Monday 23 September 2013


Aaaargh! Press has just published Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British left by me and Kevin Davey. Buy it!

'Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British left by Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey is a fine little book you can read in a day – 168 pages for just £3.50 on Kindle. Anderson and Davey have taken advantage of the vast amount of research into communism since the end of the Cold War. They wear it lightly, and refreshingly, are open about their political position. As members of the democratic left, they believe that communism was a disaster for left wing politics. It tied the left to tyranny and the lies and disillusion that went with it. Leaving everything else aside, the far left burnt out activists. For generations, idealistic men and women joined the Communist Party, Militant and the SWP, and left disgusted, not just with Leninism, but with politics of any kind.'

Friday 7 August 2009

Richard Vinen, Times Literary Supplement

Orwell in Tribune: 'As I Please' and other writings 1943-47 edited by Paul Anderson (Methuen, £14.99)
Orwell and Marxism:The political and cultural thinking of George Orwell by  Philip Bounds (I. B. Tauris. £52.50)

More than any other British author of the twentieth century, George Orwell has escaped from his own time. Every schoolchild who gets as far as GCSE English will have read at least one Orwell novel, and the one that they are most likely to have read (Nineteen Eighty-Four) is, ostensibly at least, not set in Orwell’s own lifetime. Orwell was fascinated by children’s literature and some of his books have a special appeal to children (particularly, I suspect, boys in their early teens). This means that most people read Orwell before they have any sense of the period in which he wrote; indeed, before they have much sense of why it might matter to understand the period in which a writer worked.

Even the most sophisticated readers take Orwell out of context. In 1940, Q. D. Leavis argued that Orwell’s early novels (the ones with clear temporal settings) were "wasted effort". Ever since then, critics have judged him largely on his long essays, and these reinforce the impression of a man outside his own time – big enough to interpose himself between Tolstoy and Shakespeare at a time when his contemporaries were locked in petty Bloomsbury disputes. His admirers think of him as an emblem of universal integrity. Central European dissidents in the 1980s appealed to his memory, and committees of the great and good award an Orwell Prize to writers who have made their reputations writing about, say, Sweden since the 1970s. I doubt if a day passes when some politician or journalist does not denounce something or other as "Orwellian", a word that Orwell would have hated.

Orwell did not enjoy such special status in the eyes of his contemporaries. Much of his writing was made up of book reviews churned out to pay the bills. The flavour of this life is captured in a short letter that he wrote to T. S. Eliot asking whether Faber might be interesting in commissioning him to translate Jacques Roberti’s À la Belle de Nuit, a task that apparently required a command of low-life Paris argot. Some of his work seemed to fit into easily identifiable patterns. Cyril Connolly had admired Orwell since meeting him at prep school, but, in Enemies of Promise (1938), he stitched together quotations from Orwell, Hemingway and Christopher Isherwood into a single passage to show how indistinguishable "colloquial" writers could be.

Both these books are designed, in part, to put Orwell back into the context of his own times. The articles he wrote for Tribune between 1943 and 1947 are gathered into a single volume with an excellent introduction by Paul Anderson. They have all been published in previous collections and some of them, such as "The Decline of the English Murder", are already well known, but publication of the Tribune articles is useful because Orwell wrote for the paper at a time when he was writing Animal Farm and thinking about Nineteen Eighty-Four. His article on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, a book which is sometimes seen as a model for Nineteen Eighty-Four, appeared in January 1946, though any reader of the Tribune articles will conclude that Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution was a more important influence on Orwell’s thinking. For most of this time, large parts of the British Left, including some of the other writers for Tribune, were pro-Soviet. More importantly, support for the Soviet alliance was part of the official policy of both Britain and the United States. In short, Orwell’s most famous books need to be understood against the backdrop of Yalta rather than that of, say, the Berlin airlift. The Tribune articles show how intermittent anti-Americanism, suspicion of the British ruling classes and distaste for the realpolitik of the great powers were blended with a personal dislike of Stalinism. Orwell repeatedly drew attention to facts about the Soviet Union that were inconvenient to the Western Allies; he wrote, for example, about the mass rape of women in Vienna by Russian soldiers. An article of September 1944 about the Warsaw Uprising is particularly striking; in it he asked why the British intelligentsia were so "dishonestly uncritical" of Soviet policy, but he also suggested that Western governments were moving towards a peace settlement that would hand much of Europe to Stalin.

If the Tribune articles tell us mainly about Orwell after 1943, Philip Bounds sets him against the fast-changing political backdrop to his whole writing career. In the mid 1930s, the Communist International turned away from "class against class" tactics to encourage Popular Front alliances of anti-Fascist forces. This position changed with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, then changed again with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. These gyrations produced odd consequences in Britain, a country in which there was not a large Communist party (though there were some significant figures who, as Orwell put it, believed in the Russian "mythos" ) and in which the most important leaders of the Labour Party were not tempted by an anti-Fascist alliance with the Communists. The Popular Front was supported by an odd coalition that ranged from Stafford Cripps to the Duchess of Atholl.

Orwell opposed the Popular Front, or, at least, he was rude about its English supporters. During the Spanish Civil War he fought with the non-Stalinist POUM rather than the International Brigade (joined by most Communists). He reversed his position overnight in 1939: he claimed to have dreamt of war and then come downstairs to see the newspaper reports of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. He supported the war against Hitler and became an eloquent defender of patriotism though he also thought, at least in 1940 and 1941, that the British war effort might be combined with a revolutionary transformation of British society. His position was sometimes close to that of Trotskyists and he quoted the Trotskyite slogan "the war and the revolution are inseparable" with approval in 1941. Orwell’s interest in Trotsky, however, seems to have been rooted in a sympathy for outsiders and in the sense that, to quote his friend Malcolm Muggeridge, "Trotsky blows the gaff" on the Soviet Union. Orwell did not believe that Russia would necessarily have been less repressive if ruled by Trotsky rather than Stalin. He was not much interested in Marxist theory and his remark, apropos of T. S. Eliot, that Anglo-Catholicism was the "ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism", was probably designed to annoy Trotskyites as much as Anglo-Catholics.

Bounds covers all of Orwell’s writing – the early autobiographical novels and exercises in fictionalized autobiography as well as the better-known works – and tries to trace the themes that run through them all. In particular, he argues that, for all of his anti-Soviet talk, Orwell was influenced by Communist or fellow-travelling writers. This influence was masked by his general cussedness and by a capacity for annexing the ideas of authors he had once denounced; for example, he wrote a savage review of The Novel Today (1936) by the Communist Philip Henderson. However, Orwell’s remarks about modernism in his essay "Inside the Whale" (1940) seem to owe something to Henderson’s assault on literature that avoids "the urgent problems of the moment". Orwell even transports the same rather laboured joke from Punch – about the young man who tells his aunt "My dear, one doesn’t write about anything; one just writes" – from his 1936 review to his 1940 essay. The changes in Communist strategy made Orwell’s relations with its cultural commentators all the more complicated. Sometimes he seemed to draw on ideas expressed by Communist writers during the "class against class" period to attack the Popular Front, and then to draw on the Popular Front’s discovery of national culture to attack Communists after the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact.

Bounds’s book is wide-ranging, stimulating and well written. I was not, however, entirely convinced by its arguments. This is partly because it is hard to prove influence. Bounds himself frequently admits that we cannot be sure that Orwell read a particular author whose ideas seem, in some respects, to run parallel to his own. Some Marxist authors whom Orwell had read seem not to have influenced him very much. He reviewed Christopher Hill’s The English Revolution 1640, though he himself did not go in for the celebration of seventeenth-century radicalism that was so common among English left-wingers – rather unconvincingly, Bounds attributes this to the belief that Orwell’s readers were likely to be "culturally ambitious members of the lower middle class".

Emphasizing Orwell’s roots on the Left means playing down his links to writers on the Right. Anthony Powell, a friend of Orwell, does not feature in this book at all. Bounds suggests that Orwell’s interest in conservative writers – notably Rudyard Kipling – sprang partly from a desire to answer a certain kind of Communist attack on them. Orwell wanted to show the peculiarity of English conservatism and to distinguish it from Fascism. He certainly underlined the difference between Kipling and Wodehouse and Fascists. However, there were times when he argued that Fascism itself might assume a particularly English form. In any case, he admired many right-wing writers – including, for example, Louis-Ferdinand Céline – for reasons that cut across his politics.

Bounds’s careful researches into relatively minor English Marxists can sometimes obscure the importance of the two most important left-wingers with whom Orwell was associated: John Strachey and Victor Gollancz. Neither of these men was a member of the Communist party, though both were close to it at times. Strachey’s The Coming Crisis (1932) presented a Marxist analysis, but Strachey, like Orwell, also admired the work of some authors on the Right: he described The Waste Land as "the most important poem produced in English in our day". Gollancz was a publisher and founder, along with Strachey and Stafford Cripps, of the Left Book Club, and it is tempting to present him as a kind of antiOrwell: devious, shrewd about money, politically conformist and an intellectual who was not intelligent. Orwell himself thought privately that Gollancz was "very enterprising about left stuff and . . . not too bright". However, relations between the two men were sometimes closer than Orwell cared to admit. Gollancz published Orwell’s first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), and, according to one account, it was he who chose "Orwell" as Eric Blair’s pen name (the alternatives were "Kenneth Miles" and "H. Lewis Allways"). It is true that Gollancz, or the Left Book Club, turned down Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm, for fear of offending Communists, but the Left Book Club did publish The Road to Wigan Pier, though with an introduction by Gollancz himself in which he said that he had noted at least a hundred points with which he disagreed. It is also important to remember that there was a period, from September 1939 until the summer of 1941, when Orwell, Gollancz and Strachey were united by common distaste for what they called the Communist Party’s "betrayal of the left".

