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Archive for the ‘From the Vaults’ Category

Free Speech – From the Vaults – Bernard Levin

In Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, Freedom of Expression, From the Vaults on January 23, 2015 at 10:28 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on January 17th 2015, 12:31 pm

In early 1987 the UK Jewish community was in uproar about the play, Perdition, which was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The play was written by Jim Allen, who had been associated with an extremist Marxist group. The controversy is obvious when one considers the author’s own words about the play: “it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel.” (Time Out, January 21-28, 1987). While the play was cancelled because the Artistic Director lost confidence in it, a debate raged in the press about the historical aspects of the play, whether the play was antisemitic, artistic freedom and free speech.

Of all the articles written about the controversy, one of the most eloquently and passionately argued was that by the late Bernard Levin for The Times. (“Waking the dead to revile the living,” February  2, 1987, p.16). He accused the play of a “peculiar vileness” from which antisemitism “oozes.” He said the author had unashamedly reproduced “Stalinist disinformation,” to write a play “littered throughout with inexcusable errors and horrible lies.” Despite these views Levin was a passionate defender of free speech. He concluded his article as follows:

…free speech is for swine and liars as well as upright and honest men. I have insisted that any legally permissable view, however repugnant, is less dangerous promulgated than banned, and I would defend its promulgation even if the opposite were true. I have glorified in the central paradox of democracy, which is that it tolerates, and must continue to tolerate, the activities of those who wish to destroy it.

In all the beliefs I have lived, and I am minded to die in them; how then can I defend the suppression of this play? I cannot, which is not to say that if it had never been written it now should be. But it exists, and ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.’ With a heavy heart, I yet must say it: Let them have their play.

It is a shame he is no longer with us.

The Cult of Ayn Rand

In Ayn Rand, Free Market, From the Vaults, Libertarianism on December 3, 2014 at 6:02 PM

An extract from a letter published in a newspaper

Ayn Rand

A thousand years from today…one 20th Century name will stand out as being unique in the most startling and positive way – the name, that is, of the only original thinker of this century: Ayn Rand.

When all the government-manipulating looters of our time, in company with all the left-wing, state-worshipping reactionaries – the blind followers of the ever-running gospel of Plato, Augustine, Ambrose, Aquinas, Luther, Kant, Hegel, Saint Simon, Proudhon, Marx and Marcuse – who have turned so much of the world into a collectivist cesspool, are rotten and forgotten in their graves, one name will still be as bright as the brightest star: Ayn Rand.


Palm Desert


Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1982, p.C6.

Kolakowski on progress: capitalism trumps Marxism

In Anarchism, From the Vaults, Marxism on May 27, 2013 at 12:11 PM

The late Leszek Kolakowski is missed. In 1985 he wrote a review of David Miller’s book, Anarchism for the TLS. Not only is it worthwhile reading for his views on anarchism: “a puerile utopia,”  it is also instructive for what he had to say  on Marxism: “Anarchists… are strongest when they criticize Marxism as an infallible prescription for despotism.”  However what struck me as particularly insightful were his comments on the market economy. I copy them below.

One cannot perhaps suppress the market entirely, it persists even in a concentration camp – which probably comes closest to what an ideal non-market economy would be in modem society. One can suppress it, however, to such an extent as to destroy all the sources of information which only the market can provide, to stifle the possibilities of innovation, to make the entire production system highly inefficient .and to organize a police state which is the sole owner of all wealth, of people, of the information and communication instruments and of human souls as well. It is remarkable that all economic reforms in communist countries, to the extent that they yield any results at all, go invariably in the same direction: towards a partial restoration of the market, that is of “capitalism.” Meanwhile, in the countries with mixed economies, if something goes wrong in nationalized industries or services, it is caused, according to.the standard Marxist explanation, by the fact that not everything is yet nationalized. If the education system is not satisfactory, this is because there are still private schools in existence; if the public health-service does not work properly, this is because private medical practice is still permissible, etc. And so the only way to. progress consists in forbidding people to engage in any socially useful activity unless they are ordered to do so by the state; the universal medicine for all social ills is more police, more bureaucracy, more control, more soles, more interdictions.

Source: Leszek Kolakowski, “For Brotherhood Or For Destruction,” Times Literary Supplement,  January 4, 1985.
Hat Tip: Paul Bogdanor.

