Sorry, No. You Are Not Living In Oceania Airstrip One.

Cover of "Nineteen Eighty-Four"From my comrade Terry Glavin:

If we are to turn to the great George Orwell in this hour of our NSA Deep-State Surveillance Machine disorientation – is it even possible that the Washington Post and the Guardian could have mucked things up this badly? – the overwhelming evidence is against the claim that it should be Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I set out my case in the Ottawa Citizen today: Big Brother Isn’t Watching You.

If it’s Orwell’s guidance we need at the moment – and when would Orwell’s counsel not come in handy? -a far more pertinent text might be Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, the essay that synthesizes Orwell’s lifelong concerns about the mortal perils of euphemism and the virtues of precision and plain speaking.
It was Orwell’s habit to rail, as he does in that essay, against the sort of rhetoric that can “make lies sound truthful.” To allow that journalism is quite capable of performing that ugly trick, too, is to be led directly to the sort of journalism underlying the NSA-PRISM rumpus at hand, which now consists mainly of a great unraveling of a whole lot of mischief made by the reliably sinister Glenn Greenwald, the creepy Laura Poitras and the sad little paranoid.
I’m banging on a bit about Orwell in the Citizen today not only because everybody keeps bringing him up but also because I’m a bit of an Orwell anorak. I taught a course on Orwell’s life and legacy in my stint as the University of Victoria’s Harvey Southam-Stevenson Lecturer in Journalism a couple of years ago. Don’t get me started because I won’t shut up.Orwell’s legacy of integrity and honesty is not a torch that has been picked up by the Washington Post and the Guardian in recent days. Snowden can’t even claim to be a “whistleblower” in any conventional meaning of that venerable term. He has exposed no wrongdoing, shed light on no lie, and exposed no criminal act. There has been edifying contemplation and reflection, mind you. For instance Christian Caryl’s thoughtful and illuminating essay in Foreign Policy, composed around the question: What’s Worse? The NSA or the East German Stasi? Avert your gaze to avoid this spoiler: “Definitely the Stasi.”

[READ THE REST]

In search of Jarj Arwil

Lovely article:

Bihari Days

By ABHISHEK K CHOUDHARY | 1 April 2013
Debapriya Mookherjee looks on as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar bows before a bust of George Orwell during his 2012 visit to Motihari.
IN 1983, British journalist Ian Jack travelled to the town of Motihari in Bihar to visit the place where George Orwell was born. In a piece published in 1984 in the Sunday Times, titled “In search of a Jaarj Arwil”, Jack recounted that locals were clueless that their town was the writer’s birthplace, and that it took a string of enquiries before he finally found the opium godown where Orwell’s father, Richard Blair, had worked as an employee of the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. Orwell, whose birth name was Eric Blair, was born in quarters nearby in 1903.

But Jack may have been exaggerating when he wrote: “I found that nobody, save the district magistrate, had ever heard of Orwell.” “The first time I read Orwell was in college [in the early 1970s],” recalled Debapriya Mookherjee, a soft-spoken businessman of 57, when I met him at his Motihari residence this February. But Mookherjee admitted that it was only after Indian publications ran accounts of Jack’s visit that he learnt that his hometown was also the birthplace of the author ofNineteen Eighty-Four. (more…)

Published in: on April 21, 2013 at 9:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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Covered up

That’s from the cover of by a new “Great Orwell” edition of George Orwell’s 1984, newly published by Penguin and designed by David Pearson, featured in Creative Review.

Meanwhile, last month “marked the 130th birthday of pioneering Austrian sociologist, philosopher, and curator Otto Neurath, who in the 1930s, together with his wife Marie, invented ISOTYPE — the vintage visual language of pictograms that gave rise to modern infographics.” Check out some interesting examples via Maria Popova.

 

This day in 1903: George Orwell born

109 Jahre George Orwell

“I was born in 1903 at Motihari, Bengal, the second child of an Anglo-Indian family. I was educated at Eton, 1917-21, as I had been lucky enough to win a scholarship, but I did no work there and learned very little, and I don’t feel that Eton has been much of a formative influence in my life…”
Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 9:56 am  Comments (1)  
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75 years ago today: Orwell flees Spain

The square in Barcelona re-named in honour of George Orwell

On the morning of June 23rd 1937, George Orwell boarded a train at Barcelona station with his wife, Eileen, and two companions, John McNair and Stafford Cottman. The train was bound for the French border and Orwell (or Eric Blair – he had yet to adopt his now famous nom de plume) was posing as a wealthy English businessman travelling with his wife and associates. In reality, they were fugitives, hunted not only by the fascist forces they’d come to Spain to fight, but also by the communists. McNair was leader of a contingent of fighters organised by the Independent Labour Party (ILP) who had left England to try and stem the rising fascist tide. This small group of revolutionaries and idealists – one among many such groups from all over the world –included Orwell. Prior to boarding the train that morning he had spent much of the previous six months in the trenches until a sniper’s bullet pierced his throat. By the time he’d sufficiently recovered to leave hospital, the internal divisions within the anti-fascist forces had shattered whatever slim chances they’d had of defeating Franco and his allies. [READ THE REST, from Jim Bliss]

