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Paul O’Flinn

Rereading Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984

(Spring 1984)

From International Socialism 2 : 23, Spring 1984, pp. 76–98.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Thanks to George Orwell, 1984 promises to be a good year for those of us who pay for the groceries by teaching literature. The usual disabling sense you have of toiling away pointlessly on the remotest fringes of the superstructure isn’t much relieved by the fact that 1984 is the eightieth anniversary of the publication of Henry James’s The Golden Bowl or the centenary of the first performance of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck – nobody is going to stick either of those texts on T-shirts or try to squeeze them for a bit of reactionary juice in the editorial column of the Daily Express. But Nineteen Eighty-Four is a different matter: it’s not one of those works which survive simply by courtesy of the syllabuses in institutions of higher education, where literature is used to polish up the sensibilities of those of the middle classes who weren’t any good at science at school. Nineteen Eighty-Four still lives close to the centre of our society and its culture, as the last few months of bombardment, from beer adverts to sensitive profiles on BBC2, will have reminded everyone.

And yet, for all that Orwell and his work loom large in people’s awareness, he remains curiously difficult to focus in political terms. For example: central to my own move out of a sort of Oxfam liberalism towards socialist ideas was being caught up the cruder processes of imperialism in Nigeria in the 1960s, but a small, important part of that move too was reading and being inflamed by Homage to Catalonia. On the other hand, one of the reasons why I was stuck with Oxfam liberalism when I ought to have been old enough to know better was a vague but persistent memory of a 1950s TV production of Nineteen Eighty-Four. This bolted into place in my mind all those concepts – Thought Police, Big Brother is Watching You, Newspeak and so on – that the dominant ideology used and still uses as crippling shorthand for anything mildly to the left of the Monday Club. I suspect these experiences aren’t untypical: Orwell seems at one moment to be an odd sort of socialist who doles out half-bricks for right-wing hacks to throw at us, and then, at another, essentially an old Etonian ex-policeman who nonetheless inadvertently wrote things that can substantially undermine some of the assumptions of British capitalism.

To some extent, which of these two Orwells you accept as the ‘true’ one is a function of who you talk to, the books you’ve read, the programmes you see. He himself is long dead and his books are simply inert lumps of wood-pulp on the shelves: they only come to life and have meaning when they are picked up and perused and re-produced by readers who construct and re-construct the work themselves, partly, it is true, out of the materials the text supplies but partly too with their own resources and conditioning. All texts are in this sense co-authored by readers – in Marxist terms, their production is only completed in their consumption. But the possibilities of that reproduction are not limitless: Macbeth isn’t about Nottingham Forest, and Capital can’t be used by Tories to justify closing hospitals.

Texts, in other words, set material limits to the ways they can be read and the tasks they can perform, but for some texts – and Nineteen Eighty-Four is clearly one of them – those limits are broad and a range of conflicting readings and uses is possible. Where politics and political criticism can intervene, rather than simply leaving it to the dominant forces in the society to impose a particular way of seeing and understanding a book through, say, the packaging of a Penguin edition, characteristic O-Level questions, the specific interpretation in a TV version and so on. Intervention of this sort is above all worth making in the case of Nineteen Eighty-Four because it has become one of the ideological touchstones of Western society right from its first appearance in 1949 when it was US and London Evening Standard Book-of-the-Month Club choice and was thus at once installed at a level of public awareness far beyond the run-of-the-mill novel. So, in the US and Britain, it sold over 400,000 copies in the first year and has sold massively ever since: ten million copies in English alone, millions more in its translation into 23 languages, 26 Penguin re-prints since 1954. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a text that has formed and this year above all is being energetically used to form the way enormous masses of people see themselves, their world and its possibilities.

The ideological importance of the book is evident in the fact that, right from the start, attempts were made to hijack its meanings as hostages for reactionary politics. At its most glaring, this also involved efforts to doctor the text in order to make it easier to swallow: thus, the publishers of the US Book-of-the-Month Club edition wanted to chop off the long extract from Goldstein’s The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism and the Appendix on the principles of Newspeak, but Orwell successfully resisted this operation. But he could do little – beyond the odd gesture like refusing to give the Time-Life correspondent an interview – to influence the thrust of the publicity that at once surrounded the book and sought to dress it up not only as an anti-Communist pamphlet but also as an attack on the Labour Government. (‘Many readers in England,’ Life insinuated, ‘will find that his book reinforces a growing suspicion that some of the British Laborites revel in austerity and would love to preserve it.’ [1]) It was this sort of press-ganging of the novel to serve right-wing interests that drove Orwell, ill though he was at the time, to make two prompt moves to rescue the book and shove it along the lines that he himself wanted. Nineteen Eighty Four went on sale in London on 8 June 1949 and in New York on 13 June: on 15 June Orwell released a press statement through his publisher Fred Warburg (a statement whose fuller implications I will return to later on):

It has been suggested by some of the reviewers of Nineteen Eighty-Four that it is the author’s 6ew that this, or something like this, is what will happen inside the next forty years in the Western world. This is not correct. I think that, Nineteen Eighty-Four could happen. This is the direction in which the world is going and the trend lies deep in the political, social and economic foundations of the contemporary world situation.

Specifically the danger lies in the structure imposed on Socialist and Liberal capitalist communities by the necessity to prepare for total war with the USSR and the new weapons, of which of course the atomic bomb is the most powerful and the most publicised. But danger lies also in the acceptance of a totalitarian outlook by intellectuals of all colours. The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: ‘Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.’ George Orwell assumes that if such societies as he describes in Nineteen Eighty-Four come into being there will be several super states. This is fully dealt with in the relevant chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is also discussed from a different angle by James Burnham in The Managerial Revolution. These super states will naturally be in opposition to each other or (a novel point) will pretend to be much more in opposition than in fact they are. Two of the principal super states will obviously be the Anglo-American world and Eurasia. If these two great blocks line up as moral enemies it is ob6ous that the Anglo-Americans will not take the name of their opponents and will not dramatise themselves on the scene of history as Communists. Thus they will have to find a new name for themselves. The name suggested in Nineteen Eighty-Four is of course Ingsoc, but in practice a wide range of choices is open. In the USA the phrase ‘Americanism’ or ‘hundred per cent Americanism’ is suitable and the qualifying adjectiv is as totalitarian as anyone could wish.

