War of ideas

Print edition : May 16, 2014

Isaiah Berlin, who was one of the presiding voices of Anglo-American liberalism. Photo: faefwefwefw

Isaac Deutscher with his wife, Tamara. He remained faithful to his Leninist heritage and defended Soviet conduct.

Simone de Beauvoir.

Jean Paul Sartre.

E.H. Carr.

THE Cold War destroyed friendships and debased the quality of political discourse. In its sweep some intellectuals became enthusiastic partisans; some became crusaders; some were out to destroy their adversaries.

Isaac Deutscher and Isaiah Berlin were two committed partisans and their contests dominate this fascinating work. In tracing its course, the author brings to life vividly a certain phase in history. Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) and Isaac Deutscher (1907-1967) were major thinkers and politically influential intellectuals of the last century. Both achieved the height of their influence during the Cold War. On one occasion Berlin explained to the present writer, David Caute, precisely why Deutscher should not be allowed to hold an academic post —anywhere. This conversation took place in the common room of All Souls College, Oxford, early in 1963.

Isaiah Berlin had become one of the presiding voices of Anglo-American liberalism. On virtually every issue, he took the anti-Soviet position. Deutscher remained faithful to his Leninist heritage and resolutely defended Soviet conduct. A critic of Stalin, he nevertheless regarded his work as essential to Soviet modernisation, while prophesying a true socialist democracy in post-Stalin Russia.

Towards the end of his life, Deutscher became a hero to the New Left, which Berlin found intolerable. Deutscher excoriated America’s war in Vietnam. Both he and Berlin were non-believing Jews attached to their Jewish identity but with sharply conflicting attitudes towards Israel and Zionism. Both had lost close relatives in the Holocaust.

Berlin rose to high academic positions. Deutscher aspired to that distinction. His books were works of great scholarship: biographies of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky (in three volumes); on the Russian Revolution; on The Great Contest: Russia and the West; and on Marxism. He was sought by the most respected periodicals for his contributions and was highly respected by many in the media and the academia. His talks were acclaimed by critical audiences.

Deutscher had one critic, a covert enemy who was out to destroy him. The author’s record of his conversation with Berlin provides a gripping beginning to the book.

“The conversation took place in the common room during the first week of March in 1963. It was the idle half-hour after lunch when one might drift in from the buttery, with its curved, panelled walls and coffered ceiling shaped as an oval dome, the work of Hawksmoor. Isaiah greeted me. ‘Do you have a moment to spare? I seek your advice.’ He shepherded us into armchairs close to a window overlooking the fellows’ garden. It could be no one else’s garden since ours was a college uniquely without students.…

‘I seek your advice,’ he repeated, then abruptly asked what, “in principle”, should disbar a man from holding a senior academic post. “Leaving aside’, he added in his rapid tones, ‘lack of acceptable scholarly credentials, drunkenness, wife-swapping —nothing like that.’ I hesitated, as one might. Impatient, he boomed out the answer ‘May I tell you? Dishonesty. Falsifying evidence. Deliberate falsification.’ I asked whether he had anyone in mind. He nodded. ‘Indeed I do. Deutscher. Perhaps you know him?’ ‘Isaac Deutscher? No.’ ‘But you know his work. You admire him enormously—most of our young scholars on the left admire Deutscher.’…

“He asked whether I had read Deutscher’s review of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. I had. I was aware that Isaiah had known and revered the late Boris Pasternak whereas Deutscher had likened his famous novel to a voice from the grave.… Berlin nodded, evidently gratified. ‘All very true. Deutscher worships Lenin, you see. He would like us to view Trotsky as Jesus on the Cross—the great modern tragedy.’ I ventured that Deutscher’s biographies were impressively researched and extremely well written.… ‘Deutscher’s gifts cannot be denied,’ Isaiah said. ‘But would you not agree that the more a man knows, the less excuse he has for peddling pernicious myths? For dishonesty? For falsifying evidence— deliberate falsification?’

