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After Orwell… September 30, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in The Left.

Michael White had a fascinating observation on the Guardian weekly politics podcast this week. He was talking about Ed Miliband’s speech at the Labour Party conference and was extremely complimentary about it, and noted the word ‘decency’ played a part in that speech. But he also noted that he’d spoken to Miliband personally a few months ago…

‘I drew it to his attention a few months ago. I’d been reading some George Orwell, it’s a good word you know, Orwell, decency, and he flinched slightly and I realised that he grew up in the kind of left-wing household where Orwell was regarded as a bit of a sell-out.’



1. Phil - September 30, 2013

“Sell-out” isn’t the half of it! I only met Ralph once, but I suspect his view of Orwell wasn’t a million miles from Raymond Williams’s. Williams did what few people do & took Orwell’s earlier novels seriously; what he found in them was a kind of masochistically romanticised vision of a lone principled individual, who attempts to break with society’s norms but is ultimately, inevitably, defeated and crushed by them. Once you’ve seen that that was how Orwell’s mind worked, it’s hard to look at 1984 – or even at Homage to Catalonia – in the same light; there’s always something tugging him towards a sense of inevitable defeat, compensated by a rather narcissistic sense of how noble it was for him to have made his lonely stand in the first place. Anything that isn’t defeated isn’t any good (perhaps this is how he could write so clearly about the Spanish Civil War, or at least one period in it); anyone who has lots of enemies is probably OK, and anyone who makes compromises rather than make an enemy is contemptible. Unless you’re making compromises in the service of your own native country – that’s all right, because you would have ended up doing it anyway, and besides it’s not all bad, is it? Nick Cohen really is his true heir.


hardcorefornerds - September 30, 2013

I found it very interesting reading about Orwell’s attitude to Koestler in the 40s however, especially his essay about him from ’44 (I think) where he deconstructs the trend of Koestler’s writing towards an increasing pessimism about revolutions. Spain was a tragedy for everyone, but Orwell’s focus was on totalitarianism and I think he remained a democratic socialist with a more optimistic view of how (or at least whether) that could be achieved than many of his contemporaries.


ejh - September 30, 2013

Nick Cohen really is his true heir



ejh - September 30, 2013

He might be a parody of Orwell, something I’d consider at least in part a consequence of having undergone an epiphany, which process almost always does damage to the intellectual and literary abilities of those who go through it.


2. Jim Monaghan - September 30, 2013

A rather positive view of Miliband senior. There was a hatchet job in one of the Englsh papers. http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article18420
I think Orwell warts and all remained a Socialist. His Homage to Catalonia shows in my opinion what a risen workingclass can achieve in spite of the odds against them. Sure he reflected where he came from, but better that that upper middlesclass types changing their accents and adopting what they think are workingclass habits to show how proletarian they are.


3. Jim Monaghan - October 2, 2013

A selection of the writings of Miliband senior http://www.marxists.org/archive/miliband/index.htm


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