Duncan White’s recent study Cold Warriors revisits the great ideological battles of the middle decades of the twentieth century. During this time, Soviet Communism initially made converts and cultural inroads in the West, only to be gradually pushed back in the years following the Second World War. While Frances Stonor Saunders’s Who Paid the Piper? (1998) covers much the same history, Cold Warriors is a valuable update, particularly now that the Soviet turn in Russian history seems to have run its course. It makes for a readable and often fascinating account of how some writers were, as White says, “manipulated and co-opted, often without their knowledge or consent”, and of “novels, poems and plays being weaponised by the state as propaganda” ‑ Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, for instance. A long story, but told here with humour and an appropriate amount of irreverence ‑ the often Pythonesque antics of the CIA over Cuba, say, which are beyond satire.
The tale begins pre-Second World War when the Soviet Union had had a sophisticated propaganda outfit run by Willi Münzenberg (possibly the model for Christopher Isherwood’s Mr Norris) and a network of loyal Communist parties that took their line from Moscow (“When father turns, we all turn,” said George Orwell disdainfully). Party members were one thing, but fellow travellers ‑ supportive sympathisers like Victor Gollancz and the Left Book Club, which he ran with John Strachey and Harold Laski ‑ were useful too.
It helped that, by the 1930s, the West had hit something of an existential crisis. To some eyes, anyway, liberal democracy seemed to have failed, whereas the Soviet Union looked dynamic and progressive. If you believed in socialism and if you believed that capitalism in all its forms had run its course, and that Soviet communism was a fresh start, then the chances were you might feel inclined to advance it, support it and, if need be, excuse it. Propaganda does not quite explain this, I think. There had been something like a paradigm shift. You could have any political future you liked as long as it involved some kind of collectivised economy; this was widely believed. Orwell, perhaps the most weaponised writer of all, believed, from 1936 until his dying day, that this was so. Even some Conservatives came round to it. Significantly, when the West counter-attacked, which it began to do in earnest in the postwar years, it made a point of enlisting the likes of Stephen Spender, Ignazio Silone and Dwight Macdonald, leftists all but, crucially, anti-Soviet (the “non-Communist Left” or NCL as they were acronymed).
A far left that disavowed Soviet Communism was nothing new. Left opposition to Moscow began almost as soon as the Bolsheviks had taken power. By the 1930s it included anarchists and Trotskyists as well as small, revolutionary socialist groupings like the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and its various sister parties, of which the Spanish POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista) ‑ erstwhile Trotskyists who proved too far out for Trotsky ‑ is probably the best known. Alongside these were the various waves of disillusioned Communists. Spender, for instance, had had a brief and slightly farcical career as a party activist.
What was new after the war was that the CIA and reliable associates abroad gave the NCL a platform using a front group, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), to transfer (mainly) American money to a string of publications ‑ Encounter (in Britain), Der Monat (Germany), Preuves (France), Partisan Review (United States), Cuadernos (Spain and Latin America) and Tempo Presente (Italy). Some, like Encounter, were newly minted; others, like Partisan Review, established. Cuadernos was edited by Julián Gorkin, who had been in the POUM, Encounter, by Stephen Spender. The ultimate source of the funding for these magazines was kept from editors and contributors alike. Most of those who wrote for them believed they were writing for regular periodicals. Spender allegedly edited Encounter for more than ten years without knowing where the money came from. He left in 1967 when he found out.
The NCL authors who wrote for the likes of Encounter were required to walk a fine line, critiquing the Soviet system from an unambiguously left perspective without at the same time making that perspective sound attractive. The critique was what mattered. They were there to hate the Devil rather than love God, so to speak. In the pay of a state that had never warmed to socialism, democratic or otherwise, and was wary even of the thinnest wedge of a welfare state, NCL authors were subtly restricted as to how far they could go voicing their own particular convictions, or, indeed, any dissatisfaction with the West. Frances Stonor Saunders recounts how Dwight Macdonald took a holiday in Tuscany at the end of the 1950s and was seduced by it. On arriving back home he found that the United States and its people were just awful ‑ uptight and joyless, less happy than the poorest Florentines, more miserable even than the English! And he said as much in an article entitled “America! America!”, which he sent to Encounter and which was, after some proprietorial consideration, spiked. (Publishing the piece might have quelled the rumour that Encounter was not as other magazines but would also mean that people might read it and be shaped by it. That was the consideration).