Should we see Orwell as primarily a political writer? He certainly came to see himself as one. In 1946, he wrote: "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written . . . against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism . . . it is where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books". However, not all his early work was "lifeless", and his later books are not entirely animated by politics. Throughout his career, Orwell saw that literature might be an end in itself. As a twenty-year-old policeman in Burma, during his brief attempt to flee from his destiny as a writer, he had read War and Peace and been seduced by its characters: "people about whom one would gladly go on reading for ever". He had begun the 1940s hoping to produce a three-volume family saga. Would he have returned to this apparently unpolitical work if he had believed that he would have time to finish it?

The fact that Orwell was very ill for much of the period when he wrote his most famous works, and that he died in January 1950 a few months after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, raises all sorts of questions. His most savage critics see his last works as reflecting the despair of a dying man – but, for my money, Burmese Days (1934) is the most despairing of his works. And how would he have reacted to the Cold War, and to seeing his own books used as weapons in that war? Perhaps most importantly, how would an author who had defined himself in terms of failure and obscurity have reacted to wealth and fame?

Thursday 6 August 2009

Peter Stothard, Daily Beast

Classics are timeless—or so we think. In the case of George Orwell, the distinguished historian Richard Vinen points out in the TLS this week that he has “escaped from his own time”: "Every school child who gets as far as GCSE English will have read at least one Orwell novel.... This means that most people read Orwell before they have any sense of the period in which he wrote; indeed, before they have much sense of why it might matter to understand the period in which a writer worked.” A volume of his writings for the Tribune from the years before 1984, and a new study about Orwell and Marxism, put Orwell rewardingly back in his historical place–-and show how the timeless work of literature emerged from the messy business of writing to the moment.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Sebastian Shakespeare, Evening Standard

With the future of the left-wing weekly hanging in the balance, there could be no more timely reminder of its importance to British culture than the reissue of Orwell in Tribune, a collection of George Orwell's essays edited by Paul Anderson.

Orwell joined Tribune in 1943 and spent 13 months as literary editor and the next three-and-a-half years as a columnist and reviewer. Although he is best known for his novels Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, his journalism was just as influential.

It was during this time he pioneered the As I Please column, a forerunner of the modern-day opinion piece which has come to loom so large in the press.

He took on whatever idea popped into his head and allowed the reader to tap into a brilliant stream of conciousness. His subjects ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous — from the Warsaw uprising and doodlebugs, to making a cup of tea and the pleasure he got from sixpenny Woolworth's rose bushes outside his Hertfordshire cottage (this elicited a letter from a woman socialist, denouncing roses as “bourgeois”, which gave him another pretext to mock socialists).

“Good prose is like a windowpane” was his personal mantra. In other words it should be clear, lucid and enlightening, and make the reader feel as if they have seen something. He wrote about the social issues of the day (anti-Semitism, the execution of war criminals, postwar juvenile delinquency), as well as popular culture (women's magazines, seaside postcards, American comics). For him there was no distinction between high and low culture.

Most newspaper columns have a short shelf life but Orwell's have endured for 70 years. They are at once passionate polemics and vivid social history. Reading them today gives you a flavour of what life was like during and immediately after the war.

They are also autobiographical. They reveal his passions (nature, literature, politics, good food, “good bad books” and English customs) and pet hates (snobbery, racial prejudice and the degradation of language). He advocated the simplification of expression and the coining of fresh metaphors.

The As I Please column was revived in Tribune under the inspired editorship of Mark Seddon and its modern-day authors have included Joan Smith and Mark Rowson. However, nobody could match Orwell for his authority, sharpness and freshness.

George Orwell turned political writing into an art form. Only trivial books make big money, he once observed.

His trivial columns didn't make him big money. They did more than that. They made literary history.

Sunday 5 October 2008

Tom Widger, Sunday Tribune (Dublin)

The questioning mind in me has always loved Orwell. The Orwell who just about escaped death from the Soviet NKVD at the close of the Spanish Civil War, the Orwell of Wigan Pier, the creator of the Thought Police, the pigs in Animal Farm. The Orwell who scoffed at tidied-up language, such as "friendly fire". The book to hand is a collection of essays that came out in left-wing literary weeklies. Orwell usually had three or four deadlines a week to meet, including the "As I Please" column, and despite the years of publication – the mid 1940s – they are as fresh as though they were written last week. That said, of course, the themes – the class war, the structure of society – are still topical, and always will be.

Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, Independent on Sunday

In 1943, weary of his wartime work for the BBC, where he had little time for his own writing and had become impatient with the level of censorship imposed by the Ministry of Information, George Orwell accepted a job as literary editor of the leftwing weekly, Tribune. Broadly speaking, he sympathised with the paper's politics and, given an exceptional degree of editorial freedom, he spent the next 13 months in the job and then the following three-and-a-half years as a columnist and reviewer, writing pretty much what he wanted.

In wartime, his column "As I Please" offered forthright and often contrary opinion, and his 1946 comments on the way justice was being dealt to war criminals, their hangings sometimes gruesomely inefficient spectacles, could easily be set against recent attempts to dispense justice in Iraq: "If people are being taught to gloat not only over death but over a peculiarly horrible form of torture, it marks another turn on the downward spiral that we have been following ever since 1933."

During peacetime his columns continued to pick away at what passed for civilised behaviour. What was the point of overeating at Christmas? "A deliberately austere Christmas would be an absurdity." Were the kinds of comics becoming popular in the USA a good thing? "A correspondent has sent me a copy of one of the disgusting American 'comics' which I referred to a few weeks ago... Certainly I would keep these out of children's hands if possible. But I would not be in favour of prohibiting their actual sale."

Never a censor, always a man who cared profoundly about the ways in which freedom could be limited and how society suffered as a result, Orwell would have been a great man to have around over the past 10 years.

Friday 26 September 2008

Damien Le Guay, Figaro magazine

[…] La France connaît le romancier George Orwell, mais est en train de découvrir sa pensée politique. Viennent de paraître 80 chroniques, écrites par Orwell entre 1943 et 1948 et regroupées sous le titre de A ma guise. Elles sont autant de leçons de journalisme. On y retrouve son esprit d’enquête sur le terrain, avide de ces détails qui en disent long. Là, il s’en prend d’une manière générale à la bêtise des journalistes, et en particulier aux intellectuels de gauche qui, lors du soulèvement de Varsovie, en août 1944, s’alignent sur la propagande soviétique. Orwell est d’une gauche libre, non inféodée à Moscou, d’un socialisme antitotalitaire, soucieux avant tout de préserver les libertés individuelles. Cette conviction lui vient de son engagement durant la guerre d’Espagne. […]

France knows George Orwell the novelist, but is only now discovering his political thinking. Eighty columns written by Orwell between 1943 and 1948 are now published in translation for the first time under the title “As I Please”. They are all lessons in journalism. You get a real sense of his commitment to inquiry on the ground, a hunger for details that speak volumes. He lays into the stupidity of journalists, especially the leftist intellectuals who, during the Warsaw uprising in August 1944, swallowed Soviet propaganda. Orwell is a from a free left not subservient to Moscow, an anti-totalitarian socialism concerned above all to preserve individual freedoms. This conviction stems from his engagement during the Spanish Civil War.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Jean Birnbaum, Le Monde

[…] De 1943 à 1947, George Orwell tient une chronique hebdomadaire dans Tribune, un journal dont les idées se situent à la gauche du Parti travailliste. Intitulées A ma guise, ces chroniques traitent de sujets très divers, depuis l’arrivée du printemps jusqu’aux annonces matrimoniales, en passant par la fête de Noël, l’état de la presse, la hausse des prix ou encore l’antisémitisme. La plupart de ces textes étaient déjà disponibles en français, mais les éditions Agone ont eu la bonne idée d’en publier l’intégralité en un seul volume.

Semaine après semaine, Orwell pose sur ses semblables un regard à la fois généreux et franc. Il répond aux courriers de ses lecteurs, et par exemple à cette dame qui fait valoir que consacrer une chronique à l’éloge des rosiers revient à s’attarder sur un “sujet bourgeois”... De même n’hésite-t-il pas à mettre en garde les candidats au concours de nouvelles que lui et son journal ont organisé : “Je dois dire tout de suite que la grande majorité des cinq cents ou six cents nouvelles que nous avons reçues étaient, selon mon opinion, très mauvaises…”

Là encore, le chroniqueur prend soin de distinguer entre l’humilité du peuple et la morgue des puissants : si l’agressivité des receveurs d’autobus doit être mise au compte d’une “névrose provoquée par la guerre”, les propos xénophobes de deux hommes d’affaires s’expliquent avant tout, selon lui, par la “méchanceté active” liée à leur condition.

