Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert Punishment of a Cold War Heretic


Tariq Ali reviews David Caute's book in The Guardian:

For decades, David Caute has written both histories of ideas and novels. I've always preferred his novels, in particular Comrade Jacob, a sympathetic account of Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers during the English revolution (Caute's history tutor at Oxford was Christopher Hill). In his new book, he has expanded a cold war footnote into an entire volume, but has performed a valuable service in doing so. The work is a portrait of Isaiah Berlin, with whom the author shared a perch at All Souls College, Oxford, where they engaged in lofty conversations. One of the less elevated talks concerned Isaac Deutscher, and troubled Caute.

Berlin the liberal political philosopher and Deutscher the Marxist historian were both asylum seekers, given refuge and residence in Britain during the early decades of the last century. That was about all they had in common. Their intellectual trajectories pointed in opposite directions. Berlin was escaping the Russian revolution, Deutscher was fleeing from the armies of the Third Reich, poised to take Poland. Both were Jews: the first was a Zionist, who annoyed Chaim Weizmann by refusing all his requests to move to Tel Aviv and become an adviser; the second famously defined himself as a “non-Jewish Jew”, and despite arguing with David Ben-Gurion, remained sympathetic to Israel – until the 1967 war. Deutscher's next of kin had perished in the camps. His surviving relations lived in Israel. He died in 1967 aged 60, and his last interview in the New Left Review took the form of a prescient warning to Israel, comparing its intransigence to that of old Prussia: “To justify or condone Israel's wars against the Arabs is to render Israel a very bad service indeed and harm its own long-term interest … The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase: 'Man kann sich totsiegen!' 'You can triumph yourself to death'.”