From the Vaults – Spare Rib, August 1982

In Anti-Zionism, Feminism, From the Vaults on May 15, 2013 at 8:30 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place on May 11th 2013, 5:55 pm

Spare Rib was a prominent feminist magazine that ran from 1972 through to 1993. After a twenty year absence it is to be relaunched this month. This presents an ideal opportunity to reproduce highlights of an article written by Roisín Boyd and based on conversations with Nidal, a Lebanese woman, Randa, a Palestinian woman, and Aliza Khan, an Israeli woman.  The article was published in Spare Rib, issue 121, August 1982, pp.22-23.

Women Speak Out Against Zionism


‘If a woman calls herself feminist she should consciously call herself anti-Zionist’


Nidal: There is an enormous difference between being Jewish and being Zionist, The main idea behind Zionism is that all the Jews should gather together and form a nation, because they are in danger from the ‘non-Jews’, what they call Gentiles. Which is so similar to the Nazi ideology that the Jews should not be with the Gentiles…..

Aliza: Zionism….was created by European Jews who used anti-semitism for their own interests. Its aim was never to fight anti-semitism, moreover it saw anti-semitism as its best ally…..After the second World War, Zionist leaders used to say that Jewish people should thank Hitler because without him, the state of Israel would never have been created. If we are concerned about anti-semitism we must fight Zionism. To be anti-Zionist is to be anti-imperialist, and to be against the fact that Zionism (and the founding of the state of Israel) caused Palestinians to be refugees…..

Nidal: If you dare call yourself a Palestinian in Israel you would get five years in jail….

Aliza: …. The kibbutzim are male dominated and many produce military equipment. Woman work mainly in the kitchens and do the ‘normal’ jobs that woman always do. If a woman calls herself a feminist she should consciously call herself anti-Zionist….

Aliza: What Israel is doing now in the Lebanon is nothing new but an extreme part of its nature. Killing people, barbarically, children, women, with poisoned gas and cluster bombs. It’s hard to imagine how human beings can do this. My mother, who emigrated to Israel from Germany, rang me two weeks ago and said that she is broken hearted because what Israel is doing now is what the Nazis did to her….Women must come together against [Zionism] because our sisters are being murdered….. I am calling you sisters, to come together against the holocaust of the Palestinian and Lebanese people. There is no way we can sit quietly and do nothing about it.

In the months that followed, Spare Rib went on to publish an article “Woman Against Zionism” that suggested Jews were answerable for what Israel was doing in Lebanon. The magazine received more than forty letters from women opposed to the expressed views. The editorial collective refused to publish them.

The Picture Worth One Thousand Words

In From the Vaults, Vietnam War on June 8, 2012 at 6:00 AM

When one considers the Vietnam War, one can examine the actions of major participants such as  Ho Chi Minh, Ngo Dinh Diem, Lyndon B. Johnson, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, of military leaders and tacticians such as Generals Giap and Westmoreland and debate the rights and wrongs of those actions, but one should never lose sight of the fact that in war, people are killed and injured.

The Pulitzer Prize winning photograph below was taken by Nick Ut forty years ago today. It remains one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War.

vietnam napalm girl

We now know that the naked girl in the picture, running with her skin burning due to napalm dropped from a South Vietnamese Skyraider plane, was nine year old was Kim Phuc. As well as the photograph, ITN shot film showing what had occurred just before and after this photograph. It can clearly be seen in this video that large parts of Kim Phuc’s skin was severely burnt. Fortunately her face was unharmed.

Kim Phuc survived the attack and now, 49 years old, lives in Toronto with her husband. She has told her story many times. On Saturday, the Guardian published an Associated Press news report containing more information on the “napalm girl” and how that famous photograph has affected her life. It is worth reading.

Hat Tip: Ian Leslie via John Rentoul.

Our man in Tel Aviv: diplomacy, deception and the Six Day War

In Britain, From the Vaults, Israel, James Vaughan, Six Day War on June 6, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I am delighted to provide a space for this post written by James Vaughan, Lecturer in International History at Aberystwyth University. It is an amusing hindsight look at correspondence between the British Ambassador to Israel and the Foreign Office around the time of the Six Day War which was fought for six days commencing June 5, 1967 between Israel and Arab countries. Dr. Vaughan has taken the trouble to locate this correspondence, which I certainly view as worth reading, in the National Archives. Michael Ezra

Our man in Tel Aviv: diplomacy, deception and the Six Day War

Sir Michael Hadow served as Britain’s Ambassador to Israel from 1965 to 1969, during which time he earned a reputation among Arabist circles in the Foreign Office as being unusually sympathetic to Israel (he would later take up a role as the Director of the Anglo-Israeli Association based in London).