Published in: on June 23, 2012 at 8:05 am  Comments (1)  
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75 years ago: Homage to Catalonia (and Orwell’s hotel tips)

…They had taken my rifle away again, and there seemed to be nothing that one could usefully do. Another Englishman and myself decided to go back to the Hotel Continental. There was a lot of firing in the distance, but seemingly none in the Ramblas. On the way up we looked in at the food-market. A very few stalls had opened; they were besieged by a crowd of people from the working-class quarters south of the Ramblas. Just as we got there, there was a heavy crash of rifle-fire outside, some panes of glass in the roof were shivered, and the crowd went flying for the back exits. A few stalls remained open, however; we managed to get a cup of coffee each and buy a wedge of goat’s-milk cheese which I tucked in beside my bombs. A few days later I was very glad of that cheese.

At the street-corner where I had seen the Anarchists begin firing the day before a barricade was now standing. The man behind it (I was on the other side of the street) shouted to me to be careful. The Civil Guards in the church tower were firing indiscriminately at everyone who passed. I paused and then crossed the opening at a run; sure enough, a bullet cracked past me, uncomfortably close. When I neared the P.O.U.M. Executive Building, still on the other side of the road, there were fresh shouts of warning from some Shock Troopers standing in the doorway—shouts which, at the moment, I did not understand. There were trees and a newspaper kiosk between myself and the building (streets of this type in Spain have a broad walk running down the middle), and I could not see what they were pointing at. I went up to the Continental, made sure that all was well, washed my face, and then went back to the P.O.U.M. Executive Building (it was about a hundred yards down the street) to ask for orders. By this time the roar of rifle and machine-gun fire from various directions was almost comparable to the din of a battle. I had just found Kopp and was asking him what we were supposed to do when there was a series of appalling crashes down below. The din was so loud that I made sure someone must be firing at us with a field-gun. Actually it was only hand-grenades, which make double their usual noise when they burst among stone buildings. …

 

Orwellia addendum

One more to add to these.

The end not yet in sight: Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ 75 years on

March 8th marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s 1937 landmark The Road to Wigan Pier, a work of extreme candor on pre-war poverty in England. It is a cherished snapshot of the North in the 1930s, and The Observer, among others, have been nostalgic   in printing pictures from the area for the commemoration of Orwell’s journey.

As an Orwell scholar, my interest in Wigan Pier is largely in the role it played in the road to Animal Farm and 1984. But the anniversary of the publication comes at a pertinent time – during what is the worst economic hardship since just after the Second World War. It is now being asked if Wigan Pier can be used to address present anxieties. Would Orwell think his original argument still stands for current poverty in the North of England and beyond? [READ THE REST]

Published in: on March 15, 2012 at 6:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Orwellia

Orwell on the 99%

From Gene at HP:

An entry in George Orwell’s War-Time Diary for 3 June 1940:

From a letter from Lady Oxford to the Daily Telegraph, on the subject of war economies:

“Since most London houses are deserted there is little entertaining… in any case, most people have to part with their cooks and live in hotels.”

Apparently nothing will ever teach these people that the other 99% of the population exists.

Lady Oxford was Margot Asquith, widow of Herbert Henry Asquith, prime minister from 1908-1916.

The Scotsman: I’d no idea who George Orwell was, says doctor who treated him

HE was one of Britain’s leading political writers, famous for novels including Animal Farm and Burmese Days. But to a young Scottish junior doctor unaware of his identity, the quiet middle-aged man was just another patient. Within weeks, Dr James “Jimmy” Williamson found himself at the forefront of medical treatment in Scotland helping administer a revolutionary new “miracle drug” to George Orwell.

The author used his political and literary connections and royalties from Animal Farm to obtain the drug from the US. In 1948, Orwell, then 44, became the first person in Scotland to be treated with streptomycin, which was unlicensed in Britain and too expensive for the post-war government to ship in.

The writer, who had been living in a remote farmhouse on the island of Jura to help try to improve his health, was admitted to Hairmyres Hospital, near Glasgow, under his real name Eric Blair, for treatment for infectious chronic tuberculosis.

Professor Williamson, 91, from Edinburgh, recalled the novelist sitting in bed working on Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell jumbled the numbers of the year 1948 to produce one of the most famous titles of the 20th century, introducing words such as “Big Brother” and “doublespeak” to international audiences. “He’d been in the hospital for about two weeks for investigation of his tuberculosis before I arrived. I’d never heard of him. Then one of the nurses told me he was a well-known writer.

“I remember he was in a double room and he would be sitting up in bed with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth typing away most of the time. He smoked almost all the time, was sort of addicted to tobacco and rolled his own cigarettes. Lots of people in hospitals smoked in those days, even the doctors. The noise from the typing didn’t seem to cause any bother with the other patient and they got on very well together.”

Professor Williamson remembers Orwell bravely undergoing painful treatment. “We would chat about his condition and he would do what you wanted him to do. But he was highly strung and we had to give him treatment which involved air being injected into his abdominal cavity. This upset him a lot but he didn’t complain.”