If there is a failure of nerve and the Labour Party breaks down in its attempts to deal with the hard problems with which it will be faced, tougher types than the present Labour leaders will inevitably take over, drawn probably from the ranks of the Left, but not sharing the Liberal aspirations of those now in power. Members of the present British government, from Mr Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps down to Aneurin Bevan, will never willingly sell the pass to the enemy, and in general the older men, nurtured in a Liberal tradition, are safe, but the younger generation is suspect and the seeds of totalitarian thought are probably widespread among them. It is invidious to mention names, but everyone could without difficulty think for himself of prominent English and American personalities whom the cap would fit. [2]

The next day, 16 June, he wrote to Francis A. Henson, an official of the US United Auto Workers, who had been tempted to recommend the book to his members but was disturbed by its warm reception in the conservative press:

My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralised economy is liable and which have been already partly realised in Communism and Fascism. I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasise that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere. [3]

This battle for the text’s meaning has gone on more or less ever since, in some years declining into the odd gentle academic skirmish but in others and above all in this one flaring up into a full-scale blitzkrieg involving ideological troops as diverse as sloganeers for Heineken ads, Morning Star reporters and Margaret Thatcher’s speechwriters. What I’d like to do in the rest of the article is to look first of all at the material Orwell supplies in Nineteen Eighty-Four and then at some of the ways that material has been commandeered by Right and Left since 1949. In so doing I hope to arrive at an answer to the main question that the text raises for Marxists today, namely, what do we do with it? Do we slide past in embarrassed silence, wishing 1985 would hurry up and we could get shot of the bloody thing? Do we actively combat it as a pernicious book with a pernicious impact? Or is it a text that every revolutionary needs to absorb and learn from to make sure that, when the time does come, this time we get it right?


Orwell had had trouble finding a publisher for Animal Farm in 1944 and 1945. Its transparently veiled attacks at Stalinism weren’t obviously popular at a time when, in Victor Gollancz’s words, the Russians ‘had just saved our necks at Stalingrad’. But four years or so later there were to be no such problems with Nineteen Eighty-Four. When Fred Warburg of Secker & Warburg first read the manuscript in December 1948 it was only a few months before the founding of NATO and the consequent cementing into position of Cold War attitudes. He reacted to the text with delight:

The political system which prevails is Ingsoc English Socialism. This I take to be a deliberate and sadistic attack on socialism and socialist parties generally. It seems to indicate a final breach between Orwell and Socialism, not the socialism of equality and human brotherhood which dearly Orwell no longer expects from socialist parties, but the socialism of marxism and the managerial revolution. 1984 is among other things an attack on Burnham’s managerialism; and it is worth a cool million votes to the Conservative Party; it is imaginable that it might have a preface by Winston Churchill after whom its hero is named. 1984 should be published as soon as possible, in June 1949.

He went on to note that, when Winston Smith is reading Goldstein’s political testament to Julia, she falls asleep – ‘a typical Orwellism ... (Women aren’t intelligent in Orwell’s world.)’ [4] Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick tries to brush this verdict aside, but re-reading the book last week I could see why Warburg took it as fairly straight Tory propaganda and sexist to boot. After all, to see the persistent use by the Right of the book and its terms over the last 35 years as simply a giant capitalist media swindle is to offer the standard sort of Bennite response which absolves you from any more searching and critical examination of the politics involved. It seems to me undeniable that in various ways – in the way it is structured, in the values it enacts and in its significant silences – Nineteen Eighty-Four is in the main a reactionary book.

For example, it is reactionary in the literal sense in that, at the height of his rebellion – the meeting at O’Brien’s flat in Part 2 – Smith turns down an invitation to drink either to ‘humanity’ or the ‘future’ and toasts instead ‘the past’ [5], and that is an attitude that the text structurally reinforces. Smith’s work at the Ministry of Truth is concerned solely with the past and with altering it to suit the Party line, and so his gestures of rebellion and temptations towards it are limited to preser6ng bits of the past that the Party would like destroyed. For the future he has little regard because of a concomitant conviction, which the narrat4e 6ndicates, that resistance must be ineffective and change impossible. The plot therefore enacts the politics of apathetic miserabilism adequately mirrored in the knowing cynicism of its own repeated jingle – ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree / I sold you and you sold me.’ It is a reactionary view of life that reaches down into and generates even small details of the work. For instance, Smith’s frequent dreams are not deployed in any intellectually reputable way but rather in the most infantile and superstitious terms: they are prophecies of future events (of making love to Julia in the Golden Country, of meeting O’Brien in ‘the place where there is no darkness’) and thus further underpin the text’s dismal conviction that the future is not ours to make but is all mysteriously mapped out for us. It is of course for precisely this reason that right-wing and fascist journals tend to carry lots of adverts for clairvoyants and astrologers, as indeed Orwell himself pointed out in an earlier and wiser work. [6]

This glum conception is given space to stand up and move about in the book because other things are suppressed or squeezed aside. The most notorious of these is the working class, the ‘proles’ in the Party’s contemptuous term which the text never effectively challenges. The proles are an unappetising lump. The only ones who emerge briefly out of the lump and into contact with Smith turn out to be a whore and a half-wit he meets in a pub. Sometimes they are 6ewed with a sort of condescending Dickensian smirk, a source of comic relief – the prole woman, for example, who shouts ‘they didn’t oughter of showed it’ at the cinema in the first chapter. More often, as Raymond Williams has pointed out [7], they are seen, in the same revealing but disgraceful metaphor that is central to Animal Farm, as animals, a different species from normal humanity. They are ‘like a horse shaking off flies’ (p. 59), ‘like the ant’ (p. 78), ‘like birds’ (p. 175). Like a lot of animals, they have physical strengths and capacities that inspire what the novel calls ‘mystical reverence’ (p. 175) in the human onlooker, but like animals they are in the end stupid. ‘The woman down there had no mind, she had only strong arms, a warm heart, and a fertile belly’ (p. 175). Hence, above all, like animals they can have no political sense, no ability to look at their own experience and extrapolate the theory that might inform resistance:

Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their viion. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones (pp. 77–78).

