by George Orwell
September 8 / September 15 / October 6 / October 13 / October 20 / October 27
IT IS not my primary job to discuss the details of contemporary politics, but this week there is something that cries out to be said. Since, it seems, nobody else will do so, I want to protest against the mean and cowardly attitude adopted by the British press towards the recent rising in Warsaw.
As soon as the news of the rising broke, the News Chronicle and kindred papers adopted a markedly disapproving attitude. One was left with the general impression that the Poles deserved to have their bottoms smacked for doing what all the Allied wirelesses had been urging them to do for years past, and that they would not be given and did not deserve to be given any help from outside. A few papers tentatively suggested that arms and supplies might be dropped by the Anglo-Americans, a thousand miles away: no one, so far as I know, suggested that this might be done by the Russians, perhaps twenty miles away. The New Statesman, in its issue of 18 August, even went so far as to doubt whether appreciable help could be given from the air in such circumstances. All or nearly all the papers of the Left were full of blame for the émigré London Government which had prematurely ordered its followers to rise when the Red army was at the gates. This line of thought is adequately set forth in a letter to last weeks Tribune from Mr G. Barraclough. He makes the following specific charges:
- The Warsaw rising was not a spontaneous popular rising, but was begun on orders from the soi-disant Polish Government in London.
- The order to rise was given without consultation with either the British or Soviet Governments, and no attempt was made to co-ordinate the rising with Allied action.
- The Polish resistance movement is no more united round the London Government than the Greek resistance movement is united round King George of the Hellenes. (This is further emphasized by frequent use of the words émigré, soi-disant, etc., applied to the London Government.)
- The London Government precipitated the rising in order to be in possession of Warsaw when the Russians arrived, because in that case the bargaining position of the émigré Government would be improved. The London Government, we are told, is ready to betray the Polish peoples cause to bolster up its own tenure of precarious office, with much more to the same effect.
No shadow of proof is offered for any of these charges, though 1 and 2 are of a kind that could be verified and may well be true. My own guess is that 2 is true and 1 partly true. The third charge makes nonsense of the first two. If the London Government is not accepted by the mass of the people in Warsaw, why should they raise a desperate insurrection on its orders? By blaming Sosnkowski and the rest for the rising, you are automatically assuming that it is to them that the Polish people looks for guidance. This obvious contradiction has been repeated in paper after paper, without, so far as I know, a single person having the honesty to point it out. As for the use of such expressions as émigré, it is simply a rhetorical trick. If the London Poles are émigrés, so are the Polish National Committee of Liberation, besides the free Governments of all the occupied countries. Why does one become an émigré by emigrating to London and not by emigrating to Moscow?
Charge No. 4 is morally on a par with the Osservatore Romanos suggestion that the Russians held up their attack on Warsaw in order to get as many Polish resisters as possible killed off. It is the unproved and unprovable assertion of a mere propagandist who has no wish to establish the truth, but is simply out to do as much dirt on his opponent as possible. And all that I have read about this matter in the pressexcept for some very obscure papers and some remarks in Tribune, the Economist and the Evening Standardis on the same level as Mr Barracloughs letter.
Now, I know nothing of Polish affairs, and even if I had the power to do so I would not intervene in the struggle between the London Polish Government and the Moscow National Committee of Liberation. What I am concerned with is the attitude of the British intelligentsia, who cannot raise between them one single voice to question what they believe to be Russian policy, no matter what turn it takes, and in this case have had the unheard-of meanness to hint that our bombers ought not to be sent to the aid of our comrades fighting in Warsaw. The enormous majority of left-wingers who swallow the policy put out by the News Chronicle, etc., know no more about Poland than I do. All they know is that the Russians object to the London Government and have set up a rival organization, and so far as they are concerned that settles the matter. If tomorrow Stalin were to drop the Committee of Liberation and recognize the London Government, the whole British intelligentsia would flock after him like a troop of parrots. Their attitude towards Russian foreign policy is not Is this policy right or wrong? but This is Russian policy: how can we make it appear right? And this attitude is defended, if at all, solely on grounds of power.
The Russians are powerful in eastern Europe, we are not: therefore we must not oppose them. This involves the principle, of its nature alien to Socialism, that you must not protest against an evil which you cannot prevent.
I cannot discuss here why it is that the British intelligentsia, with few exceptions, have developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the U.S.S.R. and are dishonestly uncritical of its policies. In any case, I have discussed it elsewhere. But I would like to close with two considerations which are worth thinking over.
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. Dont imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet régime, or any other régime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.
