Isaac Deutscher 1955

1984 – The Mysticism of Cruelty

Source: Isaac Deutscher, Heretics and Renegades and Other Essays (Hamish and Hamilton, London, 1955). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers. Orwell always referred to his book as Nineteen Eighty-Four; we have kept here Deutscher’s numerical rendering of the title.

Few novels written in this generation have obtained a popularity as great as that of George Orwell’s 1984. Few, if any, have made a similar impact on politics. The title of Orwell’s book is a political by-word. The terms coined by him – ‘Newspeak’, ‘Oldspeak’, ‘Mutability of the Past’, ‘Big Brother’, ‘Ministry of Truth’, ‘Thought Police’, ‘Crimethink’, ‘Doublethink’, ‘Hate-week’, etc – have entered the political vocabulary; they occur in most newspaper articles and speeches denouncing Russia and communism. Television and the cinema have familiarised many millions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic with the menacing face of Big Brother and the nightmare of a supposedly communist Oceania. The novel has served as a sort of an ideological super-weapon in the cold war. As in no other book or document, the convulsive fear of communism, which has swept the West since the end of the Second World War, has been reflected and focused in 1984.

The cold war has created a ‘social demand’ for such an ideological weapon just as it creates the demand for physical super-weapons. But the super-weapons are genuine feats of technology; and there can be no discrepancy between the uses to which they may be put and the intention of their producers: they are meant to spread death or at least to threaten utter destruction. A book like 1984 may be used without much regard for the author’s intention. Some of its features may be torn out of their context, while others, which do not suit the political purpose which the book is made to serve, are ignored or virtually suppressed. Nor need a book like 1984 be a literary masterpiece or even an important and original work to make its impact. Indeed a work of great literary merit is usually too rich in its texture and too subtle in thought and form to lend itself to adventitious exploitation. As a rule, its symbols cannot easily be transformed into hypnotising bogies, or its ideas turned into slogans. The words of a great poet when they enter the political vocabulary do so by a process of slow, almost imperceptible infiltration, not by a frantic incursion. The literary masterpiece influences the political mind by fertilising and enriching it from the inside, not by stunning it.

1984 is the work of an intense and concentrated, but also fear-ridden and restricted imagination. A hostile critic has dismissed it as a ‘political horror-comic’. This is not a fair description: there are in Orwell’s novel certain layers of thought and feeling which raise it well above that level. But it is a fact that the symbolism of 1984 is crude; that its chief symbol, Big Brother, resembles the bogy-man of a rather inartistic nursery tale; and that Orwell’s story unfolds like the plot of a science-fiction film of the cheaper variety, with mechanical horror piling up upon mechanical horror so much that, in the end, Orwell’s subtler ideas, his pity for his characters, and his satire on the society of his own days (not of 1984) may fail to communicate themselves to the reader. 1984 does not seem to justify the description of Orwell as the modern Swift, a description for which Animal Farm provides some justification. Orwell lacks the richness and subtlety of thought and the philosophical detachment of the great satirist. His imagination is ferocious and at times penetrating, but it lacks width, suppleness and originality.

The lack of originality is illustrated by the fact that Orwell borrowed the idea of 1984, the plot, the chief characters, the symbols and the whole climate of his story from a Russian writer who has remained almost unknown in the West. That writer is Evgenii Zamyatin, and the title of the book which served Orwell as the model is We. Like 1984, We is an ‘anti-Utopia’, a nightmare vision of the shape of things to come, and a Cassandra cry. Orwell’s work is a thoroughly English variation on Zamyatin’s theme; and it is perhaps only the thoroughness of Orwell’s English approach that gives to his work the originality that it possesses.

A few words about Zamyatin may not be out of place here: there are some points of resemblance in the life-stories of the two writers. Zamyatin belonged to an older generation: he was born in 1884 and died in 1937. His early writings, like some of Orwell’s, were realistic descriptions of the lower middle class. In his experience the Russian revolution of 1905 played approximately the same role that the Spanish civil war played in Orwell’s. He participated in the revolutionary movement, was a member of the Russian Social Democratic Party (to which Bolsheviks and Mensheviks then still belonged), and was persecuted by the Tsarist police. At the ebb of the revolution, he succumbed to a mood of ‘cosmic pessimism'; and he severed his connection with the Socialist Party, a thing which Orwell, less consistent and to the end influenced by a lingering loyalty to socialism, did not do. In 1917 Zamyatin viewed the new revolution with cold and disillusioned eyes, convinced that nothing good would come out of it. After a brief imprisonment, he was allowed by the Bolshevik government to go abroad; and it was as an émigré in Paris that he wrote We in the early 1920s.

The assertion that Orwell borrowed the main elements of 1984 from Zamyatin is not the guess of a critic with a foible for tracing literary influences. Orwell knew Zamyatin’s novel and was fascinated by it. He wrote an essay about it, which appeared in the left-socialist Tribune, of which Orwell was Literary Editor, on 4 January 1946, just after the publication of Animal Farm and before he began writing 1984. The essay is remarkable not only as a conclusive piece of evidence, supplied by Orwell himself, on the origin of 1984, but also as a commentary on the idea underlying both We and 1984.

The essay begins with Orwell saying that after having for years looked in vain for Zamyatin’s novel, he had at last obtained it in a French edition (under the title Nous Autres), and that he was surprised that it had not been published in England, although an American edition had appeared without arousing much interest. ‘So far as I can judge’, Orwell went on, ‘it is not a book of the first order, but it is certainly an unusual one, and it is astonishing that no English publisher has been enterprising enough to reissue it.’ (He concluded the essay with the words: ‘This is a book to look out for when an English version appears.’)

Orwell noticed that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World ‘must be partly derived’ from Zamyatin’s novel and wondered why this had ‘never been pointed out’. Zamyatin’s book was, in his view, much superior and more ‘relevant to our own situation’ than Huxley’s. It dealt ‘with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit against a rationalised, mechanised, painless world’.

‘Painless’ is not the right adjective: the world of Zamyatin’s vision is as full of horrors as is that of 1984. Orwell himself produced in his essay a succinct catalogue of those horrors so that his essay reads now like a synopsis of 1984. The members of the society described by Zamyatin, says Orwell, ‘have so completely lost their individuality as to be known only by numbers. They live in glass houses... which enables the political police, known as the “Guardians,” to supervise them more easily. They all wear identical uniforms, and a human being is commonly referred to either as “a number” or a “unif” (uniform).’ Orwell remarks in parenthesis that Zamyatin wrote ‘before television was invented’. In 1984 this technological refinement is brought in as well as the helicopters from which the police supervise the homes of the citizens of Oceania in the opening passages of the novel. The ‘unifs’ suggest the ‘Proles’. In Zamyatin’s society of the future as in 1984 love is forbidden: sexual intercourse is strictly rationed and permitted only as an unemotional act. ‘The Single State is ruled over by a person known as the Benefactor’, the obvious prototype of Big Brother.

‘The guiding principle of the state is that happiness and freedom are incompatible... the Single State has restored his [man’s] happiness by removing his freedom.’ Orwell describes Zamyatin’s chief character as ‘a sort of Utopian Billy Brown of London town’ who is ‘constantly horrified by the atavistic impulses which seize upon him’. In Orwell’s novel that Utopian Billy Brown is christened Winston Smith, and his problem is the same.

For the main motif of his plot Orwell is similarly indebted to the Russian writer. This is how Orwell defines it: ‘In spite of education and the vigilance of the Guardians, many of the ancient human instincts are still there.’ Zamyatin’s chief character ‘falls in love (this is a crime, of course) with a certain I-330’ just as Winston Smith commits the crime of falling in love with Julia. In Zamyatin’s as in Orwell’s story the love affair is mixed up with the hero’s participation in an ‘underground resistance movement’. Zamyatin’s rebels ‘apart from plotting the overthrow of the state, even indulge, at the moment when their curtains are down, in such vices as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol'; Winston Smith and Julia indulge in drinking ‘real coffee with real sugar’ in their hideout over Mr Charrington’s shop. In both novels the crime and the conspiracy are, of course, discovered by the Guardians or the Thought Police; and in both the hero ‘is ultimately saved from the consequences of his own folly’.

The combination of ‘cure’ and torture by which Zamyatin’s and Orwell’s rebels are ‘freed’ from the atavistic impulses, until they begin to love Benefactor or Big Brother, are very much the same. In Zamyatin:

The authorities announce that they have discovered the cause of the recent disorders: it is that some human beings suffer from a disease called imagination. The nerve centre responsible for imagination has now been located, and the disease can be cured by X-ray treatment. D-503 undergoes the operation, after which it is easy for him to do what he has known all along that he ought to do – that is, betray his confederates to the police.

In both novels the act of confession and the betrayal of the woman the hero loves are the curative shocks.