C’est un peu caricatural, dira-t-on. Oui, mais Orwell n’est ni philosophe ni sociologue. Pour lui, l’écriture n’a qu’une vocation : briser la solitude des hommes, les aider à créer des liens. “Comment rendre les gens conscients de ce qui se passe en dehors de leur petit cercle, voilà un des principaux problèmes de notre temps, et une nouvelle technique littéraire va devoir être inventée”, assure-t-il. Loin de former un programme doctrinal, ses textes désignent le point de fragilité propre à toute espérance socialiste : privée de son élément émotionnel, la révolution est sans âme ; coupée de ses ressources fraternelles, la politique est sans entrailles.

From 1943 to 1947, George Orwell wrote a weekly column for Tribune, a leftwing Labour Party newspaper. Entitled “As I Please”, they treat a wide range of topics, from the arrival of spring to wedding announcements, through Christmas, the state of the press, price increases and even anti-Semitism. Most of these pieces are already available in French, but Editions Agone have had the good idea to publish them in full in a single volume.

Week after week, Orwell is both generous and frank with his readers. He responds to letters from them, for example to a woman correspondent who argues that devoting a column to praising roses is to dwell on a "bourgeois subject" ... Similarly, he doesn’t hesitate to tell contestants in a short story competition he had organised for the paper: " I will say at once that of the five or six hundred stories that were sent in, the great majority were, in my judgment, very bad "

As a columnist he takes care to distinguish between the prejudices of the people and those of the powerful: if the aggressiveness of bus passengers must be put down to a "neurosis produced by the war", the xenophobia of two private businessmen is down primarily, he says, to their status making them "actively malignant".

It's a bit grotesque, to be honest. But Orwell is neither a philosopher nor a sociologist. For him, writing has a purpose: breaking the solitude of men, helping to create links. " This business of making people conscious of what is happening outside their own small circle is one of the major problems of our time, and a new literary technique will have to be evolved to meet it," he says. Far from forming a political doctrine, these articles show the fragility of any socialist hope. Deprived of its emotional element, the revolution has no soul; abandon solidarity, and politics has no heart.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Ian Pindar, Guardian

This excellent collection carries with it a characteristic aura of cigarettes, cups of strong brown tea and counting out one's change. It is peculiarly Orwellian, although it speaks of the lot of any jobbing freelance in the 1940s. His 80 "As I Please" columns are impressive, even before we discover that he was simultaneously writing Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. What contemporary columnist could produce a volume of such consistently high quality? And in contrast to modern practice, Orwell kept his private unhappiness out of his columns, preferring instead to discuss fascism, propaganda, V-2s, the railings around London squares, melons in Elizabethan literature and washing-up. It is the timbre of his voice that seduces: decent, plain-speaking, opinionated but fair-minded. Many anthology favourites are here ("Books v Cigarettes", "Decline of the English Murder"), as well as his most controversial column, accusing English left-wing intellectuals of being "boot-licking propagandist[s] of the Soviet regime".

Peter Robins, Daily Telegraph

"As I Please", the weekly column that George Orwell wrote for Tribune in the 1940s, shows him at his most attractive: in direct and economically humorous prose, he ranges from the Cornhill magazine to the future of warfare, always ready to argue seriously with readers' letters and unafraid to attack Tribune's advertisers. Orwell is not a wholly reliable prophet (on the verge of the baby boom, he worries about Britain's declining population) but this holds up better than most collections of fugitive pieces. Paul Anderson's notes clarify the occasional bouts of Fleet Street infighting.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Tom Templeton, Observer

George Orwell's war-time Tribune columns, published together for the first time here, provide a window on the grimy world of the Blitz. By the time the war started, Orwell had lived a bit: he'd already joined the Burma police, gone down and out in Paris and London and fought for a Marxist militia in the Spanish civil war. He'd settled into his easy, demotic writing style, and had the confidence of having predicted the war against fascism.
Between 1943 and 1947, the years these columns span, he wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and his journalism exhibits all the disdain for humbug, and the clarity and independence of thought that shine through his novels.

Many of his observations are as relevant today as they were in the forties: the snobbishness of advertising; the prevalence of faux-scientific superstition ("That a swan can break your leg with a blow of its wing"); the lame jokes in Punch ("Jokes that are funny usually contain that un-English thing, an idea"); and that perennial of the political commentator, the "quite fantastic ugliness" of most politicians.

In a famous piece on the dreariness of book reviewing he observes, "everyone in this world has someone else whom he can look down on ... the book reviewer is better off than the film critic." That might have changed, but with the benefit of 60 years of hindsight, Orwell's fabled prophetic powers seem in good nick. Worried that no objective account of the second world war will ever exist, he anticipates - in a feat of deduction based on the creation of the atomic bomb - the prospect of a couple of superpowers "in a permanent state of cold war", and calls for a European Union to spare Britain from having to choose between them.

Orwell can be profoundly moving too. On the subject of utopias he concludes that the real objective of socialism is not happiness but brotherhood: "Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles ... not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another."

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Frank Kermode, New York Review of Books

During his years as literary editor and columnist on the left-wing weekly Tribune George Orwell wrote, in addition to his journalism, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Tribune suited him very well, letting him do as he pleased, offering a measure of political agreement but also a background against which his boldness and oddity stood out very clearly.

The bold and odd Orwell is in the news at present: a memoir has been published describing his friendship with a young girl back in 1914, when he was eleven and she thirteen. They met when Jacintha, wandering around her father's estate, came upon Eric Blair (to give him his true name) standing on his head in a field. Asked why he was doing so, he explained that it was a good way to get noticed. So it proved, and a close friendship developed. Whenever Eric was home from school (Eton) they would take long walks, or go fishing, or discuss poetry and the occult. He gave her a copy of Dracula, a crucifix, and a clove of garlic. Happy days, in an idyllic setting that will recur in the "Golden Country" of Nineteen Eighty-Four!

Orwell's biographers knew about this youthful affair, but it now appears that Jacintha broke it off when Eric, aged eighteen, tried to rape her. When he went off to be an imperial policeman in Burma she did not reply to his sad letters, and on his return in 1927 she still did not relent. Years later, in 1949, when he was desperately ill, a widower with a young adopted son, he appealed to her to come and see him. Apparently Nineteen Eighty-Four had so shocked her that she decided against it, but she attended his funeral in 1950. Orwell never mentions her in his published work.


The sexual manners of eighteen-year-old boys are rarely polished, and it may be that Eric was a rough rather than a criminal suitor, but Orwell's biographer Gordon Bowker thinks otherwise: "The sudden pounce...remained his preferred mode of seduction."[1] Either way the entire episode is suggestive. By all accounts Orwell's normal demeanor was perfectly civil, just what could be expected of a man of his class and education, but there were occasions when it must have seemed, not least to other members of that class, to be as odd as standing on one's head to attract attention.

As to the allegation of violence, it is true that it had inevitably been part of his job in Burma; and in later life this quiet man did express violent political opinions and spoke of his own "intellectual brutality." He condemned the English public (i.e., private boarding) school system, but not the almost universal practice in such schools of corporal punishment, which he thought a useful preparation for adult life. He defended the bombing of civilian populations. And so on. Yet he had unusually strong sympathy with the destitute and the suffering and could imagine extremes of desolation, as in the famous essay on a hanging, where he remembers how the condemned man stepped aside to avoid a puddle on his way to the gallows; in that act Orwell "saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide."

Leonard Woolf describes how, as a young colonial administrator in Ceylon, he supervised the hanging of four men. The event itself was more horrible than the one Orwell witnessed, and Woolf was sickened by it, but the account we remember is Orwell's, because of its imaginative participation in the victim's humanity. A lesser-known instance of this imaginative power can be found in an essay of 1940, in which he says that nothing in the First World War moved him as deeply as the sinking of the Titanic had done: the ship suddenly up-ended and sank bow-foremost, so that the people clinging to the stern were lifted no less than three hundred feet into the air before they plunged into the abyss. It gave me a sinking sensation in the belly which I can still all but feel.

(He was ten years old when the Titanic sank.)


Orwell's experiences as a police officer in Burma had much to do with his revulsion from imperial rule and the exploitation of colonial populations. He was himself born in India into a ruling-class family, but he was soon committed politically to the left; the evolution of his political beliefs is still a matter of argument, but it was obviously related to his unillusioned sympathy with the poor and the outcast, and to his need to break free of his own class and speak his own mind. A believer in socialist democracy, he found little evidence of a desire for it on the British left.

Except for a brief spell in the Independent Labour Party (a dwindling minority party, usually at odds with the Labour Party, the main hope of the left), he preferred independence, his freedom to criticize all parties. For example, the trade unions, the main financial supporters of Labour, naturally saw it as their first duty to better the condition of their members. But Orwell reminded them that simply by doing so they inadvertently helped increase the poverty of vast colonial populations. He was the enemy of all forms of privilege, oppression, racism, and totalitarianism.

As Britain and France refused to intervene in the Spanish civil war (which in the opinion of many made them pro-Franco and pro-Hitler), Orwell, along with two thousand other British volunteers, fought on the Republican side, believing that the inevitable struggle with fascism should take place then and there, in Spain. He was wounded in support of the working-class cause, but his Spanish experiences reinforced his dislike of communism. He wanted his own brand of revolutionary war, and in 1939 hoped that the one which was obviously just about to begin might be it. Meanwhile the palpable danger of that moment stimulated his own patriotic feelings. He ceased to oppose the war but without ceasing to detest the British ruling class. He wanted it to be recognized that capitalism didn't work; that capitalists were indeed as odious as Nazis; that in his admittedly beloved country gross disparities of income between the callous rich and the near destitute made a joke of the precious idea of equality. There had been a moment in revolutionary Barcelona when that idea seemed to have become thrillingly real, but almost at once the gap between rich and poor widened again.

