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Politics of Orwell

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zugzwang
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May 3 2017 01:26
Politics of Orwell

Any thoughts on the politics of Orwell? I know many Right-Wingers like invoking Orwell and believe he 'belongs' to them just because he opposed Stalinist Russia and other totalitarian systems, and they then equate Socialism/Communism to Stalinist Russia and centralized State-Capitalism, therefore discrediting it as a set of totalitarian political beliefs. They seem to omit how Orwell wrote about himself as a Socialist (though I don't know much about his politics, really, or what kind of Socialist he saw himself as) and denied how Stalinist Russia and State-Capitalism had anything to do with Socialism. Would any of you agree that these Right-Wingers are mistaken and that it's somewhat silly, as I see it, for them to be quoting Orwell?

ajjohnstone
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May 3 2017 02:26

I think he was a member of the Independent Labour Party, hence when he went to Spain he joined the POUM militia rather than the Communist Party dominated International Brigade. While in Spain he witnessed the devious double-dealings of the CP which sparked 1984. Recommend you tell your right-wingers to read Homage to Catalonia alongside Animal Farm.

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Noah Fence
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May 3 2017 08:06

After reading Down and Out in Paris and London I found myself surprised by what a reactionary twat he could be. Jews, women, homosexuals and vegetarians were all grist to his small minded mill. At least that's how I remember it?
Doesn't alter the fact that reading his books is one of life's more sublime pleasures.

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Serge Forward
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May 3 2017 09:59

George Orwell: when he was good, he was very very good and when he was bad, he was horrid.

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Rob Ray
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May 3 2017 10:24

Yes and no. Orwell's politics definitely veered towards the libertarian left and certainly he despised the right in almost all his writing. He was a big fan of the CNT and said in Homage to Catalonia he would have joined the anarchists rather than POUM, if he'd known more. He also publicly backed Freedom Press when its editors were arrested for sedition after the war (he was good mates with Vernon Richards, who edited Freedom, and who published a photo book of him).

He was also dead against the Leninists (a sentiment heartily returned, as early as 1936 Communist Party leader Harry Pollitt penned a poisonous review of Road to Wigan Pier as essentially middle class poverty porn with little merit) but imv stepped way over the line when push came to shove as he also ratted out a lot of Communist Party members to the State.

Best guess, he'd likely have been equally as scathing of the right and Leninist left by the end of his life, sort of an Old Labour type with a liberal-anarchist bent.

zugzwang
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May 3 2017 17:41
ajjohnstone wrote:
I think he was a member of the Independent Labour Party, hence when he went to Spain he joined the POUM militia rather than the Communist Party dominated International Brigade. While in Spain he witnessed the devious double-dealings of the CP which sparked 1984. Recommend you tell your right-wingers to read Homage to Catalonia alongside Animal Farm.

I just find it amusing how we have Right-Wingers invoking someone who fought in the POUM and defended the POUM and Anarchists, the people concerned with the Social Revolution in Spain, against all the slander of the Stalinist and international press, etc. Of course you can quote someone who you don't fully agree with on all issues, but it's problematic when people invoke him because they believe he was 'anti-Socialist' or 'anti-worker' and to therefore lend weight to their Capitalist, anti-Socialist/worker political beliefs, and it always makes me wonder whether the Right-Wingers describing something as 'Orwellian' or using his coined words, 'doublethink' and so on, have actually read stuff like his account of the Spanish Revolution. (Alex Jones, of course, also quoted Rosa Luxemburg.) The problem is that they interpret those fictional works, Animal Farm and 1984, as critiques of the totalitarian nature of 'Socialism/Communism' instead of just Stalinist Russia and totalitarianism, again forgetting that Orwell wrote about himself as a Socialist. (And if I understand correctly, Orwell was some kind of Democratic Socialist, not fully an Anarchist?)

Dave B
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May 3 2017 18:30

I think you can get a brief handle of his politics as below?

http://www.orwelltoday.com/anfarmprefaceorwell.shtml

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Reddebrek
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May 4 2017 02:24
ajjohnstone wrote:
I think he was a member of the Independent Labour Party, hence when he went to Spain he joined the POUM militia rather than the Communist Party dominated International Brigade. While in Spain he witnessed the devious double-dealings of the CP which sparked 1984. Recommend you tell your right-wingers to read Homage to Catalonia alongside Animal Farm.

