Friday, June 10, 2011

Orwell and the Revolution

Fictional literature has been influential on the political and sociological fields within the past century. For example, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle started a catalyst that led to the formation of what is today called the Food and Drug Administration. There were authors on a lesser scale that had a great impact on the political landscape of America and the world. One of those authors was George Orwell. George Orwell was one of the most influential English writers within the past century. His works included Animal Farm and 1984. Because George Orwell wrote fiction on controversial political issues, his fictional writings promoted a Marxist leaning viewpoint that that supported the working class from oppression by a totalitarian government and today he has influenced American politics.
To start, George Orwell’s background must be studied. George Orwell was a self-declared socialist. Basic information about Orwell was that his real name was Eric Blair, he was born in England, and wrote 1984 and Animal Farm. George Orwell wrote commentaries on the political issues of the day and even wrote book reviews. More controversial issues about Orwell included who his influences were and whether or not he had Marxist leanings. When it comes to these issues, there is evidence the Orwell was a “literary Trotskyist” (Not a Leninist or Stalinist Marxist) and that this was the viewpoint advocated in his fictional writings.What are some evidences that literary Marxism was the view promoted by Orwell? In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism while at the same time promoting socialism. Philip Bounds, author of the book Orwell and Marxism, wrote, “Orwell chose to skewer the authoritarian strain in modern socialism not by writing directly about the USSR but by conjuring a dystopian fantasy in which Britain is governed by a socialist dictatorship that takes Stalin’s methods to new extremes”( 137). What this means was that Orwell wanted to write about the problems of totalitarianism not by writing about the USSR, but by writing a novel about it if it were to happen in Great Britain. Orwell was known to criticize Stalin as evident in Animal Farm and 1984. Bounds continued on to say that Orwell’s influences in the novel included “several dystopian novels (e.g. The Iron Heel by Jack London and We by Yevgeny Zamiatin), James Burnham’s controversial treatises on the so-called ‘managerial society’ and a range of obscure pamphlets by American Trotskyists. We also know that Orwell derived a lot of inspiration simply from observing the behaviour of his peers on the left”( 138) James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution states that society will not be dominated by capitalists, but by cooperate leaders and government bureaucrats (Aplers 256). This had a profound impact on Orwell. Orwell wrote on Burnham’s theories;
'All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another.
All talk about democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all vision
of utopia, or ‘the classless society’, or ‘the kingdom of Heaven on Earth’, are all humbug( Not necessarily conscious humbug) covering the ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way to power…
The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states,
but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia and
America. These super states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining
uncaptured portions of the earth, but will be unable to conquer one another completely. (qtd. in Harris par.35)
This sounds a lot like Orwell’s 1984 where the world is divided up into three super-states; Oceania( Which consisted of Great Britain, North America, and Australia), Eurasia( the Soviet Union and Europe), and Eastasia(China, Japan, Korea). As in the novel, they fight each other and cannot completely conquer one another. This is what George Orwell feared would happen. These three super nations in Orwell’s novel were ruled by an elite party which resembles the managers described in Burnham’s writings( Alpers 288). This is where America is heading if the good people do not speak out.
What are other influences on Orwell? During the 1940s, George Orwell contributed to a Newspaper called the Partisan Review. John Newsinger, history professor at Bath Spa University in England, wrote that the Partisan Review was “committed to the viewpoint of 'the revolutionary working class' and to 'defence of the Soviet Union'”(2). While George Orwell did not agree fully with this newspaper, he had high hopes that a revolutionary crisis was imminent and that a socialist transformation of Britain was needed to win World War II(Newsinger 5). There were some things he did agree on with Marxism and things he did not agree. While
fighting in the Spanish Civil War, he developed a view of revolutionary socialism and an anti-Soviet Union political view (Newsinger 24). John Newsinger summarizes Orwell’s position well;
But Orwell's contributions to Partisan Review were those of a 'literary Trotskyist', a person
influenced by revolutionary socialist ideas and arguments, but always drawing his own
conclusions. He always maintained a critical and independent position, at the same time as
contributing to and being influenced by debates on the American Far Left, as for example
in his attitude towards the war and debates on the class nature of the Soviet Union.(25)George Orwell was influenced by many revolutionary ideas, but took a step back from fully accepting Communism in the Soviet Union and in many other countries. He was a Marxist in a literary sense.
How does this show he was for the working class? There have been other forms of Marxism that Orwell did not identify with. These variations of Marxism included that of Stalin, Lenin, and the governmental oppression that the Former Soviet Union brought. The type of Marxism Orwell had leaning towards was that of Leon Trotsky. Trotsky led the movement to a Communist state in the Soviet Union and was exiled for criticizing that Communist rule created a new class division; one between the workers and party officials called the Apparatchiks (Tansey and Jackson 80). In other words, it is the working class versus the government. George Orwell picked up on this in his novel Animal Farm. In this novel he warned about totalitarian and the dangers of it. He formulated the laws of animalism, including the one that all animals are equal but some animals have more equality than others. This rule was from Trotsky’s critique of the Soviet Union because it creates another class distinction in a society. The pigs
enjoyed a higher standard of living versus the rest of the animals. Thus, the ‘working class’ was being oppressed by the pigs. Rather than being helped to achieve utopia, a new division is set up between the state and the workers. Even though Orwell did not accept Trotsky’s views fully, Orwell accepted his premise that a new class division was caused by Stalin and his government. The argument is that Orwell had leanings towards Trotsky, but did not necessarily accept his views.
What are the results of Orwell’s fictional writings on the political landscape? Within the past few years there emerged something called the tea party. What these people believe is a stance against “big government” and healthcare reform. An article from the American Spectator used the parallel between Orwell’s Animal Farm and Representative Giffords and “Obamacare” with the famous phrase that “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Political commentator Kevin Lord says this idea is “exactly the main topic following the new GOP-controlled House repeal of ObamaCare -- and the Senate's refusal to even discuss the issue”(par.10). What that means is if congresswoman Giffords is not a Representative, would she be receiving under healthcare reform than if she is an ordinary citizen? The answer would be no. This idea of some people “being more equal to others” just creates another class division of its own; the ruling elite and ordinary citizen. What it boils down to is that the government officials are given special rights that are not given to ordinary citizens. It appears that the government has converted into the bourgeoisie, oppressing its citizens and workers through massive taxation and government officials enjoying a higher standard of living. This is the flaw in Marxism. For true Marxism to work, the governing officials must be on the same level as the people. Conservatives today believe that big government is the bourgeoisie while the average citizens are considered the proletariat.
Today in American society, government officials are trying everything they can to penalize people for any violation of law or code. This ranges from issues such as running a red light to monitoring and censoring the internet. In Great Britain, there has been an experiment going on with closed-circuit television cameras. Jamie Malanowski, writer for Washington Weekly reporting on these cameras and the topic of “Big brother”, believes that the “next generation of cameras will be far more capable; planners are experimenting with cameras that have facial recognition software and voice recognition capability, so observers can identify when people are getting angry or are using words associated with criminal activity”(par.19). If this is the case, the U.S. government will be like “Big Brother” in Orwell’s novel 1984.It will be like the managerial society that Orwell predicted over sixty years ago. It creates a class division between the government and the people. Orwell has been prophesying that this will happen and it is coming true.
In closing, George Orwell’s leaning towards Trotskyian Marxism continues to impact the political debate today. Whether that would be the discussion of big government from the Tea Partiers to government surveillance, Orwell has been influencing many through his novels 1984 and Animal Farm. The topics of Stalinist tactics and the class division between the government and the people would have taken a different turn if it were not for these two novels.

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