There are, of course, massive problems in marrying socialist theory with working-class consciousness, as every Marxist is painfully aware. But in order to construct this grotesque notion of a whole class congenitally incapable of any kind of political sense, Orwell was forced quite simply to distort and to distort in ways that he had practised in The Road to Wigan Pier, as Peter Sedgwick noted: ‘He is insistent in Wigan Pier that he has never come across any worker with an intellectual grasp of Socialism; yet his diary for the journey makes it clear that he was totally dependent for his contacts and introductions upon Socialist workers with a CP, ILP or NUWM background.’ [8]

Granted that distortion, that notion of a class disqualified by its very constitution as a class from meaningful political awareness or activity, the book’s repeated refrain – ‘if there is a hope it lies in the proles’ – is no more than the weary gesture of a fading faith which the narrative carefully fails to sustain. How, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, is production organised? What are the factories like? What sort of working conditions obtain in them? Are there trade unions? What do they do? All these are basic questions that a socialist should attempt to answer first in describing any type of society, but about all of them Nineteen Eighty-Four is quite silent – necessarily so, because to answer them would disrupt the text’s fiction of a class whose minds are mainly filled with ‘films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling’ (p. 60). And it won’t do to protest that these are only the views of one alienated character, the middle-class Winston Smith, rather than the author George Orwell, because the text quite deliberately refuses to offer any reason for rubbing out this caricature and so ends by ostentatiously framing it.

What that framing means for the novel as a whole is sourly familiar. In the absence of any confidence in working-class acti6ty or politics, the door is wide open to a sort of saloon-bar knowingness, the comfortably cynical sense that because it’s all a racket you’re absolved from doing anything. Thus all opposition is a swindle – The Brotherhood probably doesn’t exist, O’Brien writes Goldstein’s book and anyway it doesn’t matter because in the end everyone betrays everyone else. If, as most readers and commentators feel, Goldstein is substantially based on Trotsky, then the text at this point drifts beyond mere distortion in to unforgivable slander.

That drift is accelerated by the novel’s view of women, like the working class oppressed and therefore, for socialists, a potential source of resistance and change. But the women in Nineteen Eighty-Four are constructed along the traditional lines of conservative, male fiction. All of them, from a major figure like Julia down to Smith’s mother and sister and the whore he uses, are present not in their own right but rather as aids to defining and developing the central male. Thus, in order to allude to three of them in the last sentence, I was forced to describe them in terms of their relationship to Smith because those are the only terms the text supplies. Even the fourth, Julia, is not sufficiently focussed to be given a surname, an omission that implies her essentially tri6al status for all the space she occupies in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both central figures loathe women (Smith ‘disliked nearly all women’ (p. 12) and Julia exclaims: ‘How I hate women!’ (p. 106) and the text provides no way for us to wriggle past these feelings and see them as alienated illusions. Part One Chapter 6 depicts women in general as a frigid lot who enthusiastically collude with the Party’s efforts to impose mass chastity; if one woman in particular – Julia – breaks through that imposition then all her rebellion brings is the downfall of the male protagonist.

So it is that, once again, by distortion and by silence the reader is routed away from the springs of action and the sources of hope and down the cul-de-sac of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s stony pessimism. It seems to me no defence to claim that argument along these lines misses the point, that Nineteen Eighty-Four is meant to be a caution about what could happen rather than a rendering of what will be. For if the text sets out to cancel and deny what are for socialists precisely the means by which the text’s dire dreams of the future can be prevented, then we are left with nothing but that same feeling of being drawn unavoidably towards Room 101 that Smith has right from the start. Nineteen Eighty-Four is, sure enough, a warning about the future but at the same time it seeks to throttle the only forces that might stop the warning being realised. It thus reiterates the depressing paradigm of all Orwell’s novels – the hero/heroine who rebels but whose rebellion always fails because of the invincible forces ranged against it and the ine6table feebleness of revolt.


If the account of Nineteen Eighty-Four given in the last section were the whole truth about the book then we could ignore it as an odd bit of 1940s right-wing graffiti, a mediation in the imaginative terms of fiction of the terrors that haunted the editorial columns of the Daily Telegraph. But Nineteen Eighty-Four is more than that, which is part of the reason why it has lasted while those editorials are long forgotten. The text I have described is in a variety of places split and disrupted by other, profounder ways of seeing, by attempts to wrest the novel form round so that it can deal con6ncingly with the post-1945 world.

An example: within weeks of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Orwell wrote an article called You and the Atom Bomb for Tribune which aims to think through the political implications of the new weapon. He sees it as ‘likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a “peace that is no peace”’ and thus develops a theory of ‘a permanent state of “cold war”’ – the earliest use of the latter phrase I have come across. [9] In the same article he indicates the need to work out ‘the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs and the social structure’ that such a cold war would generate. The point is that at that time, the autumn of 1945, plans for Nineteen Eighty-Four has been working in his mind for a couple of years and within a few months he started writing it. So it is possible to see Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four filling the gap that the Tribune article had detected and conceptualising in fuller terms the new nuclear/Cold War world. Certainly, while he was redrafting the novel in the latter half of 1948 references to atomic war abound in other things he wrote at the time – in, for example, such diverse places as a July–September Adelphi review of Osbert Sitwell’s Great Morning, in letters written on 29 October and 15 November to Julian Symons and Anthony Powell respectively and in an Observer review of T.S. Eliot’s Notes towards the Definition of Culture published on 28 November. Hence Orwell’s basis for Nineteen Eighty-Four is a society warped and constricted by a major atomic war sometime in the 1950s and there are frequent references to that war in the book (see, for example, pp. 29, 153 and 157).

We may not have had that type of war but we have had Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and some of Orwell’s speculations about the political shape of a post-nuclear society still hold and are in some ways enduringly sharp. He sees quite rightly that the world will be di6ded into mass4e, competing power blocks (the novel was finished a few months before the formation of NATO) even if their precise terms are not Orwell’s. Moreover, he knows that such blocks will first redefine Britain as Airstrip One – and with well over a hundred US bases and facilities in this country in 1984 that is at one level perfectly accurate. And second he perceives that the prime function of those blocks is not war against each other but against their own peoples. War or the threat of war provides both the atmosphere and the justification for a variety of government strategies – encroachment on civil liberties, manic surveillance of the population, a climate of fear and jingoism that makes mild dissent seem gross treachery and so on – strategies mainly designed to disarm and destroy internal opposition rather than external enemy.

