Is there a Bulgarian prototype for one of Orwell’s antiheroes?

Is there a Bulgarian prototype for one of Orwell’s antiheroes?

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In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Stalin ordered the launch of a reprisal against the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). The party was created during the Second Spanish Republic and united forces of the left that did not tolerate Kremlin dictate. In a short time POUM managed to outgrow the Stalinist Communist Party in Spain. Early in the Civil War, the English writer George Orwell joined POUM. In 1937 the party was banned and its activists, including Orwell, faced show court trials in the Soviet fashion, named by historians as “Moscow show trials in Barcelona”. A Bulgarian led the campaign for the defamation of POUM.

 

poster spain

Most literary critics believe that the protagonist of the pig Squealer, chief of propaganda in Orwell’s Animal Farm (the pig that knows how to manipulate newspapers and can easily turn black into white, a master of slandering “enemies”), is Vyacheslav Molotov. Indeed, Stalin’s protégé was doing just that in the real Farm – Soviet Russia. He also resembled Squealer physically. Orwell describes Squealer as follows: “The best known among them (the porkers) was a small fat pig named Squealer, with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice.”[1]

 

Other researchers of Orwell’s work believe that Squealer the pig is actually the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda. But writers’ imagination often works in different ways, so could it be that Squealer’s protagonist is actually a Bulgarian who slandered and persecuted Orwell himself?

George Orwell
George Orwell

I believe that the first touches to the image of Squealer and some other small animals in the story, are the product of Orwell’s personal encounter with Stalinist methods in Spain. It was in Barcelona’s real Animal Farm during the civil war that the prominent POUM figures were being tarnished. The unfolding disinformation campaign in Kremlin-controlled Spanish newspapers aimed to denigrate those people as traitors of the Republic and fascists. It was followed by arrests and assassinations of some of the POUM leaders, including the chair of the party, Andreu Nin. POUM was banned. For the first time outside of Soviet Russia show trials similar to those against Kamenev and Zinoviev were held in Catalonia. That is how they were called even back then – “Moscow trials in Barcelona”. George Orwell also fell prey to the blows of the Stalinists, but he escaped and was tried in absentia.

Stoyan Minev
Stoyan Minev

The smear campaign that aimed to tarnish the leading figures in POUM was headed by the Bulgarian Stoyan Minev. He was sent to Spain with, as his main purpose – to organize the defamation of Stalin’s opponents and so pave the way for the Moscow trials. Orwell already knew Soviet methods well, but for the first time he witnessed and experienced himself the blows of Stalinist propaganda. There is no information as to whether the apparatchik of the Comintern, Stoyan Minev and the English writer George Orwell knew each other personally in the period before POUM persecution, but through the testimonies of many survivors, activists of the party, it becomes clear that in Republican Spain people were aware of Minev’s sinister role in discrediting them in the press. My theory that Stoyan Minev was the prototype for the propaganda pig Squealer in Orwell’s imaginary tale may not be true. But surely the author of 1984 and Animal Farm was fully aware of the mechanism for fabricating allegations for the purposes of show trials. In his personal account about that period, Homage to Catalonia, Orwell wrote that the accusations of espionage against POUM were based only on articles in the Stalin controlled press and by fabrications manufactured by the secret republican police, infiltrated by Soviet agents. These operations were led by Minev.

 

Apparently, newspaper articles were not sufficient enough and Stoyan Minev decided to publish a special book with false accusations, slanders and manipulated documents targeting the defendants. The master of Comintern propaganda named the book Espionage in Spain. The author of this forgery is hidden behind the collective pseudonym “Max Rieger”. On the suggestion of Stoyan Minev, the preface was written by the famous Catholic writer Jose Bergamin and on instructions from Minev, a few journalists wrote the defamatory materials, while the ultimate redaction was his. Last year, it transpired from the voluminous historical work by Boris Volodarsky[2] that NKVD’s man, Alexander Orlov, also took part in compiling this falsification.

 

The researcher of the Second Republic in Spain, Agustin Guillamón [3] also wrote that Stoyan Minev was the campaign manager in the defamation of POUM and in the manipulation of the judicial system. According to Guillamón, the Comintern apparatchik Minev and the headquarters established for this purpose by the Moscow-controlled Spanish Communist Party, left nothing to chance and supplied the prosecution with all available material for the conviction of the accused. And for the most part these materials were crude forgeries.

