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December 15, 2017

Orwell & "The Gramophone Mind"

On this day in 1945, George Orwell's (Eric Blair's) Animal Farm was published. The book was delayed by the WWII paper shortage and very nearly a casualty of the war itself, either at the hands of German bombs or British politics. Near the end of June, one of the 100 daily flying or "doodle bug" bombs directed at London destroyed Orwell's flat; he dug his battered manuscript out of the rubble and, apologizing for its "blitzed" condition, sent it to T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber for consideration. Eliot's rejection letter was similar to those received earlier: though the satire reached Swiftian proportions, the anti-Russian theme was not "the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time." The Tehran meeting between Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt had been at the end of 1943, and the Normandy invasion had been just over two months ago: this was a time to rout Hitler, not embarrass Russia. Though Orwell had lifelong contempt for such timidity, his book became an instant hit by not being published until the summer of '45, when the Cold War and Russia-bashing were more popular.

Orwell had fought Fascism in Spain -- he stuck his neck out there too, to get a near-fatal sniper's bullet in the throat -- and come home with eyes opened to totalitarian politics, though still focused on his socialist ideals. He hoped Animal Farm would help combat "the negative influence of the Soviet myth upon the western Socialist movement" and "the servility with which the greater part of the English intelligentsia have swallowed and repeated Russian propaganda." More than this, he hoped for a larger victory against any politics which operated by using high-sounding slogans to cover-up lies and drown out debate: "The enemy is the gramophone mind," he wrote in his preface to the book, "whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment."

Orwell was as fiercely patriotic as socialist. His poor health kept him in the Home Guard in WWII, but he lectured on street fighting and kept a supply of homemade bombs on his fireplace mantle. Despite his fear of the gramophone mind, he lobbied the government to subsidize showings of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator across England during the war. He also argued to dispense guns and grenades to each household, even to create a permanent People's Army. "That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer's cottage," he wrote, "is the symbol of democracy." And useful against any sort of uprising, human or porcine:
    Then they saw what Clover had seen. It was a pig walking on his hind legs. Yes, it was Squealer. A little awkwardly, as though not quite used to supporting his considerable bulk in that position, but with perfect balance, he was strolling across the yard. And a moment later, out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs.... And finally there was a tremendous baying of dogs and a shrill crowing from the black cockerel, and out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gambolling round him.

    He carried a whip in his trotter.

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