Orwell, perhaps the definitive NCL writer though he died before the NCL was a thing, had performed a similar role to it in the war years. He had supported the war at a time when the Communists and his old comrades in the ILP favoured a negotiated settlement. Orwell, in contrast, argued that the war had created a truly revolutionary situation that nothing short of full-blooded socialism could resolve. It is unlikely that his backers ‑ first, Fredric Warburg, then the BBC ‑ shared his revolutionary vision which included comprehensive nationalisation and people’s militias on the Spanish anarchist model. But it was useful to have this pro-war leftist on the payroll at a time when many other influential elements on the left were hostile. “For heaven’s sake don’t think I don’t see how they are using me,” Orwell wrote to George Woodcock in late 1942 when his stint at the BBC was coming to an end. (There was a war on, he said, with much at stake and, in that context, he felt he had to do what he could to help the right side win.)
It is anyone’s guess how effective the CCF/NCL project actually was ‑ how many minds it changed. For all of the funding that was put into front groups and magazines, the West’s biggest successes in the cultural Cold War were three books that had been produced without any state sponsorship or official encouragement and, indeed, before the Cold War proper had even begun: Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940), Orwell’s Animal Farm (1944) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Darkness at Noon was written in haste, mainly in the anxious months of the Battle of France, and with its author unsure if he would live let alone get published. Animal Farm was so at odds with then prevailing opinion that it was rejected by several mainstream publishers. Nineteen Eighty-Four was more in line with prevailing trends, but that was pure coincidence. The Cold War was on by the time it was being written: Orwell indeed is one of the people sometimes thought to have named it. But Nineteen Eighty-Four was a book that drew on themes its author had been mulling over for years ‑ the wielding of power for its own sake; the division of the world into three similarly powerful blocs; the destruction of objective truth.
Orwell and Koestler would become, not just co-workers against the Comintern, but friends and, to an extent, mutual admirers, Orwell of Koestler in particular. Orwell would, in 1945, devote a lengthy essay to Koestler in which he described him as an “outstanding” example of a high style of political writing not to be found among British writers. But he was not uncritical of his friend. He considered the later Arrival and Departure “shallow” and would go on to pan Koestler’s play Twilight Bar, saying that it demonstrated “the gap that lies between having an idea and working it up into dramatic shape”. (Shortly after he had trashed the play, Orwell spent Christmas with the Koestlers at their house in Wales. An unhappy Koestler asked Orwell whether he might have brought him down a little more gently, to which Orwell replied that the thought had not occurred to him. Koestler would write much in the decades that followed, but never again for the theatre.) There are echoes of Koestler’s The Gladiators in Animal Farm and, more so, of Darkness at Noon in Nineteen Eighty-Four ‑ the rewriting of old newspapers to make them correspond to the current version of the party line, for example, which is suggested offhand in the Koestler book, becomes an actual occupation in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Koestler’s sister-in-law Celia Kirwan would be one of a number of women to whom Orwell proposed in his final years. It might be that lingering attraction that led him to name names for her employer, the Information Research Department (IRD), which I will get to.
By the time he wrote Darkness at Noon, Koestler was a recovering Communist. It is not clear why he became one in the first place. In his writings he offers various accounts ‑ anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, a big loss at poker, a bad one night stand, his car breaking down, an attempt to sublimate subconscious guilt. Nor is it clear when and why he stopped being one. He would later say that he had never really believed or that his believing phase was brief. However, David Cesarani, in his 1999 biography, Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind, suggests the credulity lasted longer. Experiencing the USSR in the flesh, he writes, had disappointed Koestler and this, together with direct experience of the Ukrainian famine, shook his faith but did not quite undermine it. It was still strong enough for him to go to Civil War Spain on Comintern business when it was increasingly dangerous for someone with his affinities to do so. He compounded this risk by finding and publicising evidence of German support for Franco, support that was in blatant violation of official non-intervention. As a result, Koestler ended up in a Francoist prison awaiting execution and was spared only through the intervention of some well-connected people in England. By chance, he had been writing for the Cadbury-owned News Chronicle, and not the Daily Worker.
