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Our Orwell, Right or Left
Our Orwell, Right or Left: The Continued Importance of One Writer to the World of Western Politics
C. J. Fusco
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Our Orwell, Right or Left: The Continued Importance of One Writer to the World of Western Politics, by C. J. Fusco This book first published 2008 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing 15 Angerton Gardens, Newcastle, NE5 2JA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2008 by C. J. Fusco All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-84718-602-5, ISBN (13): 9781847186027
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Acknowledgements ................................................................................... vii Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 He’s Created a Monster! PART ONE – ORWELL AND THE LEFT Chapter One............................................................................................... 10 The Left of the Left Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 14 The Call for Socialism Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 24 The Totalitarian Threat Chapter Four.............................................................................................. 30 Lines of Distinction Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 37 Studies in Dystopia PART TWO – ORWELL AND THE RIGHT Chapter Six ................................................................................................ 48 Thought Control from Beyond the Grave Chapter Seven............................................................................................ 54 Posthumous Superimpositions Chapter Eight............................................................................................. 59 He’s Making a List
Table of Contents
Chapter Nine.............................................................................................. 63 The Neoconservative Agenda PART THREE – ORWELL TODAY Chapter Ten ............................................................................................... 74 Out of Retirement Chapter Eleven .......................................................................................... 79 Big Brother is Watching Chapter Twelve ......................................................................................... 87 Orwell in the Age of Spin Chapter Thirteen...................................................................................... 100 Through the Fog (Conclusions) APPENDICES Works Cited............................................................................................. 103 Notes........................................................................................................ 108
The author would like to extend his thanks to Thomas Pynchon, who unintentionally and unknowingly planted the seed of the idea for this book within the author’s mind; to Dr. David Rosen of Trinity College, without whose help and advice this project would have never gotten off the ground; to the author’s parents and brother for their love and support; to the author’s network of friends for providing an occasional much-needed distraction and escape; and, of course, to Eric Arthur Blair for dedicating his life’s work to ensuring the continued preservation of physical and intellectual freedom.
INTRODUCTION HE’S CREATED A MONSTER!
If one follows the line of academic conversation amongst literary critics on practically any significant piece of literature, one will invariably find a reception history rife with disagreement and variable interpretation. The confusing and often contradictory reception history of George Orwell’s work, however, poses a problem which is significantly more pressing and severe than academic squabbling over the semantics of a single line of poetry by Pound or Eliot. Orwell’s writings and indeed Orwell himself have been claimed as inspiration over the decades by politically-leaning literary minds from both sides of the political spectrum. As Norman Podhoretz wrote, “it is, after all, no small thing to have the greatest political writer of the age on one’s side: it gives confidence, authority and weight to one’s own political views.”1 If Podhoretz is correct, and Orwell is worth claiming because having him on one’s side gives weight to one’s argument, we, as political thinkers, are confronted with a problem because those who attempt to claim Orwell as their patron saint have done so largely for a selfish reason: in order to solidify their own political argument. Whereas this situation does not seem terribly troublesome on its own terms, what is truly problematic is that many critics and politicians have occasionally evoked the man’s name and his text inaccurately – or in a way that misrepresents what Orwell had written – in an attempt to manipulate the thinking of their audience. When both sides of a political debate claim the same man for disparate reasons, of course, both sides cannot possibly be representing the writer completely accurately. Viewed through the lens of his own reception history, the real George Orwell has become obscured by a fog of shifting images and intentional misrepresentations. That Orwell’s writing has been and continues to be employed by political pundits and critics in order to warn citizenry against situations that could potentially blossom into “Orwellian” dystopia is a testament to the writer’s enduring importance even approaching sixty years after his death; conversely, the fact that Orwell’s writing has be misused by propagandists attempting political
manipulation represents a situation that is, in a grand irony, frankly Orwellian. John Rodden’s book The Politics of Literary Reputation gives a full overview of the literary and cultural reception of Orwell from the days of his early literary career up until the 1990s. Rodden does an admirable job of chronicling Orwell’s reception history on the Left, on the Right, and in popular culture, but Rodden himself doesn’t overtly posit an opinion on where Orwell’s politics actually lie – whether it is the critics on the Right or the Left who have gotten it right. Rodden is not to be blamed for this, of course – his book is more about the evolution (and manipulation) of Orwell’s image throughout the years than it is about Orwell’s actual politics. This study will deal with George Orwell’s reception as an argument between the political Left and Right over who “owns” Orwell and to which side Orwell actually belongs. Moving one step beyond John Rodden’s book, this study will not only look at how Orwell has been received by the Left and the Right, but will also cast a critical eye on the critics themselves. For the most part, one can follow the evolution of Orwell’s reception history as a chronological process which has changed alongside the world’s political situation. For example, during Orwell’s life and in the decade directly following his death, Orwell was nearly universally considered a man of the Left. There were many on the Left – Soviet Communist sympathizers chief among them – who didn’t particularly like Orwell’s politics and would have just as soon disowned him, but his position on the Left was fairly secure. As the decades marched on, however, changes in the world’s political climate led academics, critics, and politicos to re-evaluate Orwell’s position, attempting to apply the writer’s stance on various political situations that had occurred during his life onto those that came to pass after his death, thereby superimposing the perspective of a 1930s and ‘40s writer onto the events of the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and the current decade. For example, even though many had argued that Orwell’s anti-Imperialist stance would have led him to oppose America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict, others argued that Orwell’s anti-Communist stance would have led him to support it. In light of Orwell’s self-declared Leftist stance, an attempt by a Leftist critic of Orwell’s era to claim him would represent something of a redundancy. Therefore, attempts by Leftist critics to claim Orwell had been less overt than those by critics on the Right – that is, until the present decade, which, following an era of Neoconservative efforts to claim Orwell for their own camp, has once again seen critics on the Left invoking the writer’s name. Following the writer’s death, a major re-
Our Orwell, Right or Left
evaluation of what Orwell’s contempoarary political stance might be, had he lived beyond 1950, occurred with the rise of Neoconservative thinking. As the writing of Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz gained popularity amongst politically-minded readers in the west, some Neoconservatives (Podhoretz chief among them) seized upon Orwell’s vehement antiCommunism (and a few other factors) as proof that he would have stood side-by-side with the Neoconservatives as the Cold War began to heat up – this despite Orwell’s repeated Leftist proclamations to the contrary. The Neoconservative camp would prove to be the most prevalent group on the Right to claim Orwell; even though Rodden doesn’t appear to declare his support for one side over the other in the partisan debate over Orwell, it will become clear throughout this examination that the Neoconservative argument for Orwell doesn’t hold much water. In order to illustrate how badly Orwell’s writing has been misread and misused as propaganda, one has only to take a look back at the rhetoric of political speakers and writers in the middle 1980s, the zenith of what one might refer to as “Orwell Fever”. Thanks in large part to the success of Nineteen Eighty-Four (and, to a lesser extent, Animal Farm), Orwell’s name and image have, through the years, been bandied about in popular culture and in politics as a propaganda weapon and as a prophetic warning. In many cases, especially leading up to the historical year 1984 (and again, we will see, in the early years of the twenty-first century), the writings of Orwell and the term “Orwellian” were both used and horribly mis-used as political propaganda. Since the early 1980s, the terms “Orwell” and “Orwellian” seem to have become the contemporary equivalent of the name “Frankenstein”: [Orwell] has become the Dr. Frankenstein of the twentieth century. And as has happened with the good doctor, one wonders if we will one day forget the man George Orwell and associate his name exclusively with his brilliant, horrible creation.2
In other words, just as people eventually began to refer to Frankenstein’s monster simply as “Frankenstein,” the writer and his writings have become so incredibly conflated that the meanings behind the writings themselves have become distorted. For example, during the debate that accompanied Ronald Reagan’s proposal of a “squeal rule,” which would mandate that Planned Parenthood centers notify parents after giving contraceptives to teenagers, both advocates of the rule (Republicans, mostly) and those who opposed the rule (Democrats, mostly) nearly simultaneously labeled the other party using identical Orwellian terms: a Democratic congressman exclaimed “this is Big Brother getting into the
bedrooms of the people,” and Richard Schweiker, Reagan’s Secretary of Health and Human Services accused the Democrats of putting “Big Brother government between the parent and the child.”3 Use of the term “Big Brother” here refers to supposedly totalitarian tactics being implemented by the opposing party. Of course, one has to question how closely either of the two opposing politicians had read Nineteen EightyFour, for the “Big Brother” I remember calls to mind direct surveillance and systematic oppression; invoking the images that accompany a term such as “Big Brother” for something like the “squeal rule” seems reactionary and, to under-state the case, overly dramatic. Indeed, the only direct “squealing” that occurs within the text of Nineteen Eighty-Four are the accusations of the Parsons’ children, whose eagerness to be a part of The Party leads them to accuse the innocent – even their parents – without completely comprehending the consequences of said “squealing”. Next to these manipulations by the “Big Brother” of Orwell’s text, the claims of Schweiker and the Democratic Congressman come off as weak (and technically incorrect) manipulation. Moreover, the fact that both sides use the same set of images for opposite purposes completely renders the otherwise potent claim impotent; the opposing claims, issued practically simultaneously, each, in effect, cancel out the other’s effectiveness. Even more prevalent than the bandying-about of terms like “Big Brother” as political propaganda in the 1980s were claims that the practices of one’s political adversaries were “Orwellian.” These claims represent, like “Frankenstein” and “Frankenstein’s Monster,” a conflation between the man and his creation. Rodden’s book catalogs many of the uses and incredible misuses of Orwell’s name and works throughout the early- and mid- 1980s. A sampling: “George Orwell would have been proud of our 1984-ish ways. I am horrified.” From a 1982 column criticizing new state restrictions on insanity plea. “Orwell in the Classroom.” A 1982 letter warning against the perils of mandatory school prayer. “An antidote to Orwell.” A 1983 editorial from the chief of the New York Tourist Bureau on tourism’s role in promoting international understanding. “A world in which tourism thrives is not the world of 1984.” “We might agree to let Reagan be Reagan, but it is frightening to think of letting Reagan be Orwell.” From Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s speech to the National Press Club in February 1983, in which Kennedy voiced
Our Orwell, Right or Left
disapproval of the Reagan Administration’s plans to affix dissenting labels to three Canadian films critical of U.S. nuclear policy.4 “Cable TV an Orwellian plot.” “Official Calls State Fire Code Imposition Orwellian.” “Baby Jane Doe Case Called ‘Orwellian Tragedy’ in Court.”5
What is bewildering about some of these headlines and passages is how illogical some of the applications of Orwell’s name have been; for example, why in the world would Orwell “have been proud of our 1984ish ways”? Is this column implying that Orwell would have wanted a world like the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four? If that were the case, Nineteen Eighty-Four would hardly be considered a “cautionary” novel – which it most certainly is. Why would “letting Reagan be Orwell” be frightening? Perhaps Senator Kennedy would have been closer to the mark (although still inaccurate) if he claimed to be afraid of letting Reagan be “Big Brother”. Claiming that Reagan is like Orwell, if one reminds oneself of the difference between the writer and his creation, would mean that Reagan would be the one warning about policies such as the affixing of dissenting labels to films critical of U.S. policy. And how exactly is tourism antithetical to “the world of 1984”? Although I imagine that there would be a minimum of continent-hopping for the denizens of Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia, there are no mentions of restriction on travel in Orwell’s book. In any case, attempting to quell the citizens’ desire for travel hardly seems the focus of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s despotic, totalitarian regime. These lists, compiled by Rodden in an attempt to illustrate how many different perceptions of “Orwell” and “Orwellian” exist in Western Culture, also illustrate – considering how Orwell’s images have been disseminated and manipulated by critics and politicians – how difficult it has become to affix a title to Orwell himself, or to easily define the scope of Orwell’s writing. Examples of these various Orwell “images” include the analyzing of Orwell as a prophet warning of totalitarianism, a conflation of the writer and his literary creation (a process by which Orwell himself becomes, to the apparently confused critic, “Big Brother”), and a simple application of the term “Orwellian” to any situation which seems to the critic to be ominous or foreboding. This isn’t to say that these misuses didn’t go unchecked even at the time, however: an editorial letter in a January 1983 edition of The Boston Globe criticized the rhetoric of a previous letter’s claim that a hard-to-understand section of a Massachusetts
death penalty bill was “Orwellian in timbre.”6 The letter, headlined “If It’s Orwellian, It’s Not Obfuscatory,” correctly points out that whereas Nineteen Eighty-Four was very concerned with the breakdown of language, describing an obfuscatory passage as “Orwellian” represented a “great disservice to the legacy of George Orwell” (and yet another “Frankenstein”-like conflation), for “the outstanding characteristic of Orwell’s writing was the clarity with which he expressed his thought.” Rodden is correct when he hits upon a kind of ultimate irony in discussing the above example – even though Orwell’s writing itself was anything but obfuscatory, the variety of uses of his name has made it difficult to attach meaning to it: [I]n fact, “Orwellian” has in some cases come to mean precisely “obfuscatory language” – and has become an example of obfuscatory language in its own right. Much of obfuscation arises from the fact that, like “1984,” “Big Brother,” and “doublethink,” “Orwellian” has become a useful word for tarring political opponents. So much so that in 1984 observers were arguing over who had the proper claim not just to Orwell but to these words – quite apart from their reference to the man or the works.7
Despite Orwell’s clarity of writing, the use of terms like “Orwellian” in situations that are not only various but often contradictory have shaped and transformed the meanings of such terms as “Orwellian” into illdefined, ambiguous jargon and have thereby “served to obfuscate Orwell’s reputation.”8 It is clear that a conflation, in the minds of many, of the writer and his works is a partial cause for this confusion – for what other explanation could one conjure for bewildering assertions such as “George Orwell would have been proud of our 1984-ish ways”? In the above passage, however, Rodden only scratches the surface of what I believe to be the more pressing political debate about Orwell. Whereas the argument between the Left and Right over the use of terms such as “Big Brother” and “Orwellian” to describe their opponents is certainly troubling, there is a more severe, systematic cause to the obfuscation of Orwell’s political identity: that of the reception history by serious critics and essayists from both sides of the political spectrum. Part One of this study will examine Orwell’s position on the Left, taking a chronological look at his own writing as well as the critical reception of his writing by critics on the Left. Beginning with The Road to Wigan Pier, Part One will trace the origins of Orwell’s allegiance to the Socialist ideal – an allegiance that will prove to be the foundation of his Leftist position – and will follow the development of the politics inherent
Our Orwell, Right or Left
in Orwell’s writing as his major cause proved itself to be antitotalitarianism. Not everyone on the Left always agreed with Orwell’s positions, however, as will become increasingly clear as I go on to examine Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four – for Orwell’s disillusionment with Soviet Communism did not sit well with many on the Left who were unable to separate the Socialist ideal from the ugly truth of Soviet Communism. Stalin’s Communist Soviet Union claimed to be driven by an adherence to Socialist politics; in reality, however, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian regime that was, in many ways, just as brutal as Germany under Hitler. Even as this reality was evident to those as clear-sighted as Orwell, there were still many on the Left who failed to recognize this reality and chose to declare support for the Communist Soviet Union. This situation, along with other various details, helped earn Orwell his share of enemies on the Left. Part Two of this study will examine the arguments posited by critics on both the Left and the Right that Orwell’s current position, had he lived into the late twentieth century, would be among those on the Right. The Vietnam conflict in particular had sparked a series of reflections on where Orwell would stand if he were still alive. In many of these arguments, the writer-in-question would seize upon one detail or another (while often simultaneously ignoring some larger, contradictory evidence) as proof that Orwell would have held a particular stance on a historical issue had he lived longer than he did. Part Two also take a look at one of the most bizarre and misinterpreted chapters in Orwell’s reception history – the notorious “list” in which Orwell had supposedly “snitched” to the British government the identities of various possible Communist sympathizers. After refuting many of the common interpretations of this episode, Part Two will go on to discredit the Neoconservative attempts to claim Orwell for their own camp. I will not only highlight the flaws in the Neoconservative interpretation of Orwell’s writing, but will also analyze the Neoconservative stance itself in order to prove that it is very unlikely Orwell would have been in support of their agenda. Part Three of this study will represent a coda to this work that analyzes Orwell’s place in the contemporary arena of political discourse. Even though the Cold War has long ended, Orwell’s name continues to be evoked by political and cultural critics, often as a warning about trends in our own Western society. Topics such as the use of manipulative and deceptive propaganda (referred to in recent years with the innocuoussounding term “spin”), government and corporate surveillance, and actual real-world uses, by our own political leaders, of what the Orwell reader
might recognize as “doublethink” and “Newspeak”, seem to set off alarms amongst critics who keep the lessons of Nineteen Eighty-Four close to their hearts. These examples will serve to reiterate Lionel Trilling’s assertion that George Orwell was, in fact, a major literary figure, for there may be no greater mark of being a figure than a relevancy which endures even as the world itself undergoes drastic change.
PART ONE ORWELL AND THE LEFT
Although many reviewers read into Mr. Orwell’s novel a wholesale condemnation of left wing politics, he considered himself a Marxist and a member of the non-Communist wing of the British Labor Party. – Ian Williams1
CHAPTER ONE THE LEFT OF THE LEFT
Within the essay that introduces the 2003 edition of Nineteen EightyFour – published to celebrate the centenary of Orwell’s birth – Thomas Pynchon makes the intriguing claim that George Orwell’s politics “were not only of the Left, but to the left of Left… Orwell thought of himself as a member of the ‘dissident Left,’ as distinguished from the ‘official Left.”1 This claim, made by a reclusive postmodern novelist, marks yet another chapter in a reception history that has seen representatives from all over the political spectrum to attempt to claim George Orwell. Being a writer whose work (seemingly encyclopedic novels such as V., Gravity’s Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, and the recent Against the Day) is so universally praised and admired, the MacArthur Fellow and former Pulitzer nominee Pynchon writes with an apparent position of authority that very few in the literary world enjoy (though Orwell would almost certainly be counted among them). This act of claiming by Pynchon – whose own personal politics, read through his complex and often labyrinthine novels and essays, are also difficult to force into any conventional orthodoxies or “-isms” – represents not only his own attempt to place Orwell somewhere within the political spectrum, but also, presumably, his response to the various partisan critics that comprise Orwell’s long and various reception history. This interpretation of Pynchon’s essay remains purely speculative, however, for within the text of the introduction itself Pynchon does not directly engage any of the various critics that comprise Orwell’s reception history. Anybody that has read Pynchon’s mammoth and imposing Gravity’s Rainbow – nearly universally considered the novelist’s masterpiece – can attest that one of the writer’s most frequently-occurring literary tactics involves the implication a circumstance but then leaving interpretation almost completely up to the reader. Did it really happen within the frame of the book’s story? Was it imagined by a character? Was it a dream sequence? Was the intended meaning only symbolic? These questions frequently occur to the reader of Pynchon, but the answers are rarely provided by the text. It can be said with some degree of certainty that
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Gravity’s Rainbow – widely considered not only Pynchon’s best and most difficult book but also one of the toughest reads in American literary history – is set in the European theater of World War II and concerns the search for a prototype V-2 rocket, but much of the rest of the book is so open to interpretation that there are as many distinct and drastically different readings of the novel as there are critics willing to attempt a reading. To provide an example from personal experience, in a 2005 Trinity College graduate course on Gravity’s Rainbow, the final paper assignment was to create a cohesive symbolic reading of the text, to provide a key that would unlock the secrets of the novel. The assignment was, in large part, a lesson in humility. From each student in the class resulted a strikingly unique reading of the novel varying from an attempt to prove that the book’s structure represented the variables in the mathematical equation of a parabola (the “gravity’s rainbow” of the missile arc that begins and ends the novel) to an analysis of how the use of colors in the book are related to theories of entropy in physics. My own final paper discussed how the chess symbols employed in Gravity’s Rainbow were meant to represent the changing state of warfare during World War II. None of these symbolic readings are explicit within the novel itself, of course; the dense book’s obscurity is what allows each individual person to have their own individual reading, as unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint. In a way, this is very possibly the point of Pynchon’s postmodern literary approach, and, indeed, one can make a very convincing argument that Gravity’s Rainbow is about the human need to seek systems of organization and order where there may be none2; in the words of critic Leo Bersani, “No matter how much work we do on Gravity’s Rainbow, our most important interpretive discovery will be that it resists analysis – that is, being broken down into distinct units of meaning… Singularity [in Gravity’s Rainbow] is inconceivable.”3 Orwell’s best-known work (and, some would say, his masterwork) Nineteen Eighty-Four and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow share many common themes and motifs – including the evolution of political power, protagonists whose lives are ruled by paranoia, and the dissolution of personal identity – but it is perhaps the intentional obscurity of Pynchon’s writing that makes him the most suitable contemporary writer to contribute an introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell is a writer whose work, clear and straightforward as it may be, has been received so variously throughout the decades that the possibility of critics reaching any sort of consensus on his politics appears to be just as unlikely as the possibility of critics reaching a consensus on an organizing symbolic system in Gravity’s Rainbow. Of course, considering the position of authority that
Pynchon allows himself, it can be convincingly argued that the “heir apparent” status one might attribute to Pynchon after reading his introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four might be yet another case of the Orwell reader projecting himself onto his reading of Orwell. As John Rodden writes, in his examination of Neoconservative Norman Podhoretz’s attempts to claim Orwell, “we construct the Orwells we need.”4 Here, Rodden is referring to the veritable epidemic of notable writers and critics who have found in Orwell similar political stances or details in character that match their own – and have simultaneously ignored those that don’t. George Woodcock once stated that Orwell’s fans comprised “the most heterogeneous following a writer can ever have accumulated,”5 a claim that does not seem unreasonable when one considers the number of Socialists, Reaganite Republicans, New York Liberals, and Neoconservatives that have cited Orwell as an inspiration throughout the years. This process of a reader projecting himself onto the work of a particular writer, as Rodden points out, is a problem which Orwell had both discussed and seems to be guilty of himself. In his “Inside the Whale,” Orwell describes a passage of Henry Miller’s writing as being “one of those revealing passages in which a writer tells you a great deal about himself while talking about somebody else.”6 The irony about this claim, Rodden argues, is that, through Orwell’s biographical examinations of Miller, Dickens, Swift, Kipling, and Tolstoy, we learn more about Orwell’s own beliefs, politics, and prejudices than we do about his subjects’. To this Rodden adds yet another layer of irony, proceeding to argue that many of the critics and essayists that have attempted to claim Orwell for their own cause – many of whom have pointed out that Orwell’s biographical essays had revealed far more about Orwell himself than the subjects of his writing – are doing the very same thing. “For when many observers tell us, however knowingly or unawares, as much about themselves as about their ostensible subject,” Rodden writes, “it suggests a great deal about how readers identify with authors as intellectual models and rivals.”7 I believe it is safe to assume that Thomas Pynchon – a man who seems to, if the scope of his writing is any indication, enjoy a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the world to begin with – is very familiar with Orwell’s writing, for within the aforementioned introduction alone he analyzes the effect that Animal Farm’s reception has had on the reception of Nineteen Eighty-Four, he examines the concept of doublethink (and muses on its similarity to the Bush administration’s tactics of propaganda),
Our Orwell, Right or Left
and he points out the evidence, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, of Orwell’s own fondness for the geopolitical writings of Halford Mackinder. Following this assumption that Pynchon is at least moderately acclimated to Orwell’s writing, it is also probably safe to assume that Pynchon was well aware of the claims on Orwell by critics of the Left – such as Lionel Trilling – as well as his claiming by critics of the Right – such as Norman Podhoretz. An aspect of Orwell’s writing that made him attractive to the Neoconservative set was the ongoing feud he had waged against the Leftist intelligentsia that had continued to support Stalin’s Soviet Union even years into the Cold War. This animosity toward the “mainstream” Left of Orwell’s era, as well as Orwell’s disdain for Stalinism, was the starting point for the Neoconservative argument that Orwell should be counted as one of their own. What Pynchon seems to be implying, however, by referring to Orwell as a member of the “dissident” Left, is that a critique of those on the Left does not necessarily make one a proponent of the Right. Indeed, perhaps the most intriguing concept behind this seemingly innocuous line from Pynchon’s introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four is that Orwell’s admirers are still driven to claim him for one side or the other, even long after the dust of the Cold War has settled. This, despite Orwell’s assertion, in 1946’s “Why I Write” that “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”8 – which sounds very much to me like an overtly Leftist manifesto. To Pynchon, as to many before him, George Orwell was very much a man of the Left – so far Left, Pynchon might argue, that he became an enemy to those on the “official Left,” the Leftist intelligentsia and the card-carrying Communists who would have represented, in the eyes of many, the Leftist establishment. Within Part One, I will, through an analysis of Socialist and Communist concepts in The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia, examine Orwell’s relationship with Socialist ideals, from the belief that Socialism must be the only antidote for the maladies of Capitalism and Fascism, to his eventual disillusionment with “official” Communism and the beginnings of his writerly attacks on Stalinist Russia. The details of Orwell’s own writings will serve as a foreground to the critical reception received from Orwell’s contemporaneous critics on the Left, including those who disapproved of his anti-Soviet stance was well as those who held it in high favor.
