
That damns the vast majority o’ men.

It explains the contradictory elements that merged to make him a poet.

Born Christopher Murray Grieve, on August 11, 1892, he changed his name to the more Scottish sounding Hugh MacDiarmid to publish his poetry. He was a Modernist poet who wrote in Scots vernacular. One might expect this choice of language to make his poetry parochial, but MacDiarmid was a poet of international ambition and standing, who was recognized as an equal with T. S. Eliot, Boris Pasternak and W. H. Auden.

In politics, MacDiarmid had been one of the co-founder’s of the National Party for Scotland in 1928, but was ejected when he moved towards Communism. He was then ejected from the Communist Party for his “nationalist deviation.” He maintained a Nationalist - in favor of an independent Scotland - and a Communist throughout his life.

As literature scholar and writer Kenneth Butlay notes, MacDiarmid was: incensed by his countrymen’s neglect of their native traditions as by their abrogation of responsibility for their own affairs, and he took it upon himself to “keep up perpetually a sort of Berseker rage” of protest, and to act as “the catfish that vitalizes the other torpid of the aquarium.”

In 1964, the experimental film-maker Margaret Tait made short documentary portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid, which captured the poet at home in Langholme, his sense of childish fun, his socializing his the bars and public houses of Edinburgh (the Abbotsford on Rose Street).

More on Hugh MacDiarmid, plus poetry and reading, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Pulgasari’ - Kim Jong Il’s Comsploitation monster movie in full (with subtitles)

The late Kim Jong-Il was a notorious film fanatic, but did you know that in the 70s he kidnapped a movie director called Shin Sang-ok, brought him to North Korea and forced him to make feature films? The most successful of these films is Pulgasari from 1985, a Godzilla-inspired monster movie-cum-allegory for capitalism run wild.

I was unaware of this incredible story until details of Kim’s life started emerging after the announcement of his death on Monday, but in 2003 Shin Sang-ok spoke to the Guardian about his ordeal:

In 1978, he fell foul of the frequently repressive government of General Park Chung Hee [South Korea], who closed his studio. After making at least 60 movies in 20 years, Shin’s career appeared to be over.

What followed, according to Kingdom of Kim, Shin’s memoir, was an experience that revived his career in an unbelievable way. Shin and his wife were kidnapped by North Korea’s despot-in-training, Kim Jong-il, who sought to create a film industry that would allow him to sway a world audience to the righteousness of the Korea Workers’ Party. Shin would be his propagandist, Choi his star.

Shin’s story is as fantastical as many of his movies. He writes of being caught trying to escape, and spending four years in an all-male prison camp as a result, left to assume that his wife was dead.

Then, just as suddenly, he was brought into the inner sanctum of Kim Jong-il, the would-be successor to his father, Kim Il-sung, who ruled the country for nearly 50 years. Shin’s talents then officially fell to the service of North Korea, and he made seven movies before he and his wife made a breathtaking escape in Vienna in 1986.

That entire piece is well worth reading, it’s fascinating! For those of you wondering what Pulgasari is like, here is the full, 94 minute film (in 9 parts, with English subtitles.) The story of a doll made of rice that comes alive after contact with human blood, and feasts on raw metal, the production values actually aren’t that bad - it’s certainly not the worst obscure B-movie I have ever seen (although admittedly I didn’t make it to the end.) But we will let you decide for yourselves, dear readers, whether Pulgasari is the crowning achievement of the Supreme Leader’s legacy:

Pulgasari, part one

Thanks to Simone Hutchinson!
Pulgasari parts two to nine are after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
The true story behind ‘The Mackintosh Man’

About halfway through The Freedom Trap, author Desmond Bagley reveals his hand towards his sources. It comes around page one hundred, when the central character Owen Stannard is briefed by his boss, Mackintosh:

‘What do you know about the British prison system?’
‘I’ll let you have a copy of the Mountbatten Report,’ he said. ‘You’ll find it fascinating reading. But I’ll give you the gist of it now. Lord Mountbatten found that the British prisons are full of holes as a Swiss cheese. Do you know how many escapes there are each year?’
‘No. There was something about it in the papers a couple of years ago, but I didn’t read it too closely.’
‘More than five hundred. If it’s any less than that they think they’ve had a good year. Of course, most of the escapees are picked up quite soon, but a small percentage get clean away - and that small percentage is rising. It’s a troublesome situation.’

I’d picked up a copy because of its cover, who doesn’t? Maybe the French? As once, most of their covers were all the same - that’s equality for you. The cover had Paul Newman, as Stannard, with suit and tie, gun in hand, and it left a fluid memory of John Huston’s rather fine film version, The Mackintosh Man.

