Orwell’s Preface Revisited


Orwell wrote a Preface to “Animal Farm” which did not appear in early editions. It was discovered only in 1972, some 27 years after the book’s original publication in 1945, and many years after the author’s death. It explains the contemporary context, of which I was unaware. At the end of the second world war, when “Animal Farm” was first published, criticism of the Soviet Union was politically and culturally unacceptable. Many people at the time thought the book should not have been published at all. Indeed, it was rejected by four publishers. The Preface explains the informal, but nevertheless pervasive, censorship which prevailed at the time. It is easy to see why the publisher declined to include it in the early editions. My post below is extracts (only) from Orwell’s Preface. You will see that I have crossed out some words and replaced them with others. Consequently, you can read it as an historical account or one of current relevance…..

The chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of the Ministry of Information or any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.

The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.

So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia feminism. Every-one knows this, nearly everyone acts on it. Any serious criticism of the Soviet régime feminist orthodoxy, any disclosure of facts which the Soviet government feminista would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable. And this nation-wide conspiracy to flatter our ally one sex takes place, curiously enough, against a background of genuine presumed intellectual tolerance.

For though you are not allowed to criticize the Soviet government feminism, at least you are reasonably free to criticize our own everything else. Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin  a feminist, but it is quite safe to attack Churchill a men’s rights advocate.

The servility with which the greater part of the English intelligentsia have swallowed and repeated Russian feminist propaganda from 1941 the 1960s onwards would be quite astounding if it were not that they have behaved similarly on several earlier occasions (sic!). On one controversial issue after another the Russian feminist viewpoint has been accepted without examination and then publicized with complete disregard to historical truth or intellectual decency. (At this point Orwell cited a specific instance – by the BBC. Insert your own contemporary example, there is no shortage).

Factions which the Russians feminists were determined to crush were recklessly libelled in the English leftwing press, and any statement in their defence even in letter form, was refused publication. At present, not only is serious criticism of the USSR feminist dogma considered reprehensible, but even the fact of the existence of such criticism is kept secret in some cases.

Any large organization will look after its own interests as best it can, and overt propaganda is not a thing to object to. One would no more expect the Daily Worker Jezebel to publicize unfavourable facts about the USSR feminism than one would expect the Catholic Herald to denounce the Pope. But then every thinking person knows the Daily Worker Jezebel and the Catholic Herald for what they are. What is disquieting is that where the USSR feminism and its policies are concerned one cannot expect intelligent criticism or even, in many cases, plain honesty from Liberal writers and journalists who are under no direct pressure to falsify their opinions. Stalin Feminism is sacrosanct and certain aspects of his policy its dogma must not be seriously discussed.

There was a huge and almost equally dishonest stream of pro-Russianfeminist propaganda, and what amounted to a boycott on anyone who tried to discuss all-important questions in a grown-up manner. You could, indeed, publish anti-Russianfeminist books, but to do so was to make sure of being ignored or misrepresented by nearly the whole of the highbrow press. Both publicly and privately you were warned that it was ‘not done’. What you said might possibly be true, but it was ‘inopportune’ and ‘played into the hands of’ this or that reactionary interest.

The English intelligentsia, or a great part of it, had developed a nationalistic loyalty towards the USSR feminism, and in their hearts they felt that to cast any doubt on the its wisdom of Stalin was a kind of blasphemy. Events in Russia and events elsewhere The doings of feminists and the doings of others were to be judged by different standards.

But now to come back to this book of mine. The reaction towards it of most English intellectuals will be quite simple: ‘It oughtn’t to have been published’. The English intelligentsia, or most of them, will object to this book because it traduces their Leader feminism and (as they see it) does harm to the cause of progress. If it did the opposite they would have nothing to say against it, even if its literary faults were ten times as glaring as they are. The success of, for instance, the Left Book Club over a period of four or five years shows how willing they are to tolerate both scurrility and slipshod writing, provided that it tells them what they want to hear.

The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular – however foolish, even – entitled to a hearing? Put it in that form and nearly any English intellectual will feel that he ought to say ‘Yes’. But give it a concrete shape, and ask, ‘How about an attack on Stalin feminism? Is that entitled to a hearing?’, and the answer more often than not will be ‘No’. In that case the current orthodoxy happens to be challenged, and so the principle of free speech lapses.

One of the peculiar phenomena of our time is the renegade Liberal. Over and above the familiar Marxist claim that ‘bourgeois liberty’ is an illusion, there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy equality by totalitarian methods. If one loves democracy equality, the argument runs, one must crush its enemies by no matter what means. And who are its enemies? It always appears that they are not only those who attack it openly and consciously, but those who ‘objectively’ endanger it by spreading mistaken doctrines. In other words, defending democracy equality  involves destroying all independence of thought.

This argument was used, for instance, to justify the Russian purges banning men’s groups in universities. The most ardent Russophile feminists hardly believed that all of the victims MRAs were guilty of all the things they were accused of, but by holding heretical opinions they ‘objectively’ harmed the (feminist) régime, and therefore it was quite right not only to massacre silence them but to discredit them by false accusations.

These people don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you.

But where had these people learned this essentially totalitarian outlook? Pretty certainly they had learned it from the Communists themselves! (I deliberately changed no words there). Tolerance and decency are deeply rooted in England, but they are not indestructible, and they have to be kept alive partly by conscious effort. The result of preaching totalitarian doctrines is to weaken the instinct by means of which free peoples know what is or is not dangerous.

It is important to realize that the current Russomania uncritical acceptance of feminism is only a symptom of the general weakening of the western liberal tradition. Had the Ministry of Information chipped in and definitely vetoed the publication of this book, the bulk of the English intelligentsia would have seen nothing disquieting in this. Uncritical loyalty to the USSR feminism happens to be the current orthodoxy, and where the supposed interests of the USSR feminists are involved they are willing to tolerate not only censorship but the deliberate falsification of history. To name one instance (here I might replace Orwell’s example with “the myth that votes for women were won by  the suffragettes” or with “centuries of oppression of women”).

And this tolerance of plain dishonesty means much more than that admiration for Russia happens to be fashionable at this moment. Quite possibly that particular fashion will not last. For all I know, by the time this book is published my view of the Soviet régime may be the generally-accepted one. But what use would that be in itself? To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment. In other words, the society which was willing to be slavishly devoted to the totalitarian Soviet regime has proved equally willing to be slavishly devoted to the totalitarian feminist regime. You can fool most of the people most of the time.

Intellectual freedom is a deep-rooted tradition without which our characteristic western culture could only doubtfully exist. From that tradition many of our intellectuals are visibly turning away. They have accepted the principle that a book should be published or suppressed, praised or damned, not on its merits but according to political expediency. And others who do not actually hold this view assent to it from sheer cowardice.

I know that the English intelligentsia have plenty of reason for their timidity and dishonesty, indeed I know by heart the arguments by which they justify themselves. But at least let us have no more nonsense about defending liberty against Fascism the patriarchy. If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. It is the liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect: it is to draw attention to that fact that I have written this Preface.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, n’est-ce pas?

5 thoughts on “Orwell’s Preface Revisited

  1. Douglas

    It is interesting to contemplate that Orwell was writing 45 years before Overton put a slightly scientific slant on this type of social behaviour. Thankfully, Overton also explained that what is acceptable to discuss today can become unacceptable next year, and showed by his very career that what is not acceptable to debate today can be moved to become next year’s hot topic.

  2. Pingback: Revisiting The Road to Wigan Pier | The Illustrated Empathy Gap

  3. evilwhitemalempire

    I often wonder what John Lennon would now think of the age he helped to usher in if he could be brought back from the grave.

  4. Pingback: William Collins (mra-uk): “Orwell’s Preface Revisited” | Justice for men & boys

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *