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.

27 June 2003


The Gauche email inbox is being overwhelmed by protests from free-market libertarians who object to their brand being filched by supposed imposters. “Libertarian”, they say (I surmise), can only legitimately be appropriated as a tag by apostles of John Locke, Robert Nozick and other advocates of property-rights-and-law-and-order minimal-statism.

Well, tough: it’s staying on the subtitle of this weblog, with no apologies. Historically, “libertarian” has been used for more than 100 years by various sections of the left – mostly by anarchists but also by plenty of others of an anti-statist, anti-militarist, anti-capitalist, self-managementist bent – and there’s no reason we shouldn’t continue to use it.

In the UK, I’d class as libertarian leftists, as well as the anarchists, the William Morris socialists of the late-19th century; most of the syndicalists and guild socialists of the 1910s; much of the Independent Labour Party in the 1920s and 1930s; the most anti-Stalinist elements of the Tribune left of the 1940s and 1950s (Orwell and friends); the radical end of the New Left and the first wave of CND in the late 1950s and early 1960s; rather a lot of the extra-parliamentary left of the 1960s and 1970s, including the International Socialism group before it went Leninist, Solidarity (which drew on the ideas of Cornelius Castoriadis’s Socialisme ou Barbarie group in France), to a lesser extent Big Flame (which had close links with Lotta Continua and other far-left groups in Italy), and various short-lived magazines, notably Inside Story and The Leveller ; much of the “social movement” left since the 1960s (in the squatting movement, in the second wave of CND, in the environmental movement and a lot else besides); and a substantial minority of mainstream reformist social democrats in the same period and later who were increasingly drawn to decentralist, co-operative market socialism as the corporatism-plus-nationalisation model of social democracy lost all credibility. (Click here for the late Jim Higgins's history of the early International Socialists; here for a selection of Solidarity pamphlets; and here for Castoriadis and S ou B.)

By the mid-1980s, it was quite unexceptional to find Labour leftists who described themselves as “libertarian socialists”: although they probably wouldn’t want to be reminded of it today, both Peter Hain and David Blunkett (I kid you not) argued at length for what they called “libertarian socialism” in the pages of Tribune and elsewhere, and they were backed by the main faction of the Labour “soft left”, the Labour Co-ordinating Committee, which later collapsed into cheer-leading for the party leadership (its veterans now publish Renewal). Much of the 1980s non-Labour left – particularly those in and around Beyond the Fragments, the Socialist Society, the E P Thompson parts of the peace movement and Charter 88 – was on the same wavelength. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, New Statesman and Society (as it then was) explicitly identified itself as “libertarian” as it searched, on occasion quixotically, for a popular front of Labour leftists, direct-actionist anti-roads protesters and bohemian intellectuals.

Now, I’m quite prepared to accept that at least some of the people involved with it all were or are mountebanks. For some, “libertarianism” was or is little more than wishy-washy PC lifestyle liberalism; for others, merely a vague enthusiasm for decentralisation; for still others just a convenient label to distinguish themselves opportunistically from the Leninist sects and social democracy’s discredited technocrats. The moment libertarianism went mainstream on the British left was fleeting, illusory and long ago.

But I’m still an enthusiast for egalitarian self-managed market socialism; and I still want the state to leave us all alone as much as possible. My big difference with libertarians of the right is that my ideal minimal state concentrates not on maintenance of property rights and defence of the realm but on redistribution of incomes and wealth to provide basic needs to everyone as of right (citizen’s income and free healthcare, education and housing) so we can all get on with whatever we want. And OK, I know that’s utopian. But so what?

More to come on this.

26 June 2003


I'd clocked David Leigh's piece in the Guardian earlier in the month on Anthony Glees's book on the Stasi's activities in the UK (click here) - but I'm afraid the story, about East German spooks hanging around Chatham House and getting various establishment has-beens to be nice to them, left me cold. Not so cold, however, that I didn't pick up the book - The Stasi Files: East Germany's Secret Operations against Britain (Free Press, £20) - at which point I discovered that it includes rather a lot of material on the 1980s peace movement that is very interesting. The Stasi were obsessed with European Nuclear Disarmament, the anti-Soviet and anti-Nato current in the peace movement (for which I worked for three years as deputy editor of END Journal), and Glees has turned up some fascinating stuff. There's one big problem, though: his presentation of his Stasi archive findings is laughably sensationalist and poorly researched at the Brit peacenik end. But there's definitely more to come on this . . .

