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Dealing with stories of Stalin's excesses


The Communist Party at Cambridge
John Maynard Smith Scientist
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The Communist Party did seem to be the one political party at that time that was really determined to... in opposition to the Fascists and the Nazis, but also they knew that, and proposed that, the British Empire should be broken up and given independence. And I had a number of young Indian friends who later became active in the... in Congress and so on, in India, from whom I learnt about conditions in India and the need for independence in India. So, it was... colonial liberation was an important part of one's sympathy with the Communist Party, and then, much more generally, there were gross inequalities of wealth and income in Britain at that time, which the Communist Party were in favour of altering. So, on a number of immediate issues, I felt sympathetic to the Communist Party. And it was... I mean, I wasn't the only one, many of my generation who minded about what was happening in the world, joined the party. And, I didn't do much work at Cambridge, to be honest. I got a second class honours degree at Cambridge on the strength of the mathematics I'd learned at Eton, essentially, and I spent the rest of my time working and organising the Communist Party, and getting married, which was quite a good thing to do. But... I really didn't do any academic work at Cambridge at all, I'd say.

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: Communist Party, Nazis, Fascist, British Empire, India, Indian National Congress, Eton College

Duration: 1 minute, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: April 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008