SIR: E.H. Carr’s History of Soviet Russia is a complicated work, and demands diligence and hard thinking from the reader. Mr Stone’s denunciation (LRB, 10 January) is deficient in both respects.
His specific references to the History are misleading and slipshod. He reproves Carr for dismissing the Stolypin reform ‘in a few sentences’, but Carr has over three pages on the reform in the History (Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, pp. 20-4). To prove that Carr did not ‘keep abreast of scholarship in the pre-Revolutionary field’ he cites a book review by Carr which gives 1908 not 1906 as the date of the Stolypin reform. But Carr summarises the decree of 1906 (loc.cit.) and refers to it again with the correct date on several occasions later in the History: obviously ‘1908’ was a misprint. Stone implies that Carr did not know that Ukrainian agriculture differed on the East and West banks of the Dniepr. But see the specific references in Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. I, p. 289, and Foundations of a Planned Economy, Vol. I, p. 120.
According to Stone, to prove economic differentiation among the peasantry, Carr too often cited the North Caucasus, and this was misleading. My rough count of references to specific regions in the sections on differentiation in Socialism in One Country, Vol. I, pp. 222-40, and Foundations, Vol. I, pp. 18-26 and 130-43, discloses about a dozen relating to the North Caucasus out of a total of about 75. This hardly seem too high a proportion. It was a major grain area, and Carr clearly explained its specific features. This evidence also gives the lie to Stone’s extraordinary assertion that ‘there are precious few place-names’ in Carr’s History. There are so many that I have always felt that what it lacks is a map! There are many other errors of detail in Stone’s article.
Stone’s carelessness also leads him to make unjustified charges against Carr on larger matters. To back his claim that ‘opposition is seldom considered’ by Carr, he cites Carr’s ‘cursory treatment’ of the 1920 peasant rebellions in Tambov. But Carr’s account of peasant unrest in Tambov and elsewhere, though brief, treats it as a crucial factor in Lenin’s decision to introduce the New Economic Policy in February-March 1921 (Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. II, pp. 169-70, 271-2). Stone himself believes, however, that it was the Kronstadt rising which ‘caused a dramatic reversal of policies (NEP, at the Tenth Congress in spring 1921)’. Carr and others showed over thirty years ago that the policy reversal was approved by the party central committee before the Kronstadt rising (Carr’s footnote on this was overlooked by Stone in the very passage he is criticising – ibid. p. 272, published in 1952).
In his rage against Carr, Stone frequently bashes the wrong nail on the head. He grumbles that Carr’s style is ‘frequently clogged and pompous’. Carr’s serious critics reprove him for oversimplification, but they all praise the clarity of his exposition. Stone also declares that ‘Carr’s real talent lay in mathematics.’ But Carr freely admitted that inadequate talent at mathematics was one of his weaknesses!
When Mr Stone pauses in his invective and tries to discuss matters more seriously, his own approach to historical problems is extraordinarily unsophisticated. Consider, for example, his comments on the major crisis at the end of the 1920s, the collapse of NEP. Here Stone is mainly criticising the volumes on which Carr and I collaborated, so I will comment in a little more detail. Stone seems to believe that an honest historian should adopt a straightforward unambiguous attitude to these great events and stick to it. He argues that there are ‘three ways of looking at’ the breakdown of NEP. It may be explained by the backwardness and family orientation of the peasantry, or by the incompatibility of emergent capitalist farming with the Soviet order, or by mistakes in industrial policy which adversely affected agriculture. According to Stone, Carr never ‘quite made up his mind what he was arguing’.
But Stone has not provided us with ‘three ways’ of looking at the collapse of NEP. He has merely listed some of the factors involved in that collapse. The problem is to interrelate them. Even a cursory reading of Foundations, Vol. I, should make it clear that this was what Carr and I were trying to do. Our account goes something like this. Peasant farming in the 1920s was backward, with low yields and low labour productivity. Attempts to improve it gave rise to economic differentiation, especially in the first half of the 1920s, and this was perceived by the party as a threat to its socialist objectives (the passage which stresses growing differentiation is not as Stone claims on p. 229 of Foundations, Vol. I, but on p. 229 of Socialism in One Country, Vol. I, and refers to developments not at the end of the 1920s but only up to 1925!). In spite of economic differentiation, ‘a strong solidarity of interest and feeling existed among all sections of the peasantry’; neglect of this by the party was a ‘major miscalculation’ (Foundations, Vol. I, p. 143). (Stone appears to believe that this important factor, which for him is ‘the heart of the peasant problem’, was ignored by Carr.) In this unpropitious context, relations with the peasantry were greatly exacerbated, and their solidarity was greatly strengthened, by the enforcement of the policy of rapid industrialisation. Carr and I, unlike Stone, assess the policy of industrialisation, not primarily in terms of ‘mistakes’ (though mistakes there certainly were), but as stemming from much profounder causes, which we also tried to analyse.
