Conservatives Richard Falknor on 04 Dec 2013
George Orwell (Eric Blair) — remembered most for his novels Animal Farm and 1984 — faced serious pro-Soviet hostility from the British chattering classes in the 1930s and 1940s.
This hostility to truth-telling about the Soviets – in the 1930s and 1940s — illustrates the wide reach of their influence, which Diana West chronicled for us at home in the United States in her American Betrayal.
These were times when so many — even in the English-speaking world — had lost their good judgment about Moscow and its lethal objectives.
David Pryce-Jones last month reviewed here (subscription required) Peter Davison’s George Orwell: A Life in Letters. (Of Davison, “the undisputed keeper of the [Orwell] flame,” and of the book itself Pryce-Jones declares “to have Orwell speaking in his own voice while accompanied by so informed a guide is to recover more of his daily life than would be possible in a biography.”)
In his November 2013 The New Criterion post “A Man of Letters,” Pryce-Jones illuminates the political atmosphere of Britain during the 1930s and 1940s–
“And then there are the Communists of the period, of course writers, journalists, and academics to the fore, but also churchmen, aristocrats, trade unionists, miners, flapper girls, and film stars, the lot. Prince Potemkin had once put up false villages whose pretense to prosperity hid the background misery, and in just that manner the Communists presented the Soviet Union as the perfect universal society. For reasons that must go deep into the human psyche, Soviet deception met a corresponding need to be deceived. Replacing reality with illusion, rejecting cause and effect, Communism was an irrational mass movement the like of which had not been seen since the credulous Middle Ages.” (Highlighting Forum’s.)
National Review senior editor Pryce-Jones points out–
“The Soviet Union disposed of a huge co-ordinated apparatus of Party members and fellow-traveling supporters. They were treating betrayal of principle, the use of military force, and the crushing of opinion as the modus operandi for the future. It was completely unforeseeable that a not-very-well-known English writer would alert the world by means of two short fables. Quite simply, George Orwell had found the form and the words to explode the pretensions of Communism. No English writer since Dickens or Kipling has had such influence on opinion.” (Highlighting Forum’s.)
And getting Animal Farm finally into print in 1945? Pryce-Jones explains–
“Animal Farm, his fable about the Soviet Union, then an ally, and that too now belongs to the national story. T. S. Eliot, not a pansy Leftist, was one among several publishers to turn it down because this was not ‘the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time.’ Put another way, even a conservative poet like Eliot preferred to suppress a masterpiece rather than criticize the Soviets. Other publishers rejected it for the same political reasons until Fredric Warburg came to the rescue.” (Highlighting Forum’s.)
Too many voices during this period apparently shared a contempt for parliamentary capitalism.
Historian John Lukacs writes in The Duel: The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler about June 1940 — just after the fall of France:
“Many people in the world saw in what had happened an evidence and a justification of their own ideas about the corrupt and inefficient, the hypocritical and antiquated nature of parliamentary government, of bourgeois democracy, of liberal capitalism – institutions and causes of which, after the collapse of France, Britain seemed to be the only remaining representative in Europe. This current surfaced across the globe. On the day of France’s capitulation Gandhi wrote in the Indian newspaper Harijan, on 22 June: ‘Germans of future generations will honour Herr Hitler as a genius, as a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more.’”(Highlighting Forum’s.)
Lukacs compiles a “list of European thinkers and artists who in 1940 welcomed what they saw as a cleansing wave of the present and future.” The list ranges from the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin to the writer Andre Gide.
Pryce-Jones continues –
“Thousands of English men and women had been on conducted tours of Republican Spain, returning home eager to pass their deception and self-deception on to others. While still in Spain recovering from his wound, Orwell had written to his publisher Victor Gollancz, ‘I hope I shall get a chance to write the truth about what I have seen. The stuff appearing in the English papers is largely the most appalling lies.’ The obstacles that he then encountered in telling the truth were to be enshrined in the British national story. Appeasement of Communism was a stronger influence on public opinion than the Chamberlain government’s appeasement of Nazism. The New Statesman, the voice of the intellectual Left, accepted Orwell’s suggestion for an article about events in Spain, only to reject his first-hand report of the criminal suppression of his anarchist colleagues. Kingsley Martin, the magazine editor responsible, was an archetypal Soviet apologist and fellow-traveler. Homage to Catalonia was Orwell’s longer account of his Spanish ordeal and his first political book. Gollancz, also a Soviet apologist and fellow-traveler, most certainly was not going to allow Orwell the chance to tell the truth. He refused to publish what has become a classic of reportage.” (Highlighting Forum’s.)
So how does Orwell’s experience relate to Diana West’s expose, American Betrayal?
West’s is a tale of Soviet influence, not just spying, in the United States during much the same period.
But to succeed, this influence had to be nourished by the credulity of America’s political and fashionable and artistic classes.
And, as West argues, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt set the national tone by his 1933 “normalization” of relations with the Soviet Union.
But, like the United Kingdom of the 1930s and 1940s, as Pryce-Jones relates–
“Replacing reality with illusion, rejecting cause and effect, Communism was an irrational mass movement the like of which had not been seen since the credulous Middle Ages.” (Highlighting Forum’s.)
Many if not most influential American voices then believed in some flavor of the progressive movement. A few, apparently from another perspective, such as Anne Morrow Lindbergh, argued in The Wave of the Future, that (in John Lukacs’ summary) “the old world of liberal individualism and parliamentary democracy was being replaced by something new.”
And today? In spite of the danger of president Barack Obama’s lawless governance, however, there are substantial numbers of outspoken Americans who believe in genuine constitutional government.
But in the 1930s and 1940s, we simply did not have the well-developed, widespread articulate conservative movement we know today, leaving America then all the more vulnerable to the Soviet deception.
Providentially, our society survived that threat of over a half-century ago.
But we must study these past perils in order effectively to combat grave current ones, always bearing in mind historian Stan Evans’ wry maxim–
“‘Evans Law of Inadequate Paranoia,’ which says no matter how bad you think something is, when you look into it, it’s always worse. And this — this has been totally vindicated. Every time I turn around, I find something else that makes me say, ‘I can’t believe it.’”