Homage to George Orwell

Posted by jlubans on September 28, 2022

Caption: Mr. Orwell by Severino Baraldi, (1930 -). Orwell worked for the BBC, 1941-3.

I wish I’d met George Orwell (1903-1950).
Alas, he died when I was 8 years old so had we met, our conversation – on my part - would not have been particularly remarkable:)
I do remember in early December, 1949, seeing from the rail of a Displaced Persons (DP) troop ship – the General C.H. Muir - a twinkling light on the UK coast which is where Orwell spent his last days (he died in January) - as my family and I sailed away from Europe, with a thousand other post WWII DPs – fleeing Stalin’s communism and Hitler’s fascism.
In 2015 I read his Homage to Catalonia (1938) and I’ve been meaning ever since to blog about Mr Orwell (born Eric Blair) and his enduring influence on my world view.
Reading of his front-line war experiences during Spain’s Civil War pretty much confirmed my impressions of his unwavering belief in socialism – he was willing to die for it! - while serving as that ideology’s most effective and profound critic.
Homage to Catalonia, just like his 1945 allegory Animal Farm, does not spare communism or socialism or any other totalitarianism which includes people (and pigs who are more equal than others) who demand power and will do anything – including killing opponents – to get it.
Indeed, after he spent a year in communist trenches fighting Franco’s army and suffering a bullet wound in his neck, Orwell was put on a Stalinist “kill list”.
Because Orwell belonged to a communist faction viewed as aligned with Trotsky rather than Stalin.
So the kill order went out and Orwell and his wife were forced to flee from Spain.
Orwell, even with his unwavering alignment with socialism, never obfuscated or dissembled how authoritarian systems, right or left, always get carried away. He gives – to this day - the fidgets to any leftist seeking to claim Stalin was not all that bad and, after all, communism has such good intentions!
Marxist delicate flowers throw shade, from their ivory towers – a little poem there - that Orwell was naïve and conflicted, that he was indeed misguided in his questioning what he saw and experienced first-hand.
Many contemporaries, those wearing rose-colored glasses, could not/would not see the grim realities of totalitarianism: swift and brutal repression of dissent (real or imagined), confiscation of property, paranoid surveillance, internal and external travel bans, governmental control of expression and suppression of information, subordination of the individual to the state and egalitarianism, be damned!, etc.
The beneficiaries of totalitarianism (let’s not kid ourselves, even fascists and communists have a Ruling Class), of course, would support these horrors.
Whatever the system, it’s never a bad idea as long as you are the one who tells others what to do.
That totalitarian fantasy (or nightmare) is pretty well encapsulated in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four – published in 1949, “an Orwellian nightmare of spies, doublespeak propaganda (Ministry of Truth), curfews, and petty state control of daily life.”
Orwell, we are told, had his faults. No doubt.
Still, I admire how he lived his brief, brave life and his enduring articulation for each of us to be skeptical of those seeking power in order, they will aver, only to improve everyone’s life. To quote PG Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster speaking of his autocratic aunts, "Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.”

My book, Fables for Leaders is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

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