Saturday, October 31, 2009

Orwell on Totalitarianism

Famed novelist George Orwell (Animal Farm, 1984) initially considered himself a "Tory Anarchist" and then a socialist. He was, however, highly critical of various factions within the socialist movement, and especially assailed apologists for Stalin.

Orwell had seen the deadly consequences of Stalinism up close during the Spanish Civil War. In a fascinating biography of Orwell by Gordon Bowker that we're reading, Bowker quotes from an Orwell speech, circa 1941:
The totalitarian state exists for the glorification of the ruling clique, which means that the ruling clique are the prisoners of their own power and are obligated to follow any policy, no matter how self-contradictory, which will keep them in power. And having followed their policy they are obliged to justify it, so that all thought becomes a rationalization of the shifts of power politics.
Separately, Orwell wrote that "the really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits 'attrocities' but that it attacks the concept of objective truth: it claims to control the past as well as the future." Sound familiar? Hope and change anyone?

Orwell also disparagingly referred to Bolshevik commissars as "half gangster, half gramophone," which to some degree may be the contemporary equivalent of propaganda-by-talking-points.

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