Orwell: ”You wouldn’t have the guts”

Under sommaren 1937 skickade Left Review ut en uppmaning till en mängd författare och intellektuella att redovisa och kort motivera sina ställningstagande angående det spanska inbördeskriget, under rubriken Authors Takes Sides on the Spanish War. Orwell avböjde vänligt men bestämt att medverka. Eller ja, bestämt minsann, men inte direkt vänligt…

Will you please stop sending me this bloody rubbish. This is the second or third time I have had it. I am not one of your fashionable pansies like Auden and Spender, I was six months in Spain, most of the time fighting, I have a bullet-hole in me at present and I am not going to write blah about defending democracy or gallant little anybody. Moreover, I know what is  happening and has been happening on the Government side for months past, i.e. that Fascism is being rivetted on the Spanish workers under the pretext of resisting Fascism; also that since May a reign of terror has been proceeding and all the jails and any place that will serve as a jail are crammed with prisoners who are not only imprisoned without trial but are half-starved, beaten and insulted. I dare say you know it too, though God knows anyone who could write the stuff overleaf would be fool enough to believe anything, even the war-news in the Daily Worker. But the chances are that you – whoever you are who keep sending me this thing – have money and are well-informed; so no doubt you know something about the inner history of the war and have deliberately joined in the defence of ”democracy” (i.e. capitalism) racket in order to aid in crushing the Spanish working class and thus indirectly defend your dirty little dividends.

This is more than 6 lines, but if I did compress what I know and think about the Spanish war into 6 lines you wouldn’t print it. You wouldn’t have the guts.

By the way, tell your pansy friend Spender that I am preserving specimens of his war-heroics and that when the time comes when he squirms for shame at having written it, as the people who wrote the war-propaganda in the Great War are squirming now, I shall rub it in good and hard.

George Orwell (1998), Facing Unpleasant Facts, ed. Peter Davison (The Complete Works of George Orwell, vol. XI (1937-1939); London: Secker & Warburg), s. 67.

Orwell, folkfronten och fascismen

Hemkommen från Spanien fortsatte Orwell återhämtningen efter skottskadan i maj. Samtidigt ökade han takten i vad gäller opinionsarbete om spanska inbördeskriget. Hans ståndpunkt var att Folkfronten och ”försvaret av demokratin” var ett lurendrejeri: att det syftade till att bakvägen införa fascism i namn av att bekämpa den, eller att fascism och borgerlig demokrati egentligen var som ”Tweedledum and Tweedledee”, och slutligen att det hela var ett sätt att lura det brittiska folket in i ett nytt krig med Tyskland. Folkfronten var en ohelig allians av liberaler och kommunister. Dess offer blev P.O.U.M. och andra som kritiserade alliansen. I Spanien betalades deras kritik med stämpeln Trotsky-fascist och därmed med fängelsevistelse eller värre. I England genom att böcker refuserades: Orwells ordinarie förläggare Victor Gollancz kunde inte tänka sig att publicera Homage to Catalonia eftersom det enligt honom skulle skada kampen mot fascismen. Kring båda dessa saker – skottskadan och åsikterna – skriver Orwell i ett brev till Rayner Heppenstall den 31 juli 1937:

My wound was not much, but it was a miracle it did not kill me. The bullet went clean through my neck but missed everything except one vocal cord, or rather the nerve governing it, which is paralysed. At first I had no voice at all, but now the other vocal cord is compensating and the damaged one may or may not recover. My voice is practically normal but I can’t shout to any extent. I also can’t sing, but people tell me this doesn’t matter.

I am rather glad to have been hit by a bullet because I think it will happen to us all in the near future and I am glad to know that it doesn’t hurt to speak of. What I saw in Spain did not make me cynical but it does make me think that the future is pretty grim. It is evident that people can be deceived by the anti-Fascist stuff exactly as they were deceived by the gallant little Belgium stuff, and when war comes they will walk straight into it. I don’t, however, agree with the pacifist attitude, as I believe you do. I still think one must fight for Socialism and against Fascism, I mean fight physically with weapons, only it is as well to discover which is which. I want to meet Holdaway and see what he thinks about the Spanish business. He is the only more or less orthodox Communist I have met whom I could respect. It will disgust me if I find he is spouting the same defence of democracy and Trotsky-Fascist stuff as the others.

George Orwell (1998), Facing Unpleasant Facts, ed. Peter Davison (The Complete Works of George Orwell, vol. XI (1937-1939); London: Secker & Warburg), s. 54.