Secondly, a wider consideration. Nothing is more important in the world today than Anglo-Russian friendship and co-operation, and that will not be attained without plain speaking. The best way to come to an agreement with a foreign nation is not to refrain from criticizing its policies, even to the extent of leaving your own people in the dark about them. At present, so slavish is the attitude of nearly the whole British press that ordinary people have very little idea of what is happening, and may well be committed to policies which they will repudiate in five years time. In a shadowy sort of way we have been told that the Russian peace terms are a super-Versailles, with partition of Germany, astronomical reparations, and forced labour on a huge scale. These proposals go practically uncriticized, while in much of the left-wing press hack writers are even hired to extol them. The result is that the average man has no notion of the enormity of what is proposed. I dont know whether, when the time comes, the Russians will really want to put such terms into operation. My guess is that they wont. But what I do know is that if any such thing were done, the British and probably the American public would never support it when the passion of war had died down. Any flagrantly unjust peace settlement will simply have the result, as it did last time, of making the British people unreasonably sympathetic with the victims. Anglo-Russian friendship depends upon there being a policy which both countries can agree upon, and this is impossible without free discussion and genuine criticism now. There can be no real alliance on the basis of Stalin is always right. The first step towards a real alliance is the dropping of illusions.
Finally, a word to the people who will write me letters about this. May I once again draw attention to the title of this column and remind everyone that the Editors of Tribune are not necessarily in agreement with all that l say, but are putting into practice their belief in freedom of speech?
FOR a book of 32 pages, Sir Osbert Sitwells A Letter to My Son contains a quite astonishing quantity of invective. I imagine that it is the invective, or rather the eminence of the people it is directed against, that has led Sir Osbert to change his publisher. But in among passages that are sometimes unfair and occasionally frivolous, he manages to say some penetrating things about the position of the artist in a modern centralized society. Here, for instance, are some excerpts:
|The true artist has always had to fight, but it is, and will be, a more ferocious struggle for you, and the artists of your generation, than ever before. The working man, this time, will be better looked after, he will be flattered by the press and bribed with Beveridge schemes, because he possesses a plurality of votes. But who will care for you and your fate, who will trouble to defend the cause of the young writer, painter, sculptor, musician? And what inspiration will you be offered when theatre, ballet, concert-hall lie in ruins, and, owing to the break in training, there are no great executant artists for several decades? Above all, do not underestimate the amount and intensity of genuine ill-will that people will feel for you; not the working man, for though not highly educated he has a mild respect for the arts and no preconceived notions, not the few remaining patricians, but the vast army between, the fat middle classes and the little men. And here I must make special mention of the civil servant as enemy . . . . At the best, you will be ground down between the small but powerful authoritarian minority of art directors, museum racketeers, the chic, giggling modistes who write on art and literature, publishers, journalists and dons (who will, to do them justice, try to help you, if you will write as they tell you)and the enormous remainder who would not mind, who would indeed be pleased, if they saw you starve. For we English are unique in that, albeit an art-producing nation, we are not an art-loving one. In the past the arts depended on a small number of very rich patrons. The enclave they formed has never been re-established. The very name art-lover stinks . . . . The privileges you hold today, then, as an artist, are those of Ishmael, the hand of every man is against you. Remember, therefore, that outcasts must never be afraid.|
These are not my views. They are the views of an intelligent Conservative who underrates the virtues of democracy and attributes to feudalism certain advantages which really belong to capitalism. It is a mistake, for instance, to yearn after an aristocratic patron. The patron could be just as hard a master as the B.B.C., and he did not pay your salary so regularly. François Villon had, I suppose, as rough a time as any poet in our own day, and the literary man starving in a garret was one of the characteristic figures of the eighteenth century. At best, in an age of patronage you had to waste time and talent on revolting flatteries, as Shakespeare did. Indeed, if one thinks of the artist as an Ishmael, an autonomous individual who owes nothing to society, then the golden age of the artist was the age of capitalism. He had then escaped from the patron and not yet been captured by the bureaucrat. He couldat any rate a writer, a musician, an actor, and perhaps even a painter couldmake his living off the big public, who were uncertain of what they wanted and would to a great extent take what they were given. Indeed, for about a hundred years it was possible to make your livelihood by openly insulting the public, as the careers of, say Flaubert, Tolstoy, D. H. Lawrence, and even Dickens, show.
But all the same there is much in what Sir Osbert Sitwell says. Laissez-faire capitalism is passing away, and the independent status of the artist must necessarily disappear with it. He must become either a spare-time amateur or an official. When you see what has happened to the arts in the totalitarian countries, and when you see the same thing happening here in a more veiled way through the M.O.I., the B.B.C. and the film companiesorganizations which not only buy up promising young writers and geld them and set them to work like cab-horses, but manage to rob literary creation of its individual character and turn it into a sort of conveyor-belt processthe prospects are not encouraging. Yet it remains true that capitalism, which in many ways was kind to the artist and the intellectual generally, is doomed and is not worth saving anyway. So you arrive at these two antithetical facts: (1) Society cannot be arranged for the benefit of artists; (2) without artists civilization perishes. I have never yet seen this dilemma solved (there must be a solution), and it is not often that it is honestly discussed.
. . . . .
I HAVE before me an exceptionally disgusting photograph, from the Star of 29 August, of two partially undressed women, with shaven heads and with swastikas painted on their faces, being led through the streets of Paris amid grinning onlookers. The Starnot that I am picking on the Star, for most of the press has behaved likewisereproduces this photograph with seeming approval.