CHAPTER TWO THE CALL FOR SOCIALISM
While investigating the conditions of the working classes in England for a work of journalism that would eventually evolve into his book The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell made his opinion abundantly clear that the only possible way to relieve the plight of the poverty-stricken Northern England miners and their ilk would be if England were to experience a drastic shift from Capitalism to a Socialist economy. The first half of the book is a chronicle of Orwell’s travels in the industrial north of England, investigating both the unemployed as well as the employed workers who had no choice but to brave the dangerous coal mines in order to make a (barely) living wage. In the second half of the book, however, Orwell offers an alternative option to poverty and plight described within The Road to Wigan Pier’s first hundred-some-odd pages. Here, Orwell argues that only in a Socialist society would the conditions exist in which the poor and working classes might be able to improve their bleak existence: [A]ll the while everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, as a world-system and wholeheartedly applied, is a way out. It would at least ensure our getting enough to eat even if it deprived us of everything else… 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 no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system. 1
In this passage, Orwell argues that he sees no reason why there should be poor and unemployed working-class people in northern England if there were plenty of wealth and plenty of food for everyone in England to live comfortably if it were evenly distributed – unless, of course, there had been some kind of selfish and “corrupt” motives standing in the way of this possibility. This passage, aided by the hindsight afforded by the passing of over a half century, makes Orwell out to be a bit of the naïve idealist to the contemporary reader; it should be noted that later in the same book Orwell also names Socialism as the only alternative to an
Our Orwell, Right or Left
eventual lapse into Fascism. Although this argument appears to be far more pragmatic and less idealistic, it too, as we will see, proves to be a naïve one. No matter: the point is that Orwell had established early in his literary career a strong advocacy for the basic concepts of Socialism, a system which he apparently believed to be the antidote for much of what he sees going wrong in the Europe of the 1930s. It is very clear in Orwell’s early writing, then – considering that he was strong advocate of Socialism, and was therefore strong advocate of economic equality (with a degree of animosity toward the bourgeoisie) – that he was, at least at this point in his life, inarguably a man of the Left. But from whence did Orwell’s fondness Socialism come? Simply stated, Socialism is an overarching term for a set of socio-economic ideals in which the means of production are controlled not by individuals but by society as a whole. This basic concept was formalized and structured into a political doctrine through the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who argued that their version of Socialism was a solution to the class strruggles between the “borgeoisie” (wealthy) and the “proletariat” (worker). Numerous distinct ideologies have developed from these writings, including Communism and Democratic Socialism, and the power-hungry have often mis-used and misrepresented the concepts in order to manipulate their citizenry and further their own agendas. In any case, throughout the early twentieth century, Socialism was considered by many on the Left to be a viable (and preferrable) socio-economic option to the Capitalist state and its divisions of economic and social strata. To illustrate George Orwell’s socialist ideal, scholar (and Soviet emigrant) Anna Vaninskaya, in a discussion of utopias and dystopias in the works of Orwell and William Morris, describes the concept as “moral outrage at capitalist exploitation and economic equality, which is to be alleviated, in the author’s belief, by the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, and replaced by some sort of nationalization (whether by the people directly or by the government in their name).”2 Of course, a distinction must be drawn here between Socialism as an ideology and what has passed for state socialism in its official forms in the twentieth century – Russian Communism, German National Socialism (i.e. “Nazism”), etc. If one does not realize this distinction, one runs the risk of gross misinterpretation and misrepresentation of many details in Orwell’s writing. For Orwell himself, the need for a realized Socalism meant more than the abstract ideals of the Leftist intelligentsia; to Orwell, Socialism was a matter of simple common sense – the kind of thing that “everyone who uses his brain knows”. In an example of what Christopher Hitchens terms
Orwell’s “power of facing”3 – which is Hitchens’s own re-evaluation of what Lionel Trilling admiringly referred to as Orwell’s “virtue” – Orwell was capable of envisioning the arguments against Socialism that functioned as roadblocks limiting the socio-economic system’s widespread appeal even as he had been openly advocating Socialism itself. While Orwell saw and understood the need for Socialism, he was also pessimistic about the system ever coming to fruition in England: What I am concerned with is the fact that Socialism is losing ground exactly where it ought to be gaining it. With so much in its favour – for every empty belly is an argument for Socialism – the idea of Socialism is less widely accepted than it was ten years ago. The average thinking person nowadays is not merely not a Socialist, he is actively hostile to 4 Socialism.
In concept, then, the idea of Socialism should be attractive to all – for a system that promotes equality and a widespread sharing of goods would find its greatest argument in the existence of people who are starving while there are others who have an abundance of food. Yet, as Orwell claims, somehow the concept is actually losing ground in England. He continues: This must be due chiefly to mistaken methods of propaganda. This means that Socialism, in the form in which it is now presented to us, has about it something inherently distasteful – something that drives away the very people who ought to be flocking to its support.5
So, if one is to read the decreasing popularity of Socialism as an effect of “mistaken methods of propaganda” – namely, how Socialism is presented by its adherents and how it is thereby interpreted by the masses – one must conclude that Socialism had been suffering from an image problem in the England of the 1930s. This was certainly Orwell’s belief, for he goes on to make the bold statement that “as with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.”6 In a memorable tirade, Orwell claims that it is the people who are drawn to Marxist concepts who give Socialism a bad name: 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, 7 pacifist and feminist in England.
Later, at the end of the same chapter, Orwell continues to speak of individual Socialists as “vegetarians with wilting beards, of Bolshevik commissars (half gangster, half gramophone), of earnest ladies in sandals,
Our Orwell, Right or Left
shock-headed Marxists chewing polysyllables, escaped Quakers, birthcontrol fanatics and Labour Party backstairs-crawlers.”8 Whereas many of the vivid images of Socialists that Orwell paints might not make much sense to the contemporary reader, the accusation itself comes through loud and clear: it is the Socialists themselves who give Socialism a bad name, their quirks and character traits apparently being unattractive to the average Englishman. Certainly, modern partisans can relate – take, for example, how many contemporary liberals might cringe at the over-the-top antics of the otherwise well-meaning Michael Moore. Of course, Orwell goes on to argue, it is the poor and the working classes who would, in theory, have had the most to gain from a transition from Capitalism toward Socialism: To the ordinary working man, the sort you would meet in a pub on a Saturday night, Socialism does not mean much more than better wages and shorter hours and nobody bossing you about… often, in my opinion, he is a truer Socialist than the orthodox Marxist, because he does remember, what the other so often forgets, that Socialism means justice and common 9 decency.
It seems to me here that Orwell is projecting his own moral system on the concepts of Socialism. What Socialism “means” is an abolition of the class system, an even distribution of goods, and the workers controlling the means of production. In this passage, however, Orwell equates the term “Socialism” with “justice” and “common decency,” an idiomatic and emotionally-charged interpretation of Socialism as a concept, and an interpretation that is seemingly at odds with his descriptions of the Socialists themselves. Orwell disdainfully describes Socialists as either “orthodox Marxists” (which implies being driven by ideas rather by emotions ) or through pejorative terms (“fruit-juice drinkers,” “nudists,” “sandal-wearers,” “Nature Cure quacks,” “pacifists,” “vegetarians with wilting beards”) with which the contemporary reader might apply the term “hippies.”10 What Orwell seems to be attempting here is a reconciliation of his attraction to Leftist politics with his middle-class English sensibilities and prejudices – the kind of sensibilities which also led him to write disparagingly about “gaspipe chairs” and “central heating.” Seeming to prefer the old-fashioned, tried-and-tested ways of living, Orwell’s oldfashioned sensibilities call to mind several different images; the politically-minded reader might not be able to suppress thinking of the term “Old Tory,” despite knowledge of Orwell’s Leftist political leanings. As strange as Orwell’s marriage of “Old Tory” sensibilities with Leftist politics might seem to a contemporary reader, it would be naïve of
us to think of Orwell’s prejudices as unique. In an October 12, 2006 Tonight Show interview, Michael Caine told Jay Leno about an encounter he had with Socialism as a young man.11 A young woman whom Caine had been dating wanted to bring Caine to a Socialist meeting. Caine, very much wanting to sleep with the young woman, duly went along. Upon arriving, Caine discovered that the man speaking at the head of the meeting was saying things that made a whole lot of sense to Caine, but there was a problem that was keeping Caine from taking seriously what the man had been saying: when he was a child, Caine’s father had advised him to never trust a man who wears sandals, and to never trust a man with a beard. The man leading the Socialist meeting, naturally, possessed both qualities. Michael Caine was born in 1933, the son of a fish-market porter. George Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903, would have been from vaguely the same generation as Caine’s working-class father. As idiosyncratic as Orwell’s prejudices about bearded, fruit-juice drinking Socialists might seem today, the Tonight Show interview with Caine suggests that these might simply be part of a set of values that were common amongst the British working class during the century’s middle decades. That Caine found himself attracted to the bearded man’s Socialist rhetoric further suggests that Orwell was not alone in being attracted to Leftist ideology despite his socially conservative, working-class prejudices. Orwell, however, reconciled his revulsion toward Socialists themselves and his attraction toward the principles of Socialism by claiming that the tenets of Socialism were synonymous with the “common decency” that he, with his “Old Tory” temperament, attributed to the “ordinary working man”. Since the “ordinary working man” would have the most to gain from a Socialist system of government, he would undoubtedly be an easy sell, despite having to share room with every “fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England.” Unless they could be mobilized for revolution (which many Marxist adherents claimed to be a necessary evil in order to implement their version of a Socialist system), the “ordinary working man” is not the kind of person that has the power or influence in order to begin the kind of social change that would be necessary for a shift from Capitalism to Socialism. Those who do have the power and influence, Orwell argues, would be the ones least likely to be in favor of the change; besides the problem of the Socialist image itself, there is the aforementioned problem of motive. As Orwell points out, even people not belonging to society’s upper classes did have their motives – corrupt or not
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– for not rushing to leave behind their Capitalism in favor of Socialism, namely “the ugly fact that most middle-class Socialists, while theoretically pining for a classless society, cling like glue to their miserable fragments of social prestige.”12 In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell paints the wouldbe middle-class Socialist as “a prim little man” who holds “a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting.”13 In other words, it would be easier to sell to the poor theories of equality and sharing of provisions than it would be to the rich; the inherent problem with this scenario is, of course, that it is the rich, not the poor, who hold all the power. The problem of convincing the wealthy to forfeit their social position is far from the largest roadblock Orwell observes Socialism encountering in the England of the 1930s. Orwell believes that England’s working- and middle-classes would be much more open to the idea of Socialism if it weren’t for the negative stigmas that the term calls to mind – negative stigmas that existed long before the Cold War made Socialism a four-letter word, and Communism a specter to be abhorred by any good American or Englishman. As we have seen from Orwell’s rants against Socialists themselves, the problem one might encounter attempting to get the English working- and middle-classes to accept Socialism as a viable political system, in Orwell’s estimation, is one of perception. Besides the aforementioned fruit juice-drinking, sandal-wearing pacifist image, there is also the problem of how the middle class actually perceives the working class who would benefit the most from instituting Socialism: [A] European of bourgeois upbringing, even when he calls himself a Communist, cannot without a hard effort think of a working man as his equal. It is summed up in four frightful words which people nowadays are chary of uttering, but which were bandied about quite freely in my childhood. The words were: The lower classes smell. That was what we were taught – the lower classes smell. And here, obviously, you are at an impassable barrier.14
What Orwell is saying here is not that the lower classes smell (although he has been incorrectly accused of saying this by his enemies on both sides of the partisan debate), but rather that there are built-in prejudices existing between the bourgeoisie and the working class, prejudices that would keep middle- or upper-class Europeans from thinking of the working class as their equals. The implication, of course, is that actual equality could never exist if one social class looks down with disgust upon another. In addition to a lack of equality, Orwell believes that most intellectual Socialists call themselves Socialists because it apparently makes them look better in the
eyes of others, not because of any actual desire for social change: “We rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them… every [intellectual] revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed.”15 Why an intellectual revolutionary would claim a desire to abolish class distinction despite drawing strength from knowing that nothing can be changed is a mystery that a psychologist or a sociologist would be better equipped to solve. Perhaps the contradiction derives from a desire to assuage what is known in modern parlance as “liberal guilt”; perhaps the declaring of oneself as a Socialist was simply a “safe” position taken by “intellectual revolutionaries” in order present themselves as caring or socially-minded while still ensuring that their social and economic status remain untouched. Whatever the reason, even to the contemporary reader Orwell’s accusation rings true. Due to Orwell’s attacks on Socialists and intellectuals in The Road to Wigan Pier, the book had stirred some controversy within Leftist circles upon publication. The book, whose initial circulation was small, was picked as a monthly choice for the Left Book Club. Victor Gollancz, one of the Club’s founders, realized that many members of the Left Book Club might take issue with many of Orwell’s arguments, and decided to write a foreword to the book as a kind of disclaimer: Why did we think that a Foreword was desirable? Because we find that many members – a surprisingly large number – have the idea that in some sort of way a Left Book Club Choice, first, represents the views of the three selectors, and, secondly, incorporates the Left Book Club “policy.” A moment’s thought should show that the first suggestion could be true only in the worst kind of Fascist State, and the second is a contradiction in terms.16
In other words, Gollancz was presenting the equivalent of the common contemporary television and radio disclaimer “the following program does not reflect the views of the station, its owners, or its sponsors.” His reason for doing so, obviously, was that for many of the Left Book Club’s readers, Orwell’s tirades might very well have hit a little too close to home. Many of the Socialists and intellectuals of the Left Book Club might have been personally offended by Orwell’s depictions of people like them in The Road to Wigan Pier, and some would inevitably interpret those interpretations as an indictment of Socialism itself – despite Orwell’s clearly-stated intentions to the contrary. Moreover, Gollancz certainly did not want the Left Book Club reader assuming that Orwell had been writing on behalf of Gollancz or the Left Book Club in general. Gollancz attempts
Our Orwell, Right or Left
to defend Orwell, arguing that Orwell is simply playing “devil’s advocate for the case against Socialism,” claiming that the writer “looks at Socialists as a whole and finds them (with a few exceptions) a stupid, offensive and insincere lot. For my own part I find no similarity whatsoever between the picture as Mr. Orwell paints it and the picture as I see it.”17 Even though Gollancz attempts to defend Orwell early on in his forward, he eventually resorts to apologizing to Socialists and vegetarians for how they are treated by Orwell in the book, and even calls Orwell a snob while simultaneously being “a genuine hater of every form of snobbery.”18 Although Gollancz seems to admire the purpose of The Road to Wigan Pier – indeed, if he didn’t admire it, he likely wouldn’t have chosen the book for the Left Book Club – it is clear that he is in direct disagreement with the driving force of many of Orwell’s arguments, and is unafraid to point out the apparent contradictions in Orwell’s writing (e.g. being an intellectual and hating intellectualism, being a snob and hating snobbery). In The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell also discusses the problem of the imagery that is related, in the minds of many, not only to Socialists, but also to the concept “Socialism” itself. The word, Orwell argues, conjures up images that are antithetical to the ideals of the average Englishman: Because of that nexus of thought, ‘Socialism-progress-machinery-Russiatractors-hygiene-machinery-progress,’ that exists in almost everyone’s mind, it is usually the same person who is hostile to Socialism. The kind of person who hates central heating and gaspipe chairs is also the kind of person who, when you mention Socialism, murmurs something about “beehive state” and moves away with a pained expression.19
In examining this “nexus of thought,” Orwell argues that the concept of Socialism is inescapably tied with the images of machine production and industrialization, because a socialist state would demand “constant intercommunication and exchange of goods between all parts of the earth” and “some degree of centralized control,”20 in order to make a worker’s paradise a reality across a large expanse of land. “The Socialist world is always pictured as a completely mechanized, immensely organized world, depending on the machine as the civilizations of antiquity depended on the slave.”21 In other words, the Socialist state, to many, is considered a “beehive state,” a system in which the worker loses his individuality and becomes, in essence, a drone. In this scenario, the individual would forfeit his autonomy and become just another cog in the system. Considering that Orwell’s somewhat naïve perception of Socialism hinges on the idea that the “essential aims of Socialism are justice and liberty,”22 becoming a
drone in a beehive state would certainly represent a legitimate anxiety – “liberty” and loss of autonomy are certainly not congruent concepts. What would almost any right-minded person consider a more desirable locale, the smoggy depths of a factory-clogged industrial city, or the green grass and babbling brooks of the English countryside? Whereas a mechanized, industrial world is in conflict with modern ideas of natural beauty, the association of Socialism with machine-worship presents another problem: the images of mechanical progress which, Orwell argues, accompany the term “Socialism” in the minds of many, are presented “not merely as a necessary development but as an end in itself, almost as a kind of religion.”23 Orwell uses propaganda about the rapid technological advances of the U.S.S.R. as an example. The problem with this “ordered” and “efficient” world, as he sees it, is that it is from this “vision of the future as a sort of glittering Wells-world that sensitive minds recoil.”24 Orwell argues that the “sensitive” person is naturally suspicious of machines and industry, and more attracted to ideas of simple, natural life.25 This avenue of thought is also reflected in the immensely popular works of another British novelist, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In those books – published at roughly the same time as the last of Orwell’s writing26 – the simple, pastoral lives of the nature-loving Hobbits and their kingdom, the Shire, are juxtaposed with the ugly, mechanized, and industrial existence of the evil Sauron’s Orcs and their land of Mordor. If the average Englishman of Orwell’s and Tolkien’s era is to hate the concept of industrialization and is to be wary of the machine, it only follows that the imagery attached to those concepts might adversely affect that person’s perception of Socialism itself: The unfortunate thing is that at present the word “progress” and the word Socialism are linked inseparably in almost everyone’s mind. The kind of person who hates machinery also takes it for granted to hate Socialism; the Socialist is always in favour of mechanization, rationalization, modernization – or at least thinks he ought to be in favour of them.27
Orwell draws an important line here, a line between what a Socialist is and what a Socialist thinks he should be. The implication here is that there’s a danger in handing oneself over completely to a dogmatic belief-system and allowing oneself to be completely assimilated to the guidelines of that particular “ism.” After World War II many ardent Communists and some Socialists declared a love for Stalin and the U.S.S.R. simply because of its supposedly Marxist intentions, ignoring completely the totalitarian aspect
Our Orwell, Right or Left
of the state – the fact that Stalin’s Russia had begun to resemble much more closely a Fascist regime than a Marxist Utopia.
CHAPTER THREE THE TOTALITARIAN THREAT
To Orwell, Western Capitalism might have been a governmental system that bred unfair and unjust economic imbalance, but whatever flaws were inherent in Capitalism were inconsequential compared to the threat he saw manifesting with the spread of Fascism in the Europe of the 1930s. In his essay “England Your England,” Orwell writes about the alarming indifference toward Fascism found in England prior to World War II, “the British ruling class were not altogether wrong in thinking that Fascism was on their side. It is a fact that any rich man, unless he is a Jew, has less to fear from Fascism than from either Communism or Democratic Socialism.”1 This possibility – that the wealthy of England would likely gain more from Fascism than from Socialism and would therefore be theoretically supportive of a Fascist regime – frighteningly, makes perfect sense. Would the average wealthy or middle-class man likely give up his riches in order to make themselves equal to the average working-class man? In most cases, no – power and privilege are neither easily nor readily surrendered, and in the England of the 1930s, there was, apparently, the common perception that those people smelled. One can see Orwell’s deep concern with the spread of Fascism even as early as The Road to Wigan Pier. He seems to imply that every thinking person will eventually be presented with the choice between Fascism and Socialism, because “Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face.”2 Orwell was writing this before the Fascist Regime’s Axis forces had been defeated by an alliance led by the Capitalist/Democratic United States and England, of course, so his prediction has proven to be shortsighted and overly simplistic. In any case, Orwell believes that the unflattering image of Socialism to be a major reason that so many will inevitably flock toward Fascism: The thinking person, by intellect usually left-wing but by temperament often right-wing, hovers at the gate of the Socialist fold. He is no doubt aware that he ought to be a Socialist. But he observes first the dullness of individual Socialists, then the apparent flabbiness of Socialist ideals, and veers away. Till quite recently it was natural to veer towards
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indifferentism… [T]he times are growing harsher, the issues are clearer, the belief that nothing will change… is less prevalent. The fence on which the literary gent sits, once as comfortable as the plush cushion of a cathedral stall, is now pinching his bottom intolerably; more and more he shows a disposition to drop off on one side or the other… I believe that when the pinch comes there is a terrible danger that the main movement of 3 the intelligentsia will be towards Fascism.
Orwell argues that until recently it had been “natural to veer towards indifferentism”; as we have seen throughout history, times of war tend to transform the politically indifferent segments of the population into, suddenly, very opinionated people. In the late 1930s, it is probable that Orwell sensed just such a change over the horizon4 and began to worry about how this movement might affect many of the otherwise goodnatured (and, until recently, indifferent) people of his country. According to Orwell, the negative light in which Socialism is depicted – the fruit juice drinkers and sandal wearers, the machine-worship, the growing rift between the bourgeois and the proletariat – might have very well ended up being the reason that so many “thinking people” would fall off the fence to the far Right instead of to the Left: “If you present Socialism in a bad and misleading light… you risk driving the intellectual into Fascism.”5 It is obvious to the reader that Orwell would certainly include himself among the “thinking persons” who are described in this passage – after all, if there was ever a description of George Orwell that characterizes how the man’s work has been read by various critics throughout the decades, “by intellect left-wing but by often temperament right-wing” might very well be it; this passage was, quite possibly, an unconscious self-description. Christopher Hitchens, who was once a Socialist and is now generally considered a Neoconservative, places Orwell on the Left despite his own Rightward leanings: “Orwell was conservative about many things, but not about politics.”6 As we have seen, Orwell has attempted, through his writing, to reconcile his Leftist political beliefs with his seemingly instinctual conservative prejudices. What Orwell does well, and, by implication, the thinking person that is sitting on the fence separating Socialism and Fascism might not, is see the appealing aspects of the Fascist state and still comprehend its danger: In order to combat Fascism it is necessary to understand it, which involves admitting that it contains some good as well as much evil. In practice, of course, it is merely an infamous tyranny, and its methods of attaining and holding power are such that even its most ardent apologists prefer to talk about something else… the rank-and-file Fascist is often quite a wellmeaning person – quite genuinely anxious, for instance, to better the lot of
Chapter Three the unemployed… Fascism draws its strength from the good as well as the bad varieties of conservatism. To anyone with a feeling for tradition and for discipline it comes with its appeal ready-made. Probably it is very easy, when you have had a bellyful of the more tactless kind of Socialist propaganda, to see Fascism as the last line of defense of all that is good in European civilization.7
Here, Orwell is illustrating in understandable terms how the European “thinking person” might fall off the fence to the side of Fascism instead of Socialism. The former seems to promise the same betterment-for-thecommon man as Socialism,8 but it lacks those negative images that correlate, in the minds of many, with Socialism – the images of industry, of fruit juice-drinking nudists (which, if one stops and thinks about it, don’t exactly seem to be correlating images) – and instead appeals to a sense of tradition, a sense of “all that is good in European civilization.” Instead of offering a solution to problems through drastic political and economic upheaval, which is the common perception of Socialist systems of government, Fascism appears to offer a solution to those same problems while holding onto tradition and “all that is good in European civilization.” This scenario is unacceptable to Orwell: We have got to admit that if Fascism is everywhere advancing, this is the fault of the Socialists themselves. Partly it is due to the mistaken Communist tactic of sabotaging democracy, i.e. sawing off the branch you 9 are sitting on. [my italics]
Notice here that Orwell is drawing a distinction between the Communists – as in the “official” Soviet Communist Party – and the Socialists – namely, idealists such as himself. This distinction would gain clarity in his Homage to Catalonia; although Socialism and Communism are two separate and distinctly different political entities, they are associated with one another and easily confused and/or conflated by many. Orwell himself, in Homage to Catalonia, initially sees no difference between the anti-Fasicist Communists and the anti-Fascist Socialist, but quickly learns that the difference was staggering, and the fact that many hadn’t recognized this difference was dangerous. What Orwell argues in the above passage, however, is that the Communists are attempting to beat back Fascism while simultaneously trying to “sabotage democracy.” The end result is that the Communists are, in effect, actually aiding Fascism’s totalitarian cause. Orwell, of course, believes that if the concept of Socialism were presented in a more positive light, the resulting common perception of the concept among the English would have ended up being much different:
Our Orwell, Right or Left
The Socialists have, so to speak, presented their case wrong side foremost. They have never made it sufficiently clear that the essential aims of Socialism are justice and liberty… As a result, Fascism has been able to play upon every instinct that revolts against … a cheap conception of “progress.” It has been able to pose as the upholder of the European tradition, and to appeal… to patriotism and to the military virtues… The only possible course is to examine the Fascist case, grasp that there is something to be said for it, and then make it clear to the world that whatever good Fascism contains is also implicit in Socialism.10
Here, Orwell’s interpretation of Socialism is somewhat idealized; the “essential aims of Socialism” are not really “justice and liberty” as Orwell claims, but rather economic equality, worker-controlled production, and a distribution of goods. This might explain why Orwell believes that the Socialists haven’t made it “sufficiently clear” that their goal is “justice and liberty” – because in actuality it really isn’t. If implemented correctly, “justice and liberty” might have been a pleasant consequence of Socialism, but the same can be said about just about any system of government (except, perhaps, for Fascism). That Orwell chooses to use such vague, idealistic terms is troubling, especially considering that he was an author who has been repeatedly praised for the clarity of his writing. In fact, these are exactly the kind of terms Orwell himself warns against in his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” As an argument against the “bad writing” which can lead to the same kind of limiting in intelligent thinking that “Newspeak” endangers in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell puts forth in “Politics and the English Language” a set of traps which the writer is to avoid whenever possible. These traps include “dying metaphors,” “pretentious diction,” and “meaningless words.” Among the meaningless words, which he argues are employed to deceive rather to inform, Orwell includes “romantic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality,” as well as “freedom… patriotic… justice”11: Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet Press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive.12
It is probable that Orwell didn’t see the danger in overuse of inherently vague words like “justice” and “liberty” when he wrote The Road to Wigan Pier back in the middle 1930s; by 1946, however, the interconnectedness of language and politics were of great interest to the writer, as evidenced by the power that “Newspeak” holds over the
populace of Oceania in 1948’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. These observances would prove to be prophetic for those of us living in an age when we hear the phrase “the terrorists hate our freedoms” so often that we actually begin to believe it, and initiatives relaxing existing standards on pollution are given names such as “The Clear Skies Act”. No, in 1937 Orwell hadn’t considered that vague, “meaningless” terms like “justice” and “liberty” could be used as powerful tools of propaganda – what he would eventually refer to as “Doublethink” and “Newspeak”. To the George Orwell of 1937, an idealistic and somewhat naïve young writer who had yet to experience the betrayals of “official” Communism, “justice” and “liberty” had only positive connotations. To the Orwell of 1937 there was no apparent danger in using such words, as vague as they might be. Whereas “justice” is undoubtedly the goal of any political system, “liberty” seems like an odd term to use for Socialism, a governmental system in which the well-being of the individual is supposed to be secondary to the well-being of the community. Moreover, Orwell claims that Socialism is synonymous with a “cheap conception” of progress; one can assume that this is a reference to the aforementioned “Socialismprogress-machinery-Russia-tractors-hygeine-machinery-progress” nexus of thought, the gaspipe chairs and disdain for central heating which so offends his conservative English sensibilities. Orwell doesn’t, however, disclose what might be the difference between real progress and a “cheap conception” of progress. Orwell’s biases – his loose interpretation of Socialist ideals and his old-fashioned sensibilities – lead him to recognize what some might see as the unattractive side of Socialism while acknowledging what some might find attractive about Fascism. Socialism’s weaknesses and Fascism’s strengths both derive from concepts of image and perception. It is nearly impossible for the contemporary reader to unlearn what they already know about the Fascist regimes of Franco and Hitler – about the racism, xenophobia, social Darwinism, anti-Semitism, military aggression, and genocide – for the perception of Fascism in the 1930s had been one of “patriotism” and “military virtues” to many in the countries where Fascism had gained a foothold. The reality of Fascism, as we all know now, was very, very ugly. In the same era, the perception of Socialism was industry, machine-worship, sandal-wearers, etc., but its reality, Orwell believed, would have been “justice and liberty.” For Orwell, the problem was clear: “Socialism… does not smell any longer of revolution and the overthrow of tyrants; it smells of crankishness, of machine-worship, and the stupid cult of Russia. Unless you can remove that smell, and very rapidly, Fascism
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may win.”13 Orwell began to gravitate toward Socialism out of a desire to improve the lives of England’s working class; eventually, he comes to see it as the only answer to Fascism. Orwell’s outcry against Fascism represents the first of two major battles against totalitarianism; the second – which also represented the reason why so many on the Right would try to claim him as one of their own – was against Stalinist Communism.