However, more drastic remedies were required and in February 1948 Orwell wrote to his publisher David Astor saying his specialist had told him “it would speed recovery if one had some streptomycin. He suggested that you, with your American connections, might arrange to buy it and I could pay you.” Astor contacted Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan, who had been Orwell’s editor at the Tribune, checking this would not cause a political row.

But after a few weeks Orwell developed a severe allergic reaction to the drug and treatment stopped. Orwell donated the remaining supply to the hospital. Orwell’s health deteriorate further and he died in January 1950 – six months after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Iain Macintyre, a former vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and co-author of Scottish Medicine – An Illustrated History, which includes details of Orwell’s stay at the hospital, said: “There is an irony that Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm, was in a position to be able to take medical advice to go to Jura and then to obtain streptomycin.

“But when it’s your life on the line you try everything you can to save it.”

David Streitfeld: Amazon, Up in Flames

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” George Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” In “Animal Farm,” he concluded that revolutions are inevitably betrayed by their leaders. His novel “Burmese Days” ends with the hero killing himself because he is unfit to live in this sour world. He shoots his dog too.

As a rule, modern civilization disappointed Orwell when it did not actually sicken him. But in at least one respect he was way too optimistic. Bookselling, he wrote in Fortnightly in November 1936, “is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.”

Jump forward three-quarters of a century, and a certain Seattle-based combine is being accused of exactly that. All sorts of merchants, but particularly booksellers, were infuriated by Amazon’s effort before the holidays to use shops on Main Street and in malls as showrooms for people to check out items before ordering them more cheaply online. The retailer’s refusal to collect sales tax is a persistent grievance. Independent booksellers have even been forced into the novel position of hoping that their one-time foe, Barnes & Noble, survives so that it can serve as a bulwark against Amazon. Publishers, if anything, are more fearful than booksellers.

Now take a look at the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek two weeks ago. It shows a book in flames with the headline, “Amazon wants to burn the book business.” What was remarkable was not just the overt Nazi iconography but the fact that it did not cause any particular uproar. In the struggle over the future of intellectual commerce in the United States, apparently even evocations of Joseph Goebbels and the Brown Shirts are considered fair game.

From Amazon’s point of view, the cover is incorrect even if you disregard any Nazi connotations. What would be the use to Amazon of a charred hulk? It does not want to destroy the book business, but simply to reinvent it — or, as its opponents would have it, seize control of it. (Amazon declined to comment.) [READ THE REST]

Deccan Herald: George Orwell’s birthplace lies in tatters, encroached

The house where Orwell was born on June 25, 1903 and spent his infant days till his parents migrated to England next year, vividly tell the story of neglect as thick vegetation has mushroomed in the six-acre premises.

The walls surrounding the house have been covered with piles of loose bricks, many of which have been taken away by the locals for their use. The vast open field in the walled structure where some dilapidate godowns (used during the British rule for storage of opium cultivated at the instruction of the colonial rulers) stand in dilapidated condition and the entire area is filled with garbage even as some unauthorised huts have sprung up.

All that is left to the memory of the legendary British author is his bust made of white stone and the foundation stone outside the gate of his house which get a symbolic facelift to mark his birth and death anniversaries.

The Rural Works Department (RWD) executive engineer Harendra Pratap said that Orwell’s house has been lying in a dilapidated state and the premises was encroached by local people. “We are unable to construct a proposed second gate at the structure due to encroachment by the locals,” he told PTI.

The Motihari Nagar Parishad Prakash Asthana also said that Orwell’s house has been lying in bad shape, but claimed that the renovation of the house will begin soon upon release of funds by the state government. There is definitely a project underway to renovate the house and give it a facelift as larger plan to development the British litterateurs house as a tourist destination, he said.

Bihar Art, Culture and Youth Affairs Minister Sukhda Pandey said that her department had released Rs 32.70 lakh to the district administration for beautification of Orwell’s memorial structure and construction of road, drainage and boundary wall sometime back and utilisation report sought. She said that a reminder will be issued soon to the district administration in this regard. On the encroachment in the British author’s house and the premises being used for residence by school teacher, Pandey said that she has also received complaints in this regard on which she has sought a report from the district magistrate. Maintaining that Orwell’s house was a treasure of Bihar, the Art, Culture and Youth Affairs Minister said that all steps will be taken for protection and development of the historical and monumental structure which, she said, will be developed as a tourist destination.

Mainichi Japan: Teahouses in Myanmar a reflection of George Orwell’s ‘good is bad’

I went into many tea shops while I was in Myanmar. Each time, I looked around to see if any suspicious person was listening to my conversations with my tour guide and other people I got acquainted with there.

Teashops in this country, where freedom of speech has been restricted for many years, are places for not only relaxation but also exchanges of information, and I heard that secret police officers and tipsters were deployed to these places.

