The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

George Orwell -- Reactionary? October 15, 2004 by RedStar2000

When I was a high school student -- more than 40 years ago -- we had to read two books by the English writer George Orwell: Animal Farm and 1984.

These works are still on the "approved" (compulsory) reading lists for high school students throughout the English-speaking world.

Why is that?


I am with the "critics" on this one.

Orwell may or may not have "considered himself" a "democratic socialist"...people can consider themselves lots of things.

But Animal Farm and 1984 are both very poorly written and politically reactionary.

In Animal Farm the animals allow a new ruling class (pigs) to "take over" without any resistance. The obvious implication is that any attempt by humans to establish an egalitarian social order is "doomed to fail".

In 1984, the "proles" are a bunch of "louts" capable of riot but never of revolution.

Both books imply that as bad as things are now, any attempt to significantly change them "will only make things even worse".

That's reactionary...and is very much the reason why those two books began to be taught in high schools in the McCarthy era and continue to the present day.

You see, if Orwell had merely wished to "attack Stalin", there were many ways he could have done that. His real target was revolution itself.

Before those two books, he was a pretty decent writer; then he decided to become a capitalist hack.

Has he lived a few years longer, I think he would have written one of those nauseating "I choose the West" (capitalism) pieces that polluted the public discourse in the 1950s.

As to their "literary" merits, I think his characters were "cardboard" and his plotting contrived and simplistic. They're most suitable for episodes in "Godless Commies" (see the comic book thread in History).
First posted at Che-Lives on October 9, 2004


I don't see how either book implied that any attempt to change things "will only make things worse." AF implied that after the Bolshevik attempt to change the social order, things were the same, except pigs were in charge instead of humans. Even if he had argued that things were worse, it wouldn't necessarily follow that he was arguing that any attempt to change anything would end up with the same results.

I think you are being excessively literal here; he didn't actually have to say "give up; it's hopeless" or "revolutions just make things worse".

An implication is exactly that. If you present a sequence of events in such a way as to invite the reader to draw a certain conclusion, you don't actually have to "spell it out".

Nor, as a writer of fiction, could Orwell take refuge in the historian's reasonable defense -- "I'm just reporting what actually happened in the Bolshevik revolution". The writer of fiction can alter events as he pleases...but it pleased Orwell to offer gloom and despair.

Note further that Orwell offers no explanation for the events in either book. The pigs and "Big Brother's" party are "just evil"...that's the way people "really are".

Yet another reason to "forget that revolution stuff".

I don't think you can find so much as a line in either book that suggests any reason to hope for, much less fight for, a "better" world.

Moreover, insofar as both books caricature the "USSR" as "the 9th level of Hell", the obvious conclusion one is "pointed towards" is to defend capitalism as it stands.


Do you think the Russian Revolution resulted in socialism?

No, I think the best term for Russia, China, etc. is "state monopoly capitalism."

But whatever terminology one wishes to employ with regard to the USSR, I don't think Orwell had much interest in that sort of thing. I think his real message is that "resistance and revolution are just wrong...especially if they win".

And that, as I said, is a reactionary message.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 10, 2004


Why don't you guys read Homage to Catalonia before you guys make assumptions about him?

Because we're talking about Animal Farm and 1984...the last things he wrote and the ones that are virtually compulsory reading for kids today.

He was a pretty decent writer prior to those two books; then he became a hack.


So how did the way that Orwell presented a sequence of events invite you to reach the conclusion that revolutions are bad and shouldn't be attempted? If he had meant to portray revolution as good, but the degeneration of the Russian revolution as bad, in what way could he have done this that differed from what he did?

Since he was writing fiction, he could have easily introduced characters that spoke in favor of the revolution's original purposes and pointed towards a future in which revolutions did not "degenerate".

That is not what he wanted to do.


AF and 1984 weren't intended to offer hope.

Precisely my point! And precisely why bourgeois educational systems love those shitty books!


Do you think he should have put a positive, not-so-gloomy-and-desperate spin on Stalinism and another form of totalitarianism?

1984 is also "about" Stalinism.

And it's not simply a matter of a less gloomy "spin" on Stalinism, it's a matter of his denial of the possibility of effective resistance.


The point of AF was not [to] explain why things turned out [the way] they did.

Then what's the point...other than to invite the reader to draw the conclusion that "this is what happens when revolutions win"?


The point was to show that things turned out really shitty.

Music to the ears of the bourgeoisie.


...many of the aspects of 1984 are aspects of Orwell's own society (and ours, too).

