The Truth about the Redgraves and the '60s Left: Kudos to journalist Nick Cohen

There is no better précis of how the Left thinks about the world, and acts on it, than the British journalist Nick Cohen’s article appearing in the new issue of Standpoint. Cohen writes a candid appraisal of what left-wing politics did to the mind and life of the late actor Corin Redgrave, brother  of the more famous Vanessa, who like her brother, is a lifetime member of a small fanatic Trotskyist sect, the Workers Revolutionary Party, led by a man named Gerry Healy. The group was so fanatic that it accused Trotsky’s American followers of having been responsible for his murder in Mexico, ignoring all the evidence that it was an NKVD operation orchestrated by Joseph Stalin.

As  Cohen notes, all the Redgraves are good actors. Vanessa could, while she denounced Israel and praised Palestinian terrorists, at the same time appear on American television as a Jewish concentration camp victim in a Holocaust drama. I used to say, when people asked for my position on the blacklist of the 1950s, that I despise Vanessa Redgrave’s politics, but would go at a minute’s notice to see her perform in a Broadway play.  I praised her acting ability, and her prowess as an actor did not make me pay an ounce of attention to her political harangues.

This, of course, is not how the British media (so similar to the American media in this regard) dealt with her brother's politics after his recent death. All the usual sources praised Redgrave as a man who fought “injustice and oppression,” and who tried “to make a better world.” That is certainly the case, if by a better world one means the regimented police states so favored by Marxist-Leninist regimes, to which Redgrave devoted his life.

As Cohen reveals, the truth is that both Vanessa and Corin “spent their adult lives serving a repellent totalitarian party led by a rapist and a friend not of ‘human rights’ and ‘justice’, as Radio 4 pretended, but of dictatorship and terror.” Cohen paints a picture of the paranoia that surrounded the Trotskyist party’s headquarters in Clapham, and the leader’s admonition that all members “had to cut off all ties with everyone except the chosen few.”

Cohen cites the reality told by Corin’s first wife, Deirdre, who had the presence of mind to divorce the actor and raise her children in a normal fashion, rather than submit to the entreaties of the party militants. As Cohen puts it, she said that her husband was “wasting his time and being taken for a fool.” But Corin Redgrave, like Vanessa, seemed incapable of leaving what in essence was a cult. As Cohen perceptively writes:

The marriage broke up because no cult can tolerate a member with a wife on the outside gently pointing out that he is wasting his time and being taken for a fool. Healy knew that the more you invest in a political or religious cause, the harder it is to break from it. He ensured that his members would find it hard to break with him by working them close to exhaustion. The BBC and many others wondered why Redgrave disappeared from the stage for much of his career. Self-censorship prevented them from explaining that he was in thrall to a despot who would not allow him the space to flourish. One WRP member, Kate Blakeney, described the process. She spent so much time and money supporting the party that she could not afford to feed her own children. "We were too busy, always busy, and could hope only to catch a few hours' sleep." One day Healy asked to meet her in his London flat. She went hoping to convince him to give her and her comrades in Oxford a respite from his demands: "[He] opened the door for me. He had been drinking. Something was all wrong. I pushed by his large body, sat down in the chair and started to make my report. Healy came towards me, was hovering over me. He was not listening to a word I was saying. He wanted only one thing from me, my sexual submission. For a moment, I just stared at him: fat, ugly, red-faced. Something inside of me snapped. I, my husband, my children, my comrades had sacrificed so much, had worked so hard for this...animal."

This scene invokes the memory of the account offered in the searing memoir written by a young Iranian American, Said Sayrafiezadeh, When Skateboards Will Be Free. In his book, Sayrafiezadeh, a wonderful writer, tells a similar story of how her mother lived only for one thing, serving the Socialist Workers Party, as she was forced to move from home to home, without money or a job, devoting each minute of her day and many of her nights to handing out party newspapers and pamphlets, or putting up traveling comrades. When her little son was molested by one of them, the party leaders informed her that “this is what capitalism does to some people,” and she should merely forget the incident.