(The Jewish Chronicle) It is remarkable that Jews today just can’t come to terms with the fact that many of the greatest and most famous and influential writers who ever lived held unflattering opinions about many Jews — and George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984, is one of those writers who really drives them mad because his books are so popular, especially among Jews:
“Here’s your starter for ten. Which major 20th-century English author wrote these words:
“The shopman was a red-haired Jew, an extraordinarily disagreeable man … it would have been a pleasure to flatten the Jew’s nose if only one could have afforded it.”
Or these: “Have I ever told you, mon ami, that … it was considered bad form to spit on a Jew? Yes, we thought a Russian officer’s spittle was too precious to be wasted on a Jew…”
Last one: “In a corner by himself a Jew, muzzle down in the plate, was guiltily wolfing bacon.”
The headline of this article suggests the correct, if surprising, answer. All three quotations are taken from George Orwell’s first published book, Down and Out in Paris and London (Gollancz 1933). The first two occur early in his Paris days; the last when he is in a Tower Hill coffee shop back in London.
Three years later, he ended his review of a Sholem Asch book, “if you want antisemitism explained the best book to read is the Old Testament”. In 1939, he concluded another book review similarly: “The Old Testament is largely a literature of hatred and self-righteousness. No duties towards foreigners are recognised, extermination of enemies is enjoined as a religious duty, Jehovah is a tribal deity of the worst type.”
Admirers of Orwell (among whom I count myself) have long been troubled by the strain of casual and perhaps not-so-casual antisemitism found in his published work, diary entries and private letters, especially in the 1930s. The almost schizophrenic contrast between his authorial hostility to these anonymous, nameless “Jews”, identified only by their religion, and his long friendships with individual Jewish publishers (Victor Gollancz and Fred Warburg) and writers (Arthur Koestler, T.R. (Tosco) Fyvel, Julian Symons, Jon Kimche, Evelyn Anderson and others) remains puzzling.
Had he lived, Orwell would have been 120 this weekend. But unlike Moses (admittedly protected throughout his long life by a higher authority), he wrecked his chances of even three score years and ten with a reckless disregard for his health…
Literary antisemitism was the norm in England until relatively recently. If they mention Jews at all, most major 19th-century English novelists described unattractive stereotypes. Perhaps George Eliot is the shining exception, as is EM Forster in the next century.
But Graham Greene, JB Priestley, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell are all “guilty”, while HG Wells, Saki, GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc are positively odious. As for the poets, TS Eliot and Ezra Pound are simply vile.
This then was the context, the prevailing milieu, when Orwell was serving both his literary and political apprenticeship in the 1930s. There was a prevailing hostility towards Jews in both spheres. If, like me, you expected better, even then, from the young Orwell, you’d be disappointed.
Before the success of Animal Farm in 1945, George Orwell was a minor novelist and a brilliant but relatively obscure freelance critic and essayist, always short of money and struggling to make a living. His major 1930s concern was the threat of Soviet-style communism.
“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 [when he fought in the Spanish Civil War],” he wrote in a famous post-war essay, “has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”
And here is his key and oft-quoted sentence from his wartime article on Arthur Koestler: “The sin of nearly all left-wingers from 1933 onwards is that they wanted to be anti-fascist without being anti-totalitarian.” There can be little doubt, without the need for lengthy quotation, that Orwell was genuinely and irrevocably anti-totalitarian, anti-imperialist and anti-colonial.
These pre-occupations, and his wartime work as a talks producer for the BBC’s Indian Service, did not leave much time for an in-depth investigation into antisemitism. One benefit-of-the-doubt explanation may be that there is only so much “bandwidth” a busy writer/commentator can have. However, once war was declared, his attitude became more nuanced.
In 1940, he met Tosco Fyvel, who became his co-editor of the wartime Searchlight Books, his successor as literary editor of Tribune (and, later in life, the literary editor of the JC) and, in a strange way, Orwell’s Jewish conscience.
Fyvel certainly provoked Orwell into re-examining his antisemitism. In December 1942, in two BBC News Commentary broadcasts, Orwell made clear his horror at the accounts of the murder of a million Polish Jews. Soon after, referring to Pound, he wrote in Tribune: “Antisemitism, for instance, is simply not the doctrine of a grown-up person. People who go in for that kind of thing must take the consequences.”
He followed this with two powerful “As I Please” columns in Tribune in early 1944 attacking the irrationality and inconsistencies of antisemites and expressing his bewilderment at the longevity of the prejudice.
Orwell’s last major reflection on this topic was Antisemitism in Britain, published by the Contemporary Jewish Record in February 1945. His essay, a characteristic mixture of the sociological and the personal, but which still combined ignorance with insight, showed how far his thinking had evolved in the 12 years since “Down and Out” appeared.
And yet, frustratingly, the complexities, ambiguities, and contradictions remained. Shortly before his death in January 1950, he praised the legitimacy of the award of a major poetry prize to Pound (although he was personally scathing about the literary merit of Pound’s work) and downplayed the antisemitism in Eliot’s early poetry.
Shortly after his funeral, Malcolm Muggeridge, who had helped organise it, wrote: “Interesting, I thought, that George should so have attracted Jews because he was at heart, strongly antisemitic.”
Orwell’s comment in his last letter to Julian Symons that “I have no doubt Fyvel thinks I am antisemitic” (with the implication that he did not believe it to be true) led Fyvel to protest, when he read it, “Well no, I would never have said that.” Though he may have thought it.