Several years ago, a U.S. female journalist published a report on Myanmar titled, “Secret Histories,” and its Japanese translation published by the Shobunsha publishing house drew attention from many Japanese readers. The writer followed in the footsteps of British novelist George Orwell (1903-50), who worked as a police officer in Myanmar for five years when the country was under Britain’s colonial rule. She identified Myanmar as a country with national monitoring under dictatorship that Orwell depicted in his futuristic novel “1984.”

The author wrote that she felt as if she had stepped into the world depicted by “1984.” She undoubtedly viewed teashops as the core of Myanmar’s monitoring network. Her book is subtitled, “Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop.”

However, Japanese experts agree that Myanmar is a loose society. “Although authorities regulate speech, ordinary people don’t feel the situation confining. It’s far from the world of ‘1984,’” says Toshihiro Kudo of the Institute of Developing Economies. I felt the same way.

A monitoring device called a “telescreen” has been extended throughout the society depicted in “1984.”

Sophia University professor Kei Nemoto says, “Britain, which has installed hundreds of surveillance cameras, is the democratic version of a country with national monitoring depicted by Orwell.”[...]

[T]here is no doubt that many difficult problems that Myanmar currently faces derive from Britain’s colonial rule. At the time, Britain gave important posts to ethnic Karens to repress ethnic Burmese. In other words, Britain ruled Myanmar by preventing different ethnic groups from joining hands in rising in revolt against it. The Burmese restored control over Myanmar when a democratic administration was formed when the country won independence. However, Karens and other ethnic minorities went into an armed struggle with the government to win separation and independence.[...]

After Myanmar won independence and withdrew from the British Commonwealth, the socialist administration led by General Ne Win concluded that regulations requiring cars to travel on the left side of the road, a legacy of British rule, were inconvenient and dangerous, and switched to a right side of the road system, according to the guide. Some people say Myanmar did this as a result of fortune-telling, but it is widely viewed that it did so out of antipathy against Britain.

Pro-democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi wrote in her column in the Mainichi Shimbun in June 1996 that the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the military regime’s top decision-making body at the time, sounds as if its name had been given by Orwell, and sarcastically praised clauses in a law called, “Decree No. 1, 1990,” as great sentences like those by Orwell.

Suu Kyi studied in Britain and married a British national. It is natural that the leadership of the military regime, who had been eliminating the legacies of British rule, had antipathy against Suu Kyi who loudly called for Western-style democracy and talked about Orwell. [...]

Britain, Myanmar’s military regime and the Burmese dynasty did almost the same things. In the words of George Orwell, “Good is bad, Bad is good.” I think this is true.

Keep calm, occupy, and have a pint

Let’s start with two snippets from the mainstream media. This morning on Radio 4, DJ Tayler, Orwell biographer, was talking about the Orwellian quest for the perfect pub. You can listen in some parts of the world here, or read about it here.

A roaring open fire. The bartender knows your name. Your pint of draught stout comes in a china cup. Did George Orwell have the recipe for the perfect pub?

Who knows who you might bump into in the perfect pub

… In an article written for the London Evening Standard in 1946, he produced a detailed description of his ideal watering-hole, The Moon Under Water, which “is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights”.

The Guardian has a nice photo gallery of posters from the Occupy movement, with an emphasis on the retro look. Here’s one:

Turning to the alternative, Entdinglichung has a round-up of the latest in German on the Marxist Internet Archive, as part of the on-going project of bringing socialistica to the masses.

He also introduces to a great archival website called Workerscontrol.net, which “aims to be a virtual open library for the collection and access to documentation and theoretical essays on past and current experiences of workers’ control”. Material in a few languages by Cornelius CastoriadisKen Coates & Tony TophamAntonio GramsciKarl KorschRosa LuxemburgErnest MandelPaul MattickAnton PannekoekOtto Rühle, and Leon Trotsky, as well as stuff like “The Universe of Worker-Recovered Companies in Argentina (2002-2008): Continuity and Changes Inside the Movement” and “The South London Women’s Hospital Occupation 1984-85“. Check it out.

But my favourite is this post of old papers, as it has a nice greeting to me, as well as nice newspaper images: (more…)

Orwell v Huxley

From Flavorwire:

Although 1984 and Brave New World are hardly the only great dystopian novels of the 20th century (hi there, Margaret Atwood), George Orwell and Aldous Huxley may well have shaped most English-language readers’ nightmare visions of the future. So it makes sense to contrast Orwell’s world of constant war and government thought control with Huxley’s drug- and entertainment-pacified society. You may have done just that in a high-school paper, but the folks behind the documentary #Kill Switch have created a graphic that examines the ways in which each author’s predictions have come true over the past few years. Click here to see a larger version. [via BlackBook on Tumblr]

Published in: on November 15, 2011 at 11:42 am  Comments (1)  
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Orwell, Tribune, etc

Today’s links come from what are almost certainly the best three British socialist blogs, Shiraz Socialist, Tendance Coatesy, and Paul Anderson’s Gauche.

