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Letters

Vol. 41 No. 17 · 12 September 2019

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Commotion in Moscow

I can endorse the account by Sheila Fitzpatrick of the Sixth World Youth Festival in Moscow in the summer of 1957 and the ‘ecstatic’ welcome the visitors received (LRB, 1 August). As a 14-year-old girl, I was part of the British cultural delegation that travelled by train to Moscow. I was one of the London Dancers, a group led by Jean Newlove, who was then married to the folk singer Ewan MacColl. The train was packed with musicians, singers, artists, actors, writers and dancers. Fitzpatrick writes that the delegation included ‘empire loyalists’, but most were leftists, radicals and activists in the peace movement.

The journey took four days and we kept ourselves amused with badinage and impromptu jazz and folk sessions. We had a taste of the welcome ahead after we crossed the border from West to East Germany, and travelled on through Poland. Each time the train stopped, there were brass bands, and excited crowds greeted us with fresh fruit and packages of food. For the first three days we sat and slept on slatted wooden benches, but when we arrived at the Soviet frontier to board the train to Moscow, we were astonished to find luxurious cabins with full-sized bunk beds, complete with crisp white sheets and a proper pillow, and a box of fresh food on each bed.

Sixth World Youth Festival in Moscow

On our arrival in Moscow we were carried on lorries through streets lined with cheering crowds. People clasped our hands and called out over and again, ‘For peace and friendship’. We responded equally passionately with the same phrase – in Russian, of course. At the opening ceremony, the London Dancers were part of the British delegation that paraded around the packed Luzhniki Stadium as the spectators roared their enthusiasm. (In the photo, that’s me on the left.) Throughout our stay everything was free, including the travel to and from venues, all food and drink (and cigarettes), medical care, laundry, even the use of photographic darkrooms. I still have the festival handbook, which includes information on how to get to our hotel – using trolleybus 2 or 9.

Leni Gillman
London SE20

Consider the Lily

At the end of his review of my biography of Kierkegaard, Terry Eagleton suggests that I was ‘too nice’ to criticise Kierkegaard’s politics (LRB, 1 August). Setting aside the question of whether or not a biographer must criticise her subject (my book gives philosophical reasons for letting Kierkegaard speak for himself), I don’t know how or where Eagleton discerned Kierkegaard’s ‘impassioned support for family and fatherland’. In fact he loathed the populist nationalism of his rival N.F.S. Grundtvig, and when war broke out in Schleswig-Holstein in 1848 he wrote cynically that ‘the new [Danish] ministry needs a war in order to stay in power, it needs all possible agitation of nationalistic sentiments.’ As for family, in Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard presented Abraham, a man who betrayed his wife and son, as an exemplar of religious faith. Towards the end of his life he became increasingly stringent in his view of authentic Christianity, eventually insisting that a true Christian must renounce the ‘egotistical trivia’ of bourgeois life: ‘commerce, marriage, begetting children, amounting to something in the world’.

Being accustomed to the rather macho milieu of academic philosophy, I was more amused than surprised by Eagleton’s impatience with the ‘domestic detail’ that Kierkegaard’s favourite flower was the lily of the valley. This features in my book not as an incidental feminine touch, but as an example of the entanglement of personal, philosophical and spiritual concerns that make Kierkegaard such a fascinating subject: one of his richest meditations on human existence is a discourse on Jesus’s invitation to ‘Consider the lily.’

Clare Carlisle
King’s College London

In Hong Kong

Chaohua Wang writes that in its first thirty years the People’s Republic of China ‘declined to take Hong Kong back’ (LRB, 15 August). That isn’t the way the British garrison saw it at the time. In the late summer of 1956, as a callow 19-year-old second lieutenant on national service, I disembarked in Kowloon from a troopship bound for Korea. The population of the colony had tripled to two million since the Japanese surrender in 1945, but the trouble was that nobody could be certain who were the real refugees and who had come to rekindle old animosities. Within weeks Nationalists and Communists started to kill each other during the October riots. We put on our helmets, grabbed some sten guns, got into our jeeps and set off to assist the civil power in enforcing a curfew.The Hong Kong government acted swiftly, closing the harbour and Kai Tak airport. Most journalists and all camera crews bar one were said to be stuck on Victoria Island – hence the muddled reporting of the riots. The US Seventh Fleet left to ride out the riots in a typhoon on the South China Sea, leaving behind a few naval ratings in a brothel in Kowloon.

When the riots ended we, the British army, were thanked by people on the streets. We were the good guys because we had helped keep the peace; every other colonial power, including the Americans, had failed to do so at one time or another. On this peace was built Hong Kong’s subsequent economic growth, increased living standards and a further quadrupling of the population.

