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

The publisher describes Said Sayrafiezadeh's book accurately:

With a profound gift for capturing the absurd in life, and a deadpan wisdom that comes from surviving a surreal childhood in the Socialist Workers Party, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh has crafted an unsentimental, funny, heartbreaking memoir.

Saïd’s Iranian-born father and American Jewish mother had one thing in common: their unshakable conviction that the workers’ revolution was coming. Separated since their son was nine months old, they each pursued a dream of the perfect socialist society. Pinballing with his mother between makeshift Pittsburgh apartments, falling asleep at party meetings, longing for the luxuries he’s taught to despise, Said waits for the revolution that never, ever arrives. “Soon,” his mother assures him, while his long-absent father quixotically runs as a socialist candidate for president in an Iran about to fall under the ayatollahs. Then comes the hostage crisis. The uproar that follows is the first time Saïd hears the word “Iran” in school. There he is suddenly forced to confront the combustible stew of his identity: as an American, an Iranian, a Jew, a socialist... and a middle-school kid who loves football and video games.

One must, of course, put up with everything to serve the leader -- considered the most dedicated of the comrades. Cohen writes that “the Great Leader exercised his droit de seigneur over many of his women followers. Twenty-six accused him of 'cruel and systematic debauchery' as the party fell apart in the mid-1980s. One of them was the daughter of two of Healy's oldest friends. She told how he had rewarded her parents' loyalty by sleeping with her and beating her. She had been hurt so often she was close to being a cripple.” Anything for the revolution, as the comrades used to say. One thinks immediately of the Soviet NKVD-KGB chief, Lavrenti Beria, whose hobby was molesting the youngest of girls, provided for him by a fleet of agents. If the Soviet apparatchiks had such perks, Healey must have thought, why not the British counterparts?

It should not be a surprise to learn from Cohen that as the recent past emerged, “Healy took money from Gaddafi's Libya and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. In return for funding from Arab dictators, the WRP led the charge of the far-Left into the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the far-Right and, as seriously, agreed to spy on Iraqi dissidents living in London and hand over their details to the Baathist state without a thought of what could happen to their families back in Iraq. Even after the scandals about the rapes and links to Saddam broke, the Redgraves stuck with Healy, as did Ken Livingstone,” the former Mayor of London.

Except for the demented few like Vanessa Redgrave and the dwindling group of true believers, to whom no facts stand in the way of accepting the revolutionary myth, the rest of the liberal community has moved on, away from Communist era politics. This is the case except in one regard, and Cohen puts his finger on it. The old ideology still remains “in the bloodstream of the wider Left — the propensity for Jew-baiting and conspiracy theory, the shrieking dogmatism, and, beyond all that, the self-censorship, which stops a broadcaster legally obliged to be objective dealing plainly with news that reflects badly on its class and kind.”

After all, in the media spokesmen’s eyes -- so many of whom were part of the '60s generation -- Corin and Vanessa Redgrave represented their pure ideals, and hence must be defended even after  their passing, even if what they did and lived for was hideous. To do the opposite would be to condemn their own youthful illusions -- illusions few are prepared to thoroughly give up.