In 1989, Denise Searle [Red Pepper’s first editor] and I, with others from the Socialist Movement, wrote to a large number of well-known left-wing dignitaries asking them to support a new fortnightly newspaper called Socialist. Harold Pinter was one of the few who responded.
He did not know us. We were not friends of friends. We were chatterers but not part of the well-known chattering classes. We promised simply to look at the facts without fear; to encourage the self-confidence to resist injustice; to imagine, create and work for alternatives.
Harold gave us his support. He also gave us confidence and his example encouraged others. From this I learnt that one of Harold Pinter’s distinguishing marks is his courage. His courage to speak out against the powerful. He doesn’t wait to find out who else might be supporting a cause. He doesn’t wait to find out whether it’s fashionable. Harold supports something because he believes in it.
And he really does give support: active and attentive support, with great concern for detail. He doesn’t just say, ‘Okay, you’ve tweaked my conscience; here’s the money, now go away and leave me alone.’ His conscience drives him. It is not to be placated by offerings to good causes.
When we decided to abandon the fortnightly newspaper and work instead towards founding the monthly magazine, Red Pepper, he paid careful attention to all the main decisions to be made: the name, the fundraising, the first issue, the launch.
He chaired and directed a historic conversation between Noam Chomsky and John Pilger on the New World Order. This was at a time when many people were in a state of disorientation brought on by the gloating way in which free market capitalism claimed victory in the cold war. Among many on the left there was a timorous defensive mood. Harold, however, was clear and consistent in his contempt for those in power. His willingness to speak out at a time when western powers, especially US power, expected deference, exposed successive US presidents as emperors without clothes.
If only more public intellectuals had Harold’s courage to inspire defiance where there is deference, we might achieve a genuine democracy. Thank you, Harold.
From ‘Harold Pinter: A Celebration’, Faber and Faber, 2000
The Socialist Movement was a coalition of the Labour left, trade union and independent socialist research and education organisations. It came together in the face of Thatcher and an increasingly defensive Labour Party in the late 1980s, playing a leading part in founding Red Pepper.