Defusing George Orwell

Issue: 143

John Newsinger

A review of Robert Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel (Oxford University Press, 2013), £25

At one point in his new study of George Orwell, Robert Colls, Professor of Cultural History at De Montfort University, insists that he is not trying to argue that “Englishness is the key to Orwell”. This is somewhat disingenuous because this is, in fact, precisely what he does argue, somewhat obsessively, it has to be said. At various times we are recommended to admire Orwell’s “belly-to-earth Englishness”, told that he “built his politics out of his nation”, was “drawn to Labour’s sort of Englishness”, had a “great reconciliation with England, his England” and had even, in 1940, “started to solve the riddle of Englishness”. Animal Farm, we are assured, was “the story of what happens on a badly run English farm when a lot of gentle-minded English animals try to be free”. The result: “an English farm turned into a Soviet gulag”. Even more dramatically, Nineteen EightyFour actually “envisages the end of England”. This obsession with Englishness is combined with the occasional excursion into amateur psychology so that we are advised that it “is not at all clear that Orwell and Blair1 are the same man”, that “Orwell never really left Eton” and so on.2

Now there is, without a doubt, a lot to be said about Orwell and Englishness, but what Colls does is use his exploration of the relationship as a way of domesticating Orwell, of diminishing his radicalism. In the course of the book he at different times attempts to reduce Orwell’s socialist politics to either any kind of social improvement or to the policies of the 1945-51 Labour government. Leaving aside the contradictory nature of his argument, let us look at the first of these propositions: that Orwell’s socialism was about any kind of social improvement.

According to Colls, Orwell believed that socialism was “present society with the worst abuses left out”, a view from which, we are assured, he “never wavered”. Socialism was all about “liberty and justice, which everyone could agree on, and more help for the unemployed… For Orwell, socialism is largesse for the working class.” And, most incredibly, it was “a form of upper-middle-class charity for the poor”.3 It is this supposed notion of socialism that allows Colls to variously describe Orwell as “nearly a Tory” and while “not really a liberal” as not having any political beliefs that “were incompatible with being a liberal”.4 The problem with all this is that it is just not true. Indeed, it is a travesty of Orwell’s thinking. There is no evidence to support Colls’s argument and considerable evidence to contradict it. Let us consider just one piece. In an article that he wrote just after the election of the Labour government in 1945, Orwell made his views pretty explicit. Here he complained that it was “absurd to imagine…that the masses have been definitely converted to Socialism”. Most people, he went on, did not know what Socialism meant, although he thought there was considerable support for some “essentially socialistic measures such as nationalisation of mines, railways, public utilities and land”. The problem was that for most people all Labour stood for was “full employment, free milk for schoolchildren, old age pensions of thirty shillings a week, and, in general, a fair deal for the working man”.5 Orwell did not, of course, decry such measures, but he certainly did not mistake them for socialism.

The main argument that Colls is concerned to advance, however, is that Orwell’s advocacy of revolutionary politics in the late 1930s and early 1940s was a brief aberration of not much consequence before he sensibly embraced British Labourism which offered, in Colls’s words, “The English Road to Socialism”.6 Once again, his arguments with regard to Orwell’s support for the Labour Party are not supported by the evidence, and we shall return to this. But more important is Colls’s denigration of Orwell’s revolutionary socialism, a political commitment that he embraced in Spain and adhered to during the early years of the Second World War. Indeed, it is this commitment and his continuing dialogue with revolutionary politics right up until his death that make him such a compelling writer. Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and Nineteen EightyFour, his three most important books, either emerge out of his revolutionary politics or out of his continuing dialogue with that politics.

