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Isaac and Isaiah

Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic

David Caute
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32btr7
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  • Book Info
    Isaac and Isaiah
    Book Description:

    Rancorous and highly public disagreements between Isaiah Berlin and Isaac Deutscher escalated to the point of cruel betrayal in the mid-1960s, yet surprisingly the details of the episode have escaped historians' scrutiny. In this gripping account of the ideological clash between two of the most influential scholars of Cold War politics, David Caute uncovers a hidden story of passionate beliefs, unresolved antagonism, and the high cost of reprisal to both victim and perpetrator.

    Though Deutscher (1907-1967) and Berlin (1909-1997) had much in common-each arrived in England in flight from totalitarian violence, quickly mastered English, and found entry into the Anglo-American intellectual world of the 1950s-Berlin became one of the presiding voices of Anglo-American liberalism, while Deutscher remained faithful to his Leninist heritage, resolutely defending Soviet conduct despite his rejection of Stalin's tyranny. Caute combines vivid biographical detail with an acute analysis of the issues that divided these two icons of Cold War politics, and brings to light for the first time the full severity of Berlin's action against Deutscher.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19534-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: A CONVERSATION IN ALL SOULS
    (pp. 1-4)

    The conversation took place in the common room during the first week of March 1963. It was the idle half-hour after lunch when one might drift in from the buttery, with its curved, panelled walls and coffered ceiling shaped as an oval dome, the work of Hawksmoor.

    Isaiah greeted me. ‘Do you have a moment to spare? I seek your advice.’

    He shepherded us into armchairs close to a window overlooking the fellows’ garden. It could be no one else’s garden since ours was a college uniquely without students.

    Then in his early fifties, Isaiah wore thick-framed glasses and a...

  6. PART ONE. ISAAC AND ISAIAH

    • 1 BERLIN: A LIFE
      (pp. 7-18)

      Born on 6 June 1909 in Riga, Isaiah Berlin was descended (like the violinist Yehudi Menuhin) from the Chabad Hasidim, now known as Lubavitch. His grandparents, but not his parents, were pious Hasidim. He was born in a fourth-floor apartment in Albertstrasse, in an Art Nouveau block the entrance of which (as he remembered) was guarded by two sphinxes, reclining plaster figures with breasts and a pharaoh’s headdress. (Some eighty years later Berlin’s biographer, Michael Ignatieff, found the breasted pharaohs still there, ‘mossy with the damp and chipped with age’.) The birth was a difficult one. After many hours of...

    • 2 DEUTSCHER: A LIFE
      (pp. 19-35)

      Isaac Deutscher’s childhood and early adult years in Poland present a problem not found in Berlin’s – Deutscher himself was the sole surviving witness. Berlin brought his parents to England with him (so to speak) and his father later wrote a revealing, informative memoir. But Deutscher arrived in England alone in 1939. None of the family he grew up with survived the Nazis. He met his future wife, Tamara, in England and she could later relate only what he had told her about his family, upbringing and intellectual formation. We are therefore reliant on Deutscher’s word alone for the first...

    • 3 THE ISSUES
      (pp. 36-44)

      Berlin and Deutscher were of the same generation, both refugees, both British by adoption, both multilingual, opinionated Jews; one Latvian-Russian, the other Polish. Both came to exercise influence not only in academic circles but among the wider British and American public. Both can be viewed as missionary spirits in contention to convince or convert the ideologically naïve English and American natives. To that extent theirs can be viewed as a family quarrel over the legitimate title to a heritage, a domain, entailing the temptation to fratricide. Deutscher’s fatal review of Berlin’sHistorical Inevitabilitymay be likened to an episode in...

  7. PART TWO. COLD WAR HISTORY

    • 4 MARX AND MARXISM
      (pp. 47-52)

      Isaac Deutscher was, by his repeated avowal, a ‘classical’ Marxist. Although Isaiah Berlin often insisted that Marxist scholars were perfectly entitled to occupy university posts, we may begin our investigation of his objections to Deutscher’s appointment here. The problem resided not so much in the theory as in its practical application to recent history. That said, one may hesitate: can theory and practice be so cleanly separated? Take, for example, Berlin’s sceptical perspective on Karl Marx’s commitment to the ‘proletariat’ (the urban/industrial working class) as the destined vector of humanity’s future under socialism.