Orwell: ”I have seen wonderful things”

Dags att återuppta historien om Orwells äventyr i Spanien. Nedan citeras ett brev till Cyril Connolly daterat 8 juni 1937. Orwell har vid detta laget redan hunnit bli skjuten och ligger nedbäddad på ett sanatorium utanför Barcelona. Till Connolly skriver Orwell att han planerar att skriva en bok när han väl kommit hem till England, inte minst eftersom det i engelsk press nästan uteslutande är den kommunistiska synvinkeln på motståndet mot Franco som kommer till uttryck. Orwell skriver om sin tid i det revolutionära Barcelona och bland trupperna vid fronten:

I have seen wonderful things & at last really believe in Socialism, which I never did before. On the whole, though I am sorry not to have seen Madrid, I am glad to have been on a comparatively little-known front among Anarchists & Poum people instead of in the International Brigade, as I should have been if I had come here with C.P. [Communist Party] credentials instead of I.L.P. [Independent Labour Party] ones. A pity you didn’t come up to our position & see me when you were in Aragon. I would have enjoyed giving you tea in a dugout.

Orwells upplevelser av Barcelona är särskilt intressanta. I boken som han kom att skriva, Homage to Catalonia, berättade Orwell om stämningarna i det revolutionära och strikt egalitära Barcelona. Han sammanfattade sina intryck med följande rader (för övrigt nyligen citerade av Tony Judt som avslutning på ”What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy”):

There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.

Värt att kämpa för alltså. Vilket för oss till nästa punkt angående brevet ovan, nämligen att Orwell hamnade i det anarkistiska P.O.U.M. och inte det kommunistiska lägret. Denna omständighet kom att få avgörande konsekvenser. För P.O.U.M. blev snart utsatt för en smutskastningskampanj från kommunistisk sida, åtföljt av arresteringar och arkebuseringar. Således: i Barcelona kom Orwell att se inte bara ”wonderful things”, utan även tämligen hemska saker. Peter Davison skriver:

Of one thing there can be no doubt: genuine Terror haunted Albacete and Barcelona in and after May 1937. Orwell may have been no political theoretician, especially in 1937; and he certainly did not have the facts available to him that have now surfaced; but, intuitively, he assessed the position accurately. The vision of a socialist society that he experienced on first arriving in Barcelona was not destroyed by Franco; it was betrayed by his Communist allies. As described by him in Homage to Catalonia, this has all the inevitability of tragedy. That ‘peculiar evil feeling in the air—an atmosphere of suspicion, fear, uncertainty, and veiled hatred’ that he found on his final visit to Barcelona was precisely that of the miasma of evil and terror dramatised in his favourite Shakespeare play, Macbeth. The effect of that experience marked all else he wrote and did until the day he died.

Orwell, George (1998), Facing Unpleasant Facts, ed. Peter Davison (The Complete Works of George Orwell, vol. XI (1937-1939); London: Secker & Warburg), s. 28, 35.

Orwell anländer till Barcelona

Den andra volymen av Orwells Complete Works sträcker sig över åren 1937–1939. Det spanska inbördeskriget upptar naturligtvis en avsevärd del av denna volym, som inleds med en beskrivning av Orwell, hämtad ur ett brev som Labour MP:n Jennie Lee skrev till en väninna strax efter Orwells död 1950.

In the first year of the Spanish Civil War I was sitting with friends in a hotel in Barcelona when a tall thin man with a ravished complexion came over to the table. He asked me if I was Jennie Lee, and if so, could tell him where to join up. He said he was an author: had got an advance on a book from Gollancz, and had arrived ready to drive a car or do anything else, preferably to fight in the front line. I was suspicious and asked what credentials he had brought from England. Apparantly he had none. He had seen no-one, simply paid his own way out. He won me over by pointing to the boots over his shoulder. He knew he could not get boots big enough for he was over six feet. This was George Orwell and his boots arriving to fight in Spain.

I came to know him as a deeply kind man and a creative writer. […] He was a satirist who did not conform to any orthodox political or social pattern. […] The only thing I can be quite certain of is, that up to his last day George was a man of utter integrity; deeply kind, and ready to sacrifice his last wordly possessions — he never had much — in the cause of democratic socialism.

Part of his malaise was that he was not only a socialist but profoundly liberal. He hated regimentation wherever he found it, even in the socialist ranks.

