Commentary Magazine

The New Statesman & the English Left

The New Statesman recently marked its fiftieth birthday, and here in London the happy event has been duly and decorously celebrated. There was a grand party at a grand hotel; the columnists cooed; the Prime Minister sent his good wishes; and the New Statesman’s rivals offered appropriate—and even flattering—congratulations to their wayward sister. The black sheep of British journalism had been readmitted to the fold, and Mr. Kingsley Martin, the man whose editorial reign from 1931 to 1960 had made many devoted friends—and still more devoted enemies—for the New Statesman, received public absolution. In one of those bouts of orgiastic good-fellowship which confirm foreigners in their suspicion that British political and intellectual controversies are so much shadow-boxing, the past errors of the journal were ritually washed away—and washed away, as one spoil-sport critic remarked, in prime quality champagne. It was all very cozy and reassuring, and it showed once more that for even the most aggressive non-conformist, there will eventually be a place at last in the bosom of the great British public. For the wider public—a good third of the New Statesman’s readers are to be found in countries other than England—there was reassurance too. These foreign readers are for the most part Anglophiles of the tribe who see in Britain the world’s perfect resolution of conservatism and dissent, rebellion and conformity. For many thousands of intellectuals in India and Africa (and indeed America), it is very necessary to believe that such a resolution is possible. And so the champagne flowed for them as well.

The New Statesman is a success story for idealists. Founded in 1913, by Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb, it has climbed in fifty years from a readership of 2,000-odd to a circulation of 90,000 and a readership of something like half a million. By the standards of weekly and Sunday journalism in Britain (Sunday Times 1,200,000; Observer 700,000), the figure may not seem impressive. Again, by the standards of international weekly news magazines like Time and Newsweek, the readership is small. But comparing like with like, the figure begins to seem very impressive. In Britain, where the intellectual weekly has traditionally flourished, the New Statesman’s nearest rival is the Spectator with a circulation of 45,000. Neither France, Germany, nor Italy has produced an intellectual weekly with so firm a circulation base and so broadly spread an international audience. Evidently, then, the New Statesman is a unique journalistic triumph.

How do we explain the phenomenon? It would be easy to put down the New Statesman’s international resonance to the linguistic advantage any English-language paper has over a magazine written in German, Italian, or French. Yet despite the fact that France and Germany have traditionally had a more well-defined intellectual class than England or than the United States, there are no journals in Europe comparable to the New Statesman. Successful weeklies like Der Spiegel and L’Express make far greater concessions to middlebrow taste (L’Express approximates to the British Sunday newspaper with its “magazine section”; Der Spiegel superimposes a specifically German tradition of political muckraking on the Time magazine formula). Nor has the supposed linguistic advantage enjoyed by the New Statesman given any American magazine the kind of intellectual influence that the New Statesman possesses in the English-reading world. In part, no doubt, this can be explained by the residual influence of British institutions and patterns of thinking in ex-colonial Asia and Africa. But the New Statesman’s success was built up, and still largely depends, on the strength of its home base, and its influence can therefore only be fully understood in terms of the psychology of the British intelligentsia.

The difference between the magazine-reading intelligentsia in Britain and America has been well described by that notorious Anglophile, Mr. Dwight Macdonald. What he says of the British in Against the American Grain is all too flattering to Britain and doubtless unfair to America, but it does provide us with a useful working distinction. “In England,” writes Mr. Macdonald, “the cultural line is still drawn with some clarity. There are no British equivalents of our mid-cult magazines like the Atlantic and the Saturday Review.” On the other hand,

the one kind of magazine we haven’t had here, since the liberal weeklies stubbed their toes on the Moscow trials, is the serious widely-read weekly . . . These British weeklies have large enough circulations to be self-supporting and to pay their contributors a living wage. Their nearest parallels here, in quality, are our little magazines which have small circulations (5,000 is par, 15,000 prodigious), run at a chronic deficit, and pay contributors and editors meagerly.

What must be done here marginally, with help from “angels,” either personal or institutional, can be done there as a normal part of journalism. Although a much smaller percentage of the English population goes to college, they have a larger and more cohesive cultural community than we do . . . England still has something of a functioning class system, culturally speaking. An American living in London is delighted by the wide interest in art and letters, the liveliness of the intellectual atmosphere, the sense he gets constantly from the press and from conversations of a general interest in what he is interested in. It is, of course, generally true of only perhaps five per cent of the population. But in America it isn’t even this much general; it is shared only with friends and professional acquaintances. But in London, one meets stockbrokers who go to concerts, politicians who have read Proust. . . .

What can one say? I wish Mr. Macdonald would introduce me to these people. Yet I can see what he means. The success of journals like the New Statesman, the Spectator, and the Economist does depend on the existence of an intellectual class:

It is indicative of the disorganized quality of our intellectual life that of all the remarkable increase in the consumption of high-class culture since 1945, not one intellectual weekly has been produced. There has been a number of new little magazines. But, like the old ones, they are essentially anthologies. They print the best current fiction, poetry, essays, and criticism, but they cannot form a center of consciousness as the English weeklies do, since this requires 1) at least monthly topical comment, and preferably weekly; and 2) a regular interchange between writers and editors and readers such as is provided in the correspondence columns of the English weeklies.

I cannot judge if this is a fair account of American intellectual life. But as an account of British intellectual life it is both true and perplexing. Mr. Macdonald speaks of the strength and coherence of the English intellectual class or intelligentsia, and I believe he is right. Yet nothing rings more strangely in British ears than the notion of an “intellectual class.” That is simply not how our intellectuals think of themselves. Again, Britain is still in many ways the country Matthew Arnold described in Culture and Anarchy—a country divided between Barbarians (upper class) and Philistines (middle class), and the public schools still produce a hybrid of these two strains. In golf club and smoking room, intellectual and artistic philistinism is as deeply entrenched as it is said to be in America. There is perhaps this difference: the Englishman is a philistine with a good conscience, whereas on the whole the American seems not to be (a point surely to his credit). Yet here is Mr. Macdonald, with his concert-going stockbrokers and Proust-reading politicians, holding up the British system, class distinctions and all, for general emulation. How have we deserved it?



At this point, let me introduce two practical definitions. An intellectual class can be, it seems to me, at least two things: an intelligentsia, or a “clerisy.” I italicize intelligentsia with intent: the word and the concept are Russian, imported into English in the 19th century. The old Russian intelligentsia was a social grouping in its own right, distinct from the other components—army, church, bureaucracy—of the Czarist ruling class. Its social position was ambivalent. Administratively, especially in the teaching profession, it was an organ of the state. Indispensable to the regime, it was yet held by it in deep distrust. Caught between a rigid hierarchy above, and an inert peasant mass below, the intelligentsia was a natural focus of intellectual and social dissent, and it soon became the vehicle of national revival and social liberation. In this form, an intelligentsia was typical of all East European countries up to the outbreak of the Second World War. More recently, under Communism, the intelligentsia has been institutionalized—and forced back into its 19th-century mold in the process.

The term passed into the Western European languages, but the concept it represented never quite fitted Western European society—though it fitted Germany better than France, and both France and Germany better than England. The reason is clear enough: a critic like Matthew Arnold felt keenly the intellectual’s alienation from society at large, but he spoke for little more than an elite of writers and artists concerned, like himself, about “the condition of England.” The university and high-school teacher, the doctor, the lawyer, and the engineer were nowhere more firmly integrated into society than in England. There was not even, as in continental Europe, that residual cleavage between bourgeois and aristocrat that kept alive earlier traditions of dissent; the public schools had closed that gap. By the end of the 19th century, England’s upper and middle classes had achieved a high degree of internal mobility. In bringing about this revolution they were strongly influenced by the conservative, Coleridgean notion of a “clerisy”: a society ruled by a civilized and educated elite; a society on the medieval model, but adapted to the needs of a secular, industrial age. No doubt what the public schools created was a caricature of Coleridge’s blueprint for England’s social regeneration. But Coleridge’s was a compelling vision—how compelling, one can guess from Mr. Macdonald’s account of England’s “intellectual class,” in which, it seems to me, he confuses the ideal of an educated elite with the reality of a hierarchy of class distinctions.

