[Marxism] Hitchens and Orwell

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Thu Oct 27 14:07:45 MDT 2005

The Daily Telegraph                        Monday 22 June 1998


        By Michael Shelden and Philip Johnston

The author who gave us Big Brother and the Thought Police was
himself a government informant whose list of "crypto-communists" has
been kept secret for almost half a century.

Now the list - and the dramatic story of its creation - are to be made
public in a new edition of George Orwell's work published next week in 20

The names included such literary and political figures as the poet
Stephen Spender, the Labour MPs Richard Crossman and Tom Driberg,
Charlie Chaplin, J B Priestley and George Bernard Shaw. ( Paul Robeson). The
names of three dozen who are still alive have been withheld.

Arranged alphabetically in a small blue notebook, the manuscript version of
Orwell's roster of Stalin's Western apologists and sympathisers contains
more than 130 names of famous and obscure figures and includes often
brutally frank comments about the weaknesses of individual characters.

It is one of the last things Orwell wrote before his death from
tuberculosis in 1950 and its much-revised appearance is  accurately
rendered in the new collection edited by Prof Peter Davison, senior
research fellow at De Montfort University.

In 1949 Orwell handed a list containing 35 of the names to his friend Celia
Kirwan, who worked for an anti-communist propaganda unit attached to the
Foreign Office. The identity of those names remains unclear.

The disclosure two years ago that Orwell, a socialist icon, had acted as an
informant caused dismay on the political Left. Michael Foot, the former
Labour leader, called it "amazing" and Jimmy Reid, the former union activist
turned journalist said it was "a terrible shock".

But Orwell, as his novels Animal Farm and 1984 testify, was a passionate
opponent of totalitarianism in all its forms. While he retained his
socialist ideals, he was disdainful of those on the Left who supported the
Soviet Union despite the evidence of Stalin's atrocities.

Much of what he has to say about individual entrants is marvellously
eccentric and engagingly frank. The fashionable and wealthy bohemian
Nancy Cunard is quickly dismissed: "Probably only sentimental
sympathiser. Silly. Has money."

Crossman, later a Labour Cabinet minister, is damned with the words:
"Too dishonest to be outright F.T. [fellow traveller]." The novelist and
critic Arthur Calder-Marshall is simply labelled an "insincere person". The
poet C Day Lewis is regarded as "probably not now completely reliable".

Orwell notes that Shaw cannot be trusted because he is "reliably
pro-Russian on all major issues" and that the distinguished scientist Solly
Zuckerman is "politically ignorant". The New Statesman editor, Kingsley
Martin, is described as a "decayed liberal"; the playwright Sean O'Casey is
"very stupid"; Priestley is "very anti-USA" and "makes huge sums of money in

In 1996 documents released to the Public Record Office at Kew, west
London, disclosed how Orwell furnished the authorities with a list of
potential Soviet sympathisers to help Britain confront the propaganda of the
Soviet Union. Initially, the intention had been to harness his talents to
write or rewrite anti-communist articles. But while Orwell was enthusiastic,
he was too ill to help - although he did give Mrs Kirwan a list of authors
who could be trusted.

A couple of days later he wrote: "I could also, if it is of any value, give
you a list of journalists and writers who, in my opinion, are
crypto-communists, fellow travellers, or inclined that way, and should not
be trusted as propagandists." The list was passed to the Information
Research Department at the Foreign Office, but was removed from the papers
lodged at the Public Record Office.

Prof Davison speculates that names marked with an asterisk in Orwell's
notebook may have been those he put on the IRD list.

Last night Celia Goodman, 81, formerly Celia Kirwan, said: "I honestly
cannot remember the 35 names he wrote down for me. It was such a long time
ago. She said: "Most of the names are of no surprise, but I suppose some
will be. It is very interesting that they are being published now. It can't
do any harm, can it?"

Mrs Goodman, a widow now living in Cambridge, said it angered her to
read criticism of Orwell's actions. She said: "I think George was quite
right to do it. What does make me cross is when headline writers state that
George had betrayed his friends. These people were not his friends. And, of
course, everybody thinks that these people were going to be shot at dawn.

The only thing that was going to happen to them was they wouldn't be
asked to write for the Information Research Department."

Mrs Goodman said: "I didn't know about J B Priestley. Good Lord, isn't it
amazing? But if George said these people were what he said they were, I bet
he knew. He wouldn't have said it otherwise. So I think people should attach
significance to this list."

Orwell did not attach a great deal of sinister importance to the names he
supplied. In a letter to Mrs Kirwan, enclosing the list, he said: "It isn't
very sensational and I don't suppose it will tell your friends anything that
they don't know. At the same time, it isn't a bad idea to have the people
who are probably unreliable listed."

Orwell said that, if it had been done earlier, it might have stopped
some people "worming their way into important propaganda jobs where they
were probably able to do us a lot of harm".


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