CHAPTER FOUR LINES OF DISTINCTION
Initially intending to merely report on the Spanish Civil War, in 1936 Orwell eventually decided to practice what he had been preaching and joined the POUM1 in order to fight against Franco’s Fascist regime. Presented to the reading public as Homage to Catalonia, what Orwell had experienced as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War would significantly alter the course of his literary and political life. The POUM was one of many small groups united against the Fascists, the others including a band of anarchists as well as the PSUC2 (a branch of the “official” Communist Party). Due to differences in ideology, there were, of course, tensions between the splinter groups. Despite the foreknowledge of these tensions, what Orwell had expected to find in Spain was collaboration between anarchists, Socialists, and Communists, a brotherhood united in order to fight a common Fascist enemy: The whole process is easy to understand if one remembers that it proceeds from the temporary alliance that Fascism, in certain forms, forces upon the bourgeois and the worker. This alliance, known as the Popular Front, is in essential an alliance of enemies, and it seems probable that it must always end by one partner swallowing the other.3
Here, Orwell is clearly foreshadowing future events, but in the early chapters of Homage to Catalonia he downplays the essential ideological differences between the “Trotskyist” POUM and the “official” Communists. Eventually, the Communist sect would gain control of the alliance; this would be the first step in a series of events that would ultimately see members of the POUM systematically hunted, imprisoned, and even killed for no other crime than simply being “Trotskyists.” In the end, Orwell and his wife barely escaped Spain with their lives, Orwell himself having been nearly mortally wounded by a Fascist’s bullet through his neck. Although he enters the “Spanish situation” with a naïve optimism about the unstable alliances between anarchist, Socialist, and Communist
Our Orwell, Right or Left
forces, it soon becomes obvious to Orwell that there is something intrinsically wrong with the “official” Communist end of the alliance in Spain: The only unexpected feature in the Spanish situation – and outside of Spain it has caused an immense amount of misunderstanding – is that among the parties on the Government side the Communists stood not upon the extreme Left, but upon the extreme Right. In reality this should cause no surprise, because the tactics of the Communist Party elsewhere, especially in France, have made it clear that Official Communism must be regarded, at any rate for the time being, as an anti-revolutionary force. The whole of Comintern policy is subordinated… to the defence of the U.S.S.R., which depends upon a system of military alliances. In particular, the U.S.S.R. is in alliance with France, a capitalist-imperialist country. The alliance is of little use to Russia unless French capitalism is strong, 4 therefore Communist policy in France has got to be anti-revolutionary. [my italics]
This would be the first time within his major works that Orwell situates the Communist Soviet Union on the Right as opposed to the Left, where most Marxist-derived ideologies would traditionally reside. In the case of the U.S.S.R., the transition would appear to be a gradual one – a system of alliances necessitates that the followers of the Communist line in any given allied country (France, in the example above) must necessarily become politically conservative, because being Leftist would be in contradiction with that country’s best interests and would therefore hurt the alliance with Communist Russia. Acknowledging this strange system of alliances by the Communists, Orwell drew a further line between Leftist Socialism and “official” Communism: “The POUM was one of those dissident Communist parties which have appeared in many countries in the last few years as a result of the opposition to ‘Stalinism’; i.e. to the change, real or apparent, in Communist policy.”5 Orwell continued the discussion about the Soviet Union’s shift from revolutionary, Leftist Marxism to ultra-patriotic, Rightist Communism in his essay, “Inside the Whale”: As Hitler’s three targets of attack were, to all appearances, Great Britain, France, and the U.S.S.R., the three countries were forced into an uneasy rapprochement. This meant that the English or French Communist was obliged to become a good patriot and imperialist – that is, to defend the very things he had been attacking for the past fifteen years… “World revolution” and “Social-fascism” gave way to “Defence of democracy” and “Stop Hitler.”6
This apparent change of policy would be something that the “official” Communist of the Leftist intelligentsia would have to become used to. By the time of Homage to Catalonia’s writing, it had become apparent – to Orwell, at least – that there was an ever-growing rift growing between Socialism as an ideal and the official Communist line as it existed under Stalin. Christopher Hitchens examines the common misperception of the Soviet Union as a Leftist state, and Orwell’s contrarian stance against this misperception, in his Why Orwell Matters: It is often said in mitigation of the intellectuals of the 1930s that they could not really have known what Stalinism was like. It is also said – sometimes by the same apologists – that when they were able to guess what Stalinism was like, they also managed to repress their misgivings for the good of the cause. A striking fact about Orwell, a tribute to his ‘power of facing,’ is that he never underwent a Stalinoid phase, never had to be cured or purged by sudden ‘disillusionment.’7
The fact that Orwell wasn’t willing to blindly follow, “for the good of the cause”, the common, mistaken, Leftist intelligentsia belief that the Stalinist Soviet Union was the embodiment of Socialism is an illustration of what Hitchens terms Orwell’s “power of facing.” It is only fair here to point out that while Hitchens makes it seem as though Orwell was standing alone with his pro-Socialist, anti-Stalinist stance, there had been other Socialists speaking out against Stalin’s regime – although Orwell was certainly among the best-known and had, eventually, the widest audience. Orwell’s “power of facing” seems to be the ability to see through jingoism, propaganda, and the party line in order to understand the truth, and is apparently what separated him from many of the Leftist intellectuals whom he disparaged. Renowned critic and Partisan Review mainstay Lionel Trilling considered Homage to Catalonia to be “one of the most important documents of our time.”8 Acknowledging the Spanish Civil War as an epochal event of the twentieth century – an event that the retrospective view of history would tell us was the initial conflict that was, in a way, prologue to immensely important future conflicts – Trilling writes: George Orwell’s book would make only a limited claim upon our attention if it were nothing more than a record of personal experiences in the Spanish war. But it is much more than this. It is a testimony to the nature of modern political life.9
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Considering that Homage to Catalonia marks the first time in his major works in which Orwell situates the Communist Party on the far Right side of the political spectrum, Trilling is reading Homage to Catalonia not only as a history of the conflict which would prefigure World War II, but as political essay that would predict the major conflict of the twentieth century’s second half, the Cold War. Trilling argues in his “George Orwell and the Politics of Truth” – decades before Hitchens would make the same arguments in Why Orwell Matters – that unlike many on the Left, Orwell was never in denial about the machinations of Stalin’s regime. Once Orwell discovered there was a difference between the Socialist ideal and the policies of Communist Russia, he didn’t attempt to justify the difference in his own mind: “[Homage to Catalonia], in one of its most significant aspects, is about disillusionment with Communism, but it is not a confession.”10 Trilling alludes here to disillusionment which did not result from a misunderstanding on Orwell’s part – hence the lack of a confession – but rather from misrepresentation on the part of the official Communists themselves. As Trilling points out in his essay, the official Communist Party under Stalin, had, in effect, been using the Marxist terminology of the Left in order to repress the Left’s desire for revolution during the Spanish Civil War: During the days of interparty strife, the POUM was represented, in Spain and abroad, as being a Trotskyist party. In point of fact it was not, although it did join with the small Trotskyist party to oppose certain of the policies of the dominant Communist party. Orwell’s own preference, at the time of his enlistment, was for the Communist party line, and because of this he looked forward to an eventual transfer to a Communist unit.11
Fighting with the POUM unit, whose belief was that an eventual revolution was inseparable from the fight against Franco’s Fascist regime, it eventually became clear to Orwell that the official Communist party was decidedly against this policy of revolution; the Communists not only took measures to keep arms out of the hands of the POUM and their allies, but eventually engaged them in direct combat. Trilling wrote, “the movement of events, led by the Communists who had the prestige and the supplies of Russia, was always to the right”12 – in other words, the Soviet-backed Communists’ presence in Spain was a move to ensure regime change, albeit a regime change that would ensure that a revolution would never happen. Trilling reads Orwell’s experiences in the Spanish War, and his subsequent disillusionment with Communism, as evidence of his “virtue”:
Chapter Four [T]he moral tone of Orwell’s book is uniquely simple and true. Orwell’s ascertaining of political facts was not the occasion for a change of heart, or for a crisis of the soul. What he learned from his experiences in Spain of course pained him very much, and it led him to change his course of conduct. But it did not destroy him; it did not, as people say, cut the ground from under him. It did not shatter his faith in what he had previously believed, or weaken his political impulse, or even change its direction. It produced not a moment of guilt or self-recrimination. Perhaps this should not seem so very remarkable. Yet who can doubt that it constitutes in our time a genuine moral triumph.13
Trilling goes on to claim that this ability of Orwell’s to accept the facts for what they are without allowing them to alter his established belief system displays a “temper of mind and heart”14 which is rare, and it is this kind of “virtue” that makes him a major figure. Trilling also ties this concept of “virtue” into his reading of Orwell’s intellect. While Orwell obviously had a considerable intelligence, Trilling claimed that he was worthy of being a “figure” largely because his “temper of mind and heart” and his intelligence are apparent despite the fact that he was, in fact, not a genius: [I]f we ask what it is [Orwell] stands for, what he is the figure of, the answer is: the virtue of not being a genius, of confronting the world with nothing more than one’s simple, direct, undeceived intelligence, and a respect for the powers one does have and the work one undertakes to do. We admire geniuses, we love them, but they discourage us. They are great concentrations of intellect and emotion, we feel that they have soaked up all the available power, monopolizing it and leaving none for us. We feel that if we cannot be as they, we can be nothing… He is not a genius – what a relief! What an encouragement!15
Here, Trilling seems to argue that it is easy for a genius to become a figure, for the genius is naturally blessed with a superior intellect. Those of us who are not geniuses, therefore, are discouraged because in any given field we might face competition from said geniuses and might not measure up. Orwell manages to become a figure, however, not because of a superior intellect, but rather because of his “virtue,” his “temper of mind and heart,” what Hitchens would later refer to as his “power of facing.”16 We should be, then, by Trilling’s logic, not discouraged but rather encouraged by his example. If, as Trilling argues, Orwell is to be considered an encouragement to those of us who aren’t geniuses, and it certainly appears that Trilling himself benefits from Orwell’s example, one can certainly assume that
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Trilling places himself in the non-genius camp. This, in a way, explains Trilling’s attraction to Orwell. In Orwell, Trilling sees a political writer who wasn’t a genius, who was a supporter of the tenets of Socialism, who was in opposition to Stalin’s Communist regime, who was admired by, and would become an inspiration to thousands (or, perhaps, millions), and who had enjoyed considerable success in the literary world. Recognizing these facts, Orwell had become a mirror for Trilling, just as he had for many other critics over the decades; in reading Orwell’s work, Trilling is picking out the attributes which he sees in himself. This is an understandable and perhaps inescapable quality of human nature, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that it does, in a way, blind the critic from recognizing the ways in which the writer with whom they are identifying might have been different from themselves. In the case of Trilling and Orwell’s there is the critic’s ignoring of the author’s bizarre tirades against “hippie”-types and intellectuals – tirades which those on the Right would seize upon as evidence that Orwell be would standing among them instead of on the Left had he lived beyond 1950 – as well as the instances of contradiction within Orwell’s writing (e.g. Gollancz’s accusation that Orwell was being a snob while hating snobbishness, his depiction of Socialists as cranks in tirades that can be best described as crankish, etc.). Trilling’s claiming of Orwell, and his simultaneous ignoring of those characteristics in which Orwell may have differed from himself, does not seem overly problematic – especially in contrast to the Neoconservatives that would claim Orwell in ensuing decades – because, as Trilling had been writing shortly after Orwell’s death, his position in the political spectrum as a Leftist political writer was very similar to Orwell’s own; the political climate hadn’t changed drastically between Orwell’s death in 1950 and the publication of Trilling’s “George Orwell and the Politics of Truth” in 1952. The critic’s selective blindness – the acknowledging of attributes that they personally shared with Orwell while simultaneously ignoring the traits that contradicted their own viewpoint – would become a bigger and more complex problem as the political climate would evolve throughout the decades. Hitchens, who himself has been called a Neoconservative (although he has dismissed this label), sees Orwell as a man of the Left whose claiming by the Right has largely been a result of changing world politics. Part of this shift in the political climate, the hindsight of history tells us, includes a conflation, in the minds of many, of the Socialist ideal with the Communist regime of Stalin’s Soviet Union. The inability of many on both ends of the spectrum to differentiate between Socialism and Soviet Communism may have created some confusion amongst many about the
correct applications of terms such as “Left” and “Right” when discussing the U.S.S.R., but, as we have seen, Orwell’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War gave him a clarity of vision on the topic that many, sadly, had lacked: Orwell’s signing up with a dissident band allowed him to see at first hand the real story in Catalonia, which was the story of a revolution betrayed… Orwell told the truth, in his Homage to Catalonia, about the deliberate subversion of the Spanish Republic by the agents of Stalin, and about the especially ruthless way in which they tried to destroy Catalonia’s independent Left.17
Perhaps the key phrase in this passage is “independent left”; in this text, the term refers specifically to the POUM to which Orwell was assigned and the anarchists and Democratic Socialists with which they were aligned in their favor of revolution following the battle against Franco. Symbolically, however, the term can be taken to refer to something far more important to our understanding of Orwell as a man of the Left: Orwell could be defined as “independent Left,” as opposed to the “official Left” that blindly followed the cult of Stalin despite its decidedly anti-Left behavior. For example, as Hitchens points out, “it should be borne in mind here that until recently the Soviet Union had been in a military alliance with Hitler – an alliance loudly defended by Britain’s Communists.”18 The preceding passage is in reference to a New Years Day 1942 dispatch to Partisan Review in which Orwell directly attacks the British “official Left.” “Independent Left,” indeed. In light of these facts, Pynchon’s claim that Orwell was “not only of the Left, but to the left of Left” was apparently not only accurate, but also wholly appropriate.
CHAPTER FIVE STUDIES IN DYSTOPIA
By the time Orwell wrote “Inside the Whale” in 1940, it had become abundantly clear that Stalin’s U.S.S.R. was taking an ideal that had originated from the same basic ideology as Socialism and had turned it into something decidedly dangerous and contemptible: The Communist movement in Western Europe began as a movement for the violent overthrow of capitalism, and degenerated within a few years into an instrument of Russian foreign policy… the U.S.S.R. is no more scrupulous in its foreign policy than the rest of the Great Powers. Alliances, changes of front, etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power politics have to be explained and justified in terms of international socialism. Every time Stalin swaps partners, “Marxism” has to be hammered into a new shape. This entails sudden and violent changes of “line,” purges, denunciations, systematic destruction of party literature, etc., etc. Every Communist is at fact liable at any moment to have to alter his most fundamental convictions, or leave the party. The unquestionable dogma of Monday may become the damnable heresy of Tuesday, and so on.1
The basic credo of Stalinist Russia was that whatever the State/Party did was unquestionably the right thing to do – so the official “line” of the Party, the belief system of “Marxism” as the Party Communist knew it, would effectively have to change in time with the actions of the State/Party. These concepts would come to the foreground of Orwell’s writing in his best-known works, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and they have represented the foundation on which many on the Left have launched their own critical attacks against Orwell. In order to understand why many on the Left were enthusiastic to disown Orwell, it will be necessary to take a closer look at Orwell’s attacks on the Stalinist Communism in his final two books, the novels that have, in large part, defined his legacy. The fairy tale-style satire Animal Farm was the book that brought Orwell widespread international recognition. Animal Farm is the story of a group of farmyard animals, led by the pigs Snowball and Napoleon, that
revolt against their tyrannical human owners and set out to create an egalitarian Utopia. That Animal Farm was meant to be taken as a direct and intentional allegory for the Soviet Union is obvious to even the most novice of readers. After the revolution, the animals, as a group, create seven commandments, which are taken initially to be “unquestionable dogma” by the animals of the farm. The commandments are written down and displayed on the farm for all the animals to see: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. No animal shall wear clothes. No animal shall sleep in a bed. No animal shall drink alcohol. No animal shall kill any other animal. All animals are equal.2
Eventually, the pigs Snowball and Napoleon enter a power struggle; when Napoleon (representing Stalin in the Soviet allegory) begins to show signs that he is becoming increasingly power-hungry and greedy, Snowball (representing Trotsky) flees into exile. Slowly, the farm’s distribution of power changes, and the pig Napoleon and his underlings begin to wear clothes and sleep in beds as a way to display their superiority over the other animals on the farm. As the aforementioned commandments are broken by Napoleon and his minions, the rules themselves are covertly altered, while the other animals slept, to match the behavior of their leaders. Once these changes of policy are made, it is understood by the subservient animals that it must have always been this way: A few days later, Muriel, reading over the Seven Commandments to herself, noticed that there was yet another of them which the animals had remembered wrong. They had thought the Fifth Commandment was “No animal shall drink alcohol,” but there were two words that they had forgotten. Actually the Commandment read: “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.3
As the animals in positions of power yearn for the creature comforts that they had abhorred when they were in enjoyed by the now-overthrown humans, the rules of the farm are altered in order to match the whims of the farm’s new leaders. To explain why the pigs eventually get privileges that the other animals on the farm do not, the commandment “All animals are equal” becomes “All animals are equal but some animals are more
Our Orwell, Right or Left
equal than others.”4 If Animal Farm is to be read as allegory, the accusation is that the revolutionary Communists of the U.S.S.R. had eventually begun to behave in a similar fashion to the abusive, despotic Czars whom they had deposed and replaced, and although the pigs might have started out with the best intentions (or, at least, the appearance of good intentions), their idealism, like the Communists’, eventually gave way to greed and tyrrany, In Animal Farm, as was the case with the “official” Communist line, the “unquestionable dogma” of one day becomes the “damnable heresy” of the next – or, more accurately, the “damnable heresy” of one day becomes the “unquestionable dogma” of the next. This altering of the Party “line” is a characteristic of totalitarianism that he had explored in a 1946 essay, “The Prevention of Literature”: From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened.5
Orwell seems to have developed a sort of obsession with the concept of a Party altering the official “line” and then insisting that it had always been so, for this line of thinking – so intrinsic in his depiction of how the would-be utopia of Animal Farm slowly dissolves into a theocracy-like dictatorship – would become a central theme of his final book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in the concept of “doublethink.” The “doublethink” of Nineteen Eighty-Four is a process by which an individual can hold two contradictory thoughts in his mind and believe them both simultaneously. For example, when Oceania changes its alliance from Eastasia to Eurasia, the official “Party line” is that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia; if doublethink works, then the Party members unquestioningly accept that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia even though part of them must know that just moments earlier Oceania was actually at war with Eurasia. This ability of the ruling class to control the memories and thought processes of its people, Orwell seems to argue, is The Party’s ultimate accomplishment and means of retaining power: “‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’”6 (this phraseology, as Thomas Pynchon is quick to point out in his introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four, is borrowed somewhat from the geopolitical writings of Halford Mackinder7).
It is clear that Orwell had modeled much of the Oceania and INGSOC (shorthand for “English Socialism”) of Nineteen Eighty-Four on Stalin’s Soviet Union. Even Orwell’s descriptions of the mustachioed Big Brother bear a striking physical resemblance to history’s Joseph Stalin, just as Emmanuel Goldstein, the exiled leader of the anti-Party brotherhood, is reminiscent of Leon Trotsky. It is because of these resemblances to the Stalinist U.S.S.R. that many of Orwell’s Leftist critics lashed out at him, declaring that Nineteen Eighty-Four was nothing more than an antiCommunist tract, or, even more extreme, that it was an indictment of the British Labour Government.8 For example, in a letter to The Manchester Guardian, British Communist Party Vice-Chairman and Left-wing intellectual R. Palme Dutt attacked Orwell’s writing – and the later Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four films of which they are antecedents – for advocating that “violence, lies and torture can enslave humanity,”9 a line of thought which Dutt had termed “the philosophy of Orwell.” That Orwell could even suggest this concept was, in Dutt’s estimation, reason enough to decry the writer and his work. What Dutt apparently doesn’t understand – or chooses not to understand – is that the “violence, lies and torture” that serve to enslave humanity in Oceania exist in Nineteen Eighty-Four so that, as far as Orwell is concerned, they may never serve that purpose in our reality. Thomas Pynchon has attributed the allegorical reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four that has been performed by countless critics – with the Oceania of the novel being equated directly with the Soviet Union of the 1940s – as being a direct effect of the intentional Soviet allegory Animal Farm’s success and popularity: In a way, this novel has been in victim of the success of Animal Farm, which most people were content to read as a straightforward allegory about the melancholy fate of the Russian revolution. From the minute Big Brother’s moustache makes its appearance in the second paragraph of Nineteen Eighty-Four many readers, thinking right away of Stalin, have tended to carry over the habit of point-for-point analogy from the earlier work.10
Pynchon isn’t claiming that Big Brother and Oceania aren’t meant to call to mind Stalin and the Soviet Union, it should be noted, but rather that Nineteen Eighty-Four shouldn’t be read as a straightforward allegory in the same way that Animal Farm certainly should. Nineteen Eighty-Four draws inspiration from the Soviet Union, Pynchon argues, and represents a warning about where a greed for power and an understanding of manipulation can bring a society. Orwell had witnessed a similar kind of thing happening with the PSUC while he was fighting in Spain, and he
Our Orwell, Right or Left
observed these disturbing trends toward totalitarianism with Stalin’s Soviet Union – so it is the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, Irving Howe argues, which would become the inspiration for Orwell’s dystopian study on the nature of totalitarianism that is Nineteen Eighty-Four: No other book has succeeded so completely in rendering the essential quality of totalitarianism […] The destruction of social memory becomes a major industry in Oceania, and here of course Orwell was borrowing directly from Stalinism which, as the most “advanced” form of totalitarianism, was infinitely more adept at this job than was fascism. (Hitler burned books, Stalin had them rewritten.) In Oceania the embarrassing piece of paper slides down a memory hole – and that is all.11
Howe is arguing here that Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, is constructing a “perfect” kind of totalitarianism in which the most frightening aspects of past and concurrent governmental systems are combined in order to create a startlingly effective totalitarian regime; Orwell had simply borrowed the most details from Stalinist Russia because it was the “most ‘advanced’ form of totalitarianism” from which to borrow. Whereas the U.S.S.R. wasn’t Orwell’s model in constructing the totalitarian system of INGSOC of Nineteen Eighty-Four, considering that Stalinist Russia was the “most advanced” form of totalitarianism from which to borrow, it was certainly a major part of his inspiration. Many critics, possibly biased by the knowledge of Animal Farm’s intended allegory to the Soviet Union, were unable to reconcile the idea that the Soviet Union was not a direct allegorical model for the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Some critics, lacking the clarity of vision that allowed Orwell to understand the difference between Socialism and Soviet Communism, took this avenue of thinking a step further and assumed that the book was an indictment not only on Soviet Communism but on Socialism itself. Orwell replied to the criticisms that Nineteen Eighty-Four was a direct attack on Socialist thinking and the British Labour Party (the British organization which most directly supported a Socialist agenda) with a statement in the New York Daily News: My recent novel is not intended as an attack on socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in Communism and fascism… the scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.12
Despite this very clear declaration of intent, some critics on the Left – critics to whom Orwell refers13 disparagingly as “the liberal intelligentsia”14 – chose to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as an indictment of not only Soviet Communism, but the ideals of Socialism on a whole, thereby failing to separate the two. This blind commitment to the Communist Party on the part of the Leftist intelligentsia was seen by Lionel Trilling as a failure on their part to separate reality from the ideal: “Those members of the intellectual class who prided themselves upon their personal commitment were committed not to the fact but to the abstraction,”15 a distinction that Orwell (as well as Trilling) was capable of making and the some members of the Leftist intelligentsia, apparently, were not. Much less surprising, perhaps, than the attacks from the Western Leftist intelligentsia, Nineteen Eighty-Four was also attacked upon its publication by those within the Soviet system. I. Anisimov, writing for Pravda, declared that Nineteen Eighty-Four represented little more than a blatant anti-Socialist tract because in the Oceania of the book the Capitalist system had ceased to exist, only to “[open] the way for endless wars and the degradation of mankind,”16 suggesting that Anisimov believed that Orwell had been arguing that Capitalism equals peace, and Socialism equals “endless war.” What Anisimov either doesn’t realize or simply fails to mention was the ambivalence against the existing Capitalist system, which Orwell had displayed in his early writing, notably in The Road to Wigan Pier – a book in which Orwell had wholeheartedly embraced Socialism as a viable alternative to Capitalism. James Walsh, in the Marxist Quarterly, accused Orwell of displaying “hatred for anything approaching progress.”17 Unlike Anisimov, it is entirely possible that Walsh had been acclimated with Orwell’s early writing, for he was, perhaps, thinking back to Orwell’s rants condemning Socialist imagery in The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia – in which he equates the images of industrial progress with the term “Socialism” – when he writes about Orwell’s hatred for progress. One has to wonder which aspects of life in the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four Walsh considered to be Orwell’s conception of progress? The oppression? The constant surveillance? The loss of personal freedom? Of course, the Soviet critics could have, in theory, written just about anything they wanted to about Nineteen Eighty-Four because the book had been banned in the Soviet Union. It didn’t much matter in the case of the Soviet critics whether Orwell’s text was simply misrepresented or flat-out lied about, because many in the critics’ audience were unable to read the novel anyhow.