Bagley’s story mixes a little bit of fact with a lot of page-turning fiction. It’s a tale of double agents, the British Secret Service and the Scarperers, a fictional organization that helps long-term prisoners escape gaol - all for the right money. Back to our opening scene. Mackintosh now makes it clear he isn’t interested in the “‘murderers or rapists, homicidal maniacs or ordinary small time thieves’” that escape from gaol, his focus is State Security, and how to stop double agents, like the real-life George Blake, turning up in Moscow, “‘where he chirped his head off.’”

‘For the first time in years someone has come up with a brand new crime. Crime is just like any other business - it’s conducted only for profit - and someone has figured a way to make profit out of getting people out of prison… organization was set up, dedicated to springing long-term prisoners who could pay enough, and you be surprised how many of those there are. And once such an organization gets going, like any other business it tends to expand, and whoever is running it has gone looking for custom - and he doesn’t care where the money comes from, either.’
‘The Russians?’
‘Who else?’ said Mackintosh sourly.


It was the Cold War and the Russians were still off the Christmas card list. The way Bagley tells it, the Red Menace was everywhere. In the Freedom Trap, the Reds actively liberating double agents like Slade - as the character Stannard explains when he meets Slade in prison:

It was about this time that I first met Slade. He was a new boy inside for the first offence and he’d got forty-two years, but I don’t believe the First Offenders Act covers espionage. I had heard about him before, of course: the news broadcasts had been full of the Slade Trial. Since most of the juicy bits had been told in camera no one really knew what Slade had been up to, but from all accounts he was the biggest catch since Blake.

To anyone reading this in the early seventies it may have seemed like non-fiction - as it came almost a decade after notorious double-agent, George Blake had been sentenced to forty-two years in jail, and who, only 5 years later, had managed to escape from Wormwood Scrubs Prison, in 1966. Then, it was commonly believed Blake had been helped by an organization, just like Bagley’s fictional “Scarperers”, paid for by the K.G.B., and run by a petty criminal, Sean Bourke.

It wasn’t just fiction writers who believed this was what happened, respected journalist E. H. Cookridge stated in his 1970 biography, George Blake Double Agent that the K.G.B. had financed Blake’s escape, claiming the cost for such an operation was “mere chickenfeed”, and Blake was far too important a spy for the Russians to lose.

This was all fine on paper, but in reality both Bagley and Cookridge were wrong, as Blake’s escape from prison was the work of amateurs and more reminiscent of Carry On Spying than Funeral in Berlin.


George Blake was born George Behar in the Netherlands in 1922. During the Second World War he worked as part of the Dutch Resistance against the invading German army. Blake was so successful he was soon on the Gestapo’s most wanted list. His keenness verged on the fanatical, something which would become more apparent as Blake grew older. His experience with the Resistance highlighted his seemingly natural talent for subterfuge. Arrested by the Germans, Blake just managed to escape, following his family out of Holland to England.

In Britain, Behar was at first frustrated by the long immigration process required to ensure no sneaky German agents were hidden amongst the influx of refugees. To fit in with his adopted country, Behar changed his name to the anglicized Blake, and applied for work in the Navy, his intention was to become a spy, and return to Holland. It didn’t quite happen that way, as his superiors were more than a little suspicious of Blake’s methods which were straight out of the fictional Richard Hannay, and anticipated the fantasy of James Bond and even Matt Helm. It’s worth considering whether Ian Fleming ever met Blake during the war years and if he had, did Blake fuel the writer’s imagination?

After the war, Blake became fully fledged spy, working undercover as part of the diplomatic service. This was when his B-movie imagination kicked-in - writing in invisible ink, arranging bizarre pick-ups for worthless information and running a team of spies.

In 1950, Blake found himself under a different invading army when he was posted to Seoul, Korea. He was captured by insurgents form the North and held prisoner. The North Koreans had no sympathy for prisoners of war, and Blake and his fellow POWs were treated barbarically and forced on a long death march from city to bombed city. Cookridge described part of it thus:

The death march went on for many days. Occasionally there were overnight stops in villages. Usually the civilian internees were packed into one room which had no windows and was covered with vermin and excrement….

...Those who fell by the side of the road, watching mutely as the column passed them by…“We heard many shots…the dying were pushed into the ditch.”

