28 June 2003


The Guardian has followed up its publication of George Orwell’s list of writers he couldn’t recommend as anti-communists last week with a mixed bag of material. I’ve already mentioned the “hit-list” news story (click here); this weekend it has been augmented by an email exchange between D J Taylor and Scott Lucas, both of whom have recently published books on Orwell (for which click here; see below for Tribune reviews); a piece by Corin Redgrave, son of Michael, the actor who figures in the list (click here); and some letters (click here), two from relatives of Douglas Goldring and one identifying the "Aldred (Christian name?)" on the list.

The Taylor-Lucas exchange is hilarious: Taylor obviously thinks (with good reason) that Lucas is a moron, but is too polite to say so. But the Redgrave piece is mendacious. Comrade Corin - a leading member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party when it (lest we forget) received large-scale subventions from Muammar al-Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein during the 1980s and was not averse to tipping off the Iraqi secret police about dissidents - has a go at Orwell on the grounds that his dear old dad was victimised as a fellow-traveller.

To cut a dull story short, he says that although his father was a decent cove, who only cared about the conditions of the workers and did nothing more subversive than support the January 1941 People’s Convention demanding a people's government and decent pay for all, he was politely refused work by the BBC for a few months.

What Redgrave doesn't mention is that the convention was a Communist Party front designed to encourage not just anti-war but defeatist feeling – the furthest the CP dared go with its Nazi appeasement policy in the period when Stalin and Hitler were allies - at a time when Britain stood alone against the Nazis.

As Harry Pollitt, general secretary of the CP, put it in his speech to the convention, it represented "the gathering of those in deadly seriousness . . . who want to see the victory of the people of this country over its real enemies in the Churchill government and the policy it is pursuing at the present moment". It's my emphasis, but the quotation is taken verbatim from the report of the convention's proceedings, which I have in front of me as I write. Pollitt is clearly saying that Churchill and his Labour supporters are a greater enemy than Nazi Germany, and that Britain should sue for peace with Hitler. The rest of the speeches make the same point: that the real problem is not Nazi Germany but the British ruling class and British imperialism, and that the only friend of the workers is Stalin's Soviet Union (which at the time was inconveniently supplying Hitler with the means of waging war). Krishna Menon, the Indian nationalist leader, sums up the attitude perfectly: "There is no use in asking whether you would choose British imperialism or Nazism, it is like asking a fish if he wants to be fried in margarine or butter. He doesn't want to be fried at all!"

Redgrave junior has it that, although the event was “organised by the Communist Party at a time when the pact between Hitler and Stalin was still in place”, it merely “addressed a very widespread suspicion of the government’s intentions” and “resentment at the lack of provision that had been made for the protection of people in the Blitz”.

Bullshit. Anyone who signed up for the People’s Convention in 1941 was either a CPer or one of the CP's useful idiots. It is not McCarthyism to suggest that signatories to that particularly brazen pro-Soviet initiative should not have been encouraged to write anti-communist pro-social democracy pamphlets for the Foreign Office of a Labour government.

Orwell was right.

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