Amid much Twitter self-congratulation, the New Statesman has declared this ‘Orwell week‘. Oddly, however, it has yet to mention some of the most notable aspects of its relationship with the great man.
In his long, long introductory piece Philip Maughan allows that Orwell went through a certain amount of ‘disagreement’ with the magazine’s editor, Kingsley Martin. He even admits that, in aspects of this disagreement, Orwell might have been right:
‘Nobody can forgive the decision by editor Kingsley Martin not to publish reports sent from Barcelona, fearing they were “liable to be taken as propaganda against socialism.”’
But he has no room to mention the other famous Orwell piece that Martin rejected — a book review of an eyewitness account of the Spanish civil war — nor to quote the admirably clear letter in which he explained the rejection:
‘The reason is simply that it too far controverts the political policy of the paper. It is very uncompromisingly said and implies that our Spanish correspondents are all wrong.’
Nor is there room to reproduce one of Orwell’s wider-ranging reflections on the attitude of the NS and its readers towards Soviet Communism. This relatively mild one, for example, from the essay ‘Raffles and Miss Blandish’:
‘An adolescent in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone. An aspiring pupil at a business college worships Lord Nuffield. A New Statesman reader worships Stalin. There is a difference in intellectual maturity, but none in moral outlook.’
And perhaps most sadly of all, there is no room to mention the libel threats that Kingsley Martin screamed down the telephone after recognising himself in the following lines from Orwell’s Tribune column:
‘First of all, a message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: “Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly turn to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.”‘
Still, who controls the past controls the future; and who controls the present controls the past. So that’s all right.