The Australian’s war against Manning Clark had a final twist this week when Fairfaxista Gerard Henderson weighed in, to remind readers that among the million-plus words Clark published, he once remarked that Lenin had a “Christ-like visage”, and that appears sufficient to damn his reputation. This pathetic snippeting represents the sad decline — from debate to culture war — that makes genuine intellectual life impossible. What, for example, would the Henderson kid make of this quote:

“I have to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler … that Christ-like face, so full of suffering.”

The speaker is neither Oswald Mosley nor even Sir Robert Menzies, but George Orwell (Collected Journalism Vol 3, item 1). Even more amazingly it was from a review of Mein Kampf, published — near incredibly — the day Britain declared war on Germany.

St George was no Nazi sympathiser, but as someone who had opposed the impending war as an imperialist enterprise, he was no jingo either. The review in question noted how Mein Kampf’s English publishers had changed the introduction to the book pre- and post- the 1938 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Orwell was pointing out how history can be altered for current propaganda purposes, and how certain easily hate can be switched on or off by the mass media. Imagine that!

The other interesting thing about the Henderson kid’s letter is that he describes Lenin as a “corrupt killer”. Weird. People have said a lot of things about Lenin, but his sins are usually held to derive from an excess of zeal, not personal corruption. “Corrupt killer” probably better describes a lethal kleptocrat like Suharto, the Indonesian leader backed to the hilt by a group such as the NCC from 1966 on — about the time that the Henderson kid joined it. All rather grubby

Peter Fray

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