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Why I join the ILP

by George Orwell

We’re republishing Orwell’s 1938 piece here for its continuing relevance in our times.  First published by New Leader on June 24, 1938, the text is also available at the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Perhaps it will be frankest to approach it first of all from the personal angle.

I am a writer. The impulse of every writer is to ‘keep out of politics’. What he wants is to be left alone so that he can go on writing books in peace. But unfortunately it is becoming obvious that this ideal is no more practicable than that of the petty shop-keeper who hopes to preserve his independence in the teeth of the chain-stores.

To begin with, the era of free speech is closing down. The freedom of the Press in Britain was always something of a fake, because in the last resort, money controls opinion; still, so long as the legal right to say what you like exists, there are always loopholes for an unorthodox writer. For some years past I have managed to make the Capitalist class pay me several pounds a week for writing books against Capitalism. But I do not delude myself that this state of affairs is going to last forever. We have seen what happened to the freedom of the Press in Italy and Germany, and it will happen here sooner or later. The time is coming – not next year, perhaps not for ten or twenty years, but it is coming – when every writer will have the choice of being silenced or of producing the dope that a privileged minority demands.

I have got to struggle against that, just as I have got to struggle against castor oil, rubber truncheons and concentration-camps. And the only regime which, in the long run, will dare to permit freedom of speech is a Socialist regime. If Fascism triumphs I am finished as a writer – that is to say, finished in my only effective capacity. That in itself would be a sufficient reason for joining a Socialist party.

I have put the personal aspect first, but obviously it is not the only one.

It is not possible for any thinking person to live in such a society as our own without wanting to change it. For perhaps ten years past I have had some grasp of the real nature of Capitalist society. I have seen British Imperialism at work in Burma, and I have seen something of the effects of poverty and unemployment in Britain. In so far as I have struggled against the system, it has been mainly of writing books which I hoped would influence the reading public. I shall continue to do that, of course, but at a moment like the present writing books in not enough. The tempo of events is quickening; the dangers which once seemed a generation distant are staring us in the face. One has got to be actively a Socialist, not merely sympathetic to Socialism, or one plays into the hands of our always-active enemies.

Why the I.L.P. more than another?

Because the I.L.P. is the only British party – at any rate the only one large enough to be worth considering – which aims at anything I should regard as Socialism.

I do not mean that I have lost all faith in the Labour Party. My most earnest hope is that the Labour Party will win a clear majority in the next General Election. But we know what the history of the Labour Party has been, and we know the terrible temptation of the present moment – the temptation to fling every principle overboard in order to prepare for an Imperialist war. It is vitally necessary that there should be in existence some body of people who can be depended on, even in the face of persecution, not to compromise their Socialist principles.

I believe the I.L.P. is the only party which, as a party, is likely to take the right line either against Imperialist war or against Fascism when this appears in its British form. And meanwhile the I.L.P. is not backed by any monied interest, and is systematically libelled from several quarters. Obviously it needs all the help it can get, including any help I can give it myself.

Finally, I was with the I.L.P. contingent in Spain. I never pretended, then or since, to agree in every detail with the policy the P.O.U.M. put forward and the I.L.P. supported, but the general course of events has borne it out. The things I saw in Spain brought home to me the fatal danger of mere negative ‘anti-Fascism’. Once I had grasped the essentials of the situation in Spain I realised that the I.L.P. was the only British party I felt like joining – and also the only party I could join with at least the certainty that I would never be led up the garden path in the name of Capitalist democracy.


27 Comments

  1. George Orwell on his experience in Spain….
    .”Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.
    All this was queer and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for”

    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/05/george-orwell-spain-barcelona-may-days

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      • vexarb says

        Mulga, it keeps losing out to the money men — it lost out 21 centuries ago in Judea — and popped up again. I believe Orwell’s International Labour Party were right, there really was a wave of International Socialism in postwar Europe; a little ripple even travelled across the ocean and reached the U$A. The Empire began to strike back with Heath’s support of Global oil capitalists against British coal miners. Heath turning off the Xmas lights was a portent of the mean spirit which came in with Snatcher’s regime and spread across the Western World. But I doubt if the spirit of “humanity” (or ‘”ubuntu”) will be stamped out; in spite of Orwell’s later prediction, that the future of the human race will be like a boot stamping on someone’s face”.