24 June 2003


The Guardian's scoop last weekend on George Orwell's list of fellow travellers (click here for the news story) was sexed up, to use the current jargon, but it is a scoop none the less.

Orwell's private, for-his-own-use, list of communist sympathisers was published in Peter Davison's edition of his collected works in the mid-1990s (updated for the paperback earlier this year). But no one until last Saturday had unearthed the list culled from this list - are you still following at the back? - that Orwell gave to Celia Kirwan (whom he fancied something rotten) when she started working for the Foreign Office Information Research Department, an anti-communist propaganda outfit, and asked him for help.

The Guardian's presentation of the story on its front page was cheap but clever - "Blair's babe: Did love for this woman turn Orwell into a government stooge?" asked the headline - and its subsequent coverage of the story in its news pages has taken the line that Orwell had a "hit-list" (click here). But the feature by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian Saturday review that actually told the story of the list was balanced and fair.

The list has not been put on the web, so here it is, scanned in: any mistakes that are not Orwell's are down to the technology.

And remember, it should have been titled: "I don't recommend you commission these people if you're looking for reliable anti-Stalinists working for your propaganda unit." It isn't a hit-list or anything like it: it's a list of writers and intellectuals Orwell thought were dodgy on the Soviet Union. Further posts will take this up.

Anderson, John
Industrial correspondent (Manchester Guardian) Probably sympathiser only. Good reporter. Stupid.

Aldred (Christian name?)
Novelist (Of Many Men etc.) Qy whether open CP member

Beavan, John Editor (Manchester Evening News) and other papers.Sentimental sympathiser only. Not subjectively pro-CP. May have changed views.

Blackett, Professor PMS Scientific populariser (physics)

Carr, Professor EH The Times. Aberystwith University. Books on Bakunin etc. Appeaser only.

Chaplin, Chas Films ?

Crowther, J Q Scientific populariser. Qy whether open CP member

Childe, Professor Gordon Scientific populariser (anthropology and history of science) ??

Calder-Marshall, Arthur Novelist and journalist. Previously close fellow traveller. Has changed, but not reliably. Insincere person.

Deutscher, I Journalist (Observer, Economist and other papers) Sympathiser only. Is Polish Jew. Previously Trotskyist, and changed views chiefly because of Jewish issue. Could change again.

Duranty, W (Anglo-US) Well-known foreign correspondent. Books on Russia etc.

Driberg, Tom MP for Malden, and columnist (Reynolds' News, previously Daily Express). Usually named as "crypto", but in my opinion NOT reliably pro-CP.

Dover, Cedric Writer (Half Caste etc.) and journalist. Trained as zoologist. Is Eurasian. Main emphasis anti-white (especially anti-USA), but reliably pro-Russian on all major issues. Very dishonest, venal person.

Goldring, D Writer (mainly novels) Disappointed careerist.

Hooper, Major (initials?) Military expert. Pamphlets, books on USSR.

Jacob, Alaric Foreign correspondent (D Express and other papers).

Kohn, Marjorie Teacher and journalist (New Statesman and other papers). Silly sympathiser.

Litauer, Stefan Foreign affairs expert, News Chron. Polish correspondent circa 1943-46
Obviously dishonest. Said to have been previously Pilsudski supporter.

Morley, Iris
Foreign correspondent (Observer and other papers). Very strong fellow-traveller. Qy whether open CP member.

Macmurray, Professor John SCM National Peace Council. Personalist movement. Many books. ?? No organisational connection, but very pro USSR subjectively. It is worth noticing that the French branch of the Personalist Movement is partly dominated by fellow travellers.

Martin, H Kingsley Ed New Statesman. ?? Too dishonest to be outright "crypto" or fellow-traveller, but reliably pro-Russian on all major issues.

Mackenzie, Norman Journalist (New Statesman). Qy whether open CP member.


Mitchison, N Novelist. Silly sympathiser. Sister of JBS Haldane.

Moore, Nicholas
Poet. ? Anarchist leanings.

McDiarmid, H (CM Grieve) Poet and critic. Scottish Nationalist Movement. Dissident Communist but reliably pro-Russian.

Mende, Tibor Foreign affairs expert. Books. Hungarian. Perhaps sympathiser only.

Neumann, R
Novelist. Edited German "International Authors" for Hutchinson's, for some years.

O'Donnell, Peader Critic. Qy whether open CP member.

Parker, Ralph Foreign correspondent (News Chronicle and and other papers)

Priestley, JB Novelist and broadcaster ??