I dont blame the French for doing this kind of thing. They have had four years of suffering, and I can partially imagine how they feel towards the collaborators. But it is a different matter when newspapers in this country try to persuade their readers that shaving womens heads is a nice thing to do. As soon as I saw this Star photograph. I thought, Where have I seen something like this before? Then I remembered. Just about ten years ago, when the Nazi régime was beginning to get into its stride, very similar pictures of humiliated Jews being led through the streets of German cities were exhibited in the British pressbut with this difference, that on that occasion we were not expected to approve.
Recently another newspaper published photographs of the dangling corpses of Germans hanged by the Russians in Kharkov, and carefully informed its readers that these executions had been filmed and that the public would shortly be able to witness them at the news theatres. (Were children admitted, I wonder?)
There is a saying of Nietzsche which I have quoted before (not in this column, I think), but which is worth quoting again: He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself: and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee.
Too long, in this context, should perhaps be taken as meaning after the dragon is beaten.
ABOUT the end of 1936, as I was passing through Paris on the way to Spain, I had to visit somebody at an address I did not know, and I thought that the quickest way of getting there would probably be to take a taxi. The taxi-driver did not know the address either. However, we drove up the street and asked the nearest policeman, whereupon it turned out that the address I was looking for was only about a hundred yards away. So I had taken the taxi-driver off the rank for a fare which in English money was about threepence.
The taxi-driver was furiously angry. He began accusing me, in a roaring voice and with the maximum of offensiveness, of having done it on purpose. I protested that I had not known where the place was, and that I obviously would not have taken a taxi if I had known. You knew very well! he yelled back at me. He was an old, grey, thick-set man, with ragged grey moustaches and a face of quite unusual malignity. In the end I lost my temper, and, my command of French coming back to me in my rage, I shouted at him, You think youre too old for me to smash your face in. Dont be too sure! He backed up against the taxi, snarling and full of fight, in spite of his sixty years.
Then the moment came to pay. I had taken out a ten-franc note. Ive no change, he yelled as soon as he saw the money. Go and change it for yourself!
Where can I get change.
How should I know? Thats your business.
So I had to cross the street, find a tobacconists shop and get change. When I came back I gave the taxi-driver the exact fare, telling him that after his behaviour I saw no reason for giving him anything extra; and after exchanging a few more insults we parted.
This sordid squabble left me at the moment violently angry, and a little later saddened and disgusted. Why do people have to behave like that? I thought. But that night I left for Spain. The train, a slow one, was packed with Czechs, Germans, Frenchmen, all bound on the same mission. Up and down the train you could hear one phrase repeated over and over again, in the accents of all the languages of Europelà-bas (down there). My third-class carriage was full of very young. fair-haired, underfed Germans in suits of incredible shoddinessthe first ersatz cloth I had seenwho rushed out at every stopping-place to buy bottles of cheap wine and later fell asleep in a sort of pyramid on the floor of the carriage. About half-way down France the ordinary passengers dropped off. There might still be a few nondescript journalists like myself, but the train was practically a troop train, and the countryside knew it. In the morning, as we crawled across southern France, every peasant working in the fields turned round, stood solemnly upright and gave the anti-Fascist salute. They were like a guard of honour, greeting the train mile after mile.
As I watched this, the behaviour of the old taxi-driver gradually fell into perspective. I saw now what had made him so unnecessarily offensive. This was 1936, the year of the great strikes, and the Blum Government was still in office. The wave of revolutionary feeling which had swept across France had affected people like taxi-drivers as well as factory workers. With my English accent I had appeared to him as a symbol of the idle, patronizing foreign tourists who had done their best to turn France into something midway between a museum and a brothel. In his eyes an English tourist meant a bourgeois. He was getting a bit of his own back on the parasites who were normally his employers. And it struck me that the motives of the polyglot army that filled the train, and of the peasants with raised fists out there in the fields, and my own motive in going to Spain, and the motive of the old taxi-driver in insulting me, were at bottom all the same.
. . . . .
THE official statement on the doodlebug, even taken together with Churchills earlier statement, is not very revealing, because no clear figures have been given of the number of people affected. All we are told is that on average something under thirty bombs have hit London daily. My own estimate, based simply on such incidents as I have witnessed, is that on average every doodlebug hitting London makes thirty houses uninhabitable, and that anything up to five thousand people have been rendered homeless daily. At that rate between a quarter and half a million people will have been blitzed out of their homes in the last three months.
It is said that good billiard-players chalk their cues before making a stroke, and bad players afterwards. In the same way, we should have got on splendidly in this war if we had prepared for each type of blitz before and not after it happened. Shortly before the outbreak of war an official, returning from some conference with other officials in London, told me that the authorities were prepared for air-raid casualties of the order of 200,000 in the first week. Enormous supplies of collapsible cardboard coffins had been laid in, and mass graves were being dug. There were also special preparations for a great increase in mental disorders. As it turned out the casualties were comparatively few, while mental disorders, I believe, actually declined. On the other hand, the authorities had failed to foresee that blitzed people would be homeless and would need food, clothes, shelter, and money. They had also, while foreseeing the incendiary bomb, failed to realize that you would need an alternative water supply if the mains were burst by bombs.