“I asked whether his main objection to Deutscher was his attachment to Marxism. ‘Not at all. That is covered by academic freedom. We have Marxist academics like Mills and Hobsbawm whom I may even admire, though in complete disagreement with them. But not Deutscher. Evidence must not be suppressed. He ought to know better —and he most probably does. He is not fit to teach.’…

“A nod. ‘He mainly lectures to the converted. But serious teaching—a protracted relationship with undergraduates, guiding them in their reading, moulding their outlook, establishing a curriculum —is not the same as the one-off lecture, come and go. How are young undergraduates, much less informed and perceptive than you, to survive his unscrupulous distortions? Believe me, your run-of-the-mill hack who dutifully toes the party line, word for word, chapter and verse, is far less dangerous than Deutscher.…

“‘Is the difference in your mind that [E.H.] Carr isn’t a Marxist whereas Deutscher remains attached to Marx’s utopia?’ ‘No, no and again no. To be a Marxist is a legitimate stance for an academic. But Deutscher parades as a soothsayer who informs us exactly how the true “socialist man” will emerge in the USSR and put us all, the warped civilisation of the West, to shame and rout. Ted Carr finds such optimism risible, he told me so. He does not believe that you can read the palm of history’s hand by way of ephemeral Kremlinology and then collect your shilling.’”

These extracts suffice to indicate the intensity of Berlin’s animosity and, no less, the author’s detached amusement. He is particularly qualified to write this excellently documented history of some leading intellectuals’ role in the Cold War.

The names appear all over the book. David Caute, Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, is a historian and novelist. His works include Communism and the French Intellectuals (1964), The Great Fear: The Anti Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower (1978) and The Fellow Traveller: Intellectual Friends of Communism (1988). He is scrupulously fair in his assessments of both the principal figures. The scholarship is matched by felicity of expression and flashes of donnish wit. As a young student he “regularly carted to my public school loads of Soviet pamphlets picked up from Collett’s bookshop in the Charing Cross Road, all published by the Moscow Foreign Language Publishing House, dirt cheap, all proving the superior social system prevailing in the USSR.… I remember that I planned to ask him [Christopher Hill, a Communist scholar at All Souls] whether I should actually join the Party, but the meeting never took place and when I emerged from service in the Gold Coast and Nigeria all such temptations were blown away during my first term at Wadham by the winds of the Hungarian Revolution and its suppression by Soviet tanks.”

In a strange lapse he dubs the quarterly Foreign Affairs “the State Department’s journal” (page 30), next as its “semi-official journal” (page 39) and finally as “the journal of the American Foreign Policy establishment” (page 202), which it is, indeed. In a scholar these differences in characterisation are inexcusable.

Caute not only traces carefully the careers of Berlin and Deutscher but also analyses their outlook. “Berlin and Deutscher were of the same generation, both refugees, both British by adoption, both multilingual, opinionated Jews; one Latvian-Russian, the other Polish. Both came to exercise influence not only in academic circles but among the wider British and American public. Both can be viewed as missionary spirits in contention to convince or convert the ideologically naïve English and American natives. To that extent theirs can be viewed as a family quarrel over the legitimate title to a heritage, a domain, entailing the temptation to fratricide. Deutscher’s fatal review of Berlin’s Historical Inevitability may be likened to an episode in the fraught story of Jacob and Esau —but which was the hairy one?... Today the name of Isaiah Berlin remains familiar to a wider public than Deutscher’s. Even when they have not read his work, educated people recognise him by reputation. By contrast, Deutscher’s name is well known to modern historians and students of politics, but not much beyond that circle.”

Moral Neuter

There is one major difference. Deutscher, expelled from the Polish Communist Party in 1931 remained an historian with “an admiration for Stalin’s policies”. He was nobody’s enemy and never stooped to intrigue. Berlin was one of the leading lights of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), backed its Congress for Cultural Freedom with a flair for intrigue leavened by mendacity. To him Deutscher was “a wicked man” (page 185). He repeatedly but unsuccessfully pressed David Astor, the best editor The O bserver has ever had, not to print his articles. Berlin was an assiduous social climber and aspired to be a part of England’s high society. Churchill’s daughter Clarissa called this salon conversationalist “an intellectual acrobat in the Society circus”. He received devastating snubs. President Kennedy cut Berlin off abruptly when, true to style, he tried to ingratiate himself by lapsing into anecdotes, as had Pablo Picasso once. The great historian Lewis Namier responded to Berlin after receiving a copy of his book Historical I nevitability: “How intelligent you must be to understand all you write.”