      In his first book,Karl Marx: His...

    • 5 WHAT IS HISTORY?
      (pp. 53-69)

      Deutscher was not primarily a theorist and his embrace of ‘classical Marxism’ was not what turned Berlin’s stomach and led him to liken this Polish Jew to a Spanish Jesuit, a ‘wicked man’. The bile rose with Deutscher’s Marxist-Leninist approach to recent history, to Berlin’s own early experiences, when the Bolsheviks burned his cradle. The dispute about Marxist revolutionary theory found its flashpoint in Lenin’s contribution to the twentieth century, and Trotsky’s and Stalin’s. Likewise the dispute about the nature of history and the proper duties of the historian was rooted in sharply adversarial interpretations of the living world into...

    • 6 A PORTRAIT OF STALIN
      (pp. 70-78)

      ‘How are young undergraduates,’ Isaiah Berlin asked the present writer, though it wasn’t really a question, ‘much less informed and perceptive than you, to survive his unscrupulous distortions? Believe me, your run-of-the-mill hack who dutifully toes the party line, word for word, chapter and verse, is far less dangerous than Deutscher. He passes for an independent historian, a free spirit. He confesses how, most regrettably, uncontrollable circumstances had by 1920 or 1921 forced Lenin and Trotsky to become Lenin and Trotsky. He explains how the necessary collectivisation and industrialisation of Russia was undertaken by a leader, Stalin, who most regrettably...

    • 7 IMAGES OF LENIN
      (pp. 79-90)

      Yet Berlin did not deplore Stalin as deeply as he detested Lenin. Sentiments about Stalin might be complicated by the wartime alliance against the destroyer of the Jews, Hitler, but Berlin was a student of political ideas and Stalin produced few (Berlin and Deutscher agreed on that), despite his pretensions to have the last word on everything, even linguistics. Lenin’s published work on the other hand, his theories of imperialism and class struggle, of revolution and the state, still served as holy texts of historical science for thousands of corrupted intellectuals like Deutscher. Lenin was the great contaminator, the self-confident...

    • 8 TROTSKY THE PROPHET
      (pp. 91-98)

      Deutscher’smagnum opuswas his three-volume biography of Trotsky, in which he invested years of devoted labour. Only the first volume,The Prophet Armed, had appeared when E.H. Carr invited Deutscher to address a seminar he was giving jointly with Berlin in Oxford. Deutscher duly delivered a paper on ‘Trotsky at Alma Ata and the Party Opposition’. Jonathan Haslam comments: ‘Deutscher clearly underestimated his own unfortunate capacity for inflaming the sentiment of others by getting carried away in wounding and ad hominem polemic.’¹ This probably refers not to the presentation itself but to the altercation about Marxism that followed. Of...

    • 9 BERLIN, CHRISTOPHER HILL – AND DEUTSCHER
      (pp. 99-106)

      Some years before Deutscher’s death, he had acquired a perhaps unlikely admirer in the shape of the Oxford historian Christopher Hill, renowned for his marvellous explorations of religion and politics in the age of the English Revolution. Hill’s once-friendly relationship with Isaiah Berlin had been pitched into a deep freeze as a result of Hill’s membership of the British Communist Party and his admiration for Lenin. Berlin always insisted that he had nothing against Marxist academics but this did not apply if their Marxism was converted into Leninism.

      Hill was to describe Deutscher’s Trotsky trilogy as ‘splendid’.

      Berlin had first...

  8. PART THREE. WHAT IS LIBERTY?

    • 10 TWO CONCEPTS OF LIBERTY
      (pp. 109-119)

      Why is the Marxist or Leninist vision of true freedom, a vision shared by Isaac Deutscher, a travesty? Berlin painstakingly set out his answer in the work that perhaps more than any other encapsulated his credo,Two Concepts of Liberty(1958). At first sight this is a further case of his ship and Deutscher’s passing in the night – no public comment by Deutscher is found. Despite the obvious influence of the nineteenth-century Russian enlightenment (Herzen, Turgenev), Berlin’s thesis belongs to an essentially English and empirical tradition of political philosophy – Mill, Green, Bentham, and back to Hume, Locke, Harrington,...

