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H.G. Wells and Stalin

 

IN A piece at The Brussels Journal, Thomas F. Bertonneau describes the British author H.G. Wells’s observations on the dictators of the twentieth century. Of particular interest is the description of Wells’s interview with Stalin. Mr. Bertonneau writes:

Stalin in Wells’ eyes was a “lonely overbearing man… damned disagreeable,” and yet possessed of “an intelligence far beyond dogmatism.” In The Experiment, the description of the interview goes on for eight pages (684 – 691). At moments, Stalin is “friendly and commonplace,” obtusely recusant in seeing “any sort of parallelism with the processes and methods and aims of Washington and Moscow,” “not a free impulsive brain nor a scientifically organized brain,” and yet “never… a man more candid, fair and honest” while also being “an exceptionally unsubtle Georgian.” The Big Moustache sat facing Wells – this is the picture The Experiment gives – and he “sucked thoughtfully at the pipe he had most politely asked my permission to smoke.” But to the tenor-voiced Englishman, his precise equal in height, and to the Englishman’s ideas, the vozhd could only say, nyet, but “reflectively,” Wells adds. As the colloquy approached its conclusion, three hours after it began, the two men “discussed liberty of expression.” Stalin told Wells that “he admitted the necessity and excellence of criticism, but preferred that it should be home-made by the party within the party organization.” In fairness to Wells, whom Stalin undoubtedly used, all this happened before the show-trials of 1936 and the attendant Terror. When elements of the Stalin-personality turn up in fictional guise in the later Wellsian authorship, the assessment has noticeably changed.

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