Padmore, George League against Imperialism, and kindred activities. Many pamphlets.
Negro. Dissident Communist (expelled from about 1936) but reliably pro-Russian.

Redgrave, Michael
Actor ??

Smollett, Peter (real name Smolka?) Correspondent, D Express etc. Russian section of MOI during war. Said by CPers to be mere careerist, but gives strong impression of being some kind of Russian agent. Very slimy person.

Schiff, Leonard (the Rev) C of E parson (modernist). Knowledge of India. Pamphlets?

Werth, Alexander
Foreign correspondent (Manchester Guardian and other papers). ? May not be fellow-traveller but gives that impression.

Young, Commander EP (RN)
Naval expert. Pamphlets. Almost certainly "crypto"

Stewart, Margaret
Journalist (News Chronicle, Economist and other papers). Active in NUJ. About 5 years ago was underground member of CP. May just possibly have changed her views. Very able person.


My little spat with Stephen Marks over whether Christopher Hitchens should still be considered "of the left" has been taken up on the new improved Harry's Place weblog (click here for the new home page, here for the Hitchens discussion).

I've just read Hitchens's instant book on the war on Iraq, and I'm unconvinced by the argument that he's "passed over to the other side". The position he has consistently taken in his polemical writing and reportage on Iraq, and before on Afghanistan - that imperialism (in the shape of the US) is generally a lesser evil than fascism (in the shape of Osama bin Laden and Saddam), and that in extreme circumstances the only responsible and decent option is to support imperialism against fascism - has an honourable leftist precedent in the second world war.

Whether or not Hitchens would vote for Bush is neither here nor there - I voted for Tony Blair (as I imagine Marks did) and Blair, whom Hitchens hates, has taken the Bush line - and it doesn't really bother me whether the Hitch considers himself to be part of the left these days: he deserves serious consideration for his arguments not ritual denunciation. And OK, I admit he's sometimes his own worst enemy . . .

23 June 2003


Stephen Marks writes:

I have no wish to be taken as a defender of Andrew Murray, but I wonder if Paul Anderson has been reading the same article as me. I took Murray's reference to the attack on the antiwar movement as referring to a political attack. I don't think even the neo-Pravda style of Murray's leaden prose included the words "imperialist assault", and it did not occur to me, or I think any other reader of his piece, to interpret it as implying some sort of police-state repression of dissidents. So I fail to see the relevance of Anderson's observation that "opponents of war are sitting happily or unhappily at home, going about their everyday business unmolested, now and again having an argument in the pub".

I have a lot of respect for Nick Cohen. His sincerity and good faith are obvious as is his passionate identification with those at the bottom of the heap. But why should Anderson should refer to Christopher Hitchens as someone who is in any sense at all still on the left, however ecumenically defined? I have no wish to initiate a definitional witchunt or start expelling people from some mythical left fraternity. But to extend the term "left" to someone who on his own admission admires George Bush and intends to vote for him at the next election really is to empty the term of all meaning.

However many happy hazy memories Anderson and I may both have of boozy evenings with the Hitch (not to mention mornings and afternoons) the time has really come to apply to him the classic words of John Bunyan: "the trumpets sounded and he passed over to the other side".

I don¹t personally "engage on civilised terms with people who defend suicide bombings or defend theocratic regimes" but I may well go on demonstrations with them and unless Anderson can say he has never been on a demo with Stalinists or the SWP and never will again, so does he. The assumption that all those who support single-issue campaigns can be smeared with the politics of those they march with has been the stock-in-trade of the right as long as I can remember, back to CND and Anti-Apartheid.

And while I have no difficulty in engaging on civilised terms with "people who argue that al-Qaida Islamism is the new fascism and Saddam Hussein was such a tyrant that all right-thinking people should rally round the destruction of his regime", I do find it difficult to have a high regard for the political judgement of those who think that the most reactionary US administration in history is capable of advancing any progressive agenda whatsoever, or that applauding its arrogant assertion of its unbridled military power can do anything other than make the world a more dangerous and miserable place.

I will wager that the great majority of the 2 million who marched in February knew little and cared less about who was running the Stop the War Coalition. But they did know enough not to fall for the sophistry that if a democratic imperialist power goes to war with a third-world country ruled by a dictator, we should support the imperialist power in the name of democracy. On that basis we should have supported Anthony Eden at the time of Suez. And, as the mounting anger over the WMD fraud shows, they are far from changing their opinion since.