Nevertheless, Mr. Macdonald is three parts right. The English class system may be a pale shadow of Coleridge’s clerisy, yet it is this ideal, however imperfectly realized, that has made England’s intellectual weeklies possible. But isn’t my thesis contradicted by the fact that the most successful British weekly is the one most sharply critical of the class system? I suggest that the contradiction can be resolved by assuming the gradual emergence in England, alongside the traditional clerisy, of something resembling the intelligentsia of Eastern Europe. If I am right, the New Statesman’s resonance among the disaffected intellectuals of the English-speaking world, and particularly of Africa and Asia, becomes easier to explain. If the ideal of a clerisy had not persisted within the English class system, the New Statesman would have been in the position of the American liberal weeklies. But if a disaffected intelligentsia had not also gradually come into being since 1900, the New Statesman would not have achieved so long a lead over its rivals, or acquired so much international influence.



The very structure of the British weeklies points to the persistence of this ideal of clerisy. Traditionally, each is divided into a “front half” and a “back half.” The front half is concerned with political analysis and comment on the events of the week; the back with more leisurely analysis and comment on current publications-literary, historical, sociological. There was always considerable overlap, of course, but usually the two halves were under distinct editorial supervision: the literary editor was appointed by the editor; but, once appointed, he had considerable freedom of action. This separation of powers was nowhere more marked than in the New Statesman. It was commonly said of the journal under Kingsley Martin that the front half knoweth not what the back half doeth—and vice versa. Indeed Martin’s New Statesman was a pantomime horse: the editor and the literary editor seldom seemed to pull in the same direction. But if the split was wide, it was not for personal reasons. The New Statesman was always something of a shotgun marriage between the dry, Benthamite, philistine Fabianism of the Webbs and the preciosities of Bloomsbury, and this became even truer after absorption of the old, liberal Nation in 1931, at Kingsley Martin’s accession. (The title reverted to “New Statesman” three years ago.)

Kingsley Martin’s own chief literary enthusiasms were Wells and Shaw; though tolerant of the antics of the “back half” (and well aware of its importance in terms of circulation), he tended to regard his literary colleagues as a clique of aesthetes—charming, but politically unserious. On the other hand, the chairman of the New Statesman company during the greater part of Kingsley Martin’s reign was John Maynard Keynes. Keynes had important political disagreements with Martin (most notoriously, over the publication in October 1939 of a letter from Bernard Shaw demanding a negotiated peace with Hitler). Yet Keynes typified, more than any other English figure of his time, the clerisy ideal. Influential in government circles, famous as an economic theorist, married to a Russian ballet dancer, he was the intimate friend of Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and the other artists and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group. It is not easy to imagine a comparable figure in any other Western country—with the possible exception of France. Here was a political man who most certainly knew his Proust; an economist who was a discerning critic of the arts. If nowhere else, Mr. Dwight Macdonald’s Anglophilia is justified in figures like John Maynard Keynes, or St. Loe Strachey, editor of the Spectator at the turn of the century, uncle of Lytton Strachey, and father of the late John Strachey.

The English clerisy made both the New Statesman and the Spectator possible. In his somewhat uninspired history of the New Statesman,1 Mr. Edward Hyams ignores what to my mind is the most interesting aspect of the journal’s climb to fame. From the Hyams account, one would gather that the conjunction of Bloomsbury “back half” and Fabian “front half” was fortuitous. It is true that Kingsley Martin cared little for the content of the back half of his paper, but he knew that it accounted for much of its popularity, and he was never eager to fill its columns with the left-wing reportage and polemic of the Auden-Spender-Day Lewis group. Was this merely shrewd calculation? His opponents think so and indeed go further: they argue that the brilliant highbrow literary journalism of the back half was intended as bait for the unpolitical. By this backdoor method, the London literary intelligentsia, less politicized than their brethren on the continent, could be drawn into the sphere of radical socialist politics. The reader who began with a mild liking for the prose of Virginia Woolf or Lytton Strachey would end up as an apologist for the Stalinist liquidators of Bukharin. It is an ingenious idea, but its supporters fall into the same error as Mr. Hyams in assuming that the conjunction of Kingsley Martin’s fellow-traveling and Bloomsbury aestheticism was fortuitous.

