As we now know, the film was only made possible by CIA funding. Daniel Leab’s appropriately titled Orwell Subverted is an exhaustive study of CIA involvement in the making of the film, a study that furthers the earlier work of Frances Stonor Saunders (Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War), throws additional light on the CIA’s cultural activities, and reveals, for the first time, the detailed changes that the agency insisted on in the making of the film.
That George Orwell, a socialist who had fought with the Poum militia in the Spanish Civil War, and who remained committed to the socialist cause until the day he died, should have his great anti-Stalinist classic hijacked by the CIA, is, of course, the ultimate indignity. But was there something about the book and its politics that lent itself to the use made of it by both the CIA and the British secret propaganda agency, the Information Research Department (IRD), established by the Labour government in 1948? Both organisations sponsored the publication of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four throughout the world. The IRD even produced a comic strip version of Animal Farm, which it tried to place in newspapers in as many countries as possible. Orwell’s anti-Stalinism was, to be blunt, made use of for counter—revolutionary and pro-imperialist purposes.
Ironically, the best demonstration of the socialist credentials of Orwell’s anti-Stalinism is provided by the changes the CIA required to Joy Batchelor’s scripts, which were faithful to the book. Leab identifies three areas where Joseph Bryan, a psychological warfare expert who monitored the film for the agency, wanted modifications. The “investors”, he told Batchelor, were very concerned at her sympathetic portrayal of Snowball (based on Leon Trotsky). Her script suggested that Snowball was “intelligent, courageous, dynamic” and that if he had not been assassinated he might have succeeded in “creating a benevolent, successful state…this implication we cannot permit”. Instead the CIA wanted Snowball portrayed as a “fanatic intellectual whose plans if carried through would have led to disaster no less complete than under Napoleon”.
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