question #2: intellectuals on gov't payroll? orwell?

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sat Apr 8 12:39:45 PDT 2000

[Here's the Orwell passage from Frances Stonor Saunders' The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the Wolrd of Arts and Letters. She should be on my radio show next Thursday if BT fixes her phone in time.]

Alsop had Joined Wisner's OPC at the same time as Finis Farr, a writer with Hollywood connections who had worked with John O'Hara. Recruited to the Psychological Warfare Workshop, Alsop and Farr were run by Howard Hunt, a former OSS-er whose taste for black propaganda (he later said he 'thought black') earned him a job running CIA training courses in political and psychological warfare.

Shortly after George Orwell's death in 1950, Howard Hunt had despatched Alsop and Farr to England to meet the author's widow, Sonia. They were not there to console her, but to invite her to sign over the film rights to Animal Farm. This she duly did, having first secured their promise that they would arrange for her to meet her hero Clark Gable. 'From this [visit]; wrote Howard Hunt, 'was to come the animated cartoon film of Orwell's Animal Farm, which the CIA financed and distributed throughout the world.'

The rights having been acquired, Hunt set about securing a producer who could front for the CIA. He settled on Louis de Rochemont, who had employed Hunt when he made The March of Time, a series of monthly documentaries of which Time Inc. was the parent corporation. 53

In liaison with Hunt, and using CIA funds injected by Alsop and Farr, de Rochemont began production of Animal Farm on 15 November 1951. Chosen to make the most ambitious animation film of its time (eighty cartoonists, 750 scenes, 300,000 drawings in colour) was the British firm of Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films Ltd. Hungarian-born John Halas had come to England in 1936, and worked on Music Man, the first English cartoon in Technicolour. Teaming up with his wife, joy Batchelor, he produced over a hundred government films for the British Central Office of Information, many of which helped publicize the Marshall Plan and NATO.

Animal Farm publisher Fredric Warburg took a keen interest in the Hatas production, and kept his friends in the Congress for Cultural Freedom briefed on its progress. He visited the studio several times in 1952-3 to view sequences, and to add his suggestions for script changes (perhaps it was Warburg who suggested that the old Major, the prophet of the Revolution, should be given the voice and appearance of Winston Churchill?) At the same time, he was overseeing a new edition of Animal Farm, to be published by Secker and Warburg with stills from the Halas and Batchelor production.

The screenplay was also scrutinized by the Psychological Strategy Board. According to a memo of 23 January 1952, its officers were yet to be convinced by the script, finding its 'theme somewhat confusing and the impact of the story as expressed in cartoon sequence . . . somewhat nebulous. Although the symbolism is apparently plain, there is no great clarity of message.' Curiously, the critique of America's intelligence bureaucrats echoed the earlier concerns of T. S. Eliot and William Empson, both of whom had written to Orwell in 1944 to point out faults or inconsistencies in the central parable of Animal Farm.

The script problems were resolved by changing the ending. In the original text, Communist pigs and Capitalist man are indistinguishable, merging into a common pool of rottenness. In the film, such congruity was carefully elided (Pilkington and Frederick, central characters whom Orwell designated as the British and German governing classes, are barely noticeable) and, in the ending, simply eliminated. In the book, 'The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.' Viewers of the film, however, saw an altogether different denouement, where it is the sight of the pigs which impels the other watching animals to mount a successful counter-revolution by storming the farmhouse. By removing the human farmers from the scene, to leave only the pigs revelling in the fruits of exploitation, the conflation of Communist corruption with capitalist decadence was reversed.

Even greater liberties were proposed when the CIA turned to Orwell's later work, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell died before making over the film rights, but by 1954 they ended up in the hands of producer Peter Rathvon. Rathvon, a good friend of John Ford's, had been president of RKO until he was ousted by Howard Hughes in 1949. That year, he formed the Motion Picture Capital Corporation, which was engaged in motion picture production and financing. The corporation - and Rathvon himself - enjoyed a close relationship with the US government, financing films for the Motion Picture Service. According to Lawrence de Neufville, Howard Hunt solicited Rathvon's collaboration in the film version of Orwell's classic. Through Rathvon's corporation, government money was made available to start production on the film, 55 which appeared in 1956, starring Edmond O'Brien, Jan Sterling and Michael Redgrave.

Orwell's nightmare vision of the future in Nineteen EightyFour appealed to cultural strategists on a number of levels. CIA and Psychological Strategy Board officers (for whom the book was required reading) seized on its examination of the dangers of totalitarianism, ignoring the fact that Orwell was inveighing against the abuses that all controlling states, whether of the right or left, exercise over their citizens. Although its targets were complex, the overall message of the book was clear: it was a protest against all lies, against all tricks played by governments. But American propagandists were quick to designate it in terms of a specifically anti-Communist tract, leading one critic to argue that 'Whatever Orwell believed he was doing, he contributed to the Cold War one of its most potent myths ... In the 1950s it was marvellous NATO Newspeak.' On another level, Nineteen Eigbty-Four was a book packed with distrust of mass culture and the dangers of universal slavery through bland ignorance (Winston's reaction to the popular song being trilled by the prole woman hanging out her washing perfectly encapsulates this fear of the 'mass-cult' and its easy soporific dullness). Again, its political target was less specific than universal: the abuse of language and logic - what Peter Vansittart called 'the squalid menace of Political Correctness' - was imputed to Us as well as Them. In the film version, this distinction was obscured.