Intellectually, Berlin was a moral neuter. Colonialism of the West did not repel him, nor did its racialism. “How did he react to apartheid in South Africa or white Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence? Only once did he succumb to moral pressure to state publicly, very briefly and clearly reluctantly, his view of the Vietnam War. He liked to describe himself as a man of the left, or ‘left of centre’ assailed by both left and Right—but his right-wing detractors are difficult to locate.

“On the majority of front-page issues Berlin neither marched nor denounced in the letters pages of The Times those who did. He was no Jean-Paul Sartre, no Bertrand Russell. The major exception to his reticence throughout these years was his support for Israel, for a modified Zionism, and his outspoken views on what it meant, or should mean, to be a Jew. By and large, Berlin remained an impeccably conforming British citizen or ‘subject’—fellow of All Souls, knighted in his forties, President of Wolfson College, President of the British Academy, Order of Merit, almost predictably in step (or silent step) with the general line of the British government … Berlin remained virtually immune to the virus of good causes.”

Deutscher proclaimed himself as a classical Marxist waiting for The Unfinished Revolution: Russia 1917-1967 (the title of his book) to finish to a glorious end which would completely silence its critics —and his own. He was critical of Stalinism; yet Trotskyites regarded him as “a new-Stalinist heretic”.

The author shows the contrast. “Whereas Isaiah Berlin tended to be consistent in his prime values whatever platform he chose—book, essay, lecture, broadcast, newspaper article—there were several Isaac Deutschers. There was the masterly and measured prose of his major works, the fine nuances of judgment, the rapid digestion of archival evidence, the psychological insights and vivid portraits, the willingness to depart from orthodoxy—all of which placed him in the highest rank of historians. But another Deutscher, the polemicist, was something of a street fighter. A phone call from Fleet Street hit him like a nip of vodka. He loved the smell of printer’s ink. With success and acclaim, his ego expanded to the frontiers of vanity. Given newspaper commission, his reservations and doubts evaporated in a volley of prophetic declarations. He sneered at his critics, prisoners of Cold War mythology. He played to his audience: addressing gatherings of students, he tended to strike attitudes, waving his arms, wheeling in his ‘classical Marxism’, exalting the battle-hardened experience of his own generation, or quixotically affirming his faith in the revolutionary potential of the young American working class (even though he knew better). At the press of a button, this major historian became the Voice of Issac Deutscher, in possession of its own unique wavelength.”

Both befriended Edward Hallett Carr, author of the seminal Twenty Years’ Crisis (1939). Hans J. Morgenthau, Reinhold Niehbur and Carr belonged to the school of “realists”. Unlike their loudmouthed counterparts, they were erudite, thoughtful and wrote well, shunning sweeping simplicism. Unlike them, again, these three intellectual giants did not reject, still less scorn, the moral dimension. In Berlin’s mind, Carr and Deutscher enjoyed a sinister alliance.

However, Deutscher and his highly intelligent wife, Tamara, admired Carr the utopian more than Carr the realist. Both Carr and Deutscher “were averagely unscrupulous about deploying influence in the review pages of the Times Literary Supplement. For example Deutscher wrote to advise Carr how best to review his Stalin, given the English aversion to dialectics (and no doubt Carr’s as well). “I shall be anxiously awaiting your verdict.” Carr produced a glowing review in the TLS and even titled it “The Dialectics of Stalinism’.… Carr and Deutscher were united against Berlin and associates in regarding the Bolshevik Revolution as necessary and progressive. They were quite critical of each other. Carr was amused at Deutscher’s “faith” in the eventual revival of Trotsky’s memory. Deutscher never hesitated to praise his friend. “Mr Carr is in a sense the first real historian of Soviet Russia.”

Western Scholars’ Bias

The one point on which they agreed was the partisanship of Western scholars on the Cold War. Bertram Wolfe’s book Khrus h chev and Stalin’s Ghost received sharp criticism from Carr who accused him of preferring “the role of publicist to that of historian”—an aspersion that can justly be cast on a good many of Indian historians on sensitive phases of our freedom movement and of independent India. Predictably, that has never impeded their success. Wolfe was chief of the ideological advisory staff of the Voice of America.