16 June 2003


Paul Anderson writes:

Sorry, but unlike Stephen Marks, I think there is something wrong with Andrew Murray's crazy piece (click here). It is patently untrue that there has been an imperialist assault on opponents of the war against Iraq in Britain. Opponents of war are sitting happily or unhappily at home, going about their everday business unmolested, now and again having an argument in the pub. It's not very exciting, but it's no worse than that. The idea that we have become victims of some gigantic plot is bonkers.

More important, there was and is a real argument to be had here - and Murray's claim that we should not be side-tracked by a conspiracy of diversionists is cretino-leftism of the worst kind. Being "anti-war" on Iraq is an honourable position, but the pro-war line taken by Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens and others was not so beyond-the-pale that they should not continue to be treated as comrades by the left. If it's OK to engage on civilised terms with people who defend suicide bombings of civilians or theocratic dictatorships - or who carry a torch for a regime that long ago killed millions in forced-labour camps, ethnic cleansing and political purges - it's fine to do the same with people who argue that al-Qaida Islamism is the new fascism and Saddam Hussein was such a tyrant that all right-thinking people should rally round the destruction of his regime.

Here it's interesting that, once the fighting kicked off, the anti-war protests collapsed. No doubt some onetime opponents of war decided that they had to support "our boys". Others simply decided there was no point in marching. But hunch tells me that a significant number of former protesters decided that, when push came to shove, the choice between American imperialism kicking Saddam's ass and his vicious regime surviving was what the Americans call a no-brainer. In other words, we didn't want it to come to this, but now it has, death to Saddam, long live democratic Iraq (or words to that effect) - which is not too unlike the line taken by Hitchens and Cohen.

Marks is right that the internal politics of the Stop the War Coalition meant little to the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated against the war. But I think he's wrong when he says that its domination by diehard revolutionary-defeatist Leninists was wholly irrelevant. They did put people off, as they always do. And they did to some extent define the politics of the peace movement, not least by ensuring that it extended a welcome to supporters of Saddam and reactionary Islamists.


Ian Williams, review of Orwell by Gordon Bowker (Little, Brown, £20) and Orwell: Life and Times by Scott Lucas (Haus Publishing, £8.99), Tribune, June 20 2003

At the Orwell Centenary conference at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, this May, I had a sort of epiphany. Scholars were analyzing Orwell’s deep pessimism, and I had to go to the rostrum to share a brainstorm: in fact Orwell was a hopeless optimist. In 1984, he thought that rulers would care enough about history to want to rewrite it! Does George W Bush know or care?

Soaked in 24-hour context-free cable TV driveling amnesia over them, a huge percentage of American voters are not only unaware that Iraqi WMDs have not been found, but think that they were actually used during the war. Even higher percentages still think Saddam was behind September 11. It is a truly Orwellian prospect, and his works gives us the intellectual tools to understand what is happening.

Nothing vindicates Orwell so much as his critics – except perhaps the usurpers who have posthumously enlisted his name in support of causes that he would have detested. He has become a literary Rorschach test, an intellectual ink blot onto which critics and followers alike project all their fears and hopes. The former Tribune columnist’s clearly stated political and moral positions have been chucked down the memory hole so that he can be rewritten as a free market conservative, or in the case of Christopher Hitchens, somehow as simultaneously a Trotskyist and a retrospective neo-neoconservative supporter of current American imperial ambitions. And conservatives and Gulag nostalgist alike united in denying Orwell’s socialism.

Ironically in view of recent New York Times scandals, its obituary for Orwell, as Gordon Bowker says, corrected misconceptions, “Although many reviewers read into Mr Orwell’s novel a wholesale condemnation of left wing politics, he considered himself a Marxist and a member of the non-Communist wing of the British Labor Party.” In fact, I doubt whether there was Jura branch of the Labour Party for him to join, but right up to his death, Orwell proclaimed his support for the anti-totalitarian democratic socialism which he saw the Labour government of 1945 trying to implement. Bowker shows the complexity of experience that led Orwell to that position.

In stark contrast, Scott Lucas’s biography is effectively a sustained polemic against its subject. Orwell wrote about totalitarian literary language, that it had “a curious mouthing sort of quality, as of someone who is choking with rage & and can never quite hit on the words he wanted,” and it is a prescient description of Lucas’s treatment, which sneers its way with epithets like “Orwell, the armchair general”, and in which “Orwell’s crusade against socialism” is proved by his observation that the Conservative Council in Liverpool was engaged in slum clearance. Tribune it seems hosted Orwell’s “muddled political conceptions,” in the "As I Please" columns.

