Happy death-day, George Orwell

As I write it’s still (just) George Orwell Day, the 63rd anniversary of his untimely death in 1950.
Ironically, for a man of such flinty integrity, Orwell has been misunderstood and misinterpreted since his death, especially by being involuntarily enlisted in the Cold War on the anti-communist side. Orwell was generally honest, even when history proved him wrong, which is more than you can say about many pundits these days, who are not fit to clean his type-writer ribbon with their tongues. He also wrote out of his life’s experience: of poverty, war, the Empire and politics, and hardly anyone today does that.
Orwell was,of course, a socialist. By modern standards, he was so far to the left that few socialist parties these days would have him as a member. Indeed, he argued in The Lion and the Unicorn (1940) that the only way that Britain could successfully resist a German invasion would be as a result of a political revolution, which would throw out a ruling class he thought was irredeemably rotten. Yet he was also a fierce opponent of the Soviet Union, not least because its agents had tried to have him killed in Spain.
It’s not really a paradox. Orwell believed that the ruling class, at least in Britain, would eventually give up, and allow a peaceful transition to socialism. The modest accomplishments of the 1945 Labour government, like the Welfare State and the National Health Service, seemed to him to demonstrate that things had at last started on the right track. There was thus no need for a revolution of the kind the Communists were suggesting.
He was wrong, of course, and I think he would have been astonished how quickly the modest achievements at the end of his life were rolled back, and how spineless the alleged parties of the Left showed themselves. Knowing Orwell, he might well have changed his views, had he lived to see the Thatcher counter-revolution and what followed. Ironically, this is one area where Orwell was naive: he had more faith in the ordinary people of Britain, and even in their rulers, than either has since justified. A sad thought about a great man on his death-day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s