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Forum Post: Orwell on Anarchism Ⓐ

Posted 6 years ago on Nov. 18, 2013, 5:58 p.m. EST by TGN (48)
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I am posting these quotes by Orwell in part because there seems to be some lingering confusion on what Orwell actually said or what his position might've been regarding this subject. But also partly because it seems that the media and academe seem mainly interested in some of the things Orwell was against, rather than what he was for. Or as Chomsky put it: "George Orwell is famous for Animal Farm and 1984, which focus on the official enemy, or could at least be interpreted in this light. Had he kept to the more interesting and significant question of thought control in relatively free and democratic societies, it would not have been appreciated, and instead of wide acclaim, he would have faced silent dismissal or obloquy." Noam Chomsky - Containing the Threat of Democracy.

The first batch of quotes are from Homage to Catalonia the second from his Collected Essays. Enjoy:

"As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists." George Orwell - Homage to Catalonia page 116

"The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle." ibid page 4

"Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Senor' or 'Don' or even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' and 'Thou,' and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenas Dias.' Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor cars, they had all been commandeered, and alll the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night." ibid page 5

"Yet so far as one could judge the people were contented and hopeful. There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine. In the barbers' shops were Anarchist notices (the barbers were mostly Anarchists) solemnly explaining that barbers were no longer slaves. In the streets were coloured posters appealing to prostitutes to stop being prostitutes." ibid page 6

"In practice the democratic 'revolutionary' type of discipline is more reliable than might be expected. In a workers's army discipline is theoretically voluntary. It is based on class-loyalty, whereas the discipline of a bourgeois conscript army is based ultimately on fear...In the militias the bullying and abuse that go on in an ordinary army would never have been tolerated for a moment." ibid page 28

"The estates of the big pro-Fascist landlords were in many places seized by the peasants. Along with the collectivization of industry and transport there was an attempt to set up the rough beginnings of a workers' government by means of local committees, workers' patrols to replace the old pro-capitalist police forces, workers' militias based on the trade-unions, and so forth." ibid page 50

"In Catalonia, for the first few months, most of the actual power was in the hands of the Anarcho-Syndicalists, who controlled most of the key industries. The thing that had happened in Spain was, in fact, not merely a civil war, but the beginning of a revolution. It is this fact that the anti-Fascist press outside of Spain has made it its special business to obscure." ibid page 50

"Except Russia and Mexico no country had had the decency to come to the rescue of the Government, and Mexico, for obvious reasons, could not supply arms in large quantities." ibid page 53

"As usual, the breaking-up of the militias was done in the name of military efficiency; and no one denied that a thorough military reorganization was needed. It would, however, have been quite possible to reorganize the militias and make them more efficient while keeping them under direct control of the trade-unions; the main purpose of the change was to make sure that the Anarchists did not possess an army of their own." ibid page 55

"During the first two months of the war it was the Anarchists more than anyone else who had saved the situation, and much later than this the Anarchist militia, in spite of their indiscipline, were notoriously the best fighters among the purely Spanish forces." ibid page 62

"I have described how were armed, or not armed, on the Aragon front. There is very little doubt that arms were deliberately withheld lest too many of them should get into the hands of the Anarchists, who would afterwards use them for a revolutionary purpose...What was more important was that once the war had been narrowed down to a 'war for democracy' it became impossible to make any large scale appeal for working class aid abroad." ibid page 68

"Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism." ibid page 104

"Many of the normal motives of civilized life-snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc.-had simply ceased to exist." ibid page 104

"One had breathed the air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy 'proving' that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this." ibid page 104

"Thirdly-though this was not generally known at the time-the Anarchist leaders feared that if things went beyond a certain point and the workers took possession of the town, as they were perhaps in a position to do on 5 May, there would be foreign intervention. A British cruiser and two British destroyers had closed in upon the harbour, and no doubt there were other warships not far away. The English newspapers gave it out that these ships were proceeding to Barcelona 'to protect British interests,' but in fact they made no move to do so; that is, they did not land any men or take off any refugees. There can be no certainty about this, but it was at least inherently likely that the British Government, which had not raised a finger to save the Spanish Government from Franco, would intervene quickly enough to save it from its own working class." ibid pages 153-154

"For the first time since I had been in Barcelona I went to have a look at the cathedral-a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution-it was spared because of its 'artistic value,' people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires." ibid page 225 [PLEASE NOTE: I DO NOT AGREE WITH ORWELL, I AM RELIEVED THAT THE SAGRADA FAMILIA WASN'T DAMAGED DURING THE UPRISING AND STILL STANDS TODAY AS AN ARCHITECTURAL WONDER. I ALSO LIKE THAT THE ANARCHISTS DRAPPED THEIR FLAG FROM IT AS A CHERRY ON THE CAKE]

From Orwell's Collected Essays:

"If I had understood the situation a bit better I should probably have joined the Anarchists." George Orwell - Collected Essays; Vol 1 page 289

re; Mairin Mitchell's book Storm over Spain:

"Her book is valuable for a number of reasons, but especially because, unlike almost all English writers on Spain, she gives a fair deal to Spanish Anarchist. The Anarchists and Syndicalists have been persistently misrepresented in England, and the average English person still retains his eightneen-ninetyish notion that Anarchism is the same thing as anarchy. Anyone who wants to know what Spanish Anarchism stands for, and the remarkable things it achieved, especially in Catalonia, during the first two months of the revolution, should read chapter VII of Miss Mitchell's book." ibid pages 290-1

Here's what Orwell was describing, (you're not likely to see this on the History deleted Channel):




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