Orwell quotes the following scene of torture from Zamyatin:

She looked at me, her hands clasping the arms of the chair, until her eyes were completely shut. They took her out, brought her to herself by means of an electric shock, and put her under the bell again. This operation was repeated three times, and not a word issued from her lips.

In Orwell’s scenes of torture the ‘electric shocks’ and the ‘arms of the chair’ recur quite often, but Orwell is far more intense, masochistic-sadistic, in his descriptions of cruelty and pain. For instance:

Without any warning except a slight movement of O'Brien’s hand, a wave of pain flooded his body. It was a frightening pain, because he could not see what was happening, and he had the feeling that some mortal injury was being done to him. He did not know whether the thing was really happening, or whether the effect was electrically produced; but his body had been wrenched out of shape, the joints were being slowly torn apart. Although the pain had brought the sweat out on his forehead, the worst of all was the fear that his backbone was about to snap. He set his teeth and breathed hard through his nose, trying to keep silent as long as possible.

The list of Orwell’s borrowings is far from complete; but let us now turn from the plot of the two novels to their underlying idea. Taking up the comparison between Zamyatin and Huxley, Orwell says: ‘It is this intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism – human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself, the worship of a Leader who is credited with divine attributes – that makes Zamyatin’s book superior to Huxley’s.’ It is this, we may add, that made of it Orwell’s model. Criticising Huxley, Orwell writes that he could find no clear reason why the society of Brave New World should be so rigidly and elaborately stratified:

The aim is not economic exploitation... There is no power-hunger, no sadism, no hardness of any kind. Those at the top have no strong motive for staying on the top, and though everyone is happy in a vacuous way, life has become so pointless that it is difficult to believe that such a society could endure.’ [My italics]

In contrast, the society of Zamyatin’s anti-Utopia could endure, in Orwell’s view, because in it the supreme motive of action and the reason for social stratification are not economic exploitation, for which there is no need, but precisely the ‘power-hunger, sadism and hardness’ of those who ‘stay at the top’. It is easy to recognise in this the leitmotif of 1984.

In Oceania technological development has reached so high a level that society could well satisfy all its material needs and establish equality in its midst. But inequality and poverty are maintained in order to keep Big Brother in power. In the past, says Orwell, dictatorship safeguarded inequality, now inequality safeguards dictatorship. But what purpose does the dictatorship itself serve?

The party seeks power entirely for its own sake... Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution... The object of power is power.

Orwell wondered whether Zamyatin did ‘intend the Soviet regime to be the special target of his satire’. He was not sure of this:

What Zamyatin seems to be aiming at is not any particular country but the implied aims of the industrial civilisation... It is evident from We that he had a strong leaning towards primitivism... We is in effect a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again.

The same ambiguity of the author’s aim is evident also in 1984.

Orwell’s guess about Zamyatin was correct. Though Zamyatin was opposed to the Soviet regime, it was not exclusively, or even mainly, that regime which he satirised. As Orwell rightly remarked, the early Soviet Russia had few features in common with the super-mechanised state of Zamyatin’s anti-Utopia. That writer’s leaning towards primitivism was in line with a Russian tradition, with Slavophilism and hostility towards the bourgeois West, with the glorification of the muzhik and of the old patriarchal Russia, with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Even as an émigré, Zamyatin was disillusioned with the West in the characteristically Russian fashion. At times he seemed half-reconciled with the Soviet regime when it was already producing its Benefactor in the person of Stalin. In so far as he directed the darts of his satire against Bolshevism, he did so on the ground that Bolshevism was bent on replacing the old primitive Russia by the modern, mechanised society. Curiously enough, he set his story in the year 2600; and he seemed to say to the Bolsheviks: this is what Russia will look like if you succeed in giving to your regime the background of Western technology. In Zamyatin, like in some other Russian intellectuals disillusioned with socialism, the hankering after the primitive modes of thought and life was in so far natural as primitivism was still strongly alive in the Russian background.

In Orwell there was and there could be no such authentic nostalgia after the pre-industrial society. Primitivism had no part in his experience and background, except during his stay in Burma, when he was hardly attracted by it. But he was terrified of the uses to which technology might be put by men determined to enslave society; and so he, too, came to question and satirise ‘the implied aims of industrial civilisation’.