Disrespect to Catalonia

Colls is distinctly uncomfortable with any aspect of Orwell’s thinking that positions him to the left of the Labour Party; indeed he is much more comfortable with the idea of him being nearly a Tory or that his thinking was compatible with liberalism. These are, after all, at least English! This creates problems because Orwell fought with the semi-Trotskyist POUM militia in Spain, took part in the May 1937 uprising in Barcelona and was the author of Homage to Catalonia. When it suits him, Colls makes much of Orwell’s supposed “belly to earth” approach to politics, but not in Spain. Orwell’s enthusiasm for the Spanish Revolution, his “belly to earth” celebration of workers’ power in Barcelona, is found wanting and instead we are told that on this occasion he “might have spent a little less time responding to his own experiences, and a little more time thinking about the art of the politically possible”.7 What Colls does here is repudiate the most important experience of Orwell’s life. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this. It was in Catalonia that Orwell saw “wonderful things and at last really believe in Socialism which I never did before”. What this socialism amounted to was a situation where “the working class was in the saddle” and where “the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist”. This was “a state of affairs worth fighting for”.8 And, of course, it was in Spain that he realised that the Communists were the tools of Russian foreign policy rather than allies in the fight for socialism. He powerfully reaffirmed this after the Second World War when he wrote that it was his Spanish experiences that had “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”.9 Not Englishness, mark, but revolutionary Barcelona.

What does Colls have to say about Orwell’s participation in revolution? As far as he is concerned Orwell was “unrealistic”; indeed he opts for a psychological explanation of his conduct: “He took a far left line only to use it to pick a fight with the left”.10 This is incredible. Indeed, it is sometimes hard to believe that Colls has actually read Homage to Catalonia, or at least read it with any sympathy at all. Instead of revolution, Colls pins his colours to Juan Negrín, the right wing Socialist Party politician who became prime minister after the left wing Largo Caballero was ousted for refusing to ban the POUM and seeking to curb the influence of the Communists. It was under Negrin that the suppression of the Spanish Revolution was to be completed. He was out, in Helen Graham’s words, “to consolidate a liberal market-based economy and a parliamentary polity in Republican Spain”.11 And this is what Orwell should have supported instead of embracing the “unrealistic” cause of revolution. Indeed, according to Colls, the May Days uprising was an “illegal rebellion” and although the Communists wanted to replicate the Moscow trials with a massacre of the POUM leadership, Colls follows Helen Graham in arguing that under Negrin the latter got a fair trial.12

This is to confuse the fact that the Communists never got the verdict they wanted with the notion that the trial was fair. The reality was that the prosecution presented forged and perjured evidence, provided by the Communists, to show that the POUM was in league with the fascists. This evidence was comprehensively discredited, with even Largo Caballero, the prime minister at the time of the May uprising, appearing as a defence witness. Moreover, the uprising itself was a response to Communist provocation. The government was committed to the restoration of bourgeois order, however, and this required that the defendants be found guilty. They were acquitted of being in league with the fascists but found guilty of insurrection with four of the accused sentenced to 15 years, one to 11 years and two found not guilty. The climate of the times is captured by the fact that many on the left thought prison terms had been imposed to avoid the scandal of the POUM leaders being subsequently murdered by the Communists if they were released. Meanwhile, the POUM had been banned and the police had rounded up hundreds of its members, committed anti-fascists who had fought in the trenches against Franco. Negrin, of course, while banning the POUM, was quite prepared to tolerate the activities of the Communist secret police, including turning a blind eye to their torture and murder of Andreu Nin. This was in part because of the need for Communist support to fight the war and in part because the Communists shared his determination to liquidate the revolution.

Colls does not follow the logic of his argument here. If he did it would lead to his having to support Orwell’s arrest for taking part in this “illegal rebellion” and to regret his escape from justice-after all, if he had been imprisoned he would have got a fair trial. We can, of course, be reasonably confident that if Orwell had indeed been arrested, he would have died in custody, either murdered or from medical neglect and ill treatment (he had been seriously wounded in the trenches). Orwell’s friend and comrade, Georges Kopp, a Belgian volunteer with the POUM, who was arrested, was interrogated 27 times and, on one occasion, was kept in isolation in the dark without food for 12 days.13 Such treatment would have killed Orwell and nearly killed Kopp. And on Orwell and his wife Eileen’s return to Britain, Colls sums up their Spanish experience in a wittily dismissive fashion: “They had seen Utopia and preferred Hertfordshire”.14 What Colls is doing here, of course, is ascribing his own feelings to Orwell, something he has a tendency towards throughout the book. Instead, as we have seen, revolutionary Barcelona remained a touchstone for the rest of Orwell’s life.

