David Aaronovitch is too forgiving of the radical left in his new bookby Philip Hensher / January 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
Party Animals: My family and other communists, by David Aaronovitch, Jonathan Cape, £17.99
The collapse of communism in 1989 is the most significant event of our lifetimes but one which will continue to be surrounded by myth-making and reinvention for years to come. The political thinking that led up to it was despatched to the realms of historical curiosity and of lost causes, until the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in 2015. When the primary question posed by any audience was “What on earth were they thinking of?”, it sometimes seems as if credulity might be suspended across the board.
David Aaronovitch, these days, is a blamelessly liberal and sceptical columnist for The Times. His interesting though problematic childhood memoir Party Animals focuses on a marginal but important episode. If the moral issues remain fudged, no-one could blame Aaronovitch for evading a final plausible judgement.
The subject of his book is his parents, and the world of extremist left-wing politics to which they devoted their lives. At some point, we all come to understand that our parents were wrong about a lot of things. That is what growing up consists of. It is not often that history conspires to confirm the revisions of the children: indeed, in this case, to leave the children muttering that their parents weren’t as bad as all that.
Somewhere in Nostromo, Conrad observes that an old freedom fighter was “full of scorn for the populace, as your austere republican so often is.” It’s interesting to read Aaronovitch’s tale of life among the elite, or what would have been the elite if history had gone their way. His parents, Sam and Lavender, were important figures in the world of post-war British communist politics. Sam was sketched, devastatingly, by Doris Lessing in both a novel and, much later, a memoir. He was the Cultural Secretary of the British Communist Party, and Lessing reasonably asks: “Why had the party chosen a young man who had read nothing of modern literature, and was not interested in the arts, to represent culture?” Aaronovitch spends a good deal of energy rebutting this and other…