Shrugging at genocide: E.H. Carr

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Orwell with BBC colleagues

Not only was George Orwell one of the most brilliant writers of the twentieth century; he was the indispensible observer of twentieth-century totalitarianism, clear-eyed about the tyrannies of both left and right – and about the stooges of tyranny that crossed his path. This week we’ve been looking at Orwell’s 1949 list of colleagues he suspected of being “crypto-communists” or “fellow travellers” and therefore unfit for employment by the British government’s Ministry of Information. When the list came to light decades later, as we’ve noted, Orwell was savaged by many of his fellow leftists for being a traitor to his own side; in fact, the British Stalinists working to destroy Western freedom and replace it with totalitarianism were the traitors.

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E. H. Carr

Among the names on the list were those of Peter Smollett, a British official who tried to quash the publication of Orwell’s masterpiece Animal Farm and who (years after his death) was revealed to have been a Soviet spy, and beloved Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, a fan of both Mussolini and Stalin who (in one posthumously published poem) expressed indifference to the Nazi bombing of London. Another name: E.H. Carr (1892-1982).

Who was Carr? He was a historian who taught at Cambridge, Oxford, and the University of Wales and who was best known for his fourteen-volume (!) History of Soviet Russia. Like MacDiarmid, he was capable of warming up to fascists and Communists alike. All in all, the stooges on Orwell’s list were a pretty loathsome crew, but Carr may well hav been the most loathsome. As British historian David Pryce-Jones wrote in a 1999 essay, this was a man who nursed an intense “belief in power”; who was unwavering in his conviction “that his own country could do no right”; who was certain that “[c]apitalism and democracy were doomed” and that “[t]he individual had to belong to the collective.”

carrbookAt first, the collective he admired was the one Hitler was fashioning in Germany. Carr publicly defended Nazi aggression and considered its victims “beneath notice.” But then he exchanged Adolf for Uncle Joe. When Stalin swallowed the Baltic states, he said that their forced absorption into the USSR was better than incorporation into the Nazi empire. Carr wasn’t alone in undergoing this conversion: Orwell himself commented at the time that “all the appeasers, e.g. Professor E. H. Carr, have switched their allegiance from Hitler to Stalin.” Thereafter, Carr considered the Soviet Union, in Pryce-Jones’s words, “the model society of the future,” and said so frequently in the British media, notably the Times. In his view (to quote Pryce-Jones again), “Communist governments imposed by Stalin in the satellites of eastern Europe ought to be recognized. The Communists had both the right and the authority to take over Greece…..The Soviet suppression of uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia hardly ruffled him. Soviet force and terror were automatically equated with red-baiting and McCarthyism in America.” In his Soviet history, “[t]he indifference to the murdered millions is astounding.”

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David Pryce-Jones

To be sure, like many Communists in the West, he was a model hypocrite: “While maintaining that capitalism was dead, he was constantly on the telephone to his stockbroker. His letters beseeching for funds and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation or university sponsors refer to his need to be comfortable.” Also like many Western Communists, he labored to demolish his ideological enemies: “Hugh Seton-Watson, Edward Crankshaw, George Katkov, David Footman, and his own former pupil Norman Stone were among the many colleagues against whom Carr intrigued or whom he openly criticized, in the hope of destroying them and their professional reputation.” Finally, like many fervent disciples of extreme ideologies that profess concern for the powerless, he was brutal to his several wives. Pryce-Jones:

Enclosed in his ego, he paid no attention to any of them, discarding them like tissues….The nastiness was unlimited. Anne developed a sarcoma, and, on the day that one of her daughters was due to have a very serious operation, Carr informed her that the marriage was over, that he was leaving her for Joyce. In due course he left Joyce for her closest friend, Betty Behrens. …Soon Betty had a nervous collapse and moved to an asylum, whereupon Carr tried to take some of her considerable fortune.

George Orwell Bbc MicrophoneAs Pryce-Jones sums up: “here was someone who would have had no trouble at all signing death warrants in a police state.” But of course that’s precisely the type of person who, living in freedom, is attracted to murderous totalitarian regimes. They never identify with those dispatched to the Gulags or death camps; they always see themselves in the role of commissar, warden, executioner. That’s one of the many things that Orwell, in his time, certainly understood – and to which we, in our own time, in a world no less threatened than Orwell’s by liberty-crushing ideologies and their fans, should be constantly alert.

Smollett: the spy who got away

Yesterday we discussed George Orwell’s 1949 list of literary and journalistic colleagues whom he viewed as “crypto-communists, fellow travellers or inclined that way.” Among them, we pointed out, was New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, who at the time was considered the ultimate authority on the Soviet Union – but whose name has since become synonymous with shameless journalistic dishonesty and the systematic whitewashing of tyranny.

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George Orwell

Another name on Orwell’s list was that of Peter Smollett. Born in Vienna in 1912 as Hans Peter Smolka, he relocated in 1933 to Britain, where, according to writer Daniel J. Leab, he “wrote pro-Soviet travel journalism for various US outlet during the 1930s, became a naturalized British subject in 1938, changed his name, and after the war’s outbreak joined the Ministry of Information, where he energetically organized pro-Soviet propaganda and suppressed ‘unfavorable comment’ on Stalinist Russia.”

Animal-FarmHis title at the Ministry was Head of Soviet Relations. At the height of the war, when Orwell sent Animal Farm, his classic indictment of Soviet Communism, around to various publishers, one of them, Jonathan Cape, was “reported to be initially keen on the manuscript,” but “bowed out after consulting an ‘important official’ at the Ministry of Information, who advised against publication.” That official was Peter Smollett. On his list, Orwell described Smollett as “a very slimy person” who was “almost certainly [an] agent of some kind.”