The complex chain of events which led to the collapse of NEP was frequently a subject of discussion between Carr and myself, and will continue to be hotly debated among historians and economists. But it would hardly improve our understanding to follow Stone’s naive approach of seizing on one of his ‘three ways of looking at’ the problem as the primary explanation.
Finally, on more personal matters. Stone’s hostility to Carr has utterly warped his judgment. He makes the ridiculous assertion that it was my collaboration with Carr on Foundations which ‘saved Carr’s book from going to bits’. Insofar as my function differed from Carr’s, it had entirely the opposite effect. My role was to bring to Carr’s work the professional scepticism of an economic historian, to test with detailed research the validity of alternative explanations about the interconnections between politics and economics. We spent many months going through every chapter and every sentence together, and in this exacting revision Carr’s ability to distinguish what was important in the clutter of detail was of enormous value. Fortunately, I have hoarded some drafts, with both our emendations. If necessary, a footnote in some future PhD thesis can confirm that my indignation at Stone’s libel on Carr is not due to modesty or loyalty.
Stone has many bitter and irrelevant things to say about Carr as a man. This is not the Carr I knew. ‘Very mean’? He was generous to me in the matter of royalties, and in other ways. And when we began our collaboration in 1958, I, an unknown research fellow aged 33, soon found that this famous historian twice my age welcomed and encouraged even my sharpest criticisms of his drafts, on matters small and large. Collaborating with Carr was personally enjoyable as well as intellectually stimulating. Stone stigmatises Carr as ‘something of a coward’. It seems to me that this phrase would be better applied to a man who published a vituperative attack on the most eminent historian of his college a few weeks after his death, while praising his still-living collaborator.
Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham
SIR: E.H. Carr will survive his obituarists, if only because his History of Soviet Russia constitutes, with Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China, the most remarkable effort of single-handed historical scholarship undertaken in Britain within living memory. (This is described as ‘gigantomania’ by the ungigantic.) Whatever the judgment of his work in the 21st century, it is rather unlikely to be like Stone’s. Still, his exercise in defamatory prose may be useful, inasmuch as it gives future readers an idea of the rancour, in and outside some quarters of Cambridge, which was concealed behind expressions of polite respect in Carr’s lifetime.
My purpose is not to defend Carr’s work against the accusations and innuendos of posthumous hatchet-men. It is rather to draw attention to the essentially rhetorical technique of Stone’s enterprise. I choose one example. In one paragraph he suggests that Carr (‘under pressure from the Left’) got Soviet agrarian history wrong, and in doing so concealed the fact that ‘most Bolsheviks misunderstood agriculture in a terrible way.’ He treated kulaks as big farmers (‘although the word originally means “usurer” – a different idea altogether’). He strained very hard to show them essentially as employers of hired labour (‘though even he had to admit’ that little labour was employed). He should have recognised that ‘the heart of the peasant problem’ lay in its family and communal arrangements. Now quite apart from the fact that Carr uses the word ‘kulak’ either in the usual sense, or in that of his sources (whose lack of definition he deplores), and that he supplies Stone with the arguments purporting to invalidate his position, I defy any reader of the section on rural differentiation in the volume to which Stone refers (Foundations I, 18-26) or of Chapter Four on ‘Land and the Peasant’ to interpret Carr’s text as meaning what Stone implies. (The – irrelevant – quotation from Carr from p. 229 of that volume is not to be found on that page.) Without quoting at length from Carr, he makes it quite clear that class differentiation among the peasantry was ‘largely mythical’, that hired labour was insignificant, and that the CP misunderstood agriculture badly, inasmuch as its assessment of the situation ‘proved, in the sequel, a major miscalculation’. Stone’s critique proves to be a nonargument.