Although his satire is more recognisably aimed at Soviet Russia than Zamyatin’s, Orwell saw elements of Oceania in the England of his own days as well, not to speak of the United States. Indeed, the society of 1984 embodies all that he hated and disliked in his own surroundings: the drabness and monotony of the English industrial suburb, the ‘filthy and grimy and smelly’ ugliness of which he tried to match in his naturalistic, repetitive and oppressive style; the food rationing and the government controls which he knew in wartime Britain; the ‘rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex'; and so on. Orwell knew well that newspapers of this sort did not exist in Stalinist Russia, and that the faults of the Stalinist press were of an altogether different kind. Newspeak is much less a satire on the Stalinist idiom than on Anglo-American journalistic ‘cablese’, which he loathed and with which, as a working journalist, he was well familiar.

It is easy to tell which features of the party of 1984 satirise the British Labour Party rather than the Soviet Communist Party. Big Brother and his followers make no attempt to indoctrinate the working class, an omission Orwell would have been the last to ascribe to Stalinism. His Proles ‘vegetate’: ‘heavy work, petty quarrels, films, gambling... fill their mental horizon’. Like the rubbishy newspapers and the films oozing with sex, so gambling, the new opium of the people, does not belong to the Russian scene. The Ministry of Truth is a transparent caricature of London’s wartime Ministry of Information. The monster of Orwell’s vision is, like every nightmare, made up of all sorts of faces and features and shapes, familiar and unfamiliar. Orwell’s talent and originality are evident in the domestic aspect of his satire. But in the vogue which 1984 has enjoyed that aspect has rarely been noticed.

1984 is a document of dark disillusionment not only with Stalinism but with every form and shade of socialism. It is a cry from the abyss of despair. What plunged Orwell into that abyss? It was without any doubt the spectacle of the Stalinist Great Purges of 1936-38, the repercussions of which he experienced in Catalonia. As a man of sensitivity and integrity, he could not react to the purges otherwise than with anger and horror. His conscience could not be soothed by the Stalinist justifications and sophisms which at the time did soothe the conscience of, for instance, Arthur Koestler, a writer of greater brilliance and sophistication but of less moral resolution. The Stalinist justifications and sophisms were both beneath and above Orwell’s level of reasoning – they were beneath and above the common sense and the stubborn empiricism of Billy Brown of London town, with whom Orwell identified himself even in his most rebellious or revolutionary moments. He was outraged, shocked and shaken in his beliefs. He had never been a member of the Communist Party. But, as an adherent of the semi-Trotskyist POUM, he had, despite all his reservations, tacitly assumed a certain community of purpose and solidarity with the Soviet regime through all its vicissitudes and transformations, which were to him somewhat obscure and exotic.

The purges and their Spanish repercussions not only destroyed that community of purpose. Not only did he see the gulf between Stalinists and anti-Stalinists opening suddenly inside embattled Republican Spain. This, the immediate effect of the purges, was overshadowed by ‘the irrational side of totalitarianism – human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself, the worship of a Leader’, and ‘the colour of the sinister slave-civilisations of the ancient world’ spreading over contemporary society.

Like most British socialists, Orwell had never been a Marxist. The dialectical-materialist philosophy had always been too abstruse for him. From instinct rather than consciousness he had been a staunch rationalist. The distinction between the Marxist and the rationalist is of some importance. Contrary to an opinion widespread in Anglo-Saxon countries, Marxism is not at all rationalist in its philosophy: it does not assume that human beings are, as a rule, guided by rational motives and that they can be argued into socialism by reason. Marx himself begins Das Kapital with the elaborate philosophical and historical inquiry into the ‘fetishistic’ modes of thought and behaviour rooted in ‘commodity production’ – that is, in man’s work for, and dependence on, a market. The class struggle, as Marx describes it, is anything but a rational process. This does not prevent the rationalists of socialism describing themselves sometimes as Marxists. But the authentic Marxist may claim to be mentally better prepared than the rationalist is for the manifestations of irrationality in human affairs, even for such manifestations as Stalin’s Great Purges. He may feel upset or mortified by them, but he need not feel shaken in his Weltanschauung, while the rationalist is lost and helpless when the irrationality of the human existence suddenly stares him in the face. If he clings to his rationalism, reality eludes him. If he pursues reality and tries to grasp it, he must part with his rationalism.

