St Helena Online

Communist Tristan da Cunha? That’s like waving a red flag…

The potato patches aren’t exactly a gulag, and the closest similarity to the Berlin Wall is that its buildings get blown down in storms… but Tristan da Cunha has been described, by its former governor, as a communist state. In the nicest possible way, of course.

Andrew Gurr was paying a compliment to the 260-or-so people of the world’s most remote inhabited island when he made his observation, but it’s raised the eyebrows of one seasoned Tristan watcher.

Mr Gurr told this site: “Tristan is a successful example of communism and I really stand by that.

“I think that for me, they just pull together in a way you wouldn’t expect in a society that was much bigger.”

His original comments can be seen here, in a transcript from his talk in Oxford in May 2012 to the Friends of St Helena.

A reader has responded by quoting Wikipedia:

“Communism is a revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless, and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production.”

Leaving aside the bit about money, it’s that common-ownership bit that spoils the analogy, says our reader:

“While Tristan has a great deal of communal ownership, and everyone is pretty much provided for equally, the primary means of production is the fish factory… which is owned by a South African company.”

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
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  • Hence, Peter Andreas Munch’s 1971 book, titled ‘Crisis in Utopia; The Ordeal of Tristan da Cunha’; wherein he describes the impact of the fish cannery upon the island community. I believe his first anthropological work on the island was circa 1938. I heard him lecture of the “crisis” in ’72 when he was Professor Emeritus in cultural anthropology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I do recall his saying that Tristan da Cunha was the only true communist nation on the planet at that or any time. I had the impression that the Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, North Korea, and even Cuba where only nominally communist hegemonies. Judging from the elitist control of access to material and economic resources in those states today, regardless of the descriptive nomenclature their leaders may ascribe to economic practices; Munch might well have been correct.

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