Issue 208 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 1997 Copyright Socialist Review

Why I remain a socialist

John Fowles: The endless lessons of history'

SR: What influenced you to become a socialist in the first place?

JF: Perhaps the enclosed bit from a recent review in the Guardian will give some indication. It may seem absurd but the old Robin Hood 'myth' has always deeply influenced me. I really have always totally lacked any sense of normal Christian ethics.

'I myself grew up as poor as a church mouse, ethically speaking. My parents didn't raise me religiously in any except a stock suburban sense; indeed my father was next door to a total atheist. I was saved by this book and its great gust of practical or socialist common sense, with its two stark commandments: suspect the rich, protect the poor. That good wind still carries me through life. Robin made perfect sense and so did the quasi-guerrilla exploits of his gang: their hatred of the clergy, of all uniforms and the pompously overdressed (mere appearance), the sharp irony and that marked sense of humour, mirrored in all our more serious literature, made me theirs from the very beginning.'

SR: Do you think it is possible to be political as an artist? How does politics influence your art?

JF: It is always difficult, because all humans are split between being unique persons, fierce for themselves, and good members of society. If forced to answer I'd always say that I put artistic considerations above political ones. But I know I do have both a right and a duty to make my politics clear.

SR: What effect has Britain and its imperialist past had on your ideas and your writing?

JF: A considerable one. I deeply loathe the chauvinistic idea of Britain as opposed to England, my real homeland, along with France and Greece. My whole life has stood against a red, white and blue Britain. I declared myself there in a paper of 1964, On Being English But Not British.

SR: Do you think that the ideas of Thatcherism and Tory values in general pushed a number of artists to the left?

JF: I loathe Thatcher and the way she totally bent and corrupted this country. I pray the Tories will get the boot in this next election. Certainly, Thatcher has driven many of us very strongly leftwards.

SR: Have you many expectations of a Labour government?

JF: Yes, of course I have them, but expect to be disappointed. There's always something over idealistic in socialism, almost inviting the worst. I must confess I should have much preferred Prescott to Blair...the old Labour Party to the new. That Tory propaganda magazine, The Spectator, used that common sentiment only this week.

SR: Why does history play such a big part in your writing? Is it easier to write about the present with references to the past?

JF: I don't rate the now very highly and love the endless lessons of history. For me they so often, even when they're very old, speak much more directly to the present.

SR: Have Marxist ideas had much influence on you?

JF: Yes, because I really don't have much time for the silly suburban theory that Marx is dead, defunct. I've just been talking at the Greek Centre in London. They now have on the walls surrounding their lecture room a series of blow ups of their andarte (Resistance) heroes, both men and women. You'd be surprised how many were communists; and you feel you cannot betray such faces. I still feel it today, you can't lightly dismiss what drove such nobly suffering eyes. Of course, Marxism has been in part misled and misleading, but where else will you find such a lasting vein of humanism and human decency?

I've mentioned that one dark problem in the Marxist view of life. We are all two things, one social, the other unique. Marx says most of what needs saying to the first. The needs and desires of the second still go begging, and perhaps always will.

SR: Why do you remain a socialist today?

JF: Perhaps because I have much travelled and know France and Greece, in their different ways the two prime existentialist countries along with ours of Europe. This is why I cannot imagine not being a sort of socialist. I also know the enigma of America well: that 'experiment' that seems always on the brink of failing. That truly hasn't 'worked'. They should try the cure they fear.


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