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.

Budskapet i ‘Shooting an Elephant’ (Orwell)

Som artikel 326 i The Complete Works of George Orwell kommer hans mest kända essä: ‘Shooting an Elephant‘. Den beskriver en incident under Orwells (Eric Blairs) tid som polis i Brittiska imperiets tjänst i Burma.

En elefant i området hade fått ett raseriutbrott och dödat några bybor. Orwell gav sig av för att leta upp den och om nödvändigt oskadliggöra den — i släptåg följde en stor mängd ”infödingar”. Väl funnen tycktes elefanten vara fredlig och Orwell insåg att det bästa vore att invänta djurets skötare. Men imperiets män har även annat att ta hänsyn till:

I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes — faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant.

Detta stycke innehåller essäns hela politiska poäng. En variant av samma resonemang ges i en recension (art. 328) som Orwell skriver vid samma tid (oktober 1936). Boken är skriven av en (dansk) tjänsteman i de holländska kolonierna och beskriver bland annat en incident från Hollands kolonialkrig 1900–1912, en berättelse som Orwell utmärker till ”by far the best thing in the book”:

It describes the torture of a villager who knew, or was supposed to know, where a rebel chieftain was hiding. Apart from the depth of imagination with which the scene is pictured, it brings home as a thousand political pamphlets could not do the inherent evil of imperialism. For the dreadful thing about the kind of brutalities here described, is that they are quite unavoidable. When a subject population rises in revolt you have got to suppress it, and you can only do so by methods which make nonsense of any claim for the superiority of Western civilization. In order to rule over barbarians, you have got to become a barbarian yourself.

A Kind of Compulsion, The Complete Works of George Orwell, vol. X (1903–1936), art. 326 & 328, s. 503–4, 508.