A Fine Old Conflict
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977
Unity Mitford: An Enquiry into Her Life and the Frivolity of Evil
New York: Dial Press, 1977
Jessica and Unity Mitford are two of six remarkable daughters of the Redesdales, an aristocratic British family. It would be an understatement to say that these two sisters blazed dissimilar political pathways.
Unity, three years older than Jessica, joined Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists at 19 and later traveled to Germany and became friendly with Hitler.
Jessica, a communist by age 15, eloped with her Red cousin Esmond Romilly (Churchill’s nephew) to the Spanish civil war and then journeyed to America, where she eventually remarried. (Her second husband, lawyer Robert Treuhaft, is a Jewish communist.) In the early 1940s Jessica joined the Communist Party, USA. Since then she has become a widely read muckraker, best known for her nicely done exposé of the funeral industry entitled The American Way of Death.
A Fine Old Conflict is Jessica’s second autobiography, a sequel to Daughters and Rebels (an account of her early life with her titled parents). More importantly, it is a brief on behalf of the American Communist Party, which Jessica justifiably argues was the earliest champion of the Negro “civil rights” movement and a precursor of a variety of left-radical groups which blossomed in the 1960s.
It contains much information of interest to Attack! readers. Among other things, A Fine Old Conflict points out that Jews were once the key sparkplugs of the CPUSA and the Black revolution. (Incidentally, it was Al Bernstein, father of Washington Post reporter Carl, who recruited Jessica for membership in the communist-dominated United Federal Workers Union.) We learn, for instance, that Bella Abzug, a doyen of the communist-front National Lawyers Guild, was an attorney for convicted Black rapist Willie McGee, whose case was a communist cause célèbre. However, Jessica left the CPUSA in 1958 to work within more well-established mass organizations of the left because she believed the Party had become irrelevant to the wider struggle for “civil liberties.”
Just what kind of communist was Jessica? Well, when she was 14 Jessica spitefully told her sister Unity, “If you’re going to be a fascist, I’m going to be a communist!” One wonders if she also stuck out her tongue. The girls divided their room down the middle, and Jessica festooned her side of the battleground with communist posters. For Jessica, a political infant, left-wing politics was no more than a child’s game. The appendix to A Fine Old Conflict, her silly spoof of Communist Party jargon, is an expression of her puerile nature. In any case, it certainly isn’t the work of a fanatic. Philip Toynbee, an old friend of Jessica’s, said that she spends a good deal of her considerable fortune “in ensuring that she herself shall never be threatened by the slightest avoidable discomfort. She likes good whiskey, good food, and sleek hotel.” Odd how these convinced Marxists manage to live it up.
It seems to me that Jessica’s communism was, au fond, an act of rebellion staged by a difficult child trying to attract the attention of her preoccupied father and glacial mother. Communism also set her apart from other members of her family and gave her a personal identity. It should be noted that both her parents were sympathetic to National Socialism. Lord Redesdale had even translated Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s monumental Foundations of the Nineteenth Century into English from its original German. Her sister Diana married British fascist leader Mosley.
Furthermore, Jessica never showed the same promise as her sister Nancy, who achieved some prominence as a novelist. While her other sisters—especially Diana and Unity—were exceptionally beautiful, Jessica was rather plain. Her younger sister Nancy became the Duchess of Devonshire, but Jessica became Mrs. Treuhaft. It is easy to see how Jessica’s politics could be fueled try bitterness and resentment.
Jessica rejects Pryce-Jones’s assertion that she and Unity represent two sides of the same coin. Jessica is correct, of course: Unity was far less frivolous than she. The Pryce-Jones book, with its long and pretentious title, is a cheap smear job which even Newsweek admitted was “badly organized” and “unsatisfactory.” It is not worth reviewing as history, but has great merit as an example of calculated dishonesty.
First and foremost, Mr. Pryce-Jones’s book is an exercise in ethnic axe-grinding. His hatred for his subject stems from the fact that his mother was a sister to Baroness Elie de Rothschild. Sir George Weidenfeld, the book’s “British” publisher, has held his title for only a short time. He is one of those who fled Vienna after the Anchluss, for racial reasons. And while many British (genuine Britons, not the other kind) critics have damned the Pryce-Jones “history,” Zionist John Gross attempted to assist the beleaguered author by killing the publication of a review that was hostile to his book. Gross is the editor of the London Times Literary Supplement, by the way.
Pryce-Jones gathered data for his book by misrepresenting himself as a friend of the Mitford family. Many of those he interviewed later denounced him for misquoting them. Lady Lamb, whose complaint is typical, said that Pryce-Jones “twisted” her words “to give a very different impression to what I intended.” Furthermore, Pryce-Jones failed to send publisher’s galley proofs to most of those who had asked to check them for mistakes. However, one person who requested and received these proofs, the late Sir John Heygate, wrote: “The bits he sent me were so full of errors it would have been useless and probably impossible at this stage to correct them.” It is noteworthy that Lord Weidenfeld still has great “faith in the personal integrity of Mr. Pryce-Jones.” Ethnic comradeship is a great thing; ask Mr. Gross.
The very liberal Hugh Thomas takes an enlightened view of Unity Mitford, one more in line with the traditional Anglo-Saxon sense of fair play. In a review in the New Statesman of Diana Mosley’s recent autobiography, he wrote: “It is ridiculous to think that all of our enemies are charmless. I believe Hitler was bad, not mad. Diana and her sister Unity, two original and beautiful girls who made jokes and answered back, evidently brought out a benign side in Hitler, and, rather than condemn them for being so friendly, we should surely regret that they weren’t with him more . . . It is . . . to be regretted that Unity Mitford did not displace Eva Braun.”
Source: Attack!, no. 57, 1977; reprinted in The Best of Attack! and National Vanguard Tabloid, ed. Kevin Alfred Strom (Arlington, Va.: National Vanguard Books), p. 106.