By Sasha Simic
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Le Carré’s legacy

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Issue 464

David John Moore Cornwell, better known as the novelist John le Carré. He leaves a remarkable body of work. Le Carré came to prominence during the great spy craze of the early sixties. But what distinguished his work from Ian Fleming’s James Bond or Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer was its authenticity, its humanity, and its relevance to reality.

Le Carré’s spies are all patricians. The working class hardly appear in his work. They are all products of private education and most of them are deeply unpleasant with a highly developed tendency to cheat and lie. Le Carré taught at Eton and called its graduates “an absolute curse on the earth, leaving that school with a sense of entitlement and overeducated cultural posturing.”

The power behind le Carré’s best work came from the tension between the imperial pretensions of his ruling-class spies and the increasing irrelevance of Britain as a global power.

Le Carré also recognised the limits of spying and after the fall of the USSR admitted that “Spies did not win the Cold War. They made absolutely no difference in the long run.”

He recognised the danger in the triumphalism of the post-Cold War free-marketeers and he argued “now we have beaten Communism, we have to take on capitalism…”

One of his last public acts was to add his name to a letter, accusing the life-long anti-racist Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, socialists should read le Carré’s novels. His best books are powerful examinations of the decline of the UK from Empire into a fifth-rate power and the demotion of the British upper-classes from imperial masters into the junior partners of the US.

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