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The Misappropriation of George Orwell


Sep 18, 2008
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Between Hollywood and Compton.
Political Leaning
Possibly the most simultaneously amusing and irritating trend I have encountered in recent years in political and economic discussion has been a blatant distortion of the political philosophy of George Orwell by free marketers, who erroneously cite him at every turn in order to justify their failed philosophy and criticize "socialism," which is misidentified as everything from government preservation of capitalism to Soviet state capitalism.

Excerpts and quotes from Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four provide a basis for an effective misappropriation of Orwell's work. Orwell was an ardent anti-authoritarian and anti-Stalinist, of course, but free marketers with little knowledge of political economy often mistakenly use his advocacy on that front to "argue" against libertarian variants of socialism, an enormous irony given Orwell's own democratic socialism and support of the anarchists and other libertarian socialists in the Spanish Revolution, combined with his military service in the Spanish Civil War. In Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, he expresses support for the aforementioned social revolution, in which horizontal federations of anarchist collectives were formed in several regions of Spain, and the means of production were collectivized and a libertarian socialist economy was established. He has this to say of the heavily anarchist region of Aragon.

I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life--snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc.--had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master.

His support is not isolated to the region of Aragon, as he has similar words of support regarding the anarchist region of Catalonia, and the city of Barcelona, then placed in the control of anarchist workers and citizens rather than capitalists or Stalinists. I've bolded the phrases that seem to me most indicative of his support for an economic program of libertarian socialism.

This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags and with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Senor' or 'Don' or even 'Ústed'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' or 'Thou', and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos días'. Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no 'well-dressed' people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.

More than that, Orwell is known to have served in the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM in Spanish), an anti-Stalinist libertarian Marxist militia that was later disbanded by the "democratic" government. Orwell is believed to be the tall figure near the back in this photo that stands a head above his comrades.


Assuredly, the anti-socialist will be hard-pressed to distort Orwell's clear advocacy here if he/she wishes to maintain any semblance of credibility, though I don't doubt that some will attempt it nonetheless.
People use Orwell to argue against socialism? Orwell argued against totalitarian governments, not economic systems. Winston was not worried about big brother inefficiently running the economy, he was worried about being dragged off by the secret police and tortured to death. Orwell wrote books that did an excellent job of examining how and why authoritarian governments form and propagate their existence. They had nothing to do with how we provide goods and services to the public.

Other than the libertarians who masturbate to Ayn Rand, who would want to read fiction about economic distribution theories? 1984 was a good book because it painted an entire society as the antagonist and a rather pathetic hero's struggle against it. Social commentary aside, it had dramatic moments and tension that allowed the story to draw interest. I don't think a plot twist involving his stocks dropping 7% in value would draw the same audience.
It's a problem that stems from the anti-socialists' inaccurate conflation of socialism and state capitalism of the Soviet variety.
Let's have a few examples!

And Obama also didn't support lobbyists, partisanship, or corruption...until he surrounded himself with partisan attack dogs, tax cheats, and lobbyists while corrupting the Census Bureau for partisan gain and railroading sleazy socialist pork scams through Congress before anyone could read it.

He's also contradicted everything he has claimed to stand for on the issues: gun rights, NAFTA, the Cuban embargo, a divided Jerusalem, race, Iran, telecomm immunity, Iraq, exploring for American energy supplies...virtually everything.

So please spare me this "he said he opposes it, therefore he opposes it" smokescreen. This guy is a pathological liar of Orwellian proportions.

(Though Obama is not a socialist, he is misidentified as one, and Orwell is likely inaccurately conceptualized as an "anti-socialist.")

|| Israel is a constant source of threat vis-a-vis peace in the Middle East and the whole world. Since the liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence and will contribute to the establishment of peace in the Middle East, the Palestinian people look for the support of all the progressive and peaceful forces....

[Great Orwellian double-speak that last sentence]

Of course, Orwell was so anti-progressive...:roll:

We are surely entering the Orwellian world of doublespeak with the takeover of our country by the Democrat party!

The Democrat Party is not "socialist," but this poster likely conceptualizes them as such, and thus, accordingly conceptualizes Orwell as "anti-socialist."
Orwell if he were born American would be a Conservative Republican. He believed in such ideals, as that the English-speaking countries (America and U.K.) are the ones who are to fight off Totalitarianism. He believed that war was necessary in order to preserve liberty.

He felt remorse while watching the jewish ghettos of Spain.
He withdrew from plugging two of Franco's forces because they had their pants down around their ankles; though he, admittedly, was a poor shot.
He found the Burmese, though under British control, were still getting the best of the British Constables. That white people were among them to get laughed at, when asked to make human decisions, like whether or not to kill an elephant in must; that letting the elephant live would be a more logical response, but when the white-man asks for his gun, he better use it.
He was outraged by the evolving political language, that politicians used ambiguous words, so they did not have to answer the question directly.
He was even more outraged by the America's nonchalance when it came to the rising powers in Europe. He told us to gtfo outta the belly of Jonah's whale.

We have to realize that Orwell was human, and he surely did not wish for someone to term "Orwellian". He was a political writer. It is a sad state of affair that people read his novels only, as they are barely strong representations of Orwells beliefs; 1984 is border-line plagiarism
Orwell if he were born American would be a Conservative Republican. He believed in such ideals, as that the English-speaking countries (America and U.K.) are the ones who are to fight off Totalitarianism. He believed that war was necessary in order to preserve liberty.

Orwell was a democratic socialist and anarchist sympathizer. I think it extremely unlikely that he would support rightist economic structure. Support for war to ensure liberty was a trait of the anarchist movement in Spain.
Here's another excerpt from Homage to Catalonia that I'd not previously mentioned:

So far as one could judge the people were contented and hopeful. There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.

What strikes me as most amusing about the rightist misappropriation of Orwell's work and legacy is its Orwellian nature. The idea of an anti-socialist using references to Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, works of an avowed socialist and anarchist sympathizer, to attack socialism when the socialist Orwell was attacking the anti-socialist Stalinism...ridiculous, and effectively the equivalent of screeching "freedom is slavery." And the double irony of the very same persons calling terms like "libertarian socialism" and "anarchist socialism" "Orwellian" in nature is absurd on its face! :rofl
I've never encountered anyone who has attempted to push the idea of an "anti-Socialism Orwell". This is news to me.

Off-Topic: Agnapostate, what piece of literature can I read if I wanted to attempt to understand your political views?
I gave this list to Anikdote when he asked:

1. The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin
2. The Political Economy of Participatory Economics by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel
3. The Anarchist Collectives by Sam Dolgoff

There are certainly many more, but those are the three most essential staples, IMO. Also consider An Anarchist FAQ.
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