‘Not One of Us’

His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in—at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own—but before he even begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.

“Why I Write” (1946)

The system of organized lying on which society is founded.

Outline for 1984 (1943)

“Not one of us,” said the Labour party secretary in Limehouse. I was a reporter in wartime England interviewing him on Labour’s plans for the postwar society, and had asked him what he thought of George Orwell, a name then better known to Americans on the anti-Stalinist left than to most English and American readers before Animal Farm and 1984 made him world-famous. Orwell had been writing the “London Letter” for Partisan Review, and he had written in Homage to Catalonia (1938) what I fondly thought of as our version of the Spanish Civil War: homage indeed to the Spanish anarchists and to the proscribed POUM, in which Orwell had served, with other unaffiliated British radicals sympathetic to the Independent Labour party; unyielding bitterness about the Stalinist apparatus in Spain that had helped give victory to Franco by its frustration of the spontaneous Spanish revolution and by its attempt to kill opposition on the left.

To the solid trade union official representing the Labour party in Limehouse, George Orwell the novelist and book critic, a columnist for Aneurin Bevan’s left-wing Tribune, was just an intellectual and perhaps a class enemy as well. Without having read his books, the official knew that Orwell was an old Etonian and had gone to Burma as a member of the Indian Imperial Police. It was bitter winter, early 1945. Allied forces had not yet crossed the Rhine. The reconstruction of society that I heard so much of in British Army discussion groups—morale after Dunkirk was so low that the War Office, in a phrase inconceivable to Americans, announced, “We are going left with the troops,” and instituted the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, hard-hitting discussions officially part of the weekly routine—of course depended on the defeat of Hitler and in the postwar elections a Labour victory that seemed unthinkable in the face of Churchill’s dominance. “Let Us Face the Future” was the title of Labour’s program in the 1945 elections. A common regret of the period: “If only Churchill were Labour!” Even as winter yielded to the glorious spring of 1945 and the first Michaelmas daisies sprouting in the bombed damp earth were shown on morale posters reading “Renascence,” much of the grime, violence, and deadly fatigue that were to go into 1984 remained all too familiar on the streets of wartime London.

In Orwell’s novel thirty rocket bombs a week are falling on the capital; nothing more is said of them. Like the “atombomb” that explodes over Oceania’s “Airstrip I”—England—and by destroying a church provides a hiding place in the belfry for the lovers in an…

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $99.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.