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Letters

Vol. 9 No. 13 · 9 July 1987

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Subversions

SIR: R.W. Johnson illustrates his assertion that Chapman Pincher swallowed ‘ridiculous claptrap’ in furthering anti-Communism by stating that this distinguished journalist believed ‘Joe McCarthy’s allegation’ that Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White worked for the USSR (LRB, 4 June). McCarthy was not responsible for the investigation of either man. US Attorney-General Herbert Brownell reported that his departmental records showed that White’s espionage was detailed to the White House by the FBI in December 1945: see David Rees, Harry Dexter White (1973). As for Hiss, McCarthy utilised that issue only after the State Department luminary was officially convicted: see Allen Weinstein, Perjury (1978).

Johnson asserts that Constantine Fitzgibbon ‘inaugurated’ a ‘right-wing thriller’ genre based on testimony from Anatoly Golitsyn indicating KGB penetration of the Labour Party. But the anti-unilateralist novel When the kissing had to stop was published in 1960, whereas the defector came over in 1961. What emerged from subsequent debriefing was information that the assassination of a North European opposition leader was under KGB consideration, and this tied in only with the unexpected and puzzling death of Hugh Gaitskell after a snack at the Soviet Consulate. Quite properly MI5 officers were alerted to a hypothetical possibility that KGB might have marked down his likely successor, like many other travellers to Moscow, as a target for pressure, however slight or sophisticated. It is not suggested that Lord Wilson has been a closet Leninist all along, despite his perhaps excessive enthusiasm for unduly generous ‘trade’ agreements with Mikoyan and Chou En-lai, and other ‘leftist’ policy positions, but ‘William Hickey’ in the Daily Express, 2 August 1977, wrote: ‘There is no question, security experts believe, that on every single visit … he would have been “bugged".’

Johnson describes Golitsyn as ‘crazy’ and CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton as ‘at least half-crazy’. How should we describe his own suggestion that Airey Neave was a participant in an ‘extreme right-wing’ conspiracy seditiously to destabilise a Labour administration who was then murdered, by his own colleagues from UK ‘intelligence’. Was the Brighton bombing of Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit also a ‘right-wing’ plot by MI5 or CIA ‘spooks’? Maybe it was BOSS again – engaged in a ploy of the utmost Afrikaner subtlety to avert Commonwealth sanctions?

If the CPSU had abandoned its commitment to the ‘world revolutionary process’ and if the KGB were neither harmful nor powerful, then we could perhaps afford ‘security’ services on an ‘open government’ basis. Your reviewer does not enhance his case in face of the known KGB successes since the war, however, by trotting out such self-revealing catchphrases as ‘climate of the Cold War’, ‘hysterical anti-Communist mole-hunting’ or ‘frenetic witch-hunting’, still less by complaining that ‘even Labour politicians’ saw the Communists as ‘the principal enemy’ after 1945.

John Regan
Blickling, Norfolk

R.W. Johnson writes: Regan illustrates many of the habits of mind which seem to have led many of our mole-hunters down false trails. In particular, he repeatedly accuses me of saying things I did not say. Thus when I speak of Joe McCarthy’s allegations against Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White, he answers that McCarthy was not responsible for the investigation of either man. True, but then I did not say he was. Mr Regan also seems to take the guilt of both Hiss and White as axiomatic: but this really cannot be allowed. The sole real evidence against Hiss came from the notoriously unstable Whittaker Chambers. As for White – one of America’s finest public servants of this century – he was thoroughly investigated by a Federal Grand Jury which, at the end of the year and three months, did not indict anyone. He was then summoned, on 13 August 1948, before the House Committee on Un-American Activities where, despite persistent baiting by the young Congressman Richard Nixon, he secured a notable triumph, emerging as something of a popular hero, though the strain of testifying in the hideous atmosphere of HUAC resulted in a heart attack and immediate death. He was never indicted, or convicted of anything. Even in the fevered climate of the time, all that ever seemed to be established against White was that he had been a friend of several who had been ‘named’ as Communists.

