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Thread: The Fellow Travellers: "Liberals" Supporting Dictators

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    Default The Fellow Travellers: "Liberals" Supporting Dictators

    One of the strangest features of the 20th Century was the number of "liberals", "intellectuals", "humanists" or whatever who supported Communist dictators. In any society, at any time, you will find people who make excuses for atrocities committed by their own side. This may be evil but at least it is understandable. The Fellow Travellers justified atrocities committed by the enemies of their own society. This is certainly unusual. Was it unique in human history?

    George Orwell tried to explain the behaviour of the Stalinist liberals of the 1930s. I paraphrase, but Orwell wrote that English intellectuals had lost their religion and their patriotism without losing the need for a homeland and something to believe in. Thus they adopted the Soviet Union as a substitute Homeland, Marxist as a substitute Religion and Stalin as their new God.

    Actually I don't think that Orwell went far enough. Supporters of genocide and slave labour had not "lost" their religion or anything else. They were consumed with hatred for their Church and Society and they supported a Communist butcher because he shared those hatreds. Thus for example, they did not support Franco because HE was a Catholic and a pro-western dictator. The fact that he killed far fewer people was irrelevant!

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    Default Orwell and the Fellow Travellers

    This is the comment by Orwell that I referred to (from his 1940 essay Inside the Whale). Again I don't believe that the 'Disillusionment' that Orwell speaks of, is enough to explain why English (and Irish) intellectuals supported Stalin's dictatorship and mass murder. HATRED - of self, of Christianity and of 'Bourgeois Democracy' - is a better explanation.

    Orwell wrote that by about 1930 ...
    "The debunking of Western civilization had reached its climax and ‘disillusionment’ was immensely widespread. Who now could take it for granted to go through life in the ordinary middle-class way, as a soldier, a clergyman, a stockbroker, an Indian Civil Servant, or what-not? And how many of the values by which our grandfathers lived could not be taken seriously? Patriotism, religion, the Empire, the family, the sanctity of marriage, the Old School Tie, birth, breeding, honour, discipline—anyone of ordinary education could turn the whole lot of them inside out in three minutes.

    But what do you achieve, after all, by getting rid of such primal things as patriotism and religion? You have not necessarily got rid of the need for something to believe in. There had been a sort of false dawn a few years earlier when numbers of young intellectuals, including several quite gifted writers (Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Hollis, and others), had fled into the Catholic Church. It is significant that these people went almost invariably to the Roman Church and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church, or the Protestants sects. They went, that is, to the Church with a world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noticing that the only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism.

    But I do not think one need look farther than this for the reason why the young writers of the thirties flocked into or towards the Communist Party. If was simply something to believe in. Here was a Church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. Here was a Fatherland and— at any rate since 1935 or thereabouts—a Fuehrer. All the loyalties and superstitions that the intellect had seemingly banished could come rushing back under the thinnest of disguises. Patriotism, religion, empire, military glory—all in one word, Russia. Father, king, leader, hero, saviour—all in one word, Stalin. God—Stalin. The devil— Hitler. Heaven—Moscow. Hell—Berlin. All the gaps were filled up. So, after all, the ‘Communism’ of the English intellectual is something explicable enough. It is the patriotism of the deracinated."

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    Sorry, I'm not sure I understand why you disagree with Orwell? He seems to be fairly logical in his thinking.

    Liberal western democracies failed to avoid war , fumbled the peace and then tanked economically. A rejection of democracy by intellectuals, and a rejection of the traditional institutions of that establishment was understandable, and to a certain extent logical. Of course, WW2 etc has shown us that the alternative is far worse, but this is hindsight.
    it’s the continuing series of small tragedies, that send a man to the, madhouse

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    Quote Originally Posted by shutuplaura View Post
    Sorry, I'm not sure I understand why you disagree with Orwell? He seems to be fairly logical in his thinking.

    Liberal western democracies failed to avoid war , fumbled the peace and then tanked economically. A rejection of democracy by intellectuals, and a rejection of the traditional institutions of that establishment was understandable, and to a certain extent logical. Of course, WW2 etc has shown us that the alternative is far worse, but this is hindsight.
    I agree with a great deal of what Orwell said - especially as he was one of the very few left-wingers who tried to explain the behaviour of Stalinist "liberals" while Stalin was still in power. After the demise of the Soviet Union a number of books have appeared on the subject but before that I only know of David Caute's "The Fellow Travellers" first published in 1973 (revised in 1988).

    The reason Orwell's explanation for the behaviour of Stalinist intellectuals did not go deep enough, is that he tried to put Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot into the same category of "disillusioned intellectuals" as Stalinists like O'Casey and Shaw. Disillusionment can take many forms and they are not all on the same moral level. Joining the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church is not the same thing as supporting one of the greatest mass murderers in human history. Orwell's "disillusionment" theory is faulty because it tries to cover too much.

    Moreover Sean O'Casey and George Bernard Shaw are still regarded as Progressive, Socialist etc in spite of their vicious hehaviour. Supposed they had supported Franco instead - can you imagine the howls of rage? The left wingers who still try to make excuses for them, share their Anti-Clerical views and/or their Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Bourgeoisie, anti-American attitudes etc These are all forms of Hatred not Disillusionment. Anti-Clericalism is a form of religious hatred.