Orwell pursued reality and found himself bereft of his conscious and unconscious assumptions about life. In his thoughts he could not henceforth get away from the Purges. Directly and indirectly, they supplied the subject matter for nearly all that he wrote after his Spanish experience. This was an honourable obsession, the obsession of a mind not inclined to cheat itself comfortably and to stop grappling with an alarming moral problem. But grappling with the Purges, his mind became infected by their irrationality. He found himself incapable of explaining what was happening in terms which were familiar to him, the terms of empirical common sense. Abandoning rationalism, he increasingly viewed reality through the dark glasses of a quasi-mystical pessimism.

It has been said that 1984 is the figment of the imagination of a dying man. There is some truth in this, but not the whole truth. It was indeed with the last feverish flicker of life in him that Orwell wrote this book. Hence the extraordinary, gloomy intensity of his vision and language, and the almost physical immediacy with which he suffered the tortures which his creative imagination was inflicting on his chief character. He identified his own withering physical existence with the decayed and shrunken body of Winston Smith, to whom he imparted and in whom he invested, as it were, his own dying pangs. He projected the last spasms of his own suffering into the last pages of his last book. But the main explanation of the inner logic of Orwell’s disillusionment and pessimism lies not in the writer’s death agonies, but in the experience and the thought of the living man and in his convulsive reaction from his defeated rationalism.

‘I understand how: I do not understand why’ is the refrain of 1984. Winston Smith knows how Oceania functions and how its elaborate mechanism of tyranny works, but he does not know what is its ultimate cause and ultimate purpose. He turns for the answer to the pages of ‘the book’, the mysterious classic of crimethink, the authorship of which is attributed to Emmanuel Goldstein, the inspirer of the conspiratorial Brotherhood. But he manages to read through only those chapters of ‘the book’ which deal with the how. The Thought Police descends upon him just when he is about to begin reading the chapters which promise to explain why; and so the question remains unanswered.

This was Orwell’s own predicament. He asked the Why not so much about the Oceania of his vision as about Stalinism and the Great Purges. At one point he certainly turned for the answer to Trotsky: it was from Trotsky – Bronstein that he took the few sketchy biographical data and even the physiognomy and the Jewish name for Emmanuel Goldstein; and the fragments of ‘the book’, which take up so many pages in 1984, are an obvious, though not very successful, paraphrase of Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed. Orwell was impressed by Trotsky’s moral grandeur and at the same time he partly distrusted it and partly doubted its authenticity. The ambivalence of his view of Trotsky finds its counterpart in Winston Smith’s attitude towards Goldstein. To the end Smith cannot find out whether Goldstein and the Brotherhood have ever existed in reality, and whether ‘the book’ was not concocted by the Thought Police. The barrier between Trotsky’s thought and himself, a barrier which Orwell could never break down, was Marxism and dialectical materialism. He found in Trotsky the answer to How, not to Why.

But Orwell could not content himself with historical agnosticism. He was anything but a sceptic. His mental make-up was rather that of the fanatic, determined to get an answer, a quick and a plain answer, to his question. He was now tense with distrust and suspicion and on the look-out for the dark conspiracies hatched by them against the decencies of Billy Brown of London town. They were the Nazis, the Stalinists, and – Churchill and Roosevelt, and ultimately all who had any raison d'état to defend, for at heart Orwell was a simple-minded anarchist and, in his eyes, any political movement forfeited its raison d'être the moment it acquired a raison d'état. To analyse a complicated social background, to try and unravel tangles of political motives, calculations, fears and suspicions, and to discern the compulsion of circumstances behind their action was beyond him. Generalisations about social forces, social trends and historic inevitabilities made him bristle with suspicion. Yet, without some such generalisations, properly and sparingly used, no realistic answer could be given to the question which preoccupied Orwell. His gaze was fixed on the trees, or rather on a single tree, in front of him, and he was almost blind to the wood. Yet his distrust of historical generalisations led him in the end to adopt and to cling to the oldest, the most banal, the most abstract, the most metaphysical and the most barren of all generalisations: all their conspiracies and plots and purges and diplomatic deals had one source and one source only – ‘sadistic power-hunger’. Thus he made his jump from workaday, rationalistic common sense to the mysticism of cruelty which inspires 1984. [1]

In 1984 man’s mastery over the machine has reached so high a level that society is in a position to produce plenty for everybody and put an end to inequality. But poverty and inequality are maintained only to satisfy the sadistic urges of Big Brother. Yet we do not even know whether Big Brother really exists – he may be only a myth. It is the collective cruelty of the party (not necessarily of its individual members who may be intelligent and well-meaning people), that torments Oceania. Totalitarian society is ruled by a disembodied sadism. Orwell imagined that he had ‘transcended’ the familiar and, as he thought, increasingly irrelevant concepts of social class and class interest. But in these Marxist generalisations, the interest of a social class bears at least some specific relation to the individual interests and the social position of its members, even if the class interest does not represent a simple sum of the individual interests. In Orwell’s party the whole bears no relation to the parts. The party is not a social body actuated by any interest or purpose. It is a phantom-like emanation of all that is foul in human nature. It is the metaphysical, mad and triumphant, Ghost of Evil.