One last point is worth making here: The Road To Wigan Pier was published while Orwell was fighting in Spain and received a very hostile review by Harry Pollitt, the general secretary of the British Communist Party, in the Daily Worker. Here Pollitt described Orwell as “a disillusioned little middle class boy” who was exercised by “the smell of the working class”. According to Colls, in his role as amateur psychologist, this was what Orwell “secretly thought Blair the intellectual deserved”.15 The only problem with this assertion is that there is no evidence to support it, but there is evidence to contradict it. Orwell wrote to his wife, Eileen, at the time, describing Pollitt’s review as “pretty bad” but putting it down quite correctly to the fact that he “must have heard I was serving with the POUM militia”. He was to make the same point in a letter to Victor Gollancz once he had returned to Britain, reluctantly threatening legal action if the Communist-inspired slanders Pollitt’s review had unleashed did not stop.16 This is one of a number of occasions where Colls embraces pop psychology as a way of avoiding having to deal with Orwell’s politics.

The Lion, the Unicorn and all that

Orwell’s revolutionary excesses were to be cured, according to Colls, by the Second World War. It was during the war years that he “took his place…in the People’s War” and found himself drawn to “Labour’s sort of Englishness”. Once again the evidence just does not support these assertions. Far from taking his place in “the People’s War”, Orwell’s wartime writings were a protracted complaint that it was not a “People’s War”. In 1940-1 he argued that a revolution was necessary in Britain if the war was to be transformed into a “People’s War”. Once it became clear that the upper class had successfully ridden out the crisis, he reluctantly concluded that no new socialist movement was going to emerge and that the Labour Party was the only possible vehicle of social change, even if not of the fundamental transformation that he still believed in. He threw his lot in with the Labour left. Rather than seeing this new allegiance as the product of disappointment, Colls gives it a much more positive spin with Orwell at last realising that the Labour Party was committed to the peaceful accomplishment of the revolution he was advocating.

What of the period when Orwell hoped for an English revolution? Certainly Orwell embraced patriotism, but it was a “revolutionary patriotism” that sought to turn the war into a war for socialism. It had nothing in common with British Labourism. In his essay, “My Country Right or Left”, published in the autumn of 1940, Orwell argued: “Only revolution can save England”, that this revolution had already begun, and that in the next “two years, maybe a year…we shall see changes”. The London gutters “will have to run with blood…let them” and the red militia will be “billeted in the Ritz”,17 but he insisted this would still be a distinctively English revolution. How does Colls respond to these very un-Labour sentiments? He cannot deny that Orwell wrote the offending words, but comforts himself with “one can’t help ask if he meant them”.18 But Orwell did mean them. In an article that was published in the Left Book Club’s magazine, Left News, in February 1941, Orwell argued that while in theory “a Labour government could come into office with a clear majority and proceed at once to establish socialism by act of parliament”, in practice “the monied classes would rebel”. Indeed, he went on, there “is no strong reason for thinking that any really fundamental change can ever be achieved peacefully”. What was needed was “a socialist party which meant business”, a “real English socialist movement…both revolutionary and democratic”. And as for the Labour Party, “it has been difficult for ten years past to believe that its leaders expected or even wished to see any fundamental change in their own lifetime”.19 In another article for Left News published in January 1941, Orwell had proclaimed the country “on the road to revolution”, arguing that “it was our duty both to defend England and to turn it into a genuine democracy” and that “the feeling of all true patriots and all true Socialists is at bottom reducible to the ‘Trotskyist’ slogan: ‘The war and the revolution are inseparable’. We cannot beat Hitler without passing through revolution, nor consolidate our revolution without beating Hitler”.20

In retrospect, Orwell’s hopes for revolution proved false; indeed, according to Colls they were always “preposterous”.21 What commentators on Orwell, including myself, have neglected, however, is the context in which Orwell was writing. From the summer of 1940 through to the summer of 1941 Britain was fighting the Nazis alone, the US was unlikely to get involved and the Soviet Union was actually allied with Nazi Germany. In these circumstances Orwell saw three possible alternative outcomes (once again in Left News in April 1941): Britain “may emerge Socialist, or Nazified by conquest, or with some local variant of fascism-but it will not emerge capitalist in the old sense of the word”. The only way forward was “the world revolution”.22 While his hopes for revolution were obviously exaggerated, without the German attack on Russia and the Japanese attack on the US, the other two outcomes seem eminently possible. Without any doubt either development would have seen the emergence of a British resistance that would certainly have raised the question of revolution. If the US had remained neutral and Germany and the Soviet Union had remained allies, then revolution would have been the only way to defeat the Nazis.

