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ML&L 3342, Dr. Bruce Holl, Trinity University, San Antonio, TX

Peoples of Russia

June 13

Orwell Questions and Possible Answers


Orwell in Light of Historical Evidence
Bruce Holl ML&L 3342 Peoples of Russia

Was Orwell a Socialist?
"For Orwell, socialism mean 'justice and liberty.' What he rejected (like Engels!) was the 'prigs' and 'cranks' he found in the movement [...] But what he even more deplored among socialists was their desire to rule and regulate, to 'tidy everything. In effect, what he wanted (though I don't think he ever put it this way) was socialism without socialists [...] But socialism was, even with Orwell, seen as state control of the economy. He, of course, saw that the countries and movements calling themselves 'socialist' indeed had state-controlled economies but no freedom or justice -- and so with his image of the 'Party' in 1984, which 'grew out of the earlier Socialist movement and inherited its phraseology'" (Robert Conquest, The Dragons of Expectation, p. 17).

Would Snowball have been a good leader? (Animal Farm, chapters 2, 4)
"Trotsky fell in step. On December 2, 1917, addressing the new, Bolshevik Ispolkom [Executive Committee - BH], he said: There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off the dying class. This is its right. You are indignant ... at the petty terror which we direct against our class opponents. But be put on notice that in one month at most this terror will assume more frightful forms, on the model of the great revolutionaries of France. Our enemies will not face prison but the guillotine.
He defined the guillotine on this occasion (plagiarizing from the French revolutionary Jacques Hebert) as a device which 'shortens a man by the length of a head (Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, pp. 791-2

“On March 12, the southern front of the Red Army received instructions to attack the Donbas to clear out the Whites. But beyond this objective, as has recently become known, the Red Army was also to ‘liquidate’ the Cossacks. A secret directive from Moscow demanded
The complete, rapid, decisive annihilation of Cossackdom as a separate economic group, the destruction of its economic foundations, the physical extermination of its officials and officers, and altogether the Cossack elite.
Trotsky directed that the ‘nests of dishonorable traitors and turncoats be extirpated…The Cains must be exterminated.’ The use of the verb ‘exterminate’ in regard to a whole socioethnic group anticipated action later designated as genocide. The program was carried out in 1920-21, at the conclusion of the Civil War” (Pipes, Concise History, p. 254).

Squealer constantly sought to convince the animals that they did not want Jones to return. Did old Major speak the truth about life under Jones? Was Manor Farm worse than Animal Farm? (Animal Farm, chapter 1)
"More than once in the camps Shukhov recalled how they had eaten in the village: whole frying pans full of potatoes, cast-iron pots of buckwheat kasha, and even earlier, big hunks of meat. And they gulped down the milk till their bellies were bursting" (Solzhenitsyn, Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha [One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovish], p. 31 [my translation].

"{…] as regards the actual distribution of land to the peasants and the price they were required to pay for it, the reform legislation of 1861 was tilted more favorably toward the serfs than has been appreciated. The land allotments provided to the overwhelming majority of peasants resulted in the creation of a vibrant, self-sufficient peasant economy, one virtually immune to seigneurial or capitalist intrusion [...] Unlike slaves in the American South, serfs in Russia got a whole lot more than freedom" (Steven L. Hoch, "Did Russia's Emancipated Serfs Really Pay Too Much for Too Little Land? Statistical Anomalies and Long-Tailed Distributions," Slavic Review 63 (2004), p. 248.)

Did the USSR, like Animal Farm, succeed at first? How bad was the situation ? Was there cannibalism? Did the post-war "red scare" exaggerate? (Animal Farm, chapter 8)
"Reports of cannibalism now began to reach the cities. One version [...] might involve the butchery of
dead neighbors, or of a person's own dead children, or else it might follow the robbery of a recent grave [...] The other kind of cannibalism was more systematic, though rarer, and its victims were often homeless children, orphans, or friendless travelers. The stories persist even now. Adults from the famine region will still remember -- or perhaps still dream and fear -- that they were lured along a side street once when they were children, and that a stranger offered them some sweets, a crust of bread. Some instinct, they will continue, must have saved them, some extra sense of doubt or menace. They shudder. Other children died." Merridale concedes that "[s]uch individual tales may well be fantasies, like urban myths, but the basic truth behind the fear is real. Indeed, officials in some of the worst-affected districts resorted to a ban on the sale of processed meats in the winter of 1921 to stop the trade in human flesh" (Catherine Merridale, Night of Stone, p. 67)

The animals face stiff opposition from the humans who try to retake the farm. This represents the intervention of the western powers, which the Soviets always claimed was substantial. Is this accurate? (Animal Farm, chapter 4)
"The widespread notion of a calculated and methodical Allied 'intervention' is one of the many myths that need dispelling (Richard Pipes, Concise History, p. 148)

"Although the Bolsheviks later placed Allied intervention in Soviet Russia from 1918 to 1920 at the heart of their civil war mythology, the truth is that none of the Entente powers that deployed troops ever sought seriously to overthrow the Communist government, with the possible exception of Great Britain for a few months in summer 1919" (Sean McMeekin, History's Greatest Heist, p. 117).