Lucas is more measured in this book than his previous writings about Orwell, but his revulsion for his subject still oozes through in almost every chapter. He is an odd choice for the publisher, almost as if they had commissioned a biography of Shakespeare from someone who thought that the Earl of Oxford had actually written his plays. Orwell’s contempt for alleged left intellectuals seems amply justified when reading this bad tempered biography, which seeks to “rescue ourselves from ‘Orwell’”. It slinks in stark contrast Gordon Bowker’s rounded and informative work.

Lucas repeatedly accuses Orwell of “animosity towards the left”. But this is true only if you accept a peculiar definition of “left”, one that can love concentration camps, show trials, the Hitler-Stalin pact and stay silent while Spanish socialists and British Independent Labour Party members are pursued, imprisoned and executed by KGB agents.

Lucas epitomizes the inchoate rage of the Leninist left’s hatred for Orwell. Khrushchev may have confirmed all that Orwell was writing about the Soviet system, but since few of them have the courage to get up and confess their continuing nostalgia for the system that equated socialism with Gulags plus electrification, they attack him tangentially for not being a 1970’s feminist, for not being working class, and for “collaboration”, with a government that he and the majority of British voters supported. Interestingly, many of their charges could be levied at their own icons. Neither Marx, nor Lenin, nor even Trotsky were paragons of political correctness. But, any truncheon in a rage, and Orwell is fair game.

Lucas in fact shows his bilious bias on his first page announcing his discovery that “Orwell had been cooperating with Big Brother even as he was denouncing him.” He is referring to the list Orwell provided to his friend Celia Kirwan of three dozen people he thought should not be employed by the British Labour government to promote its message worldwide in the face of Stalin’s repression.

If his denunciations were to have weight, Nye Bevan, Clement Attlee and other members of the Labour cabinet would have to be a composite Big Brother, brooking no opposition. The people Orwell listed, rather than being denied occasional copywriting employment by that socialist government, would have been dragged out of their beds at dawn, hauled off to the dungeons, tortured, imprisoned and shot, as was happening to Socialists in the Soviet bloc of the time.

While Orwell was indeed providing what one might call “negative references” for people he thought were over-slavish supporters of Stalin, even Lucas agrees that he opposed prohibiting the Communist Party and the Daily Worker. We are left to wonder why so-called Left wingers would want to work for an “imperialist,” and “anti-Soviet” government: were they prepared to sell their principles, or did their principles include betraying their elected prospective employer?

The difference in approach between Lucas and Bowker is apparent in the accounts of what happened in Spain. Bowker documents the British communists, working for the ComIntern, who infiltrated the ILP offices in Barcelona and provided the information that led to the imprisonment, and in some cases death at the hands of the KGB. For Lucas, this was the “government, supported by the Communist Party” trying to suppress the POUM and the anarchists.

Much more honest, Bowker gives the flavour of the repression in Barcelona as the Stalin’s agents homed on ideological opponents with far more fervour than they displayed against the fascists. Lucas essentially glides over this immensely important episode in the development of Orwell’s thought. If the unrelenting tenor of his attack on Orwell was to be maintained, to do otherwise would, would mean explicit defence of the indefensible, rather than the implicit defence represented throughout his book.

Lucas “proves” that Victor Gollancz, the publisher of the Left Book Club, was innocent of “any affinity for Soviet Communism” because in 1941, during the Hitler-Stalin pact he published one volume The Betrayal of the Left. It is a laughable comment when one sees the monthly flood of Soviet-adulators that followed, and the incontrovertible fact that Gollancz abrogated his contractual rights to both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, Bowker gives us a much more nuanced and detailed view of Orwell’s relations with his publishers. An interesting contrast is that, almost as an afterthought, Lucas adds in parentheses about the Ministry of Information official who recommended to publishers that they refuse Animal Farm : “It has since been alleged that the official, Peter Smollet, was a Soviet agent.”

Bowker and others record the proof that Smollet was a Soviet plant, but for Lucas to admit this would dent several of his misconceptions: that Orwell really had it easy and was part of the establishment, and that his worries about pro-Soviet leanings among British intellectuals were simple cold war paranoia. In the end, Lucas proves that Orwell’s distrust for so-called left so-called intellectuals was, and still is, well founded.

