There is no greater irony than when conservative or libertarian writers and thinkers drag out good old George Orwell as a paragon of their points. In particular their reference to Orwell’s books “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen eighty four”.

This Marxist and democratic socialist not only argued incessantly with writers like CK Chesterton’s political Catholicism and conservatism but also put his own life at risk for the Marxist cause in Spain during the Spanish revolution as a member of the Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification (POUM, or Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista).

As he wrote in a letter to Cyril Connolly from Barcelona on 8 June 1937, “I have seen wonderful things and at last really believe in Socialism, which I never did before.” But of course his socialism was an anarchy-syndicalism rather than in Stalinism or state socialism. The movement he belonged to would be betrayed and oppressed in the very civil war he partook in. The betrayals in Spain inevitably lead to Animal Farm and 1984 when he returned to England in 1937.

In the second part of “The Road to Wigan Pier” Orwell wrote that “a real Socialist is one who wishes – not merely conceives it as desirable, but actively wishes – to see tyranny overthrown.” Orwell was, in other words, a very committed socialist, and that lead him to argue against conservatives in Britain at the time. “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty Four” are just as much attacks on conservatism as oppressive forms of Socialism.

He refused to participate in quite laudable conservative functions such as speaking to the “British League for European Freedom”. Upon receiving the invitation from the Duchess of Atholl, in November 1943, he declined with the answer that while her aims were “more truthful than the lying propaganda found in most of the press” he could not associate himself with people who championed European democracy but had nothing to say about British imperialism. “I belong to the Left and must work inside it, much as I hate Russian totalitarianism and its poisonous influence in this country.”

Orwell was clearly on the left; an outspoken supporter of socialism. This is why it is not only ironic, but also quite amusing, to see in particular libertarians throw out of context quotes from his most famous books about as if they in fact were proposing a socialist response to today’s problems with, for instance excessive, surveillance.

Advertisements