    • 11 THE HEDGEHOG AND THE FOX
      (pp. 120-130)

      Berlin seemed drawn magnetically to dualities and dichotomies, to starkly opposing outlooks arrayed like medieval armies. Here we meet the hedgehog (who knows one big thing) and the fox (who knows many things). The odd thing is that he always insisted on the sheer complexity, the irreducible variousness and multiplicity of human life – yet apparently found irresistible the impulse to boil it down to starkly opposing schools of thought. However, as he ventured deeper into the tunnel of a dichotomy – or suffered informed criticism – he tended to retreat. InThe Hedgehog and the Fox(1953), he begins...

  9. PART FOUR. RUSSIA BY DAY AND BY NIGHT

    • 12 ANNA AKHMATOVA
      (pp. 133-143)

      The Berlin family had emigrated in 1920, when Isaiah was eleven. In the autumn of 1945 he returned to Russia for the first time, accredited to the British Embassy on a diplomatic passport. His mission was to assess the prevailing state of Soviet opinion, the lie of the land. Foreign Minister Molotov initially opposed his diplomatic accreditation with the comment, ‘We don’t want any of the old ones.’ He therefore had to wait from June to September 1945 for official consent, and was duly accommodated in the embassy. This was to be his first close-up encounter with Stalin’s domain –...

    • 13 BORIS PASTERNAK
      (pp. 144-156)

      ‘As a poet he is curiously antiquated, compared with Mayakovsky and Yessenin, his contemporaries… . A voice from the grave … the survivor of a lost tribe.’ This was Isaac Deutscher’s burial of Boris Pasternak. We come, then, toDoctor Zhivago.

      Berlin described his first visit to Pasternak’s dacha at Peredelkino, outside Moscow, on a warm day in September 1945. ‘He [Pasternak] was once described by his friend, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, as looking like an Arab and his horse… . He spoke slowly in a low tenor monotone, with a continuous even sound, something between a humming and a...

  10. PART FIVE. COLD WAR ALLEGIANCES

    • 14 THE COLD WAR AND THE PEOPLE’S DEMOCRACIES
      (pp. 159-169)

      Highly provocative to mainstream Western opinion were Deutscher’s theses on the origins and ongoing causes of the Cold War, extending to the People’s Democracies established by the Soviet Union after 1945. Although his insistence on the socially progressive nature of communist regimes in Eastern Europe was tempered by a more or less frank acknowledgment that they had been installed by external force, by Stalin, his equivocal reactions to the East Berlin rising of June 1953, then to the rebellions in Poland and Hungary in 1956, only cemented his reputation as a crypto-Stalinist.

      When it came to his native Poland, his...

    • 15 ORWELL AND THE RENEGADES
      (pp. 170-180)

      On several occasions Deutscher addressed closed meetings at Harvard during his first research visit in 1950. At one such gathering he delivered a highly provocative analysis of the ‘Ex-Communist’s Conscience’ – later the opening essay inHeretics and Renegades(1955). The article first appeared in theReporter(25 April 1950) under the headline: ‘What Can Ex-Communists Do? Isaac Deutscher suggests: Observe, but keep out of, Politics.’

      Every day during his first visit to Harvard and Stanford the newspapers brought sensationalist accounts of the escalating Congressional investigations of communist subversion, lining up witnesses and victims, many of whom took refuge in...

    • 16 POST-STALIN RUSSIA: THE PROPHECIES
      (pp. 181-196)

      Even in the late Stalin era, Deutscher had insisted that the Soviet totalitarian system was not immutable. During his US visit in 1950 a small gathering of Harvard scholars hotly debated his prognosis that Stalin’s end would inevitably be the end of Stalinism and that Russian society was not at a standstill. Deutscher immediately responded to Stalin’s death (about which he had been speculating since 1949 in syndicated articles) with an article inThe Times, ‘The New Structure of Soviet Leadership. Mr Malenkov and Stalin’s “Old Guard”’¹. His bookRussia after Stalin(1953) appeared soon after the dictator’s death and...