Similarly, Mr Regan claims that I argue that Constantine Fitzgibbon’s When the kissing had to stop was based on Golitsyn’s allegations of Soviet moles in the Labour Party. I did not, of course, say this. All I suggested was that this notion of the Labour Party as a sort of Kremlin Fifth Column has provided the basis for an enduring literary genre (Frederick Forsyth’s The Fourth Protocol is a recent example). Golitsyn had no copyright on this notion: it has swum around fairly promiscuously on the further fringes of the Right for a good while. Indeed, Golitsyn may have got the idea from reading Fitzgibbon, for all we know: the notion certainly belongs more to the realms of fiction than of fact.

Again, though, Mr Regan slides off into suggesting that maybe M15’s ludicrous suspicions about Harold Wilson were not so unreasonable after all. Thus Mr Regan’s remarkable reference to Wilson’s ‘perhaps excessive enthusiasm for unduly generous “trade" agreements with Mikoyan and Chou Enlai’. Just what is being suggested here – and what are those inverted commas doing round ‘trade’? Mr Regan goes on to quote William Hickey on Wilson being under Soviet surveillance whenever in Moscow – no doubt, but doesn’t this rather count against the Wilson-as-Soviet-mole hypothesis? And what sort of authority is the William Hickey column supposed to have in the matter? I boggle. Mr Regan also refers to my use of the expression ‘the climate of Cold War’ as a ‘self-revealing catchphrase’. I re-boggle.

Mr Regan goes on to suggest that I probably subscribe to the notion that the Brighton bombing was the work of BOSS or the CIA. This notion sounds like rubbish to me. Similarly, I did not assert that Airey Neave was a participant in a right-wing conspiracy. Deliberately, I phrased what I had to say on this matter as a series of questions. It is quite precisely because none of us know the whole truth about this matter that a full enquiry is essential. But Mr Regan is against that too, arguing that we cannot afford open government until ‘the CPSU has abandoned its commitment to the world revolutionary process and the KGB is neither harmful nor powerful’ – and even then he feels that we could only ‘perhaps’ afford it. Somehow one has the feeling that these conditions will never quite be fulfilled in Mr Regan’s mind, which means we must do without open government for ever. Again, one can only applaud the way in which America – even under the Regan Administration, and with far more at stake in the Cold War than us – has so decisively and consistently insisted that open government is a necessary part of the democratic process, quite irrespective of what the CPSU or KGB get up to. I can only urge that we should be a bit more pro-American in practice, and not just in theory.

MacNeice and Ireland

SIR: Denis Donoghue argues that Louis MacNeice’s claim to be a ‘precursor’ of the contemporary Northern Irish poets is ‘dubious’, because his interest in Irish life was ‘occasional, opportunistic’ and ‘picturesque’ (Letters, 25 June). It may be due to the very fact that MacNeice’s identity as an Ulster and Irish writer is complex or problematic that Ulster poets today find him interesting as an example. It is possible that his blend of belonging and not belonging, of complicity and estrangement, is felt by Ulster poets to be a version of what they feel about their town, province or nation. Donoghue’s reasons for doubting MacNeice’s validity as such a precursor seem to rest on a simplistic notion of how poets read their predecessors, as though poets are like relay runners who will only accept the baton from an athlete wearing the same colour of shirt as their own. MacNeice’s anger at his homeland, as expressed in ‘Autumn Journal’, XVI, an anger directed at both sides of the border, sounds a note of estrangement which has influenced the work of Mahon, Paulin and Muldoon. Furthermore, his earliest poem about Ulster, ‘Belfast’ (1931), would seem to have proved a rich source work for Seamus Heaney in his writing of ‘Docker’ and ‘Poor Women in a City Church’ (1966). None of which necessarily makes MacNeice as grand a thing as a ‘precursor’, but his profound influence should be recognised.

If it is doubtful that MacNeice’s interest in Irish life was ‘occasional’ and ‘opportunistic’, it is plainly wrong to say that that interest was, as Donoghue ventures, ‘picturesque’:

And the North, where I was a boy,
Is still the North, veneered with the grime of Glasgow,
Thousands of men whom nobody will employ
Standing at the corners, coughing.

