George Orwell in Spain

George Orwell in Spain



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Monday, 15th October, 2018

In 1933 George Orwell published Down and Out in Paris and London. This was followed by three novels, Burmese Days (1934), A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) and Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936). The books did not sell well and Orwell was unable to make enough money to become a full-time writer and had to work as a teacher and as an assistant in a bookshop. A committed socialist he also wrote for a variety of left-wing journals.

Orwell had been shocked and dismayed by the persecution of socialists in Nazi Germany. Like most socialists, he had been impressed by the way that the Soviet Union had been unaffected by the Great Depression and did not suffer the unemployment that was being endured by the workers under capitalism. However, Orwell was a great believer in democracy and rejected the type of government imposed by Joseph Stalin.

Orwell decided that he would now concentrate on politics. As he recalled several years later: "In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer... Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows." (1)

Soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he decided, despite only being married for a month, to go and support the Popular Front government against the fascist forces led by General Francisco Franco and to serve in the International Brigades. Orwell contacted John Strachey who took him to see Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). Orwell later recalled: "Pollitt after questioning me, evidently decided that I was politically unreliable and refused to help me. He also tried to frighten me out of going by talking a lot about Anarchist terrorism." (2)

Orwell visited the headquarters of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and obtained letters of recommendation from Fenner Brockway and Henry Noel Brailsford. Orwell arrived in Barcelona in December 1936 and went to see John McNair, to run the ILP's political office. The ILP was affiliated with Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), an anti-Stalinist organisation formed by Andres Nin and Joaquin Maurin. As a result of an ILP fundraising campaign in England, the POUM had received almost £10,000, as well as an ambulance and a planeload of medical supplies. (3)

It has been pointed out by D. J. Taylor, that McNair was "initially wary of the tall ex-public school boy with the drawling upper-class accent". (4) McNair later recalled: "At first his accent repelled my Tyneside prejudices... He handed me his two letters, one from Fenner Brockway, the other from H.N. Brailsford, both personal friends of mine. I realised that my visitor was none other than George Orwell, two of whose books I had read and greatly admired." Orwell told McNair: "I have come to Spain to join the militia to fight against Fascism". Orwell told him that he was also interested in writing about the "situation and endeavour to stir working-class opinion in Britain and France." (5) Orwell also talked about producing a couple of articles for The New Statesman. (6)

McNair went to see Orwell at the Lenin Barracks a few days later: "Gone was the drawling ex-Etonian, in his place was an ardent young man of action in complete control of the situation... George was forcing about fifty young, enthusiastic but undisciplined Catalonians to learn the rudiments of military drill. He made them run and jump, taught them to form threes, showed them how to use the only rifle available, an old Mauser, by taking it to pieces and explaining it." (7)

In January 1937 George Orwell, given the rank of corporal, was sent to join the offensive at Aragón. The following month he was moved to Huesca. Orwell wrote to Victor Gollancz about life in Spain. "Owing partly to an accident I joined the POUM militia instead of the International Brigade which was a pity in one way because it meant that I have never seen the Madrid front; on the other hand it has brought me into contact with Spaniards rather than Englishmen and especially with genuine revolutionaries. I hope I shall get a chance to write the truth about what I have seen." (8)

A report appeared in a British newspaper of Orwell leading soldiers into battle: "A Spanish comrade rose and rushed forward. Charge! shouted Blair (Orwell)... In front of the parapet was Eric Blair's tall figure coolly strolling forward through the storm of fire. He leapt at the parapet, then stumbled. Hell, had they got him? No, he was over, closely followed by Gross of Hammersmith, Frankfort of Hackney and Bob Smillie, with the others right after them. The trench had been hastily evacuated... In a corner of a trench was one dead man; in a dugout was another body." (9)

On 10th May, 1937, Orwell was wounded by a Fascist sniper. He told Cyril Connolly "a bullet through the throat which of course ought to have killed me but has merely given me nervous pains in the right arm and robbed me of most of my voice." He added that while in Spain "I have seen wonderful things and at last really believe in Socialism, which I never did before." (10)

Joseph Stalin appointed Alexander Orlov as the Soviet Politburo adviser to the Popular Front government. Orlov and his NKVD agents had the unofficial task of eliminating the supporters of Leon Trotsky fighting for the Republican Army and the International Brigades. This included the arrest and execution of leaders of POUM, National Confederation of Trabajo (CNT) and the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI). Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996) has pointed out: "Stalin had a secret and extremely important aim in Spain: to eliminate the supporters of Trotsky who had gathered from all over the world to fight for the Spanish revolution. NKVD men, and Comintern agents loyal to Stalin, accused the Trotskyists of espionage and ruthlessly executed them." (11)

As George Orwell had been fighting with Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) he was identified as an anti-Stalinist and the NKVD attempted to arrest him. Orwell was now in danger of being murdered by communists in the Republican Army. With the help of the British Consul in Barcelona, George Orwell, John McNair and Stafford Cottman were able to escape to France on 23rd June. (12)

Many of Orwell's fellow comrades were not so lucky and were captured and executed. When he arrived back in England he was determined to expose the crimes of Stalin in Spain. However, his left-wing friends in the media, rejected his articles, as they argued it would split and therefore weaken the resistance to fascism in Europe. He was particularly upset by his old friend, Kingsley Martin, the editor of the country's leading socialist journal, The New Statesman, for refusing to publish details of the killing of the anarchists and socialists by the communists in Spain. Left-wing and liberal newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian, News Chronicle and the Daily Worker, as well as the right-wing Daily Mail and The Times, joined in the cover-up. (13)

Orwell did managed to persuade the New English Weekly to publish an article on the reporting of the Spanish Civil War. "I honestly doubt, in spite of all those hecatombs of nuns who have been raped and crucified before the eyes of Daily Mail reporters, whether it is the pro-Fascist newspapers that have done the most harm. It is the left-wing papers, the News Chronicle and the Daily Worker, with their far subtler methods of distortion, that have prevented the British public from grasping the real nature of the struggle." (14)

In another article in the magazine he explained how in "Spain... and to some extent in England, anyone professing revolutionary Socialism (i.e. professing the things the Communist Party professed until a few years ago) is under suspicion of being a Trotskyist in the pay of Franco or Hitler... in England, in spite of the intense interest the Spanish war has aroused, there are very few people who have heard of the enormous struggle that is going on behind the Government lines. Of course, this is no accident. There has been a quite deliberate conspiracy to prevent the Spanish situation from being understood." (15)

George Orwell wrote about his experiences of the Spanish Civil War in Homage to Catalonia. The book was rejected by Victor Gollancz because of its attacks on Joseph Stalin. During this period Gollancz was accused of being under the control of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). He later admitted that he had come under pressure from the CPGB not to publish certain books in the Left Book Club: "When I got letter after letter to this effect, I had to sit down and deny that I had withdrawn the book because I had been asked to do so by the CP - I had to concoct a cock and bull story... I hated and loathed doing this: I am made in such a way that this kind of falsehood destroys something inside me." (16)

The book was eventually published by Frederick Warburg, who was known to be both anti-fascist and anti-communist, which put him at loggerheads with many intellectuals of the time. The book was attacked by both the left and right-wing press. Although one of the best books ever written about war, it sold only 1,500 copies during the next twelve years. As Bernard Crick has pointed out: "Its literary merits were hardly noticed... Some now think of it as Orwell's finest achievement, and nearly all critics see it as his great stylistic breakthrough: he became the serious writer with the terse, easy, vivid colloquial style." (17)

(1) George Orwell, Why I Write (September, 1946)

(2) George Orwell, Notes on the Spanish Militias (1937)

(3) Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorised Biography (1991) page 275

(4) D. Taylor, Orwell the Life (2004) page 202

(5) John McNair, George Orwell: The Man I Knew (March, 1965)

(6) Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (1980) page 208

(7) John McNair, George Orwell: The Man I Knew (March, 1965)

(8) George Orwell, letter to Victor Gollancz (9th May, 1937)

(9) The New Leader (30th April, 1937)

(10) George Orwell, letter to Cyril Connolly (8th June, 1937)

(11) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1996) page 392

(12) Fenner Brockway, Outside the Right (1963) page 25

(13) Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorised Biography (1991) page 305

(14) George Orwell, New English Weekly (29th July, 1937)

(15) George Orwell, New English Weekly (2nd September, 1937)

(16) Dudley Edwards, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (1987) page 246

(17) Bernard Crick, George Orwell : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

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Looking back on the Spanish War

First of all the physical memories, the sounds, the smells and the surfaces of things.

It is curious that more vividly than anything that came afterwards in the Spanish war I remember the week of so-called training that we received before being sent to the front — the huge cavalry barracks in Barcelona with its draughty stables and cobbled yards, the icy cold of the pump where one washed, the filthy meals made tolerable by pannikins of wine, the Trousered militia-women chopping firewood, and the roll-call in the early mornings where my prosaic English name made a sort of comic interlude among the resounding Spanish ones, Manuel Gonzalez, Pedro Aguilar, Ramon Fenellosa, Roque Ballaster, Jaime Domenech, Sebastian Viltron, Ramon Nuvo Bosch. I name those particular men because I remember the faces of all of them. Except for two who were mere riff-raff and have doubtless become good Falangists by this time, it is probable that all of them are dead. Two of them I know to be dead. The eldest would have been about twenty-five, the youngest sixteen.

One of the essential experiences of war is never being able to escape from disgusting smells of human origin. Latrines are an overworked subject in war literature, and I would not mention them if it were not that the latrine in our barracks did its necessary bit towards puncturing my own illusions about the Spanish civil war. The Latin type of latrine, at which you have to squat, is bad enough at its best, but these were made of some kind of polished stone so slippery that it was all you could do to keep on your feet. In addition they were always blocked. Now I have plenty of other disgusting things in my memory, but I believe it was these latrines that first brought home to me the thought, so often to recur: ‘Here we are, soldiers of a revolutionary army, defending Democracy against Fascism, fighting a war which is about something, and the detail of our lives is just as sordid and degrading as it could be in prison, let alone in a bourgeois army.’ Many other things reinforced this impression later for instance, the boredom and animal hunger of trench life, the squalid intrigues over scraps of food, the mean, nagging quarrels which people exhausted by lack of sleep indulge in.