  2. jlowrie says

    Orwell, the police snitch, so beloved of pinko liberals. Just love some of the ‘socialist’ comments he made against the names of undesirables on his hit-list: Jew? ( of Chaplin), Jewess, half-caste, not anti-white etc. The man was no socialist, rather a xenophobe behind the persona of a bourgeois ‘socialist.’

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    • Helmut Taylor says

      Hi Lowrie – you knockin’ George; done reckon his “blueprint” for’t Big Bro whorl – or wha’?

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    • Francis Lee says

      Those were the descriptions and lingua franca of the times, and Orwell was a man of his time. No doubt had we been living then we might have used the same vocabulary. Moral and political judgements ex post facto are money for old rope. I sometimes wonder how history will judge us, not particularly favourably I dare say if history is anything to go by. Just think of what all of us said when we were 25, cringeworthy or not? To always have been right, and always have used bland language must be as rare as hen’s teeth.

      If the great peacenik philosopher, Bertrand Russell, called for Soviet Russia to be atom bombed in 1948, which he did, are any of us safe?

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      • jlowrie says

        ”Those were the descriptions and lingua franca of the times,” Yes, much employed by Hitler and co.

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          • jlowrie says

            ”And by everyone else too” Everyone else? So you reduce the whole of humanity to white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Why instead of accusing me of being ‘argumentative’ do you not analyse why Orwell employed words like ”half-caste” to denigrate other human beings? I grew up in the early 1950’s next door to a Jewish family. All the children played together. I do not recall that anyone used the term Jew in a derogatory sense. I think it is absolutely evil to call people half-caste; the next step is to call them half-human! Orwell was a phoney socialist and apologist for English Imperialism. Whatever may have been his public stance, behind the scenes he was a police snitch! See further : “Big Brothers: George Orwell and Christopher Hitchens Exposed” by John Dolan http://exiledonline.com

            • jlowrie…I am admittedly biased in that I see Orwell as a genuine human being, grounded in values I wish I could claim.I also believe he was a true prophet. To demean him on this point is to me synonymous with looking at the mass murderer George Bush senior and obsess about him having removed broccoli from the white house.

      • Antonyl says

        So Orwell’s “Socialism” meant neither national socialism nor Stalinesque Communism although he saw shadows of both in spain’s civil war. He wanted no totalitarianism.

    • milosevic says

      pinko liberals

      That’s a standard Cold War far-right slur, which gives some suggestion of your political allegiances.

  3. Bliarbliar says

    Eric was a truth seer and a hell of a propagandist – he wrote the manual that the deep statists have used ever since.

  4. Helmut Taylor says

    So where do we find the Independent Labour Party (I.L.P)? My mate Dave Bolton in Folkestone supports our (his) leader Jeremy Corbyn…..and has Jeremy got owt tae do with the I.L.P?
    Helmut Taylor in Frankfurt calling……..(bit like Walt Whitman)!
    Keep me informed.

    • Francis Lee says

      The ILP had been in existence for almost 100 years until in 1975 it renamed itself Independent Labour Publications and became a pressure group inside Labour. The ILP and its continental sister parties in Europe, the German SAP – Socialist Workers’ Party, – and the Spanish POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity) – were part of what was called the 2-1/2 Two and a Half International, which for doctrinal reasons took its distance from the Social-Democratic Second International and the Communist Third International.

      • Helmut Taylor says

        Thankee Francis…..so of no import really, terdaiy? And I do rather have a soft spot for the central message as gifted us by our boy Orwell…and that comment that it was a meant as a warning, and NOT as a blue print for the what has materialised in the garb of globalisation…”The unacceptable faerce o’ Carpitalisme (if you get my drift?)!

          • Helmut Taylor says

            Wish their ideas had taken root – or could/would still find fertile ground and be nurtured amonst the “thinking” population…izzar woss known as “wishful thinkin'”?

      • vexarb says

        Francis, and that’s why today we find that Capitalists of the World have gone Global, while Socialists have become petty and provincial in pursuit of Independence instead of Internationalism. Whatever happened to Workers of the World Unite?

    • vexarb says

      Schlueter, having dipped into your link re Consciousness and Self, I beg to differ on the need to dismiss PanPsychism as Absurd. This notion, that even an elementary particle can have a share of consciousness, may well seem Absurd — but can Physics dismiss it? Ever since “Mad” Max Planck invented Quantum Theory physicists have found many patent Absurdities become established Truths. As Whitehead said: Reality has become not only stranger than we imagined but stranger than we are capable of imagining”.

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