The Left

Standpoint v the London Review of Books

Daniel Johnson says:

For Clive James, the London Review of Books is “the house magazine of the [British] intellectual elite”. With a circulation now approaching 50,000, the fortnightly boasts that is the most important literary journal, not only in Britain but in Europe. It easily outstrips its closest rival, the Times Literary Supplement, though it still only has about half the readership of its original model, the New York Review of Books. Last October, the LRB celebrated its 30th anniversary, apparently in robust health. With a circulation of this size, it should at least be breaking even.

Yet the LRB has always received an Arts Council grant, now around £21,000 per annum. No other comparable literary magazine has enjoyed such long-term, inflation-proof, no-strings subsidy from the taxpayer. The Arts Council offers no justification. It merely states that the money is used to pay contributors. Perhaps the Commons Public Accounts Committee will inquire into how the taxpayer benefits from singling out the LRB for preferential treatment.

In Bad Character, a privately-printed festschrift for her 70th birthday in 2008, her LRB colleague Jean McNicol compiled “You and Non-You”, a Wilmers glossary. Under “Stalin” we read that “bad Stalin and bad communism pieces don’t find favour” with the editor of the LRB. Wilmers tells a Guardian interviewer: “I don’t think it’s necessary to say how bad it all was.”

On Israel, however, she finds condemnation is all too necessary, having been converted by Edward Said. A list of her contributors reads like a roll-call of the anti-Zionist, anti-American Left, from Tariq Ali to Slavoj Zizek, from Eric Hobsbawm to Tom Paulin. Virtually the only Tory to have written regularly for the LRB was the late Sir Ian Gilmour, who hated Israel and Margaret Thatcher in equal measure. In an interview with Anne McElvoy, Wilmers was at least frank about her prejudice: “I’m unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state.”

It was in the LRB that The Israel Lobby appeared in 2006. This article, by the American political scientists Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, has unleashed a flood of conspiracy theories. Thanks to them, the notion of an all-powerful network of Zionist agents, neocon think-tanks and Jewish plutocrats manipulating US foreign policy has now become received wisdom in left-wing circles on both sides of the Atlantic.

This overtly or covertly anti-Semitic propaganda is now parroted in senior common rooms, where the LRB is required reading for the academically ambitious. Its influence permeates British culture through the arts and the media. The editor who takes credit for the LRB’s success must also take responsibility for its bigotry.

Hat tip: Amie