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25 June, 2013  ▪  Bohdan Tsioupine

Animal Planet

Anticommunist socialist George Orwell and his gift to Ukrainians

In 1947, American soldiers in the western occupation zone of Germany stopped a cargo of several thousand newly printed copies of a book in a language they did not understand, with an evil looking pig holding a whip on the cover. The name of the author was George Orwell written in Latin letters.

Apparently, someone had tried to explain to them that the books were for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in displaced persons camps. At one point, their estimated number in the western zone was 118,625. However, the American soldiers decided that Ukrainians had something to do with Communists and handed the books over to Soviet repatriation committees.

They interpreted the books titled Animal Farm as propaganda and confiscated them. Part of the cargo was saved, though. It was the first translation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm into a foreign language. Later, the novel – Orwell called it a fairy tale – brought him worldwide recognition.

SATIRE ON STALINISM

The chekists were right. For the Kremlin, it was a dangerous book that harshly criticized Stalinism. Ukrainians asked Orwell to write a personal preface for the refugees who had personally witnessed and survived many dirty Communist propaganda campaigns.

In addition, Orwell covered part of the cost of publication at Prometheus, a Ukrainian publishing house in Germany. “I have been asked to write a preface to the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm. I am aware that I write for readers about whom I know nothing, but also that they too have probably never had the slightest opportunity to know anything about me. In this preface they will most likely expect me to say something of how Animal Farm originated but first I would like to say something about myself and the experiences by which I arrived at my political position.”

This was one of the rare occasions when George Orwell described his childhood and explained the shaping of his worldview. Such, Such Were the Joys, an essay published in 1953 after he died, was probably the only similar confession he ever wrote.

LESSONS OF COLONIALISM

Eric Arthur Blair known by his pen name George Orwell was born into a British family in India in 1903. He was destined to become a member of the privileged establishment of the British Empire. Instead, he grew into an independent free-thinker.

Young Eric was probably smart enough to note how his parents, who were not very well-off, tried to fit into the unspoken sahib rules in colonial lands. Kids like him were often told that the aboriginals were wild people and that they should stay away from them, though they could be hired and trained as servants.

After the Blair family returned to England, Eric went to Eton, the most prestigious and expensive school in the UK, where he studied between 1917 and 1921. He grew more opposed to social and racial barriers after he tried to enter the British colonial police service in Burma. There, he faced what many Englishmen turned a blind eye to: colonized nations not wishing to obey the colonizers, even if the foreigners were well-educated and built modern railways with the hands of the aboriginals. Orwell quit the service and on his return to Europe, headed off to study the poverty in the working class areas of London and mazes of Paris.

THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

Being sharply critical of social unfairness, George Orwell was one of the first people in the West who faced the threat of totalitarianism in its fascist, Nazi and later Soviet-Communist forms. When the Civil War broke out in Spain, Orwell and his wife volunteered to fight on the side of the Republicans.

His Homage to Catalonia, published in 1938, was a documentary record of the six months he spent fighting. It was in Spain that he witnessed and experienced Stalinism: “Through a series of accidents I joined not the International Brigade like the majority of foreigners, but the POUM militia — i.e. the Spanish Trotskyists. So in the middle of 1937, when the Communists gained control (or partial control) of the Spanish Government and began to hunt down the Trotskyists, we both found ourselves amongst the victims. We were very lucky to get out of Spain alive, and not even to have been arrested once. Many of our friends were shot, and others spent a long time in prison or simply disappeared. These man-hunts in Spain went on at the same time as the great purges in the USSR and were a sort of supplement to them.”

In an essay review of Mein Kampf written in 1943, George Orwell was virtually the first person to compare Stalin to Hitler. According to Andrea Chalupa, an American researcher of his biography and writing, many people found it hard to believe this at that time. Therefore, Animal Farm, written in 1944 as an allegorical novel hinting at Stalin’s usurpation of the Russian Revolution and betrayal of socialist ideals, was initially almost impossible to publish. In 1945, Secker and Warburg took the risk and published Animal Farm, paying Orwell just GBP100 for a small circulation, but which was immediately sold out.  

MR. JONES’ LEGACY

The uprising of animals in Orwell’s dystopia takes place on Mr. Jones’ farm. Some assume that Orwell’s choice of the name Mr. Jones was no coincidence, but a reminder of Gareth Jones, the first Western reporter to tell the truth about the horror of the Famine in Ukraine and Stalin’s repressions in the USSR.

Orwell later admitted that he had never been to the USSR himself, and his knowledge of how the Communist system operated there was based on Gareth Jones’ reports and his own experience in Spain.  Later he wrote that this whole experience had been a valuable lesson for him as a demonstration of how easy it is to manage the opinion of educated people in democratic countries through totalitarian propaganda.

In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell mentioned one of the agents of the Soviet special services who turned out to have been involved in the assassination of Gareth Jones. He was murdered in 1935 in China, far away from his homeland in Wales, under circumstances that to this day, raise many questions.  

George Orwell knew what the Kremlin bosses and their assistants in the most remote corners of the world were capable of. He tried in vain to reveal to his compatriots the threat of Moscow’s greedy expansionism, hidden behind propaganda manipulations. “It was of the utmost importance to me that people in Western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was. Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism. On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class. Moreover, the workers and intelligentsia in a country like England cannot understand that the USSR of today is altogether different from what it was in 1917. It is partly that they do not want to understand (i.e. they want to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist).”

Orwell’s voice remained almost solitary and was barely heard for several years after the Second World War. In the early 1950s, however, those who had previously swept away his warnings, began to use Animal Farm in their informational campaigns against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

THE BIRTH OF A TYRANT

Ukrainian writer Mykola Kostomarov has a short story, parts of which could be considered to be quotes from Animal Farm: “Brothers oxen, sisters and wives cows! Honourable cattle, which deserve a better fate than what you now have at the will of someone unknown, who made us the slaves of human tyrants! You have been drinking from the bucket of misfortune for such a long time that none of you can remember when it started, and you have no chance of drinking it to the end!”

Kostomarov’s parable read as a warning: a revolution, the participants of which do not know how to use its fruits will remain nothing but an uprising that ends quickly and tragically for many rebels. In Kostomarov’s short story, the animals rose against their human masters, but Orwell went farther. He showed that not just enemies, but even those who start revolutions may eventually become tyrants.  

BIO

George Orwell – Eric Arthur Blair was born on the outskirts of the modern state of Bihar, India, in 1903. In 1911, his family returned to England. In 1917–1921, he went to the prestigious school, Eton. In 1922–1927, he served in the British Imperial Police in Burma. In 1933 came his first recognition as a writer for his Down and Out in Paris and London, a novel based on his experience in the poor outskirts of the two European capitals. In 1937, Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War and was wounded in the throat.  His memoires Homage to Catalonia was recognized as one of his best pieces. In 1939, Orwell was not accepted to the army because of the injury he received in Spain and tuberculosis. In 1944, he finished Animal Farm, which was only published in the following year. This dystopian fairy tale was the first of a series of bestsellers and commercial successes. In 1947, the first translation of Animal Farm into a foreign language – Ukrainian – was published in Germany. In 1949, he completed 1984, the most ambitious novel in his career. Orwell died of tuberculosis in a London hospital in 1950. In his last days, he said that he had ideas for at least five more books. 

THE BEST-KNOWN NOVELS

Homage to Catalonia

Animal Farm

1984

Such, Such Were the Joys


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