George Orwell: A Literary Giant’s Quest for Democratic Socialism

George Orwell would have been 108 on June 25th 2011 had he somehow managed to kick tuberculosis in the yarbles and been one of the lucky few who live past 98.

George Orwell

Orwell (born Eric Arthur Blair) was a writer who, after many years struggling as a bookshop clerk, freelancer, BBC radio host and columnist, came to fame after the publication of his last novel 1984, an anti-utopian/dystopian tale of a totalitarian future. The book introduced the public at large to Orwell’s long-held political views of anti-totalitarianism:

As Orwell wrote in his essay Why I Write:

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.

To mark the occasion, I’ve chosen my favorite quotes from his fiction and non-fiction novels (that I’ve read) to highlight his views as they matured over the course of his life and work.

KEEP THE ASPIDISTRA FLYING

From Chapter 5:

‘Don’t you exaggerate just a little?’

‘No. All this talk we make–we’re only objectifying our own
feelings. It’s all dictated by what we’ve got in our pockets.
I go up and down London saying it’s a city of the dead, and our
civilization’s dying, and I wish war would break out, and God knows what; and all it means is that my wages are two quid a week and I wish they were five.’

Ravelston, once again reminded obliquely of his income, stroked his nose slowly with the knuckle of his left forefinger.

‘Of course, I’m with you up to a point. After all, it’s only what Marx said. Every ideology is a reflection of economic circumstances.’

‘Ah, but you only understand it out of Marx! You don’t know what it means to have to crawl along on two quid a week. It isn’t a question of hardship–it’s nothing so decent as hardship. It’s the bloody, sneaking, squalid meaness of it. Living alone for weeks on end because when you’ve no money you’ve no friends. Calling yourself a writer and never even producing anything because you’re always too washed out to write. It’s a sort of filthy sub-world one lives in. A sort of spiritual sewer.’

THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER

From Chapter 2:

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal. But-most of the time, of course, we should prefer to forget that they were doing it. It is so with all types of manual work; it keeps us alive, and we are oblivious of its existence. More than anyone else, perhaps, the miner can stand as the type of the manual worker, not only because his work is so exaggeratedly awful, but also because it is so vitally necessary and yet so remote from our experience, so invisible, as it were, that we are capable of forgetting it as we forget the blood in our veins. In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an ‘intellectual’ and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior. You and I and the editor of the Times Lit. Supp., and the poets and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants–all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel.

HOMAGE TO CATALONIA

From Chapter 5:

This, then, was what they [the Communists] were saying about us: we were Trotskyists, Fascists, traitors, murderers, cowards, spies, and so forth. I admit it was not pleasant, especially when one thought of some of the people who were responsible for it. It is not a nice thing to see a Spanish boy of fifteen carried down the line on a stretcher, with a dazed white face looking out from among the blankets, and to think of the sleek persons in London and Paris who are writing pamphlets to prove that this boy is a Fascist in disguise. One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. The P.S.U.C. militiamen whom I knew in the line, the Communists from the International Brigade whom I met from time to time, never called me a Trotskyist or a traitor; they left that kind of thing to the journalists in the rear. The people who wrote pamphlets against us and vilified us in the newspapers all remained safe at home, or at worst in the newspaper offices of Valencia, hundreds of miles from the bullets and the mud. And apart from the libels of the inter-party feud, all the usual war-stuff, the tub-thumping, the heroics, the vilification of the enemy — all these were done, as usual, by people who were not fighting and who in many cases would have run a hundred miles sooner than fight. One of the dreariest effects of this war has been to teach me that the Left-wing press is every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right. I do earnestly feel that on our side–the Government side–this war was different from ordinary, imperialistic wars; but from the nature of the war-propaganda you would never have guessed it. The fighting had barely started when the newspapers of the Right and Left dived simultaneously into the same cesspool of abuse. We all remember the Daily Mail’s poster: ‘REDS CRUCIFY NUNS’, while to the Daily Worker Franco’s Foreign Legion was ‘composed of murderers, white-slavers, dope-fiends, and the offal of every European country’. As late as October 1937
the New Statesman was treating us to tales of Fascist barricades made of the bodies of living children (a most unhandy thing to make barricades with), and Mr Arthur Bryant was declaring that ‘the sawing-off of a Conservative tradesman’s legs’ was ‘a commonplace’ in Loyalist Spain. The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours. Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.

COMING UP FOR AIR

From Part 1 , Chapter 4:

Outside the door a newsboy yelled ‘StarnoosstanNERD!’ I saw the poster flapping against his knees: LEGS. FRESH DISCOVERIES. Just ‘legs’, you notice. It had got down to that. Two days earlier they’d found a woman’s legs in a railway waiting-room, done up in a brown-paper parcel, and what with successive editions of the papers, the whole nation was supposed to be so passionately interested in these blasted legs that they didn’t need any further introduction. They were the only legs that were news at the moment. It’s queer, I thought, as I ate a bit of roll, how dull the murders are getting nowadays. All this cutting people up and leaving bits of them about the countryside. Not a patch on the old domestic poisoning dramas, Crippen, Seddon, Mrs Maybrick; the truth being, I suppose, that you can’t do a good murder unless you believe you’re going to roast in hell for it.