Born a member of a highly privileged class, Orwell had lived with the poorest of the poor in London and Paris. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) gave an account of the period during which he experienced the poverty of the depressed industrial north. It was published by Victor Gollancz, a fellow traveler whose Left Book Club had attracted astonishing numbers of subscribers. Orwell's book sold 40,000 copies, but Gollancz, always nervous, insisted on adding a foreword to reduce its political force. Later on, fearing the reaction of the Russians, he refused to publish Homage to Catalonia, and later still turned down Animal Farm for similar reasons. Since Orwell was bound to him by contract Gollancz was able to hinder its publication by anyone else.[2]

The manuscript survived the German flying bomb and rocket attacks on London in the summer of 1944, and appeared after a year of delay, just as the war ended. Britain had a "Russophile" period when the Soviet armies were beating the Germans in the East, and Stalin was for a while thought rather lovable. Failing to agree, Orwell, who had joined a foreign republican army and got himself shot, was again standing on his head, concerning himself more with the terrible destruction of working-class homes in London's East End than with the advances of the Allied armies in Europe.


By this time he was writing his Tribune column, "As I Please," normally produced weekly. He was known to be a remarkably productive writer, much admired for the vigor and clarity of his prose. He reviewed a great many books, including novels and poetry, but probably most of his energy went into political journalism. Though surely to be counted as one of them himself, he had a certain prejudice against other left-wing intellectuals, "fashionable pansies" whose education had cut them off from the real world of work. "The left-wing opinions of the average 'intellectual' are mainly spurious," he asserted, calling the poet Stephen Spender "a parlor Bolshevik"; though he admitted that when he met Spender he quite liked him, and confessed himself liable to these episodes of "intellectual brutality."

His relationship with W.H. Auden is more interesting. This "gutless Kipling" wrote in his poem "Spain" ("one of the few decent things that have been written about the Spanish war") of a need for "the conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder." To Orwell this is a good example of what is to be expected from the "utterly irresponsible intelligentsia." Speaking as a man who has seen murder done, and who thinks it ought to be avoided, he scorns "a brand of amoralism" that "is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled." Auden changed the line ("the deliberate acceptance of guilt in the fact of murder") but thought Orwell's comment "densely unjust"; for unless you are a pacifist this is indeed what you must consciously accept when fighting a war.

Although he wanted on principle to dislike Auden, Orwell (who had once known A.E. Housman's poems by heart) found some of his verse hard to resist. He quotes with approval the concluding lines of "Spain" –
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help or pardon
– lines Auden himself came to regard as a blatant lie, a lapse into a false rhetoric. Elsewhere he quotes a stanza from "September 1, 1939," again without mentioning that Auden had disowned that poem. He also picked up more innocent lines that may have stuck in his memory like Housman's: in "A Hanging" the guards hold the prisoner in "careful caressing grip," an expression that echoes Auden –
Now through night's caressing grip
Earth and all her oceans slip...
– though it isn't clear whether, in this case, Auden was not the borrower.

What should not be overlooked is the fact that this political journalist took an informed though tough and idiosyncratic interest in literature. He defended Kipling and praised Jack London. He wrote well about Dickens when that writer was out of fashion. He took on Tolstoy in a perverse and stimulating essay about King Lear. He thought T.S. Eliot a once-good poet who had fatally ceased to write memorable lines, perhaps because he had accepted a religion that forced him "to believe the incredible." He wrote about No Orchids for Miss Blandish and Vogue magazine, about boys' school stories; about the vulgar seaside cartoonist Donald McGill and the Surrealist Salvador Dalì. He made something of a hero out of Henry Miller. His great exemplar was Jonathan Swift, though he did not agree with Swift that happiness was impossible to human beings. He would spend much time deciding what was right and what was not in the theories of James Burnham, which left a mark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

One of his most enduring interests was in the cultivation of pure and direct English, where his concern almost matched the intensity of Swift's. Sixty years later I remember resolving that the essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946) should be a kind of touchstone (allowing for some Orwellian quirks) for my own writing, a memory clouded by the necessary admission that I have not used it often enough.


Evidently Orwell was well equipped, in 1943, to take on the literary editorship of Tribune. He could write interestingly about pretty much anything, and had often appeared in its pages already. When Tribune got started in 1937 Orwell was in Spain. He returned wounded and sick and in a bad time. Homage to Catalonia, his book about the Spanish civil war, failed; the Spanish Republic was defeated, and the Hitler-Stalin Pact was the immediate cause of his abandoning his antiwar position. Rejected for military service on medical grounds, he celebrated his restored patriotism in the great essay "England Your England," written in February 1941: "As I write," it begins, "highly civilized beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me." In this essay he celebrates what he always insisted on, often against the evidence – a certain gentleness and decency (a favorite word) in the texture of English life. Only a month earlier he had, as it were, stood on his head in praise of Henry Miller's complete indifference to conventional morality and nationalist sentiment. His interests were fascinatingly various.

He had been writing occasionally for Tribune, along with other papers, as well as working in the Indian service of the BBC – trying to project a favorable image of Britain and keep the Indians happy with their standing in the Empire, which German propaganda was trying to undermine. It was when he grew tired of what seemed to him a futile job in a disagreeably bureaucratic organization that he joined Tribune.

The relevant history of the journal is sketched with authority by Paul Anderson in his introduction to this book. Tribune was more important than its circulation (at its peak around 40,000) might suggest. In his new job Orwell was dealing with persons of present and potential power. The paper was partly financed by Stafford Cripps, who had been Churchill's ambassador to Moscow; after the landslide election of 1945, he was close to the center of the Labour government and virtual controller of the austere postwar economy. Aneurin Bevan, who as minister of health in the postwar Labour administration was to be the godfather of the National Health Service, was for a time editor of Tribune. When Orwell left to work as a war correspondent in Europe his Tribune column was taken over by Bevan's wife, Jennie Lee, who was elected to Parliament in 1945 and was later famous for her generosity and charm when serving as arts minister under Harold Wilson. And Orwell would have had everyday encounters with other important left-wingers like Michael Foot, later the leader, and now the grand old man, of the modern Labour Party.

He still disapproved of much that orthodox Labour stood for, and in certain respects he also disagreed with Tribune, not least in his unrelenting opposition to Stalinist Russia. But he could work and be valued there simply because, as Foot has said, he was the sharpest thorn in the side of editorial complacency, the greatest of modern iconoclasts, a new and much more humane Swift with a deadly lash for all hypocrisies, including socialist hypocrisies.

He could write things in Tribune that would have had difficulty achieving print elsewhere; and sometimes he even agreed with the policy of the paper, as when it attacked Churchill (something Bevan was always willing to do) or, in 1943, demanded a second front in Europe. He also agreed with Tribune's opposition to the notion that a defeated Germany must be punished and dismembered, and on the need or duty of Britain to liberate India with all possible speed. "Tribune is not perfect," he wrote,
but I do think it is the only existing paper that makes a genuine effort to be both progressive and humane – that is, to combine a radical socialist policy with a respect for freedom of speech and a civilised attitude towards literature and the arts.
Such was the atmosphere at Tribune when he joined it. The paper survives, but its greatest years probably coincided roughly with Orwell's tenure.


In the column "As I Please" he could, as the title indicates, say whatever he liked, whether political or not. He contributed eighty columns, starting in 1943, breaking off early in 1945, and resuming at the end of that year. The last "As I Please" appeared in April 1947. During the four years when he was, with intervals, writing his column, the world of which he was to take such note as he pleased changed considerably: the war in Europe ended, the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, India and Pakistan were liberated. The American armies went home and the British settled in for several years of economic crisis, discomfort, and rationing in excess of what they had suffered in the six years of war. The cold war began.

Orwell was busy. Besides writing Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four he contributed his "London Letters" to Partisan Review, and occasionally wrote for Dwight Macdonald's Politics. The column must almost have seemed a way of relaxing. To read through the eighty items as they are now presented is to get some insight into a writer of restless, unclassifiable intellect. Some pages vividly recall wartime London. The first column describes the behavior of two drunken GIs in a London tobacconist's shop.

Their conduct was not exceptional. Even if you steer clear of Piccadilly with its seething swarms of drunks and whores, it is difficult to go anywhere in London without having the feeling that Britain is now Occupied Territory. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the only American soldiers with decent manners are the Negroes. On the other hand the Americans have their own justifiable complaints— in particular, they complain of the children who follow them night and day, cadging sweets.
Trivia, but such encounters really mattered because Anglo-American relations mattered. These issues were rarely discussed in print. Most people in Britain, says Orwell, don't even know that American servicemen are not liable in the British courts for offenses against British citizens; and most are also quite unaware of the extent of anti-British feeling in the US. He also notes, correctly, that British soldiers resented the fact that American soldiers were paid five times as much as they were, and suggests remedies for this dangerous imbalance. (They didn't work.) White American soldiers, he discovered, were horrified to discover that white English girls danced with their black comrades, and succeeded in getting a dancehall proprietor to start a "whites only" policy.

