The Fellow Travellers: "Liberals" Supporting Dictators

Kilbarry

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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!
 


Kilbarry

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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."
 

shutuplaura

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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.
 

Kilbarry

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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.
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.
 

Nem

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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.
 

Kilbarry

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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.
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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Kilbarry

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Muggeridge and the Fellow Travellers

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!
 

Nem

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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.
 

Eorna

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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.
 

Lao-Tse

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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.
 

Kilbarry

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The Far-Left and Islam

Indeed. The reason I dragged out my old material is that I took part in a discussion on the ButterfliesandWheels.com website re an article by Edmund Standing entitled "The Far-Left Campaign to Silence Critics of Islam".

However it is important to realise that this is the THIRD time that this sort of thing has happened. An influential section of our western intelligentsia supported Stalin from the 1930s onwards, Mao in the 1960s and 70s and some of them are making excuses for Islamic terrrorists today. This is not just hypocrisy. "Normal" hypocrisy is when you justify your friend's atrocities and condemn your enemies. The pro-Stalin/Mao/Islamic Terrorist types are something else entirely.

Muggeridge witnessed the first two waves of intellectual lunacy and the present one would not have surprised him. He thought that western civilisation is hopelessly decadent and cannot be saved.
 

Kilbarry

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Leff Wing Crits of Stalin

What about E.M. Forster? Aldous Huxley? Bertrand Russell? All English
anti-Stalinist leftists.
Yes and George Orwell certainly considered himself to be left-wing. However an inflential section of the left supported barbaric dictatorships for decades and did so purely for ideological reasons.

(In contrast when Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 and Stalin became an ally of the British, Churchill said that "If Hitler invades hell, I will praise the Devil in the House of Commons." )

O'Casey and Shaw were able to retain their reputations as progessive socialists etc in spite of their Stalinism and long after the crimes of Stalin became undeniable. Maybe that explains why a section of the left today finds itself able to support Islamic barbarism.
 

Lao-Tse

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O'Casey and Shaw were able to retain their reputations as progessive socialists etc in spite of their Stalinism and long after the crimes of Stalin became undeniable. Maybe that explains why a section of the left today finds itself able to support Islamic barbarism.
Everyone I've read considers George Bernard Shaw-whatever the merits of his plays-to be a complete
joke as a political thinker.
 
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advertismo

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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!
Far fewer than Stalin ? He (Franco) killed more than the Spanish Socialists, I'm sure, but then the victors usually do. Good point, though.
I think it's part of a polarisation of ideas and ideals that exist in people's heads, we see extremes in our enemies and seek allegiance in the perceived opposite.
Didn't Ireland and other countries have a fair few volunteers on Franco's side ? The massacres of priests and nuns (not all of whom supported Franco) by the Socialists would have encouraged Catholic recruitment, and I'm sure not all of them had Fascist ideals.
We all have to make a determined effort at balanced, non-dualistic, clear thinking .
 

IvoShandor

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Yes, there was support for the fascist and right wing among certain circles that should have known better...and here in Ireland too. But I think the point is that these people tend today to be totally discredited (although you still get people making excuses for people like Ezra Pound..and Shaw was able to get away with anything due-I think-to his clown-like persona) but their "left-wing" counterparts usually escaped with their reputations intact. O Casey's defense of the suppression of the Hungarian uprising is particularly disgraceful.
This seems to be a particularly British phenomonen, it appears.
 

Kilbarry

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Shaw and O'Casey

Yes, there was support for the fascist and right wing among certain circles that should have known better...and here in Ireland too. But I think the point is that these people tend today to be totally discredited (although you still get people making excuses for people like Ezra Pound..and Shaw was able to get away with anything due-I think-to his clown-like persona) but their "left-wing" counterparts usually escaped with their reputations intact. O Casey's defense of the suppression of the Hungarian uprising is particularly disgraceful.
This seems to be a particularly British phenomonen, it appears.
Shaw was certainly a political idiot but that's doestn't really explain why his reputation as a Progressive thinker survived his Stalinism. He was a member of the Fabian Society for decades and the Fabians were supposed to be in favour of gradual evolution towards socialism. It's as if a right wing intellectual supported both Churchill and Hitler! The right-winger would be quickly shown the error of his ways - not least by the Daily Telegraph. It was because he was left wing, NOT because he was a fool, that Shaw was forgiven.

Sean O'Casey was unusual in that, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin in 1956, O'Casey did not change his views. When his Stalinism finally came into conflict with the Party Line, it was the Party Line that Sean rejected! He then went on to support the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution. There is a kind of integrity here but it is the integrity of an SS man who refuses to reject Hitler even after 1945. Shaw was more of a power worshipper than an ideologue and if he had lived long enough, he would definitely have rejected Stalin when the Russians told him to.
 
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This site has a number of examples of supposedly 'left' types (and I speak as someone who considers myself fairly left) who make common cause with the women-hating racist anti-democrats of Islamism, including Iran, the Taliban, and Hamas/Hizbollah. My enemy's enemy is above reproach, apparently. I was called 'outrageous' by one such poster for bringing up an awkward fact from Iran's past, I must be a stooge of the Americans you see. Quite sickening, really...
 

Nem

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This discussion now seems to gear more towards aspects of Political Science and specific theory then Irish Historiography.

It might be an idea to ask the owner of the site to create a (sub) section dedicated to Political Theory, where the various 'isms' probably have a particular place.

Btw. has anyone here read Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism since 1780 (London 1992) - it is very good on most of the issues described above in a historical context.
 

shutuplaura

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This discussion now seems to gear more towards aspects of Political Science and specific theory then Irish Historiography.

It might be an idea to ask the owner of the site to create a (sub) section dedicated to Political Theory, where the various 'isms' probably have a particular place.

Btw. has anyone here read Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and nationalism since 1780 (London 1992) - it is very good on most of the issues described above in a historical context.
What is being described isn't unique to any particularly nationality or period of time and certainly isn't unique to any single 'ism'.

I think what is being described is quite common in all people, left right or indifferent. You can see people doing it on this website on almost every thread and there are many examples of it going back to before the 1930's - and later on, in the present day.

Its human nature to ignore or discount anything that doesn't really support ones own world view. People are not as fond of being challenged or at all ready to admit that they were wrong. There was perhaps good or at least logical reasons for becoming an extremist in the 1930's. Hindsight shows these people as being misguided. It would actually be easy for such a person to admit that they were simply wrong. Pete Seeger did so to his credit for instance and I don't think it did anything for his creditability.

As proof of this watch Rambo 3. Obviously very right wing, glorifying radical islamists in the same way Ken Livingstone has been accused of. The Mujahadeen were doing comparable things to Soviet Soldiers and civilians who supported the Soviet puppet state that the Taliban do.
 


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