Crucial to Colls’s argument that Orwell gave up his revolutionary politics and positively embraced British Labourism is The Lion and the Unicorn, published in February 1941. Far from this volume indicating Orwell’s coming aboard the People’s War, it was one of a series of short books, the Searchlight series, co-edited by Orwell, and actually arguing the need for a People’s War, that there had to be fundamental change in Britain, “a revolution” if the war was to be won. There were other volumes in the series on Spain, on Africa, and on Germany (which called for British support for revolution in Germany) and two powerful indictments of Home Front conservatism, Ritchie Calder’s The Lesson of London and William Connors’s The English at War. In his own contribution, The Lion and the Unicorn, Orwell put forward a programme that was intended to turn the war “into a revolutionary war and England into a Socialist democracy”. Its realisation would require a new “Socialist Party” and he certainly had no time for the Labour Party which “stood for a timid reformism”, “had become a variant of Conservatism” and whose leaders merely “wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives”.23 This has a very contemporary ring to it.

Colls argues that Orwell’s revolutionary programme was to be actually implemented by the Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee governments! It was this that won Orwell over from revolutionary politics and made him a Labour man. Now leaving aside Colls’s mistaken assertion that Orwell considered any improvement for the working class as constituting socialism, was his 1941 programme really implemented by Churchill and Attlee? Let us consider his domestic proposals. Orwell, we are told, called for educational reform and this was carried through “under Churchill’s administration”.24 Not really. Orwell urged the reform of the educational system “along democratic lines”, something that would, he insisted, involve the suppression of most private schools and the nationalisation of the public schools. The point was to end class privilege in education, in particular the privileges of the upper class. Does anyone seriously believe this was accomplished by the 1944 Butler Act? It would be laughable to suggest that this has been accomplished today, let alone in 1944. Orwell also proposed the nationalisation “of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries”. Private ownership of rural land would be limited to some 15 acres with no private ownership of urban land at all. It would have swept away the British landed classes, abolished landlordism and constituted a dramatic shift in the balance of class forces in Britain. And as for the nationalisation of mines, railways, banks and major industries, Orwell would never have recognised the Labour government’s nationalisation programme as realising his proposals. First of all, he called for the takeover of the financial sector and secondly he was advocating expropriation, the taking away of the wealth and power of the rich, not their generous compensation for bankrupt industries. Orwell’s expropriations were intended to end, once and for all, “the dominance of a single social class”. And he advocated a radical limitation in incomes with a ratio of ten to one suggested as “the maximum normal variation”.25 Now all this was revolutionary. Such attacks on the wealth and power of the rich would certainly have been violently resisted then, as Orwell was well aware, and would still be violently resisted today. It was Orwell’s belief that it would only be a small minority that would resist and that a mass Socialist Party would be able to crush this resistance because, in the conditions of wartime, the people were armed.

What is clear is that Orwell’s programme was never implemented by either the Churchill or the Attlee governments. What Colls has done here is ascribe his own satisfaction with the reforms of these two administrations to Orwell, watering down, indeed washing away Orwell’s radicalism. This is not to say that Orwell was advocating a Bolshevik-style revolution in Britain. He thought a revolution could be accomplished in Britain that was neither insurrectionary nor reformist. A socialist party could take power peacefully in Britain, and unlike the Labour Party, introduce socialism, but it would inevitably face resistance and this would have to be violently suppressed. This would still be a very “English Revolution”. This was the argument of The Lion and the Unicorn.26

One body of evidence that Colls completely fails to consider in his discussion of Orwell during the war is his regular contributions to the US journal Partisan Review, his “London Letters”. Between March 1941 and the summer of 1946 Orwell contributed 14 such letters to what was a literary Trotskyist magazine, contributions that are completely incompatible with Colls’s understanding of his political development. It was in one of these letters (winter 1944) that Orwell acknowledged that there was not going to be a revolution in Britain. He had been guilty of wishful thinking and now recognised that “there has been no real shift in power and no increase in genuine democracy. The same people still own all the property and usurp all the best jobs”.27 The war had never been a “People’s War”.

