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Czechoslovakia, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and South Africa (as well as several recently decolonised African states), responded to the spirit of a revolutionary year. He decided to organise a fight-back, setting the pen against the sword, based in London.
George Orwell had already pointed out, in his 1946 essay ‘The Prevention of Literature’, that ‘literature has sometimes flourished under despotic regimes, but the despotisms of the past were not totalitarian’. In fact, it was the totalitarian regime of the USSR, and its trial of Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky, that proved the tipping-point for Spender. He was joined by Pavel Litvinov, the Soviet scientist, dissident and human rights activist, who wrote an open letter asking if it might not be possible to form in England an organisation of intellectuals who would make it their business to publish information about what was happening to their censored, suppressed and imprisoned colleagues abroad. Litvinov was inspired by the fates of fellow Russians, but he insisted that such an organisation should operate internationally and not just concern itself with victims of Soviet oppression, though their plight was possibly the worst in those dark days of the Cold War.
Spender, who was exceedingly well-connected, organised a telegram of support in response to Litvinov’s appeal, signed by an awesome roll-call of the great: Cecil Day-Lewis, Yehudi Menuhin, WH Auden, Henry Moore, AJ Ayer, Bertrand Russell, Julian Huxley, Mary McCarthy, JB Priestley and his wife Jacquetta Hawkes, Paul Scofield, Igor Stravinsky, Stuart Hampshire, Maurice Bowra and George Orwell’s widow, Sonia. These, and subsequently many others, declared they would ‘help in any way possible’.
This initiative led, in turn, to the formation of the Council of WSI (Writers and Scholars International), whose founding members included David Astor, editor of the Observer, Elizabeth Longford, Roland Penrose, Louis Blom-Cooper and Spender himself. Index on Censorship was born when Michael Scammell, an expert on Russia, came up with the idea of founding a magazine. Thus was the ongoing battle for ‘intellectual freedom’ moved onto new terrain best suited uu 1974 – Soviet Union
Author Alexander Solzhenitsyn is expelled and charged with treason following the publication of The Gulag Archipelago, which documents life in the country’s labour camps. Solzhenitsyn had already spent eight years in prison for his writing.