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    I'm afraid much of the above (with the exception of Laura's queries) seems rather vague. It might help if there was a particular incident that underlines your argument that is supported by primary source material that is cited. It now comes across as a broad, unsubstantiated political argument, rather then a historical one. Thanks.
    "The thing that always annoyed me about traditional Irish historiography was the paradox of its Anglocentrism. People are now prepared, I think, to confront the possibility that many Irish problems are, in a sense, indigenous to the Irish situation." Roy Foster (1989).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nem View Post
    I'm afraid much of the above (with the exception of Laura's queries) seems rather vague. It might help if there was a particular incident that underlines your argument that is supported by primary source material that is cited. It now comes across as a broad, unsubstantiated political argument, rather then a historical one. Thanks.
    In 1938 Sean O'Casey engaged in a long newspaper correspondence with Malcolm Muggeridge re Stalin's Show Trials and Terror. Muggeridge denounced the Trials; O'Casey supported them. In September 1939, after the Nazi Soviet Pact both O'Casey and Shaw had letters in the British press supporting the Pact and urging the British to make peace with Hitler as Stalin had so wisely done. Shaw's letter contained a few words of praise for Hitler. This was during the war!

    (I think I can dig out copies of the letters this evening but any detailed biograpies of O'Casey and Shaw will mention these episodes).

    In contrast Malcolm Muggeridge volunteered for the British Army at the age of 36. (He was enrolled as a spy rather than a foot soldier.) Today Muggeridge is regarded as a "reactionary" whereas O'Casey is seen as liberal, socialist etc. This requires some historical interpretation.

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    Default Muggeridge and the Fellow Travellers

    Quote Originally Posted by Kilbarry1 View Post
    In 1938 Sean O'Casey engaged in a long newspaper correspondence with Malcolm Muggeridge re Stalin's Show Trials and Terror. Muggeridge denounced the Trials; O'Casey supported them. In September 1939, after the Nazi Soviet Pact both O'Casey and Shaw had letters in the British press supporting the Pact and urging the British to make peace with Hitler as Stalin had so wisely done. Shaw's letter contained a few words of praise for Hitler. This was during the war!

    (I think I can dig out copies of the letters this evening but any detailed biograpies of O'Casey and Shaw will mention these episodes).

    In contrast Malcolm Muggeridge volunteered for the British Army at the age of 36. (He was enrolled as a spy rather than a foot soldier.) Today Muggeridge is regarded as a "reactionary" whereas O'Casey is seen as liberal, socialist etc. This requires some historical interpretation.
    The reason I may be able to locate copies of the O'Casey/Muggeridge newspaper debate was that in 1988 - the 50th anniversary of the Show Trials and coming up to the 50th anniversary of the Pact - I tried to get the Irish Times and RTE to do an article/programme. Muggeridge was still alive then. Neither was interested, possibly because they did not want to produce something that made a "reactionary" look good vis a vis a "liberal".

    In the meantime this is what Muggeridge wrote in his autobiography about the Fellow Travellers:

    "Wise old Shaw, high-minded old Barbusse, the venerable Webbs, Gide the pure in heart and Picasso the impure, down to poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, drivelling dons and very special correspondents like Duranty, all resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscuratinist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyranies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives. ALL RESOLVED, in other words, TO ABOLISH THEMSELVES AND THEIR WORLD, THE REST OF US WITH IT. Nor have I from that time ever had the faintest expectation that, in earthly terms, anything could be salvaged; that any earthly battle could be won, or earthly solution found. It has all just been sleep-walking to the end of the night."

    ("Chronicles of Wasted Time, The Green Stick" pages 275- 276).

    I read the book when it was published over 30 years ago and I thought that Muggeridge was too pessimistic. Of course at the time he wrote, he was seeing a SECOND generation of liberals and leftists - including former Stalinists - making their pilgrimage to Peking to worship Mao!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kilbarry1 View Post
    I read the book when it was published over 30 years ago and I thought that Muggeridge was too pessimistic. Of course at the time he wrote, he was seeing a SECOND generation of liberals and leftists - including former Stalinists - making their pilgrimage to Peking to worship Mao!
    This is indeed a very interesting topic! Particualrly in the light of the discussions around the eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm. The latter obviously had to reassess his own viewpoints after events in Hungary.

    The case of Hobsbawm remains one glaring example IMHO of how politics and history don't mix, certainly when there is an unprecedented turn of events that undermines any prescribed ideology.

    Of course, the people you mentioned are not considered to be historians but commentators. The fact that Malcolm Muggeridge is English and probably not well-know in Ireland and O'Casey lived in England for a considerable among of time might have resulted in less interest here.
    "The thing that always annoyed me about traditional Irish historiography was the paradox of its Anglocentrism. People are now prepared, I think, to confront the possibility that many Irish problems are, in a sense, indigenous to the Irish situation." Roy Foster (1989).

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    You do not have to go back that far. Look at Ken Livingstone, ex Mayor of London etc. He welcomed Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a leading authority of Sunni Islam (also the chair of many Islamic org's in Ireland.). He regularly calls for the murders of Gays, unbelievers, Jews of all ages etc. He makes Nick Griffin look like a hippie, yet he can meet a leader of the U.A.F without any protest from that organisation. The left, is going to have to start addressing its double standards. The alternative is the continued growth of parties like the BNP and EDL.
    Fianna Fáil
    The Land agents party.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kilbarry1 View Post

    George Orwell tried to explain the behaviour of the Stalinist liberals of the 1930s. I paraphrase, but Orwell wrote that English intellectuals had lost their religion and their patriotism without losing the need for a homeland and something to believe in. Thus they adopted the Soviet Union as a substitute Homeland, Marxist as a substitute Religion and Stalin as their new God.
    What about E.M. Forster? Aldous Huxley? Bertrand Russell? All English
    anti-Stalinist leftists.

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