Revolution always betrayed

An important part of Orwell’s transition from revolutionary utopianism to sensible Labourism was, according to Colls, his recognition that revolutions always fail. He argues that while Animal Farm was a satire of the Russian Revolution, it was “also against revolutions in general”. Now this is a crucial step in his argument because if Orwell had actually rejected revolutionary politics so decisively then his support for the Labour Party can be more easily portrayed as unambiguous, as unconditional, as his final resting place, so to speak. The evidence for Orwell’s stance is provided in a footnote where Colls refers to a letter Orwell wrote to Dwight Macdonald, a former Trotskyist, who had asked him if Animal Farm actually was anti-revolutionary in intention. Colls quotes from Orwell’s reply: “I did mean it to have a wider application…that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial…led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters.” Now in the original Orwell went out of his way to write “that kind of revolution” which does, of course, suggest a different meaning. Even more important, Colls leaves out the next few sentences where Orwell actually makes it clear that he very specifically does not reject all revolutions as certain to involve no more than a change of masters. The letter continues:

I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves (Kronstadt). If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right…What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship.”

Indeed, he told Macdonald that he was worried that people were concluding from the book that “I am defending the status quo” and that “there is no alternative except dictatorship or laissez-faire capitalism.” It is difficult, to say the least, to see this letter as showing that Orwell was “against revolutions in general”. Colls clearly is, but Orwell equally clearly wasn’t.

What Animal Farm did was put into parable form the Trotskyist history of the Revolution Betrayed with one important difference. As far as Orwell was concerned the revolution had been betrayed at the time of the Kronstadt Rebellion when Trotsky was still part of the Bolshevik leadership. He found the anarchist explanation for the actual betrayal of the revolution more convincing than the Trotskyist and told Macdonald he thought it derived “from the very nature of the Bolshevik Party”. What Orwell is doing here is discussing revolutionary strategy, how to make a revolution, how to avoid betrayal, rather than dismissing all revolutions as doomed.28

Part of the problem with Colls’s discussion is his failure to take the ideas of the far left seriously. He dismisses Marxism by means of a positively embarrassing caricature and sometimes exhibits a degree of ignorance that is positively hilarious. Victor Serge, for example, is actually described as a dissident European conservative.29 Now you do not have to read his autobiography, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, to have doubts about this characterisation; the very title is a bit of a clue. Joking aside, Colls’s ignorance is debilitating because while he might not take the literature of the revolutionary left seriously, Orwell certainly did. He took Serge seriously enough to try to persuade his publisher, Frederick Warburg, to publish the memoirs. And, as I have argued elsewhere, Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four all reflect Orwell’s engagement with the ideas of the far left, a critical engagement certainly, but they would be very different books without that engagement. Nineteen Eighty-Four, for example, is a fictional rendition of the dissident Trotskyist analysis of the Soviet Union as a “bureaucratic collectivist” society. However uncomfortable this might make some Orwell commentators, there is no escaping it.30

If there was hope, it lay with…the Labour Party!