By 1942 we were all set for the blitz of 1940. Shelter facilities had been increased, and London was dotted with water tanks which would have saved its historic buildings if only they had been in existence when the fires were happening. And then along came the doodlebug, which, instead of blowing three or four houses out of existence, makes a large number uninhabitable, while leaving their interiors more or less intact. Hence another unforeseen headachestorage of furniture. The furniture from a doodlebugged house is nearly always salvaged, but finding places to put it in, and labour to move it, has been almost too much for the local authorities. In general it has to be dumped in derelict and unguarded houses, where such of it as is not looted is ruined by damp.
The most significant figures in Duncan Sandyss speech were those dealing with the Allied counter-measures. He stated, for instance, that whereas the Germans shot off 8,000 doodlebugs, or something under 8,000 tons of high explosive, we dropped 100,000 tons of bombs on the bases, besides losing 450 aeroplanes and shooting off hundreds of thousands or millions of A.A. shells. One can only make rough calculations at this date, but it looks as though the doodlebug may have a big future before it in forthcoming wars. Before writing it off as a flop, it is worth remembering that artillery scored only a partial success at the battle of Crécy.
BY PERMISSION of a correspondent, I quote passages from a letter of instruction which she recently received from a well-known school of journalism. I should explain that when she undertook her course the instructor asked her to supply the necessary minimum of information about her background and experience, and then told her to write a couple of specimen essays on some subject interesting to her. Being a miners wife, she chose to write about coal-mining. Here is the reply she got from someone calling himself the Assistant Director of Studies. I shall have to quote from it at some length:
I have read your two exercises with care and interest. You should have a good deal to write about: but do be careful of getting a bee in your bonnet. Miners are not the only men who have a hard time. How about young naval officers, earning less than a skilled minerwho must spend three or four years from home and family, in ice or the tropics? How about the many retired folks on a tiny pension or allowance, whose previous £2 or £3 have been reduced by half by the income tax. We all make sacrifices in this warand the so-called upper classes are being hard hit indeed.
Instead of writing propaganda for Socialist newspapers you will do better to describefor the housewiveswhat life is like in a mining village. Do not go out of your way to be hostile to owners and managerswho are ordinary fellow creaturesbut, if you must air a grievance, do so tolerantly, and fit it in with your plot or theme.
Many of your readers will be people who are not in the least inclined to regard employers as slave drivers and capitalist villains of society . . . . Write simply and naturally, without any attempt at long words or sentences. Remember that your task is to entertain. No reader will bother after a hard days work to read a list of somebody elses woes. Keep a strict eye on your inclination to write about the wrongs of mining. There are millions of people who will not forget that miners did strike while our sons and husbands were fighting the Germans. Where would the miners be if the troops had refused to fight? I mention this to help you keep a sense of perspective. I advise you against writing very controversial things. They are hard to sell. A plain account of mining life will stand a far better chance . . . . The average reader is willing to read facts about other ways of lifebut unless he is a fool or knave, he will not listen to one-sided propaganda. So forget your grievances, and tell us something of how you manage in a typical mining village. One of the womens magazines will, Im sure, consider a housewifes article on that subject.
My correspondent, who, it seems, had agreed in advance to pay £11 for this course, sent the letter on to me with the query: Did I think that her instructor was trying to influence her to give her writings an acceptable political slant? Was an attempt being made to talk her out of writing like a Socialist?
I do think so, of course, but the implications of this letter are worse than that. This is not a subtle capitalist plot to dope the workers. The writer of that slovenly letter is not a sinister plotter, but simply an ass (a female ass, I should say by the style) upon whom years of bombing and privation have made no impression. What it demonstrates is the unconquerable, weed-like vitality of pre-war habits of mind. The writer assumes, it will be seen, that the only purpose of journalism is to tickle money out of the pockets of tired businessmen, and that the best way of doing this is to avoid telling unpleasant truths about present-day society. The reading public, so he (or she) reasons, dont like being made to think: therefore dont make them think. You are after the big dough, and no other consideration enters.
Anyone who has had anything to do with courses in free-lance journalism, or has ever come as near to them as studying the now-defunct Writer and the Writers and Artists Yearbook, will recognize the tone of that letter. Remember that your task is to entertain, No reader will bother after a hard days work to read a list of somebody elses woes, and I advise you against writing very controversial things. They are hard to sell. I pass over the fact that even from a commercial point of view such advice is misleading. What is significant is the assumption that nothing ever changes, that the public always will be and always must be the same mob of nit-wits wanting only to be doped, and that no sane person would sit down behind a typewriter with any other object than to produce saleable drivel.