George Orwell, Facing Unpleasant Facts, The Complete Works of George Orwell, vol. XI (1937–1939), artikel 355A, s. 5.

”A happy vicar I might have been” (George Orwell)

Nedan följer det första, andra, sjätte, och sista stycket ur Orwells poem ”A happy vicar I might have been”, publicerad i december 1936. Den citeras även av Orwell själv i essän ”Why I Write” (1946) där han förklarar att under andra historiska omständigheter så hade han förmodligen skrivit oskyldiga böcker ”full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their sound”. Men: ”As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer”. Det kan tilläggas att samlingsvolymen An Age Like This hämtar sin titel från denna dikt.


A happy vicar I might have been

Two hundred years ago,

To preach upon eternal doom

And watch my walnuts grow;


But born, alas, in an evil time,

I missed that pleasant haven,

For the hair has grown on my upper lip

And the clergy are all clean-shaven.


It is forbidden to dream again;

We maim our joys or hide them;

Horses are made of chromium steel

And little fat men shall ride them.


I dreamed I dwelt in marble halls,

And woke to find it true;

I wasn’t born for an age like this;

Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?


A Kind of Compulsion, The Complete Works of George Orwell, vol. X (1903–1936), art. 335, s. 524–5.
‘Why I Write’, An Age Like This, (Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, vol. I), s. 3–4.

Totalitära staters undermåliga information om resultaten av dess beslut

Igår var jag som sagt på Kristian Gerners föredrag ”Karl Poppers filosofi och kommunistsystemets kollaps” på Filosoficirkeln. Måste säga att jag blev lite besviken: det var för lite filosofi. Gerner pratade mest om hur Poppers idéer om reformism och öppet samhälle influerade politiska aktörer i Öst, inte minst genom George Soros arbete.

Jag hade hoppats på något mer i stil av en popperiansk analys av faktorerna bakom kommunismens kollaps. Exempelvis som ett resultat av den informationsbrist som uppkommer i en planekonomi (där all den information som ges av marknadens prismekanismen saknas) och där fri debatt inte tillåts. Enligt Popper får alla politiska åtgärder oavsiktliga och oförutsedda konsekvenser, och ett samhälle som saknar mekanismer att uppmärksamma och handskas med dessa kommer ofrånkomligen att stagnera.

Hur som helst, Gerner nämnde att medan han skrev texten till föredraget så hade han råkat höra en uppläsning av Orwells 1984 på radion, vilket han anmärkte var en passande inramning. Detta fick mig att tänka på en recension som Orwell gjorde av Bertrand Russells bok Power: A New Social Analysis. Tidpunkten är januari 1939, och Orwell ser en mycket mörk framtid. Därför blir han frustrerad av Russell: ”like all liberals he is better at pointing out what is desirable than explaining how to achieve it.”

[. . .] [He] merely utters what amounts to a hope that the present state of things will not endure. He is inclined to point to the past; all tyrannies have collapsed sooner or later, and ”there is no reason to suppose (Hitler) more permanent than his predecessors”.

Underlying this is the idea that common sense always wins in the end. And yet the peculiar horror of the present moment is that we cannot be sure that this is so. It is quite possible that we are descending into an age in which two and two will make five when the Leader says so. Mr Russell points out that the huge system of organized lying upon which the dictators depends keeps their followers out of contact with reality and therefore tends to put them at a disadvantage as against those who know the facts. This is true so far as it goes, but it does not prove that the slave-society at which the dictators are aiming will be unstable. It is quite easy to imagine a state in which the ruling caste deceive their followers without deceiving themselves. Dare anyone be sure that something of the kind is not coming into existence already? One has only to think of the sinister possibilities of the radio, state-controlled education and so forth, to realise that ”the truth is great and will prevail” is a prayer rather than an axiom.

Kring detta stycke kan det vara värt att reflektera med utgångspunkt i Popper och Hayek. Jag har tyvärr inte tid att göra det ordentligt just nu. Men notera exempelvis att idén om ett informationsgap mellan de styrande och de styrda är förenlig med att den mängd information de styrande besitter hade varit mycket större om de inte samtidigt hade haft behov av att upprätthålla detta gap. Kristian Gerner pratade exempelvis om de sovjetiska försöken under Krusjtjovs tid att få till stånd en genuin samhällsvetenskap. De steg som skedde i denna riktning togs sedan tillbaka av ett mer räddhågset sovjetiskt ledarskap.

George Orwell, An Age Like This, (Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, vol. I), s. 375–6.