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Author Topic: History book question
The Quiet Man
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1. and let's be honest, the smart money's on their having succeeded, at least a bit. No, not remotely. Not unless somebody has a concrete reason to say so. What did he pass and to whom? Let someone show that this was done or that there's good reason to suspect it. Otherwise it's just a smear - if you were a CPer than chances are you were Moscow's agent.

2. you can't claim that everybody was as bad.I wouldn't claim that literally everybody was, but I can and do claim that pretty much everybody had some very substanital blind spots when it suited them.

And I don't much like the suggestion that unless people "broke completely" with the USSR then they're "pretty thoroughly compromised". That's the permanent double standard. One set of people only have to occasionally criticise their own side, and then they're basically OK - the other have to break with it entirely or they're damned forever.

3. you wouldn't condemn someone out of hand for, say, failing to understand at the time what the rise of Gorbachev implied for the Warsaw Pact countries. No, that's not the question. The question is, are we going to (for instance) disqualify the historical judgement of people who supported the British Empire, with all its oppressions and massacres? That's going to be every major British historian for about two centuries, all of whom are "denying, glossing over or making excuses for the slaughter of tens of millions of people in a region they're focussing on exceptionally closely". Are we going to rule out every American historian who supported the destruction of Vietnam?

Incidentally, it is entirely plausible and reasonable to suggest that most people in tbhe West, Communists and non-Communists alike, did not appreciate the scale of what was happening in the Soviet Union during the Thirties. As I've said, it just wasn't viewed like that at the time. I'm not very happy with that. People should behave done better, just as they should have appreciated what was happening in Ireland in 1848 or in Vietnam in the 1960s or in Central American during the 1980s, and they should have drawn appropriate conclusions. They didn't. That's the way it was and to demand that people should have known better is, in fact, bad history.

4. Yeah? Name them.

No. Like I say, the debate's been done many times before and I'm not redoing it. Let people do the reading who wish to.

5. You're putting words in my mouth now.

No, because it's not your argument I'm referring to, just the normal and utterly tiresome way in which this debate goes. If people aren't satisfied with the answers, then that's OK, and neither am I. But the whole suggestion that it's just been swept under the carpet or excused is a nonsense. CPers and ex-CPers have had to answr for their sins for many decades now, and I think pepople should stop playing that card as an all-purpose trump. It's being used as a way of preventing a discussion, not of bringing one about.

[ 05-03-2003, 12:40: Message edited by: The Quiet Man ]

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Mat Pereira
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I think it's a complete non-story, really. As has already been pointed out the USSR were allies of Britian at the time Hill is supposed to have worked for them. And plenty of CPGB people burned their membership books in '56, not I suspect because they were turning a blind eye to the Gulags, but because Hungary was a high-profile media event, even my dad - who's far from being a politico - can remember tuning into Radio Budapest and hearing the last broadcast of Free Hungary, the world watched and all that.

I think the smear aspect of the story comes from passages like:

""The first thing he said to me as he took a seat in my living room was, 'You're not going to unmask me, are you?'" Anthony Glees said. "He was a sad, rather pathetic figure, he appeared to have had a stroke, and I took pity on him"

That's kind of low, really. Extremely low. I think it's likely that someone at The Times has a personal grudge, to be honest.

[ 05-03-2003, 12:47: Message edited by: Matt P ]

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The Quiet Man
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They have a track record in this area, don't they? Michael Foot, wasn't it?
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Mat Pereira
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Yeah, he took them to court and sued the arse off them though didn't he.
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The Quiet Man
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Might have been the Sunday Times, thinking about it.
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Wyatt Earp
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I'm not suggesting he passed secrets (although he may have done I suppose, and his membership of the CPGB has to make that more likely). But it would surprising if no influence at all were brought to bear.

No double standard; you misunderstood me. I'm saying that as a matter of fact rather than principle, the number of people who broadly supported the USSR but spoke up about the atrocities was tiny. As a matter of fact rather than principle, most supporters kept schtum, and those that didn't ceased, for the most part, to be supporters. Is Hill an exception? I don't think so.