Orwell realised that the conventions of the traditional novel were disablingly inarticulate when speaking to this new order so that in Nineteen Eighty-Four he splits and breaks apart those conventions. To take a typical instance: it is a standard device in liberal novels that address themselves to a society in crisis to depict suffering and exploitation in moved and moving terms but then slip past the disruptive political implications of that vision into personal relationships that are miraculously not blocked by the mess and that allow hero and heroine to escape into a concluding and blandly happy marriage. Dickens’s Bleak House is the great, flawed model for that type of text. Orwell sets up that device, equips Smith and Julia with the relationship that represents salvation for many protagonists in the Victorian novel (‘that was the force that would tear the Party to pieces,’ thinks Smith as he makes love to Julia for the first time) – and then writes out its failure. People may believe, in a standard ideological formulation, that the personal, the private, is somehow different and can be salvaged from the public, the political, but it is part of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s purpose to show that such a distinction doesn’t work in lived, analysed experience. In this Orwell is particularly astute: by incorporating a fully described personal relationship at the centre of his text he breaks with a philistine old Left that would angrily dismiss that concern as bourgeois; but at the same time he structures the plot to deny what we might now call a facile sixties radicalism that felt that somehow you could fuck your way to freedom.

Nineteen Eighty-Four also redesigns the shape of the traditional novel with its Newspeak Appendix and its long extract from Goldstein’s book. By integrating linguistic theory and political essay into his fictional text Orwell shoves it out of the special category of ‘Literature’ – where, as I shall show in Section 4, it can be tamely neutered within the terms of literary critical analysis – into a much broader and more awkward category of ‘writing’, where it gets slippery and harder to contain. Hence the Book-of-the-Month Club’s bid to remove these passages is no surprise. The insistences in The Principles of Newspeak – namely, that since we think in and through language then to change the language is to change people, their perceptions and their capacities – ruptures one of the premises of traditional literary culture which posits an unchanging human nature that great works timelessly explore and reveal. The new world that Orwell wants to nail down demands the new forms of writing that in Nineteen Eighty-Four he supplies.

It is tempting at this stage to go a step further and place Nineteen Eighty-Four alongside the Preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm which Orwell wrote in March 1947 when he was half way through the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that preface Orwell contends: ‘for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the Socialist movement.’ [10] If we take that contention along with his As I Please column in Tribune where, from December 1943 to February 1945, he tries patiently to work out a socialist position that sharply differentiates itself both from the Soviet Union on the one hand and Tory Red-bashing on the other [11], then it might be possible to see Nineteen Eighty-Four as a forerunner to developments in the decade after Orwell’s death in 1950. Then at last a space was blasted open for a revolutionary socialism that had no truck with Stalinism and thus was able to take firm root in that space.

But if there are highly creditable lines of vision in Nineteen Eighty-Four that point that way there are others, as I argued in Section 2, that look in contradictory and less reputable directions. The Orwell who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four was beginning to be a wealthy man as the royalties for Animal Farm began to flow in and this edged him into the routine concerns and acti6ties and assumptions of the rich. While he worked on his last novel he made plans for his adopted son’s private schooling and in the week that it was published he had his accountants toiling on a scheme to turn himself into a Limited Company to avoid tax.

It is out of that context that we need to go back to Orwell’s press release about Nineteen Eighty-Four already quoted in Section I. There he fears that if ‘the Labour Party breaks down in its attempts to deal with the hard problems with which it will be faced, tougher types than the present Labour leaders will ine6tably take over, drawn probably from the ranks of the Left ...’ This younger generation ‘is suspect and the seeds of totalitarian thought are probably widespread among them.’ It is a position with which we have since become numbly familiar: the major threat to liberty is not, say, the swinish power of American imperialism, the callous operations of multinational corporations and international finance, the brute politics of the British ruling class and its organ the Tory Party; it is, apparently, the tiny little factions who now and then pop up in the Labour Party cherishing illusions about its potential as an agent of revolutionary change. If Orwell in the week after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four tried to steer the book in any direction it was down a path that is now (thanks to the tireless work of Sun scribblers and SDP publicists) a six-lane motorway leading straight to the dimmest sort of reaction.


Granted then an author driving his text along that route and a publisher con6nced, as we’ve already seen, that the book was worth ‘a cool million votes to the Conservative Party’, the fact that for more than a generation Nineteen Eighty-Four has functioned as what Isaac Deutscher called ‘an ideological super-weapon in the Cold War’ [12] is only to be expected. Even defiantly radical cultural artefacts have in that time run the risk of being chewed up by the dominant ideology and its bodies, swallowed and absorbed, before being pushed out to consumers as another piece of crap retailing at £5.99 a go – the sixties alone was knee-deep in that sort of sewage. A novel with what I have argued is the contradictory politics of Nineteen Eighty-Four has been similarly digested, although sometimes as I shall show bits have been spat out to make mastication easier.

The regime in Nineteen Eighty-Four ‘calls itself and is generally called throughout the book “Ingsoc”; in Oldspeak, “English Socialism”’, as Conor Cruise O’Brien loudly reminded Observer readers recently [13], and this is only one fact about it which makes it a serviceable truncheon for beating Reds over the skull with. Thus at one moment Peter Kellner can blast away at the Militant Tendency in the New Statesman (7 October 1983, p. 7) under the headline The Left retreats, but the doublethink lingers on, while at another the Daily Mail (28 December 1983, p. 6) can pepper Andropov from its editorial columns with some judiciously selected phrases from the novel.

This routine journalistic work has been both echoed and informed by right-wing academic scholarship. At the rough end of the trade a Fascist like Wyndham Lewis could praise Nineteen Eighty-Four as ‘a first-rate political document’ which ‘led the wavering lefties out of the pink mists of Left Land into clear daylight.’ [14] The more refined end sometimes needs, in ways pioneered by the Ministry of Truth itself, to rewrite Orwell a bit in order to make him fit for their purpose. Thus, one of his best-known claims, made in his 1946 essay Why I Write is: ‘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.’ John Wain, speaking on Radio 4’s Kaleidoscope on 19 November 1983, outrageously rephrased this ‘... against totalitarianism and for liberal democracy.’ None of the Orwell experts gathered for discussion challenged this tampering which made it much easier for the rest of the programme to dress him up as an Alliance thinker born half a century too soon.

