Book Review from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
Stalin Ate My Homework. Alexei Sayle. Sceptre. £8.99
It is often said that stand-up comedians are the product of a troubled childhood and in Alexei Sayle’s case that meant growing up as a half-Jewish, atheist, Scouse Marxist. Or at least a Marxist of sorts, because Sayle was brought up in Anfield in Liverpool the son of active Communist Party parents (his father, Joe, was an active trade unionist in the National Union of Railwaymen and incidentally a key witness in the famous Hanratty murder trail).
Sayle’s childhood was certainly unusual. Most Liverpudlian children of his age holidayed in places like Blackpool or Llandudno: his parents took him all over the former Eastern Bloc instead, often as guests of the local ruling Communist Parties. Sayle says he became a Young Communist as a matter of kinship and faith because his parents were Communists, but in his mid teens and while still at school something clicked intellectually too:
‘Once you understand Marx all the apparent chaos of human existence resolved itself into a coherent and comprehensive pattern . . . You can imagine, armed with this philosophy, how full of myself I now became. Even when I hadn’t had the secret of human history in my grasp I had been a mouthy little bastard in class. Now I was unstoppable.’
As those who have seen his act will appreciate, Sayle went from being a mouthy little bastard in class to being a mouthy big bastard on stage, and an entertaining one at that. On the way he also had a spell as a Maoist, joining the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) for a while.
His time as a teenage Maoist is where this engaging autobiographical account ends and it is hoped that there is to be a sequel covering his development as one of the original ‘alternative’ stand-up comedians in the UK.