(Autumn Journal’, XVI)

In his review of the Selected Criticism of MacNeice (LRB, 23 April), Donoghue writes that MacNeice lived in Ulster for a ‘few years’ (which we might take to mean at most four), but in the next sentence he reveals it was ten. And this is not counting his holidays at Carrick from school and from Oxford; nor is it acknowledging the times when he ‘often went back to Ireland for vacations or to see rugby matches in Dublin’. Donoghue wishes to deny MacNeice’s Northern background and upbringing, for the purpose of his argument that he was deracinated and thus not possibly a ‘precursor’. He claims that MacNeice ‘thought the attempt to revive the Irish language was daft,’ that he ‘deplored’ Irish neutrality: but this is no evidence that MacNeice was not interested in ‘what was going on’ in Ireland. Such attitudes were common in the North, and still are, and are held by people who care very much about what is going on the country.

It seems absurd, also, to say that MacNeice’s poems present Ireland as ‘beautiful but dumb’. There is nothing beautiful about thousands of unemployed men, living in grime, nor about

The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.

That is beauty of a strictly terrible kind. MacNeice disowned both Orange ‘voodoo’ and Republican violence, and he presented these forces as eloquent and vicious.

Jonathan Allison
London SW8

SIR: Like Denis Donoghue, I am interested in Irishness ‘only if it is construed as a consequence of forces historical, social, religious, economic and so forth’. Unfortunately, because ‘Irish’ as a political term is narrower than ‘Irish’ as a descriptive term, construers often neglect the particular combination of forces which acted on Louis MacNeice and his poetry. Thus essentialism may sneak in by the back door. Similarly, I have never understood why hobnobbing with the English intelligentsia in London is regarded as more of a defection than hobnobbing with the intelligentsia in Paris or New York.

What MacNeice’s poetry has to say to Ireland is not only measurable as subject-matter, but is also a question of images, structures, vision. His autobiography The strings are false and his essay ‘Experiences with Images’ indicate just how thoroughly his Ulster childhood ‘conditioned’ – a favourite word – his imagination. Many of the striking differences between MacNeice and Auden can be referred back to ‘smoky Carrick in County Antrim’, and to the fact that MacNeice was, in his own words, ‘an Irishman of Southern blood and Northern upbringing whose father was a Protestant bishop and also a fervent Home Ruler’. For instance, MacNeice’s poetic treatment of politics and religion is influenced by forces which never touched Auden. But of course MacNeice does not belong exclusively to Carrickfergus any more than he does to Oxford (which he detested) or Hampstead. His cultural complexities helped his poetry to transcend the parochialisms of Belfast-Dublin-London. And when I mentioned the current pressure of this triangle, I simply meant that no writer from the North, unlike his counterparts in the Republic, can ignore a British literary dimension whatever his attitude to it. I agree with Donoghue that I have a quarrel with Derek Mahon, whose poetry I would put in evidence rather than his statements. But Mahon’s statements quarrel with themselves. Talking to Terence Brown (Poetry Ireland, Autumn 1985), he first of all repeats his view, quoted by Donoghue, that MacNeice is ‘not really part of the intellectual history of modern Ireland’. Then, to Brown’s suggestion, ‘Yet in a way you made him part of it, ’ Mahon replies: ‘My generation did.’ Earlier, Mahon has significantly linked MacNeice with another literary expatriate: ‘I responded to Beckett, whom I read in my last year at Trinity, in the same way I responded to MacNeice, whom I read in my last year at school. I felt in each case, here was a familiar voice whispering in my ear.’ (MacNeice felt himself akin to Beckett, whom he was among the first to call ‘an Irish playwright, far nearer to Synge than to Sartre’.) I have no doubts that the Irish relevance of MacNeice, invisible to some of his Dublin contemporaries and perhaps still to a city he said ‘will not/Have me alive or dead’, is being increasingly proved by his posterity.

Edna Longley
Queen’s University, Belfast

Nechaev’s Catechism

SIR In her biography of Rosa Luxemburg, Elzbieta Ettinger attributed the Catechism of a Revolutionary to Bakunin and Nechaev jointly. I am sorry that in my compressed account of her argument (LRB, 4 June) Nechaev’s name was omitted and I am grateful to Mary Lewis for her clarification.

Edward Timms
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

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