Orwell said the animals' failure to fight back when the pigs stole the apples and milk was the key passage of the novel. Did the people fight back? (Animal Farm, chapter 3)
Orwell is said to have told his friend Geoffrey Gorer that the passage in which the pigs steal the milk and apples, and the other animals docilely accept Squealer's explanation rather than fight back, is "the key passage" in the novel (V. C. Letemendia 22)

Sean McMeekin writes: "Why, then, the major uptick in gold shipments to finance military imports in November 1920, by which time, with the Polish treaty and the departure of the last White armies from Russian soil, we might suppose that the Bolsheviks no longer faced serious opposition? The short answer is that they did, in fact, face such opposition: from their own people, or at least from the 80 percent or so of the Russian population that comprised the peasantry [...] Historians are still reconstructing the outlines of the Russian peasant wars, but it is now abundantly clear that they were a greater test of strength for the Bolshevik regime than the more publicized contests with the Whites, Entente expeditionary forces, and Poles." Citing archival sources that have come to light since the dissolution of the Soviet Union as well as scholars like Nicolas Werth and Richard Pipes who have researched the subject in detail, McMeekin describes "surges in October-November 1918, which saw 44 separate uprisings; in spring 1919, when the mid-Volga and Ukraine were engulfed in rebellion; and in February-March 1920, when from the Volga to the Urals the so-called Pitchfork Rebellion, encompassing an irregular peasant army of 50,000, faced Red Army regulars 'armed with cannons and heavy machine guns.'" Losses were tremendous on both sides. In the Cossack regions of eastern Ukraine where the fighting was most intense, between 300,000 and 500,000 people (out of a population of 5 million) were killed or deported in 1919 and 1920; in the Caucasus entire villages were looted and razed and their residents killed or sent to labor camps; the Bolsheviks themselves lost perhaps as many as a quarter of a million men, fighting (as McMeekin notes) "against desperately poor, badly fed peasants who, lacking firearms, fought mostly with pitchforks and farm implements." (Sean McMeekin, History's Greatest Heist, pp. 155-6)

Moses is a favorite of both Mr. Jones and Napoleon and is distant from the other animals. Was the Russian Orthodox Church a parasite, unloved by the people? (Animal Farm, chapter 2)
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” (Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm)

"And so a campaign launched in order to secure, in Lenin's words, 'a fund of several hundred million gold rubles,' ended up yielding forty or fifty times less. The Orthodox Church, it turned out, was not wealthy because it exploited 'the people,' but rather because it inspired them to work hard, donate their earnings, and create beautiful objects. Now that these objects had been stolen from their owners and physically pried apart, they had almost no value at all" (Sean McMeekin, History's Greatest Heist, 89-90).

"The culture of the vast majority of the peoples inhabiting what had been the Russian empire centered on religious beliefs and observations, for it was religion that gave them a sense of dignity and imbued them with fortitude. The vast majority of Christians, Jews, and Muslims took no part in 'high culture,' the preserve of secularized elites who were indifferent to religion if not openly hostile to it. For that reason, the seizure of power by a belligerently atheist minority of that secular minority, bent on uprooting religion, had a devastating effect on the common people. Next to economic hardships, no action of Lenin's government inflicted greater suffering on the population at large than the profanation of its religious beliefs, the closing of the houses of worship, and the mistreatment of the clergy" (Richard Pipes, Concise History of the Russian Revolution, 333).

"As the forceful seizures got underway, crowds of faithful in many localities physically resisted the troops. Hundreds of incidents of such defiance were recorded and promptly attributed to the work of 'counterrevolutionary' organizations allegedly acting on the orders of Russian émigrés. One such incident occurred at Shuia, a textile town northeast of Moscow, where in early March unarmed civilians fought off a company of soldiers equipped with machine guns. Alarmed by such defiance, the Politburo resolved temporarily to suspend confiscations" (Pipes, Concise History, 336-7).

"It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy, not stopping [short of] crushing any resistance" (Lenin, in Richard Pipes, ed., The Unknown Lenin).