Only the "official" corruption of political vocabulary ("Newspeak") is paralleled in our own time or in his...and even that is very far from what he envisioned in 1984.

I know that some Orwell fans attempt to justify 1984 by saying that it's "also" about capitalism...but that won't work.

All the "totalitarian" cliches clearly point in the direction of the, in the last analysis, we "must" defend capitalist "freedom" from "communist tyranny".


It's a criticism of what they are not. If he had wanted to add a line in either book that suggests hope for a better world, he would have.

Again, you're just repeating what I have already said.

The only difference is that you think their anti-revolutionary gloom doesn't necessarily make them shitty books.

I do.


1. The Stalinist government is bad.
3. Therefore capitalism should be defended.

What's number two that is so obvious to you, but escapes me?

2. This is what always happens when you try to overthrow capitalism.


Unfortunately, you haven't provided any real evidence for this thought, aside from unsubstantiated assertions and leaps of logic.

Unfortunately, you wish to ignore the message of the two books for your own reasons...none of which you've put forward.

Perhaps you agree with the message?
First posted at Che-Lives on October 12, 2004


On a side note, do you really feel you need to defend the USSR? It's not exactly a shining example of even socialism (at the time that Orwell was writing the books in question, particularly 1984) let alone communism.

The USSR is certainly not what I want...ever again.

Nevertheless, I balk at capitalist ideologues (like Orwell) who portray it as "the lowest circle in Hell".

Most Russian workers led far better lives under Stalin than they would have under the Czar...or under Karensky. Not to mention the fact that Russia would have utterly collapsed under the Nazi boot if either of those charming and refined gentlemen had been running things.

In fact, "defending" the USSR under Stalin is very much like what we do now in defending Cuba against U.S. imperialism and the gusanos.

We don't want to "imitate Cuba"...but we recognize the fact that the vast majority of Cubans have materially benefited under the revolution -- something that would not have happened under Batista and his logical successors.

You know as well as I that there were material reasons why communism was impossible in Russia then or Cuba now.

Orwell was not interested in that sort of thing; he saw a "world" run by "villains"...and successful revolutionaries were, in his view, the worst of the lot.

Consider: if Orwell had wanted to write a work on "how to get it right", could he not have done so?

Even in the form of fantasy, would it have been so difficult to portray a sequence of events where the Stalin-wannabes were defeated in their efforts? Where the "proles" were not "stupid louts" but fully capable of running a modern classless society?

Perhaps his declining health and the hardships of war-time Britain deepened his gloom to the point where he no longer was capable of imagining a better world...only a worse one. That's understandable.

What's so hard for me to understand is why "lefties" should praise those reactionary books?
First posted at Che-Lives on October 12, 2004


The sheep, well, they were the sheep who blindly followed the pigs.

Is that what people are really like?

"Blind followers"?

In that case, wouldn't revolution be an exercise in futility?

And isn't that exactly what the ruling class wants people to believe?


He was saying, "here is what is possible, do something before it happens". He was not saying anywhere that socialism was a bad thing.

That "something" was, by implication, defend capitalist "freedom".

It's true that the word "socialism" never occurs in either book (to the best of my memory).

But both books are so clearly meant to refer to the USSR that he hardly had to spell out the word.

Ask yourself this: if either work had been targeting capitalist totalitarianism, do you think for a second that any high school kid would have ever even heard of those books?

It would have been "easy" for Orwell to re-cast both of those books in that fashion had he wished. There's a closing scene in Animal Farm where the pigs are shown walking on two legs and having dealings with humans...why not insert a clearly pro-capitalist conversation between them?

And in 1984, why not mega-corporations instead of a "party" and "Big CEO" instead of "Big Brother"?

You know why.


What Orwell really thought was,
1. The Stalinist government is bad.
2. Don't try and emulate them.
3. Attempt Socialism some other way.

Number 3 is completely speculative; there's nothing in either book that even hints at such a "possibility".


His criticisms only ever fell on those who were (after the revolution) too fearful to stand up for their convictions, or retained the mindset of "ruler and subject".

I don't know about that one; I think his implication is that both despotisms were "inhumanly strong"...simply "too powerful" to resist.

At best, I think you could say he pitied those who were crushed (the horse, the couple)...but I don't detect any critical attitude towards those who submitted.

I mean, what else could you expect from "sheep"?


Especially given his time in Spain, I fail to see how you conclude that he thought poorly of all revolutionaries.

Well, those two books were written after he was in Spain...where the anarchists were defeated and the communists were despotic and incompetent.