Koestler ran into trouble with the party only in 1937 when, while promoting his Spanish Testament (published by the fellow-travelling Gollancz’s Left Book Club), he could not bring himself to stick to the Moscow script and denounce the POUM. As a result, he asked, somewhat bizarrely, to be downgraded from member to fellow traveller. But it was the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 1939 that caused the final and irreversible break.
In Darkness at Noon, Nikolai Salmanovich Rubashov reflects on his life as he awaits execution on vague and largely unsubstantiated charges ‑ a clear nod to the Moscow Show Trials. He is a party veteran, of pre-revolutionary vintage, and is unswervingly loyal to it, going along with all of its sudden changes of line. Part of his role has been to maintain fickle party policy abroad regardless of the human consequence. The Soviet Union is here a shabby regime, unprincipled and willing to manoeuvre whichever way suits its needs. And things can only get worse. The generation that made the revolution is giving way to the generation that was formed by it. Where the former retained a little old world decency, the latter has none. The characters Ivanov and Gletkin exemplify this generational shift. Ivanov feels honour bound to help Rubashov, whereas Gletkin has his cold eye on the bigger picture – “mankind has never managed without scapegoats”, he tells Rubashov. “What is true is what serves mankind, and whatever harms it is a lie.”
There is a certain coyness to Darkness at Noon. Russia is “the country of the revolution” and the “inordinately vast land”; Germany, “the Empire of Tyranny”; Italy, “a different dictator-state in the south allied with the main enemy”. Similarly, Stalin is “Number One” and so forth. I am not sure why Koestler did this: possibly he thought it would give the book more longevity or that it would defamiliarise and thereby focus the reader on its message. One unintended effect of it is to make clearer the affinity between Darkness at Noon and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Darkness at Noon plays to Koestler’s strengths, which were the ability to fictionalise political positions readably (without sinking to one-dimensionality), and to dramatise his own life. His time in the Spanish prison, for instance, when he counted some fifty executions and assumed each time his own would be the next, informs his depiction of the condemned Rubashov. The book is also Koestler taking unambiguous leave of his former comrades. The USSR is depicted as a totalitarian system in which some lingering pre-revolutionary values provide what little decency there is. Enjoy it while you can, Koestler says, because the pre-revolutionary generation is dying prematurely, is, in fact, being killed off. There are no individuals in the coming dispensation, only an elite of functionaries and a population that is reverting to a state of nature. Rubashov himself accepts his fate, possibly because it represents a final act of loyalty to the party, an example to others who might dissent.
Darkness at Noon made Koestler famous and, arguably, he never bettered it. Indeed, success may have gone to his head. Cesarani says it transformed him “into an opinionated and quarrelsome bully” while White, in Cold Warriors, suggests that the living Koestler proved a weaker Cold War asset than the dead Orwell. Too hostile to communism and to anything that suggested compromise with that Great Satan, he was no NCL. For this he was eased out of the CCF. (Hugh Trevor-Roper likened one CCF event which Koestler addressed to a Nuremberg Rally). He drank heavily, contemplated becoming a Catholic before reinventing himself as an author of eccentric books like The Case of the Midwife Toad (a last-minute bid for Lamarckism).
Koestler was a recovering Communist whereas Orwell had never warmed to the party. Dismissive of it at the time of The Road to Wigan Pier, he had become downright hostile following his experiences in Spain, notably after the events in Barcelona in May 1937, when the Popular Front government, in which the Spanish Communist Party was the strongest component, had turned against the POUM.