Mollie is portrayed as foolish and selfish. Does this accurately reflect the émigrés? (Animal Farm, chapters 4, 5)
"In general, the Russian refugees in Paris are hard-working people, and have put up with their bad luck far better than one can imagine Englishmen of the same class doing. There are exceptions, of course. Boris told me of an exiled Russian Duke whom he had once met, who frequented expensive restaurants. The duke would find out if their was a Russian among the waiters, and, after he had dined, call him in a friendly way to his table.
'Ah,' the duke would say, so you are an old soldier like myself" These are bad day, eh? Well, well, the Russian soldier fears nothing. And what was your regiment?
'The so-and-so, sir,' the waiter would answer.
'A very gallant regiment! I inspected them in 1912. By the way, I have unfortunately left my notecase at home. A Russian officer will, I know, oblige me with three hundred francs.'
If the waiter had three hundred francs he would hand it over and, of course, never see it again. The duke made quite a lot this way. Probably the waiters did not mind being swindled. A duke is a duke, even in exile" (Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, p. 45).

Orwell describes a Potemkin village. Who saw these villages? What was the effect? (Animal Farm, chapter 7)
[...] but it was also thanks to the war that a senior American politician visited the Gulag, for the first and only time. Henry Wallace, Vice President of the United States, made a trip to Kolyma in May 1944 -- and never even knew that he was visiting a prison [...] Nikishov failed to mention, of course, that the 'first settlers' were prisoners, and that most of the 40,000 inhabitants were exiles, forbidden to leave. Wallace was equally ignorant of the status of contemporary workers -- nearly all prisoners -- and went on to write approvingly of the Kolyma gold miners. They were, he recalled, 'big, husky men,' free workers who were far harder working than the political prisoners whom he supposed had inhabited the far north in Czarist times [...] Wallace did ask to see a prison camp, but he was kept away. Nikishov also assured his bosses that the only workers Wallace encountered were free workers rather than prisoners. Many of the had even been members of the Komsomol, the Communist Youth league, who had been handed miners' clothing and rubber boots only minutes before Wallace's arrival, and would know what to say if asked questions [...] Later, Wallace did encounter real prisoners, although he did not know it: these were the singers and musicians, many of the arrested opera performers from Moscow and Leningrad, who performed for him in the Magadan theater. Told that they were members of a 'nonprofessional Red Army choir' stationed in the city, he marveled that amateurs could achieve such artistic heights. In fact they had been warned that 'one word or sign that we were prisoners would be considered an act of treason […] Before Wallace left, Nikishov gave an elaborate banquet in his honor. Extravagant dishes, their ingredients carved out of prisoners' rations, were served; toasts were made to Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. Wallace himself made a speech, which included the following memorable words: Both the Russians and the Americans, in their different ways, are groping for a way of life that will allow the common man everywhere in the world to get the most good out of modern technology. There is nothing irreconcilable in our aims and purposes. Those who so proclaim are wittingly or unwittingly looking for war -- and that, in my opinion, is criminal" (Anne Applebaum, Gulag, pp. 441-2).

The pact between Animal Farm and Frederick is portrayed as a case of the humans duping the hapless animals. How does this reflect the reality of the Germany-USSR pact? (Animal Farm, chapter 8)
"In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland from the west and the USSR invaded from the east in the wake of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. More than one hundred thousand Polish prisoners, mostly soldiers but also civilian officials, were captured and interned in occupied territory and in western provinces of Belorussia and Ukraine […] two years earlier Stalin began his 'national operations' against ethnic Germans, Latvians, Koreans, Lithuanians, and other minorities […] among his least favorite ethnic minorities were Poles […] on March 5, 1940, Beria addressed a 'question of the NKVD to Stalin, informing him that 14, 734 Polish 'officers, officials, police officials, gendarmes, and prison officials' were being held in camps in occupied Polish territory and 18,632 similar persons were being held in camps in the western provinces of Ukraine and Belorussia […] The executions began one month later […] Beria's efficiency was evident in the Katyn operation. His special NKVD forces processed and dispatched some 22,000 Polish prisoners between April 3 and May 19, 1940, for an average of about 500 executions per day" (Paul Gregory, Lenin's Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives, pp. 4-6)

Do the pigs and humans converge? (Animal Farm, chapter 10)
"A number of readers may finish the book with the impression that it ends in the complete reconciliation of the pigs and the humans. This was not my intention; on the contrary I meant to end it on a loud note of discord, for I wrote it immediately after the Tehran conference which everybody thought had established the best possible relations between the USSR and the West. I personally did not believe that such good relations would last long; and, as events have shown, I wasn't far wrong..." (Orwell, “Preface,” p. 406).

Did Animalism fail because a tyrant happened to be in charge? Might Communism work under a benevolent leader? Is this a likely outcome?
"There are strong reasons for believing that what to us appear the worst features of the existing totalitarian systems are not accidental by-products but phenomena which totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce. Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure" (Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 149).

Did Animal Farm stray from the principles of Animalism?
"The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i. e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible […] in the most advanced countries the following will be pretty generally applicable.
1. Abolition of property in land and all the rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the cultivation of wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c., &c."
(Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto, p. 490)

What does “equal” mean in the political context?

posted at 09:57 U.S. Central Time Zone on Wednesday 13 June 2018 by Dr. Bruce Holl