He expresses some sympathy for "Old Major" (Lenin?) in Animal Farm. There are no revolutionaries "on stage" in 1984 at all, just the despotic "party".

And, of course, there are no anarchists in either book.

So, broadly speaking, I think his equation was: successful revolutionaries = Stalinists = despots.


Although my own interpretation was that this was the main character's opinion of the Proles, rather than a statement of the author's belief.

As I recall, the "marketplace riot" scene actually caused a brief stab of hope in the protagonist...he seemed to have had some fuzzy kind of faith in the proletariat. It's the author's narrative -- it was only a meaningless riot -- that drives home the message of despair.


Surely a man who helped the anarchists in Spain wouldn't seriously think such things?

History is rich in examples, unfortunately, of people who "couldn't possibly" think or do this or that...and who nevertheless did think or do exactly that.

I think that's why Marx thought it was so important for revolutionaries to concentrate their attention on what people actually do instead of concerning ourselves with their self-descriptions or their rhetoric of convenience.

What Orwell did was write two books in service to the capitalist class.

When communism revives to the point that it becomes a serious factor in public discourse, both will be made into Hollywood "blockbusters".

Bet on it!
First posted at Che-Lives on October 13, 2004

quote (Orwell in 1946):

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. 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.

Where's the "for democratic socialism" part?

Where's the "animal soviet"? Where's the resistance movement in 1984 fighting for democratic socialism?

Good grief, there was an active resistance movement (several of them, in fact) even in the 3rd Reich!

Why isn't that stuff in those books?

Did his publishers or his heirs or both fuck with the manuscripts? Did they remove the parts that "wouldn't sell"?

In fact, that statement of his in 1946 is quite...odd, when you actually think about it.

He doesn't oppose "democratic socialism" to undemocratic capitalism.

Instead, he opposes it to "totalitarianism"...and what the hell is that supposed to mean?

Since he used the word in 1946, it must have already been in common least among intellectuals.

But why did he choose that particular word?

Was he already aware then that "totalitarianism" was a new "buzzword" coined to equate fascism and Stalinist "socialism" as the common enemy of "democratic" capitalism?

Was he confused? (It was a confusing time.)

Or had he made what he thought of as a "strategic" decision?

Did he "reason" thusly? Under Stalin and his like, there's "no hope" for "democratic socialism". On the other hand, under "democratic capitalism" it's still possible that "democratic socialism" might be re-born. Therefore, I'll pound the Stalinists as hard as I can and leave the capitalists alone.

If so, it's a sad illustration of what always happens when lefties try to "outsmart" the capitalists at their own game.

The capitalists are professionals at the manipulation of public opinion; lefties are bumbling amateurs by comparison.

So guess who wins?

Orwell's "strategic" books have been used to teach anti-communism for more than a half-century...and there's no sign that the practice will end any time soon.

Without so much as a hint of "democratic socialism".

quote (Animal Farm):

"If you have your lower animals to contend with," he said, "we have our lower classes!" This bon mot set the table in a roar; and Mr. Pilkington once again congratulated the pigs on the low rations, the long working hours, and the general absence of pampering which he had observed on Animal Farm.

Not bad, but where's the profit motive? The pigs are made to look "evil" but it's not clear that, in fact, there's a reason behind the "low rations, long working hours, and the general absence of pampering".

Mr. Pilkington needed to make the point explicit: "You pigs have really given us humans a sharp lesson on how to turn a profit!"

But if a line like that had appeared, would high school kids have found Animal Farm on the "approved (compulsory) reading list"?


Because [1984] was written as a warning against all forms of totalitarianism. If you read it closely, you will see that there are three super states which rule the world. While not much is said about the others, it is obvious that they are all totalitarian states as well. It gets to a point where it doesn't matter if the totalitarianism is "socialist" or "capitalist", they are both the same.

To be honest, I do remember the "three super-states" but I don't remember if any of them are or claim to be capitalist.

In fact, I don't think words like capitalism, socialism, or communism even appear in the book.

But whenever Orwell speaks of the "players" in the "Big Brother" society, it's always the party, the state, the ministry of this or that...never a privately-held corporation.

Nor is there ever any suggestion of an economic motive for what takes place. Production of consumer goods steadily falls...what happens to the diverted resources? Perhaps this was supposed to be an early critique of "command economies"?

I think Orwell had a "vision" of what Stalinism "would be like" after many decades or even a century...and that's what he was "warning against".

Living in the age of the American Empire, his "warning" appears quite foolish...and reactionary.

Even in 1946, he ought to have known better.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 14, 2004
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