SURVIVAL PLAN AGREED FOR TRIBUNE

Tribune editor Chris McLaughlin has just sent me this:

Staff, management and the National Union of Journalists have agreed a last-minute plan to stave off closure of Tribune. At the end of talks ending Friday evening, it was agreed that the title should become a co-operative. Publisher Kevin McGrath has offered to take on historical debts and release the title “debt free” and told the meeting that he would do everything possible to help the success of the transfer to a co-operative. Terms are to be drafted in time for a full meeting of the Tribune staff, which has to approve the deal, on Monday.

This is good news, but it’s going to take a serious recapitalisation of the paper, a great deal of work and a measure of luck to rescue it. Circulation is down to 1,200, which isn’t a sustainable level. To get it back to 5,000, which is roughly what it needs to be to generate the sales and advertising income to employ journalists and production staff, it will have to spend a lot on promotion (and do it intelligently).

I don’t buy the argument that a democratic left weekly that generates most of its income from selling printed copies is doomed to fail. Tribune‘s core political stance – socialist, egalitarian, democratic, libertarian – remains as relevant as ever, and it is less marginalised in Labour politics than at any time since the early 1990s. And if it concentrates its efforts on direct debit subscription sales rather than desperately trying to break into newsagents, it has at least a decent chance of re-establishing itself commercially. Subs-based print periodicals can thrive in the internet age, particularly those with a niche market – witness the London Review of Books and Prospect.

But it is going to need money. I’ve no idea what target for funds the paper will announce next week, but I think that something like £500,000 is what’s required. That’s rather more than I’ve got in my piggy bank, but it’s not much more than the price of a semi in Neasden – and it’s not beyond reach. If 200 people stump up £1,000 and 400 put in £500, there’s £400,000 in the kitty, which would be quite enough to make a decent start on reviving the old lady.

WHY TRIBUNE MATTERS

 Paul recalls a 1988 column:

DIG DEEP, DEAR READER, DIG DEEP
Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 22 January 1988

[...] But for all its faults, Tribune has been a vital part of the British left’s political culture — and as such a vital part of Britain’s culture.

Being part of some British political tradition does not, in itself, guarantee the usefulness of an institution: look at the House of Lords, the monarchy and much more besides. That Tribune has in the past had a role does not necessarily mean that it has one now. I believe it does have one, and that’s not simply because my job is on the line.

Tribune is the only open forum for debate among supporters of the British Labour Party and the Labour-sympathetic left. All the arguments of the British democratic left take place in its pages. Unlike others, the paper is not afraid to give space to unfashionable opinion. On the assumption that a democratic, discursive movement of the left is necessary for the left to have any success, Tribune is utterly essential.

Orwell in Tribune

Orwell in Tribune: ‘As I Please’ and other writings 1943-47 edited by Paul Anderson (Methuen, £14.99)
Orwell and Marxism:The political and cultural thinking of George Orwell by Philip Bounds (I. B. Tauris. £52.50)

By Richard VintenTimes Literary Supplement (Aug 2009)

More than any other British author of the twentieth century, George Orwell has escaped from his own time.[...]

The articles he wrote for Tribune between 1943 and 1947 are gathered into a single volume with an excellent introduction by Paul Anderson.[...] publication of the Tribune articles is useful because Orwell wrote for the paper at a time when he was writing Animal Farm and thinking about Nineteen Eighty-Four. His article on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, a book which is sometimes seen as a model for Nineteen Eighty-Four, appeared in January 1946, though any reader of the Tribune articles will conclude that Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution was a more important influence on Orwell’s thinking.

For most of this time, large parts of the British Left, including some of the other writers for Tribune, were pro-Soviet. More importantly, support for the Soviet alliance was part of the official policy of both Britain and the United States. In short, Orwell’s most famous books need to be understood against the backdrop of Yalta rather than that of, say, the Berlin airlift. The Tribune articles show how intermittent anti-Americanism, suspicion of the British ruling classes and distaste for the realpolitik of the great powers were blended with a personal dislike of Stalinism. Orwell repeatedly drew attention to facts about the Soviet Union that were inconvenient to the Western Allies; he wrote, for example, about the mass rape of women in Vienna by Russian soldiers. An article of September 1944 about the Warsaw Uprising is particularly striking; in it he asked why the British intelligentsia were so “dishonestly uncritical” of Soviet policy, but he also suggested that Western governments were moving towards a peace settlement that would hand much of Europe to Stalin.

If the Tribune articles tell us mainly about Orwell after 1943, Philip Bounds sets him against the fast-changing political backdrop to his whole writing career. In the mid 1930s, the Communist International turned away from “class against class” tactics to encourage Popular Front alliances of anti-Fascist forces. This position changed with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, then changed again with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. These gyrations produced odd consequences in Britain, a country in which there was not a large Communist party (though there were some significant figures who, as Orwell put it, believed in the Russian “mythos” ) and in which the most important leaders of the Labour Party were not tempted by an anti-Fascist alliance with the Communists. The Popular Front was supported by an odd coalition that ranged from Stafford Cripps to the Duchess of Atholl.

