Monday, 27 January 2020
Orwell that ends well
It is 70 years since Eric Arthur Blair’s death and the BBC has been marking it with an excellent series of radio essays, documentaries and dramatisations of his life. His massive contribution to political discourse can hardly be overstated, with many of the words and expressions he coined still in regular usage and his own pen name used to describe the worst excesses of totalitarianism. Newspeak, thought crime and doublethink are pressed into service every time somebody invokes the Orwellian dystopia that some see in the world today.
But his opus, 1984, a book which, despite its name being common currency for the intrusion of state into every facet of people’s lives, hasn’t been read or understood by anywhere near as many people as use its language, was not really the prophecy many lazily think it was. It was in fact, like all of his writing, commentary on what was actually happening, as he saw it. His telescreens weren’t futurology because television had been around for over a decade when he died, but if he was prophetic about anything the smart-spy in your pocket is a manifestation of his nightmare vision.
For all the warnings over extreme surveillance of citizens’ actions, sentiments and thoughts, those most engaged in ‘the resistance’, the young, are those most likely to carry the secret agents of IngSoc in their pockets. I use IngSoc as a cypher not for English Socialism, as in the book, but for big ‘S’ socialism generally. Because, wherever it has been attempted, small ‘s’ socialism soon becomes capital. S for socialism, S for state and when the state owns you, little good ever comes of it.
And it is little wonder that this always happens, given that socialism, in Marxist theory, is a mere transitional state between the overthrow of capitalism and the institution of full Communism. Orwell’s Animal Farm was a commentary on Stalin’s pursuit of exactly this goal and yet still the left refuse to see. Orwell was that rare breed, a leftie who opened his eyes and realised that the enemy was not ‘the right’. The enemy was/is totalitarianism from whatever source. He saw the Hitler/Stalin pact and realised that these supposed opposites were actually allies in the aim of bringing the people under control.
But what about the rise of the far right, the much-feared and vaunted evil which is said to be on the march across Europe? The terms left and right, politically, derive from the French Revolution where those loyal to the king sat on the right of the president of the National Assembly, while on the left were the revolutionaries; those who would wrest control from the monarchy. I see the logical extreme of rightism as the very opposite of the mobs of socialism, with all the power vested in one, divine-like entity, the king or queen.
Which means, in my book, that mass organised movements are necessarily of the left, of revolution of – in their eyes – progress away from the status quo. It stands for upheaval and it attracts ideologues. Whereas the right stands for tradition, small ‘c’ conservatism and stability and it attracts older, possibly wiser, certainly less volatile types. Those who are, perhaps, more satisfied with the society they have played a major hand in shaping to its present form, those with misty memories of the unformed thinking of their younger days.
George Orwell is watching you
The atomisation of society into more-finely defined identity groups plays into the grasping hands of both sides. The more you lot squabble amongst yourselves the more ‘they’ win and it is the left, almost universally, who spend the most time squabbling. This is one of the things that Orwell observed and one of the sources of his despair. He rejected the devotees of Marxism even as some of them would claim him for themselves. But his message, his thoughts, his warnings are for everybody. So, do yourself a favour and instead of forever accepting what others say he wrote, read the bloody book and work it out for yourselves.