Back in England he had struggled to find a publisher for his writings on Spain and sensed a closing of fellow traveller ranks. Gollancz, for instance, turned down Homage to Catalonia (working title Barcelona Tragedy) when scarcely a word of it had been written while the New Statesman rejected his essay “Eyewitness in Barcelona”, offered a book review (of Franz Borkenau’s Spanish Cockpit) by way of compensation, and then turned that down as well. Homage to Catalonia was eventually accepted by Fredric Warburg on behalf of Secker and Warburg, a small but ambitious imprint, Warburg providing the ambition.
“For about three years,” Orwell would complain in his 1940 essay “Inside the Whale”, “the central stream of English literature was more or less directly under Communist control”. The latest wave of writers ‑ Auden, MacNeice, Isherwood and Day-Lewis ‑ he reckoned were more of a self-regarding clique than anything there had been before, a kind of literary Popular Front. These were writers, he said, of similar background (public school, Oxbridge) who had risen to literary pre-eminence with no real taste of the hardships and challenges of conventional life. This set them apart from most previous writers, including Orwell himself. Orwell had fought in Spain; had lived among the unclassed of two nations; had been a servant of imperialism, administered its dark side, and rejected it in part on that account. “I have seen murdered men”, he comments in a mixed assessment of Auden’s “Spain”, alleging that if Auden had had the same experience, he might not have so flippantly mentioned “necessary murder”.
Orwell’s relationship with Gollancz, never especially warm, deteriorated markedly during this time. Michael Shelden, in his Orwell biography, speculates that the Left Book Club platform speaker in Coming up for Air (“a mean little man with a white face and a bald head … shooting out slogans”) was intended to provoke Gollancz into releasing Orwell from his contract. In his Koestler essay, Orwell contrasts the Left Book Club’s “forgettable” output unfavourably with that of Koestler, Silone and others and suggests that the club might have amended Koestler’s Spanish Testament for political purposes.
Gollancz would go on to reject Animal Farm and Orwell’s troubles finding a publisher for that book are well-known. The principal contemporary objection was that it was critical of Russia at a time when Russia was an ally suffering heavy losses in the common project of defeating Hitler. To characterise the Soviet leadership as corrupt, self-serving pigs, was seen by some as poor taste. (Could some animal other than pigs have been substituted, Orwell was asked; he considered it an “imbecile suggestion”.) The book was eventually taken up by the reliable Warburg only after multiple rejections and proceeded to become a phenomenon.
It is, I think, more positive towards socialism and the Soviet Union than is usually allowed. It comes close, for instance, to the Trotskyist thesis that Stalin corrupted Lenin’s revolutionary achievement, though Lenin is puzzlingly absent from the story. (Old Major is surely Marx, not Lenin; like Marx he is usefully dead before any of the things he advocated have had to be worked up into practical politics). Trotsky is there, as Snowball, and Orwell’s attitude to him is largely sympathetic. Snowball is brave, clever and visionary, aspiring to a society in which every animal will live in a pen warmed by free electricity. The Kronstadt rebellion, which Trotsky suppressed, is allegorised, not as the brutal suppression of organised internal dissent, but as a small piece of corruption ‑ the pigs, including Snowball, expropriate the first of the post-revolutionary luxuries. The suppression of the rebellion, and Trotsky’s role in it, are thereby downplayed. The farm’s participatory democracy is over almost as soon as it has started but, in part at least, that is because most of the animals are not up to participating in it to any great effect.
As for socialism itself, it is shown to be more productive than what preceded it and capable of realising even the great leap forward of electrification. The problem is not that this new economic model does not work. It works marvellously well. The problem is that its ample product is used to benefit its corrupt elite ‑ the pigs and their dog allies. They either consume the bulk of it themselves, or they sell it on the market beyond the farm and live well on the proceeds.
It concerned Orwell that Animal Farm and, more so, Nineteen Eighty-Four were being seen as anti-socialist texts. He did not envisage his work becoming propaganda for a liberal revival, partly because he thought liberalism was beyond reviving. The collectivised economy was the way of the future, which meant ‑ and this was Orwell’s greatest concern ‑ that there was a high risk that that future would be totalitarian. Orwell’s political purpose in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four was to steer people in the direction of democratic socialism, not away from it. Democratic socialism was, he believed, both a step forward compared with anything there had been before and the only positive collectivist option. He died as the Cold War proper was setting in and made just one, conscious contribution to it, a contribution Duncan White describes as “a surprising act of complicity”.