Nevertheless with the prospect of radical change receding, Orwell decided that the best hope for progress in Britain was the Labour Party. For Colls, this is his “road to Damascus” moment when Orwell finally becomes a “Labour man”. By 1943, we are assured that he was “a pretty straightforward supporter of the Labour Party”. Orwell gives up all his revolutionary nonsense, recognising at last that Labour was “a responsible party, attuned to real lives rather than ideological postures”. Labour, he recognised, had “an organic connection with the British working class”. And we are even told that while Orwell did “not endorse Herbert Morrison’s dictum that socialism was what Labour does…he certainly understood what the home secretary was getting at.” There is no evidence to support any of this. In fact, what we have once again are Colls’s views being passed off as Orwell’s. Colls goes on to argue that as far as Orwell was concerned, “Attlee’s government…was a socialist state and ought to be defended as such” and that the Labour government “was Orwell’s revolution made real”.31 In fact, the evidence lends itself to a very different interpretation, only part of which can be rehearsed here. In the last of his “London Letters”, Orwell gave a very downbeat account of the performance of the new Labour government; “Even allowing for the fact that everything takes time, it is astonishing how little change seems to have happened as yet in the structure of society.” He wrote that “I suppose the drift is towards Socialism, or at least towards state ownership” while noticing the generosity of the compensation shareholders were being offered. But otherwise, we might just as well be “living under a Conservative government.” No discernible steps had been taken “to democratise education”, no move had “been made against the House of Lords” and all the upper class officials, generals and admirals, and diplomats were still in place. As far as he could see, the upper class were “still living their accustomed life” and, most disturbing, they did not seem to be at all frightened of the government. He went on: “Any observer would have expected a greater change in the social atmosphere when a Labour government with a crushing majority had been in power for eight months”.32 Now, of course, this was early days but what was to persuade Orwell to moderate his criticisms and stand by the Labour government and what effect did this decision have on his politics? Was it the government’s achievements, what Colls describes as its “manifest success in foreign and domestic policy” or were there other concerns involved in Orwell’s embrace of Labourism?33 How far to the right did his decision to support Labour pull him? And were there other influences still pulling him to the left?

The first point to insist on is that as far as Orwell was concerned the Labour government’s reforms never amounted to socialism, although he did see nationalisation of the railways and mines as moving the country in a socialist direction. Two key considerations persuaded him that the Labour government had to be supported no matter how disappointing its achievements: the economic and the international situations. In October 1948 he published an article, “Britain’s Struggle For Survival: The Labour Government After Three Years”. Here he once again made the point that for most people Labour was the party of “shorter working hours, a free health service, day nurseries, free milk for school children and the like, rather than the party that stands for Socialism”. He went on to argue that, as far as he was concerned, regardless of Labour’s reforms, the situation in Britain was so dire (“a state of almost continual crisis”) that “the struggle between collectivism and laissez-faire is secondary. The main objective is national survival.” He argued that the government’s:

immediate aim must be to make Britain’s exports balance her imports. And they have to do this with worn-out industrial equipment, with foreign preoccupations which demand large armed forces and are therefore a heavy drain on manpower and with a working class which is tired and not too well fed, and which fought the war and voted at the general election in the expectation of something quite different.

The result was that “the average British citizen is probably somewhat worse off than he was three years ago”. Indeed, people had to be persuaded that they had “to endure overwork and discomfort for years more, with no immediate recompense, except an increase in social equality”. Only Labour could do this. The Conservatives were too openly the party of class privilege to persuade people to make the necessary sacrifices. And in this battle for survival, any working class resistance to the sacrifices demanded had to be opposed. He condemned strikes, for example, as “a blow against the community as a whole” and decried working class absenteeism. And, of course, any working class discontent provided fertile ground for the Communists.34 While Colls is certainly right about the strength of Orwell’s support for the Labour government, he has completely misunderstood the basis for that support.

Orwell’s other consideration was the international situation. He had been ferociously hostile to Stalinism since Spain but whereas his concern had always been to fight Communist influence within the left, with the beginning of the Cold War he came increasingly to see the Soviet Union as a threat requiring the taking of sides. Despite his hostility to American capitalism, on a number of occasions, he made it clear that if, as seemed likely, the choice was between the Soviet Union and the US, he would choose the US as the lesser evil. This decision was to lead him into a dangerous relationship with the black propaganda outfit established by the Labour government, the Information Research Department, and to his flirting with the US International Relief and Rescue Committee, a supposed charity with (unknown to him) strong State Department and US intelligence connections.35 Its modern incarnation is headed up by David Miliband no less. It is important here to acknowledge Orwell’s relationship with these organisations but also to insist on how limited his relationship with them was. Even so, any involvement with them was a serious mistake. He was certainly not the champion of a British McCarthyism, however; indeed he very publicly opposed any moves in this direction.

