Monday, July 03, 2006

Revising History - 5

More Orwell
And what is a Trotskyist? This terrible word--in Spain at this moment you can be thrown into jail and kept there indefinitely, without trial, on the mere rumour that you are a Trotskyist--is only beginning to be bandied to and fro in England. (Spilling The Spanish Beans)
I have recently re-read Homage to Catalonia  (admittedly, very rapidly). Reading this, and his other essays on the war in Spain, it is impossible to escape the impression that here was the inspiration for his 'classics' - 1984 and especially Animal Farm. But this is not often fully acknowledged. For example, for a recent dramatisation of Animal Farm, the programme notes say merely, 'as the political situation worsened, Orwell and his wife narrowly escaped arrest and returned to England.'

As Timothy Garton Ash's East European contacts once asked him, how did Orwell know 'about everything, from the shortage of razor blades to the deep psychology of doublethink?' Of course, there were the Moscow show trials and Stalin's purges, but Orwell was not there for those. He was there for the 'May Days' (Barcelona, 1937), observing and even participating (to an extent which, again, is often overlooked).

If Spain matters for nothing else, it matters because it was such a formative experience for one of the most seminal writers of the twentieth century.

Here is the passage that Fernández-Armesto quotes Orwell from (see Part 2):
'Those are the Socialists' (meaning the [communist-controlled] P.S.U.C.), I was puzzled and said: 'Aren't we all Socialists?' I thought it idiotic that people fighting for their lives should have separate parties; my attitude always was, 'Why can't we drop all this political nonsense and get on with the war?' This of course was the correct 'anti-Fascist' attitude which had been carefully disseminated by the English newspapers, largely in order to prevent people from grasping the real nature of the struggle.
Whatever new material has come to light, I doubt whether much shakes Orwell's summary:
The Anarchists probably saved the situation in the first two months, but they were incapable of organizing resistance beyond a certain point; the Communists probably saved the situation in October-December, but to win the war outright was a different matter. ( Homage to Catalonia , Chapter 5)


Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

Orwell fought 3 'dragons' in his life :

1. BRITISH IMPERIALISM (eg his Burma experiences) - and that's why I believe he would totally oppose American ambitions of Empire (eg 'Global' policies of Full Spectrum Dominance, Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strikes, and Militarization of Space.

2. FASCISM (eg Nazism)

3. COMMUNISM (eg his Spanish experience of which you speak so eloquently)

11:11 pm, July 03, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

I hope I'd also brought out his anti-fascist side.

As for imperialism, there are some anti-American remarks in Orwell's diary entries and letters. For example, from memory, there is one where he talks about the dreary prospect of a world run by American millionaires and their British hangers-on. But just as he realized that people (in India for example) would be much worse off under the Nazis or Japanese than they were under the British Empire, so I think we should recognise that there are worse things than US 'domination'.

I was reading Niall Ferguson's book, Colossus, where he argues that the record since decolonisation, especially in Africa, has hardly been great. Of course, we shouldn't regret the passing of the British Empire, or those of other European countries, but there is quite a strong case for 'liberal Empire', where countries are 'encouraged' to meet certain minimum standards, such as the rule of law and representative government.

4:33 pm, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

Have you read Orwell's Statement about American reaction to '1984' ?

4:44 pm, July 04, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...


9:48 pm, July 04, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

Well, if you want to write a "Revising History - 6", take a look at pages 565/6 of "George Orwell - A Life" by Bernard Crick (Penguin).

Just found it myself today. For me, it's an incredible discovery - never seen this particular 'Statement' anywhere.

I'm not surprised, I suppose. It is an terrible indictment of the US...and those who have suppressed this for so 'successfully'.

I'm going to write something in my "Richard W. Symonds" Blog about this now...

11:05 pm, July 04, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

'Revising History - 6' has already been published. That will be the last in the series, though I do have quite a bit more to say in related areas... Your link gives several blogs to choose from. I suppose you mean this:

Yes, people just look at the anti-Communism side of Orwell, and I hoped I'd brought out the side that talked about working-class dictatorship (and the Communists being an obstacle to it). Soviet-style Communism is an enemy of (true) socialism as much as anything else.

I do recall now Orwell writing that this Ingsoc stuff was not meant as an attack on the British Labour Party, of which he was a supporter. It's interesting though that he thought the ideology of the Anglo-American super state would be 'left', at least in rhetoric. He was certainly influenced (though appalled) by Burnham's writings, in which Roosevelt's 'New Deal' was included along with fascism and Soviet totalitarianism in the trend towards the 'new managerialism' (cf. Chomsky).

Orwell did not foresee the return of the 'Right' in Britain and the US. Interestingly, economic recovery under the Labour government of 1945-51 was aborted when Britain bowed to US pressure to increase defence spending as the Cold War started. When the Tories returned to power, they cut defence spending (this was the analysis of a BBC4 TV programme not so long ago).