The essential horror of army life (whoever has been a soldier will know what I mean by the essential horror of army life) is barely affected by the nature of the war you happen to be fighting in. Discipline, for instance, is ultimately the same in all armies. Orders have to be obeyed and enforced by punishment if necessary, the relationship of officer and man has to be the relationship of superior and inferior. The picture of war set forth in books like All Quiet on the Western Front is substantially true. Bullets hurt, corpses stink, men under fire are often so frightened that they wet their trousers. It is true that the social background from which an army springs will colour its training, tactics and general efficiency, and also that the consciousness of being in the right can bolster up morale, though this affects the civilian population more than the troops. (People forget that a soldier anywhere near the front line is usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all, too tired to bother about the political origins of the war.) But the laws of nature are not suspended for a ‘red’ army any more than for a ‘white’ one. A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though the cause you are fighting for happens to be just.

Why is it worth while to point out anything so obvious? Because the bulk of the British and American intelligentsia were manifestly unaware of it then, and are now. Our memories are short nowadays, but look back a bit, dig out the files of New Masses or the Daily Worker, and just have a look at the romantic warmongering muck that our left-wingers were spilling at that time. All the stale old phrases! And the unimaginative callousness of it! The sang-froid with which London faced the bombing of Madrid! Here I am not bothering about the counter-propagandists of the Right, the Lunns, Garvins ethoc genus they go without saying. But here were the very people who for twenty years had hooted and jeered at the ‘glory’ of war, at atrocity stories, at patriotism, even at physical courage, coming out with stuff that with the alteration of a few names would have fitted into the Daily Mail of 1918. If there was one thing that the British intelligentsia were committed to, it was the debunking version of war, the theory that war is all corpses and latrines and never leads to any good result. Well, the same people who in 1933 sniggered pityingly if you said that in certain circumstances you would fight for your country, in 1937 were denouncing you as a Trotsky-Fascist if you suggested that the stories in New Masses about freshly wounded men clamouring to get back into the fighting might be exaggerated. And the Left intelligentsia made their swing-over from ‘War is hell’ to ‘War is glorious’ not only with no sense of incongruity but almost without any intervening stage. Later the bulk of them were to make other transitions equally violent. There must be a quite large number of people, a sort of central core of the intelligentsia, who approved the ‘King and Country’ declaration in 1935, shouted for a’ firm line against Germany’ in 1937, supported the People's Convention in 1940, and are demanding a Second Front now.

As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on and off like a tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis. In the intelligentsia I should say they result rather from money and mere physical safety. At a given moment they may be ‘pro-war’ or ‘anti-war’, but in either case they have no realistic picture of war in their minds. When they enthused over the Spanish war they knew, of course, that people were being killed and that to be killed is unpleasant, but they did feel that for a soldier in the Spanish Republican army the experience of war was somehow not degrading. Somehow the latrines stank less, discipline was less irksome. You have only to glance at the New Statesman to see that they believed that exactly similar blah is being written about the Red Army at this moment. We have become too civilized to grasp the obvious. For the truth is very simple. To survive you often have to fight, and to fight you have to dirty yourself. War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil. Those who take the sword perish by the sword, and those who don't take the sword perish by smelly diseases. The fact that such a platitude is worth writing down shows what the years of rentier capitalism have done to us.

In connexion with what I have just said, a footnote, on atrocities.

I have little direct evidence about the atrocities in the Spanish civil war. I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more (they are still continuing) by the Fascists. But what impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence. Recently I drew up a table of atrocities during the period between 1918 and the present there was never a year when atrocities were not occurring somewhere or other, and there was hardly a single case when the Left and the Right believed in the same stories simultaneously. And stranger yet, at any moment the situation can suddenly reverse itself and yesterday's proved-to-the-hilt atrocity story can become a ridiculous lie, merely because the political landscape has changed.

In the present war we are in the curious situation that our ‘atrocity campaign’ was done largely before the war started, and done mostly by the Left, the people who normally pride themselves on their incredulity. In the same period the Right, the atrocity-mongers of 1914-18, were gazing at Nazi Germany and flatly refusing to see any evil in it. Then as soon as war broke out it was the pro-Nazis of yesterday who were repeating horror stories, while the anti-Nazis suddenly found themselves doubting whether the Gestapo really existed. Nor was this solely the result of the Russo-German Pact. It was partly because before the war the Left had wrongly believed that Britain and Germany would never fight and were therefore able to be anti-German and anti-British simultaneously partly also because official war-propaganda, with its disgusting hypocrisy and self-righteousness, always tends to make thinking people sympathize with the enemy. Part of the price we paid for the systematic lying of 1914-17 was the exaggerated pro-German reaction which followed. During the years 1918-33 you were hooted at in left-wing circles if you suggested that Germany bore even a fraction of responsibility for the war. In all the denunciations of Versailles I listened to during those years I don't think I ever once heard the question, ‘What would have happened if Germany had won?’ even mentioned, let alone discussed. So also with atrocities. The truth, it is felt, becomes untruth when your enemy utters it. Recently I noticed that the very people who swallowed any and every horror story about the Japanese in Nanking in 1937 refused to believe exactly the same stories about Hong Kong in 1942. There was even a tendency to feel that the Nanking atrocities had become, as it were, retrospectively untrue because the British Government now drew attention to them.

But unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen. The fact often adduced as a reason for scepticism — that the same horror stories come up in war after war — merely makes it rather more likely that these stories are true. Evidently they are widespread fantasies, and war provides an opportunity of putting them into practice. Also, although it has ceased to be fashionable to say so, there is little question that what one may roughly call the ‘whites’ commit far more and worse atrocities than the ‘reds’. There is not the slightest doubt, for instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. The volume of testimony is enormous, and a respectable proportion of it comes from the German press and radio. These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one's eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads — they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late.

Two memories, the first not proving anything in particular, the second, I think, giving one a certain insight into the atmosphere of a revolutionary period:

Early one morning another man and I had gone out to snipe at the Fascists in the trenches outside Huesca. Their line and ours here lay three hundred yards apart, at which range our aged rifles would not shoot accurately, but by sneaking out to a spot about a hundred yards from the Fascist trench you might, if you were lucky, get a shot at someone through a gap in the parapet. Unfortunately the ground between was a flat beet field with no cover except a few ditches, and it was necessary to go out while it was still-dark and return soon after dawn, before the light became too good. This time no Fascists appeared, and we stayed too long and were caught by the dawn. We were in a ditch, but behind us were two hundred yards of flat ground with hardly enough cover for a rabbit. We were still trying to nerve ourselves to make a dash for it when there was an uproar and a blowing of whistles in the Fascist trench. Some of our aeroplanes were coming over. At this moment, a man presumably carrying a message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a hundred yards, and also that I was thinking chiefly about getting back to our trench while the Fascists had their attention fixed on the aeroplanes. Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at ‘Fascists’ but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a ‘Fascist’, he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at him.

What does this incident demonstrate? Nothing very much, because it is the kind of thing that happens all the time in all wars. The other is different. I don't suppose that in telling it I can make it moving to you who read it, but I ask you to believe that it is moving to me, as an incident characteristic of the moral atmosphere of a particular moment in time.

One of the recruits who joined us while I was at the barracks was a wild-looking boy from the back streets of Barcelona. He was ragged and barefooted. He was also extremely dark (Arab blood, I dare say), and made gestures you do not usually see a European make one in particular — the arm outstretched, the palm vertical — was a gesture characteristic of Indians. One day a bundle of cigars, which you could still buy dirt cheap at that time, was stolen out of my bunk. Rather foolishly I reported this to the officer, and one of the scallywags I have already mentioned promptly came forward and said quite untruly that twenty-five pesetas had been stolen from his bunk. For some reason the officer instantly decided that the brown-faced boy must be the thief. They were very hard on stealing in the militia, and in theory people could be shot for it. The wretched boy allowed himself to be led off to the guardroom to be searched. What most struck me was that he barely attempted to protest his innocence. In the fatalism of his attitude you could see the desperate poverty in which he had been bred. The officer ordered him to take his clothes off. With a humility which was horrible to me he stripped himself naked, and his clothes were searched. Of course neither the cigars nor the money were there in fact he had not stolen them. What was most painful of all was that he seemed no less ashamed after his innocence had been established. That night I took him to the pictures and gave him brandy and chocolate. But that too was horrible — I mean the attempt to wipe out an injury with money. For a few minutes I had half believed him to be a thief, and that could not be wiped out.

Well, a few weeks later at the front I had trouble with one of the men in my section. By this time I was a ‘cabo’, or corporal, in command of twelve men. It was static warfare, horribly cold, and the chief job was getting sentries to stay awake at their posts. One day a man suddenly refused to go to a certain post, which he said quite truly was exposed to enemy fire. He was a feeble creature, and I seized hold of him and began to drag him towards his post. This roused the feelings of the others against me, for Spaniards, I think, resent being touched more than we do. Instantly I was surrounded by a ring of shouting men:’ Fascist! Fascist! Let that man go! This isn't a bourgeois army. Fascist!’ etc., etc. As best I could in my bad Spanish I shouted back that orders had got to be obeyed, and the row developed into one of those enormous arguments by means of which discipline is gradually hammered out in revolutionary armies. Some said I was right, others said I was wrong. But the point is that the one who took my side the most warmly of all was the brown-faced boy. As soon as he saw what was happening he sprang into the ring and began passionately defending me. With his strange, wild, Indian gesture he kept exclaiming, ‘He's the best corporal we've got!’ (No hay cabo como el.) Later on he applied for leave to exchange into my section.

Why is this incident touching to me? Because in any normal circumstances it would have been impossible for good feelings ever to be re-established between this boy and myself. The implied accusation of theft would not have been made any better, probably somewhat worse, by my efforts to make amends. One of the effects of safe and civilized life is an immense oversensitiveness which makes all the primary emotions seem somewhat disgusting. Generosity is as painful as meanness, gratitude as hateful as ingratitude. But in Spain in 1936 we were not living in a normal time. It was a time when generous feelings and gestures were easier than they ordinarily are. I could relate a dozen similar incidents, not really communicable but bound up in my own mind with the special atmosphere of the time, the shabby clothes and the gay-coloured revolutionary posters, the universal use of the word ‘comrade’, the anti-Fascist ballads printed on flimsy paper and sold for a penny, the phrases like ‘international proletarian solidarty’, pathetically repeated by ignorant men who believed them to mean something. Could you feel friendly towards somebody, and stick up for him in a quarrel, after you had been ignominiously searched in his presence for property you were supposed to have stolen from him? No, you couldn't but you might if you had both been through some emotionally widening experience. That is one of the by-products of revolution, though in this case it was only the beginnings of a revolution, and obviously foredoomed to failure.

