Reprinted from the Telegraph
Edward Miliband and I have something (not much) in common: we both had Marxist fathers. In my case, however, it turned me against all that my father stood, or pretended to stand, for. I saw that his concern for the fate of humanity in general was inconsistent with his contempt for the actual people by whom he was surrounded, and his inability to support relations of equality with others. I concluded that the humanitarian protestations of Marxists were a mask for an urge to domination.
In addition to the emotional dishonesty of Marxism, I was impressed by its limitless resources of intellectual dishonesty. Having grown up with the Little Lenin Library and (God help us!) the Little Stalin Library, I quickly grasped that the dialectic could prove anything you wanted it to prove, for example, that killing whole categories of people was a requirement of elementary decency.
My father only followed the intellectual fashion of his youth, when the catastrophe of the Great War had been followed by economic problems on a vast scale. That the world urgently needed improvement was obvious. But Marxism was not just an economic doctrine showing the right policy to follow in hard circumstances; it was a religion. The crisis of the Twenties and Thirties was an apocalypse that would finally lead Man, after the revolution, to a heaven on earth, in which all Man’s contradictory desires would be resolved in eternal bliss. No more hatred, no more jostling for position: Man would become selfless as well as permanently contented. Compared with this, the Book of Revelation is pure social realism.
Marxism was also replete with heresies and excommunications that tended to become fatal whenever its adherents reached power. There was a reason for this. Marx said that it is not consciousness that determines being, but being that determines consciousness. In other words, ideas do not have to be argued against in a civilised way, but rather the social and economic position of those who hold them must be analysed. So, disagreement is the same as class enmity – and we all know what should be done with class enemies.
No field of intellectual life in Britain was untouched by it. The great crystallographer, JD Bernal, the biochemist, Joseph Needham, the historian of the English civil war, Christopher Hill, the economist Maurice Dobb, the art historian Anthony Blunt, were all Marxists. The barrister, DN Pritt, ferociously defended the judicial rectitude of the Moscow show trials, a defence that would be comic were it not so vile.
A genre of apologetic literature grew up in the Twenties and Thirties. I have a collection of it; perhaps my favourite is Soviet Russia Fights Neurosis. How could intelligent people not have laughed? They didn’t laugh, though; they believed it, because they wanted to. What they did not want to believe was the abundant evidence that, from the start, the Bolshevik Revolution was a human catastrophe. Contrary to what many think, Solzhenitsyn revealed nothing in the Seventies that had not been known from the Twenties on. I have a contemporary account of the famine in the Ukraine, complete with photographs of piles of cadavers. Intellectuals devoted great dialectical effort to showing either that the evidence was false or that its meaning was different from that given it by “bourgeois” people.
If love is never having to say you’re sorry, being an intellectual is never having to say that you are wrong. To the end of his days the historian Eric Hobsbawm, whose twisted mouth was somehow an appropriate physical characteristic for so dialectical a materialist, and who never refused any honour offered him by the system he affected to despise, could not admit that supporting an ideology responsible for the deaths of scores of millions was an error of judgment so colossal that it amounted to moral blindness at best and moral monstrosity at worst.
Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a book was published in Italy about the psychotherapy necessary for Italian communists whom the dissolution of the Soviet bloc had deprived of their cherished ideals. These were communists who previously had claimed that the eastern bloc was not really Marxist at all. Why, then, should they have felt disheartened? Only Marxist dialectitians, such as Mr Miliband’s father, could explain.