The case of Michael Foot seems quite different. For one thing, he's wmuch more high-profile, as a former Cabinet Minister and leader of the Labour Party. He's worth smearing. For another, his background is that of an Independent Socialist who was never a supporter of the USSR, except perhaps in the very early, hopeful years. That, indeed, is what made the charge so grotesque.

This may all be very unjust to Hill, but I found Il Sotto Voce's reaction kind of knee-jerk. Sometimes accusations like this are true, and perhaps we should reserve judgement. I bet if the Times had claimed, twenty years ago, that Richard Gott had been a Soviet agent, there would have been just such an indignant outcry. But of course Richard Gott had been a Soviet agent. (Cunt still gets the odd Guardian gig, which is a disgrace).

One more thing. It seems to me that

quote:
It's being used as a way of preventing a discussion, not of bringing one about.
is a bit rich when a discussion's been invited, the reply being:

quote:
No. Like I say, the debate's been done many times before and I'm not redoing it.
Very, very familiar MO, if I may say so.

[ 05-03-2003, 13:22: Message edited by: Wyatt Earp ]

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The Quiet Man
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1. But of course Richard Gott had been a Soviet agent.

No he wasn't. Not as I understand it. He had lunch with the Soviet ambassador once, no?

2. a bit rich when a discussion's been invited

There is, of course, an enormous difference between preventing a discussion and not wishing to take part in it oneself. I think it's unprofitable in this instance. But if other people want to have it - let them, who's preventing it?

Two completely different things that are being called the same thing. A very familar MO, if I may say so.

[ 05-03-2003, 13:40: Message edited by: The Quiet Man ]

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Wyatt Earp
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Gordievsky said Gott was an agent. Maybe he was lying or mistaken, but what is known is that Gott took KGB money for trips abroad on at least two occasions, and only disclosed this after Gordievsky outed him. Now, maybe the KGB had a travel fund for cash-strapped Western journalists because it took pity on them. Or, what do you reckon, maybe they expected something for their money?

I seem to have misunderstood your point about "preventing a discussion". You meant preventing other people's discussion! You were claiming that people who raise the issue of post-war CP membership are preventing other people from talking about it among themselves in a useful way. How does that work then?

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The Quiet Man
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I wouldn't take Gordievsky's word for it if I wanted to know the date. As far as I can see we have no evidence that Gott has actually been shown to have done anything for anybody. At very best it's a not proven, and in my opinion it's not even close to that.

I am claiming that raising people's CP membership is being done in such a way (and for that purpose) that those who held it are effectively disqualified from consideration of their views, or at least heavily handicapped. It's all about saying "you were a CPer, so your views can be discounted". Hence the prevention of discussion. Perhaps the pre-emption of discussion might be a better way to put it.

[ 05-03-2003, 16:12: Message edited by: The Quiet Man ]

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Mat Pereira
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Thinking about it, wasn't that roughly what Norman Stone did to E.H. Carr? I don't know all the details though to be honest.
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The Quiet Man
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Yes. At the time it was thought thaat Stone had potentially done his career a lot of damage, but then came the Right-wing tide and it did him no harm at all. I last saw the matter mentioned by none other than Andrew Roberts, talking about how great it was and how great Norman was and how EH Carr was (quote) an "evil Communist".
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Wyatt Earp
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We can agree that Gott was paid money by the KGB. TQM's right that we can only surmise as to whether that money was well spent, so maybe we should leave it there.

As for raising CP membership, well, here's the thing. Ad hominem arguments are always wrong, and if we were discussing some particular proposition, the list of people who would assent to that proposition is strictly speaking irrelevant to that discussion. But if the question is "How far am I prepared to take this guy's word for it, given that to be honest I'm not going to research primary sources myself, now am I?", then ideological allegiance becomes relevant. I'm sure Catholic History is right now and then, in the manner of a stopped clock, but that doesn't mean I ought to take it seriously as a branch of study.

