Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The dishonesty of (some) "independents"

You probably know the type: the leftist who claims to be completely "independent", a "non-aligned socialist", who just happens, on every issue, to back up the "line" of a particular party (usually the largest and most powerful one on the left). Present day examples to be found on the blogosphere would include one "Sonic" who pops up all over the place, backing the SWP whilst strenuously denying any connection with them; then there's that irritating prat Benjamin (Mackie), who plays much the same role, with the additional twist of adding that none of these arguments matter much anyway (then why bother joining in, Benji?); finally there are a few genuine "useful idiots" like this guy. But on the whole, you can't escape the conclusion that the pig-ignorance of these people is willful.

Anyway, the phenomenon of the predictably partisan "independent" is nothing new, and I must thank the New Statesman (29 January 2007) for reminding me of one of the most craven, dishonest and shameless exponents of the art: Kingsley Martin. It is rather noble of the Statesman to republish a particularly loathsome piece by Martin ("Trotsky in Mexico"), given that he edited the mag between 1932 and 1962.

Martin went to see Trotsky in exile in Mexico, in the house of Diego Rivera ("an exile could scarcely hope to find a lovelier refuge") in 1937. Martin's main purpose, it transpires, was to question Trotsky on the subject of the Moscow trials:

"What possible pressure could have been brought on all these experienced revolutionaries which would make them not only confess, but stand by their confessionswhen they had the opportunity of publicly repudiating them in open trial?" asks Martin, to which Trotsky replies (very reasonably, I'd have thought -JD), that Martin "did not understand the methods of the GPU. He described how they first got hold of a woman and questioned her until she made a confession which incriminated her husband; how this was used to break down her husband's resistance and how he in turn was induced to incriminate his friends...The GPU knew, he said, how to attack each of its victims in his weakest spot, this man signing because of nervous exhaustion, that one because of a threat to his wife and children, and the other in the hope of pardon and release".

But this explanation was not good enough for Martin:

"I still did not understand why none of the prisoners had repudiated his confession in court...the trial itself was free and open...most of them knew they were going to die anyway. Trotsky grew very animated. I was wrong. Even after the example of the first trial these men did not know they were going to die. There was a world of difference between certainty of death and just that much hope of reprieve - here Trotsky made an expressive gesture with his fingers to indicate even a millimetre of hope".

I suppose you've got to give Martin credit for reporting Trotsky's argument so accurately, even though he was plainly unaware of how willfully obtuse it makes him (Martin) appear to any halfway rational reader, especially when Martin concludes as follows:

"Afterwards, turning over this conversation in my mind, I did not find that it had cleared my perplexity about the Moscow trials, and I came away from our talk rather less inclined to scout (ie: scorn, or dismiss -JD) the possibility of Trotsky's complicity than I had been before, because his judgement appeared to me so unstable, and therefore the possibility of his embarking on a crazy plot more credible...I shall not let myself become partisan in this controversy. But I fear this open-minded attitude will have no effect on Trotsky except to convince him that I too am a prostitute in the pay of Moscow".

That reference to being a "prostitute" may have been, subconsciously, what lay behind a bizarre and hilarious episode in 1944, when George Orwell (who'd hated Martin ever since Martin had suppressed his articles denouncing the role of the CP in the Spanish civil war), wrote a piece in Tribune that mentioned no names but concluded thus:

"Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore".

According to Orwell's biographer Bernard Crick ('George Orwell -A Life, Penguin 1980), "This last unspecified jibe brought Kingsley Martin...shouting down the phone threatening Tribune with a libel action", until it was patiently explained to him that "an action would make him look ridiculous and that Orwell was not the man to retract, but would probably compound the libel and then claim justification in open court. Nothing more was heard..."

Elsewhere in the biography, Crick speculates about the motivation of Martin and people like him in the 1930's and 40's:

"...there were objective reasons to believe that many prominent Left-wing intellectuals were not as dedicated to truth and liberty as they were to the illusion of being close to the future levers of power..."

Well, at least you can't accuse "Sonic", Benji or John Harris of that, I suppose.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home