They were repeatedly moved village to village, until they reached their destination, Chung-Kang-Djin. On arrival, the POWs made a rough estimate of the casualties - a least one hundred had died or been shot during the march, just over a quarter of their number. But this was only the start, as they were handed over to the Chinese military, who began a process of brainwashing techniques on the beleaguered inmates.

Blake has since claimed he was never brain-washed, claiming he turned to Soviet Communism because of the horrors witnessed during the Korean War. Whatever the truth, the attempts at brainwashing were later confirmed by his fellow POWs.

After negotiations for a cease-fire, Blake returned home a hero to Britain. Ironically, it wasn’t long before he offered his services to the KGB, and so began his 9-year career as a dastardly double-agent.

Working for the British Secret Service, Blake was transferred to Berlin where he set-up and ran his own spy ring for the K.G.B. Blake’s love of cloak and dagger defined his time in Berlin. He was responsible for the exposure and deaths of an estimated 400 agents - something else he later denied, though his K.G.B. bosses have since confirmed this number as correct. Blake verged on the fanatical with his work, having no compunction in hiring spies to work for him, then exposing them as traitors, as Cookridge explains:

I have a long list of agents Blake had betrayed between 1955 and 1959, but in deference to the regulations of the Official Secrets Act, I shall mention only a few, whose names became known through “show trials” in East Germany.

In 1955 Hans Joachim Koch, a then 43-year-old radio operator, was arrested when emptying a “dead letter box” in Pankow Park, which Blake had arranged and of which he had given the information to the K.G.B….

At about the same time Johann Baumgart, an official of the East German railways, who had produced twenty-five remarkable reports about railway transports, was given away by Blake and sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment….

Ewald Jantke, a former Luftwaffe radio operator, and Arno Gugel, son of a Gestapo official, who with a young woman called Ursula Lehmann had formed a successful “cell” in East Germany, were betrayed when Jankte became too cocky and joined the East German People’s Police…

Blake was instrumental in “burning” an outpost established in Dresden, which kept in contact with the secret service in West Berlin by exchanging stamps for collectors…marked with microdots…

The list goes on, but you get the idea, it was all fun and games straight from a John Le Carre. It beggars belief how he wasn’t uncovered, or even suspected as a double-agent sooner, until you appreciate nearly the whole of the British Secret Service was a private members’ club for Soviet double agents, most famously the Cambridge Five (Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross) and most controversially, the suggestion Director General of MI5, Roger Hollis was also working for the K.G.B.


Blake had a good run, destroying most of MI6’s operations in eastern Europe, seeding double agents, and notoriously revealing the tunnel the Allies had built under the Berlin Wall. But all things must pass, and in 1961, the game was up, Blake was arrested sent to trial, parts of which were held in camera for security reasons. He pleaded guilty to the five counts against him, and expected to receive a sentence of 14 years imprisonment. However, Lord Parker of Waddington imposed a sentence of 14 years imprisonment on each of the 5 counts:

“Those in respect of counts one, two and three will be consecutive, and those in respect of counts four and five will be concurrent, making a total of forty-two tears; imprisonment.”

Forty-two years, it was “the longest prison sentence ever imposed in modern British history…” And herein lies the tale of his escape. 

Blake wasn’t set free by the machinations of the K.G.B., but by passionate amateurs, who disagreed with Blake’s harsh sentencing.


When he was in Wormwood Scrubs, Blake came in to contact with Michael Randle and Pat Pottle, two men imprisoned for their non-violent protest against USAF Weatherfield, a British airbase used by the American Air Force during the Cold War.

Randle was a conscientious objector, and a member of the Aldermaston March Committee which organised the first Aldermaston March against British nuclear weapons, in Easter 1958. Pottle was a founder member of the Committee of 100, an anti-nuclear direct action group which broke away from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Their outrage at the “vicious” sentence imposed on Blake saw Pottle and Randle team up, once they were released from prison, with another ex-con Séan Bourke, in a bold plan to set Blake free.

Prior to his escape, the police and prison authorities received numerous warnings that Blake would make a bid for freedom. Security was tightened but it was to no avail, as the BBC reported on October 22 1966:

One of Britain’s most notorious double-agents, George Blake, has escaped from prison in London after a daring break-out believed to have been masterminded by the Soviet Union.

Wardens at Wormwood Scrubs prison last saw him at the evening roll call, at 1730 GMT.

An hour-and-a-half later, his cell was discovered to be empty.

After a short search, the escape route was found. Bars in a window at the end of a landing had been sawn away and a rope ladder hung down inside the prison wall.