  11. PART SIX. THE PAX AMERICANA

    • 17 AN ANGLO-AMERICAN
      (pp. 199-211)

      Soon after Berlin was elected to All Souls in 1932, he received a visit from the historian Lewis Namier, his senior in years and achievement, and like himself a Jewish immigrant. The young Berlin was clearly deeply impressed by Namier’s anglophilia. ‘He went to England, which to him as to many Central and East European Jews appeared the most civilised and humane society in the world, as well as one respectful of traditions including his own.’ Indifferent to ideology, suspicious of abstract principles, Namier’s prototypical Englishmen recognised the real ends of life, ‘pleasure, justice, power, freedom, glory, the sense of...

    • 18 THE NEW LEFT AND VIETNAM
      (pp. 212-232)

      Towards the end of his life Isaac Deutscher became the prophet or attendant priest to something he had not predicted. The 1960s witnessed an unforeseen eruption of the young middle-class intelligentsia in the West, students with an agenda of their own and disturbing anarchist leanings. Suddenly universities became the Bastille, the Champ de Mars, the cruiserAurora, the Winter Palace. The revolting campuses were now places where history began today.

      Isaiah Berlin’s letters to Anna Kallin confirmed his view of Deutscher as a Marxist demagogue pandering to the mindless radicalism of the young, the ‘Bazarovs’ of the insensate Sixties whom...

  12. PART SEVEN. TO BE A JEW

    • 19 TWO JEWISH HERITAGES
      (pp. 235-246)

      We come to the ‘Jewish question’, that is to say, the extent to which the Jewish heritage shared by Berlin and Deutscher exacerbated their antagonism, imparting a fratricidal intimacy to their wider ideological quarrel. When Berlin privately describes Deutscher as aparshivy yevrey, a ‘mangy Jew’, something is afloat.

      For Berlin, a non-believer, it was a cause for some discomfort that his Latvian family had a direct kinship with the Schneerson clan who ran, and still run, the fundamentalist sect known as the Lubavitch or Chabad. Established in the 1780s by Rabbi Schneur Zalman Schneerson, the Lubavitcher were among the...

    • 20 ZIONISM
      (pp. 247-261)

      No issue more exacerbated the conflict between Berlin and Deutscher than Zionism and the birth of the State of Israel. In biographical terms, Berlin’s involvement was the more intense. When the Balfour Declaration, granting a Jewish Homeland, was announced on 9 November 1917, immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution, Isaiah witnessed his family’s excitement about this place called Palestine, and later remembered the blue, white and gold flags that he and other children were given to wave in a synagogue basement.¹

      In an essay on his mentor, the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, Berlin keeps returning to, and implicitly embracing, Weizmann’s anglophilia....

    • 21 THE BANALITY OF EVIL: BERLIN AND ARENDT
      (pp. 262-272)

      Berlin’s antipathy to Hannah Arendt merits examination here if only because it parallels closely – though far from exactly – his aversion to Deutscher. All three were Jews, born between 1906 and 1909, each forced into exile by either Soviet communism or German fascism, all three having established themselves in the English-speaking world as intellectual luminaries, as political theorists with strong views, and endowed with forms of erudition closely linked to their origins. All three felt obliged to take up public positions on their Jewish heritage, on Zionism and the State of Israel.

      In later years Berlin was asked about...

  13. PART EIGHT. A SEAT AT THE SAME TABLE

    • 22 THE SUSSEX LETTERS
      (pp. 275-290)

      We have explored the wide range of issues, academic and political, ethnic and temperamental, that set Berlin and Deutscher at loggerheads. It is now time to describe what action Berlin took against Deutscher in March 1963, and its long-term ramifications. This action, it transpired, occurred at the time of Isaiah’s conversation with me in All Souls, which suggested that Deutscher was then on the hunt for an academic past.

      Material from the letters exchanged¹ is presented below in roman typeface, while the commentaries, paraphrasing and explanatory notes are in italics.

      Deutscher is known to have enquired about a regular British...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 291-309)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 310-315)
  16. Index
    (pp. 316-336)