If the Hyams idea appears plausible, the reason is evident. Insofar as a political commitment can be found in the writings of Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, Keynes, E. M. Forster, it is a liberal commitment (in the British, not the American sense), rather than a socialist one. As a literary group, Bloomsbury was concerned almost exclusively with personal values. On the face of it, the contrast between this ethos and the semi-Marxist, semi-Fabian militancy of the front half of the New Statesman would seem to be very great—so great as to imply two distinct readerships for the paper. Even today, a foreigner in London will meet literary intellectuals who tell him they “never look at the front half,” or politicians who tell him they “never look at the back half.” But this is very largely an act, akin to those tedious Oxford-and-Cambridge jokes, put on for the benefit of the outsider.



Of course, the complexions of both back half and front half have changed a great deal since the 30′s. Under John Freeman (who succeeded Kingsley Martin in 1961), the New Statesman has steered a much steadier political course; and its literary interests under Karl Miller, John Freeman’s appointee, have shifted from Bloomsbury’s traditional Francophilia to the intellectually tougher-minded, but less cosmopolitan, world of Dr. Leavis and the New Criticism. If these changes have gone unremarked by many readers—and I suspect they have—that is because the New Statesman is still living on past capital, the capital accumulated by Kingsley Martin during his long reign. Looked at objectively, the gap between front and back has narrowed considerably, but it is still palpably there. It is difficult to imagine that the New Statesman’s hectoring social oratory is the political tone that readers of V. S. Pritchett or Frank Kermode most admire. Though less sharply than in the 30′s, it is still as if the paper were written and edited for two distinct readerships.

Appearances to the contrary, however, I do not believe that the New Statesman ever had two distinct readerships. The gap existed, but it was a gap within the mind of a single, sociologically homogeneous public. The “typical” New Statesman reader was always, in his political and literary affections, a quite different animal. If the political half of the paper habitually addressed him as a latter-day Jacobin, and the literary half as a sensitive, leisured gentleman-of-letters, that was how he wished to be addressed. (By way of qualification, it should be said that this did not apply to the 10 or 20 per cent at either end of the spectrum who actually were socialist militants or leisured literati.)

How do we account for this startling ambivalence, this dichotomy between aesthetic quietism and political engagement} There are, I suppose, two possible explanations. It could be argued that the literary delights of the back half were, to the militant socialists of the front half, not so much a cover for nefarious activities as an expression of cultural snobbery. But with Kingsley Martin this explanation will not do: like the Webbs, Martin was a philistine with a good conscience. The alternative explanation is less flattering, but I believe correct: it was the harsh politics of the front half that reflected the fantasy life of the New Statesman reader, and the literary amateurism of the back that reflected the reality. In the 1930′s this was not a fortunate combination, for the actual politics of that age were very harsh indeed. In England, where neither fascism nor Communism had real strength, it was not easy for people to grasp what was happening on the continent of Europe. It is true, of course, that the New Statesman did much to alert British and foreign opinion to the nature of Nazism, but it is also true that it systematically misled liberal opinion as to the nature of Communism (the New Statesman, too, “stubbed its toes on the Moscow Trials”). And when it came to the point—in September 1938—the New Statesman was among the first to recommend a British sellout of the Czech Republic.

The terms of the New Statesman’s advocacy of appeasement—three weeks before the famous Times editorial which gave Chamberlain’s policy the stamp of Establishment approval—are interesting in their very deviousness:

Hitler enters Rhineland: It would be folly to reply by a mere non possumus . . . The sane policy would be to invite her [Germany] back into the League on terms which will do justice to her and ensure that she is a better neighbor. (NS and N, 13 March 1934)

Munich 1938: If Mr. Chamberlain is prepared for the results of isolation, let him say so. We for our part, regarding war as the greatest of all catastrophes, and recalling the results of one war to prevent Germany from holding the hegemony of Europe, would applaud and support such a decision. (NS and N, March 1938)

The question of frontier revision should at once be tackled. (NS and N, August 1938)

Nothing we or anyone else could do would save Czechoslovakia from destruction. (NS and N, August 1938)

In the last resort there is no doubt that Britain as well as France and the whole democratic world would stand by the Czechs. (NS and N, early Sept. 1938)

The Murder of a Nation. (21 September 1938)

In his history, Mr. Hyams does not conceal these famous lapses. Instead, he produces new arguments to defend them. He contends that Kingsley Martin, torn between hatred of war and loyalty to the democratic cause, decided to take his readers into his confidence. Every week, in his London Diary, he shared his doubts and perplexities with the reader. If he was fearful, so were they. If he advocated resistance to Hitler (but not the means of ensuring it), so did the British public. Thus the apparently devious editorial course traced in the quotations cited above—defiance, persuasion, approval of appeasement, retrospective indignation—was really proof of his candor.

