NOEL BROWNE, THE SOVIET UNION AND STALINISM
1. (NOEL) BROWNE LOOKS BACK IN ASTONISHMENT AT 'FLOURISHING SOVIETS'
Extract from article in Sunday Tribune, 22 February 1987
A TELEVISION NEWS CREW FROM THE SOVIET UNION VISITED IRELAND LAST WEEK TO REPORT ON THE GENERAL ELECTION. WHILE IN DUBLIN THEY ALSO INTERVIEWED NOEL BROWNE ABOUT HIS RECENT VISIT TO MOSCOW TO ATTEND THE 'PEACE FORUM'. EMILY O'REILLY REPORTS.
(Photograph: IN FRONT OF SOVIET CAMERA: Noel Browne and his wife Phyllis, being interviewed by Soviet television in their home.)
It was Dr Browne's first visit to the Soviet Union, although he is a long time admirer of that society.
As the camera crew fiddled with lights and awkward fittings Mr Shishkovsky spoke of his work in London, remarking that several pieces of equipment had been destroyed by English police some weeks ago as the crew was filming disturbances at the Wapping plant.
"But we didn't say anything about that." he said. "Look at Martin Walker of the Observer - he wrote last week about being kicked in the kidneys by the KGB in Moscow but we say just look at what is happening in England!."
Mr Shishkovsky also claimed that since the release of Soviet scientists Dr Andrei Sakharov from his eight year exile in Gorky (Dr Sakharov also attended the peace forum) western journalists were no longer interested in interviewing him. "When he was leader of, what is the word you call them, the dissidents, everybody wanted to interview him, now nobody does.
Dr Browne nodded in agreement.
Minutes later the interview began. As the cameras rolled Dr Browne was asked about his impressions of the forum.
"It was an astonishing experience," he said to a smiling Mr Shishkovsky. "Over 1,000 people gathered together from generals to physicians, representatives from six major religions, scientists, artists .... and they came from everywhere, from France, from South America, India, Tibet....it was an incredible experience.
The main frustration, Dr Browne continued, was western media bias, a suspicion of Soviet motives and an unwillingness to see failings and shortcomings in their own backyard". One Irish journalist, he said, had asked him in Moscow about the chronic shortages, the queues for food items and other basic commodities.
"Yes, I told her, there are shortages here; there are shortages of little children begging in the streets; there are shortages of people sleeping in the streets; there are shortages of unemployed people. She asked me then about human rights in Russia and I said, "What about Portlaoise? Portlaoise is full of political prisoners; look at the jails in Belfast too.
Later in the interview Dr Browne spoke of how impressed he had been with Soviet television in comparison with the western kind. "It was very informative. We saw no simulated sex, no killings, no beatings, no violence. Instead we saw ballet and quartets playing classical music, debate and discussions. I said to myself why could this country not want to develop such a society. I was reminded of a statement made by the British socialist Beatrice Webb; "I have seen the future and it works” [My emphasis]. But I would just add, it works, if the United States will permit it to do so.
Mr Shishkovsky then asked if Dr Browne believed in the sincerity of Mikhail Gorbachev., if he believed that the sentiments expressed by the Soviet premier in a recent speech about the need for disarmament were genuine.
"It was a very impressive speech indeed," answered Dr Browne, "another step forward by the Soviet people towards socialism. He said the Soviet people are committed to non-violence and all he wants to do is to improve the living standards of the Soviet people. He has stopped nuclear testing and maintained the stoppage in spite of Ronald Reagan. He spoke of the disappointment of the summit between himself and Reagan but there was no sense of bitterness... he spoke more in sorrow than in anger."
As the interview drew to a close, Dr Browne spoke with passion of the great disappointment he felt at the way Ireland had developed since the foundation of the state.
"We started at the same time you did", he said about 70 years ago, but I must talk about my sense of desolation as we moved around Moscow and saw the wonderfully preserved buildings, the beauty of the paintings, the icons and the joy at seeing the cultural side of the things, opera and ballet that left one in a state of shock with their beauty... the superb health services, the fact that everyone can have free education. And I look at the contrast between out two societies....how is it that ours is now tethering on the brink of economic bankruptcy and yours is flourishing." [My emphasis].
Phyllis Browne spoke too with uncritical fervour of her impressions of Soviet society. She spoke of walking through Moscow streets and see "happy people and so warm and so well-dressed." Neither Dr nor Mrs Browne had a single word of criticism for what they had witnessed in the Soviet Union. They gave the camera crew a eulogy. The result was seen by 200 million Soviet citizens the following night.
Later Dr Browne said in an interview with the Sunday Tribune that his view was uncritical in so far as he did not think that things like queues and shortages, "the absence of consumerism", were relevant or important. “Socialism does require regimentation and sacrifice by all the community. Also changing a society that is a sub-continent is not something that can be done overnight and I expect terrible things to happen on the way such as the Stalinist period." My emphasis]
2. DIVERGING VIEWS OF BROWNE'S LEGACY
[The best commentary I have come across regarding the above is the following letter in the Sunday Independent dated 12 May 1996. It was in response to what seems to have been the usual hymn of praise to a Secular Saint published the previous Sunday.]
Sir - Before we finish the process of making Dr Noel Browne a lay saint, we would do well to remember that had he had his political way we would now be painfully emerging into the democratic light after two generations of personal and economic repression in an Eastern European style dictatorship.
Dr Browne's early achievements and his undoubted compassion should not be allowed to obscure the more dubious aspects of his political persona. For most of his political life after leaving Government, as a perusal of his speeches in Dail Eireann and newspapers of the time will show, he extolled the "virtues" of what he chose to call the "Eastern European Socialist societies" and asserted that our undoubted problems of social deprivation would only be solved if we had the sense to embrace the system with, presumably, himself as the Celtic Ceausescu or the Hibernian Hohxa.
By stretching the benefit of the doubt to snapping point, it is just about possible to accept that Dr Browne was unaware of the awfulness of what he was proposing. But after all that has become known in the recent past, surely even he must now realise the depths of brutality that characterised the regimes except, of course, for those in the leadership.
Even now a word of apology or regret for so wilfully misleading the people would be welcome.
Sean Ward, Sutton Park, Dublin 13
Doctor Noel Browne died on 21st May 1997. Of course there was never a "word of apology or regret". His essay "A Virgin Ireland" which contained the false allegations of paedophilia against Archbishop McQuaid, was his last poisonous legacy to this country. In a way it was appropriate. His Stalinism had always been motivated by hatred of the Catholic Church. It certainly was NOT based on love of the working class!
3 October 2006http://www.alliancesupport.org/news/archives/001461.html