In contrast, Bowker’s work shows Orwell, warts and all, but the warts are real, not the fevered product of a political line. The oddly corroborative details, such as Orwell’s necromantic plot with Steven Runciman to kill a bully at Eton add artistic verisimilitude to an already bold and convincing narrative which puts in perspective a figure whose work is amazingly fresh and relevant.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Goldstein’s heretical text read: “In the general hardening of outlook that set in round about 1930, practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years - imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages, and deportation of whole populations - not only became common again, but tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.”

Orwell wrote this in the aftermath of Spain, Manchuria and world war two, and while Stalin continued to use the techniques he had perfected at home to seize control of Eastern Europe. The horrifying thing about the turn of the millennium is that there are still apologists for all these practices and more.

These totalitarians span the whole traditional political spectrum. On the establishment side, there has been toleration for death squads in Central and Latin America; on the left, apologetics for ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and users of poison gas in Iraq. More currently, the case of the shifting excuses for the war on Iraq, the manipulation of facts to mould public opinion, the 24-hour hate of the cable networks, all combine to ensure the continuing relevance of Orwell and his fight for a genuine, human and democratic socialism that is, to use a word unashamedly that Lucas sneers at, “decent”.

Paul Anderson, review of Orwell: The Life by D J Taylor (Chatto and Windus, £20), Tribune, June 20 2003

There is no doubt that George Orwell is an excellent subject for a biographer. He wrote two of the most influential novels of the 20th century, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four; he was an exceptionally talented polemicist, reporter and cultural critic; and he packed an extraordinary amount into his short life. He was, moreover, a notably complex human being: the old Etonian colonial policeman Eric Blair who turned his back on his class, changed his name and became a revolutionary socialist bohemian; the prewar quasi-pacifist who transformed himself into a wartime propagandist; the civil libertarian who turned over a list of Stalinist fellow-travellers to the spooks. Partly because of this complexity, he has remained a controversial figure to this day. No writer of the 20th century has attracted more fulsome praise or more excoriating denunciation.

D J Taylor is one of Britain's best highbrow book-reviewers, an accomplished biographer (his Thackeray, published in 1999, deservedly won plaudits) and a novelist of distinction. He has also been an Orwell obsessive since his teens, and he shares many of Orwell's literary enthusiasms (Swift, Dickens, Gissing).

Who could be better placed to write a life of Orwell? Well, if it hadn't been done before, hardly anyone - and if it hadn't been done before, Orwell: The Life would be hailed universally as the nearest thing to definitive you can get. Taylor has immersed himself in Orwell's writing and has trawled the archives. He has interviewed dozens of people who knew Orwell. He knows the secondary literature backwards. Orwell: The Life is an impressive piece of scholarship, well written and fair. It is generally sympathetic to Orwell but acknowledges his faults and even sets out the case against him.

The problem is that it has been done before. There were dozens of takes on Orwell's life between his death and the late 1970s, some good and some dire, but none of them done with the benefit of access to Orwell's own papers. In 1972, however, Orwell's widow Sonia gave Bernard Crick unrestricted access to the papers, and in 1980 Crick's magisterial George Orwell: A Life was published.

Now, there's a case for arguing that Crick's biography doesn't successfully capture Orwell's inner life (though you could equally well say that Crick resisted the temptation of engaging in the sort of amateur psychological speculation that has marred subsequent biographies). There have also been some important Orwell-related documents that have emerged since Crick first published - notably a version of his notorious list of fellow-travellers, but also material from the Soviet archives (turned up by Gordon Bowker for his new biography) that shows just how close Orwell came to being liquidated by the Stalinists in Spain. Several very good short books have been written contesting various aspects of Crick's take on Orwell, the best of them John Newsinger's Orwell's Politics.

But on most of the big things, Crick has not been found wanting - and, good as Taylor's Orwell is, too much of it retells a familiar tale. There is some interesting new material on Orwell's early life, but otherwise the freshest bits of Taylor's book are the short essays on various aspects of Orwell - his voice, his attitudes to the Jews, his paranoia - that he scatters through the main narrative. So much hard work and craft have gone into this book that it almost seems churlish to suggest that Taylor should have dropped the traditional biography and produced a collection of essays. But it is what I think.


Stephen Marks writes:

Granted that Andrew Murray is a raving Stalinist, and granted that his piece (click here) is stylistically an extruded length of agitprop cliche, as far as the content goes just what is so loony about it? Like any successful campaign on the left the anti-war campaign has been the object of an open season by the right-wing press. Murray is advising its supporters to keep calm, and reject destructive infighting on the one hand and delusions of grandeur on the other. Sounds good sense to me.