Injustices large and small attracted his attention. An Indian journalist living in England needs support when he protests against being drafted into the British army. The iron railings that had protected the communal gardens of well-to-do London squares until requisitioned and torn down for munitions were now being replaced by wooden palings; so bits of London that had been liberated for the use of all were, as the war progressed, ominously returning to private use.
He would comment on the quality of radio programs, on price rises, on the inadequacy of British houses, on the rudeness of shop assistants who seem to enjoy having nothing to sell, on the mysterious shortage of clocks and watches. But it's not all complaining: a rosebush from Woolworth's that years before cost sixpence, the price of ten cigarettes, still blooms abundantly; a Regency church in North London is worth getting off the bus for another look.


Much of the charm of these columns obviously depends on their variety and their nearness to home. The writer finds a good book in a pile outside a bookseller's shop, or describes his own pamphlet collection, or wanders off in another direction and thinks about London's Victorian sewage system.

Some of his reactions are unpredictable. As one would expect, he detests anti-Semitism and Sir Oswald Mosley, whose fascist movement was strongly anti-Semitic. Mosley was interned in 1940 but let out in 1943. Orwell thought it right that he should have been locked up when there was a threat of invasion – and shot if the Germans actually landed – but he defended Mosley's release in 1943, for he could no longer do any harm, and anti-Mosley demonstrations had become protests against habeas corpus.

He pays some attention to complaining letters to the editor. Two subjects guarantee indignant responses from readers: any hostile comment on the Catholic Church (much disliked by Orwell), and any expression of friendliness to Jews. Readers write to complain that his attitudes are generally too negative, that he is always running things down. He replies that in the England of 1944 there's not much around to praise, Woolworth roses apart. Or he will give his views, always simple and intelligible, on some current argument – the case of Ezra Pound, for instance – before describing how he tested a barmaid's theory that dipping your mustache in your beer makes the beer go flat.

One week he reports that he's reading a life of Tolstoy, a book on Dickens, Harry Levin's on Joyce, and the autobiography of Dalì. As the months pass and the Normandy landings are more obviously about to occur, he says very little about the fighting but comments on the uselessness of flimsy surface air-raid shelters. Never a man to complain of austerity, he explains that he would like clothes rationing to continue long after the war, indeed "till the moths have devoured the last dinner-jacket."

In one contentious column he refuses to condemn civilian casualties in mass air raids on German cities:
Why is it worse to kill civilians than soldiers? Obviously one must not kill children if it is in any way avoidable, but it is only in propaganda pamphlets that every bomb drops on a school or an orphanage. A bomb kills a cross-section of the population; but not quite a representative selection, because the children and expectant mothers are usually the first to be evacuated, and some of the young men will be away in the army. Probably a disproportionately large number of bomb victims will be middle-aged. (Up to date, German bombs have killed between six and seven thousand children in this country. This is, I believe, less than the number killed in road accidents in the same period).

On the other hand, "normal" or "legitimate" warfare picks out and slaughters all the healthiest and bravest of the young male population. Every time a German submarine goes to the bottom about fifty young men of fine physique and good nerves are suffocated. ...Heaven knows how many people our blitz on Germany and the occupied countries has killed and will kill, but you can be quite certain it will never come anywhere near the slaughter that has happened on the Russian front.

It took Orwell to say such things in May 1944, and a journal as tough as Tribune to publish them.

In lighter moments he identifies herbs on London bomb-sites or inquires whether melons were grown in seventeenth-century England. Now and again he sets his readers a "brain-tickler." Spot three errors in this passage from Timon of Athens:
Come not to me again, but say to Athens,
Timon hath made his everlasting mansion
Upon the beachèd verge of the salt flood
Who once a day with his embossed froth
The turbulent surge shall cover.

Not being obsessed by the war, he had time and space for other topics. The invasion of June 6 is not mentioned in the issue of June 9, which was probably written before the news broke, though that hardly applies to the column for June 16, which is mostly about a radio program called The Brains Trust, along with a plug for Dwight Macdonald's Politics. June 23 has a long piece on the centennial of the birth of Anatole France, a complaint about the work of two detested Catholic humorists, plus a bit about a book on the voting record of members of Parliament.

When the first comment on the progress of the war comes on June 30, it concerns the flying bombs launched by the Germans soon after the Normandy landings – a nasty business, but relatively domestic in scale. Orwell does note the absurdity of complaints that they were "an indiscriminate attack on civilians," considering what the Allied air forces were doing in Germany.

However, he also records his personal reactions: the flying bombs were exceptionally disquieting because unlike other projectiles, they gave you time to think before their bombs went off. When you heard the drone of the approaching bomb your first reaction was to want it not to stop, but to pass over you before the motor cut out. "You are hoping that it will fall on somebody else." This is "the bottomless selfishness of the human being."

The V2 rockets which replaced the flying bombs were also interestingly eerie, but in a different way: you heard them coming after they had struck. These relatively local issues concerned Orwell, while the Battle of the Bulge, the desperate German offensive of the last winter of the war, escaped notice. His silence on the liberation of the camps is also rather puzzling. There are references to the campaigns in Burma, a war zone that had special interest for him. In February 1945 he does speculate about the fate of Japan when the European war is over, though of course he did not foresee the atomic bombs. "There will be a peace of exhaustion," he conjectures, "with only minor and unofficial wars raging all over the place." In October he does consider the Bomb, pointing out that since its manufacture calls for so huge a technological effort only large states will be able to make it, and they will balance each other's threat, so prolonging a "peace that is no peace."

In the opinion of his present editor, the most controversial column was about the Warsaw Rising of 1944. Orwell attacks the British press and intellectuals for saying that when the Russians, instead of moving to support the rebels, held back, they were right to do so:
What I am concerned with is the attitude of the British intelligentsia, who cannot raise between them one single voice to question what they believe to be Russian policy, no matter what turn it takes, and in this case have had the unheard-of meanness to hint that our bombers ought not to be sent to the aid of our comrades fighting in Warsaw.
His solicitude about the English language is a recurring topic. He admires Samuel Butler's style, of which Butler said he never thought about it, and believed that to do so would be a loss to himself and his readers. Orwell thought the best style would be as transparent as a windowpane. Then the thought could be unambiguously conveyed. The cliché smears the pane and is the enemy of truth. Secondhand language was dishonest, and honesty, he believed, was the best policy. "The advantage of a lie is always short-lived."

At his most combative, even when you think him wrong, he is honest. He hates hearing that something must not be said because to say it would "play into the hands" of some supposedly sinister influence or opponent. Propagandists might try to browbeat critics into silence by calling them "objectively reactionary," and "it is a tempting maneuver...but it is dishonest," and "the speaker loses touch with reality." The Germans and Japanese lost the war because they avoided reality, could not admit what was plain to the dispassionate eye.

Many of the problems Orwell wrote about are still unsolved: immigration, the low birthrate, Scottish separatism, inequitable arrangements for the selection of juries, and so on. In 1946 Orwell could say, in a particular powerful and gloomy column, that "when one considers how things have gone since 1930 or thereabouts, it is not easy to believe in the survival of civilisation." It seems no easier now, and for the reasons he gives. But this excellent series of columns doesn't end quite so solemnly. With a strange propriety it ends with a quiet chat about pidgin English in the South Pacific.

He went to Jura, a remote Scottish refuge, and began Nineteen Eighty-Four. The appendix on Newspeak, which resembles Swift's painful collections of "polite conversation," is the culmination of his distress at the loss of meaning in language; the book as a whole was called "terrible" (i.e., terrifying) by Orwell's friend William Empson. Nevertheless on the World Book Day just past in the UK, it made the top ten in a list of "books the nation cannot live without," putting Orwell after Austen, Tolkien, Charlotte Brontë, J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, and Emily Brontë but ahead of Philip Pullman and Dickens. The Da Vinci Code came in forty-second. The domestication of such a book as Nineteen Eighty-Four would be a worthy topic for another "As I Please."

[1] Gordon Bowker, "Blair Pounces," Times Literary Supplement, February 23, 2007.
[2] Orwell's death in 1950 did not end the political opposition. In a recent book, Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm (Penn State University Press, 2007), Daniel J. Leab writes about the part of the CIA in the making of the animated film version of Animal Farm, released in 1954. The CIA, then embarking on its cultural campaign against Soviet communism, partly financed the film, exerting constant pressure on its makers, so that the film became cold war propaganda. They imposed an entirely new ending on the story. Leab gives a full account of the matter, explaining how interference with the script affected the actual making of the film. With the techniques of animation then available the slightest change called for endless redrawing, and the changes to the end were an expensive nightmare.

Nick Cohen, Democratiya, Summer 2007

In 1946, George Orwell described a man who is
…thirty-five, but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him, he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak he will be suffering from a hangover. At present it is half past eleven in the morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start he would have been frustrated by the almost continuous ringing of the telephone bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up and down the stairs. The most recent interruption was the arrival of the second post, which brought him two circulars and an income-tax demand printed in red.