At this moment I bit into one of my frankfurters, and–Christ!

I can’t honestly say that I’d expected the thing to have a pleasant taste. I’d expected it to taste of nothing, like the roll. But this–well, it was quite an experience. Let me try and describe it to you.

The frankfurter had a rubber skin, of course, and my temporary teeth weren’t much of a fit. I had to do a kind of sawing movement before I could get my teeth through the skin. And then suddenly– pop! The thing burst in my mouth like a rotten pear. A sort of horrible soft stuff was oozing all over my tongue. But the taste! For a moment I just couldn’t believe it. Then I rolled my tongue round it again and had another try. It was FISH! A sausage, a thing calling itself a frankfurter, filled with fish! I got up and walked straight out without touching my coffee. God knows what that might have tasted of.

Outside the newsboy shoved the Standard into my face and yelled, ‘Legs! ‘Orrible revelations! All the winners! Legs! Legs!’ I
was still rolling the stuff round my tongue, wondering where I
could spit it out. I remembered a bit I’d read in the paper
somewhere about these food-factories in Germany where everything’s made out of something else. Ersatz, they call it. I remembered reading that THEY were making sausages out of fish, and fish, no doubt, out of something different. It gave me the feeling that I’d bitten into the modern world and discovered what it was really made of. That’s the way we’re going nowadays. Everything slick and streamlined, everything made out of something else. Celluloid, rubber, chromium-steel everywhere, arc-lamps blazing all night, glass roofs over your head, radios all playing the same tune, no vegetation left, everything cemented over, mock-turtles grazing under the neutral fruit-trees. But when you come down to brass tacks and get your teeth into something solid, a sausage for instance, that’s what you get. Rotten fish in a rubber skin. Bombs of filth bursting inside your mouth.

ANIMAL FARM

From Chapter 10:

The farm was more prosperous now, and better organised: it had even been enlarged by two fields which had been bought from Mr. Pilkington. The windmill had been successfully completed at last, and the farm possessed a threshing machine and a hay elevator of its own, and various new buildings had been added to it. Whymper had bought himself a dogcart. The windmill, however, had not after all been used for generating electrical power. It was used for milling corn, and brought in a handsome money profit. The animals were hard at work building yet another windmill; when that one was finished, so it was said, the dynamos would be installed. But the luxuries of which Snowball had once taught the animals to dream, the stalls with electric light and hot and cold water, and the three-day week, were no longer talked about. Napoleon had denounced such ideas as contrary to the spirit of Animalism. The truest happiness, he said, lay in working hard and living frugally.

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer-except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs. Perhaps this was partly because there were so many pigs and so many dogs. It was not that these creatures did not work, after their fashion. There was, as Squealer was never tired of explaining, endless work in the supervision and organisation of the farm. Much of this work was of a kind that the other animals were too ignorant to understand. For example, Squealer told them that the pigs had to expend enormous labours every day upon mysterious things called “files,” “reports,” “minutes,” and “memoranda.” These were large sheets of paper which had to be closely covered with writing, and as soon as they were so covered, they were burnt in the furnace. This was of the highest importance for the welfare of the farm, Squealer said. But still, neither pigs nor dogs produced any food by their own labour; and there were very many of them, and their appetites were always good.

1984

From Part 2, Chapter 9:

‘We must read it,’ he said. ‘You too. All members of the Brotherhood have to read it.’

‘You read it,’ she said with her eyes shut. ‘Read it aloud. That’s the best way. Then you can explain it to me as you go.’

The clock’s hands said six, meaning eighteen. They had three or four hours ahead of them. He propped the book against his knees and began reading:

. Chapter I

Ignorance is Strength

Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibnum, however far it is pushed one way or the other —
.

‘Julia, are you awake?’ said Winston.

‘Yes, my love, I’m listening. Go on. It’s marvellous.’

He continued reading:

. The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim — for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives — is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal. Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High. Presently a new Middle group splits off from one of the other groups, or from both of them, and the struggle begins over again. Of the three groups, only the Low are never even temporarily successful in achieving their aims. It would be an exaggeration to say that throughout history there has been no progress of a material kind. Even today, in a period of decline, the average human being is physically better off than he was a few centuries ago. But no advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimetre nearer. From the point of view of the Low, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters.

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About Afroxander

Afroxander is the nom de guerre for writer/photographer Ivan Fernandez, based in Southern California. His work has appeared in The San Bernardino County Sun, Modern Fix magazine, The People’s Dance Party blog, The Rockit magazine and other outlets. He currently freelances for LA Weekly, Remezcla and anyone else willing to send him out on an exciting adventure.
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