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The Communist Party at Cambridge


Politics at Cambridge
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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I went up to Cambridge in a pretty confused state, politically. I mean, you must remember, we're talking about the... the period when the World War was about to break out. I had, between leaving school and going to university, I had spent a holiday for a month with an uncle of mine who, at that time, was British military attache in Berlin. I had seen what was happening in Germany. I've actually heard Hitler make a speech in... in the flesh, a terrifying experience, dark, torches - Zieg Heil, Zieg Heil everywhere. And people are wrong about Hitler in some ways, he didn't scream all the time. Much of the time it was a rather warm, reassuring voice. And then every now and then it would go off into this sort of screaming hysteria. I came back really very frightened, because I sort of knew there was going to be a war. And yet I had been a pacifist, I had this belief that, you know, if people refused to fight there couldn't be wars, which is logically true. But I also sort of knew that pacifism wasn't going to stop Hitler. And I went up to Cambridge, and I think, within a couple of months of going to Cambridge, I joined the Communist Party. They seemed to be the one organisation who did know there was going to be a war. Who... we were very involved in... in the Spanish Civil War, which was raging at the time. But they also were... had what to me were admirable policies on a number of other questions. I mean, I... I made a number of Indian friends when I went up to Cambridge who were determined that India should become independent, which it, of course, later did. And some of these friends of mine became important members in the Congress Party and so on.

The late British biologist John Maynard Smith (1920-2004) is famous for applying game theory to the study of natural selection. At Eton College, inspired by the work of old Etonian JBS Haldane, Maynard Smith developed an interest in Darwinian evolutionary theory and mathematics. Then he entered University College London (UCL) to study fruit fly genetics under Haldane. In 1973 Maynard Smith formalised a central concept in game theory called the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS). His ideas, presented in books such as 'Evolution and the Theory of Games', were enormously influential and led to a more rigorous scientific analysis and understanding of interactions between living things.

Listeners: Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford University and has taught zoology at the universities of California and Oxford. He is a fellow of New College, Oxford and the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Dawkins is one of the leading thinkers in modern evolutionary biology. He is also one of the best read and most popular writers on the subject: his books about evolution and science include "The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype", "The Blind Watchmaker", "River Out of Eden", "Climbing Mount Improbable", and most recently, "Unweaving the Rainbow".

Tags: Cambridge University, WWII, Berlin, Germany, Communist Party, India, Indian National Congress, Adolf Hitler

Duration: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008