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Samuel Sillen, of Masses and Mainstream, read Orwell’s perceived attack on the Socialist system as being symptomatic of what he considered to be a troubling trend in contemporaneous literature: The bourgeoisie, in its younger days, could find spokesmen who painted rosy visions of the future. In its decay, surrounded by burgeoning socialism, it is capable only of hate-filled, dehumanized anti-Utopias…. Now that Ezra Pound has been given a government award and George Orwell has become a best seller we would seem to have reached bottom. But there is a hideous ingenuity in the perversions of a dying capitalism, and it will keep probing for new depths of rottenness which the maggots will find “brilliant and morally invigorating.”18
One should take reviews from Soviet sources with a grain of salt, probably, because who knows what sort of pressure they were under to write reviews that were complimentary to the Party and thereby attacking Orwell and his writing. It is probable that some of the Soviet attacks on Orwell’s writing might have been more a creation of the Party rather than the beliefs of any individual critic (which would, ironically, be the very same type of behavior displayed by the Party’s Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four). It is possible, even, that Soviet critics had not even read Orwell’s novels, for their being banned in the Soviet Union presumably didn’t apply to just the reading public. Moreover, if the Soviet critics-in-question had, in fact, been allowed to read Nineteen Eighty-Four (an unlikely prospect), it is entirely possible that their lives would have been threatened if they were to even imply that they agreed with any pearl of wisdom in the book. But the fact of the matter is that these critics in particular seem unable (or unwilling) to draw the distinction between the ideals of Left-wing Socialism and the reality of Stalinist Communism – the Communism of purges, changing dogma, and fact-bending propaganda. Orwell might very well have been condemning aspects of Soviet Communism, but he was most certainly not critiquing the ideals of Socialism or rebelling against “progress.” If the Soviet critics had read their Orwell, they would know that in “Why I Write,” Orwell’s declared agenda two years prior to the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four had been “against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.”19 As Orwell wrote, in a review of a Eugene Lyons memoir, “the truth about Stalin’s regime, if we could only get ahold of it, is of the first importance. Is it Socialism, or is it a particularly vicious form of state-capitalism?”20 The distinction between Socialism and the Communism of Stalin’s U.S.S.R. is obviously clear to Orwell even if it wasn’t to so many of his detractors. This, seemingly, is the root of much of the animosity between Orwell and the Leftist establishment. During the opening years of the Cold War,
Orwell had displayed symptoms of a disgust with the current conditions of Russian Communism, and therefore, to many on the Left and on the Right, he “became an ally of the forces of conservatism.”21 Perhaps the ultimate irony of the attack on Orwell by Marxist and liberal intelligentsia factions is that they are the ultimate espousers of doublethink, following the Party line even though the reality of the Soviet Union had more in common with the Right-wing Fascist states of Franco and Hitler (not to mention the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four) than the worker’s paradise that is suggested by the ideals of Socialism. Whereas Orwell was certainly attacking the Soviet Union’s totalitarian tendencies in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is abundantly clear to those who are willing to examine his early writing in favor of Socialism (The Road to Wigan Pier, for example) and against the attack on Leftist Socialism by the Right-wing Communists (in Homage to Catalonia), that Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are overt attacks on the Right from the Left. Even though many on the Left attacked Orwell’s perceived rejection of Socialism and Communism, there were many – specifically among the “New York elite” Partisan Review crowd – who shared Orwell’s love for Socialism and simultaneous disillusionment with Soviet Communism. Trilling wrote, “The extent to which Communism made use of unregenerate force was perfectly clear years ago, but many of us found it impossible to acknowledge this fact because Communism spoke boldly to our love of ideas and ideals,”22 which all but proves that Orwell was not the only one immune to the kind of selective blindness which allowed many on the Left to support organizations that were Leftist by name only. It is a kind of doublethink that allowed the Communists to hold such noble ideals and yet continue to support a brutalizing totalitarian regime. Even though there were many on the Left that would have been more than happy to pin the defector label on Orwell, there were still plenty who were just as enthusiastic about claiming him. V.S. Pritchett, writing in 1957, continued to position Orwell on the political Left, even going as far as to declare Orwell “the comfortless saint of the Left and its only religious figure.”23 Considering that Orwell went to fight in Spain as a Socialist, witnessed a series of events that would forever change his perception of the relationship between theoretical Socialism and actual Communism, and emerged from the conflict an ardent anti-Communist, many critics hastily jumped to the conclusion that Orwell had completely changed political allegiance from Left to Right – despite his selfdeclarations to the contrary: “[t]he Conservative reader is entitled to say that… Orwell had made the necessary intellectual defection from the Left. But we have his own quite deliberate and considered denial of this
Our Orwell, Right or Left
interpretation.”24 Far from defecting from the Left, after his ordeal in Spain, Orwell was still very much attracted to the idea of Socialism. As a matter of fact, Anna Vaninskaya considers Homage to Catalonia – the book that the Right would argue proves Orwell’s disillusionment with Socialism – to be the “closest he came to outright utopian writing.”25 Orwell himself equates the egalitarian circumstances of life at the front with a sort of realization of Socialist idealism: There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism… One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or criticism, where the word ‘comrade’ stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality… 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… 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.26 [my italics]
It is clear, if one is to examine Orwell’s body of work, that his experiences in Spain were the catalyst for being able to draw the distinction between Socialism, as Orwell understood it, and Communism as a totalitarian state, which he had lampooned in his final novels. But it is important to note that Orwell’s derision was directed not at the ideals of Socialism: “it cannot be reiterated enough,” Vaninskaya – a Russian emigrant herself – writes, “this [Soviet Communism] is the false kind of socialism.”27 Indeed, between the publishing of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell himself wrote in an essay that “a socialist United States of Europe seems to me the only worthwhile political objective today.”28 This, from the supposed enemy of the Left.
PART TWO ORWELL AND THE RIGHT
‘Have you read this book? You must read it, sir. Then you will know why we must drop the atom bomb on the Bolshies!’ With these words a blind, miserable newsvendor recommended to me 1984 in New York, a few weeks before Orwell’s death. —Isaac Deutscher1
CHAPTER SIX THOUGHT CONTROL FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
Eric Arthur Blair, better known to the world as George Orwell, died of tuberculosis on January 21, 1950, about a year after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The relevancy of Animal Farm and the writer’s final book to major world events of the following decades leads one to believe that Orwell understood that the world’s political climate was undergoing monumental change. Following World War II, the Western World saw the emergence of two mighty super-powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, who immediately engaged in a tense “Cold War”1 (a term whose coinage is attributed, with some argument, to Orwell himself2). The content of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four displays Orwell’s desire to engage himself in conversation about this Cold War, and indeed, this tension between the Communist Soviet Union and the Capitalist world was the defining topic of the writing that emerged from the final years of Orwell’s life. Even though Orwell spent a great deal of time and effort thinking about Soviet Communism, even he could not have predicted the impact his work would have on discussions about the Cold War; he certainly could not have predicted, despite George Woodcock’s belief to the contrary, the battle of words that would take place between critics and pundits on both sides of the spectrum for the right to claim him. These manipulations and mutations performed by critics and pundits can hardly be said to be Orwell’s fault; there is no way that Orwell could have predicted the political power that the invocation of his name and of his most widelyknown book would eventually carry. John Rodden claims that when George Woodcock writes of Orwell’s “thought control from the grave,” he is implying that Orwell’s strange request of no biography implies that he was trying to influence the shape of his posthumous reception history: One is left to speculate as to whether… Orwell’s request for no biography was a determined attempt on his part to shape the course of his
Our Orwell, Right or Left
posthumous reputation. Was it a conscious effort to make his posthumous 3 public image conform to his carefully constructed, developing image?
It is true, of course, that Orwell wanted no biography published after his death. Rather than a conscious effort to shape his posthumous reception history – an outlandish claim by any standard – this request seems to me an attempt by the writer to keep his personal life and his literary life separate. This reading seems both more likely and more realistic to me, for the man born Eric Blair consciously chose the pen name George Orwell in order to separate the man from the writer. Even though it is likely that Orwell’s request for no biography was a reflection of his wish to separate his personal life from his writing, it cannot be ignored that Down and Out in Paris and London and Homage to Catalonia are books made up of largely autobiographical accounts, and that Orwell’s own life was a central part of a great deal of his writing; it is almost as though his literary career were the precursor for the “New Journalism” school of Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, and Hunter S. Thompson. Perhaps considering these facts, one can conclude that Orwell wanted to keep the intellectual life of George Orwell and the personal life of Eric Blair separate. In any case, even though Orwell has been heralded as a “prophet” thanks to Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is very unlikely that he was prophetic enough to foresee the ongoing debate between the Left and the Right over his name, and it is even more unlikely that his request for no biography represented a conscious attempt to influence this debate. Orwell’s claim, in 1946, that every line of serious work that he had written since 1936 had been written, “directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism”4 was apparently not nearly convincing enough to secure Orwell’s reputation firmly on the Left. Indeed, the world’s political climate would evolve so much in the years following Orwell’s death that it would (apparently) become increasingly difficult to clearly define, based on his political writing of the 1930s and 1940s, where he might have stood, politically, had he lived into the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. “Once, the right and left used to argue about who ‘owned’ Orwell,” Salmon Rushdie wrote in his 1984 essay “Outside the Whale,” “In those days both sides wanted him… the tug of war did his memory little honor.”5 Writing this in 1984, Rushdie was taking part in a conversation that had been building for several years, leading up to the historical date of 1984 – a conversation that comprises a kind of “Orwell fever.” This “Orwell fever” involved a bevy of pop-culture references and political speculation about Orwell as the historical year 1984 drew close. Rushdie
speaks of the “tug of war” over Orwell in the past tense, as if it were over; on the contrary, the years 1984-85 would represent the high-water mark in the battle between the Left and Right for Orwell’s name. The torrent of writing on and about Orwell in the middle 1980s involved some of the most influential political critics of the day, including Irving Howe (“Was Orwell Right?”6) on the Left as well as Norman Podhoretz on the Right (“If Orwell Were Alive Today”). Both critics cite Orwell as a major influence, and both critics, paradoxically, claim that Orwell would be standing firmly on their side of the political debate if he had lived into the 1980s. For the contemporary reader of Orwell, it is easy to understand why and how those on the Left claim Orwell as their own, for Orwell, as we have seen, had stated the fact explicitly. Readers might also understand how some might begrudgingly allow that Orwell had a lot in common with the political Right during the Cold War, as the anti-Communism of his later writing was obvious. In order to understand how and why those on the Right – specifically the Neoconservatives – could boldly claim Orwell as one of their own, however, must understand not only the Neoconservative sects’ political beliefs, but also their views in regards to the liberal Left. Christopher Hitchens stated the case in very plain terms: “on the political and cultural Left, the very name of Orwell is enough to evoke a shiver of revulsion.”7 How could this be? How could the champion of the people, the ardent Socialist, the man who devoted nearly half of The Road to Wigan Pier to an argument in favor of Socialism as a remedy to Fascism, the man who has even been called “the Left’s only religious figure,”8 be feared and despised by the Left, and simultaneously admired on the Right? This claim of Hitchens’s must certainly be a gross exaggeration: Orwell certainly evoked a “shiver of revulsion” among some on the Left, such as the ardent supporters of Soviet Communism, but he has been and continues to be far more revered than reviled by the majority of those on the Left. He is, to this day, still given “special thanks” in countless far-Left magazines and documentary films; the movie Freedom Downtime, a documentary about the incarceration of hacker Kevin Mitnick, created by 2600 magazine founder Emmanuel Goldstein (a penname taken, obviously, from Nineteen Eighty-Four), springs immediately to mind. Even though Hitchens is clearly oversimplifying the case, his point that there are some on the Left who would rather disown Orwell than embrace him is apt: “In some semi-articulated way, many major figures of the Left have thought of Orwell as an enemy, and an important and frightening
Our Orwell, Right or Left
one.”9 Hitchens attributes some of this animosity from the Left to minor details in Orwell’s writing, for example the mistaken belief that Orwell had stated that “the lower classes smell,” which, as we’ve seen, isn’t true. So, considering that Orwell was a dedicated and self-declared man of the Left during his lifetime, it is simple to see why many on the Left consider him one of their own; likewise, considering Orwell’s disdain for Leftist intellectuals, it is just as simple to see why many on the Left have attempted to disown him. One has to wonder, however, what it is about Orwell that continues to attract so many admirers on the political Right. Certainly, those who consider themselves politically conservative would, during the Cold War, appreciate Orwell’s anti-Communist position. The pundit on the Right would also, presumably, happily approve of Orwell’s rants against the typical socialist or Leftist intellectual. It is also likely, however, that those on the Right see reflections of themselves in many of Orwell’s personal values. As Hitchens puts it: It is true on the face of it that Orwell was one of the founding fathers of anti-Communism; that he had a strong patriotic sense and a very potent instinct for what we might call elementary right and wrong; that he despised government and bureaucracy and was a stout individualist; that he distrusted intellectuals and academics and reposed a faith in popular wisdom; that he upheld a somewhat traditional orthodoxy in sexual and moral matters, looked down on homosexuals and abhorred abortion; and that he seems to have been an advocate for private ownership of guns. He also preferred the country to the town, and poems that rhymed.10
Taking this profile, especially the last few points, one could fairly accurately – as a generalization and a gross over-simplification – construct a description of a contemporary American “social conservative” Republican. That isn’t to say that there aren’t American liberals who don’t prefer the country to the town or that contemporary conservatives have a better grasp of “elementary right and wrong,” of course. Many of the above attributes, however, are somewhat stereotypically attributed to the G.O.P., the United States’ Republican Party. Those attributes’ opposites – faith in large government, progressive sexual beliefs, acceptance of homosexuality, a “Pro-Choice” abortion stance, a desire for gun control, and a decidedly intellectual, urban outlook – are stereotypically attributed to the more generally-liberal Democratic Party. Hitchens describes the above profile as the reconstruction of a “rather gruff English Home Counties Tory,” the mid-century British equivalent to the contemporary American social conservative – or the closest thing to it, at least. The English Home Counties Tory is the kind of man, presumably, that Michael Caine’s father might have been: the kind of man who doesn’t
have time for abstract ideas or their bearded and sandaled adherents, and loves the traditions on which he was raised. Preservation of the traditional hardly translates to political conservatism, however. As Hitchens is quick to point out, “it is undoubtedly true that Orwell possessed many conservative instincts, not to say prejudices…” – those “English Home Counties Tory” values he might have shared with Michael Caine’s father – but “…he spent his life trying to reason himself out of them.”11 Here, Hitchens is depicting Orwell as one who had been born with conservative values, but waged a lifelong battle against letting these values shape him into the typical “English Home Counties Tory,” and, therefore, an individual predisposed to political conservatism. As evidenced by the attempts by some on the Right to claim him, the contemporary social conservative might read Orwell’s work, identify the anti-intellectualism, the anti-Communism, and the traditional English Home Counties Tory values and sense a kindred spirit, but, to them “a lifetime of self-education in the opposite direction is of scant interest.”12 Critic Jonah Raskin points out that Orwell defined himself as a “Tory anarchist”, which he believes to be as good a descriptive term for Orwell as any: [It is] a contradiction in terms, but it is a useful handle. The anarchist Orwell hated authorities and orthodoxies, and celebrated the autonomous individual. The Tory Orwell respected tradition, continuity, community… Orwell hated modern society with its television, glib magazines, Hollywood movies, chain bookstores, and piped-in music. He identified with the “down and out” and hungered for old-fashioned, remote, uncommercial cultures. In that sense he was a “reactionary”, but a “reactionary” who wanted to protect the world that the neoconservatives would annex, pillage, plunder, destroy.13
As alarmist as Raskin’s prose may seem, it is true that Orwell represented an amalgam of Tory values (tradition, continuity, community, etc.) and Leftist economics and politics; thus, he was a bit of a “Tory anarchist.” Thomas Pynchon’s claim of Orwell being a member of the “dissident Left” seems to be further defined by Raskin’s argument, for any selfdeclared Leftist who espouses such socially-conservative values can almost certainly be considered “dissident” among the “mainstream” liberals of the “official” Left. Conservative social values alone, however, can hardly eliminate the fact that Orwell was a self-proclaimed Socialist. The Right’s desire to call Orwell one of their own, then, is almost certainly related to Hitchens’s assertion that Orwell was “one of the founding fathers of antiCommunism.”14 with a very distinct line being drawn between Socialism
Our Orwell, Right or Left
as Orwell saw it, and Communism as it existed in Russia in the 1930s and 40s. It is very possible that much of the problem lies in a drastic misreading of Orwell’s best (and best-known) books, Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four; the problem, however, is not a misreading of the actual text, but rather a drastic misreading of Orwell’s intended purpose in writing these three works. Norman Podhoretz’s essay represents the first overt claiming of Orwell for the Neoconservative cause; in the following chapters, I will examine this essay and attempt a refutation of Podhoretz’s claims, based on evidence from Orwell’s own writing, as well as what the Neoconservative movement itself has come to represent throughout the years. It will become clear, through analyzing the work of Neoconservative writers that not only would Orwell not have stood alongside them, but he would have been in direct opposition to many of their political positions. Before taking on the Neoconservative cause, however, it will be necessary to take a brief look at some of the political debate centering around Orwell leading up to the middle-1980s, including arguments about where Orwell might have stood in relation to the Vietnam War.
CHAPTER SEVEN POSTHUMOUS SUPERIMPOSITIONS
While Orwell was still alive, and in the years immediately following his death, his position in the political spectrum was somewhat clear and fairly secure. Even Orwell’s Leftist enemies admitted, begrudgingly, that Orwell’s general politics were Leftist even as they disagreed with his positions on specific issues. As the years marched on, however, and the political climate shifted, new issues inevitably came to the forefront of political thinking. The issues with which the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum were associated shifted, and “where Orwell would stand today” was question that was becoming increasingly difficult to answer. Perhaps it is a moot question. Perhaps it is also a question that is impossible to answer, because although Orwell was nearly unquestionably a man of the Left during his life, what situates a person on the political “Left” and what situates a person on the political “Right” has changed enough over the decades to make his 1930s and 40s political positions difficult to apply to the political climates of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and into the current century. This evolution of the political climate over time hasn’t stopped people from trying, however; there is something about Orwell that makes him a “figure worth stealing,”1 in his own parlance, even in an era in which a claiming of Orwell has become an increasingly difficult prospect. By the time the 1970s rolled around, it had become difficult for Orwell’s fans to declare with any confidence where their hero would have stood on the major questions of the era. Mary McCarthy, a cultural and literary essayist who was also an anti-war advocate during the Vietnam conflict, wrote in her “The Writing on the Wall”: It is impossible, at least for me, to guess how [Orwell] would have stood on many of the leading questions of our day… where would he be on the war in Vietnam? I wish I could be certain that he would not be with Kingsley Amis and Bernard Levin (who with John Osborne seem to be his main progeny), partly because of his belligerent anti-Communism, which there is no use trying to discount, and partly because it is modish to oppose the war in Vietnam: we are the current, squealing “pinks”. I can hear him
Our Orwell, Right or Left
angrily arguing that to oppose the Americans in Vietnam, whatever their shortcomings, is to be “objectively” pro-totalitarian.2
It is true that Orwell was anti-pacifist in times of war (which would also become a major arguing point for the Neoconservatives who would later claim him), that Orwell was “belligerently” anti-Communist, that Orwell hated “modish” trends, and that Orwell had no love for the “squealing pink” segment of the Left. It is also true, however, that Orwell was decidedly against the policies of Imperialism. The Vietnam war is now, of course, widely seen as an attempt by the United States to not only stop the spread of Communism, but also to increase its economic and political hold on territories outside of the geographical United States. Moreover, McCarthy’s argument that opposition to the United States’ involvement in Vietnam would be, in Orwell’s eyes, “objectively” prototalitarian doesn’t necessarily ring true, for although Orwell was far more supportive of the United States than he was of the Soviet Union, it’s true that he had also recognized America’s growing power as a possible threat. Upon the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, there were many critics who read warnings about America, as well as Russia and England, into the book. For example, Daniel Bell, in a 1949 article in The New Leader,3 linked that year’s founding of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the shadowy Ministries of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Norman Podhoretz, however, seems to have made the dubious logical leap that if Orwell was an anti-pacifist he must also, apparently, have been pro-Imperialist; he wants to prove this point so desperately, in fact, that he makes liberal use of ellipses in order to depict Orwell as not only antiCommunist but decidedly pro-American: It will not do to give the usual quibbling answer, ‘I refuse to choose’… We are no longer strong enough to stand alone, and… we shall be obliged, in the long run, to subordinate our policy to that of one Great Power or another.4
Using (or, rather, misusing) the above passage, Podhoretz paints Orwell as a dedicated anti-Communist who would be willing to cede British authority if it meant assisting the American battle against the Soviet threat. If one fills in Podhoretz’s ellipses, however, and takes a look at a couple of preceding lines, it suddenly becomes very obvious how manipulative his misrepresentation of Orwell has been. The actual passage, from Orwell’s essay “In Defense of Comrade Zilliacus” reads: Surely, if one is going to write about foreign policy at all, there is one question that should be answered plainly. It is: “If you had to choose
Chapter Seven between Russia and America, which would you choose?” It will not do to give the usual quibbling answer, “I refuse to choose.” In the end the choice may be forced upon us. We are no longer strong enough to stand alone, and if we fail to bring a Western European union into being, we shall be obliged, in the long run, to subordinate our policy to that of one Great Power or another.5 [Orwell’s italics]
It would be disingenuous to claim that Orwell is being anti-American in this passage, but, it should be noted, he is far from the pro-American zealot that the Neoconservative such as Podhoretz might wish him to be. If anything, in this passage Orwell presents the United States as the lesser of two evils, the person of his example not wanting to choose between the two but being forced into a choice. Eventually, Orwell believed, it might come down to picking one of two dominant superpowers – the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. – and of these two, in his estimation the United States was by far the more preferable option. It is Orwell’s disdain for Empire and colonialism, however, which most easily refutes McCarthy’s belief that Orwell would have been in favor of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Indeed, it was Orwell’s experiences as a cog in the British Empire that, in large part, solidified his future political positions. Following a brief stint at Eton, instead of following the “conventional” path to Cambridge or Oxford (and, later, the London academic world), Orwell joined the British colonial forces and acted as a policeman in Burma. There, he saw both sides of the Imperialist issue, and had clearly made up his mind about where he stood on the issue: I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically – and secretly, of course – I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.6
Orwell’s stint in Burma would mark, like his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, yet another instance in which he would place himself into situations that would prove to drastically alter his worldview. To the contemporary reader with the benefit of hindsight, it would almost seem as though Eric Blair knew exactly which life-changing situations he would need to find in order to shape the set of principles and beliefs that would eventually become “George Orwell.” Like his stint in the Spanish Civil
Our Orwell, Right or Left
War, Orwell’s time in Burma would expose him to harsh realities in the world that would, presumably, explode his preconceived notions of the world; his “power of facing” would then allow him to reconcile the reality that he had experienced with any preconceived notions he might have held, thereby effecting and often changing his personal beliefs. It should be noted here that although Orwell was “all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British,” Orwell did not necessarily like the Burmese people as a group: All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamed down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts.7
It wasn’t that Orwell disliked anything particular about the Burmese people – it was that he was so hated by the Burmese, and they treated him so shoddily because they saw him as a cog in the machine of Empire, a relatively harmless representation of the oppressor. He couldn’t help but dislike them, for “[f]eelings like this are the normal by-products of imperialism.”8 The Burmese became, for him, ironically, a kind of oppressor. Orwell simultaneously sympathized with the oppressed Burmese and felt oppressed by them. Of course, it was easy for Orwell to see that oppression is as much a by-product of imperialism as it is a byproduct of totalitarianism. Even though Orwell himself disliked the Burmese people and was hated by them, he was able to see that blame should be put not on the oppressed people whom Orwell had disliked, but, rather, squarely on the process of Imperialism itself. Orwell’s ability to take a specific stance while simultaneously disliking like-minded thinkers would, as we have seen, come up again later in his rants against Socialists and against the Leftist intelligentsia. Just as in the case of these rants, it must be stated that, in Orwell’s case, a distaste for a belief’s adherents does not equal a distaste for that belief itself. Using the benefit of hindsight, one can link Orwell’s hatred for the oppression that was carried out in the name of Empire with his eventual hatred for totalitarianism: That was nearly twenty years ago. Are things of this kind still happening in India? I should say that they probably are, but that they are happening less and less frequently. On the other hand it is tolerably certain that at this
Chapter Seven moment a German somewhere or other is kicking a Pole. It is quite certain that a German somewhere or other is kicking a Jew.9
The brutalization that Orwell witnesses in Burma – in this case, a British soldier kicking a Burmese citizen – is the precisely the brand of oppression that he attributes to totalitarian regimes. Here, it is clear that Orwell doesn’t see Imperialism as pressing a matter as it once was – the threat of Fascist totalitarianism, in 1940 (and Soviet Communism later) represented a much clearer and more present danger. Orwell’s hatred for the oppression caused by Imperialism would eventually evolve into a hatred for totalitarianism in all its forms. Even though Orwell’s opposition to totalitarian dictatorships would put him side-by-side with Socialists, anarchists, and others on the far Left, it would also represent the genesis of his anti-Communist stance – a position which would be the driving argument behind many of the claims for Orwell from the Right.