Orwell opposed the Popular Front, or, at least, he was rude about its English supporters. During the Spanish Civil War he fought with the non-Stalinist POUM rather than the International Brigade (joined by most Communists). He reversed his position overnight in 1939: he claimed to have dreamt of war and then come downstairs to see the newspaper reports of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. He supported the war against Hitler and became an eloquent defender of patriotism though he also thought, at least in 1940 and 1941, that the British war effort might be combined with a revolutionary transformation of British society. His position was sometimes close to that of Trotskyists and he quoted the Trotskyite slogan “the war and the revolution are inseparable” with approval in 1941. Orwell’s interest in Trotsky, however, seems to have been rooted in a sympathy for outsiders and in the sense that, to quote his friend Malcolm Muggeridge, “Trotsky blows the gaff” on the Soviet Union. Orwell did not believe that Russia would necessarily have been less repressive if ruled by Trotsky rather than Stalin. He was not much interested in Marxist theory and his remark, apropos of T. S. Eliot, that Anglo-Catholicism was the “ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism”, was probably designed to annoy Trotskyites as much as Anglo-Catholics.

Bounds covers all of Orwell’s writing – the early autobiographical novels and exercises in fictionalized autobiography as well as the better-known works – and tries to trace the themes that run through them all. In particular, he argues that, for all of his anti-Soviet talk, Orwell was influenced by Communist or fellow-travelling writers. This influence was masked by his general cussedness and by a capacity for annexing the ideas of authors he had once denounced; for example, he wrote a savage review of The Novel Today (1936) by the Communist Philip Henderson. However, Orwell’s remarks about modernism in his essay “Inside the Whale” (1940) seem to owe something to Henderson’s assault on literature that avoids “the urgent problems of the moment”. Orwell even transports the same rather laboured joke from Punch – about the young man who tells his aunt “My dear, one doesn’t write about anything; one just writes” – from his 1936 review to his 1940 essay. The changes in Communist strategy made Orwell’s relations with its cultural commentators all the more complicated. Sometimes he seemed to draw on ideas expressed by Communist writers during the “class against class”
period to attack the Popular Front, and then to draw on the Popular Front’s discovery of national culture to attack Communists after the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. [READ THE REST]

Christopher Hitchens, Acknowledging the Legislators.

Christopher Hitchens has the gift of  making you want to listen. Simon Hoggart, he recalls in conversation  after theMunk Debate, once suggested that he should write as  he spoke. This advice he has followed. The collection of republished  pieces in Arguably shows this trait in every page. Keeping a  few furlongs ahead of the reading public with his table-talk about  the giants of English and American Literature, World and National  Politics, History, Totalitarianism, Wine, Song and Women, he pauses,  at it were, to fire shots at a variety of seated ducks. Diagnosed  with cancer, and conscious of his mortality, he does not just grab  attention: he is good company. [READ THE REST]

Pete Carter “airbrushed from history” by Morning Star

“Despite differences between sections of the left, what unites us in our struggles is the collective wish for a better world for working class people” - Gerry Kelly

Pete Carter, building workers’ union organizer, former Communist Party youth leader, Communist Party industrial organizer, and (later in life)  a committed environmentalist, will be cremated today.

Pete Carter

The Guardian published an obituary.

The Morning Star hasn’t even mentioned his passing.

Gerry Kelly – a former IS’er  who doesn’t share Carter’s politics – expresses his disgust at the Morning Star‘s sectarianism :

I was a shop steward on Woodgate Valley B in 1971-2 and worked with Mick Shilvock there. Pete, Shilvock, Phil Beyer and me struggled together in Brum to kill the lump and organise the building workers.

Pete was the best working class orator I ever heard and was a great organiser. We had a couple of years in Birmingham in which we fought a desperate struggle, acheived some great victories and also had some laughs. Pete was an inventive class warrior and we carried out some stunts that publicised our cause and made us laugh as well. [READ THE REST]

A letter from Orwell, this day in 1948

Scurry writes:

And finally, I enjoyed this 1948 letter from George Orwell, which is mainly about 1984. But the last paragraph on Sartre is a gem!

Published in: on October 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Was George Orwell a fan of News of the World

I totally missed this.

It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose and open the News of the World.

See also:

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Orwellian 2: All his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children

Inappropriate Plank: How much does free news cost?

Feeling hungry. Read Just add cheese:

Going in a bit of a different direction, I read a really cool quote I read today that I loved from the the opening of the book Heat, by Bill Buford and thought I would share….

“A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion….Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.”

- George Orwell,The Road to Wigan Pier.