Carr wrote: “If not the Pope of current and Bolshevik orthodoxy in the United States, he is at any rate one of the chiefs of its department of propaganda.” Reviewing a batch of three books in April 1961, Carr observed: “The cold war … has never really loosened its grip on American scholarship. The hostility to the United States still persistently manifested in publications from Moscow is matched by a constant flow from the American side of works which, though scholarly in outward appearance and to some extent in content, are none the less dominated by the conception of an all-pervading Soviet aggressiveness and Soviet unscrupulousness, implicitly or sometimes even explicitly contrasted with the peaceful policies and blameless intentions of the United States.” Carr spoke for them both when he let fly at the Western capitalist system: “The fact is that regardless of all Keynesian innovations, our productive process, so magnificently socialised in many respects, is not yet socially controlled.… Our governments have forestalled slumps and depressions by planning for destruction and death rather than for life and welfare.” Indeed: “the stupendous progress made by backward Russia … points the way to what the Western nations might achieve by giving effect to ‘the great principle of a new social organisation”. As for Deutscher’s ‘eloquent and well argued appeal’, Carr clearly endorsed it himself.”

Carr disdained moral censures and rightly incurred the criticism that he lauded success as progress. On this, Deutscher strongly differed from him. Much else united them, especially Deutscher’s notion of Stalin’s achievement—“he found Russia working with the wooden plough and left her equipped with atomic piles”.

To Deutscher, Stalin was “a legitimate heir to the work of Lenin”. He criticised Khrushchev for his speech to the 20th Congress in 1956 exposing Stalin’s crimes. He first justified the Nazi-Soviet Pact and even the partition of his own country, Poland. The impression is strong that, as with Carr, his perspective on Stalin changed after the Soviet military victory over Nazi Germany and the onset of the Cold War. He condemned the Nazi-Soviet Pact only after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union.

Berlin disagreed vigorously with both, especially with Deutscher, “a complete Bolshevik of Lenin’s time”. They differed on Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky and even Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhi v ago (to Deutscher he was “the survivor of a lost tribe”).

Caute writes: “Deutscher’s basic perspective on the Cold War was that an exhausted and depleted Russia had no intention of expanding or attacking anyone. America, by contrast, emerged from the war unscathed, buoyant and spoiling for global dominance. Only after Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946, the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, the creation of NATO and the decision to rearm western Germany, did Stalin feel compelled to increase his armed forces to five million. But never before had responsible statesmen raised a scare so gigantic and unreal as was the alarm about Russia’s design for world conquest and world domination, the alarm amid which the North Atlantic Alliance came into being.”

He overlooked two events—installation of Stalinist regimes in eastern Europe and the invasion of South Korea. To Deutscher the Cold War was simply “a conflict between capitalism and communism” even as the Cold Warriors like Berlin regarded it as a war against Communism. To Deutscher in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 “Imre Nagy and his faction played the role which Trotsky at one time assumed Bukharin and Rykor would play in Russia”, that of counter-revolution.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were shaken by the disclosures in the Victor Kravchenko libel trial in Paris in 1949. Communist defendants, editors of the French weekly Les Lett r e s F ranc aises, alleged that his book I Chose Freedom had been ghost-written by the CIA. The apologists of Stalinism were exposed by eyewitnesses. Deutscher was unmoved.

Caute writes: “The reality of Soviet forced labour and concentration camps was now beyond dispute (although not for the French Communist Party), but Sartre’s outlook, like Deutscher’s, was intensely strategic: what counted was who deployed these indubitable facts against whom. In polemical exchanges with Rousset and Albert Camus, Sartre argued that such ‘facts’, even if correct, did not serve the cause of ‘peace’, of ‘socialism’, of France’s independence from American hegemony. Ironically, the communist press employed the same logic when responding angrily to the open acknowledgement by Sartre and Merleau Ponty, in L es Temps m odernes, that forced labour was operated on a massive scale in the USSR. Utterly ignoring their evidence, the communist writer Pierre Daix posed the familiar question: ‘With whom are you? With the people of the Soviet Union, who are building a new society, or with their enemies?’” It was a war.