The struggle for power between the Spanish Republican parties is an unhappy, far-off thing which I have no wish to revive at this date. I only mention it in order to say: believe nothing, or next to nothing, of what you read about internal affairs on the Government side. It is all, from whatever source, party propaganda — that is to say, lies. The broad truth about the war is simple enough. The Spanish bourgeoisie saw their chance of crushing the labour movement, and took it, aided by the Nazis and by the forces of reaction all over the world. It is doubtful whether more than that will ever be established.

I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’. Yet in a way, horrible as all this was, it was unimportant. It concerned secondary issues — namely, the struggle for power between the Comintern and the Spanish left-wing parties, and the efforts of the Russian Government to prevent revolution in Spain. But the broad picture of the war which the Spanish Government presented to the world was not untruthful. The main issues were what it said they were. But as for the Fascists and their backers, how could they come even as near to the truth as that? How could they possibly mention their real aims? Their version of the war was pure fantasy, and in the circumstances it could not have been otherwise.

The only propaganda line open to the Nazis and Fascists was to represent themselves as Christian patriots saving Spain from a Russian dictatorship. This involved pretending that life in Government Spain was just one long massacre (vide the Catholic Herald or the Daily Mail — but these were child's play compared with the Continental Fascist press), and it involved immensely exaggerating the scale of Russian intervention. Out of the huge pyramid of lies which the Catholic and reactionary press all over the world built up, let me take just one point — the presence in Spain of a Russian army. Devout Franco partisans all believed in this estimates of its strength went as high as half a million. Now, there was no Russian army in Spain. There may have been a handful of airmen and other technicians, a few hundred at the most, but an army there was not. Some thousands of foreigners who fought in Spain, not to mention millions of Spaniards, were witnesses of this. Well, their testimony made no impression at all upon the Franco propagandists, not one of whom had set foot in Government Spain. Simultaneously these people refused utterly to admit the fact of German or Italian intervention at the same time as the Germany and Italian press were openly boasting about the exploits of their’ legionaries’. I have chosen to mention only one point, but in fact the whole of Fascist propaganda about the war was on this level.

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence. But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future even then, how is the history of the war to be written? What kind of records will Franco have left behind him? Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written? For, as I have pointed out already, the Government, also dealt extensively in lies. From the anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war, but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth.

I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes but in each case they believed that ‘facts’ existed and were more or less discoverable. And in practice there was always a considerable body of fact which would have been agreed to by almost everyone. If you look up the history of the last war in, for instance, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, you will find that a respectable amount of the material is drawn from German sources. A British and a German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as ‘Science’. There is only ‘German Science’, ‘Jewish Science’, etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.

But is it perhaps childish or morbid to terrify oneself with visions of a totalitarian future? Before writing off the totalitarian world as a nightmare that can't come true, just remember that in 1925 the world of today would have seemed a nightmare that couldn't come true. Against that shifting phantasmagoric world in which black may be white tomorrow and yesterday's weather can be changed by decree, there are in reality only two safeguards. One is that however much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing, as it were, behind your back, and you consequently can't violate it in ways that impair military efficiency. The other is that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered, the liberal tradition can be kept alive. Let Fascism, or possibly even a combination of several Fascisms, conquer the whole world, and those two conditions no longer exist. We in England underrate the danger of this kind of thing, because our traditions and our past security have given us a sentimental belief that it all comes right in the end and the thing you most fear never really happens. Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism, for instance, is founded largely on this belief. Don't resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What evidence is there that it does? And what instance is there of a modern industrialized state collapsing unless conquered from the outside by military force?

Consider for instance the re-institution of slavery. Who could have imagined twenty years ago that slavery would return to Europe? Well, slavery has been restored under our noses. The forced-labour camps all over Europe and North Africa where Poles, Russians, Jews and political prisoners of every race toil at road-making or swamp-draining for their bare rations, are simple chattle slavery. The most one can say is that the buying and selling of slaves by individuals is not yet permitted. In other ways — the breaking-up of families, for instance — the conditions are probably worse than they were on the American cotton plantations. There is no reason for thinking that this state of affairs will change while any totalitarian domination endures. We don't grasp its full implications, because in our mystical way we feel that a regime founded on slavery must collapse. But it is worth comparing the duration of the slave empires of antiquity with that of any modern state. Civilizations founded on slavery have lasted for such periods as four thousand years.

When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves’ names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker's name inscribed on the bottom, ‘Felix fecit’. I have a mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.

The backbone of the resistance against Franco was the Spanish working class, especially the urban trade union members. In the long run — it is important to remember that it is only in the long run — the working class remains the most reliable enemy of Fascism, simply because the working-class stands to gain most by a decent reconstruction of society. Unlike other classes or categories, it can't be permanently bribed.

To say this is not to idealize the working class. In the long struggle that has followed the Russian Revolution it is the manual workers who have been defeated, and it is impossible not to feel that it was their own fault. Time after time, in country after country, the organized working-class movements have been crushed by open, illegal violence, and their comrades abroad, linked to themin theoretical solidarity, have simply looked on and done nothing and underneath this, secret cause of many betrayals, has lain the fact that between white and coloured workers there is not even lip-service to solidarity. Who can believe in the class-conscious international proletariat after the events of the past ten years? To the British working class the massacre of their comrades in Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, or wherever it might be seemed less interesting and less important than yesterday's football match. Yet this does not alter the fact that the working class will go on struggling against Fascism after the others have caved in. One feature of the Nazi conquest of France was the astonishing defections among the intelligentsia, including some of the left-wing political intelligentsia. The intelligentsia are the people who squeal loudest against Fascism, and yet a respectable proportion of them collapse into defeatism when the pinch comes. They are far-sighted enough to see the odds against them, and moreoever they can be bribed — for it is evident that the Nazis think it worth while to bribe intellectuals. With the working class it is the other way about. Too ignorant to see through the trick that is being played on them, they easily swallow the promises of Fascism, yet sooner or later they always take up the struggle again. They must do so, because in their own bodies they always discover that the promises of Fascism cannot be fulfilled. To win over the working class permanently, the Fascists would have to raise the general standard of living, which they are unable and probably unwilling to do. The struggle of the working class is like the growth of a plant. The plant is blind and stupid, but it knows enough to keep pushing upwards towards the light, and it will do this in the face of endless discouragements. What are the workers struggling for? Simply for the decent life which they are more and more aware is now technically possible. Their consciousness of this aim ebbs and flows. In Spain, for a while, people were acting consciously, moving towards a goal which they wanted to reach and believed they could reach. It accounted for the curiously buoyant feeling that life in Government Spain had during the early months of the war. The common people knew in their bones that the Republic was their friend and Franco was their enemy. They knew that they were in the right, because they were fighting for something which the world owed them and was able to give them.

One has to remember this to see the Spanish war in its true perspective. When one thinks of the cruelty, squalor, and futility of War — and in this particular case of the intrigues, the persecutions, the lies and the misunderstandings — there is always the temptation to say: ‘One side is as bad as the other. I am neutral’. In practice, however, one cannot be neutral, and there is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one stands more or less for progress, the other side more or less for reaction. The hatred which the Spanish Republic excited in millionaires, dukes, cardinals, play-boys, Blimps, and what-not would in itself be enough to show one how the land lay. In essence it was a class war. If it had been won, the cause of the common people everywhere would have been strengthened. It was lost, and the dividend-drawers all over the world rubbed their hands. That was the real issue all else was froth on its surface.

The outcome of the Spanish war was settled in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin — at any rate not in Spain. After the summer of 1937 those with eyes in their heads realized that the Government could not win the war unless there were some profound change in the international set-up, and in deciding to fight on Negrin and the others may have been partly influenced by the expectation that the world war which actually broke out in 1939 was coming in 1938. The much-publicized disunity on the Government side was not a main cause of defeat. The Government militias were hurriedly raised, ill-armed and unimaginative in their military outlook, but they would have been the same if complete political agreement had existed from the start. At the outbreak of war the average Spanish factory-worker did not even know how to fire a rifle (there had never been universal conscription in Spain), and the traditional pacifism of the Left was a great handicap. The thousands of foreigners who served in Spain made good infantry, but there were very few experts of any kind among them. The Trotskyist thesis that the war could have been won if the revolution had not been sabotaged was probably false. To nationalize factories, demolish churches, and issue revolutionary manifestoes would not have made the armies more efficient. The Fascists won because they were the stronger they had modern arms and the others hadn't. No political strategy could offset that.

The most baffling thing in the Spanish war was the behaviour of the great powers. The war was actually won for Franco by the Germans and Italians, whose motives were obvious enough. The motives of France and Britain are less easy to understand. In 1936 it was clear to everyone that if Britain would only help the Spanish Government, even to the extent of a few million pounds’ worth of arms, Franco would collapse and German strategy would be severely dislocated. By that time one did not need to be a clairvoyant to foresee that war between Britain and Germany was coming one could even foretell within a year or two when it would come. Yet in the most mean, cowardly, hypocritical way the British ruling class did all they could to hand Spain over to Franco and the Nazis. Why? Because they were pro-Fascist, was the obvious answer. Undoubtedly they were, and yet when it came to the final showdown they chose to Stand up to Germany. It is still very uncertain what plan they acted on in backing Franco, and they may have had no clear plan at all. Whether the British ruling class are wicked or merely stupid is one of the most difficult questions of our time, and at certain moments a very important question. As to the Russians, their motives in the Spanish war are completely inscrutable. Did they, as the pinks believed, intervene in Spain in order to defend Democracy and thwart the Nazis? Then why did they intervene on such a niggardly scale and finally leave Spain in the lurch? Or did they, as the Catholics maintained, intervene in order to foster revolution in Spain? Then why did they do all in their power to crush the Spanish revolutionary movements, defend private property and hand power to the middle class as against the working class? Or did they, as the Trotskyists suggested, intervene simply in order to prevent a Spanish revolution? Then why not have backed Franco? Indeed, their actions are most easily explained if one assumes that they were acting on several contradictory motives. I believe that in the future we shall come to feel that Stalin's foreign policy, instead of being so diabolically clever as it is claimed to be, has been merely opportunistic and stupid. But at any rate, the Spanish civil war demonstrated that the Nazis knew what they were doing and their opponents did not. The war was fought at a low technical level and its major strategy was very simple. That side which had arms would win. The Nazis and the Italians gave arms to the Spanish Fascist friends, and the western democracies and the Russians didn't give arms to those who should have been their friends. So the Spanish Republic perished, having’ gained what no republic missed’.

Whether it was right, as all left-wingers in other countries undoubtedly did, to encourage the Spaniards to go on fighting when they could not win is a question hard to answer. I myself think it was right, because I believe that it is better even from the point of view of survival to fight and be conquered than to surrender without fighting. The effects on the grand strategy of the struggle against Fascism cannot be assessed yet. The ragged, weaponless armies of the Republic held out for two and a half years, which was undoubtedly longer than their enemies expected. But whether that dislocated the Fascist timetable, or whether, on the other hand, it merely postponed the major war and gave the Nazis extra time to get their war machine into trim, is still uncertain.

I never think of the Spanish war without two memories coming into my mind. One is of the hospital ward at Lerida and the rather sad voices of the wounded militiamen singing some song with a refrain that ended —

Well, they fought to the end all right. For the last eighteen months of the war the Republican armies must have been fighting almost without cigarettes, and with precious little food. Even when I left Spain in the middle of 1937, meat and bread were scarce, tobacco a rarity, coffee and sugar almost unobtainable.

The other memory is of the Italian militiaman who shook my hand in the guardroom, the day I joined the militia. I wrote about this man at the beginning of my book on the Spanish war(1), and do not want to repeat what I said there. When I remember — oh, how vividly! — his shabby uniform and fierce, pathetic, innocent face, the complex side-issues of the war seem to fade away and I see clearly that there was at any rate no doubt as to who was in the right. In spite of power politics and journalistic lying, the central issue of the war was the attempt of people like this to win the decent life which they knew to be their birthright. It is difficult to think of this particular man's probable end without several kinds of bitterness. Since I met him in the Lenin Barracks he was probably a Trotskyist or an Anarchist, and in the peculiar conditions of our time, when people of that sort are not killed by the Gestapo they are usually killed by the G.P.U. But that does not affect the long-term issues. This man's face, which I saw only for a minute or two, remains with me as a sort of visual reminder of what the war was really about. He symbolizes for me the flower of the European working class, harried by the police of all countries, the people who fill the mass graves of the Spanish battlefields and are now, to the tune of several millions, rotting in forced-labour camps.

When one thinks of all the people who support or have supported Fascism, one stands amazed at their diversity. What a crew! Think of a programme which at any rate for a while could bring Hitler, Petain, Montagu Norman, Pavelitch, William Randolph Hearst, Streicher, Buchman, Ezra Pound, Juan March, Cocteau, Thyssen, Father Coughlin, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Arnold Lunn, Antonescu, Spengler, Beverley Nichols, Lady Houston, and Marinetti all into the same boat! But the clue is really very simple. They are all people with something to lose, or people who long for a hierarchical society and dread the prospect of a world of free and equal human beings. Behind all the ballyhoo that is talked about ‘godless’ Russia and the ‘materialism’ of the working class lies the simple intention of those with money or privileges to cling to them. Ditto, though it contains a partial truth, with all the talk about the worthlessness of social reconstruction not accompanied by a ‘change of heart’. The pious ones, from the Pope to the yogis of California, are great on the’ change of heart’, much more reassuring from their point of view than a change in the economic system. Petain attributes the fall of France to the common people's ‘love of pleasure’. One sees this in its right perspective if one stops to wonder how much pleasure the ordinary French peasant's or working-man's life would contain compared with Petain's own. The damned impertinence of these politicians, priests, literary men, and what-not who lecture the working-class socialist for his ‘materialism’! All that the working man demands is what these others would consider the indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all. Enough to eat, freedom from the haunting terror of unemployment, the knowledge that your children will get a fair chance, a bath once a day, clean linen reasonably often, a roof that doesn't leak, and short enough working hours to leave you with a little energy when the day is done. Not one of those who preach against ‘materialism’ would consider life livable without these things. And how easily that minimum could be attained if we chose to set our minds to it for only twenty years! To raise the standard of living of the whole world to that of Britain would not be a greater undertaking than the war we have just fought. I don't claim, and I don't know who does, that that wouldn't solve anything in itself. It is merely that privation and brute labour have to be abolished before the real problems of humanity can be tackled. The major problem of our time is the decay of the belief in personal immortality, and it cannot be dealt with while the average human being is either drudging like an ox or shivering in fear of the secret police. How right the working classes are in their ‘materialism’! How right they are to realize that the belly comes before the soul, not in the scale of values but in point of time! Understand that, and the long horror that we are enduring becomes at least intelligible. All the considerations are likely to make one falter — the siren voices of a Petain or of a Gandhi, the inescapable fact that in order to fight one has to degrade oneself, the equivocal moral position of Britain, with its democratic phrases and its coolie empire, the sinister development of Soviet Russia, the squalid farce of left-wing politics — all this fades away and one sees only the struggle of the gradually awakening common people against the lords of property and their hired liars and bumsuckers. The question is very simple. Shall people like that Italian soldier be allowed to live the decent, fully human life which is now technically achievable, or shan't they? Shall the common man be pushed back into the mud, or shall he not? I myself believe, perhaps on insufficient grounds, that the common man will win his fight sooner or later, but I want it to be sooner and not later — some time within the next hundred years, say, and not some time within the next ten thousand years. That was the real issue of the Spanish war, and of the last war, and perhaps of other wars yet to come.

I never saw the Italian militiaman again, nor did I ever learn his name. It can be taken as quite certain that he is dead. Nearly two years later, when the war was visibly lost, I wrote these verses in his memory:

The Italian soldier shook my hand
Beside the guard-room table
The strong hand and the subtle hand
Whose palms are only able

To meet within the sound of guns,
But oh! what peace I knew then
In gazing on his battered face
Purer than any woman's!

For the flyblown words that make me spew
Still in his ears were holy,
And he was born knowing what I had learned
Out of books and slowly.

The treacherous guns had told their tale
And we both had bought it,
But my gold brick was made of gold —
Oh! who ever would have thought it?

Good luck go with you, Italian soldier!
But luck is not for the brave
What would the world give back to you?
Always less than you gave.

Between the shadow and the ghost,
Between the white and the red,
Between the bullet and the lie,
Where would you hide your head?

For where is Manuel Gonzalez,
And where is Pedro Aguilar,
And where is Ramon Fenellosa?
The earthworms know where they are.

Your name and your deeds were forgotten
Before your bones were dry,
And the lie that slew you is buried
Under a deeper lie

But the thing that I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.


New Evidence Suggests Soviets Surveilled George Orwell During Spanish Civil War

It may not be as well-known as his fictional explorations of totalitarian states, but George Orwell’s memoir Homage to Catalonia remains one of his most singular works. It’s an account of Orwell (aka Eric Blair)’s time fighting in the Spanish Civil War, and it gives a sense of the complex nature of the factions fighting there.

Orwell’s book is a fascinating and compelling read on its own, but it’s also part of a larger history of the Spanish Civil War. While researching a new book on the conflict, author Giles Tremlett discovered previously-unseen historical records which offer a larger sense of the context around Orwell’s time in Spain — and of the larger geopolitical forces at work there.

More Like This

A new article at The Guardian by Harriet Sherwood neatly summarizes Tremlett’s findings. Tremlett discovered documents in Moscow which point to the Soviet Union’s surveillance of Orwell and his wife during their time in Spain. Orwell became affiliated with the Independent Labour party, which was in turn associated with the anti-Stalinist group POUM.

As Sherwood writes, the atmosphere in Spain was one in which numerous conflicting factions acted against one another.

“Reports on Poum members were drawn up by the International Brigades’ branch of the military intelligence service, which was led by members of the Moscow-based Communist International, Comintern,” Sherwood writes. “They show the level of paranoia among a hard core of Stalinists in both the Republican army and the International Brigades.”

Tremlett’s discoveries include everything from diagrams illustrating the conflicts taking place within opposition groups to evidence of strain in the Orwells’ marriage. Taken together, they offer a greater understanding of a powerful literary work — and a transformative moment in history.

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Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War

October 24, 2011 · 20 Comments

In 1943, three years into WWII, Orwell wrote “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War,” a long meditation on his memories of his experience in the first half of 1937 which he wrote about later that year. Compare and contrast Homage to Catalonia and “Looking Back.” Pay attention to the different emphasis in both works. What is the intention behind writing “Looking Back” and what does he aim to achieve by writing it? How have his attitudes changed? Is the essay a reconsideration? A recollection? Lastly, how and why does he rework his earlier encounter with the Italian militia man in poetic form? What does he mean by the “crystal spirit” in the last stanza of the poem?

Categories: Orwell and Spain
Tagged: Spain


George Orwell: 'History Stopped in 1936, Everything Since is Just Propaganda'

© press

Arguably one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, George Orwell often described a dystopian future that has eerily evolved into the reality of our present day.

His most famous work, 1984, imagined a world where people were controlled by a totalitarian new world order, that enslaved its people through screens that funneled propaganda into the consciousness of every citizen.

Perhaps, in the modern world, it would be easy to dream up such a narrative, but Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published in 1949.

His commentary was so frighteningly accurate, that many assume he somehow had foreknowledge of the future, enabling him to accurately predict the contemporary world as a largely simulated reality conditioned by technology and mass media.

Aside from 1984, George Orwell sounded the warning bell of modern man&rsquos mainstream media enslavement, decades ago, when he said, "History stopped in 1936."

According to IT, the source of this intriguing observation is not Orwell&rsquos novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but his 1943 essay &ldquoLooking back on the Spanish War.&rdquo

It was written as a reflection on Orwell&rsquos participation in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), in which he fought for the Republican side against the Franco-led fascists.

According to Orwell, it was during the Spanish War that he became aware of the pervasive use of propaganda used to support the modern totalitarian regimes.

&ldquoI remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, &lsquoHistory stopped in 1936&rsquo, at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various &lsquoparty lines&rsquo.&rdquo

Orwell&rsquos above observations were inspired by the World War II era when totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and Communist Russia constituted a threat to freedom in the world.

But since then, a number of thinkers have remarked that America and other Western countries are devolving into a &ldquosoft totalitarianism,&rdquo in which a pleasure-loving and increasingly lonely populace surrenders their freedoms to radical ideologies, which maintain their hold through education and a steady stream of propaganda.

As a result of the modern world&rsquos reliance on propaganda, Orwell recognized that our access to the truth of past events&mdashsuch as the Spanish Civil War or World War II&mdashwould be severely compromised:

&ldquoThis kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history&hellip Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become the truth.&rdquo

Orwell was not naive about history.

He noted it was &ldquothe fashion&rdquo to suggest that history was essentially a long list of lies and recognized the likelihood that many writers of history &ldquodeliberately lied . or unconsciously colored what they wrote.&rdquo

&ldquoBut what is peculiar to our own age,&rdquo Orwell wrote, &ldquois the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written&rdquo that there is a &ldquobody. of neutral fact on which neither [historian] would seriously challenge the other.&rdquo

If true, Orwell's reflections lead to some frightening conclusions.

Namely, that the propaganda of the past is now our &ldquohistory,&rdquo that the propaganda we see in the news today will one day be studied by future generations as &ldquotruth,&rdquo and that reality stretches ever further beyond our grasp in an age of relativism and mass media.

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George Orwell in Spain - History

It is fascinating seeing people in the 21st century, especially self-declared leftists, still lionizing George Orwell, the worst kind of reactionary turncoat.

For years, the cat has been out of the bag: George Orwell secretly worked for the UK’s Foreign Office. At the end of his life, he was an outright counter-revolutionary snitch, spying on leftists on behalf of the imperialist British government.

The US government also found Orwell’s work quite useful. The coup-plotting, death squad-training assassins and torturers at the Central Intelligence Agency turned Orwell’s books into a propaganda weapon. The CIA even funded the Animal Farm movie, which is now mandatory viewing in many high schools.

But that happened after Orwell’s death in 1950. What is more scandalous is that he knowingly collaborated with the UK government when he was still alive.

“Orwell’s List” is a term that should be known by anyone who claims to be a person of the left. It was a blacklist Orwell compiled for the British government’s Information Research Department, an anti-communist propaganda unit set up for the Cold War.

The list includes dozens of suspected communists, “crypto-communists,” socialists, “fellow travelers,” and even LGBT people and Jews — their names scribbled alongside the sacrosanct 1984 author’s disparaging comments about the personal predilections of those blacklisted.

The document was declassified by the British government in 2003. The leading neoliberal newspaper The Guardian reported at the time that the blacklist “contains the names of 38 public figures, from the actors Charlie Chaplin and Michael Redgrave to the author JB Priestley, whom Orwell suggested should not be trusted by the IRD as anti-communist propagandists.”

Timothy Garton Ash, the historian who obtained the document, revealed that Orwell gave the blacklist to his close friend Celia Kirwan, who worked for the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department, from his sickbed in May 1949.

Orwell had told Kirwan in April that the list included journalists and writers who “in my opinion are crypto-communists, fellow-travellers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists.”

“There seems to be general agreement by Orwell’s fans, left and right, to skate gently over Orwell’s suspicions of Jews, homosexuals and blacks, also over the extreme ignorance of his assessments,” wrote legendary radical journalist Alexander Cockburn, sardonically referring to the anti-communist blacklist as “St. George’s List.”

“If any other postwar left intellectual was suddenly found to have written mini-diatribes about blacks, homosexuals and Jews, we can safely assume that subsequent commentary would not have been forgiving,” he added. “Here there’s barely a word.”

Cockburn’s The Nation article on the subject, “St. George’s List,” is difficult to find today. I have republished it in full below. The article was also expanded into “The Fable of the Weasel,” Cockburn’s foreword for John Reed’s Animal Farm parody Snowball’s Chance.

Apologists insist Orwell simply “sold out” later in life and became a cranky conservative, yet the story is more complex. Orwell had a consistent political thread throughout his life. This explains how he could go from fighting alongside a Spanish Trostkyite militia in a multi-tendency war against fascism to demonizing the Soviet Union as The Real Enemy — before returning home to imperial Britain, where he became a social democratic traitor who castigated capitalism while collaborating with the capitalist state against revolutionaries trying to create socialism.

Sure, the USSR did some objectionable things, but it was also the only large country in the entire world that supported the Spanish Republicans in their fight against fascism (excluding a bit of extra support from Mexico). The Soviet Union understood that one cannot have a revolution if one cannot even defeat the fascist counterrevolution first — a lesson many on the left still have not learned today.

Yet leftists like Orwell and his devoted followers continue to lament Kronstadt and revel in their ideological purity — while conveniently living relatively comfortable lives in Western imperialist countries that commit much more heinous crimes throughout the world every day.

Orwell spent WWII writing about how evil the Nazi-destroying USSR was

George Orwell’s infantile politics are most evident in his magnum opus, 1984. And one of the most important reviews of this book was not by a political scholar or philosopher, but rather by none other than science fiction master Isaac Asimov.

In his review of 1984, Asimov rips the novel to shreds. He also points out a shocking fact that conveniently escapes the myriad disciples of the British author: George Orwell spent the peak years of genocidal destruction of World War II writing a childish story about how evil the Nazi-killing Soviet Union supposedly was.

He [Orwell] wasn’t much affected, apparently, by the Nazi brand of totalitarianism, for there was no room within him except for his private war with Stalinist communism. Consequently, when Great Britain was fighting for its life against Nazism, and the Soviet Union fought as an ally in the struggle and contributed rather more than its share in lives lost and in resolute courage, Orwell wrote Animal Farm, which was a satire of the Russian Revolution and what followed, picturing it in terms of a revolt of barnyard animals against human masters.

He completed Animal Farm in 1944 and had trouble finding a publisher, since it wasn’t a particularly good time for upsetting the Soviets. As soon as the war came to an end, however, the Soviet Union was fair game, and Animal Farm was published.

Orwell wrote this childish novel — now basically mandatory reading in US high schools — in 1943 and 1944, at the height of the Nazi Holocaust.

That is to say, while the genocidal Nazi regime was mowing down Red Army soldiers with warplanes, tanks, and machine guns — and while SS officers were shoving Jews, Romani, and disabled people into ovens and gas chambers — George Orwell was occupying his time writing a story about barn animals and how Stalin was a big mean pig.

The Battle of Stalingrad, one of the largest battles in human history, ended in 1943 — the year Orwell began work on Animal Farm. In this battle alone, half a million Soviet soldiers sacrificed their lives to defeat fascism.

In the entire war, more than 26 million Soviets died — compared to just around 400,000 Brits and 400,000 Americans. Even virulent right-wing colonialist and racist Winston Churchill, an inveterate anti-communist, had to admit the undeniable fact that “it is the Russian Armies who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army,” or, as he repeated in 1944, “it is the Red Army that has torn the guts out of the filthy Nazis.”

But if you were to read Orwell, you would think that the Soviets were the real evil ones. As Asimov observed in his review, in 1984, “Orwell didn’t want readers to mistake the villains for Nazis. The picture is of Stalinism, and Stalinism only.”

In fact Orwell had nothing at all to say about the enormous Soviet sacrifice in World War II. He was much more interested in demonizing the USSR and everything it stood for. Because, like much too many anti-communist “leftists,” Orwell’s hatred of communists exceeded his hatred of genocidal fascists (something he shared in common with Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain).

Isaac Asimov was no communist he was much more of a progressive New Deal Democrat. But even he was shocked at Orwell’s childish personal obsessions, noting that, “to the end of his life, he [Orwell] carried on a private literary war with the communists, determined to win in words the battle he had lost in action.”

Asimov was also struck simply by how bad 1984 is as a piece of literature. “I read it and found myself absolutely astonished at what I read,” he recalls. “I wondered how many people who talked about the novel so glibly had ever read it or if they had, whether they remembered it at all. I felt I would have to write the critique if only to set people straight.”

But there is a reason we remember Orwell. And it is not because of his literary prowess. It is because of the novel’s political utility to reactionary capitalist and imperialist governments. Asimov is careful to point out:

By the time the book [1984] came out in 1949, the Cold War was at its height. The book therefore proved popular. It was almost a matter of patriotism in the West to buy it and talk about it, and perhaps even to read parts of it, although it is my opinion that more people bought it and talked about it than read it, for it is a dreadfully dull book – didactic, repetitious, and all but motionless.

From British colonial officer to anti-communist snitch

None of this is to even mention the earlier life of George Orwell, the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair (of no know familial relation to Tony Blair, although their fake “left-wing” politics are certainly related). The son of a British colonial officer from a wealthy landed family, Orwell made no secret of the fact that he began his career as a British imperial official working in the Crown’s colonies in southeast Asia.

Sure, Orwell later denounced his past work on behalf of the British empire, but he held on to his colonialist mentality.

Orwell’s politics are social chauvinist in the rawest sense. It is no coincidence that many of his avowed admirers today lionize and whitewash “revolutionary” extremist Salafi-jihadist militias in Syria and Libya, while at the same moment violently condemning progressive revolutions in Cuba, China, Vietnam, Venezuela, and beyond as mere “Stalinist bureaucracies.”

That is to say, it should come as no surprise that the architect of Animal Farm is adored by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Michael Weiss. George Orwell was the first in a long line of Trots-turned-neocons.

“St. George’s List,” by Alexander Cockburn

The following article was first published as Cockburn’s column “Beat the Devil” in The Nation on December 7, 1998

In our last installment we left the two most notable anti-Communist literary figures in postwar England about to enjoy a country weekend together, with George Orwell visiting Arthur Koestler’s cottage in Wales. This was Christmas 1946. Also present were Koestler’s second wife, Mamaine, and her twin sister, Celia Kirwan. Orwell took a shine to Celia and indeed proposed to her soon after they were back in London. She turned him down.

The most notorious component of the subsequent transactions was the remission by Orwell to Kirwan of a list of the names of persons on the left whom he deemed security risks, as Communists or fellow travelers. The notoriety stems from the fact that Kirwan worked for the Information Research Department, lodged in the Foreign Office but in fact overseen by the Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6.

When Orwell’s secret denunciations surfaced a couple of years ago, there was a medium-level commotion. Now, with the publication of Peter Davison’s maniacally complete twenty-volume collected Orwell, the topic of Orwell as government snitch has flared again, with more lissome apologies for St. George from the liberal/left and bellows of applause from cold-warriors, taking the line that if Orwell, great hero of the non-Communist left, named names, then that provides moral cover for all the Namers of Names who came after him.

Those on the non-Com left have rushed to shore up St. George’s reputation. Some emphasize Orwell’s personal feelings toward Kirwan. The guy was in love. Others argue Orwell was near death’s door, traditionally a time for confessionals. Others have insisted that Orwell didn’t really name names, and, anyway (this was Ian Hamilton in the London Review of Books), “he was forever making lists” — a fishing log, a log of how many eggs his hens laid — so why not a snitch list?

Christopher Hitchens hastened into print in Vanity Fair with a burrito con todo of these approaches. “Orwell named no names and disclosed no identities.” Actually, he did both, as in “Parker, Ralph. Underground member and close FT [fellow traveler]? Stayed on in Moscow. Probably careerist.” Presumably these secret advisories to an IRD staffer whom Hitchens describes as not only a “trusted friend” and “old flame” but also-no supporting evidence offered for this odd claim-“a leftist of heterodox opinions” had consequences. Blacklists usually do. No doubt the list was passed on in some form to American intelligence agencies that made due note of those listed as fellow travelers and duly proscribed them under the McCarran Act.

Hitchens speaks of Orwell’s “tendresse” for Kirwan. He insists Orwell “wasn’t interested in unearthing heresy or in getting people fired or in putting them under the discipline of a loyalty oath,” though as opposed to the mellow tendresse for secret agent Kirwan, he had “an acid contempt for the Communists who had betrayed their cause and their country once before and might do so again.”

Here Orwell would surely have given a vigorous nod. Orwell’s defenders claim that he was only making sure the wrong sort of person wasn’t hired by the Foreign Office to write essays on the British way of life. But Orwell made it clear to the IRD he was identifying people who were “unreliable” and who, worming their way into organizations like the British Labor Party, “might be able to do enormous mischief.” Loyalty was the issue.

There seems to be general agreement by Orwell’s fans, left and right, to skate gently over Orwell’s suspicions of Jews, homosexuals and blacks, also over the extreme ignorance of his assessments. Of Paul Robeson he wrote, “very anti-white. [Henry] Wallace supporter.” Only a person who instinctively thought all blacks were anti-white could have written this piece of stupidity. One of Robeson’s indisputable features, consequent upon his intellectual disposition and his connections with the Communists, was that he was most emphatically not “very anti-white.” Ask the Welsh coal miners for whom Robeson campaigned.

If any other postwar left intellectual was suddenly found to have written mini-diatribes about blacks, homosexuals and Jews, we can safely assume that subsequent commentary would not have been forgiving. Here there’s barely a word about Orwell’s antiSemitism — “Deutscher (Polish Jew),” “Driberg, Tom. English Jew,” “Chaplin, Charles (Jewish?),” on which the usually sensitive Norman Podhoretz was silent in National Review and which Hitchens softly alludes to as “a slightly thuggish side” — or about his crusty dislike of pansies, vegetarians, peaceniks, women in tweed skirts and others athwart the British Way. Much of the time he sounds like a cross between Evelyn Waugh, a much better writer, and Paul Johnson, as in Orwell’s comment that “one of the surest signs of [Conrad’s] genius is that women dislike his books.” The racist drivel about Robeson and about George Padmore — “Negro. African origin? Expelled CP about 1936. Nevertheless pro-Russian. Main emphasis anti-white” — arouses no comment.

Then there’s the IRD, an outfit that, at the time of Orwell’s listmaking, was strenuously reaching out to Ukrainian nationalists, many of whom had enthusiastically assisted the Nazi Einsatzgruppen as they went about liquidating Jews and Communists. One IRD man working in this capacity was Robert Conquest, a big Orwell fan and Kirwan admirer. I discussed his role in an exchange with him in The Nation in 1989, one I remember Hitchens said he’d read closely, which makes his studiously vague reference in The Nation to “something named the Information Research Department” disingenuous. Conquest, in the TLS, cites a letter of Orwell’s to Koestler as evidence that Orwell was well aware of what the IRD was up to with the Ukrainians and approved.

When someone becomes a saint, everything is mustered as testimony to his holiness. So it is with St. George and his list. Thus, in 1998 we have fresh endorsement of all the cold war constructs as they were shaped in the immediate postwar years, when the cold war coalition from right to left signed on to fanatical anti-Communism. The IRD, disabled in the seventies by a Labor Foreign Minister on the grounds it was a sinkhole of right-wing nuts, would have been pleased.


George Orwell in Spain - History

Inserted 15 March 2021 by Rerevisionist:

There's a myth that Orwell showed Jew awareness in his novel Burmese Days. Here's the only passage in his novel that mentions Jews. And it's clearly put into a conversation between two of Orwell's rather silly characters.

Inserted 11 Nov 2019 by Rerevisionist:

Online post by 'Jan L', January 11, 2012:
All intelligent men with leadership potential get jew handlers. George Orwell had many. One of them wrote a book about it. Don&rsquot remember his name at the moment.

Online post by 'Jan L', January 12, 2012:
The writers name is T R Fyvel. The book is &ldquoGeorge Orwell, a personal memoir&rdquo. [Amazon says published 1982]
I recommend this book for two reasons:
1. It shows how Orwell had a whole suite of jews in attendance during the [Second World] war and up to his death in 1950. Fyvel mentions 5 or 6 of them by name. The jews became interested in him directly when he published his first book around 1930.
2. Fyvel reveals how Israel had an army already in the 1930s, although the state of Israel wasn&rsquot founded untill 1948. This Israeli army was of course a part of the British army in the mandate of Palestine. But it seems to have consisted mostly of jews. Their mission was to &ldquoraid Arab rebels&rdquo, as Fyvel writes.

Inserted 28 Jun 2016 by Rerevisionist:
Miles W Mathis is a data miner of online biographies, and has produced some spectacular information. One of his pdf pieces is Noam Chomsky is and always has been A SPOOK (first published November 29, 2015). This piece includes some references to George Orwell (among many others) and some of the magazines he wrote for. (At this time of writing, Mathis has no piece solely on Orwell, as far as I know). Miles W Mathis on Noam Chomsky is the original file here are a few paragraphs:&ndash

.
Orwell is always sold as gritty and on-the-ground, willing to get his hands dirty with the common folk. But if we study his bio, we again find he is from vast pools of wealth. His real name was Eric Blair, and on his father's side the Blairs were descended from the Earl of Westmoreland. So he was an aristocrat on his father's side. But his mother's side is more hidden. Even greater wealth came from that side, since she was a Limouzin, rich French timber merchants in Burma. Francis Mathew Limouzin was a millionaire many times over. We are told Orwell's family had slipped into poverty, but that is a myth. The Blair side had slipped a bit, though not into poverty. But the Limouzin side was still very wealthy. His childhood friend from next door was Jacintha Buddicom, and she married a peer. So they had to have been in a very posh neighborhood.
.
Orwell's claim to be impoverished and a man of the people doesn't hold much water. After Eton he joined the Imperial Police in Burma, which of course is where his rich grandparents were. He was soon promoted to District Superintendent in the district that just happened to house the Burma Oil Company. Suddenly at age 24, he quit the police to become a writer. That was 1927. His first book came out in 1933. Note the date. It was called Down and out in Paris and London. Although he was supported during those years by his rich family, he dressed as a tramp and infiltrated the poorer quarters. We are told this was due to his desire to understand the repressed lower classes, but it looks more like spying to me. It is an obvious precursor to Jack Kerouac's On the Road and the whole fake Beat Generation that took it up immediately on Orwell's death in 1950. There is lot more to say about Orwell, but that is enough for my purposes here.

Eric Blair, or 'George Orwell' (1903 - 1950) is best known for his novels Animal Farm (1944) and 1984 (1949). He lived in Burma until he was about 24 biographies are a bit low on detail until he was about 30. He became a journalist and writer his first essays appeared about 1930. He wrote on Paris (1933), Burma (1934), and Wigan, Lancashire (1937 - he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz, a notable Jewish publisher of 'red' books). Orwell spent something like a gap year in Spain in 1937 - Homage to Catalonia was published in 1938, by Secker & Warburg - where he fought, or perhaps played at fighting then he spent some time in Morocco.

[Note added later, 3 Sep 2020:
I found by chance an autobiography by A. A. Lawson, copyrighted 1983, published, at least in my edition, by The Book Guild Ltd, Sussex, ISBN 0 86332 005 8. The author, Arnold Lawson, 'read Agriculture and Forestry at Pembroke College, Cambridge.' His year of birth must have been something like 1905. He was in Burma from 1928-1950. The jacket blurb states 'This period was interrupted by the rebellion in 1930-1931 where [he] was Mentioned in Dispatches.'&mdashtheir capitals. The book is unindexed, so it's difficult to look up possible details, such as whether he met Orwell, or his views on Japan, and the Second World War and its aftermath. But there is a glossary of local terms, mostly landscape expressions, geography, rivers, and elephant issues.
Like most autobiographies, emphasis is put on unusual events and oddities. So everyday life is under-represented, and correspondingly difficult to understand. And, also like most autobiographies, Lawson had no idea about the wide world, notably European and world politics, and Jewish finance and its tentacles. But it has some interest in describing Buddhism and superstitions and funding of monasteries, in the disruptive influence of missionaries, dangerous wildlife, but importantly the positive experiences of British Colonialism.
The blurb praises Col J H Williams's Elephant Bill of 'some years earlier' it seems to have shown Lawson that that there was 'wide interest in the Burmese jungle of this period.']

Orwell's thought was dominated by the written word, mostly the English written word, though he must have been exposed to the classics. It's important to realise how bound up Orwell's world view was with printed material he must have read widely and promiscuously, and not particularly intelligently, when he was young. He was aware of this limitation hence perhaps his foreign adventures, though his wartime work was in England, in propaganda. He predated television, and judging by his writings wasn't greatly interested in the cinema (film was monopolistic and Orwell provided calculations showing that reading was better value) or radio - he was annoyed that the 'inconceivable rubbish of cross-talk comedians' was scripted in a time of paper shortage. However, he knew and was influenced by the BBC - it gave him the idea for the 'Ministry of Truth', according to Malcolm Muggeridge, although the wartime 'Ministry of Information' seems a likelier model.

When Orwell discusses books and magazines and newspapers, it's clear he has a considerable knowledge of adventure stories, school stories, detective stories, and war and action stories, and also the relation of these genres to the real world at various dates, and their obsolescence over time - see e.g. ' Boys' Weeklies ' of 1940. ' Inside the Whale ' (also 1940) looks at more serious literature, including poetry. His account of Dickens' work is long and detailed ('His imagination overwhelms everything, like a weed.') Orwell predated the huge expansion of University education, with its official lists of authors. Orwell admired H G Wells (probably his nom de plume was assembled with Herbert George Wells in mind), and modelled his socialist views on Wells's, at least up to the 1930s. This was not unusual, of course. What's equally usual is vagueness - Orwell gave no coherent vision of 'socialism'.

There was of course no Internet one imagines Orwell getting his weekly fix of favourite magazines and newspapers, with occasional books. For our purposes, what's interesting is his views on propaganda. He found the Spanish Civil War, so-called, alarming because of that aspect the really bitter and bloody stuff was not part of his experience: ' . in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw . etc. ' ' The Prevention of Literature ' (1946) looks at censorship.

It's slightly curious that Orwell never doubted any of the underlying propaganda in Britain. Or if he did, he wasn't published. He never doubted that 'Fascism' (i.e. including Nazism) came before Communism or that 'Trotskyists' was merely a slogan or that Poland was a proper cause for war or that Hitler wanted to invade Britain or that 'reds' committed fewer atrocities than 'Fascists'. As far as I know he didn't take account of the fact that Churchill started civilian bombing of Germany on a pretext. Orwell had no idea that the Spanish Communists were Jewish-controlled - to this day, Jewish propaganda in Britain refights the Spanish War in an odd nostalgic way. Orwell's survey of Arthur Koestler praises him lukewarmly, as a 'European' writer - Orwell says no British writer could come up with such works as ' Darkness at Noon '. Orwell had no idea that Hungarian Jews had been behind a 'revolution' in Hungary. He seems therefore to have had no way to determine Koestler's biases, or for that matter others - though he recognises that many 'intellectuals' of the time were 'European'.

Orwell never doubted some of the tenets of Marxism. He really believed in 'revolution', not realising the misleading nuances forced onto that word by repetition. He thought 'class war' had happened, and that more of it was likely to happen. One of the rather sad aspects of his work is a characteristic of many supposed 'left wingers' down to the present day - a contempt for his own working class, but a sort of worship of other working classes. Some of his descriptions of manly but uneducated Italians and Spaniards are touching in their brotherhood-of-man aspect but East End Londoners - who in Orwell's lifetime had been deluged with aggressive racist foreigners, and who in pre-property ownership days must have spent their entire lives paying rent - are treated rather scathingly. Orwell didn't seem to realise that many modern technical types were 'working class' for want of a better word. He accepted simplified versions of history - 'the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again.' Probably his most important vacant space was Jewish money and ownership and influence - this of course was part of his isolated English life. His ' AntiSemitism in Britain ' (1945) is proof. He was aware of critics of Jews, such as Belloc, but seems never to have taken them seriously. I doubt (I may be wrong) he could read German or French fluently enough to check their anti-Jewish literature, which is (or was) more abundant than in Britain. (Added 1 Nov 2013: Orwell reviewed Mein Kampf in 1940, but his effort is in my view unimpressive and shows all his usual failings my new review of Mein Kampf includes notes on Orwell's review).

In The Lion and the Unicorn supposedly describing the English Genius - not in the IQ sense of genius - Orwell wrote &lsquo . this moment, after a year of war, newspapers and pamphlets abusing the Government, praising the enemy and clamouring for surrender are being sold on the streets, almost without interference. And this is less from a respect for freedom of speech than from a simple perception that these things don&rsquot matter. It is safe to let a paper like Peace News be sold, because it is certain that ninety-five per cent of the population will never want to read it. . &rsquo This shows rather painfully that Orwell had no idea about controlled opposition, or kept quiet about it.

I'm unsure (I'm not that interested) of Orwell's attitude to the Second World War. The BBC made a typically shallow programme, broadcast on his centenary (2003), which has a version of a radio 'debate' actors playing Orwell, the pacifist Alex Comfort (later famous for The Joy of Sex ), and someone called D. S. Savage, described as a poet, were shown debating, in front of radio mikes. Incidentally, this is deliberately misleading: BBC programmes were always scripted. Obviously a state propaganda outfit such as the BBC would never allow serious debate, but even so the speeches attributed to Orwell were extraordinarily weak - along the lines of pacifists being friends of my enemies. Those words were taken from a 1942 printed exchange of letters. However it seems clear enough that Orwell had no real idea of the purpose of the war.

In 1945, Orwell wrote among other things ' The Future of a Ruined Germany ', which may have been prompted by rumours of the Morgenthau Plan. And he wrote, after discussing changes in weaponry - mostly in his own lifetime - 'You and the Atomic Bomb' . His main interest was the cost of so-called atomic bombs - Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralised police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a 'peace that is no peace'. Clearly Orwell had no idea either of the powers attributed to the bombs over Japan, or that the whole thing was a hoax or fraud - in spite of his nominal scepticism, and explicitly-claimed suspicion of all news reporting, he had no idea he'd been suckered by the Yanks or Jews. Or if he had suspicions, he kept quiet.

1984 was obviously based on wartime London (apart from the considerable wartime promiscuous sex, which is omitted) and I think one of the reasons for its promotion and success was the fact that the underlying cause of 'communism' was NOT mentioned. Orwell presents a fairly static set of three societies always at war, with wartime-style canteens and cinemas and austerity. This is a British view - Winston Smith in middle-class fashion has his own personal torturer, the buildings are only occasionally bombed, not devastated as happened in much of Europe, the payment system is kept out of sight and out of mind, Fabian style 'intellectuals' are supposed to rule, and working class people are only interested in the lottery and drink. (They are assumed to be white). There is no mention whatever of companies, corporations, businesses. However the motive force that led to the situation, and the oddities of it - why should there be sudden policy changes? Why the need for retrospective censorship? Why was the 'left' undemocratic? - are unexplored. The result is described, but not the reasons for it. Therefore the book was safe. It's possible there are far better novels, assuming their authors were allowed to survive, but they would not be promoted, in the same way that a book by a Russian girl starving in Stalingrad - I forget the title - gets no publicity in comparison with the Anne Frank money-making scheme. Orwell died young (assuming you consider 47-ish as 'young') soon after its publication (he died in the same year as Bernard Shaw) Bertrand Russell - also missing the point - wrote that the book didn't achieve its presumed aim ' . People.. rather enjoyed the frisson that its horrors gave them and thought: 'Of course it will never be as bad as that except in Russia!' . '

It's worth noting that all Orwell's publishers were Jews - the 'red' pseudo-socialist journals New Statesman and Tribune Victor Gollancz commissioned and published him on northern England and on Paris & London, Secker & Warburg published Animal Farm and 1984 . The novels are exactly right to usher in the fake of the 'Cold War' : there is no mention of the Jewish roots of the Soviet Union, there is no mention of the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, and all the totalitarian aspects can be attributed to foreigners. No wonder it was heavily promoted. It wouldn't surprise me if there are archival traces of unease in Orwell about this maybe there are exchanges of letters, which have been lost or suppressed maybe the typescript of 1984 has scribbled changes to avoid that tendency maybe the rather odd betrayal scene at the end of 1984 , which doesn't fit in, was Orwell's conscience wriggling. Poor Orwell for the first time made serious money with 1984 , but died soon after for the propaganda myth this was fortunate - he might have continued into the 1980s, for example who knows what he might have said?


Comments

I did a blog thing about this a while back myself (of probably not the best quality/research). It's always strange to me when right-wingers invoke Orwell and his works to lend support to their views, especially when he plainly called himself a democratic socialist (for whatever that's worth) in "Why I Write," as you point out. Nice to see articles/blogs addressing this, to put right-wingers in their place when they try bringing him up.

There's also this passage from Homage to Catalonia which effectively dispels any idea Orwell was "anti-Socialist/Communist".

I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy ‘proving’ that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of ‘Socialism, is the idea of equality to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all. And it was here that those few months in the militia were valuable to me. For the Spanish militias, while they lasted, were a sort of microcosm of a classless society. In that community where no one was on the make, where there was a shortage of everything but no privilege and no boot-licking, one got, perhaps, a crude forecast of what the opening stages of Socialism might be like. And, after all, instead of disillusioning me it deeply attracted me. The effect was to make my desire to see Socialism established much more actual than it had been before. Partly, perhaps, this was due to the good luck of being among Spaniards, who, with their innate decency and their ever-present Anarchist tinge, would make even the opening stages of Socialism tolerable if they had the chance.

I love this. I'm always trying to explain to people that Orwell was a socialist and they just spout nonsense about 1984 and cant seem to move past the narrative they were given in highschool.

There's also this passage from Homage to Catalonia which effectively dispels any idea Orwell was "anti-Socialist/Communist".

That's an amazing quote and I should have included it in the original blog post!

In fact, now that I think about it, there are lots of passages in 1984 that are actually more of a critique of capitalism generally rather than Soviet Communism/state capitalism specifically. Might have to do an update with those at some point in which case I might nick your suggestion!

Don't forget the best quotes, like when he called Paul Robeson "anti-white". Very cool, Orwell!

On a related note, has anyone read the new AK book on Orwell, Between the Bullet and the Lie? Sounds good: https://www.akpress.org/between-the-bullet-and-the-lie.html

Also, Looking Back on the Spanish War is a good companion essay to Homage. and it's annoying that iirc the current Penguin issue doesn't include it: https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and.

"The backbone of the resistance against Franco was the Spanish working class, especially the urban trade union members. In the long run – it is important to remember that it is only in the long run – the working class remains the most reliable enemy of Fascism, simply because the working class stands to gain most by a decent reconstruction of society. Unlike other classes or categories, it can’t be permanently bribed.

To say this is not to idealize the working class. In the long struggle that has followed the Russian Revolution it is the manual workers who have been defeated, and it is impossible not to feel that it was their own fault. Time after time, in country after country, the organized working-class movements have been crushed by open, illegal violence, and their comrades abroad, linked to them in theoretical solidarity, have simply looked on and done nothing and underneath this, secret cause of many betrayals, has lain the fact that between white and coloured workers there is not even lip-service to solidarity. Who can believe in the class-conscious international proletariat after the events of the past ten years? To the British working class the massacre of their comrades in Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, or wherever it might be, seemed less interesting and less important than yesterday’s football match. Yet this does not alter the fact that the working class will go on struggling against Fascism after the others have caved in. "

Is Orwell really worth defending though? In the end, he was a typical Cold War-era social democrat who partnered with the security services to inform on Communists. So he indeed was anti-Communist. Lots of people had issues with the Stalinists, not all of them saw the security apparatus of the State as an ally against them though.

Kropotkin supported the first world war, this does not necessarily undermine everything he did prior to that. It also does not mean that if someone tried to use Kropotkin to justify the war on Iraq that it would be worth just letting it slide (more or less what happens with Orwell these days).

We should probably host the list on here though, because it is fucking terrible http://www.openculture.com/2015/02/george-orwell-communist-list.html especially the note calling Paul Robeson 'too anti white', after he'd been directly attacked by the far right in the Peekshill riots https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peekskill_riots

Is Orwell really worth defending though? In the end, he was a typical Cold War-era social democrat who partnered with the security services to inform on Communists. So he indeed was anti-Communist. Lots of people had issues with the Stalinists, not all of them saw the security apparatus of the State as an ally against them though.