Published in: on July 2, 2011 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spanish Civil War: British volunteers lists available for the first time

Via Shiraz, I see this. Some snippets:

Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) KV5/118

Eric Blair is better known as George Orwell, author and journalist. Orwell’s work includes 1984, Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his personal account of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. [At Poumista]

image 1

John Cornford KV5/119

John Cornford was a Cambridge–educated poet. He fought initially with the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) and saw action at Perdiguera and Aragon in 1936 before falling ill and returning to England. He quickly returned, having recruited several friends, to join the English Battalion of the International Brigades, and was badly wounded at the Battle of Madrid in November 1936. He was killed at the battle of Lopera on 27 December 1936, shortly after returning to the front. [At Poumista]

Robert ‘Bob’ Doyle KV5/120

Bob Doyle was an Irish member of the International Brigades. He was captured in 1938 at Calaceite, near the Aragon front, along with Irish Brigade leader Frank Ryan. After spending 11 months in a concentration camp he was among those exchanged for Italian prisoners of war. He died at the age of 92 on 22 January 2009. [At Poumista]

Frank Ryan KV5/130

Frank Ryan, a prominent member of the IRA, led a group of Irish volunteers to fight with the International Brigades in Spain. He fought at the Battle of Jarama and was seriously wounded in March 1937. He was later captured and imprisoned by Nationalist forces before being released to the Germans in 1940. [At Poumista]

Rorscach test

Orwell the Rorschach Test

June 24, 2011

TOMORROW MARKS THE 108TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF GEORGE ORWELL, WHO WAS BORN IN INDIA, THEN UNDER THE BRITISH RAJ. While unquestionably his literary output places him within the ranks of the most well-received writers of all time, his politics has always had people guessing, often not happy with the established view that he was of the Left.

Even the MI5, who had been monitoring him for two decades, admitted they were unsure of how to pin his views. A special branch report had noted Orwell advancing what they called “communist views” around some of his Indian friends, had wore ‘bohemian dress’, and while not part of the Communist Party orthodoxy, was a “bit of an anarchist”.

The MI5 officer in charge also read Orwell’s literature in order to try and gain a concrete idea of his political persuasion. On reading, among other things, The Lion and the Unicorn, it was his contention that “he does not hold with the Communist Party nor they with him”.

However the text many highlight, Why I Write, seems to have the answer: “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”.

Have Orwell enthusiasts been satisfied with this admission? Quite the contrary. Rather than being the answer everyone wants, it is often only the point of departure when trying to figure out the political Orwell. [READ THE REST]

Other links:

Kevin Keating versus Stephen Schwartz and Stuart Christie. On Rosa Luxemburg’s letters: Timothy Snyder, Andrew Coates, Christopher Hitchens.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm  Comments (5)  

Orwellianism in the consumer age

“a real Socialist is one who wishes – not merely conceives it as desirable, but actively wishes – to see tyranny overthrown”. -George Orwell

First, some Orwellian material, and below the fold some other recent gleanings.

Jen Campbell: weird things customers say in bookshops #4

Customer: Do you have a copy of 1986?
Me: 1986?
Customer: Yeah, Orwell.
Me: Oh – 1984.
Customer: No, I’m sure it’s 1986; I always remember it because it’s the year I was born.
Me: …

Do not buy this book if you’re expecting to find out anything at all about 1984, as this writer seems to have been living on a different planet. I was trying to do a bit of research into the influence of New Wave on cross-over dance music in the Mid-Eighties, but I found “1984” a complete waste of time… Jackson’s “Thriller”?(the soundtrack of the summer, and the biggest selling album of all-time) – not mentioned; Frankie Goes To Hollywood (their breakthrough year leading to world pop domination) – not a whisper; Style Council? (Not Paul Weller’s finest hour, but still an honest nod to the white soul roots of Mod culture) – you’d have thought they didn’t exist if you read this book. Nik Kershaw? Ray Parker Junior? Sister Sledge? Nope, nope nope. Instead this man seems to have moped around in his room and at work, watching some kind of depressing news channel (was his remote broken? This isn’t explained – but you’d have thought they’d have had MTV on at least one of the channels in his office). Orwell completely fails to capture the uplifting vibe that was the pop explosion of the summer of ’84… maybe he lived in Norwood. 0 Stars.
Oh, and don’t read “the Road to Wigan Pier” either, as we drove around for ages last August Bank Holiday before asking a traffic warden, who said that the sea was about 30 miles away, by which time it was too late. I don’t think Orwell had actually ever been to Wigan. What does he do – just sit in his room making this stuff up for kicks or something? 0 stars also.”

More serious reading matter: James Bloodworth: Orwell was one of us // Jeffrey Wasserstrom: Orwell v Huxley.

Or listening matter: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, read by Jeremy Northam.

Image: Lisa Jane Persky (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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Today in 1937: George Orwell shot

George Orwell Wounded by a Fascist Sniper
The Spanish Civil War, near Huesca
20 May 1937

I have been about ten days at the front when it happened. The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think it is worth describing in detail. (more…)

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 9:51 am  Comments (3)  

Poummm

The Road to Wigan Pier

Image via Wikipedia

Paul Stott: History Retold: From Wigan Pier To The Paris Commune

Two interesting uses for Twitter and Blogging.

Seventy five years on, the people behind the Orwell Prize website have been reposting daily extracts from George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier. The format seems to suit Orwell perfectly, and to take one example – his description of Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, is evocative to anyone who has every visited a sight out of season.

A second use of this method comes from Alex Butterworth, who is tweeting a daily update of events at the Paris Commune, reproducing the voices of the participants – shame we know how it ended!

And a third to mark 200 years on from the days when the Luddites rioted across the north and the midlands - even would you believe, in Wilmslow!