Deutscher was ferociously attacked by a fellow Pole, a certified Cold Warrior, Leopold Labedz, editor of the quarterly Survey. Labedz accused him of “moral ambivalence … matched by political equivocation”. Deutscher went to Sidney Silverman, a leftist Solicitor. Gerald Gardner, Q.C., who rose to be Lord Chancellor, was consulted. His opinion was self-contradictory: “defamatory”, but a sensible jury might not find it so.

Deutscher himself was not slow to attack others, as his Heretics and Renegades (1955) shows. The principal target was Arthur Koestler, the leading ex-communist to figure in The God That Failed.

“Unlike the admirable ‘heretic’ (himself), the ‘renegade’ does not break with the Party bureaucracy in the name of true communism, he goes on to break with communism itself. ‘He no longer throws out the dirty water of the Russian revolution to protect the baby; he discovers that the baby is a monster which must be strangled. The heretic becomes a renegade’.”

George Orwell was roundly attacked. “ 1984 has taught millions to look at the conflict between East and West in terms of black and white. … a document of dark disillusionment not only with Stalinism but with every form and shade of socialism.”

Bertrand Russell and Carr lauded Deutscher’s book Heretics and Renegadesand “to my [Russell’s] mind [Deutscher was] the most intellectually satisfying of the many writers on Soviet Russia”.

Deutscher generously provided ammunition to his detractors. Caute says: “Isaac Deutscher’s ongoing analyses of faction-fighting among the post-Stalin Soviet leadership make for unhappy reading. In April 1953, before Beria’s fall, he reported that Beria was a leading liberaliser, along with Kaganovich and Voroshilov. After the execution of Beria, Deutscher characterized Khrushchev as the most diehard Stalinist, surpassing even Molotov. Khrushchev thereupon denounced Stalin to the 20th Congress of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]. By 1957, the ‘Stalinist diehards’(Molotov and co.) were cast by Deutscher as enemies of Mao, who stood for the inevitability of gradualness’, Khrushchev as Mao’s ally. According to Deutscher, Mao had repudiated Stalinism and in effect proclaimed China’s NEP—unfortunately three weeks earlier the P eople’s Daily had launched an attack on the ‘rightists’ and made clear the liberal interlude was over. In 1960, Deutscher announced that while Indians were growing hungrier, the Chinese were ‘greatly increasing their food output’, indeed, distributing an abundance of rice to their workers free of charge.… Deutscher was advising a Berkeley audience: ‘However, I think that violence in China is much smaller than it was in Russia. The irrationality of the Chinese resolution, though goodness knows there is a lot of irrationality, so far is much less.’” How many millions did Mao’s Red Guards kill?

He was equally generous in providing predictions, visionary or dire. “At the sadly premature end of his life, he was invited by Hamburg television to give his vision of the world in 2000: ‘I imagine that by about the turn of the century something like a United States of Socialist Europe will exist … probably closely linked with the Soviet Union, which will by then have overcome the heritage of Stalinism, producing a free socialism, a working day of 3-4 hours and higher education for all. In that case certain theoreticians, let us say in Harvard, will have to construct a theory of ‘capitalism in one country’.”

Neither side in the Cold War was short of apologists in the academia, the press, artists and actors, some by conviction others by liberal payments of money and other favours. Deutscher was an apologist by conviction, so, was Berlin but he was also a willing, indeed eager, recipient of preferments. He was a pillar of the Establishment, in Britain and in the United States. He was indifferent to the persecution of Arthur Miller. Paul Robeson, Owen Lattimore, Robert J. Oppenheimer and leading Hollywood directors and writers. His distaste for Joseph McCarthy was expressed only in private.

The CIA connection

The Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) was born in 1950, much under the inspiration of Arthur Koestler, and its London-based magazine, Encounter, was launched in 1952. From the outset an American (initially Irving Kristol) was placed in the driver’s seat, but Berlin’s friend Stephen Spender, a contributor to The God That Failed, was given charge of the literary and cultural pages, and from the moment of its launch this monthly gained the esteem of British writers and readers. Like the weekly New Statesman, it presented a blend of political and literary contributions. Isaiah Berlin himself certainly knew all the main figures directing the CCF’s publications: Encounter (Spender, Kristol, Lasky), P reuves in Paris, Tempo presented in Italy (edited by Nicolo Chiaromonte) and Der Monat, an early product of American cultural policy in post-war Germany edited by Melvin Lasky. Berlin was a close friend of Nicolas Nabokov, secretary of the CCF in Paris. He also knew the CIA’s presiding cultural agent in Europe, Michael Josselson.