And then, what exactly is that single and homogeneous ‘the Left’ which, as Stone says on at least two occasions, put Carr ‘under pressure’? What ‘pressure’ did or could ‘it’ put on him? Is ‘the Left’ a synonym for the official position of Soviet orthodoxy – whatever that might signify – which, by means of a familiar smear, is implied to be the position of which all the disputing schools of the Marxist and non-Marxist Left are somehow variants? What exactly is Stone trying to say? Clearly what Stone says about Carr can also be said about him: ‘He never quite said what he meant.’ But he can hardly be surprised if disagreeable constructions are put on his hints and nudges.
SIR: Reviewing Norman Stone’s The Eastern Front, 1914-1917, E.H. Carr wrote of the author’s ‘slap-dash impressionism’ (New York Review of Books, 29 April 1976). The same characteristic marks Stone’s defamatory review of Carr’s life and works. Among the many distortions, half-truths and mistakes, the following stand out: 1. The unjust claim that Carr was mesmerised by the ‘power of Stalin’ and so resolved to write the history of ‘this colossus’. If so, it is a little odd that his History should end in 1929, when Stalin’s absolute dominance over Soviet politics was just beginning. The only truth in this claim is that Carr recognised Stalin’s undeniable ability as a political tactician, and that he saw the positive as well as the negative consequences of his rule for Soviet society. The rest is fabrication. To show, among many other things, how Stalin rose to power is neither to approve of the process, nor to regard it as inevitable. Carr in fact described Stalin’s victory over his opponents as ‘the triumph not of reason but of organisation’, (Socialism in One Country, Vol. II, p. 224). And for a man supposedly ‘something of a coward’, who was ‘reluctant … to condemn’ and ‘never quite said what he meant’, Carr was surprisingly articulate when it came to describing ‘Stalin’s extreme brutality and indifference to personal dictatorship’, the ‘bleak and inhuman character’ of his rule, ‘the darkest period of Soviet experience’ (Foundations of a Planned Economy, Vol. 2, p.451). Curious expressions to find in an ‘unreconstructed Stalinist version’ of Soviet history.
2. The ill-formed assertion that Carr was unable to provide an adequate explanation of the political struggles of the 1920s. For instance, Stone writes that ‘the discussion of politics in the first volume of Socialism in One Country, p. 320 ff., is extraordinarily weak.’ It supposedly fails to show how Stalin consistently defeated his opponents at party congresses. ‘Where did all those votes come from?’ Stone asks, oblivious of the fact that the volume in question deals largely with the economy and the pages cited with agriculture. Had Stone read as far as the second volume, he would have found a precise analysis of how the central party machine’s ‘control was exercised through mass propaganda, through the power of appointment and through the threat of reprisals’, how ‘conformity was encouraged by the hope of rewards’ (Socialism, Vol. 2, p. 210). And instead of needing to advance his ‘own’ hypothesis that this ‘reflected a struggle that had been going on in local parties, in which “mini-Stalins” (Medvedev’s phrase) were emerging’, he would have discovered that Carr, a quarter of a century earlier, had demonstrated how ‘the drift towards personal dictatorship, the greater prestige and influence of the individual leader … first emerged in local organisations’ (ibid, p. 224).
3. The jibe that Carr was ‘simply dishonest to end a history of the Soviet Union in 1929’. In fact, Carr had originally intended to go much further. In a BBC talk in 1948, he said: ‘I hope to go as far as the Stalin Constitution  … perhaps even to the beginning of the Second World War,’ though he added: ‘I do not yet know exactly how difficult it is to get adequate sources for the 1930s, and it is obviously much more difficult than for the 1920s.’ Furthermore, Carr was already an octogenarian when he completed his History. It is scarcely surprising that instead of taking on another major project, he contented himself with working on the Comintern, a much less demanding task than a political history of the 1930s.
4. The unfounded allegation that Carr’s views on international relations in the 1930s led him to a defeatist position in 1940. No one would deny that Carr (along with many of his peers) advocated appeasement up to 1939. But there is no evidence for Stone’s assertion that in 1940 he ‘would certainly have preferred to make peace with Hitler had it been possible’. On the contrary, in his leader on ‘Britain and Hitler’ in the Times on 22 July 1940, Carr denounced Hitler’s ‘bankruptcy’, declared that ‘Britain epitomises everything that degenerate Nazism fears and hates,’ and concluded that ‘two visions of the future are offered to the world. It cannot be doubted where the choice will lie.’ Hardly the voice of appeasement in 1940.
