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emisneko t1_ixt9k0n wrote

>The only people who misunderstand George Orwell’s 1984 are those that go around trying to imagine it has a leftist message. It is mistaken to imagine that children in the English-speaking world get his work drilled into them like a mantra because, somehow, genuine socialists managed to sneak his work past a censor that banishes the likes of Karl Marx and Malcolm X.

>The less complicated reading is the correct one: it’s an anti-communist book that the establishment pushes, and the right adores and cites constantly, because it is effective anti-communist propaganda.

>Let’s part from a very basic fact: The CIA loves Orwell.

>>Between 1952 and 1957, from three sites in West Germany, a CIA operation codenamed ‘Aedinosaur’ launched millions of ten-foot balloons carrying copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and dropped them over Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia — whose airforces were ordered to shoot the balloons down. [1]

>The movie adaptation of Animal Farm was the UK’s first animated feature film, and it was entirely funded by the CIA. This fact was kept secret for 20 years, and only revealed in 1974, to no cultural impact. [2]

>Orwell enthusiasts insist that he would be horrified by this turn of events, that he was trying to preserve a genuine and humane socialism from the clutches of “Stalinism”. They insist Orwell was against all empires, not just the one he lived in. However, his life and his work rather undermine this interpretation.

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ChangeForACow t1_ixtd5t7 wrote

George Orwell was certainly involved with propaganda and (so-called) intelligence operations, and disillusioned with the Communist Party, but in his own words:

"Fascism, at any rate the German version, is a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes.

"Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a Socialist state. Ownership has never been abolished, there are still capitalists and workers, and--this is the important point, and the real reason why rich men all over the world tend to sympathize with Fascism--generally speaking the same people are capitalists and the same people workers as before the Nazi revolution. But at the same time the State, which is simply the Nazi Party, is in control of everything.

"Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite."

(The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, 19 Feb 1941)

"The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 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, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity."

(Why I Write, 1946)

As for Winston, to me, he represents Orwell's own conflicted experience, and ultimately the part of each of us that both pierces the veil of totalitarianism, and yet remains susceptible to it.


oysterme t1_ixv3eti wrote

Actions speak louder than words. He might’ve said this or that about socialism, but in terms of his actions, Orwell was an anti-communist snitch who wrote a list of people he suspected of being Communists (or Communist sympathisers) & gave it to the UK Government’s anti-Communist propaganda unit, the Information Research Department.

The list included people like John Steinbeck and Paul Robeson, who Orwell shamefully described as being “very anti-white”. In fact, the list is replete with racist comments made by Orwell about the people he snitched on.


ChangeForACow t1_ixvajvv wrote

As I understand it, that list--such as it is--was meant to preclude those individuals from being used as intelligence assets by the British because Orwell believed them to be sympathetic to Stalinism, and therefore unfit for this specific purpose.

>The important thing to do with these people – and it is extremely difficult, since one has only inferential evidence – is to sort them out and determine which of them is honest and which is not. There is, for instance, a whole group of M.P.s in the British Parliament (Pritt, Zilliacus, etc.) who are commonly nicknamed "the cryptos". They have undoubtedly done a great deal of mischief, especially in confusing public opinion about the nature of the puppet regimes in Eastern Europe; but one ought not hurriedly to assume that they all hold the same opinions. Probably some of them are actuated by nothing worse than stupidity.

As I said, Orwell's experience was conflicted; he did serve the Empire abroad, which presumes problematic values, and he participated actively in Government propaganda. Still, it's important to remember that 1984 is written about Orwell's experience as a censor in Britain--NOT the USSR.

u/emisneko provides important perspective, which I've even up-voted. I was adding Orwell's own words for more context.


oysterme t1_ixyujxk wrote

So what you’re admitting to me here is that Orwell, based on nothing but guesses and inferences (and a “great deal of mischief” whatever that means. Orwell wasn’t exempt from going on mini tirades about the blacks and the gays and the Jews so you tell me what “mischief” is) assumed these people were crypto stalinists trying to influence the government one way or the other, and wanted them shut out of politics. How is this any different than the McCarthyite position?

If 1984 was based on his experience in Britain, he’s not the Winston of this story. He’s the O’Brien.


ChangeForACow t1_ixzq6sl wrote

Orwell certainly said and did things that I CANNOT endorse--as was unfortunately common at the time and throughout history. Marx and Engel also made racially-problematic statements.

Still, Orwell's understanding of power comes from his proximity to it, as did his understanding of poverty--both in Wigan and Paris. His actions, good and bad, included taking a shot in the throat while fighting fascism in Spain.

He tried--not just with words, but with blood and sweat--to nudge the course of history towards the order he saw in Catalonia, but away from the order he had participated in in Burma as well as the Communist Party order he became disillusioned with.

The "mischief" he describes he believed served the totalitarianism he saw in Stalin and the Communist Party--though, the West has often exaggerated such authoritarianism while downplaying our own.