The CCF was funded by the CIA’s International Organisation’s Division. The British Foreign Office had its unit, the Information Research Department, a designation as innocuous and high-sounding as P.N. Haksar’s baby, the Research & Analysis Wing. In 1966 Conor Cruise O’Brien launched an attack in the New Statesman on Encounter. It had been subsidised by the CIA, he alleged. The fat was now in the fire. Exposes followed seriatim, by Ramparts magazine and by The N ew York Times.

Berlin was drawn in as the wise one who could calm troubled waters, once O’Brien had sued for libel. Berlin was close to the leading figures who were in know of the CIA connection, such as Arthur Schlesinger and Michael Josselson, the CIA’s presiding cultural agent in Europe, and Melvin Lasky, editor of Encounter. Both sought Berlin’s help, since the poet Stephen Spender, the literary editor, had denounced the subterfuge.

Berlin’s letter to Lasky on April 18, 1967, “opens a large window into Berlin’s mind”, Caute remarks. It does more than that. It exposes his character. There is a more detailed record in The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stoner Saunders (The New Press, New York; 1999). Berlin advised: “You could perfectly well say that like other organisations in need of financial assistance you went to the Congress for Cultural Freedom; they went to other Foundations of a prima facie respectable kind; that recipient bodies are not in the habit of examining the sources of income of the prima facie respectable bodies which support them; but that since these revelations there is natural embarrassment and reluctance about accepting such sums. This is more or less what the Asia Foundation [another CIA front] said and it seems to me adequate … the proper role of Encounter is simply to say that they acted as they did in ignorance … and that now that you have been made an honest journal of the fact that you received grants indirectly from the CIA merely places you on an equality with a great many other organisations, who could not possibly have been expected to know what the ultimate sources of their funds were, or something of that kind. Men of sense and goodwill will understand this; those who lack it will continue to snipe anyway.…”

Publicly, however, Isaiah Berlin was soon to take a different tack. When the story of Encounter’s relationship with the CIA emerged, he spurned the magazine, and attacked Josselson and Lasky for having “compromised decent people”. His biographer, Michael Ignatieff, asserts that Berlin was as shocked as anybody by this surreptitious relationship, and that “he certainly had no official or unofficial relationship with either British intelligence or the CIA”. Ridiculing this claim, Christopher Hitchens, reviewing Ígnatieffs book, has written: “The Encounter disavowal, taken literally, would mean that Berlin was abnormally incurious, or duller than we have been led to suppose, or had wasted his time in Washington.”

Saunders discloses that “George Orwell himself was not entirely innocent of such Cold War manipulations. He had, after all, handed over a list of suspected fellow travellers to the Information Research Department in 1949, a list which exposed thirty-five people as fellow travellers (or ‘FT’ in Orwell-speak), suspected frontmen, or ‘sympathisers’; amongst them Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman and Nation (‘Decayed liberal. Very dishonest’), Paul Robeson (‘Very anti-white. Wallace supporter’), J.B. Priestley (‘Strong sympathiser, possibly has some kind of organisational tie-up. Very anti-USA’), and Michael Redgrave (ironically, given his later appearance in the film 1984).

Deeply suspicious of just about everybody, Orwell had been keeping a blue quarto notebook close to hand for several years. By 1949, it contained 125 names, and had become a kind of ‘game’ which Orwell liked to play with Koestler and Richard Rees, in which they would estimate ‘to what lengths of treachery our favourite bête noires would go’.

