Life in the Left
Nothing so low as a Fallen Angel. When the Guardian reprinted excerpts of Nick Cohen's book about the Left it faced a storm of commentary from its readers. I have an extract, provided courtesy of a reader, which suggests why the Leftist readers would find Cohen's book infuriating. All I can say is that Cohen barely fails to scratch the surface; in terms of absurdity and tragedy, of the Leftist Deep. Here's how the Guardian describes Cohen's book, and you can guess why its readers should find it so maddening.
Nick Cohen attacks many enemies in this book, and he believes they are very bad indeed. They include: Amnesty International, Harold Pinter, Noam Chomsky, the Comment pages of the Guardian, the London Review of Books, Robert Fisk, George Galloway, the Socialist Workers Party, Edward Said, the anti-war coalition and (for reasons I could not fathom) Virginia Woolf.
With the exception of Virginia Woolf, the above are accused of a grand, historic betrayal of the values of the left. Cohen insists they have surrendered to fascism. He holds that this betrayal is more profound and historically significant than the one committed by the left-wing intellectuals (among them Eric Hobsbawn and Raymond Williams) who apologised for the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939.
But the real power of Cohen's book lies in its portrayal of life in the Left itself. Karen Armstrong called Marxism the last great missionary impulse of Europe. It is possibly Europe's only indigenous world religion. Here is how its devotees lived.
In the early Seventies, my mother searched the supermarkets for politically reputable citrus fruit. She couldn't buy Seville oranges without indirectly subsidising General Francisco Franco, Spain's fascist dictator. Algarve oranges were no good either, because the slightly less gruesome but equally right-wing dictatorship of Antonio Salazar ruled Portugal. She boycotted the piles of Outspan from South Africa as a protest against apartheid, and although neither America nor Israel was a dictatorship, she wouldn't have Florida or Jaffa oranges in the house because she had no time for then President Richard Nixon or the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. ...
Thirty years later, I picked up my mother from my sister Natalie's house. Her children were watching a Disney film; The Jungle Book, I think. 'It's funny, Mum,' I said as we drove home, 'but I don't remember seeing any Disney when I was their age.' 'You've only just noticed? We didn't let you watch rubbish from Hollywood corporations.' ...
I come from a land where you can sell out by buying a comic. I come from the left. ...
I still remember the sense of dislocation I felt at 13 when my English teacher told me he voted Conservative. As his announcement coincided with the shock of puberty, I was unlikely to forget it. I must have understood at some level that real Conservatives lived in Britain - there was a Conservative government at the time, so logic dictated that there had to be Conservative voters. But it was incredible to learn that my teacher was one of them, when he gave every appearance of being a thoughtful and kind man.
It is really impossible to understand the rise of fascism in the world without taking a close look at the single most destructive ideology in modern history. I still remember a close German friend telling me that it was a mistake to imagine that his country's worst export was Hitler. Far from it, he said. That honor was reserved for Karl Marx.