When I started writing, about fifteen years ago, various peoplewho, however, didnt succeed in getting £11 out of me in returngave me advice almost identical with what I have quoted above. Then too, it seemed, the public did not want to hear about unpleasant things like unemployment, and articles on controversial subjects were hard to sell. The dreary sub-world of the free-lance journalist, the world of furnished bed-sitting rooms, hired typewriters and self-addressed envelopes, was entirely dominated by the theory that your task is to entertain. But at that time there was some excuse. To begin with there was widespread unemployment, and every newspaper and magazine was besieged by hordes of amateurs struggling frantically to earn odd guineas; and in addition the press was incomparably sillier than it is now and there was some truth in the claim that editors would not print gloomy contributions. If you looked on writing as simply and solely a way of making money, then cheer-up stuff was probably the best line. What is depressing is to see that for theschool of journalismthe world has stood still. The bombs have achieved nothing. And, indeed, when I read that letter I had the same feeling that the pre-war world is back upon us as I had a little while ago when, through the window of some chambers in the Temple, I watched somebodywith great care and evident pleasure in the processpolishing a top-hat.
. . . . .
IT is superfluous to say that long railway journeys are not pleasant in these days, and for a good deal of the discomfort that people have to suffer, the railway companies are not to blame. It is not their fault that there is an enormous to-and-fro of civilian traffic at a time when the armed forces are monopolizing most of the rolling stock, nor that an English railway carriage is built with the seeming object of wasting as much space as possible. But journeys which often entail standing for six or eight hours in a crowded corridor could be made less intolerable by a few reforms.
To begin with, the First Class nonsense should be scrapped once and for all. Secondly, any woman carrying a baby should have a priority right to a seat. Thirdly, waiting rooms should be left open at night. Fourthly, if time-tables cannot be adhered to, porters and other officials should be in possession of correct information, and not, as at present, tell you that you will have to change when you wont, and vice versa. Alsoa thing that is bad enough in peace time but is even worse at this momentwhy is it that there is no cheap way of moving luggage across a big town? What do you do if you have to move a heavy trunk from Paddington to Camden Town? You take a taxi. And suppose you cant afford a taxi, what do you do then? Presumably you borrow a hand-cart, or balance the trunk on a perambulator. Why are there not cheap luggage-vans, just as there are buses for human passengers? Or why not make it possible to carry luggage on the Underground?
This evening, as Kings Cross discharged another horde of returned evacuees, I saw a man and woman, obviously worn out by a long journey, trying to board a bus. The woman carried a squalling baby and clutched a child of about six by the other hand; the man was carrying a broken suitcase tied with rope and the elder childs cot. They were refused by one bus after another. Of course, no bus could take a cot on board. How could it be expected to? But, on the other hand, how were those people to get home? It ended by the woman boarding a bus with the two children, while the man trailed off carrying the cot. For all I know he had a five-mile walk ahead of him.
In war-time one must expect this kind of thing. But the point is that if those people had made the same journey, similarly loaded, in peace time, their predicament would have been just the same. For:
The rain it raineth every day|
Upon the just and unjust feller,
But more upon the just because
The unjust has the justs umbrella.
Our society is not only so arranged that if you have money you can buy luxuries with it. After all, that is what money is for. It is also so arranged that if you dont have money you pay for it at every hour of the day with petty humiliations and totally unnecessary discomfortssuch as, for instance, walking home with a suitcase cutting your fingers off when a mere half-crown would get you there in five minutes.
RECENTLY I was told the following story, and I have every reason to believe that it is true.
Among the German prisoners captured in France there are a certain number of Russians. Some time back two were captured who did not speak Russian or any other language that was known either to their captors or their fellow prisoners. They could, in fact, only converse with one another. A professor of Slavonic languages, brought down from Oxford, could make nothing of what they were saying. Then it happened that a sergeant who had served on the frontiers of India overheard them talking and recognized their language, which he was able to speak a little. It was Tibetan! After some questioning, he managed to get their story out of them.
Some years earlier they had strayed over the frontier into the Soviet Union and had been conscripted into a labour battalion, afterwards being sent to western Russia when the war with Germany broke out. They were taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to North Africa; later they were sent to France, then exchanged into a fighting unit when the Second Front opened, and taken prisoner by the British. All this time they had been able to speak to nobody but one another, and had no notion of what was happening or who was fighting whom.
It would round the story off neatly if they were now conscripted into the British army and sent to fight the Japanese, ending up somewhere in Central Asia, quite close to their native village, but still very much puzzled as to what it is all about.
. . . . .
AN Indian journalist sends me a cutting of an interview he had with Bernard Shaw. Shaw says one or two sensible things and does state that the Congress leaders ought not to have been arrested, but on the whole it is a disgusting exhibition. Here are some samples:
Q: Supposing you were a National Leader of India, how would you have dealt with the British? What would have been your methods to achieve Indian independence?
A: Please do not suppose a situation that can never happen. The achievement of Indian independence is not my business.
Q: What do you think is the most effective way of getting the British out of India? What should the Indian people do?
