21 July 2006


My thanks to Ken Weller for alerting me to this, a nasty little piece by Galloway in Alexander Cockburn’s cretino-leftist Counterpunch to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Spanish civil war. It purports to be an appreciation of John Cornford, the communist poet who died while fighting for the International Brigade in Spain at the age of 21 – but it is laced with venom.

“But for a bullet in the brain on the Ebro,” he declares, “Rupert John Cornford might have loomed as large as George Orwell in the British left-wing lexicon.” Fair enough. I’m not a great fan of Cornford as a poet, but he’s undoubtedly worth reading (and Orwell thought so too). But then Galloway goes on:
Orwell would probably have informed on him to his bosses in British Intelligence. For Cornford was a Communist.
And he continues, a propos the volunteers for the International Brigades:
their memory has been sullied by Orwell's slanders, unfortunately reinforced by Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom.
This is disgusting Stalinist drivel. Orwell did not have “bosses in British Intelligence”, and he did not inform on anyone: the famous list he handed over in the late 1940s to his friend Celia Kirwan, then working for a Foreign Office propaganda operation set up by a democratic socialist Labour government, was of people he considered should not be approached to write for it because of their pro-Soviet sympathies. Big deal.

And Orwell did nothing to sully the memory of the International Brigade volunteers. He did expose the vile role of the Stalinists in suppressing the Spanish revolution in 1937 – and his disgust at the failure of the British left to recognise what they did remained with him throughout his life. But that is not the same thing. There is not a word against the International Brigades volunteers anywhere in his work. Indeed, he became friendly with at least two veterans of the brigades, Hugh Slater and Tom Wintringham – both of whom parted company with the Communist Party soon after their experience in Spain and played key roles in the Home Guard in 1940-41 when the CP was defending the Hitler-Stalin pact. In the leftist jargon of the time, which of course Orwell hated and would never have used, his attitude to the International Brigades was that they were lions led by jackals. Which is a bit like the ordinary members of the Respect coalition.

No comments: