Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), better known by his pen
name George Orwell, was an English author. His work is marked by a
profound consciousness of social injustice, an intense dislike of
totalitarianism, and a passion for clarity in language.
Considered "perhaps the 20th century’s best chronicler of English culture", he wrote works in many different genres including fiction, polemics, journalism, memoir and critical essays. His most famous works are two novels: Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
While Orwell liked to
provoke argument by challenging the "status quo", he was also a deep
traditionalist with a love of old English values. He criticised and
satirised, from the inside, the various social milieu in which he found
himself - provincial town life in A Clergyman's Daughter; middle
class pretention in Keep the Aspidistra Flying; preparatory schools in
Such Such were the Joys; the "atmosphere" of colonialism in Burmese
Days, and Socialist groups in the Road to Wigan Pier. In his
Adelphi days he described himself as a "Tory-anarchist".
The Road to Wigan Pier,
published by the Left Book Club, gave Orwell's his biggest sales of a
work to date and in Part 2 he stated his credentials by raising the
class issue, describing his disillusionment as a colonial policeman and
explaining his days on the road with tramps. In this work he states his
idea of socialism as "a real Socialist is one who wishes - not merely
conceives it as desirable, but actively wishes - to see tyranny
overthrown". However it was the Spanish Civil War that played the most
important part in defining his socialism. He wrote to Cyril Connolly
from Barcelona on 8 June 1937: "I have seen wonderful things and at last
really believe in Socialism, which I never did before". Having witnessed
the success of the anarcho-syndicalist communities, and the subsequent
brutal suppression of the anarcho-syndicalists and other revolutionaries
by the Soviet-backed Communists, Orwell returned from Catalonia a
staunch anti-Stalinist and joined the Independent Labour Party.
In his 1938 essay, "Why I
joined the Independent Labour Party", published in the ILP-affiliated
New Leader, Orwell wrote "For some years past I have managed to make the
capitalist class pay me several pounds a week for writing books against
capitalism. But I do not delude myself that this state of affairs is
going to last forever", going on to add "the only régime which, in the
long run, will dare to permit freedom of speech is a Socialist régime.
If Fascism triumphs I am finished as a writer - that is to say, finished
in my only effective capacity. That of itself would be a sufficient
reason for joining a Socialist party." And towards the end of the essay,
"I do not mean I have lost all faith in the Labour Party. My most
earnest hope is that the Labour Party will win a clear majority in the
next General Election."
was later to add, in "Why I Write" (1946), "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
At the time, like most
other left-wingers in the United Kingdom, he was still opposed to
rearmament against Nazi Germany — but after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact
and the outbreak of the Second World War, he changed his mind. He left
the ILP over its pacifism and adopted a political position of
"revolutionary patriotism". He supported the war effort but detected
(wrongly as it turned out) a mood that would lead to a revolutionary
socialist movement among the British people. "We are in a strange period
of history in which a revolutionary has to be a patriot and a patriot
has to be a revolutionary," he wrote in Tribune, the Labour left's
weekly, in December 1940. During the war, Orwell was highly critical of
those in Britain who believed an Anglo-Soviet alliance would be the
basis of a post-war world of peace and prosperity (a popular idea in
many circles at the time). In 1942, Orwell commenting on the out-spoken
pro-Soviet leaders in The Times written by E. H. Carr stated that: “all
the appeasers, e.g. Professor E. H. Carr, have switched their allegiance
from Hitler to Stalin”.
In his reply, dated 15
November 1943, to a letter from the Duchess of Atholl inviting him to
speak for the League of European Freedom, he stated that he was not in
agreement with that body’s ultimate objectives. He admitted that what
they said was "more truthful than the lying propaganda found in most of
the press" but added that he could not "associate himself with an
essentially Conservative body” that claimed to "defend democracy in
Europe" but had "nothing to say about British imperialism". His closing
paragraph stated "I belong to the Left and must work inside it, much as
I hate Russian totalitarianism and its poisonous influence in this
He joined the staff of
Tribune as literary editor, and from then until his death was a
left-wing (though hardly orthodox) Labour-supporting democratic
socialist. He canvassed for the Labour Party in the 1945 general
election and was broadly supportive of its actions in office, though he
was sharply critical of its timidity on certain key questions and
despised the pro-Soviet stance of many Labour left-wingers.
According to biographer
John Newsinger, although Orwell "was always critical of the 1945-51
Labour government's moderation, his support for it began to pull him to
the right politically. This did not lead him to embrace conservatism,
imperialism or reaction, but to defend, albeit critically, Labour
Newsinger also considers
that "the other crucial dimension to Orwell's socialism was his
recognition that the Soviet Union was not socialist. Unlike many on the
left, instead of abandoning socialism once he discovered the full horror
of Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union, Orwell abandoned the Soviet Union
and instead remained a socialist--indeed he became more committed to the
socialist cause than ever."
Between 1945 and 1947, together with A. J. Ayer and Bertrand Russell, he contributed a series of articles and essays to Polemic, a short-lived British "Magazine of Philosophy, Psychology, and Aesthetics" edited by the ex-Communist Humphrey Slater.
Although he was never a
Trotskyist, he was strongly influenced by the Trotskyist and anarchist
critiques of the Soviet regime and by the anarchists' emphasis on
individual freedom. He wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier that 'I
worked out an anarchistic theory that all government is evil, that the
punishment always does more harm than the crime and the people can be
trusted to behave decently if you will only let them alone.' In typical
Orwellian style, he continues to deconstruct his own opinion as
'sentimental nonsense'. He continues 'it is always necessary to protect
peaceful people from violence. In any state of society where crime can
be profitable you have got to have a harsh criminal law and administer
Orwell had little
sympathy with Zionism and opposed the creation of the state of Israel.
In 1945, Orwell wrote that "few English people realise that the
Palestine issue is partly a colour issue and that an Indian nationalist,
for example, would probably side with the Arabs".
While Orwell was
concerned that the Palestinian Arabs be treated fairly, he was equally
concerned with fairness to Jews in general: writing in the spring of
1945 a long essay titled "Antisemitism in Britain," for the
"Contemporary Jewish Record." Antisemitism, Orwell warned, was "on the
increase," and was "quite irrational and will not yield to arguments."
He thought "the only useful approach" would be a psychological one, to
discover "why" antisemites could "swallow such absurdities on one
particular subject while remaining sane on others." In his magnum opus,
Nineteen Eighty-Four, he showed the Party enlisting antisemitic
passions in the Two Minute Hates for Goldstein, their archetypal
Orwell was also a
proponent of a federal socialist Europe, a position outlined in his 1947
essay 'Toward European Unity', which first appeared in Partisan Review.
Orwell publicly defended P. G. Wodehouse against charges of being a Nazi sympathiser; a defence based on Wodehouse's lack of interest in and ignorance of politics.