True, he describes the instinctive behaviour of the Tory press as if it was a conscious conspiracy, but this is a universal bad habit on the left and relatively innocent. It is also not as far removed from reality as some other bits of left mythology. But his main problem is that like Nick Cohen, Mark Thomas and the SWP, he shares the delusion that the internal politics of the STWC is particularly important.

Most of the 2 million who marched in February neither knew or cared about the factional makeup of the STWC leadership - it was a convenient facilitator for a massive popular outburst of opposition to the war.

The one relevant political position the SWP and CPB shared was the 'unprincipled' [from a left-sectarian] view that the campaign should be broad, minimalist and non-exclusionary. As long as its leadership clung to that view, their other politics was and is irrelevant - unlike ANSWER in the USA whose sectarian instigators - the Marceyites of the Workers World Party - used their position to advance their particular party line. In that situation to point out how far removed the Marceyites neo-Stalinoid politics are from that of the majority of anti-war opinion is not witchunting but legitimate and relevant politics.

Rather like the legal principle that your previous convictions cannot be mentioned in court, unless you are unwise enough to plead your alleged good character in your defence - when it becomes legitimate for the prosecution to reveal your previous form to the jury.

15 June 2003


Paul Anderson writes:

I'm grateful to the excellent weblog Harry's Place (click here) for alerting the world to Stop the War Coalition chair Andrew Murray's extraordinarily crazy piece (click here) in the Morning Star on the dangers posed to the peace movement by by splitters and Trotskyite fascists.


Paul Anderson, Tribune column June 13 2003

I'M not sure exactly why, but I felt deflated this week after Gordon Brown's announcement that we shan't be joining the euro for a while.

It was hardly that I was expecting anything else. True, I'd felt a little twinge of hope when Will Hutton reported in the Observer a few weeks back that Tony Blair was so fed up with the Chancellor's obstructionism on the euro that he'd decided to shunt him off into the Foreign Office. And even as late as Monday morning, I found myself imagining Gordon stunning the world by declaring that there was a persuasive case for British euro membership now.

But these were idle thoughts. All the evidence suggested Hutton's story was just too good to be true - and that there was a close-to-zero chance of Brown springing a surprise and giving the euro the green light. I had only modest hopes of New Labour in government even in 1997. After six years of disappointment, I reckon I've learnt that wishful thinking gets you nowhere.

So why did Brown's performance on Monday get me down? The more I mull it over, the more I realise that it's because I simply can't stand the thought of another two years - or three years, or five, or whatever - of British politics being dominated by the grind of inconclusive arguments about the euro.

It's not that I don't have my own view about it. I think Britain should join as soon as possible and put its weight behind proposals to tone down the anti-inflationary zeal of the growth and stability pact and to give the eurozone the capacity to run a redistributive fiscal policy. Britain's best hope, I believe, is to become part of a social democratic federal Europe. And we won't do that outside the euro.

The point is that I've thought this for years - and just about every other protagonist in the argument, whatever their views, is in the same boat. For all the pervasive grumbling from the sceptics that Britain has not had a proper national debate about our relationship with Europe since the 1975 referendum, the truth is that our relationship with Europe has been minutely dissected as no other political issue has been in recent times. All the positions are so well rehearsed that the argument has become stale and utterly tedious. It should be decision time.

The reason it isn't has precious little to do with the mounds of documentation produced by the Treasury on Brown's "five tests". There are of course real arguments to be had about the technical economics of joining the euro, in particular over the exchange rate at which we join; and it should go without saying that it would be mad to join if the British and eurozone economies were completely out-of-kilter.

But the Treasury documents show no such thing. Their most serious claim is that there would be a danger of inflation if Britain adopted eurozone interest rates, which is true - but we're not talking serious inflation, and in any case fiscal measures, otherwise known as increased taxes, could effectively counter the danger (as the Treasury report acknowledges).

No, the real reason that Brown put off the decision yet again is purely political. To put it bluntly, the Government is scared shitless that it will lose the promised referendum on euro entry. Which is not to say that the Government shouldn't be worried. If Britain voted no in a euro referendum, as all the polls suggest it would, Labour's credibility would be shattered, and the only beneficiaries - and I mean the only beneficiaries - would be the Tories.

Labour's mistake was offering a referendum in the first place, way back in 1996 when it was in opposition. At the time, it was greeted by nearly every commentator as a clever political gambit that not only neutralised Labour's own divisions on the euro but also had genuine cross-party popular appeal. But even then it should have been obvious that a referendum campaign would have to be fought against the rabidly anti-European Right-wing press as well as the Tories - and winning would not be easy.