Needless to say, this person is a writer. He might be a poet, a novelist, or a writer of film scripts or radio features, for all literary people are very much alike, but let us say that he is a book reviewer. Half hidden among the pile of papers is a bulky parcel containing five volumes which his editor has sent with a note suggesting that they 'ought to go well together'. They arrived four days ago, but for forty-eight hours the reviewer was prevented by moral paralysis from opening the parcel. Yesterday in a resolute moment he ripped the string off it and found the five volumes to be Palestine at the Cross Roads, Scientific Dairy Farming, A Short History of European Democracy (this one 680 pages and weighs four pounds), Tribal Customs in Portuguese East Africa, and a novel, It's Nicer Lying Down, probably included by mistake. His review — 800 words, say — has got to be 'in' by midday tomorrow.
This was self-portrait, but only a partial one. Orwell could invoke the wretchedness of the jobbing writer because he was churning out an astonishing amount of journalism for poor-paying magazines in the forties. But, and to an equally astonishingly degree, he wasn't producing hack work but essays on a vast range of subjects at a literary and intellectual level so consistently high no one who writes for a living can look on them without a spasm of envy. Peter Davison's The Complete Works of George Orwell runs to 20 volumes. While Orwell was writing his pieces for Tribune, he was also finishing Animal Farm, starting to think about Nineteen Eighty-Four, handing in arguments and reviews for British and American papers – and coping with a dying wife, an adopted son and his own TB while he was about it. [1]

Printing a writer's every word isn't always a kindness, and not all Orwell pieces stand the test of time – or even the test of his own time. But to read the Tribune articles in sequence, and see him taking up points from previous columns, arguing with correspondents and expanding on dozens of subjects is to raise him from the dead, as it were, and have him talking in your living room or – as Orwell would prefer – your local.

The easy explanation for the success of Paul Anderson's intelligently edited and beautifully presented collection is that Orwell was a great writer. The Canadian anarchist George Woodcock, an occasional adversary but firm friend, said that 'he could always find a subject on which there is something fresh to say in a prose that, for all its ease and apparent casualness, was penetrating and direct.' Anderson adds that 'it is difficult to think of a writer before or since' who could move from toads spawning in spring to lonely hearts ads via the decline of English murder from the days of Crippen.

Yet Orwell's talent flourished in a particular setting, that of a small journal with a tight group of readers. Little magazines usually appear and vanish without anyone beyond their unpaid contributors caring. The few whose names still reverberate captured a spirit of their time and stood for something bigger than their tiny circulations. Tribune was a magazine of the Labour left that for a few years in the forties broke the arguments that were to dominate British political life. (I say 'Tribune was' as if it were dead. The paper survives, but only in the sense that a geriatric in a coma survives.) Along with far more leftists than sympathetic historians like to remember, it went along with the Nazi-Soviet pact. When the second world war began, it was effectively on Germany's side and endorsed Communist Party line that the real enemies were Winston Churchill and the Labour Party rather than Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The board purged the fellow travellers in 1940, and for the rest of the decade Tribune was free to discuss the radical ideas that would make up a part of the programme of the 1945 Labour government, while, unusually for mid-20th century socialists, retaining a well-warranted suspicion of Stalin and his apologists. Orwell had a natural home.

Conservative-minded readers attracted to this book by Orwell's celebrations of Englishness or attacks on communism will learn that, despite everything, he was a man of the left, who believed that British socialism was desirable and inevitable. The idea that the world would turn against central planning and nationalisation was as beyond him as the idea that it would turn back to them is beyond us. The only definition of a great writer that makes sense is that readers of all temperaments can appreciate his or her work, so the admiration of conservatives is a compliment to Orwell. But however many multitudes he contained, and however loudly the Tribune circulation manager protested about the left-wing readers who cancelled their subscriptions in disgust, Orwell remained close to his audience. He shared their broad principles and they understood his references.

The common bonds of a small world helped Orwell. Writers and broadcasters in the mass media can never match his fluency, even if they had his talent, because they have to write at the pace of the slowest reader and break up their arguments with clunking explanations. (I fully expect to one day have an editor tell me that I can't say 'Shakespeare' but must add in parenthesis 'the famous 16th and 17th century playwright and poet for Stratford-upon-Avon near Coventry in Warwickshire' in case someone somewhere doesn't grasp the reference.) By contrast, writers tied to a small group of readers are like old friends, or at least old acquaintances, and can dispense with the formalities and get down to business, as Orwell did with relish.

The Tribune columns show that 'St George,' the patron saint of English decency, was nowhere near as saintly as John Major and Simon Schama like to imagine. He conducted a running row with the readers about their humanitarian objections to the RAF killing women and children in bombing campaign against German cities. 'Why is it worse to kill civilians than soldiers?' he asked.
Every time a German submarine goes to the bottom about fifty young men of fine physique and good nerves are suffocated. Yet people who would hold up their hands at the very words 'civilian bombing' will repeat with satisfaction such phrases as 'We are winning the Battle of the Atlantic'. Heaven knows how many people our blitz on Germany and the occupied countries has killed and will kill, but you can be quite certain it will never come anywhere near the slaughter that has happened on the Russian front.

After receiving a 'number of letters, some of them quite violent ones' he continued:

Contrary to what some of my correspondents seem to think, I have no enthusiasm for air raids, either ours or the enemy's. Like a lot of other people in this country, I am growing definitely tired of bombs. But I do object to the hypocrisy of accepting force as an instrument while squealing against this or that individual weapon, or of denouncing war while wanting to preserve the kind of society that makes war inevitable.

To which the only response is that different societies and ethical systems have usually held the deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime. They may be hypocritical, there may be no moral difference between killing a conscripted solider and defenceless woman, but the alternative is war without limit, which the 20th century saw enough of to know that it is worth 'squealing against'.

Even when you instinctively know Orwell is wrong, you cannot deny his strengths, the chief of which is intellectual honesty. No English writer is less concerned about giving offence, as the above passages demonstrate. Not in the showy and superficial manner of bourgeois baiting modern hack – who merely bends the knee to the new establishment when he spatters his copy with obscenities – but in the way of all true radicals who think it their job to tackle comfortable illusions, and are faintly surprised when their readers complain rather than thank them. (In his biography, DJ Taylor describes how Orwell could never understand why authors whose books he had criticised resented him thereafter.) It's not what you think but how you think, as they say, and dissidents facing systems and oppressions that Orwell never conceived have always admired his willingness to confront what he called the 'smelly little orthodoxies' of his day. If a believer in human freedom wants to make an argument that may send him to prison in a dictatorship, Orwell is on his side. If, in a democracy, a writer has an idea he knows his editors will hate, his colleagues will hate and his readers will hate, the ghost of Orwell will never urge caution.

Simultaneously opposing fascism, communism and colonialism required nerve, and although this isn't a political collection in the main there's one political essay on the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944, which I've never seen reprinted, that shows him at his anti-totalitarian best and speaking to our time.

Whenever you protest today about the willingness of modern liberals to excuse, go along with or turn a blind eye to the Islamist far right, you are told, in outraged tones, by the BBC, Prospect and all the rest of them that it's only a handful of Trotskyists around the Socialist Workers Party and Livingstone who have flipped across the political spectrum. Liberal politicians and intellectuals – such as themselves – remain as virtuous as always, and to say otherwise is a gross calumny. Much the same was said in the thirties and forties, only then the apologists for the liberal mainstream declared that treacheries of the age were the sole responsibility of the Communist Party.

Orwell would have none of that. When the Poles rose up on the orders of the exiled government in London to throw the Germans out and stop the Soviet Union taking the city he protested 'against the mean and cowardly attitude' of the liberal press, which urged that they should be left to die.
What I am concerned with is the attitude of the British intelligentsia, who cannot raise between them one single voice to question what they believe to be Russian policy, no matter what turn it takes, and in this case have had the unheard-of meanness to hint that our bombers ought not to be sent to the aid of our comrades fighting in Warsaw. The enormous majority of left-wingers who swallow the policy put out by the News Chronicle, etc., know no more about Poland than I do. All they know is that the Russians object to the London Government and have set up a rival organization, and so far as they are concerned that settles the matter. If tomorrow Stalin were to drop the Committee of Liberation and recognize the London Government, the whole British intelligentsia would flock after him like a troop of parrots. Their attitude towards Russian foreign policy is not 'Is this policy right or wrong?' but 'This is Russian policy: how can we make it appear right?' And this attitude is defended, if at all, solely on grounds of power.
Today, you don't here a single voice raised in protest about what al Qaeda is doing to Iraq or against the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the world. If anything the duplicity is worse than during Stalinism. Then, leftish intellectuals could pretend to themselves that the Soviet Union was progressive and at some level shared their values. By contrast, Islamism makes no secret of its contempt for the left and for liberalism or its appropriation of Nazi conspiracy theory. From the Iranian revolution onwards, the first task of radical Islam has been to persecute Muslim socialists, liberals and freethinkers.

History is not repeating itself therefore, but taking a turn for the worse. Nevertheless, Orwell's parting message from 1944 to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals remains as true then as now.

Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.'

[1] In 1981, Gore Vidal began a celebrated attack on New York Jews who went along with homophobic and misogynist conservatives with 'George Orwell remarks somewhere that you cannot say anything for or against the Jews without getting into trouble.' 'What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed,' I felt when I read it, but have never been able to find the quote. (Vidal's 'George Orwell remarks somewhere' was not a help.) However, writing in Tribune in 1944, Orwell said: 'There are two journalistic activities that will always bring you a come-back. One is to attack the Catholics and the other is to defend the Jews,' which is also true and well put, but not a sentiment likely to appeal to Mr Vidal.

