George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Orwell’s List

For decades George Orwell’s blue quarto notebook filled with the names of 135 “crypto-communists and fellow travelers” languished mostly unexamined in the George Orwell Archives in London, attracting only passing interest from the few scholars granted permission by Orwell’s estate to examine the material. In his 1980 biography of Orwell, Bernard Crick, for example, made only a brief allusion to the list, writing that Orwell worried about “communist infiltration . . . and kept a notebook of suspects.” Many of those listed, Crick said, “are plausible as possible underground or front members, but a few seem far-fetched and unlikely.” A decade later Orwell’s authorized biographer Michael Shelden speculated that Orwell was “engaged in a continuous exercise of determining who was sincere and who was not.” The notebook was “primarily to satisfy [Orwell’s] own curiosity,” Shelden wrote.

The notebook included 135 names of those whom Orwell suspected of having affiliations with the Communist Party or sympathies with the very idea of “communism.” Among them he mentioned poets such as Stephen Spender, whom he described as a “sentimental [communist] sympathizer,” “very unreliable,” and “easily influenced.” George Bernard Shaw was, he wrote, “no sort of tie-up, but reliably pro-Russian on all major issues.” The historian A. J. P. Taylor was “anti-American”; Isaac Deutcher was “a sympathizer”; Richard Crossman was a “political climber” and “too dishonest to be an outright f[ellow] t[raveler]”; J. B. Priestley was “a strong sympathizer,” “very anti-USA,” and “makes huge sums of money in the USSR.” The Scottish poet Hugh McDiarmid was “probably reliably pro-Russian” and “very anti-English.” C. Day Lewis was “not completely reliable” and the Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey, was “very stupid.”

Orwell’s notebook of “crypto-communists and fellow-travelers” inscribed “communism” in the form of various threats to the homogeneity of English culture. He observed, for example, that the historian Isaac Deutcher was a “Polish Jew”; that Ian Mikardo, a columnist at the Tribune, was “silly” and “Jewish”; that the writer Cedric Dover was “Eurasian”; that Paul Robeson was a “US Negro” and “very anti-white”; that the M. P. Konni Zilliacus was “Finnish” and “Jewish”; that the biologist J. D. Bernal was “Irish”; that Louis Adamic was “Jugo-Slav” and “very anti-British”; that Vera Dean was “Russian”; and that the French intellectual E. Mounier, author of La Pensée de Charles Péguy (1931) was “slimy.” Indeed, Orwell once wrote to his friend Dwight McDonald that he could “smell” a crypto-communist. Irish and Scottish writers, such as Sean O’Casey, Liam O’Flaherty, and Hugh McDiarmid, were recast and refashioned as communist threats. “I think we should pay more attention to the small but violent separatist movements which exist within our own island,” Orwell wrote in 1946. “They may look very unimportant now, but, after all, the Communist Manifesto was once an obscure document, and the Nazi party had only six
members when Hitler joined it.”

From the 135 names in the notebook, Orwell drew up a more limited list of thirty-five, which he sent to the Information Research Department (IRD) on May 2, 1949. “It isn’t very sensational and I don’t suppose it will tell your friends anything they don’t know,” he wrote the IRD. “At the same time it isn’t a bad idea to have the people who are probably unreliable listed.” This list—whose contents, it should be stressed, we can only infer from Orwell’s annotations in his notebook (the list in the IRD’s possession remains classified as a state secret by the British government) —included the historian E. H. Carr, the economist G. D. H. Cole, the Dean of Canterbury Hewlett-Johnson, the New Statesman’s Martin Kingsley, P. M. S. Blackett, W. P. and Zelda Coates, the journalist Walter Duranty, the pundit and M.P. Tom Driberg, the writer Cedric Dover, the Picture Post’s Tom Hopkinson, the M.P. Lester Hutchinson, the News-Chronicle’s Stefan Litauer, the Observer’s Iris Morley, John Macmurray (author of The Clue to History), the poet Nicholas Moore, the novelist Liam O’Flaherty, the News-Chronicle’s Ralph Parker, the M.P. D. N. Pritt, the Pan-African Federation’s George Padmore, Beaverbook Press’ Peter Smollet, the Navy commander Edgar P. Young, the writer Konni Zilliacus, as well as seven other individuals whose identities still remain a state secret. Of these seven figures whose identities are unknown, Orwell is even reported to have listed the name of his tax inspector.