Sean Bourke had prepared a ladder made from nylon thread and knitting needles. As in Bagley’s book, the ladder was thrown over a perimeter wall, where Slade/Blake climbed over to an awaiting vehicle. Unlike the novel, Blake wasn’t liberated to Ireland and a well staffed safe house, but was moved apartment to apartment, bed-sit to bed-sit by Bourke, Pottle and Randle, never staying anywhere long enough to attract police attention.

Eventually, in a farcical denouement, Blake was driven by Randle, in a Commer Dormobile from London to Berlin, and then through to East Germany. Through the crucial parts of the journey, Blake remained hidden under the bench seat, with Randle’s children sitting comfortably on top. The incident made fools of the security and secret services, but revealed the ability of committed individuals to change history.

Blake became a hero in Soviet Russia, but his actions seemed pointless after Perestroika. In 1990, he published his autobiography No Other Choice, and claimed his time spent in Moscow had been the happiest of his life. Sean Bourke dined out on the escape story for years, becoming the focus for media attention, and, of course, Simon Gray famously turned the relationship between Blake and Bourke in prison into his play Cell Mates- the production Stephen Fry ran out on, in 1995.

In June 1991, Randle and Pottle were eventually put on trial for their involvement in Blake’s escape, but were found not guilty by a jury, after arguing that, while they in no way condoned Blake’s espionage activities for either side, they were right to help him because the forty-two year sentence he received was inhuman and hypocritical.



Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Albert Camus vs. Jean-Paul Sartre

They first met through a love of theater, at a production of The Flies. It drew them together, this collective experience towards a creative good. And then, of course, their love of literature and writing, and during the war through the Resistance, and endless conversations in the cafes, which later became famous through association with their names. Jean-Paul Sartre was the leader. Albert Camus the talented writer, a leader in waiting.

Though close, there were early signs of division - Sartre knew Camus was the better writer, something he would never acknowledge publicly - and when the war finished, it wasn’t long for their friendship to fail.

Against the background of Cold War tensions and the threat of nuclear war between East and West, Sartre took the side of the Soviet Union, while Camus said he was on “the side of life”.

“I’m against a new war. To revolt today means to revolt against war.”

But it was Sartre’s blind acceptance of Russia’s concentration camps that proved too much for Camus. He wanted Sartre to denounce them, in the same way they had once denounced the German concentration camps. Sartre refused.

This led Camus to question the idea of rebellion and revolution, in particular the value of the Russian revolution, this at a time when writers on the Left held it up as the socialist dream.

In The Rebel Camus wrote:

‘In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself.

“In contemplating the results in an act of rebellion we shall have to ask ourselves each time if it remains faithful to its first noble promise or whether it forgets its purpose and plunges into a mire of tyranny and servitude.

“In Absurdist experience suffering is individual, but from the moment that a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience, as the experience of everyone. Therefore the first step towards a mind overwhelmed by the absurdity of things is to realize that this feeling, this strangeness is shared by all men, and the entire human race suffers from a division between itself and the rest of the world.”

Camus’ intention with The Rebel was to change accepted ideas about rebellion, with a new concept of questioning revolutionary action. For many it was too abstract and too damaging to the communist cause.

Sartre, therefore, decided something had to be done to redress Camus’ apparent attack on Soviet Communism, and by implication all communist belief, and he organized a damning and high-handed response. It proved to be a devastating blow to Camus.

While Sartre could separate the world of ideas from his personal friendship, Camus could not. He believed friendship was essential, and depended on his friends like the strong camaraderie shared by a theater company. Camus believed friendship united people together in the struggle for a better world. He therefore saw Sartre’s actions as the worst kind of betrayal, and it finished their friendship.

This is a short but fascinating extract examining the friendship between Camus and Sartre.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Are the Smurfs Communist Nazis?

Image by Bit Weird.

I’d heard the theory that the Smurfs were a ploy to get us used to the imminent arrival of little blue aliens, but this is news to me. A French academic has published a book claiming that the Smurfs were both Communist and anti-Semitic, claims that have met with a backlash from fans of the little blue guys. From The Guardian:

Antoine Buéno, a lecturer at Sciences Po university in Paris, makes the claims in his new book Le Petit Livre Bleu: Analyse critique et politique de la société des Schtroumpfs, in which he points out that the Smurfs live in a world where private initiative is rarely rewarded, where meals are all taken together in a communal room, where there is one leader and where the Smurfs rarely leave their small country.

“Does that not remind you of anything? A political dictatorship, for example?” asks Buéno, going on to compare the Smurfs’ world to a totalitarian utopia reminiscent of Stalinist communism (Papa wears a red outfit and resembles Stalin, while Brainy is similar to Trotsky) and nazism (the character of the Smurfs’ enemy Gargamel is an antisemitic caricature of a Jew, he proposes). A story about the Black Smurfs, meanwhile, in which the Smurfs are bitten by a fly which turns their skin black and renders them unable to speak, has colonial overtones.

Reactions to the book were immediate and hostile, with commenters on Smurf fansites calling Buéno a “dream breaker”, an imbecile and a crook with “paranoid delusions”, who is ruining childhood memories.

Is this strange video perhaps more proof of a connection?

Thanks to Nicola Blackmore.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Before 2001 - Pavel Klushantsev’s classic science fiction film ‘The Road to the Stars’

Scenes from Road to the Stars and 2001, side-by-side.
Film-maker Alessandro Cima has posted some fascinating clips from Pavel Klushantsev’s classic 1957 Russian science-fiction film The Road to the Stars, over at Candlelight Stories. Forget Kubrick’s 2001 for as Cima explains, Klushantsev’s masterpiece was the first and arguably the better of the two films.

Pavel Klushantsev’s 1957 film, Road to the Stars, features astoundingly realistic special effects that were an inspiration and obvious blueprint for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey ten years later.  The film is an extended form of science education, building upon existing 1950s technology to predict space exploration of the future.  The sequences with astronauts in zero gravity are incredibly realistic.  The second excerpt from the film features the construction of and life aboard a space station in earth orbit that is not only convincing but also beautiful.  There are several scenes with space station dwellers using videophones that anticipate the famous Kubrick videophone scene.

Watching these short clips now, it is no surprise that The Road to the Stars has been described as: of the most amazing special effects accomplishments in film history.

However, Klushantsev faced considerable difficulties in making such an effects-heavy film, at one point being asked by one Communist Party bureaucrat why he didn’t make a film about factory manufacturing or beetroot production, but as Klushantsev explained:

The Road to the Stars proved to me I did the right thing thing, one must envisage the future. People should be able to see life can be changed radically.

Klushantsev started work on the film in 1954, and liaised thru-out with Russia’s leading space program scientists, Mikhail Tikhonravov and Sergey Korolyov, to achieve accuracy with his own designs - from space suits, to cabin temperature and rocket design. Indeed, everything in Klushantsev’s film had to at least have an element of possiblity and it is this factual core that gave Klushantsev’s film a documentary-like feel. The film coincided with the launch of Russia’s robotic spacecraft, Sputnik, and led the previously antagonistic Russian bureaucrats to “foam at the mouth” and demand The Road to the Stars include shots of of the satellite in the film.

Bonus clips, plus short making-of documentary, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Waiting for the Communist Call: Propaganda and reflection as the Berlin Wall turns 49

The seemingly borderless nature of our digital age renders bizarre the idea of nationalized walls separating people. Current items like the Israeli West Bank “security” barrier and the demand for a wall on the entire Mexican border just seem absurd and brutal.

Those were walls that kept people out. Today marks the 49th anniversary of a wall that kept people in and fired the imaginations of artists like Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Sex Pistols.

In an effort to stave off “fascist” influence from the West, German Democratic Republic General Secretary Walter Ulbricht closed the border between the Western and Soviet sectors with barbed wire and fences, on order from Nikita Khrushchev. It soon became the symbol of national alienation.

Below are two of the most fascinating pieces of media about the Berlin Wall that I’ve found. Walter de Hoog’s The Wall was produced by the United States Information Agency, the global propaganda arm started by the Eisenhower administration in 1953. Strangely, the USIA was prohibited to screen their films to the American public, so this stark, immediate and emotive piece wasn’t released here until 1990.

After the jump: Magnum photographer Thomas Hoepker’s remarkable narrated slide show of his 40 years covering the Wall…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Brilliantly animated Soviet history from a workers perspective—to the tune of Tetris

Really creative stuff here. UK designer and video artist Chris Lince has put together a fantastic video for his fellow Brits in the group Pig With the Face of a Boy, which describes itself as “the world’s best neo-post-post music hall anti-folk band.”

The song, “A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris” (that melody is actually the 19th-century Russian folk song “Korbeiniki”) is clever enough, packing a 70-year history into seven minutes. But the metaphor of the famously addictive video game truly comes alive in Lince’s atmospheric vid. He captures the grime, the grit, and the blocks beautifully. I’m not a gigantic fan of satirical musical comedy, but I think this is executed really well.

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
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