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 Lifelong foes: Isaiah Berlin (left) and Isaac Deutscher held passionately opposed views on a wide range of topics

Isaac Deutscher and Isaiah Berlin were two of the most prominent intellectuals living in the West at one of the high points of the Cold War during its first two decades. Though Deutscher remained a convinced Marxist until his relatively early death in 1967 while Berlin would espouse a deeply anti-Communist version of Anglo-American liberalism, there was much which they ostensibly shared in their personal backgrounds. Both were refugees from the upheavals in Russia and Eastern Europe between the two world wars. Berlin's parents fled the Bolshevik revolution in Petrograd in 1920, when Isaiah was 11 years old; they subsequently settled in London. Deutscher, born in Polish Galicia (then part of the Austrian Empire) in 1907, was two years older than Berlin. By the age of 25 he had already been expelled from the Polish Communist Party. In April 1939 he was fortunate enough to be able to leave Warsaw for London at almost the last moment, as the correspondent of a Polish Jewish newspaper.

Between 1947 and 1967, both Berlin and Deutscher became oracles of wisdom on Cold War issues in their respective camps. Since Berlin would live for another 30 years as a pillar of the British academic establishment, his fame and impact would naturally be that much greater, although Deutscher's own legacy to the Western New Left remained substantial.

The premise behind David Caute's new book is to claim that in March 1963, Berlin secretly and decisively blocked Deutscher's academic appointment to a proposed chair in Soviet studies at the recently established University of Sussex, describing the candidate in stinging terms as being politically unscrupulous and "morally intolerable". Although Berlin's vehement distaste for Deutscher is not unknown and public rumours concerning his intervention over the appointment had already surfaced in the late 1960s, Caute is the first historian to flesh out the story in such detail. Indeed, he manages to transform what at first sight might seem to be a fairly banal case study in academic intrigue into a gripping tale of two Jewish intellectuals holding passionately opposed views on a vast range of topics such as Marxism, Soviet history, historical inevitability, Lenin, Stalin, post-Stalinism, Vietnam, the New Left, the Jews and Israel.

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Steve Foulger
October 16th, 2013
8:10 PM
It is worth mentioning that Berlin would not have objected to Deutscher getting an appointment as a lecturer in say politics - it was specifically a lectureship in Soviet Studies that he objected to given what he felt was Deutscher's blindness to the evils of communist totalitarianism. Also Berlin was not on the appointment panel, although his opinion carried a lot of weight, the panel could have chosen to disregard his advice.

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