Saturday 6 January 2007

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Spectator

After leaving the Burmese police, George Orwell held few regular jobs in his too short life. He wanted to serve in uniform when his country went to war; with his health precluding that, he worked for the Indian service of the BBC until he became literary editor of Tribune, the left-wing weekly edited somewhat notionally by Aneurin Bevan. And from December 1943 to April 1947 he wrote a column for the paper, "As I Please".

Although everything he ever wrote has been collected in 20 sumptuous volumes, and although he is one of the few journalists who can sustain such a fate (contemplating our own work, some of us would find that a simply horrific thought), he was by no means a consistent writer, and dedicated Orwellians will know how uneven his journalism was. During the war he also wrote a "London Letter" for Partisan Review, the American political-literary magazine, and some of those letters were tired or silly. He observes in a Tribune column that "I was usually wrong when it was possible to be wrong" earlier in the war, and his insistence in PR that Churchill would soon be swept from power by the irresistible Sir Stafford Cripps is indeed a warning to all of us against confident prognostication in print.

But the Tribune columns were among his best things, personal, quirky, salty. He will write about a sixpenny rose bush he once planted, or about "good bad books". He snorts at the rudeness of shopkeepers and he worries about the appalling loneliness of modern urban life. He complains that the traditional English names of flowers are being replaced by pretentious Latin names, he tells little jokes. He shows, when he spreads himself, that he was one of the best literary critics of his age.

What makes the book eerie as well as readable is how often Orwell might be writing a newspaper column today. At one moment he broods about wafer- thin fashion models, with "the overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of beauty that now seems to be striven after", the very thing the Daily Mail has been lamenting lately, at another he warns against the rising tide of xenophobia caused by an influx of Polish workers — 60 years ago! He even complains about ubiquitous music blaring from loudspeakers, though he didn’t know the half of it, and was spared the complete horror of canned music in shops, pubs and restaurants today.

But Orwell did not ignore the great world and its conflicts: some of his best political obiter dicta are here, along with the wrong-headed assertions ("laissez-faire capitalism is passing away"). While Orwell never became a conservative pessimist, and was sharp about the revival of such pessimism (or the refusal to believe that human society can be fundamentally improved, linking T. S. Eliot, Malcolm Muggeridge and Evelyn Waugh a little harshly with Marshal Pétain in this respect), he concedes that "plans for human betterment do normally come unstuck, and the pessimist has many more opportunities of saying 'I told you so' than the optimist".

When he joined Tribune he knew that he would be writing against the grain of the paper, or at least of its horrible fellow-travelling public. Often he is at odds with readers who are incensed by any criticism of Stalin at the time of the Warsaw Rising in 1944, or of the Red Army the following year when Tribune — to its great credit — published reports of gang rape by the Russian soldiers "liberating" Vienna. And he warns the left that
dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that you can make yourself the bootlicking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.
Over and again one sees the themes of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four taking shape. Orwell looks back on the Spanish civil war and the insane lies that were told about it, wondering whether truthful history could ever be written again. He writes about Yevgeny Zamyatin’s fantasy novel We, which influenced Brave New World as well as Nineteen Eighty-Four. He dissects language, dismayed by the way that more and more people write and speak in an inherently totalitarian style.

And of course, with his faults, there is that unusually high respect for truth and justice which Waugh admired in him, and which distinguished him from so many other writers then (or now). Orwell is appalled by "this whole business of taking vengeance on traitors and captured enemies", and disgusted by the humiliation of women collaborators in France in 1944.

Even if I had read the pieces before, I profited by reading them again in this attractively presented and well edited collection. The index is useless, but Paul Anderson’s notes are not only copious but informative, the work of someone who knows the subject and the period, although he is apparently unaware that Hermann Rauschning’s I-knew-Hitler revelations have been much discredited.

To this day Orwell’s unpopularity on the sectarian left is notorious and perplexing, but maybe there is a clue here. He was not the crypto-reactionary he is painted by some, but he writes very significantly about Anatole France, who was "not a socialist but a radical", nowadays the rarer of the two, and whose radicalism can be seen in "his passion for liberty and intellectual honesty". Could Orwell more obviously be writing about himself?

Saturday 30 December 2006

Francis Beckett, Guardian

How many newspaper columnists will be worth disinterring in 60 years' time? How many will have anything of contemporary relevance to say? How many will even throw light on the way we live in 2006?

In 1943 George Orwell told Tribune readers not to use insulting nicknames for people of different races. "The word 'native' is flung about all over the place. 'Negro' is habitually printed with a small n, a thing most Negroes resent. One's information about these matters needs to be kept up to date. I have recently been going through the proofs of a reprinted book of mine, cutting out the word 'Chinaman' wherever it appears and substituting 'Chinese'. Even 'Mohamedan' is now beginning to be resented; one should say 'Muslim' ... After all, we ourselves do not actually like being called 'Limeys'." The next time some complacent oaf guffaws about being "politically incorrect", show him the passage.

The best writers know the value of small details. A tailor hailed the easing of wartime rationing restrictions which allowed trousers with turnups once again as "the return of the freedoms we are fighting for". If this was the freedom we were fighting for, wrote Orwell, he would be inclined to support the axis powers. Turnups collected dust, and their only benefit was the discovery of the odd forgotten sixpence inside them.

Tribune may be the only publication to have outlived by several decades the purpose for which it was founded. It was started in January 1937 to support Stafford Cripps's Unity Campaign for a united front between Labour, the communists and the Labour left. The Unity Campaign imploded two months later, but Tribune still appears every week. It has found different causes to front, from the Bevanites during and after the second world war to the Bennites in the 1980s.

The year Tribune began, Orwell was in Spain, fighting alongside the POUM (the non-communists on the left) and discovering that a united front on the left was a hideous fraud. The POUM were relentlessly hunted down by the communists, who called them "Trotskyist fascists".

He started writing occasionally for Tribune in 1940. In late 1943, Tribune, after four editors, two radical changes of editorial direction and three life-threatening financial crises, began to publish his weekly column called "As I Please". This book is a collection of all the columns he produced between 1943 and 1947, when he stopped writing it, partly to finish his last book, 1984, and partly because of the tuberculosis which was to kill him in 1950. It comes with a lucid and thoughtful account of Tribune and Orwell by former Tribune editor Paul Anderson.

It displays some of Orwell's obsessions. His anti-communism, which gained him no friends on the left in 1943, is uncompromising, and no reader of this book could be surprised at the revelation that he supplied British Intelligence with a list of those he suspected of being undercover communists.

But it shows Orwell to have been the best sort of newspaper columnist. He writes clearly and simply on subjects on which he had something new and interesting to say, rather than just pumping out a line with self-righteous gusto, which is the curse of our less discursive age. He plays fair. If he attacks someone, he attacks what they actually said, and quotes it, rather than using the privilege of a columnist to distort their view, a courtesy which many of today's columnists have forgotten. There is nothing easier than to ascribe a foolish view to your opponent, and then show it to be foolish.

Tuesday 26 December 2006

D. J. Taylor, Independent on Sunday

Books of the year feature

The year’s work in Orwell studies produced two terrific books: Peter Davison’s The Lost Orwell (Timewell Press), which brings together all the material discovered since his monumental 20-volume George Orwell: The Complete Works (1998), and Orwell in Tribune (Politico’s), edited by the magazine’s former editor Paul Anderson. My favourite homegrown novel was Will Self’s The Book of Dave (Viking), a London dystopia whose roots curl all the way back to Richard Jeffferies.

Sunday 10 December 2006

D. J. Taylor, Sunday Times

Fifty years ago, the use of the word hack to describe anyone who made a living as a journalist was practically actionable: Winston Churchill's son Randolph once took damages from a Sunday newspaper on exactly these grounds. But some of the greatest writers in the English language have been harassed penny-a-liners, goaded to the desk by the rap of a creditor's boots on the cheerless stair. Thackeray was a hack. Evelyn Waugh was a hack. Dickens began his career as a parliamentary reporter.

Orwell, of course, was the hack to end all hacks. Except at the very end of his life, when he decamped to the island of Jura to work on Nineteen Eighty-Four, scarcely a week of his adult life went by without three or four deadlines and a working routine smothered under books.

The wonder of the pieces collected in Orwell in Tribune (Politico's £19.99), his mid-1940s contributions to the left-wing literary weekly, is the conditions in which they written: composed straight onto the typewriter, in most cases, to the accompaniment of buzz-bombs and falling masonry. Like Thackeray. Orwell used journalism to rehearse ideas that would later underpin his fiction. Several of the essays and “As I Please” columns included here have a direct bearing on Nineteen Eighty-Four: reflections on artificial languages and realpolitik euphemisms such as "friendly fire", in which can be glimpsed the origins of Newspeak, or "In Front of Your Nose", written in 1946 but clearly foreshadowing the concept of Doublethink. Neatly edited by Paul Anderson, and good on the contemporary left-wing background, this deserves to sit on the same shelf as Peter Davison's monumental George Orwell: The Complete Works.

If not quite in the Orwell category of neurotic freelancers, Graham Greene ran him pretty close: a biographer once calculated that in the 1930s he reviewed more than 1,000 books, an average of two a week and a feat of drudgery well-nigh unparalleled in British letters. Naturally, much of Articles of Faith (Signal £12.99), lan Thomson's collection of Greene's work for the Catholic weekly The Tablet, is aimed at the religious market: Greene's doubts, Greene's views on Pope John Paul II, Greene wondering whether the Roman Curia doesn't remind him of the Politburo and so on. Its incidental effect, though, is to remind you what a brilliant critic of fiction Greene was, capable of using the most mundane novel to pronounce some general truth about how-books get written.

