The Blue Notebook
There were forty-odd people in Molly’s living-room. All ‘intellectuals’. What Harry told us was very bad, but not much worse than we knew from the newspapers. I noticed a man sitting next to me, listening quietly. His quietness impressed me in an emotional gathering. We smiled at each other at one point with the painful irony that is the mark of our kind now. The formal meeting ended, and about ten people remained. I recognized the atmosphere of the ‘closed meeting’ — more was to follow, the non-communists were expected to leave. But after a hesitation Harry and the others said we could stay. Harry then spoke again. What we had heard before was terrible; what we heard now worse even than what the most virulent anti-communist papers were printing. They were in no position to get the real facts and Harry had been. He spoke of the tortures, the beatings-up, the most cynical kinds of murder. About Jews being locked in cages designed in the Middle Ages for torture, of being tortured with instruments taken from museums. And so on.
What he was saying now was on a different level of horror from what he had said before, to the meeting of forty people. When he had finished, we asked questions; each answer brought out something new and terrible. What we were seeing was something we knew very well from our own experience: a communist, determined to be honest, yet fighting every inch of the way even now not to have to admit the truth about the Soviet Union. When he had finished speaking, the quiet man, whose name turned out to be Nelson (an American) got up and broke into passionate oratory. The word comes easily because he spoke well, and obviously out of a great deal of political experience. A strong voice, and practised. But now he was accusatory. He said that the reason why the Communist Parties of the West had collapsed, or would collapse, was because they were incapable of telling the truth about anything; and because of their long habit of telling lies to the world, could no longer distinguish the truth even to themselves. Yet tonight, he said, after the Twentieth Congress and everything we had learned about the conditions of communism, we saw a leading comrade and one we all knew to have fought for the truth inside the Party against people more cynical than he, deliberately dividing the truth into two — one, a mild truth, for the public meeting of forty, and another, a harsher truth, for a closed group. Harry was embarrassed and upset. We did not know then of the threats being used against him by the top brass to stop him speaking at all. He said, however, that the truth was so terrible that as few people as possible should know about it — used the same arguments, in short, that he was fighting the bureaucrats for using.
And now suddenly Nelson got up again and launched into an even more violent, self-accusing denunciation. It was hysterical. And everyone was becoming hysterical — I could feel the hysteria rising in myself. I recognized an atmosphere I recognized from ‘the dream about destruction’. It was the feeling or atmosphere that was a prelude to the entrance of the figure of destruction. I got up, and thanked Harry — after all, it was two years since I had been a Party member, with no right in the closed meeting. I went downstairs — Molly was crying in the kitchen. She said: ‘It’s all very well for you, you aren’t Jewish.’
In the street I found Nelson had come down behind me. He said he would take me home. He was quiet again; and I forgot the self-beating note of his speech. He is a man of about forty, Jewish, American, pleasant-looking, a bit of a paterfamilias. I knew I was attracted to him and …