The UK’s postwar Labour government believed that the Soviet Union aimed to expand into Western Europe and that Western Communist parties and fellow travellers would prepare the ground for it. Orwell thought the same. He saw the USSR as a threat to peace, to the freedoms he valued, and to socialism. In his preface to a 1947 Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm he writes that, for the socialist movement to continue, the “Soviet myth” must be discredited. Although the British Communist Party was much less significant than its French and Italian sister parties, it had, by 1945, managed to elect two actual Communist MPs (Willie Gallacher and Phil Piratin) and a number of “crypto Communists”, Labour MPs who could be so relied on to take the Communist line some thought they were clandestine party members. The most prominent of these were the Labour MPs Konni Zilliacus and Tom Driberg and the independent Denis Nowell Pritt, whom Orwell considered “perhaps the most effective pro-Soviet publicist in this country”. The 1945 election would, in fact, mark the party’s peak level of electoral popularity. By 1950, both Communist MPs had lost their seats, as had the principal cryptos. But no one, of course, could have foreseen that in 1945. If, as has sometimes been suggested with hindsight, Orwell and others overstated the Communist influence in the late 1940s, they had reasonable evidence for doing so.
It was in the context of this evidence that Orwell agreed to provide information to the IRD ‑ the Information Research Department. It was probably the most controversial act of his life and one which, when it first came to light around twenty-five years ago, caused some to reassess him.
The IRD had been set up in 1948 as a support for democratic, anti-communist forces outside the UK. It was intended to serve as a propaganda outlet, disseminating anti-communist material to journalists and authors to inform their output. In later years, it would branch out to more controversial activities, but that was after Orwell’s time.
Orwell learned of the IRD through Celia Kirwan, who was one of its officials. She visited Orwell in March 1949 when he was hospitalised and seriously ill (he had, in fact, less than a year to live). The IRD had been interested in engaging him as a propagandist and he appears to have been supportive of the department’s aims. Too ill to undertake any propagandising himself, he suggested some writers (including Franz Borkenau) who might be up to the job. Orwell also suggested that Gollancz, who had shifted ground considerably since the end of the war, might be approached with a view to publishing IRD-backed authors.
Orwell followed this up with a letter dated April 6th in which he recommended Borkenau (again), Gleb Struve (a critic and translator), and Alfred Chollerton, a Daily Telegraph journalist. Having made these positive recommendations, 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 inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists.”
Adam Watson, a senior IRD official, thought that such a list would be worth obtaining and asked Kirwan to contact Orwell and request it. Orwell then wrote to his friend Sir Richard Rees and asked him to bring him a copy of a notebook which he said contained his personal list of Communists and crypto-Communists. (Rees would later write, in a 1967 letter to Ian Angus, editor of the four volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, that he and Orwell had begun compiling the list as a kind of game, but there is no indication of this in Orwell’s own letter to Rees on April 6th, no suggestion, for instance, that Rees would be familiar with the list he had been asked to bring.) Once Orwell had received the notebook, he used it to compile a shortlist of 38 suspected Communists, cryptos and fellow travellers that he forwarded to Kirwan. These included: Alex Comfort, the anarchist physician, author and poet with whom Orwell had engaged in argument during the war, including a memorable debate in rhyming verse; JB Priestley; the historian EH Carr; Isaac Deutscher; Peadar O’Donnell; and Peter Smollett. Smollett, at least, was a direct hit, as he was later revealed to have been a Soviet agent.
Orwell seems, from his correspondence with Kirwan, to have been anxious about this list. On the one hand, he suggests that it might not be especially sensational, but he also asks that it be returned to him quickly as he is concerned that it might be defamatory, as, in fact, it was. (The full list could not be issued until 2013 when all those on it were safely dead.)