The manipulation of Orwell's parable to suit the prejudices and assumptions of the film's makers was, of course, entirely consistent with the parti pris of the cultural Cold War. Helping to provide a structure for this partisan interpretation was none other than Sol Stein, Executive Director of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, whom Rathvon consulted on several occasions for his advice on the screenplay. Stein had plenty to give. First, the script 'should have a great deal of relevance to the specifics of present day totalitarianism. For instance, the "Big Brother" posters ought to have the photograph of an actual human being, not a cartoonlike caricature of Stalin. In other words, the probability of Big Brother's real existence should not be diminished by linking him to the now dead Stalin.' Nothing in the film should be caricature, Stein went on, 'but merely an extension of something we can directly witness today'. For instance, where 'members of the Anti-Sex League are supposed to wear sashes across their chests,' Stein worried that 'such sashes don't correspond to anything in totalitarian life as we know it but rather to the sashes worn by diplomats on ceremonial occasions.' Stein therefore suggested that they wear armbands instead. Similarly, where Orwell had introduced trumpets in the novel, Stein wanted them 'eliminated' because for Americans, trumpets were 'associated with pageantry'.

But it was the ending which most exercised Stein, who told Rathvon: 'The problem with the ending, as I understood it, is that it ends on a note of total despair: Winston Smith is robbed of his humanity and he has capitulated to the totalitarian state. I think we agreed that this presents a situation without hope when, in actuality, there is some hope . . . hope that human nature cannot be changed by totalitarianism and that both love and nature can survive even the horrendous encroachments of Big Brother.' 60 Stein proposed that Rathvon drop Orwell's ending in favour of the following resolution: 'Julia gets up and walks away from Winston. Couldn't Winston also leave the cafe, not go after Julia but in the opposite direction and as he walks despondently along the street, couldn't he see the children's faces, not the faces of the child who tattled on her father but the faces of children who have managed to maintain some of their natural innocence . . . He begins to walk faster, and the music comes up stronger until Winston is again near the secluded spot where he and Julia found refuge from the totalitarian world. Again we see the blades of grass, the wind in the trees, and even perhaps, through Winston's eyes, another couple nestling together. It is such things that for Winston, and for us, stand for the permanence that Big Brother cannot destroy. And as Winston walks away from this scene, we hear on the sound track his heart beating and he is breathless as he realizes what it is that Big Brother cannot take away from humanity, what will always be in contrast and in conflict with the world of 1984, and perhaps to clinch this point of view, we can see Winston looking at his hands: two fingers on his left hand, two fingers on his right hand, and he knows that two plus two make four. As he realizes this, we continue to hear his heart beating, and by extension, the human heart beating - louder, as the film ends.'

The film actually concluded with two different endings, one for American audiences and one for British. Neither followed Stein's saccharine suggestions, though the British version was faithful to the idea of Stein's ending, with Winston gunned down after crying 'Down with Big Brother!', promptly followed by Julia. In the book, in direct contrast, Orwell explicitly denied the possibility of the human spirit rising above the pressures of Big Brother. Winston is entirely overcome, his spirit broken -'The struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.' Orwell's specific instructions that Nineteen Eigbty-Four should not be altered in any way had been conveniently disregarded.

The films Animal Farm and 1984 were both ready for distribution in 1956. Sol Stein announced that they were 'of ideological interest to the American Committee for Cultural Freedom', and promised to see that they got as 'wide distribution as possible'. 62 Steps to encourage a favourable reception of the films were duly taken, including 'arranging for editorials in New York newspapers' and distribution of 'a very large quantity of discount coupons'.

It could be argued that 'forgeries' are inherent in all transitions from text to celluloid; that the making of a film is in itself - and not necessarily malignly - an act of translation or even reinvention. Isaac Deutscher, in 'The Mysticism of Cruelty', his essay on Nineteen Eigbty-Four, claimed that Orwell 'borrowed the idea of 1984, the plot, the chief characters, the symbols and the whole climate of his story from Evgeny Zamyatin's We'. Deutscher's personal recollection of Orwell was that he 'dwelt on "conspiracies," and that his political reasoning struck me as a Freudian sublimation of persecution mania'. Worried by Orwell's 'lack of historical sense and of psychological insight into political life,' Deutscher cautioned: 'It would be dangerous to blind ourselves to the fact that in the West millions of people may be inclined, in their anguish and fear, to flee from their own responsibility for mankind's destiny and to vent their anger and despair on the giant Bogy-cum-Scapegoat which Orwell's 1984 has done so much to place before their eyes ... Poor Orwell, could he ever imagine that his own book would become so prominent an item in the program of Hate Week?'

