The BBC's People's Century

Outdated views and misleading half-truths

Historical footage and ordinary people recalling their experiences - a nice idea. Unfortunately the third episode of People's Century exposed the flaw. There's no substitute for the non-ordinary role of the over-viewing narrator, and in "Red Flag" (27 September 1995) this supposedly deeper perspective was alarmingly shallow.

Stalin was obviously a monster. But so was Lenin. Here, his dissolution of the democratic Constituent Assembly in 1918 went unmentioned, as did his Red Terror and all but a few seconds on the Civil War which most modern historians agree he provoked (total casualties 23 million, according to Richard Pipes). Instead, because it makes good television, we got Eisenstein's tired old romantic fake of the "storming of the Winter Palace".

Later, the usual inaccuracies about artistic freedom in the 1920s were trundled out, along with a selection of mostly still-foolish old Communists, reliving their delusions for the camera 70 years on. Why no non-Party point of view, no one to remind us of Lenin's concentration camp on the Solovetsky Islands, nobody to speak for the White Russian emigration? (Presumably there was no surviving historical footage...)

At best, this was a colour supplement travesty. Unfortunately millions today will take it as History.

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