Science and International Literature

Dr Gleb Zilberstein’s investigation of George Orwell’s health involved examining a letter written to Sergey Dinamov, editor of International Literature, a magazine published in Moscow, and distributed in several European languages. Here we describe the magazine itself, with some examples.


Photograph supplied by Dr Zilberstein

International Literature was dedicated to a Marxist or progressive reading, for which Orwell was prepared. Orwell, though, based on his recent experiences in Spain, was not prepared to give a narrow ideological response: hence he mentioned that he had served with a specific organisation in Spain (the POUM, the Workers’ United Marxist Party), to make it explicitly clear that he was not in sympathy with the PSUC (the Catalan/Spanish Comunist Party) which had become an organ of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union).

International Literature 193403 No 6 f

International Literature No. 6 March 1934. English language edition. Front

International Literature 193403 No 6 r

International Literature No. 6 March 1934. English language edition. Rear.


International Literature had distributors in many countries. In Great Britain it was distributed by the publishers Lawrence and Wishart: an example cover here can be seen stamped with a price of 3d (less than 2p in decimal currency), which – given the size of the magazine – was probably subsidized by its publisher. (3d would be about 90p in 2018, allowing for the increase in RPI, when many magazines cost more than £4.00 per issue today).

International Literature 193500 7

International Literature No. 7 1935. English language edition. Front

The British author Geoffrey Trease appeared in issue 7. Trease had published his first two novels in 1934 – Bows Against The Barons and Comrades For The Charter. Both had proved popular in the Soviet Union, the royalties from which allowed Trease and his wife Marion to make a five month visit to the country. According to Wikipedia, Trease contributed his article “‘Revolutionary Literature for the Young’ in which he lays out some principles of what this should be and suggests that there should be a new kind of hero in children’s books.”

George Orwell either failed to see every issue of International Literature or else did not remember Trease’s article, and was pleasantly surprised after he published his essay “Boys’ Weeklies”, in which he decried the absence of left-wing literature for youth, to receive a letter from Trease who pointed out that he had been writing in this way for the past half-decade.

In 1937 the editors of International Literature prepared a reply to Orwell’s letter. The draft (translated from the Russian) reads:-

 Mr George Orwell

The editorial board of the magazine “International Literature” has received your letter — your reply to the previous letter of 31st May. It is indicative that you openly informed us about your connections to POUM. You were right in assuming that our magazine can’t have any relations whatsoever with the members of POUM – the organization, which belongs to Franco’s “Fifth column” operating in the rear of the Spanish Republicans, as it was confirmed by the experience of the Spanish people’s struggle against the invaders.

The journal continued to be published for a few more issues at least: Number 10 contained an article by John Lehmann, the editor who published Orwell’s seminal essay “Shooting an Elephant” in his magazine New Writing in 1936, and again in Penguin New Writing in 1940.

Internationalnaya Literatura was a magazine devoted mostly to translating works written in other languages  (hence the name). It existed till 1943 and then a new magazine with a similar title Inostrannaya Lieratura (Foreign Literature) came into being in its place after Stalin’s death, in 1955, it still exists today.



Our thanks to Dr Gleb Zilberstein and his team.

This article by L J Hurst

Magazine images by the Orwell Society

Uploaded 26 August 2018



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