Orwell’s ‘English Socialism’

George Orwell’s prescription for a patriotic English Socialism, from his 1941 essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’

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“Patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism. It is devotion to something that is changing but is felt to be mystically the same, like the devotion of the ex-White Bolshevik to Russia. To be loyal both to Chamberlain’s England and to the England of tomorrow might seem an impossibility, if one did not know it to be an everyday phenomenon. Only revolution can save England, that has been obvious for years… But when the red militias are billeted in the Ritz I shall still feel that the England I was taught to love so long ago and for such different reasons is somehow persisting.” The preceding words, written by George Orwell in his 1940 essay ‘My Country Right or Left’, illustrate very well the pro-English sentiment that ran through much of his writing. Orwell was a socialist, but an idiosyncratic one for his time – he abhorred Stalinism, was doubtful of Trotskyism, and his attitude to Marxism could be summed up as sympathetic but skeptical. What particularly set Orwell apart from other contemporary left-wing intellectuals was his patriotism. Rather than viewing English culture as something to be ashamed of or sniggered at, as a bourgeois anachronism needing to be swept aside to make way for a gleaming new utopia, Orwell instead had a genuine affection for his country and its people. This affection extended into the political vision he had for his nation’s future. Orwell recognized the mobilizing power that lay behind patriotic sentiment, believing that patriotism (as opposed to nationalism, which he saw as motivated by power & competitive prestige rather than defensive & devotional sentiments) could and should be employed for the success of a socialist revolution. His hoped-for revolutionary England would not just be socialist and egalitarian, but gently patriotic – free of the evils of property, but still eternally English down to its very soul. A detailed description of the English Socialism advocated for by Orwell is contained within his 1941 essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, the relevant sections of which I have excerpted below (the bolded headings were added by myself to make the demarcation between topics clear). As well as being a unique example of patriotic-socialist writing, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ is probably one of Orwell’s best non-fiction works; I recommend that anyone who finds this excerpt interesting seek out the original essay in full.

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PATRIOTISM

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.

They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil.

One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. In certain circumstances it can break down, at certain levels of civilization it does not exist, but as a positive force there is nothing to set beside it. Christianity and international Socialism are as weak as straw in comparison with it. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power in their own countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their opponents could not.

Also, one must admit that the divisions between nation and nation are founded on real differences of outlook. Till recently it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country. Things that could happen in one country could not happen in another. Hitler’s June purge, for instance, could not have happened in England. And, as western peoples go, the English are very highly differentiated. There is a sort of back-handed admission of this in the dislike which nearly all foreigners feel for our national way of life. Few Europeans can endure living in England, and even Americans often feel more at home in Europe.

When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pintables in the Soho pubs, the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle? Continue reading

National Socialists Before Hitler, Part II: The National Labor Movement

Documents from the early period of the original German Workers’ Party and the national labor movement in Austria-Hungary

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German National Socialism was born out of the labor movement. By the late 1800s, racial tension within the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire had created major divisions within the trade unions. Increasing competition between Czech and German workers, especially in industrial and border areas like Bohemia, combined with the Empire’s hollow sense of national-identity and aggressive clashes over cultural and language competition to foster a serious split within both the unions and the social-democratic movement. Nationalism took hold among both Czech and German laborers, leading to violent brawls and riots. The nascent Social-Democratic Workers’ Party in its 1897 conference fractured over the ‘national question’, breaking into six separate sections based on race. And workers of all ethnicities, dissatisfied with the internationalist ideology of the most prominent unions, began forming their own nationalist ‘protective-associations’ in response. These associations were not at first official unions for bargaining over wages or working conditions, merely pressure groups intended to provide collective aid to members against ‘foreign’ competition – but by the time of the German Workers’ Party’s (DAP’s) founding in 1903, several had evolved into unions proper and the others were growing in strength. This ‘national labor movement’ was in fact why the German Workers’ Party was founded in the first place. All the DAP’s leading members were active within the German nationalist associations, and their original intent was that the Party should serve as the political arm of the German national labor movement, taking the demands of the völkisch workers into parliament. The DAP in its early years thus placed a heavy emphasis on uniting the various independent nationalist unions and associations into a consolidated force, providing them with the common vision and organizational tactics necessary to make both political and industrial activism more effective – a process aided greatly by the unifying ideology of National Socialism as it developed within the Party. The documents below, translated from DAP co-founder Hans Knirsch’s history of Austrian & Sudeten National Socialism, provide an intriguing window into this early period of National Socialism’s history, demonstrating how intrinsic were issues of labor, work, reform, and socialism to the early evolution of National Socialist philosophy. 

The First Common Conference of the
Völkisch Trade-Union Movement,
Leitmeritz, April 29th, 1906  

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Although the DAP’s founders were all leading members of the ethnic-German unions and protective-associations, and although the Party was expressly founded to give the nationalist workers a political voice, the links between the DAP and the national labor movement were not concrete at first. Wariness of political (as opposed to industrial) activism was common among the völkisch workers; the Imperial government had in the past proven perfectly willing to persecute unionists who dabbled in party politics, and previous attempts to ally the nationalist unions with Georg Ritter von Schönerer’s Pan-German Association and Karl Wolff’s Free Pan-German Party had led to disillusionment and a suspicion of parliamentary politicians as bourgeois opportunists seeking to exploit the workers in pursuit of purely middle-class interests. As a consequence, the DAP’s major goal after its founding was to unite the fractious, highly-independent nationalist labor organizations and to convince them of the need to take a more organized, cooperative stance with each other and with the DAP. 

