15 AUGUST 1958, Page 19


Hard and Fast

BY BERNARD LEVIN MR. ANTHONY HARTLEY wrote some time ago, in The Twentieth Century, an `open letter' to a supposed ex-Communist who had left the Party after the Hungarian Revolution and its suppression. Mr, Hartley made it clear that he was no longer interested in sinners come thus late to repentance, suggesting that his imaginary addressee had long ago, and for good, 'failed as a human being.' One can but agree; yet as the cry of 'Abjuro' grows louder, as the confessions still come thudding from the presses of many lands, the unanswered question nags again and again at the mind : how is it that so many men of good- will have bound themselves, freely and con- sciously, to the chariot-wheels of Soviet Com- munism? How have so many leading scientists, teachers, doctors, writers, artists, musicians— living in free lands, too—come to accept and approve theories so puerile and practices so wicked? It has nothing to do with the fascination that power and violence exert in themselves : Hitler provided both in generous measure, yet Fascist organisations in this country have never attracted any but the lowest rill-raff. Nor can ignorance be accepted as a plea; few movements have been more thoroughly, accurately and irrefutably documented than this one, from Bertrand Russell's Bolshevism (published when the thing was only three years old) to Khrush- chev's report to the Twentieth Congress. Yet good men and great men, here and in America and else- where, have closed their minds and hearts and gone on serving the Communist Party, have gone on admiring the Emperor's clothes. How? And why?

Here, anyway, are two more clues.* Mr. Howard Fast joined the American Communist Party in 1943. Mr. Paul Robeson, though he may not be, and may never have been, a member of the party, has for at least ten years occupied a political position indistinguishable from that of a member. Mr. Fast left the party in 1956; Mr. Robeson has not budged. In his book, Mr. Fast says why; in his book, Mr. Robeson says why. And at the end of both, we are no nearer an answer to the ques- tion with which we started out, the question that in the last analysis, can only be put personally. I saw through. Soviet Communism at the age of seventeen; why did it take Howard Fast another forty-odd years to catch me up, and why has Paul Robeson not caught up yet?

To begin with, Mr. Robeson, on the evidence of his book, is an exceedingly stupid man. Indeed, if he believes the things he has written here—and there has never been any reason to doubt the sincerity of the beliefs for which he has suffered hardship, indignity and danger—he must be prac- tically feeble-minded. (I had Better say at this point that I cannot share the widespread feeling that it is-somehow immoral, or at any rate in bad taste, to be rude about a black man; racial preju- dice is to be deplored and combated even when it is inverted, and those for whom the Negro—or


Tim NAKFD Goo. By Howard Fast. (Bodley Head, 10s. 6d.) HERE I STAND. By Paul Robeson. (Dobson, 10s. 6d.) Jew—can do no wrong are contributing to it as surely as those for whom he can do' no right.) Mr. Robeson prints, for instance, the Ten Prin- ciples affirmed by the Bandung Conference. This is the second of them :

Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.

And this is the fourth :

Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country.

And this the tenth : Respect for justice and international obliga- tions.

And after this decalogue, Mr. Robeson declares that 'These principles I whole-heartedly support.' Yet he has never uttered a word of protest con- cerning the Hungarian Revolution and the tanks that rolled over it; there is not a line about the Soviet Union in this book that does not breathe love and admiration for the country whose leaders ordered the tanks to move.

Nor is this all; indeed, it is only the lesser part of the indictment against Robeson. For the line on which he takes his shabby stand is the Mason- Dixon line; the abominable treatment of many Negroes by many White men is what decided him to throw in his lot with Soviet Communism. That Communism rejoices at every lynching, every out- break of racial hatred, because these things can be turned to good party advantage, he does not seem to know; that the position of the Negro in the United States has improved immensely and (despite Little Rock and its like) is still improving he does not seem to care. The American Negro is guaranteed rights under the Constitution which he is frequently denied in practice; for Robeson's pitiful logic, that is enough to condemn the Big White folks (his phrase, not mine) out of hand, without exception, and for good.