So-called intelligence work, as well as regular diplomacy, is fraught with guesses and inferences, but here Orwell is careful to acknowledge as much and urge further investigation. Again, the context here is considering candidates for producing anti-Communist Party propaganda, which Orwell held to be inappropriate for those sympathetic to the Communist Party.

The list is noteworthy, but should be taken in context.

Edit: I should add, if Winston represents Orwell, clearly he doesn't present himself as incorruptible.


oysterme t1_iy0014u wrote

So because Orwell fought fascism in Catalonia, it means he couldn’t have adopted a McCarthyite position 10 years later? The path from fighting fascists to red scare hysteria is a path well trodden. I see no reason why Orwell was not prone to the anti-communist philosophy that hit everyone in America and Western Europe the Second World War 2 was over.

What is the mischief he is talking about specifically? How exactly were these people serving Stalin? He doesn’t say. He says these people require “further investigation”. Further investigation by whom? The UK government. Do you think the UK government would have assessed these claims in an unbiased manner? How do you think the UK government would have treated the people on this list? Especially the homosexuals, only a few years after they basically executed Alan Turing?

He might not have been a lion himself but this list of his opened up the lions den for potentially innocent people. He might’ve taken a bullet in Catalonia, but what kind of “socialist” would have “get the government to investigate all the other people on the left that I disagree with” as a top priority? As far as I’m concerned any socialism of his died in Catalonia.


ChangeForACow t1_iy0c3u0 wrote

Orwell includes "confusing public opinion about the nature of the puppet regimes in Eastern Europe" as "mischief"--presumably, because these so-called "cryptos" suggested such regimes were independent--which he attributes to stupidity rather than malice. He specifically cites such politicians as examples to be distinguished from the dishonest.

Further investigation by those coordinating anti-Communist Party propaganda would be expected; whereas McCarthyism was more assuming guilt by association than nuanced distinctions.

Likewise, fascism and Stalinism--despite their opposition--share a simplistic Us-versus-Them approach, which we ought not apply to Orwell, who (like most of us) is far more complicated. Especially during war, alliances shift, creating strange bedfellows. Presumably, Orwell offered this list to the British Government knowing that his own name was likely on one of Stalin's many lists.

We ought not abandon Orwell to the fascists and anti-socialists who claim him as their own. After all, Orwell is one of those writers banned on both sides of the so-called Cold War, and despite the original comment in this thread, his books were removed from the curriculum when I was in high school. The Orwellian lexicon was so ubiquitous, however, that I went out of my way to read 1984 and Animal Farm over the summer, and since then I've found few other works that have explained in such accurate detail the nature of power.


oysterme t1_iy0z5io wrote

So according to Orwell, the mischief-makers were confusing public opinion about the nature of the puppet regimes in Eastern Europe, specifically by saying they (regimes in Eastern Europe) were independent from the USSR, when they actually weren’t. Let’s assume that’s what the people on the list believed. In what way would a person like that be upholding totalitarian ideology? For the sake of contrast, a Stalinist who said “yes the Eastern European regimes are under control of the USSR and this is a good thing” would be a totalitarian. The people on Orwell’s list aren’t saying that. In essence they’re saying having vassal states is bad, and the USSR isn’t doing that. Giving a list of people like that to the govt seems like backwards priorities, especially since just about all anti-communist narratives were way stronger.

“Orwell was on Stalin’s many lists” i have never seen Stalin’s lists for myself but there’s no reciprocity here. Orwell was living in the United Kingdom. If the government of the United Kingdom got ahold of Stalin’s lists of people to target, they would have done nothing to Orwell. Orwell sent this list to his own government.

“His books were removed when I were in school” as of 2022 his books are on the required reading list of nearly every high school in the United States, and this is by design.

“I’ve found few books that have explained in such accurate detail the nature of power” I disagree (that his books explain accurately the nature of power in detail, or that other books don’t do the same thing) but this is just a matter of opinion.


ChangeForACow t1_iy1flna wrote

Orwell notes the mischief-maker politicians are specifically the kinds of individuals NOT to worry about. Here he's specifically worried about those showing sympathy to, and influence of, Stalin and the Communist Party.

My point about Stalin's lists is Orwell likely presumed he was on one, and that by helping the British Government contain the Communist Party's expansion specifically--NOT the socialist movement or those whom he merely disagreed with--Orwell was acting in preservation of self and his own concept of free speech, which he believed his own Government at least pretended to preserve.

In hindsight, we might forget that the threat of Stalin conquering all of Europe, and even the UK, would have seemed very real.

Sure, Orwell has been misrepresented to excuse all kinds of awful, as Marx himself has been misused. Perhaps he meant for 1984 to be confused so as to avoid the kind of censorship he was familiar with. Here in Canada, where I went to school, Orwell was removed from my curriculum.

Actually, I find his story about shooting the Burmese elephant to be the most accurate description of power, when Orwell feels obliged by the crowd despite his own decision NOT to kill the animal.

>I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.

Power is paradoxical, because to wield power is to succumb to it. If there's a better description of power, I'd love to read it.