To this end on April 29th, 1906, the Party organized the first common conference of all nationalist workers’  associations, held in Leitmeritz, Bohemia. Represented were delegates from the various ethnic-German bakers’, miners’, builders’, assistant-metalworkers’, and woodworkers’ associations, among others. The conference’s purpose was to convince these groups of the necessity to reconstitute themselves as formal trade-unions; to establish guiding principles for the national labor movement; and to set out binding statutes for future collaborative work. The event was considered a success by its attendees, and although the organizers found it necessary to maintain that the conference was not formally affiliated with any one political party, the links forged at Leitmeritz between the unions and the DAP grew strong enough over the following years that, by 1909, the unions had officially recognized the Party as their “greatest ally” and official political representative. Reproduced below are two short documents from this conference: a brief extract from Alois Ciller’s report on the German trade-unions’ goals and tasks (Ciller was another DAP co-founder and the author of the Party’s original programme), along with the four guiding principles unanimously adopted by the conference delegates. –Bogumil

Goals and Tasks of the German Trade-Unions (Extract)

The German trade-union has the task of winning rights and recognition for the German working-class within its own Volk. To this end the international principle proves itself, particularly in the Austrian peoples’ state, utterly unsuitable and detrimental. Where the economic struggle involves making common cause [with non-Germans] this is self-evident from the outset. The cultural work of German workers in associations with Slovaks, Croats, Poles, etc. is in all circumstances an absurdity. We wish for the working-class of every nation to create better conditions through their own resources. We have to think of ourselves and our duty. That duty consists of tireless German trade-union work. Continue reading

Monthly Fragebogen: Teacup Revolutionaries

Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s experiences with the ‘Red Orchestra’ anti-Hitler resistance movement

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The ‘Red Orchestra’ is one of those exalted historical resistance movements in today’s Germany, along with the ‘White Rose’ student group and the aristocrats & officers of the 20th July assassination plot. It seems to be a common theme on this blog that aspects of history are never as black-and-white as they’re typically presented in modern discourse, that reality is complex and that peoples’ motivations are rarely as easy to categorize as we might like them to be. This is the case with the Red Orchestra as with anything else. Nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s friendship and association with two central figures of the Orchestra – Harro Schulze-Boysen and Arvid Harnack, as well as their respective wives Libertas (‘Libs’) and Mildred – is evidence enough of this. von Salomon was a Freikorps veteran, a nationalist revolutionary who endured multiple jail sentences for his involvement in anti-Weimar terrorist movements, yet when the Third Reich emerged his deep-seated open-mindedness and his natural aversion to the regime’s excesses saw him moving in circles as opposed to National Socialism as he had been to the earlier ‘November Republic’. Despite his obvious sympathy for Schulze-Boysen (a former national-liberal type whose links to far-left and far-right have seen him sometimes classified as a ‘National Bolshevik’) and Harnack (an Arplan-member given to nervously hanging around the Soviet embassy), von Salomon’s reminiscences of his exposure to their conspiratorial activities paint a picture that is more human than hagiographical. Like the subversive Organisation Consul with which von Salomon had once plotted murder, the Red Orchestra come across as full of the recklessness of youth, dangerously careless and more than a little flippant in their scheming of drawing-room conspiracies. The author’s depiction is of brave men, principled men, but men who were still nonetheless ‘teacup revolutionaries’, freedom-fighters in far over their heads. The section below is taken from Section E. of the English translation of von Salomon’s post-war memoir Der Fragebogen

About the year 1931 a man named Harro Schulze-Boysen founded a periodical which he entitled Der Gegner (The Opponent). He explained to me that the crust which “the old men” had laid over us, which the last century had imposed on ours, was ready to break. He described this crust as being lethal to all true intellectual and spiritual life. He said that it was formed of the ideologies of an age that had achieved power too late and too unexpectedly, too feebly and too undeservedly, so that it knew not how to use it except through the dusty network of bureaucracy. Finally, he said, a younger generation had grown up in the shadow of that power which, though hitherto employing its outworn jargon, was yet now capable of making itself understood in its own language. “They are  beginning to poke their heads through the clouds and to call to one another,” he said. He also said that his periodical was intended to give these youthful forces a chance to make themselves heard. It was to be a magazine for radicals, regardless of what particular platform they should speak from.

The man who told me all this was a slender, well-built, blond young man, with a rather stiff manner, carefully parted hair, and light, somewhat hard eyes. His words seemed unsuited both to his appearance and to his manner. When first I met him I had taken him for a junior naval officer, and as it happened his father was an admiral and he was a grandson of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz. He soon had many contributors to his magazine, young men of all political views, Catholics, Socialists, Communists – and, to represent the Nationalists, Ernst Jünger, Bogumil and myself.

When I returned from Austria Der Gegner was no more. The opponents, however,  undoubtedly still existed. I ran into Schulze-Boysen in the street, towards the end of 1933, and failed to recognise him. He spoke to me. His features were very different from what they had been. He had lost half an ear and his face was covered with inflamed wounds that had scarcely yet healed. He had been arrested because well-known young Communists had contributed to his magazine. It was the SA who had treated him in the fashion to which his face bore witness.

“I have,” he said, put my revenge in cold storage.”

He said it was his intention, with the assistance of his relatives, to enter the army. He may have felt that I did not think much of this idea, for he told me that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was a long time before I heard from him again. Continue reading