Jim D at Shiraz Socialist:

Of course, the New Statesman has form. Back in the 1930′s it refused to publish George Orwell’s writings on the Spanish Civil War for fear of offending the Comintern and their local agents. Orwell never forgave the then-editor Kingsley Martin, a supple-spined “left” power-worshipper who seems to have uncannily prefigured both Peter Wilby (editor 1998-2005) and the present incumbent Jason Cowley.

The final straw, for me,  came last week with an edition edited by upper class “wadical” Jemima Kahn, largely devoted to promoting the preening anti-semitic loon Julian Assange and other posh friends and relatives like her Tory brother Zac Goldsmith and her ex-hubby Hugh Grant. The high-spot of the issue is Jemima’s own interview with her friend  Nick Clegg , who wails, “I’m not a punchbag: I have feelings.”

Rosie Bell:

On the left there is a hero gap.  Che is dead, Castro too old, Ortega is compromised, and Chavez is a bit of a buffoon. Enter Assange to fill the space.  His appearance adds to the mystique.  He is pale, and looks slightly alien and that along with his giant computer-like brain gives him the air of someone from a science fiction world, some sister planet of Vulcan where they have not evolved pointed ears.  He came as the man of mystery and enigma.

Also:

Witty anarchists: Red Star Commando on Marxism and anarchism. Anarchist jokes.

Earnest Trotskyists: Lenin and James Connolly on the Dublin labour war of 1913. Peter Taaffe on Eric Hobsbawm. SOYMB on Chris Bambery. (OYMB not the earnest Trots – Bambery is!)

Alternative socialist traditions: Andrew Coates on GDH Cole, guild socialism and Blue Labour, and via him an interesting Guild Socialism blog, with posts on Karl Marlo and loads more.

Towards a theory of radical history: Dave Osler on generations, and the 2010 generation of radicals.

Unrelated: Dali and the Jews.

War, and class war

Photo from my current favourite blog, Bertram Online.

Libya

An individual, a group, a party, or a class that “objectively” picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. – Leon Trotsky The Balkan Wars 1912-1913 (Sydney: Pathfinder Press, 1980), pp.292-293.

So starts Sean Matgamna, in his recent intervention on intervention.

David Osler is also very interesting on Libya and the ortho-left, responding to Eamonn McCann  in Socialist Worker.

More surprisingly, Gilbert Achcar agrees with Matgamna. Jim writes:

Gilbert Achcar, a member of the mainstream (“Pabloite“) Fourth International, refuses to scab on the Libyan revolutionaries… other “revolutionaries” aren’t happy

Here’s what Gilbert says [...] writing in International Viewpoint

Barry Finger comments on Achcar and “anti-imperialism”, here.

The Orwell Prize

I have no doubt George Orwell would have taken the same line as Matgamna and Achcar. I have little doubt he would not have been pleased with many of the recent Orwell Prize for blogging long listees. I suspect he would agree with HarpyMarx‘s assessment that “Orwell Prize blogger longlist, with 1 or 2 exceptions, is just full of media privileged luvvies or journos who should b in journo section!”

I think Orwell would not have been upset about Sunder Katwaler‘s or Cath Elliot’s longlistings (he would have liked Katwala on cricket I think, and taken up cudgels for Cath against the Morning Star). He would have been pleased about David Osler’s (second?) longlisting.

And he would have been OK with Paul Mason’s (second?) longlisting. Mason writes:

Getting myself longlisted yet again for the Orwell Prize (and good luck to all the real bloggers who don’t have a mainstream media pension, salary and self-censorship training to fall back on)… made me ask: what single bit of Orwell’s writing I would recommend to somebody starting a blog, or studying journalism?

Actually it’s Inside The Whale, where Orwell takes apart the literary industry of the late 1930s, concluding that of 5,000 novels published, 4,999 were “tripe”. He does this sandwiched between two lengthy eulogies to a book that, at the time of writing, was banned – and banned in the 1930s meant impounded at Dover and burned, to be found only in the secret cupboards of anarchists and wierdos.

The book in question is Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller – a strange choice of book to praise for a man who’d just come back from the Spanish Civil War and who, with the Dunkirk fiasco, believed Britain was entering a “revolutionary period”.

Musing on this very point, Orwell concluded that Miller had probably founded a new school of writing with this one book, and its successor Black Spring:

“In Miller’s case it is not so much a question of exploring the mechanisms of the mind as of owning up to everyday facts and everyday emotions. For the truth is that many ordinary people, perhaps an actual majority, do speak and behave in just the way that is recorded here. [...]

Orwell sensed that at some point people would start writing about ordinary life in ordinary language, dramatising the ordinary, peeling back layer upon layer of literary finesse, pretension, writing-school prose, irony etc.

The blog is the logical outcome.

And like the novels of 1940, the vast majority of blogs are mediocre, “tripe” as Orwell might have said. But they are mostly attempts at honesty – whether literary or non-fictional.

I give you two excerpts, both from fellow longlisters, writing about the same recent event: (more…)

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