The Right, then, has two standard strategies for using Nineteen Eighty-Four: pulling lumps out of the book and throwing them at socialists or, where that proves difficult, reconstructing Orwell and dropping the awkward parts down the memory hole. These strategies can then be reinforced by turning him into a kind of secular saint. This is a move much favoured by liberal ideologues and it aims to block any normal criticism of him as a man embedded in particular social and historical contexts with certain limitations and blind spots connected to those contexts. Instead it transforms him into a latter-day evangelist, a seer who detects abiding truths in a blindingly clear, plain man style that it would be sacrilegious to challenge. So ideas that proceed from and feed back into a specific politics can be passed off instead as Transcendental Truths about Humanity. For example, Lionel Trilling, the spokesman for a generation of American liberals, praised Orwell in his 1949 review of Nineteen Eighty-Four for his ‘moral centrality’ and ‘old, simple, belittled virtue.’ [15] The whiff of incense about these phrases had become overpowering by 1952, right from Trilling’s title for an article (George Orwell and the Politics of Truth) down to its portentous conclusion: ‘He was a virtuous man.’ [16] Virtuous man he may indeed have been, prompt to help old ladies down from trees, but the point is that sentences like that are designed to evoke a pious faith that excommunicates rigorous critical examination. Decked out in this way with a harp and a halo he becomes a handy figure to recruit for your side. Hence a hawker for the SDP like Peter Jenkins will first of all genuflect in front of St George (‘Orwell was writing about the England he knew, his fastidious nostrils as alert as always to the smells of working-class life, the proles of 1984 not very different from the proletariat of the thirties’) and then try to fob him off as a prophet on the brink of launching the Social Democrats a generation before the almost equally holy Shirley Williams: ‘He was perhaps on the verge of asking the question of whether the two words “democracy” and “Socialism” could be hyphenated as simply and as blithely as the English liked to suppose.’ [17] (Note, by the way, the craven ‘perhaps’ in that sentence, levered in as an escape route in case anyone scoffs at the sheer silliness of the speculation.)

Journalism of this type depends to some extent on the punters having read the book in the first place, and where a lot of people do that is in schools and colleges of various kinds. There the text comes to students tightly wrapped in literary criticism and they are ill-advised to try to slash open that particular parcel because at the end of their course is usually an examination paper that will work only within its dimensions. The effect of those dimensions, as I suggested in Section 3, is to deftly remove the text’s politics altogether – not an easy task with a book like Nineteen Eighty-Four which is, in a sense, all politics – but necessary if it is to be cut down to the sort of shape and size it needs to have if it is to be compared and contrasted with, say, Trollope’s Barchester Towers or Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale in an essay.

The politics, however, bulk so large that it is difficult to ignore them altogether, and hence the strategy here is to suggest that ‘politics’ and ‘the social’ introduced into ‘Literature’ is a defilement which marks the writer’s failure as an artist. Thus, students taking Honour Moderations at Oxford University in 1973 were invited to discuss the following proposition: ‘Candour, decency, commonsense and moral fervour: these are Orwell’s strengths as a social critic, but the weaknesses of his novels reveal how much more than this is required for successful art.’ Students looking up this past paper nowadays and scratching their heads for a way to answer it might turn to the New Pelican Guide to English Literature: Volume 8: The Present, a standard critical text for undergraduates. There D.S. Savage, who has held clerical positions with Christian Aid and the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, will tell them stoutly that a ‘numbed ambivalence of feeling worked in the young Eric Blair towards the erasure of all sane and sound values, beginning with his religion’, so that his ‘new-found political faith, not being grounded in any prior religious or ethical principle ... takes a much over-simplified view of the nature of man and of social institutions.’ This ‘lack of a core of personal integrity in Orwell’, this ‘unhappy psychological condition’, all ‘detracts from the novel’s artistic worth.’ [18] Apparently, Eric, you needed to spend more time of your knees with the catechism and less on your feet fighting in Spain if you were ever going to produce High Art.

The problem with this sort of nonsense is that it can provoke students who haven’t been brought up properly to answer back, so a safer tactic when confronted with the awkward politics of Nineteen Eighty-Four is to politely ignore them and hope no one will notice. This seems to be the dominant approach in teaching O-level students, to judge from three of the guides that many of them turn to in moments of panic, namely Coles Notes, York Notes and Brodie’s Notes.

None of these guides have the names of their authors on the spine or cover, which gives them that bogus air of impartiality that the similarly anonymous news bulletins of BBC and ITN seek to achieve. What they do in general is to scurry past rebarbative terms like ‘capitalism’ and ‘atom bombs’ which are scattered through the novel and make for the safe, banal ground of traditional literary discourse. There we find that Orwell, apparently, gives a ‘satisfying sense of shape in Nineteen Eighty-Four[19] (though sadly what that shape is – hexagonal? rhomboidal? – isn’t illustrated). Soon discussion settles reverently at the feet of the Holy Trinity of English Literature – plot, character and symbolism – where all texts are brought for their last judgement. Here it emerges that dust symbolism is a big issue in Nineteen Eighty-Four [20], although it’s ‘Winston’s development as a character which forms the book’s chief interest.’ [21] This in turn raises nice nutty queries like: ‘Was Orwell unable to draw rounded characters in any number in this novel?’ [22] We can all sit and chew away at that for hours, secure in the knowledge that there is no answer to this sort of question and even if there were it wouldn’t matter a bear’s belch in the real world anyway.

A couple of years in this cramping brain-rot sets the students neatly up for the kind of examination questions they will face: ‘Winston has been described as the only fully developed character in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Do you agree with this view, and, if so, does it constitute a weakness in the novel?’ ‘Consider the effectiveness of Orwell’s use of symbolism in Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ ‘Do Winston’s dreams reveal his character?’ ‘Describe the plot structure of the novel and its functions.’ ‘Is Orwell’s style appropriate to the subject matter in Nineteen Eighty-Four?’ [23] And so on. The point about all of these questions is that they are in fact pointless: students are being in6ted to process a highly ideological text through a set of grinders that mince up its overt politics and reduce the lot to bland, grey pap which people in even partial possession of their senses wouldn’t swallow if they didn’t need the qualifications which passing it will bring.


