Kafka died in 1924, twenty years before the start of the Cold War, but he understood the absurdities of life under totalitarian rule better than many of the protagonists in the conflict. The accuracy of Kafka’s insight was admitted even by the Marxist literary critic Georg Lukács, an abject Stalinist who denigrated the Czech writer for deviating from the tenets of ‘progressive humanism’. Appointed Minister of Culture in Imre Nagy’s government during the Hungarian Revolution, Lukács was arrested by the Soviets and transported to a castle in Romania, where he and the other prisoners lived at times as visiting dignitaries and at others as criminals. After some days of this treatment, David Caute tells us, Lukács commented, ‘So Kafka was a realist after all!’ Politics and the Novel During the Cold War is the continuation and completion of several decades of writing and thinking about the role of intellectuals in the grand political conflicts of the twentieth century. First published in 1973, Caute’s The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism remains the most enduring work on the subject. Formidably learned, it is full of absurdist vignettes. Describing the visit to China of the ninety-year-old Hewlett Johnson (the Red Dean of Canterbury), which Chou En Lai had facilitated by providing a special plane complete with bed and oxygen mask, Caute writes: ‘This hugely tall figure with the puffs of white hair billowing over his ears stood on stage with the minute, masked members of the Peking Opera, clapping with them, smiling, clapping …’.

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