CHAPTER EIGHT HE’S MAKING A LIST…
Perhaps the strangest and most baffling chapter in George Orwell’s posthumous reception history revolves around the fact, pointed out by many of Orwell’s enemies on the Left and his more enthusiastic adherents on the Right, that Orwell had supplied, from his deathbed in 1949, a list to the British Information Research Department (IRD), which names, with notation, several suspected Communists, “crypto-Communists,” and likely sympathizers. For a writer whose name is, in the words of Timothy Garton Ash,1 “now a synonym for political independence and journalistic honesty,”2 this seems to be a particularly damning accusation – and Orwell’s critics were quick to take up the cause. The Nation columnist Alex Cockburn called Orwell “a snitch, and an informer to the secret police, Animal Farm’s resident weasel.”3 An article about the list by Michael Shelden and Philip Johnston was titled “Socialist Icon Who Became Big Brother.”4 Many of Orwell’s most ardent fans on the Left, such as Michael Foot,5 were shocked and appalled by the revelation. Orwell’s fans on the Right, however, seemed to welcome the news; Podhoretz, in an essay called “Revenge of the Smelly Little Orthodoxies,” enthusiastically, and with an air of triumph declared the list a “blacklist”: How… could anyone familiar with Orwell have been surprised, let alone shocked, by the revelation that this fervent patriot and profoundly principled anti-Communist was willing to cooperate with an agency of his own government in conducting an ideological battle against Communism and the Soviet Union? I for one would have been more surprised if he had turned down such a request for help.6
Podhoretz, who was extraordinarily willing to claim Orwell for his own Neoconservative camp (and was willing to drastically misrepresent the man’s writing in the process), is depicting Orwell as the anti-Communist doing his patriotic duty in defense of his country. Podhoretz continues: What accounts for these curious expressions of bewildered dismay? The answer is that many on the Left, in their great reluctance to admit that Orwell, whom they cherished as a literary jewel in their political crown,
Chapter Eight had for all practical purposes ceased being one of them, simply blinded themselves to the evidence. But the revelation that he did not even hesitate to "betray his own side" to the authorities, as the Marxist historian Christopher Hill put it, has finally broken the back of the longstanding effort to deny that Orwell did indeed defect from the Left.7
The fact of the matter is that, as Americans, our interpretation of news such as Orwell’s List is unfairly influenced by the memory of Senator McCarthy’s Communist hearings in the 1950s; because of those illadvised witch hunts, the liberal-minded American is naturally suspicious of “snitches” and “blacklisting” – and rightly so. The case of Orwell’s List, however, doesn’t represent “snitching,” “blacklisting,” a betrayal “of [Orwell’s] own side,” or Orwell’s defection from the Left. In 1949, a representative of the IRD approached Orwell, whose health had been quickly declining from his tuberculosis, asking the writer to contribute to their cause. The IRD was an organization, in Ash’s words, “concerned, among other things, with producing anticommunist propaganda.”8 This organization had, in the preceding couple of years, funded the publication of Burmese, Chinese, and Arabic versions of Animal Farm – a book, being the direct allegory for the Soviet Union that it is, which can fairly be described as “anticommunist propaganda.” The representative of the IRD who approached Orwell was a friend, one Celia Kirwan, who was actually the sister-in-law to Orwell’s friend (and author of Darkness at Noon9) Arthur Koestler. Actually, in his declining state, Orwell had proposed marriage to Kirwan in the past, hoping to have a young companion to manage his estate once he had gone. Orwell, worn out from the writing and revision of Nineteen EightyFour, was in no physical state to contribute directly to the IRD’s propaganda plan, but he did offer to them his list of suspected “cryptocommunists, fellow-travelers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists.”10 Orwell was not intending to inform the British government of suspected Communists, he was simply offering to give his friend a list of people who should not be trusted to take the same job that Orwell had been offered, to write propaganda for the IRD. As Ian Williams writes: Not one of those on the “List” lost their jobs, were imprisoned, or can provably be said to have had any resulting impediments to their chosen careers, except missing freelance assignments from a government department that they presumably disagreed with anyway!11
Far from “snitching,” Orwell was merely attempting to help this organization to keep from getting undermined by possible Communist
Our Orwell, Right or Left
spies. Apparently, Orwell himself thought that the List contained little surprises, and that it was more common-knowledge than any kind of “snitching”; according to Ash’s essay, in a letter to Celia Kirwan, Orwell wrote that “it isn’t very sensational and I don’t suppose it will tell your friends anything they don’t know… it isn’t a bad idea to have the people who are probably unreliable listed. If it had been done earlier it would have stopped people like Peter Smollett worming their way into important propaganda jobs where they were probably able to do us a lot of harm.” Ash describes Smollett’s role in the “List” legend as a man who “actually was a Soviet agent… he was almost certainly the official on whose advice the publisher Jonathan Cape turned down Animal Farm as an unhealthily anti-Soviet text.”12 Orwell’s enemies on the Left seem eager to paint the writer, in light of the news about his “List,” as a snitch to the British government, no better than the young Parsons child of Nineteen Eighty-Four, who reports her own parents as enemy informants to Big Brother’s “thought police.” The fact of the matter is that it was “most unlikely that any names supplied by Orwell in 1949 would have been passed on to anyone else, and especially not to MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, or MI6, in charge of foreign intelligence.”13 According to Ash’s essay, Kirwan, who was interviewed when the list went public, insisted that “George was quite right to do it… of course, everybody thinks that these people were going to be shot at dawn. The only thing that was going to happen to them was that they wouldn’t be asked to write for the Information Research Department,”14 which, if they truly were Communist sympathizers, they wouldn’t want to write propaganda for in the first place. Ian Williams elaborates, “Orwell’s list was not of people to be shot, as it would have been in the worker’s fatherland, nor even of people to be imprisoned. In fact, he did not even want them dismissed from their present positions.”15 On this last point is where Orwell’s “List” differs most drastically from the McCarthy Communist trials, in which many Americans were blacklisted and dismissed from their prominent positions, and subsequently unable to secure work. Illustrating that no true harm came to any of the individuals implicated in Orwell’s “List”, Ash continues: How then, did the British state prosecute or persecute this Soviet agent [Smollett]? By making him an Officer of the British Empire (OBE). Subsequently, he was the London Times correspondent in Central Europe… E.H. Carr, Isaac Deutscher, the novelist Naomi Mitchison (a “silly sympathizer”), and J.B. Priestley all pursued very successful careers without, so far as we know, any hindrance from the British government.
Chapter Eight Michael Redgrave went on, ironically enough, to play a leading role in the 1956 film of Orwell’s 1984.16
A McCarthyite witch hunt, then, this episode certainly wasn’t. Orwell was simply enthusiastic about helping his friend (with whom he might or might not have been in love), and recognizing that he was unable to help her directly, Orwell had done the next best thing, namely to name exactly who shouldn’t be hired in his place. Ash’s answer to the prevailing questions surrounding this episode is succinct: If the charge is that Orwell was a cold warrior, the answer is plainly yes… If the charge is that he was a secret police informer, the answer is plainly no. IRD was an odd cold war outfit, but it was nothing like a Thought Police. Unlike that dreadful genius Bertold Brecht, Orwell never believed that the end justified the means… He opposed the banning of the Communist Party in Britain.17
Moreover, as Williams points out, “Orwell had written to George Woodcock suggesting that their organization, the Freedom Defense Association, consider action against blacklisting.”18 Orwell was obviously not a snitch; this episode merely represents another instance in the long history of his enemies on the Left attempting to discredit him in order to further their cause, and his “friends” on the Right (especially the grossly, repeatedly inaccurate Podhoretz) attempting to misrepresent him to further theirs.
CHAPTER NINE THE NEOCONSERVATIVE AGENDA
It is almost humorously ironic that Normal Podhoretz had claimed that Orwell’s fans on the Left had “simply blinded themselves to the evidence” in relation his assertion that the writer had “ceased being one of them,”1 for each attempt by Podhoretz to claim Orwell for the Right that one examines seems to be even more tenuous than the last. Needless to say, Podhoretz’s essay on the “List” in 1997 was hardly the first example of his drastically misrepresenting the work of George Orwell in an attempt to paint the writer in a Rightward-leaning light. In 1983, Podhoretz wrote an essay titled “If Orwell Were Alive Today,” which represents the former Socialist’s official attempt to claim Orwell for the Neoconservative movement. Early in the essay, Podhoretz lauds Orwell on the clarity of his prose: Orwell is most admired, and rightly so, for the simplicity and straightforwardness of his style. ‘Good prose,’ he said, ‘is like a window pane.’ He valued such prose for its own sake, on aesthetic grounds, but he also believed that in political discourse clarity was a protection against deceit.”2
Podhoretz’s point is that one of Orwell’s defining, positive attributes as a writer was the clarity of the positions presented within his work. Following this opening argument, almost as if he is implying that what he is about to prove is clear if one simply examines Orwell’s straightforward writing, Podhoretz goes on to claim Orwell for the Neoconservative cause. Considering that critics from opposing ends of the political spectrum continue to claim Orwell as their own, and the question of where Orwell would have stood on any number of contemporary issues continues to spark academic debate, this claim of Orwell’s-work-as-a-window-pane represents a kind of ultimate irony. Perhaps Orwell’s writing itself is as clear as a window pane, as Podhoretz claims; if one analyzes his writing about Orwell, however, it becomes clear that Podhoretz has no idea on which side of the house this window pane resides. Ian Williams wrote, “even his political critics allow that Orwell had a lucid and easily
comprehensible prose style, which makes it stranger that so many commentators, even supporters, ignore what the man himself so plainly wrote.”3 Although he probably wasn’t explictly referring to Podhoretz’s writing on Orwell, Williams’ argument can clearly be applied to Podhoretz, who had praised the clarity of Orwell’s writing and yet seemed to ignore completely what it was that Orwell had been trying to say. To be fair to Podhoretz, though, he does go on to state that although Orwell’s position on any subject is always clear, the positions themselves sometimes changed over time “he wrote so much and changed his mind so often – mostly on small issues but also on large ones – that plausible evidence can be found in his work for each of the two contending interpretations of where he stood.”4 The most obvious example of this trend was manifested in the fact that Orwell seemed to be in advocacy, in his early writing, of a transition to any type of Socialist system, but then his experiences in Spain during the Civil War there opened his eyes to the dangers presented by “official” Communism. The defining proof of Podhoretz’s argument is that “avowed socialist though he certainly was, Orwell was also a relentless critic of his fellow socialists from beginning to end.”5 Using this line of logic as a proof is not only naïve, but also dangerously absolute, for it implies that if one is against a belief system’s adherents, then one must therefore be against that belief system and its ideals – “you’re either for us or against us,” in other words. Simply stated, the Neoconservative movement is comprised, in large part, by intellectuals who favor a domestic policy that is somewhat more liberal than what might be desired by the traditional social conservative – such as an acceptance of a controlled welfare state and a desire for a strong but non-intrusive central government – but who are still very critical of the counter-culture. In terms of foreign policy, however, the Neoconservative movement favors aggressive patriotism and a preservation of national identity and values. The Neoconservative foreign policy favors a strong military and a strong willingness to use military force to preserve American interests. To those on the Left, this aspect of the Neoconservative system borders on Imperialism. Both the administrations of Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush have been said to have been somewhat influenced by Neoconservative thinking (although most would allow that it is far more overt in the case of the Bush administration). In the 1980s, the Neoconservatives were defined, in large part, by their intense anti-Communism. Considering that the typical Neoconservative is, in general, culturally liberal and in favor of an aggressive foreign policy, their Neoconservative claim for an “English
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Home Counties Tory” social conservative with an anti-Imperialist agenda seems ironic if not outright bizarre. Interestingly, many leading Neoconservatives, including Podhoretz and Hitchens, began their political careers as Socialists and eventually gravitated Rightward. For the entirety of his writing career, George Orwell was a declared Socialist, and by the time of his death he was a dedicated anti-Communist. As Podhoretz is quick to point out, this is the same path that many Neoconservatives have followed: Like Orwell, many neoconservatives began their political lives as socialists; and most of them followed the same course Orwell himself did from revolutionary to democratic socialism. Moreover, those neoconservatives who were old enough to be politically active in 1950, the year Orwell died, would still at that point have joined with him in calling themselves democratic socialists.6
Podhoretz claims that Orwell was a Socialist not because he adhered to Marxist policy -“[he] was never much of a Marxist and… never showed much interest in the practical arrangement involved in the building of socialism”– but rather because he “hated the class system and the great discrepancies of wealth that went with it.”7 This may very well be true, but Podhoretz follows up this claim with strange presumption: Suppose, however, that Orwell had lived to see this prediction about capitalism [being doomed] refuted by the success of the capitalist countries in creating enough wealth to provide the vast majority of their citizens not merely with the decent minimum of food and housing that Orwell believed only socialism could deliver, but with a wide range of what to his rather Spartan tastes would have seemed unnecessary luxuries.8
Even though the rise of the middle class since Orwell’s death had changed the Western world’s economic climate considerably, at the close of the 20th Century the gap between the wealthy and the poor had become larger than it had ever been in history; this is the same kind of discrepancy in wealth that Orwell had despised – the same kind of discrepancy in wealth that had led Orwell to Socialism in the first place. Much like Hitchens, Podhoretz seizes on Orwell’s “power of facing,” claiming that it had been this “power of facing” that had allowed him to confront the fact that Capitalism was, in fact, a preferable system to Socialism. Perhaps Orwell would have made the leap from Democratic Socialism to Capitalism (along with almost every mainstream politico on the Right and Left in the Western world); that the Neoconservatives had followed the same pattern, however, is consequential. The supposition, based solely upon the actions
of other like-minded individuals, that Orwell would have followed a certain path had he lived longer seems to be nothing more than the Neoconservatives’ attempt to justify their repeated ignoring of Orwell’s declarations of support for Leftist politics. Ian Williams writes: Conservative claims to Orwell’s legacy are usually based either on ignoring his own explicit and frequently repeated declarations, right up to the end of his life, that he was a democratic socialist. [….] Both conservatives and Stalinoids agree: Orwell was not a socialist. They treat Orwell as Proscustes used to treat his guests – by stretching them or truncating them to fit his bed.9
In order to make Orwell fit their bed, many on the Right have chosen to focus on minor details in Orwell’s writing while simultaneously disregarding Orwell’s own direct declarations. This represents a selective blindness on the part of Orwell’s fans on the Right. If Williams is right and “both conservatives and Stalinoids agree: Orwell was not a socialist,” then it can be argued that the conservatives and Stalinoids are simply not reading their Orwell very closely. Besides the repeated declarations by Orwell, right to his death, that he was in support of democratic socialism, Orwell’s final novels provide clear proof that Orwell had become definitively disillusioned with Communism but not with Socialism – as Christopher Hitchens claims, in his essay “Orwell and the Liberal Experience of Totalitarianism”: “[I]n neither Animal Farm nor Nineteen Eighty-Four is there any Lenin figure. There is only a Trotsky and a Stalin. There is only Snowball and Napoleon. There’s only Goldstein and Big Brother.”10 Hitchens’s point is that Orwell’s disillusion was with Stalinist Communism, and with Stalinist Communism alone. He might have taken issue with Stalin’s regime, but his quarrel was not with Lenin or his revolutionaries. Hitchens might very well be correct in this regard, but there is a small problem with this particular argument: he seems to completely forget the existence of Animal Farm’s “Old Major,” a character who is clearly the book’s conflation of Karl Marx and Lenin. Old Major isn’t demonized by Orwell in the same way as Napoleon or Big Brother – as a matter of fact, he is outright lionized – but he appears in the book nonetheless. Although Hitchens is not correct about the lack of a Lenin figure in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, his argument that Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four represent Orwell’s anti-Stalinist argument remains valid because the Old Major of Animal Farm is in no way antagonistic, and the character is just as representative of Marx as he is of Lenin.
Our Orwell, Right or Left
As we’ve seen, Orwell had no love for many of the Leftists with whom he shared his political beliefs. Writes Podhoretz, “More than anything else, the ethos of the left-wing intelligentsia was his true subject and the one that elicited his most brilliant work… it is largely because of Orwell’s relation to the left-wing intelligentsia that I believe he would have been a neoconservative if he were alive today.”11 On the point of “the ethos of the left-wing intelligentsia” being the “true subject” of Orwell’s work, Podhoretz isn’t just misrepresenting Orwell, he is flat-out wrong. Anybody who is even remotely familiar with Orwell’s body of work will attest that the true subject of Orwell’s writing was exactly as the author explicitly claimed, in “Why I Write”: The Spanish war and other events in 1936-7 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.12
Indeed, anti-totalitarianism was the driving force behind Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and direct advocacy of Socialism was a major argument of Down and Out in Paris and London as well as The Road to Wigan Pier. Moreover, many of Orwell’s essays, such as “Shooting an Elephant” and “Such, Such were the Joys…”, could be said to be anti-totalitarian in nature due to their stance against Imperialism and oppression of every kind. In light of the prevailing arguments in these works – which, with some degree of conviction, can be called Orwell’s “major works” – it remains unclear where Podhoretz sees “the ethos of the left-wing intelligentsia” being the “true subject” of Orwell’s writing. In fact, the faults of Orwell’s contemporaries on the left comprise a comparatively minor part of the author’s writing, and when it does come up, it is very often in the context of an analysis of why more people don’t gravitate toward the Left. The fact that Orwell brings it up at all implies that he wishes more people would gravitate toward the Left. Podhoretz’s second major argument about why Orwell would now be a Neoconservative if he were alive today centers on Orwell’s apparent antipacifism. This argument by Podhoretz concentrates on the following passage from Orwell’s review of Arthur Koestler’s Spanish Testament for the magazine Time and Tide: If someone drops a bomb on your mother, go and drop two bombs on his mother. The only apparent alternatives are to smash dwelling houses to powder, blow out human entrails and burn holes in children with lumps of thermite, or be enslaved by people who are more ready to do these things than you are yourself; as yet no one has suggested a practical way out.13
Taken out of context, this excerpt certainly paints Orwell in the light of a dedicated anti-pacifist, if not an ardent war-supporter (or something much more blood-thirsty). This passage, as Podhoretz presents it, depicts Orwell as an advocate of a modern Hammurabi’s Code: an eye for an eye, a city for a city, and good for you if you get him before he gets you. Once again, though, what Podhoretz has left out is more telling of Orwell’s position than what he has left in. Just as in the case of Podhoretz’s “I refuse to choose” argument in which he attempted to prove that Orwell would have been an anti-pacifist during the Cold War, if one includes couple of lines preceding this passage, the meaning of the passage changes considerably: You cannot be objective about an aerial torpedo. And the horror we feel of these things has led one to this conclusion: If someone drops a bomb on your mother, go and drop two bombs on his mother. The only apparent alternatives are to smash dwelling houses to powder, blow out human entrails and burn holes in children with lumps of thermite, or be enslaved by people who are more ready to do these things than you are yourself; as yet no one has suggested a practical way out. 14
With the two added sentences, it becomes clear that Orwell was not advocating a particular style of conducting war, but he was, rather, musing on the way that modern warfare has changed how people think about war. Weapons like the aerial torpedo, Orwell is saying, have had the unfortunate consequence of causing people – people like Norman Podhoretz, apparently – to have brutal thoughts about how to wage war. It is not apparent whether Podhoretz had misunderstood this passage or if he was intentionally attempting a misrepresentation, but either way, his elision is a dangerous propaganda tactic – it is akin to a movie commercial that boldly exclaims that a certain critic raves “You’ll love it!,” when the actual, original critical review had read, “If you are a fan of complete cinematic trash, then you’ll love it.” On this very elision, Christopher Hitchens relates, “I happened to be the editor of the magazine to reply [to Podhoretz’s essay], and I observed of this distortion that it would be fun to read Podhoretz’s review of Swift’s Modest Proposal, replete no doubt with rich approval of the stewing of babies.”15 Continuing on the topic of Orwell’s anti-pacifism, Podhoretz quotes abundantly from Orwell’s writing during World War II, claiming this as being further proof of his belief that Orwell would have been against unilateral disarmament and “nuclear freeze” during the Cold War: “It is hard to believe that the man who wrote [against pacifism] in 1945 would have felt any sympathy for the various “objectively” pacifist antidefense movements of today.”16 What Podhoretz cannot – or refuses to – see, writing in 1983, is that there was a drastic difference between the real and
Our Orwell, Right or Left
imminent threat of Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the middle 1940s and the tension-filled struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Moreover, the Cold War was not a war in the conventional sense of battlefields and exchanges of violence, but was, rather, a battle of ideologies with a vague threat of a possible future conflict that led to a decades-long arms race. Using the benefit of hindsight, the advocating of pacifism during World War II would have been akin to surrender to Hitler – a compliance with totalitarianism, in other words – whereas advocating pacifism during the Cold War would have been akin to favoring diplomacy. Certainly, Orwell hated totalitarianism in its Communist form just as much (if not more) than he hated totalitarianism in its Fascist form, but in the 1980s Gorbachev hardly invading France and Poland. Orwell might not have been a wartime pacifist but he certainly wasn’t a warmonger, and although he was opposed to the practices of the Communist Soviet Union, he hardly wanted to see its nuclear destruction. Writes Ian Williams, “while regarding Stalin’s country as a threat to peace and democracy in Europe, he tried to restrain philosopher (and ex-pacifist!) Lord Bertrand Russell’s attempts to rouse support for a preemptive nuclear strike on the USSR.”17 Perhaps the most convincing argument that one might use to refute Podhoretz’s claiming of Orwell for the Neoconservatives centers around the Neoconservative ideology’s favoring of an aggressive foreign policy. Orwell might have been against pacifism in situations in which the alternative was an acceptance of a totalitarian system of government, but the Neoconservative agenda of aggressive foreign policy and military action – whether or not it happens to be a time of war – smacks of Imperialism, an aspect of Neoconservatism which Orwell certainly would not have approved. Jonah Raskin cites Orwell’s hatred of Empire as being not only the reason that Orwell would have been against American involvement in the Vietnam War (as I have argued), but also a major contributing factor as to why Orwell would have likely abhorred the Neoconservative agenda: [I]t is unlikely that Orwell would have become a neoconservative. His experience in Asia sealed him against colonial wars, imperialist adventure, and police actions, whether at home or abroad. (“The British government rules the Burmese in despotic fashion,” he wrote. “Their relation to the British Empire is that of slave to master”.) Unlike Podhoretz or Howe, Orwell would have known exactly why we were in Vietnam. 18
To many observers, the military actions of the United States during the Clinton and Bush administrations reflect an economic and military foreign
policy that is similar in tone to the British Empire that Orwell wrote disparagingly about during the early stages of his career. If one follows the trail of Neoconservative thinking to the present decade, one finds that the leading Neoconservatives are among the strongest supporters for the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, and the “War on Terror” in general. Following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, leading Neoconservative Max Boot wrote an essay with the ominous title, “The Case for American Empire.” Perhaps propelled by overwhelming fear, the essay’s author outlines his argument in the first paragraph: Many have suggested that the September 11 attack on America was payback for U.S. imperialism. If only we had not gone around sticking our noses where they did not belong, perhaps we would not now be contemplating a crater in lower Manhattan. The solution is obvious: The United States must become a kinder, gentler nation, must eschew quixotic missions abroad, must become, in Pat Buchannan’s phrase, “a republic, not an empire.” In fact this analysis is exactly backward: The September 11 attack was a result of insufficient American involvement and ambition; the solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more assertive in their implementation. 19
This is an extreme example of contemporary Neoconservative thinking, of course, but it serves to illustrate precisely how unlikely it would be that George Orwell would be a Neoconservative in today’s political climate. Orwell might have argued against pacifism in times of war, but he was no warmonger. He certainly would not have argued in favor of an American Empire. Indeed, it can be said that it was Orwell’s hatred for the institutions of Empire that led directly to his battle against totalitarianism. In Orwell’s writing, we have seen the following progression: Orwell’s hatred for Empire developed into his hatred for Fascist totalitarianism, and this hatred for Fascist totalitarianism naturally progressed into a hatred for totalitarianism in the form of Stalin’s Communist Soviet Union. The Neoconservative movement, on the other hand, seems to have been developed along the following lines: A hatred for Communism developed into an adoration of Capitalism and American nationalism. Following the end of the Cold War, being faced with a world in which the United States was the world’s only dominant superpower, the Neoconservatives’ adoration of the United States naturally developed into an advocacy for an American Empire. Podhoretz argued that, since Orwell seemed to be following the same general political evolution as many leading Neoconservatives, it is likely that he too would have developed into a
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Neoconservative. What Podhoretz fails to see, however, is that Orwell’s political motivations (such as hatred for oppression) were far different than those of the Neoconservative agenda. Orwell hated Imperialism and was somewhat ambivalent about American power. If this is the case, it can be said that Orwell would not only not be standing alongside the Neoconservatives if he were alive today, he would, in fact, be in direct opposition to them.