Even at this point though, Orwell’s thinking was not circumscribed by Labourism. In 1947 he contributed to a series of articles on “The Future of Socialism” published in Partisan Review. Victor Serge was another contributor. Orwell’s article, “Towards European Unity”, was not a paean of praise for Labour’s “English Road to Socialism”, which is what Colls’s argument would lead us to expect. Instead he observed that “a socialist today is in the position of a doctor treating an all but hopeless case” and that as far as the establishment of socialism is concerned, “the chances are against us”. But while the situation was pretty grim, and “socialism cannot properly be said to be established until it is world-wide”, he still thought that a start had to be made and that “a socialist United States of Europe seems to me the only worthwhile political objective today”.36 This would have to overcome both Russian and American opposition. Orwell certainly supported the Labour government, moving to the right in order to do so, but at the same time he still recognised that the socialism he believed in required something beyond Englishness, something more than British Labourism. There were, it has to be insisted, unresolved tensions in his thinking between his support for the Labour government and his commitment to socialism. At the time of his death these had still not been resolved.


1: Eric Arthur Blair: Orwell’s real name

2: Colls, 2013, pp41, 102-103, 108, 148, 161, 169, 194, 205.

3: Colls, 2013, pp67, 193.

4: Colls, 2013, pp186, 188.

5: Davison, 1998d, p339.

6: Colls, 2013, p175.

7: Colls, 2013, p87.

8: see Newsinger, 1999, pp42-61.

9: Davison, 1998e, p391.

10: Colls, 2013, p89.

11: Graham, 2002, p338.

12: It is worth noticing that Graham does not actually describe the trial as fair, but rather as “constitutional”. The two are not, of course, the same.

13: Wildemeersch, 2013, pp52-53.

14: Colls, 2013, p107.

15: Colls, 2013, p98.

16: Davison, 1998a, pp72-73.

17: Davison, 1998b, pp269-272.

18: Colls, 2013, p137.

19: Davison, 1998b, pp376-381.

20: Davison, 1998b, pp343-350.

21: Colls, 2013, p138.

22: Davison, 1998b, pp459-464.

23: Davison, 1998b, pp420-421.

24: Colls, 2013, p152.

25: Davison, 1998b, 422-426.

26: Newsinger, 1999, pp72-77.

27: Davison, 1998c, p412.

28: Davison, 1998e, p507.

29: Colls, 2013, p179.

30: Newsinger, 1999, pp124-130.

31: Colls, 2013, pp172, 178, 181, 223.

32: Davison, 1998e, pp285-289.

33: Colls, 2013, p201.

34: Davison, 1998f, pp436-442.

35: For the little known history of the International Relief and Rescue Committee see Chester, 1995.

36: Davison, 1998f, pp163-167.


Chester, Eric Thomas, 1995, Covert Network: Progressives, the International Relief Committee and the CIA (M E Sharpe).

Colls, Robert, 2013, George Orwell: English Rebel (Oxford University Press).

Davison, Peter (ed), 1998a, The Complete Works of George Orwell: Facing Unpleasant Facts: 19371939 (volume 11) (Secker and Warburg).

Davison, Peter (ed), 1998b, The Complete Works of George Orwell: A Patriot After All: 19401941 (volume 12) (Secker and Warburg).

Davison, Peter (ed), 1998c, The Complete Works of George Orwell: I Have Tried to Tell The Truth: 19431944 (volume 16) (Secker and Warburg).

Davison, Peter (ed), 1998d, The Complete Works of George Orwell: I Belong to the Left: 1945 (volume 17) (Secker and Warburg).

Davison, Peter (ed), 1998e, The Complete Works of George Orwell: Smothered Under Journalism: 1946 (volume 18) (Secker and Warburg).

Davison, Peter (ed), 1998f, The Complete Works of George Orwell: It Is What I Think: 19471948 (volume 19) (Secker and Warburg).

Graham, Helen, 2002, The Spanish Republic at War 19361939 (Cambridge University Press).

Newsinger, John, 1999, Orwell’s Politics (Palgrave).

Wildemeersch, Marc, 2013, George Orwell’s Commander in Spain: The Enigma of Georges Kopp (Thames River Press).