This Day In Literary History
On May 20th, 1937, the legendary English writer George Orwell (the pseudonym of Eric Blair) was wounded in action while fighting the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He was shot in the throat by a sniper.
Orwell fought alongside the POUM, (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista - the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) which was allied with Britain's Labour Party, of which he was a member.
The POUM was one of several leftist factions which had formed a loose coalition to fight General Franco's fascists. Another member of this coalition was the Spanish Communist Party, which was controlled by the Soviet Union.
At the Soviets' insistence, the Spanish Communist Party denounced the POUM as a Trotskyist organization and falsely claimed that they were in cahoots with the fascists. Near the end of the war, the POUM was outlawed, and the Spanish Communist Party began attacking its members.
Tragically, this infighting would break apart the coalition and give the fascists the opportunity to win the war. While George Orwell recovered from his injuries in a POUM hospital, he had a lot of time to think, and he came to hate Soviet communism.
Orwell would later become famous for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), both of which were brilliant allegorical satires of Stalinism. Animal Farm was a modern cautionary fable, while Nineteen Eighty-Four was a work of dystopic science fiction.
In the years since their publication, the right in the United States and Europe embraced these novels as the bibles of anti-communism. George Orwell became their hero, and this led to a popular misconception that he had been a staunch conservative - perhaps even a fascist - though he was really a lifelong socialist.
Just before leaving for Spain, he had written a nonfiction book called The Road To Wigan Pier. After publisher Victor Gollancz encouraged Orwell to investigate and write about the depressed social conditions in Northern England, he went to the poor coal mining town of Wigan, where he lived in a dirty room over a tripe shop.
He met many people and took extensive notes of the living conditions and wages, explored the mine, and spent days in the town's library researching public health records, working conditions in mines, and other data. The result was The Road To Wigan Pier (1937).
The book is divided into two parts. The first part is a straightforward documentary about life in Wigan. The second is Orwell's philosophical attempt to answer the question that if socialism can improve the appalling conditions in Wigan and such places around the world - which it can - then why aren't we all socialists?
Orwell places the blame on the ferocious prejudices of the white Christian middle class against the lower working class, the poor, and other people they associate with socialism, such as blacks, Jews, atheists, hippies, pacifists, and feminists.
He concludes that "The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight."
The lesson Orwell teaches us in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four is that even an ideal as noble as socialism can become corrupted and twisted into something far worse than the ills it seeks to cure, and we must not let that happen.
He remained a lifelong socialist and always hoped for a better world free of poverty, inequality, and social injustice. He died of tuberculosis in January of 1950 at the age of 46.
Quote Of The Day
"In our age, there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia." - George Orwell
Today's video features rare newsreel footage of George Orwell during the Spanish Civil War - demonstrating how to make tea in a trench! Enjoy!