Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Orwell (2006)

Book Review from the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A reassessment. By Stephen Ingle. Routledge. 2006. £65 (hardback)

Despite the title this is more a work of literary criticism than political theory. But since Orwell wrote mainly on political and social subjects the two are intertwined. Orwell considered himself a socialist and was briefly a member of the ILP in 1938. Later, he wrote for the left-wing weekly Tribune and was a declared supporter of the post-war Labour government.

In fact one of the issues Ingle discusses is whether Orwell should be described as a "Trotskyite" or as a "Tribunite". He opts for a third choice: "ethical socialist". Although we wouldn't regard him as a socialist in our sense, he was always clear, at a time when few others besides ourselves were arguing this, that Russia had nothing to do with socialism. Which was why the Russia-lovers called him a "Trotskyite" and why his fear of being assassinated was not entirely groundless.

Two of Orwell's works in particular have been appreciated by socialists. Homage to Catalonia, an account of events in Barcelona in 1936 and 1937 when workers took over the running of the city and the subsequent suppression of this by the so-called "Communists". And Animal Farm, a brilliant satire on Bolshevism (including Trotskyism).

The main book for which Orwell is known is Nineteen Eighty Four. This paints a horrifying picture of a world in which the evolution towards a totalitarian state-capitalism (which, in the 1940s, many to the left of the Communist Party thought was under way) has been completed. It was mainly aimed at those left-wing intellectuals who thought that Russia was "progressive" and deserved support. Inevitably, and whatever Orwell may have intended, it was used by the West as an ideological weapon in the Cold War.

Ingle mentions that Orwell and Aldous Huxley offered contrasting views on how class society might evolve. It has to be said that, in the event, Huxley in his Brave New World turned out to be more prescient than Orwell. Capitalism has survived not by treating workers more and more brutally, but by making them think they are happy - happy slaves who don't even realise they are slaves rather than down-trodden proles.
Adam Buick

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