But just how sound is Robeson on this question of race? If the face in the mirror is a black one, sound enough, at any rate to his own limited understanding. But what if it is a Jewish face? Can Robeson's voice be heard then? Einstein wisely said that a community's treatment of its Jews was a sound yardstick with which to measure its degree of civilisation; by this test alone the Soviet Union that Robeson admires so much for its attitude to Negroes is at the bottom of the list, above only Nazi Germany. Mr. Fast tells once again of the vicious tide of anti-Semitism that has flowed with Soviet Communism, and he lists a few of the Jewish writers murdered in RUssia when the order to stamp out all Jewish culture went forth. In particular, he speaks of one ltzik Feller, who was tortured and killed because he dared to inquire after the fate of his friend David Bergelson, another Jewish writer murdered by Robeson's beloved Soviet Russia. And Mr. Fast has this story to tell in this connection :

Joseph Clark, the foreign editor of the Daily Worker then, and before that Russian correspon- dent for the Daily Worker, sat in my living- room in January, 1957, and cried out to me, in a tortured voice that only disguised his own heart-sickness and guilt :

'If you and Paul 'Robeson had raised your voices in 1949, ltzik Fetter would be alive today!'

It is possible; but what is certain is that if Paul Robeson had raised his voice in 1949 he would be alive today himself. Alive, that is, not only in his body and glorious voice, but in his dead and shrivelled soul.

And Howard Fast? Has he saved his soul alive, with this statement of its destruction by the myth of Communism? It is doubtful; a man who needed the 'secret speech' to drive him out of the Ameri- can Communist Party is a lost soul if the phrase has any meaning. Yet Nineveh repented at the eleventh hour. and certainly Mr. Fast's repentance is set forth in his best-written book, a tiny master- piece of urgent, diamond-hard prose. He tells of the gradual destruction of a writer's personality by the Party, and of his slow and agonised re- making of himself. Once again we see how Com- munism works to stamp out the last trace individuality in its adherents in those lands where it is unable to take their lives; once again we see the parade of inbred lunacy that is the American. as it is the British, Communist Party. (Mr. Robe- son could do worse than study Mr. Fast's story of the $5,000-worth of pamphlets that were destroyed because an illustration depicted a group of workers in which one woman's dress had blown above her knee. This was held to be an insult to Negro womanhood, even though there was and obscene or suggestive in the drawing, and the woman in the picture was in fact white.) Yes, cer- tainly, one says, this is what it is like, this is what they do, of course Howard Fast was right to leave as soon as he found out, of course—but then one stops dead at the road the mind is taking. For who but a lunatic has ever imagined that it could be any other way? Who, indeed. Why, Paul Rob> son and Howard Fast and scores and hundreds and thousands of others. And here we are, back at the first question of all, and no nearer an answer.

Perhaps there is no answer. Perhaps all men believe something that is patently untrue and take years to disabuse themselves of the belief—if they do so at all. Perhaps to some men the ugliness and wickedness and poverty in the world are unbear- able without the compensation of a belief that there is something that will eventually sweep them all away and usher in the kingdom of God upon earth. (How much wiser are most religions to promise theirs in Heaven ! ) And perhaps the will to believe that this is so becomes in time so strong that nothing, neither facts nor reason nor logic nor decency, can prevail against it.

If so, it is a poor lookout for all of us, and the cynics will most likely be able to say, as the mushroom-clouds darken the sky, '1 told you so.' Yet, oddly enough, Howard Fast's book leaves one with hope for man's collective wisdom even -as one marvels at the depth and breadth of his • individual folly. For, after reading it, one is reminded that in Hungary at least they had no such illusions; when the Revolution broke out there, the whole nation went over as one man, woman and child to the side of freedom. When men have lived with the beast they do not- need to be told that its claws are sharp and its breath foul; they know. And, from a conversation with an Iron Curtain diplomat, from a picture of the suicide of Fadeyev, from a reference to one or two books that have appeared since the Twentieth Congress, Fast builds up a picture—dim enough in its outline, but unmistakable—of the unleashing of a force that nothing will be able to contain. Paradoxically, as the Communists of the West recede beyond hope, hope stirs beneath the iron sleep of the East. The wind rises; the rain comes,