At first sight, this defense might seem as devious as the very line it is defending. (Mr. Hyams is himself an old New Statesmanite; he contributes a column on “The Countryside” to the journal.) Yet Mr. Hyams is right: the essence of Kingsley Martin’s journalistic genius lay precisely in this intimate, hysterical, soul-baring approach to the reader. Kingsley Martin, it was said, “was always going around looking for a crown of thorns.” This taste for public crucifixion has been much psychologized over (it has been traced to his upbringing as the son of a non-conformist minister), but the interesting thing is that so many intellectuals of the period shared it with Martin. The New Statesman was able between 1931 and 1951 to mature (if that is the word) from a sectarian weekly review into the foremost English-language journal of dissent precisely because Martin’s personality mirrored the psychology of the disaffected intelligentsia that came into being in Britain and the British colonial empire during the same period. The savior would have been no savior had there not been so widespread a desire to be crucified at his side.



The New Statesman published, in its fiftieth anniversary number, a review of Mr. Hyams’s History by Mr. Conor Cruise O’Brien, late of the United Nations and Katanga (and the author, under another name, of a brilliant study of the Catholic novel, Maria Cross). Mr. O’Brien’s article contains perhaps the most damaging—though by no means the most extreme—criticism of the New Statesman that has ever appeared in print. It is an article that will long be treasured by that journal’s exasperated admirers—what other magazine, it will be said, would have given space to so devastating a critique of itself? The cynic is at liberty to reply that Mr. O’Brien’s critique was directed against the New Statesman of the 30′s, rather than against the New Statesman of today, and that the decision to publish it had something of the flavor of Khrushchev’s denunciations of Stalin. Nonetheless, the Hew Statesman obviously does deserve credit for publishing the piece.

What is the essence of Mr. O’Brien’s case? “The point is not,” he remarks,

that the New Statesman was soft on Communism . . . the point is that with a sort of instinctive coziness it usually preferred settling down among the hopeful illusions of its readers—including you and me—to losing popularity and “influence” by blasting those illusions. . . . This, surely, was the real treason of the clerks: that leaders of opinion, instead of showing to the very best of their ability and knowledge how things actually are, should . . . present them with a version which is thought to be better for them or more suited to their limited capacity of understanding . . . Plato’s Noble Lie is really just another lie, the nobility being in the vocabulary of the liar.

Mr. O’Brien is arguing that non-conformity has bred its own conformism—the more impregnable for its narrow, protestant self-righteousness. That this sense of belonging to an elect was important to the New Statesman ethos cannot be denied. But Mr. O’Brien is wrong to imply that there was an element of conscious deceit (the Noble Lie) in Kingsley Martin’s attitude toward his readers. Kingsley Martin’s reaction, in an article in the following issue, to Mr. O’Brien’s attack on his editorship (which was to deny every charge, and to reaffirm the Tightness of the New Statesman’s policy in the 30′s) argues a sincere self-righteousness so impregnable as to exclude conscious deceit. The hypocrisy is undeniable, and fatally Protestant non-conformist; but that is another matter. The dissenter is hypocritical precisely because he attempts to combine absolute honesty with absolute consistency.

It may appear that I have given too much weight to the personality of Kingsley Martin, and too little to his thinking. But the fact is that the New Statesman’s ethos was always more emotional than intellectual. What Martin served up to his readers in the 30′s was an amalgam of the Fabian progressivism of Shaw and the Webbs, the Guild Socialism of G. D. H. Cole, and the neo-Marxism of Harold Laski and John Strachey—not a very impressive intellectual diet. Indeed, the irony is that the real thinking of the 30′s was being done by J. M. Keynes, the man whose advice Martin consistently refused. But it did not matter—only Martin’s personality mattered: querulous, well-meaning, rationalistic, philanthropical, melioristic. This pattern was indelibly stamped on the New Statesman, and it is still visible today: in the aggressive conviction of the leading articles, in the patronizing tone of moral superiority that marks the London Diary and the—often very funny—This England column. It is that same tone that once sounded throughout the literary half of the paper—Bloomsbury arrogance was a genuine counterpart to socialist self-righteousness. Many have found this tone intolerable, as they have found the personality of Kingsley Martin intolerable. But the qualities that repel are also the qualities that attract and hold a world-wide readership (the New Statesman has one of the most faithful readerships in the world: over half its present readers have been subscribing for twenty years). Other New Statesman writers have caught the tone, and often with great brilliance: in particular, R. H. S. Crossman, who was on the staff of the paper from the late 30′s to the middle 50′s, and, in the younger generation, Paul Johnson, who is now deputy editor. But Kingsley Martin’s is still the reigning spirit, and it is in his shadow that Freeman, Crossman, Johnson, and the rest live, move, and have their being.



