The death almost a year ago of John Tyndall, founder of the British National Party, was marked by newspaper tributes to his exemplary home life, artistic appreciation and unwavering adherence to principle under adversity.
Well, no, of course it wasn’t. Obituarists avoided such bathos and described him for what he was: “a racist, violent neo-Nazi to the end,” said The Guardian.
This week the same newspaper ran an obituary of Reuben Falber. The name will be unknown to almost all my readers, but Falber was for many years Assistant General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He dealt with the party’s administration. In that capacity he regularly and in secret met officials of the Soviet Embassy in London to take delivery of bagloads of cash. He hid the money in his attic and laundered it in small chunks through the party's accounts (these were often labelled as contributions to the party's fighting fund). At first these sums amounted to £100,000 a year, though they decreased sharply in the 1970s. Only four people within the party knew that it was being secretly financed from Moscow (though there was an additional party figure who later on chose not to know). When, in retirement in 1991, Falber answered the door to a Sunday Times journalist, the conversation went like this, according to Francis Beckett in his sympathetic history Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party (1995, p. 216):
Was it true that Falber had collected substantial sums of money from the Soviet embassy to finance the CP? Nonsense, said Falber, he'd done nothing of the kind, and he'd be grateful if his unexpected visitor would leave straight away as Falber's wife was unwell.
The Guardian's obituary, written by Falber's brother-in-law, refers to this episode thus:
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of the British Community [sic] party - after Reuben had given up his leading positions - was followed by the revelation that he had been the fall-guy when the Soviet Communist party contributed to British party funds. He answered criticism in his usual robust manner; did not the wealthy, regardless of the country they lived in, contribute to the Tory party? He concluded: "Je ne regrette rien."
Having noted that Falber's "60 years of married life was a pleasure to behold", and that Falber and his wife "stoically weathered the attacks, engendered by the cold war, which reached into every aspect of their life", the obituary noted that "Reuben had no children, but will be greatly missed by his large circle of relatives, friends and comrades."
I've noted elsewhere the oddity that respect and even sentimentality are often accorded the totalitarian Left in a way that would cause public outcry if applied to the totalitarian Right. The Guardian's obituary of Falber admittedly falls not in its main section but in its "Other lives" column - an attractive feature of the newspaper, which marks lives that have been lived well but out of the public eye. But if anything, that makes The Guardian's obtuseness worse. Faced with a character such as Falber, the last people competent to write a true retrospective, as opposed to an incidental comment to that retrospective, are the dead man's close relatives. The Guardian should look again at its editorial policies, and the grieving family should face up to the fact that the newly departed was a squalid, low-life, lying, fraudulent, corrupt brute.