Max Rieger
The defamatory book Espionage in Spain, written under the collective pseudonym of “Max Rieger.”

In their book Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism [4], the authors Victor Alba (a direct participant in the events) and Stephen Schwartz describe some of the methods used to denigrate POUM chairman, Andreu Nin, who was assassinated later. Stoyan Minev’s defamation machine initially released compromising materials on Nin, accusing him of having never worked and receiving the money for his activities from Adolf Hitler. In the course of the smear campaign, allegations were no longer limited to discrediting hints about corruption, but newspapers published open accusations of collaboration with the Falangists and espionage. The final blow inflicted by Minev on the eve of the process was the book Espionage in Spain.

 

Who was Stoyan Minev actually? A Bulgarian Bolshevik, a senior functionary of the Comintern, a favorite of Stalin, who went by many different names. A master of smear propaganda, he was also known as “Ivan Petrovich Stepanov,” “Lorenzo Vanini,” “Dr. Shavarosh”, “Lebedev”, “Ivanov,” “Richard”, “Fotsius” and also with the code names “Kautski”, “Moreno” and “Bernardini” in correspondence of the Comintern.

 

Shakespeare once wrote: “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet“. What is the smell of Moscow’s man with many aliases? Of him and his masters and associates George Orwell wrote in a letter to a friend: “All people who are morally sound have known since about 1931 that the Russian régime stinks.[5]

 

Most researchers of the civil war put Stoyan Minev’s activity as adviser to the Stalinist Communist Party in Spain on par or even higher than that of other Comintern envoys. They themselves at times were leaders of communist parties in their countries – the Italian Palmiro Togliatti, Vittorio Codovilla in Argentine and the Hungarian Ernő Gerő. Minev, on the other hand, is barely known in Bulgaria. Only Prof. Dragomir Draganov [6], who specializes in Spanish history, wrote a short comment 26 years ago to Stoyan Minev’s analysis of the reasons for the failure of the Second Republic. It is unclear whether Minev visited his homeland after the Soviet occupation of Bulgaria. His health deteriorated in the early 1940s and he was no longer as active. At the end of his life he engaged in scientific activities. There is no evidence that he withdrew due to “political” illness. There was no such option in Stalin’s time. Even during the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet consul in Barcelona Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, was recalled and sentenced at a show trial in Moscow and executed in 1938. That too was the fate of the Soviet ambassador to Madrid, Marcel Rosenberg, who was executed the same year.

 

In the end, the “Moscow show trials” in Barcelona ended in catastrophic failure. Stoyan Minev repeatedly warned the Comintern that the Soviet infiltration of the Spanish judicial system was inadequate. In a top secret report to Moscow after the trial, Stoyan Minev described the soft sentences as “scandalous”. Moscow wanted death sentences, similar to the outcomes of the trials in Soviet Russia. All trumped up charges of espionage were dropped. There were people convicted, but for the unrest in Barcelona in 1937, known as the “May events” with the clashes between different factions of the Republicans.

POUM: Political demonstration in Barcelona.
POUM: Political demonstration in Barcelona.

In conclusion, I would like to revert to my theory that Stoyan Minev was probably the prototype of the pig Squealer in George Orwell’s anti-utopia Animal Farm. One of the aforementioned authors, Victor Alba, (a literary pseudonym of the Spaniard Pere Pages), who analyzed most convincingly the grim business carried out by the Comintern envoy, was actually Orwell’s guide and translator at the beginning of his stay in Catalonia.

 

By Konstantin Mishev


[1] Orwell, George, Animal Farm, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1946, P.9

[2] Volodarsky, Boris, Stalin’s Agent: The Life and Death of Alexander Orlov, Оxford University Press

[3] Agustín Guillamón, El terror estalinista en Barcelona 1938, Aldarull & Dskntrl.ed!, 2013

[4] Alba, Victor & Schwartz, Stephen, Spanish Marxism Versus Soviet Communism: A History of the P.O.U.M., Transaction Publishers, 2009

[5] Orwell to Dickens scholar, Humphrey House, letter 1940 , quoted in Cambridge Companion to Orwell, p.137

[6] Draganov, Dragomir, Stalinism, the Comintern and the Spanish Civil War in Stoyan Minev’s report to the Presidium of the Comintern, in Comintern, A collection, BCP, Sofia, 1990

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