So much for the New Statesman’s personality: what of its audience? As I have said, I do not think that a sharp distinction can be drawn between a “back-half” and a “front-half” readership. What the New Statesman has created in Britain and elsewhere, I would say, is a kind of pseudo-Left whose distinguishing characteristics are that it thinks more radically than it acts, and that it affects solidarity with foreign causes more revolutionary than it would be prepared to stomach at home. (One wonders, for example, whether the New Statesman ethos could have survived a really powerful Communist movement in Great Britain.) A classical attack on this mentality is to be found in George Orwell’s essay “Inside the Whale” (1940), where he says of the appeal of Communism for British intellectuals of the 30′s:

It was simply something to believe in. Here was a church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. . . . Patriotism, religion, Empire, military glory—all in one word: Russia. Father, leader, hero, Savior—all in one word: Stalin. God—Stalin. The Devil—Hitler. . . . it is the patriotism of the deracinated.

All this was possible because the general softness of English life “made things like purges, secret police, summary execution . . . too remote to be terrifying.” Orwell quotes from Auden’s poem “Spain”—“Today the deliberate increase in the chances of death/The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder”—and comments: “Notice the phrase ‘necessary murder.’ It could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a word.” It was the armchair revolutionism in Auden that excited Orwell’s contempt: “Mr. Auden’s brand of immoralism is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled.”

Orwell, of course, exaggerated. Though many English intellectuals in the 30′s came to think of Hitler as the Devil, very few thought of Stalin as God. Orwell’s admirers among the extreme anti-Communists, however, have argued on his authority that the New Statesman was—and is—little more than a Communist front. It would be hard to imagine a more complete misunderstanding. The New Statesman’s fellow-traveling was always of the “objective,” never of the “subjective” kind. All the famous New Statesman writers and editors have been sophisticated metropolitan intellectuals, public-school men and graduates of Oxford or Cambridge sharing the liberal ambience of middle-class English society. Elsewhere—one thinks of Weimar Germany or postwar France—a journal of dissent might have been expected to attract social outsiders: an immigrant Jewish intelligentsia, a newly emancipated working class. Yet without exception the men who have run the New Statesman have come from middle-class Christian homes.

During the 30′s, middle-class unemployment in England led—as in Weimar Germany—to a radicalization of the middle-class intelligentsia and the secession of this intelligentsia from the parent body of the older clerisy. It was to this group that the New Statesman appealed. Today, when there is no unemployment, the New Statesman makes its main appeal to the underdogs of the professional world—particularly schoolteachers, who are addicted to the paper in very high proportions—and to the spiritual heirs of the disaffected intelligentsia of the 30′s.

The New Statesman was in effect “objectively” fellow-traveling from about 1935—when Stalin endorsed the new anti-fascist line of the Popular Front—until the middle 50′s. In the first phase of this period, the paper was pro-Russian, and strongly anti-German; in the second, it was strongly anti-American, but only mildly pro-Russian. As the cold war progressed, the New Statesman drifted more and more into a neutralism which was finally to merge into the militant unilateralism of the later 50′s. Under John Freeman, the journal has taken a somewhat more sober course; the anti-Americanism has almost disappeared, and the emotional commitment to unilateralism has been dropped.

