September 14, 2019

WHAT FRANCO SAVED THEM FROM BECOMING:

The Communist Plot to Assassinate George Orwell (Duncan White, September 10, 2019, lIT hUB)

When George Orwell returned to Barcelona for the third time, on June 20th, 1937, he discovered that the Spanish secret police were after him. He had been forced to return to the front in order to have his discharge papers countersigned and, in his absence, the Communists had initiated a purge of their perceived enemies. Orwell was on the list. As he arrived in the lobby of the Hotel Continental, Eileen approached him calmly, placed her arm around his neck, and smiled for the benefit of anyone watching. Once they were close enough she hissed in his ear:

"Get out!"

"What?"

"Get out at once."

"What?"

"Don't keep standing here! You must get outside quickly!"

Eileen guided a bewildered Orwell toward the hotel exit. Marceau Pivert, a French friend of Orwell's who was just entering the lobby, seemed distressed to see him and told him he needed to hide before the hotel called the police. A sympathetic member of the staff joined in, urging Orwell to leave in his broken English. Eileen managed to get him to a café on a discreet side street, where she explained the seriousness of the situation.

*

David Crook, a young Englishman working for the Independent Labour Party's (ILP) Barcelona office, had become friends with both Orwell and his wife over the last few months. He was not what he seemed. He had arrived in Spain in January 1937, the month after Orwell, eager to join up with the International Brigades and fight the Fascists. He was descended from Russian-Jewish immigrants and grew up in Hampstead, attending the prestigious Cheltenham College.

Like many young men who grew up after the First World War, he was attracted to left-wing causes. He moved to New York City, where he attended Columbia University and embraced radical politics, joining the Young Communist League. As a student delegate he traveled down to Kentucky to support the famous miners' strike in Harlan County, witnessing its brutal suppression by the National Guard. On his return to London he became a member of the British Communist Party. At one meeting, the doomed poet John Cornford spoke about the Republican cause in Spain, and Crook was inspired to enlist.

Like Hyndman, Crook was thrust straight into the action at the Battle of Jarama, taking three bullets to the leg. Recovering in Madrid, he socialized with the literary set, including the brilliant war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, her lover Ernest Hemingway, Mulk Raj Anand, and Spender. At this point he came to the attention of Soviet intelligence agents. After recruiting him, the NKVD sent him to a training camp in Albacete, where he was given a crash course in sabotage and surveillance techniques.

There he became a Communist spy. Crook's mission was to infiltrate the ILP and report on all their activities. The Soviets already had one agent in place, David Wickes, who volunteered as an interpreter with the ILP and passed what information he found on to his handlers. Now Crook was to infiltrate deeper and get hold of documents. Orwell was his most prestigious target.

Posted by at September 14, 2019 6:42 PM

  

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