George Orwell

George Orwell is as well remembered as a political essayist and polemicist as he is as author of Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopian sf novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Orwell is often regarded as a contradictory figure: a man of letters with a fascination for proletarian popular culture such as Boys Own adventure stories and saucy post cards; a man of the Left who was nevetheless one of its most vocal critics. This latter is only a contradiction, of course, if you see politics as a simple binary opposition between Left and Right: as soon as you incorporate the Libertarian-Authoritarian axis the contradiction resolves itself: Orwell was a Libertarian Socialist, opposed to both inequality and authoritarianism.

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. 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.

– George Orwell, ”Why I Write”

During the Spanish Civil War Orwell had joined the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification or POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista) which was affiliated with the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938)

Orwell, Among the Anarchists

Orwell had become broadly sympathetic to the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo while fighting in the Spanish Civil War, but during the Second World War he became a vocal critic in of Anarchists who refused to fight on pacifist principles. Orwell’s argued that in a war against Fascism, pacifism was ‘objectively pro-Fascist‘. (This is ironic, of course, since the Spanish pro-Soviet Communists had denounced POUM as ‘pro-Fascist’ towards the end of the Spanish Civil War.) Orwell’s apparent inconsistency towards Anarchism represents, of course, no such thing: the Anarchists of the CNT were no pacifists, and they fought hard for the cause they believed in; the Anarchists who became conscientious objectors during WWII did not. However it was through the public correspondence with the Anarchist George Woodcock in the pages of the Partisan Review that they began a friendship that would last until Orwell’s death in 1950. (The full exchange between D.S. Savage, Woodcock, Alex Comfort and Orwell can be found online in the article Pacifism and the War – A Contoversy).

Orwell and Woodcock’s friendship would introduce Orwell to other Anarchist writers such as Herbert Read, Marie-Louise Berneri and Vernon Richards (Berneri’s partner, who became Orwell’s personal photographer; the photographs of Orwell at home, relaxing with a cup of tea or embracing his adopted son, Richard, which illustrate this essay, were taken by Richards). Orwell published review articles in Freedom, the Anarchist magazine which replaced War Commentary in 1945, and campaigned against the imprisonment of editors Vernon Richards, Philip Sansom and John Hewetson for conspiring to incitie soldiers to disaffect from their duty (Berneri was exempted from prosecution as spouses could not legally be held capable of conspiring together); Orwell was also a financial supporter of Now magazine, which was run by Woodcock, and contributed to this magazine his essay ”How the Poor Die” in 1946. According to Julian Symons, Orwell retained his faith in libertarian socialism but but this ‘was expressed for him more sympathetically in the personalities of unpractical anarchists than in the slide-rule Socialists who made up the bulk of the British Parliamentary Labour Party’

References

  • Burgess, Anthony (1978) 1985
  • Huxley, Aldous (1932) Brave New World
  • Feaver, George (1994) Orwell, Woodcock and St. George (1994) Paper delivered at a Symposium on The Achievement of George Woodcock, Jointly sponsored by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. Canada, May, 1994
  • Newsinger, John (1992) ”Nineteen Eighty-Four since the Collapse of Communism” in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction #56, Autumn 1992
  • Orwell, George (1934 ) Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
  • Orwell, George (1934 ) Burmese Days
  • Orwell, George (1935 ) A Clergyman’s Daughter
  • Orwell, George (1936 ) Keep the Aspidistra Flying
  • Orwell, George (1937)  The Road to Wigan Pier
  • Orwell, George (1938) Homage to Catalonia
  • Orwell, George  (1939) Coming Up for Air
  • Orwell, George (1945) Animal Farm
  • Orwell, George (1946) ”Why I Write” (1946) in Gangrel, Summer, 1946
  • Orwell, George (1946) ”How the Poor Die” in Now (1946)
  • Orwell, George (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Pyncon, Thomas (2003) Introduction to Orwell, G (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Richards, Vernon (1998) George Orwell at Home (and Among the Anarchists)
  • Savage, D.S., George Woodcock, Alex Comfort and George Orwell. (1942) Letters published in Partisan Review, September-October 1942.
  • Skinner, B. F. (1948) Walden Two
  • Skinner, B. F. (1948) News from Nowhere, 1985 in Skinner, B.F. (1987) Upon Further Reflection
  • Symons, Julian (1963) George Orwell: A Reminiscence, in London Magazine, 3, 1963
  • Thoreau, Henry David (1854) Walden; or, a Life in the Wood
  • Volosinov, Valentin (1929) Marxism and the Philosophy of Language
  • Whorf, Benjamin Lee (1956) John B. Carroll (ed.) Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf
  • Woodcock, George (1962) Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements
  • Woodcock, George (1966) The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell (1984 Edition)
  • Woodcock, George and Ivan Avakumovic (1971) The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin
  • Woodcock, George (1984) Orwell’s Message: 1984 & the Present
  • Woodcock, George (1971) The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin (with Ivan Avakumovic)
  • Woodcock, George (1989) William Godwin: A Biographical Study
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1921) We
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