August 7, 2005


I still fight oppression: The liberals who say I have deserted the left should ask themselves where they stand on Islamism (Nick Cohen, August 7, 2005, The Observer)

Looking back on how his generation covered up the crimes of communism in the 1930s, WH Auden explained that he and his friends weren't true communists but fellow travellers. At home they defended civil liberties and stood up for freedom of speech. Abroad, they tolerated atrocities precisely because they didn't impinge on them.

'Our great error,' said Auden, 'was not a false admiration for Russia but a snobbish feeling that nothing which happened in a semi-barbarous country which had experienced neither the Renaissance nor the Enlightenment could be of any importance: had any of the countries we knew personally, like France, Germany or Italy, the language of which we could speak and where we had personal friends, been one to have a successful communist revolution with the same phenomena of terror, purges, censorship etc, we would have screamed our heads off.'

To speak of the 'Auden generation' is to perpetuate a myth of the Thirties. The majority of the population, including the majority of Labour supporters, never read an Auden poem or hitched a ride with communism. What is meant is the 'progressive' middle-class left: publishers, authors, academics, teachers, liberal journalists, the odd lawyer and odder advocate of various forms of alternative life styles. People like me, in short.

In their later years, most tried a defence which Auden was too honest, and too filled with disgust at his younger self, to advance. Our priority was fighting fascism, the excuse-making ran. We were faced with a psychopathic movement of the extreme right which was dripping in blood. It looks bad now that we went along with Stalin, but we were socialists and he called what he was doing socialism, and in any event we had other priorities.

Today's middle-class left is made up of the same types as 70 years ago. The faults of small-mindedness and self-righteousness and the virtues of instinctive suspicion of the British establishment and sympathy for the British underdog haven't changed either. What's new is that no one truly believes in socialism. When Tony Blair goes we will have the first Labour leadership election without a serious left-wing candidate. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine what a serious left-wing candidate would look like and what his or her programme might be.

I'm sure that any halfway competent political philosopher could rip the assumptions of modern middle-class left-wingery apart. Why is it right to support a free market in sexual relationships but oppose free-market economics, for instance? But his criticisms would have little impact. It's like a religion: the contradictions are obvious to outsiders but don't disturb the faithful. You believe when you're in its warm embrace. Alas, I'm out. Last week, after 44 years of regular church-going, the bell tolled, the book was closed and the candle was extinguished. I was excommunicated.

Alas? Think of it as an opportunity not to be remembered the way Robin Cook will be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 7, 2005 11:26 AM

The water may be fine, but someone who takes the eary route of comparing his Leftist critics and former friends to "Thacherites" and conservatives in general using the language of the Left ("petit bougouise" indeed) obviously isn't about to go for a swim. He's just marking time until the looneys can be pushed out by those who at least appear rational, and he can then rejoin them. (Notice that he's not doing the pushing, either.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 7, 2005 3:05 PM


That's how they all start--they end as Orwell, Chambers, Reagan, etc.

Posted by: oj at August 7, 2005 3:18 PM

Reagan? I was a Reagan type Democrat and no damned Socialist. In those days the Democrats had numerous Zell Miller types. I was one and as such am amazed Miller stayed as long as he did. I bolted about the same time Reagan did ... when it was obvious the Marxists were taking over ... wearing sheeps clothing and in a trojan horse. Have to admire the snakes, hypothetically, for the way they did it.

Posted by: Genecis at August 7, 2005 7:42 PM

Reagan supported FDR and the New Deal, which was socialist.

Posted by: oj at August 7, 2005 8:30 PM

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

-- W.H. Auden, "The Shield of Achilles"

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 8, 2005 2:19 AM