5. That not until ‘Stalin began to win battles’ did Carr argue ‘for recognition of the rule that the Soviets would have after the War’. In fact, from mid-July 1941 onwards, Carr urged the closest possible co-operation with the USSR: ‘Britain and Russia’, the Times, 14 July 1941 (diary entry, 13 July 1941), ‘Russia’s War’, the Times, 19 July 1941 (diary entry, 17 July 1941), etc.
6. The gross misstatement that Carr wrote the history, not of the Soviet Union, but merely of its Communist Party: and this largely from ‘quantities of indigestible Soviet material’. It is not surprising that a study of a country being transformed under the direction of a one-party state should have a good deal to say about the nature and role of the ruling party. But simply look at the chapter headings of the History: agriculture, industry, classes, personalities, labour, the trade unions, the Red Army, religion, literature, migration, finance, planning etc, etc. How much broader could the scope have been? To sneer at Carr for having used Soviet materials so fully, moreover, is unworthy of a serious historian. Besides, as Stone must know, Carr made extensive use of foreign archives and published sources. He also knew, met and corresponded with many of the émigrés he is accused of ignoring. The assertion that Carr should have visited the USSR more in the course of his work only illustrates Stone’s ignorance of research into Soviet history. When Carr was undertaking the bulk of his work, facilities for such research were closed to foreign scholars. By the time they became available, Carr was too old to make this sort of expedition. And to suggest that he might have tried to meet Molotov in Moscow to discuss questions of Soviet history suggests a lack of even the most elementary understanding of conditions in the USSR.
A final word about Stone’s dismissive comment that ‘Carr was not a good teacher … and did not do much to advance his subject through research students.’ How many distinguished academics at the age of 74 or 81 would agree to take on research students, as he did in our own cases? What is impressive is that although time was his most precious asset, he was more prepared than many to expend it to help younger scholars. He would meticulously read work submitted to him, would quickly return it with detailed comments, and was readily available to discuss problems. Moreover, Stone’s jibe is as irrelevant as it is inaccurate. Even if Carr had never taught or spoken to a single student, his writings alone would have made him, as they have, an influence second to none in the study of Soviet history.
John Barber & Jonathan Haslam
King’s College, Cambridge & University of Birmingham
Concern for Israel
SIR: Mr Ruthven (LRB, 4 November 1982) appears to be remarkably prone to oversimplification. Take the term ‘Zionism’, for instance. Mr Ruthven, it seems, has never heard of the historic and unceasing conflict between Labour Zionism and Revisionism, let alone other trends. For him the blanket pejorative ‘Zionism’ will do. One is reminded of that devoted student of Henry James who, when the master paused in the course of a conversation in search of an exact epithet, said encouragingly: ‘Never mind, Mr James. Any old word will do.’ It is certainly true, alas, that Mr Begin’s policies are giving Zionism a bad name, but whether this should excuse stereotypical thinking of quite so gross a character is another matter.
The ‘extreme Zionists’, Mr Ruthven says, ‘project upon the Palestinians their own repressed sense of guilt and aggressiveness’. Within a paragraph, however, he has dispensed altogether with adjectival constraints and proceeds happily with his presentation of Zionism plain and unadorned. The repressed guilt and aggressiveness of Zionism has been nurtured, Mr Ruthven tells us, by two added factors: ‘the sense of insecurity felt by survivors of the Holocaust (the memory of which is enshrined in many public rituals and instilled into every Israeli schoolchild) … and the empty threatenings of Arab and Palestinian leaders who have tended to compensate for their impotence towards Israel by violent words and sometimes spectacular terrorist outrages … The Arab preference for talk over action is liable to be misunderstood by people with experience of the Nazis. The Nazis meant what they said.’ This is a set of quite startling contentions. First of all, in a population of which at least one-third are Holocaust survivors or the children of Holocaust survivors, it would hardly seem to be necessary ‘to instil’ the memory of the Holocaust. In point of fact, the Holocaust as a subject for systematic historical study has only recently been introduced into the school syllabus for the final high-school year. And yes, there is an annual Remembrance Day for the six million in the Israeli calendar. I think Mr Ruthven will probably find that most people with a lot of dead to remember like to remember them.