But the fellow-traveling of those twenty years is perhaps only the most sensational manifestation of the journal’s pseudo-Leftism (though Martin’s refusal to publish Orwell’s articles on Spain, which we know as Homage to Catalonia, will always be a black mark on his reputation as editor). The same mechanism has been at work in home politics. Since the war the New Statesman has given its support to left-wing factions within the Labor party—to Grossman’s “Keep Left” group, to the Bevanites of the early 50′s, and to the young unilateralist movement. On the face of it, of course, the New Statesman might seem to be the natural organ of the Labor Left, but the militant Labor Left has its own organ: the weekly Tribune. Whatever one may say of its views, the Tribune gives expression to a powerful faction within the Labor party whose thinking is in harmony with its actions. Orwell, interestingly, felt at home with the Tribune (he was its literary editor during the war), as he never could with the New Statesman, whose armchair revolutionism seemed to him a species of political humbug.

In the light of Orwell’s critique—which is so interesting precisely because it is a critique from the Left—we can understand why, despite its high circulation, and aggressive, polemical style, the New Statesman has had very little direct political influence. For all their brillance, the New Statesman’s editorials carry less political weight than those of the Times, the Telegraph, the Observer, or the Spectator. The reason is that the New Statesman lacks a well-defined base in society, whereas each of the other journals addresses and even speaks for a recognized interest or body of opinion. The Telegraph’s audience, for example, is traditional-conservative; the Spectator’s progressive-conservative; the Observer’s lib-lab or radical-progressive. The New Statesman’s audience cannot be characterized in similar terms, and therefore, while its editorials are widely read, they are not taken seriously—indeed, their very violence is an indication of their fundamental unseriousness. Between the homebred revolutionary radicalism that Orwell liked in the Tribune (though he might not have liked the hysterical neutralism and unilateralism to which it now gives voice), and the progressive reformism of the lib-lab papers, there is no middle ground.



Much of what I have said is truer of the past than the present. The back half of the New Statesman has gained a new lease on life under Karl Miller, and is again one of the most serious and responsible literary and intellectual platforms in Britain. The front half has also changed since John Freeman took over, but not nearly so much as the back. Though, under Freeman, it has withdrawn from its involvement in inner party polemics and taken a comparatively realistic line on defense, the New Statesman has been disastrously wrong about Cuba (denying well into 1961 that Cuba had come under Communist control); it has been devious about unilateralism (arguing that Britain should give up her independent deterrent, not on moral but on financial grounds); and it has been as crudely anti-German over Berlin as it was once anti-American.

The fact that the New Statesman is still going in for such vagaries means that Mr. Freeman has no intention of changing the nature of the paper. He sees himself—and rightly, I think—as the expert administrator of a piece of real estate that is constantly appreciating in value, and he knows as well as anyone that this value resides in the personality created for it by Kingsley Martin thirty years ago. After a pause in the middle 50′s, the New Statesman’s circulation is again rising steeply. Spreading university education is creating in Britain and America, and still more in India and the underdeveloped world, a reserve army of what an Indian economist of my acquaintance unkindly calls “underdeveloped intellectuals.” I see no reason why the New Statesman should not continue to gain a large share of this market. But to do this it must stick to the formula that Kingsley Martin devised for it. If that unique, exasperating tone were to vanish—if the front half of the journal were to begin echoing the intelligent, critical, sober tone of the reconstructed back half—the appeal of the New Statesman for the disaffected intelligentsia of the world would vanish too.

Ironically, however, that is exactly the situation the New Statesman may well find itself in before long. With the death of Hugh Gaitskell, the paper lost a true and valuable enemy (the animosity was entirely mutual); and with the accession of Harold Wilson to the leadership of the Labor party, it has gained a powerful and dangerous friend. John Freeman has been close to Wilson since they both resigned, along with Aneurin Bevan, from the Attlee Cabinet in 1951. If, as is not improbable, Labor should win the next General Election, Freeman might be asked to join a Wilson Cabinet. Thus, for the first time in its history, the New Statesman is very close to the seat of power and therefore to the threat of respectability. In a sense, this is what the paper has always dreamed of—this reconciliation of dissent and conformity, rebellion and respectability. But the realization of the dream would almost certainly undermine the paper’s appeal, which depends on a strategy of permanent disaffection. The New Statesman has weathered many storms in its fifty-year history, but it is hard to imagine how it could survive the acquisition of political power.




1 The New Statesman: The History of the First Fifty Years 1913—1963, St. Martin's Press, 317 pp., S7.50. See also New Statesmanship: An Anthology, selected by Mr. Hyams, St. Martin's Press, 290 pp., $6.50.

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