The criteria for inclusion seem to have been pretty broad, as in the case of Stephen Spender, whose ‘tendency towards homosexuality’ Orwell thought worth noting (he also said he was ‘very unreliable’ and ‘Easily influenced’). The American realist John Steinbeck was listed solely for being a ‘Spurious writer, pseudonaif’, whilst Upton Sinclair earned the epithet ‘Very silly’. George Padmore (the pseudonym of Malcolm Nurse), was described as ‘Negro {[perhaps of}] African origin?’, who was ‘anti-white’ and probably a lover of Nancy Cunard. Tom Driberg drew heavy fire, being all the things Orwell loved to fear: ‘Homosexual’, ‘Commonly thought to be underground member’, and ‘English Jew’. But, from being a kind of game, what Orwell termed his ‘little list’ took on a new and sinister dimension when he volunteered it to the IRD, a secret arm (as Orwell knew) of the Foreign Office.” The intellectual became a policeman, rather, an informer like Ronald Reagan.

Moral blindness vis-à-vis Israel

Returning to David Caute, we find that both Berlin and Deutscher were afflicted with moral blindness when it came to Israel. The Arabs of Palestine did not matter, as the author notes, recording the facts with conspicuous fairness.

“Palestine was not the ‘empty space’ of Zionist mythology. It was during the second aliya (immigration) of 1908-14 that a new generation of Zionist settlers brought a determination to replace local fellahim labour with Jewish in properties purchased mainly from absentee merchant landlords living in the coastal cities.… Only 12,000 Jews occupied some 44 agricultural colonies in 1914, compared to some 600,000 Arab cultivators.… In 1936, Jews numbered 384,000 out of a total population of 1,366,692. In 1948, the Arab majority still owned 90 per cent of the land.… Hearing of a proposal to issue a joint U.S.-U.K. statement condemning Zionist agitation, Berlin leaked the story to a Zionist newspaper publisher, who informed Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of then U.S. Treasury, having thus tipped off the Jewish lobby.” The massacre of the Arabs and their expulsion from their homes did not disturb either Berlin or Deutscher. Berlin heartily approved of the British-Israeli aggression in the Suez in 1956. True to form, he reversed his position later, calling Prime Minister Anthony Eden “mad”—in private of course. Here Deutscher, by far more insightful of the two, parted company from his adversary and accurately prophesied that Israel’s victory would “be seen one day, in a not very remote future, to have been a disaster in the first instance for Israel herself.… Paradoxically and grotesquely, the Israelis appear now in the role of the Prussians of the Middle East.” He demanded withdrawal from the newly occupied territories. Hannah Arendt, whom Berlin loathed, disagreed completely with the two on Israel. Herself a Jew, she deplored the “Jewish brand of chauvinism”.

The book begins with Berlin’s tirade against Deutscher in a talk with Caute. It ends with Berlin’s deployment of the assassin’s knife into Deutscher’s career with the cover-up so common to assassins—the false denial. It concerned a post in Sussex University which would have meant a lot to Deutscher, not least financially. “You can’t have a Marxist teaching history,” he wrote. His letter of March 4, 1963, to Vice-Chancellor Fulton contained these crushing sentences: “The candidate of whom you speak is the only man whose presence in the same academic community as myself I should find morally intolerable.” And: “But I think there is a limit below which lack of scruple must not go in the case of academic teachers.” And: “The man in question is the only one about whom I have any such feeling—there is literally no one [else], so far as I know, to whom I would wish to urge such objections.” Berlin made fervent denials of his role in his letters to Tamara.

David Caute’s censure in the last para of his book is very valid. “His letter of 4 March 1963 to Vice-Chancellor Fulton fouls the nest of academic impartiality, transgressing the obligation to reveal personal grievances in full. Berlin’s correspondence, when brought to light, reveals a succession of vehement attacks on Deutscher’s views about Soviet history, Stalin, Trotsky, Marxism, historical inevitability, renegades from communism, the Cold War, the Soviet Union since Stalin, the New Left, Vietnam and, most passionately, Judaism and Israel. Every attach, sent in confidence and not for publication, came back to one or several of Deutscher’s personal failings—a specious, dishonest, arrogant charlatan and an enemy of Israel—not forgetting how Berlin had detested and despised him since his review of Historical Inevitability. Surely Berlin should have come clean about a decade of personal and political animosity, and thus disqualified himself? Of course, such was Berlin’s high standing that the effect of his frankness might have been no less fatal.’’ This was what Julien Benda called The Betra y al of the Intellectual.