Since 1949, then, the Right has used the novel either as an armoury of crude weapons which can be snatched up and fired at passing socialists or, where that has proved precarious, as one more harmless aesthetic object in the Timeless Tapestry of Our Heritage as Britons. The Left, by contrast, has tended to approach the book in more complex and, unsurprisingly, more intelligent ways.

For supporters of the Labour Party the text has proved extremely awkward from the moment that Orwell’s press release made it clear that the Party’s Left was his prime target. Indeed, the book itself makes that sufficiently obvious, as Diana Trilling, reviewing it for The Nation on 25 June 1949, noted with embarrassment. ‘Mr Orwell’, she wrote, ‘is fantasying the fate not of an already established dictatorship like that of Russia but also that of Labor England’ and this is ‘surely from any immediate political point of view unfortunate.’

For the centre of the Labour Party this is by no means unfortunate and from that position Nineteen Eighty-Four has been a powerful cultural rifle to be trained on its own obstreperous Left whenever they poke their heads above the parapet. A leading marksman here is undoubtedly Bernard Crick, author of the first full scale biography of Orwell and both presenter and programme consultant for the substantial Arena portrait of Orwell televised from 29 December 1983 to 4 January 1984. Crick’s policy is to ward off Marxists trying to get their hands on Orwell (or, in his own words, to ‘defend him against extreme interpretations’) and to maintain his status as a scourge of the Left against irritated socialists trying to undermine it. Thus, for example, he has dismissed Raymond Williams’s book on Orwell as the ‘apogee ... of “Orwell-bashing” by intellectuals who feel that home truths are not welcome and that only the other side should be got at.’ [24]

In order to use Nineteen Eighty-Four and Orwell in this way as a stout bulwark against the Left, Crick was forced to make his biography of Orwell, a curiously lopsided book. In it he tries to prise Nineteen Eighty-Four free of any sort of determining, informing, limiting or distorting context – Orwell’s severe TB, perhaps, or his nightmare memories of the horrors of preparatory schooling – in order to turn it into a timeless and hence endlessly re-usable fable. So it is quite possible to read George Orwell: A Life without being very aware of, say, the Slump, Stalin’s purges, the decisive moments in the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, the General Election of 1945 – without being aware, in other words, of that history that shaped Orwell’s life and provided the agenda for his work.

But it is the Communist Party more than the Labour Left that has over the years been most attacked with the catchphrases and the values that Nineteen Eighty-Four articulated, and here the response has been instructive. Like the stopped clock that is at least right twice a day even if it is wrong the rest of the time, Stalinist criticism of Nineteen Eighty-Four has on occasion quite rightly laid into what is the most distasteful aspect of the book for anyone without a warped mind. ‘“People are no damn good” – that is precisely the message of this plodding tale,’ complained an early reviewer in the New York Masses and Mainstream, so that the novel’s effect was to frighten ‘any belief in change and progress ... out of people.’ [25] I. Anisimov, writing in Pravda on 12 May 1950 made the same point, seeing in Orwell’s text his ‘contempt for people ... his aim of slandering man.’ Developing this line in the January 1956 Marxist Quarterly, James Walsh looked at Orwell’s dumb and beery proles and saw them as ‘an insult to the countless thousands of people who perce4ed what the Nazis were about, refused to be bought or tortured into submission and gave their lives in the defence of humanity.’

Why a man who was himself wounded in the fight against Fascism should offer this insult has been suggested by a major Communist Party theoretician A.L. Morton. In The Matter of Britain (London 1966) he argues that Orwell’s novel, like Huxley’s Brave New World, marks an end to the long tradition of bourgeois humanism and speaks instead out of the irrational fears of a class without a future. The problem with an explanation of this sort is that it begs more questions than it answers, and why it does so becomes clearer if we look at Morton’s The English Utopia (London 1952). Here, in the first, 1952 edition of the book he sees Nineteen Eighty-Four as ‘the last word to date in counter-revolutionary apologetics,’ playing on the ‘lowest fears and prejudices engendered by bourgeois society in dissolution.’

Orwell is castigated for his ‘determination to resist the “actual realisation" of Utopia’ which apparently is proceeding apace in Russia, as Morton proves with a stirring quote from Professor Bernal on irrigation and afforestation therein.

Routine enough CP stuff for 1952, of course, but the scandal is that Lawrence and Wishart’s 1969 edition of Morton’s book reprints this argument without alteration. The Twentieth Party Congress and Khrushchev’s speech to it may have indicated that there had been the odd hiccup on the way to the ‘actual realisation’ of Utopia, but none of these mere facts are allowed to sully the rigour and purity of Morton’s original thesis. It is precisely Orwell’s experience of the actual operations of Stalinism, in Barcelona above all, that turned him into a committed anti-Communist at the very same time as that Spanish struggle led him to write that ‘I have seen wonderful things and at last really believe in Socialism, which I never did before.’ [26] His subsequent work is constructed deliberately around these two positions – coruscating gloom about the power and influence of Stalinism, and the search for a Socialist politics beyond its reach -as a reading of, say Animal Farm or his Tribune columns will show.

The failure of Communist Party thinkers to address themselves fully and honestly to those positions reveals itself in a variety of ways. At a tri6al level, it comes through in a simple failure to read the book properly. Thus, Morton thinks that Newspeak is called ‘DoubleTalk’ [27] and Samuel Sillen, author of the Masses and Mainstream review, reckons that Smith gets shot in the end. More common is the way Orwell’s precise stance is vaporised so that he can be lumped in with Life, vicars, Reader’s Digest and distinct officer material as just one more hysterical reactionary. [28] The most recent variant of this tactic is to drop his politics down the memory hole and substitute someone else’s reconstruction of them which can be destroyed with a lot less bother. So Andy Croft, writing in the Morning Star on 3 January 1984, hacks not at Orwell’s ideas but at Paul Johnson’s version of them, which is a bit like claiming that Mary Shelley was a Wally after seeing Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.


