What I've been reading

Orwell, Collected Essays. I bought a set of these years ago, but lost Volume 3, which I’ve just replaced. It still stands up very well after all these years, and has lots of fascinating stuff to dip into, such as a defence of English cooking.

Orwell is one of those writers, like Shakespeare, who lots of people have tried to claim, particularly during the Cold War. I was particularly interested therefore, to read his very level-headed assessment of the British Communist Party and his observation that its fluctuating membership was inversely proportional to the extent to which it embraced revolutionary politics and to which Russian and British foreign policy was in conflict. However sharp his phraseology at times, Orwell always stood against heresy-hunters, and he would certainly have recognised the kinship between McCarthyism and Stalinism.

36 thoughts on “What I've been reading

  1. Did anyone notice the egregious Hendo in today’s SMH engaging in his favourite sport of spinning history? Big Brother would have been proud.

    According to Hendo, the New Guard were some sort of grown-up boy scouts, unlike Laurie Aarons and his fellow commos who were itching to follow in the blood-soaked footsteps of Feliks Dzherzhinsky and Lavrenti Beria. Yes, the fact that the Australian comrades engaged in non-violent industrial organising rather than mass murder merely shows how cunning and dangerous they truly were.

    It seems according to Hendo that the New Guarders, while keen on uniforms, violent, armed, organised along military lines and inclined to bash strikers, bohemians or anyone deemed different, didn’t wear swastikas. To be a fascist, you apparently needed to speak Italian or German. Glad Hendo’s cleared that up for us.

    But back to Orwell – I always thought his best stuff lay in his essays and semi-fictional memoirs, polemics and reportage eg Penny Dreadfuls, Shooting an Elephant, Down and Out in Paris and London, Cheap Luxuries and the like. He had the knack of showing the humanity of the dehumanised and the inhumanity of systems that comfortably obscured the reality of suffering from its beneficiaries. His later novels were boring reads by comparison and would have vanished without trace if they hadn’t been spun into anti-utopian tracts.

  2. Andrew Reynolds Says:
    January 29th, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    Hmm, What word was it that got into moderation – was it Trots?

    Andrew Reynolds Says:
    January 31st, 2006 at 12:09 am

    James – my comment is in moderation. As I do not know which word was objected to, I will have to wait for it to be released.

    Yeah, yeah. Dog ate my homework.

  3. Any assessment of Orwell’s attitude towards McCarthyism has to take into account his own careless denuncation late in life of various British left-wingers as Stalinist fellow-travellers.


    I have enormous respect for Orwell both for his abiltiy as a writer and for his willingness to risk his life for his beliefs. However his denuncation of people, including friends as “crypto-communists” and “fellow-travellers” is regrettable – although it occurred during his final illness and he may not have been fully responsible for his actions.

  4. In ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ (1941) he argues for socialism in Britain, and not in any watered-down form. What beliefs exactly do you suggest he repudiated?

    Orwell was a socialist, yes, but he was also alert to the dangers. His review of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road To Surfdom was favourable, and he appeared to have no problem with Hayek’s view that socialism led to totalitarianism.

  5. As a response to several commenters, kinship is not equivalence.

    I’m merely making the point that, had McCarthy, Nixon and the rest of the HUAC crew been in Russia, they would have been on the side of Stalin and the secret police.

  6. SJ,
    The dog must have coughed up my comment, which has now been released from moderation. I still do not know why it was there, though.
    Had most of us been there we would have been just like most of the rest of the Soviet population – accepting of our lot and doing the best to work around the more obvious problems. I do not think ‘Tailgunner Joe’ would have been amongst us – I must agree that he probably would have been assiting it, like a substantial minority were. To say that such speculation gives moral equivalent to their deeds is a bit rich, though.

  7. Andrew

    I’m confused now. Are you saying that the comment that went missing is the one that starts ‘Guessed Wrong’? But that’s the one I was responding to in the first place, as was SJ, who even quoted from it. If it was missing for some interval, that must have been before I even saw this thread.

  8. Mhh, my response to that was moderated again. I am still mystified as to what it is that caused the moderation. I will try again…
    My mistake – my moderated comment has got lost. Oh well – I thought it was a good one. It made the point that Orwell, in Spain, was fighting for the P.O.U.M. – an organisation of Trotskyites, not generally known for their moderation in terms of democratic socialism.

  9. Fascinating – moderated again – another try.
    My mistake – my moderated comment has got lost. Oh well – I thought it was a good one. It made the point that Orwell, in Spain, was fighting for the POUM. – an organisation of Trotskyites, not generally known for their moderation in terms of democratic socia!ism.

  10. PrQ,
    Looks like the word defined in wikipedia as “an ideology of a social and economic system where the means of production are owned and controlled by all of society” (socia!ism) puts a comment into moderation. Any idea why?

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