The Blue Notebook
When I get off the bus I realize that thinking about the coming fight has over-excited me: the essence of a successful battle with Comrade Butte is that one has to remain calm. I am not calm; and besides my lower stomach is painful. And I am half an hour late. I am always careful to be on time, to work the usual hours, because I am unpaid, and I don’t want special privileges because of that. (Michael jokes: You’re in the great British tradition of upper-class service to the community, my dear Anna; you work for the Communist Party, unpaid, the way your grandmother would have worked for the starving poor. It’s the kind of joke I make myself; but when Michael makes it it hurts me.) I go at once to the washroom, quickly because I am late, and I examine myself and change the tampon and pour jug after jug of warm water between my thighs to defeat the sour musty smell. Then I scent my thighs and forearms, and remind myself to come down in an hour or two; and I go upstairs to Jack’s office, by-passing my own. Jack is there with John Butte. Jack says: ‘You smell lovely, Anna,’ and at once I feel at ease and able to manage everything. I look at the creaking, grey John Butte, an elderly man with all his juices gone dry, and remember that Jack has told me that in his youth, in the early ‘thirties, he was gay, brilliant, witty. He was a brilliant public speaker; he was in opposition to the then Party officialdom; he was essentially critical and irreverent. And after Jack had told me all this, rather wryly enjoying my disbelief, he handed me a book John Butte wrote twenty years ago, a novel about the French revolution. It was a sparkling, vivid, courageous book. And now I look at him again and think, involuntarily: The real crime of the British Communist Party is the number of marvellous people it has either broken, or turned into dry-as-dust hair-splitting office men, living in a closed group with other communists, and cut off from everything that goes on in their own country. Then the words I use surprise and displease me: the word ‘crime’ is from the communist arsenal, and is meaningless. There’s some kind of social process involved which makes words like ‘crime’ stupid. And as I think this, I feel the birth of a new sort of thought; and I go on to think, clumsily: The Communist Party, like any other institution, continues to exist by a process of absorbing its critics into itself. It either absorbs them or destroys them. I think: I’ve always seen society, societies, organized like this: a ruling section or government with other sections in opposition; the stronger section either ultimately being changed by the opposing section or being supplanted by it. But it’s not like that at all: suddenly I see it differently. No, there’s a group of hardened, fossilized men opposed by fresh young revolutionaries as John Butte once was, forming between them a whole, a balance. And then a group of fossilized hardened men like John Butte, opposed by a group of fresh and lively-minded and critical people. But the core of deadness, of dry thought, could not exist without lively shoots of fresh life, to be turned so fast, in their turn, into dead sapless wood. In other words, I, ‘Comrade Anna’ — and the ironical tone of Comrade Butte’s voice now frightens me when I remember it — keep Comrade Butte in existence, feed him, and in due course will become him.