…But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.” Charles Bowen
I was heading along Borough High Street yesterday, prior to turning right into Southwark Street, when a megaphone hove into view – behind it Piers Corbyn, urging the populace to cast aside their face masks, and behind him a faithful little band of fellow travellers. Few complied, possibly because it was too much effort while holding an umbrella…
From: review of David Lebedoff’s The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War by David Pryce-Jones, in The New Criterion Vol. 39, No. 10 / June 2021:
“…Lebedoff lists in an appendix the dozens of books Orwell absorbed in the last year of his life—the range of inquiry is impressive. To read his essays or reviews is to come into contact with an informed reporter of current affairs and analyst of ideas, popular culture, literature, all the personal observations of a quirky and original character.
His experience in Barcelona in May 1937 confirmed the conviction that the contemporary political struggle between totalitarian rivals was the embodiment of the tragic vision, and nothing but ill was to be expected from that quarter. Wounded, he had left the hospital to meet his wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, in a local hotel. She quickly informed him that on Moscow’s orders the Stalinists were busy hunting down and murdering their rivals, and she and he counted as Trotskyites, therefore liable to be shot out of hand at any moment. They managed to escape. Orwell’s response was to write Homage to Catalonia, a path-breaking account of Stalinist ruthlessness that was bound to set him well and truly apart from the intellectuals engaged in applauding Stalin, apologizing for the Great Terror, and in addition dominating the media and therefore distorting public opinion. Kingsley Martin and Victor Gollancz, and eventually T. S. Eliot, were among those who refused to publish him. The vitriol of fellow-traveling critics like Arthur Calder-Marshall, Raymond Williams, and—alas—even V. S. Pritchett still has the capacity to evoke disgust.
There followed Animal Farm and 1984. It was at once obvious that the author of these two satires or allegories was a worthy successor to Swift. To depict Stalin and Trotsky as pigs, and to place them on the same moral footing as capitalist exploiters, was an extraordinary defiance in the climate of those times. In 1984, with its depiction of a jackboot stamping on a human face for ever, the supporting language and daily detail are truly imaginative. “Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me,” is only one among so many unforgettable expressions of combined artistry and pessimism. In what has become a universal vocabulary, “Orwellian” is the adjective that fits any and every totalitarian nightmare, and the lies of those who promote or defend it.
In the immediate post-war years, Stalin was absorbing into the Soviet bloc all the countries in eastern and central Europe occupied by the victorious Red Army. A widespread delusion took hold that this empire-building was progressive. Intellectuals all over the continent glorified Stalinism. In a welter of mendacity, the existence of the Gulag was queried in a notorious court case in Paris…”