Alexei Sayle: How do you rebel against communist parents? Go even further to the left

The Sino-Soviet split offered a choice of an extra dour kind of socialism for puritans

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Last week I wrote about visiting the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Liverpool. Over the past few years I have become a huge fan of seeing what the Spanish call casas natales, birth homes.

Having a house near Granada, I have become particularly keen on visiting the homes of Federico Garcia Lorca, which have all been preserved as they were when he lived in them – the place where he was born in Fuente Vaqueros and the winter home in Valderrubio.

When we were out there recently it was really hot. We went into Granada one day when it was 40C to see our lawyer and afterwards bought a mirror in a furniture shop on the Paseo de Ronda that we like. I asked the girl in the shop if it was heavy and she said no, it wasn't at all heavy, and she lifted it off the wall like it was made of paper.

I think she must have been in the Spanish women's weightlifting team because as I carried the mirror back to our hire car, which was some way away in an underground car park, I realised it was much heavier and bigger than it looked in the shop. So I found myself carrying a giant gold metal mirror, on my shoulders, through the centre of Granada, under the blazing hot summer sun, right past the summer home of Federico Garcia Lorca which we had visited the week before, the Huerta de San Vicente, from where he was taken by Nationalist forces and murdered.

Then I recalled Lorca's words. "We must leave, but Granada remains. Eternal in time, but fleeting in these poor hands – these hands of mine, the smallest of her children." Yet no man can truly understand Granada until he has carried a large gold mirror on his back down Calle Virgen Blanca.

So I think for the first time I now totally understand Spain. A huge debate out there at the moment is Ley de Memoria Historica, the historical memory law passed by the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party government which involves, among other things, state help in the tracing, identification and eventual exhumation of victims of Francoist repression such as Lorca whose corpses are still missing, often buried in mass graves.

For years they had in Spain what was called El Pacto de Olvido – the pact of forgetting – where all memories were suppressed, but over time that has not been sustainable. I have been thinking about ideas of redemption myself recently because I have been working on a memoir of my time as a revolutionary and the son of communist parents. Most teenagers rebel against their parents, try to become different from their mother and father, preferably adopting some way of life that really annoys them. But for me breaking away was more problematic because, just like my parents Molly and Joe, I really liked being left-wing. It was my thing. So in the end the form my teen rebellion took was that I didn't stop being a communist – I just became a different kind of communist to my parents.

Until the late 1950s, the two giant socialist states, the USSR and the People's Republic of China, had seemed to be close as close could be. But towards the end of the decade splits began to appear, until in 1961 Mao and the Chinese communists openly denounced "the Revisionist Traitor Group of Soviet Leadership".

The dispute was really about national interest, access to nuclear technology and conflicting personality, but the ostensible reason for the fracture was over who was truly the heir of the Soviet revolution. In 1956, in his "secret speech" to the party congress, Khrush-chev had denounced the "cult of personality" surrounding Stalin and had revealed some of the terrible crimes committed during the Great Purges.

Over the next couple of years Khrushchev tried to reform the Soviet system, placing more emphasis on the production of consumer goods over traditional heavy industry and liberalising a tiny bit the repressive attitude towards any form of dissent. Though slightly assuaged by the crushing of revolts in Hungary and East Germany, many in the West's communist movements were uneasy with this liberalisation; they didn't like the idea of a communist society allowing their citizens to have a choice of more than one type of hat. Yet they had nowhere to take their disaffection until the Sino-Soviet split offered these vengeful characters a choice of an extra dour kind of socialism more in keeping with their puritan inclinations.

So I became a Maoist while my parents remained devoted to the Soviet Union. Soon violent arguments erupted over breakfast in my own casa natal, 5 Valley Road, Anfield Liverpool 4.

"Don't you dare call your mother a bureacratist capitalist roader, Lexi!"

"Well, she is, Dad! Anyone disassociating themselves from direct manual labour is bound to set themselves apart from the masses, inevitably leading to bureacratism. As the Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao, has stated, 'There must be no 'sitting in the office' no 'moving his mouth but not his hands'."

"What are you talking about, Lexi? You haven't done a day's manual labour in your life!

"You're a red fascist, Molly! A commandeerist! A one voiceist! And is my football kit ready because we've got double games at school tomorrow?"

I now feel ashamed of the cruelty and repression I embraced when I was a Maoist, and I found myself wondering how I could have been so blind to so much wrongdoing until I read a brilliant book called Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts. This was written by two social psychologists called Aronson and Tavris and details the psychological processes that lead to people to doing the wrong thing while thinking it is the right thing. There is a wonderful quote from George Orwell on that subject at the front of the book.

"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."

I can't help feeling this would make essential reading for all those promoting the latest surge in Afghanistan.

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