Friday, September 16, 2005

George Orwell: ‘Enigmatic socialist’?

BOOK REVIEW

by Andy Brooks

George Orwell: Enigmatic Socialist: Editor, Paul Flewers, 192pp, £6.00. Socialist Platform, London 2005.

“JUST WHAT the world needs. Yet another book on George Orwell” the editor ironically notes in his introduction but then proceeds to justify this anthology drawn largely from the British Trotskyist press.

The reason, which becomes clear as one reads through these Orwellian essays, is the desire to reclaim Orwell for the “left” following his exposure as a police informer in 1996, coupled with an ongoing desire of British Trotskyists for a literary icon who they can call their own.

Unfortunately for them Orwell, the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, was and remains an icon of the bourgeoisie whose vicious anti-Sovietism far outweighs the left social democratic principles he claims to uphold.

Though a prolific writer, Orwell’s literary fame rests almost exclusively on his two anti-communist satires Animal Farm and 1984. Without them Orwell’s works would still be gathering dust in libraries along with other forgotten Thirties writers. But these two books rapidly became ideological weapons of the Cold War to be quoted by reactionaries and Trotskyists alike in their denigration of the achievements of the Soviet Union and the Stalin leadership.

Almost compulsory reading in British secondary schools, dramatised and televised, 1984 and Animal Farm are Anglo-American imperialism’s equivalent of the Protocols of the Council of Zion. All are works of fiction.
The only difference is that the Protocols were used by the Czarists and later the Nazis to justify the persecution of Jews while Animal Farm and 1984 was used to justify the anti-communist witch-hunts that swept America and western Europe in the 1950s.

Orwell’s “socialism” is indeed “enigmatic” for Trotskyists because he was never a revolutionary socialist or indeed a follower of Leon Trotsky. Though he fought fascism in Spain and sided with the Spanish Trotskyist opposition, Orwell clearly did not believe that the working class was the engine of change. Workers are either the bleating “sheep” of Animal Farm or the powerless “proles” of 1984 who are bought off with a diet of cheap gin, pornography and rigged national lotteries. Nor does he have much hope for a revolutionary vanguard. The animals’ farm is run by greedy pigs while the “Oceania” of 1984 is led by a cynical and venal “Inner Party” of brutes and psychopaths.

The chief pig, “Napoleon” is clearly meant to be Joseph Stalin but at the farm the Trotsky-like equivalent is “Snowball” who helps himself to the milk and apples with the rest of the pigs when the animals take over. In 1984 Stalin is, of course, “Big Brother” while “Emmanuel Goldstein” fulfils Trotsky’s role though in this case Goldstein’s “book” is apparently a creation of the secret police and his whole underground resistance a honey-trap set up by those dreaded “Thought Police”.

This is not the place for a detailed critique of Animal Farm or 1984 and though the contributors to this book focus largely on these novels their approach is, needless to say given where they’re coming from, one-sided.

So what is the use of this book? Well if you are unfortunate enough to have to study Orwell’s novels for English Literature at school or college this fully annotated book is an excellent source to pillage and plunder. If your teacher or lecturer is not familiar with the authors you might even get away with passing off some of the observations as your own!