After Spans recent piece about Orwell and the ongoing saga of David Cameron behaving like a virgin at the end of term disco saying yes one minute and no the next regarding questions about losing his referendum cherry, I thought was worth revisiting Orwell's famous 1947 essay on European unity.
It's a fascinating read in many ways but the one thing that stands out for me above all is how Orwell, despite all his apparent distrust of left-wing intelligentsia and loathing for any sort of reactive censorship is apologetic for the perceived wrongs of Empire. Given that this was written in the aftermath of WW2 when the feeling of Empire were probably at its greatest it seems both extraordinary and revelatory that Orwell should be attributing the high standards of British life to the exploitation of coloured people, to most working class people at the time the Empire was little more than the name of the local cinema or a collection of nations from where we got our bananas and sugar. This has become almost a recurring theme of old style Socialism in the late 20th century early 21st century, the idea that we can't continue with our current standards of living unless they are accompanied by an act of contrition.
The conclusion that a United States of Europe, encompassing all those countries where thriving socialism is a real possibility, is not possible with out real mental adjustment still lies at the heart of the 'in v out Europe' argument that rages today.
Orwell's own brand of socialism was not Marxist, or Leninist, nor was it
philosophical or even economic, reading his work its clear that he had little time for many organised religious or political ideals. For Orwell, socialism meant decency and social
justice. "All that is needed," he once wrote, "is to
hammer two facts home into the public consciousness. One, that the interests of
all exploited people are the same and the other, that socialism is compatible
with common decency."
Of course many of those ideas touched on by Orwell have born fruit, the concept of a pan-European economic power grew out of the ashes of WW2, we have seen the rise of India and China as economic powers and over recent weeks there have been signs that the Euro may not be such a dead duck as was thought just a year ago. Whether or not Orwell would consider what passes for socialism these days to be complicit with the ideal of common decency is another matter. I doubt very much that he could have conceived of a situation where the current torch bearers for many people of the socialist ideal in British politics would have eleven millionaires in their Shadow Cabinet but then there's no reason to believe that socialism like any other ideology should not evolve in ways most of us would not have considered plausible thirty years ago let alone sixty five years ago.