PART THREE ORWELL TODAY
[O]nce in a great while, however, one encounters a writer who seems not only to have a finger on the pulse of his or her own era, but also to have something authoritative to say to posterity. Dr. Johnson was preeminent in this role for much of the nineteenth century. Since his death in 1950 at the age of forty-six, it has fallen to George Orwell.1 —David Rieff If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.2 —Thomas Pynchon
CHAPTER TEN OUT OF RETIREMENT
The dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 effectively marked the collapse of the Communist U.S.S.R. and the symbolic end of the Cold War. Indeed, even Socialism itself has proven to be little more than an improbability, a beautifully optimistic ideal that has been, time-and-timeagain, soured by the negative aspects of human nature. In my pre-emptive defense, this is not necessarily a pessimistic view; one does not need to lose faith in humanity as a whole in order to understand the basic flaw of Socialism. The problem with Socialism, as it has been in practically every governmental system that has claimed Socialism as its basis, is that even if 99.99% of the society’s inhabitants are genuinely dedicated to the good of the State, the .01% that is greedy for power invariably rises to the top of the heap. Even though the will of the majority of the people may be good, because of the inevitable greed of the few selfish and power-hungry .01%, the Socialist-based government can’t help but slip away toward dictatorship. Before the people know it, “all animals are created equal” becomes “all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Considering George Orwell’s position as the literary world’s most notorious anti-Communist Cold Warrior, one would have assumed that the end of the Cold War would also have marked the end of the prolific use of Orwell’s name in political contexts. Consistent media references, and the continued publication of recent books such as George Orwell: Into the Twenty-First Century and What Orwell Didn’t Know, however, prove otherwise. Intellectually, it seems strange that Orwell would continue to be a prevalent figure into the twenty-first century, especially considering how closely his name came to be tied with the Cold War into the 1980s. Intuitively, however, the concept doesn’t seem so strange. Perhaps it is the mark of a true major figure that even as the cultural and political landscapes shift over time, there is still something about the figure’s work that allows them to remain relevant. Even though Nineteen Eighty-Four was widely read as an anti-Communist tract over much of the sixty years since its publication, the novel continues to remain a kind of prophetic
Our Orwell, Right or Left
warning – although its context would be far different for the first-time reader in 2008 than it would have been for the reader in 1948, 1968, or even 1988. Like Ian Fleming’s James Bond1 – another figure for whom a future seemed unlikely following the end of the Cold War – Orwell had remained relevant enough so that there would always be new battles to fight and new enemies to thwart. David Rieff sees Orwell’s continued position as a pillar of political discourse as being symptomatic of the critic/politician’s desire to claim Orwell in order to shore up their own political position. This tactic represents the very same “epidemic” that was referenced in this book’s introduction, and it has been occurring since at least the 1940s: It is as if [Orwell] had become a kind of Rorschach blot onto which contestants in our contemporary political controversies can project their own opinions, but using Orwell as nineteenth-century politicians used the Bible – as debate-settling textual authority. Opponents of George Bush think that Orwell would have seen in the Karl Rove propaganda machine the realization of his fears of political “Newspeak.” Supporters of the Iraq war insist that Orwell was first and foremost an anti-totalitarian and thus would have welcomed the overthrow of so vicious a tyrant as Saddam Hussein. 2
The world’s political situations might change, but the reasons for critics and politicos to claim Orwell remain approximately the same. The main difference between now and then is what regime the critic/politico applies to Orwell’s writing, of which conflict they claim Orwell would or wouldn’t have been in favor. Upon re-reading Nineteen Eighty-Four in the year 2002, I was struck by how truly immediate and foreboding the Oceania of Orwell’s final novel still was, even though the threat of Communism was nowhere near as prevalent in Western culture since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. No, in 2002, the similarities that I read into Orwell’s text were not shared by any far-away despotic state, but by my very own United States of America – and I was far from being the only one to recognize the startling parallels. Indeed, as the final years of the Cold War saw the Neoconservatives on the Right attempt to claim Orwell for their own camp, today it looks as though it has been, predominantly, critics and pundits on the Left who have been compelled to invoke the name “Orwell” for political purposes. Post-9/11, the United States – and the Western world in general – have become a cauldron of fear and paranoia. It is a world in which technology has caught up with Orwell’s vision of Oceania, and the political situation has made it a world in which the utilization of such technology is a
terrifying possibility. It is a world in which the U.S. government can conduct covert surveillance on whomever it chooses, a world in which practically every inch of Times Square and Picadilly Circus are covered by closed-circuit cameras, a world in which corporations weave RFID tags into our clothes in order to monitor our consumer habits, a world in which anyone can log onto Google Earth and view practically any square foot of land in the world in real time – and in this world, a book like Nineteen Eighty-Four represents an invaluable warning of what could come to pass if we let any of this get too far, if the powers made possible by the newfound advancements in technology were to be exploited to their most nefarious extremes. In a United States where far too many individuals are willing to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of security – not realizing that the two concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive – the danger of these scenarios going too far no longer seems like the science fiction that they might have just a scant twenty, or even ten, years prior. Far more than an indictment of the Soviet Union under Stalin, Nineteen Eighty-Four remains a monument to warn against totalitarianism in all its forms; the Soviet Union might have been Orwell’s inspiration in writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the lessons within can be applied to practically any government that has ever existed. The reader of Orwell cannot help but be alarmed when the situation arises that an individual who recognizes the need to question the actions of his leaders is decried as “unpatriotic” – for in what kind of society do we live if we blindly submit to the whims of those in power? Orwell, I believe, would argue that any society in which the citizens unquestioningly support their leaders (especially if those who fail to follow blindly are publicly discredited or worse) is, essentially, totalitarian. Frighteningly, such was the case with the United States in the first couple years following the 2001 terrorist attacks; when the Bush administration made the decision to first invade Afghanistan and then launch a dubious pre-emptive strike on Iraq that would eventually devolve into a quagmire of sectarian violence – a war, seemingly without end and without decisive victory – those who questioned the logic of such invasions were publicly lambasted by the televised talking heads and the Rightward-leaning political mouthpieces. Of course, by the year 2008, the invasion of Iraq has all but proved itself to be a mistake, a poorly-planned and even more poorly-executed theater of blunders whose supposed justifications for invasion were systematically discredited one-by-one until only the motivations of corporate interests remained. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration claimed that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass
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destruction that he had planned on using against the United States and their allies. The supposed weapons of mass destruction were never found. The Bush administration then claimed that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda, the terrorist network that was very likely responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks. Over time, this possibility of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda also proved to be unlikely. As a failsafe, the Bush administration then claimed that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless despot who tortured and murdered thousands of his own people, thereby painting the United States in the light of beloved liberators. Whereas Saddam Hussein was very probably a cruel and murderous leader, one cannot ignore the fact that Iraq’s oil-rich neighbor Saudi Arabia is also home to a ruthless royal family that has very likely executed just as many of its own citizens as had Saddam Hussein. Yet, the United States has not invaded Saudi Arabia in order to liberate that country’s terrorized citizens; the Saudis are, of course, beloved trading partners with the United States and several major corporations within. Due to the increased transparency of the “justifications” for an Iraq invasion, coupled with the increasing likelihood of a bloody and victoryless war,3 George W. Bush’s approval rating has plummeted,4 and all of a sudden those contrarian voices who dared to speak out against the invasion in the first place don’t seem so unpatriotic after all; if an invasion had been averted and diplomacy had been favored, the United States’ position and reputation within the arena of international politics would likely be significantly more respectable. Of course, discussing the above point, one runs the risk of overstating the case. As Al Gore argues in his book The Assault on Reason, we shouldn’t make the United States under Bush out to be a totalitarian regime. Far from it, in fact – the U.S. remains a free country, with freedoms so easily taken for granted that are not enjoyed in many other places on the globe. If we were to allow our society to devolve into Orwellian dystopia, the blame lies as much on our shoulders as it would on any group of politicians: It is too easy – and too partisan – to simply place the blame on the policies of George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press.5
Even though those who spoke out against the Bush administration were initially labeled unpatriotic, they weren’t imprisoned, they didn’t disappear, and they weren’t silenced in any way. Freedom of speech
prevailed, and there were many pundits who stepped forward to reiterate the oft-repeated summary of Voltaire’s philosophy: I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it. This represents a kind of triumph in the mind of this author, for it proves that we still live in a society in which one has the right to dissent intellectually; perhaps one can argue that we have the duty to dissent if we recognize the need, for, in the case of the Bush administration’s critics, it looks more and more likely that those who had initially dissented were, largely, correct. The 1949 TIME Magazine review for Nineteen Eighty-Four ended with the words “any reader in 1949 can uneasily see his own shattered features in Winston Smith, can scent in the world of 1984 a stench that is already familiar.”6 This review, like Orwell’s text itself, has proven to be especially prophetic – for even in 2008 we recognize characteristics of our own world within Winston Smith’s, although they aren’t necessarily the same characteristics with which the 1949 reader would have identified. Even in our culture of free speech, there is still a need to be on guard against the traps of totalitarianism of which Orwell spent his life warning about through his writing. There are aspects of our culture which, if they remain unchecked, could very well lead us down the path to Oceania – the most frightening and prescient among these being the threats of governmental and corporate surveillance of citizens’ private lives, and the continued threat of manipulative and increasingly persuasive propaganda.
CHAPTER ELEVEN BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
As Orwell has continued to be the prophet-of-choice for alarmist social critics into the twenty-first century, more parallels than ever have been found between not only the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four and the societies of our contemporaneous era but also the advances in technology that have made such comparisons possible. Unlike the Stalinist Soviet Union of Orwell’s era, the societies of the twenty-first century possess the technological abilities to make what Orwell had envisioned in Nineteen Eighty-Four a terrifying possibility. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the complete hegemonic control exerted by the Party over the populace of Oceania is achieved in large part by the perception among the citizens that it is possible that they are being watched at any time; “telescreens,” the powerful technological weapon of the “Thought Police” are practically everywhere in Oceania, acting as both televisions and closed-circuit cameras, simultaneously broadcasting propaganda while recording the actions of Oceania’s inhabitants: Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time.1
While in direct view of the telescreens, which recorded nearly every square foot of property within the confines of “Airstrip One” (the London of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s dystopian world) – including the private residences of Oceania’s citizens – individuals such as Winston Smith had no choice but to behave in a fashion that was in line with the Party’s norms or else suffer the consequences. Suspicious activities would result in an individual being dragged from their home and brought to the Ministry of Love in order to be reprogrammed. Either that, or they would simply disappear.
Although it was unlikely that every citizen in Oceania was observed at any time – for that would imply a workforce nearly as large as the segment of the population being observed – that an individual had no idea when or where they were being observed meant that they had to behave accordingly at all times, for “[y]ou had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinised.”2 Living under the presumption that one was being observed at any given time ensured for the Party that they had a populace that would likely behave at all times. Orwell borrowed this idea from a concept known as the “panopticon,” a type of prison designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The panopticon itself calls for a building of circular design, with cells lining the outside perimeter and a tower in the center. The tower would be constructed in a way – either through use of venetian blinds, viewing ports, or one-way mirrors – that would allow those in the tower to watch those in the cells at any time without those in the cells knowing when they are being watched. Bentham himself called the panopticon concept “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” 3 The design creates, in effect, an appearance of possible omniscience for the invisible observer. In 1975, perhaps taking a cue from the dystopian society created by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, French philosopher Michel Foucault argued that all hierarchical structures in history have evolved along lines that evoke the principles of Bentham’s panopticon.4 Quite possibly as an extension of the application of the panopticon principle that is manifested in the telescreens of Orwell’s Oceania and Foucault’s analysis of the principle as it applies to Western society, the concept of surveillance has become one that creates a sense of unease within the minds of many today. Not surprisingly, when the media reports on examples of technological surveillance that might potentially infringe on individuals’ personal privacy, more often than not, the words “Orwell,” “Orwellian,” and “Big Brother” have been dutifully invoked. After all, what better way to paint a new surveillance technology in a negative light that makes it seem like a dangerous threat to our personal freedoms than to evoke the novel that best captures the prospect of surveillance being used to secure a completely totalitarian society? Today, Orwell’s very own British homeland is generally considered to be “the surveillance capital of the Western world.”5 The public spaces of cities like London are literally covered by CCTV cameras and the motorways are governed by revenue-generating speed cameras. A recent report has found that “Britain has a staggering 4.2million CCTV cameras -
Our Orwell, Right or Left
one for every 14 people in the country,” and the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Britain account for over 20% of such devices on the entire planet.6As a matter of fact, a newspaper article titled “George Orwell, Big Brother is Watching Your House,” points out with delicious irony that there are 32 CCTV cameras within 200 yards of what was once Orwell’s own London flat.7 To put the sheer number of Britain’s closedcircuit cameras into perspective, it had been estimated that the average Briton is recorded by some kind of camera around 300 times per day.8 The justification for the staggering amount of surveillance technology employed in Great Britain is, naturally, the name of public safety. Security cameras can, and do, of course, help police identify perpetrators of criminal behavior – and a proliferation of such cameras therefore represents an effective deterrent for would-be criminals. In a 2000 article in The Independent titled “Personal Big Brother Keeps Streets Safe,” writer David Brown reversed the traditionally negative connotation of the term “Big Brother” in his efforts to show the potentially beneficial side to mass public surveillance. The specific program addressed in the article was a Salisbury, England initiative in which citizens could call a “Chaperone Service” and have the city’s many CCTV cameras track them as they move through the city’s public spaces, in order to ensure that they remain safe. According to Brown, “[t]he camera-filled nightmare of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four holds no fears for the citizens of Salisbury. They have started their own ‘Rent-A-Big-Brother’ service.”9 The program, Brown points out, has been both effective (“since we introduced the scheme no one we have monitored has been harmed”) and has been popular in Salisbury. The “Big Brother” of Salisbury, according to the picture that Brown paints, is less an invasive force of surveillance and discipline than a benign, watchful protector. Surveillance, then, can be seen as an overwhelmingly positive feature of society as long as there remains some semblance of voluntary participation on the part of the surveilled as well as a preservation of the spheres of private life that Westerners hold so dear. More often than not, however, the idea of surveillance conjures up the negative connotations of “Big Brother” that make people feel vaguely uneasy. In the United States, which shares with England a proliferation of CCTV camera use (although nowhere near the scale of Britain – reports show that “Americans are videotaped with surveillance technology an estimated 30 times per day,”10 as compared to the 300+ times per day that the average Briton is recorded), there is a growing apprehension with the idea that surveillance technology might be used in order to strip citizens of their rights to personal privacy. Considering steps taken by the Bush
administration following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – such as the USA PATRIOT Act,11 which simultaneously extends the liberties the government may take in dealing with surveillance and detention while limiting the amount of due process an accused is allowed in such cases – it probably should come as no surprise that some are alarmed by the prospect of technological advances in the area of surveillance. A 2002 Village Voice article outlined the potential threat posed by a new government computer system that would keep a “paper trail” of every kind of transaction made by every individual in the United States and possibly around the world: Our government’s unblinking eyes will try to find suspicious patters in your credit-cards and bank data, medical records, the movies you click for pay-per-view, passport applications, prescription purchases, e-mail messages, telephone calls, and anything you’ve done that winds up in court records, like divorces. Almost anything you do will leave a trace for these omnivorous computers, which will now contain records of your library book withdrawals, your loans and debts, and whatever you order by mail on the web.12
This computer system would essentially create an identity around every action that each person performs in the public sphere, thereby – in the name of combating terrorism – creating a pile of incontrovertible evidence in the case that an individual were to act in an unlawful manner. Of course, the obvious retort to any anxieties caused by such a system would be, “why be nervous if you haven’t done anything wrong?” Perhaps more worrisome than an electronic paper trail that amounts to little more than an “online personality” is the advent of “face recognition” CCTV cameras that can “allow government officials to identify individuals moving in public space,”13 as well as microphoned CCTV cameras that can, in essence, record private conversations within the public sphere.14 Add to these innovations the advent of Radio Frequency Identification chips (RFID),15 which are small tags that emit radio signals and are woven into clothing and manufactured into consumer products by various corporations in order to track the shopping and spending habits of its customers, and suddenly it becomes clear that the concept of constant surveillance of one form or another is not out of the realm of possibility. The implication is that if a network of computers working together with face-recognition cameras, voice-recognition microphones, and RFID tags carried on the person’s body itself can track a person’s movement through the pubic sphere, then constant surveillance of society becomes a possibility; no longer is the computer network compiling an electronic “paper trail” of an individual’s actions, but is rather compiling a record of
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that individual’s movements through real space. But then again, why worry if you haven’t done anything wrong, right? The short response to that retort would be, in the words of novelist William Gibson (in a 2003 New York Times editorial), “it is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret.”16 Like any societal advance, this concept has its good points as well as its bad, as Gibson is quick to point out: [D]riven by the acceleration of computing power and connectivity and the simultaneous development of surveillance systems and tracking technologies, we are approaching a theoretical state of absolute informational transparency, one in which “Orwellian” scrutiny is no longer a strictly hierarchical, top-down activity, but to some extent a democratized one. As individuals steadily lose degrees of privacy, so, too do corporations and states.17
In other words, it as it is becoming harder for the individual in Western society to harbor secrets, it is also becoming harder (as we will see in the next chapter) for those in power to twist and spin objective truth into their version of history. Whereas the surveillance of individuals by the government is a one-sided affair, the democratization of information allowed by the Internet also allows the people to keep an eye on the powers-that-be. None of this should matter, though, for if you haven’t done anything wrong, there is no reason to fear the inability to keep a secret, right? There are many problems with this avenue of thought. First and foremost, and undoubtedly closest to Orwell’s own heart, are ideas of personal privacy. The idea that at any time the actions and behaviors of any one of us might be scrutinized by an unseen observer from the other side of the technological panopticon flies in the face of the inherent freedoms we all deserve the right to enjoy. Another problem presented by the idea of technological surveillance constructing an electronic evidence pile to some day be used against us is the problem of context. As Gibson writes: Regardless of the number and power of the tools used to extract patterns from information, any sense of meaning depends on context, with interpretation coming along in support of one agenda or another. A world of informational transparency will necessarily be one of deliriously multiple viewpoints, shot through with misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and a quotidian degree of madness. We may be able to see what's going on more quickly, but that doesn't mean we'll agree about it any more readily.18
Gibson’s point is that facts taken out of context might very well paint an inaccurate picture, and it is entirely possible that “facts” might be handpicked out of their appropriate context in order to support one agenda or another. Although the results of technological surveillance might present the incontrovertible facts of the matter, the facts, taken out of appropriate context, might paint a picture that is somewhat misleading. Say, for example, a bomb goes off in a metropolitan center. A quick overview of the computer system finds that Suspect A was in the area at the specified time, bought the ingredients necessary to make such a bomb (fertilizer, for example) at a nearby store, and purchased a plane ticket to South America within the following couple hours. Taken out of context, this scenario certainly depicts Suspect A to be guilty of the bombing; if one considers that Suspect A might have been an enterprising South American farmer in time for a convention, who came to realize that he could purchase fertilizer for less money in the United States than in his homeland, and that he just happened to be in the area of the bombing is an unfortunate coincidence, the case is suddenly anything but open-and-shut. In the words of a spokesman for U.S. Representative Dick Armey, “[y]ou have a machine that says you did something wrong, but there's no oversight of the system to prove the camera is accurate. And you lose your constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.”19 Not only does one have no way to prove that the camera is accurate, one has no way to prove that the context is accurate, either – and there is a clear danger of being assumed guilty until proven innocent. This last point seems to be the main source of anxiety for The Spectator columnist Patrick West, who sees in his England of 2007 a society veering dangerously close to dystopia20 mixing Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World21 and Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report.”22 West’s article was written in response to the first trial applications of “smart CCTV” cameras which are intended to prevent criminals from ever committing the crime they might be preparing to commit: Big Brother is no longer merely watching us, he will soon be apprehending us for things we are about to do. Trials using “smart CCTVs” were first carried out in London’s Liverpool Street station in 2003. The new software, called the Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance system, draws attention to loiterers or those whose body movement suggest intention to commit crime. Although the trial was abandoned after too many false alarms, plans are still afoot to have a similar system working on the London Underground.23
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The idea that an individual could be at very least suspected (and, possibly, apprehended) due to “evidence” provided by the Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance system calls to mind the previous issues of context and seems suspiciously close to what one might refer to as “profiling” – for one individual’s “body movement suggest[ing] intention to commit a crime” might very well be another person’s natural gait. Taking this troubling scenario a step further are the scientific advances that correspond to similar possibilities of pre-emptive crime fighting. For example, the scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany have announced a technique that they are perfecting which uses high-resolution brain scans that allow them to read an individual’s brain patterns and read their intentions: The new procedure was the culmination of a series of recent studies which demonstrate that certain brain patterns can be linked to telling lies and triggering violent and racist behaviour. The problem here is that were such a process to become part of the judicial system, any finding that scientifically ‘proved’ you were going to commit a crime would be irrefutable: there would be no possible way of proving that you weren’t going to commit a felony. Pre-crime negates the notion of free will.24
The findings of the Max Planck institute call into question ethical problems that have been explored by the Dick story “The Minority Report” (and Steven Spielberg film of the same name) – namely, whether it is morally permissible to punish a person for a crime which they have not yet committed. West’s point is that the existence of “pre-crime” would create a world that even Orwell couldn’t have imagined – one in which the surveillance of today, which he sees as being remarkably similar to that which is employed by “Big Brother” in Nineteen Eighty-Four, would be totally unnecessary, for it would be, in effect, a redundancy and a waste of resources to conduct surveillance on a populace that has been completely stripped of their free will. During the Cold War, readers of Orwell saw in Nineteen Eighty-Four condemnations of what was considered a cruel and unadmirable regime, as well as a prophetic warning about how unchecked power and a lack of preservation of freedoms might develop into absolute totalitarianism. During the era of the Cold War, however, as it was at the time of Orwell’s writing, technology was nowhere near to catching up with the technology that Orwell had envisioned making his nightmare vision a possibility. Today, with no regime such as the Soviet Union to use as an example of how despicable totalitarianism can be, readers of Nineteen Eighty-Four recognize within Orwell’s masterpiece the aspects of their own society
that, if allowed to evolve to their worst possible extreme, might become symptomatic of a totalitarian regime akin to Orwell’s nightmare vision. Much like the cases of political propaganda of the mid-1980s – outlined within the introduction to this book – in which Orwell’s name had been invoked in order to lend authority to one argument or another, it seems almost unavoidable that Orwell would be invoked in one way or another whenever the topic of surveillance is making headlines. A sampling: “The Road to Oceania” [A New York Times editorial by William Gibson about the lack of privacy in contemporary society].25 “Is Business the Real Big Brother?” [a BBC editorial about monitoring of employees in the workplace]. 26 “Orwell Denied: Bill to Stop Employers From Sticking RFIDs Under Workers’ Skin.”27 “Big Brother Microphones Could Be Next Step.”28 “Big Brother is Watching You – Electronic Surveillance.”29 “New Technology Allows Orwellian Monitoring – Surveillance Radar Using Global Positioning Systems Inside Automobiles.”30
Even as this chapter was being written, in a fantastic coincidence, a headline on CNN’s January 16, 2008 evening broadcast – denoting a story about the monitoring of employees’ activities in the workplace – read “Big Brother as Boss.” To say that technology has caught up with Orwell’s vision of the future would be a drastic understatement; indeed, even the existence of an Internet far exceeds anything Orwell might have envisioned in 1948. Still, the possible applications of technology – beneficial as well as nefarious – remain the same. Within the existence of computer databases, CCTV networks, RFID chips, and even “pre-crime” cognitive science lie the possibility of making our world a safer and better place; if exploited to further one agenda or another, however, these technologies of surveillance also represent the means by which any society might slip gradually toward totalitarianism, closer and closer to Orwell’s nightmare vision of a society in which free will has been eliminated.
CHAPTER TWELVE ORWELL IN THE AGE OF SPIN
In late 2007, there were a series of credit card advertisements airing on national television in which consumers at a store check-out counter are moving along like a precisely-accurate assembly line; each consumer would approach the counter, swipe their credit card, and then move aside for the next consumer like clockwork. The line continues to move along in this fashion like a well-oiled machine. The commercial continues in such a manner until a consumer approaches the counter wishing to pay with cash. All of a sudden, the assembly line of consumers comes to a screeching halt; the apparent dope wishing to break convention and pay for his goods with the archaic method of cash is now holding up all the consumers behind him in line. To those of us who cast a watchful, skeptical eye upon the manipulations of advertising media, the aforementioned commercial not only rang untrue, but actually represented a complete reversal of what we all experience in our reality. In almost every situation I can remember, paying for goods in a store with cash has always been much faster and hassle-free than attempting to pay with a credit or debit card. Despite this reality-twisting reversal, however, the advertisement was undoubtedly effective; the simple fact of the matter is that Americans are simply not trained to question the mechanizations and manipulations of their advertising, which can be startlingly effective (consider, for example, the mind-blowingly effective advertising campaign for Corona beer – even though I know intellectually that Corona is awful beer, and that I personally don’t like how Corona beer tastes, whenever I see a Corona commercial I very briefly thirst for a Corona). Francine Prose, in her essay “Sloppiness and the English Language,” ties the effectiveness of such manipulative advertising with a lack of adequate education: If young people are not trained to think and pay attention to language – and in particular to the language being used to form their ideas and opinions – it seems obvious that they will be more susceptible to the techniques of advertising (repetition, volume, reductive sloganeering, and
Chapter Twelve so on) than to the more challenging processes of reason, common sense, and logic. Clarity of thought and attention to linguistic nuance are essential tools in subverting propaganda. And surely it’s not only a few paranoids who have noticed that systematically under-educating a population is one way to insure future generations of men and women qualified to work at the McDonald’s or serve on a corporate board without stepping out of line, or asking too many questions, or asking the wrong questions, or knowing what questions to ask.1
The implication in the above passage (which echoes, as an intentional nod or a spectacular coincidence, Thomas Pynchon’s own “Proverbs for Paranoids” from Gravity’s Rainbow2) is that if the contemporary citizen is not privy to the manipulations of propaganda – whether it be corporate advertising or the “spin” of politics – then they are doomed to become victims of said propaganda. A situation in which methods and motivations aren’t questioned, where men and women are inadequately equipped to ask the right questions, of course, makes it infinitely easier for those in power to more forward their agendas. And this, the effect of contemporary political propaganda on the unsuspecting American, is the driving theme behind the recent collection of essays, What Orwell Didn’t Know, as well as the keynote address and an epilogue to this collection, George Soros’s “What I Didn’t Know: Open Society Reconsidered.” Like the reversals that occur in advertising such as the aforementioned credit card commercial, the government – which uses many of the same marketing minds as the nation’s top advertising firms – also “spins” their agenda initiatives in order to obscure their true nature: Propaganda often goes beyond transference by completely reversing meanings and turning reality on its head. This is what Fox News does when it calls itself “fair and balanced” and what the Bush administration does when it uses names like the “Clear Skies Act” and the “No Child Left Behind Act.” Republican pollster Frank Luntz says that he learned the technique from George Orwell, so it would be appropriate to call it Newspeak.3
That manipulative reversals such as “Clear Skies Act” mean to mask the true nature of the Bush administration’s initiatives – and thereby con the public into lending their support (or, at the very least, their indifference) – is nefarious enough in itself; that officials within the Bush administration admit to cribbing the technique from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is downright terrifying. Let us not forget the total power and control that Oceania’s Ingsoc Party holds over its citizens in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and that Orwell’s novel is meant to be a warning against the dangers of a totalitarian regime.
