I expect that most of you have read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but you may not have seen the preface that he wrote for a Ukrainian edition. The preface was censored in England, and was not added to most English translations. I certainly hadn’t seen it before my friend Duncan Werner sent me a link to it today.
Orwell’s prolegomenon talks about self-imposed literary censorship in midcentury England regarding the USSR and Josef Stalin, who was greatly admired by the intellectual Left.
The English intelligentsia, or a great part of it, had developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR, and in their hearts they felt that to cast any doubt on the wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy. Events in Russia and events elsewhere were to be judged by different standards. The endless executions in the purges of 1936-8 were applauded by life-long opponents of capital punishment, and it was considered equally proper to publicize famines when they happened in India and to conceal them when they happened in the Ukraine.
The players have changed a bit since Orwell wrote this piece, but the game hasn’t. There are still many questions and ideas that “it doesn’t do” to discuss or advocate in literary or academic circles – for example, innate human differences – and Orwell’s urgent defense of freedom of thought is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1945.
I am well acquainted with all the arguments against freedom of thought and speech – the arguments which claim that it cannot exist, and the arguments which claim that it ought not to. I answer simply that they don’t convince me and that our civilization over a period of four hundred years has been founded on the opposite notice.
Read this fascinating essay here.