Orwell’s list was handwritten as he was not permitted access to a typewriter at the time. It was typed up by the IRD and the original, now lost, presumably returned to Orwell. The notebook from which the IRD list was drawn survives and a full copy of the IRD’s typed list was found among Celia Kirwan’s personal effects after her death. The IRD list comprises names, details and, typically, some comments on the person in question. These are similar to the corresponding entries in Orwell’s notebook.
That is the story that achieved significant media coverage when it first came to light in the mid- to late 1990s. Some, at the time, likened Orwell’s conduct to those who had named the names during the McCarthy era or even to the people who informed on their colleagues, friends, neighbours or family members in the Soviet Union or, for that matter, in Oceania.
The earliest published mention of Orwell’s list that I have found is in Bernard Crick’s 1980 biography. (Neither the list nor the IRD feature in the earlier Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, as far as I can see). Christopher Hitchens, in his book Orwell’s Victory (2002), notes the Crick reference and, on the basis of it, argues that the IRD list was something of a non-story given that Crick had already brought it to light as early as 1980. But Crick merely mentions, and in passing, that Orwell had kept a private list of people he considered politically dubious, and a private list is no big deal. What made the IRD revelation newsworthy was that it showed that Orwell had shared this private list with a branch of the secret state, thereby potentially putting the people he had named on it at some risk. The immediate risk was that they would not be employed as propagandists ‑ in that sense Orwell’s IRD list was a blacklist ‑ but the wider risk was that files would now be opened on the people he had named, or existing files added to. Orwell was not naive. He knew such files existed and rightly believed that one was being kept on him. (James Smith, in his 2013 British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930-1960, says that Orwell first came under scrutiny when he was still Eric Blair and living in Paris and that his investigations in the North of England when he was researching The Road to Wigan Pier also attracted official attention. Later, however, it was officially noted and put on file that Orwell, and Koestler, were reliably anti-communist).
Although Crick refers only to Orwell’s private list, his account of it is somewhat puzzling. In the main text of the biography, he writes that Orwell was “worried about Communist infiltrators … and kept a notebook of suspects”, and in an endnote he describes the notebook as featuring eighty-six names and dating from 1949. These eighty-six entries are, he says, handwritten in the main by someone other than Orwell although Orwell has made frequent annotations. (In the biography, the someone is not named but Crick later ‑ in 1996 ‑ said that he thought it was Koestler. Koestler was still alive when Crick’s Orwell biography was published and there might have been concerns about legal action.) Many of the entries are, in Crick’s view, “plausible as possible front members but a few seem far-fetched and unlikely, linked simply for ‘Communist-like’ opinions”. But in 1980 he did not go into detail on the names.
Michael Shelden mentions the private list in his own 1991 Orwell biography noting that it comprises more than a hundred names. He also provides a few of the names (Nancy Cunard, Sean O’Casey) and some of Orwell’s comments. However, by far the most detailed account of the list is by Peter Davison, in Our Job is to Make Life Worth Living, 1949-1950, Volume 20 of the Complete Works. Davison describes a regular hardbacked notebook that has been divided into alphabetical sections into which 135 names have been added over time and in Orwell’s handwriting. To the extent that it is possible to reproduce a handwritten list in a conventionally printed book, Davison has done so, even to the extent of noting where Orwell has used a particular colour of ink. Though Davison saw a list of 135 names, he could publish only ninety-nine of them in Volume 20. The other thirty-six were still alive at the time and therefore, potentially, litigious. As a result, I have never seen the full list of 135.
This list of 135 names, described and, in greater part, reproduced by Davison, is almost certainly the same list of more than a hundred names that Michael Sheldon saw. But it is possible that Bernard Crick saw something different. Crick’s list has eighty-six names and eighty-six is too precise a figure to be an estimate. Also, Crick would have known Orwell’s handwriting better than almost anyone and he says that most of the list that he saw was written by someone else. And yet the list he saw maintained the same headings (Name, Job, Remarks) as the list described by Davison. It is a puzzle, but maybe not a particularly important one.