But Orwell himself was not entirely innocent of such Cold War manipulations. He had, after all, handed over a list of suspected fellow travellers to the Information Research Department in 1949, a list which exposed thirty-five people as fellow travellers (or 'FT' in Orwell-speak), suspected front men, or 'sympathizers', amongst them Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman and Nat, 'on ('Decayed liberal. Very dishonest'), Paul Robeson (Very anti-white. Wallace supporter'), J. B. Priestley ('Strong sympathizer, possibly has some kind of organizational tie-up. Very anti-USX), and Michael Redgrave (ironically, given his later appearance in the film 1984). Deeply suspicious of just about everybody, Orwell had been keeping a blue quarto notebook close to hand for several years. By 1949, it contained 125 names, and had become a kind of 'game' which Orwell liked to play with Koestler and Richard Rees, in which they would estimate 'to what lengths of treachery our favourite betes noires would go'. The criteria for inclusion seem to have been pretty broad, as in the case of Stephen Spender, whose 'tendency towards homosexuality' Orwell thought worth noting (he also said he was 'very unreliable' and 'Easily influenced'). The American realist John Steinbeck was listed solely for being a 'Spurious writer, pseudonaif', whilst Upton Sinclair earned the epithet 'Very silly'. George Padmore (the pseudonym of Malcolm Nurse), was described as 'Negro [perhaps of] African origin?', who was 'antiwhite' and probably a lover of Nancy Cunard. Tom Driberg drew heavy fire, being all the things Orwell loved to fear: 'Homosexual', 'Commonly thought to be underground member', and 'English Jew'.

But, from being a kind of game, what Orwell termed his 'little list' took on a new and sinister dimension when he volunteered it to the IRD, a secret arm (as Orwell knew) of the Foreign Office. Although the IRD's Adam Watson would later claim that 'Its immediate usefulness was that these were not people who should write for us', he also revealed that '[their] connections with Soviet-backed organizations might have to be 61

exposed at some later date'. In other words, once in the hands of a branch of government whose activities were not open to inspection, Orwell's list lost any innocence it may have had as a private document. It became a dossier with very real potential for damaging people's reputations and careers.

Fifty years later, Orwell's authorized biographer, Bernard Crick, stood firmly by Orwell's action, claiming it was 'no different from responsible citizens nowadays passing on information to the anti-terrorist squad about people in their midst whom they believe to be IRA bombers. These were seen as dangerous times in the late forties.' This defence has been echoed by those determined to perpetuate the myth of an intellectual group bound by their ties to Moscow, and united in a seditious attempt to prepare the ground for Stalinism in Britain. There is no evidence that anybody on Orwell's list (as far as it has been made public) was involved in any illegal undertaking, and certainly nothing which would justify the comparison to Republican terrorists. 'Homosexual' was the only indictment which bore any risk of criminal conviction, though this does not seem to have deterred Orwell in his bestowal of the word. British law did not prohibit membership of the Communist Party, being Jewish, being sentimental or stupid. 'So far as the Right is concerned Orwell can do no wrong,' Peregrine Worsthorne has written. 'His judgement in these matters is trusted absolutely. So if he thought the Cold War made it justifiable for one writer to be positively eager to shop another, then that is that. End of argument. But it shouldn't be the end of argument. A dishonourable act does not become honourable just because it was committed by George Orwell.'

This is not to say that Orwell was wrong to be concerned about what he called 'the poisonous effect of the Russian mythos on English intellectual life'. He of all people knew the cost of ideology, and the distortions performed in its name by 'liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect'. But by his actions, he demonstrated that he had confused the role of the intellectual with that of the policeman. As an intellectual, Orwell could command an audience for his attacks on British Russomania, openly, by engaging his opponents in debate on the pages of Tribune, Polemic, and other magazines and papers. In what way was the cause of freedom advanced by answering (suspected) intellectual dishonesty with subterfuge?

'If I had to choose a text to justify myself, I should choose the line from Milton: "By the known rules of ancient liberty",' Orwell wrote in the preface to Animal Farm. The phrase, he explained, referred to his strong faith in the 'deep-rooted tradition' of 'intellectual freedom . . . without which our characteristic Western culture could only doubtfully exist'. He followed with a quote from Voltaire: 'I detest what you say; I will defend to the death your right to say it.' Months before his own death, Orwell seemed to be saying, 'I detest what you say; I will defend to death your right to say it; but not under any circumstances.' Commenting on what she saw as Orwell's move to the right, Mary McCarthy remarked it was a blessing he died so young.

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