If Orwell was looking, then, for a non-Communist Left, what has that non-Communist Left done when it found him? At first, it welcomed him astutely, and Philip Rahv’s notice of Nineteen Eighty-Four in the American Partisan Review for July 1949 is a model of its kind. Rahv is alert to the text’s potential as an ‘antidote’ to the sheer nastiness of Stalinism but has sufficient literary and political commonsense to be aware also of the book’s limitations. So it is that he is able to see that the novel in part fails on its own terms – as a realist text – because of its assumptions that, in 1984, a depoliticised proletariat would be largely left to their own de6ces, sufficiently self-oppressed not to need any very rigorous attention from the law, telescreens or the Thought Police. The fact of course is that it is precisely there that the sort of regime Orwell imagines is most and not least tyrannical, as the workers of East Berlin and Budapest and Gdansk and a hundred other places know to their cost.

The other great reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four in this tradition is Isaac Deutscher’s 1955 essay Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Mysticism of Cruelty that I mentioned earlier. Deutscher’s politics lets him actually see the book and its author in ways that others don’t – Communists can’t even get the plot right and liberals usually have their heads bowed in reverence so they don’t look the author squarely in the face. Deutscher confronts Nineteen Eighty-Four with two-eyed clarity, describing, on the one hand, the book’s brute power deri6ng from Orwell’s ‘honourable obsession’ with the Purges, but insisting too on how that power sometimes backfires, sometimes is muffled and deflected by the convulsive fears of its Cold War context that both used and infused the book.

Elsewhere on the Left the text has provoked an understandable indecision. Peter Sedgwick provocatively titled a two-part article for International Socialism, June–July 1969, George Orwell: International Socialist? but the first part never mentioned Nineteen Eighty-Four and the second part never appeared, probably answering Sedgwick’s own question.

Indecision is even more marked in the case of Raymond Williams, the major literary critic in this country who has for more than forty years conducted a convoluted dalliance with Marxism, an uncommitted commitment that each of his books redefines and readjusts. An early work like Culture and Society, completed in 1956, was able to look at the contradictions in Nineteen Eighty-Four – for example, Orwell’s sympathy with a working class whom he nonetheless denigrates – in fairly temperate terms, but in Orwell written fourteen years later the same valid point is made in much more trenchant language. By the time we come to Politics and Letters in 1979 he is prompted by his New Left Review questioners to admit to an even sharper hostility. He finds Nineteen Eighty-Four ‘intolerable ... profoundly offensive’ (p. 390) and concludes ‘I cannot bear much of it now ... I cannot read him now.’ (pp. 391–2). But it is depressing to find this shift eventually fetching up in Farringdon Road. On 3 January 1984 under a Morning Star banner headline George Orwell in Thatcher’s 1984 – which side would he take?, Williams, in an article called The vital factor left out of 1984, lets his justifiable anger at aspects of the novel be used in a quite disgraceful cause. The article is silent on those things that once Williams was rightly eloquent about – things like Orwell’s embittering experience of Stalinism in Spain which, as Williams noted in 1970, ‘left a scar which was never likely to heal. One would think the worse of him, indeed, if it had ever healed.’ [29] Such silences enable the article to take its place in a transparent effort by the Morning Star to wave an inconvenient critic aside. An accompanying article by Andy Croft concludes: ‘He was a mistake, was Orwell.’


So what do we do with this ‘mistake’? Do we ‘consign Orwell to the dustbin of history’ as a brisk Stalinist demanded in the New Statesman recently, or has Nineteen Eighty-Four a valid contribution still to make in informing Marxist theory and practice? Do we, to return to the questions posed in Section I, recruit, contest or ignore this book?

Answers to that clutch of queries will come if we look squarely at the full range of the text and its values, its strengths, its ambiguities and its silences, as Isaac Deutscher above all does. Once it is seen whole in this way then we are in a position to dismantle, say, a Daily Mail editorial raiding a bit of the text for the terms of a cheap insult or the Reader’s Digest’s attempt to boil it all down to 25 pages of Redbaiting, as was done in 1949. We are also in a position to begin to understand the political difficulties which then, in literary terms, make it such a contradictory text.

We can start to understand those difficulties by returning the text to the full context of its making that Crick’s biography suppresses. The Orwell who came to write Nineteen Eighty-Four was, at first glance, a man of immensely varied experience. He had moved through early grounding in the process of the British ruling class (schooling at Eton, five years in the Indian Imperial Police) into the respectable squalor of life amongst the lower middle classes (spells as a bookshop assistant and private tutor) down to the bottom of the social scrap heap (his time as a tramp in the thirties). But, for a socialist writer, a disabling gap in this range is experience of the life of industrial workers, and The Road to Wigan Pier is in part a record of his crabbed, unsatisfactory effort at bridging it.

Moreover, the historical context of that life widens this gap even further. Briefly, Orwell seems to have begun his shift to the Left by resigning from the Indian Imperial Police in the same autumn of 1927 as Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; he arrived fully and enthusiastically at socialism (‘I ... at last really believe in Socialism ...’) in the same year of 1937 that the Moscow trials purged the last of the old Bolsheviks; and he died in 1950, three years before Stalin. In other words his career as a socialist writer coincides quite precisely with a generation of defeat for revolutionary socialism and his last novel is appallingly disfigured by that fact.

Alternative hopes, the glimmers of future possibilities within that generation were not things that, during the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell was in touch with. Indeed, stuck on the island of Jura four and a half miles from the nearest road for most of it, he was not in touch with anything much beyond the odd gannet. Of course, if you are some sort of pious fraud scanning the eternal verities as glimpsed through your own navel that kind of isolation from the distraction of mere people is probably necessary; but for socialist writing it is deadly because it means a removal from those sources of strength or information or inspiration that such writing needs if it is to stand up and fight in an era of defeat rather than flop down and be drowned under powerful mainstream habits and conceptions. For a socialist writer of Orwell’s type – instinctively gloomy and, by the time he produced Nineteen Eighty-Four, harried by the depressing effects of TB – such ivigorating contact was doubly necessary. He had found it for six months in Spain when his service, with the POUM militia and with a working class in revolutionary struggle filled the gap in his experience and provided not just the material for Homage to Catalonia but its spirit and life as well. His sense of losing hold of that inspiration, of its being swamped on his return to England under a sludge of cricket headlines, news of Royal weddings and men in bowler hats, comes through in the famous last paragraphs of Homage to Catalonia, half lament for the springs of action he is lea6ng behind, half cosy regression to the soporific culture of the home counties.