 The following extracts, from despatches issued by Hadow to the Foreign Office, provide a faintly comic insight into the success of the Israeli diplomatic deception campaign conducted in the days leading up to the outbreak of the Six Day War on 5 June 1967 and the extent to which the British Ambassador was, in his own words, ‘led up the garden path.’

 28  May 1967

 Speaking frankly, Israel’s military situation was far from what it had been ten days ago. There was now little prospect of an out and out “victory” in a short time.  It would be disastrous for Israel to embark on an operation which entailed the maximum of international opprobrium but which would fail to secure any real advantage for Israel….  I understood that the air battle was important, but I thought here too the odds had gone down fairly sharply…. Israel had lost the element of surprise…. They had signalled their punches to such an extent that I should have thought that as from tonight the Egyptian Air Force would be ready to such an extent that there might be some unpleasant surprises in store for Israel. [1]

4 June 1967

Yesterday was a return to normal Tel Aviv Sabbath.  Beaches packed and general holiday atmosphere.  There has obviously been an extensive stand-down for the Armed Forces…. I propose to discontinue these [situation reports] unless there is anything of significance to report.[ 2]

4 June 1967

The day of the firebrand in the Israel Defence Forces is over.  They are now preparing for the long haul…. [Moshe] Dayan…will be in favour of a longish pause and a ‘détente’…. He will be starting to make plans, depending on Arab inability to maintain the same posture for too long, to be ready for a situation under which Israel could put in a powerful first blow while making the Arabs appear to have struck first.  I would not put it past his ingenuity to think up something: but I do not think he would estimate that such a situation can be brought about in under at least three months. [3]

6 July 1967

On the 4th of June I reported with some confidence that the Israel Government, for a variety of reasons, appeared to have accepted that for the foreseeable future there was no alternative to maintaining a passive posture…in the face of Nasser’s seizure of the initiative against them. Next day they embarked upon one of the most ruthlessly efficient military campaigns in modern history. [4]


[1] The National Archive, Kew, FCO 17/489, Michael Hadow to Foreign Office, No. 393, 28 May 1967.
[2] The National Archive, Kew, FCO 17/489, Michael Hadow to FCO, No. 464, 7.00am, 4 June 1967.
[3] The National Archive, Kew,  PREM 13/1619, Michael Hadow to Foreign Office, No. 469, 12.30pm, 4 June, 1967.
[4] The National Archive, Kew, PREM 13/1622, Michael Hadow to George Brown, 6 July 1967.

Lamenting Stalin

In Apologists for terror, From the Vaults, Stalin, U.K. Left on May 29, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Denis Nowell Pritt (D.N. Pritt) was a British barrister and had been a Labour Party member of Parliament in the 1930s. However, his true loyalty was to the Soviet Union and specifically to Joseph Stalin. The Anglo-Soviet Journal, as might be able to be guessed from its title, specialised in publishing pro-Soviet propaganda. Stalin died on March 5, 1953 and this must have been a sad day for Pritt and those associated with The Anglo-Soviet Journal. The honour of writing Stalin’s obituary was given to Pritt. It was published on pages 2-3 of the March 1953 issue. I copy below an extract from that obituary.



WHAT do members of the Society for Cultural Relations, with their particular interest in cultural developments in the USSR, and in cultural relations between the peoples of our two countries, owe to the great Joseph Stalin? His death is mourned, and his varied triumphs are gratefully praised, by hundreds of millions all over the world, from many aspects and for many reasons….

Others have thanked him for carrying the building of the Socialist state to the threshold of communism, for his great share in the military defeat of fascism, for the strength and richness he has brought to the prosperous, peace-loving new world. It is our special privilege to record with gratitude the new conception he has given to the world of the value of the human being, of the dignity of man, and of the wide cultural and educational development based on Socialist security….

So we say: Thank you, Joseph Stalin, for the cultural human development, for the conscious purposeful humanism that you have brought to the lives of all who have eyes to see, minds to understand, and hearts to rejoice. We and our fellow men have, of course, many, many more achievements than that for which to thank you; but for that alone our gratitude is so full that there can never be words enough to express it. We will thank you more truly with our deeds, by working for and helping to build, on the foundations you have taught us to understand, for ourselves and all others, a world of peace and growing culture.

