Letter: George Orwell was a ‘democratic socialist,’ actually


An interesting phenomenon has been taking place lately: folks are dusting off their covers of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm,” using these prophetic works of literature to interpret today’s political landscape.

The radical left, you see, is hell-bent on crushing all free-thinking people with their socialist agenda. Every person with a high school education knows “1984” and “Animal Farm” are cautionary tales of what dangers lie ahead when society goes down the path of leftist social engineering.

I am shocked that this even needs to be explained. Clearly not everyone was paying attention in high school English.

But in all seriousness, did you know that George Orwell was a deeply committed democratic socialist? Probably not, since this nation’s Cold-War-rattled education system cynically used, and still uses, Orwell’s critique of Stalinism for its own purposes.

To be clear, when I say Orwell was a democratic socialist, I do not mean in the style of Bernie Sanders. He was well to the left of Bernie Sanders. Surely your English teachers showed you this line from his essay, “Why I Write” (1946): “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”

And this one, from “The Road to Wigan Pier” (1936): “A real Socialist is one who wishes — not merely conceives it as desirable, but actively wishes — to see tyranny overthrown.”

No doubt that English teacher mentioned Orwell volunteered to fight for the cause of socialism in the Spanish Civil war, joining communists and anarchists in the struggle against Francisco Franco’s fascist coup. You were taught how he was quickly promoted to corporal and only left the fight after being shot in the neck by a sniper and narrowly surviving, right?

You see, Orwell was not just enthusiastic about socialism, he put his life on the line in an attempt to achieve it. Writing to a friend from Barcelona in 1937 he would say, “I have seen wonderful things and at last really believe in Socialism, which I never did before.”

It really is best to understand the full context and author’s intent behind these iconic works of fiction before you attempt to use them for your own political ends. I will let Orwell explain “Animal Farm” in his own words, as quoted from a 1946 letter to his friend Dwight Macdonald: “Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution … I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves (Kronstadt). If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right. If people think I am defending the status quo, that is, I think, because they have grown pessimistic and assume that there is no alternative except dictatorship or laissez-faire capitalism.”

I recommend everyone reflect on that last line. And please, don’t use the works of this great socialist writer in your right-wing talking points.

K. Durkee