Omitted from leftist narratives as to why those of their own defected to the anti-Communist side is how a single murder provoked the defection.
Instead pro-Communists and “anti-anti-Communists” assign base motives to these supposedly mentally unstable drunks such as a desire for the latter to line their pockets and for a new appreciation of fascism.
Ernest Hemingway, who sought a relationship with the Soviet secret police, used the greed argument against his one-time friend John Dos Passos for publicly accusing Communists during the Spanish Civil War of murdering Dos Passos’ friend, Jose Robles. Hemingway with help from the Soviet-directed loyalist government justified the murder because Robles was “a fascist spy” for Franco.
Disgusted, Dos Passos became a fervent anti-Communist who later voted for Barry Goldwater.
Such a “necessary murder” may have finally tipped George Orwell away from supporting Spanish communists. Regarding the Soviets, Orwell had been fervently anti-Soviet since the 1920s. In the mid-thirties he wrote, “I have never fundamentally altered my attitude towards the Soviet regime since I first began to pay attention to it some time in the nineteen-twenties.”
This “premature anti-Communism” provided Orwell with an anti-Stalinist lens by which to view such horrific matters as Stalin’s Purge Trials rigged to murder off his opposition. Orwell claimed he knew that the Purges were a frame-up because he “felt it in their literature.”
There is proof in his writings that Orwell, as far back as the early 1930s, hated the Russian regime–although the writer was willing to put these sentiments on hold when he fought on the loyalist side during the Spanish Civil War.
This conflict, which pitted a legally-elected leftist government against a Hitler-backed military rebellion led by General Francisco Franco, attracted overseas leftists into fighting on the government’s behalf.
The largest group of volunteers was card-carrying Communists who enlisted in the International Brigades. They followed Moscow’s orders that winning the war must come first and establishing a revolution would follow after that mission was complete. Opposition to these priorities came from the non-Stalinist Left who argued the war could not be won unless a revolution was established.
Whatever the validity of the Communist strategy, their murderous methods would nevertheless repel those like Orwell who initially supported their strategy.
In a typical demonstration of a literal overkill by Stalinists, the loyalist secret police hunted down and arrested those they claimed were trying to overthrow the government on orders from Hitler.
Orwell saw through these brutal murders camouflaged as protecting the loyalist government from fascist saboteurs with the death of a fellow soldier in his non-Stalinist military unit, Bob Smillie.
Despite fighting on the front lines against Franco, Smillie was arrested and then “accidentally died” of appendicitis while in the custody of the secret police. The “motivation” for Smillie’s arrest was that he was found in possession of a “bomb,” but the reality was that the bomb was only a dud that Smillie kept as a souvenir.
Orwell was enraged by Smillie’s death, and initially believed it was caused by deliberate neglect:
“Smillie’s death is not a thing I can easily forgive. Here was this brave and gifted boy, who had thrown up his career at Glasgow University in order to come and fight against Fascism, and who, as I saw for myself had done his job at the front with faultless courage and willingness; and all they could find to do with him was to fling him into jail and let him die like a neglected animal…what angers one about a death like this is its utter pointlessness.”
Orwell eventually learned that the real cause of Smillie’s death was from brutal beatings carried out by the prisoner’s guards. Orwell’s leader of his military unit, George Kopp told Orwell that while imprisoned, he saw the Smillie’s file and learned that the man died from guards kicking him in the stomach.
Smillie’s murder would prove counter-productive for the Stalinists as Orwell–himself marked for liquidation by the secret police–was initially supportive of the government priority of winning the war first. Now, with the death of Smille, Orwell would spend the rest of his life denouncing and exposing Communist brutality. He would eventually use the raw material of these heresy hunts in perhaps the most devastating attack on Communism ever written, Nineteen Eighty-Four.