While I only copied an extract, I can assure readers that in the remainder of the obituary there was no mention of the millions upon millions of deaths that occurred in the Soviet Union, the responsibility for which can be laid at Stalin’s door. In 1954, the year after this obituary was published, its author, D.N. Pritt, was awarded the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples.

From the Vaults: Salisbury Young Liberals, September 1967

In From the Vaults, Trotskyism on May 28, 2012 at 8:00 AM

This is a cross post from Harry’s Place where it was originally published on May 25th 2012, 10:00 pm.

A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, located in the vaults and kindly sent in a copy of the Young Liberal Songbook from September 1967. They correctly assessed that I would find it of interest. I copy below a song from that book ridiculing the Labour Party for a perceived inability to get rid of Trotskyist infiltrators. “Harold” was the then prime minister and Leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson. “George” was the then Foreign Secretary and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, George Brown. I hope some of you are amused as I was.


Tune: There’s a Hole in My Bucket

There’s a Trot in our party, dear Harold, dear Harold,
There’s a Trot in our party, dear Harold, a Trot.
Then expel him dear George, dear George, dear George.
With what shall I expel him, dear Harold, dear Harold?
With a block vote, dear George, dear George, dear George.
And where shall I find it, dear Harold, dear Harold?
In the unions, dear George, dear George, dear George.
But union leaders are elected, dear Harold, dear Harold.
Then rig the elections, dear George, dear George.
With what shall I rig them, dear Harold, dear Harold?
With Catholic action, dear George, dear George, dear George.
And where shall I find it, dear Harold, dear Harold?
In Glasgow, dear George, dear George, dear George.
But that’s where the Trots are, dear Harold, dear Harold.


Mary Green and Michael Steed (compilers), After The Count Was Over: Young Liberal Song Book, (Salisbury Young Liberals, September 1967), p2.

From the Vaults: Tribune – January 12, 1973

In From the Vaults on May 19, 2012 at 7:12 PM

I copy below an extract from an advertisement that appeared on page 6 of Tribune, January 12, 1973:



By Donald Catchlove

The first biography in English of Nicolae Ceausescu. Published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Romanian Republic. Donald Catchlove assesses with clarity and insight Ceausescu’s significant role in contemporary history, and the qualities that have made him a major figure in international diplomacy, thought by some to be a possible future candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lavishly illustrated…


He never did win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Perdition Affair

In Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, From the Vaults, Israel, Trotskyism on May 17, 2012 at 6:41 PM

In 1987 a debate occurred in public sphere on a play written Jim Allen, someone who had previously been associated with Gerry Healy’s organisation the Socialist Labour League, a forerunner to the WRP.  The play was called Perdition and was in the genre of faction, a fictional play with historical facts brought in. The historical facts in this case was that of the Zionist leaders in Hungary during the Holocaust and of Zionism in general during the 1930s and 1940s. The play was loosely based on the Kasztner trial that occurred in Israel in the 1950s.

Allen was quoted in Time Out, (January 21-28, 1987) declaring the play:

the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches on the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.

The play was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs but was pulled by the theatre in January 1987 shortly before public previews were due to go ahead. The Artistic Director, Max Stafford Clark, had lost confidence in the play. But this was not before there had been a storm of controversy played out in the press and as a result of meetings that had occurred between the theatre and the play’s critics. Critics had accused the play of distorting the history of the Holocaust and of antisemitism.

One of the more interesting polemical exchanges on the play was in a few issues of the Trotskyist magazine Workers’ Liberty, the magazine of the organisation Socialist Organiser, the forerunner to today’s Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The reason for this post is that the AWL have recently published the debate on their website.  Sean Matgamna, writing under his pen name, John O’Mahony, wrote the initial article attacking the play. In two subsequent issues there was an exchange between Matgmana and the anti-Zionist activist Tony Greenstein. The Engage web site has linked to this debate and a discussion is under way where both I and my good friend Paul Bogdanor have commented.

For those interested in either the anti-Zionism from the far-left in the UK or in portrayals of the Kasztner affair, then an understanding of this play and the controversy that ensued is useful. One of the more important debates on the play was a televised debate on March 18, 1987 for Channel 4’s Diverse Reports. A recording of this programme has been uploaded to the Internet and can be seen below:


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