With WF Deedes, the hackery was an end in itself: the books came later, so late, in fact, that the former Daily Telegraph editor's hard-cover debut had to wait until his 84th year. Words and Deedes (Macmillan £25) — a terrible title, but never mind — goes back three quarters of a century to its author's installation as cub reporter on the famously right-wing Morning Post. As for the contents, readers of his autobiography Dear Bill, or the account of his war-corresponding days in Abyssinia with Evelyn Waugh. may note a slight air of repetition. Deedes does tend to return, like some ancient homing pigeon, to such topics as the abdication of Edward VIII, the Tory leadership stitch-up of 1963 and his admiration for the people of Tyneside. On the other hand, his trademark shrewdness is always bracing.

David Remnick (who edits The New Yorker) would, you fancy, take a Churchillian line on being called a hack. As his pieces in Reporting (Picador £ 18.99) show, he specialises in something that British magazines rarely have the space, budget or inclination to print — the long, sedulous and immensely well-researched profile, in which the reader sometimes feels that a bit too much time has been spent in the subject's company and that there are advantages in the impressionist snapshot.

Al Gore, Don DeLillo, Solzhenitsyn, Lennox Lewis (the sports pieces are especially good) come and go, the touch always unobtrusive, the cumulative effect unexpectedly pointed. Having read the account of Gore in action could see exactly why so many Americans opted for George WBush. As for the climate in which this quartet of exemplars operates, the wider point remains: some of the finest things in literature have been written against time, with the baby yelling in the next room, the gas bill staring up from the study desk, and the printer's boy — or his modem electronic equivalent — kicking his heels in the hall.

Friday 1 December 2006

Duncan Hamilton, Yorkshire Post

The wheels of the George Orwell industry never stop turning. It is like witnessing a kind of literary perpetual motion. Whether it is another critical assessment, a new biography or just a stray newspaper article – usually a guess at what Orwell's view of this or that would have been – there's always something being published about him.

There's an obvious danger of over-stocking the market and creating Orwell fatigue. But Paul Anderson's Orwell in Tribune: “As I Please” and other writings 1943-47, is indisputably the most important and valuable addition to the Orwellian library since DJ Taylor's exemplary life of the author came out three years ago. Buy, beg or borrow it. Whatever you do, read it now. It is the essential Orwell, and his good sense and wisdom glitters on every page.

The book gathers together all the pieces Orwell wrote for Tribune, which were previously scattered through Ian Angus's four-volumes of the writer's essays, journalism and letters and the last 11 of Peter Davison's meticulous and indispensable 20-volume Complete Works.
Published as a whole, and in sequence, you can see what Anthony Burgess meant when he wrote of him: "Everything Orwell said had such a stamp of honest sincerity..."

As Anderson also points out in his introduction, the collection shows off "one of the greatest practitioners ... of the craft of turning out 800-2,000 words a week".

He was Tribune's William Hazlitt, and Orwell in Tribune does much more than re-affirm that fact as well as his genius – hardly necessary, after all – and his eclectic, capacious mind.
It demonstrates Orwell's virtuousness; how strongly he cared for, and about, the things which motivated him, his deep passion for the English language and England.

A newspaper column usually has the longevity of fish on the slab; it rots quickly. Orwell's columns have survived more than 60 years because of his immense readability and the relevance of his arguments.

The strength of his unadorned, stripped down prose makes the writing appear effortless. The subject matter, although naturally of his time, contains themes that overlap into our own. This healthy combination makes it seem as if the presses have just rolled on his thoughts and the ink hasn't quite dried.

The apt title of Orwell's weekly column was “As I Please”. He was able to pass judgment on whatever took his fancy politically, socially or culturally. "It is difficult to think of anyone before or since who could write about so many different things," observes Anderson. Among the subjects Orwell tackled were Hitler and the war ("I note the surprise with which many people seem to discover that war is not crime"), fascism, the birthrate, correspondence courses, juries, the atomic bomb, science, religion, rationing, housing and – in one of the best essays he ever wrote – Books v cigarettes ("It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them.")

Orwell does get misty-eyed about England. But his ideas and convictions aren't misty. Each is firmly expressed and definite. On Russia, he writes: "The avoidance of reality is much the same everywhere, and has much the same consequences. The Russian people were taught for years that they were better off than everybody else..."

On the BBC, he says: "What most people appear to demand is simply a better version of the programmes they are getting already. They want better music, funnier jokes, more intelligent discussions, more truthful news." And on propaganda, he is unequivocal: "The whole argument that one mustn't speak plainly because it 'plays into the hands of' this or that sinister influence is dishonest... "

A kind heart made him a lousy literary editor insofar as he found it impossible to turn down articles, however bad. When his successor opened his desk, he found it jammed with heaps of unpublishable material. Having experienced rejection on so many occasions himself, Orwell didn't want to inflict it on anyone else. He went as far as paying for copy that he knew was unusable. But the philanthropic gene in Orwell is yet another reason to like him.

He was an intensely hard-working man. The cover photograph of the book – taken in 1945 in Orwell's Canonbury Square flat – reveals a long, gaunt and grey face, which is slightly bowed over his typewriter. You can see how much writing and the pursuit of truth drained out of him over many wearing years. About this time, he complained of being "smothered in journalism". He pressed on regardless of worsening ill health not just to pay the bills (Animal Farm did that for him) but because he thought it crucial to be heard. Well, George, we're still

Thursday 30 November 2006

Geoffrey Goodman, Camden New Journal

Of all radical and left-wing publications in Britain, daily newspapers, weekly magazines or monthly journals, I doubt if any of them can seriously match the extraordinary 70-year history of the weekly Tribune – which, God knows how, still rattles on.

In all that time it has contained pretty well everything that socialists and most radicals wanted to read, admire, even worship, while of course in the same breath friendly critics would never hesitate to castigate the paper, with careful fury, for failing to match their still higher objectives of a left-wing ‘New Jerusalem’.

At the other end of the political spectrum Tribune tended to be regarded with the derision and odium reserved for what was seen as revolutionary naivete or even worse, downright political teachery.

Yet despite these predictable political reactions most reasoned judges would always salute the journal’s remarkable ability to attract an astonishing range of exceptionally talented writers – most of them paid in buttons.

No writer stands taller in that special salon than George Orwell – who indeed worked for Tribune while he was also writing Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four.

Orwell started writing his regular weekly column in the paper “As I Please” on December 3 1943 and continued, with a short break through till April 1947.

During the whole of that time he was also busily working on his two masterpieces. That point alone surely establishes the case about the special nature of the Tribune-Orwell relationship.
Yet it is still only part of a remarkable story which this book brings to life as perhaps no other, so far, has been able to do. It is a tribute to the publishers and to Tribune itself that Paul Anderson has been able to edit such a superb compendium of Orwell’s writings at a crucial stage in his life.

A word then about the birth years of this unique weekly agitational journal. The paper emerged during the critical years of the 1930s – a period when Hitler and Mussolini stalked Europe, when Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists invaded the streets of London and other major British cities with racialist incitement and when Orwell went off to Spain to fight with the International Brigade against Franco.

It was also the period when Neville Chamberlain had taken over from Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister, and the Labour Party and trade unions were divided and confused about how to tackle the growing crisis of poverty and unemployment at home and fascism across the channel.

That is when Tribune was born – January 1 1937. It was financed by two Labour MPs – the Christian socialist Sir Stafford Cripps, probably the country’s most renowned (and wealthiest) radical barrister who was effectively leader of the Labour left and MP for Bristol, and George Strauss, a wealthy businessman who was Labour MP for Lambeth.

Together they provided £18,000 (nearly a £1 million in current money) as a launch fund for Tribune along with an additional annual subsidy of £5,000 from Cripps. Around them were the names of virtually all the most prominent socialists of the time – Aneurin Bevan (who became editor of Tribune and a close friend of Orwell) and his wife Jennie Lee, Victor Gollancz, Harold Laski, a young Michael Foot, Raymond Postgate etc.

It was this band of left-wing intellectuals that attracted George Orwell on his return from the Spanish Civil war. He began writing articles for the paper in 1939 on the outbreak of World War II but didn’t begin his regular column until 1943 by which time Nye Bevan had made him literary editor of Tribune.

An inspired appointment for which Orwell was given the then majestic salary of £500 a year – effectively paid for by Cripps. Orwell always fought for the opportunity to write as he chose which is why he was never at ease working for the BBC before he joined Tribune where Nye Bevan encouraged him to write with complete independence by providing him a platform – his “As I Please”column.

It would be invidious and even misleading to snatch, at random, an example from the 80 columns that Orwell wrote before his last in April 1947 when he left Tribune, less than three years before he died, to concentrate on his historic novels.

The Orwell columns covered everything – music, literature, poetry, wartime behaviour, social mannerisms, the weather, the absurdity of the press (especially its ownership) – indeed the entire human comedy (as Balzac might have suggested) and, of course politics.

If I have to select one – just for the hell of it – then I will, querulously, pick No 78 published on March 21 1947. Why? Because I sense that he was already well into his remarkable Nineteen Eighty Four by then and I can sense a foretaste of what is to come in Column No 78. I will say no more; just read it – and, of course, the rest as well.