Friday, May 23, 2008


George Orwell said this in 1943, right in the middle of World War Two:

"When one thinks of the lies and betrayals of those years, the cynical abandonment of one ally after another, the imbecile optimism of the Tory press, the flat refusal to believe that the dictators meant war, even when they shouted it from the house-tops, the inability of the moneyed class to see anything wrong whatever in concentration camps, ghettos, massacres and undeclared wars, one is driven to feel that moral decadence played its part as well as mere stupidity. By 1937 or thereabouts it was not possible to be in doubt about the nature of the Fascist regimes. But the lords of property had decided that Fascism was on their side and they were willing to swallow the most stinking evils so long as their property remained secure. In their clumsy way they were playing the game of Machiavelli, of 'political realism', of 'anything is right which advances the cause of the Party' -- the Party in this case, of course, being the Conservative Party." ("Who are the War Criminals?" in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol. 2: My Country Right or Left 1940-1943. Emphasis mine.)

What is so interesting about these observations is that while they are in some ways quite similar to the usual narrative about the pre-war years (Hitler got his way throughout the 30s because nobody stood up to him; he was appeased at Munich, etc.) Orwell deals with this theme in a class-conscious way. The usual historical narrative elides the profound significance of class in the the Nazis' rise to power. Orwell here sees the failure to stop Hitler before WWII as less a failure of nations than a conspiracy of the bourgeoisie.

In "Pacifism and the War" (1942) Orwell also refers to "[t]he fact that the rich everywhere tend to be pro-Fascist and the working class are nearly always anti-Fascist."

No comments: