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Notes on Nationalism

This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the United States, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Orwell Estate

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation – that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’.[1] But secondly ­– and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

So long as it is applied merely to the more notorious and identifiable nationalist movements in Germany, Japan, and other countries, all this is obvious enough. Confronted with a phenomenon like Nazism, which we can observe from the outside, nearly all of us would say much the same things about it. But here I must repeat what I said above, that I am only using the word ‘nationalism’ for lack of a better. Nationalism, in the extended sense in which I am using the word, includes such movements and tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism. It does not necessarily mean loyalty to a government or a country, still less to one’s own country, and it is not even strictly necessary that the units in which it deals should actually exist. To name a few obvious examples, Jewry, Islam, Christendom, the Proletariat and the White Race are all of them objects of passionate nationalistic feeling: but their existence can be seriously questioned, and there is no definition of any one of them that would be universally accepted.

It is also worth emphasizing once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the U.S.S.R. without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist – that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating – but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the up-grade and some hated rival is on the down-grade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also – since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself – unshakeably certain of being in the right.

Now that I have given this lengthy definition, I think it will be admitted that the habit of mind I am talking about is widespread among the English intelligentsia, and more widespread there than among the mass of the people. For those who feel deeply about contemporary politics, certain topics have become so infected by considerations of prestige that a genuinely rational approach to them is almost impossible. Out of the hundreds of examples that one might choose, take this question: Which of the three great allies, the U.S.S.R., Britain and the U.S.A., has contributed most to the defeat of Germany? In theory it should be possible to give a reasoned and perhaps even a conclusive answer to this question. In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question would inevitably see it in terms of competitive prestige. He would therefore start by deciding in favour of Russia, Britain or America as the case might be, and only after this would begin searching for arguments that seemed to support his case. And there are whole strings of kindred questions to which you can only get an honest answer from someone who is indifferent to the whole subject involved, and whose opinion on it is probably worthless in any case. Hence, partly, the remarkable failure in our time of political and military prediction. It is curious to reflect that out of all the ‘experts’ of all the schools, there was not a single one who was able to foresee so likely an event as the Russo-German Pact of 1939.[2] And when news of the Pact broke, the most wildly divergent explanations were of it were given, and predictions were made which were falsified almost immediately, being based in nearly every case not on a study of probabilities but on a desire to make the U.S.S.R. seem good or bad, strong or weak. Political or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.[3] And aesthetic judgements, especially literary judgements, are often corrupted in the same way as political ones. It would be difficult for an Indian nationalist to enjoy reading Kipling or for a Conservative to see merit in Mayakovsky, and there is always a temptation to claim that any book whose tendency one disagrees with must be a bad book from a literary point of view. People of strongly nationalistic outlook often perform this sleight of hand without being conscious of dishonesty.

In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British jingoism. It is certain that this is still widespread, and much more so than most observers would have believed a dozen years ago. However, in this essay I am concerned chiefly with the reactions of the intelligentsia, among whom jingoism and even patriotism of the old kind are almost dead, though they now seem to be reviving among a minority. Among the intelligentsia, it hardly needs saying that the dominant form of nationalism is Communism ­– using this word in a very loose sense, to include not merely Communist Party members but ‘fellow-travellers’ and russophiles generally. A Communist, for my purpose here, is one who looks upon the U.S.S.R. as his Fatherland and feels it his duty to justify Russian policy and advance Russian interests at all costs. Obviously such people abound in England today, and their direct and indirect influence is very great. But many other forms of nationalism also flourish, and it is by noticing the points of resemblance between different and even seemingly opposed currents of thought that one can best get the matter into perspective.

Ten or twenty years ago, the form of nationalism most closely corresponding to Communism today was political Catholicism. Its most outstanding exponent – though he was perhaps an extreme case rather than a typical one – was G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton was a writer of considerable talent who chose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda. During the last twenty years or so of his life, his entire output was in reality an endless repetition of the same thing, under its laboured cleverness as simple and boring as ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’. Every book that he wrote, every paragraph, every sentence, every incident in every story, every scrap of dialogue, had to demonstrate beyond possibility of mistake the superiority of the Catholic over the Protestant or the pagan. But Chesterton was not content to think of this superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into terms of national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealization of the Latin countries, especially France. Chesterton had not lived long in France, and his picture of it – as a land of Catholic peasants incessantly singing the Marseillaise over glasses of red wine – had about as much relation to reality as Chu Chin Chow has to everyday life in Baghdad. And with this went not only an enormous over-estimation of French military power (both before and after 1914-18 he maintained that France, by itself, was stronger than Germany), but a silly and vulgar glorification of the actual process of war. Chesterton’s battle poems, such as ‘Lepanto’ or ‘The Ballad of Saint Barbara’, make ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ read like a pacifist tract: they are perhaps the most tawdry bits of bombast to be found in our language. The interesting thing is that had the romantic rubbish which he habitually wrote about France and the French army been written by somebody else about Britain and the British army, he would have been the first to jeer. In home politics he was a Little Englander, a true hater of jingoism and imperialism, and according to his lights a true friend of democracy. Yet when he looked outwards into the international field, he could forsake his principles without even noticing he was doing so. Thus, his almost mystical belief in the virtues of democracy did not prevent him from admiring Mussolini. Mussolini had destroyed the representative government and the freedom of the press for which Chesterton had struggled so hard at home, but Mussolini was an Italian and had made Italy strong, and that settled the matter. Nor did Chesterton ever find a word to say about imperialism and the conquest of coloured races when they were practised by Italians or Frenchmen. His hold on reality, his literary taste, and even to some extent his moral sense, were dislocated as soon as his nationalistic loyalties were involved.

Obviously there are considerable resemblances between political Catholicism, as exemplified by Chesterton, and Communism. So there are between either of these and for instance Scottish nationalism, Zionism, Antisemitism or Trotskyism. It would be an oversimplification to say that all forms of nationalism are the same, even in their mental atmosphere, but there are certain rules that hold good in all cases. The following are the principal characteristics of nationalist thought:

Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can only relieve by making some sharp retort. If the chosen unit is an actual country, such as Ireland or India, he will generally claim superiority for it not only in military power and political virtue, but in art, literature, sport, structure of the language, the physical beauty of the inhabitants, and perhaps even in climate, scenery and cooking. He will show great sensitiveness about such things as the correct display of flags, relative size of headlines and the order in which different countries are named.[4] Nomenclature plays a very important part in nationalist thought. Countries which have won their independence or gone through a nationalist revolution usually change their names, and any country or other unit round which strong feelings revolve is likely to have several names, each of them carrying a different implication. The two sides of the Spanish Civil War had between them nine or ten names expressing different degrees of love and hatred. Some of these names (e.g. ‘Patriots’ for Franco-supporters, or ‘Loyalists’ for Government-supporters) were frankly question-begging, and there was no single one of them which the two rival factions could have agreed to use. All nationalists consider it a duty to spread their own language to the detriment of rival languages, and among English-speakers this struggle reappears in subtler form as a struggle between dialects. Anglophobe Americans will refuse to use a slang phrase if they know it to be of British origin, and the conflict between Latinizers and Germanizers often has nationalist motives behind it. Scottish nationalists insist on the superiority of Lowland Scots, and Socialists whose nationalism takes the form of class hatred tirade against the B.B.C. accent and even the broad A. One could multiply instances. Nationalist thought often gives the impression of being tinged by belief in sympathetic magic – a belief which probably comes out in the widespread custom of burning political enemies in effigy, or using pictures of them as targets in shooting galleries.

Instability. The intensity with which they are held does not prevent nationalist loyalties from being transferable. To begin with, as I have pointed out already, they can be and often are fastened upon some foreign country. One quite commonly finds that great national leaders, or the founders of nationalist movements, do not even belong to the country they have glorified. Sometimes they are outright foreigners, or more often they come from peripheral areas where nationality is doubtful. Examples are Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, de Valera, Disraeli, Poincaré, Beaverbrook. The Pan-German movement was in part the creation of an Englishman, Houston Chamberlain. For the past fifty or a hundred years, transferred nationalism has been a common phenomenon among literary intellectuals. With Lafcadio Hearne the transference was to Japan, with Carlyle and many others of his time to Germany, and in our own age it is usually to Russia. But the peculiarly interesting fact is that re-transference is also possible. A country or other unit which has been worshipped for years may suddenly become detestable, and some other object of affection may take its place with almost no interval. In the first version of H. G. Wells’s Outline of History, and others of his writings about that time, one finds the United States praised almost as extravagantly as Russia is praised by Communists today: yet within a few years this uncritical admiration had turned into hostility. The bigoted Communist who changes in a space of weeks, or even of days, into an equally bigoted Trotskyist is a common spectacle. In continental Europe Fascist movements were largely recruited from among Communists, and the opposite process may well happen within the next few years. What remains constant in the nationalist is his own state of mind: the object of his feelings is changeable, and may be imaginary.

But for an intellectual, transference has an important function which I have already mentioned shortly in connection with Chesterton. It makes it possible for him to be much more nationalistic – more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest – than he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge. When one sees the slavish or boastful rubbish that is written about Stalin, the Red army, etc. by fairly intelligent and sensitive people, one realizes that this is only possible because some kind of dislocation has taken place. In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion – that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware – will not allow him to do so. Most of the people surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack – all the overthrown idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not recognized for what they are they can be worshipped with a good conscience. Transferred nationalism, like the use of scapegoats, is a way of attaining salvation without altering one’s conduct.

Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The Liberal News Chronicle published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians.[5] It is the same with historical events. History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause. If one looks back over the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the world: and yet in not one single case were these atrocities – in Spain, Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna – believed in and disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.

Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should – in which, for example, the Spanish Armada was a success or the Russian Revolution was crushed in 1918 – and he will transfer fragments of this world to the history books whenever possible. Much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which, it is felt, ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied.[6] In 1927 Chiang Kai-Shek boiled hundreds of Communists alive, and yet within ten years he had become one of the heroes of the Left. The re-alignment of world politics had brought him into the anti-Fascist camp, and so it was felt that the boiling of the Communists ‘didn’t count’, or perhaps had not happened. The primary aim of propaganda is, of course, to influence contemporary opinion, but those who rewrite history do probably believe with part of their minds that they are actually thrusting facts into the past. When one considers the elaborate forgeries that have been committed in order to show that Trotsky did not play a valuable part in the Russian civil war, it is difficult to feel that the people responsible are merely lying. More probably they feel that their own version was what happened in the sight of God, and that one is justified in rearranging the records accordingly.

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events. For example, it is impossible to calculate within millions, perhaps even tens of millions, the number of deaths caused by the present war. The calamities that are constantly being reported – battles, massacres, famines, revolutions – tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. What were the rights and wrongs of the Warsaw rising of August 1944? Is it true about the German gas ovens in Poland? Who was really to blame for the Bengal famine? Probably the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or failing to form an opinion. The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connexion with the physical world.

I have examined as best as I can the mental habits which are common to all forms of nationalism. The next thing is to classify those forms, but obviously this cannot be done comprehensively. Nationalism is an enormous subject. The world is tormented by innumerable delusions and hatreds which cut across one another in an extremely complex way, and some of the most sinister of them have not yet impinged on the European consciousness. In this essay I am concerned with nationalism as it occurs among the English intelligentsia. In them, much more than in ordinary English people, it is unmixed with patriotism and can therefore can be studied pure. Below are listed the varieties of nationalism now flourishing among English intellectuals, with such comments as seem to be needed. It is convenient to use three headings, Positive, Transferred and Negative, though some varieties will fit into more than one category:

Positive Nationalism

1. Neo-Toryism. Exemplified by such people as Lord Elton, A. P. Herbert, G. M. Young, Professor Pickthorn, by the literature of the Tory Reform Committee, and by such magazines as the New English Review and the Nineteenth Century and After. The real motive force of neo-Toryism, giving it its nationalistic character and differentiating it from ordinary Conservatism, is the desire not to recognize that British power and influence have declined. Even those who are realistic enough to see that Britain’s military position is not what it was, tend to claim that ‘English ideas’ (usually left undefined) must dominate the world. All neo-Tories are anti-Russian, but sometimes the main emphasis is anti-American. The significant thing is that this school of thought seems to be gaining ground among youngish intellectual, sometimes ex-Communists, who have passed through the usual process of disillusionment and become disillusioned with that. The anglophobe who suddenly becomes violently pro-British is a fairly common figure. Writers who illustrate this tendency are F. A. Voigt, Malcolm Muggeridge, Evelyn Waugh, Hugh Kingsmill, and a psychologically similar development can be observed in T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and various of their followers.

2. Celtic Nationalism. Welsh, Irish and Scottish nationalism have points of difference but are alike in their anti-English orientation. Members of all three movements have opposed the war while continuing to describe themselves as pro-Russian, and the lunatic fringe has even contrived to be simultaneously pro-Russian and pro-Nazi. But Celtic nationalism is not the same thing as anglophobia. Its motive force is a belief in the past and future greatness of the Celtic peoples, and it has a strong tinge of racialism. The Celt is supposed to be spiritually superior to the Saxon – simpler, more creative, less vulgar, less snobbish, etc. – but the usual power hunger is there under the surface. One symptom of it is the delusion that Eire, Scotland or even Wales could preserve its independence unaided and owes nothing to British protection. Among writers, good examples of this school of thought are Hugh McDiarmid and Sean O’Casey. No modern Irish writer, even of the stature of Yeats or Joyce, is completely free from traces of nationalism.

3. Zionism. This has the unusual characteristics of a nationalist movement, but the American variant of it seems to be more violent and malignant than the British. I classify it under Direct and not Transferred nationalism because it flourishes almost exclusively among the Jews themselves. In England, for several rather incongruous reasons, the intelligentsia are mostly pro-Jew on the Palestine issue, but they do not feel strongly about it. All English people of goodwill are also pro-Jew in the sense of disapproving of Nazi persecution. But any actual nationalistic loyalty, or belief in the innate superiority of Jews, is hardly to be found among Gentiles:

Transferred Nationalism

1. Communism

2. Political Catholicism

3. Colour Feeling. The old-style contemptuous attitude towards ‘natives’ has been much weakened in England, and various pseudo-scientific theories emphasizing the superiority of the white race have been abandoned.[7] Among the intelligentsia, colour feeling only occurs in the transposed form, that is, as a belief in the innate superiority of the coloured races. This is now increasingly common among English intellectuals, probably resulting more often from masochism and sexual frustration than from contact with the Oriental and Negro nationalist movements. Even among those who do not feel strongly on the colour question, snobbery and imitation have a powerful influence. Almost any English intellectual would be scandalized by the claim that the white races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it. Nationalistic attachment to the coloured races is usually mixed up with the belief that their sex lives are superior, and there is a large underground mythology about the sexual prowess of Negroes.

4. Class Feeling. Among upper-class and middle-class intellectuals, only in the transposed form – i.e. as a belief in the superiority of the proletariat. Here again, inside the intelligentsia, the pressure of public opinion is overwhelming. Nationalistic loyalty towards the proletariat, and most vicious theoretical hatred of the bourgeoisie, can and often do co-exist with ordinary snobbishness in everyday life.

5. Pacifism. The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of the western countries. The Russians, unlike the British, are not blamed for defending themselves by warlike means, and indeed all pacifist propaganda of this type avoids mention of Russia or China. It is not claimed, again, that the Indians should abjure violence in their struggle against the British. Pacifist literature abounds with equivocal remarks which, if they mean anything, appear to mean that statesmen of the type of Hitler are preferable to those of the type of Churchill, and that violence is perhaps excusable if it is violent enough. After the fall of France, the French pacifists, faced by a real choice which their English colleagues have not had to make, mostly went over to the Nazis, and in England there appears to have been some small overlap of membership between the Peace Pledge Union and the Blackshirts. Pacifist writers have written in praise of Carlyle, one of the intellectual fathers of Fascism. All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty. The mistake was made of pinning this emotion to Hitler, but it could easily be retransferred.

Negative Nationalism

1. Anglophobia. Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases. During the war it was manifested in the defeatism of the intelligentsia, which persisted long after it had become clear that the Axis powers could not win. Many people were undisguisedly pleased when Singapore fell or when the British were driven out of Greece, and there was a remarkable unwillingness to believe in good news, e.g. el Alamein, or the number of German planes shot down in the Battle of Britain. English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not help getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated, and wanted to feel that the final victory would be due to Russia, or perhaps America, and not to Britain. In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong. As a result, ‘enlightened’ opinion is quite largely a mirror-image of Conservative policy. Anglophobia is always liable to reversal, hence that fairly common spectacle, the pacifist of one war who is a bellicist in the next.

2. Anti-Semitism. There is little evidence about this at present, because the Nazi persecutions have made it necessary for any thinking person to side with the Jews against their oppressors. Anyone educated enough to have heard the word ‘antisemitism’ claims as a matter of course to be free of it, and anti-Jewish remarks are carefully eliminated from all classes of literature. Actually, antisemitism appears to be widespread, even among intellectuals, and the general conspiracy of silence probably helps exacerbate it. People of Left opinions are not immune to it, and their attitude is sometimes affected by the fact that Trotskyists and Anarchists tend to be Jews. But antisemitism comes more naturally to people of Conservative tendency, who suspect Jews of weakening national morale and diluting the national culture. Neo-Tories and political Catholics are always liable to succumb to antisemitism, at least intermittently.

3. Trotskyism. This word is used so loosely as to include Anarchists, democratic Socialists and even Liberals. I use it here to mean a doctrinaire Marxist whose main motive is hostility to the Stalin régime. Trotskyism can be better studied in obscure pamphlets or in papers like the Socialist Appeal than in the works of Trotsky himself, who was by no means a man of one idea. Although in some places, for instance in the United States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of adherents and develop into an organized movement with a petty fuehrer of its own, its inspiration is essentially negative. The Trotskyist is against Stalin just as the Communist is for him, and, like the majority of Communists, he wants not so much to alter the external world as to feel that the battle for prestige is going in his own favour. In each case there is the same obsessive fixation on a single subject, the same inability to form a genuinely rational opinion based on probabilities. The fact that Trotskyists are everywhere a persecuted minority, and that the accusation usually made against them, i.e. of collaborating with the Fascists, is absolutely false, creates an impression that Trotskyism is intellectually and morally superior to Communism; but it is doubtful whether there is much difference. The most typical Trotskyists, in any case, are ex-Communists, and no one arrives at Trotskyism except via one of the left-wing movements. No Communist, unless tethered to his party by years of habit, is secure against a sudden lapse into Trotskyism. The opposite process does not seem to happen equally often, though there is no clear reason why it should not.

In the classification I have attempted above, it will seem that I have often exaggerated, oversimplified, made unwarranted assumptions and have left out of account the existence of ordinarily decent motives. This was inevitable, because in this essay I am trying to isolate and identify tendencies which exist in all our minds and pervert our thinking, without necessarily occurring in a pure state or operating continuously. It is important at this point to correct the over-simplified picture which I have been obliged to make. To begin with, one has no right to assume that everyone, or even every intellectual, is infected by nationalism. Secondly, nationalism can be intermittent and limited. An intelligent man may half-succumb to a belief which attracts him but which he knows to be absurd, and he may keep it out of his mind for long periods, only reverting to it in moments of anger or sentimentality, or when he is certain that no important issues are involved. Thirdly, a nationalistic creed may be adopted in good faith from non-nationalistic motives. Fourthly, several kinds of nationalism, even kinds that cancel out, can co-exist in the same person.

All the way through I have said, ‘the nationalist does this’ or ‘the nationalist does that’, using for purposes of illustration the extreme, barely sane type of nationalist who has no neutral areas in his mind and no interest in anything except the struggle for power. Actually such people are fairly common, but they are not worth the powder and shot. In real life Lord Elton, D. N. Pritt, Lady Houston, Ezra Pound, Lord Vanisttart, Father Coughlin and all the rest of their dreary tribe have to be fought against, but their intellectual deficiencies hardly need pointing out. Monomania is not interesting, and the fact that no nationalist of the more bigoted kind can write a book which still seems worth reading after a lapse of years has a certain deodorizing effect. But when one has admitted that nationalism has not triumphed everywhere, that there are still people whose judgements are not at the mercy of their desires, the fact does remain that the pressing problems – India, Poland, Palestine, the Spanish Civil War, the Moscow trials, the American Negroes, the Russo-German Pact or what have you – cannot be, or at least never are, discussed upon a reasonable level. The Eltons and Pritts and Coughlins, each of them simply an enormous mouth bellowing the same lie over and over again, are obviously extreme cases, but we deceive ourselves if we do not realize that we can all resemble them in unguarded moments. Let a certain note be struck, let this or that corn be trodden on – and it may be a corn whose very existence has been unsuspected hitherto — and the most fair-minded and sweet-tempered person may suddenly be transformed into a vicious partisan, anxious only to ‘score’ over his adversary and indifferent as to how many lies he tells or how many logical errors he commits in doing so. When Lloyd George, who was an opponent of the Boer War, announced in the House of Commons that the British communiqués, if one added them together, claimed the killing of more Boers than the whole Boer nation contained, it is recorded that Arthur Balfour rose to his feet and shouted ‘Cad!’ Very few people are proof against lapses of this type. The Negro snubbed by a white woman, the Englishman who hears England ignorantly criticized by an American, the Catholic apologist reminded of the Spanish Armada, will all react in much the same way. One prod to the nerve of nationalism, and the intellectual decencies can vanish, the past can be altered, and the plainest facts can be denied.

If one harbours anywhere in one’s mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:

British Tory: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.

Communist: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.

Irish Nationalist: Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.

Trotskyist: The Stalin régime is accepted by the Russian masses.

Pacifist: Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

All of these facts are grossly obvious if one’s emotions do not happen to be involved: but to the kind of person named in each case they are also intolerable, and so they have to be denied, and false theories constructed upon their denial. I come back to the astonishing failure of military prediction in the present war. It is, I think, true to say that the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan feelings. The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool. When Hitler invaded Russia, the officials of the M.O.I. issued ‘as background’ a warning that Russia might be expected to collapse in six weeks. On the other hand the Communists regarded every phase of the war as a Russian victory, even when the Russians were driven back almost to the Caspian Sea and had lost several million prisoners. There is no need to multiply instances. The point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged. And, as I have pointed out already, the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also. There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case, even if one admits in an intellectual sense that it is unjustified – still one cannot feel that it is wrong. Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function.

The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for instance – it is even probably true – that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and that organized religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can be argued that no unbiased outlook is possible, that all creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics – using the word in a wide sense – and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognize that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognize that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.

Author’s Notes

[1] Nations, and even vaguer entities such as the Catholic Church or the proleteriat, are commonly thought of as individuals and often referred to as ‘she’. Patently absurd remarks such as ‘Germany is naturally treacherous’ are to be found in any newspaper one opens, and reckless generalizations about national character (‘The Spaniard is a natural aristocrat’ or ‘Every Englishman is a hypocrite’) are uttered by almost everyone. Intermittently these generalizations are seen to be unfounded, but the habit of making them persists, and people of professedly international outlook, e.g. Tolstoy or Bernard Shaw, are often guilty of them.

[2] A few writers of conservative tendency, such as Peter Drucker, foretold an agreement between Germany and Russia, but they expected an actual alliance or amalgamation which would be permanent. No Marxist or other left-wing writer, of whatever colour, came anywhere near foretelling the Pact.

[3] The military commentators of the popular press can mostly be classified as pro-Russian or anti-Russian, pro-Blimp or anti-Blimp. Such errors as believing the Maginot Line impregnable, or predicting that Russia would conquer Germany in three months, have failed to shake their reputation, because they were always saying what their own particular audience wanted to hear. The two military critics most favoured by the intelligentsia are Captain Liddell Hart and Major-General Fuller, the first of whom teaches that the defence is stronger that the attack, and the second that the attack is stronger that the defence. This contradiction has not prevented both of them from being accepted as authorities by the same public. The secret reason for their vogue in left-wing circles is that both of them are at odds with the War Office.

[4] Certain Americans have expressed dissatisfaction because ‘Anglo-American’ is the normal form of combination for these two words. It has been proposed to substitute ‘Americo-British’.

[5] The News Chronicle advised its readers to visit the news film at which the entire execution could be witnessed, with close-ups. The Star published with seeming approval photographs of nearly naked female collaborationists being baited by the Paris mob. These photographs had a marked resemblance to the Nazi photographs of Jews being baited by the Berlin mob.

[6] An example is the Russo-German Pact, which is being effaced as quickly as possible from public memory. A Russian correspondent informs me that mention of the Pact is already being omitted from Russian year-books which table recent political events.

[7] A good example is the sunstroke superstition. Until recently it was believed that the white races were much more liable to sunstroke than the coloured, and that a white man could not safely walk about in tropical sunshine without a pith helmet. There was no evidence whatever for this theory, but it served the purpose of accentuating the difference between ‘natives’ and Europeans. During the present war the theory was quietly dropped and whole armies manoeuvre in the tropics without pith helmets. So long as the sunstroke superstition survived, English doctors in India appear to have believed in it as firmly as laymen.

Polemic, GB – London, 1945

Guide to Resources

As the only website officially sanctioned by the Orwell Estate, we publish work by George Orwell, articles about Orwell and other online resources for the public benefit. Here we offer just a brief overview of what the website has to offer.

Subscribe on YouTube, browse over two decades worth of Orwell Memorial Lectures or follow the @orwellquotes Twitter account for striking snippets of key works and intriguing excerpts from essays, letters and diaries beamed direct to your telescreen.


A selection of essays, articles, sketches, reviews and scripts written by Orwell. The collection includes Orwell’s most popular essays including ‘Notes on Nationalism’ and ‘The Moon under the Water’, as well as personal letters, early drafts and other hard-to-find pieces like ‘The Freedom of the Press’, Orwell’s proposed preface to Animal Farm which was first published in the TLS with an introduction by Orwell Prize founder Sir Bernard Crick in 1972.


The Orwell Foundation has three blogs posting diary entries by George Orwell: the Webby-nominated Orwell Diaries 1938-42 blog; The Road to Wigan Pier blog, which carries the diary Orwell wrote while touring the Midlands and north of England between 31st January and 25th March 1936, with each entry being published seventy-five years after it was originally written; and the Hop-Picking diary blog, about Orwell’s tramping and hop-picking exploits between August and October 1931 with each entry being published 80 years after it was originally written.


A selection of original poetry by the young Orwell, as well as some of Orwell’s critical essays on poetic matters, including pieces on major figures like Rudyard Kipling and W. B. Yeats.


We maintain an extensive library of works about George Orwell and his writing, consisting of some material exclusive to this site and links to external sites. We’ll continue to add to the library, so please get in touch if you find any good work about Orwell online. (Pages behind paywalls are indicated with a ‘£’.)


Whatever your subject – politics, English, history, citizenship, drama to name but a few – whatever the age group – the Orwell Foundation website has a wealth of resources. These are available free to everyone, regardless of whether you or your school are currently involved with the Youth Prize. Check out the Orwell Youth Prize’s handy guide to what’s on offer.

External links

External links are being provided for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by The Orwell Foundation of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organisation or individual. The Foundation bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

George Orwell on Fairness


George Orwell is one of the world’s most influential writers, the visionary author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four and his eyewitness, non-fiction classics Down and Out in Paris in LondonThe Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia. During his life, and through his writing, Orwell was a fierce critic of totalitarianism and advocate for social justice.

“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”

George Orwell, Why I Write (1946)

By the time of his death in 1950, he was world-renowned as a journalist and author: for his eyewitness reporting on war (shot in the neck in Spain) and poverty (tramping in London, washing dishes in Parisvisiting pits and the poor in Wigan); for his political and cultural commentary, where he stood up to power and said the unsayable (‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’); and for his fiction, including two of the greatest novels ever written: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. His clear writing and political purpose have inspired and influenced countless journalists, authors and others, of all political persuasions and none, in the generations since.

On this page, we’ll introduce some of the ideas which Orwell wrote about which could offer some inspiration for your own take on this year’s theme. You can also find links to Orwell’s own writing on The Orwell Foundation website (with thanks to the Orwell Estate and Penguin Books).

Race, Nation and Empire

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

George Orwell was born Eric Blair in India in 1903, which was then part of the British Empire. He was born to a comfortable ‘lower-upper-middle class’ family and a father who served the British Empire. Orwell’s own first job was as a policeman in Burma (today’s Myanmar). Orwell resigned from service while on leave in England in 1928.

In his first novel Burmese Days and striking essays like ‘Shooting an Elephant’ and ‘A Hanging’, Orwell reflected on his own experiences of colonialism. He argued that the British Empire was a destructive force both for the people it governed and the colonialists themselves. Orwell also wrote that after his work for the British Empire he ‘began to look more closely at his own country and saw that England also had its oppressed.’

Orwell remained a trenchant critic of the British Empire throughout his life. He also warned against the rise of nationalism and sought to examine the causes and effects of ‘nationalist’ thinking on people’s understanding of society.

Economic Injustice

‘The average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.”

After returning to England Orwell set out to become a writer. Although he was from a comfortable background, in order to report on poverty and economic deprivation he wanted to experience it for himself as far as possible. He therefore made various expeditions ‘down and out’ in London, living as a ‘tramp’, which he described in his essay ‘The Spike’. Later, Orwell took jobs as a dishwasher in restaurants and cafes in the centre of Paris. Orwell’s non-fiction work Down and Out in Paris and London described these experiences and asked searching questions about attitudes to people without work or in low paid, insecure labour.

In 1936 Orwell travelled to England’s industrial heartlands in the north, where many people were experiencing great hardship following the Great Depression. In The Road to Wigan Pier, part social reportage, part political polemic, Orwell described what he had seen and learnt. As ever, Orwell wanted to experience people’s living and working conditions for himself and wrote vividly about the life of coal miners and their families.

In the second part of the book, Orwell made a controversial and highly-influential argument about why campaigners at the time were struggling to win support for their vision of a fair society. He argued that many campaigners for social justice misunderstood the emotional lives of the people they wanted to help, concentrating too much on promoting their own political doctrines and dogma. Instead, he argued in favour of ‘common decency’ and a sense of fairness. Orwell expanded on these themes in his wartime essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn‘, which argued for a ‘new form of Britishness’.

  • WATCH Orwell’s Down and Out: Live, The Orwell Foundation’s dramatized live-reading of Down and Out in Paris and London, which features the testimony of people who have experienced homelessness and rough-sleeping in the UK today
  • READ The Road to Wigan Pier diaries, a blog of Orwell’s personal diaries from 1936

Freedom and Totalitarianism

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

As an author, George Orwell is probably best known for his powerful, stark depictions of totalitarianism in his parable Animal Farm and dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Animal Farm, inspired by the history of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin’s dictatorship, Orwell depicted how a movement which was begun with ideas of fairness could be distorted into something very different. Nineteen Eighty-Four, his final novel, imagines a society in which the pressures of war and the power of the state have made even the idea of values like fairness impossible.

  • WATCH 1984: Live, The Orwell Foundation’s dramatized, unabridged live-reading of 1984, read by actors, writers, journalists and members of the public at Senate House in 2017
  • READ ‘The Freedom of the Press‘, Orwell’s proposed introduction to Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the publication of Animal Farm which was first available in 1945. In the same month Orwell began work as the Literary Editor of The Tribune, he also began writing one of the works his name would be most remembered for. The satirical novel chronicles the revolution of animals against Mr Jones at Manor Farm; an allegory on the Soviet regime. This year we added the preface to the Ukranian edition of Animal Farm to our website. We also have a special Animal Farm page with links to much more including the first chapter, the original preface and writers pieces on how the book has influenced them. To celebrate today our online fans have been tweeting their first memory of reading the classic and we have been posting quotes from the work on our Facebook page. The most popular quote today was, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man,and from man to pig,and from pig to man again;but it was already impossible to say which was which”.

The Orwell Project

Next week The Orwell Project will be hosting an event at the Camden Arts Centre. The project is working with artists, writers and performers to create new work responding to or inspired by Orwell’s minor work, life and musings inspired by his essay ‘British Cookery’. In 1946, the British Council commissioned Orwell to write the essay in which he presented six of his own recipes, exploring class-distinctive eating, championing local produce and the home kitchen as the beating heart of British cuisine. A eulogy to sugar, fats and the three-course breakfast, the resulting essay was considered extravagant and anachronistic in the context of post-war rationing, and went unpublished, as it remains to this day. The Orwell Project say; “Distinct from Orwell’s familiar dystopian reputation, there is a wealth of idiosyncratic observation, epicureanism and cultural questioning across his non-fiction. His essays, letters and journalism explore pop culture, art criticism, entertainment, broadcast, class and society in a seminal period for state revision and the rise of media; Bevin published his bill on the NHS, the coal industry nationalised, new town centres opened and TV crept slowly into British homes.” From Autumn 2012 they will be presenting a brand new series of events and projects exploring fresh, unfamiliar perspectives on the influence of one of our most celebrated writers.

From the archive

This week we observe the anniversary of the death of the writer H.G. Wells who was a contemporary of Orwell’s he references in many of his essays. You can read ‘You and the atom bomb’, ‘Can socialists be happy?’ and ‘Notes on Nationalism’ as well as many more on our website.

From elsewhere

  • This week Peter Beaumont, winner of the 2007 Orwell Prize for Journalism, had a piece in the Guardian about the implications of the Julian Assange asylum row
  • We spotted a wonderful feature in the Telegraph on a writer’s journey to trace her ancestory in Burma with the aid of her Mother’s diaries
  • ABC’s Lateline posted a video of Anatol Leiven, the first winner of The Orwell Prize for books and also longlisted for this year’s prize, speaking about the developments of Syria’s civil war
  • Today Publishers Weekly posted The Troubled History Behind George Orwell’s Complete Works by Peter Davison
  • The New York Times have published a review of the American edition of ‘Diaries’ with a forward from Christopher Hitchens
  • The wartime diaries

    This week’s entries were published on 14th, 18th and 19th August 1942. Next week’s entries will be published on 22nd and 25th August 1942. Don’t forget our other Orwell Diary blogs: his Hop-Picking Diary and The Road to Wigan Pier Diary. You can sign up to our newsletter If you’ve got any suggestions about our website(s), we’d love to hear from you – email us on You can also follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

    One week to Cheltenham

    Next weekend, the Orwell Prize will be at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival for the first time.

    On Saturday 15th October at 10am, we’ll be discussing ‘Victorian Values’, and how the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor have returned to the debate about poverty. Joining Owen Jones (author of Chavs) and Shiv Malik (journalist and author of Jilted Generation) will be Jose Harris (social historian and emeritus professor of modern history, University of Oxford). More information, and details of how to book a ticket, on our website.
    On Sunday 16th October at 6pm, Orwell Prize winner Graeme Archer and previously longlisted Oliver Kamm (of The Times) will be talking about blogging at our ‘Political Network’ discussion. If you want to find out what’s next for political blogging, you can book tickets via our events listing.

    The Orwell Prize and Johann Hari

    George Orwell Memorial Lecture 2011

    The Orwell Lecture is organised by the Orwell Trust with Birkbeck College, University of London.

    From the archive

    One of those poems, ‘A dressed man and a naked man’, was first published in October 1933. Another Orwell work with an anniversary this month is his essay, ‘Notes on Nationalism’, originally published in October 1945.

    From elsewhere

    The Wartime Diaries

    The next entry will be published on 14th March.

    The Hop-Picking Diaries

    The Wigan Pier Diaries

    The final entry was published on 25th March.
    If you’ve got any suggestions about our website(s), we’d love to hear from you – email us on or follow us on Twitter. And you can subscribe to this newsletter via email.

    Essays and other works

    The Orwell Foundation is delighted to make available a selection of essays, articles, sketches, reviews and scripts written by Orwell. Subscribe to our serial Orwell Daily to receive edited highlights from Orwell’s work direct to your inbox.

    This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the United States, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Orwell Estate. All queries regarding rights should be addressed to the Estate’s representatives at A. M. Heath literary agency.

    If you have found our website useful, please consider becoming a Friend or Patron, or making a donation to support our work. You support helps us maintain these resources.

    Sketches For Burmese Days

    Essays and articles

    Reviews by Orwell

    Letters and other material

    External links are being provided for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by The Orwell Foundation of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organisation or individual. The Foundation bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

    Arkady Ostrovsky’s The Invention of Russia wins The Orwell Prize for Books 2016

    The winner of the Orwell Prize for Books 2016 was announced today, Thursday 26th May 2016.

    • Arkady Ostrovsky’s The Invention of Russia (Atlantic Books) wins the Orwell Prize for Books
    • Ostrovsky is a Russian-born British journalist who has spent fifteen years reporting from Russia as a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and The Economist.
    • The Invention of Russia is an account of Russia’s post-Soviet transformation from Gorbachev’s freedom to Putin’s war and the central role played by the media in creating Russia’s national narrative.
    • Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was one of the top ten bestselling books in Russia in 2015

    The Invention of Russia is published by Atlantic Books. The Orwell Prize rewards the writing that comes closest to achieving Orwell’s ambition to ‘make political writing an art’.

    Arkady Ostrovsky received the £3000 prize at a ceremony in Fyvie Hall at the University of Westminster. The Orwell Prize for Journalism and The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils were also awarded at the event

    The Invention of Russia is an account of Russia’s post-Soviet transformation from 1985 to the present day, and the central role played by the media – especially television – in creating Russia’s national narrative. Through original research and interviews, Ostrovsky described “the ideological conflicts, compromises and temptations that have left Russia on a knife edge”.

    Russian-born Ostrovsky has spent fifteen years reporting from Moscow and holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Cambridge. His translation of Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia has been published and staged in Russia.

    Lord William Waldegrave, chair of the Judges for this year’s Book Prize, said “In a very strong field, Arkady Ostrovsky’s deeply felt and wonderfully knowledgeable account of the genesis of Putin’s Russia stood out as an important and timely book. It is a very worthy winner of the Orwell Prize, dealing as it does with the themes of media manipulation and the control of language, which were very close to George Orwell’s own heart.”

    Richard Blair, George Orwell’s son, presented Ostrovsky with a trophy exclusively designed and made by three design students at Goldsmiths University, Tom Morgan, Archie Harding and Panaigiotis Tzortzopolous. The judges for the Orwell Prize for Books 2016 were Lord William Waldegrave, Professor Andrew Gamble, David Goodhart and Fiammetta Rocco.

    Rose Sinclair, Lecturer in the Department of Design at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “It has become tradition for students from our department to design and make the Orwell Prize trophy. Tom, Archie and Panaigiotis have worked together to create something that resonates with the rhetoric of the George Orwell prize: creative, stylish, symbolic, a piece of art in its own right.”

    For further information, images and interviews, please contact Stephanie Le Lievre at the Orwell Prize        0207 848 7930 


    By Arkady Ostrovsky

    Published by Atlantic Books

    Publicity Contact: Karen Duffy        0207 269 0246

    In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev launched Perestroika, opened Russia up to the world, ended the Cold War and gave his people freedom. The demise of the Soviet Union offered hope that Russia would become a ‘normal’, ‘civilized’ country, embracing Western values of democracy and the free market. Thirty years later, Russia emerged as a corporate state, overcome by imperial nationalism, fanned by its authoritarian president Vladimir Putin, who smashed the post-Cold War order and ignited a war on the borders of Europe.

    How did a country that liberated itself from seventy years of Soviet rule end up as one of the biggest threats to the West and, above all, to its own future? Why did the people who rejected Communist ideology come to accept state propaganda? In this bold and important book, Arkady Ostrovsky takes the reader on an enthralling journey from Gorbachev’s freedom to Putin’s war, illuminating the key turning points that often took the world by surprise. The main characters are not politicians, however, but those who took charge of the media and the message and invented Russia’s dominant narrative.

    From the suddenly wealthy men who came to command the airwaves to the newspaper editors and TV directors, and from the Russian intelligentsia to the Kremlin spin doctors and ideologists, The Invention of Russia shows just how these figures shaped the country during the tumultuous post-Soviet transformation.

    As a foreign correspondent in his own country, Ostrovsky has experienced Russia’s modern history first-hand, and through original research and interviews he reveals the ideological conflicts, compromises and temptations that have left Russia on a knife-edge



    Notes to editors:

    1. The Orwell Prize is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. Every year, prizes are awarded to the book and journalism entries which come closest to George Orwell’s ambition to ‘make political writing into an art’.
    2. For more information, please see our website
    3. The Orwell Prize 2016 is for books and journalism first published in the calendar year 2015. All entries must have a clear link to the UK and Ireland, such as residency or citizenship of the author, or first publication. Someone involved in the creation of the work should be responsible for entering it – this may be, for example, the author, editor, or publisher.
    4. The Orwell Prize received 209 entries for the 2016 book prize. In 2015, the Prize received 230 entries.
    5. Previous winners of the Orwell Prize for Books include James Meek (2015), Alan Johnson (2014) and Raja Shehadeh (2008).
    6. The Prize was founded by the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick 1993, awarding its first prizes in 1994.
    7. The Orwell Prize is sponsored and supported by Political Quarterly, AM Heath and Richard Blair.
    8. The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils is sponsored and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent organisation working to inspire social change through research, policy and practice. For more information, please see
    9. The Director of the Orwell Prize is Professor Jean Seaton
    10. The Orwell Prize is a registered charity (no. 1161563).

    Antisemitism in Britain

    This material remains under copyright and is reproduced by kind permission of the Orwell Estate and Penguin Books.

    There are about 400,000 known Jews in Britain, and in addition some thousands or, at most, scores of thousands of Jewish refugees who have entered the country from 1934 onwards. The Jewish population is almost entirely concentrated in half a dozen big towns and is mostly employed in the food, clothing and furniture trades. A few of the big monopolies, such as the I.C.I., one or two leading newspapers and at least one big chain of department stores are Jewish-owned or partly Jewish-owned, but it would be very far from the truth to say that British business life is dominated by Jews. The Jews seem, on the contrary, to have failed to keep up with the modern tendency towards big amalgamations and to have remained fixed in those trades which are necessarily carried out on a small scale and by old-fashioned methods.


    I start off with these background facts, which are already known to any well-informed person, in order to emphasize that there is no real Jewish ‘problem’ in England. The Jews are not numerous or powerful enough, and it is only in what are loosely called ‘intellectual circles’ that they have any noticeable influence. Yet it is generally admitted that antisemitism is on the increase, that it has been greatly exacerbated by the war, and that humane and enlightened people are not immune to it. It does not take violent forms (English people are almost invariably gentle and law-abiding), but it is ill-natured enough, and in favourable circumstances it could have political results. Here are some samples of antisemitic remarks that have been made to me during the past year or two:

    Middle-aged office employee: ‘I generally come to work by bus. It takes longer, but I don’t care about using the Underground from Golders Green nowadays. There’s too many of the Chosen Race travelling on that line.’

    Tobacconist (woman): ‘No, I’ve got no matches for you. I should try the lady down the street. She’s always got matches. One of the Chosen Race, you see.’

    Young intellectual, Communist or near-Communist: ‘No, I do not like Jews. I’ve never made any secret of that. I can’t stick them. Mind you, I’m not antisemitic, of course.’

    Middle-class woman: ‘Well, no one could call me antisemitic, but I do think the way these Jews behave is too absolutely stinking. The way they push their way to the head of queues, and so on. They’re so abominably selfish. I think they’re responsible for a lot of what happens to them.’

    Milk roundsman: ‘A Jew don’t do no work, not the same as what an Englishman does. ‘E’s too clever. We work with this ‘ere’ (flexes his biceps). ‘They work with that there’ (taps his forehead).

    Chartered accountant, intelligent, left-wing in an undirected way: ‘These bloody Yids are all pro-German. They’d change sides tomorrow if the Nazis got here. I see a lot of them in my business. They admire Hitler at the bottom of their hearts. They’ll always suck up to anyone who kicks them.’

    Intelligent woman, on being offered a book dealing with antisemitism and German atrocities: ‘Don’t show it to me, please don’t show it to me. It’ll only make me hate the Jews more than ever.’

    I could fill pages with similar remarks, but these will do to go on with. Two facts emerge from them. One – which is very important and which I must return to in a moment – is that above a certain intellectual level people are ashamed of being antisemitic and are careful to draw a distinction between ‘antisemitism’ and ‘disliking Jews’. The other is that antisemitism is an irrational thing. The Jews are accused of specific offences (for instance, bad behaviour in food queues) which the person speaking feels strongly about, but it is obvious that these accusations merely rationalize some deep-rooted prejudice. To attempt to counter them with facts and statistics is useless, and may sometimes be worse than useless. As the last of the above-quoted remarks shows, people can remain antisemitic, or at least anti-Jewish, while being fully aware that their outlook is indefensible. If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues.

    It so happens that the war has encouraged the growth of antisemitism and even, in the eyes of many ordinary people, given some justification for it. To begin with, the Jews are one people of whom it can be said with complete certainty that they will benefit by an Allied victory. Consequently the theory that ‘this is a Jewish war’ has a certain plausibility, all the more so because the Jewish war effort seldom gets its fair share of recognition. The British Empire is a huge heterogeneous organization held together largely by mutual consent, and it is often necessary to flatter the less reliable elements at the expense of the more loyal ones. To publicize the exploits of Jewish soldiers, or even to admit the existence of a considerable Jewish army in the Middle East, rouses hostility in South Africa, the Arab countries and elsewhere: it is easier to ignore the whole subject and allow the man in the street to go on thinking that Jews are exceptionally clever at dodging military service. Then again, Jews are to be found in exactly those trades which are bound to incur unpopularity with the civilian public in war-time. Jews are mostly concerned with selling food, clothes, furniture and tobacco – exactly the commodities of which there is a chronic shortage, with consequent overcharging, black-marketing and favouritism. And again, the common charge that Jews behave in an exceptionally cowardly way during air raids was given a certain amount of colour by the big raids of 1940. As it happened, the Jewish quarter of Whitechapel was one of the first areas to be heavily blitzed, with the natural result that swarms of Jewish refugees distributed themselves all over London. If one judged merely from these war-time phenomena, it would be easy to imagine that antisemitism is a quasi-rational thing, founded on mistaken premises. And naturally the antisemite thinks of himself as a reasonable being. Whenever I have touched on this subject in a newspaper article, I have always had a considerable ‘come-back’, and invariably some of the letters are from well-balanced, middling people – doctors, for example – with no apparent economic grievance. These people always say (as Hitler says in Mein Kampf) that they started out with no anti-Jewish prejudice but were driven into their present position by mere observation of the facts. Yet one of the marks of antisemitism is an ability to believe stories that could not possibly be true. One could see a good example of this in the strange accident that occurred in London in 1942, when a crowd, frightened by a bomb-burst nearby, fled into the mouth of an Underground station, with the result that something over a hundred people were crushed to death. The very same day it was repeated all over London that ‘the Jews were responsible’. Clearly, if people will believe this kind of thing, one will not get much further by arguing with them. The only useful approach is to discover why they can swallow absurdities on one particular subject while remaining sane on others.

    But now let me come back to that point I mentioned earlier – that there is widespread awareness of the prevalence of antisemitic feeling, and unwillingness to admit sharing it. Among educated people, antisemitism is held to be an unforgivable sin and in a quite different category from other kinds of racial prejudice. People will go to remarkable lengths to demonstrate that they are not antisemitic. Thus, in 1943 an intercession service on behalf of the Polish Jews was held in a synagogue in St John’s Wood. The local authorities declared themselves anxious to participate in it, and the service was attended by the mayor of the borough in his robes and chain, by representatives of all the churches, and by detachments of R.A.F., Home Guards, nurses, Boy Scouts and what-not. On the surface it was a touching demonstration of solidarity with the suffering Jews. But it was essentially a conscious effort to behave decently by people whose subjective feelings must in many cases have been very different. That quarter of London is partly Jewish, antisemitism is rife there, and, as I well knew, some of the men sitting round me in the synagogue were tinged by it. Indeed, the commander of my own platoon of Home Guards, who had been especially keen beforehand that we should ‘make a good show’ at the intercession service, was an ex-member of Mosley’s Blackshirts. While this division of feeling exists, tolerance of mass violence against Jews, or, what is more important, antisemitic legislation, are not possible in England. It is not at present possible, indeed, that antisemitism should become respectable. But this is less of an advantage than it might appear.

    One effect of the persecutions in Germany has been to prevent antisemitism from being seriously studied. In England a brief inadequate survey was made by Mass Observation a year or two ago, but if there has been any other investigation of the subject, then its findings have been kept strictly secret. At the same time there has been conscious suppression, by all thoughtful people, of anything likely to wound Jewish susceptibilities. After 1934 the ‘Jew joke’ disappeared as though by magic from postcards, periodicals and the music-hall stage, and to put an unsympathetic Jewish character into a novel or short story came to be regarded as antisemitism. On the Palestine issue, too, it was de rigueur among enlightened people to accept the Jewish case as proved and avoid examining the claims of the Arabs – a decision which might be correct on its own merits, but which was adopted primarily because the Jews were in trouble and it was felt that one must not criticize them. Thanks to Hitler, therefore, you had a situation in which the press was in effect censored in favour of the Jews while in private antisemitism was on the up-grade, even, to some extent, among sensitive and intelligent people. This was particularly noticeable in 1940 at the time of the internment of the refugees. Naturally, every thinking person felt that it was his duty to protest against the wholesale locking-up of unfortunate foreigners who for the most part were only in England because they were opponents of Hitler. Privately, however, one heard very different sentiments expressed. A minority of the refugees behaved in an exceedingly tactless way, and the feeling against them necessarily had an antisemitic undercurrent, since they were largely Jews. A very eminent figure in the Labour Party – I won’t name him, but he is one of the most respected people in England – said to me quite violently: ‘We never asked these people to come to this country. If they choose to come here, let them take the consequences.’ Yet this man would as a matter of course have associated himself with any kind of petition or manifesto against the internment of aliens. This feeling that antisemitism is something sinful and disgraceful, something that a civilized person does not suffer from, is unfavourable to a scientific approach, and indeed many people will admit that they are frightened of probing too deeply into the subject. They are frightened, that is to say, of discovering not only that antisemitism is spreading, but that they themselves are infected by it.

    To see this in perspective one must look back a few decades, to the days when Hitler was an out-of-work house-painter whom nobody had heard of. One would then find that though antisemitism is sufficiently in evidence now, it is probably less prevalent in England than it was thirty years ago. It is true that antisemitism as a fully thought-out racial or religious doctrine has never flourished in England. There has never been much feeling against intermarriage, or against Jews taking a prominent part in public life. Nevertheless, thirty years ago it was accepted more or less as a law of nature that a Jew was a figure of fun and – though superior in intelligence – slightly deficient in ‘character’. In theory a Jew suffered from no legal disabilities, but in effect he was debarred from certain professions. He would probably not have been accepted as an officer in the navy, for instance, nor in what is called a ‘smart’ regiment in the army. A Jewish boy at a public school almost invariably had a bad time. He could, of course, live down his Jewishness if he was exceptionally charming or athletic, but it was an initial disability comparable to a stammer or a birthmark. Wealthy Jews tended to disguise themselves under aristocratic English or Scottish names, and to the average person it seemed quite natural that they should do this, just as it seems natural for a criminal to change his identity if possible. About twenty years ago, in Rangoon, I was getting into a taxi with a friend when a small ragged boy of fair complexion rushed up to us and began a complicated story about having arrived from Colombo on a ship and wanting money to get back. His manner and appearance were difficult to ‘place’, and I said to him:

    ‘You speak very good English. What nationality are you?’

    He answered eagerly in his chi-chi accent: ‘I am a Joo, sir!’

    And I remember turning to my companion and saying, only partly in joke, ‘He admits it openly.’ All the Jews I had known till then were people who were ashamed of being Jews, or at any rate preferred not to talk about their ancestry, and if forced to do so tended to use the word ‘Hebrew’.

    The working-class attitude was no better. The Jew who grew up in Whitechapel took it for granted that he would be assaulted, or at least hooted at, if he ventured into one of the Christian slums nearby, and the ‘Jew joke’ of the music halls and the comic papers was almost consistently ill-natured.[1] There was also literary Jew-baiting, which in the hands of Belloc, Chesterton and their followers reached an almost continental level of scurrility. Non-Catholic writers were sometimes guilty of the same thing in a milder form. There has been a perceptible antisemitic strain in English literature from Chaucer onwards, and without even getting up from this table to consult a book I can think of passages which if written now would be stigmatized as antisemitism, in the works of Shakespeare, Smollett, Thackeray, Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley and various others. Offhand, the only English writers I can think of who, before the days of Hitler, made a definite effort to stick up for Jews are Dickens and Charles Reade. And however little the average intellectual may have agreed with the opinions of Belloc and Chesterton, he did not acutely disapprove of them. Chesterton’s endless tirades against Jews, which he thrust into stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts, never got him into trouble – indeed Chesterton was one of the most generally respected figures in English literary life. Anyone who wrote in that strain now would bring down a storm of abuse upon himself, or more probably would find it impossible to get his writings published.

    If, as I suggest, prejudice against Jews has always been pretty widespread in England, there is no reason to think that Hitler has genuinely diminished it. He has merely caused a sharp division between the politically conscious person who realizes that this is not a time to throw stones at the Jews, and the unconscious person whose native antisemitism is increased by the nervous strain of the war. One can assume, therefore, that many people who would perish rather than admit to antisemitic feelings are secretly prone to them. I have already indicated that I believe antisemitism to be essentially a neurosis, but of course it has its rationalizations, which are sincerely believed in and are partly true. The rationalization put forward by the common man is that the Jew is an exploiter. The partial justification for this is that the Jew, in England, is generally a small businessman – that is to say a person whose depredations are more obvious and intelligible than those of, say, a bank or an insurance company. Higher up the intellectual scale, antisemitism is rationalized by saying that the Jew is a person who spreads disaffection and weakens national morale. Again there is some superficial justification for this. During the past twenty-five years the activities of what are called ‘intellectuals’ have been largely mischievous. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that if the ‘intellectuals’ had done their work a little more thoroughly, Britain would have surrendered in 1940. But the disaffected intelligentsia inevitably included a large number of Jews. With some plausibility it can be said that the Jews are the enemies of our native culture and our national morale. Carefully examined, the claim is seen to be nonsense, but there are always a few prominent individuals who can be cited to support it. During the past few years there has been what amounts to a counter-attack against the rather shallow Leftism which was fashionable in the previous decade and which was exemplified by such organizations as the Left Book Club. This counter-attack (see for instance such books as Arnold Lunn’s The Good Gorilla or Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags) has an antisemitic strain, and it would probably be more marked if the subject were not so obviously dangerous. It so happens that for some decades past Britain has had no nationalist intelligentsia worth bothering about. But British nationalism, i.e. nationalism of an intellectual kind, may revive, and probably will revive if Britain comes out of the present war greatly weakened. The young intellectuals of 1950 may be as naïvely patriotic as those of 1914. In that case the kind of antisemitism which flourished among the anti-Dreyfusards in France, and which Chesterton and Belloc tried to import into this country, might get a foothold.

    I have no hard-and-fast theory about the origins of antisemitism. The two current explanations, that it is due to economic causes, or on the other hand, that it is a legacy from the Middle Ages, seem to me unsatisfactory, though I admit that if one combines them they can be made to cover the facts. All I would say with confidence is that antisemitism is part of the larger problem of nationalism, which has not yet been seriously examined, and that the Jew is evidently a scapegoat, though for what he is a scapegoat we do not yet know. In this essay I have relied almost entirely on my own limited experience, and perhaps every one of my conclusions would be negatived by other observers. The fact is that there are almost no data on this subject. But for what they are worth I will summarize my opinions. Boiled down, they amount to this:

    There is more antisemitism in England than we care to admit, and the war has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if one thinks in terms of decades rather than years.

    It does not at present lead to open persecution, but it has the effect of making people callous to the sufferings of Jews in other countries.

    It is at bottom quite irrational and will not yield to argument.

    The persecutions in Germany have caused much concealment of antisemitic feeling and thus obscured the whole picture.

    The subject needs serious investigation.

    Only the last point is worth expanding. To study any subject scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder when one’s own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income. What vitiates nearly all that is written about antisemitism is the assumption in the writer’s mind that he himself is immune to it. ‘Since I know that antisemitism is irrational,’ he argues, ‘it follows that I do not share it.’ He thus fails to start his investigation in the one place where he could get hold of some reliable evidence – that is, in his own mind.

    It seems to me a safe assumption that the disease loosely called nationalism is now almost universal. Antisemitism is only one manifestation of nationalism, and not everyone will have the disease in that particular form. A Jew, for example, would not be antisemitic: but then many Zionist Jews seem to me to be merely antisemites turned upside-down, just as many Indians and Negroes display the normal colour prejudices in an inverted form. The point is that something, some psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilization, and as a result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that whole races or nations are mysteriously good or mysteriously evil. I defy any modern intellectual to look closely and honestly into his own mind without coming upon nationalistic loyalties and hatreds of one kind or another. It is the fact that he can feel the emotional tug of such things, and yet see them dispassionately for what they are, that gives him his status as an intellectual. It will be seen, therefore that the starting point for any investigation of antisemitism should not be ‘Why does this obviously irrational belief appeal to other people?’ but ‘Why does antisemitism appeal to me? What is there about it that I feel to be true?’ If one asks this question one at least discovers one’s own rationalizations, and it may be possible to find out what lies beneath them. Antisemitism should be investigated – and I will not say by antisemites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune to that kind of emotion. When Hitler has disappeared a real enquiry into this subject will be possible, and it would probably be best to start not by debunking antisemitism, but by marshalling all the justifications for it that can be found, in one’s own mind or anybody else’s. In that way one might get some clues that would lead to its psychological roots. But that antisemitism will be definitively cured, without curing the larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe.

    Contemporary Jewish Record, April 1945 (written February 1945)

    Orwell’s Note


    [1] It is interesting to compare the ‘Jew joke’ with that other stand-by of the music halls, the ‘Scotch joke’, which superficially it resembles. Occasionally a story is told (e.g. the Jew and the Scotsman who went into a pub together and both died of thirst) which puts both races on an equality, but in general the Jew is credited merely with cunning and avarice while the Scotsman is credited with physical hardihood as well. This is seen, for example, in the story of the Jew and the Scotsman who go together to a meeting which has been advertised as free. Unexpectedly there is a collection, and to avoid this the Jew faints and the Scotsman carries him out. Here the Scotsman performs the athletic feat of carrying the other. It would seem vaguely wrong if it were the other way about.

    Second Thoughts on James Burnham

    This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the United States, and is reproduced here with the kind assistance of the Orwell Estate

    James Burnham’s book, The Managerial Revolution, made a considerable stir both in the United States and in this country at the time when it was published, and its main thesis has been so much discussed that a detailed exposition of it is hardly necessary. As shortly as I can summarize it, the thesis is this:-

    Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralized society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham under the name of ‘managers’. These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organize society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.

    In his next published book, The Machiavellians, Burnham elaborates and also modifies his original statement. The greater part of the book is an exposition of the theories of Machiavelli and of his modern disciples, Mosca, Michels, and Pareto: with doubtful justification, Burnham adds to these the syndicalist writer, Georges Sorel. What Burnham is mainly concerned to show is that a democratic society has never existed and so far as we can see, never will exist. Society is of its nature oligarchical, and the power of the oligarchy always rests upon force and fraud. Burnham does not deny that ‘good’ motives may operate in private life, but he maintains that politics consists of the struggle for power, and nothing else. All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another. All talk about democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all visions of Utopia, or ‘the classless society’, or ‘the Kingdom of Heaven on earth’, are humbug (not necessarily conscious humbug) covering the ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way into power. The English Puritans, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, were in each case simply power seekers using the hopes of the masses in order to win a privileged position for themselves. Power can sometimes be won or maintained without violence, but never without fraud, because it is necessary to make use of the masses, and the masses would not co-operate if they knew that they were simply serving the purposes of a minority. In each great revolutionary struggle the masses are led on by vague dreams of human brotherhood, and then, when the new ruling class is well established in power, they are thrust back into servitude. This is practically the whole of political history, as Burnham sees it.

    Where the second book departs from the earlier one is in asserting that the whole process could be somewhat moralized if the facts were faced more honestly. The Machiavellians is sub-titled Defenders of Freedom. Machiavelli and his followers taught that in politics decency simply does not exist, and, by doing so, Burnham claims, made it possible to conduct political affairs more intelligently and less oppressively. A ruling class which recognized that its real aim was to stay in power would also recognize that it would be more likely to succeed if it served the common good, and might avoid stiffening into a hereditary aristocracy. Burnham lays much stress on Pareto’s theory of the ‘circulation of the élites’. If it is to stay in power a ruling class must constantly admit suitable recruits from below, so that the ablest men may always be at the top and a new class of power-hungry malcontents cannot come into being. This is likeliest to happen, Burnham considers, in a society which retains democratic habits – that is, where opposition is permitted and certain bodies such as the press and the trade unions can keep their autonomy. Here Burnham undoubtedly contradicts his earlier opinion. In The Managerial Revolution, which was written in 1940, it is taken as a matter of course that ‘managerial’ Germany is in all ways more efficient than a capitalist democracy such as France or Britain. In the second book, written in 1942, Burnham admits that the Germans might have avoided some of their more serious strategic errors if they had permitted freedom of speech. However, the main thesis is not abandoned. Capitalism is doomed, and Socialism is a dream. If we grasp what is at issue we may guide the course of the managerial revolution to some extent, but that revolution is happening, whether we like it or not. In both books, but especially the earlier one, there is a note of unmistakable relish over the cruelty and wickedness of the processes that are being discussed. Although he reiterates that he is merely setting forth the facts and not stating his own preferences, it is clear that Burnham is fascinated by the spectacle of power, and that his sympathies were with Germany so long as Germany appeared to be winning the war. A more recent essay, ‘Lenin’s Heir’, published in the Partisan Review about the beginning of 1945, suggests that this sympathy has since been transferred to the U.S.S.R. ‘Lenin’s Heir’, which provoked violent controversy in the American left-wing press, has not yet been reprinted in England, and I must return to it later.

    It will be seen that Burnham’s theory is not, strictly speaking, a new one. Many earlier writers have foreseen the emergence of a new kind of society, neither capitalist nor Socialist, and probably based upon slavery: though most of them have differed from Burnham in not assuming this development to be inevitable. A good example is Hilaire Belloc’s book, The Servile State, published in 1911. The Servile State is written in a tiresome style, and the remedy it suggests (a return to small-scale peasant ownership) is for many reasons impossible: still, it does foretell with remarkable insight the kind of things that have been happening from about 1930 onwards. Chesterton, in a less methodical way, predicted the disappearance of democracy and private property, and the rise of a slave society which might be called either capitalist or Communist. Jack London, in The Iron Heel (1909), foretold some of the essential features of Fascism, and such books as Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes (1900), Zamyatin’s We (1923), and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1930), all described imaginary worlds in which the special problems of capitalism had been solved without bringing liberty, equality, or true happiness any nearer. More recently, writers like Peter Drucker and F. A. Voigt have argued that Fascism and Communism are substantially the same thing. And indeed, it has always been obvious that a planned and centralized society is liable to develop into an oligarchy or a dictatorship. Orthodox Conservatives were unable to see this, because it comforted them to assume that Socialism ‘wouldn’t work’, and that the disappearance of capitalism would mean chaos and anarchy. Orthodox Socialists could not see it, because they wished to think that they themselves would soon be in power, and therefore assumed that when capitalism disappears, Socialism takes its place. As a result they were unable to foresee the rise of Fascism, or to make correct predictions about it after it had appeared. Later, the need to justify the Russian dictatorship and to explain away the obvious resemblances between Communism and Nazism clouded the issue still more. But the notion that industrialism must end in monopoly, and that monopoly must imply tyranny, is not a startling one.

    Where Burnham differs from most other thinkers is in trying to plot the course of the ‘managerial revolution’ accurately on a world scale, and in assuming that the drift towards totalitarianism is irresistible and must not be fought against, though it may be guided. According to Burnham, writing in 1940, ‘managerialism’ has reached its fullest development in the U.S.S.R., but is almost equally well developed in Germany, and has made its appearance in the United States. He describes the New Deal as ‘primitive managerialism’. But the trend is the same everywhere, or almost everywhere. Always laissez-faire capitalism gives way to planning and state interference, the mere owner loses power as against the technician and the bureaucrat, but Socialism – that is to say, what used to be called Socialism – shows no sign of emerging:

    Some apologists try to excuse Marxism by saying that it has ‘never had a chance’. This is far from the truth. Marxism and the Marxist parties have had dozens of chances. In Russia, a Marxist party took power. Within a short time it abandoned Socialism; if not in words, at any rate in the effect of its actions. In most European nations there were during the last months of the first world war and the years immediately thereafter, social crises which left a wide-open door for the Marxist parties: without exception they proved unable to take and hold power. In a large number of countries – Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, England, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France – the reformist Marxist parties have administered the governments, and have uniformly failed to introduce Socialism or make any genuine step towards Socialism. . . . These parties have, in practice, at every historical test – and there have been many – either failed Socialism or abandoned it. This is the fact which neither the bitterest foe nor the most ardent friend of Socialism can erase. This fact does not, as some think, prove anything about the moral quality of the Socialist ideal. But it does constitute unblinkable evidence that, whatever its moral quality, Socialism is no going to come.

    Burnham does not, of course, deny that the new ‘managerial’ régimes, like the régimes of Russia and Nazi Germany, may be called Socialist. He means merely that they will not be Socialist in any sense of the word which would have been accepted by Marx, or Lenin, or Keir Hardie, or William Morris, or indeed, by any representative Socialist prior to about 1930. Socialism, until recently, was supposed to connote political democracy, social equality and internationalism. There is not the smallest sign that any of these things is in a way to being established anywhere, and the one great country in which something described as a proletarian revolution once happened, i.e. the U.S.S.R., has moved steadily away from the old concept of a free and equal society aiming at universal human brotherhood. In an almost unbroken progress since the early days of the Revolution, liberty has been chipped away and representative institutions smothered, while inequalities have increased and nationalism and militarism have grown stronger. But at the same time, Burnham insists, there has been no tendency to return to capitalism. What is happening is simply the growth of ‘managerialism’, which, according to Burnham, is in progress everywhere, though the manner in which it comes about may vary from country to country.

    Now, as an interpretation of what is happening, Burnham’s theory is extremely plausible, to put it at the lowest. The events of, at any rate, the last fifteen years in the U.S.S.R. can be far more easily explained by this theory than by any other. Evidently the U.S.S.R. is not Socialist, and can only be called Socialist if one gives the word a meaning different from what it would have in any other context. On the other hand, prophecies that the Russian régime would revert to capitalism have always been falsified, and now seem further than ever from being fulfilled. In claiming that the process had gone almost equally far in Nazi Germany, Burnham probably exaggerates, but it seems certain that the drift was away from old-style capitalism and towards a planned economy with an adoptive oligarchy in control. In Russia the capitalists were destroyed first and the workers were crushed later. In Germany the workers were crushed first, but the elimination of the capitalists had at any rate begun, and calculations based on the assumption that Nazism was ‘simply capitalism’ were always contradicted by events. Where Burnham seems to go most astray is in believing ‘managerialism’ to be on the up-grade in the United States, the one great country where free capitalism is still vigorous. But if one considers the world movement as a whole, his conclusions are difficult to resist; and even in the United States the all-prevailing faith in laissez-faire may not survive the next great economic crisis. It has been urged against Burnham that he assigns far too much importance to the ‘managers’, in the narrow sense of the word – that is, factory bosses, planners and technicians – and seems to assume that even in Soviet Russia it is these people, and not the Communist Party chiefs, who are the real holders of power. However, this is a secondary error, and it is particularly corrected in The Machiavellians. The real question is not whether the people who wipe their boots on you during the next fifty years are to be called managers, bureaucrats, or politicians; the question is whether capitalism, now obviously doomed, is to give way to oligarchy or to true democracy.

    But curiously enough, when one examines the predictions which Burnham has based on his general theory, one finds that in so far as they are verifiable, they have been falsified. Numbers of people have pointed this out already. However, it is worth following up Burnham’s predictions in detail because they form a sort of pattern which is related to contemporary events, and which reveals, I believe, a very important weakness in present-day political thought.

    To begin with, writing in 1940, Burnham takes a German victory more or less for granted. Britain is described as ‘dissolving’, and as displaying ‘all the characteristics which have distinguished decadent cultures in past historical transitions’, while the conquest and integration of Europe which Germany achieved in 1940 is described as ‘irreversible’. ‘England,’ writes Burnham, ‘no matter with what non-European allies, cannot conceivably hope to conquer the European continent.’ Even if Germany should somehow manage to lose the war, she could not be dismembered or reduced to the status of the Weimar Republic, but is bound to remain as the nucleus of a unified Europe. The future map of the world, with its three great super-states is, in any case, already settled in its main outlines: and ‘the nuclei of these three super-states are, whatever may be their future names, the previously existing nations, Japan, Germany, and the United States’.