In the US, McCarthyism has come and gone. I do not myself regard Washington now as a neo-con cabal etc.
Note that I merely drew an analogy from some things that Orwell wrote. I did not say that he would have taken this or that side in recent controversy. No-one can know what he would have thought about how things have developed since 1950. All we can know is that he would have been an opponent of hypocrisy and bullshit.

1:01 pm, July 05, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

I'm intrigued, DavidP - "I do not regard Washington now as a neo-con cabal etc". Then what do you describe it as exactly ?

And you think Orwell did not predict the movement to the 'Right' in US and UK ? I seriously beg to differ. Have you read that 'Statement' which I posted - "Richard W. Symonds" (Google) ?

As I see it, Orwell knew there would be an extreme turn to the 'Right' immediately on seeing the reaction of 'Republican papers' etc to '1984', in June 1949.

If alive today, Orwell would indeed be a ferocious "opponent of hypocrisy and bullshit" - there's a lot of it about. But, I think he would judge the behaviour of the U.S.K. regime as well beyond "hypocrisy and bullshit" -'off the Richter scale' in fact.

Personally, I feel Orwell would have seen very clearly what we are failing to see.

He would have seen this now has nothing to do with worn-out idealogies of Left v Right, Democracy v Autocracy, Authoritarianism v Libertarianism etc - but simply :


10:00 pm, July 05, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

I did read the post on your blog. I took several points from it in my last comment. I have just finished another post on the Spanish civil war. I mentioned the cry, "Long live death!", of the Nationalists or Falangists or fascists. Compare that with ... well, you know what to compare it with.

I suppose the CIA might make up some of the al-Qaeda statements, but those who apoligize for islamist extremists have plenty of other things to explain away: social control through religion - imposing dress codes on women; contempt for democracy; hatred of Jews; hatred of homosexuals.

Some of those things are present in the US of course, in mild forms. But I suggest you read carefully some of Orwell's wartime essays, like 'No, not one', freely available from the usual sources, for the 'we're just as bad as the Nazis' attitude. See also this and this (towards the end).

One thing I did forget to put in my last post was the pressure of Catholics to prevent the US providing aid (that is, weapons) to the Spanish government.

12:48 pm, July 06, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

Interesting..."Islamist control through religion...some of these things are present in the US of course,in milder forms."

"In milder forms" ??!!

Do you think "Christian extremism", a la Robertson for example, is a "milder form" than Islamic extremism - with its lethal mix with "Full Spectum Dominance" (FSD) and 'Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strike' official US Policy ?

10:28 pm, July 06, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

I'm sorry, but I just don't see people in the US chanting ‘Death to Democracy’ or saying, 'You love life and we love death.'

2:54 pm, July 07, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

But I can hear many of 'them' singing "We love life, but your life is dispensable - who cares, we are at 30,000 feet..."

6:19 pm, July 07, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

That was Kosovo, wasn't it?

10:03 pm, July 07, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...


11:09 pm, July 07, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

Over 2,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq - they're not all fighting from 30,000 feet.

5:39 pm, July 08, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

Orwell, writing in 1942: 'Another twenty years along the present line of development, and India will be a peasant republic linked with England only by voluntary alliance. [...] On the other hand, if we are defeated we simply hand over our own victims to new masters who come fresh to the job and have not developed any scruples.' He  continued:

{quote}So long as democracy exists, even in its very imperfect English form, totalitarianism is in deadly danger. The whole English-speaking world is haunted by the idea of human equality, and though it would be simply a lie to say that either we or the Americans have ever acted up to our professions, still, the idea is there, and it is capable of one day becoming a reality. {end-quote}

The Lion and the Unicorn, Part 3, III

5:41 pm, July 08, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

The US have invaded and occupied a sovereign state; an action which has sod-all to do with "democracy" (except 'cowboy' democracy), and everything to do with oil (If Iraq was exporting tomatoes, do you think the US would be interested?)

If this country of England was invaded and occupied by a superpower (eg US and/or China), would I resist? Yes, I would - to the death.

By the way, you seem to know the exact number of American troops killed in Iraq - have you been told how many Iraqis have been killed ? I know you haven't because the US don't count them - only their own.

10:08 pm, July 08, 2006  
Anonymous DavidP said...

I've been told several times how many Iraqis have been killed:


9:48 am, July 09, 2006  
Blogger Richard W. Symonds said...

Yes, but who by, David ? Not by the US military, that's for sure.

My point is that the US has the most sophisticated news and information service on the planet (with choreography to match), but they can't count how many of the 'enemy' they've killed !!!

11:13 am, July 09, 2006  

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