Christopher Hitchens’s Orwell’s Victory offers a defence of Orwell’s decision to share his list with the IRD. Orwell, Hitchens comments, was no Senator McCarthy since he supported, for example, the right of British anarchists to publish their views. (Even in the war years, when the anarchists had been against the war effort and might ‑ in some improbable turn of events ‑ have swung public opinion, he defended their right to publish and be damned, he himself doing a lot of the damning). Also, says Hitchens, Orwell was a private citizen when he forwarded his list, not a politician or even an official. All true, but Orwell, private citizen though he was, was here abetting a branch of the government and abetting it by naming more than thirty people whom he thought would make poor anti-communist propagandists because he suspected they were Communists or sympathetic to communism. These included people he had only heard of, never met, never interacted with, like Charlie Chaplin or Paul Robeson. Moreover, he named them with a view to preventing them from gaining employment, albeit in a limited field. And nowhere does he propose that they should be given some right of reply; in all likelihood they would not have been informed that they were on a blacklist; would never have known. It was a relatively small lapse on Orwell’s part, but definitely a lapse.
What, if anything, happened to the thirty-eight people Orwell named on account of his having named them is not recorded. The people at IRD were surely sharp enough to recognise it as the eccentric and amateur effort that it was, file it away and move on. They had wanted Orwell the writer and got, instead, a dying, lonely man with a crush on one of their officials. I would be surprised if anyone on the list suffered any inconvenience as a consequence of having been on the list. Michael Redgrave’s acting career, for example, continued. He even acted in the 1956 Columbia Pictures version of Nineteen Eighty-Four (“Will Ecstasy Be a Crime … in the terrifying world of the future?”), which was CIA-funded.
The postwar years would prove the Indian summer of British communism. Not only did it lose its parliamentary representation in the 1950 general election, never to regain it, but events in Hungary and the then Czechoslovakia, plus Khrushchev’s revisionism, would cost it significant membership. Generally, the Marxist star fell. The planned economy lost its appeal; parties of the left turned reluctantly to the market. But the cultural footprint remained considerable, turning up in the most unlikely places. In Roy Carr and Tony Tyler’s The Beatles: an illustrated record (1974), say, wherein the authors, in all earnestness, advise their readers of Paul McCartney’s “ascendant middle class optimism” and “essentially bourgeois talent”, whatever that might be.
“If Marx’s mother had dropped him on his head when he was a baby, someone else would have written Das Kapital.” I remember hearing that in a lecture or a tutorial at Queen’s in Belfast a good thirty-five years ago. To be scrupulously fair, the person who said it did not mean that without Marx the exact same book would have been written. But, ballpark, there would have been a body of work that said approximately the same thing as Marx had said, and at much the same time. Texts, political ones anyway (and were they not all political?) were not so much written as came to be. They came to be through a concatenation of socio-cultural influences which were, at base, economically determined. The author of any text was incidental. Mere vessel. Ergo, if Marx had come to grief we would have had Capital all the same. And presumably Jemima Puddleduck too, even if the Fates had not been kind to Beatrix Potter. Books were ideas and ideas were the outworking of historical circumstance. Such was the hubristic silliness of academic Marxism, circa 1986, when its mothership was a mere five-year plan away from oblivion.
One of the strengths of Cold Warriors is that, throughout, Duncan White holds to the role of the individual in history, a perspective whose great advantage is that it can be verified against that great bourgeois will o’ the wisp, reality. Early in the book, for instance, he comments, in reference to Orwell’s near-death experience in the Spanish Civil War: “The bullet that entered George Orwell’s neck was an inch from changing the way we think about the Cold War.” And that is surely unanswerable. Spain was nearly the death of Orwell. And of Koestler too. Had they died, there would have been no Animal Farm, no Nineteen Eighty-Four, no Darkness at Noon. These were the essential Cold War reading as the West mounted its great fight back to capture the cultural high ground.
Martin Tyrrell is currently under contract to Athabasca University Press to complete a book on Orwell’s wars, from class war to Cold War.