Of course, Orwell intended 1984 as a warning. But the warning defeats itself because of its underlying boundless despair. Orwell saw totalitarianism as bringing history to a standstill. Big Brother is invincible: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.’ He projected the spectacle of the Great Purges on to the future, and he saw it fixed there for ever, because he was not capable of grasping the events realistically, in their complex historical context. To be sure, the events were highly ‘irrational'; but he who because of this treats them irrationally is very much like the psychiatrist whose mind becomes unhinged by dwelling too closely with insanity. 1984 is in effect not so much a warning as a piercing shriek announcing the advent of the Black Millennium, the Millennium of damnation.

The shriek, amplified by all the ‘mass-media’ of our time, has frightened millions of people. But it has not helped them to see more clearly the issues with which the world is grappling; it has not advanced their understanding. It has only increased and intensified the waves of panic and hate that run through the world and obfuscate innocent minds. 1984 has taught millions to look at the conflict between East and West in terms of black and white, and it has shown them a monster bogy and a monster scapegoat for all the ills that plague mankind.

At the onset of the atomic age, the world is living in a mood of Apocalyptic horror. That is why millions of people respond so passionately to the Apocalyptic vision of a novelist. The Apocalyptic atomic and hydrogen monsters, however, have not been let loose by Big Brother. The chief predicament of contemporary society is that it has not yet succeeded in adjusting its way of life and its social and political institutions to the prodigious advance of its technological knowledge. We do not know what has been the impact of the atomic and hydrogen bombs on the thoughts of millions in the East, where anguish and fear may be hidden behind the façade of a facile (or perhaps embarrassed?) official optimism. But it would be dangerous to blind ourselves to the fact that in the West millions of people may be inclined, in their anguish and fear, to flee from their own responsibility for mankind’s destiny and to vent their anger and despair on the giant Bogy-cum-Scapegoat which Orwell’s 1984 has done so much to place before their eyes.

* * *

‘Have you read this book? You must read it, sir. Then you will know why we must drop the atom bomb on the Bolshies!’ With these words a blind, miserable news-vendor recommended to me 1984 in New York, a few weeks before Orwell’s death.

Poor Orwell, could he ever imagine that his own book would become so prominent an item in the programme of Hate Week?


1. This opinion is based on personal reminiscences as well as on an analysis of Orwell’s work. During the last war Orwell seemed attracted by the critical, then somewhat unusual, tenor of my commentaries on Russia which appeared in The Economist, The Observer and Tribune. (Later we were both The Observer’s correspondents in Germany and occasionally shared a room in a press camp.) However, it took me little time to become aware of the differences of approach behind our seeming agreement. I remember that I was taken aback by the stubbornness with which Orwell dwelt on ‘conspiracies’, and that his political reasoning struck me as a Freudian sublimation of persecution mania. He was, for instance, unshakably convinced that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt consciously plotted to divide the world, and to divide it for good, among themselves, and to subjugate it in common. (I can trace the idea of Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia back to that time.) ‘They are all power-hungry’, he used to repeat. When once I pointed out to him that underneath the apparent solidarity of the Big Three one could discern clearly the conflict between them, already coming to the surface, Orwell was so startled and incredulous that he at once related our conversation in his column in Tribune, and added that he saw no sign of the approach of the conflict of which I spoke. This was by the time of the Yalta conference, or shortly thereafter, when not much foresight was needed to see what was coming. What struck me in Orwell was his lack of historical sense and of psychological insight into political life coupled with an acute, though narrow, penetration into some aspects of politics and with an incorruptible firmness of conviction. [George Orwell, ‘As I Please’, Tribune, 26 January 1945 – Deutscher is not mentioned by name, and where the article has been reproduced no reference to him is given; see The Collected Essays and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3 (Harmondsworth, 1984), p 369; George Orwell, Collected Works, Volume 17 (London, 1998), p 30; Orwell in Tribune (London, 2006), pp 235-36 – MIA.]