Actually he joined the ILP after he returned from Spain. At first he tried to join the Communist Party volunteers but the CPGB turned him down so he went with the ILP. Homage to Catalonia and the essay Why I Write are the most explicit he got about his political leanings.

zugzwang wrote:

I just find it amusing how we have Right-Wingers invoking someone who fought in the POUM and defended the POUM and Anarchists, the people concerned with the Social Revolution in Spain, against all the slander of the Stalinist and international press, etc. Of course you can quote someone who you don't fully agree with on all issues, but it's problematic when people invoke him because they believe he was 'anti-Socialist' or 'anti-worker' and to therefore lend weight to their Capitalist, anti-Socialist/worker political beliefs, and it always makes me wonder whether the Right-Wingers describing something as 'Orwellian' or using his coined words, 'doublethink' and so on, have actually read stuff like his account of the Spanish Revolution. (Alex Jones, of course, also quoted Rosa Luxemburg.) The problem is that they interpret those fictional works, Animal Farm and 1984, as critiques of the totalitarian nature of 'Socialism/Communism' instead of just Stalinist Russia and totalitarianism, again forgetting that Orwell wrote about himself as a Socialist. (And if I understand correctly, Orwell was some kind of Democratic Socialist, not fully an Anarchist?)

The thing to remember about Animal Farm is that the ending explicitly compares the Soviet Union to the Capitalists and from the workers pov they've become indistinguishable. I know death of the author, but the ending doesn't work without that reading.

potrokin
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May 8 2017 09:00

Orwell was someone who could connect with the public, writing about important things in a way working class people could understand. He was unfortunately homophobic, which came as a nasty shock to me. Yet there is much to admire- his brave stance against Stalinism when it was controversial to speak out against the leadership of the USSR straight after the war. I think his books are some of the best books ever written- Down and Out in Paris and London and Homage To Catalonia especially and ofcourse 1984 aswell. I love his reporting on the Salvation Army in Down and Out and it is a humorous book but also it's message is powerful. I admire Orwell for experiencing for himself working class life and going to fight in Spain. He infact stated that he would have liked to have spent more time with the Spanish anarchists and I believe some of his friends were anarchists. It's just a shame he wasn't as ahead of his time as he should have been, which explains his out-dated bigotry. Certainly the right are wrong to claim him as one of their own, he detested conservatives and capitalism.

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Ed
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May 4 2017 20:26
ajjohnstone wrote:
Recommend you tell your right-wingers to read Homage to Catalonia alongside Animal Farm.

I would second this and add that you really can't understand Animal Farm or 1984 if you don't read Homage to Catalonia (apparently even the rats from 1984 actually come from his experiences in Spain).

I'd also recommend your right-wing mates read The Lion and the Unicorn, which lays out his politics fairly clearly (in their problematic a mix of radical social democracy and English nationalism):

Quote:
We cannot win the war [WW2] without introducing Socialism, nor establish Socialism without winning the war.

So, yeah, when people say "Read some fucking Orwell" as if it's an argument against socialism, it just shows how little Orwell they've actually read..

Also, though people have pointed out his 'principled' stance against Stalinism, it's important to remember that towards the end of his life he passing info onto the state British Communist Party members and sympathisers. Though the combo of ill health and his experiences in Spain obviously contributed to his motives, it's still, imo, completely inexcusable.

zugzwang
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May 6 2017 07:37
Ed wrote:
I'd also recommend your right-wing mates read The Lion and the Unicorn, which lays out his politics fairly clearly (in their problematic a mix of radical social democracy and English nationalism):

Quote:
We cannot win the war [WW2] without introducing Socialism, nor establish Socialism without winning the war.

So, yeah, when people say "Read some fucking Orwell" as if it's an argument against socialism, it just shows how little Orwell they've actually read..

Would call his politics and conception of 'Socialism' (State ownership of the means of production) problematic there indeed, with his support for nationalizing, rather than socializing, industries. How is that any different from the Stalinist system he opposed?

Referring to this:

Quote:
In a Socialist economy these problems do not exist. The State simply calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them. Production is only limited by the amount of labour and raw materials. Money, for internal purposes, ceases to be a mysterious all-powerful thing and becomes a sort of coupon or ration-ticket, issued in sufficient quantities to buy up such consumption goods as may be available at the moment.

