[Marxism] Hitchens and Orwell

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Oct 27 10:23:22 MDT 2005

Hitchens has written a book, Why Orwell Matters, coyly laying out his claim 
to be Orwell's heir-this generation's brave lone Brit facing a world of 
ideologues. The real subject, of course, isn't Orwell but Hitchens himself.

Most decent American liberals, who continue to revere Orwell but hate 
Hitchens, reject Hitchens' link to Orwell. I wish they were right. But you 
see, I've been looking over Orwell's letters, essays and novels, and I'm 
afraid Hitchens' claim can't be so easily dismissed. In fact, only a very 
indulgent reading of Orwell's work can sustain his reputation as a 
socialist, an anti-imperialist, or even an independent thinker. Under close 
examination, all the components of Orwell's reputation dissolve, and the 
brave maverick looks dismally like a stunted, sneaking reactionary.

I'll start with a classic Orwell essay, "Shooting an Elephant." It's a 
vivid, simple story about how the young Orwell was forced by the pressure 
of an expectant Burmese crowd to shoot a harmless elephant. Orwell's 
surface thesis, laid out in the concluding paragraphs, is that Imperialism 
turns the Imperialist into a puppet in the hands of the natives. Here's the 
first paragraph:

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people-the 
only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen 
to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, 
petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the 
guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars 
alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police 
officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to 
do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the 
referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with 
hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering 
yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after 
me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young 
Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of 
them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except 
stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

After reading the mild civic homilies of the Norton, this raw hate 
entranced me. Orwell talked like Ted Hughes' hawk would after a few 
brandies: no mercy on the underdog Burmese, no "understanding" about their 
motives. And the suave way he shrugs off his notoriety with a joke-"the 
only time in my life I have been important enough for this to happen to 
me"-no young literary man could resist this persona; this is who you want 
to be.

full: http://www.exile.ru/2005-October-21/big_brothers.html

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