Don't see this blog as defending Orwell, but rather in pointing out how he was no fan of the far right, or the capitalist right, even though in the UK they always cite him in their arguments.

In terms of his informing on Communists, basically what Mike says, this was right at the end of his life, and doesn't invalidate everything he did beforehand. Kropotkin is a good example – and he didn't even have the excuse that he was sick and dying at the time of his supporting World War I, whereas Orwell was dying. And that can mess with your mind. Of course though the list, especially the comment on Robeson, is inexcusable

On a related note, has anyone read the new AK book on Orwell, Between the Bullet and the Lie? Sounds good: https://www.akpress.org/between-the-bullet-and-the-lie.html

I'd also be curious if anyone's read Woodcock's, anarchist friend of Orwell, biography of Orwell Crystal Spirit . I found this, but it's "borrowed" at the moment so can't read anything. https://archive.org/details/crystalspiritst00wood

"Here is Peterson describing an important political awakening he experienced from reading George Orwell, who he says finally convinced him not to be a socialist:

My college roommate, an insightful cynic, expressed skepticism regarding my ideological beliefs. He told me that the world could not be completely encapsulated within the boundaries of socialist philosophy. I had more or less come to this conclusion on my own, but had not admitted so much in words. Soon afterward, however, I read George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. This book finally undermined me—not only my socialist ideology, but my faith in ideological stances themselves. In the famous essay concluding that book (written for—and much to the dismay of—the British Left Book Club) Orwell described the great flaw of socialism, and the reason for its frequent failure to attract and maintain democratic power (at least in Britain). Orwell said, essentially, that socialists did not really like the poor. They merely hated the rich. His idea struck home instantly. Socialist ideology served to mask resentment and hatred, bred by failure. Many of the party activists I had encountered were using the ideals of social justice to rationalize their pursuit of personal revenge.

And here is George Orwell, in The Road To Wigan Pier , which Peterson says convinced him that socialism was folly because socialists were resentful:

Please notice that I am arguing for Socialism, not against it. […] The job of the thinking person, therefore, is not to reject Socialism but to make up his mind to humanize it…For the moment, the only possible course of any decent person, however much of a Tory or an anarchist by temperament, is to work for the establishment of Socialism. Nothing else can save us from the misery of the present or the nightmare of the future […] Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed it has not established itself already. The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody the idea that we must all co-operate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions, seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that nobody could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system. […] To recoil from Socialism because so many socialists are inferior people is as absurd as refusing to travel by train because you dislike the ticket-collector’s face.

Orwell flat-out says that anybody who evaluates the merits of socialist policies by the personal qualities of socialists themselves is an idiot. Peterson concludes that Orwell thought socialist policies was flawed because socialists themselves were bad people. I don’t think there is a way of reading Peterson other than as extremely stupid or extremely dishonest, but one can be charitable and assume he simply didn’t read the book that supposedly gave him his grand revelation about socialism."

“One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England”: Pacifist? Feminist? Sandals? *Fruit juice*? He hates all of us. Then look at his condescending picture of the working class in 1984 and Animal Farm - thoroughly lumpen proles. And it's all very well quoting anything from his left period (basically Spain) but what about his enthusiasm for the Second World War? He coined the word "fascifist" - in his view anyone who wasn't incinerating Hamburg babies was a Nazi sympathiser.

I mean, if we're saying that Orwell is cancelled for having a go at sandal-wearers, then the same goes for every class-struggle anarchist who's ever done a variation on the "leaving the subcultural lifestylist ghetto behind and facing outwards towards the class" bit, it's essentially the same rant.

More broadly, I can understand the point of the original blog, or something like that extract I posted about Peterson, showing why right-wing or centrist arguments that cite Orwell are relying on a misreading of him I don't really get what the purpose of all this "your fave is problematic" stuff when the target is someone who died before most of us was born - are we supposed to get in a fight with him next time we see him at the bookfair, or to agree that his immortal soul didn't get into the good place, or what?

To me, if someone reads Orwell's arguments for socialism, or his first-hand depiction of worker's power in Barcelona, and comes away being more sympathetic to the case for libertarian communist revolution, then that's a positive thing, but judging from half the comments here it feels like that's getting it wrong, and we're meant to be telling people "OK, if you like Orwell's writing, that means that you should be a statist social democrat at best"?

I would think when engaged in a discussion about Orwell's legacy, which is exactly what you're doing when you're trying to refute right-winger's usage of him, it's fair game to bring up things that are a part of that legacy. I don't understand the point of your comment, R Totale.

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree at this point. I still think that describing someone who fought to defend a revolution against attempts to disarm it, and then went on to publish one of (maybe the single most?) widely-read positive first-hand accounts of a working-class revolution in the 20th century as "a typical Cold War-era social democrat" is about as accurate and useful as referring to Lucy Parsons/Bill Haywood/Elizabeth Gurley Flynn/various other early-20th-c anarchists and syndicalists as "a typical Leninist party-building hack".

When I first read Down and Out around five years ago, I was pretty shocked by some of Orwell’s views but whatever he may have been I don’t really give much of a fuck - 1984 is still a wonder to read and I’ll never forget the night around 35 years ago when I read HTC in one sitting, absolutely enthralled with the imagery he painted for me. The fact that I was a barber at the time only enhanced the experience!

If someone's takeaway from Animal Farm is "see! this is why you should never have a revolution!" then they've definitely failed the reading comprehension test


Ten George Orwell Quotes on ‘Truth’

Eric Arthur Blair (better known by the pseudonym, George Orwell) was a renowned English novelist, essayist, journalist, and social critic who employed lucid prose to oppose totalitarianism. He was born into a lower-middle-class family in Bengal on 25th June 1903. His father was a minor British official in the Indian Civil Service, and his mother was the daughter of an unsuccessful French, teak merchant.

Blair was educated in England and left at nineteen to join the Indian Imperial Police Force in Burma. He resigned in 1928 when he was twenty-four to become a writer. He later said he felt guilty about his role as an imperialist in Burma, and he began to turn his attention to the circumstances of oppressed people in his own country too.

Blair’s work had an early and significant influence on ‘cultural studies’ and ‘post-colonial studies’. His research on unemployment, poverty, and oppression took him from England to France and then, most notably, Spain where he was shot in the throat by the fascist militia. These experiences, his abhorrence of fascism, and his empathy for the oppressed and impoverished shaped his writing.

Blair died of tuberculosis in London on 21st January 1950. He was forty-six. He is best remembered for his novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, a prophetic novel about a dystopian future where truth and facts are manipulated by a totalitarian regime whose version of history is constantly changing.

Today, Blair’s work remains influential and terms he coined such as ‘Orwellian’, ‘Big Brother’, ‘Thought Police’, ‘Proles’, and ‘Unperson’ have been embraced by popular culture.

George Orwell: A Life in Pictures

6 thoughts on “Ten George Orwell Quotes on ‘Truth’”

Thank you so much for sharing with us an interesting and research article. The main subject of this article is about Ten George Orwell Quotes on ‘Truth’. It is truly commendable that you have demonstrated this topic so well in your article. I have learned a lot by reading your article and gained a lot of cognition about it. Of the points mentioned in your article, I like “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. I have read many books written by George Orwell, one of my favorite writers. Especially I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 Nobel which taught me a lot and gained knowledge.
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Thanks for taking an interest in this post, Asraful.

I think Christopher Hitchens, author of ‘Why Orwell Matters’, hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

“He would appear never to have diluted his opinions in the hope of seeing his byline disseminated to the paying customers this alone is a clue to why he still matters.”

I’d be grateful if you shared this post with your Facebook Group.

I think that some of the quotes by George were well and truly disturbing because I have not seen a person who writes about power and it’s bad influence in such a way before even in his books too. All the same, I like what he put together and I like his life too. He had some very good works put out.

I think Orwell is more relevant today than he was when he wrote. How unbelievable his novels must have seemed at the time. Not so today.

Hello, I really like the concept behind this site. George Orwell’s philosophies while ideal still escapes us today. Isn’t it interesting how those who embrace truth are still being persecuted for doing so while back biters and evildoers who enjoy the shadows flourish? This I believe is more prevalent in our political arena but really has not escaped any facet of society.

Thanks, Candy. It’s amazing how often Orwell had the best thing to say about any number of issues we now face.

Christopher Hitchens, an Orwell scholar, believed that Orwell had an exalted form of common sense.

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George Orwell in Spain - History

Most people are familiar with the plot of The Matrix. The 1999 film portrays a dystopian future where the “reality” that people inhabit is actually a simulation created by machines intent on subjugating the human race.

The film has continued to resonate with many people because of a growing sense that our modern world is a largely simulated reality conditioned by technology and mass media.

As it turns out, many decades ago author George Orwell sounded the warning bell of modern man’s Matrix-like condition when he said, “History stopped in 1936”.

The source of this intriguing observation is not Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but his 1943 essay “Looking back on the Spanish War.” It was written as a reflection on Orwell’s participation in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), in which he fought for the Republican side against the Franco-led fascists. According to Orwell, it was during the Spanish War that he became aware of the pervasive use of propaganda used to support the modern totalitarian regimes.

“I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.”

Orwell’s above observations were inspired by the World War II era when totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and Communist Russia constituted a threat to freedom in the world. But since then, a number of thinkers have remarked that America and other Western countries are devolving into a “soft totalitarianism,” in which a pleasure-loving and increasingly lonely populace surrenders their freedoms to radical ideologies, which maintain their hold through education and a steady stream of propaganda.

As a result of the modern world’s reliance on propaganda, Orwell recognized that our access to the truth of past events—such as the Spanish Civil War or World War II—would be severely compromised:

“This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history… Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become the truth.”

Orwell was not naive about history. He noted it was “the fashion” to suggest that history was essentially a long list of lies and recognized the likelihood that many writers of history “deliberately lied … or unconsciously coloured what they wrote.” “But what is peculiar to our own age,” Orwell wrote, “is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written” that there is a “body… of neutral fact on which neither [historian] would seriously challenge the other.”

If true, Orwell’s reflections lead to some frightening conclusions, namely, that the propaganda of the past is now our “history”, that the propaganda we see in the news today will one day be studied by future generations as “truth”, and that reality stretches ever further beyond our grasp in an age of relativism and mass media.


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