Quote:
However, it has become clear in the last few years that ‘common ownership of the means of production’ is not in itself a sufficient definition of Socialism. One must also add the following: approximate equality of incomes (it need be no more than approximate), political democracy, and abolition of all hereditary privilege, especially in education. These are simply the necessary safeguards against the reappearance of a class-system. Centralized ownership has very little meaning unless the mass of the people are living roughly upon an equal level, and have some kind of control over the government. ‘The State’ may come to mean no more than a self-elected political party, and oligarchy and privilege can return, based on power rather than on money.

I'm guessing the last paragraph is what separates his conception of Socialism, somehow more democratic, from the Stalinist one. I do think this (rather lengthy) essay, which I hadn't read before, does clearly show his opposition to capitalism, putting profit/survival of private enterprises before people's needs.

wojtek
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May 6 2017 07:50

He wrote his anti-football polemic without ever attending a game. Dickhead.
https://topping911.wordpress.com/tag/george-orwell/

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Red Marriott
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May 6 2017 08:53
wojtek wrote:
He wrote his anti-football polemic without ever attending a game. Dickhead.

He did see a game;

Quote:
In England, the obsession with sport is bad enough, but even fiercer passions are aroused in young countries where games playing and nationalism are both recent developments. In countries like India or Burma, it is necessary at football matches to have strong cordons of police to keep the crowd from invading the field. In Burma, I have seen the supporters of one side break through the police and disable the goalkeeper of the opposing side at a critical moment. http://www.orwell.ru/library/articles/spirit/english/e_spirit

His polemic was against the role of sport in capitalism;

Quote:
...chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

wojtek
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May 6 2017 09:38

Lol Burma. I still don't like him.

ajjohnstone
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May 7 2017 01:03

Coincidentally, this article appeared in the Guardian by Paul Preston claimed to be the foremost historian of the events.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/06/george-orwell-homage-to-ca...

Quote:
He wrote to a friend in December 1938: “I’ve given a more sympathetic account of the Poum ‘line’ than I actually felt … because it has had no hearing in the capitalist press and nothing but libels in the leftwing press.” That spirit of fair play led to Orwell brushing over the Poum’s undermining of the republic. It seems irresponsible, given that he admitted that, prior to the May events, he was trying to transfer from the Poum to the International Brigades... The May events were about removing revolutionary obstacles to the war’s efficient conduct.

As for bad history...i think the articles off-hand comment that POUM undermined the Republic may well be a good example of bias since any objective reading of history shows that it was the CP being more complicit in challenging the Republics legitimacy, after all they later conducted a coup against it and the May Days was about imposing the power of the CP, not improving efficiency. Perhaps someone can correct Preston's interpretation.

zugzwang
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May 8 2017 01:59

I wrote a short blog about Orwell and the Right, which I think is a blog-worthy topic, if anyone's interested. I quoted his works/writings to show how Right-Wing notions of him being 'against Socialism' or 'for Capitalism' are wrong.

https://zugzwang0.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/orwell-and-the-right/

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Kdog
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May 12 2017 20:51

I like Orwell's writing very much, both Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia were important in developing my politics. I was a red-diaper baby and reading Animal Farm in 6th grade was my first exposure to left-wing criticisms of Stalinism.

Homage to Catalonia is a great window into what an actual social revolution looks like, filled with great lines like

and

Quote:
“I have no particular love for the idealized “worker” as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.”

Interestingly, the unorthodox Chicago-based revolutionary group Sojourner Truth Organization used a different Orwell story in their famed Dialectical Materialism Study Groups - Shooting An Elephant.

But even for Orwell fans, there is no getting around the fact that he apparently collaborated with the British state in witch-hunting intellectuals and other public figures connected to the Communist Party.
http://www.openculture.com/2015/02/george-orwell-communist-list.html
http://www.spyculture.com/orwells-list/

I think Serge Forward summed up Orwell very well.

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Khawaga
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May 12 2017 21:22
Kdog wrote:
I like Orwell's writing very much, both Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia were important in developing my politics. I was a red-diaper baby and reading Animal Farm in 6th grade was my first exposure to left-wing criticisms of Stalinism

Same, though swap Animal Farm for 1984. 1984 made a lot more sense after I read Homage to Catalonia.

Orwell wrote:
It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workman. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black . . .

This is one of the few passages from Homage that I remember vividly; love it.