You know, I swear blind, I'm not trying to pre-empt a damn thing. This conversation may have got a bit heated, like they do, but in fact my question is quite sincere. Mind you, I must be honest: I never really expected TQM to try to answer it, and true to form, he hasn't. I'm sure he, for his part, is quite sincere when he interprets every doubt as a dirty trick, but it is convenient, isn't it? Saves the bother of actually discussing anything.

The point is, I do tend to respect and trust your Hills and your Hobsbawms and your EP Thompsons, and I am inclined, for the most part, to give those guys the benefit of any doubt. But I'm uneasy about that, because the fact is they all put in serious time, as bright guys and supposed political sophisticates, actively supporting one of the worst tyrannies in history. It's not really surprising that this is mentioned now and again, and you might even expect it to be mentioned a bit more often.

As I say, it's a sincere question, and not a sinister attempt to avoid debate by demonising a few Reds. So if one of OTF's less suspicious lefties would like to talk about this, I'm up for it. However, if TQM wants to continue this discussion in the same vein I may have to resort to "snide comments" and "red-baiting". For a laugh, like. Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a whatever-it-is.

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The Quiet Man
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No, a "dirty trick" is when you accuse people of evading questions when, for good reasons that they've given, they just don't feel like discussing them. I've said I don't want to, I've said why. If you want to attribute motives to that, well, that kinds of explains some of the smaller reasons why I don't.

I also have no interest in a personalised debate, something which you have pursued and which I am not prepared to have.

[ 05-03-2003, 16:52: Message edited by: The Quiet Man ]

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E10Rifle
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I've never read anything by Hill, so I'm not sure I can really take this discussion anywhere, but I might be able to offer Wyatt an insight into the tankie mindset, as I know a few.

To caricature them a bit, the CP maxim on the whole Stalin thing is, "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." It's a pretty feeble and cold justification, and has the effect of making socialism all about "people" serving "system", rather than "system" serving "people". Their justification for Stalin, as far as I can tell, is that it was harsh but necessary. I don't buy it meself like, but there it is. My problem with CPers is this tendency to put 'systems' above 'people'.

This is pretty much why modern CPers (if you can call a pretty ageing sect 'modern') bemoan the collapse of the Soviet Union. They see the systemic problems caused by the USSR's fall as contributing to the current global instability, violence and inequality. Russia, post 1991, suffered the largest peacetime industrial collapse of any country in history.

I think Wyatt's being a bit harsh. There's also a lot more to the CP's history than apologism for mass murder. Throughout the 1930s it was the CP that was the driving force behind anti-fascist resistance at home (Cable Street v the blackshirts et al) and abroad (the Spanish Civil War volunteers).

[ 05-03-2003, 17:59: Message edited by: E10 rifle ]

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The Quiet Man
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in fact historically, the only period in which many British intellectuals supported the Soviet Union was during the period of Stalism. I think the single largest component of their support for the USSR was that it seemed to be the strongest opponent of fascism, both militarily and (with its apparent defeat of mass unemployment) economically.

There's actually very little apologism for mass murder in the CP's history, which isn't to say there weren't too many apparatchiks about. There was, however, quite a lot of denial (in various senses). But as I say, there's a lot of it about, all over the place. The Labour Party's been in a permanent state of denial since its foundation.

Or is you want blindness in the face of mass murder, you might, for instance, try the First World War. Enthusiastically supported by nearly all political tendencies for pretty much its entire duration - and nobody could claim (as they could plausibly do with Stalinism) that they didn't know the scale of the slaughter, because the facts were largely hidden and the events far away and the sources hostile. Now that's what I call an error of judgement.

Funnily enough, many of the people who did stand out against these dreadful apologetics went on to form the Communist Party.

[ 05-03-2003, 17:12: Message edited by: The Quiet Man ]

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