Home > General Politics, Obituary > Uncompromising


Harold PinterOn Christmas Day, I sat amongst friends and family and together we observed the headlines of Harold Pinter’s death. Almost unanimously around the room there was an expression of unconcern, indeed a few jibes were made about the old man. I suppose it’s true that plenty can be found to poke, such as the petition Pinter signed in support of the freedom and fair trial of Slobodan Milosevic. However, there was a lot to admire also, I think.

One incident in Pinter’s life caught my attention. As part of the International PEN society, Pinter and Arthur Miller went to Turkey to protest human rights abuses. At a dinner given at the US Embassy there, thrown in honour of Miller, Pinter confronted the American Ambassador. When indications were given for Pinter to exit, Miller left with him, preferring to leave with his friend than allow Pinter to be subjected to an indignity on his own, over a few political comments.

I share that tendency with Pinter, and I respect it. I don’t wish to preach, though it may come across like that, but if there is one thing I cannot stand it is hypocrisy. When you add American foreign policy to domestic rhetoric, what you have is almost pure hypocrisy. Regardless of how diplomatic it was to raise the subject, Pinter was right to do so. He didn’t do it because it would be reported by the media; it wasn’t due to ego – it was due to his own personal conscience.

Susan and Paul have recently made reference to the generation gap in politics, but actually this is one of those things which crosses generational lines. Pinter was a great playwright who belonged to the generation before mine, and the generation before that, but the sheer rudeness of his confrontation with the American Ambassador to Turkey is something for the ages. It will always be considered rude to raise Left-wing politics in the circles of high society.

Such circles are much more comfortable with some amusing homophobia, or a little mild racism or anti-semitism. Right-wing humour is the meat and vegetables to the dinner conversation of such circles. To go against the grain in that respect is considered the height of bad form – but we certainly must get used to it. It’s this moral compass, and our almost innate compulsion to follow it which Susan references. Susan also raises a great fear of mine.

Having children has been on my mind for the last few months, and one of my greatest fears is that they will grow up to be completely apolitical. Perhaps one could like this to a homosexual child being born to fundamentalist Christian parents, but I think to be apolitical or vigorously religious would be the most cardinal of sins in my eyes. I have trouble not locking horns with my right-wing or religious friends; how would I be able to control myself with my children?

My ‘moral compass’ points me towards attempting the creation of a genuinely egalitarian project that will tear up capitalism by the roots and rebalance the world. This is why I get up in the morning; it goes beyond relationships, friendships and family – what on earth would I do if none of Harold Pinter’s irreverent spirit was shared by my own children? When I was younger, it seemed like it was little enough shared by my generation and as a result of my rage at this, I got into an inordinate amount of trouble.

And yet, I can’t bring myself to be melancholy about the prospects for our movement and our world. We face challenges from a newly emergent capitalist consensus, that will in time make a bid to gain the allegiance of popular Left-wing consciousness. We face challenges from our own Left flank, the post-Marxists and their Hegelian monism. If my children won’t take Pinter’s words to heart, to inscribe them as motto, maybe yours will:

“I can’t stop reacting to what is done in our name, and what is being done in the name of freedom and democracy is disgusting.”
– Harold Pinter, 1930-2008.

Categories: General Politics, Obituary
  1. December 31, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Nice quote from HP – I’m sure he would have been outside the Israeli Embassy this week. Pinter was of course derided as a hand-wringing middle-class liberal and the Telegraph was quick this week to rubbish his reputation.What was also interesting was that the older he got the more radical he became……one for you to look forward to, David!

  2. December 31, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    I think what Pinter represents is more important than what he himself achieves; he represents an age when the capitalists were forced by an active, powerful left-wing movement to change their own narrative, in an effort to win back support for capitalism itself.

    Many of the socialist voices of the pre-war period, such as Orwell, openly gave themselves to defeatism. Even men of science such as JD Bernal drifted away from genuine political radicalism after the war, towards substitute causes.

    Now we are witnessing the death of the post-war socialist generation: Thompson, Hobsbawm, Habermas, Adorno and so on. Some survive even now, but their age is passing forever, ironically just as the space opens up for a new Keynesianism.

  3. Paul
    December 31, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    off topic – but have emailed you two messages. please review asap

  4. December 31, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Yes, saw that – I’ve just sent an email to the group. Hopefully one of our London comrades will see it in time.

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