Wednesday, January 14, 2004

In Offence of Orwell

Very quickly, then.
Mick Hartly writes on Chomsky, specifically: "For Chomsky, one of whose favourite terms is "Orwellian", we already live in the world of Big Brother. But to spell this out is immediately to see how fatuous it is, and what an insult it is to everything that Orwell stood for. To pretend that we in the West are living in an Orwellian state is simply grotesque while Kim Jong Il still rules in North Korea."

Quick points on this:
1) 1984 was famously 1948 transposed, a time of continued rationing in peacetime, a time shortly after Orwell's experiences (down the road from here) at the Ministry of Information at Senate House, after Orwell had nearly had his book Animal Farm spiked by friends of Stalinist tyranny in high places.
2) IIRC, and I may be wrong here, Orwell was influenced by Trotskyite apostate Burnham and his Managerial Revolution, with the idea that technocratic élites on both sides of the Cold War were converging in practise.
3) Orwell wrote compellingly on propaganda in Homage to Catalonia on the way in which the British press distorted the Spanish Revolution.

Orwell's strength and power comes from his critique of the totalitarianism iminent in liberal society, otherwise 1984 and Animal Farm are pretty much irrelevent - Koestler's Darkness at Noon offers a better insight into the Stalinist state.

I'd add, though, that Orwell would probably have derided Chomsky for his attacks on his own country. Orwell was, after all, a Nationalist Tosser - 'One family with the wrong members in charge' my Fat Hairy Arse.

As for the Cold War - Chomsky never denied that Cold War ideology existed, after all, his critique of Vietnam was based on the Domino Theory being the motivation for US strategists. We can, however, evince some idea of the non-existence of the Cold War from two discernable facts.
1) US planner knew the USSR to be militarilly inferior wholst at the same time bleating about missile gaps, weapon gaps, etc.
2) That US foriegn policy and intervention did not change significantly from ante-Cold War to During to Post.

The problem is that Chomsky is critiquing the world cultural hegemon, and many people read it as a specific attack on the US without bothering to see the broader critique that it is nation states that are like mafia families, that many other countries behave, or would behave given the chance, in the same way. It's also worth noting that Chomsky regularly lauds the freedoms America affords, and points to them as bringing responsibilities to prevent the government organised sluaghter that is the policy of the American ruling class.

I'm no lackey of Chomsky, I think his politics, whilst he may occaisionally mention past desires to abolish the wages system, is fundamentally an extreme liberalism and heavilly reformist - influence IMNSHO by the American pragmatic philosophical tradition. What I will say, though, is that his propaganda model has withstood the test, though it needs tweaking for the UK.

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