A: Make them superfluous by doing their work better. Or assimilate them by cross-fertilization. British babies do not thrive in India.
What kind of answers are those to give to people who are labouring under a huge and justified grievance? Shaw also refuses to send birthday greetings to Gandhi, on the ground that this is a practice he never follows, and advises the Indian people not to bother if Britain repudiates the huge credit balance which India has piled up in this country during the war. I wonder what impression this interview would give to some young Indian student who has been a couple of years in jail and has dimly heard of Bernard Shaw as one of Britains leading progressive thinkers? Is it surprising if even very level-headed Indians are liable to a recurrent suspicion that all Englishmen are the same?
. . . . .
SIR Osbert Sitwells little book and my remarks on it, brought in an unusually large amount of correspondence, and some of the points that were raised seem to need further comment.
One correspondent solved the whole problem by asserting that society can get along perfectly well without artists. It can also get along without scientists, engineers, doctors, bricklayers or road-mendersfor the time being. It can even get along without sowing next years harvest, provided it is understood that everyone is going to starve to death in about twelve months time.
This notion, which is fairly widespread and has been encouraged by people who should know better, simply restates the problem in a new form. What the artist does is not immediately and obviously necessary in the same way as what the milkman or the coal miner does. Except in the ideal society which has not yet arrived, or in very chaotic and prosperous ages like the one that is just ending, this means in practice that the artist must have some kind of patrona ruling class, the Church, the State, or a political party. And the question Which is best? normally means Which interferes least?
Several correspondents pointed out that one solution is for the artist to have an alternative means of livelihood. It is quite feasible, says Mr P. Philips Price, to write and devote oneself to Socialism whilst accepting the patronage of the B.B.C., M.O.I., Rank or C.E.M.A. . . . the only way out is some minor form of prostitution, part time. The difficulty here is that the practice of writing or any other art takes up a lot of time and energy. Moreover, the kind of job that a writer gets in war-time, if he is not in the Forces (or even if he isfor there is always P.R.), usually has something to do with propaganda. But this is itself a kind of writing. To compose a propaganda pamphlet or a radio feature needs just as much work as to write something you believe in, with the difference that the finished product is worthless. I could give a whole list of writers of promise or performance who are now being squeezed dry like oranges in some official job or other. It is true that in most cases it is voluntary. They want the war to be won, and they know that everyone must sacrifice something. But still the result is the same. They will come out of the war with nothing to show for their labours and with not even the stored-up experience that the soldier gets in return for his physical suffering.
If a writer is to have an alternative profession, it is much better that it should have nothing to do with writing. A particularly successful holder of two jobs was Trollope, who produced two thousand words between seven and nine oclock every morning before leaving for his work at the Post Office. But Trollope was an exceptional man, and as he also hunted three days a week and was usually playing whist till midnight, I suspect that he did not overwork himself in his official duties.
Other correspondents pointed out that in a genuinely Socialist society the distinction between the artist and the ordinary man would vanish. Very likely, but then no such society yet exists. Others rightly claimed that State patronage is a better guarantee against starvation than private patronage, but seemed to me too ready to disregard the censorship that this implies. The usual line was that it is better for the artist to be a responsible member of a community than an anarchic individualist. The issue, however, is not between irresponsible self- expression and discipline; it is between truth and lies.
Artists dont so much object to aesthetic discipline. Architects will design theatres or churches equally readily, writers will switch from the three-volume novel to the one-volume, or from the play to the film, according to the demand. But the point is that this is a political age. A writer inevitably writesand less directly this applies to all the artsabout contemporary events, and his impulse is to tell what he believes to be the truth. But no government, no big organization, will pay for the truth. To take a crude example: can you imagine the British Government commissioning E. M. Forster to write A Passage to India? He could only write it because he was not dependent on State aid. Multiply that instance by a million, and you see the danger that is involvednot, indeed, in a centralized economy as such, but in our going forward into a collectivist age without remembering that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
READING recently a book on Brigadier-General Wingate, who was killed early this year in Burma, I was interested to note that Wingates Chindits, who marched across Upper Burma in 1943, were wearing not the usual clumsy and conspicuous pith helmets, but slouch hats like those worn in the Ghurka regiments. This sounds a very small point, but it is of considerable social significance, and twenty or even ten years ago it would have been impossible. Nearly everyone, including nearly any doctor, would have predicted that large numbers of these men would perish of sunstroke.
Till recently the European in India had an essentially superstitious attitude towards heat apoplexy, or sunstroke as it is usually called. It was supposed to be something dangerous to Europeans but not to Asiatics. When I was in Burma I was assured that the Indian sun, even at its coolest, had a peculiar deadliness which could only be warded off by wearing a helmet of cork or pith. Natives, their skulls being thicker, had no need of these helmets, but for a European even a double felt hat was not a reliable protection.
But why should the sun in Burma, even on a positively chilly day, be deadlier than in England? Because we were nearer to the equator and the rays of the sun were more perpendicular. This astonished me, for obviously the rays of the sun are only perpendicular round about noon. How about the early morning, when the sun is creeping over the horizon and the rays are parallel with the earth? It is exactly then, I was told, that they are at their most dangerous. But how about the rainy season, when one frequently does not see the sun for days at a time? Then of all times, the old-stagers told me, you should cling to your topi. (The pith helmet is called a topi, which is Hindustani for hat.) The deadly rays filter through the envelope of cloud just the same, and on a dull day you are in danger of forgetting it. Take your topi off in the open for one moment, even for one moment, and you may be a dead man. Some people, not content with cork and pith, believed in the mysterious virtues of red flannel and had little patches of it sewn into their shirts over the top vertebra. The Eurasian community, anxious to emphasize their white ancestry, used at that time to wear topis even larger and thicker than those of the British.
My own disbelief in all this dated from the day when my topi was blown off my head and carried away down a stream, leaving me to march bareheaded all day without ill effects. But I soon noticed other facts that conflicted with the prevailing belief. To begin with some Europeans (for instance sailors working in the rigging of ships) did habitually go bareheaded in the sun. Again, when cases of sunstroke occurred (for they do occur), they did not seem to be traceable to any occasion when the victim had taken his hat off. They happened to Asiatics as well as to Europeans, and were said to be commonest among stokers on coal-burning ships, who were subjected to fierce heat but not to sunshine. The final blow was the discovery that the topi, supposedly the only protection against the Indian sun, is quite a recent invention. The early Europeans in India knew nothing of it. In short, the whole thing was bunkum.
But why should the British in India have built up this superstition about sunstroke? Because an endless emphasis on the differences between the natives and yourself is one of the necessary props of imperialism. You can only rule over a subject race, especially when you are in a small minority, if you honestly believe yourself to be racially superior, and it helps towards this if you can believe that the subject race is biologically different. There were quite a number of ways in which Europeans in India used to believe, without any evidence, that Asiatic bodies differed from their own. Even quite considerable anatomical differences were supposed to exist. But this nonsense about Europeans being subject to sunstroke and Orientals not, was the most cherished superstition of all. The thin skull was the mark of racial superiority, and the pith topi was a sort of emblem of imperialism.
That is why it seems to me a sign of the changing times that Wingates men, British, Indians and Burmese alike, set forth in ordinary felt hats. They suffered from dysentery, malaria, leeches, lice, snakes and Japanese, but I do not think any cases of sunstroke were recorded. And above all, there seems to have been no official protest and no feeling that the abandonment of the topi was a subtle blow at white prestige.
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IN Mr Stanley Unwins recent pamphlet, Publishing in Peace and War, some interesting facts are given about the quantities of paper allotted by the Government for various purposes. Here are the present figures:
|Newspapers . . . . . . . . . . . .||250,000||tons|
|H.M. Stationery Office . . . .||100,000|||
|Periodicals (nearly) . . . . . . .||50,000|||
|Books . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .||22,000|||
A particularly interesting detail is that out of the 100,000 tons allotted to the Stationery Office, the War Office gets no less than 25,000 tons, or more than the whole book trade put together.
I havent personally witnessed, but I can imagine, the kind of wastage of paper that goes on in the War Office and the various ministries. I know what happens in the B.B.C. Would you credit, for instance, that of every radio programme that goes out on the air, even the inconceivable rubbish of cross-talk comedians, at least six copies are typedsometimes as many as fifteen copies? For years past all this trash has been filed somewhere or other in enormous archives. At the same time paper for books is so short that even the most hackneyed classic is liable to be out of print, many schools are short of text-books, new writers get no chance to start and even established writers have to expect a gap of a year or two years between finishing a book and seeing it published. And incidentally the export trade in English books has been largely swallowed up by America.
This part of Mr Unwins pamphlet is a depressing story. He writes with justified anger of the contemptuous attitude towards books shown by one government department after another. But in fact the English as a whole, though somewhat better in this respect than the Americans, have not much reverence for books. It is in the small countries, such as Finland and Holland, that the book consumption per head is largest. Is it not rather humiliating to be told that a few years before the war a remote town like Reykjavik had a better display of British books than any English town of comparable size?
READING, a week or two ago, Mr C. S. Lewiss recently-published book, Beyond Personality (it is a series of reprinted broadcasts on theology), I learned from the blurb on the dust jacket that a critic who should, and indeed does, know better had likened an earlier book, The Screwtape Letters, to The Pilgrims Progress. I do not hesitate to compare Mr Lewiss achievement with Pilgrims Progress were his quoted words. Here is a sample, entirely representative, from the later book:
|Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. Theres a bad kind, where the pretence is instead of the real thing, as when a man pretends hes going to help you instead of really helping you. But theres also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When youre not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a much nicer chap than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as weve all noticed. you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality is to start behaving as if you had it already. Thats why childrens games are so important. Theyre always pretending to be grown-upsplaying soldiers, playing shop. But all the time they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits, so that the pretence of being grown-ups helps them in earnest.|
The book is like this all the way through, and I think most of us would hesitate a long time before equating Mr Lewis with Bunyan. One must make some allowance for the fact that these essays are reprinted broadcasts, but even on the air it is not really necessary to insult your hearers with homey little asides like you know and mind you, or Edwardian slang like awfully, jolly well, specially for especially, awful cheek and so forth. The idea, of course, is to persuade the suspicious reader, or listener, that one can be a Christian and a jolly good chap at the same time. I dont imagine that the attempt would have much success, and in any case the cotton wool with which the B.B.C. stuffs its speakers mouths makes any real discussion of theological problems impossible, even from an orthodox angle. But Mr Lewiss vogue at this moment, the time allowed to him on the air and the exaggerated praise he has received, are bad symptoms and worth noticing.
