At the height of the Cold War, the CIA came up with a scheme to balloon-drop thousands of copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm into Soviet-controlled Poland. Printed in a compact, user-friendly format and translated into Polish, Orwell’s work, banned by the Soviet authorities following its publication in 1945, was mobilised by the Americans and sent to fight on the Cold War’s cultural front line. The CIA evidently hoped that Orwell’s allegorical tale of a revolution gone to the bad and liberators morphing into tyrants would resonate with Polish readers and thus sow seeds of dissent, if not active resistance to Stalinist control.
The precise role of Napoleon and his pig-Bolsheviks in the collapse of Soviet power in eastern Europe in 1989 remains undetermined. But as Duncan White shows in his illuminating take on the literary aspects of the East–West struggle, the
Animal Farm initiative confirms the existence of a Cold War ‘book race’ alongside the well-known arms race. During the Cold War, the Americans and Soviets poured enormous resources into overt and covert methods of disseminating printed material favourable to their ideologies into neutral states, as well as each other’s territories and alliance systems, to champion the primacy of their respective political and economic systems.
Once the Cold War became nuclearised in the 1950s, the chances of a direct US–Soviet military clash diminished as Washington and Moscow embraced the logic of mutually assured destruction. True, the conflict triggered a host of violent and costly proxy wars in the developing world, but elsewhere the