In December 1936 Goerge Orwell set out for Spain to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Exhausted but excited after his long journey, described as “lean and gangling” by those who met him, he was clad in a corduroy jacket and going by his birth name, Eric Blair.
The 6’2″ 33-year-old Orwell looked about for a militia to join. Having planned to enlist in the International Brigades made up of Americans, English, and other foreigners, he ended up joining the POUM militia in Aragon, putting down his occupation not as a writer, but a “grocer.” He was an unknown at the time but as one author remarks (Adam Hochschild, Spain in Our Hearts, 2016),
“The book he would write about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, would eventually become the most widely read memoir of this conflict in any language.”
It was in that book that Orwell left us these powerful words, as relevant today as ever: “There are occasions when it pays better to fight and be beaten than not to fight at all.”
There can be no doubting Orwell’s bona fides: unlike Donald Trump, who fled from service to a cause, Orwell came about his honestly, earned in brutal combat against fascism in Spain where he was shot in the throat and nearly killed.
In “Why I Write” (1946), he expressed his feelings on the subject of totalitarianism:
“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.”
Now that Donald Trump has shown his fascist leanings for all to see, and Kellyanne Conway has taken the very Orwellian step of speaking of ‘alternative facts,’ 67 years after his death Orwell has become popular again.
As CNN reports,
On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning the book was #1 on Amazon’s computer-generated list of best-selling books https://t.co/NK2zpp24nr
— CNNMoney (@CNNMoney) January 25, 2017
This means as CNN goes on to say, “The publisher of George Orwell’s “1984” is printing more copies after the book hit Amazon’s bestseller list.”
Orwell speaks to a new generation because the face of totalitarianism never changes. Orwell’s line, “Science, in the old sense, had almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for science,” is as valid today as when he wrote it.
As Margaret Sullivan wrote at The Washington Post on Sunday, “when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told ‘Meet the Press’ Sunday that Spicer had been providing ‘alternative facts’ to what the media had reported,” it was made clear “we’ve gone full Orwell.”
If Orwell had many prescient observations about the nature of fascism, he also had a warning for those of us who oppose it, something liberals and progressives must take to heart (Letter to Richard Rees, 3 March 1949):
“I always disagree, however, when people end up saying that we can only combat Communism, Fascism or what not if we develop an equal fanaticism. It appears to me that one defeats the fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary by using one’s intelligence.”