Had Blair and Brown gone for a euro referendum immediately after the 1997 general election, they might just have prevailed - but instead they lost their bottle and effectively ruled out the referendum for the duration of Labour's first term. Since that defining moment, the referendum has become an increasingly daunting prospect. Monday showed that it has now rendered the Government incapable of acting decisively just as decisive action has become urgent.

Some on the Tribune Left will no doubt find some satisfaction in New Labour being hoist with one of its own petards, but I can't join them. In 1997, Blair was handed the best chance anyone has ever had of making Britain a full member of the European club. That he has blown it is his greatest political failure.


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, May 20 2003

In marked contrast to the hoo-hah in the press over Cambridge Spies, the BBC's big-budget television dramatisation of the already familiar tale of Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, the genuinely newsworthy revelation in a new book of the identity of the Soviet agent who spied on George Orwell and other members of the Independent Labour Party contingent in Spain during the civil war in the 1930s has so far gone unremarked everywhere but the Guardian.

The story appears in a splendid new biography of Orwell by Gordon Bowker, and is the result of an extraordinary piece of historical detective work - aided by just a little bit of luck.

Back in the early 1980s, Bowker went to China to write for the Observer about the filming of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, and during his trip met several Western communists who had gone to live in China as admirers of Mao Zedong's revolution. One of them was an Englishman in his seventies, David Crook, who had arrived with his Canadian wife Isabel in the late 1940s. The Crooks had written several books on the impact of the revolution on a remote village and were now working as teachers in a Beijing university. Crook's enthusiasm for the regime was undimmed even though he had spent seven years in prison during the Cultural Revolution. He told Bowker that he had fought for the Republicans in Spain in the 1930s and had gone to China after reading Edgar Snow's sympathetic account of Mao, Red Star Over China.

Bowker wrote up Crook's story for the Listener and thought no more about it. But many years later, after publishing acclaimed biographies of the authors Malcolm Lowry and Lawrence Durrell, he started researching his book on Orwell. And in the Orwell archive in London, he came across a mention of a David Crook in a letter to Eileen Blair, Orwell's first wife, who had followed him to Spain and worked there in the office of the British Independent Labour Party in Barcelona.

Could this be the same David Crook? Bowker managed to find one of Crook's sons in London - who, to Bowker's amazement, told him that his father had spied on Orwell for the Communist International. Crook was by now very ill after suffering a stroke in Beijing - he died in 2000 at the age of 90 - but, said the son, had talked at length to a researcher in the United States and had admitted his role in Spain.

With this lead, Bowker tracked down the researcher, then scoured the archives - and turned up crucial Soviet intelligence files (in International Brigades collections in New York and London, of all places) that show conclusively that the David Crook he met in China had indeed become a Comintern agent in Spain in early 1937 after fighting in one of the International Brigades, which he had joined on the recommendation of Harry Pollitt, general secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. They also show that, as part of the Stalinist campaign to liquidate Trotskyists and all other serious rivals on the revolutionary Left, he infiltrated the ILP contingent in Barcelona that was allied to the far-left (but non-Stalinist) POUM. As readers of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia will know, the POUM and its anarchist allies, hitherto the dominant force in the Catalan capital, were brutally suppressed in a Stalinist coup in May 1937.

Bowker says that Crook passed on everything he could find out about the ILPers - including Orwell - to his secret-police controllers, and that none of the ILPers seems to have suspected him. He was certainly one of the sources (along with at least one other British communist) for the indictment for treason issued by a Stalinist-controlled tribunal against Orwell and his wife just after they fled Spain in June 1937. It described both of them, wrongly, as "rabid Trotskyites", and was intended to be their death warrant.

Beyond this, Crook's precise role is murky. It is possible that he had sufficient scruples to help Orwell and others escape arrest in a raid by the Stalinist-controlled Spanish secret police, but it also likely that he played a small role in the notorious murder of Andres Nin, the POUM leader, and various other Stalinist crimes in Spain. Whatever, he remained a Comintern agent for at least another three years, ending up in China, before returning to Britain and joining the RAF. During the second world war, Bowker says, he served in RAF intelligence in Asia and the Far East.

It's a fascinating story - and one that breaks new ground. Bowker has put together the most compelling evidence so far published of direct involvement by British communists in one of Stalin's dirtiest crimes against socialism.

George Orwell by Gordon Bowker is published by Little Brown at £20.