Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Real George Orwell & Freedom Press

The Totalitarian Mind in the Modern World
AS Radio Four, this week, is running its series of programs under the title 'The Real George Orwell', Freedom Press, whose former editor, Vernon Richards, in the 1940s had a close and friendly relationship with Orwell, has taken a decision which we believe Orwell would have found utterly contemptible. 

Last year, some Northern anarchists and their now some 80 supporters sent a statement known as 'The Burnley Declaration' to the new editor of Freedom,Matthew – this declaration asks for the Anarchist Federation to disassociate itself from the actions of some of its members; Matthew then agreed to publish the declaration as a letter with the offer of a reply to the group being criticised in the 'Burnley Declaration', the Anarchist Federation. Immediately, Freedom was assailed by the founder of the Anarchist Federation, Nick Heath, a retired librarian, who works in the Freedom Bookshop on Wednesday afternoons. Mr. Heath threatened to break his relationship with Freedom if they published the 'Burnley Declaration': stop writing for the paper and labouring in the bookshop.

The Freedom editor, Matthew, then sought wider opinion within the Freedom Collective: with result,not to publish 'Burnley Declaration' in Freedom.  In an e-mail to Barry Woodling, Matthew explains:

'The decision not to publish the NAN statement remains.  Yes, I did originally agree to publish the statement, and yes, I then changed my mind. The reversing of this decision was done after consulting with the wider collective, and after discussions with several members of the Anarchist Federation...  Whilst I understand the dispute between the Northern Anarchist Network and the Anarchist Federation is of great significance for all those involved, I would not want Freedom to be seen as taking sides.  I hope you appreciate that we would like Freedom to report the positive side of the movement to both existing and to potential readers.  With that in mind I do not believe that covering this particular dispute is in the spirit of "promoting the movement". ' 

It is wrong for Matthew to suggest that it is only a 'dispute between the Northern Anarchist Network and the Anarchist Federation (AF)', because the attacks have been in public at bookfairs and others have suffered collateral damage from the physical attacks by AF members on the NAN and Northern Voices (see report on Five Leaves Blog 28th, Oct. 2012).

In November 1949, George Orwell wrote an essay entitled 'Through a Glass Rosily':
'The recent article by Tribune's Vienna correspondent (reporting the appalling behaviour of the Russian occupying troops, several readers protested against “this slander” on the Red army) provoked a spate of angry letters which, besides calling him a fool and a liar and making other charges of what one might call a routine nature, also carried the very serious implication that he ought to have kept silent even if he knew that he was speaking the truth.' 

This is relevant to the 'Burnley Declaration' because last year Martin Gilbert in a post on this Blog entitled 'Washing Anarchist Dirty Linen in Public' sought to demonstrate that the attacks on Northern Voices,and supporters of the Northern Anarchist Network by members of the Anarchist Fed. such as the Schoolmistress, Salad Cream Sally and her Nutcracker soldiers at the London Anarchist Bookfair and by Nick Heath at the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair, ought not to be challenged openly because it gives fuel to our enemies. George Orwell denounced this kind of talk arguing it amounts to a case of '... shut up and don't criticise: or at least criticise “constructively”, which in practice always means favourably. And, from this it is only a short step to arguing that the suppression and distortion of known facts is the highest duty of a journalist.'   Note how Orwell's use of the word 'constructive' here dovetails with Freedom's desire, expressed by Matthew above to 'report on the positive side of the movement'; what we have here portrayed rather nicely is what Orwell meant when he talked about the totalitarian mind in modern politics.

Donald Rooum, Matthew and the Freedom collective have now adopted this position,which Orwell in his essays time and time again condemns. It amounts to 'brush the it under the carpet'; 'see no evil'; or in the case of some, like the organisers at the London Anarchist Bookfair, adopting the pose of Pontius Pilot. Really, when there is a clear attempt by members of an organisation to put a publication out of business, then one would have expected something better of people calling themselves 'anarchists'. Eighty people have now called for the Anarchist Fed. to publicly disassociate itself from the irresponsible actions of some of their members, nobody is asking for blood. All that Freedom is required to do is to publish the 'Burnley Declaration' and give the Anarchist Fed. the chance to reply. To stand by and do nothing is irresponsible: it makes the anarchists look impotent in face of a crude attempt to damage Northern Voices and the NAN.

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