Whatever happened to revolutionary romanticism? Once upon a time there were beautiful young women who devoted themselves not just to Left-wing causes but to Left-wing men, leaving behind their wealth and privilege to align themselves with the international workers’ movement and join the struggle. I suppose the single most famous example in our own land was the Honourable Jessica Freeman-Mitford, daughter of the second Lord Redesdale. Decca, as she was known, was a lifelong Communist and was married twice to revolutionary men, and saw action in Spain, and in America in the era of the civil rights movement. She was lucky enough to be immortalised by her own very good writings and those of her sisters.
On the other side of the coin were those young ladies who threw their lot in with the other side, such as, most famous of all, Diana Mitford, Decca’s sister, from whom she remained estranged.
But generally speaking the romance pulled leftwards, and the comrades were the ones to fall in love with. Even men were not exempt. There were of course several distinguished homosexuals who fell in with the Left-leaning crowd, but there were others too who fell in love with the romance of Communism itself. Chief of these, as far as I know, in England, was Edward Upward, a fine writer, who lived to be over 100, but one whose writing, concentrating as it does on the struggles of the proletariat, is rather limited in scope. Upward, as far as I know, never repented his Stalinism. Much better known, and equally romantic in his socialism, is George Orwell, one of the giants of the 20th century. His romanticism is most clearly seen in his account of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, which glosses over most of the horrors committed by the Reds and the Anarchists, and throbs with admiration for the workers.
These romantic feelings, if they still dilate the human breast, must have very few outlets these days. One can hardly imagine any left-wing idealists getting misty-eyed over North Korea, or the People’s Republic of China for that matter, though as late as the 1970s there were quite a few academics in British universities who were devotees of the Great Helmsman Chairman Mao, and eagerly devoured the propaganda magazine China Reconstructs as well as listening avidly to the English-language broadcasts of Radio Tirana. Yet one feels that the struggles of the Chinese to build socialism never quite had the same aura about it as the struggles that attracted Jessica Mitford.
These thoughts are occasioned by reading the obituary of Naty Revuelta Clews, the society beauty who fell in love with the Communist struggle in Cuba and fell in love with Castro himself. She lived long enough to see, perhaps, the beginning of the end of Communist Cuba, and the daughter she had with Castro became a huge critic of her father.
Romantic socialists, like romantic poets, ought to die young. Otherwise, by living too long, they see that their idols have feet of clay. Are there young women like Naty around today? Are there young men, like Edward Upward, for whom there is no life but the struggle? These types were in their own way rather fine, and sincere if mistaken, indeed deeply mistaken. The passing of Naty Revuelta Clews, one feels, marks the closing of an era.