‘Empty threatenings’ seems to be an odd way of describing the invasion by seven Arab nations of the State of Israel newly created in 1948 on the basis of the United Nations partition of British Mandated Palestine; the closing of the Straits of Tiran and the removal of the UN peacekeeping force in Sinai by Nasser in 1967; and the initially extremely successful Egyptian and Syrian surprise attacks of 1973. Arabs, unlike Nazis, Mr Ruthven implies, do not mean what they say. No? Not even when what they say is a vow of revenge, and hard evidence that they mean what they say is open and palpable to all eyes in Tel el Za’ater, Damur, Shatila, Tripoli? Or a promise to root out political opposition which leaves ten thousand (a conservative estimate) dead in the streets of Hama? A massacre which oddly enough does not appear to exercise Mr Ruthven’s righteous wrath overmuch. What does Mr Ruthven suggest? That Israel offer itself as a guinea pig for the testing of his theory of the Arab preference for talk over action? Would he? There have indeed been some ‘spectacular terrorist outrages’. There have also been some unspectacular ones – just a bomb in a bus. A great many, indeed most, fortunately, have failed. Action, at all events, rather than words, has been pretty constant over the last 35 years.
Mr Ruthven’s lack of objectivity shows up most conspicuously in his treatment of the Kahana Inquiry Commission. He himself, like Mr Begin, has no need for a Commission. ‘Israel’s overall moral responsibility,’ he says, ‘is not in doubt.’ And the only matters remaining to discuss are, in his view, the Israeli motivation for setting up the massacre, linked, in a grand super-conspiracy, to the Israeli murder of Bashir Gemayel (this he has, he tells us, straight from ‘most Palestinians and Lebanese’), and whether the killers were Phalangists or Major Haddad’s men. However, there is no dispute (or denial on Israel’s part) that it was the Phalangists who were sent into the camps. That some Phalangists were mistaken for Haddad’s men in the turmoil and terror of the massacre which followed is irrelevant. But it is precisely the question of moral responsibility which the Inquiry Commission was instituted to determine: who precisely knew what, and when; who planned what and when; who was warned, or worried ahead of time; who ignored or belittled the warnings; who informed whom of the disaster and when; and what was then done about it. These are the questions the Commission has probingly been asking and they are the key questions for any judicial ascription of blame. When innocent people are killed in incriminating but confused and uncertain circumstances, civilised custom demands inquiry into the facts of the matter before leaping to foregone conclusions. That civilised custom was demanded not, as Mr Ruthven claims, by ‘facts’ coming to light through foreign journalists and television crews – those facts were known when Mr Begin refused to set up a Commission – but by the demonstration of 400,000 Israeli citizens who, against their own government and in the middle of a war, took to the streets in anguish at what had been allowed to occur. That figure translates into five million Britons. Every one of those people was a Zionist, as it happens – that species of the human race which, according to Mr Ruthven, projects ‘upon an imaginary enemy the destructiveness and cruelty of their own psyches’, just as the fabricators of the infamous Protocols did.