Our Orwell, Right or Left
It would benefit us here to take another look back at Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and examine the concept of Newspeak, which is outlined carefully and extensively in the appendix to Orwell’s novel: The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible… Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words… Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.4
The purpose of Newspeak, as it exists in the Oceania of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, then, is the intentional shrinking of the English language in order to limit the citizenry’s vocabulary. This, in turn, leads to a shrinking in the citizenry’s range of thought – for if people no longer have words for shades of meaning, then, eventually, due to lack of future generations’ cognitive development, people will no longer have the mental capacity for shades of meaning. The end result of a successful transition from Standard English to Ingsoc would be a populace that no longer has the mental ability to question the whims of their leaders – in other words, an immortal Party with no concerns at all about resistance or rebellion. As we have seen from Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” the writer was very concerned with how the development of language might affect discourse; in Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Newspeak, Orwell has given us a worst-case scenario of this correlation. It is exactly these kinds of reductions and limits on language that would constitute an extreme version of the kind of inadequate education of which Prose warns against in the real world, for if an unawareness of advertising and propaganda techniques leads to men and women being ill-equipped to ask the right questions, a limiting of language would make them completely and utterly unable to do so. The era of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Winston Smith was in the early stages of the transition to Newspeak at the time of the book’s narrative. This transition includes, perhaps not surprisingly, the implementation of same kind of reversals which Soros laments in our present-day, nonfictional world: the office dedicated to propaganda was called “The Ministry of Truth,” the department of war was called “The Ministry of Peace,” the department that concerned itself with maintaining the police state (including the torture of suspected spies and traitors) was called “The
Ministry of Love,” etc. Even more explicit were the Party’s three slogans, “WAR IS PEACE… FREEDOM IS SLAVERY… IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”5 Here, of course, we see Luntz’s inspiration for the misleading names given to the initiatives put forth by the George W. Bush administration. If Luntz was unable to grasp that the inspiration for, say, “The Clear Skies Act,” was part of a system employed by a dystopian novelist in order to display the inherent dangers posed to individual freedom by the limiting of the range of human language – and thereby limiting the range of human cognitive ability – then we should be concerned; if Luntz did understand this concept and was still inspired by Newspeak, we should be, in grand understatement, very concerned. Whatever Luntz’s – or any politician’s – motivations, it is clear that we should be taking notice. The alarming fact of the matter is that the removal of shades of grey from political discourse has been a tactic employed by the Bush administration in order to further their agenda. All of a sudden, the various shades of meaning had been reduced to “you’re with us or against us.”6 Various shades of grey had been removed, and all of a sudden, according to the Bush administration philosophy, there remained only black and white, good and evil. For example, many of the critics of the Iraq war were labeled as unpatriotic for daring to want to impede the wishes of their leader. Soros, for one, has recognized the implications of such a tactic: When I hear President Bush warning that people who do not support his policies are supporting the terrorists, I heard alarm bells ringing. I had been exposed to Nazi and Communist propaganda in my youth, and I knew the warning signs. The American public did not share my alarm because it had not been exposed to similar manipulation before. But now that Americans have had the experience and have seen the results, they ought to have an allergic reaction when they are exposed to similar methods.7
Since Soros had witnessed first-hand the propaganda tactics of the Nazis and the Russian Communists as a youth living in Eastern Europe, he had the experience – the “education” – necessary to recognize Bush administration’s manipulations as echoing the totalitarian regimes’. That the United States under Bush are not a totalitarian regime is clear – perhaps Bush himself is genuinely naïve and does not know the dangerous waters in which he treads – but the fact remains that propaganda tactics of the same brand of which Orwell had been warning us sixty years ago, which were effectively employed by real-life totalitarian regimes, are currently being employed by the American government.
Our Orwell, Right or Left
It is heartening to see, however, that although the average American does not have the benefit of Mr. Soros’s experiences and therefore does not hear the alarm bells ringing when President Bush begins to speak in absolutes, the spin and manipulation regarding the Iraq war have only been effective for a short amount of time: Recent history provides convincing evidence that if you engage in policies based on a misrepresentation of reality, reality is liable to catch up with you. That is what happened after 9/11 – not because of the terrorist attack, but because of the way the Bush administration responded to it, declaring a War on Terror and treating any criticism as unpatriotic. This smoke screen allowed the Bush administration to invade Iraq on false pretenses, violate human rights on a large scale, abandon the Geneva Conventions and habeas corpus, restrict civil liberties, and extend executive powers beyond the limits envisioned by the Constitution. The results have been disastrous. The public is now awakening, as if from a bad dream.8
That the Bush administration employed manipulative and deceptive propaganda in order to further their agenda is troubling; that the public has awakened “as if from a bad dream” (Bush’s approval ratings hover in the low 30% range) is a relief, for it proves that although totalitarian methods might be applied in our very own country, they aren’t completely effective. At least, not yet. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of Orwell’s chief fears about technological progress centered around the idea that if the government (or, for that matter, enormous multi-national corporations) controlled the technological media, it would result in a dissemination of propaganda that would be nearly impossible for the public to resist. If the only information available is via government-controlled media outlets, and there are no competing views available, the public would have no reason to question its accuracy. Of course, Orwell could not have predicted the creation and proliferation of the Internet, that public sphere of free (and often anonymous) debate through which ideas can spread like uncontrollable wildfire: Orwell had expected advances in technology to allow the ruling elite to monopolize the flow of information and through it to control the minds of the masses. In reality, though, those advances have set off an explosion in the number and diversity of new sources, making efforts at control all the harder to achieve. The twenty-four-hour cable news channels, the constantly updated news Web sites, news aggregators like Google News, post-it-yourself sites such as YouTube, e-zines, blogs, and digital cameras have all helped to feed an avalanche of information about world affairs.9
Here, Michael Massing credits the grand advances in technology, which Orwell had feared would make totalitarian control a certainty, as being the reason why the “ruling elite” have been, as of yet, unable to monopolize the flows of information and thought. Although Massing is correct that the internet remains a valuable tool for the dissemination of information, the place held by twenty-four-hour cable news channels in this arena of free thought is becoming increasingly debatable. As David Rieff argues in his “Orwell Then and Now,” “for the left, it is Orwell’s fear of a controlled media that resonates today in this period of increasing media monopoly and capitalist political consensus.”10 As is becoming more clear with each passing year, and was already a concern of Pynchon’s when he wrote Gravity’s Rainbow in 1973, the influence of huge, multinational corporations is perhaps a more pressing concern than the influence of a single government entity, even one as powerful as that of the United States. These corporations have seemingly endless resources, they know no national borders, and they are constantly growing. In an age in which political candidates must start campaigning for re-election practically immediately after they are elected, the politician must spend a lot of time attending fund-raisers and collecting donations in order to afford the costs of the campaign. Of course, corporations donate massive amounts of money to political candidates. In turn, the politician might have an obligation to favor policies that would benefit said corporations. It is, needless to say, these few corporations that control much of the televised and mass-produced print media available to the public; you can see, then, where one might be naturally wary of including twenty-four-hour cable news channels along with Massing’s examples of truly free media. The fact remains, though, that until the government or a corporation figures out a way to control the spread of ideas over the Internet (and there are almost certainly dozens of corporate-run and government-sponsored think-tanks in existence dedicated to exactly this possibility), it will remain impossible for a single entity to monopolize the realm of public discourse. “In short,” Massing continues, “no war has been more fully chronicled or minutely analyzed as this one. And, as a result, the Bush administration has been unable to spin it as it would like.”11 As Soros points out, however, the deception was effective for a short amount of time, thereby creating a necessity for the American public to eventually “wake up as if from a bad dream.” It is probable that television, which remains the dominant tool for public information-dissemination, can be blamed for a great deal of these manipulations’ initial effectiveness. That television represents a one-way
Our Orwell, Right or Left
forum which is becoming less reliable for information as it becomes obsessed with profit-generating entertainment is one of the driving arguments behind former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s book The Assault on Reason: These conglomerates are apparently sometimes tempted to bend their news-programming choices to support the achievement of commercial objectives. The news divisions – which used to be seen as serving a public interest and were subsidized by the rest of the network – are now seen as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, sometimes, to advance the larger agenda of the corporation that owns them.12
Whereas television networks used to be willing to take a loss on their news programming in order to disseminate honest journalism, generating profit through their other programming, it has come to pass that television networks now expect their news programming to generate as much profit as possible. This has resulted in the generation of the “well-known axiom,” Gore goes on to argue, “‘if it bleeds, it leads.” (To which some disheartened journalists add, ‘If it thinks, it stinks.’)”.13 In other words, our national news media has seen a growing conflation between news and entertainment, the result of which has been a decreased importance placed on honest journalism and an increased importance placed on comparatively mindless entertainment (if it thinks, it stinks, after all): The purpose of television news now seems primarily to be to “glue eyeballs to the screen” in order to build ratings and sell advertising. This was the point made by Jon Stewart, the brilliant host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, when he visited CNN’s Crossfire: There should be a distinction between news and entertainment. It really matters. The subjugation of news by entertainment seriously harms our democracy: It leads to dysfunctional journalism that fails to inform the people.14
The implication here is that not only have news and entertainment become conflated, but that the viewing public can no longer tell the difference – a viewer can watch a show like Crossfire and not recognize that it is entertainment programming packaged as news, offering emotionallycharged subjective opinions instead of unbiased, objective journalism.15 In a way, though, the blame cannot rest completely on the shoulders of the networks that package their entertainment to look like legitimate news. After all, they are, in the end, just giving the people what they crave. The past few years have proven to television networks that “infotainment” like constant coverage of fascinatingly bizarre celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, and O.J. Simpson gets better ratings than coverage of Senate debates or reportage
of the world’s political affairs. This represents a kind of escapism on the part of the American people – they increasingly crave drama and conflict, but the kind of drama and conflict that would have little consequence on their lives in actual reality. Michael Massing sees this as a disturbing trend that might very well be what allowed the Bush administration’s manipulations to be effective, at least initially: Americans – reluctant to confront certain raw realities of war – have placed strong filters and screens on the facts and images they receive… In a disturbing twist on the Orwellian nightmare, the American people have become their own thought police, purging the news of unwanted and unwelcome features with an efficiency that government censors and military flacks can only envy.16
The inherent danger in an American public that blocks and filters out the unpleasant news that actually gets reported is that eventually the real news will be given less and less time – after all, it will be the segment of the programming that gets the lowest ratings – until it is phased out altogether, just like the music that slowly disappeared from MTV over the years. For why would the television networks continue to air honest journalism for a populace that no longer cares? When George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, the totalitarian regimes he had witnessed gaining power over the course of his life provided the inspiration for the INGSOC of Oceania in his novel. The totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union chief among them, utilized violence and the threat of violence in order to subdue the populace; the one comfort Orwell found in this form of coercion, as Orville Schell discusses in his essay “The Follies of Orthodoxy,” was that, so far, the totalitarian regimes of the real world had yet to conjure up a method to ensure that their citizens would capitulate totally, in body and in mind: [A]s horrified as he was during the middle of the last century by what he saw of propaganda’s capacity to distort and corrupt, he nonetheless retained naïve optimism in the inviolability of the individual soul, where, he liked to imagine, human qualities such as love, loyalty, and devotion might still find refuge. Indeed, he almost quaintly believed that though “they” could control everything around one in the external world, “They can’t get inside you.”17
Of course, at the close of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Party does manage to “get inside” Winston and control his thoughts, for the final line of the novel – which has sparked debate about whether it represents a downbeat
Our Orwell, Right or Left
ending or, depending on one’s subjectivist-vs.-objectivist point-of-view, a happy one – is, “He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”18 Just how exactly the Party accomplishes this feat is not explored with any detail within the text of the novel. Winston is held and tortured within the Ministry of Love, and he is deprogrammed until his heart finally belongs to Big Brother and to the Party. The end is clear, but the means remain a mystery. That the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four represents the worst-case scenario of Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare is clear; that Orwell remained optimistic about totalitarianism’s inability to “get inside you” implies that Ingsoc’s ability to “get inside you” would represent the ultimate tactic of totalitarianism control – and was one that Orwell, retaining his “naïve optimism in the inviolability of the individual soul” never thought would come to pass. “What Orwell could not know in the 1930s and 1940s,” Schell muses, examining contemporary-era China, what he believes to be the most effective totalitarian regime in world history, “was that Totalitarianism and its propaganda apparatus would ultimately succeed in penetrating ‘the inner heart of individuals.”19 The People’s Republic of China, a Communist country and what George Soros would refer to as a “closed society,” is a culture that has developed along philosophical and ideological lines that have made the use of physical coercion somewhat unnecessary: At the heart of the Leninist system that molted into its Maoist incarnation was the fundamental Confucian notion that personal “self-cultivation” and “self-study” are the path not only to becoming a junzi (“a gentleman” or an “exemplary person”) but also to restoring order in society. In the Confucian scheme of things, one that had several millennia of practice in China, the source of almost any problem was understood to lay in the self. Thus, the primary locus of remedy was usually perceived as beginning with the self through a process of “self-cultivation” and eventual “rectification.”20
China’s combination of the Leninist Communist system, the ideas and policies put forth by the incredibly important and controversial reign of Mao Zedong, and a traditional adherence to Confucianism philosophy have resulted in a society in which the transgression of the individual, which may have been punished by torture or elimination under Stalin or Hitler, through a process of guilt and self-evaluation is corrected and rectified by the individual themselves. This development has made the possibility of an immune and immortal government entity far more likely in China than it ever had been in Nazi Germany or in the Soviet Union:
Chapter Twelve The Party seemed to understand that if political control was the goal, it was far more effective to get people to control themselves than to use external coercion… After all, in such a situation where the Chinese Communist Revolution and the Party were deemed infallible, what conclusion was available to an accused rather than: “It must be me who is at fault.”21
Although Orwell was unable to imagine how, exactly, a government would manage to “get inside” the individual, he did recognize this feat, if it were achieved, to be the defining characteristic of the ultimate totalitarian regime – for if a citizen could be forced to actually “love Big Brother,” there would be no concern about internal rebellion. It would seem that the People’s Republic of China, very likely unintentionally, has managed to somewhat achieve what Orwell was unable to imagine. Even though Schell acknowledges that it is very unlikely that China’s leaders of the past had planned out the consequences of this system of selfrecrimination and self-rectification, he notes that if China has recognized the power they wield over their citizenry, and if they have chosen to exploit this unique cultural idiosyncrasy, the result would be the furthest evolution of totalitarianism thus far in history: This was the brilliance – if one can use such a word in such a brutal instance – of China’s evolutionary improved form of propaganda that, in the end, made even the USSR’s efforts look rather old-fashioned. Lifton goes so far as to describe what China achieved as “the modern totalitarian expression of a national genius.”22
Although Orwell was unable to imagine exactly how it would be possible for a totalitarian regime to “get inside you,” and he was apparently optimistic enough about the “inviolability of the individual soul” that he had doubts that this ultimate expression of totalitarianism would never come to pass, the case of China proves that it is possible for the State to “get inside you” and control the populace without even the threat of physical coercion. Whereas the United States do not have the same philosophical background as the People’s Republic of China, it would be naïve to think that a Western government would be unable to “get inside” the individual’s head in a similar manner to that of China, or Oceania. Schell recognizes some characteristics in American culture which, if left unchecked, could be exploited in order to implement a similar style of total manipulation that we have already seen occurring in the East: Right here in America, subtler, slicker, and increasingly toxic traits are being annealed onto propaganda through an ongoing process that now
Our Orwell, Right or Left
continues to crossbreed, this time miscegenating not Confuscianism and Leninism but politics, psychology, and commercial advertising, The result is that the kind of open and truthful political discourse so esteemed by George Orwell is being distorted in increasingly alarming ways, putting our vaunted notion of a ‘free press,’ so eloquently delineated by our founding fathers, in greater and greater peril.23
The marriage of psychology and marketing has produced an offspring of remarkably effective advertising campaigns and increasingly manipulative political “spin.” The discovery that lessons learned through the study of the human mind could lead to more effective salesmanship when unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace, for Francine Prose is correct when she states that “clarity of thought and attention to linguistic nuance are essential tools in subverting propaganda.” The only defense against this propaganda is the knowledge of its implementation. The television viewer who is not trained to deconstruct the language of advertising does not think twice when an advertisement tells the untruth that credit cards are more efficient than good, old-fashioned cash – but the television viewer who is privy to the methods of marketing might quickly recognize the fallacy. The Corona advertisement might tug at something at the back of the viewer’s subconscious, creating associations that make them think that they want a Corona – but the informed viewer, aware that they are being manipulated, are better-equipped to resist the manipulation. Likewise, the average American might hear George W. Bush say that if an American does not support his agenda they are thereby supporting terrorism, or might hear a Rush Limbaugh or an Ann Coulter assert that any citizen who doesn’t support the war in Iraq is unpatriotic, or they might read about the ratification of initiatives such as the “Clear Skies Act” and the “No Child Left Behind Act,” and they might not question the logic. What the average American might not realize, however, is that the exact same methods employed by ultra-manipulative commercial advertising are very much at work within the political “spin” machine. The combination of psychology and marketing in politics are hard at work at “selling” a reality to Americans, and in a world with an increased importance of entertainment over objective journalism, it is getting harder and harder for the average person to separate actual reality for the manipulators’ construction of reality. If one still holds any doubt that those in power are attempting intentional mass-manipulation in order to sell the constructed reality of their choosing, consider this: in October of 2004, Ron Suskind interviewed an “unnamed Administration official” who ruminated on the relationship
between the reality-creators in power and those who try to objectively disseminate this “reality”: The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That's not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”24
The aide, who as Mark Danner claims, is “widely known to have been none other than the selfsame architect of the aircraft-carrier moment, Karl Rove,”25 is completely unafraid to reveal how those in power approach the concept of “reality” – it is not what happens around us all, it is what those in power tell us it is. The aforementioned “aircraft-carrier moment” is, of course, the nowinfamous speech that George W. Bush gave on the deck of an aircraft carrier with a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner draped behind him, announcing that the main ground offensive in Iraq was over and had been successful: At first glance, the grand spectacle of May 1, 2003, fits handily into the history of the pageantries of power. Indeed, with it waving banners and thousands of cheering, uniformed extras gathered on the flight deck of the mammoth aircraft carrier, which had to be precisely turned so that the skyline of San Diego, a few miles off, would not be glimpsed by the television audience – this grand event, in its vast conception and its clockwork staging, in its melding of event and image-of-the-event, would have been quite familiar to the great propagandists of the last century…26
These “pageantries of power” prove that the reality that those in power are putting forth – in this case the President, in the midst of a re-election campaign, standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier (in what one would have incorrectly assumed to be the Persian Gulf), and declaring victory in a war that would have no end in sight even approaching five years later – might differ drastically from objective truth. This is only starkly apparent in retrospect, of course, for at the time very few of us had any idea that what we were witnessing had not been news but was, rather, entertainment.
Our Orwell, Right or Left
It is clear, though, that America is neither China nor Oceania just yet. The American people have awakened, “as if from a bad dream,” and they (for the most part) no longer trust information handed down from the Bush administration. It is largely thanks to the freedom of speech and the spread of ideas which the Internet allows that the entertainment-obsessed and corporate-controlled television “news” have not gained a monopoly on information dissemination; the Bush administration has, therefore, not been able to continue to spin their own reality as adequately as they would have liked. Hopefully, now that the American people have experienced the deception and manipulation of the Bush administration’s propaganda machine, they – like George Soros – will know how to recognize it, and alarms will go off when future leaders (be they Republican or Democrat) attempt to “get inside” them. That Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and “The Politics of the English Language” continue to offer lessons that can be applied to ensuring the preservation of freedom and the prevention of totalitarian policy even in the twenty-first century America proves that Orwell truly is, as David Rieff asserted, the rightful heir to Dr. Johnson – the writer who “seems not only to have a finger on the pulse of his or her own era, but also to have something authoritative to say to posterity.”
CHAPTER THIRTEEN THROUGH THE FOG (CONCLUSIONS)
Lionel Trilling was absolutely correct when he declared Orwell a figure – for any writer with so deep a reception history, a reception history so rife with debate over more than a half-century is certainly worth calling a figure; moreover, any writer whose relevancy remains secure even as the world has undergone drastic change is worth calling a major figure. Each individual piece of Orwell’s reception history – whether it be from Lionel Trilling, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Howe, Mary McCarthy, John Rodden, V.S. Pritchett, Thomas Pynchon, Christopher Hitchens, or George Soros – is but a drop of water in an ever-increasing ocean of posthumous revision. Taken in isolation, each drop might magnify certain aspects of the writer’s image, and might yet distort others. Taken as a whole, the heat generated by the arguments in this particular reception history helps create a fog through which the real George Orwell seems hopelessly obscured. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Orwell’s writing might be obscured by the fog of critical reception, but the drive of his life’s work was and still remains very clear: George Orwell was an honest and open political Leftist who refused to become blinded by jingoism or “smelly little orthodoxies.” Due to this admirable “power of facing,” Orwell was able to recognize that the world’s political climate was undergoing drastic change. He realized, before it was too late, that the Communist Soviet Union had been manipulating the good intentions of dedicated Socialists. Without renouncing the ideas of Socialism itself, Orwell very plainly and naturally denounced Communism. Communism, he saw, was a totalitarian threat, not all that different from Fascism or Imperialism – two other political causes that had also been (figuratively speaking, of course) in the middle of Orwell’s rhetorical cross-hairs. In their attempt to prove that Orwell belonged on the Right, many of the critics who have resided there – the Neoconservatives in particular – had seized upon Orwell’s tirades about Socialists and Leftist intellectuals as being evidence that not only did Orwell share their anti-Communist position, but he was as repulsed as the Neoconservatives themselves by those on the Left, and therefore would have developed into a
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Neoconservative if he’d lived longer. What those on the Right fail to acknowledge, however, was Orwell’s reluctance to follow any doctrine or orthodoxy; as Louis Menand writes, “[Orwell] was not looking to make friends. But after his death he suddenly acquired an army of fans – all… eager to suggest that a writer who approved of little would have approved of them.”1 Orwell didn’t always like the Leftists with whom he stood, yet he was able to separate his ambivalence for a position’s adherence from the position itself. His ambivalence toward Leftists does not negate the fact that Orwell was, himself, a Leftist thinker and a Leftist writer. He spoke out vehemently against regimes which he saw as oppressive or totalitarian, and although he was occasionally incorrect with his predictions (such as his claim that Socialism was the only antidote to Fascism, or his prediction of eventual nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union), Orwell always presented his argument clearly, strongly, and, perhaps most importantly, honestly. And perhaps it is that which makes George Orwell a figure worth claiming. David Rieff, writing about Orwell’s relevancy to America in the twenty-first century, claims that an attempt to position Orwell within today’s political spectrum represents a futile and fruitless exercise: To claim that one can deduce from what Orwell said and what one believes he stood for in his own time what he would have thought of the early twenty-first century is either a vulgar quest for an authority to ratify one’s own views, a fantasy about the transferability of the past to the present (itself a kind of narcissistic rejection of the past’s authenticity), or both. We haven’t a clue what Orwell would have thought or what side he would have taken.2
Perhaps Rieff is correct when he discusses the critic’s motivation in attempting a claim upon Orwell, for in many cases (Norman Podhoretz comes immediately to mind) claiming a major figure as influential and revered as Orwell undoubtedly does represent a “vulgar quest for an authority to ratify one’s own views.” To claim that “we haven’t a clue what Orwell would have thought or what side he would have taken,” however, doesn’t ring completely true. Sure enough, we undoubtedly would be grasping at straws if we were to guess what Orwell would have thought about abortion, or gay marriage, or global warming, or any number of the major issues which dominate the headlines of our times, but if we examine who is attempting to claim Orwell and for what reasons, it is fairly simple to discern which side he would have taken. George Orwell, we can all agree, was a pro-Socialist, anti-totalitarian writer whose final five years or so of work were dedicated largely to warning the intelligent peoples of the West about the various ways in
which totalitarianism represents a danger to individual freedom. The concept that we would not know whether he would still reside on the Left or if he would have – as Podhoretz has claimed – become a Neoconservative, is, in light of these facts, simply laughable. The Neoconservative agenda, being represented by the imperialism, the military aggression, and the manipulative propaganda of the Bush administration is so antithetical to the principles which Orwell espoused that it is any wonder that anyone can still wonder where Orwell would have stood if he were alive today.
Albrecht, Katherine and Liz McIntyre. Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID. Nashville, TN: Nelson Current, 2005. Anisimov, I. “Pravda Review of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.” George Orwell: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Jeffrey Meyers. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. 282-83. Ash, Timothy Garton. “Orwell’s List.” New York Review of Books. Vol. 50, Num. 14. September 25, 2003. 5-14. Bentham, Jeremy. “Panopticon.” The Panopticon Writings. Ed. Miran Bozovic. London: Verso, 1995. 29-95. Bersani, Leo. “Pynchon, Paranoia, and Literature.” Representations. Vol. 25, Winter 1989. 99-118. Boot, Max. “The Case for American Empire.” The Weekly Standard. Vol. 007, Issue 5. Oct. 15, 2001. Brown, David. “Personal Big Brother Keeps Streets Safe.” The Independent. London: Nov. 26, 2000. Caine, Michael. Interview with Jay Leno. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. NBC, New York. October 12, 2006. Casino Royale. Dir. Martin Campbell. Perf. Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judy Dench. United Artists, 2006. Cockburn, Alex. “Foreword to Snowballs Chance.” Snowball’s Chance by John Reed. New York: Roof Books, 2002. Danner, Mark. “Words in a Time of War: On Rhetoric, Truth, and Power.” What Orwell Didn’t Know. New York: PublicAffairs Reports, 2007. 16-36. Deutscher, Isaac. “I984 – The Mysticism of Cruelty.” Heretics and Renegades. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1969. 3552. Dick, Philip K. “The Minority Report.” The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol. IV: The Days of Perky Pat. New York: Underwood-Miller, 1987. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Random House, 1975, 1977. Freedom Downtime. Dir. Emmanuel Goldstein. Perf. Emmanuel Goldstein, Kevin Mitnick. 2600 Films, 2001.
