The Red Notebook
A friend of Jimmy’s visited Harry, about 1950, and told Jimmy about him. ‘He used to dress in a sort of bush shirt, or tunic, and sandals, with a military hair-cut. He never smiled. A portrait of Lenin on the wall — well that certainly goes without saying. A smaller one of Trotsky. The widow hovering respectfully in the background. Kids rushing in and out from the street. And Harry, talking about the Soviet Union. He spoke Russian fluently by then, and knew the inside history of every minor squabble or intrigue, let alone the big blood-baths, from the year dot. And what was all this in aid of? Anna, you’d never guess.’ ‘Of course I can,’ I said. ‘He was preparing himself for the day.’ ‘Of course. Right first time. The poor lunatic had it all worked out — the day would come when the comrades in Russia would all suddenly and at the same moment see the light. They’d say: “We’ve lost our road, we’ve missed the right path, our horizons are unclear. But over there in St Pancras, London, England, is Comrade Harry, who knows it all. We’ll invite him over and ask his advice.” Time passed. Things got worse and worse, but from Harry’s point of view, better and better. With every new scandal from the Soviet Union, it seems that Harry’s morale rose. The piles of newspapers rose to the ceiling in Harry’s rooms and overflowed into the widow’s rooms. He was speaking Russian like a native. Stalin died — Harry nodded and thought: It won’t be long now. And then the Twentieth Congress: Good, but not good enough. And then Harry meets Jimmy on the street. Ancient political enemies, they frown and stiffen. Then they nod, and smile. Then Harry takes Jimmy back to the widow’s flat. They have tea. Jimmy says: ‘There’s a delegation to the Soviet Union, I’m organizing it, like to come?’ Harry is suddenly illuminated. ‘Imagine it, Anna, there I sat, like a clot, thinking: Well, the poor Trot’s got his heart in the right place after all, he’s still got a soft spot for our Alma Mater. But all the time he was thinking: My day has come. He kept asking me who had suggested his name, and it was obviously important to him and so I didn’t say the idea had only just that moment crossed my mind. Little did I realize that he believed that “the Party itself”, and all the way from Moscow at that, was summoning him to help them out. So anyway, to cut a long story short, off we all go to Moscow, thirty happy British teachers. And the happiest, poor Harry, who has documents and papers stuffed into every pocket of his military tunic. We arrive in Moscow, and he has a dedicated and expectant air. He is kind to the rest of us, but we charitably put it down to the fact that he despises us for our comparatively frivolous lives but is determined not to show it. Besides, most of us are ex-Stalinists, and there is no denying that more than one ex-Stalinist has a twinge or two, meeting the Trots, these days. However. The delegation proceeds on its flowery way of visits to factories, schools, Palaces of Culture and the University, not to mention speeches and banquets. And there is Harry, in his tunic, with his gammy leg, and his revolutionary sternness, the living incarnation of Lenin, only those foolish Russians never recognized him. They adored him of course for his high seriousness, but more than once they enquired why Harry wore such bizarre clothes, and even, as I recall, if he had a secret sorrow. Meanwhile, our old friendship had been restored and we used to chat about this and that in our rooms at night. I noticed he was looking at me increasingly bewildered.