Orwell And Trotsky: At Odds

in History/Politics by
   

During his lifetime, British writer George Orwell was characterized as a follower of exiled Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. H.G Welles dismissed Orwell as “a Trotskyite with big feet.” On a more lethal note, the Spanish secret police, on orders from Moscow, hunted Orwell during the Spanish Civil War for the crime of”Trotskyism” because he fought in a Marxist military unit at odds with Stalin. His “Trotskyism” even affected his livelihood; Orwell’s submission of Animal Farm to the publisher Faber and Faber was rejected by poet and employee T.S. Eliot for expressing “Trotskyite” views.

At first glance, the literary evidence seems to bear this out. In both novels, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Trotsky figure is the victim of the Stalin one. In Animal Farm, Trotsky appears as the pig “Snowball,” who initially rules the animal republic with the Stalin pig, aptly named “Napoleon” (in real life, Trotsky, exiled by Stalin, labeled the Soviet dictator and his military-style methods as the “Napoleon” of the Bolshevik Revolution); but “Napoleon,” craving power, sets his dogs on the more intellectual “Snowball,” and the pig is chased away for good. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Trotsky appears as “Goldstein,” the boogeyman used by Big Brother to justify the martial law imposed on the citizenry. A film clip of him speaking serves as the object of the “Two Minutes Hate,” a process designed to release anger that in other circumstance might be directed at Big Brother.

But despite this literary device, Orwell was, in fact, a decided critic of Trotsky. In 1939, a year before Trotsky’s death by an ice-axe wielding Soviet agent, Orwell refused to just blame Stalin for the Soviet dictatorship:

“Trotsky, in exile, denounces the Russian dictatorship, but he is probably as much responsible for it as any man now living, and there is no certainty that as a dictator he would be preferable to Stalin.”

Indeed, the very presence of Trotsky and Lenin in the Bolshevik coup planted “the seeds of a totalitarian society” well before the advent of Stalin, according to Orwell.

Even in the “Trotskyite” Animal Farm, Orwell’s antipathy toward Trotsky was apparent. In an answer to a correspondent asking when the “Animal Revolution” turned toward dictatorship, Orwell said it was when “Napoleon” and “Snowball” requisitioned the best food on the farm, apples, and milk, solely for themselves.

After his death, pundits battled over whether Orwell would have remained a socialist or turned toward conservatism. What is certain, based on Orwell’s views toward Trotsky, is that Orwell took the conservative view that the Bolshevik Revolution was totalitarian from the start, owing in no small measure to Trotsky, the figure Orwell was accused of following.

  • Barber O’Riley

    I’m a British Orwell fan, and as a younger journalist, once worked for Tribune, the Labour weekly which also employed him. As you say, it is pointless to speculate whether or not Orwell would have evolved into conservative, as a whole layer of British leftist intellectuals of the period certainly did. But I have have never read anything in all of his later work that is incompatible with democratic socialism. And your contention that the belief that the Russian revolution was totalitarian from the start is inherently conservative is surely misconceived; plenty of democratic socialists would say that too. So would all anarcho-communists, come to that.