Gibson, William. “The Road to Oceania.” The New York Times. New York: June 25, 2003 Gollancz, Victor. “Forward to The Road to Wigan Pier.” The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1958. ixxxii. Gore, Al. The Assault on Reason. New York: Penguin Press, 2007. Graham, Bob. “George Orwell, Big Brother is Watching Your House.” The Daily Mail. London: March 31, 2001. Harcourt-Webster, Adam. “Is Business the Real Big Brother?”. BBC Money Programme. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5015826.stm. Hentoff, Nat. “We’ll All Be Under Surveillance.” Villiage Voice. New York: December 6, 2002. Hitchens, Christopher. “The Liberal Experience of Totalitarianism.” George Orwell into the Twenty-First Century. Ed. Thomas Cushman and John Rodden. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004. 77-85. —. Why Orwell Matters. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Howe, Irving. “Orwell: History as Nightmare.” Politics and the Novel. New York: Horizon Press, 1957. 235-251. Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Chatto and Windus, 1932. Johnston, Philip. “Big Brother Microphones Could be Next Step.” The Telegraph. London: Feb. 5, 2007. Koestler, Arthur. Darkness at Noon. London: Macmillan, 1941. Koman, Richard. “Orwell Denied.” ZDNet. June 18, 2007. http://government.zdnet.com/?p=3237. Massing, Michael. “Our Own Thought Police.” What Orwell Didn’t Know. New York: PublicAffairs Reports, 2007. 174-186. McCarthy, Mary. “The Writing on the Wall.” 1969. The Writing on the Wall and Other Literary Essays. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970. 153-171. Menand, Louis. “Honest, Decent, Wrong: The Invention of George Orwell.” The New Yorker. January 27, 2003. 84-91. Minority Report. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Tom Cruise, Collin Farrell, Max von Sydow. 20th Century Fox, 2002. Norton-Taylor, Richard and Seumas Milne. “Orwell Offered Writers’ Blacklist to Anti-Soviet Propaganda Unit.” The Guardian, London: July 11, 1996. Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Penguin Books, 1946. —. “Charles Dickens.” A Collection of Essays. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. 48-104.
Our Orwell, Right or Left
—. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol. 1, An Age Like This: 1920-1940. Ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. London: Secker and Warburg, 1968. —. Down and Out in Paris and London. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1961. —. “England Your England.” New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. 252-279. —. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1980. —. “In Defense of Comrade Zilliacus.” 1947. Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays. Ed. John Carey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 1247-1253. —. “Inside the Whale.” A Collection of Essays. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. 210-252. —. Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1949. London: Penguin Books, 1989. —. “Notes on the Way”. Time and Tide. March 30, 1940. London. Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays, Ed. John Carey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 252-259. —. “Politics and the English Language.” A Collection of Essays. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. 156-171. —. “The Prevention of Literature”. The Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays and Reportage. New York: Harcourt, 1956. —. “Review of Assignment in Utopia by Eugene Lyons.” New English Weekly, June 9, 1938. Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays. Ed. John Carey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 8991. —. “Review of Spanish Testament by Arthur Koestler.” Time and Tide, Feb. 5, 1938. Reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol. 1, An Age Like This: 1920-1940. Ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. London: Secker and Warburg, 1968. —. The Road to Wigan Pier. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1937, 1958. —. “Shooting an Elephant.” A Collection of Essays. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. 148-156. —. “Such, Such Were the Joys…” A Collection of Essays. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. 2-47. —. “Why I Write.” A Collection of Essays. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. 309-316. —. “You and the Atom Bomb.” Tribune. October 19, 1945. London. Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays. Ed. John Carey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 903-907. Paige, Sean. “New Technology Allows Orwellian Marketing.” Insight on the News. August 6, 2001.
Podhoretz, Norman. “If Orwell Were Alive Today.” Harpers. January, 1983. Reprinted in The Norman Podhoretz Reader. New York: Free Press, 2004. 215-227. Podhoretz, Norman. “Revenge of the Smelly Little Orthodoxies.” National Review. New York: January 27, 1997. Pritchett, V.S. “Books in General.” New Statesman and Nation. October 4, 1957. Prose, Francine. “Slopiness and the English Language.” What Orwell Didn’t Know. New York: PublicAffairs Reports, 2007. 57-66. Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Viking Press, 1973. —. “Introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Raskin, Jonah. “George Orwell and the Big Cannibal Critics.” Monthly Review. Vol. 35, No. 1. May, 1983. 36-43. Ray, Diana. “Big Brother is Watching You – Electronic Surveillance.” Insight on the News. July 23, 2001. Rieff, David. “Orwell Then and Now.” What Orwell Didn’t Know. New York: PublicAffairs Reports, 2007. 3-15. Rodden, John. The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of ‘St. George’ Orwell. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Rushdie, Salmon. “Outside the Whale.” Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism. New York: Viking, 1991. 87-101. Schell, Orville. “The Follies of Orthodoxy.” What Orwell Didn’t Know. New York: PublicAffairs Reports, 2007. xvii-xxxi. Shelden, Michael and Philip Johnston. “Socialist Icon Who Became Big Brother.” Electronic Telegraph. June 22, 1998. Sillen, Samuel. “Masses and Mainstream Review of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.” George Orwell: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. 274-276. Soros, George. “What I Didn’t Know: Open Society Reconsidered.” What Orwell Didn’t Know. New York: PublicAffairs Reports, 2007. 187203. Suskind, Ron. “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” The New York Times Magazine. New York: October 17, 2004. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Dir. George Lucas. Perf: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christiansen, Natalie Portman. 20th Century Fox, 2007. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1937.
Our Orwell, Right or Left
—. The Fellowship of the Ring. London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1954. —. The Two Towers. London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1954. —. The Return of the King. London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1955. Trilling, Lionel. “George Orwell and the Politics of Truth.” 1952. The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2000. 259-274. Vaninskaya, Anna. “Janus-Faced Fictions: Socialism as Utopia and Dystopia in William Morris and George Orwell.” Utopian Studies. v14 i2, Spring 2003. 83-100. Walsh, James. “Marxist Quarterly Review of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.” George Orwell: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. 287-293. West, Patrick. “The Nightmare of Pre-Crime is Already With Us.” The Spectator. London: Nov. 3, 2007. “Where the Rainbow Ends.” TIME. June 20, 1949. New York: Time Warner, Inc., 1949. Williams, Ian. “In Defense of Comrade Psmith: The Orwellian Treatment of Orwell”. George Orwell into the Twenty-First Century. Ed. Thomas Cushman and John Rodden. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004. 45-62 Woodcock, George. The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell. Saint Paul, MN: Black Rose Books, 2005.
NOTES INTRODUCTION – He’s Created a Monster! 1
Norman Podhoretz, “If Orwell Were Alive Today,” Harpers, (January 1983) Reprinted in The Norman Podhoretz Reader (New York: Free Press, 2004) 216. [All subsequent references, marked AT, will be to this edition.] 2 John Rodden, The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Making and Claiming of ‘St. George’ Orwell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) 37. [All subsequent references, marked Rodden, will be to this edition.] 3 Rodden 37. 4 Rodden 37. 5 Rodden 32. 6 Rodden 36. 7 Rodden 36. 8 Rodden 37.
PART ONE: ORWELL AND THE LEFT 1
Ian Williams, “The Orwellian Treatment of Orwell,” George Orwell into the Twenty-First Century, Ed. Thomas Cushman and John Rodden (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004) 45. [All subsequent references, marked Williams, will be to this edition.]
Chapter One: The Left of the Left 1
Thomas Pynchon, “Introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (London: Penguin Books, 2003) vii. [All subsequent references, marked Pynchon, will be to this edition.] 2 There are clues within the text of Gravity’s Rainbow that the obscurity and lack of an organized set of defining symbols, which leads to as many individual interpretations as there are individual readers, is wholly intentional and part of the author’s grand, postmodern scheme – and that the human drive to seek systems of organization, where there might actually be none, is the writer’s target. Pynchon tips his hand a bit when he writes: “He gets back to the Casino just as big globular raindrops, thick as honey, begin to splat into giant asterisks on the pavement, inviting him to look down at the bottom of the text of the day, where footnotes will explain all. He isn’t about to look. Nobody ever said a day has to be juggled into any kind of sense at day’s end.” (Gravity’s Rainbow, 204)
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Leo Bersani, “Pynchon, Paranoia, and Literature,” Representations (Vol. 25, Winter 1989) 113. 4 AT 355. 5 George Woodcock, The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell (Saint Paul, MN: Black Rose Books, 2005) 53. [All subsequent references, marked Woodcock, will be to this edition.] 6 George Orwell, “Inside the Whale,” A Collection of Essays (1946; New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981) 243. [All subsequent references, marked IW, will be to this edition.] 7 Rodden 9. 8 George Orwell, “Why I Write,” A Collection of Essays (1946; New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981) 314. [All subsequent references, marked WW, will be to this edition.]
Chapter Two: The Call For Socialism 1
George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1958) 171. [All subsequent references, marked WP, will be to this edition.] 2 Anna Vaninskaya, “Janus-Faced Fictions: Socialism as Utopia and Dystopia in William Morris and George Orwell,” Utopian Studies v14 i2 (Spring 2003) 84. [All subsequent references, marked Vaninskaya, will be to this edition.] 3 Christopher Hitchens, Why Orwell Matters (New York: Basic Books, 2002) 13. [All subsequent references, marked OM, will be to this edition.] 4 WP 171. 5 WP 172. 6 WP 173. 7 WP 174. 8 WP 216. 9 WP 176. 10 Whereas some of the images which Orwell equates with Socialists – such as “escaped Quakers” and “birth-control fanatics” – seem more difficult to place into a frame of reference by current readers. Others, such as “Bolshevik commissars,” seem to be completely at odds with the “hippie” and “orthodox” images that Orwell presents. 11 Michael Caine, Interview with Jay Leno, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, New York, October 12, 2006. 12 WP 175. 13 WP 173. 14 WP 127-8. 15 WP 157-8. 16 Victor Gollancz, “Forward to The Road to Wigan Pier,” The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1958) ix. [All subsequent references, marked Gollancz, will be to this edition.] 17 Gollancz xiv.
Gollancz xvi. WP 208. 20 WP 188. 21 WP 189. 22 WP 214. 23 WP 189. 24 WP 190. 25 It should be mentioned here that although Orwell doesn’t directly write about nature very often, his pen name is taken from the name of a river in Suffolk, England. 26 Tolkien’s The Hobbit first appeared in 1937, and the Lord of the Rings books – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King – were published in 1954, 1954, and 1955, respectively. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, of course, was first published in 1949. 27 WP 201. 19
Chapter Three: The Totalitarian Threat 1
George Orwell, “England Your England,” A Collection of Essays (1946; New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981) 272. [All subsequent references, marked EE, will be to this edition.] 2 WP 215. 3 WP 211. 4 The Road to Wigan Pier was published on March 8, 1937. 5 WP 212. 6 OM 102. 7 WP 213-4. 8 Although it isn’t discussed here, it should be mentioned that Fascism, as a form of government, seems to appeal in citizens to the same sense of Patriotism in the national citizen as does, for example, Soviet Communism. 9 WP 214. 10 WP 214. 11 George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” A Collection of Essays (1946; New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981) 162. [All subsequent references, marked PEL, will be to this edition.] 12 PEL 162. 13 WP 216.
Chapter Four: Lines of Distinction 1 2
Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista – “Party of Marxist Unification” Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya – “Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia”
Our Orwell, Right or Left
George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1958) 56. [All subsequent references, marked HC, will be to this edition.] 4 HC 56. 5 HC 59. 6 IW 235. 7 OM 56. 8 Lionel Trilling, “George Orwell and the Politics of Truth,” The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent (1952; New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2000) 259. [All subsequent references, marked Trilling, will be to this edition.] 9 Trilling 259. 10 Trilling 260. 11 Trilling 271. 12 Trilling 271. 13 Trilling 260-1. 14 Trilling 261. 15 Trilling 293-4. 16 OM 13. 17 OM 67. 18 OM 158.
Chapter Five: Studies in Dystopia 1
IW 235. George Orwell, Animal Farm (New York: Penguin Books, 1946) 33. [All subsequent references, marked AF, will be to this edition.] 3 AF 103. 4 AF 123. 5 George Orwell, “The Prevention of Literature,” The Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays and Reportage (New York: Harcourt, 1956), 371. 6 George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949; London: Penguin Books, 1989) 37. [All subsequent references, marked 1984, will be to this edition.] 7 “‘Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island,’ as Mackinder had put it, and ‘Who rules the World-Island commands the world.’” – Thomas Pynchon, “Introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (London: Penguin Books, 2003), xii. 8 An accusation made in an editorial in the New York Daily News. 9 Rodden 187. 10 Pynchon vi. 11 Irving Howe, “Orwell: History as Nightmare,” Politics and the Novel (New York: Horizon Press, 1957) 240, 244. [All subsequent references, marked Howe, will be to this edition.] 12 OM 85. 13 In the contemporary political climate, a more accurate term would be “Leftist intelligentsia.” 2
George Orwell. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol. 1, An Age Like This: 1920-1940. Ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. London: Secker and Warburg, 1968. 375 15 Trilling 274. 16 I. Anisimov, “Pravda Review of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwel,” George Orwell: The Critical Heritage, Ed. Jeffrey Meyers (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975) 282. 17 James Walsh, “Marxist Quarterly Review of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell,” George Orwell: The Critical Heritage, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975) 287. 18 Samuel Sillen, “Masses and Mainstream Review of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell,” George Orwell: The Critical Heritage, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975) 392. 19 WW 314. 20 George Orwell, “Review of Assignment in Utopia by Eugene Lyons,” New English Weekly, June 9, 1938, Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays. Ed. John Carey (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) 90. 21 OM 59. 22 Trilling 260. 23 V.S. Pritchett, “Books in General,” New Statesman and Nation (October 4, 1957) 183. [All subsequent references, marked Pritchett, will be to this edition.] 24 OM 84. 25 Vaninskaya 88. 26 HC 104. 27 Vaninskaya 90 28 OM 100.
PART TWO: ORWELL AND THE RIGHT 1 Deutscher, Isaac, “1984 – The Mysticism of Cruelty,” Heretics and Renegades (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1969) 50. [All subsequent references, marked Deutscher, will be to this edition.]
Chapter Six: Thought Control from Beyond the Grave 1
George Orwell, “You and the Atom Bomb,” Tribune, October 19 1945, Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays, Ed. John Carey (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) 906. [All subsequent references, marked AB, will be to this edition.] 2 In “You and the Atom Bomb,” Orwell writes, “We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity… a State which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of
Our Orwell, Right or Left
‘cold war’ with its neighbours.” This was in 1945, two years before the Americans Bernard Baruch and Walter Lippmann had used the term. 3 Rodden 144. 4 WW 314. 5 Salmon Rushdie, “Outside the Whale,” Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, (New York: Viking, 1991) 88. [All subsequent references, marked Rushdie, will be to this edition.] 6 A clarification: the word “Right” in this case is used as a synonym for the word “correct” and not as the political opposite of “Left,” as it is so frequently appears in this study. 7 OM 36. 8 Pritchett 183. 9 OM 46. 10 OM 79-80. 11 OM 101. 12 OM 80. 13 Jonah Raskin, “George Orwell and the Big Cannibal Critics,” Monthly Review, Vol. 35, No. 1. (May, 1983) 38. [All subsequent references, marked Raskin, will be to this edition.] 14 OM 79.
Chapter Seven: Posthumous Superimpositions 1
George Orwell, “Charles Dickens,” A Collection of Essays, (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981) 48. [All subsequent references, marked CD, will be to this edition.] 2 Mary McCarthy, “The Writing on the Wall,” The Writing on the Wall and Other Literary Essays, (1969; New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970) 168-169. [All subsequent references, marked McCarthy, will be to this edition.] 3 Rodden 354. 4 AT 223. 5 George Orwell, “In Defense of Comrade Zillacus,” 1947, Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays, Ed. John Carey (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) 1251. [All subsequent references, marked CZ, will be to this edition.] 6 George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant,” A Collection of Essays, (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1981) 148. [All subsequent references, marked SE, will be to this edition.] 7 SE 149. 8 SE 149. 9 George Orwell, “Notes on the Way,” Time and Tide March 30 1940, London, Reprinted in Everyman’s Library: George Orwell Essays, Ed. John Carey (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) 253. [All subsequent references, marked NW, will be to this edition.]
Chapter Eight: He’s Making a List… 1
Ash was one of the very first contemporary writers to finally view the fabled list that would cause so much undue controversy. 2 Timothy Garton Ash, “Orwell’s List,” New York Review of Books, Vol. 50, Num. 14 (September 25, 2003) 12. [All subsequent references, marked Ash, will be to this edition.] 3 Alex Cockburn, “Introduction to Snowball’s Chance,” Snowball’s Chance by John Reed (New York: Roof Books, 2002) 7. [All subsequent references, marked Cockburn, will be to this edition.] 4 Michael Shelden and Philip Johnston, “Socialist Icon Who Became Big Brother,” Electronic Telegraph (June 22, 1998). 5 Richard Norton-Taylor and Seumas Milne, “Orwell Offered Writers’ Blacklist to Anti-Soviet Propaganda Unit,” The Guardian (London: July 11, 1996). 6 Norman Podhoretz, “Revenge of the Smelly Little Orthodoxies,” National Review (New York: January 27, 1997) 3. [All subsequent references, marked LO, will be to this edition.] 7 LO 4. 8 Ash 5. 9 1941’s Darkness at Noon, another novel that can fairly be labeled “anticommunist propaganda,” is a book about a former Soviet revolutionary who is imprisoned and tried for treason during the Stalinist purges by the very same government which he had helped found. 10 Ash 5. 11 Williams 46. 12 Ash 11. 13 Ash 11. 14 Ash 11. 15 Williams 59. 16 Ash 12. 17 Ash 13. 18 Williams 59.
Chapter Nine: The Neoconservative Agenda 1
LO 3. AT 217. 3 Williams 45-6. 4 AT 217. 5 AT 217. 6 AT 226. 7 AT 226. 8 AT 227. 2
Our Orwell, Right or Left
Williams 50, 53. Christopher Hitchens, “Orwell and the Liberal Experience of Totalitarianism,” George Orwell into the Twenty-First Century, Ed. Thomas Cushman and John Rodden (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004) 84. [All subsequent references, marked LE, will be to this edition.] 11 AT 219. 12 WW 314. 13 AT 221. 14 George Orwell, “Review of Spanish Testament by Arthur Koestler,” Time and Tide (Feb. 5, 1938), Reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol. 1, An Age Like This: 1920-1940, Ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker and Warburg, 1968). 15 OM 99. 16 AT 222. 17 Williams 52. 18 Raskin 38. 19 Max Boot, “The Case for American Empire,” The Weekly Standard. Vol. 007, Issue 5. (Oct. 15, 2001). 10
PART THREE: ORWELL TODAY 1
David Rieff. “Orwell Then and Now,” What Orwell Didn’t Know. (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007) 5. [All subsequent references, marked Rieff, will be to this edition.] 2 Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Viking Press, 1973), 251.
Chapter Ten: Out of Retirement 1
In the 2006 film Casino Royale, a movie that “resets” the James Bond franchise in much the same way that Batman Begins ignored the previous films in that series, Agent 007 is sent to a Monte Carlo-esque resort casino in order to stop a poker player from accumulating enough money to fund a dangerous terrorist organization. 2 Rieff 7. 3 When it became clear that there would be no decisive victory to coda the invasion of Iraq, unlike, for example, the overwhelming victory of the George Bush, Sr.’s first Persian Gulf War, the United States’ collective memory began to be reminded of the endless, bloody war in Vietnam – an unpleasant memory of a tumultuous time in American history. It is very likely that this correlation, in the minds of many citizens, is what contributed largely to George W. Bush’s steadily declining approval rating.
George W. Bush’s approval rating went from a high of 88% in November, 2001, to a low of 31% in June of 2007. Poll information from FOX News Polling Reports, http://www.pollingreport.com/BushJob1.htm. 5 Al Gore, The Assault on Reason. (New York: The Penguin Press, 2007) 2 [All subsequent references, marked Gore, will be to this edition]. “Where the Rainbow Ends,” TIME, (June 20, 1949).
Chapter Eleven: Big Brother is Watching 1
1984 5. 1984 5. 3 Jeremy Bentham. “Panopticon,” The Panopticon Writings, ed. Miran Bozovic (London: Verso, 1995), 29-95. 4 Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison was first translted into English in 1977; the original French title Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison more closely translates to “watch over and punish”. 5 Adam Harcourt-Webster, “Is business the real Big Brother?,” BBC Money Programme. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5015826.stm. [All subsequent references, marked Harcourt-Webster, will be to this edition.] 6 Bob Graham, “George Orwell, Big Brother is Watching Your House,” The Daily Mail (London: March 31, 2001). [All subsequent references, marked Graham, will be to this edition.] 7 Graham. 8 Graham. 9 David Brown, “Personal Big Brother Keeps Streets Safe,” The Independent (London: Nov. 26, 2000). [All subsequent references, marked Brown, will be to this edition.] 10 Diana Ray, “Big Brother is Watching You – Electronic Surveillance,” Insight on the News (July 23, 2001). [All subsequent references, marked Ray, will be to this edition]. 11 Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. 12 Nat Hentoff, “We’ll All Be Under Surveillance,” Villiage Voice, (New York: December 6, 2002). [All subsequent references, marked Hentoff, will be to this edition.] 13 Hentoff. 14 Philip Johnston, “Big Brother Microphones Could be Next Step,” The Telegraph (London: Feb. 5, 2007). [All subsequent references, marked Johnston, will be to this edition.] 15 Although Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre’s book on RFID, Spychips, manages to avoid the invocation of the seemingly unavoidable “Orwellian” comparisons, the words “Orwellian” and “Big Brother” appear numerous times on the book’s website, www.spychips.com. 2
Our Orwell, Right or Left
16 William Gibson, “The Road to Oceania,” The New York Times (New York: June 25, 2003). [All subsequent references, marked Gibson, will be to this edition.] 17 Gibson. 18 Gibson. 19 Ray. 20 Patrick West, “The Nightmare of Pre-Crime is Already With Us,” The Spectator (London: Nov. 3, 2007). [All subsequent references, marked West, will be to this edition.] 21 On comparisons of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World as apt depictions of contemporary British life, West comments that Huxley’s novel depicts “a hopeless populace live not in fear of the state, but is so drugged up as not to notice, or care, that they live in dreadful times.” 22 On “The Minority Report,” West notes that “mutants, or ‘pre-cogs,’ are able to predict a felony that will be committed in the near future, and the police… therefore have to find, apprehend and punish the person who is going to perform the crime.” 23 West. 24 West. 25 Gibson. 26 Harcourt-Webster. 27 Richard Koman, “Orwell Denied,” ZDNet (June 18, 2007), http://government.zdnet.com/?p=3237. 28 Johnston. 29 Ray. 30 Sean Paige, “New Technology Allows Orwellian Marketing,” Insight on the News (August 6, 2001).
Chapter Twelve: Orwell in the Age of Spin 1 Francine Prose, “Sloppiness and the English Language,” What Orwell Didn’t Know (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007) 62-63. [All subsequent references, marked Prose, will be to this edition.] 2 “Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Viking Press, 1973), 251. 3 George Soros, “What I Didn’t Know: Open Societies Reconsidered,” What Orwell Didn’t Know (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007) 202. [All subsequent references, marked Soros, will be to this edition.] 4 1984 343-344. 5 1984 6. 6 Pop culture devotees would also undoubtedly recognize this as a line from the final Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, and the reference is relevant enough to discuss briefly. The Star Wars prequel movie trilogy contains numerous thinlyveiled allegorical references to the current Bush administration. In this case, when
the newly-appointed Darth Vader confronts his old master Obi-Wan Kenobi, the villain exclaims, “you’re either with us or against us.” Kenobi recognizes this as a sign that his old friend has turned to “the Dark Side,” and replies, “only a Sith thinks in absolutes.” 7 Soros 199. 8 Soros 197. 9 Michael Massing, “Our Own Thought Police,” What Orwell Didn’t Know (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007), 175. [All subsequent references, marked Massing, will be to this edition.] 10 Rieff 7. 11 Massing 175. 12 Gore 17. 13 Gore 17. 14 Gore 17. 15 As a fascinating paradox, it can be convincingly argued that Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a news show parody that never claims to be anything but entertainment, might actually be the most honest and informative source for news on American cable television. 16 Massing 175. 17 Orville Schell, “The Follies of Orthodoxy,” What Orwell Didn’t Know (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007), xix. [All subsequent references, marked Schell, will be to this edition.] 18 1984 342. 19 Schell xx. 20 Schell xxiii. 21 Schell xxvi – xxvii. 22 Schell xxix. 23 Schell xxx. 24 Ron Suskind, “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” The New York Times Magazine (New York: October 17, 2004). 25 Mark Danner, “Words in a Time of War: On Rhetoric, Truth, and Power,” What Orwell Didn’t Know (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007), 23. [All subsequent references, marked Danner, will be to this edition.] 26 Danner 22.
Chapter Thirteen: Through the Fog (Conclusions) 1
Louis Menand, “Honest, Decent, Wrong: The Invention of George Orwell,” The New Yorker (January 27, 2003), 85. 2 Rieff 8.