In June 1948 George Kennan, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, drafted National Security Directive NSC-10/2. It set up an Office of Policy Coordination that would direct covert government operations “so planned and executed that any U.S. government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons, and that if uncovered the U.S. government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.” A Psychological Warfare Workshop was set up within the OPC; Howard Hunt, later to continue his vocation as one of the Watergate plumbers, directed it. Among Hunt’s assets was CIA agent Carleton Alsop, working undercover at Paramount Studios. Shortly after George Orwell died in 1950, Hunt sent Alsop to acquire the film rights to Animal Farm from Orwell’s widow, Sonia. It was Hunt who chose Louis de Rochemont to produce the feature animation. (Given the clandestine CIA control, how appropriate that de Rochemont, under whom Hunt had worked on the March of Time newsreel documentaries, had already made a film about secret identity, Lost Boundaries, in which a black doctor’s decision to pass as white is blamed on the hostility he encounters not in the white community but among blacks.)
For the CIA to finance and distribute Animal Farm, however, something had to be done about the ending. In Orwell’s anti-Stalinist original, the pigs who overthrow the farmer ruling class end up mingling with their former oppressors. As pigs and farmers toast one another in the farm house, “the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” The CIA solved this problem of the symbiotic relationship between capitalism and Communism by eliminating the farmers from the final scene. In the added-on CIA finale, when the barnyard animals attack the new ruling class (the sort of invitation to revolt that the agency would soon issue, and fail to support, in Hungary), capitalist exploiters are as invisible on the screen as was the CIA behind the camera.
Hollywood’s Animal Farm is not only an instance of how, for the first two decades of the cold war, the CIA served as the American “Ministry of Culture”–to use Kennan’s own approving Orwellian label. It is also a parable for the trajectory of the “Non-Communist Left,” the agency’s term for the group of anti-Stalinist intellectuals it singled out as its witting and unwitting secret agents for the cultural cold war. When left anti-Stalinists like Melvin Lasky, Irving Kristol, Leslie Fiedler, Dwight Macdonald, Arthur Koestler and Ignazio Silone opposed both the Soviet and US imperial camps in the late thirties or exposed the nature of the Soviet system during World War II, they were a beleaguered minority; their comrades were (as Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia famously described) murdered in Spain. But as the hot war against Nazism metamorphosed into the cold war against Communism, and as they chose the side of the United States, they embraced a worldview and mode of operations organized around apocalyptic, embattled anti-Communism.
The Cultural Cold War sometimes gives way to the tendency to dismiss the anti-Stalinist left as in effect “premature anti-Communists,” as if (like the “premature antifascists” stigmatized by the US state security apparatus during the thirties Popular Front and World War II) their early prescience should speak against them, as if they were bringing no big news either about the Soviet domestic terror or the role of international Communism–as if, to take one example from The Cultural Cold War, everyone acknowledged that the Rosenbergs were guilty, and the only issue was whether they should be executed. But the problem lay not in the left anti-Stalinists’ early recognition of the character of the Soviet system but rather in their trading in of pariah status to act as the organic intellectuals of the national security state. Whereas only a tiny number (on the vanguard-party model) actually took orders or distributed money from the CIA, a lot more were fairly witting fellow travelers.