Mr Ruthven’s ‘most devastating evidence that Zionist leaders deliberately provoked Arab hostility in order to blackmail the West into supporting Israeli expansionism’ comes, he says, from the Diaries of the late Moshe Sharett. The Diary entry he quotes, however, is quoted out of context. The context, it will be recalled, was the Suez War of 1956, in which Britain and France, in pursuance of their own imperialist policies, engaged the services of the Israeli Army against Nasser in Sinai. That the then Government of Israel allowed itself to be used in this way, even sought and engineered the collusion, hoping in this way to pre-empt the (undeniable) Egyptian threat in the south, has been the subject of corrosive criticism not only by Sharett but by considerable numbers of Labour supporters ever since. There is good reason to think that Ben Gurion, and the Labour Party since his day, learned the lesson. But these fine distinctions are not for Mr Ruthven. The Israeli political scene, no less complex than the British, is scarcely amenable to exhaustive analysis in terms of his model of paranoid projections. There are nine political parties in the Israeli Parliament, stretching from the extreme left to the extreme right. The five Coalition parties muster about 52 per cent of the electorate. The remainder are in opposition to the policies of the present government. All these parties, save the Communists, whose ideology is internationalist, and the Aguda, whose ideology is providemialist, are Zionist. They subscribe, that is to say, despite bitter dispute on almost every other topic, including their conception of the Zionist enterprise and including the objectives, justification and conduct of the Lebanese war itself, to a belief in the necessity for a territorial homeland and refuge for the scattered Jewish people in some of the area that was once British Mandated Palestine, itself situated upon some of the area, or areas, of the ancient Jewish commonwealth. Upon just which area and how much of it, Coalition and Opposition split with intense passion. The Labour Opposition advocates (and has done, consistently, through the 34 years of the State’s existence) territorial compromise – a partition of the area from the Jordan to the Mediterranean between the two claimant peoples, Jew and Arab. Mr Begin’s Likud claims sovereignty over the whole of the area in question on grounds of Biblical precept and precedent, and a physical-presence concept of defence, and aims at the quasi-annexation or limited autonomy of the West Bank. ‘Creeping’ annexation by settlement proceeds apace at present, a process made possible, be it noted, by the Arab refusal, for the last 34 years (half of that period being before the occupation of the West Bank) to recognise, let alone compromise with or negotiate with, the State of Israel. This refusal (except in Egypt since the Camp David accords) is still extant, though there may be some hopeful signs of a possible change of mind.
Should Mr Begin’s Government be replaced – a consummation, in my own long-standing view, most devoutly to be wished – what does Mr Ruthven imagine will replace it? Or ‘remove’ it, as he puts it? Since he has only one category – a demonically manipulative and fiendishly expansionist ‘Zionism’, one wonders. The Middle East is riven by tensions and wars, internecine and labyrinthine. Whoever presents one side in any of its disputes as being inalienably in possession of total justice, and its opponent as totally in the wrong, does ill service to the cause of sanity, reason and moderation in the region.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
SIR: The references to Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary in Peter Medawar’s review of Robert Nisbet’s Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary (LRB, 2 December 1982) include a general one to ‘the anti-religious, anti-clerical coloration of Voltaire’ and a particular one to what he calls its ‘best-known passage’ in the article ‘Tout est bien’, beginning: ‘Either God wishes to expunge the evil from this world and cannot; or he can and does not wish to; or he neither wishes to nor can; or he both wishes to and can.’ These reference give a misleading view of Voltaire’s position. He opposed dogmatic religion, what he called ‘I’infâme’, especially of the Judaco-Christian variety, but not what he called ‘true’ religion, as may be seen in the articles ‘Dieu’, ‘Religion’, ‘Athée’, ‘Théiste’, and so on. And the passage in question is not by Voltaire himself but is a genuine quotation from the treatise De ira Dei by the fourth-century Christian theologian Lactantius, where it is a spurious quotation from Epicurus (Patrologia Latina, 1844, Vol. 7, col. 121). Lactantius tries to refute this ‘black theodicy’; Voltaire neither accepts nor rejects it, but comments that ‘the problem of good and evil remains an insoluble chaos for those who inquire in good faith’; it was accepted by the real opponents of religion, such as Holbach, whom Voltaire opposed. He was in fact just as ‘even-handed’ as Medawar says Nisbet is.
Larkin and Us
SIR: Barbara Everett’s sense of discrimination seems to desert her for a moment in ‘Larkin and Us’ (LRB, 4 November 1982). She says that ‘there seems little difference in the images’ provided by Beckett in ‘a play in which the characters sit in dustbins’ and the Larkin ‘characters in long coats deep in the litter-baskets’ of ‘Toads Revisited’. But surely these images are light years apart. The Beckett image could only belong to some surrealist nightmare; the Larkin characters have their feet firmly on the ground (surely Barbara Everett doesn’t think they have climbed into the receptacles) and are grubbing about in the refuse in a way that connects them to our world. Not quite to say they are ‘one of us’, but we could become one of them – if our luck ran out.
Brasenose College, Oxford
SIR: You are not doing your job properly. An editor must give space to authors whose books have been critically reviewed, unless there is an overriding objection. Would not Michael Grant (Letters, 10 January), as well as your readership, have understood if you had withheld publication of his letter until it had passed a test of literacy?