    Burnham also commits himself to the opinion that Germany will not attack the U.S.S.R until after Britain has been defeated. In a condensation of his book published in the Partisan Review of May-June 1941, and presumably written later than the book itself, he says:

    As in the case of Russia, so with Germany, the third part of the managerial problem – the contest for dominance with other sections of managerial society – remains for the future. First had to come the death-blow that assured the toppling of the capitalist world order, which meant above all the destruction of the foundations of the British Empire (the keystone of the capitalist world order) both directly and through the smashing of the European political structure, which was a necessary prop of the Empire. This is the basic explanation of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which is not intelligible on other grounds. The future conflict between Germany and Russia will be a managerial conflict proper; prior to the great world-managerial battles, the end of the capitalist order must be assured. The belief that Nazism is ‘decadent capitalism’ . . . makes it impossible to explain reasonably the Nazi-Soviet Pact. From this belief followed the always expected war between Germany and Russia, not the actual war to the death between Germany and the British Empire. The war between Germany and Russia is one of the managerial wars of the future, not of the anti-capitalist wars of yesterday and today.

    However, the attack on Russia will come later, and Russia is certain, or almost certain, to be defeated. ‘There is every reason to believe . . . that Russia will split apart, with the western half gravitating towards the European base and the eastern towards the Asiatic.’ This quotation comes from The Managerial Revolution. In the above-quoted article, written probably about six months later, it is put more forcibly: ‘the Russian weaknesses indicate that Russia will not be able to endure, that it will crack apart, and fall towards east and west.’ And in a supplementary note which was added to the English (Pelican) edition, and which appears to have been written at the end of 1941, Burnham speaks as though the ‘cracking apart’ process were already happening. The war, he says, ‘is part of the means whereby the western half of Russia is being integrated into the European super-state’.

    Sorting these various statements out, we have the following prophecies:

    • Germany is bound to win the war.
    • Germany and Japan are bound to survive as great states, and to remain the nuclei of power in their respective area.
    • Germany will not attack the U.S.S.R. until after the defeat of Britain.
    • The U.S.S.R. is bound to be defeated.

    However, Burnham has made other predictions besides these. In a short article in the Partisan Review, in the summer of 1944, he gives his opinion that the U.S.S.R. will gang up with Japan in order to prevent the total defeat of the latter, while the American Communists will be set to work to sabotage the eastern end of the war. And finally, in an article in the same magazine in the winter of 1944–45, he claims that Russia, destined so short a while ago to ‘crack apart’, is within sight of conquering the whole of Eurasia. This article, which was the cause of violent controversies among the American intelligentsia, has not been reprinted in England. I must give some account of it here, because its manner of approach and its emotional tone are of a peculiar kind, and by studying them one can get nearer to the real roots of Burnham’s theory.

    The article is entitled ‘Lenin’s Heir’, and it sets out to show that Stalin is the true and legitimate guardian of the Russian Revolution, which he has not in any sense ‘betrayed’ but has merely carried forward on lines that were implicit in it from the start. In itself, this is an easier opinion to swallow than the usual Trotskyist claim that Stalin is a mere crook who has perverted the Revolution to his own ends, and that things would somehow have been different if Lenin had lived or Trotsky had remained in power. Actually there is no strong reason for thinking that the main lines of development would have been very different. Well before 1923 the seeds of a totalitarian society were quite plainly there. Lenin, indeed, is one of those politicians who win an undeserved reputation by dying prematurely.[1] Had he lived, it is probable that he would either have been thrown out, like Trotsky, or would have kept himself in power by methods as barbarous, or nearly as barbarous, as those of Stalin. The title of Burnham’s essay, therefore, sets forth a reasonable thesis, and one would expect him to support it by an appeal to the facts.

    However, the essay barely touches upon its ostensible subject-matter. It is obvious that anyone genuinely concerned to show that there has been continuity of policy as between Lenin and Stalin would start by outlining Lenin’s policy and then explain in what way Stalin’s has resembled it. Burnham does not do this. Except for one or two cursory sentences he says nothing about Lenin’s policy, and Lenin’s name only occurs five times in an essay of twelve pages: in the first seven pages, apart from the title, it does not occur at all. The real aim of the essay is to present Stalin as a towering, superhuman figure, indeed a species of demigod, and Bolshevism as an irresistible force which is flowing over the earth and cannot be halted until it reaches the outermost borders of Eurasia. In so far as he makes any attempt to prove his case, Burnham does so by repeating over and over again that Stalin is ‘a great man’ – which is probably true, but is almost completely irrelevant. Moreover, though he does advance some solid arguments for believing in Stalin’s genius, it is clear that in his mind the idea of ‘greatness’ is inextricably mixed up with the idea of cruelty and dishonesty. There are curious passages in which it seems to be suggested that Stalin is to be admired because of the limitless suffering that he has caused:

    Stalin proves himself a ‘great man’, in the grand style. The accounts of the banquets, staged in Moscow for the visiting dignitaries, set the symbolic tone. With their enormous menus of sturgeon, and roasts, and fowl, and sweets; their streams of liquor, the scores of toasts with which they end; the silent, unmoving secret police behind each guest; all against the winter background of the starving multitudes of besieged Leningrad; the dying millions at the front: the jammed concentration camps; the city crowds kept by their minute rations just at the edge of life; there is little trace of dull mediocrity or the hand of Babbitt. We recognize, rather, the tradition of the most spectacular of the Tsars, of the Great Kings of the Medes and Persians, of the Khanate of the Golden Horde, of the banquet we assign to the gods of the Heroic Ages in tribute to the insight that insolence, and indifference, and brutality on such a scale remove beings from the human level. . . . Stalin’s political techniques shows a freedom from conventional restrictions that is incompatible with mediocrity: the mediocre man is custom-bound. Often it is the scale of their operations that sets them apart. It is usual, for example, for men active in practical life to engineer an occasional frame-up. But to carry out a frame-up against tens of thousands of persons, important percentages of whole strata of society, including most of one’s own comrades, is so far out of the ordinary that the long-run mass conclusion is either that the frame-up must be true – at least ‘have some truth in it’ – or that power so immense must be submitted to – is a ‘historical necessity’, as intellectuals put it. . . . There is nothing unexpected in letting a few individuals starve for reasons of state; but to starve, by deliberate decision, several millions, is a type of action attributed ordinarily only to gods.

    In these and other similar passages there may be a tinge of irony, but it is difficult not to feel that there is also a sort of fascinated admiration. Towards the end of the essay Burnham compares Stalin with those semi-mythical heroes, like Moses or Asoka, who embody in themselves a whole epoch, and can justly be credited with feats that they did not actually perform. In writing of Soviet foreign policy and its supposed objectives, he touches an even more mystical note:

    Starting from the magnetic core of the Eurasian heartland, the Soviet power, like the reality of the One of Neo-Platonism overflowing in the descending series of the emanative progression, flows outward, west into Europe, south into the Near East, east into China, already lapping the shores of the Atlantic, the Yellow and China Seas, the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf. As the undifferentiated One, in its progression, descends through the stages of Mind, Soul, and Matter, and then through its fatal Return back to itself; so does the Soviet power, emanating from the integrally totalitarian centre, proceed outwards by Absorption (the Baltics, Bessarabia, Bukovina, East Poland), Domination (Finland, the Balkans, Mongolia, North China and, tomorrow, Germany), Orienting Influence (Italy, France, Turkey, Iran, Central and south China . . .), until it is dissipated in MH ON, the outer material sphere, beyond the Eurasian boundaries, of momentary Appeasement and Infiltration (England, the United States).

    I do not think it is fanciful to suggest that the unnecessary capital letters with which this passage is loaded are intended to have a hypnotic effect on the reader. Burnham is trying to build up a picture of terrifying, irresistible power, and to turn a normal political manoeuvre like infiltration into Infiltration adds to the general portentousness. The essay should be read in full. Although it is not the kind of tribute that the average russophile would consider acceptable, and although Burnham himself would probably claim that he is being strictly objective, he is in effect performing an act of homage, and even of self-abasement. Meanwhile, this essay gives us another prophecy to add to the list; i.e. that the U.S.S.R. will conquer the whole of Eurasia, and probably a great deal more. And one must remember that Burnham’s basic theory contains, in itself, a prediction which still has to be tested – that is, that whatever else happens, the ‘managerial’ form of society is bound to prevail.

    Burnham’s earlier prophecy, of a German victory in the war and the integration of Europe round the German nucleus, was falsified, not only in its main outlines, but in some important details. Burnham insists all the way through that ‘managerialism’ is not only more efficient than capitalist democracy or Marxian Socialism, but also more acceptable to the masses. The slogans of democracy and national self-determination, he says, no longer have any mass appeal: ‘managerialism’, on the other hand, can rouse enthusiasm, produce intelligible war aims, establish fifth columns everywhere, and inspire its soldiers with a fanatical morale. The ‘fanaticism’ of the Germans, as against the ‘apathy’ or ‘indifference’ of the British, French, etc., is much emphasized, and Nazism is represented as a revolutionary force sweeping across Europe and spreading its philosophy ‘by contagion’. The Nazi fifth columns ‘cannot be wiped out’, and the democratic nations are quite incapable of projecting any settlement which the German or other European masses would prefer to the New Order. In any case, the democracies can only defeat Germany if they go ‘still further along the managerial road than Germany has yet gone’.

    The germ of truth in all this is that the smaller European states, demoralized by the chaos and stagnation of the pre-war years, collapsed rather more quickly than they need have done, and might conceivably have accepted the New Order if the Germans had kept same of their promises. But the actual experience of German rule aroused almost at once such a fury of hatred and vindictiveness as the world has seldom seen. After about the beginning of 1941 there was hardly any need of a positive war aim, since getting rid of the Germans was a sufficient objective. The question of morale, and its relation to national solidarity, is a nebulous one, and the evidence can be so manipulated as to prove almost anything. But if one goes by the proportion of prisoners to other casualties, and the amount of quislingism, the totalitarian states come out of the comparison worse than the democracies. Hundreds of thousands of Russians appear to have gone over to the Germans during the course of the war, while comparable numbers of Germans and Italians had gone over to the Allies before the war started: the corresponding number of American or British renegades would have amounted to a few scores. As an example of the inability of ‘capitalist ideologies’ to enlist support, Burnham cites ‘the complete failure of voluntary military recruiting in England (as well as the entire British Empire) and in the United States’. One would gather from this that the armies of the totalitarian states were manned by volunteers. Actually, no totalitarian state has ever so much as considered voluntary recruitment for any purpose, nor, throughout history, has a large army ever been raised by voluntary means.[2] It is not worth listing the many similar arguments that Burnham puts forward. The point is that he assumes that the Germans must win the propaganda war as well as the military one, and that, at any rate in Europe, this estimate was not borne out by events.

    It will be seen that Burnham’s predictions have not merely, when they were verifiable, turned out to be wrong, but that they have sometimes contradicted one another in a sensational way. It is this last fact that is significant. Political predictions are usually wrong, because they are usually based on wish-thinking, but they can have symptomatic value, especially when they change abruptly. Often the revealing factor is the date at which they are made. Dating Burnham’s various writings as accurately as can be done from internal evidence, and then noting what events they coincided with, we find the following relationships:-

    In the supplementary note added to the English edition of the book, Burnham appears to assume that the U.S.S.R. is already beaten and the splitting-up process is about to begin. This was published in the spring of 1942 and presumably written at the end of 1941; i.e. when the Germans were in the suburbs of Moscow.

    The prediction that Russia would gang up with Japan against the U.S.A. was written early in 1944, soon after the conclusion of a new Russo-Japanese treaty.

    The prophecy of Russian world conquest was written in the winter of 1944, when the Russians were advancing rapidly in eastern Europe while the Western Allies were still held up in Italy and northern France.

    It will be seen that at each point Burnham is predicting a continuation of the thing that is happening. Now the tendency to do this is not simply a bad habit, like inaccuracy or exaggeration, which one can correct by taking thought. It is a major mental disease, and its roots lie partly in cowardice and partly in the worship or power, which is not fully separable from cowardice.

    Suppose in 1940 you had taken a Gallup poll, in England, on the question ‘Will Germany win the war?’ You would have found, curiously enough, that the group answering ‘Yes’ contained a far higher percentage of intelligent people – people with IQ of over 120, shall we say – than the group answering ‘No’. The same would have held good in the middle of 1942. In this case the figures would not have been so striking, but if you had made the question ‘Will the Germans capture Alexandria?’ or ‘Will the Japanese be able to hold on to the territories they have captured?’, then once again there would have been a very marked tendency for intelligence to concentrate in the ‘Yes’ group. In every case the less-gifted person would have been likelier to give a right answer.

    If one went simply by these instances, one might assume that high intelligence and bad military judgement always go together. However, it is not so simple as that. The English intelligentsia, on the whole, were more defeatist than the mass of the people – and some of them went on being defeatist at a time when the war was quite plainly won – partly because they were better able to visualize the dreary years of warfare that lay ahead. Their morale was worse because their imaginations were stronger. The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it, and if one finds the prospect of a long war intolerable, it is natural to disbelieve in the possibility of victory. But there was more to it than that. There was also the disaffection of large numbers of intellectuals, which made it difficult for them not to side with any country hostile to Britain. And deepest of all, there was admiration – though only in a very few cases conscious admiration – for the power, energy and cruelty of the Nazi régime. It would be a useful though tedious labour to go through the left-wing press and enumerate all the hostile references to Nazism during the years 1935–45. One would find, I have little doubt, that they reached their high-water mark in 1937–38 and 1944–45, and dropped off noticeably in the years 1939–42 – that is, during the period when Germany seemed to be winning. One would find, also, the same people advocating a compromise peace in 1940 and approving the dismemberment of Germany in 1945. And if one studied the reactions of the English intelligentsia towards the U.S.S.R., there, too, one would find genuinely progressive impulses mixed up with admiration for power and cruelty. It would be grossly unfair to suggest that power worship is the only motive for russophile feeling, but it is one motive, and among intellectuals it is probably the strongest one.

    Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. If the Japanese have conquered south Asia, then they will keep south Asia for ever, if the Germans have captured Tobruk, they will infallibly capture Cairo; if the Russians are in Berlin, it will not be long before they are in London: and so on. This habit of mind leads also to the belief that things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than they ever do in practice. The rise and fall of empires, the disappearance of cultures and religions, are expected to happen with earthquake suddenness, and processes which have barely started are talked about as though they were already at an end. Burnham’s writings are full of apocalyptic visions. Nations, governments, classes and social systems are constantly described as expanding, contracting, decaying, dissolving, toppling, crashing, crumbling, crystallizing, and, in general, behaving in an unstable and melodramatic way. The slowness of historical change, the fact that any epoch always contains a great deal of the last epoch, is never sufficiently allowed for. Such a manner of thinking is bound to lead to mistaken prophecies, because, even when it gauges the direction of events rightly, it will miscalculate their tempo. Within the space of five years Burnham foretold the domination of Russia by Germany and of Germany by Russia. In each case he was obeying the same instinct: the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible. With this in mind one can criticize his theory in a broader way.

    The mistakes I have pointed out do not disprove Burnham’s theory, but they do cast light on his probable reasons for holding it. In this connexion one cannot leave out of account the fact that Burnham is an American. Every political theory has a certain regional tinge about it, and every nation, every culture, has its own characteristic prejudices and patches of ignorance. There are certain problems that must almost inevitably be seen in a different perspective according to the geographical situation from which one is looking at them. Now, the attitude that Burnham adopts, of classifying Communism and Fascism as much the same thing, and at the same time accepting both of them – or, at any rate, not assuming that either must be violently struggled against – is essentially an American attitude, and would be almost impossible for an Englishman or any other western European. English writers who consider Communism and Fascism to be the same thing invariably hold that both are monstrous evils which must be fought to the death: on the other hand, any Englishman who believes Communism and Fascism to be opposites will feel that he ought to side with one or the other.[3] The reason for this difference of outlook is simple enough and, as usual, is bound up with wish-thinking. If totalitarianism triumphs and the dreams of the geopoliticians come true, Britain will disappear as a world power and the whole of western Europe will be swallowed by some single great state. This is not a prospect that it is easy for an Englishman to contemplate with detachment. Either he does not want Britain to disappear – in which case he will tend to construct theories proving the thing that he wants – or, like a minority of intellectuals, he will decide that his country is finished and transfer his allegiance to some foreign power. An American does not have to make the same choice. Whatever happens, the United States will survive as a great power, and from the American point of view it does not make much difference whether Europe is dominated by Russia or by Germany. Most Americans who think of the matter at all would prefer to see the world divided between two or three monster states which had reached their natural boundaries and could bargain with one another on economic issues without being troubled by ideological differences. Such a world-picture fits in with the American tendency to admire size for its own sake and to feel that success constitutes justification, and it fits in with the all-prevailing anti-British sentiment. In practice. Britain and the United States have twice been forced into alliance against Germany, and will probably, before long, be forced into alliance against Russia: but, subjectively, a majority of Americans would prefer either Russia or Germany to Britain, and, as between Russia and Germany, would prefer whichever seemed stronger at the moment.[4] It is, therefore, not surprising that Burnham’s world-view should often be noticeably close to that of the American imperialists on the one side, or to that of the isolationists on the other. It is a ‘tough’ or ‘realistic’ world-view which fits in with the American form of wish-thinking. The almost open admiration for Nazi methods which Burnham shows in the earlier of his two books, and which would seem shocking to almost any English reader, depends ultimately on the fact that the Atlantic is wider than the Channel.

    As I have said earlier, Burnham has probably been more right than wrong about the present and the immediate past. For quite fifty years past the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy. The ever-increasing concentration of industrial and financial power; the diminishing importance of the individual capitalist or shareholder, and the growth of the new ‘managerial’ class of scientists, technicians, and bureaucrats; the weakness of the proletariat against the centralized state; the increasing helplessness of small countries against big ones; the decay of representative institutions and the appearance of one-party régimes based on police terrorism, faked plebiscites, etc.: all these things seem to point in the same direction. Burnham sees the trend and assumes that it is irresistible, rather as a rabbit fascinated by a boa constrictor might assume that a boa constrictor is the strongest thing in the world. When one looks a little deeper, one sees that all his ideas rest upon two axioms which are taken for granted in the earlier book and made partly explicit in the second one. They are:

    • Politics is essentially the same in all ages.
    • Political behaviour is different from other kinds of behaviour.

    To take the second point first. In The Machiavellians, Burnham insists that politics is simply the struggle for power. Every great social movement, every war, every revolution, every political programme, however edifying and Utopian, really has behind it the ambitions of some sectional group which is out to grab power for itself. Power can never be restrained by any ethical or religious code, but only by other power. The nearest possible approach to altruistic behaviour is the perception by a ruling group that it will probably stay in power longer if it behaves decently. But curiously enough, these generalizations only apply to political behaviour, not to any other kind of behaviour. In everyday life, as Burnham sees and admits, one cannot explain every human action by applying the principle of cui bono? Obviously, human beings have impulses which are not selfish. Man, therefore, is an animal that can act morally when be acts as an individual, but becomes unmoral when he acts collectively. But even this generalization only holds good for the higher groups. The masses, it seems, have vague aspirations towards liberty and human brotherhood, which are easily played upon by power-hungry individuals or minorities. So that history consists of a series of swindles, in which the masses are first lured into revolt by the promise of Utopia, and then, when they have done their job, enslaved over again by new masters.

    Political activity, therefore, is a special kind of behaviour, characterized by its complete unscrupulousness, and occurring only among small groups of the population, especially among dissatisfied groups whose talents do not get free play under the existing form of society. The great mass of the people – and this is where (2) ties up with (1) – will always be unpolitical. In effect, therefore, humanity is divided into two classes: the self-seeking, hypocritical minority, and the brainless mob whose destiny is always to be led or driven, as one gets a pig back to the sty by kicking it on the bottom or rattling a stick inside a swill-bucket, according to the needs of the moment, And this beautiful pattern is to continue for ever. Individuals may pass from one category to another, whole classes may destroy other classes and rise to the dominant position, but the division of humanity into rulers and ruled is unalterable. In their capabilities, as in their desires and needs, men are not equal. There is an ‘iron law of oligarchy’, which would operate even if democracy were not impossible for mechanical reasons.

    It is curious that in all his talk about the struggle for power, Burnham never stops to ask why people want power. He seems to assume that power hunger, although only dominant in comparatively few people, is a natural instinct that does not have to be explained, like the desire for food. He also assumes that the division of society into classes serves the same purpose in all ages. This is practically to ignore the history of hundreds of years. When Burnham’s master, Machiavelli, was writing, class divisions were not only unavoidable, but desirable. So long as methods of production were primitive, the great mass of the people were necessarily tied down to dreary, exhausting manual labour: and a few people had to be set free from such labour, otherwise civilization could not maintain itself, let alone make any progress. But since the arrival of the machine the whole pattern has altered. The justification for class distinctions, if there is a justification, is no longer the same, because there is no mechanical reason why the average human being should continue to be a drudge. True, drudgery persists; class distinctions are probably re-establishing themselves in a new form, and individual liberty is on the down-grade: but as these developments are now technically avoidable, they must have some psychological cause which Burnham makes no attempt to discover. The question that he ought to ask, and never does ask, is: Why does the lust for naked power become a major human motive exactly now, when the dominion of man over man is ceasing to be necessary? As for the claim that ‘human nature’, or ‘inexorable laws’ of this and that, make Socialism impossible, is simply a projection of the past into the future. In effect, Burnham argues that because a society of free and equal human beings has never existed, it never can exist. By the same argument one could have demonstrated the impossibility of aeroplanes in 1900, or of motor cars in 1850.

    The notion that the machine has altered human relationships, and that in consequence Machiavelli is out of date, is a very obvious one. If Burnham fails to deal with it, it can, I think, only be because his own power instinct leads him to brush aside any suggestion that the Machiavellian world of force, fraud, and tyranny may somehow come to an end. It is important to bear in mind what I said above: that Burnham’s theory is only a variant – an American variant, and interesting because of its comprehensiveness – of the power worship now so prevalent among intellectuals. A more normal variant, at any rate in England, is Communism. If one examines the people who, having some idea of what the Russian régime is like, are strongly russophile, one finds that, on the whole, they belong to the ‘managerial’ class of which Burnham writes. That is, they are not managers in the narrow sense, but scientists, technicians, teachers, journalists, broadcasters, bureaucrats, professional politicians: in general, middling people who feel themselves cramped by a system that is still partly aristocratic, and are hungry for more power and more prestige. These people look towards the U.S.S.R. and see in it, or think they see, a system which eliminates the upper class, keeps the working class in its place, and hands unlimited power to people very similar to themselves. It was only after the Soviet régime became unmistakably totalitarian that English intellectuals, in large numbers, began to show an interest in it. Burnham, although the English russophile intelligentsia would repudiate him, is really voicing their secret wish: the wish to destroy the old, equalitarian version of Socialism and usher in a hierarchical society where the intellectual can at last get his hands on the whip. Burnham at least has the honesty to say that Socialism isn’t coming; the others merely say that Socialism is coming, and then give the word ‘Socialism’ a new meaning which makes nonsense of the old one. But his theory, for all its appearance of objectivity, is the rationalization of a wish. There is no strong reason for thinking that it tells us anything about the future, except perhaps the immediate future. It merely tells us what kind of world the ‘managerial’ class themselves, or at least the more conscious and ambitious members of the class, would like to live in.

    Fortunately the ‘managers’ are not so invincible as Burnham believes. It is curious how persistently, in The Managerial Revolution, he ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country. At every point the evidence is squeezed in order to show the strength, vitality, and durability of Hitler’s crazy régime. Germany is expanding rapidly, and ‘rapid territorial expansion has always been a sign, not of decadence . . . but of renewal’. Germany makes war successfully, and ‘the ability to make war well is never a sign of decadence but of its opposite’. Germany also ‘inspires in millions of persons a fanatical loyalty. This, too, never accompanies decadence’. Even the cruelty and dishonesty of the Nazi régime are cited in its favour, since ‘the young, new, rising social order is, as against the old, more likely to resort on a large scale to lies, terror, persecution’. Yet, within only five years this young, new, rising social order had smashed itself to pieces and become, in Burnham’s usage of the word, decadent. And this had happened quite largely because of the ‘managerial’ (i.e. undemocratic) structure which Burnham admires. The immediate cause of the German defeat was the unheard-of folly of attacking the U.S.S.R. while Britain was still undefeated and America was manifestly getting ready to fight. Mistakes of this magnitude can only be made, or at any rate they are most likely to be made, in countries where public opinion has no power. So long as the common man can get a hearing, such elementary rules as not fighting all your enemies simultaneously are less likely to be violated.

    But, in any case, one should have been able to see from the start that such a movement as Nazism could not produce any good or stable result. Actually, so long as they were winning, Burnham seems to have seen nothing wrong with the methods of the Nazis. Such methods, he says, only appear wicked because they are new:

    There is no historical law that polite manners and ‘justice’ shall conquer. In history there is always the question of whose manners and whose justice. A rising social class and a new order of society have got to break through the old moral codes just as they must break through the old economic and political institutions. Naturally, from the point of view of the old, they are monsters. If they win, they take care in due time of manners and morals.

    This implies that literally anything can become right or wrong if the dominant class of the moment so wills it. It ignores the fact that certain rules of conduct have to be observed if human society is to hold together at all. Burnham, therefore, was unable to see that the crimes and follies of the Nazi régime must lead by one route or other to disaster. So also with his new-found admiration for Stalin. It is too early to say in just what way the Russian régime will destroy itself. If I had to make a prophecy, I should say that a continuation of the Russian policies of the last fifteen years – and internal and external policy, of course, are merely two facets of the same thing – can only lead to a war conducted with atomic bombs, which will make Hitler’s invasion look like a tea-party. But at any rate, the Russian régime will either democratize itself, or it will perish. The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.

    One cannot always make positive prophecies, but there are times when one ought to be able to make negative ones. No one could have been expected to foresee the exact results of the Treaty of Versailles, but millions of thinking people could and did foresee that those results would be bad. Plenty of people, though not so many in this case, can foresee that the results of the settlement now being forced on Europe will also be bad. And to refrain from admiring Hitler or Stalin – that, too, should not require an enormous intellectual effort. But it is partly a moral effort. That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order shows, what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.

    Orwell’s notes

    [1] It is difficult to think of any politician who has lived to be eighty and still been regarded as a success. What we call a ‘great’ statesman normally means one who dies before his policy has had time to take effect. If Cromwell had lived a few years longer he would probably have fallen from power, in which case we should now regard him as a failure. If Pétain had died in 1930, France would have venerated him as a hero and patriot. Napoleon remarked once that if only a cannon-ball had happened to hit him when he was riding into Moscow, he would have gone down to history as the greatest man who ever lived.

    [2] Great Britain raised a million volunteers in the earlier part of the 1914–18 war. This must be a world’s record, but the pressures applied were such that it is doubtful whether the recruitment ought to be described as voluntary. Even the most ‘ideological’ wars have been fought largely by pressed men. In the English Civil War, the Napoleonic wars, the American Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, etc., both sides resorted to conscription or the press gang.

    [3] The only exception I am able to think of is Bernard Shaw, who, for some years at any rate, declared Communism and Fascism to be much the same thing, and was in favour of both of them. But Shaw, after all, is not an Englishman, and probably does not feel his fate to be bound up with that of Britain.

    [4] As late as the autumn of 1945, a Gallup poll taken among the American troops in Germany showed that 51 per cent ‘thought Hitler did much good before 1939’. This was after five years of anti-Hitler propaganda. The verdict, as quoted, is not very strongly favourable to Germany, but it is hard to believe that a verdict equally favourable to Britain would be given by anywhere near 51 per cent of the American army.

    Published by Polemic, May 1946, and as James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution when published as a pamphlet, 1946

    Douglas Kerr: Orwell, Kipling, and Empire

    One of the greatest of modern British writers was an Englishman who was born in India. He was privately educated in England, did not go to university, and returned to the East to work after leaving school. Empire, and the relation between those in authority and those under authority, became one of the principal themes of his writing, both in journalism and in fiction. He lived by his pen, and made a name as an author of strong political convictions. Many of his stories and phrases have embedded themselves in the English language and the consciousness of its users, even of those who have never actually read his work. Both admired and hated in his own lifetime, his genius made him a spokesman and a symbol in the great ideological contentions of modern times, and after his death he was considered not only an important writer, but also but a particular embodiment of the character of his country.

    Well actually, not one of the greatest of modern British writers. Two of the greatest of modern British writers.

    Orwell and Kipling emerge – and I think are beginning to emerge, even in the academic discourse of English literature – as giant figures, or twinned heraldic animals like the lion and the unicorn, of modern British writing. And though our first instinct is to think of them as opposites, the curious similarities between them proliferate. Both of them were patriots, though highly critical of their fellow-countrymen and frequently of their government. Both were public intellectuals who used their writing to raise political consciousness. Both loved animals and wrote books about them, and both had a strong feeling for the English countryside.

    Both were men of principle, but they were also realists in the sense of a non-theoretical empiricism. They were both impatient with orthodoxy and theory. Orwell’s disgust at W. H. Auden’s glib phrase about “the conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder” – “It could only be written,” Orwell said, “by a person to whom murder is at most a word” (XII, 103) – reminds me a little of Kipling’s rage at liberals like “Pagett M.P.” who pontificated about India without bothering to learn about it [1]. Both attitudes, to be sure, have something of the smugness of a man of the world, playing the trump card of experience.

    Importantly – this is part of what makes them modern – both had a global vision. Though Orwell at one point kept a village shop, and Kipling for years impersonated a country gentleman at Burwash, they were the opposite of provincial. Both of them were exasperated by British (English?) insularity. “What do they know of England, who only England know?” was Kipling’s lament that his neighbours knew and cared so little about their achievements, and obligations, in the wide world. Orwell agreed about the ignorance. He pointed out that most ordinary people at home had no idea or understanding of the fact that their whole economic way of life depended on Britain’s “coolie empire” overseas. His words, though brutally phrased, have a resonance for those of us who enjoy a more modern form of globalization. “We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are ‘enlightened’ all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our ‘enlightenment’, demands that the robbery shall continue” (XIII, 153). This comes from his Horizon essay on Kipling (1942), one of the best he wrote.

    Kipling and Orwell were citizens of the world. But the origin of this cosmopolitanism was rather different in their two cases. For Kipling, it was a function of empire. He travelled all over it, he came to think of himself as its bard, and though he was an acute observer of its local differences, he also found it everywhere the same. The empire he knew or imagined was a world network of power, hierarchical relationships, security and welfare. Globally diffused, it had little to do any more with the European island that had given birth to it. Sometimes when he speaks of it, he makes it sound like the United Nations. Empire was something the African bushman and the Himalayan hillgirl and the Irish infantryman had in common. It was, at its most exalted, a global moral force. At its core, of course, for Kipling, was the authority and duty of white people, the “white man’s burden”. Kipling’s empire was a vision of the world, a global Utopia, but it was a racially understood and organized world, under white government. Like his friend Cecil Rhodes, he continued to hope that the United States would re-federate with the British Empire (perhaps after a handsome apology on both sides?) and rule the world.

    Orwell, of course, did not recognize that empire in the least, except as a foreshadowing of the terrible warring superpowers envisaged in Nineteen Eighty Four. His own global vision derived from his socialism, which is always a kind of internationalism. That was what gave him a feeling of kinship with the Italian militiaman he describes meeting in the opening pages of Homage to Catalonia; and it was that sense of the world that had brought him to fight with the POUM militia in Spain, among people with whom, admittedly, he had very little in common and whose speech he could hardly understand. It was the betrayal of that internationalism, first in Barcelona and later everywhere else, that most disgusted him about Stalin and the regime he ruled in a country that had the word “socialist” in its name. From opposite ends of the political spectrum, Orwell and Kipling were globalists. There was nothing narrow about either of them. They could see the whole picture.

    The similarities are intriguing. The differences, of course, were polar. “It is no use pretending that Kipling’s view of life, as a whole, can be accepted or even forgiven by any civilized person,” Orwell writes (XIII, 151). Kipling was an imperialist – though not a fascist (his outlook was “prefascist”, says Orwell carefully). Orwell was anti-imperialist; in fact his entire politics was erected on the emotional experience of his service in Burma as a policeman of the British Empire, and it was when he came to understand the relation between that, and what he saw and experienced in Spain, that the Orwellian politics emerged in its mature form. He was prepared to argue that some of what empire did was for the good: what it was, however, was indefensible.

    There were personal and aesthetic differences as well as ideological ones. Kipling was brilliant and precocious, doing some of his best work in his twenties. He had his unhappiness, but I think he never doubted his imaginative and creative powers. He would not have understood Orwell’s gloomy statement that writing a book was like undergoing an illness. Orwell’s genius was entirely prosaic, he was a slow starter, diffident and often clumsy, always disappointed with his own work, the kind of writer for whom every book was doomed to be, in T. S. Eliot’s words, a different kind of failure. I don’t know that Kipling ever read anything written by Orwell. When Orwell criticizes Kipling’s work, he objects to his ideas, but also repeatedly to his vulgarity, and this is a complaint that probably has its roots in Eton rather than on the road to Wigan Pier. But one thing that the 1942 essay shows very clearly is that Orwell knew Kipling’s writing very well indeed. [2]

    This is hardly surprising. For a boy of Orwell’s class and generation, and especially for one whose father actually worked for the Government of India, Kipling was the author of childhood. First The Just So Stories, then the Jungle Books, Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rewards and Fairies, Kim, Stalky and Co…. Not just a favourite on the nursery bookshelf, Kipling was the author of childhood for the sons (daughters too) of empire in a wider sense; they experienced the world through his eyes, and Kipling’s books helped them to see and relate to the important things in their environment – animals, the natural world, home, parents and other adults, jokes and games, friends, school, and later more abstract issues, like duty, work, country, masculinity and femininity.

    When the young Eric Blair, fresh from school, went to Burma to serve in the police, he was going to a place that Kipling had more or less invented for the benefit of his fellow-countrymen: they knew about the Orient, and Orientals, through him. Leonard Woolf, who belonged to the generation between Kipling and Orwell, went to work as a colonial official in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1904, and found the place uncannily familiar. It was Kipling country. Woolf said he could not decide whether Kipling had been brilliantly accurate in his description of the British in the East, or whether by now the British in the East modelled themselves on Kipling’s characters. [3]

    Orwell too must have felt a sense of déjà vu in the “Kipling-haunted clubs” of British Burma. Kipling is a ghostly background figure in “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant”, and above all in Burmese Days. The racist mediocrities who hang out in the club at Kyauktada are Kipling characters, stripped of the glamour and charm with which Kipling invested them. But Veraswami, the comically pro-British Indian doctor, is a variation on a theme by Kipling too, and so is the wily and corrupt U Po Kyin. As for the central character Flory, his local mistress, his white fiancée, his enjoyment of the jungle, his sporting activities, his close friendship with an Indian, his moment of heroism during a riot, his disgrace, and his eventual suicide, all have identifiable precedents in Kipling. One thing you do not find in Kipling, though, is the central theme of Burmese Days, an Englishman in the East who has lost his faith in empire.

    A knowledge of Kipling helps us to understand Orwell, for no writer was more important to him, as an influence, example, and antagonist. In some sense Orwell’s whole life was a conversation, or quarrel, with Kipling. He seemed to acknowledge this when he wrote, when Kipling died, “I worshipped [him] at thirteen, loathed him at seventeen, enjoyed him at twenty, despised him at twenty-five and now again rather admire him” (X, 409).

    But a knowledge of Orwell also helps us to understand Kipling, in a number of ways. In his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, T. S. Eliot talks about how, when a new literary work appears on the scene, every existing work is modified by it and the whole scene subtly rearranged. Thus, we can’t really read Kipling’s stories of the Raj in the same way once we have read Burmese Days. Though Kipling’s words are unchanged, the Orwell novel has changed how we read them.

    Kipling, who died in 1936, did not know that the empire he loved would disappear within a lifetime. So in a sense we know more about the British Empire than Kipling did, because we know what was to happen to it. The one thing Kipling seems not to have been able to imagine was an alternative to empire. But if we know Orwell, we know the work of someone who devoted his whole writing lifetime to answering the question of what such an alternative might look like, and how – and how difficult it would be – to achieve it.


    [1] These references are to The Complete Works of George Orwell (1998) by volume and page.
    [2] Most of the references to Kipling’s work in Orwell’s essay are to the poems. This is partly because the essay was prompted by Orwell’s reading of T. S. Eliot’s A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1941). But it is also a reminder that, though nowadays Kipling is admired and discussed chiefly as a writer of prose fiction, many readers of an earlier generation thought of him first and foremost as a poet.
    [3] Leonard Woolf, Growing: An Autobiography of the Years 1904-1911 (London: Hogarth Press, 1961) 46.

    Douglas Kerr is Professor in the School of English at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Wilfred Owen’s Voices (Clarendon Press), George Orwell (Writers and their Work series), and co-editor, with Julia Kuehn, of A Century of Travels in China: Critical Essays on Travel Writing from the 1840s to the 1940s (Hong Kong University Press). He is also a founding co-editor of Critical Zone: A Forum of Chinese and Western Knowledge.

    First published by Finlay Publisher

    The Sporting Spirit

    This material remains under copyright in some jurisdictions, including the United States, and is reproduced here with the kind assistance of the Orwell Estate

    Now that the brief visit of the Dynamo football team has come to an end, it is possible to say publicly what many thinking people were saying privately before the Dynamos ever arrived. That is, that sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will, and that if such a visit as this had any effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them slightly worse than before.

    Even the newspapers have been unable to conceal the fact that at least two of the four matches played led to much bad feeling. At the Arsenal match, I am told by someone who was there, a British and a Russian player came to blows and the crowd booed the referee. The Glasgow match, someone else informs me, was simply a free-for-all from the start. And then there was the controversy, typical of our nationalistic age, about the composition of the Arsenal team. Was it really an all-England team, as claimed by the Russians, or merely a league team, as claimed by the British? And did the Dynamos end their tour abruptly in order to avoid playing an all-England team? As usual, everyone answers these questions according to his political predilections. Not quite everyone, however. I noted with interest, as an instance of the vicious passions that football provokes, that the sporting correspondent of the russophile News Chronicle took the anti-Russian line and maintained that Arsenal was not an all-England team. No doubt the controversy will continue to echo for years in the footnotes of history books. Meanwhile the result of the Dynamos’ tour, in so far as it has had any result, will have been to create fresh animosity on both sides.

    And how could it be otherwise? I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

    Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe – at any rate for short periods – that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

    Even a leisurely game like cricket, demanding grace rather than strength, can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited England in 1921. Football, a game in which everyone gets hurt and every nation has its own style of play which seems unfair to foreigners, is far worse. Worst of all is boxing. One of the most horrible sights in the world is a fight between white and coloured boxers before a mixed audience. But a boxing audience is always disgusting, and the behaviour of the women, in particular, is such that the army, I believe, does not allow them to attend its contests. At any rate, two or three years ago, when Home Guards and regular troops were holding a boxing tournament, I was placed on guard at the door of the hall, with orders to keep the women out.

    In England, the obsession with sport is bad enough, but even fiercer passions are aroused in young countries where games playing and nationalism are both recent developments. In countries like India or Burma, it is necessary at football matches to have strong cordons of police to keep the crowd from invading the field. In Burma, I have seen the supporters of one side break through the police and disable the goalkeeper of the opposing side at a critical moment. The first big football match that was played in Spain about fifteen years ago led to an uncontrollable riot. As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don’t intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and ‘rattling’ opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

    Instead of blah-blahing about the clean, healthy rivalry of the football field and the great part played by the Olympic Games in bringing the nations together, it is more useful to inquire how and why this modern cult of sport arose. Most of the games we now play are of ancient origin, but sport does not seem to have been taken very seriously between Roman times and the nineteenth century. Even in the English public schools the games cult did not start till the later part of the last century. Dr Arnold, generally regarded as the founder of the modern public school, looked on games as simply a waste of time. Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism – that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige. Also, organised games are more likely to flourish in urban communities where the average human being lives a sedentary or at least a confined life, and does not get much opportunity for creative labour. In a rustic community a boy or young man works off a good deal of his surplus energy by walking, swimming, snowballing, climbing trees, riding horses, and by various sports involving cruelty to animals, such as fishing, cock-fighting and ferreting for rats. In a big town one must indulge in group activities if one wants an outlet for one’s physical strength or for one’s sadistic impulses. Games are taken seriously in London and New York, and they were taken seriously in Rome and Byzantium: in the Middle Ages they were played, and probably played with much physical brutality, but they were not mixed up with politics nor a cause of group hatreds.

    If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. I do not, of course, suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides that whichever nation is defeated will ‘lose face’.

    I hope, therefore, that we shan’t follow up the visit of the Dynamos by sending a British team to the USSR. If we must do so, then let us send a second-rate team which is sure to be beaten and cannot be claimed to represent Britain as a whole. There are quite enough real causes of trouble already, and we need not add to them by encouraging young men to kick each other on the shins amid the roars of infuriated spectators.

    Tribune, 14 December 1945