Back inside that culture he searched for the kind of white heat he had found in Spanish politics that had fired Homage to Catalonia, a book whose honourable failure to connect with any formation in British culture at the time is best illustrated by the fact that only 900 of its tiny first print of 1,500 copies were sold. That search led him briefly into the ILP and informed much of his work for Tribune in the 1940s. It also prompted him to take an occasionally sympathetic 6ew of Trotskyism. ‘Gollancz won’t have any more to do with me now I am a Trotskyist,’ he noted sardonically on his return from Spain, ‘but of course we are all Trotskyists nowadays.’ [30] Early in 1946, a few months before he started writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, he co-signed a letter to the press demanding that the Gestapo records in the hands of the Allies be combed for final exoneration of Trotsky from those charges of secret collaboration with the Nazis made at the Moscow Trials in 1936 and 1937. In that same spring he was in touch with Victor Serge, then in Mexico, and passed on to Fred Warburg Trotsky’s Life of Stalin and the manuscript of Serge’s memoirs with a strong recommendation to publish. [31]

But British Trotskyism in the 1940s was an invisible faction and Orwell never found the effective political group that could have given his commitment the focus that he found exhilaratingly with the POUM in Spain – his main political work at the time of writing Nineteen Eighty-Four was with the Freedom Defence Committee, an essentially liberal breakaway movement from the then Stalinist-influenced NCCL. The result was a politics that evolved haphazardly and in his own terms, always liable to be gusted along by the Cold War hurricane that was blowing full blast by the time the novel was finished. It is a politics whose resulting muddle is best characterised in Peter Sedgwick’s article as a mixture of ‘uncomplicated crypto-Marxist economic analysis’ along with ‘programmatic and tactical apathy which is still compatible with conventional reformism.’ Conventional reformism, of course, formed the government in 1949 and by 1949 it had run out of ideas as the Tories started gearing themselves for thirteen years of rule. In the absence of a coherent Marxist position from which to view this conjuncture Orwell is left with not a lot beyond the violent anti-Communism he had brought home from Spain, a necessary stance in 1937 but one which, twelve years later, could with one or two rough adjustments be promptly slotted into the dominant ideology. Not just Book-of-the-Month, more like Bible-for-a-Generation.

We can deplore the novel’s scriptural status and the swindles I have outlined earlier that helped to create it, but the fact remains that it is the text itself and not the ideologues who interpret it that supplies the raw material for that kind of function. A more honest approach is to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as a guide to what can happen to a potentially revolutionary politics at a time when it thrashes around in despair looking for and failing to find a base. Out of that mess Orwell through Goldstein’s eyes surveys the twentieth century with knowing cynicism:

Socialism, a theory which appeared in the early nineteenth century and was the last link in a chain of thought stretching back to the slave rebellions of antiquity, was still deeply infected by the Utopianism of past ages. But in each variant of Socialism that appeared from about 1900 onwards the aim of establishing liberty and equality was more and more openly abandoned. [32]

But we still have access to another Orwell, an earlier Orwell not blundering in detached fantasy in that way but one whose work was motivated and informed by participation in actual battles for socialism. It is the Orwell of Homage to Catalonia. If Nineteen Eighty-Four proceeds out of gaps and silences in British politics, then some of the motivation for filling those gaps and making those silences speak can be found in Homage to Catalonia. It is an awkward book; it has moments of revolutionary romanticism that can make you wince; and it ends in angry defeat. But it is a book mined out of and forged by real experience of working-class struggle that can show up the glum speculations of Nineteen Eighty-Four for the barren spectres that they are:

... 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 or 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 café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal ... And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest 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 the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. [33]

It is still worth fighting for, and anyone demoralised by Hate Week and its celebration of Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984 could start dismantling that mood with Homage to Catalonia.


1. Quoted in Irving Howe (ed.), Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text. Sources, Criticism, New York 1963, p. 211.

2. Quoted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life, London 1980, p. 359.

3. Sonia Orwell & Ian Angus (eds.), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (hereafter CEJL), Volume IV, London 1968, p. 502.

4. Fred Warburg, All Authors Are Equal, London 1973, p. 103. Warburg’s anxiety to publish a book worth in his view ‘a cool million votes to the Conservative Party’ as soon as possible is explained by the fact that a General Election was due in a year or so and was in fact held eight months after the novel came out.

5. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Harmondsworth 1954, p. 144. All subsequent references to the text are to this standard Penguin edition.

6. W.B. Yeats, CEJL, II, p. 275.

7. Orwell, London 1971, p. 78.

8. George Orwell: International Socialist?, International Socialism, June–July 1969.

9. CEJL, IV, pp. 9–10.

10. CEJL, III, p. 405.

11. I have argued the case for this claim in more detail in Orwell and Tribune, Literature & History, 6 : 2 Autumn 1980.

12. Isaac Deutscher, Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Mysticism of Cruelty, Heretics & Renegades, London 1955, p. 35.

13. Observer, 8 January 1984, p. 9.

14. Wyndham Lewis, Climax & Change, in Samuel Hynes (ed.), Twentieth Century Interpretations of Nineteen Eighty-Four, New Jersey 1971, pp. 106–7.

15. Ibid., p. 24.

16. George Orwell & The Politics of Truth, in Raymond Williams (ed.), George Orwell: A Collection of Critical Essays, New Jersey 1974, p. 64.

17. Guardian, 28 December 1983, p. 11.

18. D.S. Savage, The fatalism of George Orwell, in Boris Ford (ed.). The New Pelican Guide to English Literature: Volume 8: The Present, Harmondsworth 1983, pp. 133–142.

19. Brodie’s Notes on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, London 1977, p. 20.

20. Ibid., p. 29.

21. York Notes on George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Beirut 1983, p. 39.

22. Brodie, p. 32.

23. All questions from Brodie, p. 90, and from Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four Notes: Coles Editorial Board, Toronto 1982, pp. 81ff.

24. Times Literary Supplement, 3 June 1977.

25. Samuel Sillen, Masses and Mainstream, New York, August 1949.

26. CEJL, I, p. 269.

27. The English Utopia, London 1969, p. 273.

28. See Sillen, Anisimov and Walsh, op. cit., for examples of this technique.

29. Orwell, p. 59.

30. CEJL, I, p. 289.

31. CEJL, IV, pp. 115–6, 121 & 194–6.

32. Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. 163.

33. Homage to Catalonia, Harmondsworth 1962, pp. 8–9.

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