Finally, there’s 1984. In this bleak masterpiece, Winston Smith “could never see the face of Goldstein without a painful mixture of emotions. It was a lean Jewish face, with a great fuzzy aureole of white hair and a small goatee beard — a clever face, and yet somehow inherently despicable, with a kind of senile silliness in the long thin nose, near the end of which a pair of spectacles was perched. It resembled the face of a sheep, and the voice, too, had a sheep-like quality.”
George: what on earth are these antisemitic tropes doing there in the immediate aftermath of Auschwitz?
Fyvel once asked Orwell why he had given the name Goldstein “to the one conceivable rebel left against Big Brother and the Party”. Orwell explained that this was, of course, a reference to Trotsky, but he added that the most likely man to stage a hopeless last revolt against a possible totalitarian regime would be some Jewish intellectual.
On the one hand, well aware of the horrors of the Holocaust (he reported from Germany in the spring of 1945 for the Observer and Manchester Evening News), Orwell had supported wholesale entry of Jewish refugees into Britain. On the other, he remained hostile to Zionism, as a form of nationalism.
Fyvel wrote that his friend considered Zionists to be the Jewish equivalent of white settlers, like the British in India or Burma, while the Arabs were comparable to the native Indians and Burmese. Like others on the left over the last 75 years,
Orwell sought to distinguish antisemitism, which, in the end, he publicly opposed as an irrational neurosis, from anti-Zionism. But he never explained the distinction with his normal moral clarity or convinced Fyvel or Koestler.
There has been a fine larger-than-life statue of Orwell outside the BBC’s premises in Portland Place since 2017. It was cast in bronze. But if you examine it closely, you might see feet of clay.”
If anything, the Jew who wrote this attack on Orwell lacks “nuance” — because he didn’t bother to try to understand the evolution of Orwell’s naive and often self-contradicting political views — but nowhere did Orwell ever blame “the Jews” for society’s ills.
Let’s get this straight — Orwell’s first publisher, Victor Gollancz, was a Jew — and for some reason Gollancz had no problem with Orwell’s depiction of Jews in his first book — why not?
The reason is simple — Gollancz published and promoted “woke” socialist books, and Orwell’s Down and Out In Paris and London depicted the dismal lives of the lower classes, and yes, there were coarse Jews living among them.
Gollancz championed these poor working class people as the beneficiaries of his socialist ideals — and he used Orwell to dig up material to promote socialism among the poor working class in England during the height of the Depression.
There can be no. doubt that Orwell, at least early on, was very sympathetic to the socialist movement — and also held the fascist, Oswald Mosley in contempt, especially for blaming everything on “mysterious international gangs of Jews.”
Orwell traveled to Spain, intent upon fighting against “fascism” but quickly became disillusioned when the paranoid infighting of the communists who accused him of being a “fascist” despite having been wounded in their cause — after which he fled Spain, returned to England, where he discovered that he was tried in absentia for being a “rabid Trotskyite.”
While being an anti-communist, Orwell remained sympathetic to socialist ideals — along with being anti-Fascist — yet he was embittered by the idea that England sided with Stalin in World War II — whom he rightly called a “disgusting murderer.”
For the simple reason that they did not consider Orwell to be any sort of “antisemite” in the mold of Oswald Mosley — and it’s worth noting that Orwell’s first publisher, Gollancz, refused to publish Animal Farm because of its obvious anti-Soviet stance.
Orwell chose to name the revolutionary anti-hero in 1984 “Goldstein” not to cast aspersions on Jews — but for the simple reason that he resembled Trotsky who shared Orwell’s anti-Stalinist and anti-Hitler views.
Before the “Holocaust,” many Jews held the same low opinion of some of their fellow Jews — especially eastern Jews — whom they felt gave assimilated Jews a bad name by living up to the worst stereotypes that “gentiles” held of them.
The German Jew, Walther Rathenau — who was Germany’s first Jewish foreign minister — held these dirty “osten” or eastern Jews in contempt — and believed that assimilated and cultured Jews would be blamed for their anti-social behaviors, especially their communist agitations.
So-called “casual antisemitism” didn’t become unfashionable — or career destroying — until well after World War II — it didn’t really become a “third rail” until the late 1970s when Jews started to ramp up Holocaust propaganda everywhere in the media, especially on television.
Today most Jews cannot conceive of a world where they are not in complete control and have the ability to destroy anyone who dares say anything unflattering about Jews — but in reality prior to World War II, the “Jewish Question” was not a social taboo, nor would it get you “blacklisted” or ostracized.
Even Jews themselves participated in discussions about Jews in social gatherings — for example, right after WWII, the Jewish big band leader, Artie Shaw who was married to Ava Gardner, joked along with the “antisemites” at a party he attended:
“[Artie] Shaw told [Ava Gardner] about being ‘at a posh Hollywood dinner party when they started talking about Jews. It turned out that they were all antisemitic. He said he sat there in silence for a while — apparently nobody knew he was a Jew— then he joined in with their snide remarks about Jews. He said he’d never forgive himself for his cowardice.’”
It was the Holocaust psy-op that made any critique of Jews socially unacceptable — much to the detriment of Jews themselves — without having to worry about any backlash, Jews have naturally become ruthless totalitarians who do not tolerate any resistance to their agenda to remake the world in their own image — Tikkun Olam.
And so it’s only natural that the Jew who wrote this article, while claiming to admire Orwell as a writer, cannot accept the fact that there has ever been a Jew, at any time in history, who deserved to be depicted in unflattering ways, as Orwell dared to do.
If Orwell were such an “antisemite”, then why did he name his dog “Marx”?
From a modern Jewish perspective, the “next” Holocaust will start when a Jew is criticized, no matter how warranted, and it doesn’t go left unchallenged with the hysterical cry of “Antisemite!”