My day job was in an amphibious troop of the Royal Artillery liaising with the Royal Navy’s Far East Fleet. We did joint exercises with the Australian and New Zealand navies but were not allowed to talk to the Americans, who visited only for ‘rest and recreation’. We knew that first Roosevelt and then Truman had wanted us to give back Hong Kong to Chiang Kai-shek, who by then was being propped up in Taiwan by Eisenhower. There was a battle plan, had the PRC decided ‘to take Hong Kong back’. We were to match the gallantry of the depleted British forces who had held out against the Japanese for 18 days in 1941. But to withstand the Chinese, who had just acquired MiG fighters from the Russians, would not have been easy.

Iain Mackintosh
London SW4

Rings of Fire

‘The London restaurant was, and remains, largely the creation of immigrants,’ Bee Wilson writes (LRB, 15 August). I am an immigration lawyer and help businesses to sponsor non-EU workers. My clients in the restaurant industry have a particularly difficult time getting hold of the chefs they need. Although chefs are on the UK’s shortage occupation list, only the most ‘highly skilled’ roles – executive, head, sous and specialist chefs – are eligible to be filled by sponsored workers. The Home Office has, as ever, come up with some rings of fire. Establishments that provide a takeaway service are not eligible to sponsor chefs. Deliveroo counts as a takeaway service, so even high-end restaurants that use it are ineligible. The Migration Advisory Committee recently advised the Home Office to abolish this restriction.

Another obstacle is that chefs wanting to work in the UK must have five years’ experience at the level for which they are being sponsored. So, if you want to sponsor a sous chef, they must have been working as a sous chef for five years. The Home Office does not provide a definition of ‘specialist chef’, but the most common specialist chefs, chefs de partie, who are responsible for particular kitchen stations, e.g. fish or sauces, are excluded. The category is instead used mostly for specialists in ethnic cuisine.

Wilson is concerned, with good reason, about the possible effects of Brexit on London food. Few restaurant jobs meet the £30,000 minimum salary the government suggests in the December 2018 White Paper on the future immigration system. Also a worry is the proposed one-year limit on visas, which would apply to many restaurant jobs.

Samar Shams
London N8

No more bloody allies!

‘On 17 June poor France fell,’ Neal Ascherson writes, quoting A.P. Herbert (LRB, 15 August). ‘That day, as we trudged past Greenwich … a tug skipper yelled gaily across the water: “Now we know where we are! No more bloody allies!"’ The phrase must have gained currency astonishingly quickly. Following the fall of Paris on 14 June 1940 the French government moved to Bordeaux; the French army stopped fighting on 17 June. My father, an SIS officer in Paris, wrote in his unpublished memoir: ‘I did not retreat from Bordeaux, but for some administrative reasons I have now forgotten, swapped places with John Codrington in London (who did so retreat but was, at any rate, rewarded by the welcoming quartermaster, saying as he boarded the evacuating cruiser, “Thank God, sir, now we’ve got no more bloody allies!").’ The cruiser HMS Galatea sailed from Bordeaux on 19 June.

Colin Cohen
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Neal Ascherson is right to dismiss the notion that in 1940-41 Britain stood alone in confronting the Axis. He points out that the British could call on the Dominions, the colonies, the Polish and the Free French forces. He makes no mention of the Greeks. Between the fall of France in 1940 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Greece was the only country in Europe to fight alongside Britain against Hitler. Its victories in autumn 1940 over the invading Italian forces were among the few encouraging events of that grim period. But in spring 1941 the Greeks could not withstand the Wehrmacht, despite the despatch of a British expeditionary force, many of whose members were Australians and New Zealanders. The country fell under German, Italian and Bulgarian occupation, and experienced one of the worst famines in recent European history and the virtual destruction of its Jewish community.

In the 17 reflections on the Brexit mess, David Cameron, its principal architect, rates only a couple of passing mentions. It is worth remembering that in 2010, during his first visit to the United States as prime minister, he advanced the view that in 1940 Britain was the junior partner of the US in fighting the Axis, long before the US entered the war in December 1941.

Richard Clogg
London N10

The bloodstains never dried

Mike Jay writes that in 1803 the punishment of being hanged, drawn and quartered had ‘barely been carried out in living memory’ (LRB, 18 July). That is so, but since 1793 high treason had been constantly in the minds of William Pitt and his ministers. That the punishment had very rarely been carried out seems to have been partly because of last-minute decisions to charge defendants instead with seditious libel (a serious but non-capital offence invented by the Star Chamber), and partly as a result of the skill and courage of the English bar, led by a Scotsman, Thomas Erskine, in securing acquittals of those charged with high treason.

The first and most important of these acquittals was that of Thomas Hardy, the secretary of the London Corresponding Society, on 5 November 1794, after a nine-day trial. There is no record of any previous trial for high treason having taken more than a single day, or of anyone accused of that offence having been acquitted. Hardy’s trial was held in an atmosphere of extreme prejudice. He was arrested on 12 May 1794; thirty other members of the society were arrested and detained in the following weeks. On 16 May a secret committee of the House of Commons concluded (without any judicial process) that there had been a ‘traitorous conspiracy’, and a Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill was introduced and enacted within days. In June 1794 both Houses of Parliament confirmed to the king (again, without any judicial process) the existence of ‘a seditious and traitorous conspiracy’.

