by Richard Norton-Taylor and Seumas Milne
The Guardian, 11 July 1996
George Orwell, the socialist author, offered to provide a secret Foreign Office propaganda unit linked to the intelligence services with names of writers and journalists he regarded as "crypto-communist" and "fellow-travellers" who could not be trusted, documents released yesterday at the Public Record Office reveal.
He made the offer in 1949, shortly before he died, to the covert Information Research Department, which used well- known writers and publishers - including Bertrand Russell, Stephen Spender and Arthur Koestler - to produce anti- communist material during the cold war. Documents also show that the IRD singled out articles from Tribune, the leftwing but then anti-Soviet paper, to back up its hidden crusade.
In March 1949 an IRD official, Celia Kirwan, visited Orwell at a sanatorium in Cranham, Gloucestershire, where he was suffering from tuberculosis. "I discussed some aspects of our work with him in great confidence," she told her colleagues. "He was delighted to learn of them, and expressed his wholehearted and enthusiastic approval of our aims."
Although too ill to write himself, he gave the names of potential contributors. Early the following month, Orwell wrote to Kirwan offering to give her "a list of journalists and writers who in my opinion are crypto-communists, fellow-travellers or inclined that way and should not be trusted... "
He said his notebook with the names was at his home in London. He insisted that the list was "strictly confidential" since it would be libellous to call somebody a "fellow-traveller."
The revelation is likely to shock many of Orwell's admirers, for whom he is a 20th century radical icon. The files released yesterday do not contain the list of names but a card placed next to Orwell's letter to Kirwan says that a document has been withheld by the Foreign Office.
Bernard Crick, Orwell's biographer, confirmed yesterday that Orwell had kept a "notebook of suspects" containing 86 names. "Many were plausible, a few were far-fetched and unlikely," he said. Michael Foot, a friend of Orwell's in the 1930s and 1940s, said he found the letter "amazing".
"There's been a lot of argument about him deserting his socialism at the end of his life. I don't think that's true, but I'm very surprised he was dealing with the secret services in any form."
The papers show that the IRD promoted the foreign language publication of Animal Farm, Orwell's classic anti-communist allegory. "The idea is particularly good for Arabic in view of the fact that both pigs and dogs are unclean animals to Muslims," noted an embassy official in Cairo.
The unit feared communism in Saudi Arabia, notably among oil workers in Dhahran, the scene of last month's bombing of an American base.
The IRD arranged the distribution of Tribune to British missions abroad. Officials noted: "[It] combines the resolute exposure of communism and its methods with the consistent championship of those objectives which leftwing sympathisers normally support".
They added: "Many articles in it can be effectively turned to this department's purposes."
Documents show that the IRD was closely involved with the Trades Union Congress, lobbied against unions supporting the National Council for Civil Liberties, and played an active role in splitting the international union movement in the late 1940s.
A note from a senior IRD official in 1949 warned that the NCCL (now renamed Liberty) was "heavily communist-penetrated and is in fact... being used for little if nothing more than attacking our colonial administration and policies at every opportunity".
The "persuasion" was done through the TUC, where IRD's main contact was Vic Feather, who later became general secretary.
This is the text of George Orwell's letter to Celia Kirwan of Whitehall's secret Information Research Department:
I DID suggest DARCY GILLY, (Manchester Guardian) didn't I? There is also a man called CHOLLERTON (expert on the Moscow trials) who cld be contacted through the Observer.
I haven't written earlier because I have really been rather poorly, and I can't use the typewriter even now, so I hope you will be able to cope with my handwriting.
I couldn't think of any more names to add to your possible list of writers except FRANZ BORKENAU (the Observer would know his address) whose name I think I gave you, and GLEB STRUVE (he's at Pasadena in California at present), the Russian translator and critic. Of course there are hordes of Americans, whose names can be found in the (New York) New Leader, the Jewish monthly paper "Commentary", and the Partisan Review. 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 or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists. But for that I shall have to send for a notebook which I have at home, and if I do give you such a list it is strictly confidential ...
Just one idea occurred to me for propaganda not abroad but in this country. A friend of mine in Stockholm tells me that as the Swedes didn't make films of their own one sees a lot of German and Russian films, and some of the Russian films, which of course would not normally reach this country, are unbelievably scurrilous anti-British propaganda. He referred especially to a historical film about the Crimean war. As the Swedes can get hold of these films I suppose we can; might it not be a good idea to have showings of some of them in this country ...
I read the enclosed article with interest, but it seems to me anti-religious rather than anti-semitic. For what my opinion is worth, I don't think anti-anti-semitism is a strong card to play in anti-Russian propaganda. The USSR must in practice be somewhat anti-semitic, as it is opposed both to Zionism within its own borders and on the other hand to the liberalism and internationalism of the non-Zionist Jews, but a polyglot state of that kind can never be officially anti-semitic, in the Nazi manner, just as the British Empire cannot. If you try to tie up Communism with anti-semitism, it is always possible in reply to point to people like Kaganovich or Anna Pauleer, also to the large number of Jews in the Communist parties everywhere. I also think it is bad policy to try to curry favour with your enemies. The Zionists Jews everywhere hate us and regard Britain as the enemy, more even than Germany. Of course this is based on misunderstanding, but as long as it is so I do not think we do ourselves any good by denouncing anti-semitism in other nations.
I am sorry I can't write a better letter, but I really have felt so lousy the last few days. Perhaps a bit later I'll get some ideas.
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