April 3, 2014
What George Orwell thinks we peasants should be reading

I’ve been rereading some of Orwell’s essays. When I was young I went from near-worship of Orwell to starting to see his flaws. When I read him nowadays, it seems as though all I see are the flaws… and yet I love him as much as I ever did.

I was struck by his classism in the essay "Raffles and Miss Blandish."

Arguing that hard-boiled, morally-ambivalent fiction is fascistic, Orwell claims: 

People worship power in the form in which they are able to understand it. A twelve-year-old boy worships Jack Dempsey. 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.

As someone who comes from a Glasgow slum, I laugh sadly when I read this. Here is what Orwell doesn’t understand: In the same way that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, powerlessness also corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.

Orwell concludes the essay by praising, in so many words, snobbishness and hypocrisy. He shows his own snobbishness in his view that, while it’s good and proper for “serious” fiction to be morally ambivalent, “popular” fiction should be morally black and white, presumably so that we barbarians from Glasgow slums won’t become fascists.

March 5, 2013
Sympathy for Stalin, 60 Years After His Death


Today is the the 60th anniversary of the death of Joseph Stalin. There can be no doubt about the monstrosity of some of his actions, and no doubt that his cult of personality was antithetical to the socialism he espoused, but to simply label him a monster or a megalomaniac is useless.

To anyone wanting to understand what happened, and what went wrong - how he went from  poet and gangster to leader of the Soviet empire to paranoid narcissist - I recommend Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biographies Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. As I learned about the man, I found him a sympathetic figure.

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