Before this Thomas Walker, the founder of the Manchester Constitutional Society, had been charged with treason but tried, and acquitted, for seditious libel. In Scotland William Skirving (the secretary of the Friends of the People) and Maurice Margarot (the chairman of the London Corresponding Society) were charged with treason but they too were tried and convicted of seditious libel, for which they were transported to long terms of imprisonment. The trial judge was Lord Braxfield, whom even the lord advocate, Robert Dundas, described as a ‘violent and intemperate gentleman’. When one of the defendants protested that Jesus was a reformer, Braxfield replied: ‘Muckle he made o’ that. He waur hangit tae.’

Robert Dundas was the nephew of Henry Dundas, Pitt’s home secretary, and it has been suggested that the trials in Edinburgh of Robert Watt and David Downie, who were convicted of treason in September 1794, were a practice run for the later trials in London of Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall (all of whom were acquitted). The alleged treason, a plot to seize Edinburgh Castle with a handful of men armed only with pikes, was as implausible as that alleged against Edward Despard, and as likely to have involved agents provocateurs. Downie was reprieved, but Watt was hanged. Like Despard, he was subjected to further interrogation after his conviction, and may have made some grim bargain.

Robert Walker
Radwinter, Essex

Globalists

Alexander Zevin writes that Friedrich Hayek opposed the use of sanctions against apartheid, and ‘confided to his secretary that he liked blacks no better than Jews’ (LRB, 15 August). The antisemitic antecedents of National Socialism are conspicuous by their absence in The Road to Serfdom; if we assume the manuscript was completed in 1943, it almost completely ignores a decade of antisemitic persecution and four years of Nazi war crimes and atrocities. In the Spectator in January 1947 Hayek attacked the ‘blunders’ of denazification in Austria, including the suspension of violinists from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra because they had been Nazi party members. It was, he wrote, ‘scarcely easier to justify the prevention of a person from fiddling because he was a Nazi than the prevention because he is a Jew’.

Robert Knight
University College London

Universal Basic Income

Ursula Huws is correct to say that the only way a Universal Basic Income can be redistributive is if it is paid for by taxes on employers and on the rich (Letters, 15 August). In fact taxes on the rich would be enough. When UBI is eventually introduced, it will probably be set at a relatively low level, then subsequently raised. Different states will introduce it in different ways. The countries of the Eurozone could consider introducing a common basic income as part of the harmonisation of taxation and benefits. As when unemployment benefit was introduced, there will be derision and claims that UBI is far too expensive, or that it is a sop to employers.

On 8 August it was revealed that the number of people in Britain claiming non-domicile tax status had fallen to a record low, partly because some of the super-rich left the UK in fear that the Labour Party might win an election and introduce a wealth tax. If you think that isn’t possible, ask yourself why so many of the super-rich don’t agree with you. Fortunately, the amount of wealth remaining in the UK is enormous. A modest UBI is affordable. More of the super-rich would leave if it were introduced; but they can’t take their land with them. The nicer ones would stay, and they would receive UBI too.

Danny Dorling
St Peter’s College, Oxford

Our Alien Planet

Francis Gooding is mistaken when he writes that carbon capture technology doesn’t exist on any meaningful scale: it’s called ‘trees’ (LRB, 1 August). It’s all very well calling for Bolsonaro to be charged with some sort of international crime for letting Brazilians do what Americans and Europeans have done for hundreds of years. Why not propose that the wealthy nations of the world plant trees at a rate exceeding Amazonian deforestation by ten to one; that countries which kill marine life by discharging raw sewage into the oceans be given free treatment plants; and that there be rigorously enforced limits on fertiliser run-off?

Don Lock
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Save our Swifts

Katherine Rundell sets out the problems facing the common swift, but there is help at hand (LRB, 15 August). More than eighty local swift groups are now active across the UK. You too can put up a nest box, badger your local council to require swift ‘bricks’ in planning approvals and set up a group to spread the message.

Edward Mayer
Swift Conservation, London NW6

The Hell out of Dodge

Jeremy Harding mentions the Altamont festival, where Meredith Hunter was killed by Hells Angels, who were employed as security (LRB, 15 August). Harding quotes Greil Marcus’s description of Hunter as ‘a young black man in a predominantly white crowd murdered “by white thugs as white men played their version of black music"’. It should be noted that Hunter was brandishing a loaded long-barrelled pistol before he was attacked, as can be clearly seen in the film Gimme Shelter (1970), as can his killing, by the Hells Angel Alan Passaro. Passaro was later acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defence.

Peter Lucey
Wokingham, Berkshire

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