Of course Orwell was anti-communist. What should he have been?

Scott Lucas exhibits twenty-twenty hindsight in his attack on George Orwell (The Back Half, 29 May). Today, we can take a relaxed view of Soviet communism as something awful which became dingily third-rate before imploding. We can thus deplore the excesses and hysteria of "anti-communism". But Orwell died in 1950 - in Stalin's lifetime. He had been witness to the Soviet-directed persecution and murder of POUM people in Catalonia. He was writing 1984 at a time when the takeover of Hungary by fraud, disappearances, packed meetings and, above all, infiltration of non-communist parties, especially the Socialist Party, had been briskly followed by the same process in Czechoslovakia.

Of the chief SP collaborator in Prague, Zdenek Fierlinger, Denis Healey (who witnessed his temporary defeat when anti- collaborationists stood up to him at party conference) wrote: "I shall never forget the wolf-like snarl on his face." That seizure of power had the murder/suicide of the non-communist foreign minister Jan Masaryk, found dead in the palace courtyard, as its terrifying climax. Yes, of course Orwell was anti-communist. In that context, what should he have been?

As for the passing on of names to intelligence at that time, someone like Kingsley Martin, who had treated the show trials in Moscow with an open mind, would indeed have seemed suspect. He was only an old fool, and a Cambridge old fool at that, but simi-lar breadth of sympathy from a Tory editor towards Hitler's Night of the Long Knives would have seemed fair cause for anxiety. The left really must come to terms with the acreage of naivety, well-wishing and looking on the bright side in which so many men of the left indulged when Stalin was killing everyone he felt like.

As for "Who is a socialist?", I forget how many definitions of socialism Tony Crosland computed. But a desire to be rid of all social class, a rejoicing in POUM-led Catalonia, at there being "no more gentlemen" - oh, and everything contained in the poem "The Italian Soldier took my hand" - really ought to do.

Edward Pearce
Thormanby, York

Does Scott Lucas think that the USSR was really "socialist"? Orwell wasn't anti-communist: there was, sadly, no communism to oppose. The Soviet regime had progressive aspects (what form of society doesn't?), but murdered millions of working folk and peasants, including hundreds of thousands of dedicated socialists and Marxists. CPSU leaders suppressed every vestige of workers' democracy - soviets, unions and factory committees. Some "communism"!

Martin Cook
London SE1

This article first appeared in the 05 June 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Driving back to happiness