Animal Farm parodied; Orwell estate is not amused

Paul Flewers hatchet.job at
Tue Nov 26 13:31:58 MST 2002

Here's the appendix of my Orwell pamphlet, dealing with his relations with
the British state.

Paul F


Appendix: Orwell and the Spooks

THE right-wing press had a field day with the discovery in 1996 of
correspondence in the Public Record Office between Orwell and Celia Kirwan,
who was a friend of Orwell's, the sister-in-law of Arthur Koestler, and an
employee of the Foreign Office's clandestine propaganda wing, the
Information Research Department. The correspondence revealed that Orwell was
asked in 1949 by the Foreign Office if he would help in the writing of
material which could be used in its war of words against the Soviet Union.
Orwell, terminally ill, turned down the invitation, but did provide the IRD
with the names of 35 fellow travellers, taken from a notebook containing 86
names. The papers repeated their celebrations two years later when the names
in the notebook - or most of them - were finally revealed in one of the 20
volumes of the newly-released Orwell Collected Works. Once again, the right
wing could claim Orwell as one of their own.

Why was Orwell willing to collaborate with the murkier parts of the British
state, the same sort of bodies which he had long denounced? Orwell was
always a supporter of the lesser evil, and without ever renouncing his calls
for the socialist transformation of Britain, he adopted a defencist stand
during both the Second World War and the ensuing Cold War, as he saw
parliamentary democracy as a lesser evil than either a Hitlerite or
Stalinist dictatorship. By the late 1940s, with Stalinist rule extending
across Eastern Europe, Orwell, by now a sick and pessimistic man, was
willing to take whatever steps he felt were necessary to defend democratic
rights in Britain. Furthermore, despite his suspicion of state institutions,
he had no conception of the necessity for socialists to maintain their
political independence from the state. This is why he was willing to make
common cause with institutions that were bitter enemies of socialism, rather
than propose a politically independent course.

In the covering letter to his list, Orwell said that he wanted to help
ensure that 'unreliable' people would not be 'worming their way into
important propaganda jobs'. Orwell admitted to Kirwan that her 'friends', as
he put it, probably knew all about those named by him, although he added
that it was probably a good idea to have such 'unreliable' people listed. He
gave the example of Peter Smollett, an important official at the wartime
Ministry of Information, who could well have advised against the publication
of Animal Farm, and has since been revealed as a Soviet agent.

The list itself is a strange collection. Some of the names are of well-known
Americans - Walter Duranty, Edgar Snow, Anna Strong, Paul Robeson, Upton
Sinclair - whose fame (or notoriety) did not require Orwell to point them
out. Some British Stalinists - DN Pritt, Lester Hutchinson, WP and Zelda
Coates, JD Bernal, Hewlett Johnson - were so well known that the very idea
of their being used to write British official publications during the Cold
War is laughable. Some were well-known sympathisers of Stalinism, such as
Sean O'Casey and George Bernard Shaw; some, like Kingsley Martin, had been;
and others, including Michael Redgrave and JB Priestley, were politically
naive individuals. Whether they were Stalinists without a party card, or
credulous believers in a happy land, far far away, the whole thing with most
fellow travellers was that they were publicly sympathetic to the Soviet
Union. Secret Soviet sympathisers like Smollett are very few and far between
in Orwell's list.

Stephen Spender is strange inclusion, as he had long dropped out of the
Communist Party, and was shortly to get star billing in that anti-communist
credo The God that Failed. As for the listing of Orson Welles and Charlie
Chaplin, perhaps Orwell didn't like their films, although I do believe that
the People's Convention, the Communist Party's main front organisation
during its anti-war period of 1939-41, did publish a speech delivered by the
lead character in Chaplin's The Great Dictator. To be honest, a glance
through the contents pages of Labour Monthly and other Stalinist
publications could well have provided a better list of fellow travellers,
and there can be no doubt that Kirwan's 'friends' regularly scanned them.

The rise of Stalinism posed a real problem for the left. Here was a state
and a world-wide movement, emerging from a workers' revolution and using the
liberatory language of Marxism, which was extremely repressive, particularly
towards its left-wing opponents and the working class. How could the
non-Stalinist left respond to it? When an article by Trotsky on the Moscow
Trials appeared without his approval in the right-wing US press, he
responded that he and his colleagues wanted to expose the lies of Stalin to
the widest possible audience. Moreover, he said: 'If I should have to post
placards, warning the people of a cholera epidemic, I should equally utilise
the walls of schools, churches, saloons, gambling houses and even worse
establishments.' One of Trotsky's last articles looked at the financial and
secret police links between the Soviet Union and communist parties in Europe
and America, and could quite easily have been used by the right wing against
the official communist movement. Other left-wingers, including Hugo Dewar
and Walter Kendall, have had anti-Stalinist articles published in right-wing
journals such as Survey. Victor Serge's Destiny of a Revolution was promoted
in Britain by the National Book Association. None of this compromised the
authors' principles, as they retained their political independence, and the
material published benefited the left more than the right.

Similarly, if left-wing anti-Stalinist material was used by the IRD or other
Western governmental bodies for their own ends, then that did not
necessarily reflect badly upon the authors. There is, however, a difference
between this and working with institutions which have always been hostile to
the aims of the left, and with whom cooperation can only work against the
interests of the left. Although Orwell had little to offer the IRD, the fact
that he was willing to collaborate with it shows that he had strayed into
unacceptable behaviour for anyone on the left.

Stalinism had to be fought within the labour movement, and the fellow
travellers had to be exposed as venal or gullible apologists for Stalin's
regime. Nonetheless, this could only be done by a principled campaign that
clearly differentiated itself from the right's anti-communism. Those who
wished both to combat Stalinism and maintain their socialist principles
could not do so unless they maintained their political independence from the
British state and its agents on the right wing of the labour movement. And
just as Orwell's theoretical limitations enabled his Animal Farm and
Nineteen Eighty-Four to be used by anti-communists around the world, they
led him to collaborate with anti-socialist forces in Britain. He did not
understand that the cause of socialism cannot be aided by collaborating with
those who are its bitter enemies.

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