Down the memory hole for Orwell Week

24 January 2013

Amid much Twitter self-congratulation, the New Statesman has declared this ‘Orwell week‘. Oddly, however, it has yet to mention some of the most notable aspects of its relationship with the great man.

In his long, long introductory piece Philip Maughan allows that Orwell went through a certain amount of ‘disagreement’ with the magazine’s editor, Kingsley Martin. He even admits that, in aspects of this disagreement, Orwell might have been right:

‘Nobody can forgive the decision by editor Kingsley Martin not to publish reports sent from Barcelona, fearing they were “liable to be taken as propaganda against socialism.”’


But he has no room to mention the other famous Orwell piece that Martin rejected — a book review of an eyewitness account of the Spanish civil war — nor to quote the admirably clear letter in which he explained the rejection:

‘The reason is simply that it too far controverts the political policy of the paper. It is very uncompromisingly said and implies that our Spanish correspondents are all wrong.’

Nor is there room to reproduce one of Orwell’s wider-ranging reflections on the attitude of the NS and its readers towards Soviet Communism. This relatively mild one, for example, from the essay ‘Raffles and Miss Blandish':

‘An adolescent in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone. An aspiring pupil at a business college worships Lord Nuffield. A New Statesman reader worships Stalin. There is a difference in intellectual maturity, but none in moral outlook.’

And perhaps most sadly of all, there is no room to mention the libel threats that Kingsley Martin screamed down the telephone after recognising himself in the following lines from Orwell’s Tribune column:

‘First of all, a message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: “Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly turn to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.”‘

Still, who controls the past controls the future; and who controls the present controls the past. So that’s all right.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice view.

  • Jorge Orwell


  • sir_graphus

    Orwell seems to be most often quoted by right-wingers these days. The Left seem to want his name, but can no longer use his words to back their views.

  • therealguyfaux

    Kingsley (*fingers in ears la-la-la*) Martin in effect telling Orwell, “Who are you going to believe, me, or your lying eyes?”
    But now, in 2013, the New Statesman is at peace with Orwell. The New Statesman has always been at peace with Orwell.
    Stuff unhappens.
    What was it Orwell said about “smelly little orthodoxies”? “(*Sniff sniff*) Are you a good little anti-Fascist?”

    • sir_graphus

      Reminds me of the Catholic Church and St Francis of Assissi. St F was a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church for his whole life, telling them to stop building fabulous monuments and start looking after the poor properly. So when he died they built him a huge church, had Giotto paint the walls, and suddenly they own the humble St F again, and he can’t answer back.

      • EppingBlogger

        And today the monument the left is building with money from the poor and middle classes is called the European Union. They were never much interested in democracy (all those ill educated people who don’t think as well as us journalists and quango-crats) and mostly interested in telling others what to do. With the EU they have even managed to outsource that to European bureaucrats so the left in Britain can continue to laze away the days on their BBC, state and quango salaries and severance payments righgt up to the time their tax payer pension kicks in.

  • realfish

    Nor any room for this? which could have been written yesterday.

    The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most “anti-Fascist” during the Spanish civil war are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia – their severance from the common culture of the country.

    In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during “God save the King” than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they were ‘decadent’ and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. Both the New Statesman and the News-Chronicle cried out against the Munich settlement, but even they had done something to make it possible. Ten years of systematic Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed forces. Given the stagnation of the Empire, the military middle class must have decayed in any case, but the spread of a shallow Leftism hastened the process

    • Dogsnob

      Superb, realfish and yes, very apt in our own time. Could you please let us know from which piece this is taken?

      • realfish

        Apt? I thought so, although I think I might, today, use the word ‘sneering’ instead of ‘carping’ and suggest that his study of ‘half a dozen…papers’ might be usefully be extended to include today’s BBC.

        It is from Part One (chapter 5) of his essay, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’.

        • Dogsnob

          Many thanks, will dig it out. The essays were his finest I think.

  • Nigel Jones

    Once Orwell in a restaurant asked to swap places with his companion, Malcolm Muggeridge, because Kingsley Martin was sitting at a nearby table and Orwell said that looking at Martin’s ‘corrupt face’ would put him off his food.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here