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Kim Philby’s 1990 USSR commemorative stamp

He was right. After his death in 1980, Smollett/Smolka was revealed to have been an agent of the NKVD, the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, which, in addition to performing espionage, ran the Gulag labor camps, conducted mass executions, and carried out mass deportations of various minorities and farmers. The Mitrokhin Archive, which we discussed a while back, records that Smollett was recruited as a spy in 1939 by double agent Kim Philby, one of the notorious Cambridge Five, and that his NKVD cover name was ABO. Smollett’s wartime NKVD work, notes Henry Hemming, “was held in high regard by Moscow.” Not only did he pass top-secret information on to the Kremlin (working first under Philby and later under another one of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess); he was also an invaluable pro-Soviet propagandist. In communications to higher-ups at the Ministry,

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Guy Burgess in Moscow, 1956, after his defection to the USSR

Smollett would exaggerate Soviet concerns, refuse to give in to them and then suggest as a quid pro quo a more Soviet-friendly stance on other issues. He maintained, for example, that the Soviets were exceptionally thin-skinned and, as such, no stories about Stalinist persecution could be broadcast. Smollett encouraged the BBC to run stories that exaggerated the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USSR….Elsewhere Smollett pushed the idea that after the war the USSR would be too weak to do anything other than rebuild.

The result of Smollett’s efforts was substantial. Hemming describes it as a “red haze” that “swept over Britain after the entry of the USSR into the war.” What he means is that Britain, thanks in large part to Smollett’s initiatives, was given a consistently prettified image of life under Stalin. As Hemming puts it, Smollett “helped to blur the line between the heroic Russians and the brutal Soviet regime.”

Smollett, Hemming points out, “was not unmasked during his lifetime, and instead enjoyed a successful post-war career as a respected Times correspondent and was even awarded an OBE.” But Orwell knew.

More tomorrow.

South Africa’s top stooge?

Not everyone who fought against the Nazis was fighting for freedom. The Red Army, after all, was fighting for Communism, which the Soviets promptly forced upon the occupied countries of eastern Europe after the war.

In the same way, not all of those who battled apartheid were believers in liberty.

Meet Ronnie Kasrils.

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Kasrils (left) with ANC colleagues Joe Slovo and Jacob Zuma, now president of South Africa

Born in 1938, the grandson of Baltic Jews who fled tsarist pograms to live in South Africa, Kasrils has been called Africa’s “highest-profile revolutionary from the white race.” A member of both the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party since 1960, he spent 27 years in exile owing to his ANC activities, studying at a military academy in the USSR and then doing ANC work in London and in various African capitals. The ANC in exile, wrote  R. W. Johnson in the National Interest in 2013, “was both corrupt and Stalinist,” supporting the Soviet invasions of both Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and Kasrils was nothing if not an ardent devotee of Stalin, who at one point described George Orwell’s Animal Farm as “crude, anti-Communist propaganda.”

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With Mandela and Prince Willem Alexander, now king of the Netherlands

Returning home after the end of apartheid, Kasrils joined the ruling committees of both the ANC and the Communist Party. But he was dissatisfied with the new regime, criticizing Nelson Mandela for taking the ANC down a “bourgeois” path instead of forming a “people’s republic” – that is, a Communist government. Instead of holding “on to its revolutionary will,” he charged, the ANC had “chickened out,” making a “devil’s pact, only to be damned in the process.” Citing Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Che Guevara, Kasrils insisted that a “true rebel would not have accepted” the “global corporate capitalism” that, in his view, was deforming South Africa.

kas3Naturally, he lamented the loss in 1991 of “our once powerful ally, the Soviet Union,” whose collapse destroyed his faith in “the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles.” Still, he predicted in his 1993 autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, that “in years to come humanity will look back to Soviet achievements as a source of profound inspiration.”

Despite his misgivings about the direction South Africa took after apartheid, Kasrils accepted one high-ranking government position after another, serving as a member of Parliament (1994-2008), as Deputy Minister of Defence, as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, and as Minister of Intelligence. In the last-named post, according to one informed observer, Kasrils managed to turn the country’s intelligence service into “an international laughingstock,” marked by “unending, ungovernable, internecine battles” and other horrors that went beyond “even the ugliest Stalinist traditions of the African National Congress.”

kas2Meanwhile, Kasrils became a leading booster of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel, which he routinely described as an apartheid state – a charge that outraged some South Africans, one of whom called it “a gross insult to every black South African who suffered under apartheid.” In a 2007 speech, Kasrils went even further, maintaining that Israel was subjecting the Palestinians to “hardships and methods of control that are far worse than anything our people faced during the most dreadful days of apartheid.” In an interview the same year, he further intensified his rhetoric, calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “a thousand times worse” than apartheid. He also compared it to “what my grandmother used to tell me about the pogroms: The Cossacks are coming, the Cossacks are coming.” Finally, pulling out all the stops, he accused Israel of “genocide.” 

kasWhile accusing Israel of the most horrific kinds of crimes against humanity, Kasrils has routinely made excuses for even the most barbaric actions by Palestinians – for example, calling suicide bombers “martyr bombers.” He’s even urged Israeli Jews “to succumb to Islamic rule,” maintaining “that the Jews actually thrived under Islamic rule.” It was no surprise to see his name, a few years back, on the list of members of the notorious Russell Tribunal on Palestine (2009-12), which whitewashed Palestinian atrocities and demonized Israel. As South African justice Richard J. Goldstone wrote in the New York Times just prior to its third session, in Cape Town, the convocation was not really a “tribunal” at all: “The ‘evidence’ is going to be one-sided and the members of the ‘jury’ are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.”

In short, a useful stooge for the ages.