Students of popular religious apologetics will notice early in the book a side-kick at all these people who turn up every few years with some patent simplified religion of their own, and various hints that unbelief is out of date, old-fashioned and so forth. And they will remember Ronald Knox saying much the same thing fifteen years ago, and R. H. Benson twenty or thirty years before that, and they will know in which pigeon-hole Mr Lewis should be placed.
A kind of book that has been endemic in England for quite sixty years is the silly-clever religious book, which goes on the principle not of threatening the unbeliever with Hell, but of showing him up as an illogical ass, incapable of clear thought and unaware that everything he says has been said and refuted before. This school of literature started, I think, with W. H. Mallocks New Republic, which must have been written about 1880, and it has had a long line of practitionersR. H. Benson, Chesterton, Father Knox, Beachcomber and others, most of them Catholics, but some, like Dr Cyril Alington and (I suspect) Mr Lewis himself, Anglicans. The line of attack is always the same. Every heresy has been uttered before (with the implication that it has also been refuted before); and theology is only understood by theologians (with the implication that you should leave your thinking to the priests). Along these lines one can, of course, have a lot of clean fun by correcting loose thinking and pointing out that so-and-so is only saying what Pelagius said in A.D. 400 (or whenever it was), and has in any case used the word transubstantiation in the wrong sense. The special targets of these people have been T. H. Huxley, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Professor Joad, and others who are associated in the popular mind with Science and Rationalism. They have never had much difficulty in demolishing themthough I notice that most of the demolished ones are still there, while some of the Christian apologists themselves begin to look rather faded.
One reason for the extravagant boosting that these people always get in the press is that their political affiliations are invariably reactionary. Some of them were frank admirers of Fascism as long as it was safe to be so. That is why I draw attention to Mr C. S. Lewis and his chummy little wireless talks, of which no doubt there will be more. They are not really so unpolitical as they are meant to look. Indeed they are an out-flanking movement in the big counter-attack against the Left which Lord Elton. A. P. Herbert. G. M. Young, Alfred Noyes and various others have been conducting for two years past.
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I NOTICE that in his new book, Adam and Eve, Mr Middleton Murry instances the agitation against Mosleys release from internment as a sign of the growth of totalitarianism, or the totalitarian habit of mind, in this country. The common people, he says, still detest totalitarianism: but he adds in a later footnote that the Mosley business has shaken this opinion somewhat. I wonder whether he is right. On the face of it, the demonstrations against Mosleys release were a very bad sign. In effect people were agitating against Habeas Corpus. In 1940 it was a perfectly proper action to intern Mosley, and in my opinion it would have been quite proper to shoot him if the Germans had set foot in Britain. When it is a question of national existence, no government can stand on the letter of the law: otherwise a potential quisling has only to avoid committing any indictable offence, and he can remain at liberty, ready to go over to the enemy and act as their gauleiter as soon as they arrive. But by 1943 the situation was totally different. The chance of a serious German invasion had passed, and Mosley (though possibly he may make a come-back at some future dateI wont prophesy about that) was merely a ridiculous failed politician with varicose veins. To continue imprisoning him without trial was an infringement of every principle we are supposedly fighting for.
But there was also strong popular feeling against Mosleys release, and not, I think, for reasons so sinister as Mr Murry implies. The comment one most frequently heard was Theyve only done it because hes a rich man, which was a simplified way of saying Class privilege is on the up-grade again. It is a commonplace that the political advance we seemed to make in 1940 has been gradually filched away from us again. But though the ordinary man sees this happening, he is curiously unable to combat it: there seems to be nowhere to take hold. In a way, politics has stopped. There has been no General Election, the elector is conscious of being unable to influence his M.P., Parliament has no control over the Government. You may not like the way things are going, but what exactly can you do about it? There is no concrete act against which you can plausibly protest.
But now and again something happens which is obviously symptomatic of the general trendsomething round which existing discontents can crystallize. Lock up Mosley was a good rallying cry. Mosley, in fact, was a symbol, as Beveridge still is and as Cripps was in 1942. I dont believe Mr Murry need bother about the implications of this incident. In spite of all that has happened, the failure of any genuinely totalitarian outlook to gain ground among the ordinary people of this country.