More on Ralph Miliband: A KGB Connection?

From a correspondent:

In Britain the media row over whether an obscure, deceased Marxist academic Ralph Miliband was a loyal British patriot who loved his country, rumbles on (see Alex Kurtagic’s article, “Ralph Miliband was not unique”). It is important for two reasons. One is that the Daily Mail, the voice of middle England is very much at bay with the Guardian and BBC snapping at its heels over what it has printed about Miliband.

The second is that Ralph Miliband was the father of the current Labour leader Ed Miliband who may or may not have inherited his father’s radical attitudes. But in all the sound and fury of the Daily Mail row, one question remains unasked.

Who was “Lev” the mysterious Russian figure who moved in Ralph Miliband’s circle in the sixties and was willing to pay for information about NATO.

We are introduced to “Lev” in the autobiographical writings of David Horowitz who is now a prominent Neocon but was then part of the left wing Jewish Marxist academic milieu. Horowitz moved to London in the mid-sixties and was taken under the wing of Ralph Miliband when the two lived next door to each other in Hampstead.

In his memoir Radical Son (Simon and Schuster) published in1997 Horowitz paints a fascinating portrait of Ralph Miliband’s intellectual circles and  meeting people like Isaac Deutscher, R D Laing, Eric Hobsbawm, Perry Anderson, E P Thompson, Bertrand Russell etc. — the left-wing intelligentsia of that time.

Not long after being taken under Miliband’s wing, Horowitz gets a call from a mysterious Russian called “Lev” who claims to work for the Novosti Press Agency. “Lev” develops a fascination for Horowitz and the two spend some time in some of the most expensive restaurants in London paid for by Lev while Horowtiz is pumped for information.

Horowitz writes:

Our trysts took place in London’s more expensive restaurants, like Prunier’s, where I sampled my first Coquelle Saint Jacques and other elegant cuisines. My reaction to this treatment was pleasure and guilt. …in my private thoughts I deplored the way the Soviet government squandered wealth that properly belonged to Soviet workers on such luxuries…

And then comes a crucial moment.

At the end of the second or third session he gave me a Parker fountain pen. It was still in the storebox and was not wrapped like a present. I didn’t know how to refuse it without insulting him. The next time we had lunch it was raining and I was wearing my trench coat. As we walked into the street at the end of a meal he stuffed a thick white envelope into my left pocket.

At home he discovers 150 single dollar bills. At the next meeting Horowtiz returns the envelope with an admonishment. Lev then asked the American to obtain information about NATO through his teaching job. This was refused and there were angry words in the street.

I was not the only radical courted by Lev. I had seen him with a Marxist economics tutor at the [London School of Economics]. I had discussed him in a veiled manner with the editor of Views who had also been having lunches with him. Members of the New Left Review crowd knew him as did activists I recognised from the Labour Party left. How many had failed to reject him as I did? How many had become suppliers of information to the KGB?

Horowitz does not say that Miliband introduced him or worked for Lev. But the proximity of the anecdotes is striking.

Many years later the friendship between Horowitz and Miliband was to come to a messy end over their different interpretations of the end of the Soviet Union. While for Horowitz it meant the conclusive end of the socialist dream and a time of recrimination and soul searching. Ralph Miliband, however, seems to have been a hard-liner.

In a blistering open letter to Miliband, Horowitz wrote the following:

“Nothing could more clearly reveal how blind your faith has made you. To describe the collapse of the Soviet empire as a vindication of  Deutscher’s prophecies (and thus the Marxist tradition that underpins them) is to turn history on its head. We are indeed witnessing a form of “revolution from above” in the Soviet Union but it is a revolution that refutes Deutscher and Marx. The events of the past year are not a triumph of socialism but a tragedy. The rejection of planned economy by the actually existing leaders of socialist society, the pathetic search for elements of an actual rule of law (following the relentless crusades against “bourgeois rights”) the humiliating admission that the military superpower is in all other respects a third world nation, the inability of the socialist mode of production to enter the technological future and the unseemly begging for the advanced technology it has seemingly stolen for decades from the West – all this adds up to a declaration of socialism’s utter bankruptcy and defeat.”

In his autobiography Horowitz seems embittered by the attitude of his former comrades.

“My second thoughts had led me through a night of the soul that involved the condemnation of my own life. I knew the terrors of such self-confrontation and I did not not hold it against Ralph or others if they did not choose to do the same.

It was — after all was said and done —  a community of faith, hermetically sealed from knowledge that might wake it from its dream. The catastrophe for everything that progressives had believed could not have been more complete, yet they refused to see it. From university lecterns, in their own political journals and in the op-ed pages of the prestige press, they dismissed what had happened to the revolutionary future as irrelevant to everything they had said or done. They had invested their lives in opposing the defenders of Western freedom, and supporting “progressive” revolutionary despotisms, and now they could not admit they had been wrong.”

In a final blistering passage Horowitz says:

 “Their truth is buried with the socialist dead. And so was mine….the years I dedicated to the progressive cause counted as nothing for Miliband and the others when I came to offer them the lessons that it had been so costly for me to learn.”